Welcome to the Mountjoy Ministries Blog

This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Death of the Messiah (Continued)

Sacrifices and Offerings


We finished the last blog by suggesting that God was moving toward constituting one nation as 'a kingdom of priests'. That nation was to be the Hebrew people. He would begin this particular element of the process by educating one man who was to be the Father of the nation - Abraham.

So God called Abram (his name had not been changed at that point) out of Babylon. He was a man that could hear the voice of God. This suggests he already understood the principle of blood sacrifice and had all the qualifications of a priest. He was chosen, called and gifted for high office. Every High Priest of the order of Aaron would be a descendent of Abram. Unsurprisingly he often erected an altar and called on the Name of the Lord.

The call of Abram in chapter 12 of Genesis spells out something of God’s purposes in providing a nation of priests to intercede for the world. “Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you’” (Gen. 12:1). The phrase ‘go to’ (“lekh-lekha”) occurs only here an
d in Genesis 22 when he was again called, the second occasion to offer his son, Isaac. These two events are connected as we shall see. His first call has a very wide-ranging reward attached to it. “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3). So Abram travelled to the land that God had identified, the place where the kingdom of priests was to be located: “Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him” (Gen. 12:7).

Journeying in the land, he continued to build altars and offer blood sacrifices: “And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord” (Gen. 12:8). Although he took a detour down into Egypt, which would be a place of slavery for his descendents, with the Lord’s help he recovered his moral compass. “And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the Lord” (Gen. 13:3-4). When finally he separated from Lot, and fulfilled in total, the pre-conditions attached to the promise of blessing, the Lord confirmed the possession of the Land and the multiplication of his posterity; “... for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you” (Gen. 13:15-17). Abram, now in possession of a further confirmation of the promise of God, journeyed to Hebron, where he built an altar and continued in his priestly function.

Up to this point there had been no mention of his seed as the stars of heaven, only as the dust of the earth. The ‘stars of heaven’ promise only came after the promise of Isaac (which will take on added meaning later). Since his call Abram had been building altars and acting as a priest and although he did not know it at the time, he was carrying in his loins (in the will of God) the Aaronic priesthood. This takes on greater importance when we view it in the light of Genesis chapter 14. There it is recorded that, after a great victory when he rescued his nephew Lot, he had a visit from a mysterious High Priest by the name of Melchizedek, who was also king of Salem (later known as Jerusalem). Using emblems of bread and wine, this priest blessed Abram in the name of ‘the most High God’. The significance of this was not lost on the writer of the letter to Hebrew Christians. It was a pointer to a higher priesthood, of a different order, whose intercession will be for Israel and the nations.

It is in Genesis chapter 15 that the promise of God takes on covenant status. The covenant ritual was preceded by a time of conversation and fellowship between God and His friend Abram. Because the birth of Isaac seemed a long time coming, Abram had asked for some reassurance from the LORD. He got it: “ … one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:4-6). It is this promise of Isaac and those that will be born of his line that Abram believed and was imputed righteous; and it is in this encounter where Paul finds authority for the doctrine of imputed righteousness, and significantly this is the place where the heavenly seed is promised, the seed that will especially benefit from the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.

The Lord continued the conversation by promising a homeland for the nation yet to be born: “I am the Lord (YHWH), who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it” (Gen. 15:7). Abram, having had one reassurance regarding his posterity has the confidence to ask for a similar reassurance regarding their place of inheritance: “And he said, ‘Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?’” (Gen. 15:8) The Midrash on the passage states that Abram asked for a sign because he feared that as soon as his descendants sinned they would not be allowed to enter into, or be in, the Promised Land. This was a real possibility considering the events that took place in the wilderness after the exodus, when Israel gave themselves over to calf-worship while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Law of God. To settle the mind of his servant and friend, God gave Abram instructions to prepare animals for a covenant ritual. Abram, who has been performing the duties of priest for some years, was called upon by the Lord to take up those duties again and make a blood sacrifice. Genesis 15:9–11 deals with the division of the animals as the prelude to the signing of the covenant. In verse 9, God commanded to set aside five things: first, a heifer three years old; second, a she-goat, a female goat that is three years old; third, a ram that is three years old; fourth, a turtle-dove; and fifth, a young pigeon. The LORD’s calling for this group of offerings has been interpreted as God’s answer to Abram’s fear, that even if his descendants sinned, atonement had been provided for them. The nature of these animals as having atoning value was recognized by the rabbis, and they called these the korbanot, meaning “sacrifices.” If this is correct, then it demonstrates the representational nature of the priesthood of Abram. Though Abram was initially the priest for his family, his family was to become a nation, so here, as head of the family, and recipient of a covenant promise for the nation, he is acting as priest and interceding for Israel, the nation that will come through his loins. But all nations are to be blessed through this nation, so he is acting a priest for them too, for the blessings of the New Covenant are founded on this covenant here. The expositor of justification by faith, Paul, recognises the inclusion of the Gentiles in the covenant: “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Rom. 4:16). Paul’s wide application of the faith of Abraham is in harmony with the original statement that said, “in you all families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen.12:3). The use of the personal name of God is the guarantee of the covenant, for YHWH is presented as the covenant-keeping God.

Already we are beginning to see that Abram’s intercession for his progeny must, of necessity, impact on all nations, for the blessing of all the families of the earth cannot take place without blood sacrifice, and that sacrifice could only be made by Christ, the One chosen, called and gifted for such a ministry. And He can only arise from the nation that was chosen, called and gifted for that purpose. And that nation can only arise from the patriarch who was chosen, called and gifted for that purpose. Certainly, the character of the covenant being a blood-covenant is established in Genesis chapter15.

Another dimension is visible at the ‘cutting’ of the covenant. While Abram was used to bring the animals and actively offer them on the altar, his participation in the ceremony was curtailed. The LORD put him to sleep while He (the LORD) passed between the separated pieces of the sacrifice thus indicating that He was the only guarantor of the covenant. Abram was there as beneficiary only. Since the principle of cutting a covenant in this way called for the death of the one to break it, the only conclusion available is that it has been made never to be broken. It was unconditionally made by One who could never break His promise and who could never die. This means that Israel has a permanent place in the purposes of God. This is emphasised in Romans chapter 11 where we are told, “… the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29).

In Genesis, chapter 17 the covenant was again confirmed and Abraham (his name now changed to reflect his high calling) was given the commandment of circumcision, a further blood covenant sign for his descendents. This means the covenant passes from father to son throughout all generations. As Abraham’s physical descendents continue to enter the covenant, they will form a distinctive ethnic, national people. This is, of course, restricted to those that meet the further qualifications placed by God, that is, the line that comes through Isaac and Jacob. Moreover, they will be identified by their connection to a specific location, a piece of land where they will live out their calling. The promise of this specific territory to Abraham’s descendants, the land of Canaan, is repeated in each passage that reaffirms the covenant. Somehow, being a distinct people in this land is part of God’s plan for using Abraham’s descendants to bring blessing to all the nations of the earth.

The great puzzle is that Abraham and Sarah have no children. Sarai has had her name changed to Sarah to reflect that she will be mother to nations, a further identification that the purposes of God would be much wider than just the Hebrew nation. But if Sarah is barren, how can the covenant promises be fulfilled? Abraham and Sarah take it upon themselves to produce a child from Hagar, but God again comes to him and makes it clear that only a son from Sarah would be the elect heir. In a rejuvenating miracle, Abraham and Sarah are able to have a child when both are well beyond their child producing years and the child of promise, Isaac, is born.

