Friday, December 27, 2013

Rethinking What it is to Love the Lord

SoS 2:3 As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. 2:4 He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.

In the Song of Solomon the bride constantly expresses her love for her beloved by describing all his wonderful attributes. We understand this book to describe the love between the Lord and the church or his bride.  In Ephesians we are exhorted to love our wives as Christ has loved the church and gave himself for her.  We know how he loved us in the cross and so we know what our love for our wives should look like.  But the quoted text above is speaking of our love for the Lord.  What I would like to do is to use human love as an illustration for how we are to love the Lord.  I believe a case can be made that we can easily fail to understand what it means to love God as we ought and often love temporal things more intensely than we do the Lord.  If the sum of our duty to him is to love him with all our heart then understanding how to do that is rather important.  So let me offer a few thoughts on loving Christ as we should love our wives.

Think about those things other than God for a moment that we really love.  Hopefully this will include our wives but my example will work for any object.  What do we do with those things that we really love?  We will get one if we can and we study it and get to know it. If it is a sport or musical instrument we will practice and get as good as we can.  If it is a hobby we will read every book on the subject so that we can understand it as well as possible.  We display it; we want others to enjoy it like we do; to see the beauty in it in the way we do.  We certainly speak about it when given half a chance.

If we are speaking specifically of our spouses then true love is seen in that we love to converse with her and get to know her.  I think of the hours we spent on the phone when my wife and I were first getting to know each other.  You care about who she is and what she loves and how she thinks about things.  Love isn’t displayed by only caring about what she can do for you but what you can do for her.  Simply put, you find her interesting.

This is sometimes illustrated in gift-giving.  A good gift for your loved one is not one picked up at the last minute with no real forethought.  A good gift is one that you get based on what she would like.  You take the time to understand her and find something that you know would please her, not yourself.  Suppose I get her a wok for her birthday because I like Chinese food and so I get her a wok so she can make me Chinese food?  It isn’t hard to see that it is my love for self that is my motivation in “celebrating” her birthday.  It is completely backwards.  It isn’t her person that I am in love with but myself.

Now let’s use that to examine how we love the Lord.  As with the betrothed in the Song of Solomon, she is caught up in the loveliness of her beloved and can’t get enough of him.  If we love God we should want to know everything about him well beyond whatever hobby or object and activity that we might love on earth.  But it is right here that we often see a problem. 

I am always puzzled by those who claim to love the Lord but say things like, “We don’t need to be concerned with doctrine or emphasize it; we just need to experience the Lord”.  Does this not sound a lot like I don’t really want to get to know him in the main way he has revealed himself, his Word, I just want to have an emotional, light relationship with him.  In another context we would call this a one night stand, no commitment, just a cheap thrill.  Knowing and experiencing and serving the Lord is more than just getting an emotional high during the church service.  We are exhorted to grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, not just to seek momentary “thrills” that aren’t based on solid truth.  Our Lord is far too glorious to just get emotions and feelings from him.

It is like some marriages that I have the misfortune of seeing now and then.  Here is man who is quite content to live in the same house with his wife, go to work and provide for her, keep up with household repairs, take out the trash and maybe even sleep with her but is just as content to never have a real conversation with her.  He doesn’t care about her thoughts, dreams, desires or how her day went.  As long as she has dinner prepared and is ready in bed when he is then he is content.  That isn’t a biblical marriage, let alone a satisfying one and it won’t work with the Lord either.

A Christian who isn’t interested in careful, thorough, life-long Bible study can’t really be all that interested in getting to know the One he claims to be the love of his life.  Those things that we love, we love to be around and learn about and talk about.  To be content to have a relationship with Christ as long as you know he will be there for you when you need it or just one that is based on feelings and emotional highs but not on carefully listening to what he has to say is really missing the point. 

In my next article I will try to show how all this is related to living in the New Covenant. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Necessity of the Virgin Birth

The following is my message for the Nursing Home this Sunday and I thought it would be a good post for this time of year.

Mat 1:18  Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Mat 1:19  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. Mat 1:20  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Mat 1:21  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." Mat 1:22  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: Mat 1:23  "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). Mat 1:24  When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, Mat 1:25  but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

There have always been those who have denied the virgin birth and I would like to say a few things about it that might be of interest.  There are two things in particular that are most important to understand about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.  1. The Bible unmistakably teaches it and 2. If there is no virgin birth, there is no Christianity; it is vital to understanding who Jesus Christ is and how he could save us from our sins.

1. Both here and in Luke we are told that Mary was a virgin at the time she had Jesus.  He was her first child.  Matthew tells us twice that the child formed in her was from the Holy Spirit, not Joseph.  It happened while they were only engaged.  And we are told that this was what Isaiah was referring to in his prophecies.  Luk 1:34  And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" Luk 1:35  And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God.

So if someone says that this is impossible I would want to ask them a question.  If God can make all that is why can’t he form a baby in a womb?  If God can’t do that then he isn’t much of a God.  Yes, it was never done before and will never be done again but that is no proof that it didn’t happen.  It is a one of a kind event because Jesus is a one of a kind person.  The fact of the matter is that if you believe the Bible, you believe in the virgin birth because it tells us it happened.  If you don’t believe it then you don’t believe the Bible.

2. But the virgin birth isn’t just something that we are to believe as a fact; there is a reason why it happened.  It isn’t just a neat miracle to impress us; it had to happen for Jesus to do his work of salvation.  And this is most important to understand and is another proof that it happened.

The first thing to keep in mind is what Jesus said in Joh 8:56  Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad." Joh 8:57  So the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" Joh 8:58  Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." Joh 8:59  So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.  He plainly states that he existed in Abraham’s day and then refers to himself by the name given at the burning bush when speaking to Moses; he calls himself Yahweh, I Am.  The Jews immediately got this and so tried to stone him.

One reason Jesus had to be virgin born was because he did not just become a human but already existed as God.  In John 1 we read that Jesus is the eternal Word of God who came into the world, Joh 1:9  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. Joh 1:10  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. Joh 1:11  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  So the first fact is that Jesus existed as God before he was born into the world.

