The Promised Messiah

“And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:31-33).

At this time of year, many stop to consider the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.  The picture of the Son of God– God the Son, in fact– as a relatively helpless infant is quite touching.  To consider that the Son of God experienced the same stages of physical growth as we have really brings the reality of the Incarnation home.

Nevertheless, many put great emphasis on the birth of Jesus, yet even in His birth, His purpose and plan are foreseen by Gabriel.  We can only imagine what Mary can see when she is told about her Son– King of Israel, sitting on David’s throne.  It presents so much hope and promise.

God’s plan, however, involves future suffering in order to accomplish this glorification.  Jesus was born so as to die as the Lamb of God (cf. John 1:29).  Jesus was born to be raised again in power (1 Corinthians 15).

Indeed, Jesus was born to be a King, but not like any other king who has ever been or ever will be.  While it is good to recognize that Jesus was born to Mary in a manger, we must never forget that we have life through His death and victory through His resurrection, and that Jesus is our King (Matthew 28:18, Romans 5:6-11, 1 Corinthians 15).  Let us stand firm in His Kingdom and proclaim His Word!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Micah’s Certainty

Then said Micah, “Now know I that the LORD will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest” (Judges 17:13).

Statistics reveal that most people believe in God.  Most would say that they seek to curry favor with God.  They have it within their heads that if they do certain things that God will surely bless them.

Micah is a representative of this view.  We learn in Judges 17 that after taking 1100 pieces of silver from his mother and then restoring them, his mother decides to take some of the silver and make a molten image of YHWH of it.  Micah makes his own ephod and installs his own son as a priest.  When a Levite comes by who is willing to serve before the idol for him, he takes him in and then feels pleased with himself.

When we consider the whole of the Law of Moses, and how molten images are an abomination to God, let alone having one’s own sanctuary, we wonder how Micah can feel this way.  What does the LORD owe him?  How can he think that the LORD will bless him when he is presently sinning?

Yet we must not be too harsh on Micah, because many Micahs are all around us, and we may have a little Micah within ourselves.

How many people have we seen who make progress with one or two battles in their lives and then think that God is then okay with them?  How many will point to all of their generosity and act as if such will cover their iniquity?

How many times have we done the same?  How often have we prided ourselves on some spiritual accomplishment while neglecting other matters?  How many times have we labored under the pretension that if we curry favor with God that such automatically leads to blessings?

In Matthew 5:45, Jesus declares that God causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust.  God may do people good even though they have been unrighteous; after all, we have all sinned, and God showed His love for us while we were in sin (Romans 5:6-11).  The righteous may experience difficulty and suffering in order to test their faith and to produce spiritual benefit (James 1:2-4, Hebrews 12:6-13).

We would do well to learn from Micah’s “certainty.”  God does not owe us anything, and there is nothing that we can “do” that forces God to “do good” for us.  God still provides life and blessing even though we all have sinned against Him.  As opposed to striving to gain God’s favor, let us be thankful for the blessings which God has already provided!

Ethan R. Longhenry

True Treasure

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Recent events have gone a long way to show to all of us how “uncertain” worldly riches are (1 Timothy 6:17-19).  Many people who felt rather secure about their financial position have lost significant portions of their wealth.  Companies that no one thought could fail have failed.  Investments that were “risk-free” ended up having risks.  People are afraid, concerned, and distressed.

Yet our response ought not to be to just trust in cold hard cash, either, because even that is only as valuable as people determine it to be.  There is no certainty in any form of riches.

Jesus knows this, and Jesus also knows that too many people, in reality, trust Mammon over God (cf. Matthew 6:24).  Of course, very few people actually confess that this is the case, but their actions speak volumes.  Things are well when the bank account is well.  Things are terrible when the bank account is empty.  The future is rosy or cloudy based on the financial forecast.

It is an easy enough trap to fall into, and that is why Jesus calls us with a higher calling (Philippians 3:14).  He knows that a day is coming when everything around us will be consumed (2 Peter 3:9-12).  How tragic it is to know that so much human endeavor is directed toward goals that are so fleeting and, ultimately, so worthless!

That is why we must place our confidence in God, and make “deposits” to our “Heavenly bank account,” where thieves do not break through and steal, where “credit bubbles” and “housing bubbles” do not destabilize, and where the “bank” never fails.  As Paul says, we do this by being full of good works– love, mercy, compassion, generosity (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

In the end, that is what remains– not what we have materially, but the relationships we develop and the souls we are able to touch with the love of Christ.  Those are all that will endure from this world, and that is why we must invest in them strongly.

But to do so, we must first decide where we are going to “invest” our hearts (Matthew 6:21).  Shall it be with worldly and uncertain riches and possessions, or shall it be in Heaven and in the Heavenly Kingdom?

Ethan R. Longhenry

The (Imperfect) Men of Faith

Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen. For therein the elders had witness borne to them (Hebrews 11:1-2).

Hebrews 11 enshrines the men of faith from the old covenant.  Yet consider these men:

Noah (Hebrews 11:7): got drunk, exposed himself in a tent (Genesis 9:20-21).

