Something I’ve always struggled with while studying the bible is the relationship between the Old Testament and New Testament. The New Testament holds a special place for most Christians because it contains the records of Christ’s life. As we strive to become more like Christ, it is easy to focus exclusively on this series of books while neglecting the wisdom and historical context provided by the Old Testament. On the other hand, I’ve witnessed people strip that same historical context from this part of the bible for personal and political gain. So I decided to try and develop a better understanding of what this collection of books is trying to say for myself.
One of the aspects of the Old Testament that often goes overlooked are the books of prophecy (Isaiah through Malachi). Compared to some of the more popular Old Testament books, these stories tend to be less self-contained and also require some outside knowledge of the context in which they were written to make much sense. One historical event in particular sticks out in these books, the Babylonian captivity.
The comparison between America and Babylon has been made to the point of meaninglessness, instead, I want to focus on Israel’s role in this story. First though, it would help to establish a definition for what the Babylonian captivity was and its relevance to biblical history. In 586 BC, King Nebuchadnezzer of Babylon invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish temple. After the city fell, he enslaved large swaths of the population and forced them to migrate to Babylon. This exile contains the stories of Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego. However, leading up to this point, God sent many prophets to warn Israel of its fate. The biggest warning, perhaps, was the fall of Israel’s northern kingdom to the Babylonians nearly a decade earlier. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah tried to warn Jerusalem that they would meet the same fate as their northern counterpart if they didn’t attempt to make a change. Sure enough, this fate came to pass and it irrevocably changed Jewish culture and religion as a result.
But I want to focus on how things got to this point. How could a God that claims to love his adherents also allow them to be enslaved, conquered, and killed. The answer lies in the nature of covenants. One of the oldest and most important covenants in the Bible is between God and Abraham. It provides the cultural narrative of the Jewish faith, that God promised to protect and guide the descendants of Abraham so long as they remained loyal to him alone. Pretty simple, but the region where Jerusalem is located has always been a hotly contested area of land. All around Israel, powerful cities increased their strength beneath the banners of false gods and idols. Over the course of centuries, Israel declined in prominence from the golden age of King David as places like Babylon, Persia, and Egypt began to thrive. Instead of remaining faithful to the invisible promises of God, Israel forsook it’s covenant in order to gain a fraction of the wealth and influence seen sprouting up in the neighboring nations.
Ultimately, it is this betrayal that caused the downfall of Jerusalem. A promise takes two sides to uphold and God showed the people of Jerusalem grace by giving them an example of what awaited them in the future. Isaiah 2:6-9 follows the prophet Isaiah as he tries to convince the people of Jerusalem to return to God’s covenant. His diagnosis is very clear. Israelites abandoned God in favor of sorcery, sexual ritualism, and idolatry. Despite the warnings from the prophet and the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, Israel persisted until their eventual destruction and captivity. But why? What force could be so powerful that it would prevent an entire nation that had been blessed beyond desire in the past to forsake their faith?
At the heart of the problem is pride. Isaiah 2:6-9 illustrates the relationship that Israel had with these idols. They were works of art on some level, seemingly erected by patrons in order to display not just their piety but also their wealth. They literally erect works made from their own labor and worshiped them as if they are gods. In return, these idols made them prosperous. Eased political tensions within the region came about as a result of this cultural cross-pollination which facilitated trade which, in turn, made Jerusalem very wealthy. Gold and silver were seemingly endless in those days. In their quest to elevate their nation and by extension themselves, Israel broke their covenant with God thus removing his blessing and making them vulnerable to Babylonian invasion.
My first impulse when researching this topic was to point my finger at the world around me and externalize the accusations leveled against Israel onto American culture or the modern church, but that misses the point entirely. Culturally, we have an idea of Babylon as greedy, vain, sexually immoral, and paganistic. On closer inspection, however, Israel was just as guilty of all of these things if not more. What is the point of judging Babylon when they were ignorant of God’s power entirely. In much the same way that Israel bore witness to the full power of God in its history and chose to forsake that in favor of idols; there are certainly places in my life where my faith fails despite the overwhelming blessings God has given me in the past. There are certainly places in my life where I put myself on a pedestal so the admiration of others drowns out the guilt I feel. Instead of trying to deny that those parts of me exist, perhaps it’s better to recognize the areas in my life where I put myself before Christ and address them. This might not be everyone’s story, but if you think you’re too holy, well-respected, or ecclesiastic enough to never struggle with pride then I have a trophy to sell you to commemorate your spiritual enlightenment.
Pentecost is one of the most important days in scripture, one of the most important days in Church history, and one of the most significant days for all Christians because it is the birthday for the Church. But it is a day that often passes with little celebration and attention in the lives of many believers. Why don’t we celebrate Pentecost?
The other major Christian holidays have found widespread secular adoption and commercialization. Christmas season is still the greatest period of retail sales in the world, with images of Santa Claus, reindeer, gifts, and winter weather dominating our consciousness. The popular images are far removed from the poor young girl from a small unimportant town giving birth to baby Jesus in Bethlehem that is the true meaning behind the holiday. Easter has widespread fanfare involving bunnies and eggs, chocolates and baskets in the popular culture. But believers rarely forget the Good Friday services, Easter outfits, and proclamations of “Hallelujah” in response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead. Christians almost universally celebrate Christmas and Easter.
But Pentecost, the occasion of the Holy Spirit appearing from heaven in the upper room and filling the disciples that began the church in Acts chapter 2 has no such consistent celebrations or commercial fanfare.
We should absolutely celebrate that the Holy Spirit has come to dwell among believers. The new creation has begun and the “already but not yet” Kingdom of God is made visible in the lives of those who follow Jesus Christ. We should have fanfare that God’s promise of living in our hearts, calling all people to Himself, and dwelling among humanity have been fulfilled. The Church being given the power to destroy the works of sin and evil in the world were fulfilled on Pentecost. In Acts 2, the Apostle Peter clearly explains that Pentecost is the fulfillment of scripture, that people were able to know God who speaks their language, and that the Holy Spirit was evidence of God among those who believes. God is not a distant force or impersonal figure. The Holy Spirit is at work everyday in our lives as believers. We can experience God in completely new ways because of His presence with us. We can discern God’s truth, share spiritual gifts with one another, and overcome sinful behaviors and sin-filled systems through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost allows us to move from knowing God’s works in the past to experiencing them in the present. Because of Pentecost all nations were invited to know the God of Israel in the ways they could understand Him. We should celebrate that the Holy Spirit is God with us today, by celebrating Pentecost. Our celebration may not have commercial Holy Spirit clothes and toys to buy. We may not hear seven sermons in a day as we reflect and are uplifted. We may not see a Pentecost holiday special on TV or Pentecost music on the radio, or Pentecost memes on our social media timelines. But we can give thanks to God for the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We can praise God in our worship services as we remember the birth of the Church. We can reflect on the work of the Holy Spirit in the world. And we can celebrate Pentecost however we celebrate it as believers have been called to celebrate it for thousands of years.
Scripture: Galatians 5:16-26 NLT
16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.
19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.
Every day we make choices that impact our lives in a positive or negative manner. We may think of decisions and choices that we have made in the past that we regret and wish we could have handled better.
Galatians 5:16 reminds us that we are in a walk, not a race to fulfill our destiny and the only way we are going to achieve it is by doing it God’s way. His way is exemplified by the fruits that come forth when we are obedient to the leading of His Spirit.
As we walk with the Lord, the fruits of the Spirit impact our character and make us more like Christ. When we identify ourselves as believers who love Jesus we choose to willingly sacrifice anything that does not please Him. Holy Spirit helps us gauge our passions and desires with His will and purpose and if they do not line up, we are willing to lay them aside.
Keeping in step with the Spirit means we are daily tuned in to what God has to say about our lives, and open to adjust accordingly to what His word and will says. As we grow in Him and develop in the fruits of the spirit, our character is given an opportunity to grow and develop and mature.
In time, we begin to model Christ-like behavior. We resist and overcome the things that used to control us and bind us to our old nature before we submitted to Christ because our desire is to please God.
As you make decisions this week, examine and evaluate whether the results of those decisions will draw you closer or further away from the will of God. Remind yourself that you have the ability to choose right, and become more like Jesus Christ.
I desire to develop in the fruits of the Spirit and walk upright before you. Teach me how to make the right decisions that please you and make me more like you. Remove any feelings of regret that I may be having in my heart that hinder me from making the right choices. Grant me the grace to move through this life with the right pace and posture of walking with you step by step and fulfilling your will for my life.
In Jesus Name,
Scripture: Galatians 3: 18-29 NLT
18 For if the inheritance could be received by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God’s promise. But God graciously gave it to Abraham as a promise.
19 Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. God gave his law through angels to Moses, who was the mediator between God and the people. 20 Now a mediator is helpful if more than one party must reach an agreement. But God, who is one, did not use a mediator when he gave his promise to Abraham.
21 Is there a conflict, then, between God’s law and God’s promises?[a] Absolutely not! If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. 22 But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ.
23 Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.
24 Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. 25 And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.
26 For you are all children[b] of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.[c] 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile,[d] slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children[e] of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.
There is such a joy and peace to know that we serve a God who has created a way for all of us to understand that we are one in His presence. This scripture is a reminder of the viewpoint of God regarding unity and oneness.
For those who desire to come into the Kingdom of God, it can be difficult to get to Him if all they see is the bias and prejudice that sometimes exists in our society. That mindset can be applied to their own personal relationship with God. They may think that He is a biased God who picks and chooses who to bless.
Have you felt that way? Has the enemy convinced you that there are certain blessings you cannot attain in this lifetime? May you be encouraged by this scripture to know:
- We are all the children of God by faith in Christ
This means we all have the privilege of being blessed by God. Remove the fear, distrust, and doubt that God will not bless you because of your social status, race, or whatever bias you face. Ask and believe in faith that God is able and desires to give you all blessings that pertain unto life and godliness.
- We are one in Christ Jesus
The Lord desires for us to view one another as one. If one person hurts, we hurt as well. Considering this fact will open our lives to embrace compassion, empathy, and kindness. The next time you want to be quick to judge or scorn another brother or sister in Christ, remember that we are one in God’s eyes. Ask Holy Spirit what He desires for you to do and place yourself in that person’s shoes to ensure that the decision you make in thought or actuality will be pleasing to Him.
- We are heirs to the promise because we are Abraham’s seed
Recognizing that we are one in Christ Jesus allows us to ask boldly for all the promises that were provided to Abraham. It is easy to read the Word of God and look at what God blessed Abraham with and think that those blessings were only for him. However, Abraham is no longer living but those promises God gave him, still exist. Why won’t you claim them? God desires for you to experience the joy and breakthrough that Abraham received.
The love of God is not a feeling, but it is His Word in manifestation. This week, begin to think about the promises of God that are accessible to you, and have not been activated in your life.
- Why are they not manifesting in your life?
- Have you positioned yourself to ask and believe in faith that God can do it?
- Do you have stewardship principles in your life to ensure those blessings are passed on to future generations after you? Who will gain from your blessings and breakthrough?
It is time to walk in the fullness of what God has for you. Believe that He is more than able to bless you with an abundant life and wants you to experience all that this life has to offer you. All you have to do is ask in faith, believe, and receive it by preparing for the manifestation of what you ask Him. He will bless you according to His Word and His will for your life.
I am grateful for the clarity you bring through your Word to remind me that I am just as qualified for your favor, love, and blessings as Abraham was. I boldly begin to believe and ask by faith for everything I need.
Teach me the discipline to steward what you have placed in me so that I can pass it on to future generations and become a carrier of the many blessings that you will bestow upon me. My mind is being transformed to believe for the best and view myself as a partaker of the blessings that Christ has to offer.
Thank you for this reminder. I am loved by you.