The Apostle Paul wrote an extensive treatise on the theology of the Gospel. We call it the New Testament book of Romans. Typical of most of his epistles, the apostle first opens to us the reasons underlying the spirit and practices of the Christian life. Interestingly, Martin Luther (1483–1546) in his commentary on the book of Galatians described doctrine as “faith and instruction of the conscience.” He wrote:
It was the custom of the apostles that after they had taught faith and instructed the conscience they followed it up with admonitions unto good works, that the believers might manifest the duties of love toward each other.1
As surely as the life of the physical body is predicated on facts concerning its design, functions and needs, so the life of the Christian is based on the facts concerning God and ourselves revealed to us in Scripture. In Romans 12:1-2, the Apostle Paul tells us
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1, 2
In light of the reasons for faith (instruction, doctrine) in the Gospel which he detailed in the preceding eleven chapters and here calls the mercies of God, and as a result of its conscience-forming effects, the believer is to present (his body) a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is (his) spiritual service of worship. What does he mean?
In the days of Paul, sacrifices were brought daily to the Temple to be offered as a substitution for the life of the sinful worshipper and his family.2 The whole service must have been exceedingly solemn. Having first been duly ritually purified, a man brought his sacrifice himself ‘before the Lord’—anciently, to ‘the door of the Tabernacle’ (Lev 1:3; 4:4), to the site the altar of burnt-offering (Exodus 40:6). Later, in the days of Temple in Jerusalem, this same practice happened in the Great Court, before the door of the Temple. Next he placed it so as to face the west, or the Most Holy Place, in order thus literally to bring it before the Lord. To this the apostle refers when, in Romans 12:1, “he beseecheth us to present our ‘bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God.’”3
In practice the worshipper would present his sacrificial animal to the priest, and in so doing he would place his hands on the head of the animal while leaning on it, confessing his sinfulness, thereby ritually transferring his sin to the animal that would be slain in his place. The Temple was situated with its door to the sanctuary facing east. The worshipper approached from the east, facing west, that is, facing the sanctuary door. Between him and the sanctuary was the altar. As he faced the altar, presenting the body of the sacrifice, he necessarily faced the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies within. While standing in the presence of the bloody altar, where the sacrificial substitute would be slaughtered, looking straight ahead, the worshipper faced God. God accepted him because of his blood sacrifice offered in faith interposed between himself and the sanctuary.
So the Apostle Paul tells us that we are now saved from the wrath of God by the atoning/justifying work of Christ, the once for all bloody Lamb slain and interposed for us.4 All of the synoptic gospels5 tell us that as Jesus died on the Cross, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom,” or “in two.” The veil mercifully separated sinful worshippers from the unobstructed sin-annihilating presence of God most holy. Jesus’ sacrificial death removed the condemning sin from all who trust in Him, so now believers in His atoning death are beneficiaries of His vicarious condemnation for sin, justification in righteousness, and resurrection in new and eternal life. The blood of the Lamb of God now interposes between the believer and God. Slaughtered sacrificial animals are now useless, ((“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Hebrews 9:11-14, NAS95.)) but instead, still facing God, we are to live our lives as totally given over to Him (present your bodies), which is our perpetual act of worship.
Why “present your bodies” rather than your souls or your goods? The body here represents giving your entire being, as when the sacrificial lamb was killed in the Temple, in giving its body, it gave its all. This sacrifice, a life continually facing and presented to God not as our own righteousness but on the ground of the once-for-all-time poured out life of His eternal Son is pleasing to Him.
How is this change effected? You are transformed by the renewing of your mind empowered by the Spirit of God Himself. The Greek word for transformed6 is used three other times in the New Testament. Twice it describes the transfiguration of Jesus Christ in the presence of Peter, James, and John.7 The apostle Paul uses it again when writing to the Corinthian church. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.8 Paul says that as we behold Christ, we are changed, progressively, from glory to glory. In Romans, Paul says that the ongoing process of renewing of our minds (powered by the Holy Spirit) transforms us. In this way we discover and live out the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Reading, contemplating, and obeying Scripture transforms our worldview and our driving ambitions. This is effective because in Scripture Jesus Christ’s glory is revealed to us, and the Holy Spirit enlivens within the desire to worship, prize, and obey Jesus. Our minds are transformed from the desires and ways of this world, to the will of God for us; which is our Christ-likeness.
In the remainder of the book of Romans Paul describes how this Holy Spirit empowered renewal is lived out in practical terms, in our everyday world.
- Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, Ref. Chapter 5, verse 12, entitled The Doctrine of Good Works. Emphasis added. [↩]
- Note: It is generally believed that Paul wrote Romans in 57 AD, was executed between 64 AD and 67 AD. The Roman General Titus destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. [↩]
- Alfred Edersheim, The Temple, 113. [↩]
- Romans 5:9, 10 [↩]
- Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45 [↩]
- From which we derive our word metamorphosis. [↩]
- Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:2. [↩]
- 2 Corinthians 3:18 [↩]
Sometimes I wonder if the problem with guns and violence that we have in this country might be a metaphor for the general state of our nation. I do not deny that we have a constitutional right to own firearms. In an ideal society, every adult man or woman would be able to carry a handgun, and wouldn’t have to. If they were packin’ they’d not be a danger to themselves or others. That is to say, in the ideal, (shall I say Utopian?), society, every person would watch for the welfare of his neighbor. Humility and respect would prevent one from wanting to dominate or bully others. A Glock could be as common as a Garmin, and about as interesting.
But alas, we live in a different world. In this world the timid feel pressured and defenseless. In this world, ownership of a gun can provide some sort of confidence, even bragging rights. The boast of who has the biggest gun is as old as time. And easily enough the need to carry a gun to defend oneself can morph into the desire to carry a gun to assert oneself. The fact is, though, a stable, open, democratic and just society can only endure as long as the hearts of the populace are altruistic and righteous; as long as the average citizen sacrificially respects and watches out for his peers. It’s all a matter of the heart, right?
