Bewitched? Galatians 3:1-6

Bewitched? Galatians 3:1-6

About once per month, I’m going to slowly write my way through a short commentary on the Letter to the Galatians. I’ll deliberately skip the usual analysis typical of this genre–no “scholarly” questions, text-critical issues, and minimal formal interaction with opposing viewpoints. I’ve taught through the book four times now, and feel I’m in a position to have something competent to say on the matter. My aim is to write for normal Christians who just want to know what the text means. So, here I stand.

For reasons that aren’t important, I’m publishing this series beginning with Galatians 3:1-6. That is this article. The real fun stuff, of course, comes in Galatians 3:7ff. You’ll have to wait for next time for that!

First things first …

Here are some conclusions of mine, up front, so the reader can know the lay of the land:

  1. Paul is not arguing against the Mosaic Law as it was. He was arguing against the perverted understanding of the Mosaic Law that was common in his day (and Jesus’ day, too).
  2. The Mosaic Law is not a vehicle for salvation, and it was never intended to be one.
  3. The Law was given to teach God’s people (a) how to worship Him rightly, which includes instructions about forgiveness of sins (moral cleanness) and ritual uncleanness, (b) to have a written moral code that is fairly comprehensive, but not exhaustive, and (c) to live as brothers and sisters in a particular society for a particular time.
  4. The Law is a tool for holy living, a guardian to keep people in a holy “holding pattern” while the plane circled the airport, waiting for Jesus’ first advent so it could “land.”
  5. It is incorrect to believe the shape of a believer’s relationship with God has ever been about anything other than wholehearted love, which ideally produces loving obedience (Mk 12:28-32; cf. Deut 6:4-6; Lev 19).
  6. Some flavors of pop dispensationalism have done incalculable damage by confusing Christians about the relationship between the Mosaic Law and the Gospel.

Now, to the text!

There is one issue on which every reader of the Letter to the Galatians must have an opinion. How you answer this question will determine whether you rightly or wrongly understand this letter. Here is the question:

  • Did God intend the Mosaic Law to be a way of salvation?

That’s it. That’s the question. If you can answer it, then you’ve unlocked the key to this letter. No matter what happens, if you continually ask yourself this question and remind yourself of the answer, then you can understand this book. If you don’t ask the question, then you’ll likely go wrong. If you answer it wrongly, then you’ll take a bad turn pretty quick. I’ll explain by and by—let’s dive into the heart of this letter.

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?

Galatians 3:1-2

They’ve been tricked. Fooled. Hoodwinked. They know the truth, but they’ve been convinced otherwise. Paul preached the truth to them—they saw him explain with their own eyes, heard with their own ears. They know better than this. As Paul asks his question in v.2, we should picture him holding up his hand to forestall any heated objection from his audience.

“No!” he says. “You listen! Lemme ask you one thing—did you receive the Spirit by doing things to gain God’s favor, or by just believing what you heard? Which one!?”

The question is rhetorical. They know the answer. They know what Paul taught them. There’s nothing to say. The Spirit is tied to salvation, and that has never been by works—by doing things from the Mosaic Law.

Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?

Galatians 3:4

Paul is deliberately provocative, here. To miss the Gospel and wander off into Jewish legalism is a terrible mistake. He’ll explain just how big a mistake it is, later (Gal 4:8-10). But, for now, he presses the point home with another rhetorical question. If they admit they did receive the Holy Spirit by simply believing the truth about Jesus (not by working to curry favor), then do they really suppose they have to add “things” to Jesus, to seal the deal? Add works? Add rules?

Rules are fine. Rules are good. God has standards of conduct. But, these flow from a true love for God—not the other way around. This is the great tragedy of Judaism in Jesus’ day, and in Paul’s. It’s why Jesus was so unhappy with the religious establishment. It’s why they were so angry at Him. They spoke different languages, as it were—they had different faiths. They had a different God.

