The articles from 2017 on this page are listed below. They appear in descending order.
- October: Martin Luther and the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation
- July: Reflections on passing my 80th birthday – from June’s pen
- March: The Middle East – Jews, Arabs, Jesus and His People
A DAY TO REMEMBER – October 31, 1517
I am interrupting my last two chapters of the series “Deliverance…The Story of WWII” in order to acquaint my readers with one of the most significant events in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ.
October 31st, 2017, is the 500th Anniversary of the spark which lit the fire of what we know as the 16th century REFORMATION.
WITTENBERG and the 95 THESES
On October 31, 1517, a very determined monk named MARTIN LUTHER made his way through the busy market of the mid-German city of Wittenberg. He carried with him one or more sheets of paper which he proceeded to nail to the door of the Castle Church. This door acted as a notice-board and people immediately peered to see what it was about. To most it was incomprehensible because it was in Latin. However, if any scholars turned up they discovered it was a challenge to debate certain questions to do with religion. Brother Martin was obviously upset by some practices and teachings of the church: especially the sale of forgiveness.
If you should ask, “Which church?” Answer: the Roman Catholic Church. For almost 1,000 years there had been no other. Every church and every Christian swore allegiance to the Pope and his teachings.
The last straw for Brother Martin was the recent visit to Wittenberg of JOHN TETZEL, emissary of Pope Leo X. Gathering a crowd Tetzel sold what was described as “AN INDULGENCE” whereby for a certain sum the donor would be granted a number of years off punishment in Purgatory. These could also be bought on behalf of a deceased loved one.
A “Plenary Indulgence” would cost a large sum but Tetzel declared with such a one all your sins would be forgiven.
The money raised was supposed to pay for the re-building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (and pay off the Archbishop’s debts!).
“Is your mother, right now, suffering in Purgatory?” cried Tetzel, banging his drum. “Will you free her this minute with this ‘Plenary Indulgence’?”
“Once the coin in the coffer rings
A soul from Purgatory heaven-ward springs.”
It made Brother Martin’s blood boil!
Some of Luther’s Arguments
Below are four samples taken from the 95 Theses:
- When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ says, “Repent ye…” He means that the entire life of the faithful should be a repentance.
- Every Christian who truly repents has full forgiveness both of punishment and guilt…without letters of indulgence.
- Why does not the Pope empty Purgatory for the sake of holy love…for after all he does release countless souls for the sake of sordid money contributed for the building of a cathedral.
- These indulgences make the Pope open to criticism such as, “Why does the Pope – whose wealth is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus [a notoriously wealthy Roman general] – why build the Basilica of St. Peter with the money of the poor believer rather than with his own money!” (Note: This did not go down well in the “Vatican”!)
Friends of Luther made copies and within two weeks every University in Germany was debating them. In two months they found their way to Universities in France, Spain, and England. Furthermore, the Theses were translated into German, printed in thousands of copies and distributed throughout the States of Germany. In our parlance, “They went viral!”
Of course God had seen to it that printing was invented in the mid-15th century. No more having to make copies by hand. Luther wrote commentaries on the Psalms and Galatians as well as other books.
At first Luther was astonished. He had not intended this. But he soon began to see here the remarkable Hand of Almighty God.
Woodcut posters were made of Luther’s image and pilgrims flocked to Wittenberg to hear him preach. Luther made sure a copy was sent to his prince, “The Elector of Saxony,” and his Archbishop, who immediately forwarded it to the Pope. Leo had no intention of reforming the church and immediately began a war with Luther to silence him. This monk might have a titanic personality but Leo would sink him!
Who was Luther, and what reforms did he want?
WHO WAS HE?
Born in Eisleben, Saxony, November 10, 1483, he was the eldest son of Hans and Margaretta. Inside one year the family moved to Mansfeld. Hans Luther worked in copper mines, became part owner of several and had a place on the City Council. Young Martin was sent to several Latin schools which he later described as “purgatory and hell”!
In 1501 he was sent to the University of Erfurt for his father had plans for Martin to become a lawyer. He obtained his Master’s degree in 1505 though he described the university as “a beer house and a whore-house”. He moved on to Law School and continued to show exceptional intelligence and talents as a debater. He read Aristotle and others teaching him to reason and test everything. He found philosophy alright so far as it went but it didn’t teach him about God. The Bible and theology he found far more important. He dropped out of law school after one year. He became concerned for his soul. A young colleague had died suddenly and Luther began to fear death. What if he should die? He was not ready to meet God. He sure was a sinner far from the righteousness that he was convinced God required. He would face awful judgement.
In 1505 he took leave to spend time at home and on his journey back he was caught in a fearful storm. Thunder and lightning was striking close to him and he cried out, “Saint Anne, save me, save me.” He pledged, “I will become a monk.” (Saint Anne was the patron saint of miners.)
Much to his father’s dismay he kept his pledge. Giving away all his possessions he entered the St. Augustine’s Monastery.
In the monastery he regularly attended every Mass, after confessing his sins and doing the required penance. He tried to find peace with God through extreme self-depredation. Fasting, sleeping without his blanket – even in the bone-chilling temperatures – flagellation, pilgrimages and prayer. Within two years he was ordained a priest in Erfurt Cathedral. When conducting his first Mass he trembled at the experience of actually handling the literal body and blood of Christ (as he believed it to be). What if he should drop it or spill it, he would surely be damned to hell forever.
His Confessor, Johann von Staupitz urged him to turn from such continued self-examination and look to Christ.
Von Staupitz had become Dean of the University of Wittenberg and he invited Luther to join the faculty as teacher of theology. Luther was awarded a doctorate in 1512.
He made a pilgrimage to Rome, the Holy City, and was shocked by what he saw. It was anything but holy. He climbed the Santa Scala on his knees praying the “Our Father” on each step. He stopped…is this really true? Would God demand this? He heard priests mocking the Sacrament and other rites.
THE TOWER EXPERIENCE
The crucial event which happened in Luther’s life was as follows: As we have said, he sought peace with God continually regretting not reaching the standard he believed God required. One day, studying again the book of Romans, he focused on chapter 1, verse 17. He later wrote, “One phrase…stood in my way. In it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’ for the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.”
Luther said he even came to hate the expression ‘the righteousness of God’. But then one day in a flash of understanding he came to see it was God’s own righteousness which is imputed to the sinner as a gift of GRACE to be received by faith alone. Not works. FAITH.
JUSTIFICATION (being counted “righteous” though in practice you are unrighteous) is entirely a gift from God.
Of course Luther, who knew his Bible well, realized it was everywhere. For example, Ephesians 2, verses 8-9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Said Luther, “I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through gates that had been flung open.”
Luther declared: this teaching is “the standard by which the Church stands or falls. It is the summary of all Christian doctrine.”
It could be put like this:
Salvation is: (i) By GRACE alone; (ii) Through FAITH alone; (iii) In CHRIST alone; (iv) To the GLORY of GOD alone.
ATTEMPTS TO SILENCE LUTHER
The Church’s threats only stimulated Martin Luther to examine more carefully what practices the Church should be rid of as being unbiblical. For example: he came to believe the whole idea of indulgences was wrong; indeed Purgatory itself did not exist.
Castle Church, for instance, boasted 17,000 relics, including 35 portions of the cross; the gown of the Virgin Mary; and even some milk from her breast. The Elector of Saxony was proud of his collection. The Pope had declared if any pilgrim could see them all they would gain an indulgence of 127,709 years off purgatory.
What nonsense, taught Luther. Sheer superstition, if not idolatry.
In 1518 – Luther was called to AUGSBURG where an Imperial Diet (Convocation) was in session. Cardinal CAJETAN, Papal Legate, was sent to try to persuade Luther to recant such views. Luther’s friends feared his life was in danger and smuggled him away during the night. Their suspicions were correct. Cajetan had instructions to arrest him if he did not recant.
1519 – one year after Augsburg he was summoned to LEIPZIG to meet a formidable debater and theologian Professor JOHANN ECK. Eck drew Luther’s attention to the words of Christ to Peter (thought to be the first “Bishop of Rome” and therefore the first Pope) in Matthew 16:18, “…on this rock I will build my church.” Therefore the Pope has the exclusive right to interpret Scripture. Luther declared that Christ is building His Church not on Peter but on the declaration Peter made of Jesus being the Christ and Son of God.
1520 – June 15, Pope Leo X warned Luther he risked excommunication. In a “Papal Bull” (Edict) sent to Luther, he was given 60 days to recant. On December 10 Luther publicly burned the “Bull” in the city square. “They burned my writings,” said Luther, “so I will burn theirs!”
Luther was EXCOMMUNICATED, January 3, 1521.
The climactic showdown came in the next year.
THE DIET (Convocation) of WORMS – April 18 – May 25, 1521
Here gathered all the princes and rulers of (what we know as) Germany; all other states in the HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE, and representatives of great cities.
Also there were Cardinals and Archbishops and other “princes” of the Church. Presiding was the EMPEROR himself, CHARLES V. All were decked out in their glorious robes with Spanish troops in uniforms ringing the assembly.
Luther was called to appear before them and answer for his writings. Luther’s supporter, the Elector of Saxony, had obtained from the Pope a “safe conduct”, for Luther’s journey to and from Worms.
On a table had been set out copies of all Luther’s works to date. He was asked if he would recant the teachings that denied the church’s teachings. Perhaps awed by the occasion, Luther asked for time to examine which teachings were found objectionable or heretical. Luther said, “This touches God and His Word. This affects the salvation of souls…I beg you give me time.” He was given one day.
Luther conferred with his friends. He said he had expected a debate. Obviously it was a Judicial Hearing.
Next day, again his recantation was demanded. Martin Luther replied in words which should move every true Christian heart. “Unless I can be convinced from the Holy Scriptures or with plain reason…I cannot trust either in the Pope or in Councils alone, since it is well known they have often erred and contradicted themselves…I cannot, I will not recant. It is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.”
After a few days deliberation Martin Luther was declared “a heretic and an outlaw.” He would be arrested and face due punishment. If anyone should shelter him or offer him food and drink it would be a crime. If anyone killed him they would not be punished.
A recent biography by the secular Regus Professor of History at Oxford, Lyndal Roper writes this, ”The courage he [Martin Luther] showed at Worms was breathtaking. For a commoner to stand up to the Emperor and the most powerful princes in the Empire, and to resist the might of the Church, was as extraordinary as it was unforgettable.”
LUTHER IN HIDING
Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, had no faith in the Pope’s so-called “Safe Conduct.” As Luther made his way home to Wittenberg from the trial in Worms he was “kidnapped” by masked and armed men. The Elector had arranged it for Luther’s protection and he was taken to WARTBURG CASTLE at EISENACH. A tower room was arranged for him with simple furnishings, a desk, and other requirements. A retractable stairway was meant to prevent discovery. Luther, being a condemned outlaw, remained here for about five years, returning to Wittenberg in March 1522.
In hiding Luther kept himself very busy. He wrote pamphlets and even books, but first he wished to translate the New Testament into German. Instead of having to translate from the Latin of Jerome (late 4th Century), he had available an excellent new edition of the original GREEK prepared by the Dutch scholar ERASMUS in 1516.
In this we see again the Sovereign Hand of Almighty God at work. In 1455 Turkish Islamic armies had sacked Constantinople causing many Greek and Latin scholars to flee to the West with precious ancient parchment scrolls and manuscripts; plus writings of the Early “Fathers” of the Church. Erasmus worked with these diligently for several years producing the text used by Luther (and, incidentally, WILLIAM TYNDALE translating the New Testament into ENGLISH). We know it as the “TEXTUS RECEPTUS”. It was the base text used to translate the King James (Authorized) Version in 1611.
Since this essay is not a history of Luther’s life, I will turn to his Legacy and what we owe to him and other great Reformers. The REFORMATION being a mighty work of God He used many events and raised up numerous Reformed Leaders and Preachers. One thinks immediately of Tyndale (England); John Knox (Scotland); John Calvin (Geneva); Ulrich Zwingli (Zurich); and many others.
- THE AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE
What we have considered so far makes it obvious this must be Luther’s most important legacy. The Bible is God’s Holy and Infallible Word. Not the pronouncements of some pope or council or any other authority but God’s Word alone. Here is “a lamp to our feet and a light to our path” (Psalm 119:105). On this authority alone Luther took his brave stand. It could have cost him his life. It did so for many others.
- THE BIBLE TRANSLATED
I would think Luther would have read the words of John Wycliffe, Oxford Scholar of 150 years earlier, “The Bible is the property of the people.” Wycliffe – since called “The Morning Star of the Reformation” – sent out “Poor Preachers” (nicknamed LOLLARDS) to read aloud the Scriptures in English to the people in towns and villages. The Church hunted them down, burnt their translations, and usually the Lollards as well. They dug up Wycliffe’s body, burnt it, and scattered his ashes on the river. The Bible, they said, is only for priests.
Praise God they failed to burn Luther and in just eleven weeks he completed the New Testament in the German vernacular. Five thousand copies were printed in the first two months and immediately sold faster than sausages.
Said Luther, “A simple workman, armed with the Scriptures, is superior to the Pope and his councils without them.”
