Lessons from Genesis: Prayers of Intercession

sodom-and-gomorrah-painting
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, an 1852 oil on canvas painting done by John Martin

My study this morning included God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The wickedness of these cities had reached such a pinnacle that God’s wrath was imminent, but He used the moment as a tool to reveal His very nature to Abraham. Before destroying the two cities, God visits Abraham and reveals His plans. This visit leads to an incredible exchange between Abraham and God:

23 Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” 26 So the Lord said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.” 27 And Abraham replied, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes.28 Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five?” And He said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 He spoke to Him yet again and said, “Suppose forty are found there?” And He said, “I will not do it on account of the forty.” 30 Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak; suppose thirty are found there?” And He said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” 31 And he said, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord; suppose twenty are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the twenty.” 32 Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the ten” (Genesis 18:23-32). 

I must admit this passage used to confuse me. I couldn’t quite figure out why God needed Abraham to remind Him of His own just nature. Quite frankly, the thought that Abraham had to negotiate for the lives of the righteous upset me. However, my confusion was born out of misinterpretation; what’s happening in this passage isn’t a negotiation – it’s intercession.

God is just. He knew exactly what He was doing when it came to Sodom and Gomorrah; but by allowing Abraham to intercede on their behalf, he revealed His gracious nature to Abraham. Yes God demands justice for sin, but in doing so He never sacrifices His own grace. God allowed Abraham to intercede for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and by doing so, He allowed Abraham to become a channel though which God’s grace flowed.

Abraham’s intercession for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah is a reflection of Christ’s intercession for those who call Him Savior:

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time (1 Timothy 2:5-6) 

Just as Abraham interceded on behalf of the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah, Jesus Christ intercedes on my behalf. With his prayers of intercession, Abraham was displaying a particular kind of Christ-likeness that I far too often fail to display. My prayers tend to be selfish, “God bless me!” – when a proper prayer of intercession should read, “God bless them!” 

My goal is pray less selfishly. I want to pray more for others. God knows exactly what He’s doing when it comes to His justice and His grace, but when I pray a prayer of intercession it shapes my heart to resemble the heart of Christ who prayed the most famous of all intercessory prayers …

“Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

[View all posts in the Lessons from Genesis Series] 

Lessons from Genesis: A Talking Snake? Really?

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”2The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’ ” 4The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. (Gen 3:1-6, NASB)

This passage from Genesis records one of the most pivotal moments in the history of mankind and our relationship with God. There’s no doubt that the tempter in this passage is none other than Satan who the apostle John refers to in the New Testament as “the serpent of old” (Rev 20:2). However, as the story unfolds, the reader realizes that Satan apparently manifested himself in the guise of a snake. Not surprisingly, this causes many students of the Bible to take pause. A snake? Really? Are we expected to believe that a snake actually talked to Eve? How dense was she anyway? Let’s face it, if a snake slithers up to one of us on the street and starts talking, we’re going to know immediately that we shouldn’t trust it. Why? Because snakes don’t talk!

But let’s put ourselves in Eve’s shoes for a second … well, not her shoes for she was naked for the time being, but hang with me anyway – Eve was a relatively new creation at this point. It was Adam that God presented all the animals to so they could be named in Genesis 2:20; Eve wasn’t created until Genesis 2:22 – she had probably never seen a snake in her short life at that point. In her naivety, Eve was a perfect target for Satan’s ruse. And she fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

So are we to believe that Satan literally spoke to Eve through a snake? I believe we are. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14) and Peter adds that Satan prowls about like a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8) so we should expect Satan to go to great lengths to fool us! But allow me to put this question into perspective just a bit. We can get so caught up in the question of rather this is a literal snake or not that we miss the principle that should be derived from the scene.

Satan, the father of lies, fooled Eve and he is still trying to fool us today. To see this in action, take a look at Acts 5:1-3:

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?” 

Satan conspired with the inclination of Ananias and Sapphira’s hearts to cause them to sin. Peter immediately discerned this and asked, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” Satan baited their hook and they fell for it. And he is baiting your hook right now.

“You surely will not die!”

 Whatever sin your heart is inclined toward, Satan is trying to bait your hook with opportunity and reassure you with the lie that you won’t die. It’s all going to be okay. But Scripture reveals the truth. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and we are all called to respond to Jesus’s plea “repent for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17).

We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Satan may not be appearing to you as a snake, but he is appearing to you in some fashion. It may be in the form of alcohol, drugs, pornography, a relationship that’s bad for you … there are countless ways he may disguise himself … but his  whispered lie remains the same, “You surely will not die.”

The challenge for all of us to hear Jesus’ voice above the whispers of Satan, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Related Posts: God Delights in Blessing Mankind, The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

Lessons from Genesis: The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

expulsionfromeden
image from thegospelcoalition.net

“… but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17, NASB).

The history recorded in the second chapter of Genesis tells us that God formed man out of dirt and then placed him in a garden of God’s creation (2:7-8). The garden contained trees that were good for food and pleasing to the sight; including the tree of life which was the means by which God sustained Adam and Eve. However, in the garden was another tree – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil of which Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat because it would lead to their death. This famous tree presented Adam and Eve with a choice; they could listen to the instructions of God or to the whispers of the serpent, “You will surely not die.”

I’ve often pondered how things would have been so much easier had God not planted that evil tree. Why was it there to begin with? Certainly its presence reveals how much God values free will and choice and, of course, we know that Adam and Eve ultimately chose to eat from the tree. We may be tempted, however, to ask what the big deal is with their choice to eat the fruit, after all, the tree was only off limits because God said it was. They ate the fruit, so what?

In my last post, I wrote about God blessing mankind through His creation. God created the universe, the sun, the earth, and all of creation because it was good for mankind … and then He prescribed the best way for us to live within that creation. In the case of Adam and Eve, the best way for them to live was to avoid the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God is free to issue such prescriptions because He is the God of creation. He and He alone is God. When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit it was more than just a simple act of disobedience. They were asserting that they knew better than God Almighty Himself when it came to what was good for their lives. In his commentary on Genesis, Bruce Waltke writes, “”That famous tree symbolizes the ability to discern good (i.e., what advances life) and evil (i.e., what hinders life)” (p. 85).

And guess what folks, we’ve been eating from that tree ever since. God’s Word prescribes for us the best way to live our lives and yet we keep pretending to know better than Him. Sex, gluttony, hatred, lust, greed … when we choose to sin we are asserting that we know better than God what is good for us.

Surely we won’t die … right? 

Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death. When we claim to know more than God about what’s right and wrong for us we are choosing a route that will lead to our deaths. We would do well to learn the lesson of Job:

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” ‘Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.’ (Job 42:3-4). 

God alone knows what’s best for our lives. It takes tremendous audacity for us to presume to know more about our lives than the very God that created us. God is God and we are not. He has the right as the Lord of all creation to tell us what’s best for our lives. When we presume to know better, we are choosing spiritual death.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). 

The best way for us to live our lives is the way our Creator has told us to live our lives. We would do well to listen to Him … after all, He is God and we are not.


Related Posts: Lessons from Genesis: God Delights in Blessing Mankind

Lessons from Genesis: God Delights in Blessing Mankind

genesisIn the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” These are the words that open the Bible’s account of creation. Far too often, we read these words and immediately try to turn Scripture into a science textbook.

  • When did He do it? 
  • How old’s the earth? 
  • How did He do it? 

I don’t mean to suggest these question are not important, however, I do believe there is a more important and better question … Why did He do it? 

Why did God create the heavens and the earth? One answer I hear quite often is that God created the heavens, the earth, and ultimately mankind because He was lonely and longed for companionship. I’m not sure about this answer. God is presented in Scripture as living a perfectly harmonious and unified relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit. It is a relationship so closely knit that the three persons of the Trinity are defined as One God. Three in one. God exists in the most perfect relationship imaginable so I tend to reject the argument that He was somehow lonely and needed mankind to complete Him. I also believe Scripture provides us with a better answer.

Over and over, God is presented as declaring His creation as “good.” God created light and saw that it was good (Gen 1:3-4), God created the earth and the seas and saw that is was good (1:10), God created vegetation and saw it was good (1:12), God created the sun and the moon and saw it was good (1:18), likewise God goes on to create all the animals of the sky, oceans, and land and declares them as good. Good for what we might ask? What is all this stuff good for?

It’s good for us. Mankind. The one and only creatures that were created in God’s image.

Chapter 2 of Genesis demonstrates to us that God created mankind from the dust of the ground and then “breathed the breath of life into us” (2:7). Then God proceeds to create the Garden of Eden for mankind in verse 2:8. He didn’t create man for the Garden, He created the Garden for the man!

Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (2:9).

God cause to grow trees that were pleasing for food and sight for mankind. He wasn’t just concerned with feeding us, He also wanted us to enjoy ourselves. I can imagine God thinking to Himself as He created:

  • “Oh yes, they are going to love this tree! It is beautiful! it is good!”
  • “These tomatoes are so juicy and ripe … just wait until he sinks His teeth into them!”

God created the world the way He did to bless us. There is something innate to His person that wants to see mankind blessed. He created us in His image and placed us on a planet that is conducive to our survival and enjoyment. He blessed us because that’s the kind of God He is. He is a God who blesses. The prophet Isaiah described Him as an Artist:

“But now, O Lord, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). 

He is the potter and we are the clay. Carefully crafted in the image of the Father, Son, and Spirit and created to be blessed and to glorify Him. Isaiah also reveals we were created to glorify the God who created us (Isaiah 43:7). That’s the way it was meant to work. He blesses us and we glorify Him.

It’s easy to see how God blesses us. Just look out your window at the world we live in. Look up into the mystery of space in the night sky. Look at you family and loved ones. God blesses us. It might be harder to discern how we are supposed to glorify Him. Scripture tells us there is one vehicle between our blessings and His glory – Jesus Christ.

The apostle John tells us that nothing that has been created has been created apart from Jesus Christ for it is through Him that all things were created (John 1:1-5). All of our blessing came though Jesus Christ … He is the vehicle through which God the Father blesses us through creation. Likewise, it is through Jesus Christ that we glorify God. Jesus said that He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life and no one gets to the Father but through [Him]” (John 14:6). God the Father blesses us through Jesus and we glorify the Father through Jesus. There simply is no other way.

And here is the wonderful part. The same God who delighted in creating the world to bless us is still delighting in creating for us. Revelation tells us that we will someday inherit a new heaven and a new earth to replace the one we have tainted with our sin. Guess where that new heaven and new earth is going to come from …

“If I [Jesus] go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3).

Just as God the Father created the heavens and the earth through Jesus to bless mankind at the beginning of time in Genesis, He is creating a new heaven and a new earth through Jesus to bless us at the end of time. He will continue to bless us and we can continue to glorify Him through His Son Jesus.

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). 

Our God is a God who delights in blessing His creation. How can we not have the desire to glorify His Holy Name.

Amen?

The Seven Days of Creation – Part 1 – Introduction

Since Darwin’s Origin of the Species was published in 1859, the Biblical account of creation has been under fire. To be fair, the fire hasn’t just come from science; liberal theologians have waffled under pressure and tripped over each other to make excuses for Scripture. As a result, science and liberal theologians immediately dismiss any Biblical account that includes the supernatural (miracles). As Walter Bradley points out in his contribution to Why I Am a Christian, this hasn’t necessarily driven people away from God … many scientists admit that God remains a possibility; however, the God of the Bible has often been called into question. While science immediately dismisses statements about the existence of God as philosophy rather than science, many proponents of evolution have no problem making the equally philosophical statement that God does not exist. While this year marks the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of his book, the controversy surrounding this debate shows no signs of abating.

In the midst of all this hoopla, I thought it would be refreshing to start a series of posts that actually studied the Biblical account of creation. Because of the raging debate surrounding creation, the opening versus of Genesis has become the most controversial in all of Scripture (with the possible exception of the accounts of Christ’s resurrection). We’re going to go through Genesis 1:1-2:3 verse by verse and see what the Bible actually says. Hopefully, along the way we’ll be able to dismiss some of the controversy and educate ourselves at the same time.

Before we begin though, I thought it would be profitable to take a look at the three lenses view creation as taken from Walter Bradley’s article Why I Believe the Bible is Scientifically Reliable:

  1. Young Earth Creationists: Young earth creationists believe that God completed His creation in six, literal solar days. Occasionally, proponents of this view believe there is a long gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 that accounts for an older age of the earth. Most feel there is reason to believe that while the earth appears old to science it is actually only around 6,000 years old.  Young earth creationists believe that God worked through nothing but miracles to complete His creation. This view makes young earth creationism the hardest to mesh with science which rejects anything other than natural processes.
  2. Progressive Creationism: Progressive creationists believe that God used a combination of miracles and natural processes to complete His creation. There are a couple of different ways progressive creationists view the 6 days of creation but what is important for this summary is that they do not view them as literal solar days. Much like young earth creationists, progressive creationists believe that major plants, animal life and human beings are special creations of God. Because of its acceptance of natural processes in creation, progressive creationism is easier to harmonize with science than young earth creation.
  3. Theistic Evolutionism: Proponents of this view believe that God things into motion and ten stepped back and allowed natural processes do all the work. Natural processes are to be thanked for all life. While this viewpoint attributes creation to God, it sees the entire Genesis account of creation as a sort of non-literal parable. Because it attributes the development of life to nothing but natural processes, this view point is very easy to harmonize with science.

Unlike Bradley, I will not divulge which of the three camps I belong to as we study the Genesis account of creation, however, I will encourage the reader to ask himself which camp he leans towards. Do you believe God used nothing but miracles to create life? Do believe it was a combination of miracle and natural process? Is life as we know the result of nothing but natural processes? Are the seven days of creation in the Book of Genesis literal or just a parable? Ask yourselves these questions as we go through our study.

The next entry in this series will take a look at the opening verse of Scripture: Genesis 1:1 – In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth.