Friday, May 18, 2018

Denying Eternity

As Christ says in his prayer in John 17, Eternal Life is knowing God.  Solomon states in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that God has set eternity in mankind's heart.  Essentially, God has put the knowledge of himself in all creatures, so that we might grope for him and discover him in this life.  However, all men and women, to various degrees, bury him in the conscience, piling over top of God idol after idol as a substitute.  As we read in Romans 1, we suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because even with all the evidence in creation, we do not seek God.  We tend to seek only our own pleasures and self worth.  Some merely don't seek him, while others actively hate him. Either way, not honoring God or giving thanks to him for life, we devolve into futile speculations about the nature of things. We are fools and worship the creature, because men and animals are manageable.  God himself is so vastly superior and awe-inspiring that it would crush us to nothing to acknowledge his glory.  Such are all of us, but some travel far down the path of unrighteousness, whereas God has snatched others out of such futile thinking, as if brands from a fire.  He has saved some.

The unsaved continue down the path far, burying God beneath so much idolatry and self-conceit, that they do not even believe that a God exists.  Psalm 14:1 reads, "the fool has said in his heart, 'there is no God.' "  Although the ungodly one does not fear God, he makes an idol of his own sin, and he elevates himself as God.  God allows the unrighteous to pursue this course, and as a result, they never linger around the cusp of belief.  They sprint toward deeper and deeper depravities until they cannot return to possible redemption, it seems.  Jesus himself tells his disciples that this is the reason he speaks in parables.  Those who are on the cusp of belief will understand the parables, being nudged in the right direction by the Holy Spirit.  Those who have cast themselves away from God's grace cannot hear the meaning of the parables, and they sound like nonsense and foolishness to them.

All of this is best summarized in the words of Psalm 36:

Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart;
There is no fear of God before his eyes.
For it flatters him in his own eyes
Concerning the discovery of his iniquity and the hatred of it.
The words of his mouth are wickedness and deceit;
He has ceased to be wise and to do good.
He plans wickedness upon his bed;
He sets himself on a path that is not good;
He does not despise evil.

Your lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
Your judgments are like a great deep.
O Lord, You preserve man and beast.
How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.
They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house;
And You give them to drink of the river of Your delights.
For with You is the fountain of life;
In Your light we see light.

O continue Your lovingkindness to those who know You,
And Your righteousness to the upright in heart.
Let not the foot of pride come upon me,
And let not the hand of the wicked drive me away.
There the doers of iniquity have fallen;
They have been thrust down and cannot rise.

Even then, all is not lost.  God can take the most vile of sinners and breathe life into him.  The reason is, in actuality, only Christ is saved, because he is sinless.  He is the one with whom the covenant between God and Man was made, and so his righteousness saves him.  We, however, can be saved by faith alone.  Just an ounce of faith--a mustard seed--can move mountains and can also move a man from the brink of everlasting destruction into Christ, our salvation, our ark.  Faith is all one needs, and with this faith, the Holy Spirit cleanses us to prepare us for everlasting life.  Our sins are removed, crucified with Christ on the cross, and his righteousness is reckoned to us.  Christ is saved, and we are saved with him, as long as we are in him by faith.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Man Before God

One of the greatest goals in life, if not the greatest goal in life, for anyone is to know oneself.  We try to attain this knowledge of self, but we live in a world that has rejected God, so our only object of comparison is the world itself, including other people.  When we compare ourselves to people, we think ourselves pretty good, and so we end up with a warped view of ourselves.  The Bible gives us a different object of comparison--God himself. When we compare ourselves to him, different things happen to us.

Calvin asserted two truths in chapter one of his Institutes, and they were, "without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God," and, "without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self."  This may sound like circular reasoning, but one can enter such a circle through an experience of God. Such an experience need not be a mystical vision or miraculous offering.  One only needs to understand oneself in relation to the God of the Bible.  One must rightly think of himself as unworthy of everlasting life because of the knowledge that God is perfectly holy, and unholy things cannot be in his presence.  This sounds simple enough, but the world's image of God and mankind are so corrupt that it seems nigh impossible today to get an accurate vision of ourselves and God.  For this we must turn to the pages of scripture.

Two examples from the Old Testament: in Isaiah 6, the prophet has a vision of God, sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of his robe filling the temple.  Even the angels that flew about him covered their faces and their feet, because he was so holy.  Isaiah's reaction is to fall on his face and scream, "woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." (Isaiah 6:5)  Our reaction to God's holiness is an acute realization of our uncleanness.

The second is from 1 Kings 19.  Elijah is fleeing into the wilderness, and at mount Horeb the Lord approaches him.  First there is a hurricane that rends the mountains, but scripture tells us that God was not in the wind.  Next comes an earthquake, and God is not in the earthquake.  Finally, there is a fire, but the Lord is not there, either.  Finally, a gentle breeze comes to Elijah.  We have heard this passage before, and usually the point is that the Lord comes to us gently at times, not in violence.  That's a nice message, but look at what Elijah does when he experiences the breeze: he wraps his mantle about his face to protect himself from the holiness of God.  Yes, God may be in gentle things and not violent things, but the point is that we are not worthy to face his holiness, no matter where it is found.  The holiness of God draws out our wretchedness.

Here is an example from the New Testament: Jesus tells Peter to let down his nets in the water after a night of catching nothing.  Peter obeys reluctantly and catches an enormous amount of fish. When faced with this sudden holiness of Christ, Peter falls down at Jesus' feet and says, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!"  Is it not clear that when faced with the truth of God--that he is perfectly holy--we end up with an accurate view of ourselves--that we are perfectly wretched?

So, do we wait for the unconverted to have a holy experience, so that they may be saved?  Well, we can pray for such a miraculous event to occur, but the best way for such a conversion to happen--if it is to happen--is to take the unconverted to the Word of God.  For an example of this, we look to Acts 17 and Paul's sermon in the midst of the Areopagus. His sermon is quite simple, but it brings out the two accurate views of God and mankind.  He notes that the people of Athens are so religious that they even worship gods they don't know.  He then proclaims that the god they don't know is the one who made everything, and the ones they do know are actually only false idols of wood and stone. He extols the holiness of God by describing his giving of breath and life to all people.  He essentially hearkens back to creation in Genesis 1 and hits them with the awesome mind of God, who not only made everyone but determined their birth locations and times. "In Him we live and move and exist."  He tells them that even their own pagan poets figured it out.  Therefore, as Children of the one, true God, when we worship manmade gods, we are idolators, wretched sinners, and we need to repent.  Why do we need to repent?  Because he has fixed a day in which he will judge the world through his Son, Jesus Christ, and he has proved that this will happen by raising said Son from the dead.  Paul, in few words, has hit the unconverted with the most succinct exposition of God's holiness.  Quick and to the point, within the limited amount of time a believer has--in this day and age, too--to get the truth of God across to the unconverted.

The holiness of God, when delivered accurately, not as genie-magic to help us in our day-to-day desires, but as the perfect goodness of a creator who will mete out perfect justice on all unrepentant sinners, is a way to get through the tough shell of worldly unbelief that permeates our culture today.  Many will resist, as they did that day in the Areopagus, but many may have their shells crushed by the truth and begin to turn to their savior with repentance and faith.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Our Lives Are In His Hand

This last section of the Gospel of John, this time between Jesus' resurrection and his ascension, this time in which we have one of the most personal conversations between our Lord and one of his disciples, is one of the most intensely eye-opening in all of scripture.  Jesus has gotten personal with his disciples before, but usually he is in the process of giving a greater lesson to a larger group.  This is one of the only places, along with his conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 and the woman at the well in John 4, where Christ is engaged in a one-on-one with another.  We have spiritual one-on-ones with Paul, but in this scene in John 21, we have two men--one of them God himself--walking alone with others not around.  John, the author of the gospel, is walking behind them, perhaps in ear-shot, or perhaps Peter told him about the conversation later.  Here is Jesus talking to Peter, and he's not just speaking to him about universal truths, like Nicodemus.  He's not telling him great doctrines like, "for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever should believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life." He's telling him all about himself, much in the same way he spoke to the woman at the well.  Except, with that woman, he revealed to her face her sins.  Here, he is not telling Peter his sin.  He has already revealed that to Peter with a look after Peter denied him.  No, here he is telling Peter something personal and intimate.  He is telling about how the apostle is going to die:

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go. (John 21:18)

And that death would glorify God.  We know from history that Peter was crucified.  Jesus commands Peter to follow him and accept the death that he has planned for him to glorify God.  No one knows of this death, only Jesus and Peter (and maybe John).  The men who are going to tie him to his own cross don't even know they are going to be doing it.  The one who condemns him to death, Nero, did not know about his death at that time, either.  Only the Lord knows, and now Peter.  Listen to what Peter tells fellow Christians in his second letter:

I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind. (2 Peter 1:12-15)

Peter is constantly preaching and sharing the gospel of truth with his fellow believers--not just unbelievers in order to convert them--but his fellow believers.  He keeps reminding them of the gospel, even though they already know the gospel, because we should always be reminded of the gospel day by day. The world is constantly growing lecherous and painful vines to ensnare us about our ankles to bring us down.  The world and its wiles make us forget and become more worldly.  Peter knows this, so he reminds his fellow believers of the gospel, even though they have a firm foundation in the truth.  We can always lay more brick upon the foundation to strengthen it.  Here is the most important point Peter makes: he keeps reminding them because he knows his death is imminent.  Because he knows how he is going to die, Christ's words have given him energy and perseverance to preach the gospel and preach it boldly!  He will continue to share the gospel again and again to fellow believers until he dies, so that they will be better able to recall the full gospel.  This is why he leaves letters behind, although he was not a learned man.  The gospel is that important.  Likewise, we continually share the gospel with each other, because, even though we do not know our own deaths, we know that they will happen, and the love we show to fellow believers by keeping them in the truth reflects the love that God has bestowed upon us by giving us the faith to believe.  Sharing the gospel glorifies God.

Peter asks Jesus what will happen to John.  Jesus tells him, essentially, that it is none of his business.  Each of us has our own path in life, and the only other person who needs know is Christ himself.  John is going to share the gospel with others in his own way.  Peter becomes a great open-air preacher who converted thousands with the spoken word, wrote a couple letters, and shared his direct experience of Christ with Mark the gospel-writer.  John wrote a unique and personal gospel, three letters--the first of which is essential for the believer--and a revelation of things to come, an intensely symbolic narrative of the times we live in and how the end of things are to come about.  John was never martyred but lived in exile on the isle of Patmos.  This was Christ's earthly destiny for him.  Both are with Jesus now.  Both have given the gospel to thousands in person and millions in print.  Knowing their earthly ends spurred them onward, and knowing that our lives will be filled with persecution, exile, maybe even torture and death, should spur us on, too, to a life and death that both glorify God.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Last Proclamation

Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. (Luke 24:27)

On the road to Emmaus, the two disciples get more than a handful of education from the risen Christ. Jesus took them through the entire scriptures, which at that time was the Old Testament, and pointed to himself in its pages.  One commentary I read said that from the proto-evangelion to Malachi 4, Jesus is proclaimed throughout. We all know the proto-evangelion:

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel. (Genesis 3:15)

Jesus is the seed of the woman, and he will destroy Satan on the cross.  That is what has been proclaimed from the first.  But what about Malachi 4?  What about the Last Proclamation?

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the Lord of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the Lord of hosts.

“Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.

“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4)

Once again, we have the gospel relayed to us in just a few short words.  The first verse is about the last day, when all who have rejected God will be destroyed and left without foundation to grab hold of to save themselves.

The second verse is for those who fear the Lord's name--the faithful.  The sun of righteousness, the light of the world, Jesus Christ will come forth and heal all wounds of believers. We will be filled with such joy that we will resemble calves that have been cooped up all winter and are now released into the fields to frolic.  It is a beautiful sight.

The third verse states that all that will be left of the unfaithful will be ashes that would dirty the feet of the faithful on the last day.

The fourth verse exhorts all believers to keep in mind the Law as a benchmark to living in the faith as we progress through the Lord's sanctification process.  Knowing the ten commandments reminds us that only the Holy Spirit can keep us in Christ's righteousness and not we ourselves.

The fifth verse tells us that God will be sending Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord.  Indeed, God sent John the Baptist to proclaim repentance before Jesus came.  We, as the Church, are to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins to the world before Jesus comes again.

Finally, the sixth verse tells us this proclamation will turn the hearts of children to their fathers and vice versa.  The brotherhood of believers does reconcile earthly relationships, but the gospel of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ turns the hearts of all of God's children toward their heavenly father, and Jesus' death on the cross satisfied the wrath of God and turned his heart toward all those who have faith in Christ's blood.  This is the gospel, found everywhere in the Old Testament and expounded in the New.  Take up and read and believe.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Doubting

I've been through the Gospel of John at least three times with people, once in Greek, and each time I find something new.  Each time I see that the words of the gospel change the hearts of all who hear it.  I have tried even to go through the Gospel of John with people online, taking one verse at a time, in the hopes that the words of our Lord will melt the hearts and open the minds of the ones hearing or reading.  One time, I had a lengthy discussion with a close friend about the first few verses of John, until I realized that he just didn't believe God existed.  His was the argument from evil: the world was a bad place and so how can there be a good God who created such a bad place? I tried different arguments of reasoning, but they all fell on deaf ears.  I decided the take a different approach and leap right to the end of the Gospel of John: to where Thomas doubts.  That, I surmised, was the place where my friend was, and so maybe if we tackled that section first, we may make some headway.  We didn't get far.  Not only did my friend not believe in God but he didn't even believe that the Bible had any meaning.  It was nonsense to him, and so we couldn't even use the text to continue.

Looking at the text itself, we can see how important the Word of God is for those who believe and will come to believe.  We cannot argue one into the kingdom of God with well-spoken logic. Instead, we open the text before the one in question, and the Holy Spirit illuminates the truth for him, opens the eyes of his heart, and breathes life into his dead soul.  The passage of text in question (John 20:24-end) says that Thomas, one of the twelve, one of the Apostles, someone who has followed Jesus from the beginning of his ministry, was not there to witness the risen Christ.  None of us who live today were there, either, to witness the risen Christ, and so we are very much in the same boat.  I wasn't there, nor was my friend.   Thomas wasn't there (the first time), and when the other disciples said to him that they had seen the risen Lord, he doubted and told that he would not believe in Jesus until he had physically touched him, including putting his fingers in the wounds.  He was quite confident that his doubts were justified.

Eight days later, Jesus showed up again, appearing suddenly in a shut room among them, offering peace.  Christ did not wait for someone to tell him that Thomas is here! and he wasn't here the week before, and guess what, Jesus!  Thomas won't believe in you until he, etc. etc.  Jesus does not wait for someone to tell him what he already knows, he goes to Thomas directly and tells him to put his fingers in his wounds.  "Do not be unbelieving but believing,"  he tells him.  Thomas now believes and says, "My Lord and my God!"  what an amazing and emotional scene.  Jesus then gives us a message directly: "Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."  That's us, believers who never got to put their fingers into his wounds, and yet we believe whole-heartedly. And yet...

And yet there are they who have not seen and still do not believe.  We know about them, we see them every day, and we know that their minds and hearts are closed to the gospel.  We pray for God to open their eyes, so they can finally be seeing the truth that we all see.  And then, worse, are those who do see Jesus, who can actually see the work of Jesus Christ in their lives.  As their creator and sustainer they owe their very lives to him, and yet, they do not believe.  Miracles have happened to them.  Evidence for God has come pouring down upon their heads.  And still they do not believe.  The Bible has been opened to them, the words have been read to them, and still their hearts are dead lumps of coal.  These are the ones whom we need to pray for.  How do we get through to them, when they have seen and heard, and yet their hearts refuse to see or hear?

John answers this question right afterward.  He writes that many miracles and signs Jesus performed are not written in his gospel, but what is written here has been written "so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."  These verses are not at the very end of the book but at the end of the penultimate chapter, because they are supposed to be attached to the Thomas narrative.  Many need proof to believe, but many do not believe even with proof.  Finally, many believe without proof, and these are the true believers, because the Holy Spirit opened the eyes of their hearts.  We live in a fallen world, where the proof of God's existence exudes from every pore of nature, and yet the eyes of most of the world is veiled. No amount of persuasion can soften the hearts of stone, but anything is possible with God, and if we believers--by faith--pray for the unbelieving world and work to get the Word of God into their hands, we can watch God work his wonders firsthand.