(Exhortation on the readings for 10/26/03)

In Acts, Chapter Two, we see Jews gathered in Jerusalem from widely scattered regions around the Mediterranean Sea that made up those lands to which they had been dispersed.  Luke carefully records in Vs 5:  AND THERE WERE DWELLING AT JERUSALEM JEWS, DEVOUT MEN, OUT OF EVERY NATION UNDER HEAVEN.   Can you imagine over a million visitors and pilgrims swarming through the narrow streets, looking for sleeping accommodations, places to stable animals used for transportation, and ways to meet the ordinary needs that people have to attend to? It was probably much like that thirty three or so years earlier in Bethlehem when Joseph and Mary had arrived for the census.  It has been only fifty days now since the “world was turned upside down” through the tumultuous experience  of the trial, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  For this was Pentecost, one of the three mandatory festivals that Jews must attend.

According to Lk 24:49, the disciples had been told by Jesus:  BEHOLD, I SEND THE PROMISE OF MY FATHER UPON YOU: BUT TARRY YE IN THE CITY OF JERUSALEM, UNTIL YE BE ENDUED WITH POWER FROM ON HIGH.  The day of Pentecost had arrived and the 120 disciples who had gathered together in Jerusalem at this time were filled with the Holy Spirit after the form of cloven tongues of fire had alighted upon them.  However, it was only the twelve apostles who took a prominent part in the presentation of the gospel message to the community at  Pentecost.  Judas had recently been replaced by Matthias. Thus began the first stage of the apostolic preaching campaign.  We have recorded for us in these first chapters of Acts the speech that Peter  made to the crowd as recorded by the Holy Spirit through Luke.  The message was first to be preached in Jerusalem and then outward to Judea, Samaria and eventually to all the world, meaning the habitable surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.  Peter’s message was to the Jews.  Notice how he first addresses the crowd as “ye men of Judea and all that dwell in Jerusalem.”  Then he broadens his message to “ye men of Israel” from all quarters of the habitable.  Then he speaks to the “men and brethren” and finally to “all the house of Israel” worldwide.

After the shock of hearing the apostles speaking in “tongues”, each in his own language, Peter explains to the assemblage that this was not the result of drunkenness as charged by the doubters.  Rather this was the coming to fruition of  specific prophecies of Joel among others, and also of the Lord Jesus Christ himself.  In time the sun would be turned into darkness (meaning that the ruling and governing powers would be removed) and the moon into blood.  Since the moon often stands for the ecclesiastical aspect of the community, great calamities would befall the religious system.  In AD 70 the Jewish leaders were swept aside by the Roman armies of Vespasian and Titus.  We recognize that prophecies have not only a present or near-present outworking, but usually a future application also.  At the end of this gentile age there will again be a sweeping away of the present sun and moon, or ruling political and ecclesiastical powers of our day when Christ and His immortal saints will carry out the destruction of the present order.  So Peter’s address to the crowd carries this warning not only for their day, but it applies to us in our day also.

Peter continues then to recount the crucifixion, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior.  He gets a quick and startled reaction to this message that is a personal challenge to many of the beliefs the crowd holds.  It showed that their leaders were responsible for the terrible crime of crucifying the Son of God.  However, Peter assures them that forgiveness is possible. There is a great future awaiting those who respond with sincerity and without guile.  That same message is given to us today as we meet here to remember Christ’s great sacrifice.  These emblems of the bread and wine remind us of the great hope that has been put before us just as Peter was assuring them of that hope 2000 years ago. 

There are many exhortations embedded in Peter’s address.  In Vs 40, Luke tells us there are many other words that Peter used to testify to and to exhort his listeners, words which are not recorded.  Continuing in Vs 40, Peter tells the people something that was not applicable only to them 2000 years ago, but is an exhortation to us today.  He tells them: “Save yourselves from this untoward generation.”  “Untoward” means “hard-to-manage,” “stubborn,” “obstinate” or “intractable.”  Moses called the Israelites “stiff-necked.”  Other translations use the term “corrupt” generation.

We have the idea here of a warped or perverse people.  Bullinger describes the word as meaning “crooked through dryness.”  Dryness was the condition that afflicted Israel as a nation.  Isaiah alluded to this in Chapter 53, Vs 2 when he was describing the atmosphere into which the Messiah would be born and grow to adulthood:  FOR HE SHALL GROW UP BEFORE HIM AS A TENDER PLANT, AND AS A ROOT OUT OF A DRY GROUND: HE HATH NO FORM NOR COMELINESS; AND WHEN WE SHALL SEE HIM, THERE IS NO BEAUTY THAT WE SHOULD DESIRE HIM.  In Deuteronomy Chapter 32 we have recorded the Song of Moses and this too gives us a glimpse into the future generations. Vs 5 in the NIV reads: THEY HAVE ACTED CORRUPTLY TOWARD HIM; TO THEIR SHAME THEY ARE NO LONGER HIS CHILDREN, BUT A WARPED AND CROOKED GENERATION.  These are precisely the people from whom Peter was exhorting them to save themselves.

Any serious Bible student will very early on discover the unity of the diverse parts of the Holy Word.  These threads of consistency weave their way through Yahweh’s Word and become principles upon which we can build our faith.  As I read the three readings in our Bible Companion for this date, I found one thread which illustrates the great Bible truth of Separation.  There are echoes of it everywhere -- Cain from Abel, the 7 saved with Noah from all other mankind on the earth at that time, the Nation of Israel from the Hittites, Canaanites, etc., those living in the spirit from those living in the flesh, and on and on.  This is one of the principle themes that is developed in the follow-up sessions to the Reading the Bible Effectively seminar.  We see the principle of separation as early as Gen 1:4 when Light is separated from Darkness.  It follows right through to Revelation when the Household of Faith or Christ’s Bride is separated through the granting of immortality after judgment from the mortal population and those consigned to the second death.

Let’s take a look at the other readings for this date.  Second Chronicles Chapter 23 recounts a situation that results from Israel’s failure to abide by the principle of separation.  Solomon was remiss in separating himself from multiplying unto himself horses, gold, and women and their gods.  This ultimately led to the division of the kingdom with Jeroboam assuming the kingship in the North and Rehoboam in the South.  We know that there were no good kings in the North.  The South did produce some good kings that followed the ways of weh.  Recently we read in Chapter 17 the record which declares that in his early years, Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, walked in the ways that his father had followed.  However, in Israel, or the Northern Kingdom, King Ahab, who was married to the infamous Jezebel, was the monarch.  Jehoshaphat failed to abide by the principle of separation and joined Ahab in military endeavors.  At his death Jehoshaphat left a huge time bomb ticking.  He had allowed his son Jehoram to marry Jezebel’s daughter Athalia.  Paul in 2 Cor 6:14 exhorted believers:  BE YE NOT UNEQUALLY YOKED TOGETHER WITH UNBELIEVERS: FOR WHAT FELLOWSHIP HATH RIGHTEOUSNESS WITH UNRIGHTEOUSNESS? AND WHAT COMMUNION HATH LIGHT WITH DARKNESS?  Here is an echo right back to Gen 1:4 and the principle of separation.  Jezebel’s influence through her daughter and son-in-law was anathema to the Kingdom of Judah.  Proverbs 6:27 warns us:  CAN A MAN TAKE FIRE IN HIS BOSOM, AND HIS CLOTHES NOT BE BURNED?  This proverb comes from a group of proverbs dealing with adultery.  In the Word of Yahweh, there are many admonitions against literal adultery, but spiritual adultery was every bit as odious and offensive to our Diety.  Jehoshaphat’s actions would have constituted a form of spiritual adultery by his not remaining separate from the leaders in the Northern Kingdom!

This marriage of Jehoshaphat’s son  Jehoram and Jezebel’s daughter Athaliah   sealed a treaty between Judah and Israel whereby Judah gained nothing but evil consequences.  Jehoram had already slaughtered his brothers,  and all of  his own sons except Ahaziah.  When Jehoram died,   Ahaziah became in actuality a puppet king controlled by his mother Athaliah.  As prophesied earlier, the line of Ahab was going to be brought to an end by Jehu,  who not only killed 42 grandsons of Athaliah but also her reigning son Ahaziah after he had been wounded in battle.  Then, to avoid a challenge from anyone and to retain her power, Athaliah attempted to kill all of her grandsons that had been born to Ahaziah. She succeeded in killing all of them except Joash who was saved by the actions of his aunt Jehosheba and her husband the High Priest Jehoiada. Joash was now the only  direct link between David and Christ.  Had  Athalia succeeded in killing Joash, this direct link would have been severed.  Our reading today in Second Chronicles Chapter 23 relates how this last grandson Joash’s life was saved.  And thus Christ’s lineage from David  was preserved.  (Yahweh’s plan will not be thwarted by man!)  But Jehoshaphat’s failure to maintain separateness  nearly led to disaster!  One of the lessons in this long  and admittedly confusing narration then is to maintain separation from “this corrupt or untoward generation,” be it in Jehoshaphat’s time, or at the time of  Peter’s Pentecost  speech after Christ’s resurrection, or in our present time. 

Our other reading for this date is Daniel Chapter 4.  The whole of Daniel is another study in separation.  This time there is a positive result for Judah that results from Daniel’s separation, since many of the Jews eventually return to Judah after 70 years of captivity.  Daniel and  his three friends were led off to Babylon when the Southern Kingdom of Judah was taken into captivity.  These young lads lived by faith and viewed themselves as sojourners in a foreign land.  They had to live IN this foreign land, but they refused to become a part OF the land.  They negotiated an exemption from eating the food of their captors.  The three friends refused to worship the 90 foot golden statue of the king.  For this they were consigned to the fiery furnace from which they were saved by faith.  Daniel later refused to pray to King Darius after the Medes and Persians had conquered Babylon. Jealous  presidents and princes arranged through stealth and subterfuge to have  such an edict enacted.  Daniel’s faith and lifelong separation to Yahweh’s will saved him from the lions.   

Earlier, Nebuchadnezzar had seen the power of Yahweh working through Daniel in interpreting dreams.  In Chapter Four we read about the dream of the tree and Nebuchadnezzar’s eventually   being driven away from his people to live for 7 years with the wild animals. After Nebuchadnezzar was restored to power, he acknowledged the power of Daniel’s God.  He is quoted in Dan 4:37 as saying: NOW I NEBUCHADNEZZAR PRAISE AND EXTOL AND HONOR THE KING OF HEAVEN, ALL WHOSE WORKS ARE TRUTH, AND HIS WAYS JUDGMENT: AND THOSE THAT WALK IN PRIDE HE IS ABLE TO ABASE.  It appears here that the king was “talking the talk” and saying the right things, but we have no record that he ever put this talk into action and “walked the walk.”  He will most likely remain asleep in the dust on the great day of the Lord.  I say that he will “most likely remain asleep in the dust,” but we can’t claim to know the extent of God’s mercy.

Positive ends came from Daniel and his friends separating themselves from the apostasy before them, whereas eternal destruction awaited the Babylonian forces that Yahweh had used to punish stiff-necked Israel and Judah.  How often are we guilty of talking separation, and then not living it?  This present world can so insidiously draw us in.  Brother David Jennings illustrated this tellingly in his class on Humanities during our Study Weekend.  One news commentator refers to it as the “secularization of society.” We see it engulfing the world today as “in the days of Noah.”   Brother David chronicled the history of the world’s infatuation with “man” as the epitome of his philosophical musings from the early Greek philosophers up to the present when the flesh has cast off any consideration of Diety being involved in the outcome of history.  The humanities in actuality have made flesh its god or idol.  For example, witness the world  of athletics and sports or the entertainment industry today.

I mentioned earlier that this thread of separation runs clear through to Revelation.  In Rev 18 Vss 4 and 5, a voice from heaven exhorts,  COME OUT OF HER, MY PEOPLE, THAT YE BE NOT PARTAKERS OF HER SINS, AND THAT YE RECEIVE NOT OF HER PLAGUES.  FOR HER SINS HAVE REACHED UNTO HEAVEN, AND GOD HATH REMEMBERED HER INIQUITIES.  Brother Frank Abel gave us a powerful exposition of this verse in our Study Weekend last year. The reference here is to the apostate church which is but one aspect of “that corrupt or untoward generation.”  Our faith “in things unseen” gives us great hope that, indeed, these things will be swept away as was the faithless generation in Noah’s day.

Brother Frank had many news clippings and media examples to illustrate just how venal the Roman Catholic Church has become, how preoccupied it is with power and control, and how it has metamorphosed over its history to become whatever will serve its interests best.  He explained that not only has the Harlot (to use the Bible’s title) taken the lead in these nefarious activities, but that the Daughters of the Harlot have eagerly and enthusiastically aided and abetted her in this apostasy.  Indeed, the Spirit urges those under the power and influence of the Harlot  and her daughters to come out of her and separate themselves from her Untruth.

As we separate ourselves from mainline churches, that is if we weren’t fortunate enough to grow up in a Christadelphian home, there is a question we will sometimes ponder as we make our way through this secular and evil world, our wilderness like unto that through which the Israelites were led by Moses.  That question is this: Are the Christadelphians the only ones who’ve got it right?  Are people in other churches really not in fellowship with Yahweh and without hope?  It smacks of arrogance to say that we’re the only ones who’ve got the Truth. 

However, we do see a world that is rapidly breaking down barriers:  peace and unity at any cost, gay bishops, female clergy, a redefinition of marriage, and clergy abuse to name a few.  Millions have had their lives turned upside down by being forced to accept misguided ideals.  Many have come to the conclusion that you can’t be sure of anything; there are no absolutes; there is no truth; principles, after all,  are phony -- so let’s eat, drink and be merry!

Our life in the Truth is the complete opposite of this hedonistic philosophy.  John 17:17 asserts:  GOD’S WORD IS TRUTH. The Lord Jesus is the only way, the truth, the only way to life.  The world shrieks back at us that there is no absolute truth.  Everything is relative.  You have to be politically correct.  But we know that Yahweh did promise the Patriarchs, beginning with Abraham, eternal life on earth, not in heaven.  He really did explain to him, to these Patriarchs, the work of Christ.  Christ really will come back to fulfill these promises.

I remember several years before I was baptized when I was asked to provide music for a funeral service.  I discussed the hymn selections with the clergyman.  He read the text of one hymn that spoke of Christ’s return.  Rather than confuse the people by omitting certain verses of the hymns, he said that we would sing all the verses even though his personal theology didn't allow for the physical return of Christ!  What bible was he reading?

But those in Christ by baptism really will be raised
at Christ’s coming and share in that eternal age after a favorable judgment.  Sin really is serious in spite of what the media tell us.  The devil really is within us and merely serves as another name for our sin nature and not a supernatural, fallen angel that makes us sin!  That would take all the responsibility for sin from us and place it on some outside entity. We really must repent. Christ really is of our nature. He really can grant us forgiveness through the Father.  Job was able to see beyond the misery of his affliction.  He knew that his redeemer liveth.  This is the challenge of living in the Truth.

Now if there is Truth, it stands to reason that there is Untruth or error.  If we hold fast to Yahweh’s Word which is Truth, we more effectively deny the truth of anything else.  The idea that Christians must be “inclusive” is, in effect, a denial of the Truth and separateness of the Father and the Son as recorded in the Word.  There is repeated Biblical emphasis on our not only believing the Truth but also on our denying error.  It is not a coincidence that our Statement of Faith not only lists First Principles of Truth, but it also lists Doctrines which Must be Rejected.  We cannot believe that , for example, God is One without rejecting unequivocally the doctrine of the trinity.

We must separate our fellowship from people who embrace these false doctrines.  Because of the adultery of natural Israel over the course of time, the “false” or apostate  Christian  church has departed from the basic principles of the Jewish faith which are at the root of true Christianity.  These include the promises made to the Patriarchs, belief in one God, Messiah’s being inferior to Yahweh, and not God the Son  and  eternally preexistent, the Hope of Israel being also a Gentile hope, an eternal kingdom on earth just to name a few.  The Gentile world has failed to separate people from their doctrines.  We can’t honestly say, “Christadelphians alone have the Truth.”  That would be intellectually dishonest for there are some labeled “Christadelphian” who sadly don’t believe these doctrines.  And there could well be isolated groups who don’t share our name who well could believe as we do.  Bro. Alan Eyre has chronicled some of these believers down through the ages in two excellent books I recommend for your reading: Brethren in Christ and  The Protesters.

We must make this separation between people and doctrine as we look out on the false,so-called “Christian” world around us.  We cannot judge any man in the sense of condemning him; that is for God, “the judge of all.”  Yet we must “judge righteous judgment” in the sense of forming a Biblically-informed opinion.  When it comes to doctrine, we can certainly say that there are some doctrines which are vital to understand if we are to enter into covenant relationship with God.  There is a set of doctrines which Eph 4:4-6 calls “the one faith”; which Rom 6:17 calls “that form of doctrine”  to be believed before baptism; and what 2 Tim 1:13 calls “the form of sound words.”  It is baptism, following a knowledge of this one basic Gospel, which places one in covenant relationship with God.  Our sincerity  or “Christian” way of life is irrelevant in terms of entering the covenant.  We only enter into Christ by being baptized into Him; it is easy to underestimate the importance of baptism and covenant relationship.  The “Christian” world is not in this relationship; the bulk of them are not even baptized, and certainly do not know the true terms of the new covenant.

God’s people in the past were the people of Israel.  Through baptism and sharing the faith of Abraham, we become spiritual Israel.  We are only part of the people of God by reason of our correct faith and baptism.  When we see someone who appears so sincere in the fake “Christian” churches, we must ask, “Are they in spiritual Israel, or not?”  Under the Old Covenant, it is not revealed to us that God had fellowship with isolated groups of Gentiles whom He respected for their sincerity.  He fellowshiped only with His people Israel.  But in extreme cases of Gentile sincerity and faith, they were guided by Him to join His people Israel.  Ruth and Rahab are examples of this in the Old Testament; and in the New Testament, God beheld the potential spirituality of Cornelius, and guided him to join up with the body of believers.

We are here this morning to remember the life, death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior through these emblems of bread and wine.  In his address to the crowd, Peter recounted the story of this  to his listeners.  Those who accepted his message were baptized and about 3000 were added to their number that day.  After that they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers.  Let me reiterate these four activities:  they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and  in fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers.

Let us consider this phrase “continued steadfastly,” and make it our goal.  The early converts were strong and firm in their faith.  They endured trials and persevered with firmness of purpose.  They demonstrated an attitude which indicated that they would permit nothing whatsoever to impair or interfere with their growth in the Truth.  (Does this describe us?)  They applied this diligence to studying the Word and the apostles’ doctrines by learning how to adhere in an uncompromising manner to that which they had been taught. (Does this describe us?) They behaved as if fellowship was an act of unity, or togetherness, in a mutual sharing of the bonds of Truth. (How about us?)  Breaking of bread caused their minds to be continually renewed in contemplation of the crucified Christ.  Their regular exercise of prayers maintained communication with the Father through the Son.  (Again, how about us?) This was, and is, an excellent formula for personal as well as ecclesial development.  It was effective then, and it can be equally effective in these last days.

As we share in fellowship around the table of our Lord this morning, let us devote ourselves to these same worthy goals.  As we grow in fellowship, we gain support from each other to save ourselves FROM this corrupt generation at the same time as we are separating ourselves TO the accomplishment of these goals of which Peter speaks.

Jack VOGELGESANG North Industry, Ohio