Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Blood lines

I received my DNA test results yesterday, then signed up for a 14 day free trial  with ancestry.ca. I spent the rest of the day filling in the gaps in my family tree with the information they already have on file from kinfolk near and far.

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It’s a fascinating exercise. I am a mix of English, French, Dutch and German, which the DNA test corroborates, but doesn’t quite know how to differentiate. They peg my background as 61% England, Wales and Northwestern Europe, 36% Germanic Europe, 2% French and 1% Baltic states. The map shows considerable overlap of the first three groups. In fact, the circle that they identify as the source of French ancestry does not include northern and western France at all, but the next two groups do. My great-great-grandfather came from Lorraine in the north of France.

My Dad thought he was part Scottish, but I have found that the Kelloggs came from the county of Kent, just below the Scottish border. The name was given to a pig butcher: “kill hog” morphed into Kellogg. Really romantic that, eh?

My great-great-grandfather was a swordsman in Napoleon’s army. Does that sound romantic? He didn’t seem to think so. Almost 200 years ago he and his children left France and settled in upstate New York, not far from some people named Goodnough. In the course of time there was a wedding which is how he got into my family tree.

This is all quite interesting, but not very significant. Mostly it’s interesting to me and my daughter.  I don’t plan to put other people to sleep by expounding on my ancestry at the Sunday dinner table.

There are extensive genealogical records in the Bible. Some people find them boring, but they are there for a reason. First of all, they show that the Bible is talking about real people, who lived, married, begat children and eventually died. Secondly, and most importantly, they show God’s faithfulness in fulfilling the promises He made.

The New Testament has only two genealogical records, both leading to the birth of Jesus Christ, the long-promised son of David, the Messiah.

The record in Matthew begins with Abraham, the father of all faithful, to whom the promise was made that in his seed all nations would be blessed. Matthew’s gospel was written for Jewish believers to record the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. He includes four women in his genealogy of Jesus, three were Gentiles and are named. The fourth was Bathsheba, an Israelite, who is not named but her first husband, a Gentile, is named. It would seem that Matthew wanted to make it clear that Jesus belonged to all people, not just one small ethnic group.

Matthew’s genealogy traces the lineage of Joseph, who was the earthly father of the heavenly child. It shows his descent from David to whom the promise of the Messiah was first made. It is generally accepted that Luke’s genealogy shows the lineage of Mary, to establish that she was also an heir of David. The two lines diverge after David, to Solomon in Joseph’s line and Nathan in Mary’s line. Both were sons of David and Bathsheba, but Solomon was king.

They come together again with Zerubabbel, who was of the kingly line and governor of Judah after the return from Babylon. Then they diverge again.

These are the last genealogies that are of any real importance. They establish that Jesus was the promised seed of Abraham and the son of David who would rule forever over spiritual Israel.

After the time of Jesus there is still a blood line that identifies those who are heirs of Abraham, having the promise of the eternal mansions. That is the blood of Jesus, not something we can inherit from our earthly fathers and mothers, but only from Jesus Himself, through the new birth.

The life is in the blood

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emanuel’s veins;
And sinners washing in that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
-William Cowper

Christianity is a messy, bloody religion. Some people find this repulsive and would prefer a neater, bloodless form of Christianity. But that is a lifeless Christianity — the life is in the blood.

The Old Testament law mentions several times that the life of all flesh is in the blood. Consider for a moment the many ways our life depends on the blood flowing through our veins. The blood carries oxygen and nutrients to every cell in our body. The blood also purifies the body, picking up minute quantities of waste throughout the body and carrying them away to be disposed of. The blood fights infection and disease, containing cells that seek out, destroy and remove invading cells that would harm our body. The blood stops bleeding and repairs wounds. We could not live without the things our blood does for us.

In a spiritual sense the blood of Jesus Christ does for us what the blood in our veins does for our natural body. It cleanses us from all sin and gives us life; it is the remedy for all spiritual diseases that war against the soul, the source of healing for the wounded soul.

Soon we will commemorate the resurrection of our Saviour. That is also vitally important for our spiritual life, but let us remember that we would have no life at all if it wasn’t for the blood.

I’m wearing a scary face today

Yesterday evening my wife was feeling a bit tired after a busy day cooking at the seniors’ residence operated by our congregation.  Therefore I went to church by myself.   Returning home a couple hours later, I drove into the garage and walked the few steps to our back door.

Let me set the scene here:  at our back door there are two steps up to a short deck, with the door to the house on the left.  Straight ahead of the step is a sloped roof  cat shelter that I built two years ago.  The distance from the edge of the deck to the front corner of the cat shelter roof is roughly equal equal to the distance from the top of my shoe to the tip of my nose.  Very roughly.  I know because I inadvertently measured it last night.

For some reason the tip of my shoe caught on the edge of the deck and I found myself flying nose first toward said cat shelter.  The front of my nose slid rapidly along the edge until I came to a sudden stop as my upper lip encountered the edge of the roof.  I have a full upper denture and the force of the impact popped it out of my mouth, causing some abrasions to the gums and roof of my mouth.  It seems I also bit the tip of my tongue.