In 1525 Tyndale – in exile from Henry VIII’s hunters – printed his precious English New Testament, and it was printed in WORMS (of all places!) and smuggled in bales of cloth to England. Though banned it was eagerly sought and Anne Boleyn used to courageously read from it to Henry VIII.
Tyndale was betrayed. In 1536, tied to a stake, he was first strangled then burnt. His last words were spoken loudly and were a prayer, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!”
Two years later Henry ordered that every parish church in England should have – and display – a Bible in English.
Luther, along with the help of other scholars, completed the German Old Testament in 1534.
- THE BIBLE PREACHED
Luther believed that God has ordained Pastors to feed and teach His flock by expounding His Word. Called and then anointed by the Holy Spirit.
Though they now had the Bible in their own tongue, a large number of people could not read. The pastor would read it, and then explain and apply it. That is what EXPOSITION means. Then there will be an exhortation to believe and obey God’s Word.
Jeremiah 3:15, “I will give you pastors according to my heart which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.”
To the Apostle Peter, Jesus said, “Feed my sheep…Feed my lambs.” (See also Acts 2:42; 2 Timothy 4:1-3)
Luther said, “When I preach I regard neither doctors nor magistrates, above forty I have in my congregation. I have all my eyes on the servant-maids and on the children. And if the learnéd men are not well pleased with what they hear, well the door is open!”
- PREACH GOD’S GOSPEL
Luther believed that preaching must center upon the work of Christ, upon His life, His death as our Savior, and His resurrection. Remember “Justification” is by Grace alone, by Faith alone, through Christ alone. Luther said to pastors, “Beat it into their heads continually.”
Preach not the “Social Gospel”, that is: centering almost entirely upon good works and making the world a better place. Certainly Jesus said that those who follow Him are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world”. But those to whom I refer preach not sin, repentance, judgement to come, heaven and hell. There is no “Cross”.
Remember: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15).
Beware also the “Prosperity Gospel” that is not God’s Gospel. These preachers are like modern-day “Tetzels” selling indulgences. They say, “Send a donation to me and my ministry, then God will give you everything you want. Are you sick? He will heal you. Are you poor? He will make you rich.”
This is NOT God’s Gospel. Preachers who preach a FALSE Gospel are FALSE prophets. They are “anathema” to Him (see Galatians 1:6-9).
In church, music was confined to choirs, and they merely chanted. Luther did away with choirs. He wanted the congregation to sing – “Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19). Luther himself wrote over forty hymns. One of the most well-known is based upon Psalm 46, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”. He also wrote the tune.
Luther encouraged others with a poetic gift to write hymns full of great Gospel truths. He wanted the “maids, servant-girls, and children” to learn doctrine through their hymns.
Not all the other reformers followed him at first. Some were afraid of bringing the world’s entertainment into the church.
Luther said, “I have no use for cranks who despise music. It is a gift of God. Next after theology, I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor.” He also said, “Why should the Devil have all the best tunes.”
I thank God that in my lifetime God has gifted some men and women to write fine tunes to the Psalms as well as new hymns filled with great biblical truths. Nevertheless one sad thing today is that many Evangelical churches no longer sing the great hymns of long ago. They have abandoned Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, Augustus Toplady, John Newton, William Cowper, Fanny Crosby, Anna Letitia Waring and so many more. These hymns of a previous age are God’s heritage to the church. Alas, many modern “worship songs” are very repetitive, difficult for the congregation to sing, and led by over-amplified musicians.
Let us be discriminating, therefore, singing the best of today’s music but not abandoning our heritage.
As I have been suggesting, “The Reformation” was also a great “Revival”. One writer declares it was “…an amazing movement of the Holy Spirit, across national frontiers and social classes, from princes to ploughmen…the major work of the Holy Spirit in renewal since apostolic times…” (Paul Wells).
Some may say, “But Harry, didn’t Luther have faults?”
Yes, of course. He was a sinner and a work in progress like the rest of us. So was Noah (declared righteous); Abraham (God’s friend); David (a man after God’s heart); Peter (chosen preacher at Pentecost); Paul (major Holy Spirit’s writer of the New Testament).
I thank God for Martin Luther
I thank God for my Bible in English.
I thank God that by Grace alone, I have put my trust in Jesus alone.
I remember, some years ago, baptizing a lady who said to me, ”Pastor, I was brought up a Roman Catholic. I was taught to believe Jesus is the Savior. Now I believe – and know – He is my Savior.”
Reader, can you say that? Trust Jesus – and Him alone – for forgiveness.
Reflections on passing my 80th birthday – from June’s pen
June 2017 saw me pass my 80th birthday. Quite a momentous event even in these days of longevity! Our four children, spouses, grandchildren, and our two sisters, gathered together and put on an amazing celebration for my birthday. It was something that will live with me for the rest of my days.
In light of this “big” birthday, I could not help but reflect upon the passage of time and the changes I have witnessed over the years – as well as looking forward to the future.
I grew up in Bristol, England, during World War II and, although only young, have vivid memories of bombing raids and the devastation from bomb damage which took years to rebuild. It gave me pause as my mind went to those who today are facing the same thing.
Hardly a day passes but we see on our TV screens pictures of the destruction caused by aerial bombing in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, to mention just a few of those places in the world currently ravaged by war. Will they ever be able to rebuild their homes and lives?
I particularly remember one friend of my parents who came back from being a prisoner-of-war in WWII who never really recovered from the horrors he had witnessed. Other families we knew lost loved ones and mourn to this day.
How my heart bleeds for the refugees of today – fleeing from the horrors of war with nothing but the clothes on their backs. I look at the pictures and think these are people who not long ago had homes and lives, jobs and careers, but now are homeless and destitute, wandering in the wreckage of their lives, wondering where their next meal is coming from, seeking shelter wherever they can find it. How I admire those volunteers who devote their lives to helping the helpless.
Geography was one of the subjects I enjoyed at school. I keep having to relearn it as names of countries and cities change! The U.S.S.R. disappeared and new countries have emerged or been renamed. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with all the changes. As we look at our Rand McNally Atlas of Nations republished in 1989 we see so many changes even since then – for example; Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were still under the U.S.S.R.; Germany was still divided into East and West, the East being under the U.S.S.R.; Mumbai was Bombay; Chennai was Madras, Burma is now Myanmar, Zanzibar is now Tanzania, and so I could go on.
When Harry traveled to Poland on a mission visit in 1983 he was out of contact for a month after crossing the border to travel through East Germany to Poland – behind the “Iron Curtain”. Long waits at the borders of East Germany and Poland. How different it is now.
Society also has experienced a seismic revolution over the years of my lifetime. Divorce now is easy. Marriage is no longer held in respect with more and more couples choosing to live together without any long term commitment. Children grow up in single parent homes. Contraception is readily available. Abortion is legal, as is “gay” marriage. It is hard to take in that all these changes in society have occurred in the last 50 or so years.
Travel – The growth of the airline industry has, in my lifetime, opened up the world for people to travel and experience different races and cultures. The first time Harry and I traveled in Europe, together with Harry’s father, we had to show passports and change money at every border.
Subsequently, the European Union and the common currency made it so much easier to travel within Europe by car.
But now in 2017people can travel, either to work or as tourists, all over the world from airports often in their own locality. So many of our friends enjoy cruises to exotic destinations.
For us to return to England by sea was an amazing experience and a first (and probably last!).
I well remember the excitement in our house when my parents got their first washing machine. It was hardly rocket science since it had to be agitated by hand – but to have a built-in hand operated mangle was real progress.
Harry and I did not own a refrigerator until after the birth of my fourth baby in 1967. It was a constant challenge to try to keep food fresh in the summer. Home freezers did not exist. Now look at where we are with household appliances. My oven died a week or so ago and therefore I have purchased a new oven. It has LED display, is fully programmable, with conventional oven, fan oven, and other capabilities that we could not have dreamed of even 30 years ago.
Consider computing and the digital age. When Harry studied for his doctorate in the late 1980s word processing was just coming in. However it had not reached our household so I had to manually type his dissertation and considered myself fortunate to have an electric typewriter. What a job it was correcting typos. What a blessing it is now to be able to cut and paste, add pictures, and easily correct mistakes or edit a document – including this one!
How many remember the early computers in the 1980s with the blue DOS screen – and virtually no memory – always freezing up. Now it seems that it is the norm to have a hand-held device that has virtually all the capabilities of the desktop computer – and more. For those of my generation just keeping up with it all is a major undertaking – whereas my eight-year-old granddaughter has been able to “swipe” and “tap” and “scroll” almost from the cradle!
As for “texting”,” tweeting”, and everything else, she has it all down pat while grandma tries to get her head round it all.
I well remember the awe with which I viewed an early TV set at my friend’s house back in the 1950s. It was a huge box surmounted by a tiny screen – and for years after only in black and white. Now the smart TVs, flat-screen TVs, gigantic screen TVs, are a part of our daily lives – and all that has taken place within the past 50 years or so. What an amazing world we live in.
How grateful I am for my education – I trained to be a teacher – and for the sacrifices my parents made for me to have piano and singing lessons, and then for me to go to college. How different things are now when higher education is so costly – way beyond the reach of so many – and student loans can often take a lifetime to repay.
It was while in teacher training college some 60 years ago that I met the man who has ever since been my beloved partner and guide. We have traveled the road of life together since we married 59 years ago – in 1958. How blessed we have been over those years.
As I look back over my life I am so thankful that I have lived and worked in many different places on two continents. I have met, worked alongside, and become friends with so many wonderful people of many different nationalities and ethnicities.
So – what does the future hold for two people in their 80s? “God holds the key to all unknown, and I am glad…”.
Probably at least one, if not both, of us will be taken from this life within the next decade. Sometimes I smile when I hear about plans for the 2020s and onwards, and I wonder if I will still be here to see it. I know it is not popular to write like this, and the doctor would conclude I am depressed and need some cognitive therapy! But, I am a realist and a Christian. Will my death be the end of June Kilbride?
Most definitely NOT! At the age of 8 years old, during a children’s service in the local chapel (pictured above) my family attended in Bristol, I committed my life to Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord. As I grew through teenage years and into adulthood I learned more of what it had cost for the Lord Jesus to come to earth and die to save me and what it means to be a disciple for Him. That learning process continues to this day.
When Harry and I met it was in the context of serving the Lord Jesus, and together we dedicated our lives to His service wherever He should lead. Our first date, in 1956, was for me to accompany Harry to a preaching appointment in Virginia Water, Surrey. I have been listening to his preaching ever since and I owe my theology and understanding of the Scriptures to his teaching. I continue to be blessed and challenged as I listen again to Harry’s sermons in preparation for loading them onto this website.
We are privileged to be able to continue in our 80s to serve the Lord by making these sermons available on the website.
The Lord continues to lead and guide us. In 2016 it was, for us, seeing His hand in the monumental decision to return to the land of our birth after 30 God-blessed years in the United States.
So – what of the future?
One thing I know is that my name is written in heaven, and that “This earth is not my home, I’m just a passing through,” to quote the old song. When the Lord calls me “Home” I will be forever in the presence of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
What about you who are reading this piece. Do you know where you will spend eternity?
Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come. ‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.
JEWS, ARABS, JESUS AND HIS PEOPLE
I have recently been in correspondence with a Christian doctor in a faraway land. He has read my book “When the Road is Rough and Steep” (3 times!) and is familiar with our website.
The doctor was asking my opinion concerning the descendants of Abraham. Apparently he constantly hears Christian preachers declare that Jewish people are still the chosen People of God. This, because they descend from Abraham by his son, ISAAC, who came as a result of God’s Promise. Consequently, some preachers appear to denigrate the Arab people because they come traditionally from another son of Abraham, ISHMAEL.
I have decided to help readers not familiar with all this. I will briefly tell you what happened and what I think of my friend’s question. We will also consider: Are the Jewish people indeed God’s very special, chosen, covenant people? If not, then who is?
Abraham’s story is told in Genesis, chapters 12 to 25; and he is referred to again and again in the New Testament. First the historical story, then the all-important revelation and explanation given in the New Testament.
ABRAHAM – THE CALL – Genesis 12
(Please note: I will quote for you lots of Scripture. You will see in the early references the patriarch is referred to as “ABRAM” (exalted father). After he makes a covenant with God his name is changed to “ABRAHAM” (father of multitudes). Likewise his wife’s name is changed from SARAI, to SARAH (princess). In my comments throughout I will use their familiar and final names.)
Abraham is undoubtedly a very important figure in God’s plan. He is called “God’s Friend” (James 2:23).
Whilst living in the ancient Chaldean city of UR on the River Euphrates (present day IRAQ) Abraham heard God’s call to him to journey to a land to be revealed. The family set out and included Abraham’s wife, SARAH, his father TERAH, and his nephew LOT.
They arrived at a place called HARAN, and there they stayed until Terah died. Haran was located in modern Syria, not too far from Aleppo (what’s left of it).
Then the call came to 75 year old Abraham once again to journey on to what was then known as “The Land of Canaan”. We know it as “PALESTINE”. God gave to Abraham very important promises.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12 vs 1-3
This promise regarding Abraham’s descendants would be repeated with some additions. One addition was the promise of a land in which they would dwell:
The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” Genesis 12 v7
The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” Genesis 13 vs14-17
As time went by Abraham began to get concerned. After all, his wife, Sarah, was way beyond child-bearing age. By custom his heir would be his manager, ELIEZER. But God had spoken to Abraham of his “offspring.”
Abraham brings his problem to God:
After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid Abram. I am your shield and your very great reward.” But Abram said, “O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Genesis 15 vs1-4
In effect, “Be patient, Abraham!”
Later, in Genesis 22, v17, God promises Abraham that his descendants will be “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” (Quite remarkable comparisons given the antiquity of the book of Genesis, and today’s ever-increasing knowledge of the extent of the star-filled universe.)
Then came this significant response from Abraham:
Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15 v6.
Here we are introduced to the great Gospel doctrine of “Justification by faith.” No sinner will be counted righteous in God’s sight by the efforts of his own but by believing God’s promise. “FAITH” is trusting God. This is what makes Abraham so important. Do you know that Abraham is mentioned 4th most frequent in the NEW Testament. First, our Lord Jesus; then Apostles Paul and Peter; then fourth Abraham. Abraham’s descendants, we shall see, were first physical and then spiritual.
ABRAHAM -THE PHYSICAL DESCENDANTS
Though Abraham did believe God yet he still faced biological facts. He had been in Canaan 10 years and Sarah was seventy years old. Maybe he (Abraham) should help along the fulfillment a bit. Sarah herself suggested something – probably seeing what the Canaanites did. Her husband should take to bed her maidservant and father a child through her. The girl’s name was HAGAR and she was Egyptian. She would become Abraham’s concubine. The child would be fathered by Abraham – as God had said – but would belong to Sarah.
Sure enough Hagar became pregnant, but Sarah lived to regret her suggestion. Hagar now had a new status and began to look down on her mistress, even to “despise her”. She was bearing the master’s child and proud of it. (Read the story in Genesis 16.)
So Sarah complained to Abraham. “It’s all your fault!” (Gen 16:5) she said. I can only imagine the conversation which ensued from that! He responded by giving Sarah permission to control Hagar however she pleased. Apparently Sarah “pleased” to do so very severely. In desperation Hagar ran away, collapsing near a desert spring.
The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.
Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.”
When we read of an appearance to be “the angel of the Lord”, many scholars think this was none other than a pre-incarnation appearance of the Son of God. Theologians call it “a theophany” (lit. “an appearance of God”). I agree with this identification. When God became man in Jesus Christ, He took our NATURE (Incarnation). In a theophany He temporarily takes an APPEARANCE. There were other such appearances: to Abraham (Genesis 18); Gideon (Judges 6); and Elijah (1Kings 17).
The Messenger told Hagar to go back and submit. She would have a son. She must name him ISHMAEL which means, “God hears.” Through him Hagar, too, would be the mother of a multitude of descendants. Hagar renamed the well, “Beer Lahai Roi” (which means, “Well of the Living One who sees me”). Hagar, from Egypt, had become a true believer in Jehovah. For years she had known about the Lord. Now she knew the Lord. She had met Him. As instructed she named her son, “Ishmael.” Whenever her baby cried, no doubt, she would say, “Hush, Ishmael. God hears. God hears.”
It became time for God to reveal more of His plan to Abraham. Read Genesis 17 and 18. Sarah will be blessed and bear a son and her son must be called, “ISAAC” (meaning “he laughs”). This was because when God reassured Abraham that Sarah would have a son, Abraham fell about laughing. “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” Read on into chapter 18. When Sarah hears the news she, too, “laughs”.
Then Abraham immediately asked a blessing for Ishmael. He sure loved Ishmael. God said, “Yes, Ishmael will be blessed, but Isaac will be the covenant son” (Genesis 17:19).
Genesis 21 opens with the story of God’s fulfillment of His promise that Sarah would have a son.
So now Ishmael must welcome his new baby half-brother. Alas, things were not harmonious. At a great feast held in honor of Isaac, Ishmael apparently behaved badly and Sarah demanded that Hagar and her son be sent away. Abraham was upset. It was a domestic dilemma. He loved Hagar and her son. However, he did as Sarah asked. He supplied Hagar with food and water and sent her on her way.
Considering the route she took she was, perhaps, trying to walk through the desert to Egypt from where she originally came. It was impossible.
Many years ago when taking church groups to Israel I became familiar with that area: mile after mile of hot barren desert; being advised to carry plenty of water; to drink even if not thirsty; and not to go wandering about alone.
Hagar’s water supply ran out. She prepared for her crying child to die. Once again, however, the Lord met with her and provided her a well.
Isaac and Ishmael grew to adulthood and went their separate ways. However, Ishmael had received the physical mark of the covenant (circumcision) as did Isaac. Both were present at their father’s funeral (Genesis 25 v9). Sure enough peoples without number descended from Ishmael as well as Isaac.
Of further interest: In Genesis 28:6-9 we read how Isaac forbade his son Jacob from marrying a Canaanite woman. Presumably this was because she would likely worship false idols. Esau – Isaac’s other son – took note of it and married a daughter of Ishmael. Inference is that she would be a true believer in the God revealed to Abraham and Isaac.
All these support my correspondent’s view (and mine) that we should have due respect for the present day descendants of Ishmael. Who are they? At first they were called “Ishmaelites” but tradition says they were the ARAB people.
Nevertheless the descendants of Abraham through Isaac (Israel) were called of God to be His Chosen People with a special calling:
The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh King of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7 vs7-8; See also chapter 10 v15)
- To preserve for posterity the Law (Torah), the Writings (especially Psalms) and Prophets. We have those in what we know as “The Old Testament”;
- To bring forth the promised Messiah – “the Seed of the woman” and the line of David (Matthew 1:1-18), who would be the Redeemer of the world – Jew and Gentile. Isaac and Ishmael
We must now turn to the NEW Testament.
NEW TESTAMENT FULFILLMENT – JESUS AND HIS PEOPLE
We must always interpret the Old by the New. God’s revelation is progressive. The key to understanding and applying types, shadows, rituals, prophecies, and promises in the Old Testament is Jesus Christ. All are fulfilled in Him .
You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40)
He [the risen Lord Jesus] said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken … And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)
This is SO IMPORTANT.
The ultimate Seed from Abraham is not racial or national, but SPIRITUAL and INTERNATIONAL. The seed is Jesus and His People. All who believe in Jesus Christ – whether Jew, Gentile, male, female, learned or uneducated – are saved. “All one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:6-9)
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)
Therefore the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. (Romans 4:16)
The CHURCH is the “Israel of God”.
Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:15-16).
The “true circumcision” are believers in Jesus.
For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh… (Philippians 3:3).
God’s Plan from all eternity is to “unite all things in Christ” (Ephesians 1:9-10).
And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things to heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. (Ephesians 1:9-10)
The Old Covenant, given to the theocracy which was Israel “was added“ (Gal 3:19) “until…the Seed had come.”
In other words it seems to me that to refer to Jews now as “God’s Chosen People” is misleading. They were that; but now the “Chosen People” are ALL who are “in Christ”, untold numbers from all nations (Rom 10:9, John 3:16);
“…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you [Abraham]” (Gen 12:3).
Language once applied to Israel is now applied to the Church.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
The great 20th century Bible teacher Dr. John R.W. Stott said, “The Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in Christ and the international community of Christ.”
The Church of Jesus Christ is now the “Chosen People of God” – a people under the NEW Covenant (not the OLD which has passed away). A people more numerous than the sand on the seashore or the stars in the sky.
The outward signs are not circumcision but Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Communion).
The Land which provides an eternal dwelling place for God’s people is not a strip of Middle Eastern land called Palestine but “the New Heaven and New Earth” (Rev 21:1-5). For this even Abraham longed.
For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10)
There is only one Gospel – only one way of salvation. That is through faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
That if you confess with our mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
No unsaved sinner will enter simply because he or she is an American citizen, or British, or any other nation. No Jew can enter Heaven only on the grounds of being Jewish. Nor any other race. All must come to Christ.
May I be personal, reader, whether you are Jewish or non-Jewish: How about you? “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
What then should we be praying for the Jewish people? The great Apostle Paul, himself a Jew, gives the answer, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). That should be our prayer also.
Some interpreters consider Romans 9 to 11 to be more than a longing and a prayer. It is a PROPHECY. See especially Romans 11:25-36. The Lord of Sovereign Grace, Who saves whom He will, one day will lift the veil of unbelief from the hearts and minds of His Old Covenant people, the Jews, and they will turn in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.
Oh – what a wonderful day that will be!
My comments above do not deal with the question, so relevant today, regarding the land of Palestine. Who should live there? Whether it should belong in its entirety to Palestinian Arabs or Israeli Jews is a political, historical and moral decision.
In addition you might navigate on this website to the sermons in the Abraham series, AB 16 – The Church: a People, a Land, a Sign. Also in the 1 Peter series PE 20 – The People of God .