Bless the Lord?

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews  employs a midrash on the encounter between Abraham and Melchizedek (Genesis 14) to demonstrate the superiority of Yeshua’s priesthood over the Aaronic system. In chapter seven he states explicitly:

Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better.    (Hebrews 7:7 – NKJV)

How then is it possible for David to write in the Psalms:

Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!    (Psalm 103:1 – NKJV)

If the lesser is blessed by the better, how can a humble human being bless almighty God?

The answer is to be found in the next verse of the Psalm:

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits…

The Hebraic concept of ‘blessings’ ‎[בִּרְכֹ֥ת b’rachot] to the Lord consist of short prayers of praise for all the wonderful things the Lord bestows upon us. Pious Jews say several blessings throughout the course of a normal day. These may include blessings of gratitude expressed to God for: granting another day upon rising; for food and drink or eating a piece of fruit; for smelling a fragrant spice,  or even in appreciation of our bodily functions working as intended when going to the toilet.

How much of your day is spent giving thanks to God for His rich blessings upon your life?

 

Does God Want Us to be Nice? (Ephesians 4:25-32)

When I did my basic training in the Air Force we had an Administrative Officer who taught ‘O & A’ which was an abbreviation of ‘Organisation and Administration’. If one cadet was a bit rude to another cadet, this officer would rebuke us by saying, “Be nice!”. His name was Flight Lieutenant B.N.P. Thompson and, behind his back, we would joke that his initials stood for ‘Be Nice Please’.

But, as Christians, are we meant to be nice all the time?

Clearly, we’re called to be gracious in our speech (verse 29) and to treat one another with kindness, compassion and forgiveness (verse 32). Is that the same thing, though, as being nice?

In verse 25, the Apostle alludes to a passage in the Old Testament Book of Zechariah:

These are the things you shall do: speak each man the truth to his neighbour; give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbour; and do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate,’ Says the LORD.”   (Zechariah 8:16-17)

 In this text the Lord instructs us on what to do and what to avoid. We are to speak the truth and judge righteously. We are not to plan evil strategies or swear falsely.

The question boils down to this: Are there times when judging righteously and speaking the truth could be considered less than ‘nice’ in our modern society?

Absolutely.

In our modern culture, we are loath to bring a rebuke to those who are acting improperly. Yet the scriptures command us to bring rebuke when appropriate. Consider the following texts:

You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbour, and not bear sin because of him.    (Leviticus 19:17)

Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.    (Proverbs 9:8) 

Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed.    (Proverbs 27:5) 

Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.    (Luke 17:3) 

Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed    (Galatians 2:11)

Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.   (1 Timothy 5:20)

Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.    (Titus 2:15)

If I rebuke my neighbour for doing the wrong thing, how can I be sure that I’m not ‘thinking evil in my heart’ about him?

The test we can apply to our actions is also be found in chapter four of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians:

but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ    (Ephesians 4:15)

If my motivation is anger, I may well be out of line. But the truth, spoken in love trumps being ‘nice’ every time.

Baruch haShem

By His Stripes…?

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I find that some Christians take exception to my stance on healing. That’s because I don’t believe that we are guaranteed healing in this age through the work of Christ on the cross. The Apostle Peter cites Isaiah 53:5 in his first epistle (chapter 2 verse 24) in the context of us being healed from the power of penalty of sin. Similarly, the original text in Isaiah is what we call a ‘Hebrew Parallelism’. That is, saying the same thing twice in different words to aid memorisation. An example of parallelism is if I were to say:

“A dog is a faithful companion and a canine is a loyal friend.”

Here’s the text from Isaiah noting the parallel statements:

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.

His stripes brought the peace with God (Romans 5:1) that was necessary because of sin.

It’s true that everybody Jesus ministered to during his earthly ministry was healed at the time (note that they didn’t have to keep on believing in their healing in the absence of any physical change in their symptoms!). That’s because, the Kingdom of God was in their midst (Luke 17:21) in the presence of the King. When Messiah returns, the Kingdom of God will be fully established and healing and miracles will be the norm. In the meantime we see glimpses of the Kingdom whenever God blesses us with a miracle or a divine healing.

Baruch haShem

The Resurrection Body?

For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven…  (2 Cor 5:1-2 NKJV)

The Apostle Paul refers to our human bodies as ‘earthly houses’ or ‘tents’ and contrasts this with the ‘heavenly clothing’ we will receive from heaven. Question is …When do we receive the ‘heavenly tent’? Is this our reward in heaven? Personally, I don’t think so. Jesus is the only one so far to have been clothed in his immortal, heavenly body. He is the:

“firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 15:20). 

While those followers of Christ who have gone before us absent from their physical bodies but are, nonetheless, enjoying the presence of the Lord (2 Cor 5:8). The idea of an eternal non-physical existence has its roots in paganism and not the Scriptures. That’s why some of the men in Athens mocked Paul when he talked about the resurrection of the dead (Acts 17:32). Hellenistic thought infiltrated the Church fairly early in its history and emphasised the goal of ‘going to heaven when you die.’

Going to heaven when we die is not our ultimate goal. It is a wonderful intermediate fringe benefit we can delight in, as we await our glorified immortal resurrected bodies. These will be like Christ’s glorious body and we will be clothed with them at his return (1 John 3:2).

If you don’t believe me… dig up a departed Christian’s grave. His or her bones will still be there.

But Jesus’ tomb was empty.

Baruch haShem

Everybody’s Twopence Worth?

How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Corinthians 14:26 NKJV)

The above passage is regularly used to justify every church member being involved in a speaking ministry of some kind. For the text explicitly states each of you. But context is always king in scriptural interpretation. The apostle has been rebuking the Corinthian assembly for their lack of order and abuse of the gift of tongues in their meetings. The question that begins verse 26 – How is it brethren? – is, in my opinion, meant to introduce another criticism as in, “What on earth are you doing?” He then goes on to describe their practice of everybody is getting involved – each of you. In contrast, teaches Paul in the second half of the verse, all things are to be done for edification. Let two or three speak in tongues at the most (verse 27); let two or three prophesy, and let the first be silent if another gets a revelation (verses 29-30).  

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are wonderful things but are to be used decently and in order (verse 40). Only those who are appropriately gifted should sing, teach and edify the saints through interpreted tongues and prophecy.

The rest will utilise the non-verbal spiritual gifts that our great and gracious God has bestowed upon them.

Baruch haShem

The Sacred Ark

Contained within the Ark of the Covenant were the pot of manna, Aaron’s Rod and the Tablets of the Covenant (Heb 9:4). The Ark was made of shittim wood and covered with gold. The gold lid was the kapporet, which English translations tend to render as the ‘Mercy Seat’. The Greek term used to translate kapporet in the Septuagint (LXX) is hilasterion – the same word we find in Chapter 3 of Paul’s Letter to the Romans:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation [hilasterion] by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness . . . 

(Rom 3:23-25 NKJV)

The Ark, like so many other things in the Tanakh (aka the ‘Old Testament’), is a picture of the Messiah. It is he who is the sacrifice whose bleood was sprinkled on the mercy seat, his cross. The gold covering of the Ark speaks of his immortality and the wood pictures his humanity. Messiah is the d’var elohim – the Word of God – made flesh. The manna was in the Ark because Messiah is the bread from heaven. Aaron’s rod that budded was in the Ark because Messiah is the resurrection and the life. The tablets were in the Ark because Messiah is the Torah incarnate.

The Ark went two thousand cubits ahead of the people across the Jordan (Josh 3:3-4). Messiah preceded his people into the olam haba – the Age to Come – by about two thousand years.

Baruch haShem.

The Breath of Messiah

In John 20:22 the risen Messiah breathed on his disciples saying, Receive the Holy Spirit. Did you ever wonder why he breathed on them?

The answer is to be found in the creation narrative. God made man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being (Gen 2:7).  Man, as you know, was created in the image of God (Gen 1:26) but, through the fall, that image has become tarnished by sin.

Jesus replayed the creation with his disciples who had become new creations in him (2 Cor 5:17). They, through the new birth were being [re]conformed to the image of God in Christ (Rom 8:29).

When you and I put our faith in Christ, he breathed his Spirit into us. The penalty for sin was removed and the power of sin in our lives is being overcome by the Spirit. We are being conformed to the image of Christ, a process that will be completed at his return or when we go to glory.

 

Baruch haShem