Saturday, December 8, 2018

Perplexity

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. (Matthew 1:18-19)

Point 1: God uses perplexities to prepare the heart for more satisfying revelation. It is good that we be confused before a revelation, because then the magnitude of the revelation becomes more complete and clear. This is what happened to Joseph as he pondered what to do with Mary. She had a visible pregnancy, so he could understand that, but he did not understand the divine aspect of the situation. He knew she was honorable, so he did not wan to make a spectacle of her but "put her away quietly." Joseph is in perplexity. He knows Mary is pregnant, but he does not understand the holy manner of the pregnancy. In other words, he does not believe.  He has a faith issue. Joseph's decision to put Mary away secretly marks the beginning of Christ's sufferings. He is confused, but he has correct information. She is pregnant, but she is not an adulterer. All he needs is a revelation of the truth to give him the faith to do the right thing, which is to marry her. God waited to do this until Mary had been espoused to Joseph, so there would be no "wagging of tongues." He was a just man, so he was not going to call her out publicly. But he needed to do something, so he was intending to put her away secretly. The revelation from the angel gave him the peace and clarity to do the right thing.

Point 2: Before revelation, in our perplexity we are in a state of rejecting God.  Even the elect reject Christ before understanding.  The perplexity plus the fact that the Spirit hasn't manifested Christ yet to us equals rejection, just as Joseph was to do. It is good to be perplexed, even though we are in a state of rejecting Christ. As long as the garden of perplexity is honest, as long as we are being honest doubters, the revelation that comes afterward will be satisfying. Seek out the truth, no matter where it leads, and you will find it.

Point 3: The world will intentionally obfuscate the truth so that we cannot find it. The world wants you to stay in a perpetual state of perplexity, so that you will then be in a perpetual state of rejecting God. The world does this by giving us dishonest perplexity, by giving us false information to use. Always go to the Bible for the proper knowledge with which to wrestle. Here are some examples:

It is important that we always join "of the Holy Ghost" to the virgin birth. We must provide no opportunity to think blasphemous thoughts about Christ and the nature of his birth.  This means knowing the Holy Ghost intimately.  So many times I hear someone blasphemously say or write that the Holy Ghost "knocked up" Mary. Lately a college professor has gained attention by claiming that Mary did not "provide consent," implying that the Lord raped her. This is dishonest rhetoric that clouds the issue and keeps people in a perpetual state of rejecting Christ. Go to the Bible and see that it always mentions the Holy Spirit as instrumental in Mary's conception. Even Mary was perplexed at the angel's words in Luke 1, until the angel mentioned the Holy Spirit, and then Mary was satisfied. For comparison, see Zacharias in the same chapter who, even though Elizabeth's was not a virgin birth, was given all the necessary information from the angel, and yet he still doubted. The forced muting of his voice until the birth was the extra revelation he needed to believe.

Another example: Mary is not the mother of God. This is confusing theology. She is the mother of the human nature of Christ through her virginity. Christ is eternal, so when a denomination uses phrasing like "Mary, Mother of God," it poisons the earth in the garden of perplexity, so as to keep people away from Christ, and, in this case, worship the saints instead.

Another example: Free Will does not mean, "not a programmed robot." It means, "no longer in bondage to sin." The world wants you to believe that the true church claims that we are all pawns that God moves around on a chessboard.  If you believe in the correct definition of free will and that Christ frees our wills from the bondage of sin, the fruits of revelation will rapidly grow in the garden.

Other examples abound: election, predestination, the trinity. In all cases we must go to the scriptures that rightly present the perplexities and give us the revelation by the Holy Spirit to be satisfied Christians. Whether you're Thomas and need just a nudge of revelation to believe or Saul, hater and persecutor of the church, who needs to be blinded and thrown down on the road to Damascus to believe, Christ will open your eyes to his truth when you are in honest perplexity.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Generations of Jesus Christ

The first verse in the Gospel of Matthew is usually glossed over, as well as the genealogy that follows, but careful study of the verse reveals some amazing things that we usually take for granted:

1. This is a physical genealogy of Jesus from Abraham, but it is also a spiritual genealogy of mankind from Jesus.  "Jesus" means "he saves." This genealogy is one of salvation, and it includes the members of the genealogy itself.
2. Christ means "anointed." The three offices that were anointed in the Old Testament were prophet, priest, and king. Jesus is all three.
3. "Jesus" is Hebrew. "Christ" is Greek. His name and title include both Jew and Gentile. None is left out of salvation.
4. Abraham and David are the milestones, because distinct promises were made to both of them: to Abraham the promise that all the nations would be blessed through his seed, and to David the promise that his seed would rule over the true Israel forever.

The genealogy itself was a matter of public record and irrefutable. From it we find:

1. Judah was an adulterer. He is saved.
2. Tamar was a deceiver. She is saved.
3. Rahab was a prostitute. She is saved.
4. Ruth was a poor gentile. She is saved.
5. Boaz was a rich Jew. He is saved.
6. David was an adulterer, deceiver, and murderer. He is saved.

And on and on. In fact, every person in the genealogy is a sinner, and every person in the genealogy is saved by Christ, because the list is the generations of Jesus Christ. Now, the timeline works in the other direction, too. Anyone who has an abiding faith in Christ is in Jesus' timeline going into the future. Jesus had no physical children, but he mas many spiritual children. Are you one? Do you believe that he lived on earth and died for your sins?  Many think that God will reject them, because they are a Judah or a Tamar or a Rahab or a Ruth or a Boaz or even a David. When you realize that no one is excluded from the free gift of grace that can only be found in Jesus Christ, the burden you are carrying should melt away. If you believe that God has forgiven your debt by paying the fine himself on the cross, you will be saved.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

External and Internal Laws

In learning about the trouble of indwelling sin in believers from John Owen, one aspect he shared really resonated with me: the concept that indwelling sin acts as law in our hearts and has more power because it is internal rather than external.  The law of God is external and is therefore easily broken until God himself writes his law on our hearts again through Christ.

1. The law of God was internal with Adam and Eve.
2. Adam and Eve were created in the likeness of God (Genesis 5:1).
3. This likeness includes God's law being internal. (Remember God IS the law).
4. In disobeying God and eating the forbidden fruit, Adam cast out God's law and acquired the law of sin in its place.
5. All progeny from Adam have this law of sin internalized (Genesis 5:3).
6. This law of sin causes the intent of man's heart to be evil from its youth (Genesis 8:21).
7. God provides his law externally to us through Moses.
8. The external law of God is easily broken and actually stirs up the internal law of sin.

However, Jeremiah 31 tells us that God has made a new covenant with Israel (the church), in which the external law of God will be made internal, written on the heart. Read Jeremiah 31:31-34. As believers, we now have two laws in our heart, at war, but this is preferable to the law of sin being alone in our hearts to drive us to destruction.  How is this internal law of God restored? By faith in Christ.  See Hebrews 11:

1. By faith Moses rejected the pleasures of sin found in Pharaoh's household.
2. Notice that what Moses rejected were pleasures, which carnal man ever seeks.
3. By faith Moses endured hardship with his people.
4. Notice that only with an internal law of God in his heart, Moses is able to choose hardship, which carnal man ever rejects.
5. Moses considered the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.
6. The internal law of God not only has power against the law of sin, it sets the Christian apart from the carnal world.
7. As revealed by Christ himself in Luke 14:25-35, sin is hated, and the carnal world is hated, so that even once beloved family members who are carnal are fought against in favor of Christ.

Now, we turn to the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). See how the internal and external laws work:

1. The younger son has the law of sin in his heart, and the grace of God is nowhere to be seen.
2. God (the father) releases us to follow our sinful hearts to their end.
3. Following the law of sin brings one to rock bottom.
4. When the son comes to his senses, this is the moment when God puts his law into the heart of the sinner.
5. The first reaction of this newfound faith is to repent.
6. The father forgives the penitent sinner.
7. The older son has not followed his sin to rock bottom.
8. However, he has not the law of grace in his heart. He is attempting to follow God's external law.
9. His unforgiving spirit reveals that he, too, follows the law of sin in his heart. He has failed to follow God's law, even though it may seem that he's following it on the surface.
10. The younger son has been brought to life, yet the older son still lies dead in his heart.

Which son are you? Faith and repentance in Christ brings the law of God into your heart, and the war between the two laws can commence. The law of sin looks appealing, because it gives us pleasure, and the law of God looks like it will give us only pain and suffering, but Moses chose the narrow path, because his faith in Christ compelled him there. Which law is ruling your heart? We can't eradicate the law of sin completely from our hearts, but with the aid of the law of God's grace, we can wage war against the evil within us. This is only possible with the law of God being internal and not external.  The law of God becomes internal when we have faith in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, our salvation.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Snares and Pestilence

For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence. Psalm 91:3

We know that God rescues us out of danger, but these two metaphors are special, in that they represent dangers that overtake people before they are aware.

1. Think of Satan as the trapper laying out his snares of temptations for us.
2. Think of the infectious, corrupt ideas of the ungodly as pestilence that will lead us down the road to destruction.
3. Those who have faith in Christ are preserved from such.
4. Such snares and pestilences can cause danger to both body and soul.
5. God preserves us from both kinds.
6. God not only breaks the snare, He enables our escape.
7. Our help is in God's name.

Why God's name? Well, God's name is his identity. It separates the true God from all the false gods that are claimed to exist (even though they are no gods at all). In the Old Testament the identity of God was YHWH, which in Hebrew means, "I AM." In the New Testament, the identity of God is still I AM, but Jesus Christ identifies himself as the same. He claims to be I AM, but he is also Jesus, the name meaning "He Saves." God is one. Worship him and him alone, but the conduit through which he has chosen to save us is his son, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. To worship him is to worship the true identity--the name--of God, who rescues us from the snare and pestilence.  Read Christ's own words in John 8:31-59 as he discusses true freedom with people who don't know Christ, because they remain captives to the snares of the devil and are infected with the pestilence of false doctrine:

1. If we continue in God's Word, then we will be true disciples.
2. The truth found in the scriptures about Jesus will set us free from spiritual snares and pestilence.
3. Jesus is not talking about physical slavery, although that can be a consequence of spiritual slavery.
4. Jesus is talking about us all being slaves to sin. We didn't choose to have sin in our lives or not. We are born with original sin, and from that foundation we commit actual sin.
5. Sin is the ultimate snare, because it cannot be avoided by man.
6. The slave to sin does not remain in the church forever.
7. The slave to Christ remains in the church forever.
8. Slavery to Christ is true freedom.
9. Where sins are snares set by the devil, Christ is the one who destroys the snares.
10. Where the pestilence of sin leads to death, Christ is the cure that leads to eternal life.
11. In God's Word we find the true identity of YHWH in Christ.
12. To reject the Word of God is to reject Christ and remain ensnared.
13. To reject the Word of God is to not know his true identity, the name of God, which sets us free.
14. To trust in another god will fail to free us. To trust in another christ will fail to free us.
15. Lies are the ultimate pestilence, because once a lie takes hold, it spreads like a wildfire, infecting so many who come in contact with each other.
16. Jesus' true identity is violently offensive to those who are slaves to sin.

What snares have captivated you? What false ideas about Christ have taken root in your heart like a disease? True freedom comes from knowing God and his son Jesus Christ. This knowledge can only be found in his Word. Take and read. The truth will set you free.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

More Than You Can Handle?

The words, and message, "God won't give you more than you can handle," are not in the Bible. God gives us more than we can handle all the time, sometimes to the point of death. Where did this idea come from?

The verse that gets twisted is 1 Corinthians 10:13: "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it."

1. The verse is about being tempted, not pain or struggles or adversity.
2. All fallen mankind receive similar temptations. None are "special cases."
3. If the temptations become so strong that you may not be able to overcome them, God will help.
4. God helps his children. He is faithful to his children.
5. God will provide a way of escape from the temptation.
6. God will help you endure the temptation.

This help from God is for those who are in Christ. This is clear. We see from 2 Peter 3:4-10

1. God condemned sinning angels to hell.
2. God flooded the entire world and saved only Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and his family.
3. God destroyed all the cities among Sodom and Gomorrah, sparing only righteous Lot.

Given these three historical facts:
4. God certainly knows how to rescue the godly from temptation. Righteous angels, Noah and his family, and Lot: all were extremely tempted. When everyone else is "doing it", the temptation is mighty high to go along to get along, to "join them." So, God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what believers can endure.

It is of great importance that we do not take God's help lightly, and plunge, of our own will, into temptation, because we know that God will get us out of it. This help is for those who have an abiding faith in Jesus Christ, and if we put God to the test, it shows that we do not fear God--do not have reverence for him--and may not be his children.  For an example, we look to Christ's temptation in the wilderness: Matthew 4:1-11.

1. The devil takes Jesus to the top of the temple in Jerusalem.
2. The devil quotes scripture to support his temptation.
3. The devil omits a crucial part of the verse, because it is contrary to his point.

The devil quotes, "He will command His angels concerning you. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone."

The actual verse from Psalm 91 reads, "For He will give His angels charge concerning you, TO GUARD YOU IN ALL YOUR WAYS. They will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone."

What are your ways? Are they godly ways that are acquired from faith in Christ? Or are they the corrupt ways of your old nature? Help from God comes from walking in his ways. Christ affirms this when he responds to the devil, "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test."

Use Psalm 91 to examine yourself:

1. Do you dwell in God's shelter?
2. Is God your refuge and fortress?
3. Do you sense God's faithfulness to you?
4. Do you fear the world and not God?
5. Do you fear death?
6. Do you fear the wicked?
7. Do you sense God's protection?
8. Or do you sense the continual oppression of fate or bad luck or karma?
9. Do you love God?
10. Do you know God?
11. Do you call on God in times of trouble?
12. Are you satisfied with your circumstances?
13. Do you see his salvation in Christ?

Have a deep reverence for God. Study his word and pray continually. He will not lead you into temptation, and he will not allow temptation to overtake you.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Two Covenants

Two covenants exist for all of mankind. 

1. The covenant of Moses. This is the law. The ten commandments and all the permutations thereof. All moral law is built upon this covenant. All worship is built on this covenant.

2. The covenant of Abraham. This is faith. God made a covenant with Abraham 430 years before he gave the law through Moses. God fulfilled both sides of the covenant and Abraham believed God's promises. In Genesis 15, God told Abraham:

a. Do not fear.
b. I am a shield to you.
c. Your reward shall be very great.
d. Your heir will be your natural son.
e. Your descendants will number the stars.

Abraham believed the Lord, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. When we have faith in God, we do not fear, because he is a shield to us. Our reward is very great, for our reward is Christ, who is the ultimate heir of Abraham. Anyone who has faith in Christ can be called a true descendant of Abraham, and we can be numbered among the stars visible from Earth. That is a great amount of believers in history.

Now, Hebrews 3 describes the flaws in the singlemindedness of the Mosaic covenant, which, when followed alone, does not enable us to enter God's rest:

1. Moses freed the slaves of Israel from the Egyptians.
2. He brought them out into the wilderness.
3. God gave them the law through Moses.
4. They hardened their hearts when they heard his voice.
5. For 40 years of trial they hardened their hearts.
6. They did not enter the promised land.

Because of sin, all of life for everyone is one big trial. It's as if we are all in a vast wilderness of struggle. All mankind, regardless of religion or philosophy, are in a struggle to obey a universal standard: do not murder, do not lie, do not steal, do not cheat. The law given to Moses is an explicit spelling-out of the God-given conscience that is burned into all human hearts.

Here is the unique claim of Christianity: if you struggle to keep the law, you will fail. If you attempt to conquer the Mosaic covenant, it will crush you. However, if you embrace the Abrahamic covenant, God will bless you with the ability to keep the Mosaic covenant, too. Remember, do not fear; God is our shield; he rewards our faith in his son by making us his children.

