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Loving Jesus Christ

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This entry is part 13 of 13 in the series The Power of Love
Series Navigation<< That Empty Space

This message has also been released with the title: “Love”


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Ronald L. Dart

Ronald L. Dart (1934–2016) — People around the world have come to appreciate his easy style, non-combative approach to explaining the Bible, and the personal, almost one-on-one method of explaining what’s going on in the world in the light of the Bible. After retiring from teaching and church administration in 1995 he started Christian Educational Ministries and the Born to Win radio program.

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Less Than Your Love

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This entry is part 8 of 13 in the series The Power of Love
Series Navigation<< Shared SufferingLove and Law >>

Author

Ronald L. Dart

Ronald L. Dart (1934–2016) — People around the world have come to appreciate his easy style, non-combative approach to explaining the Bible, and the personal, almost one-on-one method of explaining what’s going on in the world in the light of the Bible. After retiring from teaching and church administration in 1995 he started Christian Educational Ministries and the Born to Win radio program.

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Three Days and Three Nights [Thread Chapter]

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Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Jonah 1:17

Nearly the whole Christian world believes that Jesus was crucified on Friday and rose from the dead Sunday morning. But if you have read the New Testament with any care at all, you may have a lingering question about this. Jesus said plainly that he would be in the grave for three days and three nights. How can we squeeze three days and three nights into the time between Friday, about sunset, and Sunday morning before daybreak? Here is what Jesus said:

But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:39-40).

Now, how do we get three days and three nights between late Friday afternoon and early Sunday morning – a period of about 36 hours? We can count this off on our fingers: Friday night, Saturday, Saturday night, and we end up with one day and two nights. Yes, I know some people think it is a Greek idiom, but you don’t have to be a scholar to check that out. If you know how to use a concordance, you can take a Bible and easily walk through the usage of these terms. “Three days” may be ambiguous, but when you toss in the expression “and three nights” you add an emphasis to the expression that really requires that third night.

Let me suggest an alternative for you to consider. Suppose Jesus was not crucified on Friday. Suppose he was crucified on a Wednesday. That would mean that in the year Jesus was crucified, the 14th day of the first month of the Jewish calendar would have been on a Wednesday. In that case he would have been buried late on Wednesday afternoon. You can then count them on your fingers. Wednesday night, Thursday, Thursday night, Friday, Friday night, Saturday – three days and three nights. So why does the whole Christian world think otherwise? This is a fascinating story, so settle back and let’s take a look.

Late in the afternoon on the day of his crucifixion, Jesus finally ended his suffering and died. From Mark’s account:

And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last. Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem. Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus (Mark 15:37-43).

Now everyone knows the Sabbath is Saturday, so this had to be Friday, the preparation day, right? Well, no, not necessarily. Continuing from Luke’s account of the same events:

And behold, a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man (he had not consented to their plan and action), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God; this man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. And he took it down and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever lain. And it was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin (Luke 23:50-54 NASB).

So it was firmly established that this is a preparation day followed closely by a Sabbath day. Backing up just slightly, here is what John says about the death of Jesus.

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop, and brought it up to His mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit. The Jews therefore, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away (John 19:28-31 NASB).

The Sabbath in question was a high day because it was the First Day of Unleavened Bread. The 15th day of the first month was a Sabbath day in the Jewish calendar, no matter what day of the week it fell on. So if Jesus was crucified on the 14th, on a Wednesday, then Thursday would have been a Sabbath day. See Leviticus 23:24-39, where annual holydays are called Sabbaths regardless of the day of the week. (All the holydays except one fall on calendar dates, not on particular days of the week.)

So nothing of what we have read so far requires a Friday crucifixion. Why is this so confusing in the New Testament? Because none of the Gospel writers anticipated our problem with this some 2000 years later. For them, it was as clear as crystal. Going back a little further in Mark’s account:

After two days it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar of the people.” (Mark 14:1-2).

They wanted to get this whole mess out of the way before the high day, the 15th. It would be a Sabbath, no matter if it was on a Thursday, which it appears to have been in this year. Continuing with John’s account:

And after these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. He came therefore, and took away His body. And Nicodemus came also, who had first come to Him by night; bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. And so they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been laid. Therefore on account of the Jewish day of preparation, because the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there (John 19:38-42 NASB).

Why was the location of the burial important? Because a Sabbath day was coming on. They had to get the body of Jesus down off the stake and the work of burial finished before sundown, when the Sabbath began. There is no slack in here. I have included all this information to establish that Jesus’ body went into the tomb in the last moments before the sun went down, beginning the Sabbath day.

So our question is, was this late on Friday, just before the Sabbath, or late on Wednesday, just before the festival Sabbath? The latter of these alternatives would give us our three days and three nights.

Now notice two fascinating items. It was the custom of the time to wrap a body with spices, mummy-style, before burial. The problem in this case was that there was no time. Joseph and Nicodemus did a hasty job of preparing the body. The women wanted to do more in the way of burial customs and planned to do so. Luke, from a slightly different perspective, notes: “And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment” (Luke 23:55-56).

If you are reading carefully, you will realize that there is a problem here. They had to bury Jesus in haste because there was no time. How then could these women go home and do the work of preparing more spices before the Sabbath began?

There is another account of this in Mark’s gospel. It isn’t a major point with Mark. It is almost an aside: “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body” (Mark 16:1 NIV).

So they bought their spices when the Sabbath was over, prepared their ointments and spices and then rested the Sabbath day. It is easy to miss since the details of the sequence of events are spread over four gospels. But the women saw Jesus buried in the last minutes before sundown beginning the Sabbath. **i Then, when the Sabbath was over, they bought spices, prepared them, and then rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment. This second Sabbath was indeed Saturday.

When these men wrote all this down, more than thirty years had passed since the events. Each of them told part of the story, but neither saw any reason to explain to us that there were two Sabbaths that week with a day in between – Thursday and Saturday. If we have this right, then we have no problem at all in finding three days and three nights between Jesus’ burial and resurrection.

