Amen!

When Jesus is translated, so many times, as saying, “verily, verily I say to you” he was really saying “amen, amen” – or “you can trust what I am going to say, you can stand on this Rock.”

“These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.” Revelation 3:14 (NIV) 

In Revelation 3:14 the Lord Jesus calls Himself “the Amen.”  That really struck me, so I looked up the definition of the word. It means firm and faithful. Jesus, the firm foundation. Jesus, faithful and true. At the beginning of a discourse it means “surely, truly, or verily,” so that when Jesus is translated, so many times, as saying, “verily, verily I say to you” he was really saying “amen, amen” – or “you can trust what I am going to say, you can stand on this Rock.” At the end of a discourse or sermon it means “so it is, so be it, or may it be fulfilled.”

According to the Thayer Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, saying amen “was a custom, which passed over from the synagogues to the Christian assemblies, that when he who had read or discoursed, had offered up solemn prayer to God, the others responded Amen, and thus made the substance of what was uttered their own.” Yes, I believe it. Yes, I am putting my trust in this.

But I also found out something about the origins of the word. According to NetBible, “The word ‘amen’ is a most remarkable word. It was transliterated directly from the Hebrew into the Greek of the New Testament, then into Latin and into English and many other languages, so that it is practically a universal word. It has been called the best known word in human speech. The word is directly related — in fact, almost identical — to the Hebrew word for “believe” (amam), or faithful. Thus, it came to mean “sure” or “truly,” an expression of absolute trust and confidence.”

So it is very comforting to me that the Bible ends with the word “Amen.” This is something that can be trusted. This is true. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:20 NIV)

Amen! So be it! I’m standing on this Rock!

 

Image in the Public Domain: Woman standing on a rock near Villa de Leyva, Colombia by Joshua Earle https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Woman_standing_on_a_rock_near_Villa_de_Leyva,_Colombia_(Unsplash).jpg

 

City of Refuge

I have been seeing that everything in the Bible points us to Jesus. One of the many wonderful things our Savior provides us is a refuge from the Adversary, from the roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).

In ancient Israel there were places called cities of refuge (Numbers 35:13-29) that God provided for people who had killed someone without premeditation or by accident. Since the law demanded an eye for an eye (Exodus 21:24), it was a place to escape the avenger of blood, usually a relative of the person killed. There were six of these cities, placed within traveling distance from anyplace in Israel. It is wonderful to look at the hidden treasure in their names and see the foreshadowing of the Redeemer, Savior, Messiah. Below are the names of the six cities, their definitions, and verses that reveal Jesus, our City of Refuge.

Shechem = “back” or “shoulder” as a place of burdens

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)

What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. Luke 15:4-5 (NASB)

Ramoth = “heights” (plural of a word that means high in value; the root of both words is a word that means “lifted up”)

Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. Isaiah 52:13 (NASB)

But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself. John 12:32 (NIV)

For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. 1 Peter 2:6-7 (NIV)

Kedesh = “holy place” (from the verb qadash which means to consecrate, sanctify, prepare, dedicate, be hallowed, be holy, be sanctified, be separate)

Such a high priest [Jesus] meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Hebrews 7:26 (NIV)

In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Luke 4:33-34 (NIV)

You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. Acts 3:14 (NIV)

Hebron = “association”

But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.” Luke 15:2 (NIV)

For there is one God and one mediator* between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time. 1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NIV)

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners”.’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions.” Matthew 11:19 (NIV)

*“one who intervenes between two, either in order to make or restore peace and friendship, or form a compact, or for ratifying a covenant”

Bezer = “gold ore” or “remote fortress” “inaccessible spot”

The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. Psalm 19:9-10

The LORD is my rock, my fortress (fastness, castle, defense, fortress) and my deliverer; my God is my rock (rocky wall, cliff), in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold (refuge, secure height, a cliff or other lofty or inaccessible place, defense, high fort, tower). Psalm 18:2

Golan = captive, “their captivity: their rejoicing”

So the soldiers, their commanding officer, and the Temple guards arrested Jesus and tied him up. John 18:13

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. Isaiah 53:7

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

 

Image copyright Jack Bair 2019. All rights reserved.

Middle of the Story – Part Two

When I step up on the Rock in faith, I must endure the testing of that faith. That’s part of the deal. I cannot “accept” Jesus but refuse the cleansing flame.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV)

The last blog looked at the first part of the above verse – that faith is the substance or essence of hope. It is the setting under me of the solid foundation, Jesus. The stepping up on the Rock. This time I want to look at the second half of this verse – faith is “the evidence of things not seen.”

The word translated “evidence” is the Greek word elegchos. It means conviction, as in assurance, certainty. But it also means proof – as in “that by which a thing is proved or tested.” My faith must be tested, but, as God meets and holds me up in the testing, his Word and promises are proved true to me in my life. They become my assurance, evidence of what I cannot see with my eyes. The word elegchos also means reproof and is used that way in 2 Timothy 3:16 (NASB).

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness …

Or as the Message puts it, “showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way.”

Exposing, correcting, training. It’s not God and his Word that needs proving or testing, but me. Testing is no fun. The Bible compares the testing of our faith to the purification or proving of gold.

These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold––and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. 1 Peter 1:7a (NLT)

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart. Proverbs 17: 3 (NIV)

The proving of precious metals involves heating them to the melting point and skimming off the impurities that rise to the top. For me, there is still a lot of ugly stuff that rises when the heat is turned up.

Testing may seem harsh and even cruel in the midst of it, but God is love and the testing is loving. As Hebrews 12:29 declares, “Our God is a consuming fire.” Love does not let us remain as we are, far from Him and alone. But Love consumes, burns up the barriers and idols in our lives and hearts that divide us from him. Henri Nouwen has written, “Let God love you the way God wants.” Oh, that is hard. I want him to do things my way. I want to choose the test. Giving permission to that consuming passion in my life is scary. I want some kind of guarantee that things will work out the way I hope they will.

When I step up on the Rock in faith, I must endure the testing of that faith. That’s part of the deal. I cannot “accept” Jesus but refuse the cleansing flame. But he is always there with me in the proving. Indeed, he is the proof. He is the evidence. He is “the divine Yes–God’s affirmation. For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in him” (2 Corinthians 1:19-20 NLT). He is good, and his ways and purposes are good, though I cannot comprehend it. And he is able to do, and is doing, immeasurably more than all I ask or imagine, though I may not be able to see it now (Ephesians 3:20).

Lord God, give me the grace to let you be God, to let you love me the way you want, in the murky middle of my story. Call me, draw me, woo me to step up onto the Rock and allow your passionate, cleansing fire to sweep over me. Help me remember that Jesus was tested too, that he has traveled this way before me. And I will thank you in the middle of the story and I will dance with joy to the distant songs of deliverance.

I would have despaired unless I had believed (stood firm, trusted) that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living. Psalm 27:13 (NASB)

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. Job 23:10 (NIV)

So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts (who is supported, upheld, confirmed, verified) will never be dismayed (will not topple, give way, run away, will not panic). Isaiah 28:16 (NIV)

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29 (NIV)

 

Image is in the Public Domain

 

 

Hoping From

We were never meant to put our hope in this earth. For He, and only He, is the Rock-Solid Place. He is all our future and in him is all our hope.

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. Job 19:25 (NIV)

I recently read an article by J.D. Walt in Seedbed (Take the Long View https://www.seedbed.com/step-3-take-long-view/ ). He was commenting on a quote about hope by British theologian, Jeremy Begbie.

“Christians do not hope ‘in’ the future. We hope ‘from’ the future.” In other words, we aren’t hoping everything is going to turn out ok in the end. We live as those who have already won. The future is a settled matter. Because of Jesus, the future is as fixed as the Sun. Our hope is not rooted in our hopefulness. It is securely anchored in the settled future. We hope “from” the future … He not only holds our future, He is our future.” J.D. Walt

Hoping from the future. Our hope is not wishful thinking. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. (Hebrews 6:19-20).” This idea of “hoping from” made me think of one of the most magnificent statements of hope and faith in the Bible spoken by Job:

“I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet (yet!) in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:25-27 (NIV)

Job is not hoping his Redeemer lives. He knows; he is hoping from an assured future. Job looks ahead to the end and declares this amazing prophetic affirmation of the return of Jesus and of the resurrection of the dead. It affirms the resurrection – I myself will see him with my own eyes (but argues against reincarnation – I, and not another). But as I looked at Job 19:25 word by word in the Hebrew I discovered some additional “wonderfulness.”

There is so much in just the word “redeemer” – ransom, act as kinsman-redeemer, buy back – but that will have to wait for another day. What really stopped me in my tracks was the word “earth.”  I was expecting the Hebrew word erets – אֶרֶץ. It is used for earth or land all over the old testament, over 2,500 times, starting in Genesis.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (erets). Genesis 1:1 (NIV)

Strong’s Concordance says that erets comes “from an unused root probably meaning firm.” This reminds me of “terra firma,” solid ground. But I was surprised to discover that erets is not the word translated earth in Job 19:25. The word is aphar – עָפָר. Aphar is a very different word, meaning  ashes, dust, earth, ground, mortar, powder, rubbish. I imagined Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, victorious returning conqueror, planting his feet on a rubbish heap. What could it mean?

This word, aphar, does not have the meaning of permanence or solidity, but rather, weakness and impermanence.

