The Apple Of God's Eye

May 4, 2009

What Is The Enemy Of Faith?

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Did you know that you cannot please God without faith? So therefore faith, though not the most important  fruit of the Spirit (I Cor. 13:13), is called one of the weightier matters of the law (of God – Matt. 23:23). It is the power of God (I Cor. 2:5), given by God (Luke 17:5), which is all important to possess in order to have a relationship with our Creator.

Without faith we cannot be healed by God. The blind men of Matthew 9 were healed according to their belief (Matt. 9:29). The same applies to the woman who had a blood issue and was healed by merely touching the cloak of Christ (Matt. 9:20-22).

Faith of the smallest amount – that of the mustard-seed type – is said by Christ to be enough to move mountains (Matt. 17:20)

“….Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do what is done to the fig tree (which withered at His word), but even if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou taken up and cast into the sea, it shall be done.”

 The mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds (that they were used to), representing the feeblest faith. Yet the mustard-seed produced the largest of all herbs, showing an increasing and expanding faith, growing and strengthening from small beginnings, to perform the most difficult undertaking. There is a principle of vitality in the grain of seed stretching forward to great results, which illustrates the nature of faith (Albert Barnes” Notes On The Bible).

Was Christ merely being illustrative in these examples? Or was he saying that if we properly exercise the power of God, then nothing shall be impossible for us? The latter is the most probable scenario because these are Christ’s exact words in verse 20.

What exactly is faith?

Faith is one of the powerful fruits of the Spirit of God (Gal.5:22). In Heb. 11:1, it also gives us a detailed description of this power, calling it “the substance of things hoped for, and the sign that the things not seen are true.” So Christians have evidence, but they can’t show anyone. That very description of faith leads to much scoffing today by those who do not possess it, but it can be described in no other way.

Creation itself must be taken on faith (verse 3). We can see the results, but the process used to create it was something unseen (the power of the spirit of God). The Spirit world is actually more real than the physical world about us. What we see and feel is not the true evidence, though this is what science is based upon. Yet having the thing (the physical reality), and seeing it, is not faith. Faith precedes possession, because faith the assurance we will possess it. That is why we are to walk by faith, not by sight (II Cor. 5:7). And that is exactly what critics find impossible to do, and therefore scoff at.

Looking further into Heb. 11, we see various acts of faith by people who lived and died in faith for what they believed. In verse 7, Noah was warned of God of things not yet seen. He could not see or feel what was said, yet still moved with fear. This was not a tiny display of faith, because he did this for  100 years.

Abraham also offered his only son by faith (verse 17). Again, this was not a minor action, but a real commitment. He had absolutely no physical proof that would justify sacrificing the one in whom God would make all the promises come to pass. He could not act on the five senses.

All the saints featured in Hebrews 11 died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them spiritually.

What is the biggest enemy of faith?

Here’s a question! What is the fastest way to destroy faith? I’ll describe it through an example. In Matt. 14:28, the disciples had some trouble believing it was Christ walking on the water. Peter doubted and asked Jesus to bid him come and walk on the water also.

This he did, but when he SAW (and felt) the wind pick, he became afraid. What happened to destroy his faith? It was the physical sensation of the wind. He began to  sink, now, once again bound by physical laws. Christ described this as a faith problem – “why did you doubt?” (verse 31).

So the enemy off faith is a focus on the material, which is seen and appears to the five physical senses. If we’re not sure we have enough faith, then we are called upon to test it, to make certain we stand firm (II Cor. 13:5).

The same faith through which Christ did all things seems to be lacking today. This is not because God denies it, but because even true Christians are closer to a materialistic world than to God. In our affluent societies, we don’t even need to ask God for most things, because when we desire something, we can buy it instantly – on credit. Yet where is God in all this? Do we ask for guidance, direction and help in our decisions? Are not our blessings from God? Should not our acknowledgments be to God? And even when we ask, do we ask amiss, because they are materially focused? (verse 3).

Materialism can get the best of any of us. We simply can’t serve God and material things at the same time (Matt. 6:24). In the parable of the rich man, (Matt. 10:17-23), even though the man had served God all his life, he could not let go of his riches. In other words, his priority was not on the work of God, but on what he owned. He relied on this and could not let it go. No wonder it is so hard for a rich man to enter into God’s Kingdom (verses 23-25).

A great example of avoiding this fault is studying Elijah’s prayer of I Kings 18:37, which was only about 20 seconds in length, yet the answer came crashing down instantly. It is obvious that Elijah spend many hours in prayer, study and fasting to get closer to God. He knew absolutely (by faith) that his short prayer would be answered when it mattered most.