All this begs the question then, why did he take on human flesh and become the God/Man?  This is what Paul answers in Php 2:6  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, Php 2:7  but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Php 2:8  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross

If he wasn’t formed by the Holy Spirit in a special way but was just the product of a man and a woman, then he would have been just a regular, sinful man like you and me.  But as God he took on human flesh so that he could do something that being only God or only man could not do.  Being God he was sinless and lived a purely righteous life.  Being man he could die for men, as a man on the cross.  He could pay the penalty of sin for us so that we could be forgiven. 

What the Bible teaches us is that God alone is righteous and he alone is the only one who could save us from sin and so he became a man so that he could suffer the wrath of God that was due us.  It had to be this way because God must be glorified in everything.  So salvation could not be something that we could do on our own or we would be able to boast in our works.  God took on human flesh precisely because we are unable to do anything to merit God’s favor.  Salvation is a free gift from God which is what the word “grace” means. 

We know that this is fully in line with all that the Bible says about our salvation from 1Co 1:28  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 1Co 1:29  so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  One thing no man will be able to do when he stands before the Lord is to point to something he did to merit God’s favor.  

So the virgin birth isn’t just some sentimental story that should only be told at Christmas time; it is one of the foundational truths of our salvation.  If it never happened then there is no mediator to stand between us and the Holy God.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Do We Hold Ourselves Accountable For the Way We Live?

1Co 5:1  It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. 1Co 5:2  And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

In Ch. 5 of 1 Corinthians Paul address the need for church discipline due to gross sin that was going on within the church.  Church discipline is not a pleasant subject and for this reason and others it is usually ignored or greatly modified today.  When sin is not dealt with biblically it is many times excused by saying something like, “Who are we to cast the first stone” or “We want to be tolerant of people’s problems and not cast them out and leave them to fend for themselves” and many more excuses.  But there are a couple of important problems with this kind of thinking.

First of all it basically suggests that we are more holy than God when we disobey under the assumption that we know better than he does.  If he tells us that there are certain sinful lifestyles and actions that cannot be tolerated within the church then that is the end of the conversation.  It would seem that we are indeed capable of understanding that there are times in which we must judge certain sins and sinners as in need of censorship even by other sinners.  In the next chapter when addressing taking each other to court Paul says that Christians are going to be judging the world and angels and so suggests that we have enough light and wisdom to be able to recognize sin and sin’s destructive power and do something about it even in this life.  Only those with light have the ability and right to make judgments on moral issues.

Then we have the idea that we are just as bad as the offender and so shouldn't point the finger.  This sounds humble and spiritual but it is full of problems.  Church discipline as it is set forth in the NT is to be used for gross public, divisive and damaging sins that must be dealt with for the good of the church and the reputation of the Lord.  The problem with such a pseudo-humble attitude is that it fails to take into consideration that all saints have been given a new nature that loves righteousness and hates evil. 

Yes it is easy for us to be self-righteous and to see everyone’s sin but our own, but we are not speaking of merely finding faults with others.  Paul is addressing public, obvious, divisive sins that are demeaning the name of Christ and dangerous to the life and reputation of the church.  Putting all this together Paul is saying that Christians should have enough spiritual sense to recognize activity that cannot be tolerated from the everyday remaining sin in our lives and to love Christ enough to do the hard thing and remove those who will not repent from the church lest we all become party to the same sins.  The Bible teaches that all saints have been changed and that this will lead to a different kind of life than they led before.

If we don’t hold ourselves accountable to the Word and hold each other accountable on serious issues either because we are too lazy (and by that I mean our love for the Lord is so shallow) or with the excuse that we are no better than they are, then two options are available to us.  Either we had better get right with the Lord and get our lives under his control as we are commanded in Scripture or we need to quit pretending that we are saved and disband the church. 

Either we have been transformed and are capable of living lives that honor Christ and can be held accountable by the church to do so or everything the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit is a lie.  But if God’s power can change us and produce some level of purity in the church then we need to pursue that and not make excuses for lives that offer little to no evidence of salvation.  

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Favorable Disposition in Prayer

Neh 2:1  In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. Neh 2:2  And the king said to me, "Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart." Then I was very much afraid.

As I was meditating on Nehemiah as he approached his king with a problem that he was greatly troubled over it seems this account has some parallels with the way we should approach the Lord in prayer.  In those days it could mean the displeasure of the king or even worse to come into his presence looking sad or we might say in a bad mood.  We see this in Esther 4:2 He went up to the entrance of the king's gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king's gate clothed in sackcloth.  When they were around the king his subjects were to look happy assumingly because they were to be happy to be in his presence.  They were to be consumed with him, his rule and doing his will and they were to look happy doing it. 

It was clear to the king that Nehemiah was bothered by something and in this case Nehemiah had the favor of the king and so he asked him what was the matter.  There are a couple of things to see here when it comes to prayer.   I think a case can be made that we pray amiss when we habitually approach the Lord in prayer all out of sorts about our problems but have not started with being focused on the kingdom of God.  One reason earthly kings didn’t allow such displays in the throne room was because their subjects were in essence saying their problems were at least as important as the king.  They were living in their own world with no thought of the greater good of the kingdom.

We are to approach God consumed with his glory and how we can serve him and when we take our concerns to him it is to be in the context of service in his kingdom.  It should not be in the context that we don’t like what is going on and so we are going to complain to him and get him to focus on us and not the other way around.  The Lord has brought us into his kingdom to serve his interest and our needs are met as we do that.  To put it more simply, we are here for him; he is not here for us.  In the grand scheme of things creatures are for the pleasure of the Creator, they were not created to become the focus of the universe.  And this is even more so true when we consider that he is also our Redeemer who has extended grace to rebels and made peace.

And so when we approach the throne room for help let us come before him full of joy and thanksgiving and looking for help in our needs so that we can serve faithfully in the kingdom.  I imagine that too often we come to him having never given a thought to how we can honor him in our situation.  Instead, we find ourselves hurting or in need and run to him with no thoughts of anything but immediate relief. 

