Saturday, April 20, 2019

Brethren

Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.” (Matthew 28:10).

1. When Jesus mentions his "brethren" in this verse, he is not talking about his natural family. In Matthew 12:46-50, Jesus' natural mother and brothers seek him, wishing to speak with him. Jesus asked, in response, "who is my mother and who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Behold, my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother." So, we know from these verses that Christ's disciples are more closely related to him than his natural family.

2. Now, we learned from John 8 that not all disciples can be called such. One can follow Jesus and not put his faith in him for his salvation. At the end of Matthew 28 we read, "But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee." So, when Jesus designated his "brethren" to meet him, he was not talking about the mass of followers but specifically the eleven, those whom he knew would put their trust in him, those who indeed had left their livelihoods to be with him.

3. However, the great commission Jesus gives to his eleven disciples encourages them to make disciples of all the nations. He's not talking about making disciples of the kind who may follow for a time and then fall away, who are believing Christ's teaching until something they don't like comes up. Jesus is talking about making disciples of the kind the eleven are, those who put their full trust in Christ for their salvation, for the forgiveness of their sins.

4. In Romans 8, Paul tells us for these specific disciples, God causes all things to work together for good. These are the disciples who truly love God, because they are putting their faith in him. God works things out for their good, even dark trials and tribulations are part of this working out. These disciples are called to him. This is not a general call of discipleship but a special calling into a spiritual family. God knew whom he was going to call from the foundation of the world. And these individuals are being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Even more than being called brethren in name only, true believers are transformed into the kind of people that please God, making them brethren of the spirit as well.

5. None of this would be possible without the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 2:9-18 tells us that Christ has done the following for those he calls his brethren:

a. He gives us understanding of the gospel. We identify Jesus Christ as the only way to the Father.
b. He tastes death on our behalf, so that we may have eternal life.
c. He suffers for our salvation and glory.
d. He cleanses us to be fit for the Father's presence, just as he is clean. We can call him brother.
e. He also takes possession of us. The Father chose us before the foundation of the world and has given us to his Son.
f. He destroys the power of the devil over us.
g. He frees us from slavery to sin and death.
h. He makes us descendants of Abraham through faith.
i. He is merciful and faithful to his brethren.
j. He is our great high priest, sacrificing himself for the sins of the brethren and reconciling us to the Father.

Finally, his resurrection ensures that he will raise his brethren up on the last day. When we read our bibles, we see Christ's suffering in his incarnation, we see his sacrifice for the sins of his brethren, and we see the firstfruits of eternal life in his resurrection. Can you be called his brethren? Are you drawn to him? Do you believe he died for you? When you see the risen Christ in the pages of scripture, are you filled with an overwhelming sense of love? Do you have faith in him for your salvation, for the forgiveness of your sins?

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Christ's "Yes"

“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil. (Matthew 5:33-37)

Christ tells us to make no oath or vow at all, neither a false vow nor a true vow. Why? Because making a vow or an oath is exercising a work, depending on a man-made construct for doing good. I want to keep my word because my heart is truthful, not because I made a vow and I am superstitiously bound to the vow, whether I want to fulfill it or not. Oaths an vows force us to do the right thing, even when our hearts are not desiring to do so. The Sermon on the Mount overall tells Christ's disciples what the attributes of a true believer are. So, he tells them, "you don't want to make any vow, because you will be putting your faith in the vow." You want to put your faith in Christ, and so when you do so, Christ changes your heart to one pleasing to God. You don't need to keep a vow, because you are in a new covenant, where your yes is yes and your no is no.

Let's see this in action:

From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” (Matthew 16:21-23)

What is "God forbid it?" It is a vow that Peter is not able to keep. He is in the covenant of works.

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and *said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away.” Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:69-75)

Peter denied Christ with an oath. Yes, Peter is still in the covenant of works, and he doesn't get out of such until Christ gives him the Holy Spirit.  Here is one last example:

Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.” (Matthew 27:11)

No oath, no vow. Jesus' yes is "yes." Do you see the difference? Through the Sermon on the Mount, Christ sets up clear delineations between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace:

1. Works: do not commit murder. Grace: your heart does not anger.
2. Works: do not commit adultery. Grace: your heart does not lust.
3. Works: do not make false vows. Grace: your heart is honest.
4. Works: repay crimes with equal punishments. Grace: your heart forgives.
5. Works: Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. Grace: your heart loves your enemy.

When Jesus moves us from one covenant to the other, our hearts change. Peter's heart changed when Jesus moved him. The covenant of grace is a covenant of love. Those in such do not get angry, they do not lust, they are honest, they forgive, and they pray for those who persecute them. They also know that Jesus' death on the cross was crucial for the salvation of the world.  They don't deny Christ, and they willingly die for each other. When one is in the covenant of grace, Christ is transforming him into a new person. It takes our lives, and we stumble and fall often, but our hearts know we are being changed. Which covenant are you in?  Do you look at the cross and see failure, or do you look at the cross and see the highest love?

