In Genesis 22, we read of the near-sacrifice of Isaac. There's Christology behind this account as it points to Christ, but there's something else that we can learn by reading it. By reading it, we learn how to face contradiction. One of the most favoured weapons in the atheist's arsenal is to throw some imagined contradiction in the Bible at you. In some cases, it's obvious that the "contradiction" they throw at us is just a lie they came to by ignoring the context. In some cases, it's not as easy. So, what do we do? Let's look at what Abraham did.
In this account with Abraham, it seems like God is contradicting Himself. He promised Abraham a son through whom he would have as many descendants as there are stars, He blesses him with Isaac, and then He tells him to sacrifice his son. When a seemingly problematic contradiction like this happens to us, what do we do? I'm prone to think that God is testing us, because look at Abraham. We know God was testing Abraham. And what did Abraham do? In Romans, Paul records that "in hope he believed against hope" (Romans 4:18). In spite of this apparent contradiction, he clung to the promise of God. We cling to God in the midst of contradiction — to His promises and putting our trust in Him rather than our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).
This is exactly what Abraham did. It's not misplaced optimism; it's faith in the midst of suffering. Abraham was silent; he did not exercise false happiness and neither did he question God. When God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, he didn't try reasoning with Him or say, "But, but, You promised!" Instead, directly after God gave him this command, "Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac" (Genesis 22:3a). He did exactly as God told him to without questioning Him. Abraham clung to the promise of God. He knew that God would fulfil His promise in whatever way He saw fit. Abraham didn't know how God would do it; he just had faith that He would. And as we know, God sent the Angel of the Lord to stop Abraham because God would not allow Abraham to make such a sacrifice because not only would that not be enough to cover the sins of the world, but also because God was already going to do that for us with His only Son, Jesus Christ.
So, in the midst of contradiction, hope against all hope. Cling to the promise of God that is in Christ. When you're faced with what seems to be a contradiction, know that 1) it is not a contradiction but simply a misunderstanding of Scripture, and 2) it is a test of your faith. Cling to your faith in Christ that His Word is inerrant, and by that faith He will make it clear to you.
I was reading a bit of Genesis today and I came across Genesis 15:13, "Then the LORD said to Abram, 'Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be slaves there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.' "
This is probably the hundredth time I read this verse and I suddenly realised: We can take comfort from this. You're probably thinking, "What? What the heck are you talking about, Ricky? How could we possibly take comfort from this? Are you crazy?" First of all, I'm not crazy; I'm mentally unrestrained. Secondly, allow me to explain, which will take a while and a bit of reading for you, so be patient.
We are children of an omniscient God who loves us. Because He's omniscient, He knew that the Israelites, His people, would suffer for 400 years. And what did He do? He brought His people out of suffering. "But Ricky, why did He wait 400 years to save His people?" I'll tell you that in a little bit. First, I want to reiterate myself by saying that God is omniscient — He is all-knowing, and since He is all-knowing, He knows the perfect time when something needs to happen. Consider briefly Galatians 4:4, "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son..." The key words are when the fullness of time had come, which means when it was now time for this thing to happen, which is given in the subsequent clause. Certain events on earth (and probably Heaven) had to happen before Jesus was born incarnate. Likewise, certain events on earth had to happen through His providence before He could free His people. Before I get to why God "waited" 400 years to save His people, remember St. Peter's point in his second epistle, "But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (3:8). Peter is referring to God's infinitude. To us finite beings, 400 years is a really long time, but to God, that's nothing. To Him, 1,000 years is the same as one day. Time is irrelevant to God. God is not bound by time; rather, time is bound to God. That's why I put "waiting" in quotations because God doesn't need to wait; He's already set everything in motion.
So, why did God "wait" 400 years to deliver His people? Remember what I said about certain things having to happen on earth through His providence before He acts? In this instance, that was Moses. Our God being omniscient, infinite, and therefore outside of time, He saw what He would do with Moses. God wouldn't free His people until Moses was born, until his mother laid him in a basket in a river, until he drifted upon the Pharaoh's daughter, was raised as a prince, murdered an Egyptian soldier because of an injustice being done to a Hebrew slave, fled to Midian for 40 years, and then revealed Himself to Moses as a burning bush. (I say "wouldn't" instead of "couldn't" because God could've freed His people by completely eradicating the Egyptians. Instead, in His complete mercy, He brought Moses before Pharaoh multiple times, giving him the chance to repent and change his ways by freeing the people of God.) Why God "waited" 40 years to reveal Himself to Moses, we can never know. Perhaps God was shaping him in some way in preparation for the great journey ahead of him. And as we know, Moses went ahead to do great things in the name of the Lord, God freeing His people and bringing them to the promised land.
Now then, how do we take comfort from this? Consider the times we're in. We can draw similarities between the godlessness of America and the godlessness of ancient Babylon. (Revelation actually depicts Babylon as a whore, the imagery being symbolic of people who follow after false religions, committing spiritual adultery against God.) Additionally, Christians are increasingly being persecuted by enemies such as ISIS, and we are groaning in pain for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Then there are our own personal sufferings. This is where we can draw our comfort: hundreds of years before the Israelites' 400-year bondage, God knew it was going to happen, and because of His promise in Christ first given in Genesis 3:15, God brought His people out of it. Sure, it was a long time, but He still fulfilled His promise.
Therefore, if God knew about their 400-year suffering, then certainly God knows of our current suffering, whether personal or global! Not only that, but He knew what's going on right now hundreds and thousands of years before it even happened! So how can we have comfort in this? Exodus 2:23b-25, "...and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel — and God knew." God hears our groaning and our prayers and our cries for deliverance. We have a new covenant in Jesus Christ. God's promise to save mankind from his sins has been fulfilled in Christ. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). That's just one way to describe the new covenant. "For if while we were enemies [of God] we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life" (Romans 5:10). God knows of our suffering; He's known about all of our suffering before the foundation of the world, which is why He sent His Son to die for us, that we may not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
God hears you. God knows you're in pain, whatever that pain is. He will deliver you a way of escape. "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). Our hope is in Christ, and as Christ intercedes on our behalf, God hears you (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). What you're suffering is nothing new; dozens and maybe hundreds of people have suffered what you're going through, so God certainly knows how to bring you through it. "So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise [through Abraham] the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain [the sanctuary of Heaven], where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 6:17-20). No doubt you flee from your troubles and suffering in the refuge of God so that you may receive encouragement from Him, holding fast to our hope that is set in Christ, who came before us. This hope in Christ is the anchor of our souls. What is this hope? It is our faith in Him — His fulfillment of the Law, death as our sins died with Him, in His resurrection, ascension, and ultimately our salvation that is in Him alone — the salvation that is coming. God knows you're hurting, but what sets the Christian apart from the rest is that the anchor of our soul is our hope and faith in Christ. Many Christians are quick to quote Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." What's the point of abundantly quoting that verse if you don't have faith in its truth? Charles H. Spurgeon once said, "Impatience would push open or break down the door, but faith waits upon the Lord, and in due season her opportunity is awarded her." Have faith; deliverance is coming. In due time, God will bring you through your suffering and pain. Just have faith that He will bring you through it His way, not your way.
Christian people are still flawed because they're still sinners. What separates us from the rest is that we're forgiven sinners. The Man behind Christianity, Jesus Christ, is whom we should look toward, not so much the people. Much like the Israelites looked up towards the bronze serpent to be saved from temporal death, so we look up towards Christ to be saved from eternal death (John 3:14; cf. Numbers 21:9). We can look at other Christians as a model of Christ, but that's it — only a model. Models are not perfect representations of the thing they reflect, but rather the best estimate that they can be. If you look towards the Christian people on how to be, you will be disappointed every time. Rather, look towards Christ, and He shall give you peace that comes not from this world (John 14:27). You can use any Christian as a role model and an inspiration as long as your mind is ultimately set on Christ.
"It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1).
We are free! We have been delivered from the curse that the Law pronounces on the singer who has been unsuccessfully striving to achieve his own righteousness. We now embrace Christ, His righteousness imputed to us, and the salvation gained through Him by grace and are justified and righteous by His merit alone (Romans 5:15-21; see also Philippians 3:9). St. Paul exhorts us to stand firm in this grace because of the undeserved blessing of being free from the Law and the flesh. A better translation for "subject again" is "to be burdened/oppressed by," because of its connection to a yoke. A yoke refers to the wooden crosspiece that is used to control domesticated animals, fastening it over the neck of two animals and attached to a plow or cart that they are to pull. Here's what it looks like:
The Jews thought of "the yoke of the Law" as a blessed thing — the essence of true religion and salvation. Paul, however, argued that for those who pursued it as a way of salvation, the Law was a yoke of slavery because all the Law does is reveal our sin and thus condemn us, hence the imagery here; the Law cannot save us, but the Gospel does.
The use of the Law is to make our sins known, and immediately following must come the Gospel, which is the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of Christ. When Christ died on the cross, our sins died with Him. When He rose from the dead, our sins were left in the dark, empty tomb. This is why Jesus said, "Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). Look at the image above again. What those two oxen are carrying looks heavy, right? Without Christ, the Law casts the heavy yoke of our sin upon us, and we lack the ability to cast our sins off us. Jesus, however, takes the yoke of our sin off, and He invites us to carry His light and easy yoke of peace and meekness. In Christ, the shackles are off and we are free in Him. Read these revealing words by St. Paul:
"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ were also baptised into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin... For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus... For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:3-7, 10-11, 14; bold prints added).
Read that over again if you must; read it as many times as you need to in order to fully grasp this amazing concept... We are no longer slaves to sin, therefore do not allow it to throw a yoke upon you and carry the condemnation it has in the Law. We are under grace, not Law. Paul continues, "Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness" (Romans 6:16-18; bold prints added). We are no longer slaves of sin but slaves of righteousness! Now, do not think of "slave" in the modern, worldly sense. Like Paul says in verse nineteen, he was speaking "in human terms because of [our] natural limitations." He used similar language so that we would understand. In the original Greek, the words "slave" and "servant" are the same word (δούλος). So this "slavery" is not chattel slavery as we often think, but rather one of loving service.
We are servants of righteousness — the righteousness of Christ that we receive through faith (Romans 3:22). The yoke of Christ is His righteousness. Take this yoke upon yourself and learn from Him because He is meek and humble and He will give you rest. The yoke of sin is hard and heavy, but the yoke of Christ's righteousness and grace is easy and light. Whenever you are struggling with the burden of the sin that enslaves you, remember these words by St. Paul in the Spirit and especially the words of Christ.
2 Timothy 2:3-4, "Share in the suffering as a good soldier of Christ. No soldier gets engaged in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him."
One of the most admirable qualities of a soldier is his resilience against all forms of adversity — he remains calm, wise, and humble; and he shares in suffering with his brothers in arms. In the wisdom of the soldier, he is not concerned with the pursuits of civilian life. Rather, he is concerned about serving his country and doing what his commanding officer commands him to do. As a U.S. Army veteran, I know this. It is the same with the Christian. Remain resilient against our inevitable suffering for the message of Christ in which we preach, sharing your suffering with brothers and sisters in Christ, comforting one another (2 Corinthians 1:4-5). Do not be concerned with the pursuits of the unbeliever, but serve and please our Creator, obeying His commands. How is this mission done? By "[making] disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that [Jesus] has commanded [us]" (Matthew 28:19-20a).
A brief explanation, yet a long title. Ironic, huh?
St. Paul writes to the Galatians concerning this issue, "To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, 'And to offsprings,' referring to many, but referring to one, 'And to your offspring,' who is Christ. This is what I mean: the Law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the Law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise."
The promise through Christ came before the Law. The Law does not annul the promise. Even when we make our own promises (man-made promises), they don't become void and we don't add to them when they're official. So it is with God. He instituted the promise of Christ through faith in Abraham, and later came the Law. So, why the Law then? This is why it's so important to pay attention to context, because Paul continues in verse 19: "Why then the Law? It was added because of transgressions [sin], until the offspring [Jesus] should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one." And as God is one, He is also 3 persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), therefore 3 intermediaries, but one. Explaining it further, Paul says in verse 24, "So then, the Law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith." Before Christ's first coming (His incarnation), humans obviously still lived in sin, and without Christ to intercede for us, there was no way for sins to be forgiven. Christ needed to take our sins upon Himself before He could intercede for us on our behalf. So, what did God do? He instituted the Law, and in this way it was a guardian, but only for a while, until Christ came so that we might be justified by faith, for the Law cannot justify us; it condemns us.
Now let's go back to verse 13 in chapter three, telling us how Christ fulfilled the Law and therefore why we no longer keep it: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree' [crucifixion on a cross] — so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to Gentiles [that's us], so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith." We are incapable of fulfilling the Law; only God is capable of fulfilling it, and it would only be effective if He were simultaneously human. That's why He became incarnate as Christ — born as man yet fully God. So He was nailed to a cross, bearing our sins, and having fulfilled the Law for us on earth, we are released from it as well as the bondage of original sin. This is why we say we are saved. It is indeed salvation.
2 Corinthians 5:18, "All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation..."
Think of the Church and what we do as the Church as just that — the ministry of reconciliation. What is "all this" that the verse says? Prior to this, St. Paul says in verse 17 that we are a new creation in Christ — that the old has passed away and the new has come. That is, our old flesh in Adam has died (original sin) and our new selves born again in Christ has come (His Spirit within us). All of that comes from God. How did God reconcile us to Himself through Christ? Well, just read on to verse 21, which says, "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." In short, God became man and took upon Himself the sins of the entire world so that whoever believes should not perish but have eternal life (hence John 3:16), and thus His righteousness was imputed to us (all believers) on the cross. We were enemies of God, yet in His death Christ reonciled us to Him (restored friendly relations). The believer is no longer God's enemy, but adopted as God's child (Ephesians 1:5). So, we the Church — the ministry of reconciliation — are to tell the whole world of this reconciliation to God as Christ has commissioned us to do (Matthew 28:18-20).
People ask what our bodies will be like when Christ resurrects us. St. Paul approached this question in his first letter to the Corinthians, and I literally laughed when I first read it. First Corinthians 15 starting at verse 35, he writes, "But someone will ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?' " Now here's where I laugh, in which he writes, "You foolish person!" Ha! Definitely an "lol" situation. Sorry, I just find that hilarious. Anyway, continuing on in verse 36, "What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as He has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body."
Obviously he's being metaphorical, but illustrating for us a reality of the resurrection. When Christ resurrects us, we literally receive new bodies. We won't have the bodies we have now. Paul borrowed this metaphor from Jesus in John 12:24, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." Botanically, the embryo in the seed of wheat is not dead and does not die before it germinates and grows into a mature plant. So even if the wheat itself dies, you can still utilise one of its seeds to plant and let it grow into something new.
This life is a prelude into a greater life. The Christian dies in this life, is planted into the ground, and at the resurrection rises as someone completely different with a literally new God-given body.
2 Timothy 3:12, "In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."
As a born again Christian, you are inevitably bound to be misunderstood, misrepresented, cursed at, and many other types of persecution. Revelation 13:10 also says, "If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain." Expect persecution. Expect to be thrown in prison for your faith. Expect to pay fines for disobeying a law that is ungodly. Expect to be killed for your faith.
But directly after this verse in Revelation, St. John calls us to "the endurance and faith of the saints." We need endurance "so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised" (Hebrews 10:36) — that is, God's promised salvation. And as St. Paul tells us, "endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5:4-5). Endurance reminds us of our hope in Christ, whom our faith comes from. "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Our hope and faith is in Christ's return. We have not seen His return yet, but by faith we know He is coming, therefore we hope. Remain strong, brothers and sisters. Jesus is coming.
Romans 12:1-2, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."
For the longest time I've always wondered when I read this, "What the heck does it mean to present our bodies as a living sacrifice?" First of all, Paul is being symbolic, not literal. He's not saying to sacrifice our bodies in a ceremonial way like how it was done in Old Testament Israel. That's absurd. The key word is the verb present. The Greek word used for this is παρίστημι (par-IS-tay-me). It is used for sacrificial terminology as an offering — to "place beside." So, by this we are saying, "Take me, Father. Change me. Work sanctification in me. Crucify my flesh and make me anew." Our old self is crucified in Christ (Romans 6:6). Continuing in verse 2, God changes and transforms us by testing, enabling us to discern His will. In His timing and manifold methods, we become something completely new (2 Corinthians 5:17). And He works sanctification in us by baptism through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2).
Give your whole self to God, not pieces of it. God isn't interested in people who only go halfway. Offering your whole life to God is a sacrifice (sacrificing the instant, tempting pleasures of the world) and therefore an act of worship. As you spend time with God, His thoughts transform your thoughts and your mind is made anew. It seeks the same things God seeks.