But the second thing I see here is a reminder that even though we often are selfish in our prayers, yet because of Christ we find favor and help anyway.  Obviously the king has a favorable disposition towards Nehemiah and so hears and answers his request anyway.  I don’t take this to mean that it really doesn’t matter how we pray but that in Christ we have access and blessings even though we don’t deserve it. 

Verse six might be the reason why Nehemiah gets a favorable response, Neh 2:6  And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), "How long will you be gone, and when will you return?" So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time.  I find it interesting that for some reason we are told that the queen was sitting next to the king.  I don’t think this is ever mentioned elsewhere in the biblical accounts.  Why on earth does this matter?  Some believe that this is none other than Queen Esther.  If this is true then the book of Esther has told us that she was the instrument of salvation, the meditator, between God’s chosen people and the king.  We cannot know for sure if it was her but it reminds us of the fact that because Jesus sits exalted on the right hand of the God of glory we have an advocate.  He is the one who has given the Holy God a favorable disposition towards us to hear our prayers, selfish as they sometimes are, and to answer them for our good and for his glory.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Living By Faith

Rom 1:5  through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,

Rom 10:17  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Hab 2:4  “… but the righteous shall live by his faith.”

It seems that a lot of teaching on faith centers on trusting God.  Of course, I don’t have a problem with that but I do have a problem with separating faith from obedience to the Word of God as if you can trust the Lord even if you aren’t following the Word.  The first two passages above specifically link faith to obedience and the Word of God.  I think a lot of times we just think of it as the Habakkuk passage refers to it.  We speak of living by faith but not by obeying the Word but by simply trusting the Lord.  While biblically they should be seen as the same thing, I think often they are seen as different things entirely.  Let me explain.

Often when some one speaks of living by faith they mean that they are trusting the Lord to take care of them, to lead them, to provide for them, etc.  I am afraid that often that is all they mean.  What we sometimes find is that they make little effort to study God’s Word and so understand God’s will for them.  In other words they are not growing in faith but assume they can live by faith.  They assume that they can trust the Lord to take care of them while they are to some degree ignoring him.  My point is that if this is the case, you aren’t trusting in him to begin with.  At best you are presuming upon him to take care of you while you are busy doing what you want to do.

We see from Romans 10 that faith comes by hearing, or learning, the Word of God; this is growing in the faith of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  I think a more complete way to think of living by faith is to believe God’s revelation and his wisdom and to live accordingly even when this world tells us something differently.  How can I trust in a God I know little about?  How can I obey commands I don’t know?  How can I do all things for the glory of One I know so little about that I cannot love as I ought?

Our faith is proven by living in the eternal truth of God’s revelation to us.  It is to see the wisdom of God and realize that he knows better than we do.  The more we know of God, the bigger he is in our estimation and the more we will trust him and not ourselves.  We trust what he says because of who he is.

Those that mostly see life as something they are to do and then expect God to take care of any messes they make, who take “leaps of faith” that are really foolish decisions based on their desires and will but not on the principles of God’s Word are not living by faith, they are presuming upon the Lord.  

I know that there are many times in my life where that better describes my life rather than living by faith in a biblical sense and I suspect I am not alone.  I want to trust God fully to use me and protect me and strengthen me as I am doing his will; not running behind me cleaning up after me like a parent would a small child who is only doing what he wants to do.   So living by faith is not simply trusting the Lord for help but actively living by his Word regardless of the consequences because we know the Lord will make all things right to them that love him.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Headship of a Husband

Gen 2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. …Gen 2:18 Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him."

As a man and husband and Pastor it doesn’t hurt me every now and then to stop and consider whether I am living up to these three things as the Lord would have me or even putting forth the effort I should.  So as I was considering the above passages some thoughts occurred to me as to the relationship between Adam and Eve and with that the relationship between a man and his wife. 

Without question most people today have completely lost sight of the order that God ordained at creation within the marriage relationship.  If the Bible is clear on anything it is that the man is to be the head of the family and the wife is to submit to that leadership.  As men have capitulated their leadership the family has suffered.  But historically men of all cultures tend to have carried their headship to extremes in the opposite direction.  The problem isn’t that they have let their wives assume the head of the relationship but that husbands have assumed more authority than God has ordained them to have.  Let me explain:

The above verses tell us two very important things.  First of all, in verse 15 we learn that man was put on earth to be God’s steward.  We are here to serve him with all that he has given us which includes our very lives and bodies.  We were never meant to be self-serving and when we are we are committing the very sin that Adam and Eve committed when they fell.  The only time we are fulfilling our purpose in life is when we are doing everything to the glory of God.  Another way to say this is that we were put on earth to be image bearers; God's image.

Secondly, in verse 18, in the context of our purpose for being given life God gives Adam a helper who is fit for him to accomplish his purpose of serving God; a wife; not women in general.  Women are not a subclass of humans to be used by men as they wish.  I would assume any Christian man would agree with this last statement but my point is that this also is true of his wife. 

In other words, his wife is not given to him for his own personal enjoyment or his own personal servant to boss around as he sees fit.  Instead, she is here to help her husband as well as herself be an image bearer. That comes before anything else.  Unfortunately many times this is not how even Christian men have taken the headship of the husband to mean.  They are quick to tell their wives that they are to submit to them but they totally ignore what godly headship means.  Our wives were given to us to help us serve the Lord, not to serve our self-interest that have nothing to do with serving the Lord.  As soon as a husband tries to use the marriage relationship for his own purposes apart from the will of God, he oversteps his authority.  It seems that often what I see, and am certainly guilty myself at times, is that we men love to speak of wifely submission but hate to hold ourselves equally accountable to godly headship.  We love to tell our wives that they are to submit no matter how ungodly we might be acting but never hold ourselves to the same accountability. 

Now clearly as 1 Pet. 3:1 says, submission is a creation ordinance for a wife even if her husband is unsaved, 1Pe 3:1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.  But I don’t believe they are required to submit to their husbands if told to do that which is disobedient to the Lord.  I think some men might disagree with me because they see submission as more important than the charge of the man to love his wife as God loves the church.  But the point of this articles is a call to Christian husbands to quit being hypocritical and hold ourselves just as strongly to godly headship as we hold our wives to.  And if our wives balk at following us when we are being ungodly let us be slow to condemn them when our sin as leaders is greater. 

