Saturday, February 17, 2018

Repentance and Intercession

"God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should repent." Numbers 23:19

These words are spoken by Balaam to Balak, king of Moab.  Balak brought Balaam to his land to curse the Israelites.  Balaam has been commanded to speak evil of Israel.  We know that Israel consists of sinners, guilty sinners, and yet the Lord continually gives Balaam only blessings to say.  They are the Lord's people, regardless of their internal state.  His righteousness covers them, covers their sin, just as snow covers the black ground.  Again and again Balaak tries to get this prophet to curse them, and yet he can only bless them.

In the midst of his second blessing, Balaam says that "God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should repent."  From this we learn

1) God is sin-free.  In him is light and no darkness at all.  We, on the other hand, are sinners.  We have darkness, and this darkness does not allow us access into his heavenly presence.  However, he sent his son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for this darkness in us, as if he himself were the sinner.  Jesus was the perfect man, the blemish-free lamb, without spot or fault, and so his death satisfies the payment for the sins of all of God's elect.  God's righteousness is imputed to us, and our sin is imputed to God.  This is why it is a good thing that God does not lie, and there is no guile in him.  Otherwise, how can he give us his righteousness?

2) God does not repent, nor does he need to, because he makes no mistakes, and once again, he has no sin. But we need to repent, and it is the hardest thing to do in the world, because our indwelling sin prevents us from repentance.  Too much pride remains within us.  However, Christ intercedes on our behalf for us, and his Spirit repents for us, bring our full selves to repentance.  We are weak and unable to repent.  We cannot even pray as we should.  This is why Christ intercedes for us, because we cannot do it ourselves.  Christ prayed perfectly, and he taught us how to pray, even though he did not need to pray, "forgive us our sins."  His prayers, like his righteousness, is transferred to us, as our sinful selfishness is imputed to him.

3) John tried to prevent Jesus from undergoing his baptism of repentance in the river Jordan, but Jesus answered him, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. (Matthew 3:15)"  Why did Jesus undertake a baptism of repentance?  He was sin-free.  He had nothing to repent of.  But we, his children, have much to repent of, and so, like his death, his baptism of repentance is applied to us, as our sin is applied to him.  This baptism, like his other obedience to the law, is part of his righteousness, and all of his righteousness is applied to his elect, not just some.  To fulfill all righteousness is to fill all of the righteousness to its maximum capacity, leaving nothing out.  All of Christ's righteousness gets applied, so that the Father can welcome us into his kingdom as glorified, little Christs who are covered by his sanctified blood.

God did not need to send his Son to die on our behalf.  The incarnation was not necessary, but it was God's good pleasure to save his elect and thereby show his glory to the world.  God doesn't need us.  He made us for himself, but he is not empty without us.  The incarnation is God choosing to save his people, even though he didn't need to.  Likewise, the Crucifixion was not necessary.  He could have allowed all mankind to be lost to eternal death forever, but it was his good pleasure to save his people from eternal ruin.  Finally, he doesn't need to intercede for us, to continue us on a path of righteousness, to repent on our behalf, and yet he does, so that we can be sanctified in life.  All three of these things show God's great love for his people.  He didn't need to do any of these things, but he chose to, because he loves us, and he never lies.  He spoke in his Word that it is his will to save us, and to not let one of us be lost. He speaks the truth.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

On the Fence

For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 1 Peter 2:15

This verse appears in a section about obedience to the government. Peter tells his readers to submit themselves to every human institution that punishes evildoers and praises those who do right. The sentence is quite convoluted, so it's easy to get confused about its meaning. Every human institution? Even the corrupt ones? No, Peter explicitly states that we are to submit ourselves only to the institutions that punish the wicked and reward the just. If the institution itself is wicked, then obviously it is not punishing the wicked.  Why are we to submit to righteous institutions? So that we might silence the foolish. This is done for the Lord's sake, and it is the will of God, even if, and especially if, we suffer in submission, because it is the right thing to do. So, never suffer for submitting to a wicked institution, but suffer for submitting to a righteous institution.  Why suffer?

So that by doing right, we may silence the ignorance of foolish men. A few verses earlier Peter writes, "Keep your behavior excellent along the Gentiles (Peter is speaking to Jews, so Gentiles can mean "ungodly" or "unbelievers"), so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may, because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation." This is a huge verse to unpack, and it is the heart of what Peter is trying to say to us. 
We've got several things going on here: 1) keeping our behavior excellent, 2) being slandered as evildoers, 3) being slandered because of the excellent behavior, 4) glorifying God through the slander, and 5) glorifying God in the day of visitation.