Then Abraham spoke again. “Since I have begun, let me go on and speak further to my Lord, even though I am but dust (aphar) and ashes. Genesis 18:27 (NLT)

For he understands how weak we are; he knows we are only dust (aphar). Psalm 103:14 (NLT)

And then I realized. God made the Earth firm, solid, perfect. But when Jesus comes back, he will not stand on an Earth that is firm, as some permanent, rock-solid place. But, he will stand in the debris of our sins and rebellion, on the rubbish heap, in the blowing-away dust, this dying place. And He will change it as He changes us, making all things new. We were never meant to put our hope in this earth. For He, and only He, is the Rock-Solid Place. He is all our future and in him is all our hope. We can’t hope “in” the ruined rubbish heap of this world. We can’t hope “in” our own hopefulness, our own fleeting strength. But we can hope “from” that future with Him, that “settled matter,” the everlasting, the unchanging, the unfailing. For by faith we are already there, seated with God in the heavenly places if we are in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6). We can live as those who have already won. Hope from!

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Matthew 24:35 (NIV)

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 2 Peter 3:13 (NIV)

He raises the poor from the dust (aphar) and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of their people. Psalm 113:7-8 (NIV)

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 1 Corinthians 15:52 (NIV)

I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:27 (NIV)

Dig and Dig Deep

It takes digging deep to get down to the Rock and build on His strength, in order to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Trying to love in our own strength is like building on the wave and tide-eroded sands, ever-changing with our emotions, moods, and circumstances.

I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When the flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. Luke 6:48 (NIV) 

 Two Greek words are used in the verse to describe how this person dug. The first word is skapto (σκάπτω), which simply means to dig. The second word is bathuno (βαθύνω), which means to dig deep, or deepen. Therefore, the Greek actually reads that he dug and dug deep, or deepened [the hole] until he got down to the rock. I think Jesus is saying that in order to put the Word into practice we have go farther than a few inches below the surface, the easy, softer stuff, and down into the hard, undisturbed, unplowed, full-of-gravel part. Anyone who has ever tried to hand-dig a new garden bed knows what I mean. Sod and rocks and tree roots need to be removed. You would have to dig through all of that and then dig very deep to get down to the bedrock. 

As an aside, the verb bathuno comes from bathus, an adjective that means “profound,” “deep,” and, interestingly, “very early.” Bathus is the word used in Luke 24:1, “On the first day of the week, very early (bathus) in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.” As in the digging deep picture, two words are used here to emphasize how early it was. It reads that they came at early dawn – very early. John says it was still dark (John 20:1). Mark 16:2 uses a word that means it was greatly or exceedingly, exceedingly beyond measure, sore early (maybe Mark was not a morning person?). The women didn’t just come at dawn, they came very early, they went deep, and, consequently, they received the message from the angel, and saw Jesus (Matthew 28:9, Mark 16:9). 

Back to digging. The root word of both bathuno and bathus is baino, the Greek word that means “to walk.” What does digging have to do with walking? In Luke 6:48 Jesus says the man “laid (tithemi) the foundation (themelios) on rock.” Tithemi and themelios are the same words that are used in 1 John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 3:11. 

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid (tithemi) down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 1 John 3:16 (NIV) 

 For no-one can lay (tithemi) any foundation (themelios) other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:11 (NIV) 

Jesus Christ, and his life laid down in love for the salvation of the world, is the foundation, and no other can be laid. He is also the Rock upon which this foundation is laid. We have to dig deep to lay this foundation in our lives, but if we do, the promise is that we will not be shaken. We will not fall when the storms come. It takes digging deep to get down to the Rock and build on His strength, in order to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Trying to love in our own strength is like building on the wave and tide-eroded sands, ever-changing with our emotions, moods, and circumstances. Doubt creeps in, and rightly so, when we are standing on our own shifting, sinking strength. 

 What does it mean to “dig deep?” For me, it means not just to surface-read the Bible and check off a box that I did it. Rather, it means to study it and then ask the Author what it means for my life, how he wants me to put it into practice and walk it. 

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. James 1:23-25 (NIV) 

 Digging deep is hard. Hard ground, rocks and (bitter) roots make it even harder. Hardness of heart, unforgiveness, bitterness, jealousy, wrong-thinking, self-centeredness, pride, idolatries, unthankfulness, anger at God must be dug and pulled out. Maybe some structures will need to be demolished (see Sawdust). But the more you do that, the more you walk out what you are learning, the softer the ground gets, the easier to dig, and, along the way, the more the good seed from the Word can put down roots and produce fruit. Persevere, keep digging deep, get down to the Rock. He is the firm foundation. You will not be disappointed.  

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NASB)

 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:18-19 (NIV) 

So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.” Isaiah 28:16 (NIV

 

Image is in the Public Domain