Better Promises Make a Better Covenant

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

The story goes of a man who got a job chopping down trees. The first day his foreman noticed he had cut down only ten trees while the other men had cut down a hundred or so. “Oh well,” thought the foreman, “it was his first day.” But the next couple days went the same way, so the foreman decided to have a talk with the new worker. “I am sure you have noticed you are not cutting down nearly as many trees as the others are,” the foreman began. “Yes I know, Sir, but I am having trouble with this saw you gave me,” said the new worker. The foreman took a look at the saw and pulled the cord to start the motor. The buzz of the motor scared the new worker, and he jumped back shouting, “What is that sound?” 

The new worker did not realize he was not expected saw down a hundred trees in his own power. He did not realize what power was available to him. It’s the same way with us.

Many people shirk at keeping the law, thinking it is an impossibility, not realizing they were never expected to keep it in their own power, and like the power saw, there is plenty of power available.

If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. But when God found fault with the people, he said:

“The day is coming, says the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel and Judah.
This covenant will not be like the one
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
and led them out of the land of Egypt.
They did not remain faithful to my covenant,
so I turned my back on them, says the Lord.
But this is the new covenant I will make
with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their minds,
and I will write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people. Hebrews 8:7-10

There are those who would have us believe that the Ten Commandments were done away with because God realized they were unreasonable and could not be obeyed. However that is not the case.

Psalms 19:7 KJV says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.”

A popular urban legend tells about a captain on a battleship who spotted a light off in the distant fog and radioed the source of the light telling it to change its course 15 degrees to avoid a collision. The response came back that the ship needed to change its course instead. The arrogant sea captain once again demanded the other vessel change its course instead, threatening reprisals, if his demands were not met. The response was, “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”

So it is in life. Many people want the law to be changed just like the ship wanted the lighthouse to change, but lighthouses don’t move out of the way and neither does the law. The law is perfect. The law does not need to change. The law is not faulty. Hebrews 8:8 NLT says the fault was not with the law but with the people. So why would God change the law when the law was not the problem?

The New Covenant was not an afterthought after the first covenant did not work. The new covenant was actually God’s original plan. What we call the “old covenant” was actually man’s idea – thinking he could save himself by his own strength and effort. It was not a faith response. (See Heb. 4:2) Man’s effort failed, so in what we call the New Testament God re-introduces His original plan from the Old Testament, and says “Are you ready to give up trying to do it on your own? and let me write my law on your heart Myself?

The fault of the people was in trying to keep the law in their own power. God made a covenant with the people, and instead of them asking for God’s help they confidently replied,

“We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” Exodus 19:8 NLT

God knew this was never going to work from the get-go. He knew they could not keep His Law in their own power. This is why God says in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah 31:33 NLT,

“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

You see, the old covenant was not called old because it was the first covenant. It was called old because it was a useless covenant that God never asked them to make. He never asked Abraham to have a son on his own. He never asked us to keep the commandments on our own. This is what Paul is talking about in Hebrews 8:6 NLT when He says the new covenant is, “based on better promises.”

In the “old” covenant the people in Exodus 19:8 were the ones making promises God never asked them to make. I don’t need to tell you how worthless man’s promises are. The new covenant is based on better promises because they are God’s promises!

And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. 2 Peter 1:4 NLT

The law was never the problem. The problem was the people and their worthless promises. Even in the Old Testament we find the new and better covenant when Abraham becomes the father of Isaac, based on God’s promise. We find the new and better covenant based on better promises in Jeremiah 31:33 when God is promising to write and establish the perfect law in the hearts of men, not by their own power and promises, but by His power and promises.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School Lesson here.

Video: Why Did Jesus let Lazarus Suffer?

Friday’s section of this week’s lesson asks, if God is in charge why do innocent people suffer?

The question reminded me of the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead that I recently read about in John 11:1-44. Let’s take a look at some of the points in this story that may help us answer this question.

When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” John 11:4 NKJV

The good news for all of us is that even though Lazarus dies that is not how the story ends! Lazarus is resurrected. Dear friend if you have recently laid a loved one to rest be assured that is not how the story ends. Death is not the final chapter. The resurrection is. still, Jesus allowed one of his best friends to get sick and die. Why? Verse 4 tells us so that God would be glorified. Are you willing to get sick and even face death if it will give God glory? This reminds me of a sermon I heard a long time ago on Hebrews 11:35-38 which mentions people who were killed for their faith. The preacher said many say they have enough faith to be healed but do we have enough faith not to be healed? What if more people became converted through our death than our life? What if our sickness glorified God more than our health? This new year I realized God does not need me to make goals and plans. He needs me to make a total surrender. This new year I rededicated my life to Jesus and told Him I was totally surrendered to Him. He can take me and do with me as He pleases in 2021. He can promote me if that will glorify His name. He can also let me get sick and die if that will glorify his name. After all, by giving my life to Jesus I am only giving what I was not going to be able to keep anyways.

So Jesus allows Lazarus to get sick and die so it would glorify God. How so? Well this is why it was so important for Jesus to let him actually die and then not show up to the home till four days afterwards. Had Jesus forsaken Lazarus and his sisters by seeming so distant? Not at all! It was all part of a magnificent plan that would bring glory to God with a happy ending for all. Remember when Jesus healed the little girl in Mark 5:21-43? He said the girl was not dead but only asleep. Everyone laughed at Him. Of course Jesus calls death sleep since the dead person is going to be resurrected. However the Sadducees and Pharisees both loved to twist the words of Jesus. The Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection especially had something at stake in the miracle Jesus performed for this little girl. Jesus’ statement that the girl was not dead but asleep could have given the Sadducees opportunity to say that even Jesus admitted Himself that the girl was only asleep and had never actually died. Thus Jesus did not actually resurrect her. I believe this is very possible because even today people love twisting the words of prophecy and Scripture to their own destruction. I believe the Sadducees very well could have used that as an opportunity to twist Jesus’ words when He said she was not dead but only asleep.

If the Pharisees and Sadducees were able to twist Jesus’ own words (Incidentally I think this is why a colleague years ago told me to use as few words as possible when talking thus reducing the opportunity for my enemies to twist my words.) to discredit His miracle of raising the girl to life, thus making many people lose faith in God this could explain why Jesus allowed Lazarus to get sick and die. Not only die but by waiting four days there is no way anyone could say he was not actually dead but just literally sleeping as they insinuated with the girl. Obviously Jesus’ plan worked because the story says,

Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.  John 11:45 NKJV

By allowing Lazarus to suffer and die millions who have faced death have been comforted with the hope of the resurrection. By allowing Lazarus to suffer and die millions have believed in Jesus as their Savior from sin and death. God wants us to prosper in heath and strength as we love and serve God with all of our health and strength. But if God could win more people to His kingdom by letting you suffer and die would you be okay with that?

The one who stands nearest to Christ will be he who has drunk most deeply of His spirit of self-sacrificing love,–love that “vaunteth not itself, . . . seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil,”–love that moves the disciple, as it moved our Lord, to give all, to live and labor and sacrifice even unto death, for the saving of humanity. –Ellen White, Conflict and Courage, Page 314.

Abraham’s Promises are Your Promises

20170420_1430161669605169.jpg

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

A member of a church I had recently spoken in asked me to come to her home. She was very upset because a neighbor claimed to be  a witch and put a curse on her home and family.  The lady church member believed in God but  was afraid of what this curse might mean.  When I got to her home I shared this passage with her.  It is a promise God made to Abraham.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.  I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 2:1-3 NLT

The Lord promised to bless those who blessed Abraham, and to treat those who curse him with contempt. I actually think the KJV is a little more powerful on this point when it says, “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.” Right after this promise was given, Abraham went into Egypt, and instead of trusting God to care for him, he trusted a lie he invented that Sara was only his sister, not his wife. Not only are lies deceitful, they show we are not trusting God. When we trust God we have no reason to make up lies. Pharaoh took Sara to himself, not knowing she was married. Even though Abraham was less than perfect in this situation the Lord still kept his promise like He always does.

But the Lord sent terrible plagues upon Pharaoh and his household because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. Genesis 12:17 NLT

Even when Abraham was less than perfect and even had trust issues, the Lord kept his promise to curse those who cursed him. I reminded the lady I was visiting, that Balaam tried to curse Israel but could only bless them! See Numbers 23:11-12. The Lord’s blessing continued for the great nation of Israel the Lord had promised to Abraham. The lady I was visiting thought that was all wonderful for Abraham but what did that have to do with her and the curse that was placed upon her? I asked her if she belonged to Christ and of course she said she did. I told her I had good news for her.

