The First Human Death

“Has God indeed said …” Genesis 3:1

These are the first recorded words of Satan and their echo is still reverberating around the world as strong as on that first occasion. People around the world are showing open rebellion and defiance against their Creator. Sin has made people more willing to shake the fist of defiance at God.

Satan chose to discredit God through Eve most likely because she had not heard the original command from God (2:16-17) She received it second hand from Adam. This is a good reason why everyone should hear from God first-hand and personally. This made Eve vulnerable, as it will any person who does not read God’s word for themselves, and Satan knows it.

Apparently Eve chose to accept Satan’s criticism of God without consulting Adam and she ate of the fruit. This put Adam in a place that he could not have envisaged. He would have to choose between his relationship with God and his relationship with Eve. For how he should have responded, refer to Numbers 30:8. In full knowledge of what he was doing Adam accepted Satan’s criticism of God and so sin and death entered the world. The first human physical death was Adam and Eve’s son, Abel, murdered by their firstborn, Cain (4:8). Abel’s death must have caused immeasurable grief and shock to Adam and Eve. Seeing this terrible consequence of their sin would have been horrific.

The record of the Bible is one of God speaking to people, through the prophets and through the Lord Jesus Christ, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Even so Satan still finds numerous willing ears to his question. Since he spoke to Eve through the serpent he has continued to ask of men and women, “Has God indeed said…” The response is evident all around us. God allows Satan to serve Him by continuing to test the hearts of men. But there is the voice of Jesus calling men to repent, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).

Each person will make their own choice as to whether they will believe Satan’s lie or God’s truth. Receiving Satan’s lie as truth is to call God a liar and a deceiver. Satan is a murderer and a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).

To choose to believe what God has said is the opposite of what Adam did in the Garden and opens the grace door (John 10:9-10) to salvation purchased by Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary.

His Voice

Jesus said to them, “have you never read in the Scriptures: …” Matthew 21:42

This is just one of six times in Matthew’s Gospel that he records Jesus making this statement. It is quite an extraordinary thing that Jesus would say this to the chief priests, scribes and elders (vv 15, 23) who would have known the Scriptures better than anyone else. They most certainly had read and studied the passages that Jesus quoted to them and may even have memorised them. Their problem was that they had not understood them as applying to Jesus. They did not want to recognise Jesus as Messiah no matter what the evidence from Scripture or from His words and deeds. They did not want to recognise His authority.

It is possible for us to put blinkers on at a superficial understanding of Scripture and become blind to a more complete comprehension that will give us a greater appreciation of what we are reading. How often does it happen that, having read a passage of Scripture many times over the years that we gain a greater appreciation of what is written? An oft repeated statement is, “I have read that many times but I never saw that before.” It isn’t that we misunderstood it before but that we now have a greater appreciation of what is written.

The reason Jesus frequently quotes the Scriptures and why Matthew records them is so that people might begin to make the comparison and connection of the Scriptures with Jesus. When they do, with honest and open hearts, the Holy Spirit will reveal the truth concerning Jesus.

If we are content with our early understanding of Scripture we will likely become like the scribes and chief priests and focus on outward religious performance rather than heart intimacy with Jesus. It is a trap awaiting any of us. Jesus is not a set of rules. He is a living Person with whom we may live every moment of every day. Jesus said, If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love Him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He will make His home in our hearts. WOW!

The scribes, chief priests and the elders knew the Scriptures well but they did not recognise who Jesus is. As it was for them it is possible for us to understand a literal rendering of the Scriptures but not know the Lord Jesus. It is possible for us to know the Scriptures but not be intimate with Him. The answer to this situation is found in Jesus’ words to the church in Laodicea, Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. It isn’t the one who hears the knock only but the ones who hears His voice that opens the door. What is the difference, you ask? The one who hears His voice recognises a familiar friend because of a previous intimate relationship; “they know His voice” (John 10:3-4).

Shipwrecked

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” Matthew 7:13-14

A few decades ago when living in Port Pirie, South Australia it was not unusual for me to take my fourteen foot bond-wood boat with putt-putt motor out into Spencer Gulf for a spot of crabbing or fishing. The gulf was relatively shallow so far north but that was not a concern for my boat. However, there was a lead smelting industry in Port Pirie and they needed large ships to be able to berth and take on board the lead. To accomplish this, a channel had been dredged from deeper water, a kilometre or two from shore, right up to the dock. This was marked by lights and signs on marker posts.

Ships coming into port must stay between the markers or they would most certainly run aground. To navigate this channel required care and concentration as it was not a particularly wide channel and neither was it straight. Any captain who ignored the markers would soon lose his ship.

