Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Freezing drizzle

by John D Ramsey

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Early this morning, freezing drizzle began to fall just as I was leaving the house. Though I park inside in a garage, and the windshield was clear when I started out, the defroster could not keep ahead of the accumulating ice. I took back roads to Tuesday morning Bible study knowing that the highway would be crowded with other visibility-impaired drivers. As I drove, the windshield wipers scraped across the scale of ice hissing at me saying, “It will happen. It will happen. It will happen. It will happen.”

I thought my windshield wipers’ prophecy was vague as a fortune cookie slogan. Surely, something will happen, and when it does, I will know what “it” is. The voice changed, “Tonight; tonight; tonight; tonight,” the wipers insisted.

I smiled. The early morning darkness, the freezing drizzle, the treacherous roads, the reduced visibility, and the hissing windshield wipers would make a good opening for shallow thriller movie. I stopped paying attention to the wipers to navigate passed emergency vehicles parked in the roadway. The wipers’ message reverted. “It will happen. It will happen. It will happen.”

A car pulled in front of me suddenly, but I averted a crash despite the slick pavement. I suppose the driver’s vision was impaired by ice, too. How could he have not seen my headlights approaching? As I turned toward the church where I meet with friends for Bible study, my tires briefly lost traction. I recovered from the skid, drove up the hill, and gave my wipers no further thought.

Upon reading these top few paragraphs, Claire’s vivid eleven-year old imagination had her heart racing, her shoulders cringing, and her mouth uttering nervous little giggles. She still wonders how the story will end. Am I wondering what will happen tonight? No.

I do not put stock in the possibility that intelligent communication could emanate from rubber grating against ice. Superstition is vague and ominous and preys upon human fear. Imagination replaces rational thought until we believe anything. Superstition causes us to make assumptions apart from knowledge. Superstition makes us vulnerable to manipulation.

Biblical prophecy, in contrast, may be veiled, but it is not vague. Old Testament prophets, did not always understand their own writings, but when their oracles were conditional, their requirements were not ambiguous. When their oracles were determinate, their predictions were not vague. Biblical prophecy was not what the listener wanted to hear; rather, it was what God wanted to say.

Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Belshazzar abused the gold and silver vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem. He held a feast for nobility drinking wine from the vessels that had been consecrated to God. He did not do this in ignorance. As he drank wine, he worshipped false gods of gold, silver, iron, wood, and stone. Belshazzar’s presumptuous behavior defied his own fathers confession,

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Daniel 4:37 (NIV)

When Nebuchadnezzar had walked in pride, God had spoken to him in a dream. Daniel interpreted the dream although the message was not favorable to Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar lost his sanity for seven years until he looked to God and repented of his pride. Yet Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony, recorded in Daniel 4, could not persuade Belshazzar, his son.

When Belshazzar deliberately offended God, a man’s hand appeared and began writing on the wall in Belshazzar’s view. Belshazzar’s bravado melted into fear. He became more fearful when none of his enchanters, astrologers, diviners, and magi could interpret the writing.

Belshazzar had defied God and ignored his father’s wisdom, but Belshazzar’s wife remembered Daniel. Daniel came to Belshazzar and recounted to him how Nebuchadnezzar had learned repentance and humility before God. Daniel told him,

“But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription.

“This is the inscription that was written:

“MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN

“This is what these words mean:

“Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.

“Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.

“Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

Then at Belshazzar's command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom.

That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.

Daniel 5:22-30 (NIV)

Daniel’s message to Belshazzar was not an ambiguous threat. Daniel did not manipulate the king’s imagination. Belshazzar and his nobles needed no imagination to see the hand writing on the wall or the message chiseled in the plaster, “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN.” Daniel offered Belshazzar no avenue of repentance. Belshazzar’s life and his reign had ended.

The handwriting on the wall was of no benefit to Belshazzar. Rather Belshazzar, reminds us of the demotivator, “It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.”

What warning are we to glean from Belshazzar’s demise? Certainly we should know that God holds men accountable for their response to Him. Belshazzar knew the greatness of God, but he chose to dishonor Him. God defies the proud, but has mercy upon the humble. Even Nebuchadnezzar obtained God’s grace when he humbled himself. The Apostle Peter quotes Proverbs 3:34 when he writes,

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

1 Peter 5:5-6 (NIV)

Where does humility before God begin? It begins in acknowledging that God is who He says He is. Scripture’s first statement about God is non-negotiable. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1 (NIV) The Gospel of John begins with the identical phrase saying,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

John 1:1-3 (NIV)

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

John 1:10-12 (NIV)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14 (NIV)

Later, John the Apostle wrote in a letter to believers he called his “dear children,” saying,

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 4:9-10 (NIV)

Humility before God acknowledges Jesus Christ as our Creator. Because he is Creator God, we are obligated to serve Him. Yet our arrogant hearts have rebelled. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 (NIV)

Humility before God acknowledges that Jesus Christ has carried the penalty of our sin upon his body upon the cross. He carried our sins into the judgment of death so that we can obtain eternal life through his resurrection from the dead (read 1 Corinthians 15:21-22).

Humility before God acknowledges that we cannot merit the grace, which God offers us through Jesus Christ (read Ephesians 2:8).

Humility before God ultimately believes God. Believing God is not superstition because when God speaks, He speaks clearly. Those who have heard Him know what I mean.

In John 1, the Apostle John gives the account of John the Baptist testifying of Jesus, the Christ. John the Baptist’s final testimony regarding Jesus tells us,

The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.

John 3:35-36 (NIV)

God’s message to each of us is clear. We can humbly believe Him and receive His life for eternity, or we can reject Him and remain objects of His wrath.

The choice is yours to make. It will happen. It will happen. It will happen. It will happen.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

It’s about faithfulness

by John D Ramsey

Soon after I started blogging, one post quickly jumped ahead of the others in new visits. In “Ora et labora,” I wrote of Dad’s lifetime of faithfulness. The post was about Dad, but it pleased Mom greatly. Today another old post has exceeded “Ora et labora” in visits. I do not think that Dad will mind being eclipsed by “Faith and faithfulness.”

It seems that many people wonder the difference between faith and faithfulness and Google has been kind enough to refer them to my dissertation. I remember last summer this topic was on my mind, but I struggled to address it until we went to see Othello in Southmoreland Park near the Plaza and the Nelson. Othello swears by his wife, Desdemona, saying, “My life upon her faith!” In the ancient Greek language, there is no distinction between faith and faithfulness. The same word expresses both concepts, which begs the question whether there are two concepts or only one. It seems that in Shakespeare’s day he used faith and faithfulness interchangeably. The thought that faith and faithfulness are somehow disassociated appears to be a thoroughly modern contrivance.

A dear friend explained that we know the difference between faith and faithfulness based upon the context in Scripture. Yet such an approach prejudices the question of whether there is a difference! Are we saved by faith, or are we saved by faithfulness? Modern evangelical Christianity uses “saved by faith” like it is a Staples Easy Button. Yet the writer of Hebrews tells us, “Christ is faithful as a son over God's house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” Hebrews 3:6 (NIV) A few verses later he writes, “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” Hebrews 3:14 (NIV) Clearly, the writer of Hebrews believed that we are saved by faithfulness.

Likewise, James, the brother of Jesus, asserted that true faith manifests itself in righteous deeds. James tells us that Abraham did not find favor with God by sitting in his tent. He gained God’s favor through hard obedience. The obedience validated the faith.

Moreover, the words of the Savior demand faithfulness. In the book of Revelation, Jesus says,

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Revelation 2:7 (NIV)

He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.

Revelation 2:11 (NIV)

To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.

Revelation 2:17 (NIV)

To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations —
‘He will rule them with an iron scepter;
he will dash them to pieces like pottery’ —

just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star.

Revelation 2:26-28 (NIV)

He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.

Revelation 3:5 (NIV)

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.

Revelation 3:11-12 (NIV)

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.

Revelation 3:21 (NIV)

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Revelation 21:6-8 (NIV)

What is the saving faithfulness of which Jesus was speaking when he spoke of “him who overcomes?”

Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ.
For the accuser of our brothers,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.

They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.

Revelation 12:10-11 (NIV)

Dad contributed “Word of testimony” to this blog wherein he discusses the Greek root of the word translated, “testimony.” In English, it transliterates to “martyr.” “Word of testimony” is in ninth place in number of readers in this blog. You will not hurt my feelings if you make Dad's posts more popular than mine.

Many evangelical Christians teach that salvation is a free gift – they interpret this to mean that it is given without cost or responsibility to the recipient. Yet the word translated “free gift” carries no such connotation. Rather charisma, in the Greek, carries the connotation of unmerited favor. We cannot earn it, but if we truly receive God’s grace, it will change us thoroughly and forever. Saving faith always includes repentance, or a change of direction. Salvation is not something we did at some arbitrary point in our lives. Salvation is repentance before God and acceptance of his marvelous gift. Salvation surrenders our lives to Jesus Christ. Saving faith demonstrates faithfulness, not because we manage to earn our place in glory, but because finishing the journey validates our commitment at the start.

Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Mark 8:35 (NIV)

Near his conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus implored the crowd, saying,

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

Matthew 7:15-23 (NIV)

Earlier this week, I wrote about Hananiah, a false prophet who taught restoration without repentance and faith in wishful thinking rather than faith in God and His Word. Within Christendom there are many similar wolves in sheep’s clothing who are flippant with their false assurances. Yet before gambling your eternal destiny on someone else’s eloquence and circular reasoning, ask yourself three questions?
1. How does the “blood of the Lamb” factor into my salvation?
2. How does my “word of testimony” factor into my salvation?
3. Do I love my life too much too die for my faith?
If these questions are unsettling to you, then read the other posts I have mentioned. If you want, contact me. I would be happy to answer questions and suggest Scripture passages for you to read.

“Come now, let us reason together,”
says the LORD.
Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.”
Isaiah 1:18 (NIV)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hananiah

by John D Ramsey

Nebuchadnezzar carried the best and the brightest from Judah into captivity in Babylon and left the nation of Judah in ruins. God ordained that this would happen in response to the sin of Hezekiah and wickedness of his son, Manasseh. During the reign of Josiah, the grandson of Manasseh, God deferred his wrath for thirty-one years because Josiah honored God. Yet even though Josiah was faithful, God did not withhold his wrath against Judah. Pharaoh Necho and his army killed Josiah in battle. Josiah’s sons Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim ruled for three months and eleven years respectively. Neither followed God like their father had done.

After Johoiakim had been king for about eight years, he allied himself with Nebuchadnezzar. After three years of alliance, however, Johoiakim annulled his arrangement with the king of Babylon. During those three years, enemies of Israel swarmed over the land. When his father died, Johoiachin ruled Judah for only three months before Nebuchadnezzar invaded with his army. Johoiachin surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar and was taken prisoner to Babylon.

While Johoiakim was still king, before his alliance with Nebuchadnezzar, the prophet Jeremiah declared,

Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: “Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.

“But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, “and will make it desolate forever.”

Jeremiah 25:8-12 (NIV)

When Nebuchadnezzar came, he carried off the best, but he did not leave the land in waste. Rather Nebuchadnezzar made Zedekiah king of Judah. Again, Jeremiah prophesied to the Zedekiah and all the surrounding kings of nations, saying,

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Tell this to your masters: With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please. Now I will hand all your countries over to my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him. All nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for his land comes; then many nations and great kings will subjugate him.

“If, however, any nation or kingdom will not serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon or bow its neck under his yoke, I will punish that nation with the sword, famine and plague, declares the LORD, until I destroy it by his hand.”

Jeremiah 27:4-8 (NIV)

God had Jeremiah make and wear a yoke symbolizing bondage to Babylon. Had Zedekiah and the people of Judah heeded the words of Jeremiah, their subjugation by Babylon would have been tolerable. Nevertheless, God knew the extent of Judah’s rebellion. A false prophet named Hananiah stood up before the priests and all the people and proclaimed,

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I am going to bring back to this place all the vessels of the LORD’S house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I am also going to bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles of Judah who went to Babylon,” declares the LORD, ‘for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.”

Jeremiah 28:2-4 (NIV)

Jeremiah had prophesied for over 30 years of the destruction of Judah by Babylon. Many years before Jeremiah, Isaiah had prophesied the same to King Hezekiah. Much of what Isaiah and Jeremiah had prophesied had already come true. The remaining prophesies were contingent upon Judah’s response. Yet Hananiah prophesied that within two years everything that had been lost would be restored. Jeremiah appealed to the people to repent from their sin and to submit to God by serving the ruler whom God had established. Hananiah told the priests and the people that repentance and submission was necessary.

Jeremiah confronted Hananiah reiterating that the true prophets of God had prophesied calamity against nations, but those prophesying peace could only be trusted when their word came to pass. Hananiah responded by taking the yoke off Jeremiah’s neck and breaking it into pieces. Hananiah insisted, saying, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Even so will I break within two full years the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all the nations.’” Jeremiah 25:11 (NIV)

God responded to Hananiah through Jeremiah telling him that he had broken a yoke of wood and replaced it with a yoke of iron. Jeremiah told Hananiah,

Listen now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This year you are going to die, because you have counseled rebellion against the LORD.”

Jeremiah 28:15-16 (NIV)

Hananiah died, and Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the temple and carried nearly everyone into captivity. Nebuchadnezzar’s army destroyed Jerusalem just as Jeremiah had prophesied.

Hananiah’s message was an obvious lie, yet his was the lie that the people wanted to believe. Hananiah defied the record of the prophets and even the testimony of Solomon. When Solomon dedicated the temple, he prayed to God saying,

When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to a land far away or near; and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captivity and say, “We have sinned, we have done wrong and acted wickedly”; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their captivity where they were taken, and pray toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and toward the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their pleas, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you.

2 Chronicles 6:36-39 (NIV)

Even at the dedication of the temple, Solomon knew that Israel would rebel against God. Solomon asked God to forgive the people’s sin when they repented. Hananiah, on the other hand, taught restoration without repentance and faith in mere wishful thinking.

Solomon’s prophetic dedication of the temple made restoration contingent upon repentance. Isaiah and Jeremiah’s prophecies were consistent with Solomon’s prophetic prayer. Their prophecies were grounded in their knowledge of God and his righteous judgment. Their prophecies were faithful to the testimony of God given by Moses in Deuteronomy 28. Yet Hananiah prophesied in the name of the Lord to invalidate the word of the Lord. By so doing, he disobeyed the Third Commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” Exodus 20:7 (NIV)

Many of today’s evangelical leaders are just like Hananiah. From pulpits in their churches, they deny the Word of God by preaching salvation without repentance. Salvation comes, they say, by a ritual repeat-after-me prayer or by baptism or through church membership. Some deny God’s wrath entirely. They teach that God has changed his mind and will punish no one for his rebellion. Others equate salvation with doing your best or becoming your best.

These modern Hananiahs talk about faith, but they undermine the foundation of true Christian faith, which is the Holy Scriptures. The object of their faith is not God and His Word, but rather a reflexive faith or faith in faith. Jeremiah told Hananiah, “You have persuaded this nation to trust in lies.” Had the nation of Judah believed Jeremiah, they might have repented of their sin and survived more easily the judgment that God had pronounced against them. Yet Hananiah persuaded the people of Judah to believe what they wanted to believe. Jeremiah told Hananiah, “This year you are going to die, because you have counseled rebellion against the LORD.” There is no benefit to believing for believing’s sake. Such faith is not Christianity; it is Disneyland. False faith is not a positive quality that is merely misdirected. There is no such thing as being almost faithful. False faith is rebellion against God!

Saving faith is faith in Jesus Christ. Christ is not a name; it is a title. It means “Anointed One.” With the title of Christ comes all the testimony of Scripture regarding the Christ. According to John Chapter 1, the Christ was the Word who was equal to God, and face to face with God. The Word created all things. The Word became a man. Jesus, the Christ, the Word died for the sins of the world. John writes,

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 4:9-10 (NIV)

After dying for the sins of the world, Jesus, the Christ, rose from the dead. Because of his resurrection and victory over death, we have the hope of eternal life by faith in Him. When we believe this, when we receive this by faith, it changes us. James tells us that merely believing is not faith. In James 2, he reveals that saving faith will result in righteous deeds.

This was not a new concept. When the Pharisees came to John the Baptist to be baptized, John ridiculed them saying, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Mark 3:7-8 (NIV) John's baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin required repentance first. The water baptism produced nothing unless the man's heart was broken before his God. Paul told the Philippians, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Philippians 2:12 (NIV) Yet in our modern churches we are told to feel good about our chances. Pastors provide their congregations little touchstones of encouragement or reasons to believe that they have obtained salvation. Paul told the Romans, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.” Romans 8:16 (NIV) Assurance of salvation cannot come by any external standard; rather, it is by the fellowship of the Spirit of God that we know to whom we belong.

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?”

Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

The night before Jesus was nailed to the cross, he prayed to the Father saying,

Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

John 17:1-3 (NIV)

Hananiah encouraged Judah to trust in their false hopes. He ridiculed the prophet, Jeremiah, who preached that restoration would come only by repentance. Hananiah ignored the testimony of Scripture and attributed his lies to God. Modern Christianity is full of Hananiahs. Their Christianity often emphasizes the individual’s relationship to the church rather than his relationship Christ. Yet the church cannot save you. Paul wrote to Titus saying, “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.” Titus 2:5-6 (NIV)

Paul asked the Corinthians to be sure of their salvation; he said, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you — unless, of course, you fail the test?” 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV)

In what or in whom do you place your faith? Does the Holy Spirit testify with your Spirit that you are a child of God? If you do not have such an assurance, then trust in Jesus, the Anointed One, today. Surrender yourself to the Christ, submit yourself to His will, and ask Jesus Christ to transform you. Do not make the mistake of trusting a Hananiah. Trust Jesus. He alone can save you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Real money

by John D Ramsey

Download as MP3
I was reading today in The Wall Street Journal about the high-powered money that the Federal Reserve has injected into the banking system to alleviate the liquidity crisis. Banks respond sending Bernanke a thank-you note, and then, before the ink is dry on the new dollar bills, they invest them in US Treasuries. Wow! Did you follow that? It is a high-powered shell game. The federal government is now awash in cash, but even deeper in debt. The cash it generated will result in tax rebates or deferred tax increases. Yet, the arrangement is detrimental because it bypassed the real economy. Few distressed debtors get relief. Would-be borrowers cannot get loans because the banks are risk averse (and Treasuries are a safer bet). Businesses suffer because despite new dollars on deposit, they are not funding real economic growth. The bailout is a ruse! It may take a decade or more before the dust settles and the economy recovers.

Meanwhile, do something worthwhile with your life. Jesus said,

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

How do you “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven?” Sure, there are financial applications to this principle and generosity is important. Nevertheless, many Christians are motivated to generosity by the hope of temporal blessing rather than the promise of treasure in heaven. Jesus requires more.

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

Mark 8:34-37 (NIV)

Recent events illustrate how empty the pursuit of earthly wealth is. Regardless of your earning potential and financial savvy, you will someday leave it all behind. Nevertheless, losing yourself for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ earns eternal riches.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ishmael

by John D Ramsey
Nigel Tufnel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and...

Marty DiBergi: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?

Nigel Tufnel: Exactly.

Marty DiBergi: Does that mean it's louder? Is it any louder?

Nigel Tufnel: Well, it's one louder, isn't it? It's not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?

Marty DiBergi: I don't know.

Nigel Tufnel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?

Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven.

Nigel Tufnel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.

Marty DiBergi: Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?

Nigel Tufnel: [pause] These go to eleven.



From “This is Spinal Tap

I have always wondered why people would read an Amplified Bible. I suppose Nigel Tufnel could explain it to me. Nevertheless, should we not rather spend effort learning precisely what God has said rather than trying to improve it by hyperbole? By knowing exactly what God has said, we can then reflect upon what it means.

I was reading in my NIV the other night, and I spotted a distortion added by the translators and I wondered, how can readers know what the Bible says, when translators frequently inject what they want Scripture to say instead of merely translating what it plainly says. Their attempt to amplify the meaning can cause loss of information or distortion just as audio amplification causes clipping or distortion. Virtually every English translation of the Bible contains some paraphrase. Distortion and clipping is bad enough with mainline translations of the Bible without willingly submitting our minds to the lossy compression of a paraphrase.

There is a difference between paraphrase and commentary. Commentary evaluates what Scripture says and offers the commentator’s insight and opinion regarding its meaning. A paraphrase, on the other hand, often distorts or obfuscates what Scripture says in favor of the translator’s bias. A commentary is transparent, while a paraphrase is opaque. For instance, when reading a commentary on Scripture, I can look at the words of Scripture and then decide whether I agree with the commentator. A paraphrase, however, provides new ideas in place of the original. A paraphrase of Scripture is like karaoke. The song is never quite the same again.

It does not matter what I want Scripture to say, it only matters what Scripture actually says. When translators replace translation with commentary, their product is something other than Scripture. If I had realized how cantankerous I would become in my old age, I would have applied myself to learning Greek and Hebrew when I was young. Nevertheless, I am not helpless, but I am sometimes frustrated while trying to determine what Scripture says. I battle my language deficiency in the following ways:
  • I check the index of Strong’s numbers and evaluate how words are translated elsewhere in other passages.
  • I read other passages where the word or phrase appears.
  • I read Scripture in two or more translations regularly (NIV, NASB, YLT, KJV, etc). In some cases, I check my copy of The Jerusalem Bible (1966). I read Scripture from The Apostolic Bible Polyglot frequently. I have also checked a PDF copy of 1709 Lambert Bos Vetus Testamentum.
  • I seldom consult a commentary because I am most interested in what God is saying through His word, and much less interested in reading what men are saying about it.
  • When I do approach a commentary I evaluate whether the author believes the Scripture he is commenting upon, or whether he is trying to force the Scripture to align with his beliefs. If a theologian can identify himself as Reformed, Dispensational, Messianic, Charismatic, or any other label, then he will distort Scripture according to his predilection. I strive to drop the labels and the biases they support and let Scripture speak for itself.
  • I sometimes wrestle with the smallest detail until I am convinced what translation is most accurate. Some friends laugh at me, but I even check the math in Scripture.
Below are four quotes labeled A through D; they illustrate how translators sometimes defy the language to insert commentary.

  1. And Abraham rose up in the morning, and took bread loaves and a leather bag of water; and he them gave to Hagar, and he placed the male child upon her shoulders, and he sent her away.

  2. So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away.

  3. Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy.

  4. Rising up early the next morning Abraham took some bread and a skin of water and, giving them to Hagar, he put the child on her shoulder and sent her away.
Notice that two translations, B and C, say that Abraham put bread and water on Hagar’s shoulder while the other two translations A and D say that Abraham put the child on Hagar’s shoulder. This may seem like a trivial detail, yet the meaning of the story pivots upon this point. Some translators approach this passage favoring their assumptions about this record over the language in the text. What the reader looses is the opportunity to discover what radio personality Paul Harvey might call, “the rest of the story.”

The translator’s pattern is mundane; they assume that the child in question is Ishmael though the passage never names the child. Assuming that the child is Ishmael, Abraham could not have put him on Hagar’s shoulder because at this time, he was not a child, he was a young man. Ishmael was thirteen when Abraham and Ishmael were circumcised. Isaac was born a year later, and Hagar and her child were sent away after Isaac was weaned (13 + 1 + 2). Ishmael was probably a 16-year old assuming that Isaac was weaned around age two. If Ishmael was 16 when Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away, then the translators have to put something else on Hagar’s shoulder.

Genesis 21 does not mention Ishmael by name; moreover, Galatians 3 recounts Hagar’s banishment naming Abraham, Isaac, and Hagar. Galatians 3 refers to Hagar’s child as the son of a slave woman.

Below is the next reference to the child in Genesis 21 according to our four translations:

  1. But the water ceased coming out of the leather bag, and she tossed the male child underneath one fir tree. And going forth she sat down before him, far off as a bow shot. For she said, now way shall I see the death of my child. And she sat before him and the child wept.

  2. When the water in the skin was used up, she left the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away, for she said, “Do not let me see the boy die.” And she sat opposite him, and lifted up her voice and wept.

  3. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.

  4. When the skin of water was finished she abandoned the child under a bush. Then she went and sat down at a distance, about a bowshot away, saying to herself, “I cannot see the child die.” So she sat at a distance; and the child wailed and wept.
In this comparison, translations disagree regarding who was crying. A and D say the child was crying, while B and C say that Hagar was crying. Who was really crying? The next verse in all translations reveals that in abundant clarity.

  1. But God listened to the voice of the child from the place where he was. And an angel of God called Hagar from out of the heaven, and said to her, “What is it, Hagar? Fear not! For God has heeded the voice of your child from out of the place where he is.”

  2. God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.”

  3. God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.”

  4. But God heard the boy wailing, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, “What is wrong, Hagar?” he asked. “Do not be afraid, for God has heard the boy’s cry where he lies.
From this verse, it is obvious that the child was crying. Whether Hagar was crying or not, God heard the child crying. Try to imagine a 16-year old boy lying helplessly under a bush or tree crying while his mother is sitting about 100 yards away. We can see that translations B and C misreported who in the account was crying. We can suspect that they also misreported what object Abraham placed on Hagar’s shoulder. These four translations also differ regarding the angel’s instruction to Hagar.

  1. “Rise up and take the child, and hold it in your hand! For I will make it into a great nation.”

  2. “Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.”

  3. “Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

  4. “Come, pick up the boy and hold him safe, for I will make him into a great nation.”
Versions B and C picture Hagar holding the boy’s hand rather than holding the boy. Again, these were the translations that pictured Hagar crying rather than the boy crying. These were the translations that had Abraham placing bread and water on Hagar’s shoulder rather than placing the boy on Hagar’s shoulder. Translations B and C are trying to force the record to fit what they know about Ishmael.

What do we know about Ishmael? Was he really sent away from Isaac? Scripture does not mention Ishmael from the time that he was circumcised at age 13 until the death of Abraham when Ishmael would have been 86 years old. What does Scripture tell us of Ishmael at this account? It says,

Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth; there Abraham was buried with Sarah his wife.

Genesis 25:9 (NASB)

Genesis 25 has a bit more to say about Ishmael, but the last direct reference to Ishmael in Scripture comes in Genesis 28. It reads,

So Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan displeased his father Isaac; and Esau went to Ishmael, and married, besides the wives that he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham's son, the sister of Nebaioth.

Genesis 28:8-9 (NASB)

From these two brief references, we see a familial relationship between Isaac and Ishmael. Together, Isaac and Ishmael buried Abraham in the cave where Abraham had buried Sarah, his wife. Later, Esau attempted to repair his relationship with his father Isaac by marrying his cousin, Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael.

Ishmael and Isaac were not Abraham’s only sons. After Sarah died, Abraham married Keturah and fathered five sons: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. Yet these the seven named sons of Abraham were not the extent of his progeny.

Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac; but to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the east.

Genesis 25:5 (NASB)

Are the sons of Abraham’s concubines the sons of Keturah? Not likely, Keturah was not Abraham’s concubine; she was his wife. Abraham sent the sons of his concubines to the land of the east, presumably in Chaldea, from whence Abraham came, but Midian, the son of Keturah, settled in Sinai.

Likewise, Hagar was not Abraham’s concubine, she also was his wife. Hagar was Sarah’s slave, but according to Genesis 16:3, Hagar was Abraham’s wife. Nevertheless, Abraham did send Hagar away with her son. Yet at Abraham’s death, who remained with him? Isaac and Ishmael together buried their father.

So if Ishmael remained with Abraham, who then was sent away with Hagar? The account in Genesis 21 records a young boy, a baby or a toddler being sent away with Hagar. The boy was carried on Hagar’s shoulder, she discarded him beneath a tree or bush, the boy cried, and Hagar picked him up and held him. Translators’ attempts to force Ishmael into Genesis 21 are betrayed by the textual evidence! The answer to this dilemma is not rocket science; rather, it is biology. Abraham had one son with Sarah, five with Keturah, and perhaps many other sons with multiple concubines. If Abraham had two sons with his wife, Hagar, it would be unremarkable, perhaps natural.

In fact, a year before Sarah gave birth to Isaac, she was taken into the tents of Abimelech, the Philistine king. This account is recorded in Genesis 20. We do not know how long Sarah was with Abimelech, but it was long enough to notice that Abimelech’s harem was infertile during this time. God protected Sarah, by afflicting Abimelech with an illness, too. What was Abraham doing while Sarah was away?

When Sarah gave birth to Isaac, she was not jealous of Ishmael, she was jealous of Hagar’s son who was nearly the same age as Isaac. Sarah knew that these two boys would be rivals. On the other hand, Ishmael was already a young man by the time Isaac was born. Sarah had commissioned Ishmael. Ishmael was her son by a surrogate, and there is no evidence that Ishmael ever departed until after Abraham’s death.

Now these are the records of the generations of Ishmael, Abraham's son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah's maid, bore to Abraham; and these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael, and Kedar and Adbeel and Mibsamand Mishma and Dumah and Massa, Hadad and Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah.

These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages, and by their camps; twelve princes according to their tribes.

These are the years of the life of Ishmael, one hundred and thirty-seven years; and he breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.

They settled from Havilah to Shur which is east of Egypt as one goes toward Assyria; he settled in defiance of all his relatives.

Genenis 25:12-28 (NASB)

What relatives did Ishmael settle in defiance of? The literal translation means to the east of or in the face of. In Genesis 37, we see Ishmaelites traveling with a caravan of Midianites. Midian was a son of Keturah. In Numbers 31, we see that the entire race of Midianites was exterminated because of the sin of Baal Peor. Yet in Judges 6-8, we see Gideon’s victory over the Midianites. Yet, in Judges 8, the Midianites over whom Gideon prevailed were actually Ishmaelites. The simplest explanation is that Ishmael presumptuously settled near Midian, the son of Keturah. When Phinehas destroyed Midian, the Ishmaelites assumed the identity of Midianites because they lived in the land of Midian.

Regardless of the history of nations, Ishmael’s personal relationship with Isaac remained familial for all his days.

A good friend of mine sent me an email last year asking for my comments on an Evangelical leader’s analysis that the animosity between the nation of Israel and her Arab neighbors was unavoidable because Ishmael was a natural enemy of Israel. This religious pedaled a political hatred toward Arabs as an Evangelical imperative. I told my friend that the Evangelical leader needed to read his Bible more carefully. The natural animosity he presumptively assigned to Ishmael was actually between Jacob (Israel) and Esau (Edom). After Jacob stole Esau’s blessing, Isaac cursed Esau, but also told him,

But when you grow restless,
you will throw his yoke
from off your neck.

Genesis 27:40 (NIV)

King Herod was an Edomite, not a Jew; consequently, Esau’s rebellion against the house of Jacob culminated at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Since Christ died to reconcile all men to himself, I do not hold a grudge against Edom, either.

The Ishmaelites were sometimes enemies of Israel, yet they were not like the Edom, Moab, and Ammon. While God pronounced judgment on the nations of Ishmael, a remnant is saved. In fact, Isaiah 60 mentions the nations of Ishmael, Kedar and Nebaioth, among those who bring tribute and worship to the glorified Zion.

Those of us who believe in Jesus Christ have become the seed of Abraham by faith. “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:29 (NIV) If we are, therefore, children of Abraham, what should be our attitude toward Ishmael? As children of Abraham, our prayer should be the same as his. When God told Abraham that Sarah would conceive and bear a son, Abraham, as a loving father pleaded,

  1. “Ishmael, this one, let him live before you!”

  2. “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!”

  3. “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

  4. “Oh, let Ishmael live in your presence!”
God’s response to Abraham was, depending on your translation,
  1. “Yes . . .”

  2. “No . . .”

  3. “Yes . . .”

  4. “No . . .”
In this case, translations A and D, which usually agree, disagree; and translations B and C which usually agree, disagree. Yet, God’s answer is not difficult to ascertain. God told Abraham that yes, he would bless Ishmael but he would  establish his covenant with Isaac,  he said,

As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.

Genesis 17:20 (NASB)

Genesis 18:18 tells us that through Abraham, all the nations of the world will be blessed. The heart of our father Abraham has never ceased from his prayer; moreover, the blessing God promised through Isaac extends to his older brother Ishmael. Likewise, when we pray for the nations we should implore God, saying, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!”

Translations used are labeled as:
  1. Apostolic Bible Polyglot
  2. New American Standard Bible
  3. New International Version
  4. The Jerusalem Bible (1966)
(The Apostolic Bible Polyglot identifies Ishmael in Genesis 21:11; however, the 1709 Lambert Bos Vetus Testamentum from which the Apostolic Bible Polyglot is compiled, does not.)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Wrath and mercy

by John D Ramsey

The other night at the dinner table Claire asked, “Why did Noah curse, Canaan?” This is a heavy question for an eleven-year old – not exactly dinner conversation at most tables, either. In fact, this question carries with it much weight of the world’s history. Why would the Canaanites be subjugated to other peoples because of the sin of one man? On the surface, the curse upon Canaan seems disproportionate with the crime. Yet because of the sin of Adam, all men are born under the curse of death. Each of us is a sinner for two reasons: we inherit Adam’s sin and we sin. Because of Adam’s sin, we all die. Yet God judges each according to his deeds. Likewise, Canaan and his descendants inherited the sin of his father Ham. Yet God withheld judgment on at least one occasion because their sin was incomplete (read Genesis 15:16). While Canaan was cursed, wrath befell those who merited wrath.

In Noah’s day, rampant sin and rebellion characterized the human race. God preserved Noah, his wife, Noah’s sons, Ham, Shem, and Japheth and their wives. The rest of the world perished in a great flood. Sometime after the flood, Noah planted a vineyard and became drunk form his wine. Noah’s son Ham entered Noah’s tent and discovered his father naked in a drunken stupor.

In response to seeing his father’s condition, Ham told his brothers about it. Shem and Japheth refused to look upon their father in his debilitated state and entered backwards into his tent and covered Noah. When Noah awakened and remembered what had happened, he prophesied, saying,

Cursed be Canaan!
The lowest of slaves
will he be to his brothers.

Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem!
May Canaan be the slave of Shem.

May God extend the territory of Japheth;
may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,
and may Canaan be his slave.

Genesis 9:25-27 (NIV)

What was Ham’s crime that caused Noah to curse and entire race of people? Solomon wrote, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.” Proverbs 10:12 (NIV) Ham had witnessed the destruction of the earth’s population wherein “every inclination of the thoughts of [men’s hearts] was only evil all the time.” Genesis 6:5 (NIV) God had spared Ham along with his wife, yet Ham had harbored in his heart the evil that the flood had nearly destroyed. Noah must have grieved to see that the cleansing the earth had endured at such a high cost was yet incomplete. Evil had acquired safe passage on the ark in the person of Ham, Noah’s youngest son. The evil that Ham preserved would render consequences, and Noah prophesied regarding the impact of Ham’s sin.

Notice that Noah curses Canaan, not Ham. Cursing Canaan instead of his father, Ham, may appear to be capricious, yet if Noah had cursed Ham, the result for Canaan would be the same. If Noah had said, “May Ham be [Shem and Japheth’s] slave,” Canaan would have incurred the same penalty. Yet we might ask, among Ham’s sons, why was Canaan cursed?

Ham was Noah’s youngest son; likewise, if the order of names indicates chronology, Canaan was also Ham’s youngest son. Perhaps Ham would learn the pain of seeing his youngest son continue in the selfish and destructive habits of his father.

Nevertheless, by cursing the son and not the father, Noah demonstrated mercy alongside his wrath. Ham’s other sons, Cush, Mizraim, and Put were spared from the legacy of their father’s sin. Ham would see the consequences of his actions played out by the comparative outcomes of his own sons. Canaan would become an object of wrath, while his brothers obtained mercy.

From the very beginning, Scripture contrasts wrath and mercy. Adam and Eve endured judgment, yet not without mercy. Likewise, Cain, after murdering his brother Abel, cried out to God saying,
My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.

Genesis 4:13 (NIV)
God had mercy on Cain and promising him protection from revenge.

Several hundred years later, Noah and his family received mercy while the rest of the world perished by the wrath of God. Scripture includes other examples of wrath paired with mercy:

  • Lot obtained mercy while Sodom and Gomorrah burned.
  • Though Abraham pleaded with God, saying, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” nevertheless, God replied that he would establish the covenant with Sarah’s son, Isaac.
  • Later Abraham drove Hagar and her son away from the presence of Isaac. (By the way, nowhere in Scripture, Old Testament or New Testament, does it say that Hagar’s son in this context was Ishmael. I will write more on this in a subsequent post.)
  • Jacob obtained Isaac’s blessing and inheritance while Isaac cursed Esau to live in desert places, live by the sword, and serve his younger brother.
  • At the time of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt, the firstborn of every household died, yet God granted mercy to those whose doorways displayed the blood of the Passover lamb.
  • While Jericho perished, Joshua spared Rahab and her family. Rahab, the Canaanite, by mercy became an ancestor of King David and Jesus Christ. Even as Israel was exterminating and subjugating the Canaanites, God extended mercy to a few.
  • Likewise, Ruth, from the cursed nation of Moab obtained mercy; Ruth also joined the bloodline of Jesus Christ.
  • Bathsheba, who committed adultery with King David, yet became the mother of Solomon. Solomon’s reign in Israel was the pinnacle of Israel’s history.
In Scripture, men do not merit mercy. For instance, God chose Isaac before Isaac was born; consequently, Isaac could not have earned God’s favor. Likewise, though Jacob as a young man was a scoundrel, God chose him before he was born. Before Israel’s departure from Egypt, the Israelites had not been faithful to God. Yet God had chosen to show mercy to Israel. Others receiving mercy earned it not because of their exemplary lifestyles, but rather they earned mercy through faith.

Scripture frequently contrasts wrath and mercy, yet we are incapable of rationalizing God’s purpose in showing mercy to some and resigning others to wrath. In Romans 9, Paul makes it clear that decisions regarding wrath and mercy are God’s alone. Paul argues,
What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?

What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

Romans 9:22-24 (NIV)

When we see the contrast of wrath and mercy in Scripture, we should reject any notion that correlates wrath with injustice. Rather we should stand in awe of God’s mercy. When Noah cursed Canaan rather than his father, Ham, he demonstrated the balance between God’s wrath and mercy. God’s wrath is sure, but God’s mercy still saves. Yet there is no explaining why Canaan deserved wrath more than his brothers did. Nor can we explain why Canaan’s brothers obtained mercy. We can only observe that one received wrath while others obtained mercy.

In Romans 3, Paul explains that no one is better than another according to God’s standard. He writes, “There is no difference . . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:22-23 (NIV) While we all merit God’s wrath, God’s mercy is his alone to grant. The severity of God's wrath also demonstrates the depth of God's mercy. Paul writes to the Ephesians, saying,

All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Ephesians 2:3-4 (NIV)

John the Baptist, in his final recorded testimony declared, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.” John 3:36 (NIV) Consequently, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of both wrath and mercy. The Apostle Paul explained to the Corinthians that the Gospel he preached was an “aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.” 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 (NIV)

We merit God’s wrath; nevertheless, our hearing the Gospel is God’s calling us to his mercy. The record of Scripture informs us that mercy comes to man by God’s sovereign choice and by man’s response of faith. Having received a call to obtain mercy, how will you now respond?