In my life I have had many Christians tell me that America needs to "Stand with Israel," even though Israel stands against Christ. The verse most often quoted is from Genesis 12:2-3 when God told Abraham, "And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: 3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." I was told that if America stands with Israel, we will be blessed, but if we stop financially supporting or we refuse to go to war to protect them, we will be cursed. Is this a good application of what the Bible teaches?
Today's Bible reading in the Operation Save America bible reading schedule includes these verses.
Joshua 5:13 ¶ And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?14 And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the LORD am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my lord unto his servant? 15 And the captain of the LORD'S host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.
This is a fascinating passage. Joshua sees "a man" with a sword. Joshua asks the man, "Do you stand for Israel? or Against Israel?" The answer in modern language is, "That depends where Israel stands. I am the captain of the armies of YHWH." God never gave Israel unconditional support. He had promised to bless their obedience and curse their disobedience in Deuteronomy chapters twenty-seven and twenty-eight. Blessings and curses would follow on the basis of covenant faithfulness. Anyone who says otherwise needs to read more Old Testament history. In the following chapters Israel will be both blessed and cursed. Israel will be blessed when they obey YHWH and cursed when they disobey. Their obedience when they go to fight against mighty Jericho will be blessed. Their disobedience when attacking little Ai will be cursed.
Joshua bows to the earth and worships the man before him. The man does not forbid the worship. Instead the man utters the same words that Moses heard before the burning bush, "Loose the shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is Holy." These words reveal who Joshua was talking to. Joshua of the Old Covenant has come face to face with Joshua of the "New Covenant." This is the pre incarnate Christ. The question for Joshua is, "Do you stand for Jesus?"
Jesus said, "He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth." Luke 11:23. That is to say, you are either "Pro Christ" or "Anti Christ." There is no middle ground.
So what about the verse that tells us to "Stand with Israel" in Genesis 12:3? Paul gives us the true meaning of Genesis 12:3 in Galatians 3:8, "And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed...16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ." Paul says that the seed to be blessed is specifically Christ. God would bless the nations in Christ. God does not command the nations to unconditionally bless secular Israel while they conscientiously reject Christ as LORD and Savior. We are to pray for their peace and reconciliation with God, but we are not to bless rebellion.
In the very next chapter of Joshua, we see Rahab, a Canaanite harlot who was under the curse, being blessed as a result of her obedient faith. She will be grafted into the tribe of Judah and become a progenitor of Christ. Then in Chapter seven we see a man of the tribe of Judah, Achan, disobey and coming under the curse. This is a great illustration of how God metes out blessing and curses. A gentile has been grafted in, and a Jew has been cut off. God does not bless and curse people on the basis of Race but on the basis of Grace. God's blessing and curses are meted out in terms of grace and faith in Jesus, who is the true Israel of God and the LORD of Hosts.
Ro 11:19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. 20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: 21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.
Recently I had an interesting conversation with a pastor from a very liberal denomination. He was a very kind gentleman. I enjoyed talking to him, but our theological differences are doubtless very great. Many liberal denominations seem ready to dispense with the gospel. They want to keep Jesus as a teacher of good things, but they want to avoid subjects like the deity of Christ, eternal judgement or the exclusive claims of the Gospel. The sermon on the Mount is something that liberals will say they believe in. They especially love to apply Jesus admonitions to take care of the poor to the civil sphere. At one point in the conversation I think I stunned him. I told him that I think the sermon on the Mount is a very condemning sermon. He asked for me to elaborate on the subject. He seemed very inquisitive. Today's reading included the sermon on the plain in Luke 6. This sermon has much of the same content as Matthew's recorded, "Sermon on the Mount." The following verses illustrate what I mean.
Lu 6:43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes.
45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.
46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
Some read these words and find in them an admonition to try harder, to do better, or to be more spiritual. I find in them words of rebuke. Jesus just rebuked me for every foul thing that has ever come out of my mouth. I cannot comfort myself by saying, "Well...God knows my heart." Yes. God does know my heart. He says that my words and conduct are evidence that my heart is corrupt. I have not been merciful as I ought. I have not forgiven or loved my enemies as I ought. I have not cared for the poor as I ought. I have not been as pure as I ought. I have not kept his law. I have called him Lord, but I have demonstrated a stubborn, autonomous will by living as I please. The sermon on the mount and the sermon on the plain are the Law expounded. Jesus does not allow us to water it down or sweeten it up. The law is there to humble the proud. It is very foolish to think we can do a little better and satisfy the righteousness of God. The reason we have gone astray is because our heart has been at war with God.
The Good news is that the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain are not the "Good News." This sermon does not contain the gospel. Matthew and Luke put their exposition of the law sermons relatively close to the beginning of their books. They are expecting the reader to look into the mirror of God's law and see their need: to see their poverty of spirit. If the reader continues to read, they will read of the lamb of God dying for their sins. They will read of his burial. They will read of his resurrection. They will read of his ascension to the right hand of God where he remains as our advocate to intercede on our behalf.
So let the sting of God's law sink in. To the degree you comprehend your sin, to that degree you will appreciate grace. Forgiving others becomes so much easier once you comprehend the debt you have been forgiven. A response of loving God comes naturally to the child of God. And if you love him, you will keep his commandments.
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:8-10
Hebrew worship was family integrated. In the Bible we see families worshiping God together. They listened together as the Word of God was read and explained. The children heard the adults discussing and debating the meaning and application of texts. They sang together. They attended the feasts together. The younger walked with the elder and the young grew wiser. I believe this practice needs to be restored to the churches in the United States. We have tried age segregation for over a century now. The results have been less than satisfactory.
If you read from the Operation Save America reading schedule for 2017 this scripture was included in your reading.
Lu 2:41-52 "Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. 43 And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. 44 But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. 45 And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. 46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. 47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. 48 And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. 49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? 50 And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. 51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.(KJV)
Looking back on the traditional Sunday school classes I attended as a child, I see that they set low expectations for me. I learned a lot more by sitting and talking with my elders. I would hear their stories and ask them questions. This is what Jesus did when he was twelve years old in the temple. He dialogued with the elders and they were astounded at his level of understanding. These were not just elderly gentlemen hanging out in the temple. These were the "Doctors," the theologians of the day. They were astonished at his answers. At the age of twelve he had great wisdom.
Don't just dismiss this as an attribute of the deity of Christ. Don't say, "Well, sure. That was Jesus. He is God in flesh. That is why he knew so much." Verse fifty-two is clear that, "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man." I believe this points to his perfect humanity. One result of Jesus being sinless was that he learned and matured very quickly. Sin stunts growth. Instead of being proud and obstinate, he soaked in the wisdom that was around him. By the age of twelve he had acquired a high level of intellect and wisdom. Do you think Jesus would have had this level of wisdom if he had spent the majority of his time with children his own age? I seriously doubt it. Children have very little wisdom to teach. Jesus heart was to walk with the wise. The foolishness of youth did not appeal to him. This leads us to a biblical principle found in Proverbs 13:20, "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed."
When Children spend time with adults they grow in wisdom. What they understand delights them. What they don't understand fuels their hunger for understanding. Infants learn their mother tongue within two years without previous linguistic training. Children are like sponges soaking up information in the context of their environment. Speak to them in mature language with good grammar and they will be articulate. Have them spend the majority of their time with small children and their growth will be retarded. The same is true in other facets of their intellect and spiritual maturity.
Hebrew culture did not have the modern concept of adolescence. They were not rearing children to be children. They were rearing children to be adults. Boys worked with men and studied with men and learned how to be men. Girls were learning to be women. As soon as a child was old enough they became a contributor. The youth felt the social expectation to be be mature. Being accepted as a man was more important than being accepted by peers. They did not spend inordinate amounts of time with children their age. They had their time of play. But they spent most of their time with adults.
Time spent in the synagogue was no exception. Worship in the synegogue did not divide up the family by age. The family listened to the reading of the Torah and heard the text expounded and applied. (See Nehemiah 8:1-8) This elevated the mind and created a culture of respect and honor for elders. In Hebrew culture, no generation gap existed.
We live in a culture that attacks the Christian faith at every point. Intellectually and spiritually our faith is under attack. Our children need spiritual food. They need to know more than Bible stories. They need to know God. They need to have a biblical worldview. They need to know theology so that they can think about God accurately. They need to hear the Word expounded and applied to every area of life. Children's church just isn't cutting it.
At Church of the Word our families worship God together. We do not divide up the family. We have observed that children understand much more than adults give them credit for. Children need the meat and potatoes of Gods word so that they can grow in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. As we look at the culture around us we believe that we see bad fruit from the modern modifications to biblical discipleship. Huge numbers of young people are leaving the faith. Some statistics say as high as eighty-seven percent. Young people need to be equipped to overcome the world and challenged to do so by the churches they attend. The songs that are selected are songs that have substance. We pray together as a church. The word of God is read, explained and applied every week. This is why we expect our children to understand the gospel. We expect Adults to know God. We expect young people to overcome the world.
1 John 2:12-14 I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake. 13 I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. 14 I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
I expect to have many descendants. I presently have 6 children. I don't know what position my children will take on this in the future, but as of right now they would like to have large families. This is simultaneously gratifying and terrifying to me. Having many children will not be glorious if they do not follow Christ. I want my children's children to walk with the Lord. Today's reading in the Operation Save America Bible reading schedule contains the following verses.
Deuteronomy 27:4-8 "Therefore it shall be when ye be gone over Jordan, that ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in Mount Ebal, and thou shalt plaister them with plaister.
5 And there shalt thou build an altar unto the LORD thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them.
6 Thou shalt build the altar of the LORD thy God of whole stones: and thou shalt offer burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD thy God:
7 And thou shalt offer peace offerings, and shalt eat there, and rejoice before the LORD thy God.
8 And thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly."
Moses commanded the children of Israel to build two monuments when they crossed over the Jordan. Monuments serve as memorials of remembrance. The purpose was to communicate a message to future generations. One monument was to the Law of God and the other was a monument to the Gospel. They were to set up large stones and cover them with plaster. On the plaster was to be written the words of the Law.
The second monument they were to build was a simple altar of stones. They were forbidden to touch the stones with a tool. Lifting a tool on the stones did not enhance them, it polluted them. The beauty of man's handiwork was not to be the focus. As a Lamb without blemish was sacrificed, the focus was to be on the lamb. Not the altar.
My thought for you is this: If we would win our children's children to Christ we must continually remember to hold up the Law and Gospel before their eyes. The Law shows us the righteousness of God and the sinfulness of our hearts. When we look at the law it is like a mirror. It shows us our sins. But do not despair. We also have an altar where the lamb of God was slain in our place to remove our sins far from us. Our alter is an altar of grace. Just as the children of Israel were to make the altar of stones unchiseled, we are not to think that our good works can add anything to the finished work of Christ.
I also think the commandment to "rejoice" is important. As they offered peace offerings on the altar they were commanded to "rejoice before YHWH thy GOD." Worshiping God should be fun. Harsh religiosity is a turn off to children. Sunday is the Sheffer's favorite day of the week. Learning the truth of God's word should excite our hearts. When we take communion, we should delight in the lamb which is our peace. There are times for mourning. But when we behold the unleavened bread and remember His body, and the fruit of the vine to remember His blood, it is a time for Eucharistic thanksgiving. When we share a meal together we are not divided as Jew and Gentile, nor are we any longer estranged from the God who made us. He is our peace. We rejoice in forgiveness of sins. We rejoice in the fellowship of the saints. We delight in the law that points us to the Redeemer. And by God's grace we will do it from generation to generation.
Ac 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
Moses was unique among the prophets. He was much more than a prophet. He served in the civil sphere as both a king and a judge. He served in the ecclesiastical role as a priest before there was a priesthood. In fact, after Aaron became priest, Moses continued to intercede on his behalf. But more than all of this, he was the mediator of the Old Covenant having received it by divine dictation in face to face exchange with YHWH. No one person had as much absolute and comprehensive authority in his life time as Moses did. This uniqueness of Moses is important to understand as we consider the following verses taken from the OSA Bible reading for today.
"¶ The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;
16 According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not.
17 And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken.
18 I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.
19 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him." Deuteronomy18:15-19
When saints in New testament times read these verses they did not think they applied to Joshua or Samuel, or Elijah or any of the other prophets. They read these words as yet to be fulfilled in the Messiah that was to come. Peter uses this passage as a proof text when speaking to the Israelites of his day in Acts 3:22. "For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. 23 And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. 24 Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days"
So does Jesus fit the bill? Does Jesus fulfill the roles of prophet, priest, King, Judge, deliverer and covenant mediator? Yes he does.
As Prophet, Jesus came and reproved the disobedient. He restored proper understanding of the law to a wayward people. He shows us our sins so that we might understand our need for repentance and forgiveness.
As Priest, he entered into the heavenly sanctuary to pay for the sins of his people once and for all. He lives forever to make intercession for us. He is the one and only mediator between God and men.
As our King, he has all authority in heaven and earth. (Matthew 28:18) He sits enthroned in the heavens ruling the nations by divine decree. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
As Judge, we must all appear before him. Every human being must give an account to God. We will either face him in our unrighteous condition, or in the righteousness provided for us by his death on the cross.
With a dead tree in his hand Moses faced the wrath of Pharaoh and delivered the children of Israel out of slavery in the Land of Egypt. How much greater is the deliverance obtained by Jesus our Messiah? With a dead tree He appeased the wrath of God by dying in our place. He rose from the dead so that we could pass over, not from Egypt to Canaan, but from death unto Life.
Heb 10:28 He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?