The Plowing of the Wicked Is Sin

A haughty look, a proud heart, And the plowing of the wicked are sin. (Proverbs 21:4, N.K.J.V.)

It’s easy to understand why God classifies a haughty (conceited) look as sin. It’s equally easy to understand why He classifies a proud (arrogant) heart the same way. For that matter, these two sins walk hand in hand, with the outer haughty look arising from the inner proud heart. But what’s this business about God classifying the plowing of the wicked as sin? How can the time-honored (even Bible-honored) act of plowing ever be sin? Well, let’s talk about that.

The key to understanding the classification is to understand who is doing the plowing. It’s not the righteous. It’s not the godly. It’s not the spiritual. It’s the wicked.

The Hebrew word translated as “wicked” is rasa, and it occurs in well over 200 places in the Old Testament. According to Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, the most narrow meaning of the word deals with the legal system. The “wicked” are law breakers, people who despise the law and praise those who ignore it. Vine’s also notes, however, that in the more general usage the word refers to people “who have done wrong, are still living in sin, and are intent on continuing with wrongdoing.”

Now we’re getting at the crux of the matter. The person doing the plowing in our text verse is a thoroughly unrepentant sinner who, even if he isn’t a professing atheist, doesn’t fear God, has no interest in doing God’s will, certainly doesn’t serve God, and has no intention of ever operating any differently. This person is so self centered, egotistical, and full of himself that the idea of submitting to God is nothing less than a foreign concept. That’s why our verse links the plowing of the wicked up with a haughty look and a proud heart.

Hebrew scholars tell us that rasa (“wicked”) is very similar to the Hebrew word for “lamp.” For this reason, some translations incorporate this idea into their translation of Proverbs 21:4. Here are some examples:

  • “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin.” (Revised Standard Version, English Standard Version)
  •  “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, The lamp of the wicked, is sin.” (New American Standard Version)
  • “The lamp that guides the wicked — haughty eyes and an arrogant heart — is sin.” (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Think of it this way: what we might call the “inner light” of the wicked is marked by haughtiness, pride, conceit, arrogance, and ego. This is the engine that propels them through each and every act each and every day. God doesn’t get to factor into their planning. He doesn’t get to sign off on their doing. Even if the person isn’t a literal atheist, he is certainly a functioning one.

John Phillips, in his Exploring Proverbs commentary, describes this type of person as follows:

A wicked person has no thought of God. He plows and plants as if he himself can make the rain fall, cause the sun to shine, and produce the miracle of germination and growth. That is the height of presumption, the ultimate abuse of God’s mercy. God causes the sun to shine on the good and bad alike, but He writes the word sin over the lifestyle of a person who lives as though He does not exist. Such a person is ignorant of the fact that God looks upon all that he does — even his ordinary routines and mundane activities, such as plowing his field — as sin.

In case you think this is taking the interpretation too far, let me point out that there are some parallel passages that offer this same teaching. For example, Proverbs 15:8 and 21:27 both say that the sacrifice (nothing less than a religious act) of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord. Similarly, Proverbs 15:26 says that the thoughts (including thoughts that wouldn’t normally be considered evil or impure) of the wicked are an abomination.

This is extreme language. God is telling us that there is a certain type of person walking this earth whose very existence is nothing less than the embodiment of sin. This person can’t do anything that God doesn’t label “sin” because everything about him is anti God. Conceited motivations rise from deep inside him and become outward, arrogant actions. Really, such a person is his own god and operates as such with each breath he takes. Therefore, even when this person is plowing, bringing a sacrifice, or just sitting around thinking, it’s all sin in the eyes of God.

The antithesis of such a person is the Christian who is 1000% submitted to God in every nook and cranny of life. This is the person who seeks God’s will in everything from buying a candy bar to changing churches. Even more than seek God’s will, he submits to that will, whatever it is. He submits to God’s will about: when to plow, when to mow the yard, when to wash the car, when and where to go on vacation, what shirt to buy, who to marry, where to live, where to work, where to send his kids to school, what Christmas gifts to purchase, how much money to put in an offering plate, what cable or satellite provider to use, what internet provider to use, etc., etc., etc.

The point is that God dominates this person’s every motivation, intention, thought, and action. Like a little child who won’t dare take a step without daddy firmly holding his hand, this person won’t dare do anything if it means letting go of God’s hand. These are the Christians that God is looking for as His eyes scan the earth. These are the ones He can use to accomplish His most impacting works. These are the ones He can reward with His highest levels of heavenly treasure. Tell me, are you such a Christian? Am I? It’s definitely a high calling, but it’s one that we can live if we want it badly enough.

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Your Prayers Don’t Have to Be Perfect

Acts 12:1-19 records the story of Peter’s prison break. The story begins with Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great, having Peter arrested and incarcerated in a Roman prison in Jerusalem. Herod is feeling his oats because he has recently had another apostle, James, executed, a move he has noticed has pleased the spiritually lost Jewish religious leaders immensely. So the plan now is to please them some more by executing Peter. The only thing keeping Peter alive is the fact that it’s the week-long Jewish feast time known as the Days of Unleavened Bread, which follow the one-day Passover. Once the Days of Unleavened Bread are finished, so is Peter.

The only thing Peter has going for him is a bunch of prayer warriors who have been praying constantly for him all week. But now it is the night before his execution and all those prayers have accomplished nothing. Still, though, the prayer warriors keep praying. In particular, there is a certain group of who have met for an all-night prayer session in the home of Mary, the mother of the Mark who will one day write the gospel of Mark. Mary’s house is not far from where Peter is imprisoned. By the way, tradition holds that this house was the site of Jesus’ last supper.

Getting back to our story, Peter is fast asleep that night. Frankly, I don’t know exactly what to make of that. I’d love to say that his sleep stemmed from a confidence that God was going to show up and show off for him by somehow getting him miraculously spared. The events of the story, however, might indicate otherwise. Then again, perhaps Peter was remembering a promise that Jesus had once made to him, a promise that Peter would live to an old age (John 21:18). Maybe it’s best to say that Peter could sleep that night because he knew that he was going to be alright either way. Either God was going to rescue him or he was going to be granted the honor of being killed for the cause of His Savior just as his friends Stephen (Acts 7:54-60) and James (Acts 12:1-2) had been.

So there he is that night, bound with two chains, fast asleep between two Roman soldiers as other guards stand at the prison door. But then what happens? A light appears in the prison and suddenly there’s an angel standing beside the sleeping Peter. The angel strikes Peter in the side to wake him up and says, “Quick, get up.” After causing Peter’s chains to fall off his wrists, the angel says, “Put on your clothes and sandals, wrap your cloak around you, and follow me.” Peter then follows that angel stealthy through all those guards right out of that prison. When they come to the iron gates that serve as the entrance into Jerusalem, the angel even causes those gates to open by themselves.

You might be asking, “Why didn’t those guards stop them?” The answer is, we don’t know. The story reads as if those guards went into some kind of trance or something that caused them to either not notice the angel and Peter or not care. Even Peter himself wasn’t sure what was happening. He thought he was having a vision similar to one he had experienced in previous days (Acts 10:9-16).

However it just happened, Peter is now free from prison. The angel accompanies him down one street and then vanishes as suddenly as he had appeared. It’s then that the fog begins to lift from Peter’s mind and he understands what has happened. Next, he makes his way to the house where that group of prayer warriors is praying for him. He knocks on the door of the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda comes to the door. She asks, “Who’s there?” and becomes overjoyed when the reply comes back, “It’s Peter.” As a matter of fact, she becomes so overjoyed that she gets in such a hurry to report the news to those in the house that she forgets to open the door for Peter.

Here now is where we come to my reason for this post. When Rhoda informs all those people that Peter is standing at the door, their unified response to her is, “You’re out of your mind.” To her credit, though, Rhoda sticks to her story. This causes those prayer warriors to change their assessment of the situation and theorize that it must be Peter’s guardian angel at the door.

“You’re out of your mind.” “It must be his angel.” Those comebacks don’t exactly ring of perfect faith in prayer, do they? As much as those folks had been praying all week for God to deliver Peter, we would expect them to respond to Rhoda’s report by saying, “Praise God! We knew He’d hear our prayers and grant our request.” But that’s not what they said. It wasn’t until they had gone to the door to verify Rhoda’s report and let Peter in the house that they fully believed that God had delivered him. Even then they were astonished at what God had done.