And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. Galatians 3:29 NLT

I shared with her that the promise to bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you belonged to her just as much it did to Abraham. She claimed this promise and when I spoke to her again many months later, the neighbor was gone and there were no signs of any curses.

Once there was an elder in my area who was being slandered by some of the other church leaders. Thank God the church body could see through the other leaders’ lies and stood up for him. When the truth came out and the elder was exonerated ,one of his enemies, who was also a leader was too proud to recant his lies and accusations. Not long after, the leader who made the false accusations retired to a new area. Soon  he had to move far away from the area he retired in, because of accusations that were made against him which were much more serious than the one he made against the local elder. Some called it karma, some called it what goes around comes around. I can’t help but think of God’s promise, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.”  I hope too that this situation led the slandering leader to repentance and salvation.

Now before we start acting all high and mighty when God works in our favor, it’s important to remember that God blessed Abraham because of His own faithfulness, not the faithfulness of Abraham. Even though God cursed Pharaoh so to speak, Abraham still had his own lesson to learn about honesty and trusting God instead of lies. I would imagine even when God curses those who curse us that we too still need to humbly learn some lessons as well. The promise in Genesis 12:3 goes on to say that all families of the earth will be blessed as God wants to bless and save all of us friends and foes, just as he saved faulty Abraham.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

Galatians; Promises

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Here are my thoughts on this week’s SS lesson. You may also download the lessons to your cell phone.

For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he [who was] of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman [was] by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. Galatians 4:22-24

At Sinai, instead of relying upon God’s promises, they made their own promise. “Go thou near, and hear all that the LORD our God shall say: and speak thou unto us all that the LORD our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear [it], and do [it]. “ Deuteronomy 5:27

Paul makes the contrast between the two covenants. Both involve obedience and the law. One is man promising God, and the other, the one that actually works, is God promising man.  Ishmael was born when Abraham tried to carry out God’s promise instead of letting God make things happen.  This incidentally was why Abraham had to be circumcised. He had to cast away the confidence he had in his body and trust in God. Isaac represents what happens when we trust God and believe in His promises.

Here is another helpful allegory from the Desire of Ages about trusting God’s promises instead of our own works.

The birth of a son to Zacharias, like the birth of the child
of Abraham, and that of Mary, was to teach a great spiritual truth, a truth
that we are slow to learn and ready to forget. In ourselves we are incapable of
doing any good thing; but that which we cannot do will be wrought by the power
of God in every submissive and believing soul. It was through faith that the
child of promise was given. It is through faith that spiritual life is
begotten, and we are enabled to do the works of righteousness.  {Desire of Ages, p 98.3} 

Here are some more precious Bible promises about what can be
accomplished through trusting God’s grace instead of our own strength.

But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which
[was bestowed] upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than
they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me 1 Corinthians 15:10 Notice when we trust in God’s grace we actually labor more abundantly than when we trust in our own strength!

Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father
in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father
that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.Believe me that I [am] in the Father,
and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake. Verily,
verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he
do also; and greater [works] than these shall he do; because I go unto my
Father.  John 14:10-12Notice by believing Jesus’ promises we do greater works than we do when trusting our own strength and works.

Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious
promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having
escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.  2 Peter 1:4

We overcome, not by making promises to God but by trusting
His promises! Also while many argue over exactly what type of human nature
Jesus had, we receive an invitation to experience and participate in His divine
nature!

One last awesome promise from the Spirit of Prophecy. “Just
before us is the “hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world,
to try them that dwell upon the earth.” [Revelation 3:10.] All whose faith
is not firmly established upon the word of God will be deceived and overcome.
But to those who earnestly seek a knowledge of the truth, thus doing what they
can to prepare for the conflict, the God of truth will be a sure defense.
“Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep
thee,” is the Saviour’s promise. He would sooner send every angel out of
Heaven to protect his people, than leave one soul that trusts in him to be
overcome by Satan.”  {Great Controversy, p.560}