Where in the Bible do we find the first promise of the gospel?
Would you believe that it’s in the third chapter of the Bible’s first book, Genesis 3.
Genesis 1 and 2 tell us that God created the universe and everything in it. God created human beings to live in his good world under his authority and rule. However in Genesis 3, Satan taking on the form of a snake, tempts Eve to doubt and disobey God. Eve eats of the fruit God had said not to and gives to Adam who was with her.
Eating some fruit may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Adam and Eve want to decide for themselves what’s ultimately right and wrong; they want to be “god” unto themselves.
Genesis 3 is the “de-throning” of God by humans and replacing him with ourselves (as if that were possible!)
I am saddened by the recent decision of the General Synod of the NG Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church) on same sex unions. This official decision (9 October 2019) will only serve to create confusion around what the Bible teaches on the subject and thus be spiritually unhelpful, misleading and dangerous to people.
The decision refers to the appointment of office bearers and the acceptance of members regardless of “sexual orientation and identity”.
The Bible never condemns sexual orientation, but only sinful sexual practice. Christians may struggle with homosexual temptation or heterosexual temptation, but refuse to act on their temptation and desire. This fight against temptation is to be commended.
The Bible also calls us not to place our identity in our sexuality, or in anything else, except in Christ.
Thus the phrase “sexual orientation and identity” is unhelpful and misleading.
As Africans, we are no strangers to crime and violence.
We have had our fair share of invaders, dictators, warlords and freedom fighters who have then turned on their own people. Not only that, we constantly hear of assault, murder, rape, abuse and many other violent crimes.
South Africa is reeling as we are confronted on a daily basis with news of another woman or child being rape and killed.
A UCT student was raped and killed in the last week by a postal worker, in a Post Office, in the southern suburbs of Cape Town.
Many people in Africa live with this as their daily reality.
When will enough be enough? Is God concerned? When will God do something?
These are good questions that Genesis 6 helps us answer.
In desperate times, many people turn to desperate measures.
It was April 1945 – near the end of World War 2. The telephone rang in Adolf Hitler’s bunker. It was the Minister of Propaganda on the line, Joseph Goebbels.
He spoke to Hitler and he was ecstatic. Although the Allies were pressing from the West, the Russians from the East and soon Berlin itself would fall – none of that mattered.
He told Hitler that the stars foretold that the last half of April would be better than the first, and indeed a turning point.
Unfortunately for Goebbels’ horoscope, Hitler committed suicide on 30 April and Germany surrendered. Goebbels succeeded Hitler as Chancellor. He served one day in this post. The following day, Goebbels and his wife committed suicide, after poisoning their six children with cyanide.
Facing ruin, people will sometimes turn in their desperation to any resource that they think will give them hope.
Goebbels turned to the horoscopes.*
In 1 Samuel Ch. 28 King Saul turned to a medium to consult the dead.
1 Samuel Ch. 13 is a fascinating account of blame-shifting.
Saul is king and has 3000 fighting men, according to v2.
In v3, Jonathan, Saul’s son – the crown prince – defeats a Philistine garrison and the Philistines gather to march on Israel.
The Philistines, however, have 30 000 chariots (the equivalent of having tanks in World War I), 6000 horsemen and infantry that number like the sand on the seashore.
Not only that, things are worse than they seem.
According to v19-21, the Philistines have been so powerful that they have not allowed any blacksmiths in Israel. Israel has no swords or spears. If an Israelite wanted their farming implements sharpened they had to pay the a Philistine to do it.
Saul is at the town of Gilgal, vastly outnumbered and facing massive odds.
However, if you read your Bible, you will know that’s not a massive problem.
A number of years ago I spent a couple of days with a hiking club in the rural Eastern Cape province of South Africa.
On the first night of the back-breaking, blister-producing trip, a few of us sat around the fire and a sangoma joined us – one of SA’s few white witchdoctors.
He was dressed in typical traditional garb and wore amulets and charms to ward off various spirits. He asked us if he could throw some herbs into the fire to cleanse the air of evil spirits.
Most people around the fire were very keen as (I guess) they thought that any kind of cleansing from any kind of spirit could only be a good thing.
Apparently, he then purified the air of evil spirits.
A number of things interested me about that evening:
1. The witchdoctor, unlike so many people today, acknowledged (like the Bible does) the existence of the spiritual world
2. The witchdoctor naively thought that some strange smelling smoke could drive away evil spirits
The Bible teaches that Satan and the demons are powerful beings and couldn’t care less about which herbs you throw on the fire. One needs someone more powerful than Satan to bind him or overcome him.Cf. Mark 3:27
3. The witchdoctor gave me insight into the typical, worldly religious worldview
Many people think that they, like the witchdoctor, can control or manipulate the spiritual realm by performing certain rituals, saying certain words or wearing certain charms. This is the essence of religion.
Perhaps Helen Zille and Julius Malema (very different South African politicians) meeting for a cup of tea and a cucumber sandwich? A Sumo wrestler partnering with petite, ballet dancer on Strictly Come Dancing? A Stormers rugby fan going out with a Sharks supporter?!
Alternatively, one could think of ridiculous partnerships: playing tennis with your dog, taking your cat to the movies, or playing chess with a newborn baby.
It just wouldn’t be good or helpful. It would be mismatched, even inappropriate.
In the church in Corinth there were unhelpful, mismatched partnerships.
Some in the church were partnering with the new preachers that breezed into town.
Corinth was a powerful City where people were impressed with power. Paul’s gospel about a crucified king sounded very weak and his life of hardship and struggle seemed very unimpressive.
The new preachers looked and sounded much more powerful.
Some church members were impressed by the appearances and rhetorical skill of these new ministers.
As church members yoked themselves to the new preachers and their false gospel, it lead them back to their previous sins and old, unhelpful habits.
False gospels always lead to incorrect thinking and wrong living.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is a famous actor, businessman, politician, and former professional bodybuilder.
He grew up in Austria in humble circumstances and in his teens committed himself to bodybuilding – and to be the best bodybuilder.
At age 20 he won the Mr. Universe title.
Arnold would train six days a week, twice a day when preparing for a contest. Moreover, he would also train each muscle group three times a week.
It was rumoured that Arnold would need to train with at least three different training partners because no one could keep up with him.
He is a magnificent example of commitment, dedication, hard work, single-mindedness and enduring hardship for the sake of the prize – and he won the prize.
The Apostle Paul knew that for Christians there is an even greater, grander, eternal prize that motivates them. He knew that we, as Christians, must answer to Jesus and either receive reward or rebuke.