What I take from all this is that our prayers don’t have to be perfect to get God to respond. Our phrasing doesn’t have to be intricately precise. We don’t have to be in a specific place or position. Our faith doesn’t even have to be 100% ideal. After all, didn’t Jesus say that faith as small as a mustard seed (Luke 17:6) can get the job done? One father of a demon-possessed boy even admitted that even though he had some belief that Jesus would cure his son, he needed Jesus to help him with that part of him that was dominated by unbelief (Mark 9:24). But did Jesus cure that son? Yep.

I’ll illustrate this by describing the relationship I have with my two sons. When Ryan or Royce come to me with a request, my response to that request won’t be based upon how they word the request or where they are when they relay it to me. My response will be based upon whether or not the request fits in with my will for the situation. In regards to that story from Acts chapter 12, it was God’s will to spare Peter’s life in that particular situation. As for James, though, it obviously wasn’t God’s will to spare his life. That’s why all the praying in the world didn’t prevent Herod from executing him.

What I’m trying to do here is get you to correctly understand the nature of prayer. There’s no doubt that you having more faith/belief will help you to pray better, more effective prayers. Passages such as Matthew 21:22, Hebrews 11:6, and James 1:5-8 prove that. Also, there’s no doubt that you can pray more intimately when you are alone as opposed to standing on a street corner or in the midst of a crowd (Matthew 6:6, 14:23). My point today is just that you shouldn’t obsess over every minute detail about your praying, as if checking off the boxes of all those details will be the difference between God granting your request or not granting it. God doesn’t want your prayer life to be that complicated or burdensome.

First and foremost, He wants it to be genuine, honest, sincere, and real. He wants your prayers to be conversations you have with Him in which you: pour out your heart to Him, tell Him what’s on your mind, share your anger, express your frustrations, admit your fears, thank Him for His blessings, honor His greatness, confess your sins, dedicate yourself to repenting of those sins, make your requests, and die to His will regarding those requests. Trust me, you build all those things into your prayer life and I promise you that God won’t turn a deaf ear simply because you don’t word everything the way a world-class writer would or don’t have a faith that is bulletproof. Those folks in that house in Jerusalem that night were just regular Christians, not that much different than you and I. They were imperfect people praying imperfect prayers. And yet those prayers worked, didn’t they? Take heart in this, Christian, and keep praying!

Posted in Adversity, Angels, Belief, Comfort, Confession, Discipleship, Doubt, Encouragement, Faith, Fatherhood, God's Love, God's Mercy, God's Provision, God's Work, Grace, Honesty, Influence, Needs, Prayer, Prayer Requests, Problems, Submission, Trials, Trusting In God, Worry | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Bubba Smith Learned Too Late

Bubba Smith was an All American football player at Michigan State. He is one of only three players from that program to have his jersey number retired. Following his collegiate career, he was the #1 overall pick of the 1967 NFL draft. He played for three NFL teams (the Colts, the Raiders, and the Oilers) over his successful nine-year career, winning a Super Bowl title with the Colts in 1970.

When his NFL days were finished, Smith eased into acting and landed several minor roles in television shows and movies. For example, if you remember the campy Police Academy movies from the 1980s, his 6’7 height made him a natural to play Officer Moses Hightower. Still, Smith became best known as an actor for a couple of Miller Lite beer commercials in which he played himself.

Those commercials rank among the most successful ads ever. In the early 1970s, lite beer was a fledgling product trying to find its foothold in the marketplace. The executives at Miller Lite knew they needed to make a splash. They had what they believed was a good product, but what they wanted were commercials that would resonate with the public.

Their advertising company’s brilliant solution was to employ famous sports figures to hawk the product. Bubba Smith became one of those guys. At the close of his best-known commercial, he ripped the top completely off a Miller Lite beer can and said, “I also like the easy-opening cans.” In a followup, which he did with retired Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus, he ripped the top off a can of tennis balls and asked, “Tennis, anyone?” In a matter of only a couple of years, the catchy slogan attached to the Miller Lite commercials — “Tastes great!” Less filling!” — became a phenomenon.

Interestingly, the ironic thing about Bubba Smith selling beer was the fact that he didn’t even drink it. He never did. To him, the commercials were nothing more than harmless ways to make some money, keep his name in the spotlight, and hang out with some of his jock friends. He really didn’t understand the national effect his commercials were having.

That changed, though, on a day when Smith returned to his alma mater of Michigan State to serve as the grand marshal of the homecoming parade. There he was, riding in the backseat of a convertible, waving to throngs of Michigan State fans as the car made its way down the street. People on both sides of the street were yelling at him, but they weren’t yelling, “Go, State, go” or anything of that sort. The fans on one side of the street were yelling, “Tastes great,” and the fans on the other side were yelling, “Less filling.”

Things only got worse when Smith arrived at the stadium for the homecoming game. As he later recalled,

The older folks are yelling, “Kill, Bubba, kill!” (their old chant from Smith’s playing days). But the students are yelling, “Tastes great! Less filling!” Everyone in the stands is drunk. It was like I was contributing to alcohol, and I don’t drink. It made me realize I was doing something I didn’t want to do. I was with my brother, Tody, who is my agent. I told him, “Tody, I’ll never do another Lite beer commercial.”

Unfortunately for Smith, his advertising legacy was already sealed. Because of those commercials, kids would constantly come up to him on the street and recite the lines, verbatim, from those Miller Lite commercials. The kids remembered the lines better than Smith did. Smith would also go to popular spring break locations such as Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale as a paid spokesman for the brewery and be shocked to see just how drunk the college kids would get.

Bubba Smith learned too late that your actions have lasting consequences and the more influence you have, the more responsibility you have to use it wisely. In summing up his decision to stop doing beer commercials, he said, “As the years wear on, you stop compromising your principles.” Smith died in 2011 at the age of 66. As for the Miller Lite advertising campaign, it ran from 1974 to 1991 and is responsible for making lite beer a staple of American life.

Bubba Smith’s story reminds me of a passage from Philippians 4:8. That verse says:

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things. (N.K.J.V.)

True. Noble. Just. Pure. Lovely. Of good report. Virtuous. Praiseworthy. Boy, talk about a list! These are the kinds of matters upon which you should meditate, with which you should get involved, and around which you should build your life. As best you can, keep yourself separate from anything that is false, ignoble, unjust, impure, ugly, disreputable, unethical, and scandalous. The simple takeaway here is that there is a lot that is wholesome and worthy about life. So why spend your time polluting yourself with stuff that is unprincipled, unwholesome, corrupt, and even downright evil? God has better for you than that.

Posted in Alcohol, Character, Choices, Decisions, Discernment, Discipleship, Doing Good, Dress and Appearance, Drugs, Entertainment, Family, God's Will, Holiness, Honesty, Influence, Justice, Righteousness, Sanctification, Separation, Sin, Sports, Truth | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

When God Doesn’t Seem to Care

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:1-3, N.I.V.)

A pastor was in his study working intently on a sermon when he heard his study door creak open a bit. He was surprised by the intrusion because he’d left strict orders that he wasn’t to be disturbed. Apparently, his young daughter hadn’t received those orders.

As she began to enter the room, the father scolded her by saying, “Stop right there. I’m busy and don’t have time to play. Please leave and close the door as you go.” Realizing she was on the brink of being in real trouble, the child spun around and hurriedly slammed the door behind her. Unfortunately for her, one of her fingers didn’t quite clear the door and got mashed in the process.

Screaming and crying followed, which compelled the father to get up from his desk and walk over to the child. Without even glancing at the mashed finger, he called for his wife to come and tend to their daughter. The mother came running and escorted the little girl to the bathroom where the medicine cabinet held the needed supplies. As the mother worked on the finger, she asked the child, “Does it hurt much?” To that, the daughter answered, “Yes, but what made it worse was that daddy didn’t even care.”

It’s bad enough to have to go through a difficult experience. It’s something else altogether when you feel like God doesn’t even care. I can hear this feeling in David’s question, “Will you forget me forever?” Of all the things I love about David’s Psalms, my favorite thing is that he doesn’t mind being down-to-the-bone honest when he talks to God. David was feeling abandoned by the Lord, and he told God so.

I myself have been there. I’ve had my share of mashed fingers that God couldn’t have cared less about. (At least that’s how it seemed to me.) Like the little girl who entered the study when she shouldn’t have, I’ve brought some of these mashed fingers upon myself. No question there. Other times, however, my enemies have pulled out hammers and given me mashed fingers I didn’t deserve. David had this kind of situation in mind when asked, “How long will my enemy triumph over me?”

