A Tale of Two Saviors

Do you ever wish someone loved you enough to die for you?

Not that you’d actually want them to die, of course. But you’d just like to know that someone cared enough about you that they would give up their life to keep you safe and well.

I was thinking about that last week while reading A Tale of Two Cities. I’d planned on reading two of Charles Dickens’s books that I’d never read before for my Classics Club list, but ended up swapping out Bleak House for re-reading A Tale of Two Cities. I liked it so well when I read it 12 or 13 years ago in high school that I wanted to see if it still captured my interested.

I think it’s safe to say this book is just as powerful now as it was back then, considering the last few chapters left me in tears. I love books that are so real, so well written that they can make me cry and let me tell you there were plenty of that by the last sentence. Read more

Our Atonement Today

A blessed Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement to you all. Earlier this month, I subscribed to Bible Gateway’s newsletter Holy Land Moments with Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. It’s described as a way to learn about the Jewish background of Scripture by exploring the High Holy Days.

I’m finding it fascinating. I grew up keeping these Holy Days, but not always with much understanding of the Jewish perspective on them. While some of the Jewish tradition doesn’t relate to Christian observance of these days, they often teach a perspective that deepens my understanding. Take the Days of Awe for example. Using the 10 days between Trumpets and Atonement for self-reflection and repentance deepens the meaning of and my engagement with this holy time. And sometimes, the Jewish perspective sparks a thought about how my Christian perspective differs, such as today’s comment in the Holy Land Moments newsletter:

The central part of the Yom Kippur service is missing today. Chapter 16 of Leviticus is dedicated to the description and instructions for the Yom Kippur service that was performed when the Tabernacle and later the Temples stood. Today, we no longer have a high priest, nor do we participate in ritual sacrifices. So how do we achieve atonement?

Those who believe Messiah has come have a different answer to this question than those who don’t. Rabbi Eckstein writes,”There are three keys that take the place of the service performed in biblical times” and they “can undo our wrongdoings and change things for the better.” These things are “repentance, prayer, and charity.”

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While those things are important, I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord that I’m not trying to atone for myself. There’s no way I could ever do enough or be good enough to undo my own sins. Today, we do have a High Priest and He has filled the ritual sacrifices with His perfect sacrifice (Heb. 7:23-28). The “central part” of Yom Kippur isn’t missing for Christians who keep this Holy Day — it’s more real than ever. Read more

Avenging and Saving (Lessons from Obadiah)

Avenging and Saving | marissabaker.wordpress.comObadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament, and so far the most difficult for me to write about. When I started reading through and studying the minor prophets, I figured I should be able to come up with at least one blog post on each, since “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

About 300 years ago, Matthew Henry’s verse-by-verse commentary covered Obadiah in humbling detail. Reading it made me marvel at the depth of his appreciation for God’s word (he wouldn’t have any trouble coming up with 3 or 4 posts on Obadiah). Where I saw a prophecy against Edom, he saw (among other things) a record of God’s motivation for vengeance, promises of a bright future for God’s people, and some warnings for us as well.

“Vengeance is Mine”

The “vision of Obadiah” is about what the Lord God has to say “concerning Edom,” and none of it’s good.

Though you ascend as high as the eagle, and though you set your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,” says the Lord. (Oba. 1:4)

All their allies will turn against them (verse 7), all their wisdom be destroyed (verse 8), and their warriors slaughtered (verse 9). Why such a strong condemnation from our loving God?

For violence against your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever. (Oba. 1:10)

God does not look kindly on those who persecute the people He loves, or on those who betray and do violence against family on an individual or national scale. Matthew Henry has this to say:

that one single crime which is laid to their charge, as filling their measure and bringing this ruin upon them, that for which they here stand indicted, of which they are convicted, and for which they are condemned, is the injury they had done to the people of God …. Note, Injuries to men are affronts to God, the righteous God, that loveth righteousness and hateth wickedness; and, as the Judge of all the earth, he will give redress to those that suffer wrong and take vengeance on those that do wrong. (Matthew Henry, notes on Obadiah 1:10-16)

In Luke 18, Christ gives a parable about how even an unjust judge will seek justice on behalf of persistent petitioners. How much more will the just God “speedily” “avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him” (Luke 18:7-8)? Even with these reassurances, though, it can be hard to wait on God. If someone hurt us, we want to hurt them back (or at least see them get their just desserts), and we wonder why it seems like God is taking so long to fulfill His promises. I’m sure that’s how the Israelites felt when they were attacked by enemies then looted and captured by Edom after thinking they’d escaped (Oba. 1:12-14).

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. (Rom. 12:19)

When we are struggling to believe that God is there for us, we can look to past examples of God’s deliverance and avenging role for comfort. He does not abandon, and He does not forget.

The righteous God will render both to nations and to particular persons according to their works; and the punishment is often made exactly to answer to the sin, and those that have abused others come to be themselves abused in like manner. The just and jealous God will find out a time and way to avenge the wrongs done to his people on those that have been injurious to them. (Matthew Henry, notes on Obadiah 1:10-16)

Be A Savior

Of course, this has a warning side as well: don’t be the person who God has to seek vengeance against. If we believe God will avenge His people, then we also should believe that there will be consequences if we go around hurting our brethren.

Millstone -- not something you'd want hung around your neck. Photo credit: Frerk Meyer, CC BY-SA
Millstone — not something you’d want hung around your neck. Photo credit:
Frerk Meyer, CC BY-SA

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matt. 18:6)

This is a serious warning. Yet how many times are children scolded in churches for minor transgressions that really boil down to the fact that they’re not adults? How many new converts are made to feel insignificant, unwelcome and devalued because they don’t already know something about our church? How often do supposedly mature Christians squabble, back-bite and spread division?

 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! (Gal. 5:14-15)

Matthew Henry follows this principle of “being aware” when discussing the Edomites’ transgressions listed in Obadiah. When reading the things God told the Edomites they “should not” have done, Henry turns it around on us.

Note, In reflecting upon ourselves it is good to compare what we have done with what we should have done, our practice with the rule, that we may discover wherein we have done amiss, have done those things which we ought not to have done. We should not have been where we were at such a time, should not have been in such and such company, should not have said what we said, nor have taken the liberty that we took. Sin thus looked upon, in the glass of the commandment, will appear exceedingly sinful. (Matthew Henry, notes on Obadiah 1:10-16)

We want the whole “vengeance is Mine” thing to work on our behalf, but we dare not forget that it can be directed against us as well. If we love God, we will keep His commandments and need not fear Him, but we must always have a healthy respect for Him and His immutable laws.

 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Heb. 10:30-31)

We don’t often like to think of this side of God, but He can be really scary. Christ is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, not a housecat. That’s Someone you want fighting for you, not against you — and that’s what He wants as well.

Then saviors shall come to Mount Zion to judge the mountains of Esau, and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s. (Oba. 1:21)

The mountain of Zion shall be saved; on it saviours shall come, the preachers of the gospel, who are called saviours, because their business is to save themselves and those that hear them; and in this they are workers together with Christ, but to little purpose if he by his grace did not work together with them. (Matthew Henry, notes on Obadiah 1:17-21)

That’s what we want — to be saved and to have the privilege of serving alongside Christ to save others. Let’s not endanger that by seeking vengeance for ourselves, attacking our brethren, or drifting away from God’s laws. Rather, let’s trust in God and strive to work alongside Jesus to help others.

God Will Save (Lessons from Hosea, part three)

The name Hosea means “salvation,” fitting since the Biblical book that bears his name has strong salvational themes running through it. Two weeks ago, we started studying this book by talking about how Hosea modeled God’s redemption of Israel by taking back his own unfaithful wife. Then last week, we looked at how warnings against rejecting God give us hope as well as caution, because the flip side of choosing to walk away from God is the ability to choose a relationship with Him. This week, we’ll wrap-up discussion of Hosea with more focus on this hope of salvation through relationship with our Savior.

Return To God

Last week, we said Israel’s main problem was that they rejected God and had no knowledge of Him. They also had another problem, one they share with the church of Laodicea.

So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev. 3:16-17)

This is exactly what the people God was upset with said in Hosea:

And Ephraim said, ‘Surely I have become rich, I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they shall find in me no iniquity that is sin.’ (Hos 12.8)

They claimed they were wealthy and self-sufficient, but the truth of the matter was that while  “Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit,” the fruit wasn’t any good — “You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies” (Hos. 10:1, 13, ESV). The solution for this problem, both in Hosea and Revelation, is essentially the same.

I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. (Rev. 3:18)

“So you, by the help of your God, return; observe mercy and justice, and wait on your God continually. (Hos. 12:6)

The message is clear — stop acting as if you don’t need God. Trust Him, come back to Him, and ask for His help. It requires the humility to recognize you are lacking something, and admit you need God to supply it. It means choosing to produce good, rather than evil, fruit. At it’s most basic, it is seeking a relationship with your Creator and letting Him save you.

Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, till He comes and rains righteousness on you. (Hos. 10:12)

“I Will Love Them”

In Hosea 11, God compares Israel’s early history to a beloved child who He taught “to walk, taking them by their arms; but they did not know that I healed them” (Hos. 11:1, 3). They ignored Him and ran away from Him, which got them into all sorts of trouble.

My people are bent on backsliding from Me. Though they call to the Most High, none at all exalt Him. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I set you like Zeboiim? My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred. I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, the Holy One in your midst; and I will not come with terror. (Hos. 11:7-9)

Israel was warned what would happen to them if they chose to walk away from God, and they were punished for their wrong decisions. Yet God still loved them so much that He continued showing mercy and calling for them to come back to a relationship with Him.

Yet I am the Lord your God ever since the land of Egypt, and you shall know no God but Me; for there is no savior besides Me. I knew you in the wilderness, in the land of great drought. When they had pasture, they were filled; they were filled and their heart was exalted; therefore they forgot Me. … O Israel, you are destroyed, but your help is from Me. I will be your King; where is any other, that he may save you in all your cities? (Hos. 13:4-6, 9-10)

God’s insistence on cultivating a friendship with people who have destroyed themselves is remarkable. Why would He want them — and why would He want us? — after all we have done? yet His promises to save us, to know us, and to redeem us stand firm.

I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him (Hos. 14:4)

These are promises we can count on. When God says, “I will ….”, He means it. He is committed to healing and loving his people. With such promises to rely on, we have no justifiable reason not to walk towards God. He wants very much to save us from sin and death, if only we’ll let Him.

O Israel, return to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity … Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them. (Hos. 14:1, 9)


Spiritual Persecution

In the sermon I referenced in last week’s post, the speaker briefly touched on a point that I wanted to make the subject of further study. Since I also needed a topic for today’s post, I decided to “kill two birds with one stone,” as the saying goes. This first section is going to summarize relevant parts of that sermon, then I’ll move on to my own thoughts on the subject.

In 2 Timothy 3:12, Paul writes that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” There are no exceptions. However, as this speaker pointed out, we can all name Christians we know of who went through life without having to face the kind of persecutions mention at the end of Hebrews 11. His conclusion, from bringing in Ephesians 6:12, is that this verse includes persecutions from a spiritual source.

Not Against Flesh and Blood

The Armor of God passage in Ephesians talks about arming ourselves for our struggle against sin as if for war. It also gives us important information about who our enemies are and what must be done to overcome them.

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Eph. 6:10-13)

In his commentary on this passage, Matthew Henry describes the kind of assault we can expect from this type of enemy, who he describes as “subtle,”an enemy who uses wiles and stratagems.”

They are spiritual enemies: Spiritual wickedness in high places, or wicked spirits, as some translate it. The devil is a spirit, a wicked spirit; and our danger is the greater from our enemies because they are unseen, and assault us ere we are aware of them. The devils are wicked spirits, and they chiefly annoy the saints with, and provoke them to, spiritual wickednesses, pride, envy, malice, etc. … They assault us in the things that belong to our souls, and labour to deface the heavenly image in our hearts; and therefore we have need to be upon our guard against them. We have need of faith in our Christian warfare, because we have spiritual enemies to grapple with, as well as of faith in our Christian work, because we have spiritual strength to fetch in. Thus you see your danger.  (Eph. 6:10-18, 1. [3])

Overcoming Through Christ

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Seeing our danger is one step toward overcoming the adversary. We can’t fight something if we don’t recognize that is is putting us in peril. As in other areas of our lives, our focus should be on spiritual, not physical things. It is hard to be on guard spiritually if we are too focused on physical safety. Are we more worried about keeping our hearts, minds, and spirits safe than we are about protecting our lives? Perhaps this is one reason we are told, “do not worry about your life” (Matt. 6:25). To much focus on the physical distracts us from the importance of our spiritual future, the condition of our spiritual lives, and the danger from our spiritual enemy.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. (1 Pet. 5:8-9)

We must be on constant guard, steadfast in faith, and strong in the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. The line right before this warning about our adversary reminds us where our true strength come from: “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:6-7). To win a fight against a spiritual enemy and endure spiritual persecutions, we need the aid of our Spiritual Savior. When we fully submit to God, we can say along with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).