Jesus' Footprints

Archive for February 2012

Last week when I was watching the Gospel of John, these verses jumped out at me.  And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.  I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ ”

I thought of Jesus’ question for the religious leaders regarding John’s baptism.  “The baptism of John–where was it from? From heaven or from men?”  And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’  “But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.”  Stumped, they told Jesus that they did not know.

This exchange began when Jesus returned to the temple to teach and the chief priests and elders confronted Him.  They questioned His authority.  Instead of answering their question, He asked another question.  When they couldn’t answer, He replied, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

John’s baptism came from the same place as Jesus’ authority–God.  The religious leaders failed to listen to John the Baptist.  They were upset when the children cried out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” after Jesus healed the blind and the lame.  They were indignant.  Their behavior proved Jesus right when He called them hypocrites. They were more upset over the children’s praises of Jesus than what had been going on in the temple.  They should have been as outraged as Jesus over the buying and selling of animals for sacrifice.  They begrudged Jesus for the good He was doing.

As they reasoned among themselves about John’s baptism, they were more concerned about what the multitude would think.  It would have been better to say that John’s baptism came from heaven and acknowledge that they had not believed John’s testimony which he bore to Jesus, as the promised and expected Messiah?” for that was the burden of John’s whole testimony.  Instead they feared the people.  These were not god-fearing men.  They cared more about what the people thought.  They were people pleasers not God pleasers.  As one Bible commentator rightly put it:  Evidently their difficulty was, how to answer, so as neither to shake their determination to reject the claims of Christ nor damage their reputation with the people. For the truth itself they cared nothing whatever.

The baptism question proved that these religious leaders were in no position to question Jesus’ authority.

I was wondering what the Pharisees and scribes did when John the Baptist was saying, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones”  (Matthew 3:8, 9).  In Luke’s account the people when they heard this message started asking what they could do.  This was evidence of true repentance.  Even the tax collectors and the soldiers asked John, “what shall we do?” (Luke 3:10-14).  What would have John said if the Pharisees and scribes have asked the same question, “what shall we do?”

John’s baptism was one of repentance and I don’t think the religious leaders felt that they had anything to repent of.  That’s why they didn’t ask what they should do.  They felt that being Abraham’s children was enough.  John’s baptism was to prepare the people for the coming Messiah.  People were to confess their sins and do something to demonstrate their repentance.  Before he baptized them, he called for them to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  The people flocked to him and were then were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

One Bible commentator noted, “This baptism was at once a public seal of their felt need of deliverance from sin, of their expectation of the coming Deliverer, and of their readiness to welcome Him when He appeared. The baptism itself startled, and was intended to startle, them. They were familiar enough with the baptism of proselytes from heathenism; but this baptism of Jews themselves was quite new and strange to them.”

It is interesting that John the Baptist asked the Pharisees and Scribes what brought them there to the river.  Perhaps, as a Bible Commentary suggests, he suspected that their motives were not to do with spiritual matters but curiosity.  They were there to see what was going on.  It’s like when they went to see Jesus.  They didn’t go there to learn anything but to find faults with what He said.  Even as they asked questions, flattering Him with their lips in some instances, their hearts were far from Him.  Unlike the people, they did not prepare themselves for the coming Messiah.

John’s baptism was from heaven.  He was the messenger whom God sent to prepare the way of the Lord.  His entire ministry was to point the people to the Lamb whom God sent to take away the sins of the world.  He succeeded in getting the people excited and expectant about the Messiah to the point where everybody reasoned and questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether he perhaps might be the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).

Has God pointed out a sin you have in your life?  What are you doing about it?  Are you asking Him, “What shall I do?” or do you think to yourself, I’m a child of God and I am under His grace?  Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

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One of the discussion questions in the Sabbath School Quarterly was:  In the Bible, God is pictured both as a great Lover of sinners and also as being very angry about sin.  Some Christians try to pick one or the other as showing God’s nature (who God is).  Why is that unnecessary?  In fact, why is God’s love for sinners one of the main reasons why He is angry about sin?

I thought about this question and it occurred to me that this is like a parent who loves a child and is hurt and angry when that child is disobedient and does things that hurts the parent.  What hurts is that the child knows better but still does what he knows is wrong.  I have seen this recur in the Old Testament with the Israelites.