The Jewish establishment had a God of legalism, where relationship was predicated on right conduct (orthopraxy). To have a relationship with God, you gotta follow the rules. So, for example:[1]

  • A beggar who reaches inside a home on the Sabbath to receive a food gift has committed sin. The act of reaching inside the window makes it so.[2]
  • If you search your clothes for fleas on the Sabbath, you have sinned.[3]
  • On the Sabbath, you must only roast meat if there is time for a crust to form on the surface, during the daytime. If you fail in this, you have sinned.[4]
  • If you rise to extinguish a lamp because you’re afraid of Gentiles or thugs, don’t worry—it isn’t a sin![5]
  • God kills women in childbirth because they are insufficiently reverent when preparing the dough offering.[6]

I could go on. But, it’s clear there is little love in this kind of relationship. Where is the love? There can’t be loving obedience under this kind of system. This is why Jesus said, “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders …” (Mt 23:4). One writer summed up this “other Gospel” pretty well:

Nothing was left to free personality. Everything was placed under the bondage of the letter. The Israelite, zealous for the law, was obliged at every impulse and movement to ask himself, what is commanded. At every step, at the work of his calling, and prayer, at meals, at home and abroad, from early morning till late in the evening, from youth to old age, the dead, the deadening formula followed him. A healthy moral life could not flourish under such a burden, action was nowhere the result of inward motive, all was, on the contrary, weighed and measured. Life was a continual tournament to the earnest man, who felt at every moment that he was in danger of transgressing the law; and where so much depended on the external form, he was often left in uncertainty whether he had really fulfilled its requirements.[7]

So, yes—it’s foolish to fall for this. To believe this is a real relationship with God. To believe the false teachers who are peddling this nonsense. That’s why Paul is upset.

Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

Galatians 3:4-5

Is everything they’ve accepted about Christ pointless? Was it all worthless? For nothing? Paul repeats his question under a different cover with the same point—do we work to be rewarded with salvation’s blessings, or do we simply believe what we hear about Christ?

So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Galatians 3:6

This question is also rhetorical. The answer is “we believed what we heard about Christ.” Good! They’re in great company, then—because Abraham also simply believed God, and was counted righteous. We should all follow Abraham’s example! He had the right idea before the Mosaic Law became twisted up in knots and perverted by the Jewish establishment. So, Paul suggests, let’s go back to Abraham and see what he can teach us about real faith.

We’ll turn to this, next time.


[1] The Mishnah dates from approximately A.D. 200. But, it is a generally accurate compendium of tradition and rules that were around in Jesus’ day. We see a strong resemblance of its Sabbath regulations in Mark 7. Even if one wishes to quibble about the precise applicability of a compiled book ca. 170 years after Jesus’ death, it still captures the flavor and ethos of the relationship this system imagines God has with His people.   

[2] Shabbat 1:1, in Jacob Neusner, The Mishnah: A New Translation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 178–179.  

[3] Shabbat 1:3, in Mishnah.  

[4] Shabbat 1:10, in Mishnah.  

[5] Shabbat 2:5, in Mishnah.  

[6] Shabbat 2:6, in Mishnah.  

[7] Emil Schurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, second division, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1890; reprint; Peabody: Hendrickson, 2012), p. 125. See all of §28.  

The Invasion

The Invasion

This is my 2020 Christmas Eve sermon. The video follows this text, below.

We don’t like intrusions into our world from outside. It makes us nervous. It makes us insecure. It makes us scared!

It’s why UFOs fascinate so many of us. Is it true? Could it be real? Is there actually life “out there?”

It’s why movies about Martians and aliens are so sinister. They always have better technology. They always want to hurt us, and they always scare us.

Those Martian movies are always variations on the same theme:

  1. The arrival—dark, mysterious, sinister, and especially scary music! What does it mean!?
  2. The confrontation—they present their demands, often at the point of a ray-gun, and their demands are usually evil. What do they want, and do they plan to hurt us!?
  3. The struggle—we reject their demands, and war begins. Will the invaders win?

In short, those Martian and alien narratives are pretty simple. We’re the good ones, and the extra-terrestrials are the evil ones. So … shall evil triumph over good? Of course not!

The Christmas story is also about an invasion from another world—but the script we’re used to has been flipped all upside down.

Jesus is that visitor from outside this system who’s come to our alien world. It didn’t used to be an alien world, but it’s become one because we’ve neglected it. We’ve ruined it. We and our world are like a garden that was once beautiful 500 years ago, but is now an overgrown mess of thorns, nettles, garbage and rats.

The bible tells us about Jesus’ arrival:

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Luke 2:8-14

This arrival isn’t dark, mysterious or sinister. There are no spaceships landing in dark cornfields or hovering over city skylines. No explosions. No otherworldly creatures. No exotic technology. And, no frightening music. There’s only an angelic choir, singing to shepherds in their fields at night about a special visitor from the world beyond. And there’s no mystery about what it means—God has come to bring perfect peace to those with whom He’s pleased!

