Thou Shalt Not Work!

It’s easy for us to sometimes disregard, or functionally set aside, those portions of Scripture with which we are less familiar or culturally less connected to. Leviticus is one such portion. And yet, the Holy Spirit means to use all Scripture in his work to teach us, to reprove us, to correct us, and to train us in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).  The Lord recently blessed me with an experience of this truth while reading Leviticus 23:26-32, Yahweh’s instructions to his people for the Day of Atonement.

Recall first the purpose of the Day of Atonement (Note: I’m helped here by the entry for “To Atone” in Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words).  Held on the tenth day of the seventh month (Israel’s “holy” month), this was the day each year when the high priest offered a special sacrifice, or series of sacrifices, before God to address the sins of Israel as a whole (see Leviticus 16). It was the day when a “scapegoat” was sent out and away from the camp, symbolically taking the people’s sins from them.  It was the one day each year when God said the high priest must enter into the Tabernacle’s (and later the Temple’s) Holy of Holies; into the presence of God before the Ark of the Covenant with its mercy seat.  The word “atone” carries with it the idea of covering over – “to cover over, atone, propitiate, pacify” (Vines, “To Atone”).  On the Day of Atonement, God covered Israel’s sins, presenting his people pure to himself, ready for relationship.

With that background, let me quote verses 26-32 of Leviticus 23.  As you read these (from the New American Standard Bible), pay special attention to what Israel must notdoon the Day of Atonement: The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the LORD.  You shall not do any workon this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the LORD your God.  If there is any person who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people.  As for any person who does any workon this day, that person I will destroy from among his people.  You shall do no workat all.  It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath.”

 Did you catch the overwhelming emphasis of these verses?  On the Day of Atonement, the day each year when their sins were covered and sent away from them, God commanded the people of Israel to cease working and rest.  On other days of religious celebration they were not to do any “laborious,” or “ordinary” (in the ESV), work (see Lev. 23:36), but on the Day of Atonement they were to cease from allwork.  It’s a point repeated at least three times in these seven verses, and so it is abundantly clear – on the Day of Atonement, no work!

Now, why does God command with such stringency this ceasing from labor on the Day of Atonement?  In the theology of the Old Testament we could probably give several answers, but one that captures my attention and won’t let me budge.  On the Day of Atonement God covered and dealt with the sins of his people. He took them away (and by implication took away both the consequence and the power of sin).  This process of covering and removing required nothingin terms of work from his people.  There was nothing they could do to deal with their sin before God…nothing they could do to save themselves.  Atonement, from start to finish, was God’s work.  Do you see it?!  It’s as if God says to his people: “Sit still and rest.  I love you, and I will deal with your filthy rebellion against me.  You can do nothing, I must do all.”  Paul’s rendering of this same truth comes in the well-traveled (and much beloved) words of Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  God does everything while we rest in faith.  Therein lies salvation.

The great and final Day of Atonement came on the day when Jesus Christ died on a Roman cross.  He was at once the sacrificial bull, the lamb and the ram and the goat of burnt offering, and the scapegoat sent outside the camp bearing the people’s sin (see Leviticus 16).  What is our part in light of Jesus’ atoning work?  Our part is to Sabbath (to rest) in faith, doing no work, but living lives of joy where labor is worship and effort is the outcome of grace.

Rejoice! The Day of Atonement has come.  In Christ, if you will come to him, your sins have been covered and removed from you.  Will you now rest in him and cease from all your work to do and earn what you cannot achieve or merit?



A Bush that Leads to Repentance

Recently, while reading in Leviticus 14, I came across this prescription in God’s requirements for the cleansing of people afflicted with leprosy (Note: In Old Testament usage, “leprosy” is a broad term that covers a multiplicity of skin ailments): “Then, if the case of leprous disease is healed in the leprous person, the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live clean birds and the cedarwood and scarlet yarn and hyssop.  And the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh water.  He shall take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water.  And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field.” (Leviticus 14:3b-7).