I picked myself up, walked in the door and called for my wife, blood streaming down my face.  She brought cloths and tissues and helped me get out of my jacket.  I got cleaned up as best I could, but the wounds and abrasions were still bleeding profusely.  She thought I might need to get the wounds stitched, I thought it wasn’t that bad.  She called our son-in-law for a second opinion and he was here in a few minutes.  He looked at the mess and agreed that there was no cut deep enough to require stitches.

I went through most of a box of tissues to soak up the blood until the bleeding finally stopped.  I spent the night on a recliner, getting a few hours sleep.  I’m actually pretty much pain free today, but I am on a liquid diet.  My denture did not suffer any damage, but my mouth is too sore to wear it or to chew with the denture in.

Last night my wife thought I needed to go to the hospital emergency ward.   Today she looks at me and says I’d better not show my face in public until it heals up.  I’m inclined to agree with her.

I am thankful that God has created our bodies to be self-healing.  The healing has begun even though my face doesn’t look very attractive right now (did it ever?).

The soul that sinneth, it shall die

Both the Old and New Testaments teach clearly that God welcomes all sinners who repent, granting them forgiveness and salvation.  Both Testaments also teach that one who has been forgiven and wilfully and deliberately forsakes God and returns to a life of sin is lost.

There is much confusion in our time about this.  Much is said about the love of God and His compassion, which is all true, but what is not mentioned is that the person who forsakes God separates himself from the love and compassion of God.

We are sinful by nature and all unrighteousness is sin, but sins that are not willful and deliberate are covered by the canopy of grace.  We will not be lost every time we react with impatience or anger in the stresses of life.  We will not be lost every time that we neglect to do something that we should have done.  These things are sin, because they are unrighteous.  Yet God “knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14) and is merciful.

In the Old Testament there was provision for one who sinned in ignorance to offer a sacrifice for such a sin once he became aware of it and be forgiven.  Such sins do not separate us from God, or cause spiritual death.  The apostle John instructs us to pray for a brother or sister who does something that is not a death sin.  We have the privilege to act as a priest on behalf of our brother or sister and pray that the shed blood of our Saviour will atone for such a sin.

But we cannot pray that God would forgive a deliberate sin, a sin unto death.  This does not mean that those who commit such a sin have no possibility of forgiveness, or that we should not pray for them at all.  We certainly can, and must, pray that God would call them once again to repentance.  We also have a responsibility to speak to our brother and sister about their need to repent and to point them once more to the cross of Calvary.

As born again Christians, we are covered by the blood and sheltered under God’s canopy of grace.  Under that canopy we are free and can rejoice in the love and peace of God.  But we dare not pretend that this canopy will extend far enough to cover deliberate, willful sin.

Neither salvation nor damnation are hereditary
Ezekiel 18:4 Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.

Ezekiel 18:20-21 The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.  But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.

God desires the salvation of the wicked, yet willful sin separates us from God
Ezekiel 18:23-24  Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live? But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.

Ezekiel 18:30-32  Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.

If we sin wilfully after we are converted, the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ no longer covers our sin.
Hebrews 10:26-27  For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.

Hebrews 6:4-6  For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

2 Peter 2:20-21  For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.

Sins done through human weakness do not separate us from God
Numbers 15:28 And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the LORD, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him.
1 John 5:16-17  If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.  All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.

The rent veil

Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.  And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent (Matthew 27:50-51).

The veil between the holy place of the temple and the holy of holies is described as forty cubits high and twenty cubits wide, equivalent to sixty feet by thirty feet.  According to the rabbinic writings it was woven of seventy-two linen threads, each of these threads being composed of twenty-four smaller threads, resulting in a veil that was the thickness of the width of a man’s hand (four inches).

It is inconceivable that the earthquake could have torn this veil and left the temple standing.  It would seem much more likely that a powerful earthquake would have reduced the temple to rubble and left the veil intact.  That leaves us with the clear implication of direct divine intervention, which is further supported by the reference to the veil being torn from top to bottom.

The death of Jesus occurred at the time of the evening sacrifice, when a priest would have entered the holy place to burn incense and light the golden candlestick.  This priest was the only eyewitness to the dramatic rending of the veil which exposed the mercy seat to his view.  Here is the fulfilment of Daniel 9:27 — And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.  Although the priests continued to offer the daily sacrifices for another thirty years, those sacrifices had ceased to have any meaning, for the perfect sacrifice had been made and the heavenly mercy seat sprinkled with the blood of our Saviour and eternal High Priest.

This is good news for all mankind, for all those striving to make peace with gods and spirits by ceremonies, sacrifices, pilgrimages, meditation or rigorous obedience to arcane rules of conduct.  The veil is forever rent.  We now have direct access to the mercy seat, with no need of the blood of animals, with no need of a human priest.

