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Sealed

Out here on the edge of the world, 10,000 miles from all things American, we hear only what comes via news outlets and websites. It is more commentary than journalism, polarized and politicized. Because of that, the truth is difficult to discern.

Believers from many different theological backgrounds try to connect current events with the imminent return of Christ or the arrival of anti-Christ or some global cataclysm that will force us to submit to a one-world government. Others believe it is merely a recycling of historical patterns—after all, man is fallen and hasn’t really changed that much over the millennia. Whatever your thinking, there is a notable waxing fear in the West with an attendant desire to escape what lay ahead.

A prominent truth for believers, however, will allow us to stand apart from fear and escapism as beacons of light in the gathering darkness: you have been sealed by God and marked

Definition

What is a seal, anyway?

In antiquity, a seal was either a cylinder (hung on a cord and worn around the neck) or a signet ring that bore the mark of its owner. It could also be a bracelet or stamp. The seal was embossed with its identifying mark so that, when pressed into a malleable material (like clay or wax), it left its imprint.

Uses

Seals Mark Identity or Ownership

Consider the rather unusual story of Judah and Tamar as found in Genesis 38. Tamar is married to Judah’s son, who dies before giving her a child. Onan is expected to take Tamar as a wife and produce an heir for his late brother, which he refuses and is struck dead. Judah refuses to give Tamar to his other son and so Tamar is left destitute and goes into mourning, a young widow.

At some point later, Judah’s wife dies and, as he is going to the town of Timnah to shear his sheep, he decides to take comfort in the arms of a prostitute. Little does he know that the “prostitute” is indeed his daughter-in-law, Tamar. He promises to send her a young goat in payment, but she demands his seal, his cord, and his staff as collateral in case he doesn’t send the goat, which he gives to her. She becomes pregnant and returns home with his identifying items. 

A few months later pregnancy is obvious. She is accused of  immorality, which could result in her stoning. In a coup de grace, she produces Judah’s seal, cord, and staff as proof that it was  Judah who was in the wrong. His seal identified him as guilty.

Seals Validate Character

Seals not only identify ownership, they validate character. John six is a litany of trademarks of Jesus’ character as the Son of Man. The chapter begins with the miraculous feeding of 5,000 men (plus women and children). As a result, the people tried to make him king by force. Before they could, however, he withdrew to a solitary place on the mountain to pray. As he withdrew,, the disciples attempted to cross the lake, though the wind was against them.  Jesus finished praying and  walked to them on the water. Next morning the diners rushed to find Jesus when they discovered that he and his disciples were gone.  

“You aren’t seeking me because you saw the signs, you’re chasing me because you got a free meal. Stop working for food that rots! Work for the enduring food which the Son of Man will give you.For on him God the Father has set his seal.” God the Father validated Jesus’ character as the Son of Man via the miracles. He placed his mark (or seal) upon him.

Seals Secure

Numerous times in both Old and New Testaments seals are used to guarantee that what has been closed will not be illicitly opened. In Daniel 6:17 we find Daniel in the lion’s den which has been covered by a stone and sealed with Darius’s signet and that of his lords. His unbroken seal would prove that no one removed Daniel from the lion’s den during the night.

In the New Testament, when Jesus’ dead body is laid in the tomb, Pilate orders the stone to be sealed with what is presumably a rope and seal—to prevent someone from secretly removing his body and claiming resurrection.

Seals Mark a Binding Agreement

A poetic and beautiful example of this is found in Song of Solomon 1:8: “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is as strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave.” The binding agreement here is love and lasting commitment. The imagery is transformative. The Song of Solomon is believed by many to be fulfilled in the marriage of Messiah to His Bride, the Church. The love of the husband took him into death and the grave—and out again.  He sealed the marriage with his own blood. 

Sealed

As interesting as these tidbits might be, the question remains, “What does it mean for us to be sealed?” 

Paul writes the following to the church at Ephesus: “In him [Jesus] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we take possession of it . . .” (Ephesians 1:13-14). And later, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30)

We are sealed (imprinted, stamped, marked) by the Holy Spirit. We bear his mark, inscription, and character. In the Holy Spirit a binding agreement is sealed, secured, and validated.

When we were sealed with the Holy Spirit, we relinquished ownership of ourselves. God the Father placed his mark of ownership upon us. Writes Paul to the church at Corinth, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Those who choose to disbelieve the gospel are blinded. They too bear a mark or seal. It covers their attitude (forehead) and their actions (right hand). They plunge into a flood of dissipation that will lead them straight to the fiery lake and the coming judgement. We might even call their mark the mark of the beast.

Those who choose to believe the gospel are sealed with the Holy Spirit. We walk in tandem with the Lamb who took away the sins of the world. We follow him wherever he goes and He writes his name and the name of His God on our foreheads (he changes our minds and hearts).

What Ezekiel Said

Ezekiel 9 paints a poignant picture of being sealed with the Holy Spirit. God is about to execute judgment upon Jerusalem for their idolatry. He calls six executioners to the temple. With them is a man dressed in white linen, holding a writing kit. To the writer He says, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” He instructs the executioners, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity . . .”

Conclusion

As the age comes to a close and the world once again attempts to unite in rage against God, it behooves us to be those who “sigh and groan” in prayer over the evil that is besieging the world. It is to everyone’s advantage that we not only cry out to God in desperation for the salvation and redemption of this generation, but that we take up the sword of the Spirit, proceed in faith, hope, and love and declare God’s majestic name to the nations.

We were sealed for the day of redemption, guaranteed in the Holy Spirit for that inheritance. While the world cowers in fear, looking for every escape possible, we can confidently and boldly engage this generation with the good news of Jesus Christ.

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Tested and Tried

Plato attributes the famous saying, “Know thyself” (Γνώθι σεατόν) to fellow Greek philosopher and mentor, Socrates. Socrates’ notion seems to be the preoccupation of the privileged, an activity of leisure. Not so. Consider what Paul had to say to the church at Corinth when preparing to visit them:
“Examine yourselves; to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Corinthians 13:5, ESV)
While Plato was using Socrates’ teaching to make some philosophical point to other philosophers, Paul was writing to ordinary people, some of them really messed up and in need of transformation, in order to give them means to remain strong in the faith, to make a daily choice to stand.
To examine and test one’s soul is no easy task. Says commentator Simon J. Kistemaker: “True faith is active and constantly forces Christians to test themselves to see whether Jesus Christ through the Holy spirit lives in their hearts. True faith testifies to intimate fellowship with the Father and the Son (I John 1:3).” (Emphasis mine.)
Yet this intimate fellowship we have with the Father and the Son draws us into deeper, more challenging testing. This fellowship takes us beyond our own conscience, placing us in the domain of the Father’s testing us. Consider what is written in Deuteronomy 8:2-3: “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
When we examine or test ourselves, we find either affirmation that we are in Christ or not. When God the Father tests us, he humbles us, removes our mistaken ideas that we exist on the merit of our own strength and genius, to see whether or not we will still follow him when it doesn’t make us look good in the eyes of those around us. What pride can we possibly derive from being fed and watered and lead, helpless and needy?
We are prone toward pride and independence, are we not? Hence the warning in verses 17-18: “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”
It can be easy to become discouraged in times of testing, misinterpreting the purpose of the test. We can feel attacked, forgotten, isolated, devalued. We can fall into the Satanic trap of feeling less than zero. But, in this case, truth trumps emotion.
Deuteronomy 8:16 indicates that God humbles us to do us good. He can use broken, submitted, humble servants: those are qualities ascribed to Jesus’ time in the flesh, on the earth. Our pilgrimage is to become Christ-like is it not?
Should you choose to take up the mission to shake the gates of Hell in your generation, you must take up the habit of examining and testing yourself, to see whether or not you are in the faith. You must take up the habit of submitting to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that Jesus might be represented well in this generation, that those who have ears to hear might receive the gospel, that those who choose to reject Him will do so not on the basis of ignorance, but having been informed of what they choose to reject. Friend, “Know thy faith.”


[1] Kistemaker, Simon J. New Testament Commentary: 2 Corinthians. Pg. 450. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997.

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You Can Still Shake the Gates of Hell When Things Don’t Go As Planned

You Can Shake the Gates of Hell

When Things Don’t Go as Planned

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,” declares the Lord.”

– Isaiah 55:8

In the West, we highly value productivity — or at least the appearance of productivity. We Western Christians all too often herald the expectation of productivity as a core value of following Jesus. Many of us believe that our life in Christ is only valuable if there are attendant measurable, attainable results (products)—or the appearance of them. Many of us even stake our identity in this idea.

What happens when God the Father decides that our dependence upon productivity is a huge hurdle to our growth in maturity and Christlikeness? How do we respond when God’s highest purpose for a season may very well be to teach us to deal with frustration, waiting, desperate praying, or trusting that there is real activity in the other realm that eyes cannot see?

I am a Bible translator in Papua New Guinea. My family and I live in a mountain village that gets upwards of 200 inches of rain a year. Mountainsides slide. Roads erode. Floods flow. The nearest city is over 60 kilometers away and is sometimes blocked by all of the above. Used to these realities, the locals here are … patient, easygoing, not concerned with speed or efficiency. Survival is enough.

These realities are disruptive, as are the questions. In the moments when this world is caving in on my expectations and the flesh is tired of waiting, the enemy goes to work on my sense of self-worth and accomplishment. He knows all too well how to use the expectation of productivity against me—and perhaps you, too.

Satan wants us to lean into our efficiency, to depend upon our productivity as a means of earning God’s affections. He wants us to think that if our productivity is interrupted by cancer or car wreck or even living in the developing world, that our faith is worthless and our position in God is null and void.

If you want to shake the gates of Hell, don’t take the bait. Don’t allow the adversary to convince you that the substance of your life is pent-up in getting things done efficiently any more than it is in the abundance of your worldly goods.

My college-aged sons and I were walking between villages a few months ago. We were talking about life and what we had planned for that day. We had made very efficient and productive plans for that day, but we instead found ourselves hiking and talking.

Our original plans thwarted, we asked God for his plan. The answers to that prayer took us to the house of a man who was sick and needed to be encouraged. They took us on a journey that would help establish a program board to streamline the work of translation among the Somau Garia people. God’s efficiency is about building people and his kingdom rather than merely giving us a personal sense of accomplishment.

The enemy hates it when we respond to frustration with prayer; when we choose to trust the Unseen rather than wallow in despair of what is only dimly seen. His designs for our destruction are thwarted when we surrender to our Father and his plans.

Are efficiency and productivity negative values? Of course not. Ministries like Bible translation are too great a task to finish without employing these values. But we dare not confuse the outcome of a set of work habits with fruit born of the Holy Spirit. Shaking the gates of Hell is done in the Spirit, by fruit born of Him and effort made through the strength of Christ—especially when things don’t go according to our plans.