Picture of Hyssop
Hyssop growing in Israel (Credit: Todd Bolen, Photo Companion to the Bible – John 19)

Now, obviously there’s much to consider in these verses – ritually, culturally, theologically. But, what struck me most in the moment is the text’s mention of hyssop.  Hyssop, in the context of ancient Israel, was probably a particular plant that grew on walls (this from A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament and A Dictionary of Biblical Languages: Hebrew – Old Testament; see also 1 Kings 4:33).  David, in his devastating and amazing song of repentance (Psalm 51) says this to the Lord: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).  Why did David reference hyssop?  Because he knew God’s Law and God’s Word.  He knew the connection between hyssop and a restoration to purity in the sight of God. I think David thought of his sin as something like leprosy – a defiling affliction that made him utterly unclean and unfit to enter God’s presence (Note: Lepers were not permitted to remain within the congregation of Israel but had to live apart from the main camp.  It’s also worth observing that washings were part of the restoration process connected with leprosy – wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow).  When he prayed a prayer of repentance for restoration, David prayed along the lines of God’s revealed Word in his Law.  He prayed like a leper needing cleansing.

Something else strikes me about David’s prayer, especially when I think about it in connection with leprosy.  Leprosy is a skin disease.  It is, in a sense, surface-deep.  And yet, even in the Old Testament Levitical code we get the sense that, symbolically at least, leprosy pointed beneath the skin to deeper issues of sin and brokenness (Note: This does not mean that all lepers were “sinners” any more than every Israelite was a “sinner”).  For instance, diagnosing a true case of leprosy involved the priest determining that what appeared on the surface of the body derived from a condition deeper than the skin itself (see Leviticus 13:3).  Even this nuance is not lost on the leprous David.  His sin is not merely “surface-deep”: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spiritwithin me” (Psalm 51:10).  What appeared on the skin of David’s life (adultery and murder) reflected the disease of his heart.  It was a disease that only God could heal!

Finally, one last point from David’s song of repentance and its mention of hyssop.  There is one other Old Testament reference to the plant, a reference David must also have known about.  It’s the reference of Exodus 12:21b-22.  As God prepared to bring the judgment of death on the land of Egypt, he determined to rescue his people from his own wrath.  This rescue necessitated the blood of a lamb applied to the lintels of the doors of the Israelite’s houses.  How was this supposed be done?  Just consider Moses’ words in Exodus: “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb.  Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin.” The blood of the Passover lamb applied to the doorway with hyssop covered the Israelites in the day of God’s wrath. As David prays for purging with hyssop, it is that God-ordained covering for sin that he so earnestly desires in his own case.

I want to end with two concluding thoughts, beginning first with the dual nature of repentance that we see in David’s reference to hyssop.  True repentance knows and readily admits at least something of the real nature of sin; it’s depth, it’s defilement; it’s ugliness.  Sin is like leprosy that springs from the heart, and true repentance says as much.  But, even as it readily admits the leprous nature of sin, true repentance also finds real hope in confession.  The same mention of hyssop that links Psalm 51 to leprosy also links it to God’s great act of covering and deliverance in Exodus, an act that clearly foreshadows Jesus himself. True repentance is never despairing, it is always the starting point of saving hope.

Second, and finally, when God brings us to a place of utter conviction, what do we do, what do we say? When confession and repentance begin to grab hold of our consciousness, how do we express to God and others the workings of our heart?  For David, the answer was God’s Word.  In the moment of soul-rending conviction, David’s language cues us to the workings of his mind, the pondering of his heart.  In that moment of crisis, David’s mind and heart dove into God’s Law.  That Law shaped his song, his prayer of repentance, even down to the very words and images he employed.  What better place to go, especially when God’s Word brought not only righteous conviction, but also a pointer to glorious redemption?  When the Lord brings us, like David, to such moments, shouldn’t we go to the same refuge this king found so ready and powerful?

All that…from one little plant…Merry Christmas!


Advent & Adoption – A Mother’s Heart

What follows is a “guest post,” written by my sister, Katie (or rather, she wrote it and I stole it…with her permission).  Katie, her husband Junior, and their three children are right in the middle of adopting a little boy from India.  His name is Gabriel, “Gabe.”  At this very moment, Gabe waits in an Indian orphanage for the day when his parents can come and bring him home.  Read Katie’s reflection, and then join them (and many) in praying that their son will soon be with them…even before Christmas:

Hope in the Wait

As I write this, the Advent season is fast approaching.  For me, this Advent season feels far weightier than any that has preceded it.  Junior and I started the process of international adoption in May 2018 and by Christmas last year, we were waiting to be matched- waiting for the proverbial phone call to introduce us to a child that might one day be ours.  As hard as that wait felt at the time, this year, it all feels so much heavier.  This year, we have a name and a face, videos that we watch over and over, and pictures that have hung on our bulletin board for the last 8 months since we first saw our son’s face and said “yes” to him (literally dozens and dozens of times as we signed our names to what felt like endless amounts of paperwork).  This year, we are entering the Advent season with full hearts for him but empty arms as we still work to get through the system and bring our son home.  The wait that we had hoped would be over by this time continues still, and it has not been easy.  There have been tears of frustration over systems that seem determined to keep families separated for longer than necessary.  There has been a mix of emotions at each new update on our son- joy at seeing any progress he has made followed by the grief of one more milestone we have missed.  And deep down in the hardship of the wait is the realization of the uncertainty of it- not knowing when it will end, and more significantly, knowing that nothing is final or sure about the process until he is in our arms.

As I have begun to think about Advent, and the corporate sense of waiting that permeates the Church in a special way during this season, I have been struck by these things that the Lord has impressed upon me in our personal season of wait through our adoption process.

  1. It is in the wait where we find what we truly need – a deeper understanding of who God is and a greater opportunity to trust His character.  Outside of God himself, nothing will bring us ultimate satisfaction.  As sweet as I anticipate it will be to finally hold our son in my arms, I realize that even the beauty and joy of that anticipated moment will not last forever.  Make no mistake; he will be dearly loved by virtue of his position as our son, and we hope and pray that he will be a joyful addition to our family.  But for Jr and I, our newest son will not meet our deepest needs nor satisfy our souls.  Only God can do that.  So in the wait, I have come to realize that while withholding from me for a time something for which I long, God is simultaneously giving to me that which I most need- the good gift of Himself.  I have never been so aware of both God’s goodness and sovereignty as I have been through our adoption process.  My utter inability to speed things along in any significant way has made me lean into the sovereignty of God in ways I never have before.  Opening up my heart to our son and beginning to love him while he lives halfway around the world, completely outside of anything I can do for him, has made me feel quite vulnerable at times.  But as my Bible studies in the last few years have led me through Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and 1 and 2 Samuel, I have seen more and more the underlying theme of God’s sovereignty over all things, His ability to work out His purposes for His people, and the beauty of the faith that develops in those who joyfully submit to His sovereign rule.  The saints of old who waited with hope for God to work on their behalf have encouraged me to do the same, and to trust His goodness in it.  Some of the most discouraging times in our adoption process have also been those in which I have clung most closely to God’s character as revealed in Scripture and have experienced a peace in the process that can only come from Him.
  1. Waiting for temporal things helps develop a greater awareness of our wait for the eternal things to come. Since matching with our son 8 months ago, there isn’t a day that has gone by in which I haven’t thought about him.  Some days the awareness is greater than others, but the anticipation of meeting him, the questions about how he is developing, and wondering how he is being cared for are always there.  His pictures hang in our hallway and we have a timeline printed to mark our progress to him.  We pray for him daily, talk about him with our kids, and took the time on his 1st birthday to mark a remembrance of him in a special way.  In short, we are waiting for him with eager, purposeful anticipation, preparing for his arrival as best we can and very much looking forward to the day when he is physically with us.  We genuinely hoped that our son would be with us by Christmas this year, but that is not the case.  In the disappointment, God has been impressing upon me that our purposeful, anticipation for being united with our son should echo the way I can and should wait for the eternal things to come.  As a follower of Jesus, I am waiting for His return and the inauguration of the new heaven and the new earth when I will be with Him for eternity, but it can be easy to let the cares of this world and the distractions of daily life dull the sense of anticipation that I should have at that coming day.  Learning to be purposeful in our adoption wait is a means by which God has been teaching me to be purposeful in the wait for eternity, grabbing hold of the means of grace which He has provided to cultivate that anticipation and prepare me for it-studying the Word to know Him better, memorizing Scripture to hide it in my heart, joyfully participating in fellowship with other believers, praying regularly, etc.  Even as they help me to live each day, these means of grace are also intended to orient me towards eternity and the joy of what is to come with an eager anticipation that allows me to wait with hope through this present life.
  1. Waiting for what is temporal and uncertain develops a greater joy that our wait in Christ is a sure hope. One of the most difficult parts of the adoption wait is the uncertainty of it.  There are estimated timelines for everything, but as we have learned, there is no guarantee that any of those timelines will be met.  Hiccups along the way are a reminder that nothing in the process is certain, and while our process has continued along as ‘normally’ as possible with longer timelines than we had hoped, other adoptive families along the path with us have experienced the real pain and heartache of a disrupted adoption.  While we continue to trust and believe that this is what God has for our family, those disruptions have been a reminder that stepping out in faith to what the Lord has called us to isn’t a guarantee of a particular outcome.  Waiting with this sense of uncertainty has made me much more aware of and grateful for the fact that in Christ, my wait for an eternity with Him is a sure and certain hope.  I have been redeemed by His blood and made righteous in Him.  I am sealed by the Holy Spirit, and my position as a daughter of the King is secure.  There is nothing that can separate me from His love or rob me of my glorious inheritance in Him.  The same is true for every person who has placed his or her trust in Jesus for salvation from sin.  We have a sure and certain hope in Christ.  And so, a wait for something temporal, and therefore at least somewhat uncertain, can also be a means by which God points us to look beyond the temporal and continue to find joy and hope in our certain eternal future with Him.