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Freed Slaves

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31-37)

1. There is a difference between "following Jesus" and putting your absolute trust in the Jesus of the Bible. There were Jews following Jesus, and even believing what he was saying, but then, he told them that they were not free, and they stopped believing.  Now, if they went to the scriptures at the time, they would see the story of a people who were not free. They had been enslaved to Egypt, but God had set them free. However, they were continually slaves to sin, and they were captured into exile. God did set them free again, but now, because of their disobedience to God, they currently were enslaved to the Romans. They were not free. Jesus was giving them the truth about himself, and they stopped believing in him. Their following Jesus had been the following of a false Christ, even though they were technically following the true Christ. They did not know enough about him, and in this moment, he has revealed "one truth too many" for their hearts to comprehend.  They now reject him.

2. To properly disciple, one needs to stay in the word, where the real Jesus is found. Here is part one of the truth that Christ lays upon them. You find the true Jesus in God's word and nowhere else. The act of knowing the real Jesus through his word is called discipleship. This can be done alone with a Bible or with others who are truly seeking to discover the real Jesus.

3. Here is part two of the truth Christ speaks: to know the real Jesus, the truth, frees one from slavery to sin. Romans 8:2 reads, "the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death." The truth that the Jews did not want to hear was that they were slaves, even to sin and death. Many today do not like the doctrine that we are born into slavery to sin and death, and yet the Bible says it is true, and our own experience declares this to be true. Here is Romans 6:16-18:

"Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness."

4. Those who follow a different Jesus deny reality. The Jews denied the reality of being slaves to sin, but they also went further in denying the reality of any physical slavery in their history. Not only will one deny Christ, but one will deny all reality, when he is confronted with the truth.

5. Sin and its slaves will be destroyed. The Son and his slaves will endure forever. We are all born slaves of sin, and Jesus tells us in this passage that the slave does not remain in the house forever. The world of sin is passing away, and all its slaves are passing away, too, but the Son, Christ tells us, does remain forever. If we are slaves of Christ then we will endure forever, just as Christ endures forever. How do we move from being a slave to sin to a slave of Christ?

Christ purchases us. He actually purchases his Church, but we become members of the Church through faith. We believe Christ when he says that we must continue in his word. We believe him when he tells us we are disciples. We believe him when he tells us that all truth is in his word, and that knowing his truth--THE truth--will free us from the bonds of slavery to sin. We believe him when he tells us that we are slaves. This was the hurdle that the Jews--and the visible church today--not to mention the unbelieving world--could not get past. We believe that we are spiritual wretches, that we can do no good of ourselves, that we are totally depraved. This honest self-evaluation is impossible for anyone whom Christ is not changing, not purchasing, not adopting. So, we believe in our desperate state, and we believe that Christ is the only solution for our state. Do you believe this? If you do, you have already been purchased with his blood. The Holy Spirit is now presenting the bill of sale and claiming the property for the rightful owner.

Finally, slavery to Christ is not truly slavery. It is the only time in our lives in which we are truly free to do good, to choose the good, which is God himself. Pure joy and everlasting life comes with this kind of slavery. So, the Son must make you free, if you are ever to be free. If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed, eternally, forever.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Cry, Fear, Wait, Hope

Psalm 130:

Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive
To the voice of my supplications.
If You, Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared.

I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait,
And in His word do I hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
More than the watchmen for the morning;
Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is lovingkindness,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
And He will redeem Israel
From all his iniquities.

We all find ourselves in the depths of despair.  This psalm gives us hope.  It is a song of ascending from the lower depths to a higher state of life with God. Here are four things it tells us to do when we feel down:

Cry:
The cry is a voice of supplication. It's a cry for help. Psalm 28 associates crying for supplication with reaching out toward the place of God's sanctuary. This is important. Worldly supplications will not ascend. God himself is the true supplication. We reach toward his presence, his healing, through the living word. We commune and disciple with the saints. We seek to know him and his kingdom. We seek rest in his arms. That is the goal of our cries.

Fear:
Why does the psalmist say that God's forgiveness will instill fear? Is fear a good thing to have? When the fear is in God, yes! Jeremiah 33:8 and 9 read:

'I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned against Me and by which they have transgressed against Me. It will be to Me a name of joy, praise and glory before all the nations of the earth which will hear of all the good that I do for them, and they will fear and tremble because of all the good and all the peace that I make for it.’

Here is no better proof that fear of God is, for believers, a deep awe of him.  God forgives our sins. He cleanses us. He pardons us, even though we have offended and grieved him deeply. He is good! God is pure goodness, and that makes our sinful hearts tremble with fear and joy. We don't deserve it, and yet he grants us this mercy. It should make us quake.

Wait:
Waiting is meditating on God, meditating on his word. Our minds are focused on the wonderful attributes of God. Watchmen stayed up all night, anxiously awaiting the dawn, when the danger of the darkness was truly over. We, too, live in worldly danger, continually. We wait on the Lord to bring us home, or to finally come and restore all things to newness. In this night, we study and meditate on his word, so that we may fear him until he comes.