Where David leaves me behind and goes off to some lofty place that I have trouble finding is summed up in the last two verses of the Psalm. There, he says to God:

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:5-6, N.I.V.)

Did you catch that? David’s answer to him feeling completely abandoned by God was to trust in God all the more, find his joy in God, and sing of God’s goodness. You talk about a difficult prescription for treatment! Let’s say that someone has broken your heart by severely disappointing you. What should you do about that? David’s prescription amounts to you forcing yourself to continue to show confidence in that person and continue to give that person chance after chance to come through for you.

David’s basis for this irrational course of action was God’s past goodness toward him. As David puts it, “…for he has been good to me.” These words don’t mean that David was forgetting about his present situation. He still felt forgotten, abandoned, and even betrayed by God. But what got him through all that and allowed him to keep looking to God was God’s long-term track record with him.

When David looked at the totality of his life, he could see the lengthy list of good things that God had done for him and the favorable position to which God had brought him. Was the “bad” he was currently experiencing real? Absolutely. Was it painful? Definitely. All told, though, David had to admit that the “good” in his life far outweighed the “bad.”

In golf, you can have a few rough holes and yet still have a good overall round. In tennis, you can lose a lot of points and yet still win the match. In football and basketball, you can lose a quarter and yet still win the game. In baseball, you can strike out and yet still have a good day at the plate if you get some hits in your other times at bat. The key in all of these situations is to keep a proper perspective. Don’t let the unpleasant minority moments rob you of the joy provided by the pleasant majority moments.

Of course this is easier said than done when your finger just got mashed and God seems thoroughly unconcerned about your plight. Therefore, I’m not saying that David’s prescribed treatment is always easy to put into practice. Still, I can tell you from my own experience that it does help. It really does.

As for why God doesn’t always come rushing to our aid and comfort when we get our finger mashed, well, that’s another post for another time. Perhaps He is trying to purge us of our childish mentality. Or, perhaps He is trying to build trust in us. Whatever His reasons are, I’m sure He has them and we’ll just have to leave them with Him.

What we can say for sure is that God does LOVE us. Jesus (God the Son) dying on the cross so that anyone who believes in Him as Savior can have all their sins forgiven proves that. Also, isn’t it interesting that David doesn’t say of God, “But I trust in your unfailing self…” Instead, he says, “But I trust in your unfailing love…” Getting back to my opening illustration, that father never stopped loving his daughter even though the daughter couldn’t feel his love in that specific situation. Feeling, you see, is not necessarily reality. I would encourage you to keep this in mind anytime you are hurting and God seems unconcerned about your pain. Just because you feel unloved by Him doesn’t mean that you actually are.

Posted in Adversity, Attitude, Children, Christ's Death, Comfort, Complaining, Depression, Disappointment, Doubt, Encouragement, Faith, Fatherhood, God's Love, Honesty, Parenting, Pastors, Persecution, Personal, Prayer, Problems, Suffering, Thankfulness, Trials, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Sit Here Until We Die?”

“Why sit here until we die?” That question is at the heart of one of the Bible’s most incredible stories, 2 Kings 7:1-20, and it’s a question that still has relevance in a multitude of situations today. Let’s talk about the story.

The army of Ben Hadad, the King of Syria, has laid siege to Samaria, the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel. Either as a result of the siege, or perhaps in addition to it, severe famine conditions now prevail in the city (2 Kings 6:24-25). People are literally dying of starvation. A donkey’s head is selling for eighty pieces of silver, and a pint of dove droppings (commentators believe this was a nickname for a certain type of plant) is selling for five pieces of silver (2 Kings 6:25). Some of the citizens are even resorting to cannibalism (2 Kings 6:26-29). Yes, the situation has gotten that extreme.

As bad as the conditions are inside the city, they are even worse for the lepers who are forced to live in designated areas outside it. So, there comes a day when four of the lepers who live just beyond the city’s gate engage in a serious conversation. The conversation begins with the logical question, “Why sit here until we die?” (2 Kings 7:3). Then they discuss their possible courses of actions.

One option is to stay where they are and die there from starvation. A second option is to enter into the city and die there from starvation. Since neither of those options offer any glint of hope, the lepers decide upon a third option. They will make their way out to the Syrian army, surrender, and hope the Syrians will not only mercifully spare their lives but also pity them enough to give them something to eat. Even if the Syrians kill them, nothing will really be lost because death seems inevitable anyway (2 Kings 7:4).

At dusk, as darkness falls, the lepers make their way to the Syrian camp. But when they reach the outskirts of the camp, they are surprised to find no one there (2 Kings 7:5). What the lepers don’t know is that God has just seriously messed with the Syrian army.

What has God done? He has caused the Syrian soldiers to falsely hear the noises of a massive approaching army’s horses and chariots. Upon hearing those noises in the dark, the Syrians have deduced that Israel’s King Jehoram has hired an allied army of Hittites and Egyptians to go to battle against them and that the allied army is about to attack (2 Kings 7:6). Despite the fact that the Syrians haven’t actually seen an army in the darkness, they have certainly heard it and have consequently dropped everything and fled their camp in fear (2 Kings 7:7).

The Syrian soldiers have left behind tents, horses, donkeys, clothing, silver, gold, and plenty of food and drink. Can you imagine the sight of four emaciated lepers, their skin barely hanging from their bones, having free run of the entire Syrian camp? The lepers go into one tent and there they eat and drink. They go into another and there they claim silver and gold. They go into another and there they claim even more silver and gold (2 Kings 7:8). They are like kids having free run in a candy store!

The bounty is so great that the lepers actually begin to feel bad for their selfishness. This prompts them to leave the camp and report the situation to the gatekeepers of Samaria. Because King Jehoram suspects the whole thing is a setup to lure his citizens out to a slaughter, he sends a couple of soldiers in chariots to survey the situation firsthand (2 Kings 7:11-15). When the soldiers return with the news that what the lepers have said is true, the citizens of Samaria stampede out to the camp and plunder it (2 Kings 7:16). They actually trample to death the officer that King Jehoram has placed in charge as Samaria’s gatekeeper (2 Kings 7:17-20).

You talk about a story! But let’s get back to those lepers and their question, “Why sit here until we die?” How many individuals should be asking that question right now? How many businesses should be asking it? How many schools should be asking it? How many churches should be asking it?

I mean, it’s one thing if you are doing what God wants you to be doing and He hasn’t given you a peace about changing. In that case, you need to stick with what you are doing and trust that God has a plan. On the other hand, though, if the only reason why you aren’t making a needed change is because you are being foolish, illogical, cowardly, or just downright stubborn, then you can learn something from those four lepers. Think about it. If no one else comes off looking good from this story, those lepers do. This in itself proves that God was pleased with not only their actions but, perhaps even more importantly, the attitude that led to their actions.

Posted in Addiction, Attitude, Change, Choices, Church, Contentment, Courage, Decisions, Desires, Discernment, Faith, Fear, God's Timing, God's Provision, God's Will, Inner Peace, Needs, Problems, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Easter’s Surprise

New Year’s Day is January 1st. Valentine’s Day is February 14th. Independence Day is July 4th. Halloween is October 31st. Christmas is December 25th. But Easter? Uh……

Easter is that rare holiday that is unpredictable in regards to when it falls on the calendar. At least it’s unpredictable to anyone who doesn’t keep up with the moon. For the record, Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the spring (vernal) equinox. That setup goes all the way back to the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325.

The thought process the Council of Nicaea used to arrive at that annual date was centered around the yearly Jewish Passover. That first full moon of the spring (vernal) equinox is also known as the Paschal (Passover) moon because that moon was the date of the Passover in the Jewish Calendar. Well, the Bible tells us that Jesus ate the Passover meal with His chosen 12 disciples the night before His crucifixion. That was the famous “last supper” in which He instituted The Lord’s Supper as part of the meal. Okay, since the Bible also tells us that He was crucified the next day, the following Sunday must have been resurrection Sunday, the Sunday we now call Easter.

Getting back to the lunar side of things, the word “equinox” means “equal night” and is a reference to the fact that the spring (vernal) equinox is the yearly date when night and day are nearly the exact same length all over the world. This means that Easter can fall anytime between March 22nd and April 25th. The last time it fell on March 22 was 1818, and the last time it fell on April 25th was 1943.

Of course it doesn’t help that some parts of the world use the Gregorian calendar and other parts use the Julian calendar. Those calendars differ by thirteen days. This has created the concepts of a Western (Gregorian) Easter and an Eastern (Julian) Easter. Typically, Western Easter and Eastern Easter are one week apart, even though there are certain years where the holiday falls on the same Sunday.