If like me, you are a follower of Jesus in the midst of a wait, may you be encouraged in this season of Advent.  As hard as the wait can be, God is purposeful in it.  While His timing and His work may be hard to understand, we can rest in the peace that comes with the knowledge that He is both sovereign and good in all that He does.  And while we wait to see when and how He will act, may we find daily joy in knowing Him better and allowing our temporal season of wait to point us towards the joyful anticipation of an eternity with Christ where our hope and future is secure.

And to our son: Though we haven’t yet had the joy of holding you, we love you.  Though you are still half a world away from us physically, the Lord has knitted you into our hearts.  Along with your sisters and brother, we are joyfully anticipating the day when we will get to bring you home.  The wait has felt long, but we know that God has been purposeful in it.  It is our deepest prayer that one day, you will be convinced of the same.  We are so thankful that God has chosen us to step into the pain and grief of your story and provide for you a home and a family.  It is our privilege to walk this road with you.  But while we will love you fiercely as your earthly family and do all that we can to meet your needs, we hope and pray that ultimately, we will have the joy of introducing you to your Heavenly Father.  We pray that some day you will know that while you were an orphan for a time here on earth, you have never been without your Heavenly Father.  He is the one who knitted you together in your mother’s womb, who placed His hand of protection over you even at your most vulnerable moments, and we know that He is the one who is loving and caring for you even now while we wait for you.  We pray that one day you will have the joy of knowing Jesus as your savior and that your adoption into our family will be a powerful means by which God will help you to know and understand the beauty of adoption in Christ and the glorious inheritance that waits all of those who by faith, have trusted Jesus for salvation.

Merry Christmas, son.  We love you, and by God’s grace, we are coming for you soon!

