Friday, January 25, 2019

What Christ's Baptism Means For Us

After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

We can talk about the details of this passage and stick to the surface, or we can go deep and see what it means for us. The surface discussion provides some interesting things.  For example, did only Jesus see the dove? Or was it Jesus and John? Or was it everyone? Once again, these are fascinating things to talk about, but the point of this passage, and all passages of scripture, is to glorify Christ and reveal to us what he has done for us by way of salvation.

So, I want to look at three aspects of this pair of verses and what they mean for us:

I. The heavens were opened,
II. The Spirit descended as a dove, and
III. The voice spoke from heaven.

I. The heavens were opened. What is up there? Vacuum? Emptiness? Void? Darkness and void were there before creation, and now we live post-creation. We are told by the world that in the heavens above is vast, empty space with scattered bodies like stars and galaxies and nebulae. For the most part, the implication is that space is mostly NOTHING. This is bleak and discouraging. However, with Christ, the heavens are actually opened up, and the reality behind the emptiness is revealed. When Stephen was being stoned in Acts 7, the heavens opened to him and he saw Christ seated at the right hand of the Father. The point is that Christ reveals to us that there is more to heaven than space.

There is not only a place to receive us after death, a place that is not vast emptiness, but it is a place opened for all believers, all who have a penitent and abiding faith in Christ. God's love and light come to us from above, and we are given boldness to enter into that holy place. Jesus Christ, we know, is the ladder upon which the angels ascend and descend from above. Through Christ we can communicate with God, have communion with God, and learn from God, obeying his divine commandments and repenting through Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.

II. The Spirit descended as a dove. Christ did not need to receive the Holy Spirit as a believer does. But the guiding of his ministry is by the Holy Spirit, and so the Spirit is with him as he works. The Spirit is continually working in a guiding role for the Church, even as he works inside all believers. As Christ has the Spirit upon him, and as he is married to the church, the church therefore has the Spirit upon her. Gifts, graces, and comforts all come to the church by the Holy Spirit.

The dove is the prefect symbol of innocence and peace. Harmless and inoffensive, the Spirit enabled Christ's humanity to not cry out or fight back during his passion. The Spirit enables us to be peacemakers, to be mourners, essentially to fulfill all the beatitudes, just as Christ fulfilled them. The dove inspires penitence, living sacrifice, and purity. The dove brings good tidings, as it did to Noah, and it still does through the church to the world that God forgives and saves sinners. That reconciliation with God is not only possible but can be obtained only through Jesus Christ.

III. The voice of the Father from heaven. The Father is a vast mind, so it makes sense that one cannot see an image of him, but certainly, because the Word of God is so paramount, we can hear his voice. And what's more, the voice that we hear is eternally presenting the gospel. What does the gospel tell? This is my son. This is he. Right here. This is the way I have made for salvation. There is no other. From the beginning, I have planned this to be the only way to be saved, and now, everyone here can see that this is he, the messiah, standing before you. "This is my son," means. "this is my way." This is redemption. This way comes directly from God, like a son begotten from a father. He is mediator, the go-between for church and God. Once again, he is the ladder that connects heaven and earth. In him we find the elect, for he is elect, and his church is his bride, and therefore she is elect by marriage. He is the covenant of grace, in which all believers dwell. Finally, he is the sacrifice for our sins. His death brings us eternal life. He is the substitution for God's wrath. We find life and love only in him.

Note that the voice does not say, "with him I am well pleased," but "in him I am well pleased." God is pleased in him, and so God is pleased with all who are in him. All who are united to Christ by faith also share in God's pleasure. When we were outside of Christ, we were recipients of God's wrath, but now we are in Christ, and so his anger is turned away. We are accepted in the beloved. None come to the father except through the son. In him our living sacrifice is acceptable to God. In him the gospel can be successfully preached. In him our war against sin is possible and battles are finally won. With God, we should be able to say, "This is our savior, in whom we are well pleased."

Look to the heavens and know that there is not only something there, but what is there is the ultimate reality. See the dove and know that, by the Holy Spirit, reconciliation with God and peace with the world is possible. Look to Christ and know that redemption is real and has been given freely to all who put their trust in him. Look to me and be saved, all ye ends of the earth, for I am God and there is no other (Isaiah 45:22).

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Marrow of Modern Divinity

25 parts of my reading of the Marrow are on YouTube so far, and I try to be regular about posting one part a day.  Check out the series for yourself:

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Saturday, January 5, 2019

Out of Egypt

Out of Egypt I Called My Son (Hosea 11:1)

God loves his church, like a husband loves his bride, and like a father loves his son. He has had great care in us before the foundation of the world, in his elect, and like a doting father he has loved us from the beginning.  When we were new children in Christ, when we were born again, he revealed himself to us as the creator of our souls and source of our rest. We were born into sin, because of our first father, Adam, and while we were yet sinners, in that state of unrepentant slavery to sin, God picked us up and took us into his arms.  That laborious drudgery of a fallen soul with nowhere to turn, lost in his own despair, cries out for salvation, and God, our father, loving us from when we were young, comes to our rescue.

Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, but our old man, our false king, our sinful master, who beats us and brands us his own, our Herod, hears about the true king, the real king, who has come to redeem his people, and he sets up a plan to destroy our salvator. Joseph is warned in a dream, and he takes his wife and newborn son down to Egypt to hide, until the sinful, old man is dead, the Herod who ruled over us in our lost state, is dead. The son comes back to Israel.  We cried out in Egypt and the son was brought near.  His blood spilled over the doorways to protect us from the creeping death.  Now that the old ruler of our hearts is dead, we are free to come home, but first we must travel through the wilderness.

The prophets warned us.  The prophets still warn the church.  They warned Israel.  Moses warned them, and then all the rest of the prophets over the centuries.  They called them to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.  John the Baptist called them again in the time of Christ.  However, the Israelites rejected Moses.  They rejected the sound teachings of God.  They rejected his commandments.  The more the prophets preached, the more the church fled from the sound counsel of the Lord.  The more the church slipped in to idolatry.  We see this in history, and we see this in our own lives.  The time spent on YouTube could have been time spent with the Lord in his Word, and the more we are called to pray to God, it seems the more we run in the opposite direction and look for something damnable to do with ourselves.

Yet he taught us to walk. God held our hands and showed us how to step. And we repay him by walking in the wrong path.  We choose the wide path of destruction, not the narrow path of Christ.  He took us in our arms, and then we pushed him away.  He healed our hearts, and then we attributed the healing to worldly things and celebrated the darkness.  God restrains us from self-destruction and heinous ruin, and yet we complain that he fastened any kind of yoke to us, even though the bonds he gave us were easy and the burden light.  The cords he ties us with improve us, but our sin cries out that he has made our lives worse.  Every word that comes from his mouth is precious remedy for our souls, and yet we spit his word out of our mouth as if it were poison.

We will not return to the land of Egypt.  Our old lives are truly behind us, but many will attempt to return there, and what they will find is much, much worse than Egypt.  In Egypt, God was there, he sustained us and gave us good things, even in our adversity.  In Assyria, where the unrepentant sinner is bound, there is no solace from God.  There is no hope.  When we go to Assyria, we ask God to forsake us.  We ask him to remove himself from our lives forever, and when that happens, we realize how much God had been caring for us all along, now that it is gone.  We refuse to return, because the sanctifying wilderness is too rough, and we would rather return to our place of sin.  But now, our sin has overtaken us, and it is in complete control of our lives.  When all is sin, all is death, and all is sorrow.

But he will never give up his elect.  He will never surrender his true church.  He will never destroy us, and his heart breaks for us.  He is compassionate, slow to anger, and he is patient for us to awaken and return to him.  We will walk the narrow way, because he is fierce and strong, and he is our protector.  Like the child who is severely disciplined, he trembles and shakes as he returns to the father's side in repentance and awe.

Jesus died for our sins.  He came to Egypt to rescue us, and he led us away from sin and death.  He opened his arms and embraced us.  Now, we go through trials, we go through wilderness, and we are tempted to walk away from it all, back to our sins in Egypt, not knowing that we will not get Egypt but Assyria.  Go trembling to the side of the father through the love of the son.  Only through Christ is one redeemed.  He suffered all things on our behalf, so that we would not suffer again for eternity.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The True King

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah;
For out of you shall come forth a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1-12)

1. Herod is the acting king of the House of David.
2. These Magi are gentiles from the east.
3. Magi are a caste of wise men specializing in astronomy, astrology, and natural science.
4. Science points toward God, not away from God.
5. The Magi are looking for the true king of the House of David.
6. Herod is not the true king.
7. The Magi have come to worship the true king.
8. Herod is troubled by this news, and all of Jerusalem is troubled along with him.

As it says in the first verses of the gospel of John:

There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:9-13)

In Matthew 2, we see Israel, in name only, greatly disturbed by these gentiles from the east searching for the true king. These Magi are scientists who have followed their science to the true king of Israel, and they are willing to worship this king.  They are olive branches grafted onto the tree of Israel, and the shuddering inhabitants of Jerusalem are dead branches which are to be pruned from the tree.

This is the Epiphany: everything you assumed to be true is wrong, and the light has come into the world to shine its truth upon Christ. If we look at Romans 9, we can see some nuances that we may not have seen before. This sentence in Romans 9:7: "Through Isaac Your Descendants Will Be Named (Called)." Abraham had two sons, but Isaac is in Christ and Ishmael is not. Isaac had two sons, but Jacob is in Christ and Esau is not. Those in Jacob are called to God's purpose. Those in Esau are not. However, Esau was born first, which traditionally meant that he was to get all the inheritance. However, God has his secret election of individuals, those whom he sees as being in Christ. The Magi point to this election: gentiles whose science leads them to Christ. But the sitting king and the people of Jerusalem, though they be physical descendants of Jacob, they be spiritual descendants of Esau.

The birth of Christ turned everything upside down, and our rebirth in Christ turns everything upside down in us. Are you following the star? Are you being led more and more into Christ? So many clues abound in scripture about those who have thought themselves to be rejected actually being the ones approved. God wants you to know that you are not left out. You, too, can be his. Follow the star to where it leads.