Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 10/07/07.
"But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one" (Heb. 2:9).
Wouldn't it be great if the Bible were an Interactive tool, whereby we push "Ask," and up pops the answer? I used to think that was true, based on my Fundamentalist indoctrination, but as I matured, questions came to me that weren't so easy to answer. People often write to us with their questions, and what I tell them is if the Lord shows me, I'll share. If He does not, I can't. About two weeks ago, the Spirit pressed me to reread the Gospel of Matthew. That's fine, but I was born asking "Why?" No answer, nothing but the leaning in on me to do it, which, of course, I did. This time through, I decided to restrain myself from constantly running references, as I usually do. Helpful though that is, it may lead down a rabbit hole I didn't need to explore just now, and it certainly takes a lot of time. Not knowing what I was looking for exactly, I thought it best to just plow on through and get the overview, hoping that something would jump out at me.
After finishing, I told Lenny that reading Matthew brought up more questions than answers. There are wonderful accounts of Jesus' life: His announcement by John the Baptist, His baptism in the Jordan, His temptation in the wilderness, the magnificent Beatitudes which raise the bar on righteousness, and then, on into the miracles, which never cease to thrill and inspire me to ask for that gift, yet one more time. More than any other New Testament writer, Matthew included Old Testament references "to prove to his Jewish readers that Jesus is their Messiah. He does this primarily by showing how Jesus in his life and ministry fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures" (NIV Study note). An eye witness to many of the events he narrates, Matthew writes with authority and passion about the "Son of man." In the process of this reading, I was struck by the contradictions in the character of God. Is He a vindictive, punitive Judge or a loving, nurturing Father? Did Jesus come to save all men, or just a few?
When I was confined by Fundamentalist thought, there were no conflicts, because I was taught that we had all truth. Did I question? Certainly, especially where hell was concerned, because it bothered me horribly that people in darkest Africa who never heard the name of Jesus, nor ever could, would burn in hell for all eternity because they didn't turn to Him. It also didn't set right with me that our denomination was the only one going to heaven because I had many Christian friends who were certainly as dedicated to following Jesus as I was. They had their reasons for doing things slightly differently or having a different name over their church door, reasons which they believed as much as I believed what I did.
The book of Matthew has its fair share of "scary scriptures." You know the ones I mean, found in the parables usually, where some poor devil fails to measure up and gets tossed into "outer darkness, with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 8;12; 22:13; 25:30). Over zealous preachers, hoping to get some hesitant soul up front during the altar call, would harangue on and on about this, and invite the guilt ridden to come forward. For motivation, they used the parable of the Wheat and Tares (Matt. 13:24-29; 37-43), the parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matt. 13: 21-35), the parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matt. 22:1-14), the parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30), and of course, the parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25: 31-46).
Matthew's sole intention was not to scare the reader about what will happen to the lost, because he includes the parable of the Lost Sheep (Matt. 18:10-14). Jesus asked the disciples, "What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off" (Matt. 18:12-13). He concludes, "In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost" (Matt. 18:14). Didn't you ever wonder why the one talent man who hid his money out of fear wasn't considered a lost sheep? Likewise, if tares (weeds) are wicked people, why didn't the shepherd come to save them? According to what the church has taught over the centuries, all these unfortunates who failed to please, obey, or get dressed in a wedding garment had no hope of anyone to find them and save them. They are damned and doomed, their tickets punched for hell. Horrors.
Yet, Luke quotes Jesus as saying, "For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). So where was He when all these unrighteous folks were being tossed into outer darkness? Rather than being disrespectful to our Lord, this question gets to the heart of the matter, for all the parables were told to the Jews. About that, Jesus said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 15:24). His target audience was God's chosen people, and at the time He spoke to them, healed them, comforted them, and chastised them, He had not yet died. He had not YET paid for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2).
Not only that, but Jesus spoke in parables, which were allegorical rather than factual in nature, created to make a point. They were an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. When the disciples asked Him why He spoke to the people in parables, He explained, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.....Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah" (Matt. 13:11-14; Is. 6:10). He concludes, "For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.' But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it" (Matt. 13:15-17).
To understand, it is necessary to realize that God sovereignly chose Israel as His people, the remnant through whom he would save the world in Christ (Gal. 3:8, 16). Jesus was the final chapter in God's dealings with the disobedient Jews who had lost their way through ego and pride, selfishness and arrogance. Jesus rebuked them, "You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' " (Matt. 15:7-9). Jesus is God's last and best word to us as well (John 1:14).
Since God has given me to speak about the difference between religion and life in the Spirit, over time it has become clear from church history that these periods of being led by the Spirit, as the early church was, or following the precepts of men, ebb and flow throughout history. I believe we are coming into a period when a significant group of God's children will have the veil over their hearts rent asunder so they may see the living God as He is now.
