Insights on Work and Rest from Hebrews 4

I have to admit.  I had a stressful week at work.  When I came in on Monday, I had over 240 emails from being out of the office for three days last week to attend to a family milestone event (the birth of our fifth grandchild along with taking care of his two-year old big brother for a couple of days).  My team and I are also in an incredibly busy season of planning annual events and preparing for senior leader transitions.  Every day was a non-stop blur of meetings, challenges, and pressing forward.

In the midst of this stressful time, I took a few minutes one morning in the middle of the week to read from the book of Hebrews.  I noticed several things that I had not seen in a while about work and rest. 

A lot is written in Heb. 4:1-11 about “rest”.  However, it is not what you would normally think.  The writer of Hebrews is not exhorting first-century Christians to take time out on Sundays after church service to reflect on spiritual things and do some recreation with their families.  He is not addressing the need for them to keep the Sabbath at all.  He is writing about a completely different kind of rest. 

Let me provide a few observations from my own study, and share what one commentator wrote.

Contextual background

In context, the writer of Hebrews introduces the subject of rest in Heb. 3:7-11, which is a warning to the church against unbelief.  Throughout this theologically deep, yet positive letter to Hebrew (formerly Jewish) Christ-followers, we find several warning passages.  Here, the writer uses several OT quotes (Ps. 95) and allusions to various settings as recorded in the books of Exodus and Numbers where early followers of Yahweh fell away and rebelled in their desert wanderings for forty years.

We are reminded in this section that OT believers were inconsistent in their faith and obedience.  (Later, the writer will explain in detail how the Old Covenant was inadequate to internally transform the hearts of God’s people.)  Despite the advantages that the New Covenant in Jesus Christ provides, such as the indwelling Holy Spirit, even mature Christians can and do fall short.  (See Rom. 7:7-25.)

And so, in Heb. 3:11, the writer points out that the Israelites who went astray would not be able to enter into God’s rest.  In verses 12-13, he then exhorts the church to keep themselves and others from turning away from God by individually turning from sin and collectively encouraging one another.

There is a Sabbath rest for God’s people

The writer reminds his readers in Heb. 4:1 that there remains an enduring promise to Christians, that those who faithfully follow Him can find rest.  He concludes in verse 3 that those who have put our faith in Jesus enter God’s rest, unlike those OT believers who could not enter because of unbelief. 

If you are like me, you may have also heard an echo here alluding to Jesus’s words in Matt. 11:28-30.  He lovingly invites His disciples and invites us also, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  The rest we find in union with Jesus Christ is a deep rest, which goes way beyond just taking a day off from our labors.

In Heb. 4:9-10, the writer emphasizes the opportunity for all New Covenant believers to enter God’s restful state of peace.  This is a dual peace.  There is peace with God, meaning that there is no longer any strife between us and God since Jesus removed God’s wrath from us.  There is also the peace of God, which is truly incomprehensible, which allows us to trust in Him to work all things for good.

In the Theology of Work Commentary, we read this helpful insight, “The Sabbath rest in Hebrews 4:9-10 is not simply a cessation of activity (Heb. 4:10) but also a Sabbath celebration (Heb. 12:22).”

I observe that this NT Sabbath rest provides so much more than resting from work; we can rest from our working.  We can rest from our work because His work is finished.  We know that we cannot earn our salvation by working.  He already did the work necessary to achieve atonement through His blood. 

With just a little bit of irony, we are told in Heb. 4:11 to work hard (make every effort) to find the rest that God gives to His children.  We can only find true rest when we submit to His authority, by faith in Jesus Christ alone, which is clearly demonstrated by doing good works.  (See the book of James.)

The result of resting in Jesus’s finished work

Because His work matters far more than our own work, we are told in Heb. 4:16 to boldly approach the throne of grace to “receive mercy and find grace”.  Let me contrast the meaning of these two terms.

In Christ, God gives us mercy.  He does not give us what we deserve, which is eternal punishment due to our sinful actions, thoughts, and natures.  Once we receive His mercy, we can then and only then find grace in Jesus Christ.  Then, we discover that He gives us way more that we deserve in terms of peace with Him, complete forgiveness, and eternal life.  We need His mercy to experience His grace.

This passage in Hebrews chapter 4 was eye-opening to me.  It was much more than merely a reminder that God rested after six days of creation and therefore, we should also observe the Sabbath.  This is emphasized throughout the OT, although Jesus certainly had something to say about it in the NT. 

What I find here gives me motivation to do the work necessary to pursue my faith in Jesus Christ and live a life of demonstrating that faith through good works.  Not as a legal requirement, but in response to the work that Jesus did on the cross to obtain my redemption.  In Him, and Him alone, I find rest.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 60 articles posted on this blog have been published 120 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Further Reflections on Psalm 139

On a recent Sunday morning, I went to one of my favorite psalms to remind myself of some truths about God’s presence.  I discovered some valuable insights that I had not previously addressed.

This topic is an important one for me personally.  I have been striving to experience God’s presence as a normal part of my Christian walk for the past 45 years.  As a freshman in college, I read Brother Lawrence’s classic, The Practice of the Presence of God.  This book opened my eyes to the concept that I could remain close to God by His grace every day – not just in church, but everywhere I went.

Some previous reflections

In my book, Immanuel Labor: God’s Presence in our Profession, I laid a biblical and theological foundation of what God’s word teaches about work and presented how to apply these eternal truths.  My focus throughout the book was to highlight the link between God’s presence and human work. 

As I unpacked the idea of God’s presence in general, this is what I stated:

The Bible passage that most believers think of with respect to this concept is Psalm 139:7-10, which says: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

Although these verses highlight God’s supernatural ability to be everywhere and anywhere, David wants us to see this aspect of God’s personality as not merely an objective reality but as something he personally feels. He says things like “you are there” (twice in verse 8), “your hand will guide me,” and “your right hand will hold me fast.” These words describe that God is there in David’s midst, which gives him (and us) peace, security, and hope. Not only that, but God has been, is now, and will continue to actively lead him every step of the way.

Later, in a section on regaining a sense of God’s presence when we have fallen from it, I wrote: “The most important thing I can say to a Christian is that God will never leave us, condemn us, or give up on us.  This is crystal clear in Scripture.  Psalm 139:7–10 says that He is always present with us.”

New observations about this passage

David, the author of this psalm, begins by declaring that God has “searched” him and knows him (v. 1).  I have often begun my own confessions of sin with the same words David uses, “You know me.”  David right away acknowledges that there is nothing that God does not know about us (about Russ).

He continues.  God perceives David’s thoughts (v. 2).  Yahweh knows his whereabouts (v. 3) and is familiar with all his ways.  God even knows what David is about to say before he utters a word (v. 4).

David concludes that knowing all this is completely overwhelming to him.  It is too wonderful (v. 6).

I find it interesting that there is no admission of guilt and shame by David, despite the fact that God knows everything about David’s thoughts and activities, both good and bad.  He is focused on God’s marvelous attributes.  It seems to give him peace to know that God has revealed Himself in this way.

David then shifts his focus to describing the length, breadth, and depth of God’s presence.  He knows that the Spirit of God is anywhere that David could possibly imagine he could go (v. 7).  He mentions the heavens and the depths (v. 8).  God is at both ends of the vertical dimension, both high and low.  In verse 9, he writes of rising on “the wings of the dawn” and settling on the “far side of the sea” – the horizontal dimension, in all directions.  Even there, God’s hand will guide him and hold him (v. 10).

Due to time and space constraints, I am going to stop there with my summary.  However, I do want to highlight one thing.  This psalm is about God’s presence.  It is also about God’s grace.  Despite David’s often sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, he can speak from the depths of his faith and his own personal experiences that God has continued to lay His hand of protection, guidance, and protection on him.  He concludes in verse 17, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!”  This is a man after God’s own heart whose heart has been changed by the grace of Yahweh, even in Old Testament times.

New Testament implications

This OT passage helps us understand how David personally understood and experienced the attribute of God’s omnipresence.  This divine characteristic is something that is always true about God the Father.  It gives Christ-followers great comfort as they focus on this aspect of God’s being.  However, we need to be reminded that the other two members of the Trinity also possess this same attribute.

The last thing that Jesus said to His disciples was this: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b).  This is a promise that every disciple of Jesus Christ holds dear.

However, He had already given His disciples an idea of how His presence would be manifested.  As Jesus was preparing to go to the cross, He taught them about the ministry of the Holy Spirit and how He would counsel, teach, and remind them of His words.  He would bring the power of God’s presence to them and in them after Jesus departed to the right hand of the Father.  (See John 14:16-17, and 26.)

How can we apply these truths?

My own conclusion about this passage is two-fold.  First, God’s presence gives us much-needed comfort when we find ourselves in an uncomfortable place.  Second, it also gives us much-need discomfort when we find ourselves in a comfortable place that we know is outside of God’s will.

I encourage you to experience for yourself a life of consistently practicing the presence of God.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 60 articles posted on this blog have been published 120 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

What Were the Soldiers Doing at Jesus’ Tomb?

“Take a guard,” Pilate answered.  “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” (Matt. 27:65).

“So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed.  And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day” (Matt. 28:15).

In my first article in this series that I initiated last year, “Soldiers in Scripture – Warriors in the Word”, I unpacked what soldiers were doing on Good Friday.  It was fascinating to discover that soldiers were stationed at every critical juncture on the way.  They were directly involved in Jesus’ crucifixion and even fulfilled Old Testament Scriptures.  I invite you to read the article here.

In the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew and Mark, soldiers were mentioned several times.  They were there in the events leading right up to and after Jesus rose from the dead.  One leader of Soldiers verified that Jesus had actually died.  Other soldiers were scared to death by the angel at the tomb.  Later, these same soldiers were ordered to lie about what happened to Jesus and took a bribe. 

Mark observes one Soldier’s involvement

To start our discussion, there is a scene which included one special soldier who had been present at the cross.  This scene is also mentioned by Luke and John, but they chose to not mention the soldier.

A brief conversation took place between Joseph of Arimathea and Pilate right after Jesus died (Mark 15:43-45).  Joseph boldly asked Pilate for Jesus’s body so that he could bury him.  Pilate asked the centurion (a leader of 100 soldiers) to confirm that Jesus was actually dead.  This was the same one who had witnessed Jesus’ death and had proclaimed that He was the Son of God (see Mark 15:39).  He sent a message to Pilate that Jesus had in fact died.  Pilate then released his body to Joseph.

Matthew reports soldiers were ordered to guard Jesus’ tomb

Matthew’s perspective includes two other instances where soldiers guarded Jesus’ tomb.  However, before we dive in, it is important to learn why there was a need for a guard force in the first place.

We read in Matt. 27:62-66 that the chief priests and Pharisees were more than a little concerned.  They asked Pilate to give an order to secure Jesus’ tomb for three days.  The Jewish leaders did this out of fear that His disciples would steal His body and claim that He rose from the dead as He said He would.  Jesus’ prediction of His death and resurrection that He taught to His disciples was recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels; see Matt. 20:18-19; Mark 10:33-34; and Luke 18:31-33.  Pilate granted their request.  They put a seal on the stone that covered the entrance and posted guards. 

David Turner, in his Baker Exegetical Commentary on Matthew explains that “these soldiers and the sealed stone constitute imperial authority over the tomb.  The seal would be clay or wax pressed into the crack between the rolling stone and the tomb’s entrance.  The imperial seal stamped on the clay or wax signified Rome’s authority . . . but a higher power would arrive on the scene when dawn came.”

At dawn on Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary visited Jesus’ tomb (see Matt. 28:1).  Matthew reports that there had been a violent earthquake, that an angel had come down from heaven, had rolled the stone away, and then sat on it (v. 2).  The angel’s appearance was like lightning.  His clothes were as white as snow (v. 3).  This caused quite a reaction amongst the soldiers who were guarding the tomb.  They were so afraid that they went into shock; they were “like dead men” (v. 4). 

Turner observes, “How much the guards saw and comprehended is not clear.  The angel’s appearance caused them to faint (28:4), and they regained consciousness to discover the empty tomb.”

