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Wordwise Insight, Issue #041
May 14, 2008
WORDWISE INSIGHT is the free, informative monthly newsletter of Wordwise-Bible-Studies.com
IN THIS ISSUE...
BIBLE INSIGHTS. A Work of Art, Life's Great Occupation, and more
READER Q & A. Did Jesus die spiritually on the cross? And are there any "little" sins? and more
MEDIATIONS ON OUR HYMNS. Look and Live
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BIBLE INSIGHTSDISCUSSION BIBLE STUDIES ON THE BOOK OF JOB! There are 12 lessons in this unique series on an oft-neglected book. These will challenge your thinking in many ways. There is nothing else quite like this currently available on the book. Take a look at Job Studies.
A WORK OF ART
About two hundred years ago, in the city of Cremona, Italy, there lived a violin maker named Antonio Stradivari. Stradivari was committed to creating instruments of the highest quality, and he took infinite care with every one he made. As he worked, each part of the instrument received meticulous attention. The pegs, the finger board, the curve of the body, even the precise formula of the varnishes to be used--no detail was too small to escape his attention.
Such was his skill that he is now considered the greatest at his craft of anyone who ever lived. His instruments "sang" with a depth and richness of tone that was unsurpassed. Even today, there is nothing to match the musical quality of a Stradivarius violin. And the relatively few of his instruments still in existence are treasured be musicians and collectors, and occasionally bought and sold for fabulous sums.
Yet for all the near-perfection of the instruments Antonio Stradivari made, each has one serious limitation. It is absolutely powerless to make music on its own. Beautiful, graceful in line, bursting with potential, but utterly silent. What is missing is the application of the master's skill. Only when the creative genius of the musician is employed in drawing the bow across the strings in just the right way will the instrument's full potential be realized.
A similar situation pertains in life. Long ago, the eternal God conceived a grand design, a living "instrument" called Man. Scripture tells us that He took infinite care to form this creature to a precise pattern--His own image--breathing into him the breath of life (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:7). Each detail was given special attention; even the hairs of his head were numbered (Matt. 10:30). All the potential for a full and meaningful existence was built into this crown of creation.
"We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). His "workmanship." The Greek word is poiema, from which we get our English word poem. It is appropriate to say that we are each unique works of art, designed, and to be brought to our full potential, by the patient work of the Master Craftsman.
There has been just one problem from the very beginning with the realization of God's purpose. It is impossible for us to achieve it on our own. And there is a sinful independence within each of us that prompts us to take control of our own lives--in effect, to wrench the instrument from the Master's hand in a foolish attempt to make our own life's music. Such can never be. Frustration and failure are the inevitable result, and ugly discord abounds, where the Lord wants to hear glorious harmony.
If that has been your experience, let me encourage you to place the instrument of your life in the Master's hands, once and for all (Rom. 12:1), and allow Him to create something of beauty and eternal worth. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him [as Your Lord], and He shall direct your paths" (Prov. 3:5-6). In the Master's hands, your soul's music will bring meaning to your own life, enrich the lives of others, and truly glorify your Creator.
LIFE'S GREAT OCCUPATION
The psalm begins: "Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; talk of all His wondrous works! Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord! Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face evermore! Remember His marvellous works which He has done, His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth, O seed of Abraham His servant, you children of Jacob, His chosen ones!" (vs. 1-6)
Here is a summons to Israel to do several important things that will strengthen their relationship with Jehovah God. And these four things are not dispensationally limited. That is, they are not just for Israelites living under the Mosaic Covenant. They are worthwhile for each of us in the Church Age to engage in, day by day, as well. And the four can be pictured as a kind of God-centred cycle. As we meditate upon (Ponder) the things of God, we are led once more to Praise Him, and then to Pray, and so on. We are called:
1) To Praise: We are to worship God for who and what He is, rejoicing in, and expressing thanksgiving for what He has done. ("Give thanks to the Lord....Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him....glory in His holy name...let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord.")
2) To Pray: We are to seek the fellowship of God, and call upon Him for His help. ("Call upon His name...seek the Lord and His strength...seek His face evermore.")
3) To Proclaim: We are to bear witness to one another as believers, and beyond the community of believers, to the goodness of the Lord. ("Make known His deeds among the peoples...talk of all His wondrous works.")
4) To Ponder: We are to meditate upon the words and works of God, saturating our minds with what He has said and done. ("Remember His marvellous works which He has done, His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth.")
Consider in this regard Thomas Ken's great 1674 hymn. He says to himself, "Awake, my soul, and with the sun / Thy daily stage of duty run; / Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise, / To pay thy morning sacrifice. / Thy precious time misspent, redeem, / Each present day thy last esteem, / Improve thy talent with due care; / For the great day thyself prepare. / By influence of the Light divine / Let thy own light to others shine. / Reflect all heaven's propitious ways / In ardent love, and cheerful praise."
Then, Thomas Kenn adds this prayer, concluding with the familiar Doxology: "Direct, control, suggest, this day, / All I design, or do, or say, / That all my powers, with all their might, / In Thy sole glory may unite. / Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; / Praise Him, all creatures here below; / Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; / Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." That is our divine calling!
THE LEARNER-SERVANT PRINCIPLES. On the website there is an article about discipleship called The Learner-Servant Principles. Extensively referenced to Scripture, and with many diagrams, this material will give you a unique perspective on the subject. The seven basic principles are interconnected. They show the essence of discipleship as it is revealed in Godís Word, four key things God expects of us, and how sin contrasts with the four. As well, you will gain a helpful understanding of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and walk in the Spirit. The framework described can also be used to analyze passage after passage in the Bible. Please study the material, put it to use, and pass it on!
TRUTH IN OUR TRIALS. Check out the extensive outline study on the subject of suffering at
Truth About Suffering.
READER Q & AQuestion: Rose refers us to an author who says, "There are no 'little' sins, for they are all equally evil." She asks, "Is this true or false?"
Answer: I both agree and disagree. (How's that for a political response?) The context of the statement should have helped you, because the author should have explained how he meant it. That he did not do that is unfortunate. Consider:
1) If we are talking about how much sin it takes to separate us from a holy God (Isa. 59:2), or how much sin it will take to keep us out of heaven, then any sin (unless one has put his faith in Christ) will do, even the teeny tiniest sin. The prophet Habakkuk says to God, "You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness" (Hab. 1:13). Because God is perfect, and heaven will be a perfect place, even the slightest sin would spoil it. It only takes one sin to make a sinner.
That's how it was for Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:17; 3:6). Think of God's holy standard as a chain linking Adam to Him. He did not need repeated disobedience, or doing many wrong things, thus breaking many links to sever the connection and "fall." Only one sin did it. And James says, "Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all" (Jas. 2:10).
2) That being said, the Bible does seem to indicate that there are degrees of evil. Apart from Scripture, logic suggests that there are some sins which have a more profound and lasting effect on others. (The sin of murder is a good example. A life on earth is ended, and cannot be restored. Stealing my neighbour's hammer is different in that respect!) In this case, we are dealing more with the temporal consequences or effects of sin. And God does seem to take that into account.
Note, for example, that not all sins were punishable by death for those who lived back under the Law. And there are other examples of differences being made. The Mosaic Law made a distinction between "unintentional" sins and "presumptuous" sins--those committed in ignorance or accidentally, versus sins involving a purposeful rebellion against God (Num. 15:27-31). Then "the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" seems to be put in a special category all its own (Matt. 12:31-32). (I trust mentioning this won't get us off onto a difficult rabbit trail!)
Also, the love of the Lord Jesus for little children, and His desire to protect them, seems to make sinning against them especially revolting to the Lord. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matt. 18:6). And Romans 1:18-32 surely reveals a progression as to the depth and pervasive effects of wickedness.
3) These distinctions apparently affect the degree of punishment beyond this life. I believe Dante was right about that. In his Inferno, published in 1308, he describes nine circles of hell, one inside the other, and each involving greater punishment than the one previous, with Satan at the very centre. Those consigned there are placed according to the degree of their wickedness, with each circle's sinners punished for all eternity in a fashion befitting his crimes.
We get a hint of what is to come in the fact that some demons (fallen angels), and including Satan (I Pet. 5:8), have been allowed to roam free for a time, while others did something so wicked (or so dangerous to human beings) that "God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment" (II Pet. 2:4; cf. Jude 1:6).
Then, seeing a vision of the Great White Throne, where all the unsaved of all the ages will be finally judged and condemned to hell (Rev. 20:11-15), the Apostle John says, "books were opened." The unsaved condition of these individuals is established by the fact that their names are not found in the Lamb's "Book of Life." But God's Word says the other books will be used to assess their works. Why? I believe what is found in them will relate to the degree of punishment each person faces in eternity.
So, yes and no. All sin is sin. But not all sins are equal in certain respects.
Question: Gary asks, "Did Jesus spiritually die on the cross?"
Answer: An interesting question. The simple answer is, No. But we have to be a bit careful with the details because the Lord Jesus is not like any other person who ever lived. He is God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity. Yet, at a point in time about 2,000 years ago, He entered human history. Without giving up His deity, He was "incarnated." That's a fancy word that means He took on our humanity, in the womb of a virgin named Mary (Jn. 1:1, 14). He is now, and will be forever, the God-Man, fully God, and yet fully Man.
As God He is eternal, without beginning or end, so He cannot die. When Christ's birth in Bethlehem was announced, He was described by the prophet Micah as, "the One...whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting" (Mic. 5:2). And the writer of Hebrews quotes God to Father: "To the Son, He says, 'Your throne, O God, is forever and ever'" (Heb. 1:8). Yet, as Man, He did truly die, and rose again from the dead the third day (Rom. 5:8; Matt. 28:5-7). Having said that, that was a physical death, not a spiritual one.
Another aspect of the question is this: Exactly what do we mean by spiritual death? The Bible describes human beings as being "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1, 5). We are born spiritually dead, in need of a spiritual birth--a new birth--through faith in Christ (Jn. 1:12-13; 3:3). That does not mean that our spirits are non-existent before we're saved. It means they do not have either the desire or the power to understand what God requires of them, or to do it. "The natural man [one who is born physically, but not born again] does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (I Cor. 2:14).
That is the condition of each one born into the world. We inherit sin's corrupting effects from Adam, and we each have a fallen sin nature that is actively or passively in rebellion against God. As a result, we all sin (Rom. 3:23). With one big exception--Christ. The Holy Spirit caused the Lord Jesus to be conceived in the womb of a virgin, bypassing the normal means of human generation (Matt. 1:18; Lk. 1:35). Through the miracle of the virgin birth the Christ became Man without experiencing the corrupting effects of sin. He was not born "dead in trespasses and sins" as we were. He did not need to be born again by a work of the Holy Spirit. He is, as He has always been, the sinless Son of God (Heb. 4:15; I Pet. 2:22).
Now, we need to look at what happened on the cross. On the cross, the Lord Jesus was charged with all the sins of humanity that have ever been committed. He did not personally commit any sin, but He took our guilty verdict upon Himself. He died to pay the penalty for sin that we deserve (I Cor. 15:3). And in that moment, it seems His eternal fellowship with the Father was momentarily broken (Matt. 27:46). There are mysteries there that God has not seen fit to explain to us. But what we do need to know is that when we put our faith in Christ as Saviour, not only are our sins forgiven, but God credits the righteousness of Christ to our heavenly account (II Cor. 5:21). That is what salvation is all about.
To repeat, it was a physical death the Lord Jesus suffered. He shed His life's blood, died, and was buried in a tomb. As to His spirit, we are told this: "When Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, 'Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.' Having said this, He breathed His last [meaning, He died]" (Lk. 23:46). And what did He "cry with a loud voice"? His dying cry was "It is finished!" (Jn. 19:30). Then "one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out" (vs. 34). Jesus died physically, entrusting His spirit to the Father's care--which many others have done, at the point of death. But He was never spiritually dead in the sense that term is used of fallen sinners. In that sense Jesus did not die spiritually.
NEXT MONTH: What is the difference between such Bible terms as carnal, the flesh, the old man?
MEDITATING ON OUR HYMNS
A funny thing happened one time when my wife was away overnight. In the early morning back then, I could usually be found in my study, preparing a Sunday sermon, or working on other things. And while I was doing that, on this occasion, our dog came into the room, put her head on my lap, and looked up into my eyes, piteously. I hadn't a clue what it was about, but that look! It said, better than any words, "Master, I've got a problem. And you're so smart. I know you can help me." (Dogs often flatter us with their confidence!)
Curious, I got up and followed her upstairs, to see what the trouble was. In the bedroom, I discovered an alarm clock beeping annoyingly. The dog went right up to the clock, wagging, as if to say, "See? I told you there was a problem! Now, fix it!" And of course, I did. It has happened occasionally since, but now I know what she means by that "look."
There are all kinds of looks, are there not? And we often get a clue from the expression on a person's (or even a dog's) face, what they are thinking, or what they want. There is a cold, uncaring look that may bespeak cruelty and malice. Or a look of good humour and friendship that seems to invite us in. Also there are looks that register compassion and concern, or devotion and confident trust.
When the camp of Israel was infested with poisonous snakes out in the wilderness, God commanded Moses to erect a serpent of bronze. Then the Lord promised, "Everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live" (Num. 21:8). And so it was. It is not that some magic power resided in the image itself. God is not in the business of dispensing lucky charms. That look meant, "I believe what God has said; I believe His provision is abundantly adequate for my need. Therefore, I am going to obey His word. I trust Him to save me."
Many years later, when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about His coming death, He made reference to the serpent in the wilderness (Jn. 3:14-16). The parallels are obvious. The bronze serpent was like a real one, but without the deadly poison. Similarly, God sent His Son "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom. 8:3), but "without sin" (Heb. 4:15). Christ took the punishment for our sin upon Himself. And the same kind of look is required, if we are to be cleansed of our sin and receive God's gift of eternal salvation. It is a look of faith that says, "I believe what God has said about the Saviour. I believe His provision is abundantly adequate for my need. Therefore, I will obey the gospel call, and trust in Him alone to save me."
Back in the nineteenth century, a man named Henry Jackson (1838-1914) and his wife Alice worked as missionaries in Argentina. Later, he served as a pastor in the United States. Today, Pastor Jackson is remembered for a hymn he wrote inviting sinners to look to the Christ in faith. It says: "If you from sin are longing to be free, look to the Lamb of God. / He, to redeem you, died on Calvary, Look to the Lamb of God....For He alone is able to save you, / Look to the Lamb of God."
As John the Baptist put it, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn. 1:29). Behold Him, yes. But not simply out of academic curiosity, or as part of mere religious ritual. Turn your gaze upon Jesus in confident trust. He is the One who bore the punishment for our sins on the cross. Consider the Lamb of God, who died in your place, and rose again, in triumph over death. Look to Him and say, "I believe that Jesus died for me." There's life in a look.
Check out EXPLORING CHRISTIANITY, a Wordwise Bible study series to help seekers, or new Christians! A wonderful "review" for long-time believers as well! The free 10-part series is now available at Exploring Christianity.
If you have a question or an idea to share, please go to the Wordwise website and use the question form.
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