1) What is excellent behavior? According to Paul, excellent behavior involves having good sense, keeping our doctrine pure (getting our doctrine only from within scripture, never from outside it), being dignified, keeping the words that come from our mouths sound and beyond reproach (Titus 2:6-8). So, in all we do, think, and say, we must be obedient to what the Bible tells us is acceptable and good. In Philippians, Paul goes further, telling us not to grumble or dispute but to be blameless and innocent in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, appearing as lights in the darkness. This is an important point. With the image of lights in the darkness in mind, this verse seems to tell us to observe the dark ways of the unbelieving world and do the exact opposite, as lights would appear in darkness. There's a stark contrast here, and the image does help us.

2) Why are the righteous slandered as if they themselves were evildoers?  To answer this, we go to the last chapter of Acts. Paul has come to Rome, having done nothing wrong, yet having to point to his Roman citizenship in order to not be killed by the Jews.  The Romans are interested in hearing about Christianity, because "it is spoken against everywhere" (Acts 28:22).  Paul preaches the gospel to them and continues to share the gospel each day, and some were persuaded, but others would not believe.  This always happens, and it happened to Paul.  Nothing was special about him to keep many from not believing.  The plain truth is that many react violently negative to the gospel when properly communicated.

3) Also discovered in the same passage of Acts was that Paul had done nothing wrong, and yet he was still attacked.  These are two sides of the same coin.  Christianity is "spoken against everywhere" as if it were evil, and yet Christianity itself is the good way, where everlasting life is found.  For this reason, Paul takes his message to the gentiles, because the Jews in Rome, the ones who are accusing him falsely, are falling prey to the unforgivable sin, the sin that is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  To call good evil and evil good--and really mean it in your heart--is to walk a path of destruction form which one cannot escape.

4) How does this glorify god?  The darkness trying to snuff out the light and failing is one of the true ways of glorifying God.  When the reformers were burned, we had a false church trying to snuff out the light, and the neutral observers were persuaded into walking said path of light.  When evil calls good evil and acts to destroy the good, people see, and the eyes of their hearts are opened.  This glorifies God.  Why is Christianity the most maligned religion in all the world?  Because it is the true one.

5) Finally, the day of visitation is the day that Jesus returns to earth in judgment.  Remember, the first time he came was not in condemnation but to save the elect through the proper presentation of the gospel--what Paul is also doing.  We have everything we need to be saved through Christ.  His second coming will draw a sharp sword down between true believers and those who accused them.  Those who call good evil, those who persecute righteousness, they will be exposed and cut off at the end of everything.  In the meantime, God allows the persecution of the righteous to take place, so that those who are on the fence can observe and take their sides in the battle.

Submit yourselves to righteousness, be slaves to righteousness, not because you are trying to save yourself, but because God has given you an abiding faith in his son.  The world will tempt you to follow its lead, and if you resist, then the world will persecute you mercilessly.  This is part of the plan.  It draws you closer to the one who suffered on your behalf, and it opens the eyes of the hearts of those who witness the hostility. Christ died to save his elect.  Certainly his elect can suffer unjustly for the glory of God.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Virtue of His Spirit

Isaiah 53 reveals to us in the Old Testament a perfect presentation of the gospel.  Not only does it reveal the gospel, but it reveals man's reaction to the gospel, one of unbelief and revulsion.  In the plainest terms, the gospel is this: we are all sinners, Christ is our righteousness, and he has died for our sins.

And yet people do not believe such good news.  According to scripture, very few will receive this preaching of Christ. The very people whom Christ was to deliver will reject said deliverance.  In the Gospel of John, the evangelist writes, "And though he had done so many miracles before them, they believed NOT on him."  Paul claims that all are without excuse: "Have they not heard? No doubt their sound went out through all the earth, and their words into the ends of the world." So, the seed of God's word has been spread to all, yet most reject it.  Indeed, none can believe but whose hearts God touches with the virtue of his Holy Spirit.

Christ does not descend to earth in a blinding light like a majestic angel king.  According to Isaiah, Christ rises from the dry earth like a weak branch.  He's not beautiful or captivating.  Actually, when eyes are laid upon him, the reaction is an intense dislike.  As we see in the gospels, this small and unappealing beginning is exactly what happens.  Men despised him then and men despise him now.  And yet, this infirm and sorrowful savior is a comfort to sinners.  He did not have everything handed to him.  He was an impoverished person, especially tempted in the same ways we are, and yet he never sinned.  This is hope for us, because now Jesus Christ can be our righteousness.  Most rejected him, but those who know they are sinners, who deserve everlasting punishment, can look upon the punishment of Christ and see with the eyes of their heart that such punishment was on their behalf.  Many reject and destroy the Christ.  The few cling to the bruised savior and cast their hope upon him.  These know the penalty due for their sins, and they realize that Christ's death is the only possible satisfaction for those sins.