Not just in its arrival, but also in its confrontation, God’s invasion is different from our expectations. Instead of entering this world and making demands at the point of a ray-gun, God has sent His Son to hold out His hand and say, “I’ve come to rescue you from yourself! Won’t you come with me?”

The script we’re so used to has been flipped because our roles are actually different than we think:

Though you wash yourself with lye, and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, declares the Lord GOD

Jeremiah 2:22

What God’s telling us is that we’re the ones who’ve gone rogue. We’re the ones who have the problem. We’re the ones who have invaded and taken over His world. We are the bad guys, and nothing we can do will ever wash that stain away from our hearts, souls and minds.

Think of an intervention. An intervention is when you, family and friends gather to tell someone you love the truth. To shake him out of his stupor and make him really see how he’s destroying himself and hurting those he loves.

This confrontation at Christmas is God’s intervention in all of our lives—in the world’s consciousness. To shake us awake. To make us see how we’re destroying ourselves. Jesus is the One who’s come to sit down on our couches, in our living rooms, to have this difficult conversation with every single one of us. And Christmas is when His journey to our couches and living rooms began.

  1. You’re not ok. You’re unclean and your guilt is like permanent marker on your souls—not a scarlet “A” but a black “C” for “criminal.”
  2. God’s intervention is when His Son came here to live and die for people who hate Him, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
  3. His Resurrection breaks the chain that binds you to Satan, and shines a light to us in darkness to lead us onto the path of perfect peace. It’s when He asks us, “you can be free, so won’t you come with me?”
  4. Pledge allegiance to Him by repenting and believing His message, and He’ll be a perfect and merciful Savior.

What will we do once we hear the message?  

In those Martian movies, the struggle is never quite one-sided. You have better technology wielded by soulless, faceless enemies from another world versus the heart and grit of real, ordinary people … and we somehow always win—against all odds! The enemy gets into his spaceship and flies away, never to be seen again.

But, in God’s eyes, we’re the bad guys and the struggle is one-sided. This isn’t a struggle or a war, because the outcome isn’t in doubt. It’s God lovingly reaching into His ruined world, telling everyone this Good News which is for all the people (ἔσται παντὶ τῷ λαῷ), beckoning them to come to Him and then plucking the millions of people who do come (whom He’s chosen) out of this world and into something better.

How does He do it?

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.

Ezekiel 36:25

God’s spin cycle is the best spin cycle! We can’t scrub ourselves clean, but God can make us clean. He gives us His Son’s perfect righteousness. He renovates us; spiritually gutting us like a shabby house and then fixing us all up again.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26

A new heart, a new spirit—something better than that cheap, defective stock model we came with from the factory. God doesn’t renovate us so He can turn around and flip us to the highest bidder. He does it so He can keep us for Himself.

And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Ezekiel 36:27

He’ll change us so we’ll love Him and want to do what He says. He makes us new—born again, from above (γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν; Jn 3:3).

When the men came from the East following the star, they dealt with Herod the Great that night when they passed through Jerusalem, so many years ago. Over 50 years later, the Apostle Paul told Herod’s great-grandson Agrippa II that God intended this Good News about His Son to open people’s eyes, so that they might turn from darkness to light—from the power of Satan to God, that they might receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who have purified[1] by faith and allegiance in Him (Acts 26:18).

That’s still God’s plan—and in His Son’s invasion, He really does “come in peace!” Repent and turn to God—His intervention is for your own good. Believe His message—we’re the bad guys, and He’s the one who’s come to rescue us despite ourselves. And then rejoice—“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”


Here is the Christmas Eve sermon:


[1] The participle τοῖς ἡγιασμένοις is the perfect tense-form, and ought to be translated that way (NASB, Jay Adams). Most EVV render it as a present of perfect state, as though there had been no antecedent action. Contextually, this is dubious. God moves new believers into his family so that (τοῦ λαβεῖν) they would receive a share or portion (κλῆρον) among those (ἐν) who have been purified (τοῖς ἡγιασμένοις).

The Most Boring Sermon Ever – Jesus and the Burnt Offering

You haven’t read the Book of Leviticus lately … have you? Don’t be shy; I understand! This is a confusing and mysterious book to many Christians, but it doesn’t have to be. The book is about the moral, ceremonial and civil laws that God’s people had to follow under the Old Covenant. It’s full of lots of details, and lots and lots of blood.

Lots of blood.

It may not be a spell-binding page-turner of a book, but it’s one of best resources God gave us for understanding who His Son is. When we compare the elaborate sacrificial rituals from the Book of Leviticus to what Christ did for sinners once for all, we see a beautiful object lesson. That’s what the sacrificial system is; God’s object lesson to prepare His people to understand and accept the need for a final, perfect atonement for sin and rebellion.

That’s what I preached about this past Sunday morning; how “Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God,” (1 Pet 3:18).

Here’s the sermon (below):

For reference, here’s the graphic I referenced throughout the sermon, which depicts the Old Covenant tabernacle, as described in the Book of Exodus:

tabernacle

Sermon – The Coming King (Zechariah 9)

Zech 9The sermon audio is below. Actually, this is a Sunday School lesson. But, the title has been published, so I can’t change it now!

The Book of Zechariah is a neglected book. At 14 chapters, it’s the longest of the so-called Minor Prophets. It’s an obscure book, tucked away in an even more obscure part of the Christian Bible – that wasteland after the Book of Daniel, before the New Testament.

And yet …

This book has perhaps more direct prophesies per column inch about the coming Messiah than any other book in the Bible. It promises a glorious future for the distressed Israelites, a new and better leader who’ll rule over the world in peace and righteousness, promises a new and better covenant, a new and better High Priest, and vows that Israel will be ashamed for betraying and rejecting her Savior. It’s a thrilling book, and a close reading (with a good commentary even closer at hand) will encourage even the most cynical Christian.

This is also the book which prophesies how the Messiah will reveal Himself to the world as King. That prophesy is found in Zechariah 9:9-11 (and following), and it’s what I taught about this morning. It’s a prophesy which bookmarks the start of God’s fulfillment of everything He’s promised to His people, ever since the Garden of Eden.

Every Man Who Believes is Justified

I’ll be preaching from Acts 13:13-43 next Sunday. This is perhaps the longest of Paul’s sermons that God preserved and recorded for us. It is a summary of God’s grace and mercy toward the nation of Israel, Jesus’ advent, ministry, rejection, execution and resurrection.

It concludes with a stirring call for everybody (Jew or Gentile) to repent and believe in the Gospel. Paul promised that any person who does believe will be justified by God, set free from slavery to sin, adopted into God’s family and declared righteous in His eyes.

Here is my own translation of Paul’s conclusion:

acts-1338

If you are still rejecting the Gospel, please read and learn about it here.

Gospel or Good News?

dictionaryIs the Word “Gospel” Gospel?

The English word “Gospel” has a tortured and convoluted history. I don’t know this because I’m a genius. I know this because I looked at the Oxford English Dictionary. Behold where it comes from:

  • It started out as the Greek εὐαγγέλιον
  • Then it morphed into the Latin evangelium
  • Then Old English translated this as “godspel”
  • We now have it as “gospel”

Why should you care? Well, it matters when you read Jesus saying something like this:

Mark 1:15 He said, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!”

The word almost all English translation translate as “gospel” here is the Greek τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ, or “the gospel.” What does this word mean?

Hopefully, you can see the rendering “Gospel” really doesn’t tell you anything at all. The word is useless, in and of itself. It descended from the Old English rendering of the Latin, which in turn was descended from the Greek. The only place in this chain where we really have primary contact with the true definition is in the Greek – because the Old English, Latin and Modern English renderings are just derivatives from the Greek, not the actual definition itself.

So, what on earth did Jesus mean when he commanded everybody to believe in τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ? He meant they must believe the “good news.”

Who Cares?

If we translate terms consistently throughout the Bible, you can see connections easier. I stumbled across a perfect example this evening during my Bible reading:

Isaiah 52:7-10 How delightful it is to see approaching over the mountains the feet of a messenger who announces peace, a messenger who brings good news, who announces deliverance, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen, your watchmen shout; in unison they shout for joy, for they see with their very own eyes the LORD’s return to Zion. In unison give a joyful shout, O ruins of Jerusalem! For the LORD consoles his people; he protects Jerusalem. The LORD reveals his royal power in the sight of all the nations; the entire earth sees our God deliver.

