Responsibility for the sins of others

After Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, spiritual death occurred immediately and their need for salvation became evident. Genesis 3:22 states, “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.” Adam and Eve’s disobedience resulted in guilt because they were conscious of their wrongdoing. The Hebrew word ʾasham (aw-shamˊ) means “to be guilty; by implication to be punished or perish. This word is most often used to describe the product of sin – that is guilt before God” (H816). The Hebrew word ʾashem (aw-shameˊ) describes one who is in a guilty state (H818) and ʾasham (aw-shawmˊ) “the offering which is presented to the Lord in order to absolve the person guilty of an offence against God or man” (H817). One of the four main words indicating sin in the Old Testament is avown (aw-voneˊ) which means “perversity.” This noun carries along with it the idea of guilt from conscious wrongdoing and the punishment that goes with this deliberate act as a consequence (H5771). When Cain killed his brother Abel, God told him, “’And now you are cursed from the ground which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood and from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.’ Cain said to the LORD, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear’” (Genesis 3:11-13).

The Hebrew word that is translated bear in Genesis 3:13, naçah (naw-sawˊ) means “to lift” (H5375) and suggests that there is a weight associated with the guilt of sin. “Nacah is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others by substitution or representation (Exodus 28:12; Leviticus 16:22; Isaiah 53:12; cf. 1 Peter 2:24).” Bearing the responsibilities for the sins of others was portrayed on the Day of Atonement through the release of a scapegoat into the wilderness. Leviticus 16:20-22 states:

“And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.”

Isaiah 53:4-12 depicts Jesus’ suffering on the cross as he accomplished the task of dying for the sin of the world. It states:

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall seeand be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

The Hebrew word naçah appears at the beginning and end of this passage of scripture in the phrases “he has borne our griefs” (Isaiah 53:4) and “he bore the sin of many” (Isaiah 53:12), suggesting that the burden of sin has something to do with the anxiety that we feel because of the punishment that we expect to receive from God. One of the ways that we know our sins have been forgiven is that the anxiousness that we once felt about them is gone.

The Israelites’ rebellion against God in the wilderness resulted in a plague that could have wiped out the entire population. The LORD told Moses, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment” (Numbers 16:45). Moses and Aaron interceded for the people and stopped the plague (Numbers 16:48) and order was restored to their camp (Numbers 17:10-11), but a lingering feeling of guilt kept the people from being able to live peacefully with God in their midst. Numbers 17:12 states:

And the people of Israel said to Moses, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the LORD, shall die. Are we all to perish?”

The Hebrew word that is translated undone in Numbers 17:12, ʾabad (aw-badˊ) means “to wander away, i.e. lose oneself” or “to be lost” (H6). The Israelites’ spiritual condition had deteriorated to the point that they realized there was no hope for them to recover. There was no way for them to regain God’s favor.

When Jesus sent his disciples out to minister to the people, he instructed them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). Jesus referred to the Jews as lost sheep in order to illustrate their hopeless situation and indicated that his primary objective was to tell them that the kingdom of heaven was being made available to them (Matthew 10:7). Jesus later emphasized that he had come specifically “to save that which was lost” (Matthew 18:11, KJV). The Greek word sozo (sodeˊ-zo) is used “specifically of salvation from eternal death, sin, and the punishment and misery consequent to sin” (G4982). When Jesus said that he had come to save that which was lost, he was saying that he could reverse the effects of sin in a person’s life. The Greek word apollumi (ap-olˊ-loo-mee), which is translated lost in Matthew 18:11, means “to perish. The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being” (G622).

It says in Isaiah 53:6 that “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – everyone – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Paul’s letter to the Ephesians explained that God set a plan of redemption in motion before the foundation of the world in order to counteract the effects of sin in the human race. Paul said:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

God’s plan of redemption started with the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Afterward, the Mosaic Law was enacted and a system of sacrifice was put in place. Aaron and his sons were consecrated to serve as priests and made atonement for the people once a year (Leviticus 16). The LORD told Aaron, “You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear iniquity connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear iniquity connected with your priesthood” (Numbers 18:1). The Hebrew word that is translated bear in this verse is naçah (naw-sawˊ) indicating that the priesthood was designated for the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others (H5375) and that Aaron and his sons were representatives of Christ, the one who would in the fullness of time complete the process of atonement through his death on the cross.

The Hebrew word that is translated priesthood in Numbers 18:1, kᵉhunnah (keh-hoon-nawˊ) is derived from the word kahan (haw-hanˊ) which means “to mediate in religious services” (H3547). In order to perform the duties of their office, priests had to keep themselves from becoming unclean. The LORD said, “They shall not profane the holy things of the people of Israel, which they contribute to the LORD, and so cause them to bear iniquity and guilt, by eating their holy things: for I am the LORD who sanctifies them” (Leviticus 22:15-16). This almost impossible task might be what was considered to be the burden of bearing the responsibilities for the sins of others. Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy, “For there is one God and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). Paul’s statement that there is “one mediator between God and man” made it clear that Aaron and his sons weren’t qualified to act as mediators between God and man because they were by nature sinners like everyone else. The Greek word that is translated mediator in 1 Timothy 2:5, mesites (mes-eeˊ-tace) means a go-between. “The salvation of men necessitated that the Mediator should Himself possess the nature and attributes of Him towards whom He acts, and should likewise participate in the nature of those for whom He acts (sin apart); only by being possessed both of deity and humanity could He comprehend the claims of the one and the needs of the other; further, the claims and the needs could be met only by One who, Himself being proved sinless, would offer Himself an expiatory sacrifice on behalf of men; ‘one who acts as a guarantee’ so as to secure something which otherwise would not be obtained” (G3316).

John’s gospel was written with the specific intent of proving that Jesus is the Son of God (Introduction to the gospel according to John) and began with the establishment of Jesus’ existence before the world was created (John 1:1-3). John said:

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:9-13)

John pointed out that Jesus’ own people, the Jews did not receive him. What John meant by that was that the Jews collectively, as a nation did not receive the free gift of salvation that was offered to them through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. John indicated that on an individual basis, all who did receive Jesus, “who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:12).

Jesus described the process of salvation in a conversation he had with a man named Nicodemas. Jesus said, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) and went on to say, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17). Jesus explained to Nicodemus that being born again involved a spiritual birth that was “not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13), through his Holy Spirit (John 3:6) and that “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated lifted up, hupsoo (hoop-soˊ-o) is a derivative of the word huper (hoop-erˊ) “meaning for, in behalf of, for the sake of, in the sense of protection, care, favor, benefit” (G5228). Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross was a sacrificial act that was motivated by God’s love for the world (John 3:16).

When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him for the first time, he declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John identified Jesus as the “Lamb of God” because it was determined before the start of his ministry that Jesus would be delivered over to death as a sacrifice (G286). The point that may have startled everyone was that Jesus was going to take away the sin of the world. In other words, Jesus’ sacrificial death applied to everyone, not just the Jews. John indicated that Jesus would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The Greek word hamartia (ham-ar-teeˊ-ah) is “from the Hebrew, the imputation or consequences of sin, the guilt and punishment of sin as in the phrase ‘to take away [or bear] sin,’ i.e. the imputation of it” (G266). In that sense, Jesus bore the responsibility for the sins of all others when he died on the cross.

Paul explained in his letter to the Colossians that Jesus’ death cancelled the record of our moral debt that stood against us with its legal demands. Paul told the Colossians:

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Paul indicated that Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross is applied to our spiritual account when we identify ourselves with his death and resurrection through baptism.

The visual image that Paul created of God nailing the record of our debt to Jesus’ cross was meant to emphasize the fact that his ability to pardon our sin was dependent on a sacrifice being made and the sole responsibility for that sacrifice belonged to Jesus. Paul said of Jesus, “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). The Greek word that is translated fullness, pleroma (playˊ-ro-mah) speaks generally “of grace and God’s provision (John 1:16; Romans 11:12; 15:29; Ephesians 3:19); of divine perfections (Colossians 2:9). It was Jesus’ divine perfection that enabled him to do what no one else could, to take upon himself the guilt associated with the sin of the world. John’s record of Jesus’ crucifixion included his final words, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The it that Jesus was referring to was the debt of sin and his declaration that it was finished meant that the debt against every sinner was discharged at that moment because Jesus paid the penalty of sin in full. If you think of grace as a currency with a value attached to it, then God’s grace is sufficient to cover the entire human races’ debt of sin. John said of Christ, “For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17).

Missing the mark

Jesus made it clear to his disciples that it was God’s will for him to be crucified. Not long before he was arrested Jesus said, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified” (Matthew 26:2). Romans 8:31-32 tells us that God was the one that delivered Jesus up to be crucified. It states, “What then shall we we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” God’s plan of salvation required that Jesus pay the penalty for all sins through his death on the cross. When Jesus said, “you know that,” he was emphasizing the predetermined course that his life must follow in order to fulfill his mission of saving the world. After Jesus acknowledged his imminent crucifixion, Matthew recorded, “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (Matthew 26:3-4).

The chief priests and the elders of the people thought they were in control of the situation. They wanted to get rid of Jesus as quickly and quietly as possible. They agreed that it shouldn’t be done, “during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people” (Matthew 26:5). Matthew tells us, “Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him” (Matthew 26:14-16). The opportunity that Judas was looking for had to do with the timing, not the inevitability of Jesus’ death. The Greek word kairos (kahee-ros’) refers to a “set or proper time” (G2540). It might be that Judas thought he could catch Jesus off guard or would be able to surprise everyone with a midnight raid so to speak, but Jesus knew about everything that was going on and willingly surrendered himself to the Jewish authorities. Jesus instructed his disciples, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples'” (Matthew 26:18).

Jesus indicated that his death was linked to a specific time and place. One way of thinking about the prophecies that were associated with Jesus’ death would be to see them as a bullseye or a mark that he was aiming toward. The Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). The Greek word that is translated mark, skopos (skop-os’) refers to a watcher and denotes “a mark on which to fix the eye” (G4649). The Greek word hamartano (ham-ar-tan’-o) which is translated sin in Matthew 18:21 “means literally ‘to miss the mark’ and is used of ‘sinning’ against God” (G264). Matthew 18:21 states, “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?'”

The Old Testament of the Bible views sin in a similar manner. The Hebrew word chata’ (khaw-taw’) is properly translated as “to miss” and causatively refers to being lead astray. “The basic nuance of chata’ is sin conceived as missing the road or mark…From this basic meaning comes the word’s chief usage to indicate moral failure toward both God and men, and certain results of such wrongs…It also connotes the guilt or condition of sin” (H2398). Sin and evil often appear together in the Old Testament as in the account of Pharaoh’s decision to withhold straw from the children of Israel as punishment for the LORD’s demand that he let his people go from their bondage. In Exodus 5:15-19, Chata’ is translated as “fault” and the Hebrew word for evil, ra’ is translated as “trouble.” Exodus 5:15-19 states:

Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.”

The Hebrew word ra’, which is translated trouble in Exodus 5:19, “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrongdoing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up of what is good and desirable in man and in society. While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness, one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and to everyone around him” (H7451).

Judas Iscariot’s inclination toward evil was evident in his rebuke of Mary when she anointed the feet of Jesus. John’s gospel states, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:1-6). Jesus responded to Judas’ accusation by stating, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me” (Matthew 26:10-11).

Jesus’ rebuke of Judas may have been what triggered him to cross over the boundary of right and enter the forbidden land of the wrong. Luke’s record of the Passover celebration indicated that Satan entered Judas just before he consulted with the chief priests and officers about betraying Jesus. Luke said, “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd” (Luke 22:1-6). Matthew indicated that Jesus confronted Judas about what he intended to do during their Passover meal. He said:

When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:20-25

Judas’ question, “Is it I, Rabbi?” (Matthew 26:25) revealed his lack of spiritual discernment. Whereas the other disciples had asked the question, “Is it I, Lord?,” acknowledging Jesus’ supreme deity, Judas used the Hebrew word rab or rhabbi (hrab-bee’) in the Greek to address Jesus. This seems to suggest that Judas was either unaware or unconvinced that Jesus was who he claimed to be, the Son of God.

Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper made it clear to all of his disciples what the purpose of his death was, to expiate or atone for the sins of mankind. Matthew said, “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to his disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26;26-28). The Greek word that is translated sins, harmartia (har-ar-tee’-ah), “as a verb, is literally ‘a missing of the mark’ but this etymological meaning is largely lost sight of in the New Testament. It is the most comprehensive term for moral deviations. It is used of ‘sin’ as a principle source of action, or an inward element producing acts” (G266). From this standpoint, the forgiveness of sins might be viewed as an adjustment to the sinful human nature that guides our day to day behavior. Jesus was essentially saying that his blood would neutralize the effect of sin in our lives.

After sharing the good news about his death, Jesus gave his disciples the bad news. He said, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Matthew 26:31). Falling away is what happens when our faith is challenged and we renege on our commitment to the Lord. The Greek word skandalizo (skan-dal-id’-zo) is where the English word scandalize comes from. “Skandalizo means to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall; metaphorically to offend; to entice to sin; to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey” (G4624). Jesus indicated that all of his disciples would fall away that night, but he went even farther to say that Peter would flat out deny him three times. “Peter answered him, ‘Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times” (Matthew 26:33-34). The Greek word that is translated deny, aparneomai (ap-ar-neh’-om-ahee) means “to affirm that one has no connection with a person” (G533). In other words, Peter was not only going to deny being a Christian, but would also swear that he had never even met Jesus (Matthew 26:72).

Moses and Aaron’s initial encounter with Pharaoh resulted in a similar denial of the existence of God. Exodus 5:1-2 states, “Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God Israel, “Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.”‘ But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.'” Pharaoh’s argument that he was not obligated to do what Moses and Aaron asked him to because he didn’t “know the LORD” was based on the assumption that only the children of Israel had to obey God’s commands. Pharaoh retaliated against Moses and Aaron’s request by stating, “Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words” (Exodus 5:9). The phrase “pay no regard to lying words” had to do with Pharaoh’s disrespect for God’s authority. Essentially, what Pharaoh was saying was that Moses and Aaron had lied to him about God saying, “Let my people go” (Exodus 5:1), but Pharaoh’s resistance was actually based on him having an unrepentant attitude toward God (Exodus 4:21).

The foremen of the people of Israel blamed Moses and Aaron for the trouble they were in. They said, “‘The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.’ Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, ‘O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all'” (Exodus 5:22-23). Moses shifted the blame off of himself and onto the LORD by asking “why have you done evil to this people?,” implying that the LORD had intentionally set him up for failure. The Hebrew word that is translated evil in this instance isn’t ra’, but ra’a’ (raw-ah’) which literally means to spoil something by breaking it to pieces (H7489). Moses seemed to be saying that the situation in Egypt had been fine until he came along and ruined everything. In actuality, the foremen of the people of Israel were the ones that were making the people miserable because they were partnering with Pharaoh’s taskmasters to get the Israelites to do what Pharaoh wanted them to, which was to make their quota of bricks each day regardless of their ability to do so (Exodus 5:10-11).

Even Jesus became discouraged on the eve of his crucifixion. Matthew tells us, “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’ And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me. And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:36-39). Jesus was experiencing an extreme amount of external pressure to give up on his mission. In a moment of frustration, after finding Peter, James, and John asleep instead of praying for him as he had asked them to, Jesus said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40-41). Jesus was referring to Peter’s promise to not deny him when he said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” What Jesus meant was that Peter wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to abandon him if he was sleeping rather than being actively engaged in spiritual warfare.

After the chief priests and the elders of the people came to arrest Jesus, Matthew said, “Then all the disciples left him and fled” (Matthew 26:56). The Greek word that is translated left, aphieme (af-ee’-ay-mee) means “to depart from one and leave him to himself so that all mutual claims are abandoned” (G863). One of the uses of aphieme is of a husband divorcing his wife. Aphieme appears in Matthew 4:20 and 4:22 where it says about Peter, Andrew, James, and John that they left their occupation as fishermen in order to follow Jesus. In seems that when these men left Jesus in the garden of Gethsemene, they no longer intended to be his disciples. Peter’s denial of his Lord and Savior was the ultimate betrayal that Jesus experienced from the standpoint of his influence and investment in his disciples being negated. After denying that he had been with Jesus (Matthew 26:70) and taking an oath that he didn’t even know the man (Matthew 26:72), it says in Matthew 26:73-75, “After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them, for your accent betrays you.’ Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man.’ And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times. And he went out and wept bitterly.”

Psalm 41 is considered to be a Messianic psalm because it contains statements that clearly pertain to Jesus Christ. Verse 9 states, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” This passage appears to be connected to God’s condemnation of the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:15 states, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 depicts Christ lifting his heel against Satan and bruising his head, but Psalm 41:9 indicates a close friend would lift his heel against Jesus. It seems that Peter could be the close friend that lifted his heel against Jesus because his denial of Christ must have felt like a crushing blow to the man that was about to die for the sins of the world. The fact that Peter was fully restored in his faith and relationship with the Lord may explain why Psalm 41:9 states that his close friend lifted his heel against him, but did not bruise Jesus as Christ did Satan when he rose from the dead.

Charting a new course

Adam and Eve’s decision to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:6) set in motion a course of action that was naturally hostile toward God. Generation after generation, life on Earth became more unbearable, until finally it was clear that every man’s inclination was only toward evil (Genesis 6:5). Spiritual death caused mankind to seek out ways to harm others and to disrupt the harmony that God had intended our world to have (Genesis 6:5).

Approximately 1000 years after Adam and Eve’s original sin, a man was born by the name of Noah, of whom it was said, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands” (Genesis 5:29). The Hebrew word translated relief, nacham (naw-kham’) means to repent and is properly translated as “to sigh” (H5162). You could say that Noah’s birth marked a point in human history when evil became the norm on Earth and the situation was in desperate need of change.

Psalm 12 expresses the despair that Noah’s parents probably felt about their lives. Verses 1-2 state, “Save, O LORD, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.” The psalmist requested that God would get rid of those who rejected his authority and prayed, “May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts, those who say, ‘With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?'” The rhetorical question “who is master over us?” implies that God’s sovereignty was no longer being acknowledged on Earth and that universally, people believed they could do as they pleased.

Noah’s father Lamech was the grandson of a man named Enoch. It says in Genesis 5:24 that “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.” God taking Enoch away meant that Enoch went to heaven without dying (H3947). This unusual experience most likely had a significant impact on Lamech who was 48 years old at the time that it happened. Lamech’s desire for relief (Genesis 5:29) may have been rooted in a belief that God’s curse on the land would eventually result in Earth’s natural resources being depleted and mankind ceasing to exist.

Noah’s name is derived from the Hebrew word nuwach (noo’-akh) which means to rest or settle down (H5117). Lamech may have chosen to give this name to his son because of the day of rest that God established after he completed his work of transforming the Earth into a paradise for Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:2). It says in Genesis 2:3, “So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” It could be that Lamech intended his son to be an example of godly behavior and in particular that his family would observe the sabbath as a way of expressing gratitude or honor to God.

One of the things that is evident from mankind’s weariness from work is that God didn’t design man to labor alone. The Apostle Paul talked about Christians being built together or constructed “into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). This activity takes place by means of “the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers as the outcome of faith” (G2842). Koinonia (koy-nohn-ee’-ah) is derived from the root word sun (soon) which denotes union, “i.e. by association, companionship, process, resemblance, possession, instrumentality, addition, etc.” (G4862).

Paul used the Greek word koinonia to describe the partnership or fellowship of the gospel which began with God’s creation of the world (Ephesians 3:9). Paul made it clear that Jesus was present and active in the events that took place on the first six days of recorded history. God’s Holy Trinity worked together in creation and was probably meant to be an example to mankind of how to achieve the transformation of material resources through a joint effort. The end result of koinonia is completeness or perfection from God’s standpoint (G4862).

Noah was the first man on Earth that was described as being blameless. The Hebrew word translated blameless in Genesis 6:9, tamiym (taw-meem’) “means complete, in the sense of the entire or whole thing” (H8549). “When one is decribed by tamiym, there is nothing in his outward activities or internal disposition that is odious to God (Gen 6:9). This word describes his entire relationship to God.” One of the ways you can look at Noah’s relationship with God is that he was completely obedient to God’s word. Noah did exactly what God told him to.

Noah’s obedience to God stood out in stark contrast to a culture that had been completely corrupted by sin. It says in Genesis 6:5-6, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” The Hebrew word translated regretted in Genesis 6:6 is the same word that is translated relief in Genesis 5:29 where it states, “this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” The connection between Lamech’s desire for relief from God’s punishment for sin and God’s regret over the wicked condition of the world was that both of them felt sorry about what was happening (H5162).

The Hebrew word translated regret in Genesis 6:6, nacham (naw-kham’) means to repent. “To repent means to make a strong turning to a new course of action. The emphasis is on turning to a positive course of action, not turning from a less desirable course” (H5162). In the King James Version of the Bible, nacham is also translated as comfort. “Comfort is derived from ‘com’ (with) and ‘fort’ (strength). Hence, when one repents, he exerts strength to change, to re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of purpose and action.” Typically, comfort is associated with man’s actions and repentance with God’s, but Jesus commanded people to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

The Greek word Jesus used that is translated repent in Matthew 4:17 is somewhat different than the Hebrew word nacham. Metanoeo (met-an-o-eh’-o) means to think differently or reconsider and is connected with changing one’s mind (G3340). Wickedness is associated with a negative condition of the human mind. It says in Genesis 6:5 that, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil.” The Greek word translated intention, yetser (yay’-tser) is also translated as imagination and has to do with the formulation of an idea or conception of a thought (H3336). When God concluded that man’s intention was only evil, he was essentially saying that mankind as a whole was going in the wrong direction. Every person was thinking the opposite of what he wanted them to.

Because God doesn’t change his mind, the concept of repentance has been disassociated with his behavior, but I believe at the heart of Jesus command to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), there was meant to be a similarity between the sinner’s behavior and God’s. Jesus’ instruction to repent may have implied the charting of a new or common course that would result in an individual walking with God rather than disobeying his commandments. It says in Genesis 6:9 that “Noah walked with God.” The Hebrew word translated walked, halak (haw-lak’) “does not refer to walking uprightly on one’s feet but to living a righteous life” (H1980). You might say that Noah’s behavior was in step with or consistent with God’s.

The Greek word Metanoeo is derived from the words noieo (noy-eh’-o) which means to exercise the mind (G3539) and meta (met-ah’) which denotes accompaniment or an interaction between two things that results in a transfer or sequence of thoughts. A more literal translation of metanoeo might be to exchange ideas or share your thoughts on a topic. What Jesus may have meant when he commanded sinners to repent was that they needed to seek God’s input or more importantly, they needed to ask God for guidance and should agree with him about the future course of their lives.

One of the things that is similar about God and man is that they both have the ability to feel pain. It says in Genesis 6:6 that “the LORD regretted that he made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” The pain God felt in his heart motivated him to do something to change the course of the world. God was sorry that he made man, but he was also pleased with Noah’s behavior and it says in Genesis 6:8 that “Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” The Hebrew word translated favor, chen (khane) means graciousness or grace (H2580). Chen is derived from the word chanan (khaw-nan’) which means “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior” (H2603). I believe the reason Noah received God’s grace was because he repented. In other words, Noah agreed with God that the world was corrupt and wanted to do something about it.

God made a covenant with Noah that guaranteed his safety, but he also made him responsible for preserving the lives of others. God said, “Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch” (Genesis 6:14). Noah was given the exact dimensions of the ark and then told, “Everything that is on the earth shall die. but I will make my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark…And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you” (Genesis 6:17-18, 19). God’s instruction to keep the animals alive meant more than just sustaining them physically. Noah was expected to maintain God’s original construct on planet Earth. In other words, God expected Noah to replicate his original creation after the flood.

One of ways of looking at the world we live in is a spiritual ecosystem. It is a complex, interconnected system of life that depends on God to sustain it. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, an unraveling or decomposition of that system began taking place which resulted in a situation that required God to intervene. Although God’s plan of salvation was set in motion before the beginning of time (Ephesians 1:4), the specific details of how God would recreate the earth were left open to his sovereign will.

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians talked about transforming believers into the body of Christ (Ephesians 2:16). Paul told the Ephesians that a mystery had been revealed to him by way of a revelation from God. He said, “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:4-6).

The Greek word Paul used that is translated revealed in Ephesians 3:5, apokalupto (ap-ok-al-oop’-to) means to take off the cover or disclose. “The subjective use of apokalupto is that in which something is presented to the mind directly, thoughts that had previously been hidden in Paul’s heart (G601). Paul said that he had insight into the mystery or “a mental putting together, i.e. intelligence” (G4906) about God’s plan of salvation. The thing that Paul had discovered was that the Gentiles were fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Ephesians 3:6).

One of the essential keys to understanding God’s plan of Salvation is that he always intended to save the entire world. God made an unconditional divine promise to Noah and his descendants (Genesis 9:8-17) before Abraham was born. “God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth…But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you” (Genesis 6:13, 18).

Even though God determined to make an end of all flesh (Genesis 6:13), he provided a way for Noah and his family to be saved by means of an ark or large wooden box that was able to float on top of the water. God gave Noah specific dimensions that would produce a seaworthy vessel. Genesis 6:22 states, “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.” Noah’s obedience was evidence of his faith in God. It says in Hebrews 11:7, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”

Paul described the Gentiles as “fellow heirs” and “members of the same body” (Ephesians 3:6). What this seems to suggest is that God’s covenant with Abraham was somewhat of an addendum to his original covenant with Noah rather than a new or different covenant that was expected to replace it. God wasn’t narrowing his selection of participants in his plan of salvation, merely specifying more exactly who he intended to bless within Noah’s family. Paul acknowledged that ultimately, everyone is a child of God because of their descent from Adam, and therefore is entitled to an inheritance in God’s kingdom. Paul said:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through the Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Paul’s prayer for spiritual strength was likely aimed at the non-Jewish believers in Ephesus that had a hard time believing they were also recipients of God’s love. Paul wanted these believers to understand that God’s love is limitless and therefore, can be obtained by anyone, no matter how far away from God one may feel he or she is.

Paul used the Greek word katalambano (kat-al-am-ban’-o), which is translated comprehend, to describe the awareness he wanted believers to have of God’s love for them. Katalambano has to do with possession and is used in connection with obtaining a prize (1 Corinthians 9:24). Katalambano is also used metaphorically with the added idea of overtaking and “to lay hold of with the mind, to understand, perceive” (G2638). What Paul seemed to be getting at was that we have to make a conscious effort to believe God loves us, but if we do, we will experience its effect in immeasurable quantities.

The covenant God established with Noah charted a new course for mankind because it made a way for the effects of sin to be overridden by God’s grace. Rather than destroying everything and starting over from scratch, God chose to save one family and charged them with the responsibility of preserving life on Earth (Genesis 6:18-19). At the heart of God’s covenant was his intention of developing a partnership with mankind that would result in unbroken fellowship throughout eternity. Paul acknowledged God’s remarkable plan of salvation with these final words, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 6:20-21).

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart.

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment and write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

The consequences of sin

The first persons to live on planet Earth, Adam and Eve were given the opportunity to live in an idyllic world and never experience death. The only restriction God placed on this first human couple was that they couldn’t eat from one tree that he referred to as “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Genesis 2:15-17 states, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Unlike other cosmic elements and beings that were required to do as God commanded them (Genesis 1:3), Adam and Eve were allowed to disobey God, as long as they were willing to suffer the consequences. God communicated the consequences ahead of time, so that Adam and his wife would be aware of what would happen to them if they chose to rebel against their creator.

The Hebrew word translated commanded, tsavah (tsaw-vaw’) means to constitute or enjoin (H6680). The constitution of the United States is a body of fundamental principles and established precedents that everyone who resides in our country agrees to be governed by. What God did when he commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was to establish the essential rule that would govern his creation, planet Earth. God’s commandment didn’t apply only to Adam and Eve, but to everyone that did, would, and still does live here. God intended for mankind to live in an environment that was free from sin. In other words, God didn’t want us to be exposed to the effects of evil. The knowledge of good and evil was evidently something that God was already aware of, and therefore, it can be assumed that Satan’s rebellion against God (Isaiah 14:12-14) had already taken place when Adam and Eve were created and placed in the garden of Eden.

Revelation 12:9 depicts Satan’s eventual expulsion from heaven. It says, “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” Satan’s characterization as the deceiver of the whole world implies that he is the source of all deception. The Greek word translated deceiver, planao (plan-ah’-o) is also translated as “gone astray,” (Matthew 18:12) and “are wrong,” (Matthew 22:29) in connection with being separated from God, suggesting that Satan’s deceitful practices are the primary cause of humans’ sinful behavior.

Genesis 3:1 states, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.” The Hebrew word translated crafty, ‘aruwm (aw-room’) is derived from the word ‘aram (aw-ram’) which means “to be (or make) bare” (H6191). One way to interpret the meaning of ‘aram would be to say that the serpent knew how to expose the inner workings of the mind. Most likely, the serpent a.k.a. the devil, had previous experience with and was skilled at evading the truth.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The serpent’s assertion that Eve would not die, but would have her eyes opened was partially true in that she didn’t experience physical death as a direct result of her action (Genesis 3:22) and she was be able to see things from God’s perspective after she disobeyed his command (Genesis 3:8). The important truth that the serpent left out was that after they ate the fruit, Adam and Eve immediately experienced the negative consequence of their sin which was spiritual death.”Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7).

Before Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they were both naked, but they weren’t ashamed of it (Genesis 2:25). After their eyes were opened, they comprehended what nudity actually meant; their sex organs were exposed and they realized they were indecent (H5903). The Hebrew word translated naked in Genesis 3:7 is derived from a primary root word that means to be or causatively to make bare (H6168). It appears that the serpent’s real intent and possibly his only objective in causing Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was to expose her nakedness, something he may have done before, perhaps with angelic beings or other creatures in God’s kingdom.

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians indicated that all people are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), meaning we are born into this world as a result of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s original sin. Paul said, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). The Greek word Paul used that is translated dead, nekros (nek-ros’) has to do with the actual spiritual condition of unsaved men (G3498). What Paul was saying was that the natural inclination of mankind is to obey Satan rather than God.

The two phrases Paul used, “following the course of this world” and “following the prince of the power of the air” were most likely intended to convey the idea of self-destructive behavior. The Greek word translated power, exousia (ex-oo-see’ah) denotes authority “or liberty of doing as one pleases” (G1849). Another meaning of exousia is freedom which can also be translated as right or liberty. Paul referred to Satan as the prince of the power of the air because his influence permeates every aspect of human life. The idea that we can do as we please and not suffer any consequences is a distinct lie that Satan wants every person to believe. When the serpent told Eve “You will not surely die’ (Genesis 3:4), he wanted Eve to put her trust in him instead of God.

Eve’s misunderstanding of God’s motive behind prohibiting her from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil may have been rooted in a distrust of his control over her life, but also a desire to be like the person that had created her. The Hebrew word translated wise in Genesis 3:6, sakal (saw-kal’) has the connotation of “insight, intellectual comprehension” (H7919). Eve wanted to be more intelligent, to understand the world that she was a part of. Eve perceived wisdom to be a desirable attribute and probably thought God would want her to have it. I’m sure Eve was quite surprised to find out the serpent had lied to her and was most likely horrified when she discovered that shame rather than wisdom was the consequence of her disobedient behavior.

God reprimanded Adam and Eve for their sin, but he also indicated he would make a way for them to be restored to his good favor. He told the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). Paul explained God’s plan of salvation in further detail. He said, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by his grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7).

Paul used a phrase to describe what happens when we are born again that indicates the spiritual death that resulted from Adam and Eve’s sin can be reversed. He said that God could make us “alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). The Greek word Paul used, suzoopoieo (sood-zo-op-oy-eh’-o) “means to make a person able to respond immediately to spiritual stimuli; neither growth nor time is necessary before one is capable of walking in the Spirit. It is used in Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13, of the spiritual life with Christ, imparted to believers at their conversion” (G4806). Paul indicated that God’s quickening of believers’ spirits is due to the “great love with which he loved us” (Ephesians 2:4). The love Paul was referring to “was an exercise of the divine will in deliberate choice, made without assignable cause save that which lies in the nature of God Himself” (G26). Paul informed the Ephesians that God had made his determination of who would be saved, “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).

After Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden, they were forced to leave the paradise that God established for them. It says in Genesis 3:22-23, “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever –‘ therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.” Some time later, two sons were born to Adam and Eve and they each brought an offering to God. Genesis 4:4-5 states, “And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” God’s disregard of his offering caused Cain to be angry. “The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:6-7).

The Hebrew word translated well in Genesis 4:7, yatab (yaw-tab’) “does not mean amend nor improve your ways but to make one’s course line up with that which is pleasing to God and that which is well-pleasing in his sight” (H3190). Cain’s offering wasn’t rejected because there was something wrong with it. It is likely that his grain offering was actually more appropriate than his brother Abel’s (H4503). “It may have been that the attitude of faith with which Abel brought his offering pleased God (Hebrews 11:4) rather than the offering itself. The sacrifices and service of men please God only when they are prompted by obedient faith” (note on Genesis 4:3-7). God told Cain if he did well, he would be accepted and also warned him that his disobedience was putting him in danger of being overtaken by the sinful desires of his heart (Genesis 4:7).

Cain’s murder of his brother Abel (Genesis 4:8) demonstrated that he was a ruthless murderer (H2025) that deserved to be punished for his sin, but rather than striking him dead, God told Cain, “When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:12). Cain’s reaction showed that he was aware of the importance of having a relationship with God. He said, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden” (Genesis 4:13-14). Separation from God meant that Cain would no longer experience God’s favor. God’s mercy is what releases the sinner from the misery of guilt. The Greek word translated mercy in Ephesians 2:4, eleos (el’-eh-os) “is the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it” (G1656).

Although God withdrew his mercy from Cain, his grace was still available. If Cain had repented of his sin, God would have forgiven him (note on Genesis 4:13, 14). Paul told the Ephesians that God’s grace is a gift that cannot be earned or deserved. He said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9). The only thing God requires from anyone that wants to be saved is faith and yet, God meets this requirement himself by supplying the necessary faith as a gift to us. Speaking of mankind’s universal sin nature, Paul made it clear that all sinners are like Cain, hidden from the presence of God. He said, “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

Paul explained that Jesus restored fellowship with God through his sacrifice on the cross and made it possible for sinners to “have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). Paul described this spiritual transaction as breaking down the dividing wall of hostility and reconciling us to God in one body (Ephesians 2:14, 16). The Greek word translated hostility, echthra (ekh’-thrah) means enmity and is the opposite of agape, the love that God has for his son and the human race (G2189). Echthra is derived from the word echthros (ekh-thros’) which means an adversary, especially Satan (G2190). Paul said, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).

Even though Satan’s influence continues to permeate the world in which we live, Paul indicated there is spiritual activity going on that will result in a new world order at some point in the future. Paul said that believers are being joined together into a holy temple in the Lord and that we “are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 21-22). The spiritual death that was a consequence of Adam and Eve’s original sin is not only reversed when a person is born again, but the believer also becomes a part of a spiritual structure that permanently connects him to God and other believers. Paul described this structure as “a dwelling place for God.” This dwelling place for God is a new type of eternal paradise in which “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be any mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

God’s approval

Paul’s second letter to Timothy focused on how he could win God’s approval. Paul instructed Timothy “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, ESV). Paul was encouraging Timothy to exhibit Christ-like behavior so that he wouldn’t have to fear God’s judgment. It seems that Timothy was afraid of making mistakes and wasn’t preaching the gospel as boldly as Paul had. In order to rightly handle the word of truth, Paul was saying that Timothy needed to rely on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus referred to as “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17).

Jesus told the believers that followed him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32, NKJV). The Greek word translated free, eleutheroo (el-yoo-ther-o’-o) means to exempt someone from moral, ceremonial, or mortal liability (G1659). Essentially, what Jesus was saying was that a relationship with him was all that was necessary to win God’s approval. Jesus told Thomas, one of his disciple that is sometimes referred to as doubting Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me” (John 14:6, NKJV).

Paul assured Timothy that he was secure in his relationship with Christ. He told Timothy, “But the truth of God cannot be changed. It says, ‘The Lord knows those who are His.’ And, ‘Everyone who says he is a Christian must turn away from sin!’” (2 Timothy 2:19, NLV). The stipulation that a Christian must turn away from sin doesn’t imply that believers are expected to live a sinless life. The Greek word translated turn away, aphistemi (af-is’-tay-mee) refers to the removal of sin that is associated with the blood of Jesus Christ. What Paul was getting at was the evidence of someone being saved; which is the change in behavior that occurs as a result of having our sins forgiven by God.

Paul used the example of different types of dishes to illustrate that some Christians are very valuable to God even though they may be used less frequently. Paul stated, “In a big house there are not only things made of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay. Some are of more use than others. Some are used every day. If a man lives a clean life, he will be like a dish made of gold. He will be respected and set apart for good use by the owner of the house” (2 Timothy 2:20-21, NLV). Paul went on to talk about how sanctification prepares us for God’s work and he instructed Timothy to, “turn away from the sinful things young people want to do” (2 Timothy 2:22, NLV).

One of the keys to sanctification, the process whereby Christians are equipped for service in God’s kingdom, is confession of sins. Paul’s reference to being set apart for good use in 2 Timothy 2:21 has to do with being cleansed from sin. The Greek word ekkathairo (ek-kath-ah’-ee’ro) means to cleanse thoroughly (G1571). Its root word kathairo is used metaphorically of purging worshippers from guilt in Hebrews 10:2 where is states, “For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins” (NKJV). Believers are considered to be pure or approved by God when their consciences are free from guilt. The Apostle John encouraged believers to admit their failures and said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Death

God’s plan of salvation included a provision for everyone to be reconciled to him through the death of his son Jesus on the cross (Romans 3:24). In order for there to be a level playing field, God provided salvation by grace, as a free gift, so that no one would be left out. Paul stated, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28). Paul’s comparison of the wages of sin to God’s free gift of salvation showed that there was no logical reason why a person should choose to live a life of sin. He stated, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The Greek word translated death, thanatos “has the basic meaning of separation of the soul (the spiritual part of man) from the body (the material part), the latter ceasing to function and turning to dust…Death is the opposite of life; it never denotes nonexistence. As spiritual life is conscious existence in communion with God, so spiritual death is conscious existence in separation from God” (G2288).

Paul used the analogy of a woman that was freed from the law of marriage by the death of her husband to explain how a believer is dead to sin as a result of receiving God’s free gift of salvation. Paul stated, “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6). Paul’s primary concern was that believer’s understand that freedom from sin was something that had to be dealt with apart from the sinner’s justification by faith. Although the guilt of sin is removed instantaneously when a person is born again, the desire to commit sin does not go away. Paul admitted, “I do not understand myself. I want to do what is right but I do not do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15, NLV). The Apostle Paul, who is considered by most to be a model Christian wasn’t exempt from the natural human tendency to rebel against God. His description of the believer’s struggle to overcome sin (Romans 7:13-25) is thought by some to be a personal testimony to the weakness of his flesh.

Paul suggested that sin is a powerful force that operates in believers and unbelievers alike. He argued, “Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me” (Romans 7:20-21). Rather than giving believers an excuse to commit sin, Paul’s identification of the sin nature that dwells in everyone was most likely meant to explain why Christian’s are not made perfect when they are reconciled to God. Paul stated, “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:15:14). The point Paul was trying to make was that his human body or flesh was still subject to sin as evidenced by the physical death he would eventually experience. It was only his spirit that was regenerated when he accepted Christ. Paul stated, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:23). It seems likely that Paul was thinking of his own physical death when he exclaimed, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).

A double standard

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians covered several topics that dealt with the distortion of his teaching about grace. Apparently, the Corinthian believers had interpreted God’s grace to mean they could do anything they wanted to and not be punished for it. Paul stated, “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much named amongst the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife” (1 Corinthians 5:1). Fornication or porneia (por-ni’-ah) in the Greek was a general term that referred to all kinds of sexual sin including adultery and incest (G4202). Paul pointed out that these kinds of sin were not even considered acceptable behavior for unbelievers. Paul’s frustration with the situation seemed to be focused on the fact that the person that was committing incest was boasting about it in the church as if he was proud of the liberty he had to do such a thing. Paul instructed the Corinthians “to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:5).

Paul suggested a double standard was appropriate for judging Christian behavior. His comment “to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (1 Corinthians 5:5) was probably meant as a stern warning against the acceptance of sinful behavior from a person that was born again. Paul explained that we shouldn’t expect unbelievers to act morally because they don’t have the means to do so, but Christians have the ability to overcome sin if they want to. He stated, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16).

Paul concluded that the best way to handle bad behavior in the Corinthian church was to excommunicate the person that was saved who was continually practicing sin. Paul’s instruction “to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh” basically meant that this type of person shouldn’t have a spiritual support system. Outside the church, he would be open to satanic attack and demonic influence that might eventually drive him to a state of despair, and if he was truly saved, a point of repentance. Paul’s logic may have seemed unusually cruel or even barbaric, but it seems clear that he was extremely concerned about the negative influence this unrepentant believer was having on the Corinthian church. Paul stated plainly that believers should not associate with a person that calls himself a Christian, but habitually practices sin. He said, “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no not to eat” (1 Corinthians 5:11).

Final words

The four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; each capture unique pieces of the final words Jesus spoke while he was dying on the cross, except for Matthew and Mark who both recorded the same question, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34, ESV). The Greek word translated forsaken, egkataleipo suggested God deserted Jesus while he was hanging on the cross (G1459). The separation that occurred was likely the result of a curse that prevented God from looking at anyone that was crucified. Under the miscellaneous laws recorded in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 it states, “And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.”

Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross meant that even though he had not committed any crime himself, God treated him as if he was guilty of every sin that had ever or still will be committed by the human race. The Apostle Paul explained this transaction in Galatians 3:6-14 where he stated:

Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

While Jesus was hanging on the cross, dying for the sins of the world, a man that was hanging next to him realized the significance of what he was doing. Luke’s gospel captures the irony of the moment in a conversation between the two men that were hanging beside Jesus. Luke stated:

And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:39-43)

Jesus knew that his condemnation by God was only temporary. His act of obedience would ultimately put an end to the curse of sin that separated him from his Father. In his last statement from the cross, Jesus declared his belief that he would shortly be reunited with God in Heaven. He succinctly stated, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” then Luke reported, “and having said thus, he gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46) revealing his expectation to be by God’s side momentarily.

Hypocrites

Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees because they pretended to be servants of God, but were actually agents of Satan. Jesus used the word hypocrites eight times in Matthew 23 to describe their behavior. He said, “woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13). When Jesus said, “ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men,” he was basically saying that the scribes and Pharisees were closing the door to salvation. Because of them, no one was getting saved. Jesus went on to say, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Matthew 23:15). In other words, the scribes and Pharisees were winning souls for the devil and his kingdom rather than for God.

The Greek word Jesus used that is translated hypocrite, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace´) refers to a stage player, “an actor under an assumed character” (G5973). The word hypokrites is derived from the word hupokrinomai (hoop-ok-rin´-om-ahee) which means to decide (speak or act) under a false part (G5971). You could say that a hypocrite is a false believer, someone that calls himself a Christian, but is actually not saved. One of the characteristics of the scribes and Pharisees was that their behavior appeared to be consistent with the Mosaic Law. They seemed to be doing everything the law said they were supposed to. Jesus said of these men, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye ar full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matthew 23:27-28). The implication being that the scribes and Pharisees were intentionally deceiving people into thinking they were model citizens.

On a previous occasion, the scribes and Pharisees had brought a woman to Jesus that they said was “taken in adultery” (John 8:3). John’s account of this incident suggests that the woman’s accusers had caught her in the act (John 8:4). After hearing their accusation, John said, “But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lift up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:6-7). The problem with the situation Jesus was dealing with was that only the woman was brought to him for judgment. According to the reference note on John 8:3, “The incident was staged to trap Jesus (v.6), and provision had been made for the man to escape. The woman’s accusers must have been especially eager to humiliate her, since they could have kept her in private custody while they spoke to Jesus.” The scribes and Pharisees apparently thought Jesus would be willing to condemn the woman based only on their testimony.

When Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” he knew these men were guilty of breaking one or more of the Ten Commandments. His strategy was to get them to see that they were no better than the woman they were asking him to punish. John said, “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst” (John 8:9). No one knows for sure what Jesus wrote on the ground, but I’ve heard it suggested that Jesus wrote the Ten Commandments or perhaps, the specific commandments that each of the scribes and Pharisees had broken. Of course, they were all guilty of some crime and may have even committed adultery themselves. Therefore, Jesus’ strategy was effective in exposing their hypocrisy and getting them to realize that they also deserved to be stoned.

Lost and Found

Jesus used an analogy of being lost to describe people that have sinned against God. In a series of three parables, Jesus taught that the secret to being found was repentance, “to think differently or afterwards that is reconsider” (G3340). In his first parable, Jesus said that the lost sheep was so important to its owner that he was willing to leave his other 99 sheep behind in order to find it (Luke 15:4). Afterward, Jesus said of the owner, “And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost” (Luke 15:6). Jesus compared the sheep owner’s rejoicing to what happens in heaven when a sinner repents. He said, “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance.

Jesus’ example showed that the goal of having a relationship with God was not to be perfect, but to recognize when we have sinned against him or “missed the mark” (G266). Jesus’ second parable pointed out that every person has value to God and that the value of a sinner is no different than the value of someone who has not sinned. Jesus asked the question, “What woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?” (Luke 15:8). The woman’s effort to find her lost coin illustrated her responsibility to keep track of it and her diligence in recovering it. This example shows us that God is responsible for saving sinners and does not want anyone to remain lost or without his forgiveness.

Jesus’ final parable about the lost son illustrated how our free will can lead to our own detriment. In this story, the son took his inheritance and moved away so he could do what he wanted to with it. After his money ran out, he had no means of supporting himself, so the son “went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed the swine” (Luke 15:15). The Greek word translated joined himself, kollao (kol-lah’-o) means to glue or to stick. Kallao is also translated as cleave, suggesting a type of permanent relationship similar to a marriage. One way of interpreting the lost son’s relationship with this stranger could be to say they were codependent or the stranger was in some way supporting the lost son’s addiction.

Eventually, the son reached a point of desperation, what we might refer to today as hitting rock bottom. At that point, Jesus said the lost son “came to himself” (Luke 15:17). The words Jesus used to describe the son’s condition suggests that repentance is a realization that we are God’s children. In other words, we belong to God and he has the right and responsibility to take care of us. When the lost son returned home, his father gladly welcomed him back into his home and gave a party in his honor. It says in Luke 15:21-21, “And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.”