Friday, September 25, 2009

A Parable: “The Manner of the Jews”

In John 11, Jesus called for Lazarus to come out of the tomb, and the dead came to life. When Lazarus came out of the pitch blackness of death and walked out into the sunlight again, the poor man could not even see how liberated he was. He could not enjoy the liberty he had been given because his trunk, his hands, and his legs were still wrapped tight in the burial cloth in which the dead were wrapped in those times. You’ll remember that when Jesus died, he was similarly wrapped and that within his linen burial blankets, spices were added to reduce the smell of the corpse as it began to decay. His face, too, was wrapped with a cloth, according to John 20:7.

Now, we are plainly told, in John 19:40, that this way of burying the dead was “the manner of the Jews”. So, when Lazarus’ spirit, at rest in Paradise, heard the voice of the Savior calling him back into its earthly body, Lazarus returned to a body tightly wrapped in spices and burial cloths, as was “the manner of the Jews”. How his revived body managed to get up from his hewn-out bed while still tightly wrapped up, I don’t know, but somehow Lazarus managed to rise and waddle to the door, where the light of this sun shone upon him again.

Do you remember what Jesus first said when Lazarus came out of the shadows and appeared at the door? He gave a command to those standing by: “Loose him, and let him go!”

Now, we all know that the resurrected Lazarus was just as alive before he was unwrapped from the linen burial cloths as he was after they unwrapped him. He was fully alive from the moment his spirit entered into his body again. But it was only when “the manner of the Jews” was removed from him that he was able to experience what life really should be.

On the day of Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus Christ received the life of God and came out of the tomb of human nature, which is dead to the things of God. But “the manner of the Jews” still had them bound. They could not see, even though they were alive, the light of the Son that they felt. The arms and legs of their minds were bound by the manner of the Jews in a tight little area of Jewish controlled territory; they could not reach out to the Samaritans and Gentiles. They were alive, but they still could not fully experience what life in Christ could be because “the manner of the Jews” still had them bound.

But Jesus called Paul up to the third heaven and commanded him to go loose men from “the manner of the Jews”. He was sent to the Gentiles whom Jesus would call out of death into life, so that they could go where God wanted them to go, and see what God wanted them to see.

On the day of Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus were filled with life, but they did not understand the kind of life they had. Peter was so wrapped up with “the manner of the Jews” that he did not even understand the keys of the kingdom of God that Jesus had given him, the keys he had been anointed to use! He even argued against God when God tried to show Peter that He was about to invite unwrapped Gentiles into His kingdom. Peter would never have gone to that Gentile’s house and used his keys to open for him the door of the kingdom if God had not compelled him to go. Think about this, and what this tells us about Peter’s understanding! If Peter had done only what he felt at liberty to do, he would never have gone to open the door for the Gentiles! God had to send the same vision three times to Peter just to make him willing to have his legs unwrapped, to loose his arms, and to reach out with the love of God to those who were not like him! God had to compel Peter to let Him unwrap the burial cloth that covered Peter’s eyes so that he could walk to Cornelius’ house!

Jesus said that no one who has been drinking old wine wants the new, for they say the old is better. This was true about Peter. He thought the old was better. He didn’t want the liberty that Jesus was forcing upon him because he had never tasted a drop of it. He had confidence in God only within the confines of “the manner of the Jews”. He knew how to waddle around in burial clothes just as well, or better, than anyone. And for many of Peter’s fellow Jewish believers, Peter’s reputation would remain intact only if he stayed bound up with them, and he was well aware of how those saints would feel about him if he ever became unwrapped. In fact, he felt the same way.

Peter tried being unwrapped once at Antioch, a Gentile city, but he quickly covered his face and wrapped himself up in those binding clothes of dead tradition again when he saw some Jewish brothers walking up to the front door. Paul rebuked him for that hypocrisy and for making Gentile believers feel pressured to also submit to “the manner of the Jews”, when Peter knew perfectly well that God did not want that for them.

When God gives you life, He wants you free, not only from “the manner of the Jews” but from the manner of every other earthly bondage so that you can serve Him and do good in His sight. What good to God or to anyone else are saints so wrapped up in fear of new wine that they can’t drink in His sweet Spirit and move, and so bound by traditions and cultures that they don’t dare think God’s thoughts or feel God’s feelings?

I know you have life, if you have the Spirit. The Spirit is life. But have you been unwrapped yet? Has the truth made you free? Or is your mind still dominated by wrong ideas about your God?

When Jesus gave life to the Gentiles, they were without the wrappings of the Jews’ “manners”, or traditions. Thinking this was not good, some Jewish teachers told Gentile believers that they needed to be wrapped up like the Jews and that they were not acceptable to God without being bound in the Jews’ spiced-up straitjackets. Many Gentiles fell for that doctrine and allowed those false teachers to cover their minds and restrain their spirits with “the manner of the Jews”. They surrendered the liberty God gave them! They left the light and waddled back to the tomb. Paul cried out against this institutionalized death. He wrote to his beloved Gentile converts (Gal. 5:1): “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

The Spirit is calling all of God’s children out of all things that hinder them from walking freely in the light. Whose doctrine is keeping you from the liberty Christ has for you?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Simplicity that is in Christ

If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it out of hewn stone; if you lift up your tool upon it you have polluted it.”
Exodus 20:25

King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet with the king of Assyria, and there, he saw an altar that was at Damascus. And king Ahaz forwarded to Urijah the priest [in Jerusalem] the pattern of it, and Urijah the priest built the altar according to all that king Ahaz had sent from Damascus. And when the king returned from Damascus, the king saw the altar, and the king approached the altar and made an offering on it. And then he moved the brass altar that was before the Lord from the front of the temple and put it on the north side of the new altar.
(excerpts, 2Kings 16:10-14)

When God made His covenant with Israel, God commanded Israel not to build any fancy altars. But when King Ahaz traveled north to Damascus to meet with the Assyrian king, he saw a beautifully crafted altar there and just could not resist having one made like it in Jerusalem. God’s plain altar must have been an embarrassment to the sophisticated Ahaz, and so he moved it from it’s assigned position right in front of the temple to a less conspicuous location, putting in its place the more expertly crafted altar like the one in the heathen city of Damascus.

The story of the moving of God’s altar from its place represents the spiritual battle between the Spirit and the flesh that God’s people have always had to fight. The Spirit is simple. It is clean and holy and good. And the flesh hates it because it cannot make the Spirit of God into a form; it cannot stylize the holy Ghost. Every time we resort to style to win souls or influence people, we lose some of the glory and power of God. Every time we lean on philosophy instead of on revelation to persuade men to repent, we drift away from true wisdom and into darkness. When some of Paul’s converts were being lured away from the simplicity of the Spirit of God, he wrote them and said, “I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, for I betrothed you to one man, to present a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear lest, as the serpent led Eve astray by his craftiness, your thoughts should be led astray from the simple and pure devotion which belongs to Christ” (2Cor. 11:2-3).

When we fail to value the call of God and the grace of God on our lives, we find ourselves resorting to style, form, and tradition to fill the gap. It is the inescapable human condition. Young David is one who rose above all human conditions. He loved God’s law, and he loved it simply, with his whole heart. He was satisfied just to be among those chosen and loved by God. He said, “You are my portion O, Lord. . . . At midnight I will rise to give you thanks because of your righteous judgments. I am a companion of all those who fear you and of those who keep your precepts” (Ps. 119-57, 62-63).


September 22nd, 2009, marked the beginning of the thirty-fourth year of my marriage. It began on a Sunday afternoon in 1975, near the end of a prayer meeting in Grandma’s farmhouse. My father asked the few saints gathered in that old house to pray for Barbara and me, and when they did, I suddenly felt the Spirit of God put her into my side. It was a surprising, physical sensation. We were married at that instant, and the following Friday afternoon, we went downtown to the local Justice of the Peace and made it official. Then we went on a weekend honeymoon and began our life together, glorying in the work of God.

If we had lightly esteemed the grace of God that joined us together, we would certainly have yielded to the world’s pressure to make a spectacle of the marriage. But if we had done that, then from then until now, people would have pointed to that marriage ceremony as the thing that made us husband and wife, and the flesh would have stolen – again – the glory that belongs to God alone. Another opportunity for God’s people to confess the righteousness of their God would have been forever lost to the flesh. Another expression of the tenderness of God would have been forgotten, and all we would have instead would be a photo album with pictures of a man claiming to do what God had already mercifully done.

Jesus married us in Grandma’s farmhouse when the saints laid their hands on us and prayed, and I refuse to glory in anything but that. When I meet Jesus someday, I will be able to say to him, “I remember the day, Lord, when you joined us together. And I honored your holy grace above all the vanities of earth.” Jesus will remember that day, too, and all the days since then, and he will know that I never let any man steal the glory for the mercy he showed me that day.

God is my portion in the earth, and I will be a companion only to those of a like mind. What God does may be simple, and it may not satisfy the “lust of the eyes” and the “pride of the flesh”, but it is glorious to my soul! His holiness is beautiful to me and to everyone else who has eyes to see it. His glory I will not give to another. As long as I live, in this place and among these saints, the precious altar that God has given to us, we will not move to the side in order to make room for a fancy one from Damascus.


Paul said, “If any man glory, let him glory in the Lord.” That is a superfluous commandment to anyone who truly loves God because love for God causes the heart to glory in everything the Lord does, feels, or says. Compared to Him, all the “glorious” things of earth are nothing. David felt this way, and he sang to the Lord, “A day in your courts is better than a thousand [anywhere else].” That is the simple and holy attitude that the love of God brings into the heart, and it is the simplicity of Christ that we must maintain if we hope ever to see the face God. Paul warned the saints to beware lest the simplicity of Christ be stolen from their hearts (2Cor. 11:2-3). It is a warning we would do well to heed.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Knowing God

There is not a baby born on earth who knows its mother or father when it is born. Typically, the newborn quickly learns by smell and touch who the mother is, and a strong bond is quickly formed there. But there is no newborn who quickly learns its father’s thoughts or understands his work or will. It takes years of normal growth for a child to attain to that knowledge.

Likewise, there is not a soul born of God who has ever known God when he first was born of the Spirit, including the very disciples of Jesus. On the day of Pentecost, when they were born of the Spirit, not one of Jesus’ disciples really knew their heavenly Father. They obviously knew things about Him. They had walked with Jesus, the very image of the Father, for several years, and they loved him dearly. But when they received the Spirit, they did not yet know God for themselves. On that day, they began the process of receiving the true knowledge of God. “The day you receive the holy ghost”, my father used to tell us, “is your first day in school.”

Think about it. If you had suggested to Jesus’ disciples on the day of Pentecost that God was going to allow Gentiles to enter His kingdom, the disciples would have considered you mad. That would be contrary to everything God had done from the time of Abraham, and most certainly since Moses. Besides, Jesus plainly and firmly commanded them not to carry the gospel to Gentiles (Mt. 10:5). On the day of Pentecost, not one of those disciples dreamed that God would ever allow a man into His kingdom who was not circumcised after the manner of Moses. The uncircumcised were excluded from covenant with God, period.

Furthermore, if you had told the disciples on the day of Pentecost that the ceremonial worship of the Law would become sin, as Isaiah prophesied in the last chapter of his book, they would have been indignant. Why, even the Lord Jesus observed the Law’s ceremonies while he walked on earth. The disciples did not understand that God would bring ceremonial worship to an end, that the time was at hand when such things as physical circumcision and animal sacrifices would mean nothing to God, much less that the observance of such things would become sin, a stench in God’s nostrils and a reproach to the name of Jesus.

If you had told those disciples that when the door by which Jews entered into Christ was closed, the holy baptism that John the Baptist preached would be holy no more and that having a genealogical connection to Abraham would mean nothing to God, they would have considered you a blasphemer, worthy of death. Even Jesus was a Jew, they would have contended. Didn’t that mean something?

Yes, it meant something. But what did it mean? When Paul returned from his visit to the third heaven, he had the answer:

Romans 15
8. Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers,
9. and so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto your name.
10. And again he said, Rejoice, you Gentiles, with His people.
11. And again, Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; and laud him, all you people [the Jews].
12. And again, Isaiah said, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.
13. Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the holy ghost.

This revelation to Paul about the Gentiles is something that the disciples, on the day they were born of the Spirit, did not understand. They did not know that God was making a New Covenant in which the only true worshipers on earth would be those who worshiped the Father in spirit and in truth. The disciples were very good Jews. They had watched Jesus be a very good Jew, too, as he observed all the carnal commandments of the Law. They did not yet comprehend the ramifications of what Jesus told the woman at the well: “God is a spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” The phrase “in spirit and in truth” means that ceremony is excluded, but they did not understand that. It means that communion with God is a matter of the heart, that baptism is a matter of the spirit, that robes of righteousness have replaced robes of earthly material. But the disciples did not yet understand those things, either.

What God accomplished in Christ is so great, so far beyond the thinking of even the best people on earth, that even Jesus’ disciples did not expect what would happened. They would not have believed it even after it was done, had God not had mercy on them and raised up Paul to teach them.

That is the greatness of Paul’s work. He was taken up into the third heaven, heard things unlawful to speak, and then returned to earth to educate even those who were apostles before him concerning what God had done in Christ Jesus. Paul is the man who broke the yoke of the Law off the back of God’s people, not Peter, not James, not John. Those good Jews continued observing the ceremonies of the Law even after the Spirit came on the day of Pentecost. Paul unlocked the shackles of the Law’s carnal ceremonies and holy days and set God’s people free indeed!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tithes Before the Law

Excerpt from the book, Tithes and Offerings

Jesus told certain men that if they were indeed the children of Abraham, as they claimed to be, then they would do what Abraham did (Jn. 8:38-40). Jesus’ point was that the spiritual descendants of Abraham are the people who know God’s will and do it, as Abraham did. One of the things Abraham did was to render God’s tithes to Melchizedek. Do Abraham’s children not do the same?

From the examples of both Abraham and Jacob, we learn that tithing was not simply a commandment found in Moses’ law (Gen. 28:20-22). Abraham and Jacob lived hundreds of years before the law was given, and they both rendered tithes to God. Both of these men were righteous, and righteous people have always sensed what was good in the sight of God and then done it, law or no law. There were no laws, commandments, and statutes written down for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to keep, and yet they did the will of God because of their relationship with God. They knew His voice, and obeyed His voice as if what they heard was a law. God once told Jacob (Gen. 26:4-5), “I will make your seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and I will give to your seed all these countries. And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed because Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”

Paul said it this way: “The law is not made for a righteous man” (1Tim. 1:9). Paul was teaching here that godly people such as Abraham and Jacob did not need the law of Moses to tell them what was right, whether in the matter of tithes and offerings or anything else. Such people, Paul would say, were “a law unto themselves” because they had a heart for righteousness. Therefore, although they lived hundreds of years before the law was revealed to Moses, they still did what was right in the sight of God.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Law is Holy

Wherefore the Law is holy,
and the commandment is holy, and just, and good.
Romans 7:12

Everyone who commits sin is also transgressing the Law,
for sin is lawlessness.
1John 3:4

When did Paul write Romans 7:12? When did John write 1John 3:4? Before the New Testament began, or after? Afterwards, of course. But note that Paul did not say, “the Law was holy”. He said, “the Law IS holy”. And if in the apostle Paul’s day, the Law of Moses was holy, then the Law of Moses is still holy. Nothing has happened that would change the status of the Law from Paul’s day until now. The New Covenant that Jesus purchased with his blood has not been amended, and never will be. It is an eternal covenant.

This attitude of reverence for the Law is found throughout the NT. Jesus himself honored his Father by recognizing the holiness and the authority of the Law that his Father gave Israel: “Don’t suppose that I’ve come to destroy the Law or the prophets; I didn’t come to destroy but to fulfill. I tell you truly, until heaven and earth pass away, not one iota or serif of the Law shall by any means pass away until all things have come to pass (Matt. 5:17-18).

The single most important thing about the Law of Moses that anyone can know is simply that it was God’s Law, not Moses’. It was not the work of human genius; it was revealed from God to Moses and Israel. When God finished giving Moses the Law, He commanded him straitly, “Do not add one thing to this Law, or leave one thing out!” There is not a single sentence in the Law which God gave to Moses that is from man. The whole thing came by revelation of God. The importance of this truth cannot be overstated.

In our time, the world is devoted to the gods of evolution. These demon spirits, gods of this world, have infected every aspect of public life in this culture. What gets most of the attention is the demon of geological and anthropological evolution, but the worst of those evolutionary gods is the demon of theological evolution. That spirit influences ministers and believers of every ilk to think of the faith of Christ as a stage of theological evolution that evolved from the OT Law and prophets into a much higher form, more sophisticated and therefore, more worthy of mankind. The spirit of evolution would have you think that since the law is an older version of true faith, we can no longer trust what it tells us about life, ourselves, and God. This demon of evolution would also have you believe that you have evolved into a higher form of life than Moses and David, who loved God’s Law.

But what Moses and other men of God said about God was not evidence of how far they had evolved from monkeyhood. Every word in the Law that Moses wrote came by revelation from God, who does not evolve. Our Creator was perfect before He created anything; He was perfect in the beginning of Creation; He is perfect now; He will be perfect when heaven and earth pass away; and He will always be perfect. He will never improve, and the only way we will ever improve is if we come down from our high evolutionary horses and humble ourselves to be transformed by His power to be like Him; to think as He thinks, to speak as He speaks, to feel as He feels, and to do as He does! This is what Jesus did, and that is what made him sinless.

The spirit of theological evolution would have you think of the Law of Moses as an outmoded relic of the past, the product of ancient, unsophisticated minds. But Jesus didn’t feel that way. He said if you did not believe Moses, you could not believe him. Paul said the law was “our schoolmaster, to lead us to Christ.” And a long time after the Spirit came, John said the definition of sin is still “transgression of the Law.” The reason those holy men didn’t feel the way that the demon of theological evolution feels about the Law is that God doesn’t feel that way. When Paul said, “The Law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good”, he said it because that is what God thinks.

The Law of Moses did not evolve from anything. It came directly from God, fully formed. The New Testament did not evolve from the Law. It was revealed from heaven when the Son was revealed. Men’s vain ideas, traditions, and doctrines evolve, but God’s truth is eternally the same.