These soldiers were mentioned again in Matt. 28:11-15 after the women ran to tell Jesus’ disciples.  This time, they were tempted to violate their integrity and took a bribe.  Let’s take a closer look.

Matthew reports soldiers were ordered to lie about what happened

Some, but not all, of the guards went to the city to report what they had seen at Jesus’ tomb to the chief priests.  Turner indicates that the soldiers were “unintentional evangelists”, proclaiming that Jesus had risen.  They met with the elders and concocted a hoax.  (Ironically, this is exactly what they were trying to prevent Jesus’ disciples from doing and why they put guards in place.) 

These soldiers were instructed to tell people that Jesus’ disciples stole his body at night while they were sleeping.  To motivate these soldiers to tell this lie, they gave them a large sum of money.  The chief priests promised to keep them out of trouble.  The soldiers took the money and did as they were told to do.  

How should Christian soldiers act now?

There are several applications that Christian soldiers can learn from the soldiers at Jesus’ tomb:

  • Fulfill your duties as a soldier, even when no one is looking, whether it be guarding your post, cleaning your rifle, filing routine paperwork, or leading soldiers into harm’s way
  • If you have encountered the risen Christ, tell someone about it
  • Do the right thing, even if those in authority encourage you to violate your integrity; if you are given an unlawful order, get some outside advice before you blindly obey them
  • Don’t take a bribe; the price you pay later will cause you to regret your short-term gain

I trust that this devotional helped you understand the role that soldiers played in the events around Jesus’ resurrection.  I hope that you will also experience God’s presence during this Easter season.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 110 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Our Identity in Christ (Lesson 8)

This was the last Sunday School lesson of an eight-week series that I taught a few years ago in our former church.  (See previous session here.)  Inexplicably, I neglected to finish my notes and post it.  In this session, we discussed the age-old battle between flesh and spirit.  I invite you to explore with me who we are in Christ.  For a deeper dive into this critical topic, see the article I wrote and posted on my blog here

Summary:

What have we been studying and discussing, as we looked at a theology of our identity in Christ?:

  • With few exceptions, the Bible does not refer to believers as sinners; although we do sin
  • To fully understand who we are as believers, it is good to know who we were before Christ
  • To know who we are in Christ, we must understand the blessings of the new covenant
  • By faith in Jesus, certain things became true of us “positionally”: justified, forgiven, and righteous
  • There is an irreversible radical transformation that happens to every believer; it begins at the very moment of salvation when one is born again, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ
  • Those radical changes affect everything about us: our minds, thoughts, feelings, attitudes, desires, abilities, and relationships

Introduction:

All along, we have been talking about who we are now as believers.  We are not the people we used to be, either in God’s eyes (He sees us through Christ’s finished work on the cross), or in our own experience (we are becoming Christ-like).  However, there are many times that our old sinful nature attempts to influence us and impede our progress in becoming the new creatures we already are in Christ.  What happens when old meets new?  Is there hope?  What are some of the keys to success?

Book:

1) Read Romans 7:14 – 8:17.  (Break it down by sections.) 

    a) What describes those who live in “the flesh” (the sinful nature) vs. those who live in the Spirit? 

    b) What is the answer to the problem of this constant internal spiritual battle?

    c) Discuss the penalty, the power, and the presence of sin.  When are we set free from each?

(Teacher notes: Paul is describing the internal battle between his flesh and his new nature in Christ.  All of us can identify with his frustration: “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (v. 15).  He has this sinful flesh that he cannot totally escape in this life: “nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (v. 18).  The fact that he want to do what is good (vv. 18 and 21), does not want to do evil (v. 19), and delights in God’s Word (v. 22) tells me that he is indeed a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  He describes this internal battle between flesh and spirit as “waging war” (v. 23).  He exclaims, “What a wretched man I am!” (v. 24).  Paul asks, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (v. 24).  The answer, of course, is Jesus Christ.  I love how he starts chapter 8, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).  Despite our constant struggles with the flesh, if we are in Christ, we have been set free from the penalty of sin, we have victory over the power of sin, and when Jesus returns and we receive our new resurrection body like His, we will finally be set free from the presence of sin forever.  Hallelujah!)

2) Read Gal. 5:13-26; 6:7-10.

    a) What actions/attitudes characterize the sinful nature vs. the actions/attitudes of those in the Spirit?

    b) What is the secret to spiritual growth?

(Teacher notes: I see this section as an expansion of what Paul described in Romans 7.  In the NIV, we read the term “sinful nature”, where other translations use the word, “flesh” (Gal. 5:13, 16, 17, and 19).  Paul exhorts the church to “live by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16 and 25), which is in direct contrast with living in the flesh.  Those who are in Christ should be led by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:18).  Jesus said to His disciples that the Holy Spirit would be with us and in us (John 14:17).  We have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:11).  We can be consistently filled with (or controlled by) the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).) 

3) Read 1 John 1:5 – 2:2.

    a) Paul contrasts the flesh versus the Holy Spirit.  John, however, chooses to use the analogy of darkness vs. light.  What is true of those who live (walk) in the light? 

    b) Why would those who walk in the light need to be purified from sin?

   c) What is the purpose of confession?  What is actually involved?  Are we asking, or are we accepting?

(Teacher notes: Those who humbly submit to God’s authority, are followers of Jesus, and live in the power of the Holy Spirit will live godly lives – in the light, not in darkness.  When we walk with God in holiness and truth, we not only have fellowship with Him, but with fellow believers in Jesus Christ.  His blood, which cleanses us from past sins, also cleanses us from present sin (v. 7).  When we confess our sins, it does not earn our forgiveness; it is already ours.  It does restore our fellowship with God.

Look

Where and when do we struggle most with sin?  Are you quick to confess these sins and submit yourself under the control of the Holy Spirit?  If so, over time, the supernatural becomes natural.

Took

Make an effort to remember who you are in Christ.  Focus less on what you are doing (or not doing) and more on what He has already done AND is doing in your life to make you more like Him.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 100 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Controlled Not by the Flesh, but by the Spirit

what-is-the-holy-spirit2-720x420I read through the book of Romans earlier this summer.  In chapter 8, I was struck by the contrasts that the Apostle Paul highlights between living in the flesh versus living in the Spirit.  In context, this expands on what Paul introduced back in Rom. 7:5-6.  This also connects with Paul’s contrast between the death that Adam brought to all and the life that Jesus Christ brings in Rom. 5:12-19

In this book, more than any other New Testament epistle, Paul indicates that when a person comes to faith in Jesus, there are irreversible changes, both external and internal, that God brings about, which gives them a new identity in Christ.  At the very moment of salvation, they are made right with God through Christ (justified) and begin to be transformed into Christlikeness (sanctified).  Justification is a one-time event; sanctification is a life-long process.  Both are gifts of His grace.  (For an original summary that traces Paul’s argument in the book of Romans, I invite you to read what I wrote while going to seminary that I posted on my blog in two parts several years ago.)

Let me unpack what Paul informs us in the first half of Romans 8 about those who live the flesh and those who are living by the Spirit.  Understanding the contrasts the Apostle Paul makes in Romans 8 will help to give us assurance that although we as Christians will always wrestle with our sinful nature in the course of this life, we are no longer merely in the flesh.  We have been changed.

What is the flesh?

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (vol. 2) highlights the theological significance of the flesh.  Flesh, by itself “represents the natural, created human aspect”, which only means that it is “weak, limited, and temporal.”  On the sixth day, God created humans in His own image; it was described as being “very good” (Gen. 1:31).  (See also Gen. 2:7.)  Human flesh by itself is not evil.  This is demonstrated by Jesus, who was fully human, with the very same limitations we have. 

However, we do see the flesh, with all of its weaknesses and limitations drifting naturally into sinful behavior.  Galatians 5:17 indicates that our fallen nature (residing more in the mind than the body) has inherently evil desires that are in opposition to God’s will for us.  These actions are described in more detail in Gal. 5:19-21.  I think we can all identify with at least one of these items on this list. 

What is true of those who are “in the flesh”?

Let me summarize the truths that Paul outlines in Romans 8, about those who are in the flesh.

  • Those who live according to the sinful nature (flesh) have set their minds on natural desires (8:5)
  • The mind of sinful man results in death (physical death/separation from God) (8:6)
  • The sinful mind is hostile to God; it does not and cannot submit to God’s law (8:7)
  • Those who are controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God (8:8)
  • Those who live according to the sinful nature will die (8:12)

Christians could easily pull any of these verses out of context and apply these generic truths to their own lives.  However, in context, that Paul seems to be contrasting the identities of two groups of people.  What he states here is true of those who are not in Christ.  These are true of those who are not Jesus’ sheep.  All these things were true of every believer before coming to faith.  This sad description of what was true back then has been replaced by all of the things I will describe below.

The role of the Holy Spirit

In John 14:16-17, Jesus taught His disciples that the Father would send a Counselor who would always be with them and would also be in them.  Jesus explained that the Spirit would teach His followers and would remind them of what He said (John 14:26).  He would guide them into all truth (John 16:13).  Paul also clearly states that the Holy Spirit indwells every Christian.  (See Rom. 8:9). 

In the NIV Application Commentary on Romans, Douglas Moo reminds us of the critical role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life.  Moo states, “Possessing the spirit is the mark of being a new covenant believer, and his ministry must be basic to any description of what it means to be a Christian. . . Paul gives the Spirit the key role in mediating to us the blessings of our new life.” 

What does it mean to be “in Christ”?

Earlier in this epistle, the Apostle Paul laid out many of the gifts of God’s amazing grace that were true of both Jew and Gentile who came to faith in Jesus Christ.  For example, in Rom. 3:22, we read that those who believe in Christ are justified.  This changes their legal standing before God.  They are seen as righteous; they have a new identity in Christ.  They are no longer under Adam’s curse, but have become members of a new kingdom where what is true of Jesus is now true of them. 

In Rom. 6:3-7, Paul writes that all believers who were baptized into Christ (by faith and through the ritual of baptism) were symbolically baptized into (immersed in and identified with) Jesus’ death.  Paul explains that being identified with Jesus’ crucifixion and death results in being dead to sin’s power and that being identified with His resurrection gives them the power to live a holy life.

What is true of those who are in Christ?

Let me summarize the truths that Paul teaches in Romans 8 about those who are in Christ:

  • There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (8:1)
  • They have been set free from the law of sin and death (8:2)
  • God’s righteous requirements of the law are fully met because of Jesus’ death (8:3-4)
  • They do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit (8:4)
  • They have their minds set on what the Spirit desires (8:5)
  • The mind controlled by the Spirit results in life (abundant and eternal) and peace (8:6)
  • They are not controlled by the flesh but by God’s Spirit who indwells them (8:9)
  • Their body (flesh) may be sinful and is dead, but their spirit is alive (8:10)
  • God’s Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead lives in them and gives them life (8:11)
  • They have an obligation, not to live according to the flesh, but to put to death the misdeeds of the flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit (8:12-13)
  • They will be led by the Spirit of God because they are children of God (8:14)
  • They received the Holy Spirit who does not make them a slave to fear; rather, it makes them a beloved child of God, who can call their heavenly Father “Daddy” (8:15)
  • As children of God, they are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (8:17)

What Paul states above is true of those who are in Christ.  These are true of those who are Jesus’ sheep.  All these things are true of every believer.  Some of them are one-time changes by grace through faith when they became a Christian.  Other things Paul lists are ongoing things to pursue.

Identity is the key to victory over the flesh

Lest you think that I have mastered the application of these wonderful truths in my own life, let me be clear.  I have not.  I still struggle with my own fleshly tendencies.  Some of them were passed down from my father.  Some sinful habits I have no one else to blame but myself.  Some sins are relatively new.  Some of them have been a challenge to me off and on for my entire Christian life.

What helps me, and I think will be of help to my brothers and sisters in Christ, is for me to always keep in mind whose I am and who I am in Him.  I am not just a mere human.  I have been set free from sin.  I have been delivered.  God declares me righteous in His sight because Jesus has paid the penalty for my sin.  I am a new creature in Christ.  He is making me new every day.  If I focus on Jesus waiting for me at the finish line, and run the race in the power of the Holy Spirit, I run well.

About the author:

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Russell E. Gehrlein is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018.  He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.  He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  Fifty articles posted on this blog have been published on numerous Christian organization’s blogs or websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

God Covers our Sin with Paint that Matches

69925409_10215556925499489_3976346959622438912_o(This article was posted on The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog and the Coram Deo blog.)

I had to do some touch up painting on the exterior siding of our house since we had some planks replaced recently.  In my first attempt yesterday, I used a color my wife and I picked out called Grey Sanctuary.  We thought it was going to be a good match.  Not so much.  It was too light.  We went back to Lowe’s, and they did a digitized color match using a small piece of the old siding that Linda found lying around.  This morning, I painted over the light places and it blended in perfectly.  You can’t easily tell what was painted and what was not.

The dramatic results of the two different paint colors I had used was a great illustration of the contrast between what it looks like when we try to cover our sin versus how it looks when God covers our sin.  I realize that human illustrations fall apart if we try to take them too far.  Maybe there isn’t any direct mention of the word “paint” in the Bible (at least not in the NIV that I use). 

However, the concept of covering is actually a predominant theme, so the function of paint as a covering might be helpful.  I know the power of a good illustration to help God’s people see an abstract concept more clearly and how this greater understanding can be applied in their own life.

This got me to thinking more about what I reflected on a couple of weeks ago that I posted on my blog here.  In my previous article, I looked at Ps. 32:1-5.  What stood out is the contrast between what God does and what man does with respect to sin.  In verse 1, David boldly stated: “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”  God had indeed covered over David’s sins, which was a blessing David did not take for granted.  God covered the sins of His people so that He no longer saw them.  Only God has the authority to do that. 

However, before David confessed and repented of his sins, he had tried (and failed) in many ways to cover up his own sins.  The story of Bathsheba immediately comes to mind.  He had no authority to do that. 

As I thought about the contrast between my first and second coats of paint, I could not help but notice the stark differences between the results. 

The first coat represented my own limited human attempt at putting on a fresh coat of righteousness and repairing my own mistakes from the past so that I would look better to others.  There were dozens of drips of many colors that needed to be hidden from view.  There was a major gouge from a flying umbrella a few years ago that I was embarrassed about.  There were rotten planks that brought me shame and regret from neglect.  No matter how much time we took to find just the right color to match, our attempts fell short.

The next day, when I applied the professionally produced color match paint on with a new brush, I saw how right the color was.  My drips were erased.  The big scratch was no more to be seen.  All the scars and imperfections in the old siding were covered in a shade that blended perfectly. 

Isn’t that just how God’s covering of our sins turns out for those who have faith in Jesus Christ?  Our attempts will always fail.  There are no works we can do to add to what He has already done on the cross to pay for our sins.  His covering is perfect, since He is the Master Painter.  “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

 

As High as the Heavens are above the Earth and as far as the East is from the West

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I have been reading in Romans this month.  It is one of my favorite books.  (I invite you to read a series on the book of Romans that I posted on my blog a while back.)

I started in Romans 4 . . .

I began to read the first verses of Romans 4.  But that is not where I ended up.  I took a journey back to the Psalms to find some great reminders of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

In context, Paul is writing of “the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.”  This is what God did for Abram in Gen. 15:6, which Paul mentioned in Rom. 4:1-6.  It is indeed a precious gift that is freely given to those who trust in Jesus Christ for their salvation.  I believe this change in status is irreversible.  This is often referred to as the great exchange: Jesus took the penalty for our sins and gave us His righteous standing before Almighty God.  This righteousness that is ours by faith in Jesus Christ leads the Apostle Paul to conclude later in Rom. 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

As you may already know, the Apostle Paul quotes the Old Testament quite frequently, which is a topic I enjoy greatly.  When I read Rom. 4:7-8, I saw that Ps. 32:1-2 was quoted:

Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.

I flipped back to Psalm 32 . . .

I had to stop.  I felt led to take a look at Psalm 32 a little closer.  I made a few observations.

King David uses several terms in verses 1 and 2 to describe how amazing it is when one fully understands that he or she is completely forgiven by God: “transgressions are forgiven . . . sins are covered . . . sin the Lord does not count against him.”

This status of being forgiven of ones sins was short-lived by the Old Testament believers in Yahweh, in accordance with the system of blood sacrifices which had to be done repeatedly and did not truly take away their sins.  (See Heb. 10:4).  These sacrifices provided temporary covering of sins.  It fell far short of the full atonement that followers of Jesus would experience when they were born again.  This state of forgiveness was enough to maintain a relationship with Yahweh, but it was incomplete by design, to point to Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice for us on the cross.

David then moves forward in Ps. 32:3-5 to describe a personal experience he had when he was faced with the depths of his own sin in light of God’s forgiveness.  I believe he mentioned this so that no believer, including himself, would ever take God’s grace and mercy for granted.

In verses 3-4, prior to David’s repentance (which brought him great rejoicing in v. 5), he felt guilty about his sin, and rightfully so.  Perhaps this was what he sensed after committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband sent to the front lines of battle to be killed.  Whatever his sin was, before he dealt with it through confession, he said that his bones were wasting away.  He groaned all day long.  He felt God’s hand was heavy upon him.  This was not God’s mighty hand of protection that David often spoke of, but God’s Spirit laying conviction on his heart.

When he could take it no more, David acknowledged his sin to the LORD.  He did not cover it up.  He confessed it and received God’s forgiveness.  His guilty conscience was at peace.  This is reminiscent of what the Apostle John taught Christ-followers to do in 1 John 1:9 when we sin.

What stuck out to me in this passage was the contrast between what God does and what man does.  In verse 1, David mentions that God covered his sins.  This is what atonement means.  God covered their sins so that He no longer saw them.  Only God has the authority to do that.  But before confessing, David tried in many ways to cover his own sin.  He had no authority to do that.

I jumped over to Psalm 103 . . .

Meditating on Psalm 32:1-5 helped me to better understand what the Apostle Paul was arguing in Romans 4 about the righteousness that is freely given to all who have faith in Jesus Christ.  I went back to Romans 4.  Before I continued, I noticed that I had written another passage in the margin next to verses 7-8.  It was a parallel passage about the blessedness of God’s forgiveness.

Psalm 103 was also written by King David.  Like the previous one, Ps. 103:11-12 also describes the full extent of God’s forgiveness.  However, David does not focus on his personal experience in this blessed state.  In contrast, he uses a little bit of math and science to get his point across.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

This picture of God’s love for those who fear Him going in a vertical direction farther than the eye can see, combined with the idea of our sins being removed in a horizontal direction as far as you can possibly go on this planet reveals the greatest demonstration of God’s love and forgiveness.

When you put the vertical and horizontal lines together, what do you get?  A cross.  Hallelujah!

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Reflections on Mary and Martha

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I am currently reading through the book of John.  A few days ago, I read the familiar story of Mary, her sister Martha, and their brother Lazarus.  In John, chapter 11, the initial focus is on Lazarus.  This gives the Apostle John a perfect opportunity to present another of his many “I AM” statements.  Here, Jesus boldly proclaims, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

However, what caught my attention in this morning as I began to read chapter 12, was some details about Lazarus’ sisters that I had not been aware of before.  It was one of those “Aha!” moments that I want to capture on paper and share with others who may not have seen these things before either.

The same one who poured perfume on the Lord

When we are first introduced to these siblings from Bethany in John 11:1, we quickly get a bit of foreshadowing.  John writes, “This Mary . . . was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair” (v. 2).  I asked myself, “Who?  “What?  “When?”  “Where?”

Now, there are several Marys in the New Testament.  Obviously, Mary, Jesus’ mother was not this Mary.  I always thought that it was Mary Magdalene who did that.  Perhaps I was wrong.

We do not have to look far to find the story.  In John 12, we read that six days before the Passover, Jesus went back to Bethany for a dinner given in His honor (Jn. 12:2).  Martha is mentioned first, then Lazarus, and last, Mary.  John briefly describes the scene for his readers: “Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3).

Thankfully, in my margin notes, two parallel passages were listed.  This event is also recorded in Matt. 26:6-7 and Mark 14:3.  These two Synoptic Gospel writers (notice who is missing) give us one detail that John does not.  They both report the name of the host, Simon the Leper.  However, the name of the woman in this story (who we know is Mary from John’s Gospel), is not given.

So, nothing earth-shattering here.  I offer just a simple observation that John’s perspective and the slightly different one of Matthew and Mark collectively served the author’s purposes.  John did not need to tell us who hosted the dinner party, but he did need to mention Mary’s role in it.  Matthew and Mark chose to tell us that Simon the Leper gave the party for Jesus, but did not feel the need to mention the siblings that Jesus loved in John’s Gospel.  All accounts are equally reliable and true.

Martha serving and Mary seeking

Next, let me share some interesting observations about the sisters found in John and elsewhere.

When we read John’s account of these close siblings in John 11, we do see some small distinctions in how they greeted Jesus when He arrived after their brother had died.  Martha greeted Jesus first in John 11:20-27.  She expressed what initially appears to be disappointment, exclaiming that “if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (Jn. 11:21).  But then, she expresses her faith in Jesus, declaring, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (Jn. 11:22).  They exchanged a few more words and she departs to tell her sister Jesus wanted to see her (v. 28).

Mary goes out to meet Jesus in Jn. 11:29-32.  She says virtually the same thing as Martha had first said to Jesus.  She was obviously very emotional, as John mentions that Jesus saw her weeping (v. 33).  Jesus asks where Lazarus was laid, and the crowd that followed her led Jesus to the tomb.

This is interesting to me; it seems to put Martha in a better light than another passage that does not.

Where have we seen Martha and Mary before?  It is not in John’s account in chapters 11 and 12.  It is not in Matthew’s or Mark’s Gospel either, which may be why they did not mention her name in their account of the woman pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet.  It is in Luke’s Gospel we need to go.

In Luke 10:39-42, we read the only account in the four Gospels where Martha’s and Mary’s priorities seem to be contrasted.  This supposed rivalry has been the subject of many sermons.  We notice that the village of Bethany is not even mentioned by Luke, and neither is Lazarus.  We learn that Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to what He said.  Martha, on the other hand, was taking care of all the details that needed to be done in order to be hospitable to her important guests.

When I compared the actions of each of the sisters with Jesus near Lazarus’ tomb in John 11, at the dinner party in John 12, and at this occasion in Luke 10, I observed some similarities worth noting.

Based on her actions, perhaps Martha might have the spiritual gift of serving (Rom. 12:7), helping, or administration (1 Cor. 12:28).  She was busy making a meal for her Lord in Luke 10.  She had a detailed conversation with Jesus in John 11.  She was seen serving dinner again in John 12.  Mary, on the other hand, did not have these same spiritual gifts.  Her acts of reverential worship that were motivated by deep emotions lead me to speculate that her spiritual gifts were more along the lines of encouragement or mercy (Rom. 12:8).  Mary expectantly sat at Jesus’ feet in Luke 10.  She was too overcome with emotion to carry on a deep conversation with Jesus in John 11, and she expressed her adoration of Jesus most beautifully in John 12.

I love finding patterns scattered throughout Scripture and tying the details together. It makes me want to be like Mary and sit, learn, and worship at Jesus’ feet, which He said was a good thing.  It also makes me want to be like Martha, serving meals for His glory, and blessing those who visit.  It is a good thing to serve the Lord with our spiritual gifts, whichever ones we have been given.

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Where Were the Soldiers at Jesus’ Crucifixion?

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Ernest Borgnine as the Centurion in the movie “Jesus of Nazareth”

“The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head” (John 19:2).

“So the soldiers took charge of Jesus” (John 19:16).

“Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear” (John 19:34).

As I was reading the four Gospel accounts of the crucifixion last Saturday (between Good Friday and Easter Sunday), I was intrigued to see that soldiers were mentioned in several places.  They had a key role in the events leading up to and during Jesus’ death on the cross.  Some soldiers were not so kind.  One of them was a believer.  As a retired U.S. Army Master Sergeant who served on active duty for twenty years, I felt compelled to study a bit more and share what I learn.

A few days later, before I had started writing this article, I was struck by another moment of divine inspiration, or what I like to call “sanctified imagination”.  What if I did a series of articles, starting with this one, and called it “Soldiers in Scripture – Warriors in the Word”?

I currently serve as a civilian staff member at the U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School located at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  I work with soldiers every day.  My wife and I attend chapel services on Sundays.  I know several Army chaplains.  I thought that this might be a good series to share with the Christian military community here and around the world.  Perhaps it might bring soldiers, young and old, some much needed encouragement as they learn from God’s word what it says about those who served in the profession of arms.

Rather than starting in Matthew, and working my way through Mark, Luke, and John in order, I will break it down by major event.  It is interesting that Matthew and Mark only refer to soldiers in their respective accounts one time, Luke mentions them three times, and John does so eight times.

The Soldiers’ actions when Jesus was arrested

The first time I see soldiers involved in the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion is in the Garden of Gethsemane.  John is the only one of the four Gospel writers who specifically mentions that a detachment of soldiers was among those with Judas as he led a group of Jewish officials to arrest Jesus (John 18:3).  The other writers only mention that Judas brought a crowd of people with him.

We do not see much of anything specifically mentioned about these soldiers.  It appears that they were a security force.  We read in Matt. 26:47 that this crowd of people was “armed with swords and clubs”.  It makes sense that Judas would have brought (or rather the Jewish officials would have arranged for) a show of force in case Jesus’ disciples showed any resistance, which Peter did do.

Keener writes in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament that although this group of soldiers might have been Roman soldiers, many scholars have come to the conclusion that “this unit was undoubtedly Jewish – the temple guard.  (Roman troops would not be used for a routine police action like this one, and Romans would not have taken Jesus to the house of Annas.)”

The Soldiers’ actions while Jesus was questioned and tried

After Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, John mentions in 18:12 that soldiers arrested Jesus, bound him, and led Him away to a series of prideful leaders who believe they will determine His fate.

These soldiers (or perhaps temple guards), first escorted Jesus to the house of the former high priest, Annas, who was the first one to question Jesus.  Then they took him to his son-in-law, Caiaphas, the current high priest.  (See John 18:12-13.)  After Caiaphas pronounced judgement on Jesus for blasphemy, those who were guarding Jesus cruelly mocked and beat Him (Luke 22:63).  Elsewhere, we read that they were spitting in His face and striking Him.  (See Matt. 26:67 and Mark 14:65.)

Unfortunately, this would not be the last time we see soldiers violating laws regarding treatment of prisoners.  Next, Jesus went on trial before Herod.  Luke alone tells us that “Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him” (23:11)  Later, Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus a while and reluctantly pronounced His death sentence.  After this, Pilate’s Roman soldiers took him to the palace, where a company of soldiers gathered to mistreat Jesus.  They stripped Him, beat Him, and put a scarlet robe on Him.  Then they made a crown of thorns and put it on Jesus’ head.  Then the soldiers mocked Him, spit on Him, and beat Him repeatedly.  (See Matt. 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-20; John 19:1-3.)

The Soldiers’ actions when Jesus on the cross

There are several critical events at Jesus’ crucifixion that involved soldiers.  As a matter of fact, in many of these scenes, the soldiers’ actions were in direct fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy!  (I invite you to check out an article that I wrote on this very subject a short time ago.)

First, soldiers mocked Jesus on the way to Golgotha, where they gave Him vinegar mixed with gall (Luke 23:36).  This fulfilled Ps. 69:21.  (See also Matt. 27:34, 48; Mark 15:23; John 19:28-30.)

Next, after Jesus was hung on the cross, there were four soldiers who divided Jesus’ clothes among them and cast lots for his seamless undergarment.  All three of John’s fellow Gospel writers briefly include this story in their accounts.  (See Matt. 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34.)  However, John gives us much more detail.  His version in John 19:23-24 includes a brief conversation that explains why they cast lots, which was in direct fulfillment of Ps. 22:18.

Also worth mentioning is the astounding scene at the cross where the Roman soldiers do not break Jesus’ legs, which was fulfilled Ex. 12:46.  They did not have to do so because they knew Jesus was already dead when they pierced His side, once again in direct fulfillment of Scripture (Zech. 12:10).

There is one more event that involved a brave soldier.  Right after Jesus died, we see a centurion, a leader of a company of soldiers, responding to the miraculous signs that accompanied Jesus’ death (i.e., the curtain of the temple was split in two, an earthquake, dead coming back to life).  This soldier exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”  (See Matt. 27:51-54; Mark 15:38-39; Luke 23:44-47.)

How should Christian Soldiers act now?

I think that there are several things that soldiers can do today from seeing soldiers at the cross:

  • Submit to authority – accept your humble position and carry out the orders given to you, even if you disagree with them; make an effort to show respect for and trust your leaders
  • When in charge, take charge – take your responsibility seriously; do your duty, whether it be escorting prisoners, maintaining a vehicle, or training other Soldiers
  • Follow the Geneva convention that prohibits cruelty towards prisoners – there is a time and place to be violent; there is also a time to treat all with dignity and respect, even our enemies
  • Sometimes God will use a soldier to accomplish His purposes, sometimes unknowingly; be that soldier who makes himself or herself available for God to be used for His mission
  • Be a like the centurion who boldly declared his faith in Jesus Christ – have the confidence to express your faith at the appropriate moments; live it out every day for all to see

Next time, I will explore what the Soldiers were doing at Jesus’ tomb.  (Click here to read the article.)

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Jesus Fulfilled Old Testament Prophecy on the Cross

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(Note: This article was published in Lost Pen magazine.)

Like most Christians around the world, I tried to be intentional about focusing on Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday.  As I read through the accounts of the cross in all four Gospels over the past couple of days, I noticed how frequently the writers quoted or alluded to the Old Testament.  It became obvious that I needed to do a little research to address how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament (OT) prophecy.

The Apostle John makes this bold claim about just one of these fulfillments during the crucifixion: “These happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled” (John 19:36).  Let me unpack this a bit.

The four Gospel writers shared their unique viewpoints regarding the events around Jesus’ crucifixion.  Each of them, however, purposefully tied several details of these events to OT prophecy, showing how Jesus fulfilled them.  These fulfillments are powerful faith-builders, as they demonstrate God’s sovereignty in carefully laying out the OT Scriptures so that they would point to Jesus.

I invite you to explore this topic with me, as we take a deep dive into God’s word.  We will take three of the OT passages that are either quoted or alluded to in the Gospels and then discuss where and how they are handled in each of the Gospel accounts that connect them back to the OT.

Psalm 22:18

You might find it strange that we begin here. Anyone who has read the Bible knows that this wonderful collection of poetry called the psalms are not considered prophetic books like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc.  However, this psalm and many others fall into the category of messianic psalms, as they all clearly point to Jesus when we look back at them with enlightened eyes.

It is interesting that all four Gospel writers mention this event that fulfills Ps. 22:18, which states, “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” Matthew presents it nearly word for word in Matt. 27:35, but he does not quote it directly.  We call this an allusion, because it obviously calls to the mind of the reader (both now and then) the OT verse without spelling it out.  However, there is a footnote in the NIV indicating that some late manuscripts added, “that the word spoken by the prophet might be fulfilled”, which is followed by quoting Ps. 22:18.

In Mark 15:24, Mark writes the same thing.  Luke 23:34 is where we find this event listed next.  There are no footnotes here, nor are there any direct quotes, only a note in the margin that this is a parallel passage to Ps. 22:18.

We read it again in John 19:24.  Here, John adds much more detail to his account, as he was there.  He observes that they divided Jesus’ clothes into four shares, one for each of the four soldiers.  He focuses on the undergarment which remained.  This had no seams apparently, being woven somehow in one piece from top to bottom.  John then shares a conversation between two of the Soldiers, where they agree to not tear it but cast lots to decide who would get it.  John indicates here (as he does on two other occasions in his account) that this happened in fulfillment of Psalm 22:18, which he quotes in full.

Psalm 22:1

Next, in our chronological listing of events that took place when Jesus died on the cross that had connections to the OT, is Ps. 22:1.  Unlike the previous one, this verse that begins this Messianic psalm was only quoted by two of the Gospel writers.  It is also different from our previous verse in that the Gospel writers were either alluding to or quoting the OT Scripture themselves.  Here, Jesus actually quoted the verse Himself, communicating that He identified with the psalm in a personal way.

Matthew mentions this event, as expected, since he was writing to a Jewish audience.  He consistently calls attention in his book to how the life and death of Jesus as their Messiah fulfills OT prophecy.  In Matt. 27:46, we see Jesus crying out to His heavenly Father.  He truly felt abandoned as He willingly bore the sin of the entire collection of humans around the world, past, present, and future.  For the first time, Jesus experienced complete separation from God the Father, because Jesus, as the only sinless human that ever lived, became sin for us so that we might gain His righteousness.  (See Rom. 4:25; 1 Peter 2:24.)

In Mark 15:34, we also see Jesus speaking in agony the words of this psalm.  Moyise, in Jesus and Scripture: Studying the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, states that Mark records Jesus quoting the OT 22 times.  Moyise concludes that “Mark understood Psalm 22:1 as a prophecy of the Messiah’s suffering, just as he has portrayed Jesus’ suffering as God’s will throughout his Gospel.”

I encourage you to read Psalm 22 in its entirety.  Verses 7 and 8 will also be reminiscent of the events at the cross that are mentioned in all three Synoptic Gospels.  But, let us move on to another psalm.

Psalm 31:5

Like Psalm 22:1, Jesus is quoting an OT Scripture with which He can properly identify.  Jesus quotes Ps. 31:5 in what appear to be His final words.  (It is somewhat challenging to list in chronological order all of the words of Jesus on the cross with four slightly differing perspectives.)  Interestingly, Luke 23:46 is the only place in all four Gospel narratives where we can read of this crucifixion event.

Dr. Mark D. Roberts, in his “Life for Leaders” devotional on April 10, 2020 entitled, The Seventh Word: Into Your Hands I Commend My Spirit gives us some solid insights into Jesus’ use of Psalm 31.

By quoting a portion of Psalm 31, therefore, Jesus not only entrusted his future to his Father, but also implied that he would be delivered and exonerated. Jesus surely knew the full truth of Psalm 31; so he understood that God would not deliver him from death by crucifixion. But beyond this horrific death lay something marvelous. “Into your hand I commit my spirit” points back to the familiar suffering of David in Psalm 31 and forward to the resurrection of Jesus. Thus, the final word of Jesus from the cross foreshadows the coming victory and joy of Easter.

This was not intended to be a comprehensive list of all of the OT references that Jesus fulfilled at the cross.  In addition to these mentioned above, you may want to read Ps. 69:21, which is quoted by all four Gospel writers.  (See Matt. 27:34 and 48; Mark 15:23 and 36; Luke 23:36; and John 19:28-30.)  I also encourage you to read John 19:31-37, where John quotes both Exo. 12:46 and Zech. 12:10, and boldly points out that Jesus fulfilled these OT Scriptures as well.

What are the implications?

After reading all of these OT Scriptures and Gospel verses, you might be wondering, “What do I need to do with all of this good information?  Is there anything implied that I should do to apply these truths?

I do not believe that these passages were intended to lead us to change how we think, speak, or act.  These connections between the OT and NT are meant to make us amazed at God’s holy word, and amazed with His holy Word, Jesus, who against all odds perfectly fulfills hundreds of OT passages written thousands of years before He was born.  Without a doubt, we can trust and follow Him.

(Note: If you found this discussion of value to your faith and knowledge, I invite you to read a series of articles I wrote on how Jesus fulfilled the OT prophecies found in Isaiah 53:4-12.)

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.