The interesting thing about all this is that Easter basically becomes something of a surprise each year in that us common folks have to check the calendar to find out exactly when it falls. In this way, we are like the apostles and all the rest of Christ’s followers. That first Easter was certainly a surprise to them.

Despite the fact that Jesus had forewarned them that He was going to be put to death and then resurrect, they really didn’t believe any of it. Even when the part about Him being put to death occurred, they still didn’t believe that the other part would happen as well. Early on that glorious Sunday morning, however, the process of convincing them officially began. We might say that the empty tomb was Christ’s way of saying to all of them, “Surprise!”

Posted in Christ's Death, Christ's Resurrection, Easter, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

By His Stripes We Are Healed?

Religious television programming has been dominated by preachers of the Charismatic/Pentecostal persuasion since the first day satellites started beaming such programming into our homes. Consequently, because one of the tenets of Charismatic/Pentecostal doctrine is that it’s always God’s will to heal, it’s not surprising that more Americans than ever now know the closing of Isaiah 53:5:

…And by His stripes we are healed. (N.K.J.V.)

The popular line of preaching that has sprung from these words is that physical healing was provided for in Christ’s atonement. In other words, Jesus didn’t just die on the cross to ensure the Christian’s eternal, spiritual healing, He did it to also ensure the Christian’s earthly, physical healing. Therefore, if a Christian gets stricken with any kind of sickness or disease, all that Christian has to do is claim his or her healing by faith in Jesus’ name and watch God work.

And so the phrase “By His stripes we are healed” can now be found all over the place. We see it on church signs. We see it on t-shirts. It shows up in our Facebook feeds time and time again. It’s as if, at least in this one area of doctrine, the Charismatic/Pentecostal preachers have converted Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and all the other denominations to their side.

But are we right to interpret “By His stripes we are healed” to mean that the Christian is guaranteed earthly, bodily healing by Christ’s death on the cross? No, we aren’t. “Says you,” I can hear the Charismatic/Pentecostal folks replying. Well, if you will permit me, I’ll give you the Biblical reasons for my contention. Ready? Here we go:

Reason #1: The Bible wasn’t originally written with chapters and verses. Those were added in later. This means that the words that immediately follow the Isaiah 53:5 words “…by His stripes we are healed” flow naturally out of the thought and explain it. And what do the words of Isaiah 53:6 say? They say:

All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (N.K.J.V.)

You see, there’s nothing there about earthly, bodily healing. To the contrary, these words are all about our spiritual condition rather than our physical condition. Isaiah doesn’t say we are all like sheep who have fallen into a ditch and become physically damaged; he says we are all like sheep who have gone astray. He doesn’t say we are all like sheep who have come down with a disease; he says we are all like sheep who have turned to our own way. The context of the passage has absolutely nothing to do with earthly, bodily healing.

Reason #2: Along the same lines, the prophet Isaiah himself uses the opening of his book to explain just exactly what type of sickness he is attributing to Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel. Isaiah quotes God as saying of the people of Judah, “…they have rebelled against Me” (Isaiah 1:2). God then goes on to say they are a people “laden with iniquity” who have “forsaken the Lord” and “turned away backward” (1:4). He says, “The whole head is sick” and “the whole heart faints” (1:5). He says they have no soundness “from the soul of the foot even to the head” (1:6). He says their “wounds and bruises and putrefying sores” have not been “closed,” “bound up,” or “soothed with ointment” (1:6).

Do you see how Isaiah is quoting God and speaking of Judah’s sickness in a figurative, metaphorical sense as opposed to a literal one? He’s saying to the people of Judah, “God says that you are a people sick and diseased with sin.” In light of this, when we get to Isaiah 53:5, which deals with the healing that Judah’s coming Messiah (Jesus) will provide, the reference can’t suddenly switch and start referring to bodily healing rather than spiritual healing. That just isn’t in keeping with what Isaiah has been saying all along to those people.

Reason #3: In 1 Peter 2:24-25, the apostle Peter references the words of Isaiah 53:5-6. He says concerning Jesus:

who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (N.K.J.V.)

Here again we find that the healing provided for by Jesus’ stripes has to do with sins, not bodily sicknesses. Notice that the verses say that Jesus bore our sins, not our sicknesses, in His own body. That is an important distinction to make.

