Saturday, September 3, 2016

NO MORE CURSE

(I am currently writing a series on the last two chapters of the Bible. These chapters are the only two in the entire Bible that are dedicated exclusively to telling us what eternity will be like for the believers in Christ)
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As John continues to tell of the New Jerusalem, he does not speak further of what he saw. He does not elaborate further on the river or the tree, nor describe any other physical aspects of the city. We all wish that he had done this. Certainly, he leaves me wondering about many things. However, perhaps further description would not help us. Even what he has told us is difficult and even impossible for us to picture. There is already too much of what we are trying to understand that is left open to speculation. Further description would have probably led only to further speculation.

John now simply tells us this: “There will no longer be any curse, and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it. His bond-servants will serve Him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Revelation 22:3-4 NAS). 

Living in a World that is Under the Curse

The curse will be lifted in the New Heavens and the New Earth. Although the statement is simple, even this is difficult for us to grasp. We have no idea what it will be like to live without the curse. Today, every endeavor of ours, every relationship, every idea, every thought, every aspect of heath in our bodies is affected in some way by the curse. The curse for us means struggle and pain, it means heartache and sorrow, it means hunger and thirst, it means unfulfilled hopes and dreams, it means regret. It means death. (To continue reading, please press the READ MORE button below)


The curse upon us first came, of course, with the act of rebellion against God by Adam and by Eve. The essence of the act of sin against God in the Garden of Eden was that Adam and Eve decided that they could disobey God. Their sin was that they could use their wills to do something contrary to what God wanted them to do. They could decide for themselves what was best instead of believing that God knew best.

Of course, although their own wills were involved, it was not even only these that they followed. They were enticed to do so by Satan. It was Satan who imposed his will upon Adam and Eve. They thought that they were choosing their own way, but in reality they were choosing to do what Satan told them to do instead of what God told them to do.

All of this brought what God calls the curse upon them. In some ways that we do not completely understand, it also brought the curse upon all of creation. This the Apostle Paul tells us in the book of Romans. He writes that the creation was “subjected to futility.” This was not because the creation in some way rebelled in its will against God, as did Adam and Eve. The curse came upon all of creation because of the sin of these two people. That is what Scripture teaches us (Genesis 3; Romans 8:20). 

The Curse Becomes Personal

Interestingly, the sin of Adam and Eve also brought the curse upon us. There is actually quite a lot of teaching of how Adam’s sin had repercussions even upon us. In many ways, Adam’s sin was also actually our sin. It was my sin and it was your sin. The Apostle Paul explains this especially in Romans chapter five.

Briefly, what Paul writes is that, although sin came into the world through only one man (Adam), the consequences of this sin being death, this penalty of death has spread to all people. All of us are under the curse of death. In some ways this is because of Adam’s sin, but not only that, it is also because we all sin.

The explanation goes much deeper than this, but that is a summary. However, despite even the more extensive explanation, it is still a difficult concept to understand. The best that I can say is that we, as a humanity, are bound together more than we know. This is an advantage when we are experiencing blessing, but it is troublesome when we are suffering effects of the curse. Again I go to Paul for an explanation on this in the book of Romans. This time in chapter twelve. We as Christians function as a body more than we realize. When one is rejoicing, we all rejoice. But when one is weeping, we all weep.

In somewhat the same manner but with opposite effects, we are bound together with the sins of humanity. The curse that came upon Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden came also upon us. The curse put upon them in the garden was more than God simply withdrawing his blessing from them and taking a neutral and passive attitude toward them. It is also this, but in the curse, God actually took actions that were against them. Regrettably, this has also been passed on to us.

Notice that in the Garden of Eden, God said to Eve, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing.” This is a definite action taken against Eve. Of course, it has also been the case with all women all throughout history,

To Adam God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you, and in pain you shall eat of it.”

No longer would the earth willingly give its growth to bear food, but man would have to work the soil. Man would have to coax the land into producing some food. The soil, of its own accord, would instead produce thorns and thistles. These are plants that are not only without benefit to man, but they are even hurtful.

God spoke to Adam in agricultural terms, since that was what affected him. But it does not matter what endeavor or what type of work that we do, it seems we need to fight to make our work successful. This is true not only for men, but also for women. We sweat and we struggle against situations that come against us and try to defeat us and make our efforts useless.

Notice also that God not only sent Adam and Eve out of the garden, but he drove them out. Then God set the cherubim and the flaming sword to guard the Tree of Life, so that they could not eat of it.

These are not actions of a God who was merely withholding his blessing. God also took definite steps of punishment against Adam and Eve. This was the curse that came to Adam and to Eve in the very beginning. It is the curse under which we still live today. It has affected us in every manner. 

Blessing Instead of the Curse

If God actually set himself against Adam and Eve in certain ways, does that mean, since we are still under the curse, that God still sets himself against us? I have to say that this is a question not easily answered. I think that we can say first of all, that with certainty, obedience to God will bring about his blessing. This has always been true and we see it in the historical record all throughout the Bible.

Jesus spoke about how to receive blessings instead of living with the curse. These he related to us in what have become to be known as the Beatitudes: 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:3-9 ESV) 

These are all blessings instead of living under the curse. Also in the Old Testament, obedience to God was coupled with the blessings of God. For instance, during the exodus and in preparation for the people to enter into the Promised Land, Moses told them this:

If you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.
Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.
Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock.
Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. 

The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways. The Lord will command the blessing on you in your barns and in all that you undertake. And he will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you…

The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, being careful to do them, and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I command you today, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them. (Deuteronomy 28:1-14 ESV) 

The Curse Instead of Blessing

The speech of Moses continues by telling the people what would happen if they instead disobeyed God. The wording of this section is hauntingly the similar to what he said about the blessings, but instead of telling of the blessings of God, Moses lists the curses that will come upon them. “The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me” (Deuteronomy 28:20 ESV). 

Throughout the ages it holds true: for those who are still in open rebellion against the teachings of the Word of God, they will continue to live under the influence and power of the curse. The effects of this curse are much more than a withholding of blessing. It is also meeting and combating opposition.

Again I go to the book of Romans and read that “the wrath of God is against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). The word wrath is a very strong term. This is more than passive indifference or even annoyance. It is vengeance. It is anger. It is punishment.

The wrath of God may not seem so overtly obvious now, but no one should let that fact give them reason for complacency. The wrath of God will indeed come against all who oppose him. In fact, the Greek word for wrath is fairly specific in its connotation. Wrath in this sense does not speak of a sudden outburst of anger. Rather, it something that builds over time. It is a swelling of anger that will one day be released, like the wave that is swelling far out in the ocean, but making its way toward shore, ever growing in size and eventually breaking upon the land with destructive force.

The same book of Romans tells us that if anyone continues in sin just because they do not see the immediate consequences of their actions, they are simply “storing up” wrath until the day of judgment of God. That is how it is put (Romans 2:5). Everything that these people do is documented, and they will one day be called to make account for what they have done. This is the clear teaching of Scripture. 

Being “Good” is not Good Enough

Some people may be surprised that this is the case also for many whom appear to be “good people” in the eyes of the world. These are the ones who believe they are such good and self-righteous people based only on their own personal merit, that they are not in need of the grace and the mercy of God. These people feel as if they lead a good life, they will be welcomed by God into his kingdom.

According to the teachings of the Bible, when these people see God, they will be in for a startling and horrendous awakening as to the true measurement of their own goodness. However great they feel their own goodness is at the present, in God’s eyes and by his standards; they are not much different than the most wicked of the earth. It is like viewing from the moon the difference between a man on earth of six feet tall and one of five foot, eleven. The six foot man may feel very proud of that extra inch, but from the moon, the two men look the same height (if you can even see them at all). Despite the fact that these “good” people consider themselves righteous, they in fact are still under the curse of God and deserving of his wrath.

This was one of the major teachings of Jesus when he was on earth. The religious group of the Pharisees was the main recipients of these teachings, since these people saw themselves as being very righteous. This, they based only upon how they followed the rules of living and piety that they had established. Their adherence to their rules was mainly outward. This, after all, was their concern. They simply wanted to appear righteous to other people so that the people would respect them. Inwardly however, their condition was utterly sinful. As Jesus put it, they were tombs that were clean and white on the outside, but inside full of “dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27). 

Where Many of Us Live

It is apparent that the curse of God is seen, or soon will be seen, against both those who are in open rebellion against him and against those who are trusting only on their own self-perceived righteousness. But truthfully, this is not where I am, at least not generally so. I certainly am not in open rebellion against God, for I have widely proclaimed him as my Savior and my Lord, and I have dedicated myself to serve him.

As far as trusting in my own self-righteousness, I must admit that I am not perfect in this regard. Certainly, as far as my eternal salvation, I plead only the blood of Jesus Christ before God for my standing before him. I understand that my own goodness can never merit me coming before God and living in his kingdom. It is only the sacrifice of the life of Christ that can give me that privilege.

But I still struggle against self-pride and self-worth. I do not like to admit my failures and try to dismiss them. Like the Pharisees, there are times when I realize that I am only seeking the approval of others.

Nevertheless, Jesus is my savior. After all of the dust of my life has settled, he alone is my righteousness. I trust only in him. I think that many of us are in that same situation. We still struggle in areas of our lives, but in the end, it is Jesus to whom we look.
 
So, what about us? Are we also under the curse of God that was first given in the Garden of Eden? Does God sometimes set himself against us?

I think many of you would say that it sometimes seems like it. We go through times when troubles seem to come stacked one upon another. Every day seems to bring a new crisis. Who of us have not asked ourselves, “What have I done that God is punishing me like this?” 

The Trials of Job

That is why God gives us the example of Job. You know this story, at least generally so. Job was a man described in the Bible as “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1:1). Nevertheless, God allowed calamity after catastrophe come to the life of Job. Although he had been a wealthy man, at the end of the series of disasters that had come upon him, all of his children had been killed, all of his livestock, and Job’s health had completely left him. He was reduced to sitting in a pile of ashes, and with a piece of clay pot, scraping the boils that covered his body.

All of those who were counseling Job told him that God must have been punishing Job for something. They constantly tried to get Job to admit to some sin in his life. But this was not the reason. The text of the story makes it clear that, although all of these terrible things happened to him, they were not meant as a punishment for something that Job had done.

But if not, then why did God allow all of this to happen? The entire story is a little lengthy and full of philosophic discussion, but in the end we learn that the reason for Job’s sufferings was because God had something that he wanted Job to learn. God brought Job to the state that he was in, so that Job could realize that despite Job’s own righteousness and standing, he was not able to control events. There was much that continually happens that simply was beyond his understanding. God wanted Job to appreciate more deeply that God is sovereign, and that his actions are always just.

Job ended by saying, “I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you. Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:3 and 6 NAS).

This was the purpose of all of these events. At least, this is as much as we are given to understand. Contrary to how it appeared at the time that they occurred, all of these things happened for Job’s benefit. It may not have appeared so to others. Certainly it did not appear so to Job’s counselors.

Although neither did Job understand the meaning of the events when they were happening, he knew that they were not meant to punish him for something. Certainly the calamities that came upon him were severe, but he knew that they were not because of the wrath of God. 

Not to Punish, But to Teach

Similarly, for a believer who has placed himself under the Lordship of God, although he or she may face severe difficulties in their life, the things that they face are not the result of the curse of God. The troubles that we encounter are not because of the curse of God that was first pronounced in the Garden of Eden and which exists upon the earth to this day. This is at least true for those troubles that are specific to us, such as an accident or sickness.

Once again, I go to the book of Romans for instruction in this. Paul says, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

In fact, Paul’s purpose in this entire section of scripture in Romans is to show us that the troubles of believers in Christ are not for punishment. Like Job, we may not know all of the reasons that we go through the difficulties that we do, but we should not fall into thinking that God is against us. Indeed, God instead has great plans for our futures.

“What then shall we say to these things?” Paul asks us. “If God is for us, who can be against us? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (from Romans 8:31-39 ESV). 

Waiting to Live in a World Free from the Curse

We may exist in a world that is still living with the effects of the curse. Because we live here, we also sometimes have to deal with these effects. But this will not always be true. The place in which we live will not always be under the curse. In the vision that John had of the New Heavens and the New Earth, he saw that day when the curse will be gone – completely gone. In fact, Paul, in that same passage of Romans 8, also spoke of that future event of the lifting of the curse over all creation. He says this: 

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God… in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. (Romans 8:18-24a)

All of this should be of tremendous encouragement to the believer in Christ. God is building in us something that will last for eternity. James also tells us, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 NAS)
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Next week - In The Throne Room of God

 

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