Abraham (Hebrews 11:8-10, 17-19): deceived rulers, took an additional wife without God’s consent (Genesis 12:10-20, 16, 20).

Sarah (Hebrews 11:11-12): laughed at God’s promise, lied about it (Genesis 18:9-15).

Jacob (Hebrews 11:21): cheated his brother, deceived his own father (Genesis 25, 27).

Moses (Hebrews 11:23-30): attempted to reject God’s call, at times did not give God the glory (Exodus 3-4, Numbers 20:1-13).

Rahab (Hebrews 11:31): lied to cover for spies (Joshua 2:3-6).

Gideon (Hebrews 11:32): made an ephod, caused family to go astray (Judges 8:24-27).

Samson (Hebrews 11:32): visited a prostitute (Judges 16:1-3).

David (Hebrews 11:32): committed adultery with a faithful servant’s wife, schemed to have that servant killed (2 Samuel 11).

These are the men whom God commends for their faith?  How can this be?

We must recognize that God is not commending these men and women for being perfect, because no one is perfect save Jesus Christ (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8).  God is not commending them for their sins and character faults.

They receive commendation for their faith– their trust in God at difficult moments, their willingness to do what God tells them to do even if they did not entirely understand or if the situation looked hopeless.

Being a man or woman of God does not mean that we are perfect.  It means that we place our trust in God and strive to follow His will in all things, even if we do not understand or if our situation looks hopeless.  Yes, it also means that we must confess our sins and repent of them (1 John 1:9), but let us not be deceived into thinking that God can only use perfect people.  The “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) is full of imperfect people who trusted in a perfect and holy God.  Let us strive to be as them, and run the race set before us!

And without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him (Hebrews 11:6).

Ethan R. Longhenry

Taking the Cross

“And he that doth not take his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).

After two millennia of veneration of the cross, it is easy for us to forget what the cross meant in first century Judea.  It was a symbol of Roman power, the fate for any who dared to stand against Rome.  It represented a horrifying way to die, perhaps the most cruel form of punishment and death ever invented by mankind.

For Jews crucifixion was even worse.  Death on a tree meant being accursed (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).  There was no glory in a cross, at least in the way that men consider glory.

These realities, therefore, were what came to mind to the disciples listening to Jesus.  A cross meant humiliation, shame, being despised, reckoned as accursed and defiled.  This was no “easy street.”

We also have to remember that at this point, Jesus has not yet been crucified.  While Jesus no doubt knew what would eventually befall Him, we should not interpret this verse as meaning that Christians must be physically crucified.  Such is not Jesus’ point.

Jesus is telling all those who would be His disciples that if they really want to be worthy of Jesus and eternal life, they must live a “crucified life.”  They must bear the shame and humiliation that comes from serving Jesus.  If they are considered cursed by man, so be it, if they may only win Christ.

Jesus’ disciples must renounce all that they have and, in a type, die in Him.  It is no longer to be about oneself.  It is now all about Christ.

“Taking the cross” is not a statement about wearing jewelry; it is a statement of the humiliation and sacrifice necessary to follow Jesus.  Many are called to do so, yet precious few answer.  What will it be?

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).

Ethan R. Longhenry

Samson and Revenge

And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, “O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judges 16:28).

The Judges author presents the story of Samson as a cycle of vengeance.  The father of the Timnite shames Samson, and in revenge, he has the grain of Philistia burned.  In revenge, they kill the Timnite and her father, and seek to do to Samson what Samson did to them.  Samson then kills more Philistines (Judges 15).  The Philistines, through Delilah, figure out how to capture Samson, and blind him in vengeance for what he did to them.  And here, at the end of his life, Samson asks God to give him strength to get revenge on Philistia for his eye.

What is the result? The death of thousands, but no real change.  Philistia is still in control, and Israel is still humbled before them.  Samson’s vengeance is not enough to save Israel.

Samson’s life provides a vivid demonstration of the fruitlessness of the cycle of vengeance.  Its desire is never satisfied; there is always some new affront that requires restitution.  This is not God’s way in His Kingdom.

Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written,
“‘Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense,’ saith the Lord.”
“But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:19-21).

Only by loving our enemies can we win them over or to at least demonstrate that we are God’s children (Matthew 5:43-45, Luke 6:27-36).  Let us leave judgment in God’s hands, and love all men!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Fear Not

“And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

It is surprising to learn that God’s most oft-repeated command in the Bible is not to love or to believe, but to not be afraid.

Fear is a strong and basic impulse within mankind; it often serves us well, and can keep us from getting ourselves into too much trouble.

Nevertheless, fear is often used to manipulate.  Politicians attempt to instill fear in order to win votes.  Marketers use it to get you to buy their products.  Many fan the flames of fear to promote hatred.  The greatest atrocities of mankind are often perpetuated as a response to fear.

Fear is often the opposite of sober-mindedness (1 Peter 4:7).  We must take God’s command to not fear seriously.  What would we fear?  Persecution?  Torture?  Death?  While none of these things are pleasant, they pale in comparison to being cast into the trash pit of perpetual fire!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in considering this verse, said, “Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men.”  Whenever we become afraid of men and what men can do, we show that we do not really trust in God, and do not reverence and respect Him as we ought.  When we trust in God, respecting and revering Him, we know that no matter how terrible it may seem, men can do nothing to separate us from the love and peace of God.

In the end, what else are we really seeking?  Why, then, do we fear?

Ethan R. Longhenry

Gideon’s Tests

And it came to pass the same night, that the LORD said unto him, “Arise, get thee down into the camp; for I have delivered it into thy hand. But if thou fear to go down, go thou with Purah thy servant down to the camp: and thou shalt hear what they say; and afterward shall thy hands be strengthened to go down into the camp” (Judges 7:9-11a).

If we consider the story of Gideon as described in Judges 6-8, we are struck by Gideon’s constant testing of God.  What is he trying to accomplish?

Is he timid?  He was willing to tear down the Baal and Asherah of his father’s people, and went within earshot of the enemy camp at God’s instruction.  He certainly is bold when he wants to be!

So what does Gideon seek?  The answer is not specifically revealed, but it seems to be that he seeks reassurance of God’s presence.  Gideon has enough faith to trust in God; he just wants to make sure that God is still with him in his endeavors.

What about us?  Do we seek God’s reassurance that He is with us in our endeavors? Do we want to make sure that what we are striving to do is, in fact, what God desires us to do?

We are to be people who walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Let us find reassurance in the Author and Finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ, and in the confidence of His Word (cf. Hebrews 12:2)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Gideon’s Perspective

And Gideon said unto him, “Oh, my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where are all his wondrous works which our fathers told us of, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD hath cast us off, and delivered us into the hand of Midian” (Judges 6:13).

Gideon (and Israel) experienced difficult times: Midian and the people of the East were strong, and Israel was greatly humiliated and oppressed.  Where was God in all of this?  If God is as great as the fathers made Him out to be, where is He?

What Gideon did not consider was Israel’s great sin in serving the Baals (Judges 6:10, 25-26).  He did not consider that God handed Israel into Midian’s hands because they transgressed His covenant (Judges 6:1).  He did not consider that Israel remained stubborn and did not heed God’s voice (Judges 6:10).

The situation was quite different than it seemed through Gideon’s eyes.

There are many times in our own lives when things do not seem to make a lot of sense.  We see pain and suffering and difficulty.  We read the stories about how God delivered people in the past, and yet there is no delivery for us.  Many want to know where God is in all of this.

Yet just as God was there in Gideon’s day, God is here today (Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:8).  We may be experiencing God’s chastening for our sins.  We may be experiencing trial so that our faith can be properly tested.  God may have something entirely different in store for us.  In the end, it may even turn out for our own good.

Wisdom teaches us to remember that our perspective is limited, and we often neglect to remember that there are many other factors involved that we may not understand.  We can let our doubts, questions, and difficulties separate us from God, or we can let them teach us to trust Him more.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” saith the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Ethan R. Longhenry

Summing Up the Law

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, trying him: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
And he said unto him, “‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.’ This is the great and first commandment. And a second like unto it is this, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ On these two commandments the whole law hangeth, and the prophets” (Matthew 22:35-40).

We like short and sweet.  Lengthy explanations and excessive details are considered boring and tedious, even when we recognize that complexity exists.

Succinct explanations help when they keep the “big picture” in mind.  Especially in religious circles, many have missed the proverbial forest for the trees.  Jesus came face to face with many such people in His ministry: the Pharisees were condemned for focusing excessively on details while neglecting the weightier aspects of the Law (Matthew 23:23-24).

Jesus provides the “big picture” of the Law: love the LORD with all of our faculties, and love our neighbors as ourselves.  As summations go, there can be no better; in truth, not a detail is lost.  All of our missteps, difficulties, sins, and shortcomings come from a lack of love for God or neighbor.

Why love?  The virtues of love are exalted in 1 Corinthians 13; we may summarize Paul’s message by saying that love is seeking the best interest of the beloved (cf. Romans 13:10).  Love for God is seeking His will and not our own (Hebrews 11:6).  When we love God, it is no longer we who live, but God in us (cf. Galatians 2:20).  If we live lives of sacrifice, as we are charged to do in Romans 12:1, we easily avoid iniquity.

Loving our neighbor can be challenging; after all, our neighbor often wrongs us, cheats us, or perhaps is entirely indifferent toward us.  Yet the power of the “Golden Rule” of Luke 6:31 haunts us: if we view our neighbor in such stark and dismal terms, how does our neighbor look at us?

How would we want to be treated?  Such dictates how we should treat others.  The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us what it takes to be a good neighbor (Luke 10:25-37): sacrifice and humility, helping without expectation of commendation or reward.  After all, this is what we seek from God, is it not?

It seems so easy to talk about “loving God” and “loving our neighbor,” and yet so difficult to put into practice.  It is far easier to be as the Pharisees, so devoted to the trees of various doctrines and technicalities that we neglect the important things.  If we have not love, we face condemnation.  Let us lay aside our own interests and instead put God’s interests and the best interest of our neighbor ahead of ourselves!

Ethan R. Longhenry