Actually, there is no mention whatsoever by Peter of physical healing either in these verses or the verses that surround them. The immediate context of the entire 1 Peter 2:18-25 passage has to do with Christian slaves submitting to their masters as a way of emulating the way Jesus submitted Himself to His unjust arrest, trial, scourging, and crucifixion. That’s a far cry from being a passage about bodily healing.

It is also worth noting that Peter, writing under the inspiration of God, changes the tense of the Isaiah 53:5 passage. He says of Jesus “by whose stripes you were healed” rather than “by His stripes we are healed.” This subtle change means that the healing spoken of in Isaiah 53:5 has now happened. It isn’t an ongoing thing. Peter doesn’t say of Jesus, “by whose stripes you will be continuously healed.”

Reason #4: In Romans 8:18-25, the apostle Paul says that all of creation “was subjected to futility” (by mankind’s fall into sin) and that it will one day “be delivered from the bondage of corruption” (8:20-21). He then compares this bondage of corruption to the “groans and labors” of “birth pangs” (8:22). While each Christian might rightly assume that his or her body is a part of creation, Paul leaves no doubt that this is a correct assumption when he says that each Christian is “eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (v.23).

Notice that Paul specifically says that the Christian is waiting for the time when his or her body will be redeemed. This shows us that while the Christian’s soul has already been fully redeemed (bought back from sin), the body hasn’t. We’re all still waiting on that. In the meantime, our bodies are susceptible to sickness and disease. They are still adversely affected by the Fall just as creation itself is still adversely affected by it.

Reason #5: There are multiple New Testament passages that clearly show that it isn’t always God’s will to heal. Consider the following:

  • Paul left Trophimus, one of his ministry companions, sick in Miletus. (2 Timothy 4:20)
  • Rather than tell Timothy to claim his healing by faith, Paul advised him to drink a little wine for the sake of his stomach and his frequent infirmities. (1 Timothy 5:23)
  • Paul himself evidently suffered from some type of ailment with his eyes. (Galatians 4:13-15; 6:11)
  • Even Jesus didn’t heal every sick, blind, lame, paralyzed person with whom He came into contact. In the story of Him healing at the Pool of Bethesda, He only healed one. (John 5:1-15)
  • If Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was some type of physical ailment, God refused to heal him of it even though Paul asked Him to do so on three occasions. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

As you can see, these passages simply don’t fit with the whole “by His stripes we are healed” line of preaching that is going out incessantly over the airwaves. I don’t say this with any joy. After all, why wouldn’t I, as a Christian, want to claim a promise of guaranteed healing anytime I get sick? That certainly would make my life, not to mention my preaching, a lot easier. But facts are facts, and a wrong interpretation is a wrong interpretation, no matter who is preaching it.

The good news is that there is coming a day when all Christians truly will experience bodily healing in the fullest sense. That day will be the moment of the Rapture, when each and every Christian (whether alive or dead) will have his or her body changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:50-52). Jesus will step down out of heaven into earth’s sky and snatch up the bodies of all of history’s Christians to be with Him.

The dead in Christ will have their bodies resurrected first, and those bodies will be changed into glorified bodies and reunited with the souls that once inhabited them, Jesus having brought those souls with Him from heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:13-16). Next, the bodies of living Christians will be caught up and changed into glorified bodies on the way up (1 Thessalonians 4:17). And all of this will happen in a split second as our bodies of corruption at last put on incorruption and our mortality finally becomes immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53-54).

Until then, however, we must wait for the bodily fulfillment of what Jesus did for us on the cross. This means that we are fair game for everything from colic to cancer, boils to blindness, fevers to fibromyalgia, appendicitis to arthritis, gingivitis to gangrene, and toothaches to tetanus. Someone asks, “But doesn’t God still miraculously heal?” Yes, He does, but He only does it in rare instances, which means that we have no scriptural right to expect Him to do so every time. That’s just not how us living in bodies that are still under the bondage of the Fall works. And, unfortunately, all the misinterpreting and misapplying of all the Bible verses in the book won’t change that. Sorry.

Posted in Christ's Death, Creation, Discernment, God's Will, God's Word, Human Life, Prophecy, Restoration, Resurrection, Scripture, Sickness, Sin, Suffering, The Bible, Truth, Waiting | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment