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.

The Book of Life

“Anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” Revelation 20:15

This unambiguous statement was written by John as a description of what God was revealing to him. The purpose of the occasion was that John record this for people to read, understand, believe and act upon. If the statement is not true then God is a deceiver and not to be trusted. No wonder John wrote at the beginning of this book, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3).

Since the lake of fire is the destiny of all whose names are not in the Book of Life and only those whose names are in this Book will enter the new creation (Revelation 21:27) it is a matter of highest priority and greatest urgency for every person to be sure their name is in that Book.

In John 3:18 we read, “He who believes is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Twice in this verse it says that the dividing factor is faith in Jesus Christ. Everyone’s name is written in the “books” as condemned but upon exercising faith in Jesus Christ one’s name is written in the Book of Life. Jesus called this being “born again” (John 3:3, 7). Paul called it a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15).

Condemnation is God’s sentence upon sin and since condemnation came when Adam sinned we are all born in sin and “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23), all are condemned and God’s wrath abides on us. However, the one who believes is no longer condemned because he has trusted that Jesus Christ died for his sin (John 3:36; Romans 5:8; 8:1). This is the reason Jesus came (John 3:17).

Only in Jesus Christ can condemnation for sin be removed because He bore the sentence for our sin on the cross. Forgiveness of sin and deliverance from wrath is only through Jesus Christ who died in our place (Hebrews 9:22, 26-28).

Anyone who denies this truth reveals that their name is not yet in the Book of Life. Their destiny is the lake of fire but that is not God’s desired destiny for anyone. Jesus bore the sin of everyone so that all might be saved but only those who believe Him will have their names written in the Book of Life.

Again I write, this is of the highest priority and the most urgent concern to anyone who is not assured that their name is written in the Book of Life.

Know His Comfort

“To wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” 1 Thessalonians 1:10

In this letter Paul expresses considerable affection for the Christians in Thessalonica (2:7-8). Many of his intended readers had turned from either Judaism or idols to follow the Lord Jesus Christ as a result of his earlier visit (1:9).

There were others who were jealous of the affection of the Christians toward Paul and they attempted to discredit him. They accused him of proclaiming Christ for financial gain and for prominence and power over people. However, this was more likely the motivation of his accusers.

Paul reminded them of his first visit. At that time he provided for himself so he had not been preaching for financial gain. Also he proclaimed the plain truth of the Gospel that produced conviction of sin so he wasn’t seeking a following for himself by deceit (2:5). Further, he accepted the persecution that followed preaching of the Gospel (2:2). On reflection the Christians in Thessalonica could readily see that the accusations against Paul were unfounded and false.

Another concern of these Christians was the return of Jesus Christ to establish His earthly kingdom. Fortunately for us, in correcting their confusion, he also corrects the confusion that is about now.

To keep his readers rightly focussed he pointed them to Christ’s return and kept that expectation alive throughout his letters. It is this expectation that keeps our minds on Christ. Key to the church’s future is that it will not endure the Tribulation. Jesus will deliver the church from this time of trouble on the earth (1:10). Paul’s words in 5:13-18 regarding the process of deliverance were intended to bring comfort. There would be no comfort if this was not to be taken literally (v 18).

To affirm what he has already written, Paul writes, “God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ: (5:9). That Christians would not endure the Tribulation is intended to bring comfort and encouragement (5:11).

As Paul poured out his love and affection he asked them to remember how they first received the Gospel. He then asked them to look forward to when they will meet the Lord (2:19). In closing and to sum up his letter Paul writes, “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (5:24). Remember when we responded to the Gospel; keep our minds steadily fixed on the day we will see Jesus, and trust Him to do all that He has said (cf. Isaiah 26:3; Philippians 1:6; 3:20-21). Then we will know His comfort.

A New Creation

“As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Jesus” Galatians 6:12

Paul had already addressed the matter of allowing false teachers to seduce Christians into falsely representing Christ and the Gospel. There were Jews who tried to compel Gentile Christians to be circumcised and live under the Mosaic Law. Even Peter had been persuaded to compromise under pressure from the Jews (2:11-14). Peter’s compromise led to Barnabas and other believing Jews also playing the hypocrite with him (2:13).

In the verse quoted above we note that the reason for their compromise was to avoid some degree of persecution. Peter, Barnabas and other Christians had buckled under the pressure of those who wanted to bring them under the bondage of the law and thus they falsely represented Jesus Christ and the Gospel. Much of this letter of Paul addresses this false teaching (i.e. 2:16-17; 3:24-25).

In the closing words of his letter Paul exhorts Christians to resist being drawn or seduced into coming under the bondage of the law. The enemies of Christ and the Gospel will employ the threat of or actual persecution in an attempt to persuade us to revert to their carnal way of thinking. The ways that Satan uses to achieve this have not changed. He will undermine the validity of key parts of the Bible or try and discredit those who proclaim the Gospel. This he had achieved with Peter and Barnabas until Paul rebuked them. Trying to appease those who proclaim a bondage type of gospel is not an act of Christian love because it communicates a false gospel that cannot save. Many who profess to be Christians are still deceived into believing that belonging to a particular religious order or living a humanly imposed moral standard or ritualised life will give them entrance to heaven. Paul puts those notions to death by saying that none of these have any bearing on where we spend eternity. In Adam we inherit sin and death. What we need is a new heredity. That is only possible in Christ and Paul writes that it will take an act of the Creator (6:15).

In Christ Christians are free from the requirements of the law because Jesus Christ fulfilled those requirements on our behalf. However that does not mean we should indulge the carnal nature. Having been created new in the likeness of Christ we will want to live as He lived expressing the new nature we have in Him.

Partakers of His Holiness

“God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten.” Hebrews 12:7

The men and women of the Old Testament have parts of their lives recorded for us as witnesses to us of God’s ways and the sinful nature within us. This is for our benefit not amusement. The key phrase in chapter eleven is “By faith.” Their experiences were as diverse as ours will be. We should never expect that God will take us along the same disciplinary path as someone else or that they will travel the same disciplinary path as us.

God’s grace may also be revealed in quite different ways. For some the grace of God in response to their believing His word brought about wonderful and miraculous miracles (11:33-35a). For others God’s grace in response to their believing His word brought horrendous trials, suffering and persecution (11:35b-38) but He delivered them out of them all. Under threat of fiery furnace Daniel’s three friends said, “… our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us from your hand” (Daniel 3:16-18). Whether by burning or preservation they knew they would be delivered from the King’s hand.

The writer exhorts us to lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us. Anything that drags us back from realising God’s purpose, revealed in 12:10, should be cast off. The sin that so easily ensnares us is no mystery. This whole part of Hebrews deals with it. If believing God’s word is faith then unbelief is the sin that turns us from faith. The fact is that we become ensnared in the sin of unbelief all too easily and may thereby invoke a disciplinary action from God. This action demonstrates that we have a special Father – son relationship with Him. The absence of it may seem good but it may also reveal that we are not sons of God.

There is a huge consequence to us individually and corporately (church) when we do not take God at His word and act upon it. Matthew tells us this consequence: “He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58).

Ignorance of God’s word will produce the same effect but love for Jesus will compel us to study the Bible for ourselves. No one enjoys discipline even though the outcome is good. We also know that discipline can be avoided if we study God’s word, believe it and act upon it (the evidence that we believe it).

God’s wonderful purpose in this is that His holy Divine Nature given to us (2 Peter 1:4; Hebrews 12:10) may be worked out in our experience for His glory. The O.T. record shows us many examples of God achieving this in the lives of men and women just like us.

The Goodness of God

“Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? Romans 2:4

It isn’t unusual for people to justify their belief that there is no God based on the corruption they observe among people. The nature of bias is that we only see or hear what we want to see and hear. In the previous chapter Paul wrote that the invisible attributes of God are clearly revealed in His creation (1:19-20) and so people who choose not to believe Him have no valid excuse for not believing.

We see the sun rise or set for a few minutes each day and observe its beauty; but in reality God performs both sunrise and sunset 24/7. If we travelled west at the speed of the earth’s rotation we could have a perpetual sunrise or sunset. We may observe the beauty of a rose bud opening over a few hours but at any given time there are many roses and multitudes of other in full colourful bloom. We have stood in wonder and marvelled at a new baby but there are parents in awe and wonder at their new baby all around the world all the time. We live in a world that provides far more food than required for the current population. It is only man’s greed for wealth and power that prevents it being distributed to the people or allowing them to grow their own. Some people look at man’s corruption and blame God. Others look at the goodness of God and seek deliverance from the corruption of man.

The forbearance and longsuffering of God is that He holds back on the outpouring of His wrath against evil for a reason (Romans 3:25-26). Peter agrees with Paul when he writes, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The delay in judgment is not because God does not exist, but because He is showing His goodness in contrast to man’s corruption, so that all people may have a change of heart and come to Him.

Those who are biased toward sin look at the corruption of mankind and say there is no God. Those who are sick and tired of this corruption look at the goodness, forbearance and longsuffering of God and come to Him for forgiveness and cleansing.

For the former, Paul does not have good prospects. He writes, “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are storing up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5). Jesus said, “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37) and John writes, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Those who believe His word may come in absolute confidence of being received, forgiven and cleansed. Those who don’t believe His word will, because of the hardness of their own impenitent heart, choose to remain under God’s wrath.

Worthy to Suffer

“At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” Acts 16:25

Paul and Silas were not visiting prisoners, they were prisoners. Without any judicial inquiry they had been beaten with rods until their backs were marked with many painful and bloody stripes. To ensure they did not escape they were placed in the inner cells. I remember visiting the high security section of a prison in South Africa. As we left I counted the locked doors, all with guards that we passed through. There were eleven! Paul and Silas may not have had so many but they were well secured. What could have justified such strong action?

Paul had wanted to go to the Roman province of Asia to preach the Gospel of Christ but was forbidden by the Holy Spirit. So he tried to go to Bithynia with the same outcome. For a man like Paul this might be a little frustrating but then the Holy Spirit directed him to Philippi where he had opportunity to preach the Gospel and see results. In the process of this a demon possessed woman followed him everywhere and was distracting his hearers from his message. He became so annoyed that, after many days and under Christ’s authority, he cast the demon out of the woman. This was a relatively insignificant distraction but it led to Paul and Silas being beaten and imprisoned.

We should not be surprised that relatively insignificant distractions may lead to significant service for Jesus Christ. Quite often these are only seen in hindsight.

Paul and Silas could have been filled with self pity or questioned whether or not they were in the will of God. Some may have thought they had been disobedient to God. Others may have asked what terrible thing they had done or maybe they just assumed Paul and Silas were workers of much evil. Instead, they were praying and singing hymns “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (cf. Acts 5:41). This is where many of Christ’s followers fall short. We are not all willing to suffer for His name. Instead we are inclined to seek the pleasures and enjoy the comforts of this world. In so doing we forsake Christ. Unlike Paul and Silas we are more likely to be concerned about our position rather than the condition of others. That they were singing hymns tells us that they were definitely not sulking or wallowing in self pity. Though beaten and imprisoned unjustly they were singing praise to God from their hearts with thanksgiving.

We ought not to be surprised that the Lord then gave these men the opportunity to lead many to Christ. There is a link between being willing to suffer for His name with leading others to faith in Jesus Christ.