Friday, August 22, 2014

Preparing the Way for the Messiah

Isa 40:3  A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Isa 40:4  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

The Gospels are very clear that these verses are referring to John the Baptist.  Even John quotes them when he is asked who he was.  He doesn’t use his given name but refers to himself as this voice that was preparing a way for the coming Messiah.  His whole identity is wrapped up in his relationship to God which is an important lesson for us but I want to go in a different direction in this article. 

In the days of Isaiah the custom was to go out and smooth out the road the coming king would be traveling on for his comfort.  But this begs the question, how was John preparing the way for the Messiah.  We know that he didn’t actually smooth an actual road for Jesus so what is being referred to here?  He is called a voice, not a bulldozer operator.  That is a big clue that he is preparing the way through preaching.  As we study what John did do we begin to piece it together.  He preached a coming King who was going to set up an everlasting kingdom and one entered it through repentance and faith; pretty much the exact same thing Jesus preached.  In fact, we could say that he prepared a people for the Lord by preaching the gospel not unlike today.

So he was preparing a people for the King since this kingdom only exists in people.  Jesus makes the spiritual nature of the kingdom abundantly clear when he said that if anyone says it is here or there don’t believe them because it is within a person.  It wasn’t about smoothing a road for a king to come to a location but creating a kingdom in the hearts of people that he can reign over them spiritually.  This is why Jesus told Nicodemus that one could only enter it by being born again, not by being a Jew or any other way.

To see John’s ministry as trying to get the location of Palestine ready for Christ to rule sort of misses the point.  Jesus didn’t come to offer the Jews the chance for him to reestablish a kingdom in Jerusalem.  He came to set up an everlasting kingdom in the hearts of the elect that will ultimately see its final form in a new heavens and new earth. 

So while Christians for the most part know that these verses are fulfilled in John the Baptist, there are some who completely miss the point of what kind of kingdom is being prepared by John and Jesus.  Even though the kingdom terminology is always couched in the spiritual terms like those used above, some insist that Jesus was indeed trying to set up a kingdom in the location of Palestine; that the kingdom prophesied in the OT was for the Jews with the Messiah physically sitting on a throne in Jerusalem.  This kingdom, they say, was rejected and postponed until a later time.  There are many ways to refute this take on the kingdom but let me point out one just from Isaiah 40.

The problem is that there is no biblical suggestion that the Lord was ever going to come and offer anything that could be rejected.  In fact, the next several chapters are some of the clearest passages in all the Bible of God’s sovereignty.  Notice just in the next few verses that deal with God coming at the time of John the Baptist that there is no hint that he might get rejected but if anything is clear it is that he is going to come in power and do just what he intends to do.  Notice particularly vss. 10-11, Isa 40:10  Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. Isa 40:11  He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.  Remember, this is prophesied in the context of John the Baptist’s ministry.  Isaiah is telling the people that the Lord is going to come with a show of strength and gather a people.  One thing is clear, he isn’t saying that the Messiah is going to come in a show of weakness and offer the Jews a kingdom and that they will override his will in order to do their own will!

Where is even the possibility that none of this is going to take place until much further along in time found in Scripture?  Are we to assume that the Jews of some future date are going to be more willing to accept Jesus than the Jews of 2000 years ago?  Do the plans of God only come to pass if man allows it?  Does not the theology that man has the deciding factor in deciding whether to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior sound a lot like this theology that the Jews can decide when and whether Jesus will set up his kingdom? 

I would challenge anyone to read Isa. 40-48 and find anything other than a sovereign God who does his will among men and not the other way around.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Is Peace a Dangerous Thing?

Rom 5:1  Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Rom 8:1  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Php 4:7  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The verses above speak of the two aspects of peace that come with conversion.  The ones in Romans refer to having peace with God whose wrath formerly was against us due to our sin.  Having our sins forgiven in Christ we are no longer condemned but now enjoy a relationship with God as being perfectly righteous having Jesus’ righteousness imputed to us.  We stand in Christ sinless because he has given us his righteousness. 

This in turn clears our conscience knowing that our sins are no longer separating us from God and so we have peace within.  We can enjoy life without constantly worrying about death and the judgment.  All this is pretty basic stuff for most saints but is completely hidden from those outside of Christ.

I recently learned of a leader in the Roman Catholic Church during the Counter Reformation in the 1500’s.  He made an interesting and telling statement concerning the Reformation led by Luther and Calvin.  He said that the most dangerous thing about the Reformation was that it gave peace!  Think of it, why would anyone consider having peace with God a dangerous thing?

It isn’t hard to see the thinking behind this statement once you realize the theology that produced it.  The last think any cult wants is for their adherents to have assurance.  Once you are sure of your salvation they lose control over you.  As long as you think your salvation is in the hands of your leader you will do whatever they tell you.  There were a couple of problems (of many) with Catholicism that inspired Luther to start the Reformation; both deal with this very issue of peace.

One was the fact that he was never sure he had done enough and was sincere enough to merit salvation.  In other words he constantly worried that he had fallen from grace if he was ever in it to begin with.  Catholic theology aided this thinking because one was supposed to constantly have your sins forgiven by taking mass and confession and any number of things.  So if you constantly need to have the sins you were committing daily forgiven how could you ever know that the slate was clean?  Of course, you can’t and that is why another teaching of the Roman Church is that everyone gets to spend time in purgatory to “finish up” the atoning of your sins.

The other thing that bothered Luther was all the indulgences.  There were any number of works and purchases one could make to have your sins forgiven and shorten time in Purgatory.  Of course, each and every one of these was established by the Church but not mentioned in the Bible.  In fact the Bible only speaks of one way to have your sins forgiven and have peace with God, through faith in Christ’s work and it specifically says not our works, Tit 3:5  he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit

It isn’t hard to see that the basis for our salvation has everything to do with our ability to have peace.  If it is up to me I am floating in a sea of doubt; if it rests on Christ’s righteousness I couldn’t be safer or more at peace.

Unfortunately this same peace is the enemy of many Arminians.  I speak especially of those that believe you can sin away and lose your salvation because it was up to you to believe to begin with.  We might call them consistent Arminians since those that believe that we have the freewill to believe and once we do God won’t let us lose our salvation are trying to have their cake and eat it too. 

The reason these don’t like the doctrine of eternal security or peace is because they think to believe you can’t lose your salvation destroys your incentive to obey God or behave.  So by hanging over their heads the threat of losing your salvation if you don’t behave they keep one worried if they are doing enough to stay saved.  And it is very easy to see that this is pretty much the same stance as Roman Catholicism.  They might not all be doing it with the same sinister and crass motives that Rome has throughout the church age but in both cases they see peace and assurance as an enemy. 

At the end of the day this is all about exalting Christ and his finished work or exalting our efforts.  One is Christianity and the other is man centered religion.  One gives peace, something this world desperately needs; the other keeps one in bondage to his own goodness and that is certainly nothing to trust in and can never bring peace.