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.  It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.  For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Hebrews 9:22-26).

And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.  Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.  Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) (Hebrews 10:17-23).

Spirit, Water, and Blood

“And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”  (1 John 5:8)

The water, blood and Spirit can all be seen in the consecration of Aaron, at the very beginning of the organized worship of the people of Israel.  In Exodus 29 God instructs Moses to wash  Aaron with water at the door of the tabernacle, pour the anointing oil (symbolizing the Holy Spirit) on his head and take blood from the altar and sprinkle it upon Aaron.  This was the ceremony used to consecrate each new high priest before he could enter God’s presence in the Holy of Holies.

The Spirit calls us and tells us we are sinners, alienated from the fellowship of God.  When we repent, it is the Spirit that comforts our inner turmoil and gives us peace.  The Spirit offers guidance for the temptations and trials of life from that point on.  Obedience to the Word of God will purify our lives of the filth of sin and the corruption of the world.  Therefore, it is symbolized by water.  However, forgiveness of sins is only possible through the blood of Jesus that was shed on Calvary.

Something about our nature as humans finds it difficult to maintain a balanced view of anything.  This may be especially true about the way of salvation.

We can put our trust in the blood alone, thinking that once we are washed in the blood, we are forever cleansed.  This seems to mean that we have no further need of Jesus.  It would be an added blessing to have the guidance of the Spirit in our life, but that is not essential for salvation.

We can place our confidence in leading a pure and holy life in obedience to the Word.  We hope that when we reach the end of the way and appear before the judgement throne our striving for purity will be enough.  Yet we cannot know for sure until then whether our sins are forgiven.

We can put our trust in thrilling experiences that appear to be the work of the Holy Spirit.   What does it matter that these experiences do not always conform to the teachings of the Word of God?  God is doing a new work in our day and the important thing is to be where the Spirit is moving.

Many sincere Christians seem to have ideas somewhat like this.  When some people talk of being born again, they dwell a lot on the confessions they made and things they had to deal with, but do not seem clear on what Jesus did for them.  Others had a dramatic experience when the Lord spoke peace to their troubled soul, and have difficulty grasping that they need to live in obedience to the Word to keep this peace.

The problem is not with the experiences.  It lies in our understanding of what happened when we were born again, and the expectation we have of Christian life.  The only way to have the witness of the Spirit in our lives is to be willing for both the water and the blood.  We are unclean in the very essence of our being; righteous living can ever cover our sin and guilt.  Only the blood of Jesus can do that.

Even when our sins are forgiven and we are walking in the grace of God, we still think and say and do things that are not pleasing to the Lord.  Things that sometimes hurt and confuse those who are nearest and dearest to us.  Often we find it difficult to do things we know we should.  This is evidence of a need for “the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26).

The apostle tells us that the Spirit, the water, and the blood agree in one.  When Jesus died on the cross the curtain that closed the Holy of Holies from the view of all but the high priest was forever opened.  Yet we cannot enter God’s presence any other way but the way that Aaron’s consecration symbolizes.

Justification by the blood, not sweat

A cartoon in a French-language farm paper forty years ago has remained embedded in my mind.  The cartoon showed a row of flowers in a garden.  The flowers were tall, with healthy leaves and symmetrically arranged petals.  Except for one.  This flower was shorter than the others, the stalk was crooked, the leaves rather bedraggled and the flower had only a few petals, haphazardly arranged.  A neighbouring flower asked, “What happened to you?”  The little flower responded, rather defiantly, “Nothing!  It’s only that I have not permitted the Master Gardener to help me.  I AM A SELF-MADE FLOWER!”

The doctrine of justification by faith is a simple doctrine, I’ll try not to make it complicated.  The word just, and all its derivatives, come from French.  Juste in French means righteous, justice means righteousness, and so on.  To be justified by faith is to be made righteous by faith.  Is there any other way?  How could an unrighteous person make himself righteous by his own efforts?

In the Old Testament, the priests were required to wear linen undergarments when they were offering sacrifices on the altar.  Ezekiel 44:18 reveals the significance: “They shall have linen bonnets upon their heads, and shall have linen breeches upon their loins; they shall not gird themselves with any thing that causeth sweat.”  There was to be no sweat upon the body of the priests when they made the blood offerings, because sweat is evidence of the work of man.

“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6).  The Louis Segond French translation says that all our righteousness is as a filthy garment, which appears to be closer to the original meaning in Hebrew.  Why is the garment filthy?  We may think we have produced something pure and clean as an offering to God, but in God’s eyes it is soiled with the sweat produced by our self-made works of righteousness.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the believers at Galatia said: “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith” (Galatians 3:11).  Nevertheless, Paul believed that one cannot be a Christian without good works: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).  This verse, and others, shows that while good works are necessary, they must be God’s workmanship, not our own.  The fruit of the Spirit does not produce sweat.

May God preserve me from working up a sweat in trying to make myself into a self-made Christian!

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