The Israelites will go into exile because of their sin. Life will be terrible. It will be hard. They’ll be punished for their sins. But, all hope is not lost. God will deliver them. Enemies will be vanquished and trampled in the mud. The tables will be turned. Because of the new and better covenant, peace, justice, holiness and righteousness will reign in all God’s people and on all the earth. The Israelites will be rescued from their exile, and led back to their own Promised Land by Yahweh Himself.

In our passage, Isaiah gives us a picture of a special messenger from God. The messenger races over the mountains toward them. He has news! He has a message! What is he bringing?

He is bringing good news.

We just saw that phrase somewhere before, didn’t we!? Interesting. How do you suppose the Greek translation of the Old Testament which Jesus and the apostles used translated this word for “good news?”

I’ll bet you can’t guess it! They translated it as εὐαγγελιζόμενος, which is the exact same Greek word (in different form) which Jesus used in Mark 1:15, when He commanded Israelites to believe in the “good news.”

Connecting the Dots

Jesus is called elsewhere the “messenger of the covenant” (Mal 3:1). He is the messenger who will bring word about God’s new and better covenant. In Isa 52:7, He is also the “messenger” who will race across mountains to the Israelites bearing the message of peace (compare the angel’s Christmas message to the shepherds). He comes preaching “good news.”

Coincidence? I think not. Now do you see why “good news” might be a better translation than “gospel?”

A Word from the Apostle John

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven saying:

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”

Then the twenty-four elders who are seated on their thrones before God threw themselves down with their faces to the ground and worshiped God with these words:

“We give you thanks, Lord God, the All-Powerful, the one who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and begun to reign. The nations were enraged, but your wrath has come, and the time has come for the dead to be judged, and the time has come to give to your servants, the prophets, their reward, as well as to the saints and to those who revere your name, both small and great, and the time has come to destroy those who destroy the earth.”

Revelation 11:15-18 (NET)

Repent and believe the Gospel.

Seeing God in Creation

hubble1
Carina Nebula (Courtesy of NASA)

We live in a created world. You can look at this world and see that it was planned, designed, created and is being sustained by an intelligent being. That Being has revealed Himself to us in the pages of the Old and New Testaments. He spoke to us by the prophets of old, like Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, David and Noah. In these last days, He has spoken to us through His Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1).

That phrase, “Jesus Christ,” is both a name and a title. “Jesus” is the Greek rendering for the the Hebrew name translated as “Joshua,” which means “God is salvation.” That is His name – Jesus, Joshua, God is salvation. What a fitting name for the Son of God! The word “Christ” is a title, not a last name. It means “Messiah” or “Anointed One.” It means Jesus is the promised descendant from Eve who will crush Satan once and for all (Gen 3:15). He is the Suffering Servant whom Isaiah prophesied about (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). He is the true and great High Priest, clothed in fine garments (Zechariah 3). He is the Israelite prophet like Moses, whom all people are obligated to listen to (Deuteronomy 18:15ff). He is the One who King David prophesied about, whom the Lord will never allow to remain in the grave and see corruption (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27-31, 13:35-38). He is the one who is righteous and just, who came on the scene in a meek and lowly manner bearing the glorious message of salvation, reconciliation, forgiveness and adoption for all those who repent and believe His Good News (Zechariah 9:9).

This is who Jesus Christ is; the Anointed and Chosen One sent by God, who is God, who is salvation, who bears the message of salvation, who offers the refreshing and life-giving waters of eternal life (John 4:14) to sinners who are dead in their own trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). He is the One who is co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father, who voluntarily and willingly left the Father’s throne room in heaven and came here to live a perfect and sinless life, and to die a sacrificial and substitutionary death for men, women, boys and girls from every tribe, language, people and nation on earth (cf. Revelation 5:9).

If you’re a Christian, it is He “who has qualified you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins,” (Colossians 1:12b-14). If you’re not a Christian, then you have no cloak or pathetic pretense (cf. John 15:22ff) for your continued rebellion and insurgency against Him. The Apostle Peter said,

He commanded us to preach to the people and to warn them that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. About him all the prophets testify, that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:42-43).

Peter also warned,

But the things God foretold long ago through all the prophets – that his Christ would suffer – he has fulfilled in this way. Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and so that he may send the Messiah appointed for you – that is, Jesus. This one heaven must receive until the time all things are restored, which God declared from times long ago through his holy prophets.

Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers. You must obey him in everything he tells you. Every person who does not obey that prophet will be destroyed and thus removed from the people.’

