Sunday, August 16, 2009

What's the meaning of the fig tree?

"Now, learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily, I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." Mat. 24: 32-34

Thus reads one of the most quoted and most misunderstood sections of scriptural prophecy. Many are the varying beliefs of what Jesus actually meant. However, the answer is not that hard.

What is the context of the verse?

Jesus has been prophesying against the religious leaders of his day (Mat.23:13-36). He lays out some severe punishments for the external religion they practiced- full of pride and arrogance and devoid of any real relationship with God. Then, seemingly without warning, he shifts gears and proclaims both his LOVE for the people of Jerusalem and their impending judgement, due to their lack of responding to him- their Messiah and God!
Note: he speaks to them as GOD, not as a man here- "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not." You can hear the anguish in his voice and see the tears rolling down his cheeks as he loudly proclaims his great love for them! He tells them that he sent prophet after prophet to try and bring them to a place where he could gather them into his protective and loving arms, but they killed his prophets and refused his offers. Now, as God in the flesh- Jesus Christ- he tells them that they have rejected their God as well. His heart is breaking because of his great love for them and their rejection of his love.
His disciples are somewhat taken aback at his outburst. Almost like any caring child would do, they seek to cheer Jesus up by pointing out the great beauty of the temple of God. "Look, daddy, can't you see the wonderful temple of God? Cheer up." For centuries, this temple had stood as a reminder of the special relationship of the Jews to their God. Millions had gained courage and cheer by observing it's great walls and remembering the promises it represented.
But Jesus was not any ordinary man. He was God almighty and he knew full well what was to come in the future, due to the disobedience of "Abraham's children". He shocks the disciples further by refusing their offered comfort and proclaiming the destruction of the temple that they were so proud of. It's as if he's asking them, "Don't you understand? Can't you see the destruction that will come because of their disobedience?"
The disciples are absolutely stunned at this revelation. Shaken to their core, they then ask Jesus 3 questions: 1)"When shall these things be?" 2) "What shall be the sign of thy coming?" 3) "And of the end of the world?" Jesus then gives an incredible chapter: He lays out a basic time frame of the order in which things will happen - from their day until his second coming. All those who wish to understand when prophesies occur, and in what order, would do well to use Jesus' own blueprint!
He warns of the deceptions to come (verses 4-5), increasing wars - both numbers and intensity (verses 6-7), increasing diseases and natural disasters (verse 7), and then says, "That's only the beginning"(verse 8). He warns of the many martyrs that will be made (the disciples and the millions that have died for him through the ages) (verses 9-10). He tells them that many false prophets will come and deceive many (verse 11). The love of men's hearts will grow cold, but if his people can keep his love alive in their hearts and lives, they will be saved (Verses 12-13). The Gospel of the kingdom (1 Cor 15:1-4, 2 Thes. 1:7-10, Acts 2:38) shall be preached (to cry, as a town cryer) in ALL the world (the land, the terrain part of the globe, specifically, the Roman Empire) for a witness (testimony) unto all the nations , THEN shall the end come (verse 14).
He then warns of the great tribulation to come (the final 3 1/2 years before his second coming), that begins with the Abomination of desolations (verses 15- 28, Daniel 9:27, 2 Thes. 2:3-4). Most importantly, to me, he then says the the rapture and his return both happen AFTER (or at the end of) the great tribulation (verses 29-31).
This ends his teaching of the times, but he then begins to help them put things into context by giving them the "parable of the fig tree". He says that just as you, when you see a fig tree bloom, you know that summer is near, "LIKEWISE, when ye see these things (what things? Israels rebirth? NO! Though it is prophesied in other scripture passages, Jesus did not even mention Israel here. So, what are the things we are to be looking for? The things he discussed in Mat. 24: 4-29! ) know that it (the return)is near, even at the door. Verily I say unto you, this generation (what generation? the generation that is alive when these things (4-29) are happening) shall not pass, till all things be fulfilled. (verses 32-34).
Those that try and point to the "fig tree" as being Israel, have NO SCRIPTURAL BASIS. They are simply reading into it something that strikes their fancy and sounds neat. However nice it may sound, it is not truth!
Israel became a nation again in 1948. That's 61 years ago. Chances are high that should Jesus decide not to return for another 30 years (I'm not saying that is the case, it's his choice), that whole generation of people who were alive on the earth at the time will be dead. How many people would be turned away from the Bible and call it a false book, because of the false understanding of "the fig tree" parable? That's why I'm writing this blog. The simple reading of the text tells you that this parable is referring to the prophetic scriptures listed before the parable (verses 4-29). Jesus says what he means and means what he says!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Isaac faith, the next step from Abraham faith.

"And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac"
Genesis 21:3

Of all the figures in the Bible, Abraham stands atop them all (besides Jesus). Called out from a pagan society on the word of a God he truly didn't know very well (at the time), he left all he had known behind for the promises of God! He is called "the father of faith" in the New Testament, and rightly so. He trusted God's promise for an off spring in his old age and had to trust him for 25 years, before the promise came to reality- at age 100! His faith in God would bring into being God's chosen people (Israel), allow God's law to be brought into the world, lead to the fulfillment of the law- Jesus Christ-, and throw open the door of salvation to "whosoever will".

Was Abraham perfect? No. Abraham tried to fulfil God's promise of an offspring using the customs of his day, and his offspring and the whole world have been paying the price for that sin ever since! He also lied on at least 2 occasions. Yet, when the rubber really hit the road, he trusted God enough to take his son, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice to God. Much acclaim and praise has been placed on Abraham for his faith- and rightly so! Yet, there's a question that I've never heard asked, though some probably has- I am not a "giant of the faith".

Lost in this story of Abraham's sacrificial faith is Isaac's faith. What is the difference in the two faiths?

While it is true that Abraham had great faith (which one of us has the faith to be willing to sacrifice our child?), that faith actually pales in comparison to Isaac's. Most people present this story as if Isaac was a baby or a small child. Nothing could be further from the truth, however.

It is true that, in Gen 22:5, he is called a "lad" (in the Hebrew it means "an active boy"), but look at the rest of the passage. Verse 6 states that Isaac was the one who carried the wood, that would be used for the sacrificial pyre, up the side of the mountain. The practice was to build a stack of wood that was a) long and wide enough for the sacrifices body, and b) high enough that the sacrificer need not bend over to strike the deadly blow, probably a little above Abraham's waist. The wood also had to be strong enough to hold the sacrifice, so Isaac wasn't carrying twigs.

Secondly, He asked Abraham, "Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering." However old you may think that Isaac was in this passage, this is not the question that a young child would ask. This lad was old enough to understand that he was in danger of death. He was also strong enough to carry a large load of stout wood up the side of a mountain.

Why am I bringing this up? Because his father was well over 100 years old at this time. Isaac was very capable of not allowing his Father to go through with his promise to God. However, when Abraham answered his question, "My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering", this settled the question in Isaac's mind.

Because of a promise from God to his Father, and his trust in his Father, Isaac willingly laid down on the wood, let his father bind him, and watched and waited for God's lamb to appear. This is faith! Sure enough, just as Abraham lifted the knife, (with Isaac undoubtedly laying there with his eyes squeezed shut, praying to God to intervene) God stopped the sacrifice and gave Isaac his life back.

This is true biblical faith in action! It is our taking everything we have, every dream, every hope, every fear, and our very physical life itself, and strapping it all to God's altar. It is us saying, as Job did, "though you slay me, yet will I trust you". It is us saying, as the 3 Hebrew boys said, "Our God is well able to deliver us, but if he chooses not to, we still will not bow (to the ungodly religion)". Jesus said, "he that endureth unto the end, the same shall be saved." We must trust God and give him our all, no matter what the consequences may appear to be!

Abraham's faith was great, in that he was willing to sacrifice his promised son. Isaac's faith was greater, in that he was willing to sacrifice HIMSELF! Abraham's faith was the start. Isaac's faith was the goal. Abraham's faith was about obedience. Isaac's faith was about self-sacrifice!

We all start with a seed of faith. Then, if it's cultivated, we grow into an Abraham faith (obedience). The goal is for a self-sacrificing and completely trusting faith in God! That's the faith that will lead us home. The seed of faith causes us to begin to seek for God. The obedient faith causes us to be obediently born again (Acts 2:38). Sacrificial faith will keep us on the right path, no matter thee situation, so we will one day hear Jesus say, "Well done...".

Isaac's faith was not in vain, however. He got his life back. He gained a true understanding of how precious life is and just how great a God we serve. He would have a wife and two children that he loved dearly. God blessed his business and he became great among men. But it all started through his father's example and his own willingness to die to accomplish what God wanted.

If we will but give him our all, relinquish all control of our lives, and let him decide what we need and don't need, we will be amazed at the results! "Though you slay me Lord, yet will I trust you!"

Just a thought.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

What's in a closet?

"And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." Matthew 6:5-6

Recently, it has come to my surprised attention that there is some false doctrine circulating through the church. This false doctrine is doing much harm to God's people, handcuffing God's people, and slowing the move of God. What is this false doctrine and how has is become so prevelant? It is simply this: Jesus said for us to pray at home in our prayer closet. Any Christian who goes to the altar to pray is either a) showing off to be seen of others, b) steeped in sin, or c) sinning by pouring out their burdens to God in front of others.

May I tell you that this is simply NOT TRUE? While it is true that some people do go to the altar to "show off", not all do. It is true that some Christians struggling with things (some sinful, some not) "make a bee line" for the altar, but why is this a sin? The supposed sinfulness of this practice comes from a complete misunderstanding of the above mentioned verses.

Let's take apart the verses, piece by piece, and see what we can find.

"And when thou prayest..." In both verses he says this. Message: Prayer is necessary! We cannot "make heaven our home" unless we maintain a real relationship with our creator! Reading and studying his word is also necessary, but without a prayer life: "the letter killeth, but the spirit gives life". We require both study and prayer, spiritually, in the same way that we need both food and drink, physically. All study and no prayer, we dry up. All prayer and no study, we blow up. It's that simple.

This whole section of scripture, here in Matthew, is part of the "sermon on the mount". Much of this sermon is a series of comparison and contrast between the actual teachings and practices of the day and the way God says they aught to be. In chapter 6, he begins a section of comparing what their religion taught them and how they, in contrast, should do the same practice. He was correcting their teachings.

"...When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are.."

Many a definition of the word Hypocrite has been given by many a teacher. Want to know what the actual word that Jesus used was and what it meant? The word, in the Greek, was hupokrites (hoop-ok'-ree-sis). The actual meaning is: "an actor under an assumed character (stage player), i.e. (figuratively) a dissembler (to put on a false appearance, conceal facts, intentions, or feelings under a pretense)". In other words, a biblical hypocrite is someone who is making an appearance of being right with God in order to gain the approval of men. Many an ungodly politician have used this tactic. They go to large churches and go through the motions, even saying the right words, in order to gain votes. However, when they get elected, their policies are anything but Godly!
The reason that this distinction is neccesary to make, is that many well meaning Christians (and preachers, as well) have taken this verse out of context and used it wrongly to hurt other people. The theory is that if you pray in public at all, then you are a hypocrite. Nothing could be further from the truth! Jesus himself prayed in public on several occasions. Furthermore, why is this "standard of conduct" only applied to born again Christians? The same people that rebuke other Christians for praying publically at the altar, are the first to jump for joy (rightly so) when a sinner goes to the altar.
The problem is, if their interpretation of this passage really means that praying in public is being a hypocrite, then noone can pray in public at all! This would preclude prayer to begin services, meetings, and classes. It would also prohibit sinners praying at the altar, as well as other public prayers- up to and including prayer over meals. Does all of this sound ridiculous to you? It does to me, too.
So what did Jesus mean here in Matthew? Simply put, a Hypocrite is not defined by where you pray, but the attitude in which you pray. If you have an attitude that says, "Look at me. See how Holy I am.", then you're a hypocrite, regardless of what you are doing! If however, you have a humble spirit, if you are sincerely reaching out to God when you pray, you are not a hypocrite. In fact you are doing just what Jesus said for us to do: "Come unto me, all ye that are weary, and I will give you rest." This verse applies to ALL people: male or female, sinner or saint. Irregardless of economic level or political affiliation, God is all about having a loving relationship with mankind.
He came to seek and save "That which was lost". That's all of us! We are all sinners. The only difference being in whether or not we are washed in his blood and in a right relationship with him. If we keep Davids attitude, we will be alright. David was not perfect. When God called him a "man after my own heart", he was not saying that David was 'like God". No, he was saying that this man, no matter how badly he fails, lives in hot pursuit of a loving relationship with me.
If we, in a right attitude, go to the altar to pray (whether for ourselves or others), then we are in hot pursuit of God's heartbeat.

So preachers and saints, do not prevent anyone from going to the altar for prayer. It's the attitude, not the act, that makes the difference. Who knows, you just may be surprised to find that you made heaven, in part, due to the times that that person took YOUR name to God at the altar! Just something to think about.