Some ten to twenty years later an event takes place that illuminates Israel’s irrevocable call. “Now it came to pass … that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’” (‘Hineni’; which has the sense, ‘here I am Lord, attentive and ready to do anything you ask!’) “Then He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you’” (Gen. 22:1-2). At this point we can observe again that the phrase “lekh-lekha” (go to) connects this passage with the original call of Abram in Genesis, chapter 12. If Abraham was chosen, called and gifted, it was for this event. God does not demand an animal blood sacrifice this time, but Isaac, the miracle child, in whose loins resides the seed that will bless the world and save humanity. The description of Isaac is illuminating: your son – your favoured one – the one whom you love. Just as the Father testified of Jesus, Abraham could have said, ‘This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased’. Abraham rose early in obedience and travelled to Mount Moriah, later to be known as Mount Zion, the site of the Temple. As the narrative unfolds, the parallels with the crucifixion of Jesus, the event to which it points, are recognisable. It is a journey taken by a father and son, at the end of which is to be an offering of the greatest magnitude that a father could make, and compliance by the son which would reflect a total co-operation in the purposes of the father. Even such little touches as Isaac carrying the wood for the sacrifice seems to pre-shadow the requirement that Jesus carry the wood for His own crucifixion stake. The Jewish Study Bible remarks on the parallel quoting as it does a midrash on this episode which, referring to a Roman execution, says ‘it is like a person who carries his cross on his own person’. When Isaac asked the question, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” he received the reply, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:7,8). At Calvary God provided for Himself a lamb for an offering.

Throughout Abraham’s lifetime occupation of being a priest standing before an altar, he has never been faced with making such an important, demanding, or more costly sacrifice than this. When they came to the place of which God had told him, “Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood” (Gen. 22:9). Abraham was fully prepared to fulfil the will of God and sacrifice his son. But God did not require human sacrifice, only knowledge of the submission of Abraham. So the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” He replied, “Here I am” (‘Hineni’ – ‘still listening and ready to fulfill your perfect will’) (Gen. 22:11). His son was spared, and with the ram to hand, Abraham had a substitute to offer instead of Isaac. Abraham, the priest, stood before the altar and offered a substitutionary blood sacrifice confirming once again the ‘life for a life’ principle. This test of faith and obedience is followed by a re-affirmation of the blessing of God upon the nations. “Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: ‘By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son — blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice’” (Gen. 22:15-18). To establish it beyond question, God had confirmed it with an oath: “By Myself I have sworn”. This is the most forceful declaration yet, that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through the seed of Abraham. “For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, ‘Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you’” (Heb. 6:13-14). “For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 6:16-20). This is an all encompassing reaffirmation of all that Abraham could have hoped for:

(a) the assurance of a lasting earthly seed (the sand on the seashore) and

(b) a lasting heavenly seed (the stars of heaven); and

(c) a blessing on all nations of the earth.

But note: in both these two incredibly important encounters, Abraham was standing at an altar in the office of a priest, an office he had been occupying all his life. What we are saying is this: that the sacrifice of Isaac pre-figured the sacrifice of Christ. Abraham gave that which was most precious to him, the life of his Son, to demonstrate His confidence in the God of the covenant and the covenant of God, just as God gave his only Son, a child of miraculous birth, to die for our sins to honor the covenant and to demonstrate He is the covenant-keeping God.

Like Isaac, Jesus is the Son of the promise through whom blessing comes to the whole world. The action of Abraham offering up Isaac was the capstone of the Abrahamic covenant. Clearly, the offering of the Son of Abraham and the offering of the Son of God are linked. That the event took place on Mount Moriah, the place where the Temple would stand and where the Aaronic priesthood would function for a thousand years, is illuminating. The strong implication is this: that the sacrifice could not have taken place anywhere else and the Temple could not have been built in any other place.

Abraham powerfully demonstrates here that he is the father of the priestly line. As the book of Hebrews says, the priests were in the loins of Abraham and when the patriarch presented offerings to God through King Melchizedek, a priest-king whose titles prefigure Jesus Messiah. Abraham was actually giving offerings to the higher priesthood of Christ (Hebrews 7).

The sacrifice of Isaac is a priestly repudiation of the sin of Adam and Eve and a representative act for the whole human race. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, they were attempting to assert their autonomy from God. The serpent claimed that in knowing good and evil, that is by determining good and evil for themselves through experience, they would become gods. The root of sin is found in this rebellion, self-sufficiency and quest for autonomy. Desiring to be gods themselves, Adam and Eve made a fateful decision to believe Satan and to act on the premise that they could live apart from their Father-Creator. Abraham walked a different road – his reaction was ‘Hineni’ – I am ready and willing to do your bidding.

Noah had stood at the head of humanity and acted as priest, and received promises which, while incredibly wide ranging, were nevertheless, of a material nature. It was Abraham, Father of the Hebrew people, who performed a corporate priestly act, in representation for Israel but reaching the whole human race. It was Abraham who obtained the promise that, as a result of the sacrifice that his offering pre-figured, all nations would be blessed. So it is Abraham who most clearly establishes the principle of substitution in his act of human sacrifice. It was only symbolical inasmuch as the Angel of the Lord stopped him before the sacrifice could be completed; nevertheless, the act most perfectly points to the sacrifice of God’s son on Golgotha, who gave His life for our sins.

What we have seen so far is that because of the solidarity of the human race,

– when Adam fell we all fell, and suffered the consequences.

– when Noah acted as priest, the benefits were felt not by him alone but by us all.

– when Abraham believed God and offered Isaac on the altar, the benefits of the substitutionary sacrifice would be felt by ‘all nations’.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Death of the Messiah

Sacrifices and Offerings


The key to the impact that Jesus of Nazareth made on humanity was not only His identity (who He was), but also how He died. His was no ordinary death. The biographical part of the New Testament speaks of His dying as being different to the death of any other individual, even different to those who were executed at the same time and in the same location as Him. What was the difference? His decease is put forward as a death that He accomplished. Not in the terms of a suicide but rather the ordering of events to fulfill those necessary pre-conditions laid down for a substitutionary sacrifice that would provide the grounds for the reconciliation of a sinful humanity with a holy God. Others might suffer death but He accomplished His. His decease had to be at a very specific time, on a very specific date, in a very specific place, in a very specific way. Although it seemed He was always in imminent danger of losing His life, He declared that none of the plots on His life would succeed until He yielded Himself to die in Jerusalem, on a day that He chose, at a time that He selected, in a pre-ordained location. To be able to flesh out this proposal we will need to examine the revelation provided by God prior to the incarnation, where we will find finger-posts and pointers to all that should be required in the death of the One who was to be ‘the Savior of the world’. The principles dealing with the restitution and recovery of a lost humanity were revealed little by little, mainly through the education of the Hebrew nation, a people specially chosen for this purpose. As we examine their Holy Scriptures we will better understand the higher purpose that was accomplished when Jesus of Nazareth was executed. To this end we have to consider the principle of blood sacrifice as it unfolds in the sacred Scriptures of the Jewish nation.

The world was in darkness due to the success of Satan in the Garden, as a result of which “death reigned” (Rom.5.14), both spiritually and physically. In the wake of the fall of Adam there came a flood of wickedness, which in turn, precipitated the deluge – a very strong reminder of the second element of the judgement of God – physical death. Humankind’s continued rebellion, evidenced by the building of the tower of Babel, brought another judgement when the majority of earth’s population were dispersed to restrict their rebellious ambitions. During this time, which was relatively close to the creation of our first parents, there had already been established the principle of blood sacrifice. Initially implied when God provided the skins of animals to clothe Adam and Eve, its necessity was much more apparent in the experience of Abel and Cain.

Abel and Cain

Abel sacrificed one of the lambs of his flock and it was accepted, providing both reconciliation and fellowship with the LORD. The testimony of Scripture is that “the Lord respected Abel and his offering” (Gen. 4:4). The value of Abel’s sacrifice is given in Hebrews: “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts” (Heb 11:4). Abel offered a blood sacrifice, and was imputed righteous. This offering set the standard and most clearly established the principle - the sacrifice had to be offered in faith and had to be a blood sacrifice, that is, a life given for a life spared. When these two conditions were satisfied then the offerer was declared righteous, that is, he was granted imputed righteousness. While the obedience in bringing the sacrifice is important, the key element is faith. The ground on which Abel could be declared righteous was his faith – a mechanical obedience would not have been sufficient. It will be more clearly seen in the personal history of Abraham who believed in the promise of God and was accounted righteous. There was no animal involved here although later in the encounter when the covenant was ‘cut’ blood sacrifice was involved. The text puts the order – first “… he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6); then he was instructed to bring animal sacrifices. Paul restated the principle in the clearest terms: “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” (Rom. 4:3).

The communication indicating that Abel’s offering had been accepted is vitally important, as also the fact that others knew of its acceptance. No need for trial and error, no need for any hand-wringing, and no need for mental anguish – God had spoken – this do and live. That God ‘had respect’, not only for Abel’s sacrifice but more importantly for Abel, was the final verification. The way to fellowship with God was transparent. The bringing of an animal as a substitute was to be seen as an acknowledgment of sin and evidence of a penitent heart and was the only sure way to resume a relationship with the Creator. While it appeared to be an unreasonable demand of God, to demand the life of an animal, since it was innocent of the crime for which the sinner was condemned; nevertheless it established the principle of the innocent dying in place of the guilty, which was to be the bedrock of the sacrificial system. Moreover, it was not as wasteful as first appears, since the animals designated for sacrifice were to be used as meat to nourish the body and their hides and wools used for clothing. Thus the animal provided life for the offerer in several beneficial ways.

However, the bringing of an animal sacrifice did not remove the sin of the individual, but it did articulate a plea for mercy and allow God to respond in grace. That it was necessary to wait for the inspired New Covenant ministers to elucidate how the principle of substitution was acceptable to a Holy God was entirely appropriate, since the righteousness apportioned to Abel was a righteousness that had not yet been paid for. That only became clear when the full anti-type of the offerings of the Old Testament dispensations was unveiled, activated and accepted. The death of Christ, the Lamb of God’s providing, was needed to complete Abel’s sacrifice, and also the myriad subsequent sacrifices offered in the same spirit, as indicated by the text: “to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel” (Heb. 12:24).

The divine requirement of an offering of a blood sacrifice in faith was further validated by the negative experience of Cain. He also brought an offering - some produce he had grown; but it was rejected. It had two weaknesses – (i) it was not a blood sacrifice and (ii) it was not offered with faith. Cain received a warning from the Lord which amounted to – ‘try again or face the consequences’. Alas, Cain was angry and killed his brother and through this act he lost fellowship with God, which in turn lost him the blessing of God and the strength of the crops: “So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth” (Gen. 4:11-12).


Apart from some exceptional individuals, the downward spiral of humanity continued unchecked. At the time of the flood only Noah’s family were using animal sacrifice as a means of grace to be reconciled to God. Consequently this was the family that God chose to save. By faith Noah built an ark. That Noah acted as a priest for his family and offered sacrifices, and in consequence was both in fellowship with God and could receive His Word, while not specifically mentioned prior to the flood (although it does say that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord), is identified in his first actions after the deluge. When he exited the ark, he resumed his office as priest and offered sacrifices. “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.” (Gen. 8:20) Noah’s actions pleased the Lord for “… the Lord smelled a soothing aroma” (v.21).

Noah, as head of his family, was practiced in filling the office of priest. But at that time his was the only family, and because of those exceptional circumstances, his priestly activity had consequences for humanity. That God viewed his sacerdotal duties as including intercession for the world is supported by the issuing of the Noahic covenant. “Then the Lord said in His heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Winter and summer, And day and night Shall not cease” (Gen. 8:21-22), and God gave the rainbow as a reminder of His promise. We currently enjoy the seasons and the crops and the cycle of the earth around the sun and life itself because Noah acted as priest for us.


Another ancient book of the Bible, the book of Job, provides further confirmation of the principle of animal sacrifice. Job, the head of his family was again fulfilling the office of priest. “So it was, when the days of feasting had run their course, that Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, ‘It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts’. Thus Job did regularly.” (Job 1:5) As priest for his family he trusted in God and made offerings in which blood was shed. Consequently, he was held up by God as a perfect example of a godly man.

It appears to this writer that the idea of blood sacrifice together with the aspect of priesthood is more than just a human idea invented by our early ancestors. From the Scriptural record there must have been instruction or prompting by God to bring it into human consciousness. Clearly Adam had been given understanding that the wages of sin is death. Therefore the death of an animal as a substitute, either came about as a logical outcome from that, or as a direct revelation from God. Certainly, the principle expressed by the writer to the Hebrews is in the racial memory from time immemorial: “without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb 9:22).

Could God have dealt with humanity in grace without the priestly function of people like Noah and Job and their sacrificial offerings? Perhaps – He is sovereign and omniscient, and there may have been an alternative. All we know is, from the beginning, with Adam and Eve, Abel, Noah, Job, He chose that way, and since He is omniscient, it must be supported by the highest reasoning.

At the tower of Babel, when separate ethnic groups united in a common cause, that of rebellion against God, the destruction of humankind seemed inevitable. Babel was the beginning of Babylon, the mother of all false religions, and is used by Scripture to typify the world against God. While God’s intervention averted total disaster, the episode identified a need for something more permanent, more comprehensive, and on a much larger scale, that would enable the mercy of God to flow towards humanity. This need increased with the increase in the world’s population. There were identifiable nations in Asia, Africa and Europe. What was now required was not just individual priests but a kingdom of priests – a priestly nation.

Next Time - ABRAHAM 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Six Bells Mining Disaster

In Memoriam

Fifty years ago there was a mining disaster in the Six Bells Colliery in South Wales. Forty five men died in an explosion. In remembrance of the tragedy, a metal statue of a miner (20 metres high) has been erected on the colliery site. Also in Bethany Baptist Chapel, which stands just a short distance from the gate that leads to the memorial, there is a small display to remember the fallen. In honour of the anniversary, and to coincide with the opening of the display in Bethany, I have written a tract which will be given to all visitors to the Bethany memorial. The text of the leaflet is as follows:

We will remember them

I come from a Rhondda mining family as does my wife. My father was a miner as was his brother and also my father-in-law. I too worked in the coal industry, although not underground. So I was always aware of the cost of coal. The price paid in terms of health – there was hardly a collier that did not fight for breath in later life – they always struggled against the old enemy – pneumoconiosis. And many paid the ultimate price in terms of loss of life. Some of the disasters in the South Wales coal field are etched into the national consciousness. 439 lost their lives in Senghenydd in 1913, and Ferndale paid a price in 1867 losing 178 men in an explosion, and then a further 53 two years later.

But the explosion on 28th June 1960 was totally unexpected. 45 men died in the West District of the Old Coal Seam of the Six Bells colliery. The tragedy rocked the village – the whole community were called upon to pay a price – those that survived as well as those that died. Death had come unexpectedly! The Memorial now erected on the colliery site is fitting – a miner with his hands extended, apparently asking ‘Why?’

And this question is often on the lips of those that consider the ultimate questions of life and death. There are no easy or ready answers. A minister in London was seeking to comfort those that had lost relatives during the blitz in London, when he was asked a very direct question: “Where was your God when my son was killed?” He replied to the grieving mother as tenderly as he could: “He was in the same place as He was when His own Son was killed”. The answer would not have satisfied the bereaved woman at the time, but it did point her to a God who could sympathise with her condition. Also, it would have highlighted the central message of Christianity – that Jesus, God’s Son, paid the ultimate price for the benefit of others. He died that we might live. We all have to die – it is the price that has to be paid for our sins. As the Bible teaches, “... the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23, NIV).

But there is life after death – eternal life – life where we die no more. This wonderful benefit is freely available to all – on one condition - acceptance of Jesus, God’s Son, as Saviour. God the Father has made it very clear. He will bestow everlasting life on those who choose His Son. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV). Why such a condition? This brings us back to the death of Jesus – why did He have to die? The answer is also in the Bible. “... Christ died for our sins .” (1 Corinthians 15:3, NIV)
Our many sins require a punishment – not only physical death but also spiritual death. However, Jesus died to take our punishment on Himself. He died as our substitute. If we accept that fact, then we can be adopted into His family and have eternal life. “... to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God .” (John 1:12, NIV)

The memorial to the miners standing on the Six Bells colliery site is magnificent – but another fitting memorial to the sacrifice of others would be for us to acknowledge that Jesus also died for us - paying the ultimate sacrifice for the ultimate blessing. I ask you to consider taking Jesus as your Saviour - please make an early decision. Remember – death comes unexpectedly!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Living for God in an Uncertain World

Studies in the Book of Ruth

Boaz – Kinsman-Redeemer

Ruth chapter three begins with Naomi’s realisation that God was now playing a part in their lives, so she expressed her desire to follow His will. She said to Ruth, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” (Ruth 3:1). This was a question which, if translated into modern speech could mean: ‘Shall I not seek a home for you where you will be well provided for?’ Ruth, the converted Gentile needed, and was given, practical instruction in the customs of Israel, especially that of the law of Levirate marriage. The Law recorded by Moses states: “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. And if the man does not wish to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, ‘I do not wish to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.’ ” (Deuteronomy 25:5–10).

There was also another provision, the law of the kinsman-redeemer: “If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold” (Leviticus 25:25). Since she identified Boaz as their kinsman, and she was obviously aware of the provisions of the Law, Naomi instructed Ruth to place herself under his protection. Clearly it was with a view to him being Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer, her Go-el. Naomi was concerned that Ruth should be provided for in four areas:

1. Boaz would function as the ‘wings of God’ and provide protection and safety in the very uncertain world they lived in.

2. The reproach of her widowhood would be taken away, and she would have a different status in society.

3. Her poverty would be removed.

4. Her future would be secured.

Boaz had thought of these things himself but had refrained from action because he was not the nearest of kin. Naomi, knowing that the providence of God had brought Ruth and Boaz together, decided on a plan. Ruth must present herself to Boaz, but discreetly. Naomi told her to prepare herself for the encounter. She was to wear her ‘simla’ (a long garment that covered her from head to foot, but leaving her face uncovered). This meant that Ruth would need to put off her widow’s clothes – that is, to end her period of mourning for her husband and then find an appropriate time when Boaz was alone to make an appropriate gesture that would signal her willingness to be taken as his wife. After sundown, when the work of the harvest had finished for the day and Boaz was resting after his evening meal, she placed herself at his feet beneath the corner of his cloak. It was after midnight when he realised her presence. Startled he asked for her identity, to which she replied “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9). The word ‘wing’ sometimes translated by the word ‘skirt’ is the same word that Boaz used in 2.12 where he said, “The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (Ruth 2:12). Ruth was asking him to answer his own prayer. And by speaking of herself as his servant, and asking for his protection, she put herself in the position of needing the help of a kinsman-redeemer.

Boaz immediately understood the implications of Ruth’s actions and words. Ruth was using the accepted idiom meaning ‘marry me’ (cf. Ezek.16.8; Deut.22.30, 27.20) which reflected the custom of a man throwing a garment over the woman he had decided to take as his wife as a gesture of protection.

Although he had already considered and rejected the possibility because of another kinsman who had prior claim, yet he decided to take it further and test the intent of the nearer relative. The following morning Ruth was sent home with more grain from the harvest while Boaz sought out his kinsman. Gathering ten of the town elders and calling the family member to attend, Boaz offered the position of kinsman-redeemer to him. The nearer kinsman rejected it because his own family commitments precluded him from taking on the responsibility. Boaz immediately took the office on himself.
Boaz and Ruth were married and were blessed with a son whom they called Obed (Servant, Worshipper). For him it was prayed, “may his name be famous in Israel!” and again, “… may he be to you (Naomi) a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him” (Ruth 4:14–15). Obed was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David, who was Israel’s great leader and the driving force behind the Temple and the revival of the worship of Jehovah. Ruth was the bridge over which Israel travelled to become a nation under David under God.

The responsibility to family in this way is of long standing in the Bible. Abraham took responsibility for Lot and redeemed him from slavery and the power of the Eastern kings. Joseph performed the role of redeemer for Jacob and his brothers. But it is in the Mosaic covenant that it is most clearly delineated. The Go-el amongst the Hebrews was the nearest male blood relation alive. Certain obligations devolved upon him toward his next of kin. If any inheritance was lost through poverty, it was the duty of the kinsman to redeem it (Lev.25.25,28). He was also required to redeem his relation who had sold himself into slavery (Lev.25.48,49) and he was required to be the avenger of blood in the case of the murder of the next of kin (Num.35.21).

Jesus – Kinsman-Redeemer

The great need of the human race is also for redemption. The Bible describes humanity’s problem as being in slavery, indeed Jesus said: “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34) and Paul said we are: “... sold into bondage to sin” (Romans 7:14, NAS). This means we need to be redeemed – we need a kinsman-redeemer. Our nearest relatives, fellow humans, cannot help us, since they also are in like difficulty. The Psalmist said: “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life” (Psalm 49:7). Since there is none who could be kinsman-redeemer to us from among our fellows, then where can we look? We can look to God for he offers Himself as a Go-el. “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer (Go-el), the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god” (Isaiah 44:6). But how can God be a kinsman-redeemer, since the difference between deity and humanity is so great? There is more light given in Isaiah’s prophecy. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). The child, Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem, was also Son of God – more than that – Isaiah speaks of him as “the Mighty God”. Here is the great mystery, Jesus is God revealed in flesh (1 Tim.3:16). This is reinforced by Jesus claiming the very title of Godhead used in the Isaiah 44:6 text which says, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god”. Jesus said, “Fear not, I am the first and the last” (Revelation 1:17). Man was made in the image of God so that God could be made in the image of man. It was always God’s intention to provide a Kinsman-redeemer for us.

There would be some that might think that Jesus was kinsman to just the Jewish people since He was born a Jew. However, Isaiah also indicated that Christ’s work of redemption had to be effective for more than just the nation of Israel. Bringing a message from the throne, he wrote of the Suffering Servant of Jehovah: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). God has spoken – He said that to confine the redemption that Jesus purchased to just the Hebrew nation was too “light a thing”, that is ‘too small a thing’. This great salvation is designed to reach the end of the earth. This means that Jesus has become the Kinsman-redeemer (Go-el) for all people, everywhere. Hebrews 2:14,15 states “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14–15).

One of the most well-know passages relating to kinsman-redeemer is in Job. In his dire condition he could not find relief in any direction. He said, “My relatives have failed me, my close friends have forgotten me” (Job 19:14). Yet he still believed that God would provide him a kinsman-redeemer, for in verse 25 he said “For I know that my Redeemer (Go-el) lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25–27). He was referring to that ‘Mediator’ he mentioned in 9.33 “Nor is there any mediator between us, Who may lay his hand on us both” (Job 9:33, NKJV). He was speaking of a relative of his who would also be a relative of God and therefore be qualified to umpire his dispute with God. The New Testament tells us that Jesus is that Mediator, with the titles ‘Son of Man’ and ‘Son of God’; He is the Redeemer, the Go-el, that Job anticipated. Indeed, because of the uniqueness of the qualifications of Jesus, He is the only possible Go-el, as Paul declared: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

It is no wonder that heaven sings the praises of Jesus the Go-el (Redeemer): “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9, NKJV). Hallelujah!