There are essentially only two ways that we might seek to live our lives and please God. The broad way that leads to destruction is the one that ignores or disregards the markers in God’s word. At Port Pirie the markers were to inform the ship’s captain where it was safe to navigate and where there was danger. If we ignore our Creator’s markers and navigate where it is unsafe we can hardly expect to avoid the dangers and we will make shipwreck of our lives.

Most people will rely on human logic and in so doing make a fatal choice. Since Adam’s sin mankind has had a faulty logic. In Proverbs we read, “There is a way that seems right to a man but its end is the way of death” (14:12, 16:9) and “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes but the Lord weighs the spirits” (16:2). A captain who chooses not to follow the markers and take a short cut will run aground.

The broad way is the way that seems right to people but in following that way they miss the truth and make shipwreck of their lives. They have missed the warning markers in God’s word. The narrow way is the way that follows God’s warning markers and remains in the safe channel.

It is tragic that we observe people and nations making shipwreck of life because they have ignored God’s word and revelation in the Bible. It is even more tragic that many deliberately and defiantly rebel against God’s word. It does not bode well for our nation and it robs people of the blessing they might otherwise have had from the Lord.

If we are not to make shipwreck of our lives, either personally or nationally, we will do well to know the safety markers God has given us in His word and enjoy the freedom that we have within them.

Exercise Your faith

“If you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and cast into the sea,’ it will be done” Matthew 21:21

When I was younger I was physically active and had no need to give special attention to my fitness but later my life became more sedentary and it was necessary to actively seek out physical activities in order to try and keep my body reasonably fit and strong. The fitter and stronger we are the better we are able to enjoy life. I sought out appropriate sports, activities and even joined the local volunteer fire service with a view to keeping physically active. When these were not an option I attended a gym.

We all know that if we want better physical capabilities we must exercise our muscles. That usually means discomfort and perspiration but the end result from regular exercise is a stronger and fitter body to enjoy life.

I have heard it said that the brain works like a muscle. If we don’t use it we lose it. The same can be said of faith in Jesus Christ. If we do not exercise our faith it will become stagnant and shrivel. Many of us desire a stronger faith and God has provided the way – faith exercises! Generally we don’t like exercising, unless it is in the form of a sport, but we do enjoy the results. In order to exercise faith we must live in circumstances where faith in Jesus is tested regularly. As we read the Bible we see many examples of God taking people through circumstances where they needed to trust Him. The result was that their faith increased.

Job’s faith in the Lord was tested; Abraham and Isaac’s faith was tested (Genesis 22) and many others. In each case, when their faith in God was proven, their faith increased. Paul wrote in his letter to the Christians in Rome, “For in [the Gospel of Christ] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (1:17). The way to more faith is to exercise the faith one already has.

Don’t be confused by the untrue cliché, “faith can move mountains.” It can do no such thing. It is the object of faith, Jesus Christ, who moves the mountain. When we are exercising faith it must always be faith in Him to perform it if the mountain is to be moved. It is not the amount of faith that matters; it is the object of our faith that matters.

Jesus is not a miracle worker to do everything we want but He delights to respond to faith placed in Him. He will send us many tests and as we act in faith we will grow stronger in faith. If our faith is weak there are two closely linked possible reasons – hearing (Romans 10:17) and heeding His word. It is necessary to first know and understand God’s word and will and then to act faithfully on it. If we don’t use it we will lose it.

Closed Bible = Closed Heart

“The Word of God … is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart” Hebrews 4:12

On their way from Egypt to the land promised to Abraham and his descendants Israel neglected the Word of God. They heard it but left it out of their lives. As a consequence of not believing God’s Word they did not act upon it or obey it. The further consequence was that they never experienced the rest that God had for them in the land of promise; they never even entered that land and therefore did not know what they missed.

It isn’t unusual to hear comments that produce fear when people speak of governments becoming “big brother.” We don’t like someone else peering into our lives especially when it is someone who has authority over us.

As we read the passage above, and its context, we may be inclined to think that God is up there somewhere with a big stick looking forward to an opportunity to use it. However this is opposite to reality as the context of this verse shows.

The intent of God’s Word is to show us where we have attitudes and behaviour contrary to or out of kilter to His own. Such attitudes and behaviour prevent intimate fellowship because God is holy. “God is light and in Him is no darkness” (1 John 1:5). The Divine Nature is such that God can have no fellowship with any nature that is not exactly as His own. This is why we are helpless in ourselves to enter into fellowship with God.