That means we’re in trouble. Mankind has always been vicious, boastful, selfish and intolerant. And we are not mellowing out. Rather society is growing meaner, and ME-ner, times are ripening, ethnic faces are different, cultures are clashing, comfort zones are shrinking, and all sorts of people demand their “rights”. And compliantly even the courts fashion rights that aren’t all that apparent in Constitutional ink, and nullify ones that are.
So we Christians REALLY want the God endowed rights that really are there… guns and God. A handgun with snap-replaceable handgrips to compliment a woman’s color season or outfit might fit right in at a Bible study with her stylized, special edition, color coordinated, time-of-life study Bible! Hoo-rah and hallelujah! Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!
So why a Colt Magnum .44? Cause it just looks manly, mean. Goes off with a loud bang too.
Do you feel lucky today, punk?
Any salesman worth his receipt book knows that it is essential to present his wares as advantageously as possible. Mood lighting and inspiring music, can provide an appropriate ambience. Assertion of anticipated pleasure (unless our vendor is a funeral director), and even testimonials of approving and satisfied customers (again, the funeral director) are standard. And of course trendy is sexy. Authenticity, or the appearance thereof (how ironic is that?), is a bonus.
Humanity is a tribe of natural-born, self-employed, self-promoting PR agents. From Binky® to burial we nurture and refine techniques to attract, maintain, and promote acceptance, approval, admiration, etcetera, from our fellows. And with any success there, we can go for the gold, i.e. superiority. Or failing that, revenge. How sweet.
Jesus is the self-promoting PR agent’s undoing, for He knows all men.1 He knows you, and He knows me – intimately. No leaden shield devised can block His penetrating gaze into the naked human heart, and none of our improvised fig leaf coverings impress Him. And as our final Supreme Judge2, His evaluation matters, big time.
Jesus’ most scathing pronouncements were for those whose religious arrogance held the hoi pollioi down in distain while inflating their own aura of excellence. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.” That was the diagnosis, and the remedy followed: “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.”3 And here we have the nub of the matter. The patina of polish on a worn boot does nothing for the hole in the sole. The sparkle on the rim of a polluted cup will not countervail the poison within.
Jesus is not talking about dinnerware here, but hearts. A disguised polluted heart is like a skunk under the porch, maybe out of sight, but not out of mind. The heart is the essential self, the wellspring of our thoughts, words, and deeds. If the inner heart is clean then outer purity and the fruit thereof follow as naturally as apples on a McIntosh. But if the heart is stony, to God its issue is just gravel. The affectations of the self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees made them to Jesus’ discerning eyes like dead, desiccated and discarded Christmas trees clinging to remnants of tinsel, whose fate is only “Fit for burning.”
And burning could be the end of the story for them and us, for Jesus’ remedy is a mission impossible; to clean the inside of the cup and dish, that is, to renovate our inner selves. In short, we need a newly scrubbed and unnaturally righteous heart, which is inclined toward loving God and fellow humanity. Jesus’ demand seems to require that we initiate an ontological self-regeneration, complete with new desire and perspective and goal genes. The hitch is, of course, creation and recreation is beyond our competence. Something like the prescription for a do-it-yourself heart transplant, followed by resuscitator paddle reboot and a lusty “clear!” The Pharisee Jesus speaks to needs help from outside of himself. He needs external, focused, surgical and bloody grace! And we too, are Pharisee’s at heart. That is why no self-improvement program or religion will do. They are just rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship, as the saying goes.
Jesus’ command anticipates the God planned, God initiated, and God completed Gospel of grace, bestowing a new birth, a new heart, a new future, at Christ’s expense. It is appropriated by faith, that God by grace will give just as He said he’d give.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:4-10, NAS95.
I need help. I don’t know what to do here!
A creature has spontaneously evolved in my Lava Lamp, and… it looks at me... It’s been there a few days now. I’m lost as to what to do. Should I:
- Give it a name?
- Call Richard Dawkins?
- Ask advice from PETA?
- Claim it as a deduction on my 1040?
Any helpful suggestions will be appreciated!
“But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus,..”1
Earth at its genesis, Scripture tells us, was shrouded in darkness. When God spoke “Let there be light”, the earth was flooded with illumination, and God saw that this was good.2 This account records for us the creation of the material earth, and the light was physical light. As the account unfolds we are also told that God placed Man in an environment ideally suited to his physical needs. There, Man was given one prohibitive injunction; disobedience would result in death.3 The essential nature of this disobedience was the denial of the essential Creator rights of God in sovereignty to define good and evil. Man had rejected the Creator in favor of self-determination, which ironically resulted in God’s curse on the earth, immediate spiritual death for Man, and indelible soul-enveloping spiritual darkness.
From that moment the history of Mankind has been a long struggle for self-determination, self-fulfillment, and mastery over the physical elements of Creation. Hostility toward the acknowledgement of God became the ruling standard. The Bible and history record the long tragedy-strewn trek of Man, manfully, “heroically” striving to live a God–disconnected life in a God-created, God-cursed realm. The earth itself rebels, refusing to fully submit to human mastery. Like Edmund Pevensie’s lust for Turkish delight proffered by the White Witch, the sweet, alluring enticements of material discovery and spiritual insights lead inevitably it seems, to unintended adverse consequence and a prolonged, deepened, locked in, winter of spiritual barrenness. Where is Aslan when we need him?
Helpless. Like a man born in a prison cell, content there, ignorant of the larger outer world, Destined to exist in his cell unless someone from outside applies the key to the cell door, swings it open, and gently leads him out of confinement to the light and liberty of the larger world. We are born body and soul enslaved to the physical and sensual elements of Creation, but dead to the Creator.4 Rather than bowing to the Greater, we helplessly crave after surrogates. We are hostile toward God rather than loving.5 Scorn replaces worship. We are born with defective spiritual sight, our spiritual urges6 are perverse and corrupt.7 And because inescapable judgment looms, help is required; from outside of ourselves. Desperately.
One of the sweetest phrases in Scripture referring to God’s intervention is “but God.” For example “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”8 And, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,…” ((Ephesians 2:4-6)) An expeditionary rescue force has been sent into the world from beyond its borders. The Creator Himself, triune in essence, invincibly invaded His rebellious created realm, not for vengeance, but for grace. The campaign was conceived by God the Father, the bloody battle won by God the Son, and now the spoils freely distributed by God the Holy Spirit. The triune God has done it all! As helpless Jonah called out in deathly distress from his deep-diving writhing dungeon, “Salvation is of the LORD.”9 And none other. God rescued with no help from Jonah.10
Charles Spurgeon adds more insight to the fact that “Salvation is of the LORD.”11 The thrust of his sermon is that in the salvation of mankind, truly there is and could not be any other agent involved. He makes the following cogent points:
The plan of salvation is entirely of God:
- Salvation is older than Creation.
- God had no counselor, no assistance, no instructor to guide Him.
- God knew that Man would fall.
- The demands of justice for our treason coexist with God’s mercy.
The plan was of the Lord in execution:
- Christ alone died on the Cross, unaided.
- Salvation is provided by the triune God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Salvation is of the Lord in application:
- If God had provided a way of escape from condemnation, but only required a man/woman to “step into it,”—that person would remain in condemnation eternally, a sinner dead in sin (Ephesians 2). If God required him/her to make himself alive, whereupon God would do the rest, then God has rendered salvation as impossible for him under the gospel as it was for him under the Law, “seeing man is as unable to believe as he is to obey, and is just as much without power to come to Christ as he is without power to go to heaven without Christ. The power must be given to him by the Spirit.” A preacher’s only hope of success is that the Holy Spirit meets his hearers, and enlivens them to the gospel, and gives them a new heart. The preacher is merely the messenger, the herald; the application is of God. God must begin the work of salvation-life in a person.
Salvation is of the Lord in the sustaining of the work in any man’s heart:
- “When a man is made a child of God he does not have a stock of grace given to him with which to go on forever, but he has grace for that day, then the next day, then the next, until days shall end…” “As a man does not make himself spiritually alive, so neither can he keep himself so.” “No man of himself, even when converted, hath any power, except as that power is daily, constantly, and perpetually infused into him by the Spirit.” As manna lasted only for a day and had to be renewed daily (Exodus 16; Matthew 16:11), so God feeds His children spiritual bread continuously.
The ultimate perfection of salvation is of the Lord:
- “As was the foundation such must the top-stone be; that which was laid on earth the first beginning must lay in heaven the top-most stone.”
- In heaven we shall cast our crowns at the Redeemer’s feet and acknowledge that He did it all. “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give glory because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.”12
- Salvation is not a result of one’s temperament. As the apostle Paul remarked “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.” ((1 Corinthians 1:26-29, NAS95))
- Salvation is not dependent on the quality of a minister. Again, as the apostle Paul said of his own ministry: “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” ((1 Corinthians 2:1-5, NAS95))
This doctrine (Truth) destroys the pride of the self-righteous. (1 Corinthians 1:30, 31)
This Truth gives hope—for God’s grace can save any man or woman no matter how depraved. See 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 above.
This Truth engenders humility in the saint. Again, see above.
This Truth fosters trust—in God’s power and faithfulness.
This Truth gives joy, it combats despair. “The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?” ((Psalms 27:1, NAS95))
This Truth when believed gives confidence (nerve) to work for God, because preaching/ teaching/ testifying results are in God’s hands, not ours, even if such preaching/ teaching/ testifying results in injury or death, martyrdom.
Salvation is found in no one, or no place, else than Christ Jesus. ““And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”” ((Acts 4:12, NAS95))
As Michael Horton has written:
Chosen in Christ before the creation of the world, redeemed by Christ in history, receiving an inheritance in Christ, and being sealed in Christ by the gospel, we have a salvation from start to finish by the choice of the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit (Eph 1:3–14). In Fact, in Romans 8 it is this realization of God’s gracious election, calling, justification, and glorification (vv. 29–30) that leads Paul to the summit of doxology, first in verses 31–39, and then again finally in 11:33–36. In the application of this salvation by the Spirit no less than in its accomplishment by Christ can we sing, “Salvation is of the LORD” (Jnh 2:9). All of this means that the gospel is not an experience that we have, much less one that we can bring about. It is an announcement that creates faith in the Redeemer who makes it. It comes to us from the outside, and the Spirit opens our hearts to receive it. It creates new experiences and inner transformation that yields good works, but the gospel itself—and the Spirit’s effectual calling through that gospel—remain distinct from anything done by us or within us. The gospel is God’s life–giving word, creating a new world out of nothing (Ro 4:16–17; 1 Pe 1:23, 25).”13
- 1 Corinthians 1:30 NASB [↩]
- Genesis 1:2–4 [↩]
- Genesis 3:3 [↩]
- Ephesians 2:1, 2 [↩]
- Romans 8:7 [↩]
- Because we are created in the image of God, the need for spiritual expression and fulfillment is organic and inescapable. [↩]
- John 3:3; 2 Corinthians 4:4; John 3:19 [↩]
- Romans 5:8 [↩]
- Jonah 2:9 [↩]
- Acts 4:12 [↩]
- From a sermon by that title, Spurgeons Sermons, Vol 3, 194ff. [↩]
- Psalms 115:1, NAS95 [↩]
- Pilgrim Theology, Michael Horton, 253, italics original. [↩]
Heard about David and Goliath in church this morning. About how God can bring about deliverance and even compassion using something as common as a small, round stone. He can even use you or me. Trouble is, at times my heart is hard as a stone, and small. I don’t think God uses hearts of stone. The fact is, we need an internal work of God’s grace, to give external grace around us. It all comes from Him in the end. No?
The New Testament describes the Last Days (Acts 2:17, Heb 1:2, 1 Pet 1:20) as that period of Church and world history beginning two thousand years ago at Christ’s ascension, and culminating at the unknown day in which He returns in victory and glory. That interim will not be an easy time for the Church on earth (Rev 12:17). We, of course, are living in that very period of church history; a virtual war zone during which God sovereignly increases the number of those entering the kingdom of God through Christ, and Satan spitefully strives to deny entrance to anyone and everyone (Rev 12:12), and to harass and deceive God’s own people (Rev 12:17, Mt 24:24).
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, the last book of the Bible, was written to provide comfort to the Church of Jesus Christ on earth. God provided the revelation through Jesus Christ Himself, Who delivered it by an angel to the Apostle John (Rev 1:1), for you and me (Rev 1:3). It is our great benefit if we hear (read) it to heed it.
The book is full of glory and warnings and encouragements and comforts, so extensive that I cannot even attempt a description. Suffice it to say that a reading of chapters two and three give an account of Christ’s dealings with seven major churches in the Apostle John’s time. They are recorded as encouragements and warnings to us, the Church, living now. And that is my point; God is as mindful of our lives in the twenty-first century as He was of those lives in the first century AD. This comfort is seen in a detail.
Chapter four gives us a glimpse into heaven as John peers in awe into the very throne room of God. John is looking at God Almighty who appears to him diamond like, scintillating in a red-as-fire glory (this is my attempt to “see” his description), seated on an emerald rainbow-encircled throne, with thunderings and lightnings over a serene sea, like crystal glass, serving as a floor to it all.1 How can John deliver by mere words the glory and majesty he is witnessing? The very attempt has a flattening effect, because he sees the indescribable and words alone are inadequate. John attempts to express the inexpressible majesty, glory, awe-full glory of the Sovereign of heaven and Universe, and all that is in them.
And there’s more, there are twenty-four (he counted?) sub-thrones surrounding the central throne with twenty-four gold-crowned white-robed elders seated, and seven lamps of fire before the central throne (the seven Spirits of God)! And, four “living creatures” unlike anything we have ever seen (see Isa 6:2,3) called Seraphim, who ever call out to all present:
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
Upon hearing these eternal heralds, the twenty-four elders abandon their thrones, fall down before the Almighty, and casting away their crowns say:
“Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.”
Such is John’s attempt to depict a fleeting vision of the unutterable presence and glory of the thrice-holy, all-powerful, everlasting, Almighty God, the Sovereign Creator and Ruler of all that is. God wants us to know vital Truth about the God-Who-is-There.2 God who ever was, now is, and ever will be, Who calls Himself I Am (Ex 3:14).
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, (v 4)
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (v 8)
Notice the difference with 4:8:
“Who is and Who was and Who is to come,” (Rev 1:4); “Who is and Who was and Who is to come,” (Rev 1:8).
“Who was and is and is to come!” (Rev 4:8).
How so? Chapter 4 verse 8 describes eternal God, He was, now is, and will always be. This is God as He is in Himself, eternal, unchanging, ever-ruling. But John in opening the book of Revelation wants (and the Holy Spirit by whom he writes wants) to assure us that in the unfolding trials, tribulations, testings, and even death that await the one on earth relying on God, what seems to be the darkened battleground of our lives and faith –I mean the NOW– God is the God who IS, He is with us NOW, in the ever-present now-days and now-experiences of our lives. He is always here.
We must understand that the God of heaven and eternity is not remote from His people! He Who always was in unimaginable power and glory, Who has ordained our days (Psa 139) and all that is in them, Who rules all in heaven and earth and all that is in them, is not removed from our “todays.” The almighty God who was, is the God who IS ever faithful to His own. The God who is to come, who has ordained all future things to His glory and the joy of His people and calls our futures as though they already are, is with us now and forever. He NEVER leaves or forsakes us (Heb 13:5). John expressly tells twice (Rev 1:4, 8) that we can declare that God is for us right now. And we take comfort resting on this massive foundation; our God is the everlasting God Who was, and is, and is to come, but for us He is the God Who is with us (Matt 1:23). Therefore in this brief interim, these Last Days, we endure patiently and expectantly, awaiting Christ’s return in glory.
…Grace to you and peace from Him who is and Who was and Who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before His throne,
and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood
and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him. Even so. Amen.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “Who is and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty.”
From this we may gather that man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.1
— John Calvin
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,2
— Mary, Mother of Jesus
Idolatry is deadly. It is an offense against God. And idolatry is particularly insidious when its object is something closely connected to God’s redemptive work in this world. For example, when Israel sinned against God by complaining about their lot in the wilderness, God judged them by “fiery serpents” whose bite was fatal. Moses interceded for the people and in His mercy God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent replica, place it on a pole, so that anyone afflicted by snakebite who looked at the replica would live. But this artifact later became a stumbling stone to the people, so much so that in the days of King Hezekiah of Judah, during his campaign to purge idolatry from the people of Israel, he destroyed the God-given bronze serpent along with other implements of idolatry.
He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan.3
Have you ever wondered what would happen if the Ark of the Covenant were found today, or genuine parts of Noah’s Ark, or the crown of thorns that Jesus wore to the cross, or even the Apostle Peter’s toothbrush? Relics are venerated, sometimes even taking the place in the heart that is to be reserved for God alone. God is merciful that we don’t have these things, for indeed, the heart of Man is an idol factory.
Sola Scriptura (the Scriptures Alone) was the overriding basic principle of the 16th century Reformation in Europe. In the centuries after the founding of the church in the first century AD, “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints”4 had become corrupted by the influence of extra-biblical traditions. One of these traditions was, and is, an unseemly elevation and exaltation of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
It seems this tendency in the church is an ancient one. One of the earliest churches in first century Christianity was in the city of Corinth. It was a church that badly needed corrective teaching; there were many carnal practices being tolerated along with misunderstandings that resulted in divisions within the church body. The book of 1 Corinthians tells us about these problems and of Paul’s written admonitions to the church. In chapter three Paul deals with undue veneration of himself and a teacher named Apollos, and evidently the Apostle Peter (Cephas) too.5 To correct this error Paul writes that he and other leaders in the church are really mere servants of God, and not to be boasted in of themselves. He then makes this significant statement Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.6 Paul gives the Corinthians and us the important principle that we should not exceed what is written7 in Scripture to formulate beliefs and practices. Although the context of this verse is the boasting of Christians in their favored leaders and the resulting factions in the church, the principle Paul employs is a broad one. Don’t exceed what is given in Scriptures, by implication either in belief or in practice.
The book of Genesis relates the account8 of the fall of our primal parents, Adam and Eve. Mankind was created on the last day of Creation; Adam was created from the earth9 and Eve from Adam’s side.10 Chapter three tells us that the Serpent approached the woman and verbally deceived her11 to disobey God’s command, which restricted one particular tree in the Garden of Eden from use as food. (Note: the command and temptation that followed were not about food, they were about who would be sovereign, who is trustworthy, the Creator or the creature?). Eve succumbed, and Adam rebelliously followed her example. The result was that death entered the world as God had warned them. The Serpent won the day, so it seemed.
However, the resulting curse of God’s judgment also contained the promise that all would not be lost to the Serpent, for God said to him, And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.12 This statement is called the Proto-Evangel, and it says that the seed of the woman who would be the downfall of the Serpent (Satan). Who is this seed of the woman? This mystery was hidden with God to be revealed and brought to fruition centuries later. At the appointed time the Holy Spirit of God would create in the womb of a virginal young woman a child to be named Jesus, Who would “save His people from their sins.”13 We should note the implied paradox in this prophecy. In normal Biblical usage the word seed when referring to human reproduction or descendants is not used in reference to a woman, but to a man.14 When Genesis 3:15 says the unusual “her seed” it refers to offspring produced without the help of a man. The seed of the woman can mean her descendants (as opposed to the seed of the Serpent, your seed), or to a particular descendant. He shall bruise refers to a particular descendent who will do the bruising, the virgin born Jesus.
The time for the revelation of the mysterious seed of the woman arrived. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,… and She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.15 The Gospel of Luke, chapter 3, verses 23 to 38 gives us the lineage of Jesus in reverse order. That is, it begins with Jesus himself and traces His ancestral line back to Adam, created by God. This ancestral line is the seed of the woman as seen in those who were the covenantal or God-promised human line through whom the final Seed would be brought forth. Notice from Adam in verse 38 to Terah in verse 34 (reading in reverse order) the seed-line ran through a Spirit guided line of people, but at the arrival of Abraham (verse 34), and God’s calling of him out of a pagan Ur of the Chaldees, Israel, God’s covenant people became the vessel of the march of the seed of the woman terminating in God’s chosen woman, Mary by whom Jesus was born, who is called Messiah.16 17 More particularly, the line of David18 (verse 31) was God’s chosen family line from which Jesus would come. Lineage of children was reckoned from the family of the father, and although Joseph was not the physical father of Jesus, he was the husband of Mary when she gave birth. Joseph,19 was of the line of David.
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”20
Imagine, Gabriel, from the throne of God21 appears! What a unique honor for an unknown peasant girl from a remote part of Judea, to have been chosen by God to bring the long-awaited promised Seed into this fallen world. As a peasant girl, how much could she have known of the ancient Scriptural promise of a Seed? Surely she was taught to look for the Messiah to come, a king over Israel. Now she is informed by an angel, not just any angel, Gabriel (!) that she, a virgin would conceive because the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child will be called the Son of God.22 Mind boggling, and scary. The Son of God? Her? Yahweh, the holy God of the universe, coming to her, creating in her womb a Son of God? And how will it appear to other people? The Law demanded stoning for fornication, how can you explain? And she was espoused to a man whom she no doubt loved. What of him? What of her family? So what was her brave answer to the messenger angel? And (she) said, Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.23
Shouldn’t we respect and emulate the faith and humility of Mary? Shouldn’t we copy her trust in the Lord to bring about blessing in trying circumstances? Yes, we should. And shouldn’t we thankfully submit to His ability to perform wonders in our lives in spite of our sinfulness? But does that apply to Mary, sin?
The same account that we have been following in the Gospel of Luke continues. Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant herself, six months along.24 Her child is Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. As Mary enters Elizabeth’s house
…the baby leaped in (Elizabeth’s) womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.25
Mary’s answer is called The Magnificat.26
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.27
The Magnificat is a hymn of praise to God. Praise from Mary because she herself is not free from sin; she as all Mankind needs a savior. Mary magnifies, exalts the Lord, she rejoices in God her Savior. The Lord is her savior. The Lord is due praise because He looked on her humble estate, not exalted estate, and His glory is that He used her though insignificant and imperfect and needy to do a great thing. Because of this she is called blessed, that is, favored by God. Mary goes on to elucidate how this happens. He gives mercy to those who fear Him. They fear Him knowing they need His mercy. Conversely, He scatters those who pridefully turn from Him. He topples the mighty from their heights, and lifts up the lowly. The needy He feeds, the self-sufficient he rejects. Israel herself, His own people chosen by Himself need His mercy, and as promised to (and through) Abraham and promised to Abraham’s children, children of faith in God. The whole thrust of Mary’s hymn is that God is glorious as he pours His blessings on the needy, and rejects the haughty. God is glorified in Mary’s life because He has done the same for her.
In the New Testament, Mary, the mother of Jesus is mentioned by name about 20 times, the last textually and chronologically being in Acts 1:14, where she is mentioned as being one of those 120 persons after Jesus’ resurrection devoting themselves to prayer, awaiting the promise of the Father28 to send the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit does arrive on the day of Pentecost, Mary is certainly there, but she is not mentioned. After this, Mary fades from Scriptural mention completely.29 She is never mentioned in the New Testament Apostolic letters and epistles, nor in the final New Testament book, The Revelation, which depicts scenes of the throne of God, and the Lion/Lamb at the throne, and hosts of the redeemed and angels worshipping and exulting in the presence of God and of the Lamb. Mary is not there by name, though she is there no doubt as one member of the joyous throngs of the redeemed. Heaven has no Queen! But there is a bride; the Bride of the Lamb is the Church.30
Jesus and Mary
In the Gospels we read of Jesus and His mother, Mary. When Jesus was twelve years old he travelled from Nazareth to Jerusalem with His parents.31 Returning home He became separated from His parents (Neither Joseph nor Mary are named, but referred to as parents, father, and mother). When they are reunited Jesus explains that he had been His Father’s house, i.e. the Temple. Curiously the account says that neither parent understood what He meant. But as a righteous son, He continued in subjection to them.32
However, after Jesus’ public ministry began (Joseph was now evidentially deceased) Jesus began to distance Himself from His earthly family.
Luke tells us that while Jesus was ministering one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed.” His answer? On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.33 He did not acknowledge Mary at all.
Again Matthew relates
While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers34 were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”35
Mary is not mentioned by name at all. Again, Jesus deflects what would seem an opportunity to dutifully acknowledge Mary, and His brothers, and instead turns to the much larger issue of hearing, observing, and doing the will of God (also My Father). This is repeated in Mark
3:31-35 and Luke 8:19-21.
And again, in Cana of Galilee, Jesus and Mary were at a wedding, and the wine served in celebration ran out. This was a humiliation to the families of the bride and groom. The account says When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.”36 Mary is not named but referred to as the mother of Jesus. And Jesus refers to her not as mother, but as woman. This term is not disrespectful, but is an expression of polite distance.37
Why did Jesus distance Himself from her, and His earthly family? The reason is partly expressed in the text. This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.38 Jesus came to earth in human flesh to identify with doomed Mankind, to live among us, teach us, die alone on the Cross for, and to, justify us before God in His resurrection. But it is imperative that we see and trust in Him alone for this. One day, Peter, James, and John were with Jesus on a mountain top. And suddenly (Jesus) was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.39 Peter wants to immediately erect three tabernacles (shrines) for them, one each for Moses and Elijah, and one for Jesus. And
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.”40
What’s the point? Though Moses the Law Giver and Elijah the prophet are to be respected, they are respected because they point to Christ alone. And so they are removed from the mountain top, and the voice of God the Father commands them to listen to Jesus, alone. Jesus is the one Moses prophesied would come:
The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him… I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. ‘It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.41
It is deadly to look to anyone other than Jesus, or anyone with Jesus for salvation. Jesus knew the weakness and corrupting wiles of the human heart. And He knew that there would come wolves in sheep’s clothing42 deceived by Satan, who is …the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world…43 Satan deceives in at least two ways. By encouraging us to not believe Scripture, or failing that, to derail us by encouraging us to exceed what is written in Scripture.
Mary and the Cross
During the time of Jesus’ infancy, Joseph and Mary took him to the Temple in Jerusalem to present Him before the Lord, and to make a dedicatory sacrifice to the Lord. At that time there was a man, probably elderly, living in Jerusalem, a righteous and devout man named Simeon who was looking for the “consolation of Israel”, meaning the fulfillment of God’s promise to rescue and comfort his people. The Lord had promised him that he would not die before seeing the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Holy Spirit he entered the Temple at the same time Joseph and Mary were entering with Jesus. The story is recorded in Luke 2:1-35. It says that Simeon took the baby in his arms and blessed God for fulfilling His promise. And then he blessed Joseph and Mary too. And he said to Mary, …Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed– and a sword will pierce even your own soul– to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.<44
The sword that would pierce Mary’s heart is the pain and desolation of a mother who witnesses her son being murdered on a cross. … standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother,45 and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.46 Mary was present to view the horror of her Son’s agony and shame.
The Gospels tell us that there were various women who followed Jesus as He left Galilee to go to Jerusalem to His death. An example is Matthew 27:55-56, Many women were there looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee while ministering to Him. Among them was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. And these women were also at the crucifixion of Jesus.
When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” There were also some women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome. When He was in Galilee, they used to follow Him and minister to Him; and there were many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.47
After Jesus expired, Joseph of Arimethea, a wealthy member of the ruling class, took the body of Jesus down from the cross, and along with Nicodemus, a teacher of the Jews, wrapped Jesus’ naked and ruined body in linen together with a mixture of myrrh and aloes, and laid Him in Joseph’s own rock-hewn tomb.48 And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were looking on to see where He was laid.49 Mary, Jesus’ mother is not mentioned. Why?
The Gospel of John records that
When Jesus (from the Cross) saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved (i.e. John) standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.50
Jesus committed the care of His mother, whom He loved, into the hands of John, whom He also loved. So it is quite possible that when Jesus died, John took Mary immediately to his home. This was Friday, and the Sabbath was Saturday. However, by law the Sabbath actually began at sundown on Friday after which no labor was to be done until sundown the next day. It was nearing sundown, and Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus, because of this Sabbath time constraint, (a Sabbath started at sundown) worked quickly to wrap Jesus’ body, place Him in the tomb, and roll a closure stone across the entrance. However, after the Sabbath day had passed, early Sunday morning, women returned to the tomb with spices and perfumes to anoint Jesus’ body. The women named who were there are listed in the four Gospels as:
|Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (mother of James)||Matthew 28:1|
|Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome||Mark 16:1|
|the women who had come with (Jesus) out of Galilee||Luke 23:55|
|Mary Magdalene||John 20:1|
Mary, Jesus’ mother is not listed! She is probably at John’s home, where Jesus had assigned her to be.
It is important to recognize also that it was to women that an angel announced that Jesus had indeed risen, and who first meet the risen Jesus, and who report the fact to the disciples.51 No men are involved, for they are likely “in seclusion” (hiding).