Thankful for Church Music

I’m thankful for church music.  I’m thankful for church music that flows under the leadership of gifted, non-professional followers of Jesus in a small local church.  Of course, you could also be thankful for church music led by gifted professional followers of Jesus in a faithful mega church.  But, that’s not my reality.  I’m especially thankful for the church music I get to enjoy in the expression of Jesus’ body God has made me a part of – small, local, and precious.  May tell you why?  It requires a little bit of story-telling.

Recently I spent a day down in Monterey accomplishing my “other” job – meaning my duty as a member of the Air Force Reserves.  During part of that day I listened to a speech given by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force at the 2019 Air, Space and Cyber Conference, hosted by the Air Force Association (AFA).

Now, in case you don’t speak Air Force, let me give some context to the significance of this speech and its moment.  The Air Force Chief of Staff is the senior ranking officer wearing an Air Force uniform, responsible for well over 650,000 Air Force personnel – active duty, National Guard, reserves, and civilians.  He is also the chief advisor to our nation’s civilian leadership for Air Force air power matters, in particular the President of the United States.  In short, what he says matters…a lot (Note: By way of a brief tangent, let me also acknowledge how blessed the Air Force is by the leadership of General David Goldfein.  While I don’t know him personally, I know he’s a leader one can easily follow with confidence).

Not only do the Chief’s thoughts matter greatly in the life of the Air Force, but the Chief’s comments offered at this particular event carry special weight.  My sense of the AFA’s annual conference is that this event has become a unique grounding point for the Air Force each year.  It is one of the leading-edge moments in the annual life-cycle of the service.  While technically speaking the AFA is a non-governmental organization, the audience I saw on video was awash with uniformed Air Force folks.  Not only that, but it included the then acting secretary of the Air Force, our top civilian leader within the department.  All this to say, this conference and General Goldfein’s speech were more than a little significant for the Air Force in 2019.

How does any of this relate to my thankfulness for church music?  Hang with me…I’m getting there.  As General Goldfein finished his speech, he invited on stage a musical artist named Dwayne O’Brien, a singer for the band Little Texas.  Some years back, O’Brien wrote a song titled “We Remember” for the 50th birthday of the U.S. Air Force.  It is now, according to General Goldfein, a mainstay of Air Force history and culture (And I’m sure he’s right.  I’ve probably heard it many times without realizing what I was listening to).  At the General’s invitation, Dwayne O’Brien began to sing “We Remember.”  While he sang, captivating images of Air Force people cycled on the background screen – historic, nostalgic pictures, and present-day renderings of a proud service.  Eventually, an Air Force choir and instrumentalists joined O’Brien, each one wearing special ceremonial-type uniforms.  If you’re an Air Force member it was all oriented toward stirring your pride, tapping into your passion, and energizing your desire to serve well.  Particularly because of what I’ll say next, know that – when rightly understood and entered into – I appreciate such moments.  They matter for the branch of the service I’m privileged to be a part of.

As I listened to O’Brien sing and observed the spectacle of the moment, somewhere in the back of my mind the thought began to grow: “This is a religious event!  I’m watching a sort of church service.”  It was all there: The Gospel of U.S. Air Force dominance; a senior-pastor preacher wearing four stars exhorting the listening faithful; the liturgy of Air Force culture; a special music demonstration with a choir to back up the singer; and the language of passion and service.  We even had vestments, we just call them uniforms.  This was a religious moment in the “high church” of America’s Air Force warriors.

Struck by that thought, I then felt a sense of hollowness, especially hollowness tied to the song.  This anthem to the Air Force – it’s heritage, it’s fallen heroes, and the country it serves – it wasn’t enough!  It wasn’t ultimate; it wasn’t finally satisfying; it wasn’t lasting; it wasn’t eternal.  The U.S. Air Force is important, yes, crucially so in the life of this country.  But it is also, in the final analysis, a passing entity.  There will come a day when the U.S. Air Force will cease to exist.