Peter summarizes this blessing of Christ in his first letter: "Who did not sin, neither was there guile found in his mouth.  Who when he was reviled, did not revile back. When he suffered, he threatened not, but committed the suffering to he who judges righteously. Who bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we, being delivered from sin, should live in righteousness, by whose stripes we are healed. For you were as sheep going astray but are now returned to the shepherd and bishop of your souls."

We judged Christ, and we still do.  Then, we judged him as a sinner, and we punished him as such, even though he was without sin.  We judged him as an idolator, calling himself God.  Today, we judge him in the same way, not believing that he was who he said he was.  We call him an idolator, one who claimed to be God, and our highly intellectual conversation condemns him as a liar.  Our gods condemn him, and in doing so, we condemn ourselves.  And he allowed himself to die, not for himself but for us, our transgressions.  We thought he was suffering a just punishment for his own sins, when he was actually suffering an unjust punishment for ours.  In undergoing this torture and death, he did more than take our sins upon himself, he reconciled us to God, so that we have peace with the creator of the universe.

Like sheep we have all gone astray, and yet like a sheep our Lord was brought before the shearer, was brought before the slaughter.  We are the sheep that deserve those punishments, and yet we as straying sheep are set free when the perfectly obedient one is led to the slaughterhouse in our stead.  Christ did not defend himself but went willingly.  Later, Philip would defend Christ to the eunuch who was reading this very chapter, and that man would become a believer and be baptized in Christ's name.  Christ didn't need to defend himself.  Philip and you and I are able to preach Christ and defend him to others, and those whose hearts God touches with the virtue of his Holy Spirit will hear and believe.

He was condemned on the cross and placed in the grave, the prison of souls, and although he died for sins, he rose from the grave and lives forever, his death taking place to restore life to his bride. Christ defeated death and death has no more power over him, nor anyone who abides in Christ by faith.  Everything about his incarnation on earth was to take a sinless man and treat him as a sinner, even being killed as a sinner, even being entombed as a sinner.  The Father breaks the Son in order to save the church.  The Father takes the life of the Son in order to give life to his church, so that his church may live forever.

And Christ shall see the fruits of his labors, the salvation of his church. He shall see these things and be satisfied.  He shall justify many through faith in his word, where no one could be justified by the law of Moses.  Believe these words and you are saved.  Ignore them at your own peril.  Although he suffered to the point of death on a cross, the Father raised him and highly exalted him to give him the name above all names, Lord, so that all who have faith in him shall never die.  All who believe in him shall never die.

This is the gospel.  All are sinners.  Christ is righteous.  The righteous died for the unrighteous.  All has been made new.  Do you believe this?  Many did not and do not now.  Do you?  All one needs is faith in this word to be saved forever.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Covenant of Day and Night

If you can break my covenant of the day and my covenant of the night, so that there should not be day and night in their season, then may my covenant be broken with David my servant, so that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne... Jeremiah 33:10-11

Sometimes the Lord needs to repeat himself.  Even Jeremiah had stopped praying to God, and in the prison where he was being held the Lord spoke to him and told him that if he called on him, if he prayed to him, the Lord would answer with great visions that had never seen.  Interestingly, God immediately shows Jeremiah a vision that he had seen before (32:24).  Why? Because the message for us is not in God's chastisement of Jeremiah.  He's not telling us that if we call out to him, he will give us visions and words of prophecy.  No, he's telling Jeremiah not to give up on being a prophet, just because he is in prison.  He's, at the same time, telling us that we need to not give up just because the world is hostile towards us.  Pray to him, through the scriptures, and he will speak to us through the scriptures.  He told Jeremiah something that he had forgotten, which is that he would never leave nor forsake him, and then he tells him something important that he had already told him before, a prophecy for Israel and Judah.  Likewise, he tells us something that we have forgotten, that he will never leave us nor forsake us, but he's not going to tell us anything new that cannot be found in scripture.  The Bible is all we need.  The prophecy for Israel and Judah is also for us, because we are in the church, and Israel and Judah make up the church.

This is an important point to remember when reading the scriptures.  Of course, they are all about Jesus, but they are also about the relationship between Christ and his bride, the church.  The Bible speaks to us as individuals but even more so as members of Christ's body.  Christ saves us because he saves the church, and we are members of the church through faith.  This is important to remember, because if we are believing that Jesus has a relationship with us apart from his church, we may be worshiping a different Christ.  Many today clutch tightly to the "personal relationship" with God and at the same time reject the church altogether.  Without the church, though, texts like Jeremiah 33 have no application for us and we are left attempting to apply verse 3, meant for Jeremiah himself, to our lives, and we end up seeking visions and prophetic words outside of scripture. We can understand this chapter better if we apply this prophecy of Jeremiah 33 to ourselves not as individuals but as the church.

The church is disparaged today, as it has been throughout history.  We may not be individually feeling the wrath of the world upon us, but we can see the church being crushed violently wherever it attempts to share the gospel and preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  The church attempts to fight against the secular world, playing by the world's rules, but as we see from history, the result is the church's own demise, either by becoming secularized itself or becoming persecuted more mercilessly.  God allows the world to persecute the church, because when the church loses its faith in the God of the Bible, he hides his face from it.  Remember, we may not lose our individual faith in Christ--there is always a remnant--but the church as a whole may.  We feel the persecution, more or less, dependent on how closely aligned with the true church we are.

In the midst of persecution, however, God remembers his true church and nourishes it back to health.  He reveals to his church both peace and truth.  He restores the church to its rightful place.  God doesn't stop there, he goes further.  He cleanses his church of sin, for there is no deliverance, no joy, without the remission of sins.  And this remission of sins can only be found inside the church.  The fact that the church has not perished in the face of persecution, that it continues to thrive even in the bleakest of places, causes the world to take note.  Even today, when we think that the end is near for Christians, God still preserves his church.  From the outside it seems desolate, but from inside comes the sound of singing.  In this church that seems desolate, there is a resting place for the flocks of the Lord, for the Good Shepherd to tend to his people.

The desolation shall be filled again. The empty churches will be glutted with voices of praise. God promised it to Israel.  He promised it Judah.  And he promises it to his church.  And the promise is, of course, Christ, the branch of righteousness from David.  He was born in Bethlehem, the Messiah, and he walked the earth and died for our sin.  He will come again to judge the quick and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.  The church is saved through Christ. What's more: this glorious reign of Christ was set in stone from the beginning.  Never was the throne of David to be left empty, God assures Jeremiah. Neither shall the church be without a priest to sacrifice.  Christ is the great high priest, and he committed the greatest sacrifice--himself for the sins of the whole world of believers.  His is a single sacrifice that satisfies continually, replacing the continual sacrifices of the earthly priests.

Here next is the focus of the prophecy.  How glorious is the Lord in that he will never let destruction befall his church!  The covenant of the day and night are our pillars.  The Lord tells us that if we are able to break those covenants so that there is no day and night, remembering that these covenants were established on the first day of creation, then he would in return break his covenant with Christ, the king and great high priest.  Since we are unable to break such strong covenants as NIGHT and DAY, there is no way the covenant of Christ will fail.  Remember, night and day existed without the sun and moon, without astronomical bodies, so even the failure of the sun in the sky will not break the covenant.

Hope comes in the form of Christ!  Never let the world tell us that the church is done.  Never will it die.  Never can it be destroyed.  If the Lord has no covenant with day and night, if he has not created heaven and earth, then Christ is cast out.  Since those covenants are unbreakable, more so is the covenant with Christ unbreakable and everlasting.  The captive church will be restored, for the Lord has compassion on all his children.  Look to the pillars of day and night and know that God will never forsake us.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Obedience

Whatever he tells you to do, do it. (John 2:5)

Mary's conversation with Christ in this passage reveals a lot about the relationship between the sinner and the savior.  Jesus is her son, and so in obedience to the law, he needs to obey her.  She has not commanded him to do anything, however.  She is merely making a declaration, but he sees into her heart and understands the motives there.  She tells him that the wedding has run out of wine.  She is telling Jesus this, because she is prompting his divine nature.  She only has authority over his human nature, however.  Jesus responds with his divine nature by calling her "woman" instead of "mother."  He asks her, "what does this have to do with me?" Because she has no authority to command his divine nature.  She is a sinner, just like us.

And yet, we are told within the boundaries of the alternate version of Christianity that permeates our country that this is the relationship we are to have with Christ.  Jesus is our magic genie who will give us what we want when we want it.  Indeed, Psalm 23 does read, "The Lord is my shepherd.  I shall not want."  Jesus is happy to give us what we need in life, but he is the driving force.  We receive good things on his own terms.  We do not will the Lord to do anything.  He does out of his mercy and his providence.  When we abide in him, our wills follow his will.  Our wills should never lead his.

Mary repents of this transgression.  She says to the servants, "Whatever he tells you, do it."  This isn't her announcing that her son is going to obey her instructions anyway. She is responding humbly to the Lord's chastisement and informing the servants that they should respond with perfect obedience, not like she had done by presuming authority.

And finally, the miracle. Christ does provide for the want, but he does so on his own terms.  His way is better than anything we could have fathomed.  Christ's wine is the best possible, and it manifests his glory, the purpose of all his miracles.  Jesus is not a genie.  He is the genuine article.

Likewise, all our efforts on earth are like mere water in cisterns.  When we allow Jesus to control our lives, and when we surrender to his total truth, he turns our water into wine.  He glorifies our sinful deeds and turns them into good works.  Faith in Christ produces fruit that lasts forever, fruit that has been carried out in God.