Those who keeping consistent contact with God, asking Him for guidance in all things are told that they need not give thought to any want they should have, for God will provide for them (Matt.6:25). The power verse in this chapter is verse 33, which tells us to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Our preoccupation must be with the things of God (Col. 3:1). In other words, keep the mind focused on spiritual principles and God in our life to have faith given in a powerful way. The material things are not a sin and can be had, if we seek God first.

Again, without faith this would become an extremely difficult exercise to comprehend, much less practice. If we do not walk in the Spirit of God, we will be unable to resist the lusts of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).

In Matt. 6:30, Jesus ties faith into overanxious worry about physical needs. He tells us He can do all things for us, if we just let him. But conversely, being overly tied to materialism leads to anxiety and a subsequent lack of faith. Material things are at odds with the spiritual things. Both are contrary to each other. The more we indulge in the flesh, the more we lose of the spirit (Gal. 5:17) The more we exercise the spirit, the more it pushes out the fleshly and we bear fruit – a stronger belief in the evidence we can’t see.

You can’t love Christ without faith

Think about this: you can’t even love Jesus Christ without faith! You’ve never seen Him, yet you are asked to believe what He says – unconditionally. There is absolutely no evidence to rejoice!

Here’s where two worlds (the physical and spiritual) diverge. The scoffer will take this opportunity to lash out at the ignorance of the Christian who believes. He has absolutely no idea what is being spoken of here; he cannot comprehend spiritual principles and must rely on  the five senses for his “reality.” God does not work with that person – He cannot. A human being must respond to God (the Master Potter) to be able to mould that individual. Clay that is unworkable is no good to the potter and must be discarded.

God DOES not give the Holy Spirit without repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). These are absolute conditions. Godly repentance means to stop sinning, to turn and go the other way —  to change your way of life! It has to come from the heart.  

So what is it we repent of? “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law,” (I John 3:4).  And sin is breaking God’slaw, not human customs. No one is excluded. No man, woman or child has ever lived who hasn’t disobeyed and broken God’s law (Rom. 3:10, 23). Therefore, every person on earth needs to repent deeply and bitterly with all their heart and turn to God for forgiveness. To obey Him and keep His commandments — all His commandments — with zeal. For “He that saith, I know him {I am a Christian}, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (I John 2:4).  

Do you fully comprehend what is being said? As a Christian, you should be doing this, as it comes from your own Bible. All those denominations/religions which say the law of God is done away with DO NOT have the Spirit of God guiding them, and they DO NOT have the faith of God, as outlined previously. So says your Bible!

Obedience to God also means keeping His Holy Days, the Sabbath, the Ten Commandments, refraining from idol worship, pagan deities or customs (Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day), and so on. Most religions fail to keep the standard God requires to have Him draw close in their lives. 

The Bible says the righteous shall live by faith (Rom.1:17). This is no arbitrary saying because whatever is not of faith is of sin (Rom. 14:23). Do those things Christ asks of you and God will intervene in your life. Then, when Christ returns, He will be looking for His faith in your life (Luke 18:8). Are you ready?

February 23, 2009

Between The Testaments, Part 2

From: The Good News Of Tomorrow’s World

September 1971

By Ernest Martin and Harry Eisenberg

After a series of battles with the Syrians, Ptolemy I, the Greek king of Egypt, took firm control of Judaea in 301 B.C. His descendants retained that control for over ONE HUNDRED YEARS, until 198 B.C. This one-hundred-year period of Greek-Egyptian domination is very important in the religious history of the Jews. This is the period in which many great and significant changes first began to take place in Jewish religious life.

“During the comparatively quiet rule of the Ptolemies, Greek ideas, customs and morality had been making peaceful conquests in Palestine” (Charles Foster Kent, “History of the Jewish People”, page 320). There was little resistance to these inroads. We are informed by Dr. Jacob Lauterbach, a learned Jewish scholar, that Jewish tradition knows of no religious teacher who taught any form of religion from the death of Simon the Just (270 B.C.) until about the year 190 B.C. (Jacob Z. Lauterbach, “Rabbinic Essays”, Hebrew Union College Press, Cincinnati, 1951, page 196).

“This would have been impossible,” Dr. Lauterbach says, “if there had been any official activity of the teachers in those years” (ibid.). But there was none. In fact, whole generations came and went, offering no great resistance to the new customs which were encouraged by the commercial and educational intercourse taking place between the Jews, Greeks and Hellenistic Egyptians. In fact, thousands of Jews migrated to Egypt during this period. By the end of the Ptolemaic period, there were over a million Jews in Egypt, out of a total population of about seven million.

A prime example of Hellenistic influence is the PAGAN concept of the immortality of the soul. This doctrine was widely publicized in the writings of the pagan Greek philosopher Plato.

The Coming of the Seleucids

In 198 B.C. the Seleucid kingdom of Syria conquered Judaea and drove out the Egyptians. Like the Ptolemies, the Seleucids were also of Greek origin and equally Hellenistic in culture and outlook. At first, conditions in Judaea were pretty much like what they had been under the Ptolemies. The Seleucid ruler, Antiochus III, was favorably inclined toward the Jews.

Conditions rapidly changed, however, with the coming to the throne in 175 B.C. of Antiochus Epiphanes. Shortly after he ascended the throne, there was a contention among several of the priests in Jerusalem for the office of High Priest. Jason, the brother of the reigning High Priest, persuaded Antiochus to transfer the office to him, by offering a large sum of money to the King.

Jason was Hellenistically inclined and was followed in this by many of the people. “A passion for Greek costumes, and Greek names (Jason’s Hebrew name was Joshua) seized the people. Large numbers were enrolled as citizens of Antioch (the capital of Syria). Many even endeavored to conceal the fact that they had been circumcised …. To demonstrate that he had left all the traditions of his race behind, Jason sent a rich present for sacrifices in connection with the great festival at Tyre in honor of the god Hercules” (Kent, “History of the Jewish People”, pp. 324-325). Of course, not everyone in Judaea went this far, but by and large, most people are inclined to follow their human leaders, at least to a certain extent.

About three years after Jason assumed office, Menelaus (Hebrew name “Onias”), a man most believe to have been of the tribe of Benjamin (not a descendant of Aaron and therefore not truly a priest) offered Antiochus a larger bribe than Jason, and he was named High Priest instead. Because of this, Jason fled beyond Jordan to the Ammonites for refuge. (See McClintock and Strong, “Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature”, Vol. I, pp. 271-272; and II Maccabees, Chapter 4).

Many of the Jews thought Jason had been unjustly deprived of becoming High Priest. Many of the people began to take sides — some for Jason, some for Menelaus. Fighting broke out between the two groups, both of whom were led by outright Hellenists.

Jason’s forces won out and Menelaus fled to Antioch. There Antiochus became infuriated to learn that many of the Jews had taken sides against his appointed official or, in effect, against his government itself! At that time Antiochus was planning to conquer Egypt. When that failed, due to the intervention of the Romans, he decided to take out his anger on the rebellious Jews at Jerusalem. He planned not only to subdue the Jews but to put an end to their religion once and for all.

Antiochus, feigning peace, proceeded to take the city. He polluted the Temple by burning swine’s flesh on its altar, and erected a statue of Jupiter Olympus in the Holy Place. This had been prophesied by Daniel (Dan. 11:29-31). He plundered the Temple of all objects of value and then issued a decree forbidding the Jews to worship God or in any way to exercise their religion.

Despite the severity of this decree, there were many Hellenistically inclined Jews who nonetheless accepted it without protest. Many of these Hellenists were priests and Levites. On the other hand, for many other Jews, the majority of whom may have been only slightly interested in religion previously, this decree forbidding such basic practices as circumcision and requiring idol worship was simply too much.

The Maccabean Revolt

In the small village of Modi’in, the head of a priestly family, Mattathias, and his five sons, stood up to oppose Antiochus and his decree. “If anyone zealous for the laws of his country and for the worship of God, let him follow me,” he proclaimed (Josephus, “Antiquities of the Jews”, Book XII, Chapter VI, Part 2).

Thousands flocked to his banner and a full revolt was under way. Just before his death, Mattathias made his third son, Judah (called Maccabee), general of their army. After a long series of battles with his forces greatly outnumbered, Judah defeated the Syrians and their Samaritan allies. In 165 B.C. he went up to Jerusalem and purified the Temple, restoring the true ritual of God. Judah was killed in a later battle.

Finally Simon, the last survivor of Mattathias’ sons, was able to proclaim an independent nation with himself as High Priest. The nation was now, at last, free of foreign domination. But the years of religious anarchy and Hellenistic influence had taken their toll. Dr. Lauterbach states: “During the seventy or eighty years of religious anarchy, many new practices had been gradually adopted by the people” (Lauterbach, page 205).

The British scholar Travers Herford adds: “In the absence of authoritative guidance, the people had gone their own way; new customs had found a place among old religious usages … new ideas had been formed under the influence of Hellenism which had permeated the land for more than a century, and there had been no one to point out the danger which thereby threatened the religious life of the people” (Herford, “Talmud and Apocrypha”, pp. 64-65).

The Sanhedrin

We are now at the point where the Pharisees first make their appearance in history, some time after the Maccabean wars. But before we note this, we need to examine briefly the rise of the Sanhedrin, the body which they dominated during much of its existence.

While some sources would lead us to believe that the Sanhedrin was the direct successor to the Great Assembly, this was not the case. It was not until about 196 B.C. after a hiatus of some eighty years that the Sanhedrin was first established. This is shown by an ancient manuscript found today in a text called “Fragments of a Zadokite Work”. This text points to 196 B.C. as the year the Sanhedrin first met. This body is said to consist of “men of understanding from Aaron” (that is, priests), and “from Israel wise teachers” (that is, non-priestly teachers) (Lauterbach, “Rabbinic Essays”, page 203).

This is significant! The writer mentions there were both priests and lay teachers in the new Sanhedrin. This was an innovation. Until this time only the priests, with their assistants, the Levites, were considered to have the authority to teach religion to the people.

This would not have been permitted while the Great Assembly, the successor of Ezra, was in authority. This is clearly shown from the writings of Malachi, who was contemporary with Ezra, Nehemiah and the early days of the Great Assembly. “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he (the priest) is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts” (Mal. 2:7). The law of Moses, which God had directly commanded him, dearly enjoined that the priests and Levites were to perform the functions of teachers, not just any layman who would presume to do so. (See Deut. 18:1-7, 33:10 and also Ezek. 44:23.),

Lay Teachers Reject Sole Authority of Priests to Teach

Why this radical change? Again we must briefly go back to the period of religious anarchy when the Egyptian Ptolemies ruled Judaea. Both the Ptolemies and the later Seleucid rulers looked upon the High Priest as the head of the Jewish nation. In turn, it was the High Priest, with his assistants (other priests) who dealt with the Hellenist rulers on behalf of the nation.

Outstanding among these were Joseph, the son of Tobias, and his son Hyrcanus. In order to be successful diplomats at the Hellenistic court in Alexandria, they felt it necessary to adopt Greek ways. And these they brought back with them to Judaea. Thus, it was the priests, the ones who should have been teaching the people God’s Law, who became the chief proponents of Hellenism.

From 206 to 196 B.C. a series of battles between the rival Hellenistic kings of Syria and Egypt devastated many parts of Judaea. Some blamed Hellenism for this trouble and began to seek to return to the laws of their fathers. But to whom could they turn?

The priests as a whole had become thoroughly Hellenized. In fact, different priests were taking sides in the wars and were even raising up armies to help either the Syrians or the Egyptians. The only ones who had studied God’s Word and remained committed to it in any form were a few laymen and some minor priests. These sat in the new Sanhedrin.

What Was God’s Way?

Prior to and during the Maccabean revolt, the outwardly Hellenistic priests and their followers supported Antiochus Epiphanes. The lay teachers and the Sanhedrin as a whole supported the Maccabees. Religiously speaking, the major result of the Maccabean victory was the TOTAL DISCREDITING OF HELLENISM in Judaea. The High Priesthood was given to the Hasmonean (Maccabean) family itself, which descended from minor priests. No one was an outright Hellenist any longer. Many were desirous of following God’s way. But whatever religious unity there might have been was short-lived.

The question basically was one of determining just what was God’s way. There was, of course, the written Bible (the Old Testament). But how were the people to apply its teachings to the various problems and events that arise in daily life? The Jews, remember, had just emerged from a period where the teaching and practice of God’s Law had been forbidden. And this had been preceded by an era of some eighty years during which Hellenism had made great inroads into the daily lives of the people; and all this while there had been no organized body directing religious life.

Hundreds of years before, Ezra and those priests and Levites assisting him had “… read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and (had given) the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (Neh. 8:8.). Through the ages, God’s servants have been responsible to show the people (with His guidance) how His Law applied in various situations in their lives. This was never the prerogative of anyone who wanted to choose “the ministry,” “the priesthood” or “the rabbinate” for a vocation, but only those whom God specifically chose. And in ancient Israel, under the Old Covenant, God chose the priests, primarily, with the Levites to assist them, for this purpose of teaching.

The Pharisees Come on the Scene

Following the Maccabean victory there were many priests who were ready and willing to resume their ancient, God-given role as teachers and expounders of the Law. But there were also the lay teachers who had come to sit in the Sanhedrin and had made a notable contribution to the Maccabean cause at a time when many priests were outright Hellenists and supporters of Antiochus Epiphanes. Lauterbach says that the lay teachers “refused to recognize the authority of the priests as a class, and, inasmuch as many of the priests had proven unfaithful guardians of the Law, they would not entrust to them the regulation of the religious life of the people” (Lauterbach, page 209). It was these lay teachers who organized themselves into the party of the Pharisees.

Although many of the priests had indeed become Hellenized, this did not necessarily give the lay teachers the right to usurp some of the priests’ God-given authority. But, sadly they insisted on following the way that seemed right to them (Prov. 14:12; 16:25). However, two wrongs did not make a right in that day any more than they do today.

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