And all the prophets, from Samuel and those who followed him, have spoken about and announced these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed.’ God raised up his servant and sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each one of you from your iniquities (Acts 3:18-26).

You’re reading these words from a device which was deliberately engineered and designed by professionals to work just like it’s working right now. It is the same with this world we’re living in. The obvious intelligent design of the world around us tells us that God exists.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork. Day after day it speaks out; night after night it reveals his greatness. There is no actual speech or word, nor is its voice literally heard. Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth; its words carry to the distant horizon. In the sky he has pitched a tent for the sun. Like a bridegroom it emerges from its chamber; like a strong man it enjoys running its course. It emerges from the distant horizon, and goes from one end of the sky to the other; nothing can escape its heat (Psalm 19:1-6)

Yet, all too often, we ignore the plain evidence of God in creation. We pass by the world around us without a second glance.

Bright, however, as is the manifestation which God gives both of himself and his immortal kingdom in the mirror of his works, so great is our stupidity, so dull are we in regard to these bright manifestations, that we derive no benefit from them. For in regard to the fabric and admirable arrangement of the universe, how few of us are there who, in lifting our eyes to the heavens, or looking abroad on the various regions of the earth, ever think of the Creator? Do we not rather overlook Him, and sluggishly content ourselves with a view of his works? And then in regard to supernatural events, though these are occurring every day, how few are there who ascribe them to the ruling providence of God—how many who imagine that they are casual results produced by the blind evolutions of the wheel of chance? Even when, under the guidance and direction of these events, we are in a manner forced to the contemplation of God, (a circumstance which all must occasionally experience,) and are thus led to form some impressions of Deity, we immediately fly off to carnal dreams and depraved fictions, and so by our vanity corrupt heavenly truth (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge [reprint; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008], 1.5.12).

This knowledge is meant to drive us to know more about God, and it is His dear Son, Jesus Christ, who reveals the Father to us, tells us who we are, where we stand with God, and what we must do to be reconciled, redeemed, forgiven, adopted into God’s family. It drives us to the Messiah, to the Christ, who in turn drives us to the Gospel.

Redeemed!

redeemedPaul and the Christians in Colossae have something in common; they have each been redeemed from Satan’s kingdom of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God’s dear Son. The “we” includes everybody who has, is and will ever be a Christian. For the saints under the Old Covenant, Christ’s perfect and finished work has been retroactively applied (cf. Hebrews 9:15).

Giving thanks to the Father, who made you acceptable to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light, who rescued us from the kingdom of the darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we now have the redemption; that is, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:12-14).

Think about what the word “redemption” actually means. It gives the sense of being freed from an oppressive and harmful situation. It has overtones of being purchased and ransomed from the clutches of an evil taskmaster. It means to be released and absolved from bonds or a particularly terrible debt. It means to make good on an obligation, to set things right between yourself and an offended party. It’s really only a nuance or two away from the proper meaning of the all-important concept of “propitiation,” (1 John 2:2). This is who you are, who I am, who every single person in this world is – worthless sinners, criminal terrorists in God’s universe, rogue insurgents who live to rail against the Lord and against His anointed. Jesus Christ said, “He that hateth me hateth my Father also,” (John 15:23). Well, the truth is that we’re each born hating Him and His father, we’re each born “by nature the children of wrath,” (Ephesians 2:2), and we’re each born as people who need to be redeemed.

Paul does not say that everybody has been redeemed, or even will be redeemed. Only those who repent of their sins and believe in the Good News which our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ died to bring will be redeemed. You are not born belonging to the family of God. You are a stranger and alien to righteousness; all of us are. We come into this world as members of Satan’s kingdom; we’re born under his jurisdiction, his power, his authority, his dominion and his control. We’re slaves of sin, “reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day,” (Jude 1:6). But, for those who have obeyed Jesus’ cry, “[t]he time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel,” then this is nothing but a terrible memory, a nightmare on a dark and stormy night, a horrifying time before God shined in your heart, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). Indeed, as the Apostle Paul wrote,

“For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Romans 6:20-23).

What does it mean to be “redeemed?” What is this redemption that Christians now have? Paul tells us that it is “the forgiveness of sins.” Your sins prove you’re a criminal. You live in this world God created, you breathe the air Christ provides, you live your life according to natural laws which Christ upholds and sustains, and you enjoy the blessings which the Lord showers on the just and the unjust alike.

If you are an unbeliever, you do belong to Satan’s kingdom, but make no mistake – everything in heaven and earth is ultimately under God Almighty’s power and control. Satan’s jurisdiction is like that of a metropolitan city within a state; its sovereignty is subject to the laws and regulations of the state it’s located in. You are under God’s jurisdiction, you are a proven criminal who has violated God’s holy laws, and you must be punished. It’s really as simple as that.

Because God is so holy, so perfect, so mighty, so awesome and so powerful, you deserve the greatest possible punishment. The Bible tells us that punishment is eternity “[i]n flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power,” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).

You need to be forgiven. In order to be forgiven, certain criteria must be met. When a person commits a heinous crime in civilized society, people instinctively know that two things simply must happen when the perpetrator is caught: (1) the crime must be paid for, and (2) once that crime is paid for, things will be “set right.” This is what the word “propitiation” means. Your sins need to be paid for, wiped clean, atoned for. God’s righteous anger must be appeased, and things must be set right. You can either pay for your own sins yourself, as you surely deserve to, or you can confess and forsake your sins, and believe the life-giving and life-saving Good News which Jesus Christ preached and taught. You only have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.

For Moses truly said unto the fathers, ‘A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.’ Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days.

Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, ‘And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.’ Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities (Acts 3:19-26).

He Knows Your Deeds (Revelation 3:8)

Jesus is writing to the people in the local church in Philadelphia, and He says something very simple and yet very profound – Jesus always knows our deeds, and what we do. Here is the text, from my own translation:

  • 8I know your deeds. (Pay attention! I have put an opened door in front of you, and no one ever has [the] power to shut it.) I know you have a little strength, and yet you have obeyed my message and have not disowned my name.

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The relevant portion of Revelation 3:8 from Codex Sinaiticus.

We can hide nothing from Him. He is omniscient and all-knowing. Jesus never takes in knowledge and learns new things. He is equal in power, glory, honor and attributes to the Father. He knows what you have done, are doing and will do.

There is nothing you can do that Jesus does not already know all about:

Proverbs 5:21 For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and he pondereth all his goings.

Proverbs 15:3 The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.

Job 34:21-22 For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings. There is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.

Jesus’ remark gives the sense of, “I always know your deeds!”[1]

He knows the good and the bad. He knows our faithfulness and our deliberate failures. He knows whether your heart and spirit is hypocritical or tender. He knows your motivations and your motives. He knows what you’re planning and what your ambitions are.

Jesus’ remark will either (a) strike fear into the unregenerate, pretending heart, (b) convict and rebuke the lazy Christian who stopped trying a long time ago, and is just treading water on autopilot; or (c) comfort the weary sinner who is honestly trying to serve the Lord day by day.

Let everybody sit up and take notice of these simple truths:

  1. God created this universe and everything in it, and He did it through His unique, one and only Son, Jesus Christ; “by whom also he made the worlds,” (Hebrews 1:3)
  2. We are – each of us – products of this creation, and we owe our lives, our blessings, our comforts, the air we breathe and the blessings we enjoy to Him
  3. We are alienated from God and estranged from Him because of the wicked things we think about and do every day, which violate His holiness and His law
  4. Because God has great mercy, love, grace and kindness (cf. Ephesians 2:4-7), He provided a way for people to be reconciled, forgiven, adopted into His family and saved from Satan and ourselves

As you go about your day to day life, whether you are a non-Christian who thinks this is all ridiculous superstition, a “slacker” Christian who lives a life of pitiful hypocrisy, or a sincere Christian who tries day by day to be cleaving tighter unto the Lord (Acts 11:23), know this – the Risen and Resurrected Christ knows your deeds. “He is Lord of all,” (Acts 10:36), and the Father demands you apologize to Him and set things right by repenting of your sins and believing in His Son’s perfect work for your sake, in your place, as your substitute. As the Scripture reads,

Mark 1:14-15 After John was taken, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God and saying: ‘The time is come and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.’ (Tyndale 1534 translation)


[1] I take the word translated “I know” to be expressing a timeless truth. Here is my note on this from my own pitiful translation; Οἶδά: (1) Voice – a simple active voice. (2) Tense – context suggests a gnomic perfect, suggesting that Jesus has always known the church’s deeds. He never comes to know anything – He always knows all. (3) Mood – a declarative indicative.