Galatians 3 spells this crucial difference in the covenants out:

1. We do not receive the Holy Spirit by works of the law.
2. We receive the Holy Spirit by hearing the gospel with faith.
3. Those who are of faith are the true sons and daughters of Abraham.
4. The faithful include those naturally outside Israel and those naturally inside Israel.
5. Outside of faith in Christ, all mankind is cursed.
6. Attempting to fulfill the law and failing increases the effect of the curse.
7. Living by faith enables us to fulfill the law. Why?
8. Because Jesus Christ took on the curse for us. How?

a. He fulfills the law. He kept the Mosaic covenant perfectly.
b. He was cursed anyway.
c. He suffered the penalty of the curse on our behalf.
d. Faith in the cursed one removes the curse from us.
e. We are able to live by the law as a rule of life.

For a demonstration of the two covenants, we turn to Mark 9:14-29:

1. Sin is a destructive force that corrupts the whole man. (v. 17)
2. Attempts to live by the law only intensifies sin in us. (v. 18)
3. Christ reveals the problem to be unbelief. (v. 19)
4. Sin corrupts us from childhood. (v. 21)
5. Our unbelief reduces God to just another option for help. Maybe he will work, maybe he won't. (v. 22)
6. With faith, all things are possible (v. 23)
7. Even with faith in Christ, unbelief will still creep in. We must cry out to God for help. (v. 24)
8. Jesus defeats sin.
9. We must die to sin.
10. Christ raises us to everlasting life.

Which covenant are you immersed in? Which one are you following? The Mosaic? Are you attempting to live by the law and finding that it is more difficult than ever? Do you find that sin keeps getting the upper hand? Open your Bible, pray to God, and let the Abrahamic covenant be your guide. Think of God as your protector, not your oppressor. Think of him as your hope, not your judge. Live life in faith and you will find that you are able to worship God in truth and holiness, and you are able to love God and your neighbor as yourself.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

He Descended Into Hell

What does this phrase in the Apostle's Creed mean?

Hell can mean three things in scripture:
1. The Grave
2. The Place of Damnation
3. Extreme Distress and Anguish

Which is the way the phrase is meant in the Apostles Creed?
Answer: #3.

Why?

1. The Grave. The brief Apostle's Creed wouldn't have a redundant line in it. He was crucified, dead, and buried. He went to the grave?

2. The Place of Damnation. The divinity of Christ could not descend there, because God is everywhere already. The body could not descend there, because scripture says it was in the grave for three days. That only leaves the soul.

Did Christ's soul descend into hell?  No. For three reasons, which are also three phrases spoken by Christ on the cross:

1. "Father into thy hands I commend my spirit." Now, the Father's hands could be in hell to catch Jesus' soul and protect him, but nowhere in scripture is this even implied. Furthermore:

2. "Today you will be with me in paradise." These words were spoken to the thief on the neighboring cross. This can only mean that the soul of the thief would be with the soul of Christ that very day in paradise. Paradise is not hell.

3. "It is finished." These words mean that Christ's work to save humanity is completed. If he still had further work to do in hell, such as rescue the Old Testament patriarchs, he wouldn't have said, "it is finished."

Further work in hell? There are two theories that Christ descended into hell in order to accomplish further work. The theories are these:

1. To liberate the OT fathers.
2. To declare victory to and strike terror in the hearts of devils.

However, we can conclude from scripture that:

1. The OT Fathers were not in hell. Jesus himself declares in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus that Lazarus dies and goes immediately to Abraham's bosom, where there is no pain and one is in the hands of God the Father. This place where Abraham currently resides is Paradise, which Christ tells the thief about.

2. There is no place in scripture that declares that Christ gloats to demons. There is 1 Peter 3:19, but in context that means something completely different:

a. The entire letter of 1 Peter is about how to be a Christian, and the passage from 1 Peter 3:8-22 in particular is about evangelizing the lost and the Holy Spirit's work in the conversion of unbelievers.

b. Breaking down the passage, we see:

i. we are to be kindhearted
ii. we are not to respond to the evil of the world with evil but with blessing
iii. by embracing good, nothing can happen to our souls
iv. our bodies will be persecuted and we will suffer physically
v. be ready to defend your faith to the hostile world
vi. those who revile you will be put to shame
vii. suffer for doing right, not wrong
viii. Christ suffered also for what was right, to the point of death
ix. Now his spirit lives in us
x. Because his spirit lives in us, we can successfully proclaim the gospel to the lost, whose own spirits are imprisoned to sin
xi. In the days of Noah, 120 years passed in which not a soul responded to Noah's preaching. None were saved except Noah and his family.
xii. Now, with Christ's spirit in us, we are able share the gospel with the lost and have much better success.
xiii. Baptize all converts to represent their salvation from the flood of God's wrath.

c. Preaching the gospel to living bodies with dead souls may make them alive in the spirit. The passages in 1 Peter apply to living people, not souls in hell or devils.