Why would any of us want to put our wives into a situation in which she must try to decide if she must disobey her husband in order to obey Christ?  We husbands are just as accountable to love our wives and lead them in serving the Lord as they are to submit to that leadership.  And so their lack of submission is no worse a sin than our lack of loving them and being a godly head.  Marriage and life isn’t about us men; it is about our head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"I Shall Come Forth as Gold"

1Co 3:12  Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-- 1Co 3:13  each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 1Co 3:14  If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 1Co 3:15  If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

When I was young I heard a preacher who told us that these verses taught us that we were sending up building supplies for the mansion Jesus was building for us.  If we sinned more than we did good things our mansions would be incomplete or have holes in it when Jesus judged our works.  Of course, one problem with that is that since we sin all the time no one’s mansion would ever be anything worth stepping inside.  The very idea that we can do more good things than evil things is preposterous. 

Of course all this falls apart also if we aren’t going to have mansions in Heaven and I don’t believe John 14 is teaching that.  When Jesus said in John 14 that in his Father’s house are many mansions (KJV) he is referring to places of abode or rooms as the ESV has it.  This makes more sense especially when you consider these are located in his Father’s House, not on his property or whatever.  It is most likely a reference to the rooms in the Temple where the on duty priests stayed while they served.  Jesus is simply saying that it is the Father’s will to have a redeemed people with him in eternity and Jesus was going to the cross to make a way for us to get there.

I believe what Paul is getting at is that all that we do in this life means something.  It either honors the Lord (foundation) and will have everlasting reward or it is not done for the Lord’s glory and has no lasting value.  It is generally assumed that the Day spoken of in the above passage refers to the day that we stand before him and receive reward for those things done in our body and I think that makes perfect sense.  But I also think there is another way that all this takes place as well.

There is a very real and biblical sense in which the trials of life are God’s fire upon us to purify us so that we can produce works of enduring value.  It is interesting that the language Paul uses here is used similarly by other NT writers:

Jas 1:10  and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. Jas 1:11  For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. Jas 1:12  Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.  Here the useless pursuits of the rich man produce no lasting value while those who bear up under trials for the Lord receive an incorruptible crown.

1Pe 1:7  so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Again notice how fire is seen as that which proves the value of the work much like fire removes the dross and purifies gold.  While even gold will eventually perish, those things done for the glory of God will never pass away.

And so while only a Christ honoring life will receive reward; such passages remind us that the most perfect way to prove our faith is under fire, not when everything is going well.  The Lord has his way of helping us prove our faith and at the same time he is the one giving us the strength to endure.  One of our goals as Christians should be to fan the flame of our love for the Lord so that in the day of trial we will come forth as gold. 

And we don’t want to forget that the only hope we shall be saved so as by fire in the Day of Judgment is because we are found in Christ.  He is our assurance, our strength, our only hope.  If I endure through tribulation and ever do anything that glorifies my Savior it will be because of him and yet he promises to reward me while all along giving me the strength to do works that honor him.  Amazing Grace. 

Job 23:10  But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Ezra and Nehemiah

Ezr 8:22  For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, "The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him." Ezr 8:23  So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.

Neh 2:9  Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king's letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen.

We have here two godly men doing much the same work but doing it a little differently.  As I understand it, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are just one book in the original Hebrew Bible.  So on the one hand Ezra feels it would dishonor the Lord to accept a military escort to Jerusalem while Nehemiah decides to accept it.  There might be something to learn in all this since they are included in the same book. 

We know that under the New Covenant we have no promise from God that just because we are doing his work, his way, he will protect us from physical harm or calamity.  Two thousand years of Christian martyrdom proves otherwise.  But for Ezra he believes that to accept the escort would give the impression to the world that the Lord was not as mighty as he has evidently told everyone he was.  So Ezra backs up his faith and his words with his life; he practices what he preaches.

But we read in the following verse in Ezra that he also holds a prayer meeting for the Lord’s help; he doesn’t presume upon the Lord.  There are times when we put ourselves “at risk” for Christ’s sake and we don’t use the usual means we might in order to protect ourselves.  Certainly there would be next to no missionary efforts if we only did things when they were safe, humanly speaking.

But we see Nehemiah in a similar situation using the “normal” means of safety and protection.  I think as we consider these two courses of action that we are reminded that the Christian life isn’t always laid out for us in black and white in the Bible and we are left to work out our salvation as best as we know how according to the general principles laid out in God’s Word.  This means we won’t always know exactly what we are to do but we choose what we do based on what biblically honors the Lord the most and trust God to work out the rest.  The fact that we are told that Nehemiah did take a guard when Ezra didn’t might be a deliberate attempt to point out that what is good one time might not be the best option the next time.

Now I know that this generally scares us to death.  We want the Lord to spell his will out for us so we don’t have to struggle with decisions or spend a lot of time in prayer.  We want it all laid out for us so we can just do it.  But that is not New Testament Christianity.  Instead, whatever we do, whether we eat or drink or whatever, we are to do all for the glory of God and whatever God does with it we accept from his hand.

I believe the normal pattern is the one Nehemiah took.  We trust God while thankfully using the means that He provides. You pray for protection on the highways, but you fasten your seat belt and drive carefully. You pray for healing, but you go to the doctor and take the prescribed medicine. You pray for a job, but you prepare a resume, dress appropriately, and go for job interviews. God normally expects us to use the means He provides, along with faith in Him. 

And the reason I say that is because we can sometimes fall into the error that Christians don’t have to live in this world like everyone else.  We think we should get a pass with the struggles of life and the hard decisions.  But we don’t get to sit back in indifference and laziness while everyone else has to struggle with the effects of sin.  We struggle as well but we have the Lord to explain how to live and to give us promises for being faithful.  We go through all the same things as the lost do but we glorify the Lord in it instead of living for ourselves. 

But sometimes the “normal” means becomes the worldly means which is perhaps what we see with Ezra.  Sometimes the Chinese Christian must openly profess Christ because it is the right thing to do even though he knows it will expose him to danger.  Sometimes there is nothing left for us to do but to get on our knees and turn it over to the Lord and then just wait.  It isn’t always going to be obvious but I think these two passages remind us that sometimes it will be one or the other and that is okay.  Sometimes we take precautions and use the normal means and sometimes we put ourselves at risk to let the Lord demonstrate his power.

And then there are times when it is wrong for us to get on our knees and pray for God to supply our needs when we just plan to sit back and not pound the pavement seeking employment.  “He who will not work, neither let him eat.”  I think often the prayer that God will supply a need without us working or doing the responsible thing is really a prayer that God would supply a need so that I don’t have to work!  What we need is balance, we pray because we know that without the Lord nothing will work out right but we work and are responsible because that is the way God has ordained.  Ezra and no doubt Nehemiah do both and while it didn’t look the same outwardly, they both are blessed by the Lord in their work. 

My last thought is this: Both are blessed because both are serving the Lord and his people.  If that isn’t what is motivating everything we do then prayer isn’t going to help because we can be sure we are praying amiss.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Human wisdom vs. The Wisdom From Above

1Co 2:9  But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him"-- 1Co 2:10  these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

One of the many profitable things about studying the Bible verse by verse in its context is that we sometimes realize that verses we have heard preached all our lives and have quoted ourselves, have been done so out of context which many times results in a misunderstanding.  Verse 9 above is a good example.  It is generally taken to mean that Heaven is so wonderful that we can’t even imagine its glories. 

To be sure this is a truism.  There is no way we can fathom what it will be like to stand before the triune, eternal, omnipotent, holy God.  Paul hints at this in Rom. 8:18 when he tells us that this life cannot compare to the next and in 2 Cor. 12:4 when he is not permitted to relate what he saw while in Heaven.  It is a “no brainer” that we have no real idea what lies ahead, but this verse in 1 Cor. 2 is not referring to that.

The context of chapter 2 is pitting the natural wisdom of man against the wisdom of God that can only be known by special revelation.  Vs. 7 says that while saints have this wisdom, the lost do not; it is hidden from them.  Vs. 8 is a case in point.  Had Herod, Pilot and the Jewish leaders had this wisdom, this revelation and  believed it they would have never have crucified Jesus. 

In this context Paul quotes Isa. 64:4, not verbatim but in spirit.  If you study out Isa. 4 you see that this is used to relate the idea of how wonderful it is for God to reveal himself and have a relationship with man.  Vs. 4 suggests that as a rule no one really understood the glory of God until he comes down and reveals himself to them in some way and this is why Paul uses it in 1 Cor.  The natural man has no interest in the plan of God in saving sinners and bringing them to glory.  The Jews didn’t even see themselves as sinners so they had no interest in a savior who was going to hang on a tree, become cursed by God all for the forgiveness of their sins.

Vs. 10 proves that vs. 9 is speaking of those lost who are in darkness because it says that whatever is hid in vs. 9 from them has been (present tense) revealed to us.  That is why I highlighted it.  Whatever vs. 9 is speaking of we already know it!

So what is the meaning and why make it a point to explain what this verse really means?  First of all, because it is never good to misquote a verse if we change its meaning.  God put it here for a reason which is more important than any point we might want to make by misapplying it.

Secondly, this is showing that the natural man is unable to believe the gospel until God reveals it to him by changing his heart and mind.  To me, this is a decidedly Calvinistic verse in a decidedly Calvinistic couple of chapters.  All of us are born into this life in the darkness of sin in which we love ourselves and hate God and we care nothing for why he made this earth and the salvation he has provided and what is more we are quite happy to remain in the dark.  This is the worldly wisdom of this age that is taught in the universities and promoted in the media.  And if it is held to it will lead us merrily to God’s Judgment. 

What this passage is saying is that unless God comes and reveals himself to us and changes our hearts to believe on him there is no way we can come to the knowledge of salvation on our own.  In other words, this passage is teaching the effects of total depravity and the necessity of the sovereign intervention of God to save without which we are all lost because our darkness won’t allow us to see and love and believe who God is and what he is doing.  If you read through these first two chapters with this in mind I think it will be clear.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Dating Christ But Unwilling to be Married to Him

Hag 1:4  "Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Hag 1:5  Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. Hag 1:6  You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. Hag 1:7  "Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. Hag 1:8  Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD. Hag 1:9  You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.

Every so often I meet someone who denies what Haggai says in the above text.  Of course, if the truth be admitted it is something we all struggle with but some have seemed to have given up the fight entirely.  Haggai tells the people that their lives are not turning out the way they should, that they are not fulfilled because they are living for themselves instead of for God.  They have failed to realize that life can only be fulfilled and meaningful if God is center of it and not just getting along in the flesh.

I have seen this is a couple of obvious ways in people’s lives.  One man told me that his priorities are God, family, church.  My response is that the church is the body of Christ through which God speaks to us and builds us up in the faith.  It is then the place in which your family is fed spiritually and come to learn of God’s will for them. Therefore I would see it more of God, church, family. Of course what he was telling me was that while he has to acknowledge God as the most important thing in his life, after that his next biggest obligation was to take care of and enjoy his family and then attending church comes after that.  More specifically, feeding and protecting his family took precedence over having his family under the ministry of the Word of God. 

Apparently the fallacy of this type of thinking is not as obvious as I might suppose.  My primary response to him is that making sure your family knows God’s will and has the proper relationship with Christ (their spiritual food) is more important than their physical needs.  Of course caring physically for your family is a top priority for any father and husband, but when these two things get mixed up bad things happen just like in the above text.  How many parents will sell their souls so to speak to provide for their families and usually way beyond what they actually need by working during church or being too tired to make it to church and being too busy to train them in the Word of God and their children grow up to follow their example by putting material concerns over spiritual? 

Secondly, this was illustrated oddly enough but not surprisingly by this man’s grown son.  Like so many “Christian” parents, he assumed that the children being involved in all sorts of activities including sports teams was more important than anything else including church services.  Since his son was a gifted baseball player he was involved in all the city and school teams which, of course, means playing on Sundays.  And this in turn meant that the whole family had to support him by being at the games even if it meant missing church. 

When I asked what about having his family in church, his response was that since his boy had committed himself to the team it would be wrong if he didn’t attend all the practices and games.  Now, it is hard for me to take such a response seriously but actually it was quite serious in more ways than one.  My immediate question is what about your supposed commitment to Christ and his body?  What about the souls of your children?  Is it more important to be a good athlete or a good Bible student? 

Yet this is the norm today, not the exception.  Clearly few have any concept of the glory of God and the seriousness of serving him.  I recently heard someone put it like this: “A lot of people are dating the church but are not married to the church.”   Think of it like this, what woman with an ounce of brains and self-respect would agree to have a relationship with a man who just wanted to date her but not commit to marriage with her?  What if he said, “I would like to get together once or twice a week and spend a little time with you but the rest of the week is “me time”.  She would know right off that she wasn’t very high on his list of loves.

And yet many think God will accept this from his creatures.  “God, I have a lot of things I want to do every week, make money, have fun, rest, spend time with others, etc., so when I can I will spend an hour with you and your family but then I have to get back to living my life.  Oh, and sometimes I just won’t have time to get there at all, and I definitely won’t be able to get there more than briefly Sunday morning.”  We are willing to date Christ, but we are not willing to be his bride!  Hearing what he has to say and learning how to serve him is far from the top of our priority list and we wonder why our “faith” doesn’t seem very satisfying, why we don’t get anything out of the messages, why we don’t have much in common with his body, etc. 

Like God said through Haggai, “Consider you ways”.  Busying yourself with your own house while ignoring his house will not end well for you or your family that you say you love.  If we love our families and our own souls we will make sure he has first place in our lives and that our children see that he does.  

Friday, August 30, 2013

What is it to "Preach Christ"?

1Co 2:2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

It is not unusual for many to view Christianity as just another world religion.  There are several reasons someone might think this way but I can think of at least one reason that nominal and even true Christians themselves are guilty of conveying to the lost.  

When the Apostle Paul walked into a city to evangelize he didn’t rent out the local coliseum, hire the best speakers and the best musicians and try to wow the lost into “considering” Christ.  He also didn’t present Christ as the latest and best guru who can turn your life around if you will follow his teachings.  It is this last point in particular and all of the above to some degree that causes more confusion than help in evangelism. 

Many of the best known TV preachers today do not preach the cross of Christ as the focal point for sinners to find forgiveness.  They present Christ as a great teacher and they might claim he is the divine Son of God as well, but they focus on living like he taught as the answer to life’s problems rather than telling sinners to bow the knee to him as Lord and Savior. 

We have referred to this as using Christ to deny Christ.  To present Jesus as someone who teaches us a better way is getting the cart before the horse.  Sinners don’t need to hear how to do better, they don’t need to hear the Sermon on the Mount and be told that they need to straighten up their lives to get freed from the destructive ways of sin.  They need to hear how to have their sins forgiven and be made right with God by the cross of Christ. 

To preach the words of Christ without the cross of Christ will only produce self-righteous, moral hypocrites.  This is why Paul preached the gospel alone when he came into Corinth because sinners don’t need to be told to do better they need to be told that they can’t do better and that is the problem.  To be clear, our first duty is not to point them to Jesus’s teachings and example as if they need to shape up their lives but to point them to a Savior who alone is righteous.

Preaching Christ is not to be done in a way to get what we want; it is to display the glory of Christ Jesus and our need of him.  I believe John Piper put it something like this, “Watch out for the preachers who never mention these things, for whom the cross is a mere token symbol, for whom the exceeding sinfulness of all our hearts is scarcely mentioned, who use power, wisdom, fame, and luxury to beckon the self-centered middle-class American to consider himself Christian at no cost to his pride and self-sufficiency.” 

Others, like the slick TV preachers, think we have to sell Christ to the lost, make him and following him look so attractive and the answer to all their problems so that they will jump on board.  They make him look attractive by suggesting that we are capable of living in such a way to invoke the blessings of God.  This is just another form of legalism that thinks God’s blessings come from some other source than the cross.  As I said to begin with, all this does is make Christianity look like every other religion that tells sinners there is something they can do to gain God’s favor.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Refusing the Blessings of the Lord

2Ch 36:20  He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 2Ch 36:21  to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.

Israel had failed to keep the covenant in pretty much every area but here the Lord is clear that the length of their captivity is determined by the number of times they failed to keep the Sabbath years.  Apparently they had failed to do this at 70 times and so now the land will get its rest.  We might wonder why the Lord chose this particular sin to determine the length of their punishment.

For one thing God had told them before they entered the land that this would happen if they failed to keep the covenant, Lev 26:34  "Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies' land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. Lev 26:35  As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it.  And I think that one reason he uses this particular sin is because it is a sin that attacks his very person in a very “in your face” kind of way.  And I say that knowing that all sin is a personal attack on the Lord.

Briefly this law was a command to be blessed by the Lord as all commands are but this one is so obvious that it is good to remind ourselves of it.  Every seventh year they were not to plant anything.  They were told to take the year off, let the land rest and just enjoy the Lord.  In Lev. 25 when he gives the particulars of the law he says that on the sixth year they shall get such a large crop that they will have enough for three years.  In other words, they would have enough for the next year, and since they were not to plant anything the next year, they would have enough for that second year and even though they would plant on the second year the Lord was giving them an extra year to boot so they could be generous to those in need.  You see why this was such a wonderful Law.  They were given every seventh year off from having to work the farm and make a living. 

And so think of the sin here.  On the sixth year everyone got a triple harvest and yet it seems the majority of the people either wouldn’t trust the Lord to take care of them through the next two years and even worse even though they had all they needed in their hand they still wanted more and went ahead and planted anyway.  Either way they were not content and satisfied with the Lord neither would they commit themselves to his care.  It seems the Lord took it pretty personally and we wouldn’t expect anything less.  I would add to this that if they lived this way every seventh year we can pretty much assume they lived like this the other six years.  God was being very gracious to hold just the Sabbath years against them when they were failing to trust him pretty much nonstop. 

Their actions were the opposite of living by faith which isn’t just trusting the Lord but living for him and being satisfied in knowing and having him.  This is a good lesson for us to remember.  The Lord has promised to supply all that we need and I think of Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.  As a rule he does and gives us more than we actually need.  And yet, like Israel of old, we often fail to look back on his years of blessings and provisions neither do we look forward in faith based on his promises and keep on working and worrying like all that matters is making as much money as we can.  We act like if we don’t take care of ourselves no one will.  And we live as if taking the time to enjoy and serve the Lord isn’t as important as securing our place in this world.  Like Israel we forget that our “crops” are given to us to serve him and we come to believe that our life is ours to live as we want. 

No wonder the Lord picks this epic failure as the key point in the length of the Babylonian Captivity.  

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Deu 28:63  And as the LORD took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the LORD will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.

Without question the above verse should cause a Christian to do some serious reflection on just exactly who God is and what he expects of his creatures.  It isn’t a passage that we should read through casually for sure.  But I think equally obvious is that most people and probably most Christian don’t realize the Bible even contains such passages.  When our theology is mostly a questionable interpretation of John 3:16 it is going to be very difficult to understand a God who does all things for his own glory including judging sinners instead of trying to get as many saved as he can. 

The fact of the matter is that sin brings God's wrath upon the sinner.  Sin is to live our way and to reject God as the sole reason and motivation for living.  Such an affront to God must be punished if God is a righteous Judge.  I recently made a statement while preaching that we are not saved from sin so much as we are saved from the wrath of God.  Such a statement caused some of my own people who have heard such preaching before to take notice.  I suppose it is because in modern times we tend to hear only that God loves everyone and very little else about the nature of God. 

Right after I made this statement in a message I had it illustrated to me when I came across a recent development in the Presbyterian Church USA.  It looks like the committee putting together their new hymnal has rejected the Getty song, “In Christ Alone”.  The reason stated is because it contains the phrase, “Till on that cross as Jesus died/The wrath of God was satisfied”. 

One wonders why this would cause controversy.  The Bible speaks of the wrath of God towards sinners throughout, Rom 1:18  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  Eph 2:3  among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  

But evidently there are many in the PCUSA (and all other denominations) that don’t want to think about the wrath of God.  They asked the Gettys if they could change the words to, “As Jesus died/The love of God was magnified”.  Thankfully the Gettys said no.  There is certainly nothing wrong with what the committee wanted to change the lyrics to but it is the fact that they were offended by the first ones that show why these lyrics cannot be changed.  Too many today have no idea that they are going to face a wrathful God someday unless they repent and believe in Jesus. 

By rewriting biblical truth we take the teeth out of the gospel.  If God loves us just as we are then what incentive do we have to repent lest we fall into the hands of an angry God if God, in fact, isn’t really angry at all?  By all accounts Jonathan Edwards was a dry speaker who read his sermons verbatim.  Yet it was through his and other’s preaching about “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” that led to the Great Awakening.  I imagine this explains the ineffectiveness of the church in our day when some are doing everything they can to remove all references to this “Angry God”

Monday, July 22, 2013

Don't Worry About the Secret Things, Live in the Light

Gen 42:36  And Jacob their father said to them, "You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me."

Act 23:11  The following night the Lord stood by him and said, "Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome."

You might be wondering what these two verses have in common other than they are both in the Bible.  What they have in common is that they both speak of what God calls all Christian to experience in this life.  A lot of people, especially those who speak on TV seem to think that once you decide to become a Christian God is so happy to have you in the family he will do whatever it takes to make you happy and trouble free in this life as long as you have faith. 

What the Bible actually teaches us is that the call to serve the Lord as Christians is to live in weakness so that the power of God can be seen in us, 2Co 12:9  But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2Co 12:10  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  Paul is a good example of this in that while he served and glorified the Lord as well as anyone before or after his time, he did it through primarily suffering, not comfort.

With that in mind the above two texts start to come together for us.  In Jacob’s case he couldn’t seem to fathom why the Lord was taking his sons away from him.  He seems to have resigned himself to this and is willing to accept it from the Lord but he is missing something very important in his thinking.  The Lord is not just being cruel; he was actually putting his family through all this in order to supply food for them so that they would not starve to death.  He didn’t have Romans 8:28 to read like we do so we should expect more of our faith since we have more revelation to believe in.  We know that all the hardships and trials and what to us seems like needless suffering is actually God working in us an opportunity to display his glory and teach us that he is better than what this world offers. 

Paul’s case teaches us this also.  The Lord tells him that he is going to eventually get to go to Rome and preach the gospel.  But Paul isn’t told immediately that the way to Rome is the way of hardship, not glory.  The Lord gets the glory when in our weakness we succeed and in suffering we are faithful, joyful and content.  So while Paul is fully in God’s will, it is clear that God’s will is trial not comfort.

Let me say it like this: we must not live by his providence but by his precepts.  By his providence I mean what seem to us as circumstances.  We many times can’t put his providence together to make any sense.  It seems like random circumstance even though we know that is not the case.  The lost live by “happenstance” of everyday life, unable to make any sense of it, having no direction as to what is going on and what to do about it.  We can’t understand his providence but we can understand his Word.  Only his Word provides a foundation for living.  We can easily misinterpret circumstance just like Jacob did and get depressed or fearful or worried.  But if we keep in mind what God says about life we will realize that suffering is what we have been called unto and be patient and joyful in tribulation because we have the light of God’s Word to explain what is really going on and how it is all going to end. 

So we live by the Word and watch God do his work and not fall apart in the mean time because this is the way he works.  We leave providence to the Lord and worry about what he has revealed to us, Deu 29:29  "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.  Why worry about what we cannot know when the Bible is there to guide our way?  

Psa 119:104  Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Psa 119:105  Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Working Up a Thirst

Joh 19:28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), "I thirst." 

Far from being merely an historical account of Jesus’ death, the Gospels recount these events in such a way to explain what is going on spiritually.  John alone omits the three hours of darkness as Jesus hung on the cross but he is the only to tell us that Jesus said “I thirst” after the three hours of darkness.  Why does Jesus call out only minutes before he gives up his life that he is thirsty?  Was it necessary for him to get a drink and then die?  I think the word “thirst” is significant.

When someone is thirsty we might say that it is because they have exerted some sort of work and are weary because of it.  I think this is the point here.  He was doubtless thirsty three hours before but it is here that he proclaims his thirst.  His thirst right after his great work of making atonement for sin, of bearing the wrath of God, of suffering the effects of the curse points to the fact that he has done some great work and is therefore thirsty.  This comes right after the three hours of darkness when he suffers the separation from the Father as the Father’s wrath is poured out on him.  This is specifically the work of substitutionary atonement in which he does the work that we could not do for ourselves. 

He told the woman at the well that if she would believe in him or drink from spiritual water she shall never thirst again.  How can he keep this promise?  Because he in his death has provided eternal life, he became thirsty by doing a work that we could not do so that we would never thirst like he did that day.  He took our shame, pain, death, punishment, abandonment, Hell, burden, all the futility and all the unfilled desires that sin brings.  He suffered the abandonment of God so that we never will have to.

The Samaritan woman’s thirst, not just physically but spiritually would be continuous because she had no way to gain life in herself.  Hell is eternal for this very reason.  Sin will always leave us wanting because to be separated from God is to never be fulfilled, never happy, never satisfied, totally ruined.  Only in Jesus’s work can sin be atoned for and our “thirst” be satisfied. 

I am glad that one day Jesus was thirsty so that someday I never will be in need of anything again.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Scene At Calvary

Mat 27:39  And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads Mat 27:40  and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." Mat 27:41  So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, Mat 27:42  "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. Mat 27:43  He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, 'I am the Son of God.'"

Matthew has recorded the events of Jesus’s crucifixion with little scenes in which the way it is played out teaches us of what is really going on during this time.  For example as Jesus is forced to wear the crown of thorns there are a couple of things we see.  First of all by accepting the mockery and suffering of the cross he is actually doing what is necessary for him to receive a kingdom and wear a true crown.  As he stands before them bearing a crown of thorns, the irony is that he is their king whether they realize it or not; by pushing that cruel crown upon him they were helping him get a better one.  Secondly thorns speak of the curse of sin that came upon us at the fall in the Garden of Eden.  The crown of thorns on his head was a picture that he was bearing the curse for us so we could escape the effects of the fall.

In the verses quoted above we have more irony that depicts what is going on at the cross in a spiritual sense.  In vs. 40-42, they say to come down off the cross and save himself.  In vs. 42 they make a statement that rings throughout history, “He saved others; he cannot save himself”.  Actually this is a completely true statement.  If he came down off the cross and saved himself he would not be able to save anyone.  To save others he could not save himself!  They might have believed something about him if he came down off the cross but they would not be able to believe on him as their savior because saving himself would have made him an unsuitable sacrifice for sin.  If he came down off the cross we would not be saved.

Then in vs. 43 they unwittingly make another true statement.  “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now”.  He did in fact trust in God and the Father delivers him through the sufferings of the cross.  Ironically this is exactly true of anyone who will trust in God for salvation through Jesus Christ.  If you trust in his sacrifice on the cross as your only hope God will deliver you in the Day of Judgment. 

Surely Matthew 27 is the focal point of human history!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Examining Our Prayers

Jas 4:2  Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Jas 4:3  Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

Sometimes those of us who correctly stress the sovereignty of God can fall into a trap of thinking, at least subconsciously perhaps, that the means to God’s decreed ends are not all that important.  Hyper-Calvinism tends to think like this by assuming that just because the Lord has elected some unto salvation, it doesn’t matter whether we take the gospel to them or even if they believe; they must be saved regardless.  But this is unbiblical thinking since the same God also decreed the means in which he saves which is through repentance of sins and faith in the finished work of Christ. 

The same can be said of the means by which God often works in our lives which is through the prayers of the saints.  To simply not pray or be lax in praying because you assume that God’s will is going to be done regardless misses the point of why we are to pray.  There are some things to keep in mind here:

1. While God has determined all things from the beginning to the end and none shall stay his hand, he has graciously chosen to bring about much of his purposes by allowing us to share in his work by praying for them to come about.  Another way we put this is that he has chosen the means to the end just as surely as he has chosen the ends themselves. 

2. God loves to respond to our asking and our caring and our pleading.  He does not respond lovingly to apathy.  The reason for this should be obvious.  He is too glorious and his work too important and wise for us to be apathetic towards him or what he is doing.  Apathy in prayer means we don’t consider his work to be overly important and there is no burning desire to see his will done.  One cannot show love with apathy.  God is glorified by our coming to him because there is no one else to go to and because we have a heartfelt desire to see his will done.  The lack of prayer demonstrates little love for the things of God and he is not going to bless coolness in our love for him. 

I can prove this biblically from Ezekiel 36.  After promising that he will establish a new covenant by giving us new hearts and his Spirit will indwell us and no hint that there are any conditions left for us to fulfill, he then makes an interesting statement in vs. 37,  "Thus says the Lord GOD: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock.”.  It is going to happen as sure as there is a Sun in the sky but it won’t happen without us asking for it. 

Let me make one more application from this.  If the blessings of the Lord towards us come in part through our faithful prayers it might do us good to examine how we pray and what we pray for.  Examine your prayers for the church, for your children, for the lost, for your marriage, etc.  Do these look pretty cold and uninterested when compared to your finances or health or material desires?  Are we more passionate in our prayers for temporal things than we are for our spiritual needs and the work of God?  And perhaps when we start putting it all together it is no surprise at some of the things going on in our lives.  Let’s show the Lord that his glory is our greatest desire and see what he will do.