Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Letters Of Paul The Apostle To The Believers At Thessalonica. Day 1, Your Faith Has Been Made Known

We are getting back into the letters of the Apostle Paul. It's believed he wrote the letters to the Thessalonians in the early 50s AD while he was in Corinth. 

According to what Luke told us in Acts, Paul and his companions weren't treated very well when they first tried to bring the gospel to Thessalonica. But some who heard the gospel from them did believe it, and now a growing and thriving church is present there. It is to these believers that Paul addresses his letters.

"Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you." (1 Thessalonians 1:1) Timothy was a companion of Paul on many of his missionary journeys. Silas accompanied him on his second missionary journey and was beaten and imprisoned along with Paul in Philippi. Having greetings sent to them by these three men who have suffered a great deal for the gospel must have provided a lot of encouragement to the church of Thessalonica.

As he so often does, Paul assures his readers they are always in his prayers and in the prayers of those working alongside him. "We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3) When Paul says that he and his friends remember the work of the Thessalonians "before our God" I think he means that in their prayers they remind the Lord of the good deeds the Thessalonians are doing in His name. It's not that the Lord doesn't know what these believers are doing in His name, but it's a beautiful way to pray for them. When they pray like this, their love for the Thessalonian believers grows. They find themselves encouraged by the courage of the Thessalonian believers, so that they themselves are energized to work hard for the Lord.

"For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction." (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5a) He says, "You are loved and chosen by God! The proof of this is that when you heard the gospel, you believed it. Your belief changed you and now you aren't who you used to be and you don't do the things you used to do. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you have turned away from your old ways of living and are living as new creatures in Christ."

"You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 1:5b-6) Paul and his companions set an example for the Thessalonians to follow. The Thessalonians followed their example in godly living, even when (by earthly standards) it didn't seem to be in their best interests. They were met with opposition for claiming the name of Jesus Christ, but they endured. Not only did they endure suffering, but they endured it with joy in their spirits, the kind of joy only the Holy Spirit can give. Have you ever rejoiced in the Lord even during terrible times? I have, and I can assure you that power didn't come from me. It came from the Holy Spirit. 

"And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia---your faith in God has become known everywhere." (1 Thessalonians 1:7-8a) After following the example of Paul and his friends, the Thessalonian believers became an example to others. As a result, their great faith in the Lord has become widely known.

"Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead---Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath." (1 Thessalonians 1:8b-10) The changed behavior of the Thessalonians is a testimony in itself to the truth of the gospel. When people of the surrounding cities hear about how the gospel of Jesus Christ turned the Thessalonians away from pagan idolatry to the one true God, and when they hear about what holy lives these converts are now living, they can't help wanting to know more. They can't help recognizing the power it must take to change people so drastically. They say to themselves, "There must be truth in the gospel message. There must be power in the one called Christ. If not, how else can we explain what has happened to these people?"

Sometimes we can share the gospel without saying a word because our changed lives share the gospel for us. People far and wide were hearing about the transformation of those at Thessalonica who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. They want to know about this transforming faith. They are curious about the courage that enables believers to endure persecution. They want to understand a joy that transcends all earthly troubles. You and I can share the gospel not only in words but in actions, just like the Thessalonians did. I can't think of anything better that could be said of us than that which was said of the Thessalonian believers: "Your faith in God has become known everywhere."

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Letter Of Jude, The Lord's Brother. Day 8, Mercy

Jude concludes his letter today by speaking of the mercy of the Lord and the mercy we should show to each other.

First he makes a few final remarks about the ungodly. "But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, 'In the last time there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.' These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit." (Jude 1:17-19) No one should be surprised that the opposition to the Lord's truth becomes more intense as time goes on. We have been warned that in the last days "perilous times will come". (2 Timothy 3:1) These perilous times are brought about by the attitudes and actions of ungodly persons who will be "lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God". (2 Timothy 3:2-4)

Because believers have been warned about ungodly persons, we are to be on the alert for them, for some have "secretly slipped in". (Jude 1:4) Such people are "sleepers", who quietly join the church and go unnoticed at first but who gradually begin to influence others by introducing false or divisive doctrine.

The church can avoid being drawn into sin and heresy by remaining grounded on the truth of God's word and by keeping in close fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. "But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life." (Jude 1:20-21) Jude counsels his readers in the same way the Lord Jesus counseled the disciples, "Watch and pray." (Matthew 26:41) While we occupy ourselves with the study of God's word, with prayer, and with building our relationship with the Lord Jesus, we are to keep in mind that the Lord could come for us at any moment. We are living in the last days, and we've been living in the last days ever since Jesus ascended to the Father. Like a bridegroom of old, Jesus has gone to prepare a dwelling place for us. Like the father of the groom, when all is exactly right with the dwelling place, God will say to Jesus, "Son, go get Your bride." Like the bride of old who doesn't know what day the bridegroom will appear to take her home for the wedding, we (the church) are to be ready to go at any moment. If we live each day knowing we could hear the voice of our Bridegroom any second, we are going to be far less likely to fall into sin.

Christ has shown mercy to us. He called us out of darkness into light. He took our doubts and turned them into faith---a faith upon which we've staked our lives and our souls. We must remember where we came from and show mercy to those who aren't yet as strong in the faith as we are. "Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear---hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh." (Jude 1:22-23) We have people sitting in our churches every Sunday who are plagued with doubts. They believe and they don't believe at the same time. We have to have patience with them while we encourage them in the faith. There are people all around us who are living far from the Lord and who are wallowing in sin. We must show mercy to them too, while taking care not to be influenced by them. This is why Jude says to be merciful but to let our mercy be mixed with fear. He knows that when trying to pull a person out of the mire of sin, there is a danger of splattering some of the mud on ourselves or---worse yet---falling into the mire along with the person we are trying to rescue. The Apostle Paul gave the same warning in his letter to the Galatians, "Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you may also be tempted." (Galatians 6:1)

Jude closes his letter by giving honor and praise to the Lord. "To Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy---to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen." (Jude 1:24-25) He says, "Thanks be to the Lord who saved us and is able to keep us saved. All the praise and glory belongs to Him, to the Savior who existed before the world began, who has redeemed us and who still is performing His redemptive work in us, and who lives forever to be our King and Lord!" When the Lord Jesus appears to the Apostle John and gives him the information that became the Book of Revelation, He will call Himself the One "who was, and is, and is to come". (Revelation 1:8) He has always existed. He exists now. He always will exist. One who holds such "glory, majesty, power and authority" can not only save us, but can also keep us saved. Jude has had to talk about some scary subjects with his readers because the devil has decided the only way to beat the church is to join it. But the Lord Jesus has already promised that the devil will never beat the church. (Matthew 16:18b) And we don't have to worry that the devil will beat us personally either, for the One who gave His life for us and who conquered the grave is able to keep us saved and to present us to Himself, as Jude says, "without fault and with great joy".

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Letter Of Jude, The Lord's Brother. Day 7, The Lord Is Coming/Information On The Real Enoch And On The Fake Book Of Enoch

It matters whether or not we serve the Lord. A day is coming when we will have to answer for how we have lived our lives. Jude has been talking about the ungodly, warning them that just as Old Testament wicked people met their doom, they will meet theirs if they do not repent. Today he's going to remind his readers that the Lord is coming and that wickedness is going to meet its just reward. He's also going to talk about a man named Enoch who warned the world that the Lord was coming to judge wickedness. We're going to discuss the real Enoch versus the one depicted in a a false book by the same name, and while we're at it we're going to talk about why the Book of Enoch is not included in most versions of the Holy Bible.

When we concluded our study on Saturday, Jude was saying of the ungodly, "They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever." (Jude 1:13) Today he picks up there by saying, "Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: 'See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of His holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.' These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage." (Jude 1:14-16)

First we are going to look at who Enoch was and why Jude feels his words are worth quoting. There were four Enochs in the Bible, but it is assumed by most scholars that Jude is referring to the Enoch of Genesis 5:18-24. He is the most famous of the four men named Enoch, for he was the great-grandfather of Noah and he was a man who did not die but who was taken up to heaven by God. Only one other man in the Bible was taken up to heaven without dying, and that was Elijah the prophet. (See 2 Kings 2:1-11) Was Enoch also a prophet? Well, we know that he made at least one prophecy, the prophecy Jude quotes in our portion of Scripture today. I think it's quite likely that he was a prophet. He lived during the centuries that led up to the flood, and just as God sent prophets to the nations of Israel and Judah for a long time before He sent them into captivity, I believe God would have sent prophets to the citizens of the world for a long time before He sent the flood.

The Bible tells us very little about the historical figure Enoch. We know that he was sixty-five years old when he fathered his son Methuselah. This made him somewhat of a young father for the long-living men of Genesis, who tended to be closer to 100 (or more) before fathering a child. And we know that, "After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years." (Genesis 5:22-23)

Then, mysteriously, we are simply told, "Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away." (Genesis 5:24) I'm a curious person and I want to know why God took him away and how God took him away. The taking away of Enoch appears to be connected with his faithfulness, since the author of Genesis is careful to keep reminding us of the faithfulness of Enoch. But the circumstances of this "taking away" are not revealed to us. The only other thing we are told about Enoch in the Bible is when the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Hebrews, "By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: 'He could not be found, because he had been taken away.' For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God." (Hebrews 11:5) Paul paraphrases Genesis 5:24 in Hebrews 11:5. So we see that when the author of Genesis (believed to have been Moses) says God took Enoch away, he isn't using a euphemism for death but is literally saying that God removed the living Enoch from the earth and took him to heaven.

The question is: Is Jude quoting from the Book of Enoch (not considered to be inspired Scripture) or is he quoting a prophecy the actual Enoch is known to have made? The answer is: We do not know. The Book of Enoch has a verse which says, "Behold, He comes with ten thousand of His saints, to execute judgment upon them, and destroy the wicked, and reprove all the carnal for everything which the sinful and ungodly have done, and committed against Him." This information is nothing new to anyone who has studied the Bible. We know God is going to judge the ungodly. The fact that whoever wrote the Book of Enoch tells us judgment is coming doesn't make the book inspired Scripture, for all of us who believe in God know that God is going to judge the ungodly.

Jude would have been aware of the Book of Enoch which surfaced around the 2nd century BC, but this may or may not mean he is quoting from the book itself. The book is part of a body of writings known as the "pseudoepigraphia". This is a collection of writings that claim to have been written by people who did not write them. The term "pseudoepigraphia" comes from the Greek "pseudo" which means "false" and the Greek "epigraphein" which means "to inscribe". In other words, they are "false writings". They are fakes. The apocryphal Book of Enoch which existed in Jude's day was not written by the historical Enoch who lived many centuries before the flood. There were a large number of pseudoepigraphical books in existence in the late centuries BC and the early centuries AD. The authors were attempting to create a following for their writings by falsely attributing them to real characters of the Bible. Most Christian denominations do not consider these works to be inspired Scripture and do not include them in their copies of the Holy Bible.

The Book of Enoch was long ago rejected from the Biblical canon for the same reason the other pseudoepigraphical books were rejected. First of all, these books tell a lie right off the bat by claiming to have been written by persons who did not write them. Secondly, they suddenly appear on the scene far loo late in history to have been written by whom they claim to have been written. (Where were they during all the centuries between the time the person actually lived and the time they became "discovered"? Why were these books never mentioned by anyone in between the time the person lived and the time the books surfaced?) Thirdly, they contain historical errors, such as the date given for the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in the book called "The Apocalypse Of Baruch". (Baruch was the scribe of Jeremiah, so the person who wrote the false book by Baruch's name was attempting to lend authority to his book by attributing it to Baruch. The real Baruch, who lived during the time Babylon conquered Judah, would not have made a mistake about the year it happened or about who was king of Judah at the time.) Lastly, they contain Scriptural errors---sometimes outright heresy. There are too many of these examples for me to reference here, but if you have free time you can Google why the pseudoepigraphical books were rejected as the word of God.

I have a book which contains the pseudoepigraphical Book of Enoch, and in places it appears to be legitimate because it throws in just enough actual Scripture and words that sound like they could be Scripture to lend an air of authority to it. It sounds enough like the Bible that it might fool someone who doesn't know the Bible. By and large though, what it reminds me of most is what someone might write down after having been on a psychedelic drug trip. If someone had taken acid for example, and had experienced hallucinations, and later on had attempted to write down an account of the things he experienced while under the influence, it might well read a lot like the account contained in the Book of Enoch. You will find the Book of Enoch quoted quite often on popular TV shows and in popular books having to do with the "ancient astronaut theory", but these TV shows and books also take true Scripture and twist it to suit their own needs (Ezekiel's account of seeing the Lord, for example, and the account of Elijah being taken up to heaven in 2 Kings 2). I've watched these shows and read these books for myself, and in them I always note Scriptural errors and the use of apocryphal and pseudoepigraphical books. They are using these fake Scriptures in order to deceive people into thinking the word of God says things it does not say. Those who don't know the Bible can be easily deceived because, in not being familiar with the inspired word of God, they are not going to be able to recognize fake Scripture when it's presented to them.

So is Jude quoting from the Book of Enoch or had the words of the real historical Enoch been passed down through the generations? We can't say for certain. If Jude is quoting from the Book of Enoch, is he giving it the status of inspired Scripture? Well, the Apostle Paul sometimes quotes the words of playwrights and poets in his letters, but Paul isn't saying that these men were given inspired Scripture by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the truth is simply the truth, and even a fake Scripture writer or an unbelieving playwright makes a true statement from time to time. Is God going to judge the world? We know He is. The real Enoch who lived before the flood knew it. Those who lived between the flood and the coming of Jesus Christ knew it. Those of us who have lived since the first advent of Christ know it. The person who wrote the fake Book of Enoch knew it. The truth is the truth, and the truth is that God---who is righteous and holy---must judge unrighteousness and ungodliness. If He did not judge wickedness, then He would not be holy. I couldn't serve a God who isn't holy. Just think about the horror stories we see on the news sometimes. Would we serve a God who isn't going to hand down punishment for the cruelty and abuse some human beings have perpetrated on their fellow humans or on the animals? I don't think we would, because a God who won't judge unrighteousness wouldn't be righteous Himself.

Judgment is coming. And when it does, we want to be among the redeemed of the Lord, not among those who must stand before a holy God with no Defender. At one time we were all lost. We may have wallowed gleefully in sin, or we may have been cruel and deceitful to others, or we may just have refused to allow God to be Lord of our lives. But we were all lost and we all needed a Redeemer and Defender. We needed Christ to make us new and whole. Judgment is coming and we don't want to face it alone with the stain of our sins still on us. We want to face it as the regenerated people of the Lord, whose sins have been cleansed by the blood of Christ, who have been saved by faith in Christ. We want to be those whom Paul is talking about when he says, "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation." (Colossians 1:21-22)

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Letter Of Jude, The Lord's Brother. Day 6, Selfish Shepherds

Jude talks about selfish shepherds in today's passage. In the Bible we often find religious leaders referred to as "shepherds". They are supposed to lead the flock (the congregation, the body of believers) in ways that are righteous. But unfortunately this isn't always the case.

The Lord had harsh words for the religious leaders of Israel who were not properly shepherding the people, "'Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!' declares the Lord. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: 'Because you have scattered My flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,' declares the Lord." (Jeremiah 23:1-2) In Jude's day there were those who had crept into the church with false doctrine, and some of these people had risen to positions of power in the church. This gave them an opportunity to lead the church members astray. This is something we have to look out for in our own times as well.

The Lord rebuked the religious leaders who were only out for themselves, "Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?" (Ezekiel 34:2b) In Jude's day there were men who preached the gospel for monetary gain. They charged admission to those who wanted to hear them, plus they exploited their followers monetarily so they could live lavishly. We've seen the same things happen in modern times. There have been unscrupulous evangelists who have persuaded people to give up everything they have to contribute to the ministry. Some of these evangelists preached the true gospel message and some preached only pretty words. But either way, their goal was to make themselves rich, not to lead people to Christ.

Jude promises his readers that God's judgment is coming against those who have selfishly shepherded the flock. God is not going to allow such behavior to go unpunished. "These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm---shepherds who feed only themselves." (Jude 1:12a) At communal church meals or when observing the Lord's Supper, these unscrupulous shepherds are sitting with the flock as if they are just like everyone else. They talk the talk, but their hearts are far from the Lord. They are affiliated with the church to fulfill their own needs, not to fellowship with or minister to other believers.

These pretenders go through the motions of being alive and active members of the church, but they are spiritually dead on the inside. They can't help others because they are unregenerated themselves. "They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted---twice dead." (Jude 1:12b) When a farmer's crop needs rain, he rejoices when he sees clouds forming. But if those clouds bring no rain, his hopes are dashed. Clouds without rain are no help to dry ground, and people who only pretend to be spiritual are no help to those who thirst for the Lord.

We know that those who have chosen to remain separated from the Lord in life are going to be eternally separated from Him after death. God isn't going to force anyone to be near Him who doesn't want to be near Him. But just as there are different rewards for the righteous, I think there are different levels of punishment for those who reject the Lord. The person who simply never wanted to know Him may just experience an eternal existence far from Him. But the person who not only never knew Him, but also prevented others from knowing Him, may face the worst judgment of all. Jude seems to be suggesting this when he says, "They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom the blackest darkness has been reserved forever." (Jude 1:13)

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Letter Of Jude, The Lord's Brother. Day 5, Three Old Testament Bad Guys/The Ability Of Animals To Recognize Angels

Jude gets into some deep subjects in his short letter. He's compared those who are ungodly to some Old Testament characters already and he's going to compare them to three more characters today. We are going to study why he talks about bad guys like Cain, Balaam, and Korah

We are also going to take another look at a subject we touched on yesterday: the ability of animals to be aware of the spiritual realm. In yesterday's passage Jude remarked that people who refuse to honor and acknowledge the authority of God and His faithful angels have lowered themselves spiritually to a level far below the least intelligent creature in the animal world. Not all species share the same level of intelligence, so this is why Jude said that even the creatures who operate on only the most basic of instincts are more spiritually aware than the person who does not recognize God's authority over him. Lest anyone think I'm walking on shaky spiritual ground by proposing such a theory, today we are going to study solid Biblical evidence that backs up the idea that animals are aware of and are obedient to their Creator.

We are only going to look at one verse from Jude's letter today because there's so much information contained in this one verse that it will take our whole blog time to look at it. He says of the ungodly, "Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam's error; they have been destroyed in Korah's rebellion." (Jude 1:11)

Cain is the first bad guy mentioned in the Bible. His sin was one of the worst a person can commit: murder. Not only did he murder a man, but the man he murdered was his own brother Abel whom he should have loved. Abel was a godly man who had done nothing to deserve Cain's hatred. Cain hated him because God accepted Abel's sacrifice which was made in faith, and God rejected Cain's offering which was not made in faith. (Hebrews 11:4, 1 John 3:12)

Each of these men brought the Lord an offering based on his occupation. Abel kept flocks, so he brought the Lord an offering from the flock. Cain tilled the ground, so he brought the Lord an offering from his crops. The main reason the Lord accepted Abel's offering and rejected Cain's is because Abel's heart was right with God but Cain's heart was not. Abel brought his offering in the right spirit while Cain was only observing the outward rituals of religion. There may also be a deeper reason for God's attitude toward the brothers' offerings. Abel brought a blood sacrifice, which showed he recognized the authority of God over his life, that he knew he was not able to live a perfect life, and that he trusted that God was able to offer him the redemption he needed. Cain's offering was more like a firstfruits or harvest offering; the first fruits or vegetables from his garden were brought to the Lord to symbolize thankfulness for a good harvest. But Cain's heart wasn't thankful. I think in his mind he said, "I did all the work for this harvest. I tilled the soil. I planted the seeds. I pulled the weeds. I gathered the crops. Why must I thank God for my own work?" These two men are an example of faith versus works. Abel knew he wasn't perfect and couldn't achieve righteousness on his own. Cain thought that as long as he worked hard and made a show of honoring the Lord he was alright. Jude says woe to anyone who thinks the way Cain did.

Next we move on to this character called Balaam. He was a real prophet (though not of the people of Israel), a prophet who believed in the one true God. However, his heart was not right with God. The King of Moab, seeing how Israel was conquering the peoples of the promised land, wanted Balaam to prophesy against Israel (put a curse on them). The king was willing to pay a hefty sum to persuade Balaam to speak out against Israel. Balaam, because he was interested in "profit" as Jude says, wanted to do it but made a show of needing to consult the Lord first. He didn't really want the Lord to tell him "no", but the Lord did tell him "no". When Balaam told the king what the Lord said, the king responded by offering even more riches. Balaam was a greedy man. Again he appealed to the Lord about going to Moab to obey the king. The Lord, knowing the wickedness of Balaam's heart, gave permission for him to go but said he must not speak any words the Lord did not give him. The Lord was angry with Balaam's greed and three times on the journey the Lord placed an angel in Balaam's path to show him the error of his ways, but Balaam was spiritually blind because of his greed and didn't realize the Lord was trying to intervene in his life.

While Balaam rode his donkey on the road to Moab, God placed an angel in his path. Balaam, having drifted so far from his relationship with the Lord, didn't know the angel was there. But the donkey knew it and turned off the road into a field. After beating the donkey and getting it back up onto the road, the angel appeared again as they passed through a vineyard. The donkey pressed tightly up against a wall, causing an injury to Balaam's foot, and Balaam finally managed to get the donkey back on track only by beating it in anger. Later the angel blocked the way on a very narrow canyon path. The donkey stopped in its tracks. There was noplace for it to go to avoid the angel, so it lay down and refused to move. Balaam flew into a rage and began beating it with his staff. It's at this moment that the Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak (nothing is impossible with God!) and the donkey rebuked Balaam and asked, "What have I done to make you beat me these three times?...Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?" (Numbers 22:28,30) The Lord used an animal, which normally cannot speak, to bring the prophet to his senses. As the donkey reasoned with its master, Balaam saw the error of his ways and saw the angel on the path. He told the Lord he was sorry and offered to turn back, but the Lord said to go ahead and speak only the words He gave him. Balaam goes to Moab and pronounces a blessing on Israel instead of a curse.

So are the animals aware of God their Maker? Do the animals recognize the authority of the One who made them? Are the animals obedient to their Creator? Yes they are, and Job sums the matter up for us by saying, "But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind." (Job 12:7-10)

Lastly we find Jude mentioning a man named Korah. In Numbers 16 he led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, rejecting their God-given authority over the children of Israel. In rejecting the people God had put in authority over the people, Korah was rejecting God Himself. Jude uses Korah as an example of those who, in Jude's day, rejected the ministering of God's faithful angels, rejected the teachings of the apostles, and rejected the leaders of the church. In refusing to bow to the authority of people God has placed in charge, these people were refusing to bow to God. In the Old Testament we find God destroying Korah and his followers. Jude's words are intended as a warning to those who do not submit to the Lord's authority, for their end will be as dreadful as that of those who rebelled in the days of Moses.

To sum up our entire passage today, Jude is urging everyone to get his or her heart right with God. Going through the motions won't save us; God knows what's in our hearts. Trying to obtain salvation by works won't save us; salvation has always been by faith. If works could save us, why was there a need for the sacrificial system of the Old Testament? If works could save us, why did Christ give His life for us? Refusing to let God be the Lord of our lives will bring us to a bad end, just as it brought so many wicked characters of the Old Testament to a bad end. Disobeying the Lord will bring no true satisfaction to our earthly lives and it will bring us nothing but eternal separation from Him after we leave this life. Who wants to be separated from all that is good and loving and peaceful, in this life or in the next? We can take a lesson from the animals, as Jude and Job have told us. The animals didn't fall from grace. It's only the human race who has disobeyed God, and it's only the human race who needs to come to Him in faith and obedience and allow Him to make us acceptable in His sight.

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Letter Of Jude, The Lord's Brother. Day 4, False Prophets/The Good Example Of The Archangel Michael/The Ability Of Animals To Recognize Angels

In his denunciation of ungodly persons and false teachers, Jude gives us a good example to follow. The ungodly of his day (and of all eras) rejected the authority of God and had no qualms about saying horrible things of God's faithful angels whom He created to minister to mankind. Jude will show us that even the high-ranking archangel Michael didn't dare to speak out against the fallen angel Satan, but left Satan's judgment up to God. Jude will tell us that when we reject the authority of beings superior to us, we are making ourselves lower than even the least intelligent creature on the earth.

First Jude talks of the bad example of the ungodly who claim to have license to live immorally because of dreams or visions they've had. Then he rebukes them for despising authority. "In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings." (Jude 1:8) When he says "in the same way" he's referring back to the passages we studied over the past three days which make comparisons between the sexual immorality of his own day and the sexual immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah.

In claiming to have had dreams and visions from the Lord, these ungodly men are false prophets. They can't be true prophets of God, for God would never tell them it's alright to commit sexual immorality. We know they are indulging in sexual immorality because Jude tells us they are polluting their own bodies. The Apostle Paul refers to the same type of bodily pollution in 1 Corinthians 6:18, "Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body." We don't often think about the possibility of sinning against ourselves. We know that when we disobey God's laws and commandments we are sinning against Him and against our fellow man. But when we sin sexually we are actually sinning against ourselves. We are doing a grave disservice to ourselves in a number of ways, for sexual sin affects our physical bodies along with our emotions, our minds, and our spirits. God has not given His blessing on any sexual union except the one that takes place within a monogamous marriage. Any other type of sexual activity has the potential to infect us with disease, to make us feel depressed and emotionally dissatisfied and disconnected, and to create a spiritual distance between us and our Creator due to living in opposition to His laws.

It's bad enough that these pretenders are polluting their own bodies and influencing others to do the same. But they are outspoken against anyone or anything that has a higher level of authority than they have. In their hearts they actually despise God and do not want to submit to His authority over them. Since they have little regard for Him, they have no regard for the ministering spirits (the angels) that He created. Jude says they "heap abuse on celestial beings". Some scholars interpret this as meaning they are being abusive to the apostles and leaders of the church. The reason they say this is because Jude uses the Greek word "doxa" which has been translated in the NIV as "celestial beings". This Greek word can mean "glory, honor, splendor, majesty". It can also mean "to accept a common belief". So we can see how some scholars believe Jude is saying that the ungodly reject the glory of God, refuse to give Him honor, do not stay true to the word of God and to the message of the gospel, and are abusive to those who are preaching the truth. While no doubt these things are true of the men whose character Jude laments, it appears that they do dare to speak out against God's angels. We know this because as we study verse 8 in context with verses 9 and 10 we will find Jude pointing out that even the archangel Michael, who holds a great deal of authority over the heavenly armies of God, did not even dare to do such a thing. Michael, as a faithful angel of God, may have had the right to verbally rebuke a fallen angel, but he did not.

"But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!'" (Jude 1:9) We don't know how Jude has been made aware of this altercation between Michael and Satan. There was an apocryphal book known as The Assumption Of Moses (also known as The Ascension Of Moses) which was in existence in Jude's day. Only fragments of the book remain, but it is believed Jude was very familiar with what it contained. In quoting from it, he treats the material as factual, thus granting it the status of inspired Scripture. I am very wary of all the apocryphal books of the first century AD, and there is good reason why most of them have not been included in the Bible, but in this case I can only assume that the Lord's brother Jude would not quote from an apocryphal book unless he knew that the dispute between Michael and Satan really took place.

In Deuteronomy 34:5-6 we read about the death of Moses, "And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is." We are told that the Lord buried Moses, but this doesn't have to mean that He buried him personally with His own hands. When someone in authority orders a subordinate to perform a task, it is the same as if the person in authority performed the task himself. Jude seems to be saying that God sent the archangel Michael to bury the body of Moses. While Michael was performing this task, Satan showed up to argue with him.

Why would Satan want to tangle with Michael over a dead man's body? A number of reasons have been suggested by scholars and theologians. The most prevalent theory is that that Satan wanted the location of Moses' body known so Israel would revere Moses as a god. Having so recently come from the idolatrous nation of Egypt, the danger was very real that Moses' body might have become an object of idolatry. There's nothing Satan wants more than to be worshiped himself, but if he can't achieve that, he thinks the next best thing is to persuade man to worship anyone or anything but God.

Even Michael, who was performing a task on the orders of God, did not personally heap accusations or words of condemnation on Satan. If someone of Michael's status didn't rebuke the wicked Satan, then man has no right to speak out against God's faithful angels, as apparently some were doing in Jude's day. Jude predicts a dire fate for them. "Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do not understand by instinct---as irrational animals do---will destroy them." (Jude 1:10) He says, "Even the animal kingdom recognizes and respects the spiritual realm, but these ungodly men have reduced themselves to a level lower than animals who possess less intelligence than man. They are living so far from their Creator that they have no respect for God's ministering spirits."

Tomorrow we will go further into the subject of what animals know of the unseen spiritual realm when Jude brings up the Old Testament character of Balaam. Balaam was supposed to be a prophet, but he had drifted so far from the Lord that he did not see the angel blocking the roadway. His donkey, however, did see the angel. This sight stopped the donkey in its tracks. God created man with a higher level of intelligence than any other creature on earth. He did this so we can commune with Him. When we refuse to use our intelligence to acknowledge Him and have fellowship with Him, we are lowering ourselves to a level lower than any animal, lower than even the simplest of creatures that possesses only the most basic of instincts. In Balaam's case, his donkey was smarter than he was, because Balaam in his greed had fallen far from God and had lost all spiritual discernment. Jude says that's what has happened to the ungodly men of his day.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Letter Of Jude, The Lord's Brother. Day 3, Ungodly People And Ungodly Angels, Part Two

In yesterday's passage we found Jude making a mysterious statement about a group of angels who are imprisoned in chains until the day of judgment. We discussed what is the most prevalent theory about this, which is that these angels are the ones from Genesis 6:1-2: "When human beings began to increase in number on the earth, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose." In was in those days that the wickedness of humans became so great that the Lord could not tolerate it, so He sent the flood to rid the earth of those whose thoughts were "only evil all the time". (Genesis 6:5b) Yesterday we talked about a possible reason why the sin of these angels who mixed with humans was so bad that they had to be arrested and kept in custody until the judgment---it could be that they were turning the human race into beings who were incapable of seeking or accepting redemption.

The reason so many Bible scholars and theologians think Jude may be referring to the sexual sins of the angels of Genesis 6 is because the placement of his comment regarding these angels comes in the middle of a passage that has to do with sexual sins. He has been talking about people of his day who have perverted the grace of God by using it as a license for immorality. (Jude 1:4) Then he mentions the angels who did not stay in their place and who are in prison. (Jude 1:6) And today he compares the sin of these angels to the sins of the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah.

"In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion." (Jude 1:7a) The citizens of these towns were wicked in matters other than sex, according to the prophet Ezekiel, who says that the people of Sodom were "arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things." (Ezekiel 16:49b-50a) So we see that these people were prideful about themselves. We also see that they had no compassion on their fellow man, for they had plenty and refused to share it with the needy. The "detestable things" they did in the sight of God may refer to their sexual sins, but Ezekiel says it was for all their sins combined that the Lord "did away with them". (Ezekiel 16:50b)

However, it is their sexual sins that Jude speaks about in our passage today, and he compares their sexual sins to those of the angels who are currently in chains. In what ways can these things be compared?

Well, for one thing, neither these wicked angels nor the people of the area of Sodom and Gomorrah reverenced the Lord. The angels left their proper positions, given to them by God, as "ministering spirits" to human beings. The Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Hebrews that the job of the angels is to be ministering spirits "sent to serve those who will inherit salvation". (Hebrews 1:14) So when the angels decided to harm human beings instead of helping them, they were saying to God, "We will not obey You. We will not fulfill the purpose for which You created us." In this same way, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah turned their backs on God in their pride and in their plenty and said, "We will not obey You. You created us to obey You, but we refuse. We will do as we wish."

What happens when a person decides not to obey the laws of God? Very often he decides not to obey the laws of the land either, or the laws of common decency. On the night before God rained down fire and brimstone on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, we see that all semblance of law and order had broken down. The men of the city were trying to beat down Lot's door so they could drag the angels out of his house in order to sexually assault them. It wasn't just a few men of the city who regarded no laws of God, no laws of the land, and no laws of human decency. The Bible tells us that it was every man of the city, both young and old, who came and demanded that they be allowed to have their way with Lot's guests. (Genesis 1:4-5) Did these men know Lot's guests were angels? Were they trying to mate with beings they were never meant to mate with, just as the angels of Genesis 6 were trying to mate with beings they were never meant to mate with? We don't know who these men thought the angels were. It could be they were in the habit of assaulting all strangers who came into town. It could be that the angels (who appeared in the form of human males) were more attractive than most human males. It's hard to say, but the behavior of the men of the city proves to us how utterly lawless they were and how far their society had broken down. When people feel it's alright to break down a man's door in order to drag his guests out of the house and rape them, they have lowered themselves to a level below any creature on earth. They have become depraved beyond belief.

Lot begged the men of the city not to do such a thing. We don't know whether he realized yet that his guests were angels, but we do know that he felt responsible for protecting them while they were "under the protection of my roof". (Genesis 19:8b) It's at that point he offered his two virgin daughters to the men outside his door. Some critics of the Bible accuse Lot of cruelty for doing this, but I tend to agree with the scholars who think he was trying to buy some time to think what to do, knowing the men had no interest in his daughters. He knew they would refuse his offer because by this point in time the men of the city had experimented with every sexual act they have been able to think of. Regular relations with a woman no longer held much interest for them. Relations with each other had become boring to them too. They want these strangers, even if they have to take them by force, because they have never been with these strangers before. There's something about the strangers that they find different and compelling. They will do anything it takes to get to them, have their way with them, and probably (if the strangers had been humans) kill them in the process.

Just as God never intended for the angels to mate with humans, He never intended for humans to engage in sexual activities except with the person to whom they are married. In the Bible we won't find God's blessing on any sexual union except on that between a husband and wife. As the Apostle Paul said in Hebrews 13:4, "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral." Marriage has God's blessing. There is nothing sinful about a husband and wife having marital relations with each other. When we have any type of sexual relations other than in a union which has the blessing of God on it, we are abandoning God's best plan for our lives, just as some of the angels abandoned God's best plan for them.

What is the outcome when humans refuse to acknowledge God's authority over their lives? What happens when humans turn their backs on God and decide to serve only themselves? Jude says what happened to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah serves as an example to us of the judgment that awaits those who don't allow God to be Lord of their lives. "They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire." (Jude 1:7b) The wickedness of the people in Genesis 6, the wickedness of the people of Lot's day, and the wickedness of the people of Jude's day was the outward symptom of what was wrong in their hearts. They did not honor God as Lord. They did not think they had to obey the Lord's commands. In their hearts, they were gods, and the only laws they wanted to obey were the laws of the carnal mind and of the flesh. It was the continual unrepentant condition of their hearts that put them in danger of eternal condemnation, for we've all sinned. Jude isn't saying that if we have sexual sins (or other sins) in our past that we are destined for destruction. We disobeyed the Lord before we came to Christ and we still sometimes make mistakes. But Jude warns that the person who continues living in unrepentant sin, and who has no regard for the Lord, and who does not fear the consequences of the breaking of the Lord's laws, is endangering his eternal soul. What's in the heart comes out through the actions, so he cautions his readers that if their actions don't reflect who they are supposed to be in Christ, perhaps they are not serving Christ but themselves. This is how they are to recognize their own problems of the heart and the problems in the hearts of the false teachers who are trying to take advantage of the grace of God by telling the saved that they can live any way they please.

We can't live any way we please, not if our hearts are right with the Lord. "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) Christ paid a great price to redeem us. We belong to Him, not to ourselves, so we must live in a way that honors our Redeemer.