Those of us to whom God has revealed His salvation of all, already see a glorious truth hidden for centuries from most of Christendom. Harry Fox says that had God not apprehended Saul of Tarsus (or someone like him) to make explicit what Jesus had only made implicit, Christianity would not have lasted past the end of the First Century. It took Paul to flesh out the message Jesus brought and make it life and bread for us to share with the world.
Consider Jesus' dire warnings against the Jews, that they would be "ever hearing but never understanding, and ever seeing but never perceiving" (Matt. 13:14-15). He leaves His listeners and subsequent readers down through history, wondering if the Jews would be left in that sorry state forever. Poor translations have compounded the problem by rendering the Greek word "aionios" as "eternal" or "everlasting," when in fact, it means "age-lasting." Thus, when Jesus spoke about the end of the age, He was referring to a time when the status quo He encountered in First Century Palestine would end.
There would indeed be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, but it would not be eternal, but only age-lasting. The age of the Law and the Prophets came crashing down in A.D. 70, when the Roman General Titus sieged Jerusalem, the time when Jesus' prophecy about Herod's glorious temple came to pass: "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down" (Matt. 24:2). Daniel also prophesied about this day so many centuries before: "And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand for ever" (Dan. 2:44). So, if you want to look at it this way, we all now live in the New Age prophesied by both Jesus and Daniel! Unlike the end of the age scenario, in which the church darkly predicts will result in judgment upon the world, and either heaven or hell as the reward of the judged, the end of the age prophesied by Jesus occurred when Titus sacked Jerusalem in A.D. 70!
To appreciate God's marvelous plan for His creation, we must look closely at Paul's delineation of it in Romans, chapters nine through eleven. In this glorious section, Paul drops a nuclear bomb on the orthodox position that God made provision for salvation on the cross, but it is limited to those who obey; all the rest will burn in hell. Not so, declares Paul, using Esau, Pharaoh and the Gentiles, in his explanation of God's sovereign election. God chose Jacob over Esau and later, hardened Pharaoh's heart so that the glory of God would be displayed to Israel, concluding, "For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy' " (Rom. 9:15-16). So much for free will and man's choices.
Have you prayed your heart out for someone to repent and the person gets more stubborn? Have you worried about his or her eternal destination? Take heart. What you see right now is not the end of the story. It's not the whole story either, as Israel's disobedience shows, for they were God's chosen people, given the Law and the Prophets, and still, they were far away from their Father. Why did God open the door and allow the Gentiles to come in when the Jews had failed so miserably to comply with Law? Paul explains that Christ came to establish another way to God, the way of Grace through Faith.
Speaking of the Gentiles versus the Jews, Paul declared that Christ, a Jew, became a stumbling stone for Israel: "What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. "Why not? Because they pursued it NOT BY FAITH BUT AS IF IT WERE BY WORKS. They stumbled over the "stumbling stone." As it is written: "See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame" (Rom. 9:30-32).
Luke prophesied, "Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed" (Luke 20:18). Like the First Century Jews, many in the church today have stumbled on the stone as well, because they seek God through works and not by grace through faith. God is still being found by those who did not seek Him; He still reveals Himself to those who did not ask for Him (Isa. 65:1; Rom. 10:20). Yet, Paul makes it very clear that God sovereignly chooses those who see Him and those who hear and the timing of it all (Rom. 11:7-9).
Moreover, Israel did not "fall beyond recovery" (Rom. 11:11), but only until the Gentiles come in, at which time, "All Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26). Those of you who enjoy reading the Old Testament know that there were many wicked and unrepentant Jews, who paid the ultimate price for their sins in this life. Their punishment did not survive the grave however, if all Israel will be saved. And if all Israel will be saved, then so will everyone else!
In fact, Paul goes further, making the remarkable statement, "God consigned ALL MEN to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon ALL" (Rom. 11:32). I've quoted that verse so many times, but it never ceases to thrill and amaze me, reinforcing my conviction that God is in charge of absolutely everything. If that's true, how do we reconcile the seeming conflicts, the contradictions? Only with the mind of Christ, by the power of the Spirit, who leads and guides us into all truth can we understand the heart of God (John 16:13). When we rely on the letter of the law, we're trying to read with a veil over our faces. "He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (II Cor. 3:6).
If we listen to the letter of the law, we may conclude that God is going to punish evil doers for all eternity; that the blood of the Lamb was only sufficient for those who repent; that God needs our help to get closer to Him. By the power of the life giving Spirit, we realize that God is a loving Father who is not willing that ANY should perish! (II Pet. 3:9). He is "The true light that gives light to EVERY MAN was coming into the world," "reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them" (John 1:9; II Cor. 5:19).
Father, we fall on our faces in worship and adoration of Your great plan of the ages fulfilled in Christ, and for Your unconditional love which draws all men to You. "For from You and through You and to You are all things. To You be the glory forever! Amen" (Rom. 11:36). Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
The Glory Road
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This page was uploaded to the web on 10/2/07
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
And last edited 10/6/07.