Hard to Believe – The Great Exchange

So…what would be the hardest to believe Bible story? I have been thinking about this and it comes down to 2 Corinthians 5:20b-21.

Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

These few words sum up most of the hard to believe stories God has given in His word.

CREATION. In the beginning God created perfection and order by His word. He said, “let there be light” and it was so; “Let there be earth, sky, boundaries for the sea” and it was so; “let there be living things” and it was so; “let us make man in our image” and he reached down to fashion man from the dust, breathed breath into him, and it was so. It was very good and God walked with man in the garden. Man did not continue to believe the word of the Lord and believed a lie from Satan instead. The shame of man was covered by the skin of an animal and the grace of the Lord. Man was banished from the perfection of the presence of God.

NOAH and the FLOOD. One man, Noah, found grace in the eyes of the Lord as he walked among sinful men. God judged the sin of men and warned that He would punish it. The obedience of one man resulted in the salvation of his family and all that entered the ark.

ABRAHAM. God appeared to a sinful man, Abraham, and promised that a great nation would come from him. God sealed this promise with the sacrifice of animals and the spilling of blood. Abraham believed God and God considered him righteous in his belief. When the first seed of this promise was fulfilled in the birth of Abraham’s son Isaac, God asked that Abraham give his son as a sacrifice. Abraham obeyed and God provided a ram was given as a substitute.

DELIVERANCE from EGYPT. God’s people were slaves to the mighty nation of Egypt. God spoke to Moses to deliver His people from their bondage. The final plague of judgment to visit Egypt was the Angel of Death. All who had applied the Blood of the Lamb to the doorpost of their home – those who acted in obedience – we saved from death.

PROPHETS. Moses continued to receive the word of the Lord. God revealed the law which would train His people in righteousness towards God and their neighbors. The penalties for breaking these laws were sacrifices that pointed towards the need for cleansing, the desperation of their situation, the ever-present penalty of death for sin. Moses spoke of a greater prophet that would come to God’s people.

The message of the prophets continued to be remember the righteous law of God. Repent of your sin. Return to God. Be restored to God. The story of God’s people is one of a cycle of obedience and blessing, sin and discipline, slavery and deliverance. They killed the prophets.

The WORD BECAME FLESH and DWELT AMONG US. Jesus is the object of all of the scriptures. He is the Creator, the Light of the World, the Salvation promised, the righteous man among sinners, the first-born of the family of God, Hope for the nations, Deliverer from bondage, the Word of God, the very manifestation of God.

These stories have several themes: God’s perfection; Sin, judgment, and death; God’s providing grace and mercy. It is only when the story reaches Jesus that man is once again reconciled to God’s perfection, and it happens at the cross in the Great Exchange of 2 Corinthians 5:21.

The cross is the penalty of sin. Here God’s wrath was poured out in judgment for every sin and evil deed and thought in the hearts of men. Jesus’ died in the place of sinners – as a substitute – for those who believe that “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us.”  The cross is the end of God’s wrath for those who confess their sins and believe in Jesus – forgiveness is found here.

The constant power of sin to enslave us is broken at the cross. God promised Eve that her seed would crush the head of Satan. We must never see the cross alone but view it through the open door of an empty tomb. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) The empty tomb is the guarantee of God’s promise that the presence of sin in our lives is now subject to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as we obey in His power. The empty tomb is life eternal. In Christ we are new creatures, the old is passed away, all things are new out of this empty tomb. Christ was raised from the dead as proof of His righteousness – His sinlessness. In Christ we become the righteousness of God.

Perfection is not yet visible in our earthly walk, but we can be confident of this: our sins will be forgiven at the cross; the penalty is paid and the righteousness of God is given to us; we are reconciled to God; the presence of God is with us; and the power of God is for us. “Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Do you believe?

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Jonah – What do I do?

Too often I think, we read a Bible story and jump right into the application of it. We’ve heard the story of Jonah; now go and be a missionary!

I really don’t think this story is in our Bibles to inspire us to be like Jonah. Jonah is prideful (1:9), rebellious (1:3), stubborn (4:5), hard-hearted (4:9), and disobedient. In contrast to Jonah, we see the sailors who truly fear God, the king of Nineveh who humbles himself in sackcloth and ashes, the people of Nineveh who repent and throw themselves on God’s mercy, and even the fish and plant which obey exactly what God created them to do. In the end, God questions Jonah’s heart, “You pity the plant … should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 children and much cattle?”

The thing about the Word of God is that it shows people – us – as we are. The people in the city of Nineveh were doing great evil and God saw it. He said they must repent, turn to God, or judgment would come. The Israelites, God’s own people did not heed the warnings given to them. Hosea prophesies a warning that makes Israel like a prostitute married to God! Jonah heard the word of the Lord … and … ran the opposite direction. Jonah was made to go and do as God commanded but … was greatly displeased when God forgave Nineveh’s sin.

We are all unworthy of God’s grace; of His mercy and great gifts. The story in Jonah – the story of the Bible – is this: We cannot save ourselves; Salvation comes from God. Jonah did not recognize this. He found it offensive that God would be merciful to Nineveh. Jonah was a Hebrew! He thought he was better than the Ninevites. Let us humbly recognize that God has granted us mercy. We live today with another chance to know Him and serve Him. Let us encourage one another to give thanks and honor to God for His gifts.

Jonah, Israel, and the people of Nineveh were rebellious towards God. We have been rebellious towards the word of God. When we pray, when we talk about God’s word, let us encourage one another to walk true to the light of God’s word. Psalm 119:11 can be our prayer: “Your word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against You.” 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that the word of God is profitable – it is valuable – for teaching, correction and reproof, for training in righteousness. Let us examine our rebellious ways. Repent. Seek God’s correction, and submit to His will.

The only time Jonah is happy is when he is comfortable beneath the shade plant waiting for judgment to rain down on Nineveh. Jonah’s comment in his displeasure is strange, “for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah knows words about God but he does not have God’s heart. The goal of God’s grace, loving kindness, mercy, and even judgment is to bring glory to Himself and not for us to find our own happiness and pleasure. Jonah thought his purpose was to bring God’s judgment to Nineveh, instead he saw mercy. We will find purpose in life when we trust God’s grace and His gifts to us.

Jesus taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matt. 5:8) Jonah knew the words about God but he did not seem to know God’s heart. God’s heart was full of pity for the many ignorant, sinful people in Nineveh. God’s heart is full of love for people like the king of Nineveh, like Jonah, like children, like you! He calls us to Himself, to see our sin, to believe the hard stories about repenting and His forgiveness.

Jesus said that the sign of Jonah – three days and nights in the belly of the whale – is a sign to this generation. Jesus was sent to sinners, God’s enemies. He obeyed to the point of death on the cross where God showed His judgment on sin. This is what Jonah had hoped to see, but it was not the sinner there on the cross, it was the Son of God. This sacrifice satisfied God. The proof is that the tomb gave up its ‘Jonah’ on the third day. The debt for sin is paid and new life has begun.

When we believe this – then – we have a message to tell!

I believe the story – Now what? Jonah pt 2

Jesus refers to the story of Jonah – specifically the detail about Jonah being in the belly of the fish for three days and nights – so I believe that this story is true. So now what?

“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah…” This is how the book of Jonah begins. The word of the LORD came. This phrase is repeated many times in the Old Testament. God spoke to man even after man became His enemy. God’s word came to this earth to re-claim man for Himself. Moses began writing down God’s words, prophets and scribes wrote down Israel’s history as a subset of God’s words to them – whether they obeyed or rebelled. The words of God reveal a progressive revelation of God’s plan for redemption and rule of His redeemed people.

Hebrews 1 tells us exactly this. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Jesus told the disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:44-48)

Well…

Isn’t this the story of Jonah?

  1. God spoke. It will be fulfilled –  Judgment or Salvation.
  2. Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.
  3. Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed to all nations.
  4. You are witnesses.

God spoke and it was fulfilled. We see this in the story of Jonah. God’s plan was not dependent on Jonah. When Jonah ran the opposite way – God caught him. When Jonah proclaimed God’s judgment on Nineveh – God’s grace flowed. When Nineveh repented and was saved, Jonah was angry – God’s grace flowed. Jonah pitied a plant – God pitied a great foreign city of men, women, and children. Jonah witnessed God’s plan for the future and the Book of Jonah is the account of God’s coming Salvation to those  who repent and believe the mercy of God.

The Word of God is the message from God and the revealing of God to us His people. The idea of this Word from God is so important that, as we see in Hebrews 1, Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who come after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”) And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:1, 14-18)

The story of Jonah is true – the word of God is true and secured by the person of Jesus Christ.

What do I do with it?

Reading Jonah

When one sits down to read through Jonah, an activity I do recommend, a sense of the extreme creeps in. Just let your mind process the following:

  • Nineveh is a great city. (1:2)
  • Jonah flees in the opposite direction by ship.
  • A great wind and fierce storm arise. (1:4)
  • The sailors seem to understand more about God than Jonah does. They have great terror in the storm and then great fear of the Lord. (1:10-16)
  • A great fish has been prepared.
  • Jonah is in the fish three days and nights praying!
  • Jonah travels for three days across the great city of Nineveh. (3:3)
  • The king of Nineveh refers to God’s fierce anger. (3:9)
  • All of Nineveh fasts and repents – from the greatest to the least.
  • Jonah expresses great displeasure. (4:1)
  • Jonah derives great pleasure from a plant. (4:6)
  • When the plant withers, Jonah says, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
  • At the end, God asks Jonah a question but what about the answer?

Do I believe Jonah is true?

The hardest to believe part of this story is the three days and nights Jonah spends in the belly of the whale. It is exactly this that Jesus refers to in Matthew 12:38-41. The scribes and Pharisees ask for a sign and Jesus refers to the sign of Jonah. “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” We know that Jesus was buried and rose again the third day. Jesus speaks of Jonah’s experience as if it is fact – so I believe it!

Jesus continues his teaching in the same “great” theme as the story of Jonah. “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

Great city, great fish, great emotions, great sign and yet, something greater is here! This certainly must be part of our message.

 

Cofradia 2013 – Hard to Believe

Hi all!

A team of women is busily preparing to return to Cofradia once again in January, 2013. This year’s trip is scheduled for January 5 – 12, 2013.

The theme for this year’s teaching and events is “Hard to Believe Bible Stories.” Yes, there are sure a lot of stories in the Bible that are hard to believe. We have chosen just a few:

  • Jonah. The whole story of Jonah is hard to believe. Jonah, a prophet (the vessel of God’s voice) of Israel, is sent to Israel’s enemy with a word of judgment and a call to repentance. When Jonah runs in the opposite direction, God send a great storm and prepares a great fish to swallow Jonah and later spit him up on the shore of his destination. Of all the possible reactions, Jonah is greatly distressed by Nineveh’s repentance!
  • Elijah and the Altars on Mt. Carmel. Elijah has prophesied judgment on the king, the land, and the people for worshiping idols. A contest is held on Mt. Carmel between the prophets of Baal and Elijah, the prophet of God. It is hard to believe how the prophets of Baal acted to call for the idol’s attention; it is hard to believe what Elijah did to prove God’s authority; it is hard to believe that some still won’t believe.
  • Jesus on Mt. Calvary and the Empty Tomb. Hard to believe that God would enter into the time and space of a human body and live with us. Not only to live with us and for us, but to die for our sins. Then, after this apparent failure, some women witness the empty tomb and hear of a Living One! Others did not believe their testimony but what came after that event has changed lives into eternity.
  • We are hosting a catered banquet as a special event for the local ladies. They and their friends may come free of cost to enjoy a meal, decorated tables, learn to know some of the women of the Bible, and hear of an invitation to a greater banquet.

What makes each of these stories hard to believe? How do we even know they are true? If they are true, what do they tell us about God? Who is He? What has He done? What is He doing? What will He do? Can we know why God sent Jonah; why God’s fire came from heaven; why God’s Son come to earth; why a home and banquet are prepared for us? How do these old stories affect us? Where do we fit in?

Ah….

What are some of your “Hard to Believe Stories?” What do they tell you?

Update

It has been a bit of time since I added a post. This seems to happen after my January trip to Mexico – really not a bad thing but rather a sigh and looking back on such a wonderful experience.

I took an opportunity I have here at my local church to put together a summary of what the ladies’ groups have done in Cofradia. You can help pray that it is useful to begin or further a conversation with one of our missionaries in women’s ministry. Cofradia report summary This is a PDF that may or may not be of interest to anyone, but I do ask that you pray for the Cofradia women’s group, the CyFair ladies, and the First Baptist Church women’s groups.

Thank you.

I am involved in an exciting adventure this year. Our women’s study leadership group is doing a trial run with a daily chronological Bible reading program. The web site is here – As We Walk Along – and you are invited to click the sidebar there to join in. An email will be sent to you daily with questions based on the reading and your comments are very welcome! I admit to having a lot of comments on the blog – just can’t help myself – I am excited about this opportunity and the potential for more to join “As We Walk Along”. Isn’t that really why we do Bible study? To feed on, to correct our walk, to invite others to join, and to say “Come!”

Mi Hermanas!

Group Photo Cofradia 2012

It is getting harder to get the whole group into one photo!

Aren’t they lovely?!!!

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