Mary and Tradition
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.52
Some Traditional Fallacies Concerning Mary
Mary was sinless
|For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. -Romans 3:23; There is none righteous, not even one. -Romans 3:10; And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. -Luke 1:47|
Her Perpetual Virginity
|A virgin until the birth of Jesus. -Matthew 1:24, 25; Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things? -Matthew 13:55, 56|
Mother of God
|Mary was mother only of Jesus as Man. He as God created the world long before Mary was born. -Hebrews 1:1-2; For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth (including Mary), visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things have been created through Him and for Him (including Mary). He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (including Mary). Colossians 1:16, 17|
|For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. -1 Timothy 2:5, 6; Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. -Hebrews 7:25; (Jesus Christ our Lord) in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. -Ephesians 3:12|
Queen of Heaven
|Let them praise the name of the LORD, For His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven. -Psalms 148:13; Revelation chapters 4 and 5 depict heaven and its inhabitants. God is seated on the throne, surrounded by 24 elders and four living creatures. Jesus, the Lamb is standing in the center of the throne. Myriads of angels circle the throne, singing God’s praises. Later in the book there is a great uncountable multitude of people from all the earth standing before the throne and the Lamb worshipping God. Mary is not mentioned at all!|
Assumption to Heaven
|A tradition with no Scriptural support. In 495 AD Pope Gelasius issued a decree which rejected this teaching as heresy. In the sixth century Pope Hormisdas aslo condemned as heretics those who taught the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. The early church clearly considered this doctrine to be heresy worthy of condemnation. Here we have “infallible” popes declaring it to be heresy. Then in 1950, Pope Pius XII, another “infallible” pope, declared it to be official Roman Catholic doctrine.|
Mary is the Woman of Revelation 12
|In the apocalyptic language of Revelation the woman is actually the repository of divine revelation through history, and as such the vehicle through which would come the Messiah and Redeemer of Mankind. And (the woman) gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days. -Revelation 12:5, 6. Verse 5 is a typically highly condensed apocalyptic summation of the birth, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. At verse 6 the woman is revealed to be the church or assembly of believers on earth who are thereafter persecuted by the dragon (Satan) who makes war on them (So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (-Revelation 12:17) until the time of their delivery by the Lamb, Revelation 19:11-16.|
Woman — Mary — Woman
So, there appears to be a curious paradox in the Gospels and Acts.
- Mary, and Jesus’ brothers, but especially Mary, are not elevated in the New Testament. It is as if the Holy Spirit purposely prevents Bible readers from inappropriately viewing Mary, though she is the mother of Jesus Christ, as more than a humble woman submitted to God’s will for her life. The Bible does not direct us to venerate her more than this. After the mention in the book of Acts, Mary disappears from Biblical history. As a human being, she herself needs a savior. As fallen humanity, we are all apt to fall into idolatry, and Mary is a very likely subject for idolatry. Nowhere does the Scripture teach that Mary was born sinless in any fashion (Immaculate Conception), or that she is perpetually a virgin (after Jesus she bore more children), that she intercedes for the saints (Jesus is the sole Mediator between God and man, 1 Timothy 2:5), or that she was assumed bodily into heaven, (all die, after which comes judgment, Hebrews 9:27), or that she is crowned and reigns as Queen of Heaven).
- In the Garden of Eden, it was the woman who first fell into the sin of listening to Satan rather than being faithful to God. However, in the accounts of the empty tomb and resurrection of Christ, no men are mentioned at all. I take this to be an act of God’s jolting grace. Whereas the woman was the first to sin, women were first to encounter the resurrected Christ—and carry the word of the resurrection to men. Eve “gave” the sin to Adam, and he was not hesitant in receiving it. These women gave the news of the resurrection to the Apostles, and they were reluctant to receive it! In God’s providence these women were elevated (women could not give evidence in a Jewish court) as the first bearers of the risen Christ; but it seems that God took pains that Mary was not among them. Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus cast out seven demons, is the consistent name in the cross and resurrection accounts. This should be of excitement and encouragement to us all, as we understand something of the shock and awe of God’s grace.
1 ↩ • John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I, XI, 8. The Library of Christian Classics, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 1, 108.
2 ↩ • Luke 1:46 All scripture from the New American Standard Bible (NAS95) unless otherwise noted.
3 ↩ • 2 Kings 18:4
4 ↩ • Jude 3
5 ↩ • 1 Corinthians 3:22
6 ↩ • 1 Corinthians 4:6
7 ↩ • We know that when Paul says “what is written” he is referring to Scripture because five times in his letter to this point he refers to Old Testament texts: 1 Corinthians 1:19, (Isaiah 29:14); 1 Corinthians 1:31, (Jeremiah 9:22-23); 1 Corinthians 2:9, (Isaiah 64:4); 1 Corinthians 3:19, (Job 5:13); 1 Corinthians 3:20, (Psalm 94:11)
8 ↩ • Genesis chapter 3
9 ↩ • Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. Genesis 2:7
10 ↩ • So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. Genesis 2:21, 22
11 ↩ • And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 1 Timothy 2:14
12 ↩ • Genesis 3:15
13 ↩ • Matthew 1:21
14 ↩ • Zera sometimes means “semen,” or a man’s “seed.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 239. Example: Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. Galatians 3:16
15 ↩ • Galatians 4:4 and Matthew 1:21
16 ↩ • Matthew 1:16
17 ↩ • Matthew 1:1-16
18 ↩ • 2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16
19 ↩ • Matthew 1:6-16; Luke 3:23-31. Some traditions consider the genealogy in Matthew to be describing Mary’s ancestry (although it does not state this), and the genealogy in Luke to be describing Joseph’s ancestry, or vice versa!
20 ↩ • Luke 1:26-34
21 ↩ • Luke 1:19
22 ↩ • The account is in Luke 1:26-38
23 ↩ • Luke 1:38
24 ↩ • Luke 1:36
25 ↩ • Luke 1:41-45
26 ↩ • Latin, my soul magnifies.
27 ↩ • Luke 1:46-55 ESV
28 ↩ • Acts 1:4, 5
29 ↩ • Some say that the woman mentioned in Revelation 12:1-6 is Mary, the mother of Jesus. This claim is discussed below.
30 ↩ • Revelation 19:17, 21:2, 21:9, 22:17
31 ↩ • Luke 2:41-51
32 ↩ • Luke 2:51; Exodus 20:12
33 ↩ • Luke 11:27, 28
34 ↩ • Jesus had four brothers, James, Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Judas, and at least two sisters. Matthew 13:55, 56; Mark 6:3
35 ↩ • Matthew 12:46-50
36 ↩ • John 2:3, 4
37 ↩ • ESV Study Bible, 2022
38 ↩ • John 2:11
39 ↩ • Matthew 17:2, 3
40 ↩ • Matthew 17:5-8
41 ↩ • Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19
42 ↩ • Matthew 7:15, 10:16; Luke 10:3
43 ↩ • Revelation 12:9
43 ↩ • Luke 2:34, 35
45 ↩ • Again notice the lack of listing her proper name.
46 ↩ • John 19:25
47 ↩ • Mark 15:39-41
48 ↩ • They made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in His death. Isaiah 53:9
49 ↩ • Mark 15:47
50 ↩ • John 19:26, 27
51 ↩ • Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:4-10; John 20:1-2
52 ↩ • Colossians 2:8. Also (Jesus said to them), Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? Matthew 15:3
On a beautiful morning in July I got up early, and started thinking of leisurely things I could do that day (this can lead to trouble). But, there was my troublesome Bible sitting there grinning at me as if to say, “whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Rom 14:23) And just that simply I remembered that to suppress the recognition of God, and live for our unfettered passions, is rebellion. It is to “exchange the truth of God for (the) lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.” (Rom 1:25) So I can attribute my second thoughts as to how to spend the day to the presence of the Holy Spirit enlivening my mind from a Scriptural deposit placed there at an earlier time. Which, incidentally, is why it is so important to deposit Scripture there in the first place. (Psa 119:11)
But still, there is a tension between my natural desires, which I’ll call “passions”, and the demands, and yes, warnings, presented in Scripture. My struggle, which happens all too often, seems to be caused by conflict between my tenacious natural–birth nature and another, equally stubborn, nature given to me by the grace of God. (1 Pet 1:3) The result is a war of sorts, occasioned in my life by submission to my natural passions when they conflict with the passions and commands of my Lord that are known to me. Victory, freedom from sin, comes as I heed the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” and reject the “law of sin and of death.” (Rom 8:2)
But what of those who either have had no contact with the Scriptures and the gospel, or having heard, have met them with rejection? In both cases they are people who are rebuffing God willfully, as I may do in my sin. That is to say, both myself as a believer along with the unbeliever must deal with the realization that there is a God who is greater than we, whose very existence entails authority over us, an authority that must be reckoned with somehow. As a believer in God and the gospel I receive power from the Holy Spirit to submit joyfully to the revealed will of God. But some will flatly deny the existence of God!
The Bible takes no pains to convince us that God exists, rather it hugely assumes as a given the God-Who-is-there, Who is self-evident in the Universe that is His handiwork. Yet there are those who deny Him. “The fool has said in his heart, There is no God.” (Psa 14:1) So obvious is the fundamental fact that God is, that the Bible calls that group who reject His reign as fools. Scripture is not sympathetic with the notion that there can be those who honestly hold that there is not nor can be, God. Rather, it states that Man in his sin willfully suppresses the in-bred, hard-wired conscious recognition of God’s existence, and thus he denies Him in His glory. (Rom 3:23) How do we come to this conclusion? The Apostle Paul in the opening statements of his epistle to the Romans tells us that:
“… the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” (Rom 1:18,19)
Paul says nothing new, he merely echoes the Old Testament Scriptures. “The fool says in his heart, there is no God,” or more literally, “no God.” So say the Psalms. (Psa 10:4, 14:1, 53:1) It is not that the existence of God is denied, but He is denied the right to rule. The fool is like a man at a dinner, who, when a bowl is passed to him, with the wave of a hand says, “no broccoli.” The vegetable is steaming before his eyes, but he’ll do without it, thank you. This is borne out in that the same God-denier in Psalm 10 who says no God goes on to say to himself, “God has forgotten, He has hidden His face; He will never see it (his wicked deeds), and, You (God) will not require it (bring him to judgment). (Psa 10:11, 13) That is to say, he knows of God, but he will live as a practical atheist, and God can just “deal with it.” “For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the greedy one for gain curses and renounces the LORD.” (Psa 10:3) He is the wise one, God is the fool.
This man (or woman) is doomed. There is a malady of the heart which is fatal, lodged as deep as his spiritual DNA. Does the “natural” man really believe in his deepest, bedrock, soul that God does not exist? NO. He merely hopes to avoid the notice of God, and any consequences thereof. The human race is constituted to know that his Creator is there, and that He is not to be ignored! The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans,
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Rom 1:18–23)
The “images resembling mortal man,” expressed above, depict images of worship, worship of the creature, that is Man himself, above the proper recognition of his Creator, and the elevation of the will of Man above the will of God. The spurning of the evidence of God revealed by the created order (called General Revelation), is alone enough to condemn the natural man. As the apostle Paul quotes another Psalm when he writes, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one… There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Rom 3:10–18 quoting Psa 14) And again, “… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23)
If God exists, then there also exists a constraining standard of righteousness (morality) and purpose. Or, conversely, as Ivan Karamazov reputedly said, “If God is dead, all is permitted.” In denying the existence of God, one can deny purpose in the Universe. Atheist Aldous Huxley was very candid in saying,
“I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently assumed it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption… The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics; he is also concerned to prove there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do… For myself, as no doubt for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.” (Confession of a Professed Atheist)
The prophet Isaiah, speaking to godless Babylon, said, “Now therefore here this, you lover of pleasures, who sit securely, and who say in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me…’; You felt secure in your wickedness, you said, ‘no one sees me’; your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me.’ But evil shall come upon you, which you will not know how to charm away; disaster shall fall upon you, for which you will not be able to atone; and ruin shall come upon you suddenly, of which you know nothing.” (Isa 48:8-11)
So, what saves us from the apostle Paul’s all inclusive and condemning “None is righteous, no not one!”? It turns out that that verse is not the whole story! “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested (openly shown) … the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26 ESV)
The apostle Paul said that the natural, foolish, man sins by exchanging the truth of God for (the) lie. “The lie” is in contrast to “the truth.” (Rom 1:18) The truth, simply put is that God is, and He reigns, and that His worth is beyond any other treasure that this earthly life can afford. Righteousness demands that all of Creation worships Him for Who He is. The lie, therefore is that Man can live, follow his self-exalting passions independent of God, and be a god unto himself. This is folly on the primal and grandest scale. The irreparable consequence is devastation to the utmost. The remedy -for sinners like me, and you -is the person and work of Jesus Christ. (1 Tim 1:15)