God’s chosen people knew that idolatry is something God condemns.  It was addressed in two of His commandments.  In Exodus 20:3-6 we read:  “You shall have no other gods before Me.

 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourthgenerations of those who hate Me,  but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

God made it clear to the very same people whom He delivered from bondage in Egypt that they were not to worship any other gods or to make images of anything and worship it as a god.  They had just come from a nation where idolatry was the norm.  The Egyptians worshipped many gods.  Israel was supposed to worship one God–the Lord Almighty, I AM who brought them out of the land where they and their ancestors had been subjected to slavery and misery and oppression.

What astounded me was how soon after they left Egypt that the Israelites fell into idolatry (Exodus 32).  While Moses was getting the commandments from God, the people, impatient that Moses was taking so long, decided that they needed a god.  They turned to Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

More disturbing than the people’s unfaithfulness to God is Aaron’s response.  Instead of protesting and encouraging the people to have faith and to be patient, he told them to break off their earrings and take them to him.  He took the jewelry and fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf.   And to add insult to injury, he built an altar before the idol he made with his hands and proclaimed, “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.”  Aaron was encouraging rather than discouraging the idolatry.  The people would not have had an idol to worship if he hadn’t made one.  He was Moses spokesperson.  He was in charge of the people in Moses’ absence.  It is Aaron the people went to when Moses was delayed.      Perhaps this is why Moses was so angry with him.  Upon his return, he said to him, “What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?”

Aaron’s excuse was that the people were set on evil.  This made me think of Noah.  The people in his time were set on evil but did Noah go along with them or did he remain faithful to God?  He was a righteous man among a wicked generation.  Aaron should have refused to make gods for the people.  He should have reminded them that they had only one God.  He should have told them to be patient and wait for Moses to return.  God’s anger burned at the people’s sin.  He said to Moses,  “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.  They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them.”

Bull worship was common in many cultures. In Egypt, whence according to the Exodus narrative the Hebrews had recently come, the Apis Bull was a comparable object of worship, which some believe the Hebrews were reviving in the wilderness; alternatively, some believe the God of Israel was associated with or pictured as a calf/bull deity through the process of religious assimilation and syncretism.  Among the Egyptians’ and Hebrews’ neighbors in the Ancient Near East and in the Aegean, the Aurochs, the wild bull, was widely worshipped, often as the Lunar Bull and as the creature of El.the calf was intended to be a physical representation of the God of Israel, and therefore was doubly wrong for involving Israel in idolatry and for ascribing physicality to God (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_calf).  The people had left Egypt but the nation’s pagan ways had rubbed off on them.

God had every reason to be angry about the sin Israel had committed.  He had done the following for them:

  • Provided them with bread from heaven for their hunger
  • Brought water out of the rock to quench their thirst
  • Told them to go in to possess the land when He had sworn to give them

In return for His kindness and goodness, they:

  • did not obey His commandments
  • they were not mindful of His wonders
  • rebelled and appointed a leader to return to slavery
  • made a molded calf for themselves

God had shown them mercy but they threw it back in His face.  Sin makes God angry as it should.  It leads to disobedience–rebellion and death.  Like God we too should get angry over sin.  It hurts God.  It’s the reason why Jesus died on the cross.  It’s the reason why there is sorrow, sickness, suffering, violence and death in this world.

Thankfully, we serve a God who is ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness and would not forsake us just as He did not forsake the Israelites even after they made the calf.   Likewise, we should not forsake or give up on our kids.  It’s God’s great love for us that makes Him angry when we sin.  Likewise it’s love for our kids that makes us so upset with them when they are disobedient or rebellious.

Today, let us purpose in our hearts to please God.  Let us not forsake the teachings of the Bible and turn aside from the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Let us not grieve Him or allow sin to lead us astray.   Remember God loves the sinner but hates the sin.   And if we love God, we will keep His commandments.  We will not want to do anything that would upset Him.

This week I was reading a Sabbath School study lesson entitled The God of Grace and Judgment and there were a lot of very interesting points made.  Judgment and salvation are not contrary to each other.  They reflect twin aspects of God’s character.  God is a holy God so He has to bring judgment on those who wilfully sin against Him.  He is also a merciful God.  He offers people a way out.  He offers them the chance to turn away from their sinful ways and turn to Him.  We see this in the story of Noah.

God was heartbroken at the evil that was prevalent in the world.  All people wanted to do was commit evil.  Their hearts and minds were bent on doing evil.  So God decided that He would destroy the world in a flood.  There were however one family who was righteous in His eyes.  He approached the head of that family, Noah and informed him of His plans.  He also instructed him on how to build an ark.  God’s judgment was to bring the flood and His grace was the ark.  The lesson said that by building the ark, Noah was giving the world a warning about judgment.  There was a grace period–one hundred and twenty years to be exact, during which time the people had a chance to turn from their evil ways and accept God’s salvation.  Ellen G. White wrote that had “the antediluvians believed the warning, and repented of their evil deeds, the Lord would have turned aside His wrath” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 97).  Peter tells us that God was longsuffering.  He was waiting during the time that the ark was being built.

It is believed that Noah preached to the people as he built the ark.   2 Peter 2:5 tells us that Noah was a preacher of righteousness.   Strong’s definition of preacher is:  a herald or messenger vested with public authority, who conveyed the official messages of kings, magistrates, princes, military commanders, or who gave a public summons or demand, and performed various other duties. In the NT God’s ambassador, and the herald or proclaimer of the divine word.  Unfortunately, the people did not heed Noah’s message.  Jesus told us how they behaved during that time is similar to how many will be in the last days.   “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, “and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:38, 39).   Noah and his family were preparing for the flood in faith.  They believed that God would send them rain even though they had never seen rain before.  They were like the believers who will be preparing for their Lord’s coming.  They will be ready.  Noah and his family were ready.  When the flood came, they were safe in the ark.  Hebrews 11:7 testifies that:  By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.  The ark was a sign of both God’s judgment and His mercy.  It was there to warn people of His impending judgment and to offer them refuge if they would affect His grace before it was too late.

In the Garden of Eden, both judgment and grace are revealed.  Satan deceived Eve and sin entered the world.  When God entered the garden, He called out to Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” They were hiding from Him.  God was not condemning them.  He was inviting them to go to Him.  The lesson study states that it was a call to turn away from their deceiver and to return to their Maker.  Then after He is done questioning the couple, God pronounces judgment on the serpent before He gave His first message of grace, redemption, salvation for humanity.  He spoke of the cross.  On the cross Jesus would defeat the enemy and the wages of sin which is death.  After this message of grace, God declared His judgments against the woman and the man.  They are given the promise of grace before they receive their judgment.

A great question the lesson asks is:  In what ways might the Lord be saying to you, “Where are you?”  What are you doing that, perhaps, is causing you to hide from Him?  Why is understanding grace a crucial first step in heeding His call to draw near to Him and away from the deceiver?

John 3:16, one of the most quoted verses, speaks of God’s grace.  It says:  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.   Those who believe in Jesus will not perish but will have eternal life.  It is like those who accepted God’s grace during the flood would not have perished but would have been spared.  Verses 17-21 state:  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.  He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.  But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.  The offer of grace is for those who accept the gift of salvation through Jesus and judgment is reserved for those who don’t reject that gift.

Sometimes God’s mercy is in His warning.  The people of Nineveh were issued this warning, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”  God was giving them forty days to repent and turn to Him.  They believed God and proclaimed a fast.  They covered themselves and the animals in sackcloth and cried out to God.  The king sent out a decree that the people and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence.    When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, He changed His mind and did not bring judgment upon them.

One last example of judgment and grace is found in Revelation 14:6, 7:  Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth–to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people–saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”  The angel has the Gospel to preach to people.  They have the opportunity to hear the message and to either accept it or reject it.  They cannot say that they didn’t know about God or His offer of salvation.  They cannot plead ignorance.  The Gospel is to be preached to everyone.  Just as in the days of Jesus, the word was taught to the people and some accepted it while others rejected it.

As I read about the angel proclaiming the Gospel, I remembered what Paul said in Romans 10: For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.”  But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” (Romans 10:13-15).  Of course, not everyone will accept the good news but God, in His infinite mercy, has to give everyone a chance to hear the good news.  The Gospel is a message of judgment and grace.  Our role is to help spread this message.

I am so thankful that the God is the God of grace and judgment.  It means that He does not excuse or overlook sin.  It also means that He gives us a chance to turn from our sin (s) and turn our lives around with His help.  It means that He has the right to judge every secret thing whether it is good or evil but in His infinite mercy He offers us the way to salvation.



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