For each of us the “eyes” of Scripture searching our thoughts and inner-most being is painful but there are two possible outcomes. Either we will close the “eyes” of Scripture by closing our Bible or we will embrace the truth and reality it reveals however horrid and wicked it may reveal us to be. God’s intent is that we see what He already knows us to be so that we will agree with Him that this is what we are. He will then forgive and cleanse us from our sin through the blood of Jesus Christ (1 John 1:9).

The writer of Hebrews writes, “Let us therefore come boldly (with confidence) to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” He means that when the Word of God reveals the evil thoughts and intents of our heart we may come, by God’s grace, to the throne of grace and obtain mercy and find grace even though we are what the Bible has revealed us to be.

When the Bible reveals sin in our heart it is not time to close our Bible, it is time to pour out our heart to God, agreeing with Him, and accepting His forgiveness and cleansing. We can do so with confidence because Jesus Christ died for our sin.

Watch out for the Thief

“Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward” 2 John 8

John’s letter is a sober reminder that we are in spiritual warfare and if we drop our guard we will suffer loss both now and in eternity. Salvation is the gift of God so that is not what John is writing of here. In his first letter he mentions the spirit of antichrist and in this letter he revisits this subject.

The spirit of antichrist is a deceiver of believers (v 7) and through error deceives people into believing things that are untrue concerning Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “Whatever is only almost true is quite false and among the most dangerous of errors. Because being so near Truth, it is more likely to lead astray.”

If we allow the spirit of antichrist to lead us to believe false teaching concerning Jesus Christ, it will rob us of our present intimacy and fellowship with Jesus Christ and the joy that accompanies it. It will also cause us to be eternally short of where we might have been in intimacy with Jesus.

The spirit of antichrist will also cause defections from truth and love (v 10). Once deceived by false teaching a person will have defected to Satan’s cause. The only protection we have is to continue abiding in the doctrine of Christ. As Paul writes to Timothy, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13).

The spirit of antichrist also necessitates divisions and separations in the church (v 10). Separations are neither desired nor pleasant but because the spirit of antichrist is at work within the church it is sometimes necessary. We should not compromise the Gospel or doctrine of Christ for the sake of staying together. We must be discerning and discriminating. It is a sad thing that some churches, in an attempt to maintain numbers or grow, have sacrificed truth concerning Jesus Christ. The outcome is that people are deceived into defecting from Christ to serving antichrist and they are robbed of present joy and eternal reward. It is this reward that glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ in and for eternity.

Teaching concerning Jesus Christ is so vital that it is the difference between heaven and hell; between being with Christ or antichrist. To diminish its importance will have eternal fatal consequences.

Daniel Webster wrote, “If truth is not diffused, error will be. If God and His word are not known and received, the devil and his will gain the ascendancy.” The church must hold fast to sound doctrine or its people will suffer great loss.

Love and truth always go together. To truly love others is to use truth to serve them in order that they might have full joy and receive a full reward.

There is Always More

“We all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect (mature) man” James 3:2

Quite a few years ago during a family discussion on a particular activity I espoused some knowledge from my distant past experience with that activity. My son (in his twenties at that time) was amazed and asked how I knew so much on that subject. What he didn’t know was that I had participated in the activity in question for several years but it was all before he was born. He didn’t know what he did not know. This is true with us in regard to the Bible. It may seem to us that there isn’t any more to know, that we know the whole  story, but we cannot know what or how much we don’t know.

The verse above reminds us to be humble and teachable with regard to the Bible. Pride will want to make us an authority in order to make us feel good or to elevate ourselves and diminish others in our sight. Then we will “stumble in many things.” We may not say it outright but in our hearts there is pride that will make us feel a little better than others. It may be that some Christians have little interest in further study of the Bible because they think they know all there is to know. James wrote, “We ALL stumble …”

Understanding God’s word is very important in living our life with Christ but it is not the ultimate objective. The Bible is replete with affirmations on the importance of knowing and understanding God’s word and wisdom in its application but it is not the ultimate goal. We seek Jesus. Paul writes, “… that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10). Yes, we will stumble in many things but let us keep our eyes on Him. There will always be more that we don’t know so a humble teachable spirit should underpin our character. This involves placing ourselves where we can learn and is why God has given gifted teachers to the church.

We acknowledge that there is more to know and understand but that does not mean that we should be as the wind blowing to and fro when it comes to doctrine. The Holy Spirit is the One who will help us to learn and understand God’s word. After all, it is He who moved men to record what we now have in the Bible. Our part is to read the Bible daily, meditate on it and study it. God will then take us through life experiences that will help in our understanding.

The mature Christian will know that there is a limit to his knowledge and will not be lifted in pride so as to stumble in word.