In my earlier life I was zealous enough to destroy the
church out of my righteousness, Paul explains. This
was the righteousness of a man dedicated to the law.
In his zeal for the law he was blinded to his own need
for a Savior. Paul had tried religion and its traditions.
He knew firsthand that religion was powerless to change
people's hearts. Still intense, Paul's allegiance was no
longer to a religion, but to a person: Jesus Christ. Today,
we see how religion can separate Christians, too.
To whom is our allegiance?
Loss of Focus?
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Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I
bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye
would have plucked out your own eyes, and have
given them to me. Am I therefore become your
enemy, because I tell you the truth? They zealously
affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude
you, that ye might affect them. But it is good to
be zealously affected always in a good thing, and
not only when I am present with you. My little
children, of whom I travail in birth again until
Christ be formed in you, I desire to be present
with you now, and to change my voice; for I
stand in doubt of you.
LYou've lost something, Paul said. When we choose
to live by legalism and the letter of the law rather than
by faith, the sense of blessing is diminished. Why do
we need God, if we can do it ouselves? Those who
were teaching the false doctrine were trying to make
followers for themselves and feed their human ego.
Of course, following the teachings of people instead
of God is not going to bring any peace or sense of
blessing. If we've lost the blessing, now's the time
to go after it and gain our Christian inheritance again.
We're a blessed people.
God Was Silent
For some 400 years from Malachi until John the Baptist, God sent no prophet to Israel. He was silent, allowing religious men to speculate as they would about the coming kingdom. The prophetic utterances upon which the kingdom was to be established and built were complete. A faithful remnant, preserved by God, continued to pray and wait for its arrival. The rest blindly practiced their religion, drifting farther and farther from God.
As the time approached for Jesus to be born God communicated with certain ones among the remnant about it. He sent Gabriel to Zacharias to tell him of the coming birth of a son named John who would carry out a ministry of preparation "in the spirit and power of Elias" -- or Elijah. Luke 1:13-19.
Verse 16 is significant: "And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God." The word "turn" tells us that the children of Israel as a whole had not, in spite of their religion, been serving God at all but needed to be "turned" to Him. The word "many" signifies that although some would be affected, many others were beyond the reach of even the mightily anointed ministry that God was granting them through John.
Then Gabriel was sent to Mary to tell her that, though she was a virgin, God would overshadow her and she would bear a child she was to call Jesus who would be the Son of God. Of him, Gabriel said, "He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end."
Then there were the prophetic utterances of Elizabeth, the mother of John, and Mary in Luke 1:39-56. Mary, in particular, spoke of the fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham and his seed. Remember our earlier discussions concerning Abraham's seed.
Following the birth of John we have the prophecy of Zacharias which gained special attention throughout the hill country of Judaea as they were the first words he had been able to utter since the encounter with Gabriel! The prophecy included such phrases as, "... the Lord God of Israel ... hath visited and redeemed his people ... hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets ... that we should be saved from our enemies ... to perform the mercy promised to our fathers ... to give the knowledge of salvation unto his people ... to guide our feet into the way of peace." Luke 1:68-79.
When Jesus was born there was the message of the angels to the shepherds, "Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."
When Joseph and Mary brought Jesus, still a baby, to Jerusalem "to present him to the Lord" they encountered a man named Simeon. Simeon was one of the faithful remnant and was described as, "just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him." What a contrast with the self-righteous Pharisees! Here was someone whose heart was toward God, with whom God could and did communicate.
He certainly possessed knowledge that the Pharisees did not. They may have been diligent students of the scriptures but Simeon knew the Author! Luke 2:26 says, "And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ."
The Lord enabled him by revelation to come to the temple at just the right time and to take Jesus in his arms and to say, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel."
Verses 36-38 introduce us to another of the remnant, a very aged woman named Anna, described as a prophetess, who served God night and day in the temple with fastings and prayers. Following the words of Simeon she arrived on the scene and "spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem."