Sunday, October 19, 2014

Dear Dorothy

(For my beautiful wife on her birthday)


Dear Dorothy

This is not a love letter. This is merely a letter from a husband to his beautiful wife upon her temporary absence from his side. You told me that your name meant ‘gift of God.’ You are our God’s gift to me. What did I do to deserve such a wonderful present as you? I don’t even deserve the outer wrapping that contains you. My mother saw something special in you. Mind you, she always looked at the soul. She wanted you for me. So I looked again at you, this time deeper. Like diving into the deep blue sky through a mountain telescope I peered into your innermost being, through the windows of your soul. That’s when I wanted you to be mine too. I saw you as my other half, my ‘better half.’ I needed you for me to become complete. Two halves make a whole. We share a rib.

“And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him’ … And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said: ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:18; 21-24)

I didn’t know I was alone until I met you. How lonely it is without you, like a tree without leaves is naked, like a river without water is dry. I await your arrival, like winter waits for spring. The months are as long as winter shadows. When will my mountain snows melt? When will your infectious laughter bubble forth from my side again? My tears taste salty when they run down my face, tears of missing you.

Your nose crinkles when you smile. Your smile is what captivated me when we first met. Your laughter took me prisoner. You brought lasting joy to my life, the joy of a kindred soul. Yet one word from your soft lips very easily brings me pain. It hurts me when I displease you. When I hurt you I hurt myself, like hitting my thumb with a hammer.

Your eyes are mystery to me. They can be so black, dark, mysterious, yet next time I look, so bright, so clear, so open. With a look you are able to remove my cloak of pride, like a blade of grass pops a child’s soapy bubble. I’m so tied to you. You deflate me. But you puff me up again. You are the very air I breathe, my lungs. My sweetness, I’m gasping for air! I miss hearing you breathe by my side. Through the night the silence scares me. I want to hold you. Caress you. I want to be complete again. I want to breathe…

Pray that the LORD God, our Lord, would be pleased to reunite us quickly. For I very much miss the gift He has given me, now sitting on a ‘silver’ platter. Twenty-five years has not dulled their gladdening sound. For my heartstrings still tug at the wedding bells in my mind every time I think of you. Love, Neil.
 
(Excerpted from my e-book "Disembark the Ark & Other Contemplations)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

HORIZONS


Job says that God “drew a circular horizon on the face of the waters” Job 26:10a. From the viewer’s perspective horizons always remain distant. A ship on an ocean is simply a point at the centre of a circle. If you were to sail towards the horizon it would always remain at the same distance from you. Thus like beauty, horizons are in the eye of the beholder. Job also says that God “hangs the earth on nothing” Job 26:7b. Therefore, when earth is the centre of the circle outer space always remains on the horizon. Isaiah says that God “sits above the circle [or sphere] of the earth” Isaiah 40:22a. Therefore, God is beyond the horizon. However, James says “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” James 4:8a. How are we as individuals and how is earth as a planet supposed to draw near to God if He remains beyond the horizon? Well, it is possible because of the nature of God.

Omnipresence is one of the Triune God’s incommunicable attributes. Therefore, it is hard to communicate or demonstrate what this means! Looking horizontally out to sea or up at the sky from a ship’s deck during a clear day might illustrate something of this. Horizons are all around you. They are everywhere (i.e., omni-present) as far as your eye can see. As the ship sails towards the horizon and as the earth ‘sails’ through space the horizon remains equidistant to you the viewer. However, the difference between the Omnipresent God and the horizon is that God is a Person and is therefore personal. Actually He is three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are one God. This means that God can be present at the centre of the circle and be on the horizon at the same time! As Jesus was being baptised the Father was in Heaven and the Spirit, like a dove, was descending on Him as He stood on earth, yet God was still everywhere at once. (Luke 3:21-22). Omnipresence may be described as everywhere-at-onceness!

It was the Person of the Son who clothed Himself in human garb, i.e., ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ John 1:14. After His resurrection, with His humanity fully intact, He ascended back to where He was before as God. (John 3:13; Ephesians 4:9-10). From there He and the Father sent the Spirit to dwell among us and in us. (John 15:26; 16:7; Romans 8:11). Thus, if you are trying to draw near to the Triune God not only is He on your horizon but He is also with you at the centre of the circle! This is why Christopher Columbus could say in his diary after his sailing-trip discovery of the New World, ‘It was the Lord who put it into my mind … I could feel His hand upon me … There is no question the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit because He comforted me with rays of marvellous illumination from the Scriptures … No one should fear to undertake any task in the name of our Saviour if it is just and if the intention is purely for His holy service. The Gospel must still be preached to so many lands in such a short time. This is what convinces me.’


You and I might not be Columbus discovering the New World, but, if, like him, you are looking unto Jesus then you are no longer adrift at sea with the horizon remaining ever distant. Christ is with you and never will He leave you or forsake you as you sail towards the New Heavens and New Earth. (Psalm 23:4; Hebrews 13:5; Revelation 21:1).

 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

TAXES & TAXATION


TAXES & TAXATION

“The earth is the LORD’S, and all its fullness...” Psalm 24:1a.

Introduction

The following numbered headings and accompanying comments have been designed to initiate (and hopefully stimulate) discussion among Christians on the question of taxes and taxation. The footnotes are given simply to include the thoughts and opinions of some fairly well-known Christians and Christian documents on some of the matters raised.

