Friday, December 28, 2012

"Senseless" Tragedy

Heb 11:4  By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.   

I would like to focus on the last few words of this verse for a moment, “He still speaks”.  These words could end each section since each person’s faith in this chapter is being commended to us from God as an example of faith.  So in this sense each one’s faith still speaks to us of our great God in which we can still trust explicitly.  Abel gives us an example of a believer dying prematurely, in this case by murder.  These three words give meaning and comfort to such people and their survivors.  We might say that these words direct the preacher at Abel’s funeral as far as what he can say and what he cannot.   

What any preacher cannot say when they stand over anyone’s casket and even a very young person is that this is a “senseless” tragedy.  To die young or violently or “before one’s time” is tragic but it is never senseless.  Potentially Abel could have faithfully served the Lord for many more years and it would have been better for Cain if he had repented of his offering and gotten right with God but when things don’t turn out in the happiest or most fulfilled or even godliest way or even in the worst possible way doesn’t mean that they serve no purpose and are wasted. 

This must be true because God is working all things according to his perfect and righteous ends.  Sometimes those who deny God’s sovereignty over all things try to justify their view by saying, “If God ordained everything, then he ordained evil and if he ordained evil he is responsible for evil”.  Of course, they assume too much because the Bible never attributes evil to God in any way; it is always because of man’s or Satan’s will.  And yet the Bible makes it abundantly clear that all things are ordained by God, Isa 45:7  I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, Isa 46:9  remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, Isa 46:10  declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,'  I am the LORD, who does all these things.   

But think for a moment that what they say is true.  They are saying that God only intends good things to happen and that evil or sin is something he does not want to happen.  Not only then must God be weak because he could not stop such things as the holocaust from happening but even worse, there is no purpose at all for evil to begin with because God didn’t want it to happened in the first place.  Every bad thing that happens to you and everyone else was not God’s intention, he wished it wouldn’t happen but couldn’t stop it and so there is no God honoring purpose for it.  It only serves Satan’s evil intentions and man’s but that is it.   

With the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn. We saw this very thing being promoted by the “religious” counselors and commentators.  Such things are always attributed to evil (whatever they mean by that) or mental illness or perhaps Satan, but all are very careful to tell us that God had no part in this at all, that he is saddened by such evil and wishes we would do better.   

To be sure such actions are against his revealed will to us; such people who perpetrate such things are held accountable by him and will be judged; they are truly sinful actions.  But to deny that God had no purpose in decreeing such things to happen as he allows men to carry out their sinfulness is to think that there are other determining forces in the universe besides God alone.  It is clear in the Bible that God intended man to fall while not being responsible for it because allowing sin into the world was part of his overall plan to glorify himself.  Evil is not a second god doing things that the other God doesn’t like and therefore serving no purpose but it is ordained under the limits that God imposes to bring the entire universe to God’s desired end.  Thus all things, even evil, serve the Lord and has meaning in our lives.  There is no part of our life’s experience that isn’t completely under the Lord’s control working toward a good and purposeful end for us even though it might hurt at the present time.  

Let me give one Biblical example to prove the point.  In Isa. 10 God makes it clear that he is sending the Assyrians against Israel because Israel has forsaken the Lord.  Yet, he condemns the Assyrians for doing what he has ordained them to do because they are not trying to serve God in this but are just murderous plunderers and rapists and so he tells them they will be judged for their actions.  God ordained the very actions that he will judge.   

But my desire here is not to explain the unexplainable; how God’s sovereignty and human responsibility work in his providence.  But we must accept what God says about how this world works and find comfort in the fact that even in the evil and hard things of life there is purpose and meaning and that someday it will all make sense.  

The very last thing we must say about the Sandy Hook tragedy is that it is senseless and that God was unable to stop it.  In fact it is because of what the Bible says about fallen man that helps us understand why such things happened at all.  It reminds us of just how much we need to preach the gospel because we live in a world living in rebellion to God and unless we repent, we shall all likewise perish just as these did.  This after all is what Jesus pointed out when a similar murderous rampage happened in his day, Luk 13:1  There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. Luk 13:2  And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? Luk 13:3  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Luk 13:4  Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? Luk 13:5  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."   

He didn’t use it as a way to distance God from the events of our lives but to remind us of sin’s consequences and the need to get right with God.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Filling the Wedding Hall

Mat 22:9  Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.' Mat 22:10  And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Here Jesus gives a parable to explain the ramifications of Israel’s rejection of their Messiah and for that matter the results when anyone makes excuses for not attending the wedding feast of the Son.  One aspect of this parable that doesn’t get much attention is the reason why the King sends out servants to “compel” and gather a second group into the feast.  It is found in the last sentence of verse 22, “So the wedding hall was filled with guests.”  
While God’s election unto salvation isn’t the main topic here, there is certainly a veiled reference to the eternal purposes of God in saving a people for himself, “wedding feast for his son”, vs. 2.  Verse 10 points out that just because some, in fact most, vs. 14, refuse to answer the call doesn’t mean that there is any possibility that Heaven won’t be filled with sinners saved by grace. 
Some teach in essence that the cross of Christ was a shot in the dark with God hoping that some would exercise their “freewill” and believe.  This fails for a couple of reasons.  First of all the Bible very clearly teaches that all men’s wills are by nature depraved and in bondage to sin and they cannot do good, Rom 8:7  For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Rom 8:8  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  If God merely sent Jesus to die for our sins and then called out to sinners to come, none would because none can because none want to.  It is only by overcoming our will as he gives us a new heart that the elect come.  This is the “compelling” that Luke uses in this parable.  Matthew uses the word “invite” and we know that the gospel is at the same time an invitation and an enabling power in the case of the elect, Rom 1:16  For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Secondly this fails because, as our texts states, God had no intention of the wedding hall being even partially filled let alone empty.  He didn’t leave it up to man to answer the call but chose those who would fill it before the foundation of the world.  One thing that seems unavoidable in this text is that once God determined to fill the hall, the servants (Spirit) were commissioned to do whatever is necessary to bring people into it.  Salvation rests in the will and power of God, not that of man. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Power of the New Covenant

Mat 21:33  "Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. Mat 21:34  When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. Mat 21:35  And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned anot7her. Mat 21:36  Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Mat 21:37  Finally he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.'
Mat 21:38  But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.' Mat 21:39  And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Mat 21:40  When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" Mat 21:41  They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons."

As Jesus condemns the Jewish nation for their failure to keep the covenant God made with them he relates this parable that gives us a synopsis of their history of failure but also explains one reason why there was a Jewish nation to begin with.  It turns out that the Jews were kind of a test case of humanity much like taking a water sample out of a well to see if the whole well is polluted or not.  What we find is that they prove that sin has ruined the entirety of humanity and they also prove that the only way to be saved from sin is not by human effort but by a substitute.

What the parable teaches is that God separated the Jews from the rest of humanity and gave them every possible blessing if they would honor him as all men should.  The OT constantly refers to this as Israel being a vineyard that is given good ground and water and hedged in from being trampled but this vineyard never produces any fruit; fruit being seen as taking these privileges and glorifying the Lord with them.  What we find them doing for 1500 years is dishonoring the Lord in every possible way. 

There are a couple of important lessons for us here.  First of all we see the need for a better covenant that empowers us to live for the Lord.  The main thing Israel does is prove that even if God promises them every physical blessing and even gives them a detailed set of rules so they know exactly what he wants, the natural man cannot love and obey what he by nature hates.  It is only through a new heart or nature that we can love and serve God as we should. 

Secondly this gives us a clear concept of what the Christian life is all about.  In Christ we have been given every imaginable blessing of any value.  Not necessarily physical blessings but meaning and fulfillment in this life and perfect bliss for eternity enjoying all the fullness of God forever.  And all God asks is that we take these blessings and prove our love for him during this life even amid its difficulties.  In this sense we are to do what Israel never could because the new covenant gives us the power to do what the old could not.

This means that as fallen creatures we can do what even our first parents could not.  Although placed in a perfect environment they failed to serve the Lord above themselves.  The power of the new covenant enables us to serve the Lord in the worst of circumstances.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The New Nature of Every Saint

Heb 11:6  And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

We are going through Hebrews 11 at church right now and learning what it is to live by faith.  One point that many are confused on is that this is not optional for a few “super saints”.  All who have saving faith continue to live a faithful way or they were never saved to begin with.  Let me expand on this a bit.

The Westminster Confession of Faith states that we are saved by faith alone but not by a faith that comes alone.  There are lots of people who unfortunately believe that one can be saved by faith and not lead a fundamentally changed life afterwards and so would disagree with the Confession.  They see the Confession and those who agree with it as adding works to faith for salvation.  Of course this is not what the Confession is saying and it isn’t because it is poorly written that is the fault but the shallow, unbiblical thinking on the part of those who disagree; but let me try to clarify what the Confession is teaching and of course what I believe the Bible teaches very clearly: Faith without works is dead.

What Hebrews is teaching is that saving faith comes with a new nature.  The problem with thinking that we can believe some fact of the cross and presto, we are saved is that the Bible is clear that when God converts a sinner he gives them a new nature; a new heart that loves God more than sin.  So this is more than just saying that if you are really saved you will be good.  It is saying that if you are saved you are a different person all together and so you can’t help but act differently.  So it isn’t just that faith comes with good works as if it is up to us to behave once we are saved but faith comes with a totally new nature; we are converted or changed into a new kind of person.

Let’s illustrate this.  If a cat is given a new nature we still see a cat’s body but it is a dog inside so we must assume some things will automatically change.  If this “dog” still meows and still scratches the furniture and goes up trees and can’t get down, if it still remains aloof and lets you pet it when it feels like it instead of living to be petted and gladly being a nuisance in order to be petted and get attention then it is clear that it is a “doggy hypocrite”!  Let’s face it, what is the most obvious difference between the natures of cats and dogs?  One doesn’t need you and the other does and doesn’t mind proving it!

This is exactly why James could say faith without works is dead or is no saving faith.  The new heart we are given is one that honors Christ over self and lives to that end; imperfectly but also unquestionably, 1Jn 3:9  No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.  1Jn 5:1  Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 1Jn 5:2  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 1Jn 5:3  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 1Jn 5:4  For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith.  It is just hard to see any exceptions; all who are saved are lovers of God and live by faith.

And so the point is this: every true saint is striving to live as a new creation in Christ or they are just fooling themselves.  As with the cat and dog; either you are perfectly happy to do your own thing coming to “god” when it suits you or you need Christ to live and if you don’t have the smile of his face on you, you cannot be happy in this life.