But perhaps we should also ask why three days and three nights even matter. How did they get into the picture? To answer that, we can start by looking at another remarkable resurrection. There was a family in Bethany who were very special to Jesus. He loved Lazarus, Mary and Martha, and no doubt had spent a lot of time with them. So when they sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was dying, they expected him to come to them right away. But when word came to Jesus, he delayed for two more days. He told his disciples, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).

After delaying these extra days, waiting deliberately for Lazarus to die, Jesus said to his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” The disciples didn’t catch his drift at first, so Jesus spoke more plainly: “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him” (vv. 11-15).

It is clear enough right from the start that Jesus intended, not merely to heal Lazarus, but to raise him from the dead. The whole episode, though, was terribly hard on Mary and Martha.

When Martha heard Jesus was coming, she left the house to meet him, Mary staying behind. Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You” (vv. 21-22).

The pain of this moment is palpable. And that last phrase of Martha’s seems to imply that she thought Jesus might indeed raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus replied: “Thy brother shall rise again.” It is the answer we hear at funeral after funeral of people we love. Your loved one will rise again, you will be reunited in the day of resurrection.

“I know,” said Martha, “that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus’ answer to this plaintive cry is the hope that all of us carry:

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25-26).

Martha did believe, and she returned to the house and quietly told Mary that Jesus had come at last. Mary got up quickly and went to Jesus. When she found him she fell down at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had only been here, my brother would not have died.” That had to hurt, even though Jesus knew what he was going to do. Knowing what Mary and Martha had to suffer, “he groaned in the spirit and was troubled” (v. 33). Here was Mary crying like her heart would break, along with a collection of mourners also who had followed her from the house.

“Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Lord, come and see,” they replied. “Jesus wept” (vv. 34-35).

These two words speak volumes about Jesus’ humanity. Even knowing he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, he hurt inside for the pain others were feeling. And there is something inside all of us, no matter how well prepared we think we are for the death of a loved one, that makes us weep in the face of death.

Still groaning, Jesus approached the cave where they had placed Lazarus. There was a stone across the entrance and Jesus told them to take it away. Martha protested, “But, Lord,” she said, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days” (v. 39).

And this begins to answer the question of Jesus’ delay. It had to be established that Lazarus was truly dead before Jesus raised him. Otherwise it might have been argued that Lazarus only appeared to be dead. Jesus called out, “Lazarus, come forth!” And the man who had been dead staggered out of the tomb still wrapped in his shroud.

We tend to forget in this day and age when we can be more certain through science when a person is dead, that in ages gone by, they were not so sure. Some held a belief that the soul stayed with the body for three days after death. Here is one Jewish source:

Tractate Semahot (“Mourning”) says: “One may go out to the cemetery for three days to inspect the dead for a sign of life, without fear that this smacks of heathen practice. For it happened that a man was inspected after three days, and he went on to live twenty-five years; still another went on to have five children and died later.” ii

Other Jewish sources believe they should only use wood coffins, and they do not embalm the dead. The reason offered is that “as the body decays, the soul ascends to Heaven.” iii The decay was assumed to begin after three days. So if Jesus had been buried at sunset on Friday and rose while it was still dark Sunday morning, he would have been in the tomb less than 36 hours. The Pharisees and others might have argued that he had not been dead, that this was no miracle. He had merely lapsed into a coma and then recovered. So the three days and three nights turn out to be more important than one might think.

But now we have raised yet another problem. This sequence suggests that Jesus rose from the dead on Saturday evening instead of Sunday morning. How do we deal with that little anomaly? This may come as a surprise to you, but there is no passage in the Bible that tells us precisely when Jesus rose from the dead. There is a reason for that: there were no witnesses to the actual event. The first people who saw Jesus alive saw him on Sunday morning, but that does not mean that was the time of the resurrection.

But wait. What about Mark’s statement, “Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils”? (Mark 16:9). Bear in mind that no one witnessed the actual resurrection of Jesus, so no one could testify as to the moment. Thus, this passage is describing, not the time of the resurrection, but the time of Jesus’ appearing to Mary. The Greek texts have no punctuation, so all the commas and periods are left to the translators. Just put the comma in the right place and all becomes clear. “Now when Jesus was risen, early the first day of the week he appeared first to Mary Magdalene.” Also note in Mark’s testimony that the first person to see Jesus alive was Mary. That confirms that no one saw the moment of the resurrection of Jesus.

There is nothing in the Gospel accounts to dispute that Jesus rose from the dead Saturday evening rather than Sunday morning. Three days and three nights from his burial would naturally take us to an evening. But there is something else that is highly suggestive.

Remember that I have been telling you that the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread are all about Christ. There was, at this season, a little noticed ceremony in the Temple service that was also all about Christ. This was the season of the first ripe barley. But the people were not allowed to eat any of that year’s crop until a small portion of it had been offered to God by the priest. It is called “the wave sheaf” in the King James Version, and the ceremony is described in Leviticus.

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it’” (Leviticus 23:9-11).

This could not be done on the Sabbath because it was an act of work, of harvesting and preparing the grain offering. So it was done when the Sabbath ended. The ceremony is also described in Alfred Edersheim’s well known book, The Temple, Its Ministry and Service.iv The ceremony had to take place after the Sabbath day according to the law. It was an act of work to “harvest” the wave sheaf.

So, just after sundown, at the end of the three days and three nights that had passed since Jesus was buried, a noisy little procession of people made their way down from the Temple carrying torches and no doubt passing around a little wine. This is a festival, and a harvest festival to boot. They are having a good time. They came to a field that had been selected ahead of time where there were several bundles of grain already tied together, but not yet cut from the ground.

One of the sheaves was selected, and a man stood over it holding a sickle over his head. He shouted a series of questions to the crowd gathered around him and they shouted their answers back at him:

“Is the sun down?” he shouted. The crowd answered, “Yes!” “This sheaf?” “Yes!” “With this sickle?” “Yes!” “Shall I reap?” “Yes!”

And with a stroke, he cut the sheaf from the ground. That may have been the moment that Jesus, who is also called “the Firstfruits,” opened his eyes in the tomb. Through that night, the sheaf was prepared for offering. The grain was threshed from it and parched in a pan over fire. Early the next morning, it was presented to God in the Temple. This sheaf is the very first of the firstfruits from the fields around Jerusalem. Now consider this very New Testament idea:

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

No grain could be harvested until the wave sheaf of the firstfruits was presented to God. Jesus Christ was the firstfruits and, according to the book of Revelation, the first born from the dead. v So the connection is made to the moment of Jesus’ resurrection.

Then there was a striking instance on the morning of Jesus’ first appearance to his disciples. The very first to see the risen Christ was none other than the broken hearted Mary Magdalene. She stood at the entrance to the tomb, weeping and stooped down to look inside. There, she saw two angels in white robes. They said “Woman, why are you weeping?” Thinking they were the men who had removed Jesus’ body, she replied: “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him” (John 20:13).

In frustration, Mary turned around and saw a man she thought was the gardener. He also asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”

“Sir,” Mary replied, “if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away” (v. 15). At that point, Jesus called her by name and for the first time, she realized that Jesus was alive.

She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God’” (John 20:16-17).

Later that day, Jesus would allow his disciples to touch him. The implication is that between the time Mary saw him and the time he met with his disciples, he had ascended to the Father and returned. There is a minor difference in translation from the King James Version, which reads, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” vi

In either case it is plain that between the time Jesus saw Mary, and later his disciples, he ascended to the Father and returned. This would have been very near to the moment when the sheaf of firstfruits was being offered in the Temple. The parallel with the wave sheaf cannot be ignored. In the symbolism of the events, Jesus came to life when the sheaf was cut, was prepared during the night, vii and was presented to the Father the next morning.

Now there is another curious thing about this incident. It took place on the first day of the week, right? Well, yes, but there is more to it than that. Remember that these people were Jews, and nowhere in the Bible do they refer to the day after the Sabbath as “the first day of the week.” To a Jew, what we call Sunday would always be called the “morrow after the Sabbath.” viii

So why do we read this in the New Testament: “Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave” (Matthew 28:1 NASB)? The normal way for a Jew to say this would be “Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.”

What is the significance of the “first day of the week”? There is no word for “week” in this passage. Literally it is “the first of the Sabbaths” and it is plural. Where in the Bible do we have a series of Sabbaths described? We were close to it before:

You shall eat neither bread nor parched grain nor fresh grain until the same day that you have brought an offering to your God; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD (Leviticus 23:14-16).

This 50th day is the day Christians know as Pentecost. So the day of the firstfruits offering was day one of the seven weeks of harvest leading up to Pentecost, also known as the “Feast of Weeks” because it comes at the end of seven weeks.

So when we find this expression in the New Testament: “Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week,” it is a reference to the first day of the seven weeks leading up to Pentecost. It is not merely a day of the week, but a singular day of the year. So how and when did this get changed to the first day of the week? And how did Christians come to observe “Easter” instead of the Day of Firstfruits?

i. Jewish days ran from sunset to sunset, so the Sabbath would begin at sunset rather than at midnight.

ii. jacksonsnyder.com/arc/2005/stinkest.htm

iii. www.jdcc.org/sepoct97/doc1.htm.

iv. All of Edersheim’s work is available on the Internet at www.studylight.org/his/bc/edr/.

v. “and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Revelation 1:5 NIV).

vi. I think the King James Version is correct here. The Greek word is haptomai, which in many applications can only mean “touch.” See Matthew 9:21 for one example among many.

vii. We know nothing of what Jesus was doing in the time between his resurrection and his appearance to Mary Magdalene. The wave sheaf was taken, threshed, parched and a small basket of it taken into the Temple to be waved before God. Perhaps angels ministered to Jesus in those hours, preparing him for his presentation to the father. He had, after all, been severely mistreated in the hours before his burial. It is plain enough that his appearance was altered. Mary didn’t recognize him at first. All this is highly suggestive of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

viii. In the Old Testament, the word “week” is the Hebrew shabua, “seven.” The days of the week could only be designated in relation to the Sabbath. Hence, Sunday is “the morrow after the Sabbath,” in the Old Testament. See Leviticus 23:15. In the New Testament, the same usage is found. There, the word translated “week” is Sabbaton, the genitive plural of “Sabbath.” The writers of both Testaments were Hebrew in their usage, and what we call the first day of the week, they would call the morrow after the Sabbath.


Author

Ronald L. Dart

Ronald L. Dart (1934–2016) — People around the world have come to appreciate his easy style, non-combative approach to explaining the Bible, and the personal, almost one-on-one method of explaining what’s going on in the world in the light of the Bible. After retiring from teaching and church administration in 1995 he started Christian Educational Ministries and the Born to Win radio program.

Click here for more posts by Ronald L. Dart


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Image Credits: Joel Montes de Oca

The New Testament Sabbath Day [Thread Chapter]

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Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work…

Exodus 20:8-10 NKJV

Would it surprise you to learn that during the entire time when the New Testament was being written, the entire Christian Church throughout the known world observed the Sabbath day? No, I don’t mean Sunday. I mean what most people would call “The Jewish Sabbath,” Saturday. As late as the 80s and 90s of the first century, when the last words of the New Testament were being written, the New Testament church universally observed the Sabbath. This is beyond dispute. It is not a matter of a few proof texts and technical arguments. It is something that is woven into the very fabric of the New Testament.

What may be the first subtle clue is found in Luke’s account of one of Jesus’ earliest sermons. It was not long after his baptism when Jesus, “came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read.” **i

No one can doubt for a moment that the seventh day Sabbath was the universally recognized day of rest and worship among all Jews when Christ came on the scene. So it was Jesus’ custom, his ethos, to attend synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath and that Sabbath was, week by week, on the day we call Saturday. Jesus was a member of this synagogue and had been accepted there ever since he was a boy. This was surely not the first time he had stood to read in this synagogue.

Now here is my question: How did the Jews in that synagogue think about the Sabbath? What was the status and meaning of the Sabbath day in their faith and practice? How important was it? Bear in mind also that all Jesus’ disciples were Jews. They had all grown up attending synagogue and had learned to read the Scriptures in synagogue schools. How did Jesus’ disciples look at the Sabbath day? These are questions we can answer with clarity.

First and foremost, the Sabbath was the fourth of the Ten Commandments. It was the heart and core of their covenant with God.ii But for the Jew of those days, the Sabbath was more than that. The Sabbath lay at the very heart of the identity of their God. They all knew well the significance of this passage from the book of Exodus:

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you’” (Exodus 31:12-13).

Due to a curious convention in most Bibles, there is something here that is easily overlooked. Whenever you see the small caps LORD in your Bible, that means that the Hebrew word there is YHWH (written Hebrew has no vowels). It is pronounced “Yahweh,” or more familiarly, “Jehovah” (with the J pronounced as Y). It all depends on the vowels inserted.

The Sabbath, then, was not merely a sign of who the Jews were, but the sign that identified who their God was – by name. “Verily my Sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am Jehovah.” For a Jew in that time and place, changing the Sabbath was unthinkable. It would be tantamount to changing his God. Now consider the rest of that passage in Exodus.

You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed (vv. 14-17).

For a Jew in the synagogue on that day when Jesus stood up to read, the Sabbath was the sign that identified his God. The Sabbath was not going away. It was a perpetual covenant to last forever. It even carried the penalty of death for a presumptuous violation. For a Jew of the first century, the Sabbath could not be taken lightly. They all knew from Ezekiel’s prophecies that the failure to keep the sign of the Sabbath was a direct reason why they had spent 70 years in Babylonian exile.

Ezekiel was already a well recognized prophet when the Jews found themselves in Babylon. Some of the elders came to him to inquire of God, but God was having none of it. “Speak to these elders,” God said to Ezekiel, “and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: Have you come to inquire of Me? As I live, says the Lord GOD, I will not be inquired of by you’” (Ezekiel 20:3).

These are strong words, and strongly put. “Will you judge them?” God asked Ezekiel, “Will you judge them, son of man? Then confront them with the detestable practices of their fathers” (v. 4). What follows is a litany of the sins that ultimately led to the Jews downfall as a nation. Included prominently in this list is the Sabbath day:

And I gave them My statutes and showed them My judgments, which, if a man does, he shall live by them. Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them (Ezekiel 20:11-12).

Note that well. God gave them the Sabbaths as a sign so they might know who their God was. They were just coming out of Egypt where there was one set of gods and they were headed for Canaan where there was yet another set of gods. The Sabbath was more than just another law. It was the law that identified their God. It told them whose laws and rites they were to practice.

Yet the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness; they did not walk in My statutes; they despised My judgments, which, if a man does, he shall live by them; and they greatly defiled My Sabbaths. Then I said I would pour out My fury on them in the wilderness, to consume them. But I acted for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned before the Gentiles, in whose sight I had brought them out (vv. 13-14).

It seems strange that the children of Israel were already corrupting the Sabbath while they were still in the wilderness. One would have thought it would have taken longer. But God isn’t finished. Since they had failed, God went on to warn their children not to make the same mistake.

But I said to their children in the wilderness, “Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, nor observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols. I am the LORD your God: Walk in My statutes, keep My judgments, and do them; hallow My Sabbaths, and they will be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God” (vv. 18-20).

This is extremely important in understanding the mind set of all the Jews of the first century. They knew that Ezekiel proclaimed the same formula they had read in Exodus. The Sabbath identifies, not the children of Israel, but their God – by name. God warned them of the consequence of corrupting the Sabbath right from the start. It was the harbinger of a nation that would finally turn away from God completely. In the end, the Jews went into captivity in Babylon for a broad variety of transgressions, but the number one reason that led to all the others was that they corrupted the Sabbath day.

So by the time Jesus showed up in the synagogue to read the Scriptures that day, the Sabbath had been drilled into the conscience of every Jew assembled there. It was woven into the warp and woof of their faith. It was not a mere “doctrine” that could be abandoned if it became inconvenient. Changing the Sabbath was tantamount to changing their religion. And there was no question among Jews about which day it was. They learned this when the Sabbath became the test commandment.

It happened when God gave them manna to eat. He said to Moses: “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not.” iii Thus, the Sabbath became the test commandment. If they won’t do this, God said, there is hardly any point in going further.

The test was a simple one. They would get manna every morning for six days. Each day, they were to gather just enough for one day. If they kept it over to the second day, it would become wormy and start to stink. On the sixth day, though, they were to gather twice as much and prepare it for the seventh day, the Sabbath. That way, they would not have to do the work of cooking on the Sabbath day. On the Sabbath day, it would not breed worms and stink.

And so everyone had to observe the Sabbath, and they all had to observe it on the same day. No one was allowed to choose a Sabbath for himself. After all, it was God’s Sabbath and His identifying sign, not theirs.

So the Jews of the first century had no questions about the Sabbath or when it was. It was perhaps the most crucial of all their laws and customs. My point in all this is simple. When Jesus walked onto the scene, the seventh day Sabbath was an established and honored tradition in every sect of Judaism. There were Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and more. They may have been divided on many issues, but they were not divided on the importance of the Sabbath day. The observance of the Sabbath on the day appointed by God himself, was the identifying sign that they were worshiping Jehovah and not someone else.iv

Now we insert Jesus into the picture. After his baptism, his 40 day fast, and his temptation by the Devil, Jesus was ready to begin his ministry. What was the first thing he did, where did he do it, and on what day did he do it? That brings me back to where I started:

Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:14-21).

And what day was that? The Sabbath day, of course. It was a part of Jesus’ ethos, his customary practice, to attend synagogue on the Sabbath day. And it was on the Sabbath day that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled.

Okay, so Jesus kept the Sabbath at this point. But was it his intent to later change the day of worship for his disciples? This kind of change could not have been an afterthought. If it was part of the plan, Jesus knew that from the beginning. He knew it when he read Isaiah in the synagogue on that Sabbath. So was it his intent to change the Fourth Commandment or even to abolish it? If so, how would that intent have finally been expressed or carried out? And what would have been the consequences of that change?

First, it would have been necessary for Jesus at some point to clearly and definitively announce the change, and to give the reason for it. Remember that to any Jew, changing the Sabbath was tantamount to changing Gods. This is no mere doctrinal issue. All of Jesus’ disciples were Jews. Like Jesus himself, they had been brought up in the synagogue and the Sabbath was a part of their ethos. They would never imagine that they had the authority to change the Sabbath without Jesus’ explicit authorization.

Furthermore, if it was Jesus’ intent to change the Sabbath to Sunday, there would have to be a point in time for the changeover. There would have to be a recognition that the change had been made and why it had been made. This isn’t the sort of thing you slip into gradually.

Bear in mind, that for some 20 years after the ascension of Christ, the Church was composed entirely of Jews and proselytes. There was no wholesale conversion of Gentiles until Paul and Barnabas went on their first missionary journey in Acts 13. Now you can search through the four Gospels and up through Acts 12 and you will not find a word about a controversy over the Sabbath. You will find no instructions for a change in the day of worship, nor even any bread crumbs you can follow to indicate that such a change might have been made.

This is important, because a change in the day of worship would not merely have implied a change in custom. For every Jew and every proselyte, it would have implied a change of God. And this change would have to be dealt with in depth. Now you tell me. Could such a change have been made up to Acts 13 without a ripple of it showing up in the Bible?

I recognize that this is an argument from silence, but an argument from silence is decisive if it can be shown that the silence is significant. This silence could not be more significant.

i. Luke 4:16

ii. Exodus 20:8-11.

iii. Exodus 16:4.

iv. This is important because of a common belief that it doesn’t matter which day you keep, as long as you keep a Sabbath. Obviously, it does matter. In truth, when you modify the law to suit your convenience, soon the law itself may become inconvenient.


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Ronald L. Dart (1934–2016) — People around the world have come to appreciate his easy style, non-combative approach to explaining the Bible, and the personal, almost one-on-one method of explaining what’s going on in the world in the light of the Bible. After retiring from teaching and church administration in 1995 he started Christian Educational Ministries and the Born to Win radio program.

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An Angry World

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Ronald L. Dart (1934–2016) — People around the world have come to appreciate his easy style, non-combative approach to explaining the Bible, and the personal, almost one-on-one method of explaining what’s going on in the world in the light of the Bible. After retiring from teaching and church administration in 1995 he started Christian Educational Ministries and the Born to Win radio program.

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The Lonely God: Chapter 2 – The Lonely God

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The Lonely God: Chapter 3 – Open to God

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Apocalipsis #11

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Apocalipsis #10

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Apocalipsis #9

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Apocalipsis #8

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Apocalipsis #7

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Apocalipsis #6

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Apocalipsis #5

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Apocalipsis #4

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Apocalipsis #3

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Apocalipsis #28

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Ronald L. Dart (1934–2016) — People around the world have come to appreciate his easy style, non-combative approach to explaining the Bible, and the personal, almost one-on-one method of explaining what’s going on in the world in the light of the Bible. After retiring from teaching and church administration in 1995 he started Christian Educational Ministries and the Born to Win radio program.

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Apocalipsis #27

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Apocalipsis #26

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Ronald L. Dart (1934–2016) — People around the world have come to appreciate his easy style, non-combative approach to explaining the Bible, and the personal, almost one-on-one method of explaining what’s going on in the world in the light of the Bible. After retiring from teaching and church administration in 1995 he started Christian Educational Ministries and the Born to Win radio program.

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Apocalipsis #25

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Apocalipsis #24

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Apocalipsis #23

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Basic Christianity: Making the Choice

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This message has also been released with the title: “The Choice”


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A Very Special Feast

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Do You Need a Personal Savior?

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Ronald L. Dart (1934–2016) — People around the world have come to appreciate his easy style, non-combative approach to explaining the Bible, and the personal, almost one-on-one method of explaining what’s going on in the world in the light of the Bible. After retiring from teaching and church administration in 1995 he started Christian Educational Ministries and the Born to Win radio program.

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The Bread of Life [Thread Chapter]

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And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

John 6:35

The thread has now taken us to one of the singular peculiarities of the Passover, and one that carried over into Christian observance. Why did the Jews, and later the Corinthian Christians, eat unleavened bread during the seven days of the Passover season?

When Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, it was at the Passover season, and he had to tackle a regrettable problem in the church. A man who was a brother in the church was committing fornication, so openly that it was commonly known in the city. The leadership of the Corinthian church, who knew what was going on, had done nothing about it. Since they would not judge the matter, Paul did.

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:3-5 NRSV).

Having judged the leadership of the church as arrogant (“puffed up” in the KJV), Paul goes on to develop the theme of the season. “Your glorying is not good,” he said. “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Corinthians 5:6).

The NIV uses the word “yeast” instead of “leaven” here, but the Greek word, zume, means “to ferment”. The bread was sourdough. When baking bread, the sourdough baker preserves a small lump of starter. When the time comes to bake a fresh loaf of bread, he takes the starter and works it into the new lump of dough and sets it aside to rise. Before he bakes it, he saves a small lump to start the next loaf of bread. A baker’s starter can sometimes have years of history, and each may have a distinctive taste.

The bread of the Israelites in Egypt was also sourdough, fermented, bread. Perhaps the image of corruption, of souring, was the reason the law did not permit the offering of any sacrifice with leaven.i So if the lamb is a sacrifice, it must be eaten with unleavened bread. Thus, there is not even nominal corruption connected with the Lord’s sacrifice.

From the idea of fermentation, Paul develops the idea of one corrupt individual corrupting the whole. “Purge out therefore the old leaven,” he said, “that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened” (v. 7). The expression “old leaven” is a reference to the old lump of starter which was used to leaven a new batch of dough. The man who was corrupt was having the effect of souring the whole church (hence, the puffed up leadership). Paul acknowledges that they were unleavened in the matter of ordinary bread (“as you are unleavened”) but that spiritually, they were far from it.

“Therefore let us keep the feast,” Paul continued, “not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (v. 8).

Paul told them to get the man who was sinning out of the church like they had gotten leaven out of their houses. So leaven symbolized corruption, and there was to be no corruption connected with the Lamb of God or his church.

Part of the understanding we are looking for focuses on the curious question of unleavened bread. The impression one gets from Exodus is that it was merely a matter of the haste of the Israelites fleeing Egypt who had no time for their bread to rise. Thus the days of unleavened bread following the Passover were merely commemorative of one aspect of the Exodus from Egypt. But that doesn’t explain why Paul was urging the Gentiles in Corinth to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Egypt had nothing to do with their history. So there had to be more to it than that, especially in the light of what Jesus said on a day early in his ministry.

John, who tells us the story, notes that this was just before the Passover (see John 6:4). Jesus had gone up into a mountain, and he was followed by a great company of people because of the miracles he had done for sick people. It isn’t surprising that Jesus would draw a crowd wherever he went. It was all but impossible for him to get away from crowds.

When he saw so many of them there, so far from anything to eat, he asked Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” There was no such place, which both of them knew well enough. So Jesus had the people sit down in ranks, and fed the whole multitude of people with only a few loaves and fish. It was a classic example of Middle Eastern hospitality. Jesus had the means to feed them, so feed them he did. But in doing so, he posed a problem for himself.

Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that Prophet that should come into the world. When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone (John 6:14,15 KJV).

At this point, Jesus did his best to get away from these people. They were ready to start a revolution with him as king, and he wanted no part of it. They, for their part were not ready to take no for an answer. He crossed the Sea of Galilee, and they followed.

And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You come here?” Jesus answered them and said, “Most saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (vv. 25-27).

Jesus saw through all of this. People who have seen a miracle will only want to see another one. Jesus ignored the question and pointed them away from food to what is really important.

Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (vv. 28-31).

They were still looking for the miracle, demonstrating that Jesus was right in judging their motives. And, of course, they wanted their bellies filled. Nevertheless, it opened the door for Jesus to clarify a crucial issue that shed light on the approaching Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread.

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always” (vv. 32-34).

Now Jesus is ready to make the crucial point: “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (v.35). And it is right here that we find a hint of the connection with the Feast of Unleavened Bread which is fast approaching.

But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day (vv. 36-39).

This did not please many of his listeners, for he plainly said that he was the bread that came down from heaven. That can’t be true, they said. We know his father and mother. How can he claim to have come down from heaven?

Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (vv. 43-47).

And here we approach the mystery of the meaning of the unleavened bread of Passover. Jesus went on to say, “I am that bread of life” (v. 48). Now it may not be immediately apparent, but the command in the law is that you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days. It is not that we must merely abstain from leavened bread, we are to do the positive act of eating unleavened bread (Exodus 12:15). For the Christian, that unleavened bread would symbolize Jesus, the Bread of Life. Because leaven will be seen as a symbol of sin, and because Jesus was sinless, then the bread of life is unleavened.

Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. “This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (vv. 49-51).

When I read this passage, I can’t help reflecting on all the years I thought about, read about, sang about, and trusted the blood of Christ to take away my sins. This is fundamental, woven into the fabric of the Christian faith. But I never gave a thought to the flesh of Jesus which he said he would give for the life of the world. I did not grasp the importance of the flesh of Jesus in the New Covenant. It is odd that this has never made it very far into the consciousness of the Christian church. The blood of Christ has made it there. The blood of the Lord is everywhere in Christian hymnals. We all understand this. But Jesus said he would give his flesh for the life of the world, and there is an important distinction here.

The Jews who were listening did not much like this idea. “How,” they wondered, “can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (v. 52). Jesus did not stop there, he went on to say something that they should have understood but did not.

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (vv. 53-56).

Anyone should immediately see the connection with the Lord’s Supper in this saying. We take a little wine as a symbol of the blood of Christ, and a little bread as a symbol of his body. This is why, at the Last Supper, Jesus handed them the cup and said, “Take this and drink it. It is my blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:28 NIV).

Even Jesus’ disciples had a problem with this, calling it a hard saying. They should have recognized that this was language symbolic of a covenant, but they seem to have missed it. Some of his disciples went home and ceased to follow Jesus.

Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (vv. 67-69).

What is inescapable in this passage is the connection between the Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, and the Christian Passover which he will soon thereafter institute with his disciples.


i. “Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the Passover be left unto the morning” (Exodus 34:25).


Author

Ronald L. Dart

Ronald L. Dart (1934–2016) — People around the world have come to appreciate his easy style, non-combative approach to explaining the Bible, and the personal, almost one-on-one method of explaining what’s going on in the world in the light of the Bible. After retiring from teaching and church administration in 1995 he started Christian Educational Ministries and the Born to Win radio program.

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When Tragedy Strikes

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Ronald L. Dart

Ronald L. Dart (1934–2016) — People around the world have come to appreciate his easy style, non-combative approach to explaining the Bible, and the personal, almost one-on-one method of explaining what’s going on in the world in the light of the Bible. After retiring from teaching and church administration in 1995 he started Christian Educational Ministries and the Born to Win radio program.

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Does Christ Heal Today?

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Ronald L. Dart

Ronald L. Dart (1934–2016) — People around the world have come to appreciate his easy style, non-combative approach to explaining the Bible, and the personal, almost one-on-one method of explaining what’s going on in the world in the light of the Bible. After retiring from teaching and church administration in 1995 he started Christian Educational Ministries and the Born to Win radio program.

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Why Cults?

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Would You Join a Cult?


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Ronald L. Dart

Ronald L. Dart (1934–2016) — People around the world have come to appreciate his easy style, non-combative approach to explaining the Bible, and the personal, almost one-on-one method of explaining what’s going on in the world in the light of the Bible. After retiring from teaching and church administration in 1995 he started Christian Educational Ministries and the Born to Win radio program.

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Did You Have a Good Christmas?

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Author

Ronald L. Dart

Ronald L. Dart (1934–2016) — People around the world have come to appreciate his easy style, non-combative approach to explaining the Bible, and the personal, almost one-on-one method of explaining what’s going on in the world in the light of the Bible. After retiring from teaching and church administration in 1995 he started Christian Educational Ministries and the Born to Win radio program.

Click here for more posts by Ronald L. Dart



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Digging Up Hebrew Roots

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Pam Dewey’s Field Guide to the Wild World of Religion website
features an extensive profile of the Hebrew Roots movement.25
Below are excerpts from two recent emails which site visitors sent
[italic emphasis added].
I’ve been prayerfully asking God to show me the light
as I belong to [a Hebrew Roots synagogue]. Here
lately they’ve been downplaying Jesus and referring
to the New Testament as “The Addendum.” God led
me to your website today. It was like you have been
sitting in our temple because you have addressed all
of my concerns. I have now resigned from the temple
along with another couple who have been feeling the
same as I have. Like we were being smothered.
God Bless you so much for putting this on the web. I
feel free again. . . like a huge weight has been lifted
off of my shoulders. My desire for wanting to learn
more about Jesus was actually leading me away from
his arms. Please keep this site up for others as it saved
me from false teachers.
Just wanted to give you thanks and blessings for the
great overview of the Hebrew Roots movement. My
husband and I were leaders of such a group for almost
4 years until God opened our eyes to the path we were
on about a year and a half ago. We had to leave the
group we started because the other elder would not
agree to recognize the New Covenant as we believed
25Op cit
www.servantofmessiah.org
37
the Bible proclaimed. . .
I found your outline of groups from harmless to the
most dangerous kind [see list above] interesting
because this was a progression our group followed—
beginning well, and finding ourselves eventually in a
very dark place.
The spiritual agony for me was like death, and I cried
out to God. If this was all supposed to be a blessing
and a way to “draw near” to God as we taught, why
were we so dead? I then saw the countless ways we
had diminished Christ in our teaching and practice.
We recognized the anti-christ spirit that had taken
over the minds of people, and which we almost fell
under ourselves. My husband went through a valley
of doubts about Jesus as the Messiah and thankfully
came out. We knew others who did not. . .
We have such joy in Christ now—after a season of
sorrow and repentance for our wayward hearts. We
realized we had been feeding our pride and wanting to
be special rather than truly seeking the truth. We
realized in the end, the glory that Christ deserves we
were diverting to many different places and no one
could have found Him through our testimony.
Thank you for raising awareness about this
movement. So few people realize what it is and it’s
picking people off like flies. . .
We do not mean to imply, by sharing these comments, that all
individuals who become involved in the various branches of the
Hebrew Roots movement will end up like these people. But we have
been watching the movement for over a decade, and found that their
experiences have become more and more common, and should give
cause for serious consideration of the foundational assumptions upon
which many branches of the movement are built. There are signs that
www.servantofmessiah.org
38
can help you evaluate whether a particular ministry may help you to
draw closer to Jesus, or ultimately lead you away from him. We are
convinced that any ministry or group that identifies itself with
Hebrew Roots interests and which promotes any of the following
ideas is undermining the simplicity that is in Jesus:
? Any claim that insists that adopting customs or traditions of
Judaism is necessary to “get closer to God” or “understand
the deep things of God.”
? Any claim that such a ministry or group is revealing
astounding information, unavailable to the average Bible
reader, that will “transform your spiritual life.” (Only Jesus
truly transforms lives.)
? Any claim that insists that Christians must study the
writings of the historical Jewish Rabbis, such as those in
the Talmud, in order to understand the Bible and live godly
lives.
? Any subtle hint or overt claim that the Apostle Paul
attempted to undermine the teachings of Jesus.
? Any subtle hint or overt claim that the New Testament is
inferior to the Old Testament as inspired by God.
? Any subtle hint or overt claim that Jesus of Nazareth was
just a really pious first century Rabbi.
If you notice any of the red flags above in some ministry, we urge
you to remove yourself from its influence.


Author

Ronald L. Dart

Ronald L. Dart (1934–2016) — People around the world have come to appreciate his easy style, non-combative approach to explaining the Bible, and the personal, almost one-on-one method of explaining what’s going on in the world in the light of the Bible. After retiring from teaching and church administration in 1995 he started Christian Educational Ministries and the Born to Win radio program.

Click here for more posts by Ronald L. Dart


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Reflections on Acts

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Introduction: The Church in Transition

How many hundreds of millions of Christians are there in the world by now? What is your guess? I looked it up. Christianity of all stripes is the largest religion in the world and Christians number one and one half billion people.

How did this happen? How could twelve men, bearing witness of one man, create a religion that has, in fact, changed the world? Everywhere Christianity of any stripe has gone, it has made men’s lives better. Oh, I know about the abuses, the corruption and the harm done in the name of Jesus Christ. But the evil done by Christians was done contrary to the teachings of Jesus. And the good brought to the world by those teachings overwhelms any evil that evil men have done in His name.

But how did it come to pass? How did you go from 120 disciples into a billion and a half disciples in just under 2000 years? Everyone knows about Jesus and His teachings. The Bible has been translated into nearly every language and dialect in the world. But knowing what Jesus said and taught does not explain how 120 disciples turned into a billion and a half disciples in just under 2,000 years.

To properly explain this phenomenon, we have to go back a lot further in time to a man named Abraham. Abraham was God’s man. He is called in the Bible the Friend of God. It is plain that God thought a lot of Abraham. He stopped by for a meal and a talk. He revealed things He was going to do. He made promises. Believe it or not, one of those promises had to do with Jesus Christ.

"By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice" (Genesis 22:16-19).

Mind you, there were no Jews at this time and no Judaism. This was the Faith of Abraham––the religion of a man and his family. But there is a small piece of dynamite in this passage that gets overlooked in most translations: The word for nations, is the word "Goy", The Hebrew word for "Gentile." What Abraham is now told, by God Himself, is that "in your seed shall all the Gentiles be blessed." That means all the nations of the earth, and not just Abraham’s descendants. It was God’s intent that the blessing that came upon Abraham from knowing God should be and transmitted to the entirety of the world, including the Gentiles.

It is also clear in this statement, that God was not satisfied merely to be the God of one little corner of the world. He did not mean to bless merely Abraham, but the nations––all of them. It was in the seed of Abraham that the nations, all of them, were to be blessed.

Now the apostle Paul had read all this and when he encountered a difficulty with the Galatians, he took a little time to explain it. Here is Paul’s explanation of what God told Abraham. What is important about this is that wherever the gospel of Jesus Christ has gone, it has made the lives of men better. Perhaps they have understood only a part of the message. Perhaps in their culture it made sense to them only in some applications. But the gospel has been a blessing to men. According to Paul, it was God’s intent that this gospel be blessing to the nations-to the Gentiles.

There are 18 million people in the world who follow Judaism and 1,500 million who follow Christ. I do not mean to imply that because there are more Christians that makes them any better. It is not that the numbers mean anything other than the fact that lives have been touched by the teachings of the Bible. The early Christians did not have a "New Testament." The only Holy Scriptures they knew were what we call the "Old Testament." And as the Christians went forth into the world, they carried a knowledge of the Scriptures with them. They carried the scriptures to such an extent that there are now a billion and a half of them.

If Judaism had gone to the world, if they had somehow been evangelists from the start, who knows what good they could have done, because the underlying ethical system of Judaism and Christianity is the same. It’s the faith of Abraham.

A strong case can be made that it was God’s original intent to make the nation of Israel a beacon of faith in the world. That ancient Israel take their God to the nations. But they never did. They acted as though God belonged to them and not to the Gentiles–the rest of the world.

There is nothing in the law of God to lead an Israelite to think he could not eat with a Gentile, but by the time of Jesus, Judaism had developed its own set of rules which, to all intents and purposes, ruled out the Gentiles.

Don’t get me wrong. I see Judaism as the response of the Jewish people to the revelation of God. They have carried the scriptures and their faith down through the generations in the face of terrible persecution. I have nothing but respect for the Jewish people and their religion. For in their mind their religion does not call for them to evangelize the world.

But it appears to me that they have made it their religion, and have kept the faith of God to themselves. They have never evangelized. They have never taken their magnificent law to the world.

But then, there was Jesus. And everything changed.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus continually challenged the Judaism of the day––the religious establishment. So consequently Jesus was challenging Judaism at every turn. Never mind that He was a Jew himself. He kept contrasting the rules and regulations of Judaism with God’s written law "from the beginning." He was aiming back beyond Judaism to the faith of the Fathers, to the faith of Abraham.

Now there’s an interesting little Scripture in the Old Testament about Abraham that may help you understand this. God is speaking to Abraham and He makes this statement: "And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws. (Genesis 26:4-5)

Now this is a curious thing, although it might not immediately strike you as so. The fact is that as you read your way through the book of Genesis you encounter law at every turn. Men understand that there is a law, they know there are things that are sin and things that are not. They basically have an idea of how to relate to God. And here we find out that there is not merely a law, but that there is a system of law that makes differentiation between commandments and statutes and laws.

Why is that nowhere in the book of Genesis is that law outlined? Moses tells us there is a system of law. Why doesn’t he tell us what it is? The answer is simple. He does. The law is recorded in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. It is easy to forget that Genesis was written by Moses long after the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. What this reveals to us is that the law Abraham obeyed was essentially the same law God handed down from Sinai-which, when you think about it, is exactly what we would expect.

This is why Jesus was at such pains to emphasize that His rejection of the traditions of Judaism did not involve a rejection of the law. It is that very law that is the basis of the ethical system He wanted His disciples to take to the world. It is that ethical system by which the world has been so blessed.

Now returning to our original question. How did Christianity make this move into the world?

It came about in response to clear instructions given by Jesus to His disciples: It is in that passage called the Great Commission, "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matthew 28:19-20.

Now if you are a Christian, you probably already know this scripture quite well. But you may not realize what a bombshell it was to the men who first heard it. For the translation obscures what Jesus actually said. What He really said was this: "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all the Gentiles, baptizing theGentiles in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching the Gentiles to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."

What is really strange about this is that the disciples did not get it at first. The book of Acts is the story about how they finally got the message and of the subsequent break out of the gospel to the Gentile world.

The book of Acts is written by a familiar friend-he is Luke, the beloved physician, the same fellow who wrote the gospel according to Luke. He wrote the book of Acts and addressed it to a fellow named Theophilus. We know little about this man, but we can sit with him and read the Acts of the Apostles to this day, thanks to Luke.


Author

Ronald L. Dart

Ronald L. Dart (1934–2016) — People around the world have come to appreciate his easy style, non-combative approach to explaining the Bible, and the personal, almost one-on-one method of explaining what’s going on in the world in the light of the Bible. After retiring from teaching and church administration in 1995 he started Christian Educational Ministries and the Born to Win radio program.

Click here for more posts by Ronald L. Dart


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Image Credits: Joel Montes de Oca

Reflections on Romans

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Author

Ronald L. Dart

Ronald L. Dart (1934–2016) — People around the world have come to appreciate his easy style, non-combative approach to explaining the Bible, and the personal, almost one-on-one method of explaining what’s going on in the world in the light of the Bible. After retiring from teaching and church administration in 1995 he started Christian Educational Ministries and the Born to Win radio program.

Click here for more posts by Ronald L. Dart


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Image Credits: Joel Montes de Oca