“The earth is the LORD’S, and all its fullness...” (Psa. 24:1a). Since God owns everything it is He who ought to be honoured for any (material) increase we receive. Therefore God’s Word needs to be searched and consulted if Christians and Christianised societies (e.g., Western nations) are ever to be obedient to our God in such matters as tax and taxation. So, “To the law and to the testimony!”

1. Is government taxation lawful?

A question very much like this was asked of Jesus. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (We believe the tax referred to here was a Poll Tax upon the head of every male over the age of twenty years). Jesus replied, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” Matthew 22:21. Therefore according to Jesus government taxation is lawful. David Chilton says,

The Bible does, of course, allow for some government taxation, but not much. The specific form of taxation (head tax, income tax, or whatever) is relatively unimportant, and is not set forth in Scripture; what is important is the rate of taxation, which determines the size of the state. As an absolute, outside limit, any tax of ten percent or more is specifically regarded by Scripture as tyranny – an attempt by rulers to be like God, extracting a ‘tithe’ (1 Samuel 8:15, 17). [1]

2. Is government itself lawful?

Again, Jesus in His “Render therefore to Caesar” answer legitimatised Civil Government, including government of a non-Christian kind. His Apostle who also lived under a pagan Roman government says, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no governing authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” Romans 13:1. Government or Civil Magistracy is therefore lawful because it is God appointed.
The reason God has appointed the Magistrate is for the promotion of the doing of good works and the punishment of those who practice evil. The Apostle goes on to say, “For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due, taxes to whom taxes are due.” (Romans 13:6-7a).
The compilers of the 1647 Westminster Confession of Faith (which is subscribed to by today’s Presbyterian Elders, whether Teaching Elders or Ruling Elders) are given the exalted title of the Westminster Divines, and these men say in the Confession,

It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honour their persons, to pay them tribute and other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority for conscience’ sake. Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrate’s just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to him, from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted.[2]

3. Separation of Church and State?

Does Jesus’ statement about giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s suggest that paying taxes to the State has nothing to do with obedience to God? In other words, does Jesus here view the State as secular (as in having nothing to do with God? Of course not!
The once upon a time Prime Minister of the Netherlands Abraham Kuyper Snr. says,

The sphere of the state itself stands under the majesty of the Lord. In that sphere there an independent responsibility to God is to be maintained. The sphere of the state is not profane. But both church and state must, each in its own sphere, obey God and serve His honour. [3]

The State is God’s minister in the civil affairs of men, but not in ecclesiastical affairs (though it should also obediently promote the church’s wellbeing by such things as tax-exemptions etc.) The word “separate” is too strong a word and has led to the idea of the separation of State and God! Therefore, though Church and State must remain distinct (rather than “separate”!) as functioning entities they both are components of one nation under God.
RJ Rushdoony says,

The nature of Israel’s civil order [i.e., as per the Bible is that] God as King of Israel ruled from His throne room in the tabernacle, and to Him were the taxes brought. Because of the common error of viewing the tabernacle as an exclusively or essentially “religious,” i.e., ecclesiastical center, there is a failure to recognize that it was indeed a religious, civil center. In terms of Biblical law, the state, home, school, and every other agency must be no less religious than the church. The sanctuary was thus the civil center of Israel and no less religious for that fact.[4]

4. Are Both Church and State Appointed By God?

Magistrates and Governors are appointed by God for the good of society.[5] The Apostle Paul says to Titus, “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work.” (Titus 3:1). Jesus says, “On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” Matthew 16:18b. Therefore, since both Church and State have been appointed or established by God, and are under His authority, one would expect these bodies therefore to “reflect” something of the Godhead. Hence we see Church and State members paying tributes (i.e., tithes and taxes). These bodies in turn look after the peace and welfare of the many. Nigel Lee says,

The Church-of-the-future will need to set out, also in the various inter-relationships of human society — the full implications of the Father's paternity, the Son's filiation, and the Spirit's procession. For the Church needs to distinguish the various personal attributes of the Deity ontically (within Himself) — from their application economically (within man's world).[6]

 Since both are God ordained, our con-tributing tithes and taxes to Church and State is simply part of our religious obedience to the triune God.

5. Is there a “principle” of taxation to be derived from intra-Trinitarian dealings?

God is Triune. He is the One and the Many. Nigel Lee says,

The Three Persons within God Triune Himself, interpenetrate and overlap one another — which is quite what one would expect creatures of God Triune to do. Indeed, this is what Rev. Prof. Dr. Cornelius Van Til meant by “the one and the many.” 1 Cor. 12:12-20.[7]

Therefore, as such, each Member of the Trinity con-tributes (voluntarily) from His own distinct property, to the Godhead. Therefore, “the Many” – each from His own increase and abundance – “pay tribute” to “the One”. These “tributes” include Fatherliness, Sonship, and love, honour, respect, and gratitude, etc., for each of the Others. Thus the eternal peace, and the eternal welfare, of the many is perpetually maintained and sustained by the “One” through the (voluntary) con-tribution of the “Many.”

6. How Much Tax Should We Pay?

Neither Church nor State is God. God alone is God. Therefore, we ought voluntarily to contribute our tithes and taxes because we want to be obedient to God in both these spheres. RC Sproul Jnr. says,

Old Testament Israel had a system of not one tithe, but three. The first tithe went to the Levites… [who] were not just official priests, they were also teachers, musicians, judges, and physicians. Most of the tithe, in fact, went to those who were not priests. This illustrates a principle for today: all of our tithe need not go directly to the church; other institutions need our financial support too. It may go to a Christian educational organization, a Christian hospital, or Christian missions… The second tithe… was used for a yearly festival gathering…Deut. 14:26… The third tithe was not annual, but was offered in the third and sixth years of every seven-year-cycle…known as the poor tithe…Deut. 14:20-29).[8]

Therefore the foundational reason for all our giving must be the glory of God.
The Bible early records men giving of their increase to God. Cain and Abel (voluntarily) brought offerings of their increase to God (Genesis 4:3&4). How much? We do not know. Abraham gave a tithe of all his increase of goods to Melchizedek the king of Salem and priest of God Most High (Genesis 14:20). Melchizedek was a Priest of God and the ruler of (the State) of Salem. Therefore, (though this is rather embryonic) Abraham (voluntarily) gave a tenth of his increase to both religious spheres of Church and State.
Abraham’s grandson Jacob demonstrates also a willingness to pay at least ten percent of all his increase to God (Genesis 28:22). It should be noted that Jacob’s ten percent was commensurate with the increase of his goods as God prospered him. Taking, then, Abraham and Jacob as setting the Biblical precedent for (voluntary) giving, a maximum of ten percent of our income would be the fair contribution.

7. On What Should We be Required to Pay Tax?

We are to tithe and pay tax to God out of our increase, which is to say that we ought also to pay government income tax. If we pay the State income tax, then, our tithe to the Church must come from our net earnings, not our gross. Surely then, Church tithes should be tax-exempt! State taxes, like Church tithes, ought to be based only on income. Property tax is not a Biblical norm. RJ Rushdoony says,

In the biblical law, the state has no right of eminent domain, and no right to tax the land. “It was impossible to dispossess men of their inheritance under the law of the Lord as no taxes were levied against land.” The tithe was God’s tax, not a gift to God. The state was limited to a tax resembling the tithe, a tax on increase, not on the land itself.[9]

Neither is the Goods and Services Tax the Biblical norm! However, Poll Taxes or Head Taxes are always Biblical (but are certainly not always popular!)

8. Summary and Conclusion

  • God’s Word must be the blueprint for all taxes and taxation.
  • Jesus Christ says that we are to “render unto Caesar”. Therefore, we ought to pay taxes.
  • Governments or Civil Authorities are “lawful” because they are appointed by God.
  • Though Church and State are separate, both are to be honoured as legitimate spheres of Christian religion.
  • The ‘principle’ of taxation may be derived from studying the Doctrine of the Trinity.
  • The ‘principle’ of paying ten percent of our income is Biblical.
  • Our tithes and taxes are to be paid only from our increase, i.e., income, but not on our property.
Much more could have been written above. However, it is hoped that the Christian’s “whistle has been sufficiently whetted” so that he/she will now have a greater desire to search the Scriptures to see what more has been revealed therein about taxes and taxation.

For further study see, for example:

Money, goods or labour paid to a government as:

  • Derived from people’s possessions: 1 Sam. 8:10-18;
  • Derived from the poor: Amos 5:11.
  • Paid by forced labour: Deut. 20:11.
  • Paid by foreigners: 1 Chron. 22:2.
  • Paid by all people: 2 Sam. 8:6&14.
  • Paid by forced labour: 1 Kings 5:13-17.
  • Paid by all except Levites: Ezra 7:24.
  • Paid by Christians: Rom. 13:6,7.
Taxes:

  • Used for Sanctuary: Exo. 30:11-16.
  • Used for the king’s household: 1 Kings 4:7-19.

[1] David Chilton, Productive Christians, p. 42.
[2] Westminster Confession of Faith XXIII:IV
[3] Abraham Kuyper, Christianity As A Life-System, p. 37
[4] Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. I, p. 281.
[5] Abraham Kuper Snr. says, “God has instituted the magistrates by reason of sin.” ibid. p. 28
[6] Francis Nigel Lee, God Triune In the Beginning – And For the 21st Century, p. 3.
[8] RC Sproul Jnr., Dollar Signs of the Times, p. 108.
[9] RJ Rushdoony, The Politics of Pity, p. 326.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

PAYING TAXES


PAYING TAXES

13 ‘Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words. 14 When they had come, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? 15 Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?” But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it. 16 So they brought it. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.”17 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at Him.’ Mark 12:13-17.

Introduction
Speaking of taxes, taxes have been around as long as governments. Now, the reasonable man doesn’t mind paying his fair-share of tax. I mean, we all like to drive on decent roads. We all like to have our garbage picked up and dumped for us. We like to have the shores of our great nation defended against would-be invaders. Taxes are a necessary part of life for any ordered civilization.

We see that things were no different 2,000 years ago in Palestine. The people at the time of Jesus, like us, had to pay taxes. We see (above in Mark 12:13-17) some sneaky people try to trick Jesus on the subject of taxes. Let me explain to you who these tricksters are. They are Pharisees and Herodians. They were sent by the chief priests, scribes, and elders mentioned back in Mark 11:27.

Now, before we get going, let’s note that the Pharisees and Herodians disliked each other, intensely! However, here they are together, conspiring against a common enemy - Jesus Christ. Most of us know the Pharisees as the hyper-legalistic religious sect which was dominating Israel at the time of Jesus. They were the ultra-nationalists of Israel, and they disliked intensely the Roman occupation of Palestine. The Herodians? Well, we don’t know a great deal about the Herodians. The Herodians probably got their name from Herod the Great, who had received governorship of the kingdom of Judea by appointment of the Romans. The Herodians seem to have been affiliated with the Sadducees.

The Sadducees were the religious liberals of the day. The Herodians seem to be something like the political wing of the Sadducee sect. Albert Barnes says, “The Herodians and the Sadducees seem on most questions to be united.” p. 104. But here they are, the Pharisees who didn’t favor Caesar, and the Herodians who did favor Caesar, in cahoots one with the other. So they toddle off to confront Jesus with a question about paying taxes.

Poll Tax
Every adult male in the whole of Judea had to pay a poll-tax. According to the historians this poll-tax came in around 6 AD after Archelaus was deposed. Archelaus, who was the son of Herod, gets a mention in Matthew 2:22. Archelaus became ruler upon the death of his father Herod, but the Romans deposed him for misgovernment in 6 AD. Anyway, that’s when this poll-tax or head-tax was introduced. So, the people of Judea had seen these taxes for some twenty-odd years.

Now, a number of years ago the British Government brought in a poll-tax in Scotland. After it was implemented in Scotland for about a year, the government introduced it into England. There were riots in the English streets! So the government of the day got the message and scrapped it. But not so with the Roman Government in Palestine. But anyhow, it’s a poll-tax that’s being referred to here in our text. RJ Rushdoony says, “The Herodians favored the Roman tax and the Herodian dynasty, which they regarded as preferable to direct Roman rule.” (Inst. Vol.1 p. 718).

The Herodians then, generally speaking, are pro-Roman government whereas the Pharisees are anti-Roman Government. So, united and slimy they slide, slither and sidle up to Jesus & try to butter Him up. They patronize Jesus by telling Him that He teaches rightly, teaching the truth of God, (Mark 12:14). They told Him that He doesn’t show personal favoritism, either to the Pharisees or the Herodians. So, after they think they’ve done a good job of greasing Jesus up, they then slip the question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

You can see what they’re trying to do here? They don’t want to give Jesus any room to maneuver. “Is it right to pay the poll-tax - Yes or No?” So, keep in mind that you’ve got Pharisees and Herodians here. If Jesus said “Yes!” He’d appear to be siding with the Herodians and against His own people. And the Pharisees would immediately make sure everyone knew. And if Jesus said “No!” then the Herodians would make sure the Romans knew.

Is He going to show favoritism to the Pharisees and their cause or the Herodians and their cause? So, you can see the slight-of-hand going on here, can’t you? Well, so could Jesus! Say “Yes” and He would be accused of showing personal favoritism toward the Herodians. Say “No” and He’d be accused of showing personal favoritism toward the Pharisees. But as the Proverb says, “Surely, in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird” 1:17.

Jesus being Jesus saw right through their little scheme. Let me paint into the picture a little more of the historical background of what’s going down here. The question they asked is this, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Now, I want to pick up on that word “lawful” – is it “lawful” or “right” as the NIV would have it. The same Greek word is used by the Pharisees, e.g., in Luke 6:1. There, Jesus and His disciples were walking through a grain field on the Sabbath. They were picking heads of grain and rubbed them in their hands as they walked. Some Pharisees said to them, “Why are you doing what is not LAWFUL on the Sabbath?” The Pharisees, as you know, had their own view of what was lawful, of what was right and wrong. They were forever distorting the Law of God, the measure of all that is right and wrong.

Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” is one long correction of the Pharisees’ mutilation of right and wrong. But here they are again, teamed up with the Herodians, trying to trick Jesus. And they believe that the poll-tax is wrong, unlawful. They see it as a form of slavery! Therefore if Jesus says it is lawful, they will instantly declare Him as the enemy of Israel!

There was a time when the people physically revolted against this tax. Luke in Acts 5:37 records these words in which Gamaliel, a Pharisee, says, “Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, [in the days of the taxing, KJV] and drew away many people after him.” Judas of Galilee led a revolt against the Romans in 6 or 7 AD. The revolt against the Romans took place shortly after the poll-tax was introduced. And, according to Josephus the Historian, Judas of Galilee died in this revolt. According to Josephus, Judas of Galilee vehemently proclaimed, “Taxation is no better than downright slavery!” He saw this poll-tax as nothing less than treason against God! So, that’s where the Pharisees are coming from in asking Jesus, “Is it lawful?” They’re of the opinion of Judas of Galilee that it’s most UN-lawful. And, of course, the Herodians were of the opinion that the poll-tax was lawful. So, who is right? The religious Legalists or the religious Liberals?

Now, just before we study the brilliant answer Jesus gave to that question, let’s paint in some more detail into the backdrop. What you have here in the text is more similar to Australia today than first meets the eye. The people of God, Israel, the Church, our Christian forefathers were then living among pagans. The non-Christians had the upper-hand in all the realms of government. And if there was any Church representation on a government level, it was the Herodian/Sadducees, the religious (theological) liberals who were doing the representing. Is it any different today with the Church in Australia? Isn’t it always the religious liberals with all their purple robes and gold crosses who represent the Church to the government? And where are the religious legalists today? Well, they’re usually off forming their own exclusive denomination somewhere! And usually, like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, they tend to view any Christian entering politics as siding with the enemy.  In other words, they view the Government of the land and everything to do with it, even taxes as the enemy!

Now, with all this in mind, the question before us this morning becomes three-dimensional. To draw three dimensions on a piece of paper you need the length, breadth and height of the object. The object lesson we’re trying to draw is about paying taxes. The Herodians, the religious liberals of Jesus’ day, and the legalistic Pharisees argued over the length and breadth of the poll-tax. The Herodians had the extremely broad view and the Pharisees had the extremely narrow view. The Herodians had the length way too long and the Pharisees had the breadth far too narrow. But Jesus, Wisdom Incarnate, draws a three-dimensional picture for them. And He does this by bringing into the equation the missing point of reference, i.e., God! How did He do it? Well, He asks them to show Him a denarius, the coin used to pay the poll-tax. Then He gets them to have a look at it, “Whose image, whose “icon” is this?” Mark 12: 16. “And whose signature, whose “epigraph” inscription is on it? They answered and said, ‘Caesar’s’” Then Jesus gives them His brilliant answer, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Or in the NMV, i.e., the Neil McKinlay Version, “Pay Caesar the Poll-Tax AND Pay God the Soul-Tax!”

So Jesus, contrary to the opinion of the Pharisees stated that it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. But He shows them that not only is there a tax on their head, but also on their soul! So let’s move on to our second point as I explain the soul tax.

Soul Tax
Jesus answered the question, ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?’ in the affirmative. I hope you can all see that, for it’s very important that you see it. Taxes, and we’re talking about “lawful” taxes, are a necessary part of life. It’s the teaching of Jesus, which is the teaching of Scripture. E.g., after explaining what the Civil Government is for, Paul the Apostle says in Romans 13:6-7, “For because of this you also pay taxes, for they [ie, the government] are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due...” etc. So then, we’ve to render to all their due. We’ve to render Caesar, or the Civil Government of our day, their due. And also we’ve to render to God His due.

Now, some people have a great amount of difficulty seeing the connection between rendering unto Caesar and rendering unto God. We have concluded in light of the Scriptural teaching of Jesus that paying taxes are lawful. That even paying taxes to the pagan Roman Government was lawful, it was right. Therefore, to not pay taxes, as in being a tax-dodger would be unlawful, would be wrong. It would make you a law-breaker.

I know someone who refused to pay the Government Poll-tax when it was brought in for that year in Scotland. He was even willing to go to jail on principle. However, he subsequently decided to pay back to the Government every penny he owed. Why? Because he loves paying taxes? Who does? He’s paid back every penny because of the grace of God. You see, God by His grace and mercy had converted him since that time. So, he wanted to gratefully serve his Saviour by being obedient to Him, even in paying taxes!

Can’t you see that paying taxes is being obedient to God? Or are you one of those who detaches God from the world? Do you think that this world belongs to Satan and so do all Governments on earth? Well, why would Jesus tell you to pay your taxes to the Devil and his Government minions? No, you need to see that all Government bodies on earth are as accountable to God as are you & I! Romans 13:1-2, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.”

Caesar was only a man, the figurehead of the Roman Government in Jesus’ day. It was his image, his “icon” that was on the coin used for the poll-tax. And the idea that Jesus was conveying was, that since Caesar’s image and signature was on the tax-coin, the coin BELONGED to him. It’s like when we were kids, if you saw a coin on the ground and said, “That’s mine!” someone was sure to say, “Is your name on it?” And if your name wasn’t on it, you might have a fight over whose money it was! (Of course technically the money belonged to whoever had lost it. I merely illustrate a point.) However, Caesar’s image and signature was on the Roman money, so it belonged to Caesar.

Now then, as we recap a little, we’ve seen that the Herodians and Pharisees tried to trick Jesus. But Jesus sprung their plot by use of a silver coin with Caesar’s image and signature on it. Jesus told them, because it had Caesar’s image and signature on it, it therefore belonged to Caesar. Hence the words, “Render to Caesar the things that ARE Caesar’s. And we’ve seen then, that this is the lawful thing to do. Therefore paying taxes is right!

So, as we begin to tie things together: Let me ask you, What is man? Who or what are you and I? What does Jesus and the Scriptures teach about you and me? Whose image are we, and whose inscription is on us? We understand the Poll-tax, but what about the Soul-tax, have we really understood it? Have we really comprehended what it means to Render to God the things that are God’s? Well, you need to understand that God owns you, God owns me, for He made us, He minted us! And the tax that He demands of you and me is that you love the LORD our God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.

Now, the mad and crazy and bizarre thing about this, is that there are people willing to go to prison forever, and suffer the torments of hell forever, rather than pay the Soul-tax! And, they want to do so as a matter of principle! They claim that God has no right to make any demands of them! They claim that it is no right, that it’s unlawful to do so! Therefore they withhold their Soul-tax from God whose image they are. Some even want to form God in their own image. That’s why there’s any number of false gods around the world.

Some have formed a god they can treat as non-existent! However, the God who has revealed Himself propositionally in Scripture, the God who has revealed Himself in His Son Jesus Christ may demand His Soul-tax of you this very day, and how are you going to make payment? Are you going to try to fob Him off with an old, bent, twisted, distorted and tarnished coin? I’m talking about you and me!

The image of God is so unrecognizable and the signature so illegible, that you and I are no longer legal tender in God’s eyes. We’re only fit to be melted down as so much scrap metal! But God by His grace and mercy, by His kindness has given us the necessary and required currency. He’s given us what we need to escape the great melt-down on the Last Day that Peter speaks of. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” John 3:16.

The Soul-tax God demands of you is a perfect life, where every single thought, word and deed throughout your whole life from womb to tomb was unblemished! For this perfect life would be a reflection of the God who made you. For that’s what it means to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and your neighbour as yourself. It’s to reflect the Triune God. There’s only ever been one Person who has done this since the Fall of man. And, if you don’t already know Him, God is offering Him to you.

Will you give up your Soul-tax evasion and receive the gift God is offering? God is offering you free of charge the Soul-tax that He demands of you! He is offering you His perfect Son who is the perfect, the express image of God. Jesus Christ has the signature, the name of God written on Him. He is the only legal tender in heaven. And the way to receive this gift of God is to recognize how tarnished you are as the image of God. Your thoughts are blemished, your words are stained, and your deeds are as filthy rags. Don’t insult God by thinking you can offer yourself as the Soul-Tax payment. Acknowledge to God that you are illegal tender in His eyes.

Conclusion
If you haven’t already, accept then, the gift He has offered. Believe in Jesus Christ to save you. Trust in Jesus Christ alone as your Soul-Tax payment. If you do this, or if you have done this, then God will welcome you into heaven. He will welcome you when He calls on you to make that final payment! But meanwhile, show your gratitude to God, do what your Savior says – even when paying taxes! “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Father we thank You that Your Word, the Scriptures show us up as we are in our sinful state to be illegal tender for heaven.  LORD we know that You won’t be fobbed off by any of our imperfect & sinful lives.  We saw how the Herodians & the Pharisees thought they could fool Jesus.  But LORD, You know the hearts of men.  It must grieve You to see how distorted Your image, even Man has become through sin.  Forgive us our sins.  Help us to trust only in Jesus Christ alone as revealed in Scripture for salvation.  Help us to honor Him in our daily lives. In the precious name of Jesus we ask it. Amen.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A FAMILY ALTAR (Part 2)

The Altar of Gratitude
Abraham moved from Shechem and pitched his tent somewhere between Bethel and Ai. We know that “Bethel” is Hebrew for “House of God.” Beth = House and El is of course God. But what about Ai? What does the name Ai mean? Well, for what it’s worth Ai means “ruins.” Abraham is now situated somewhere between the House of God and a place of ruin. So, it’s kind of like a picture of where Abraham is at on his pilgrimage. He’s somewhere in between the place of death and destruction and the place of life and edification. Anyway, “There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD” Genesis 12:8b.

If the first altar Abraham built was one of gratitude then the second is one of attitude! And I mean “attitude” in the good sense of the word, i.e., Abraham has a proper “attitude.” Abraham called on the name of the LORD – “Jehovah” – which is the covenant name of the covenant-keeping God. The first altar Abram built, then, was an altar of commemoration. On this altar Abram offered up a “thanks offering.” He made an offering in thankful remembrance of the LORD who had just appeared to him again repeating promises of a blessed offspring. Abram in this offering was also thanking the LORD for rescuing him from his spiritual bondage in Ur of the idolatrous Chaldeans.

We shouldn’t miss the significance of the first altar. It helps us to understand the significance of the second altar. The significance of the first altar is found in the words of the LORD, Abram’s Redeemer. Genesis 12:7 “The LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’” We need to see then that Abram built the first altar as an expression of his faith in the LORD. He built it believing that, 1. The LORD would give him descendants, and 2. The LORD would give them this land. Therefore he built the altar to acknowledge that he accepted his responsibilities as head of his family, i.e., his (promised) family to come.

Think about it, Abram’s father Terah had just died, Abram was no longer part of his father’s house. He was now head of the house – the new house wherein he was its father. By building the altar he was therefore showing his gratitude to the LORD who appeared to Him with promises. However, this second altar, though also built out of gratitude, illustrates to us Abram’s attitude. For this second altar, unlike the first, which was for commemoration, is an altar of consecration! For we see that Abram at this altar is consecrating, i.e., dedicating, his life to the service of God.

Abram “called on the name of the LORD.” That’s what it means to call on the name of the LORD. It is to sacrifice yourself on His altar, which is to offer up your life in service to Him and everything He is. It is to set yourself apart, sanctify yourself, in His service. For Abram it was to say, “I’m done with Ur of the Chaldees and all its idolatrous ways! It is forever behind me. I go forward in faith!” Fitting here are the words of St Patrick who said,

“I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, and One in Three.”

“Abram called on the name of the LORD.” What Abraham is saying here is what the psalmist says, “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” Psalm 84:10.

I remember my dad asking me, “Son, what are you going to do when you leave school?” I didn’t give any smart answer like, “I’m going to be a doorkeeper in the house of my God.” I didn’t know God then. I had the wrong kind of attitude toward God – then! I thought you could just ignore God. I thought you could just pull out God as a deep conversation piece, a philosophical discussion, you know, like young non-Christians who get a head full of the Theory of Evolution from the State school? There comes a time when a young man or woman starts asking the big questions. And, if you’ve been taught to ignore God all your life then you have developed a bad attitude. However, we should all have an attitude of gratitude towards God even just for being our Creator!

Let’s begin working toward a contemporary application. We should be building altars to God everywhere we go. And I don’t mean altars in order upon which to sacrifice animals. That disappeared when the One whom the sacrifices pictured appeared! So, in a sense, the animals received a blessing of sorts too when Christ was sacrificed. Since Christ poured out His blood, the animals are no longer needed for sacrifice. They have been liberated! But, more importantly, so have we! So, no more building altars for animal sacrifices to God. “It is finished!” said the living sacrifice Jesus Christ as He offered Himself up to God for us.

The altars we build today are not literal but of the figurative type. We don’t look around for a few choice stones upon which to offer up sacrifices. No, we look for quiet places to erect our altars, quiet places where we, like Abraham, can call on the name of the LORD.

We are the Family of Abraham. We’ve been engrafted into his family tree through faith. Therefore, like our father Abraham we should be building altars to keep up the family tradition.

Fathers, the altar is the place where you should go every day to pray for your family. Pray every day for the forgiveness of your family. Pray every day that the blood that was drained from Christ will cover the sins of your family.

Mothers, the altar is the place where you should go to pray for your husband and your children. It’s that quiet little haven where you meet with God. It’s the place where you ask the LORD to help you look after your little ones. It’s the place where you pray for your husband and your children’s future.

Children, the altar is the place you find it so hard to go! You’d rather watch the telly, phone a friend, read a book. You’d rather do just about anything than call on the name of the LORD in prayer! Well, the altar is the place where you learn the proper attitude towards God. Don’t ignore Him, for that’s what non-Christians do. “Draw near to Him...” and He gives you His Word, His promise that “He will draw near to you.”

The altar is the place where we meet as a family. It’s the place where dad reads the Bible out loud to his wife and his children. And of course the altar is where Christians meet every Lord’s Day all over the world. Beloved! Followers, disciples of the LORD Jesus Christ, have you been neglecting the Family Altar? Is the sum total of redemption just to you the fact that you are saved? Is that it? “Oh I’m saved. I’ll just sit on my hands till the LORD comes for me.” Is that it for you? I suspect that that’s it is for a lot of Christians today!

Look back at what we looked at what we’ve looked before. Look at the second half of what the LORD promised in Abraham in Genesis 12:4, “And in you [Abraham] all the FAMILIES of the earth shall be blessed.” We know that this word “families” becomes “nations” in the New Testament. But nations are made up of many families, are they not? So how then do you expect your family or nation to get the full blessing if you won’t build a metaphorical altar and call on the LORD to receive it?

There’s much more to the blessing than salvation as great a blessing as that is. There’s a blessing to be spread to all the families of the earth. By the way, the LORD won’t meet you at the altar with a 4x2 plank in His hand! He wants you to meet with Him so that He can bless you, not clobber you! He’s not going to say, “Where’ve you been?” THUMP! He wants to bless His people, but He also wants you to ask Him. If you call on Him then you’ll know the blessing is coming from Him, and then you’ll give Him the glory, just like Abraham when he built his altars

Conclusion
Let each family be a living sacrifice on God’s altar for the sake of Jesus Christ. Abraham built an altar and called on the name of the LORD. He consecrated his life into serving Him with thankful remembrance. Let Christians follow the example of our father Abraham that the LORD may bless us along with him. May we all glorify God and enjoy Him forever!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A FAMILY ALTAR (Part 1)


A FAMILY ALTAR (Part 1)
“And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.” Genesis 12:7.

Introduction

We met with Abraham just as he was leaving Haran on his way to the land the LORD was going to show him. Haran had been a bit of a crossroads on Abraham’s journey. Apparently the name “Haran” actually means “road” or “highway” and can even accommodate being translated as “crossroads.” Abraham’s father died in Haran, but undeterred, Abraham has continued on in his pilgrimage. God has kept his word to Abraham. Therefore, Abraham with his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, have left Haran. They’ve now arrived in the land of Canaan (which is the land the LORD was going to show Abraham) and they’ve brought possessions with them, i.e., sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys and such like. Therefore, they’ve accumulated a bit of wealth along the way and they even have some servants in their train.

“So they came to the land of Canaan” Genesis 12:5. “And the Canaanites were in the land” Genesis 12:6b. So the LORD kept His Word. Abraham is safely in the land of Promise, i.e., Canaan. He is moving through the land and he and his entourage are at a place called Shechem. Apparently the name “Shechem” means “shoulder,” as in “shoulder of a hill.” It reminds me of Ben Lomond on the banks of Loch Lomond in Scotland. When viewed across loch Lomond Ben Lomond is a mountain with two shoulders and a head in the middle! Well, Shechem is likened to a shoulder that bears a load, a place of burden. Anyway, Abraham it was while Abraham was here that the LORD appeared to him again and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” Genesis 12:7.

So what did Abraham do? Did he say to the LORD “What am I? Chopped liver? LORD, You’re giving all this land to a bunch of people I’ve never even seen! I don’t even have any descendants yet, no not one!” When asked what he would leave for his future descendants, the actor Woody Allan jokingly said something like, “Why should I leave them anything? What have those good-for-nothings ever done for me?” Well, even though Abraham at that point had no descendants, he just believed that God was able to deliver what He had promised! His faith in God and His Word was growing stronger.

The LORD had promised to show him a land and here it was. The LORD appeared to him and promised the land to Abraham’s seed. So what did Abraham do? “And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.” Genesis 12:7. Then, when he moved from there he also built another altar at the next place.

 We ask the question, Why did Abraham build these altars? What do they mean? We’ll mainly look at two things found in our text, the Altar of Gratitude and the Altar of Attitude. And hopefully we’ll learn the following summary of what we’ll be looking at, We all ought to strive to be living sacrifices on God’s altar.

The Altar of Gratitude

While in Shechem, (i.e., the place of burden) Abraham built an altar to the LORD. So what kind of an altar was it? Well, it was an altar of commemoration. Abraham built this altar in remembrance of the LORD who appeared to him. Therefore, he build it out of gratitude to the LORD, to visibly show his gratitude. The LORD had made Abraham a promise and the LORD held good on what He promised. So Abraham with a thankful heart wanted to display to the LORD his gratitude. So he built an altar and gave a thanks-offering to the LORD who had appeared to him.

So then, you’re probably wondering where the sacrifice bit comes in. Well, in the original Hebrew the word translated here as “altar” means “place of sacrifice.” This comes from a word which means “to slaughter for sacrifice,” e.g., when Noah came out of the Ark after being saved from the Flood Genesis 8:20 says, “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.” We take it that Abraham did something of the same.

This opens up the question, how did Abraham know to sacrifice an animal to God on an altar? For that matter, how did Noah know to shed the blood of animals in sacrifice to God? Where is the command to do these things mentioned in Scripture? Well, we don’t see God instructing these men personally on how to sacrifice. That doesn’t come until Israel under the command of Moses. It’s then that we see that God gave Israel clear instruction on the sacrificial system. But how did Noah and then Abraham know? Well, we get the impression they knew what God did in the Garden for Adam and Eve after the Fall.

Genesis 3:21 says, “Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.” Now, you are at liberty to imagine what you want, but, where did the LORD get the animal skins? From animals? Of course God could have just made a couple of sheep-skin coats for Adam Eve out of nothing. However, if you keep in mind that the Bible is also the record of Redemptive History you’ll begin to see the significance of what God did for Adam and Eve.

The LORD most probably shed the blood of the animals in front of the naked Adam and Eve. He shed the blood to demonstrate that their nakedness could only be covered by a sacrifice God made the sacrifice. The animals sacrificed belonged to Him. As the LORD through the psalmist says, “For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains. And the wild beasts of the fields are Mine.” Psalm 50:10-11. So God when He covered Adam and Eve and clothed them with something that belonged to Himself. God was the One who made the sacrifice, not Adam and Eve. He made the sacrifice because of their sin.

The LORD had told Adam that he would surely die if he disobeyed Him. Adam died spiritually the day he sinned (i.e., his love for God died) – but an animal or animals died physically that very day. The animal died that died as the LORD made its skin into tunics and covered Adam and Eve with them, died as a temporary substitute. It’s important that we remember this, for it helps us to understand why Abram is building altars.

Meanwhile back at the ranch. Here we see Abram copy what God had done for Adam and Eve. The LORD sacrificed an animal to paint a picture of the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world! But the thing is this: Abraham did it as a memorial. He made the sacrifice out of gratitude. The sacrifice of animals in the Old Testament was a picture of what happens to a man upon whom is the curse of God remains. Like the sacrificed animal he will surely die. As it has its life drained out of it, even its very life blood, so will he! As it becomes a holocaust, a burnt offering, so will he in Hell! As the animal becomes a sacrifice to the living God who is a consuming fire, so will he, forever! Abraham the father of believers believed this, and so should we.

I find it terrifying, but trying to make it go away by not believing it doesn’t help. There are people in hell right now who tried that. Therefore never treat what God says in His Word lightly. Abraham, then, knows that he has escaped the wrath of God, the consuming fire. So Abraham is thankful. He’s really thankful. So he selected some choice stones and he built an altar, an altar of gratitude. He thanked God from the bottom of his sin-scarred heart that it was an animal that was placed on the altar and not him.

Did Abraham know that all of this was a picture of what the promised “serpent-crusher” would do? Well, we’ve already seen last week that Abraham had the gospel preached to him (Galatians 3:8). And if like me you believe that substitutionary atonement is at the heart of the Gospel then clearly Abraham, the father of all believers, is justified by faith! Abraham believed that God would provide a substitute, a substitute that would pay the price owed for his sin.

This substitutional atonement is was acted out by Abram building the altars of sacrifice. Did Abraham know everything we now know? Of course not! How could he? However, was Abraham justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? You bet! Although Christ & Calvary was in the yet distant horizon Abraham could see it afar off. For even Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” John 8:56.

God gave Abraham eyes with which to see into the far off future, even the eyes of faith! So Abraham built an altar, an altar of gratitude!