Hope:
Finally, we hope. Because when the end finally comes, all those who are not in Christ are lost forever. None are born righteous. God must transform them, and he does through his Son. In Romans 3, Paul tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but God justifies some as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 1:7 reads, "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace." Jesus Christ died to save us.

This is the final element that brings us from the bottom of the sea to the shore: believe in Jesus for your salvation, and you will be free indeed from the oppression of sin. Cry to him, fear him, wait on him, and hope in him: all these will lift you from despair and deliver you eternally.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Providence

To understand God's providence more, let's look at 1 Samuel 23:

David is on the run from Saul, who wants to take his life. At the same time, the inhabitants of Keilah are being plundered by the Philistines. David does not know what to do, because fighting the Philistines is extremely dangerous, so he asks God. God tells him to fight. David does, and he wins. Here is an example of David willingly submitting his will to God's will. He asks what God's providence will be, and God tells him. He submits (23:1-5).

The next scene has Saul knowing about the deliverance of Keilah and amassing his army to go besiege David. This is such an interesting scene: Saul's will it to take David and destroy Keilah. David asks God what will happen. God tells him if he stays in Keilah, the people there will turn him over to Saul. David decided, on this information, to leave Keilah. Saul hears about it, and does not come to Keilah at all (23:7-14). It appears God has given David an alternate future, one that was conditional, and when David made his decision, God changed the future accordingly. Some theologians say this means the God not only knows the future, but he knows all possible futures as well.  After meditating on these verses, I have reached a different conclusion: God never sees the future; God causes the future to happen. Yes, he has foreknowledge, but his knowledge is of what he, himself, is going to do. Providence now transforms from a deistic, natural set of occurrences into a focused, powerful set of ordained actions on the part of God. God is not impotently sitting on the sidelines and waiting for us to make our moves, cheering us on when we make the right moves and crying when we make the wrong ones.  He didn't have two possible futures that he knew and let David decide his fate. No, he give David a deeper glimpse into providence to show him how it works.  If your will wins, he tells David, this is what would happen, but my will will always win. My will will have victory. Providence is God's will being played out without causing violence to our own wills.  But his will is always played out, because he wills the good of those who love him.

The third instance shows this. David has left Keilah and is running around in the wilderness to avoid Saul.  Saul has surrounded David, surely he will get him.  But then a messenger comes to Saul, telling him that the Philistines have made a raid on his own land. So Saul departs. Here is God's providence working itself out. He did not control Saul's actions.  He did not control David's actions. Capture was certain, but God's providence ordained the Philistines to attack Saul's land at that time, and the message came to Saul at that moment. God did not control the Philistines, but he made them, and he knows their nature, and he knew how they would act, and he set up secondary causes to influence their attack on Saul at that time.  God did not control the messenger, but he set up secondary causes so that the messenger would reach Saul with the news at the exact right time. This is how providence works. He caused the events to happen without infringing on the free will of the people involved.

David retreats to a cave and there writes Psalm 57, where he reveals his understanding of God's providence:

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me,
For my soul takes refuge in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge
Until destruction passes by.
I will cry to God Most High,
To God who accomplishes all things for me.
He will send from heaven and save me;
He reproaches him who tramples upon me.
God will send forth His lovingkindness and His truth.

To God who accomplishes all things for me. Romans 8:28 reads, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose." We see this in the ultimate good for those who love God: namely the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In Mark 8:31, Christ teaches his disciples the he must suffer, and he must be rejected by his own people, and he must be killed, and he must rise again. This is not God predicting the future but ordaining it.  These things must happen. They will happen, and nothing we will can interfere with God's plan. In fact, God's plan is carried out with the aid of our wills, because he made our natures, and he knows how we will behave and act. When Peter attempts to exert his own will over Christ's, Jesus tells him to, "get behind me, Satan!" His will will not be infringed. Once again: God does not foresee the future. He causes the future to happen. We have free will, but God's will supersedes our wills.

Jesus did not force Judas to betray him. Jesus picked Judas to be an apostle, because he knew he would betray him. He didn't see Judas betraying him in the future. He knew Judas' heart, and knew it would be his nature and will to betray him. Think of someone stronger then you. His will is going to win in a battle, because he is more powerful. He has not taken over your will; he does not control your actions like a pawn on a chessboard. He just has his way. You are allowed to exercise your will to the extent where it doesn't interfere with his. Think of renting an apartment. You can decorate the apartment with whatever you wish, live your life in it however you wish, but you can never sell the apartment. It's not yours to sell; it is the owner's. And if he plans to sell it to a developer, who is going to tear it down, you have no say. You just have to leave when the time comes. If you decide to stay and go down with the building, the plan of destroying the building has not been altered in any way. You are merely destroyed as well. Your free will has not been infringed. This is how God's providence works.

Finally, God's providence will eventually be understood and clarified to the saints in the next life.  Christ tells Peter, when he is washing his feet, "What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter (John 13:7)." Individual instances of providence will be revealed to us over the course of our lives, but when we are finally with the Lord, all of his providence will be revealed, and it will astound us.