Tangled in Roots
In the 1970s the ‘messianic movement’ sought to reach ethnic Jews with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The hope was to show them that Jesus truly is the Messiah prophesied in the Scriptures and that by believing in Him they can receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. Practically speaking, it meant sharing the gospel with ethnic Jews.
Turn the clock ahead 30 odd years and the landscape has changed considerably. Jews who believe in Jesus are not the only ones claiming to be ‘messianic’. One movement which has laid claim to the title is the so-called Hebrew Roots movement.
What is the Hebrew Roots movement?
It is a difficult movement to pin down, as Menachem Kaiser explains: “It’s a loose identity. There isn’t a church, there isn’t a leader. It gets very fragmented.” Kaiser wrote an in-depth article on the Hebrew Roots movement for Tablet magazine. In it Kaiser describes what seems to be the common denominator in the various branches of the movement: “The movement’s central belief is that the Torah is still binding—that God, or Yahweh, or Hashem, did not intend for Yeshua’s appearance to render irrelevant the lessons of the Old Testament, whose rules and instructions remain valid. The Brit Chadasha, or New Testament, which most Christians believe superseded the Torah, is understood as a sort of extension of the Torah.” Stephen Katz, North American Director of Jews for Jesus, gives this succinct definition: “The Hebraic Roots or Jewish Roots movement refers to various organizations with a common emphasis on recovering the original Jewishness of Christianity.”
Most of those who associate with the movement are not ethnic Jews. They are Gentiles who have no intention of converting to Judaism yet follow Jewish laws, customs, and practices. This has caused no small amount of confusion and trouble for those ethnic Jews who do believe in Jesus. Rich Robinson, who serves as Senior Researcher at the Jews for Jesus headquarters in San Francisco, wrote a series of articles on the challenges that the Jewish messianic movement faces. He writes: “Some ministries and groups exhort all followers of Y'shua—Jewish or not—to observe Jewish holidays. Many teach the importance of recovering the first-century faith of believers in Jesus and rejecting the pagan notions they feel have corrupted faith in the Messiah.” Exactly what pagan notions they reject is not always clear; it ranges from the rejection of worship on Sunday to the rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity. However, the movement is united in its rejection of modern Christianity as a perversion of the pure, first century version of their religion.
The history of the Hebrew Roots movement is as opaque as its teachings. Because it has no structure and should be considered a “grass-roots” movement, determining its origin is very difficult. Earlier movements, like the Sacred Name Movement and the World Wide Church of God from the 1930’s have definitely influenced the perspectives of the Hebrew Roots Movements. For example, Herbert Armstrong – leader of the World Wide Church of God – taught that Christians had to observe parts of the Jewish law, including keeping the Sabbath, adhering to Jewish food laws, and celebrating the Jewish festivals. He also believed in British Israelism, which teaches that British, American, and many European peoples were descended from the so-called Ten Lost Tribes of the Northen Kingdom of Israel. Most alarming, however, is Armstrong’s rejection of the Trinity, which many proponents of Hebrew Roots also do.
Even though Hebrew Roots takes many of its cues from Armstrong, the movement really took off after his death in 1986. In the mid-90s Dean Cozzens of Open Church Ministries published a supposed prophecy titled “The Hebrew Movement”. In it he claimed that God had foreordained four movements in the 20th century. Pentecostalism would be the first, then faith healing, leading to the Charismatic movement and finally, the Hebrew roots movement. Others joined the movement and in 1998 Dean and Susan Wheelock began publishing Hebrew Roots Magazine. They also started a website, Hebrewroots.net, which still operates today. With the help of the internet the movement started to grow and spread.
Not all Hebrew Roots proponents will agree with this characterization of their origins. Richard Fisher explains that the movement has many other influences and has branched into numerous streams. He writes: “It’s hard to define the HRM because it is so diverse and made up of so many disparate groups and individuals. It’s a moving target. It’s a vast smorgasbord of everything from scholarship, as in the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research, to so-called Third Questers, to individuals practicing subjective pop (make-it-up-as-you-go) Judaism. It can even include the medieval mystical Kabbalah, with its esoteric numerology. More often than not there are no distinctions made between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant or between the Bible and the Talmud. This movement can impose legalism with a vengeance or in some instances may simply suggest Jewish practices that they say will give us deeper insight and understanding as well as make us more “authentic” believers.”
Even though the movement is varied, there are common traits that has the potential to do great harm to the church and its witness to the lost.
1. Quoted by O’Neil, Lorena. 2014. Hebrew Roots rising: not quite Christians, not quite Jews. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/13/ozy-hebrew-roots-movement/6373671/ Accessed: 5 February 2015
2. Kaiser, Menachem. 2014. For some believers trying to connect with Jesus, the answer is to live like a Jew. http://tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/161086/observing-torah-like-jesus?all=1 Accessed: 5 February 2015
3. Katz, Stephen. 2001. The Jewish Roots movement: flowers and thorns. Havurah 4(1).
4. Robinson, Rich. 2003. The challenge to our Messianic movement, Part One. Havurah 6(2): 2-3.
5. Fisher, G. Richard. 2014. Bewitching believers through the Hebrew Roots movement. https://www.thebereancall.org/content/january-2014-bewitching-believers-hebrew-roots Accessed: 25 June 2023
Part 3: A few things to remember
Sharing our Christian testimony is one of the simplest ways to share the gospel. We are essentially telling the story of how Jesus Christ saved us. This is exciting stuff, because each conversion story is a THTHTHT to the grace of God and the power of the gospel. It is an account of how light triumphed over darkness, grace over sin, and Christ over Satan. If our testimony is boring, it is not because God didn’t do something amazing, but because we don’t realize what an amazing thing God has done.
How should I tell my story? We have three accounts of Paul’s conversion in the book of Acts. The first is found in Acts 9. Here Luke, the human author writing under the inspiration of the Spirit, narrates the events of Paul’s conversion as it happens. The second is found in Acts 22, where the apostle Paul shares his own testimony of conversion when the Jews level false accusations against him. The third is found in Acts 26. Again, the apostle Paul shares his testimony, only this time he shares it with a much smaller group and in a very different setting.
If you read all three accounts, you will find that there are subtle differences between them. For example, in Acts 22:8 Jesus identifies himself as “Jesus the Nazarene” (which does not happen in the first account). In Acts 9 we read about how the Lord prepared Ananias to minister to Paul, but Paul’s account in Acts 22 doesn’t mention it. In Acts 26 some details are left out, while more details of his call and his message are given. How do we make sense of these differences?
Some believe that these discrepancies prove that Paul made it all up and that his testimony was a fabrication. The opposite is true. In law, if a story remains totally unchanged when told at different times or to different people, it is more likely to be considered false. All of the details in Paul’s different testimonies are true, but weren’t included in each account. Why not?
Each of these testimonies emphasized different aspects of Paul’s conversion depending on his hearers. For example, when Paul was speaking to his fellow Jews, he emphasized his Jewishness and faithfulness to the Law. He also referred to God as “the God of our fathers”. He was trying to reach his fellow Jews with the message of the Messiah. He naturally changed his emphasis when he shared his testimony with Gentiles (see Acts 26).
This means that you, too, can shift the emphasis when you share your conversion story with different people. You don’t invent a new story, but you highlight different things. For example, the way that I share my testimony with teens or young adults differs slightly from how I would share it with someone older. I use different words (a different vocabulary), or I’ll highlight things that my listeners can relate to.
An effective testimony does not embellish or exaggerate. It recognizes that the salvation of a soul is a miracle of God’s grace. You don’t have to repeat the same rehearsed story every time; you can tailor the story to the situation while staying true to the facts. We want others to see how the gospel has changed our lives and how it can change theirs as well.
Because of Christ,
The apostle Paul has a pretty unique conversion story. It is first recorded in Acts 9, where the author gives us a spectator’s perspective of what happened. Later, in Acts 22, Paul shares his own testimony with the Jews as they were trying to arrest him. After his arrest, Paul had an opportunity to plead his case before King Agrippa (Acts 26). While the circumstances of each testimony is different, the essential elements of the story stay the same. We’ll look at Paul’s testimony before Agrippa as an example of how you can tell your conversion story.
What does a Christian testimony look like?
1. Introduce yourself (v. 4-8):
Paul’s introduction fits the occasion: he is standing before a ruler after being accused by his own countrymen. That is why he details his connection with the Jews, his strict adherence to their Law, and constantly shows deference or respect to the king.
In his introduction he sets the stage. He links his own story with the bigger story of Israel, one that the king would have been familiar with. He also introduces the theme around which he builds his story. It is in verse 8: “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” The resurrection becomes a central theme in how he shares his conversion story.
There are other gospel themes, like forgiveness, eternal life, or reconciliation around which you can tell your story. A theme helps you to decide what to include and what to leave out. It also gives your story focus. What grabbed your attention when you first heard the gospel? Was it the love of God revealed in Jesus? Was it the offer of forgiveness? Were you looking for life in all the wrong places, only to find eternal life in Christ?
2. Describe your life before Christ (v. 9-11):
In verse 9-11 Paul describes the consequences of his self-righteousness and how it motivated him to persecute the church. He describes his fallenness; he tells the king what his sin looked like. Note, however, that Paul does not glorify his sin. This is not the most exciting part of his story. He does not go into the gory detail, but he shares enough to help his listeners understand that he needed salvation.
When we talk about our lives before faith in Christ, we must be careful that we don’t glamourize sin. Don’t share details that may entice or tempt others to sin, rather than pointing them to Christ. This is a confession, not a boast, and should be done with the appropriate humility (see 1 Tim. 1:15).
3. Describe your conversion (v. 12-18):
Paul’s account of his first encounter with Christ differs slightly from the first account in Acts 9. For example, he includes the words: “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (v. 14). It was a common proverbial statement that meant that we cannot ultimately prevail against God’s will. Agrippa would have known what Paul meant: the Lord is in control, not Paul and not the king. In this version of his testimony he shares a lot of detail on his commission (v. 16-18). This links his story with the king’s story; the king is one of the Gentiles to whom the Lord has sent Paul!
What is most important, however, is that Christ takes centre stage. We must understand that our testimony isn’t ultimately our story, but God’s. It is about how he saved us, how he intervened in our lives. This should be the most exciting part of your testimony. This is the part where someone who was dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1) and lost in darkness (Col. 1:13), is brought to life and delivered into light by Jesus Christ.
How did you hear the gospel? Who shared it with you? What was your first response? When did you cry out to Jesus? What did you experience when you repented of your sin and trusted in the Saviour?
4. Describe your life after coming to Christ (v. 19-22):
Paul’s description of his life after coming to Christ is brief, but he wants to show that the gospel has made a difference. He wants to show how Christ has changed him: before he persecuted the church, but now he planted churches all over the Roman empire!
One of the elements we often neglect when we tell our conversion story, is how Christ has changed us. We are not who we used to be, and it will show (2 Cor. 5:17). Share how the gospel has made a difference in your live. What is different about you? How have your desires and plans changed? Where has God used you? What have you learned?
5. Conclusion (v. 23):
Paul concludes with an invitation: he restates the gospel clearly and simply: Christ suffered, died, and rose from the dead so that light can be proclaimed to both Jew and Gentile. He brings his story full circle by pointing Agrippa back to the resurrection.
His story demanded a response, and our should as well. Not everyone will respond positively to your testimony (they didn’t always respond positively to Paul’s), but that is not our job. We cannot change hearts, only Christ by his Holy Spirit can. Our job is to testify to the grace of our Lord in our lives. If you know enough to be saved, you know enough to share.
Because of Christ,
Part 1: What is a testimony and why should I share it?
What is a testimony? Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the dictionary definition. I would, however, like to give you a Christian definition. A Christian testimony is a story. It is a story in which you testify about God’s character. It is your eyewitness account of how God rescued you from sin and death through Christ, and changed your life as a result.
In Acts 4 the disciples were being persecuted for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. After their release, they prayed, and God filled them afresh with his Holy Spirit. What was the result? Acts 4:31 tells us: “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” Then, in verse 33, we read: “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” The disciples were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, or as the NASB translates it, they “were giving witness to the resurrection”.
In a similar way, when a Christian shares his or her testimony they are giving an account of what the Lord has done in their lives. Sometimes this means sharing the story of how the Lord answered prayer or delivered from a particular danger. In most cases, however, testifying means that we share how the Lord has changed our lives through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now that we know what a Christian testimony is, we must consider why we should share our testimony with others. The apostle Peter instructed believers to: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,” speaking here of those who persecuted them because of their faith, “but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:14-16).
If we love the Lord Jesus Christ and devote our lives to honoring him, it will elicit a response from those around us. Sometimes people respond with curiosity, not understanding why we are different or how we’ve changed. At other times they respond with animosity (enmity, opposition, or even persecution – which is what Peter highlighted in his letter). Even if people reject us, Christians are people with a profound hope. This hope changes how we endure suffering for the sake of Jesus. We should be ready to explain why we have such hope, even in suffering.
One of the best ways to do so, is to share your testimony. It is a way in which you can honor Jesus Christ, share the gospel, answer your opponents, and encourage other believers. Do you want to know the best part? Everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ has a testimony. True, your testimony may not be as exciting as the apostle Paul’s, which will look at next week, but you can share your unique story of how the Lord changed your life by grace through faith in the Saviour.
God can use your story to lead others into the glories of the gospel. If you know enough to be saved, you know enough to share the gospel with others.
Because of Christ,
This is an important question, because our salvation depends on it. Christ’s work of salvation requires his two-fold nature: God and man in one perfect, glorious Person. The incarnation makes salvation possible. But how? To answer this question we need to look at the offices of Christ. According to Scripture Jesus fulfils three offices: Prophet, Priest and King. Let’s look at each of these briefly.
As our Prophet Jesus reveals God and his will to us. Long ago, according to Hebrews 1:1-4, God spoke to us by the prophets, but now God has spoken to us by his Son. Jesus is the supreme prophet that God promised in Deut. 18:15-18: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers - it is to him you shall listen.”
What makes Jesus the supreme prophet isn’t simply his message, but his person. Unlike the other prophets who spoke for God, Jesus is God. This means that in his preaching and in his person, he reveals God to us.
In Isaiah 9:6 God promised us a ruler. The promise makes it clear that he would establish a conquering, peaceful, eternal, messianic, righteous reign. In order to be that promised king, Jesus had to be born in the line of David. In 2 Samuel 7:16 God promised: “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”
Jesus is that promised ruler. He has been given “as head over all things to the church” (Eph. 1:22). Unlike the kings who came before him, Jesus has the power and the character to establish this glorious kingdom, because he is God.
Hebrews 4:14-5:10 details how a priest was chosen from among the people so that he could be a sympathetic mediator. Jesus became a man so that he could bring the sacrifice and intercede for us before the Father’s throne.
While it is true that Jesus wasn’t born in the tribe of Levi or to the house of Aaron, he was ordained as a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4). This means that his priesthood is superior to Aaron’s. Jesus is a sinless High Priest and offered one all-sufficient sacrifice, because he is both God and man.
Why did Jesus have to become a man? Because our salvation would not have been possible without it.
Because of Christ,
Jesus said: “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt. 7:14). Wasn’t faith supposed to be the easy way? Who would willingly choose the hard and lonely “narrow way”?
In the previous verse Jesus elaborated on the way to “destruction”. We would think that, given the destination, people would avoid this way. Life is better than destruction, right? Sadly we don’t always consider the destination. Sometimes we are blinded by the journey.
Jesus highlighted the ease and fellowship of the wide way (Matt. 7:13). The wide way looks more enjoyable. The wicked always seem at ease (Ps. 73:12). You won’t be lonely. Sin loves company after all (Rom. 1:32). Compared to the narrow way, the wide way is a walk in the park.
The narrow way promises tribulation (John 16:33). On the narrow way you will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). The narrow way demands that we deny ourselves (Mark 8:24) and the pleasures that the wide way offers (1 John 2:16). This makes those on the narrow way very unpopular (1 Pet. 4:4).
If the journey was all that there was, then the wide way would be very appealing. Who would choose “hard” over “easy”? Asaph wrestled with the same question: “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Ps. 73:3). He was tempted to join the wide way, until “I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” (Ps. 73:17).
The journey is not the only thing that matters. It matters a great deal, but only as it relates to the destination. The journey determines the destination. The destination makes all the difference and there is only one way that leads to God and eternal life: the narrow way.
Faith and faithfulness is not a matter of convenience – it is a matter of life and death. Yes, it is hard, but it is worth it. The temptation to leave the narrow way loses all its power once we remember the destination. John put it like this: “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3).
Keep your eyes on the destination and you will not lose heart (2 Cor. 4:16-18). Jesus Christ is the destination.
Because of Christ,
We know that the gospel does not guarantee our comfort. In fact, faithfulness to the gospel might cause us great distress. Jesus said: “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33). This is exactly what the believers in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) experienced. They were suffering because of their faith (see 1 Peter 2:19-25; 4:1, 12).
Yet somehow they remained joyful. How is that possible? 1 Pet. 1:6 tells us that they rejoiced in something. That something is described in verse 3-5: the living hope to which they were born again, the inheritance that is being kept for them and the assurance that they are being guarded for the inheritance. These truths look ahead at the glory that believers will receive, but they have an impact now. They bring us joy in the midst of trials.
This does not mean that the trials are easy. Peter goes on to describe the grief that the trials caused (v. 6), but their trials were not pointless. He says that they were “necessary”. What possible purpose could their trials have?
The word for “trials” refers to a test. The trial reveals someone’s character by submitting him to thorough and extensive testing. That is why Peter mentions gold being tested by fire in verse 7. The melting point of gold is 1064 degrees Celsius: you cannot test it at low temperatures. In the same way the genuineness of our faith is tested by a “fiery trial” (4:12). When our faith in the Lord Jesus survives the trial it proves that our faith is genuine. Genuine faith results in “praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (v. 7).
This is one of the reasons we have to endure trials. Trials have a way of “proving” a genuine faith (v. 7) and of unmasking a false one (see Mark 4:16-17). Every trial brings an opportunity to be strengthened and reassured, or to repent and believe if our faith is found wanting.
What gives you hope? Avoiding the trial or enduring it? God has promised that we will not be tested beyond what we are able to bear (1 Cor. 10:13). Surviving the trial proves that God is faithful and that our faith in him is real.
Because of Christ,
Christianity is ludicrous without the hope of the resurrection. Think about it for a moment: what does God call us to in Christ? In 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle Paul reflects on some of the dangers he had to face for the sake of the gospel. In v. 30 he says that he was in danger every hour. Later, in 2 Corinthians 11:26 he records some the dangers he faced: “in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers”. No wonder Paul said: “I die every day!” (1 Corinthians 15:31).
That is what taking of the cross meant for Paul (Luke 9:23: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”). That is what it might mean for us.
If this is all there is to life – if death is the end – then following Jesus, risking for Jesus and dying for Jesus makes no sense. If death is the end, then we should “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32). But that is not what Paul chose.
Why did Paul choose the way of the cross instead of the ways of the world? 1 Cor. 15:20 & 58 gives us the answer: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep… Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
So ask yourself: what difference does the resurrection make now? How does the hope of the resurrection affect your life? At the very least it should give us hope, but more than that: it should give us courage – courage to do what God has called us to do, knowing it will be worth it in the end.
Because of Christ,
This excellent and timely series was preached by Pastor Pieter Pienaar in response to the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa's decision in October 2015 to approve same-sex unions and the ordination of homosexual ministers without the requirement of celibacy. Accompanying each sermon is a short video introduction providing some context and intended to be watched first. Listen here.
Dear Strand Baptist Church and friends
The City of Man stands today as a memorial to all the achievements of what human beings have done and can do. For everyone who is reading these words, whether on a computer or on A printed out office-copy, the reason why you can do that is clearly because someone has worked hard to produce these methods of communication. We are conveyed from point A to B by the collected wisdom of over 100 years of automobile expertise and industry. We are all borne along in all that we do by the hard earned achievements of previous generations. They have made us what we are today. And then comes Romans 9: 16 and says:
"So therefore it does not depend on the one who wills or the one who runs but on God who has mercy"
The perspective and work of God is deeper and broader than any of us can fathom. The famous Christian thinker and bishop, Augustine brilliantly said: "God is more truly imagined than expressed and He exists more truly than imagined" Here in Romans the inspired apostle plainly declares that the ultimate Person who is behind everything in this world of ours is God. Just as all the activity of human beings and all their accomplishments depend absolutely upon invisible nitrogen, oxygen and argon, so we are dependent upon the invisible God more than we are aware of. Here is the very important fact:
Without God dealing with each person alive on this earth today through His mercy, the entire human race would cease to exist. If the pure and holy justice of God were to come directly to us without going via the Cross, every human being would be damned in Hell forever. We are not worthy to be on God's good creation in the light of how we treat Him. 'All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God'. If God had to recall His spirit dealing in each human being, there would be no accusation of injustice from the council of heaven. This is a sobering truth that should cause us to walk humbly all our days.
Since the above is true all that is allowed to exist exists only because of the merciful pleasure of God. Since our appeal to rightness and fairness would only land us all in a place of banishment, that we are not there is because He has tempered His justice by His mercy. 'He has not treated us as our sins deserve'. Paul said earlier in Romans that this mercy and forbearance of God toward the world is meant to lead us to repentance (2:4). Sadly, it does not but only makes human beings doubly guilty. But the benefits of the Cross of Jesus still remain with every human being for God chooses to temporarily suspend His justice - which cries out for immediate fulfillment - on the godless for every second of their existence. Praise God for the Cross of Jesus Christ! It is the divine origin of the active mercy of God toward us right now. It only the world was more aware that it is not lungs that are allowing them to draw their next breath, but a merciful God!
How much more is it an act of mercy and grace that we should be called sons of God! How come we, who are more adept at sin than righteousness and are the ones who still go on eating the forbidden fruit, how come we are in such a place of grace with God? How can it be that we are the elect of God, the apple of His eye? This cannot be! Oh, but in Jesus Christ it is so! By grace alone and through the kind intention of God in every aspect of our faith in Christ, God has been forming and planning good things for us - by grace ALONE. As much as dead Lazarus was given new life through the word of the merciful Christ, so Christians have been given new life through the gift of another.
It all depends upon the MERCY OF GOD. How in debt are we to that Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ! Come, and receive light and life under its shadow!
See you Sunday, God willing.
Dear SBC and friends
What does the word 'inheritance' bring to your mind? Rather than a dictionary definition, we most likely think of patrimony and what was or will be left to you of your parents possessions. Most generally, the word refers to all that is legally passed on to the children after the death of their parents. It speaks of a great loss to one and a great gain to another, of great cost and great grace. So it is a very richly textured word that we all can relate to, though into different degrees.
Did you know that the Bible, in both the OT and NT, speaks much about inheritance? In the book of Joshua we see Israel receiving the inheritance of land from God. He gave them the land as a gift after they had come out of Egypt. All the tribes, except Levi, received a portion of Palestine. God was to be Levi's inheritance. In the NT there is also an inheritance that the church receives. Since a death has taken place, the people of Christ receive an inheritance from Him. This inheritance is one of salvation, in the most comprehensive sense of the word. Our inheritance is all the rich blessings that Christ died to bring us, from initial salvation to the final salvation of our bodies at the resurrection: the entire fruits that bequeath to us from His death. It is all that is in Jesus for us.
Yet Scripture is very clear that your spiritual inheritance is not automatic. It needs to be possessed and made ones own. This is clearly seen in the book of Joshua, where the tribes had to go into the land and dispossess the Canaanites, and make their own by faith what God had legally promised to them by His word. Likewise in the NT. Paul thus says:
"And now I commend you to God and the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32)
Here Paul states that God's Word is the vehicle to bring us into all that He has for us. The Word is able to give something to you, able to give you your inheritance. As it richly abides in us and as we know all that Christ died to bequeath to us, so we can respond in faith and obedience. Oh what a blissful idea! Our great Heavenly Father has an earmarked inheritance for you now that His Son has died! It is a divine gift that waits to be appropriated. It includes intimacy with God, experiences of His Spirit, fellowship with Christ, victory over sin, opportunities of service in the Royal Household, the replication of the image of Jesus in you.. and so much more. Notice here that it is not through meritoriousness or moral goodness that we quality but through 'the Word of His grace'! - for inheritance is all about a gift of grace from another. That's good-news (Gospel) for all of us.
May you know that in Christ Jesus and in His cross - and only through them- you have a special inheritance from God. No matter how much you know you don't quality through sin, through His Son's death 'the Father has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light' (Col 1:12). Knowing this, we need to press into it and 'to press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me' (Philip 3:12).
The Promised Land lies before you - and their is a piece of it allotted just for you! Go up and inherit it in Jesus Name!
Under the greater Joshua,
Dear brothers and sisters.
A good few years ago I preached a series of messages called 'Cultural Chameleons', in which I pointed out some cultural values that expose us to the risk of a fatal contamination.
The Word of God exhorts us to keep ongoing vigilance against the ungodly and dangerous assumptions of our culture, saying in 1 John 2:15 'do not love the world or the things in the world'. What this well know Bible verses says is one thing, but what it means for us today is another. In the past few Pastor's Weekly's I have been pointing out some aspects of our culture that we need to sit up and take note of, and immunize ourselves against. The cultural trend I want us to briefly consider is The Time of the Spectator.
Are you not aware of how much today entices us into the position of passive viewing? Consider a filled stadium crowded with observers waiting to be entertained by some event. Today, that spectator-experience is now delivered on-tap for us in our own homes and wherever we go (without the inconvenience of having to physically be at any event). We have access through a variety of media (internet, TV, smart phones etc) to a whole world full of engrossing activities whenever we want. What a time we are living in! I do not so much want to judge what is available for us to watch today, but I want the spotlight of your awareness to fall on how much we are tempted today to take up the posture of the irresponsible spectator before modern media.
This particular temptation is not new (the exponential bombardment is!). In the book of Proverbs the same temptation appeared in a different form. In chapter 7 and 8 the father warns his son not to be enticed by the 'grass-widow' seductress but rather to dearly embrace and follow Lady Wisdom. The 'simple' fool naively follows the attraction that is before his eyes, listens to her promises of 'entertainment' and passively follows where she leads. The father urges his son to choose rather to follow Lady Wisdom, 'who dwells with prudence and possesses knowledge and discretion' (8:12). 'Don't just follow passively what your eyes see son', the father says, 'but rather listen to the voice of wisdom and wise counsel. Guard your eyes and and choose to follow in the path of wisdom'. Though a different time and example, the urgent call of Lady Wisdom for us to responsibly follow in the paths of prudence and discernment is what we so need to hear and obey in our time.
I think that in all that is brought before our eyes today, we need to have 'minds that are alert and fully sober' (1 Peter 1:13) so that 'we may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ' (Philippians 1:10). This translates into subjecting all the media into the position of a good servant, and not allowing ourselves to passively take up the posture before it as a master. It will mean saying No to mind-filleting viewing and Yes to viewing that helps us to better understand our world and our responsibility within it. I personally believe that this must entail more active reading and less passive viewing. Unnecessary 'spectatoring' enfeebles the mind and leads it down the comfortable and wide road that leads to destruction. Necessary reading cultivates and strengthens the mind and leads down the road of life; it engages us in a way that makes us more human not less.
So friend, consider the temptations that are on offer today. Be aware that you need to make a daily responsible choice to engage your faculties more than pamper them. Let us keep our focus on loving and serving real other people in Christ's name, engaging with our families over Scripture and good literature, and keeping vital contact with our Father in prayer. Let us embrace with call of Lady Wisdom today.
Dear Strand Baptist and Friends,
When Archimedes, the Greek mathematician, working with a simple lever, said, “Give me a place to stand on and I will move the earth”, he was asking for a base for his lever’s fulcrum necessarily outside the cosmos. When asked for an illustration of his contention that a very great weight could be moved by a very small force, Archimedes apparently used a large and fully laden ship and to have employed a mechanical device by which any man was enabled to move it himself. The power of leverage! Now a fulcrum is a firm centre base that can support and implement a mechanism used to move another object. It is succinctly defined as ‘the point or support on which a lever pivots’. But here is the issue: in order for the lever to lift an object, the fulcrum for the lever must be outside of the object it is acting upon. I hope this is not either labouring the obvious or ‘mist-ifying’ (that’s not a spelling mistake!).
Do you likewise look for the fulcrum of life, that has the ability to lever your life above your present cul-de-sac’s and treadmills, burdens and bondages? Now the Cross of Christ is such a fulcrum, and in preparation for Good Friday it will do us good to be in awe of its peculiar power. The Cross is a veritable power and truth that stands rock-like and safely outside of us, eternal in the heavens. Paul says, ‘For us who are being saved, the cross is the power of God’. The message of the cross has the power to transform us and pull us out of ourselves, into that other world around us where, ‘behold, all things have become new’.
It is in that unique book of Hebrews that this ‘alien’ message is sounded out. Let us turn our minds and hearts there. As we read chapter 6, we hear the writer say, ‘we have this [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain where Jesus has gone.’ As Jesus took His shed blood into heavens holy of holies, He was completing something on our behalf, doing something eternal and infinite for us outside of us, outside of humanity, outside of the earth and universe, but inside the very presence of God. And what did Jesus do once He had presented His blood as His provision for the responsibilities of all our sins? He sat down, waiting until His return. Oh, the cross of Jesus and the finished work of Christ for the world. Not the wood, or the physical agony, or the supposed magical qualities of the blood of Mary’s son – but the life which He gave up in death as an offering for our sins. He took all our guilt and sin, and having borne the reproaches of God that should have fallen upon us, He accomplished atonement (‘at-one-ment’) and reconciliation and cleansed the heavenly realms for us, once and for all.
The writer in Hebrews clearly states that Jesus has now ‘made purification for sins’ (1:3), has ‘PUT AWAY sin’ (9:26). The Greek word used for ‘put away’ (athetesis) is only used twice in the entire New Testament, here and also in 7:18. In chapter 7v 18 (read it please) it is used in the sense of ‘to set aside’, or ‘abolition’ or ‘set at naught’ – for the Levitical priesthood is no longer necessary, it is obsolete. Through His Cross, he abolished the old ceremonial machinery of the Old Covenant. It is a strong Greek word, with our English ‘abolish’ a fitting equivalent. So in the Cross, Christ absolved and abolished the power of sin. Marcus Dodds says of 9:26, “This was the great object of Christ’s manifestation, the annulling of sin, its total destruction, the counteraction of all its effects’. Hallelujah! Where the Old Covenant called sins to mind by the perpetual and regular sacrifices, He sacrificed Himself, once for all, and thus annulled sin (note: as He made purification for sins plural in 1:3, so here in 9:26 His total victory is over sin singular, that is, sin in its comprehensive and total power. Every word of God is inspired!) Absolute atonement was achieved. No higher cleansing can be reached in dealing with sin. Sin was vanquished, set at naught. The curtain is now torn, man can come in Christ before a Holy Father. Redemption is achieved and effected. What a gospel. Regardless of what sin is still doing in the world of men after that first Good Friday period, something final in Christ has occurred. This we must always preach. What good news it truly it!
Finally, going back to Archimedes. When king Hieron asked him whether a crown of gold made for him actually contained some proportion of silver, the famous scientist was initially puzzled. Then one day as he was stepping into a bath the solution dawned upon him. He was so overjoyed at the solution in his mind, having been rankled by the problem for some time, that he supposedly ran home without his clothes, shouting ‘eureka, eureka’ (Greek for ‘I have found it, I have found it’). Now readers, when you freshly discover the objective Truth of the Cross, and what it means for you and your relationship to God and the world, I would not be surprised if you did similarly!
With love, Pastor Paul
A Clear Word From Scripture
Just as there were globally publicized predictions of the End of the world in 2012, there will surely be many more to come. This is nothing new, and for most of the church's history sincere Christians have always fallen prey to such speculations. Yet in response to these delusive predictions, Christians have been sadly rather vague and unclear in their counter-responses. Because there has been no clear word from Scripture in answer to this growing chorus of count-down mentality, the vacuum of ignorance has only exacerbated the problem.
I believe that Scripture is unambiguously clear as to how we need to respond to such prognostications and I want you to know how to respond to popular claims that Christ's return is just around the corner. To know how to respond, we need to turn to 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. Please read it and then be like the noble Bereans (Acts 17:11) who searched the Scriptures for confirmation of what they were told. Here we see that Paul gave (1) a Certain Sequence (2) of Observable Objects (3) as a Defence for Delusion. The church he wrote this letter to had forgotten what he had earlier taught them and had slipped from a sound stable mind into alarmed and agitated instability regarding the Second Coming (Advent) of Christ. Based on false prophecy, words of people, and also a spurious allegation from a letter of Paul, some people were believing that Christ's Advent had already happened. Many people in the church were unsettled and did not know how to counteract this 'new teaching'. Here is the gist of what Paul said to them:
1. The Certain Sequence:
Paul made it very clear that Christ's coming and our gathering to Him in the rapture (vs 1) could not happen at any moment but must be preceded by a certain complex of events (notice the temporal word 'first' in verse 3). Since there are certain events in history that must necessary transpire before the Advent, Christ could not have already returned. That is the gist of what Paul declares. No Returned Christ or any-momentism! - since the precursor signs have not happened yet.
2. The Observable Objects:
Paul spends most of this section describing the nature of the events that must happen before Christ returns, in order that his readers may (a) know if Christ is not returning yet and (b) know what things will look like on earth if His Advent is imminent Paul describes certain global international world conditions. His words centre around a Satanic parody of the Messiah, a real man who will make his debut on the world scene, who will be personally slain by Jesus Christ at His Coming. This is the Antichrist, the one side of the coin of the expected events. The other side of the coin is the expected 'rebellion' or 'apostasy' which must happen. This Greek word 'apostasia' can be variously translated, dependent on the context it is used. At bottom is means a defection from one position to another. If Julius Malema and his followers had to move out of the ANC and join to DA, the Greek word for that would be 'apostasia'. If thousands of Baptists had to leave their churches and join the Moonies, that would be an 'apostasia'. So Paul's words can speaks of a specific religious 'falling away' amongst Christians or Jews, or in a specific political realignment. Given the context (which is always determinitive for the meaning of individual words) where Paul describes the Antichrist as the 'man of lawlessness' who will appear and receive a global reception, the 'apostasia' is best understood in the broadest sense of a mass exodus from traditional law, order and religion to believe and follow the pretentious claims of this global demagogue. Also considering the context once again, the identity of 'the restrainer' is most reasonably a reference to Roman law and order (which actually saved Paul from being lynched by lawless mobs in Acts 19 and 22). As long as overall lawful governance was in operation in society, the full flowering of lawlessness and autocratic world rule would be keep in check. Overall, the logic of the inspired apostle is that these things are to be unprecedented and observable signs, clear for Christians to see, and that until these historical realities transpire, Christ will not be returning as yet.
3. The Defence for Deceit:
False teaching misrepresents the truth and immunizes God's people to the authentic teaching of the Word. Delusive speculations also immobilise and distract us to our present mission in the world. Paul wanted the church to be 'in the know', stable and confident as to these things. He wrote these things as a safeguard to Christians and to enable them to walk in the light of truth, immunized to the current speculations. The teaching is revealed to be known and to support the church a midst a growing world alarmism.
My friend, may you hear what the Word is saying on these things. Notice how clear Paul is! Unless we see Antichrist and the his 'abomination that causes desolation' in a Jewish temple, Christ will not return. Paul was teaching exactly what Jesus Himself taught in Matthew 24. Let us hear these words of Paul (and Jesus) afresh, know the truth, and by our service for Christ in this world 'hasten that Day of the Lord' (2 Peter 3:12).
Pastor Paul Hartwig