This line of thinking made me glad (again, somewhere in the back of my mind).  It made me thankful.  It made me thankful for what we enjoy as the body of Christ.  It made me thankful for Sunday morning church singing – Sunday morning church singing at Felton Bible where we aren’t professional, we aren’t a crowd of thousands, we aren’t a congregation of influential people who are movers and shakers in any worldly context.  But we are something special, incredibly so.  We are special because we are created in the image of God.  We are special because we are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This means that when we, by faith, sing for the glory of God, the heavens shake!  When we sing, our singing finds its grounding in eternal, tangible, unchangeable realities – God, his glory, his character, his ways, and his stupendous work of redemption.  The mere 72-year history of the Air Force can’t begin to compare with the transcendent reality that undergirds Christian singing.  When we open our mouths in praise of Jesus (no matter how it sounds in the moment) we by faith experience a power to change hearts, to move the universe, and to please God that “We Remember” will never touch.

This is why, as Thanksgiving and then Christmas approach, I’m grateful for church music!

Once Again…the Beauty of Archaeology

Just today I became aware of an article at Biblical Archaeology Report titled, “Gallio: An Archaeology Biography.”  It is brief, fascinating account of a Roman proconsul named Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeanus.  Why is he important?  Well, this is the Gallio before whom Paul appeared as recorded in Acts 18:12-16.  Read this article.  I think you’ll be surprised and pleased by a helpful example of how extra-biblical sources can illuminate our study of God’s Word.

Galileo, a Forgery, and Satan

Recently I finished watching a short but fascinating documentary titled “Galileo’s Moon” (Spoiler Alert: What follows will spill the beans, but viewing the show is worth your time nonetheless).  It tells the story of a manuscript of Galileo Galilei’s book Siderus Nuncius (originally published in 1610) that hit the rare book market in 2005.

Image Credit: Harvard University via Wikipedia

Siderus Nunciuswhich described Galileo’s observations of the heavens, became a paradigm-shifting work when it offered evidence for Nicolai Copernicus’ heliocentric view of the universe.  The copy that appeared in 2005 underwent intense scientific scrutiny before being pronounced an authentic, early version of the work, and thus exceedingly rare.  It’s estimated value ran to $10 million dollars. 

Now, as you might expect, all was not as it seemed.  The gist of the story is that nine years later, in 2014, a skeptical and observant historian reexamined the manuscript.  His investigation, subsequently confirmed by others, proved the copy was in fact a fraud; a clever, excellent, deceptive, and highly believable fraud.  Prior to 2014, most rare book dealers believed it impossible to create successful forgeries of books from the 17thcentury.  After 2014, that false hope came tumbling down.

What’s particularly fascinating about the documentary is that the forger turns out to be a well-known former Italian government official who, at the time of filming, is serving a seven-year term of house arrest for other crimes.  The man in question makes no attempt to hide or deny his efforts to deceive with the copy of Siderus Nuncius.  In fact, he unabashedly delights in his work, relishing his long success at hoodwinking top experts in the world of rare books.  He even describes in detail how he produced the forgery.  At one point he speaks of needing to “distract one’s eyes from the print,” in other words, giving examiners something so remarkable that they would miss other tell-tale signs of fraud.  This led him to include certain features in the book, including a forgery of Galileo’s own signature.  In the words of the man himself, “It’s like with a magician.  When he comes on stage the magician gives the audience something to see in order cover up his own tricks.” This charlatan goes on to justify his work by putting the blame on others: “But I didn’t create a fake Nuncius.  I created a different Nuncius…The problem is the fake historians who did not recognize that it was a reproduction.”

As I watched this story unfold, and especially as I listened to the forger himself, I found myself struck by profound biblical parallels.  Here I’m thinking especially of Satan, the great deceiver, the chief opposer of God and the enemy of God’s people.  Satan is a wicked being whose goal, since at least Genesis 3, has been to supplant God and destroy his works, particularly his beloved humanity.  Satan’s primary weapon is deceit; deceit used to entice human beings into sinful rebellion against God.  Since the beginning of human sin with Adam and Eve in the Garden, we have been culpable and willing suckers for Satan’s wiles.  Scripture speaks of Satan masquerading as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).  That is to say, Satan’s deceptions look good, they look believable, enticing, and worthy of attention, despite being in reality wicked, corrupted, worthless, and deadly. Paul refers to this satanic masquerade when he speaks of false apostles in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 (NASB): “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.” Satan and his schemes hold out what looks attractive and captivating in order to “distract one’s eyes from the [corrupted] print.”  He is like the magician who “…gives the audience something to see in order cover up his own tricks.”

The degree of Satanic deception – that is already underway and will only grow with intensity as God’s plan unfolds – appears with startling clarity in the Apostle John’s Apocalypse, or Revelation.  There, in chapters 12, 13, and 16 we read of remarkable satanic activity carried out by the dragon (Satan himself), the beast from the sea, and the beast from the earth (perhaps the false prophet of Revelation 16:13).  What Satan and his side-kicks accomplish in these chapters hinges on his ability to deceive human beings who hate God and are eager to be deceived.  The elaborateness, extent, and effects of this deception campaign are stunning.  In short, all but a select few willingly fall prey to the charade, not realizing they do so to their damnation.  It’s no wonder that the Spirit through John warns this in Revelation 13:8-9 (NASB): “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.  If anyone has an ear, let him hear.”  Speaking in Matthew 24 of the same timeframe and the same satanic deceptions, Jesus says, “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him.  For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.  Behold, I have told you in advance.  So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them.  For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.  Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather” (Matthew 24:23-28, NASB).  The upshot of Jesus’ words is this: “I’ve warned you in advance, don’t be deceived!”

As you read the words of Revelation and Matthew’s gospel, note who it is that sees through Satan’s scheme and avoids falling prey to his trap.  It is those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. It is the elect (Note: One point of Matthew 24 is that the elect will not be misled by the appearance of a false Christ).  It is bonified followers of Jesus Christ, people saved from God’s wrath and enslavement to sin by grace through faith.  It is people chosen by God in eternity past for salvation, predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).  It is people who obey the Gospel, confess their sin, repent, and receive the free gift of eternal life offered to them in Jesus’ name.  It is people whose lives are being transformed from the wicked idolatry of self to the holy worship of God.  Over such as these, Satan’s deceptive power fails.  Why?  The answer is simple: They know the real thing.  They know the real Jesus.  They see through Satan’s lie because it cannot ultimately replace truth, no matter how well he may mimic reality for a time.  The knowledge these “elect” have of the real thing flows from their heart-centered knowledge of God’s Word.  It is the Word of Christ that teaches them about the reality of Christ, thereby inoculating them against the damnable lie of Satan.  Consider John 10:3-5, which tells us that Jesus’ sheep (his people, the “elect”) hear his voice as he calls them by name to lead them out: “When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:4-5).  Or consider also Psalm 119:11: Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against you.” It is the heart-centered adherence to the Word of God that protects Jesus’ sheep against the deceptive and deadly predations of the satanic wolf.

I’ll move toward a close by briefly mentioning one way I’ve encountered Satan’s work to deceive, his magician’s sleight of hand, his forger’s touch, just in the last few days.  On Tuesday I received an email from the principal of my daughter’s high school announcing an upcoming presentation during all freshmen physical education classes.  The anticipated event, put on by the Santa Cruz Diversity Center, will cover “an introduction to gender diversity, supporting friends and peers, as well as resources in the community.”  That kind of language, in this part of the country, in 2019, should raise warning flags for anyone who holds to a biblical ethic of sexuality and gender. Not surprisingly, after doing some online research into the Santa Cruz Diversity Center, I discovered an organization committed to what Al Mohler describes as the “sexual revolution.”  The Diversity Center’s mission is to “…advocate for, support, and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community…”.  It exists to “advance the causes and priorities of the lesbian and gay community in Santa Cruz County,” to “[advance] social justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning individuals and their allies in Santa Cruz County, California.”  In short, the Center exists to normalize that which is antithetical to God; that which offends his holiness; that which our Creator says leads only to pain, destruction, and suffering.  And it will do so by taking that agenda into a public high school under the innocuous sounding banner of “an introduction to gender diversity, supporting friends and peers, as well as resources in the community.”  This is darkness masquerading as light.  It is Satan’s slight-of-hand to distract attention with what looks good while he wreaks utter destruction.  Oh, may the elect of God stand fast in God’s Word and not be deceived!

I have one final point to make, and it’s an important one in light of my last paragraph. The final point is simply this: Those people who work Satan’s deception – even willingly and culpably – are not to be attacked, hated, or ostracized, but loved, prayed for, pursued, and pitied. The personnel of the Santa Cruz Diversity Center are not my enemies.  Satan is.  The people who will accomplish this assembly are sinners who need a Savior, just like I need a Savior.  They are folks who need to know the beauty of their Creator and hear the liberating news of the Gospel.  They need to come out of the shadows and into the light.  I share with them a common history of rebellion against God (think of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6:11), and I have a message of salvation they desperately need to hear.  It’s time to leave the chintzy magic show and enjoy winsome reality.


Buried Treasure

In the last few years particularly, I’ve enjoyed “studying” (I use that term loosely) the Bible’s archeological, geographical, and cultural background…the story behind the story in a sense.  Particularly in the realm of biblical archeology, we live in rich times.  The discipline of archeology is a relatively new area of academic study.  It’s origins, at least in terms of a growing and established branch of scholarly inquiry, lie in the mid-1800’s, with it’s coming-of-age in the early-to-mid 1900’s.  As archeology in general became a “thing,” so also did biblical archeology – meaning, the study of what remains of the places, people, and cultures we encounter in Scripture.  The purpose of biblical archeology is not to prove the Bible – as if God’s Word needed proving – though it certainly provides a powerful apologetic in addressing biblical skeptics.  Rather, biblical archeology (together with the related study of geography and cultures) helps to enrichen our understanding of the Bible; to deepen our appreciation for Scripture’s details, its texture, its context, its truth; and even to enhance our ability to rightly interpret God’s Word.  I’m convinced that the discipline of biblical archeology, when rightly approached, is one of Jesus’ good gifts to his church.

By of way of a tangible example, let me share with you just one of the awesome findings of twentieth-century archeological related to Scripture.  Do you have any idea where to find the oldest sample of written Scripture extant today?  Some might quickly think of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls – the hoard of ancient biblical and extra-biblical manuscripts discovered in the desert alongside the Dead Sea beginning in the latter half of the 1940’s.  Ketef Hinnom ScrollBut even the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls do not preserve the oldest example of written Scripture we possess.  Older still are two small artifacts known as the Ketef Hinnom Scrolls (Note: I was reminded recently of both of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Ketef Hinnom Scrolls while watching the first half of a documentary titled, Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy).  The Ketef Hinnom Scrolls are two small silver strips originally worn around the neck as an amulet.  They were discovered at a burial site in the Hinnom Valley (which runs on the southwest and west of ancient Jerusalem) in 1979, but date originally to the 600’s B.C.  A version of these words from Numbers 6 appear etched into the silver: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”  Today you can see the scrolls on display at the Israel Museum located in Jerusalem.

There are many big thoughts about God that we might think prompted by these small, diminutive artifacts.  Not the least is this: Our faith is gloriously old, because our God is eternal!  He is the Ancient of Days(Daniel 7:9).  Since the beginning of creation, Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the covenant-keeping God of Israel, God who became man in Jesus Christ, has never lacked worshippers.  Who knows whether or not the bearer of the Ketef Hinnom Scrolls was a true God-fearer, but the words he or she bore around their neck proclaimed truth that has not tarnished with age.  Indeed, it has only become all the richer as the Word in flesh lived, died, was resurrected in victory, and ascended to the right hand of the Father!  Praise God for a small, beautiful trinket dug out the ground four decades ago!