3. Ephesians 4:9-10 is talking about Christ's incarnation (descending to Earth) and ascension. Match this with Philippians 2:5-11.

So, what does it mean that Christ descended into hell?

1. That Christ's soul suffered the extreme agony of the damned.
2. That he suffered these very things during his passion.

Why does "he descended into hell" appear in the creed after "he was buried?"
A: Because "he was crucified, died, and was buried" are taken together as sufferings of the body, and "he descended into hell" is taken as not only a summary of what precedes it but as a description of the suffering of Christ's soul.

Finally, why? Why did Christ suffer such torments of the soul?

1. That our souls may not go to hell.
2. That our souls may not ever suffer there.
3. That he may carry our souls into heaven.

Jesus Christ went through a great magnitude of suffering during his passion, such that the torments he went through can be accurately compared to the sufferings of the damned in hell for eternity.  He suffered in this way, so that we may avoid the same, through faith in him. He not only keeps us out of hell and away from its torments, but he lifts us up and carries us with him to paradise, where we will know no pain, every tear shall be wiped from our eyes, and we will experience the eternal love of God in our souls forever.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Lambs in the Midst of Wolves

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves." Matthew 10:16

Jesus speaks these words to his twelve apostles, and indeed they do have a hard road ahead of them. In Luke 10:3, Jesus uses the word "lambs," which is even more docile than "sheep." What Jesus is telling his twelve, and telling us today as we try to be living disciples of Christ, is that the world is a very dangerous place for people who follow him. How true this is, as we can see from gleaning the news each day. The world is like a horde of ravenous wolves, ready to devour the weak, and when the foes these wolves face are mere lambs, there is no sneaky pretense of kindness. The wolves will attack and attack hard.

So, Jesus gives us instructions on how to behave in such a world: "be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves." How do these instructions help us today? Well, the first thing we must do is figure out what he means, and to do that, we must have scripture illuminate scripture.

Shrewd as Serpents
Now, the first place we can think of to examine the behavior of a serpent is Genesis 3. Is Jesus telling us to behave like the devil himself? Of course not, but we can learn much from the way the serpent interacts with Eve in the garden. The primary tool Satan uses against mankind is to ask questions and make brief statements (not long-winded speeches) in order to place doubt in the first woman's head. His technique works, and he is able to change Eve's whole worldview, as well as her husband's. Being lambs in a world of ravenous wolves and being shrewd as serpents at the same time, is going to involve asking specific questions and asserting specific statements in order to change a wolf's worldview into that of a lamb's.

Second, being shrewd as a serpent is knowing your enemy. The "wolves" of the world are divided into two parts, according to scripture. In not being shrewd, we may fall into the trap of thinking there is one body of wolves: the unbelieving world. However, there is a second front against God's church on Earth, a second grouping of wolves: the false church. If we think that we are only standing up to unbelievers, we lay unprotected from a formidable foe. In Matthew 24, Jesus warns us against those who are "in" the church but not "of" the church:

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. (Matthew 24:23-28)

Being shrewd as serpents involves knowing the true church from the false one, and to know that, we must be well-versed in scripture. The Holy Bible is the only source of God's truth available to us, and we must study it well to learn the differences between the truth and a lie, especially when the lie is compelling and seemingly rational.

The third and last point about being shrewd as serpents is also the first point about being innocent as doves. Look at Romans 16:

Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. (Romans 16:17-20)

Paul here, like Christ before him, warns the true church of the false church. After Paul rejoices over the Roman church's obedience, he exhorts them to be "wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil." This is a clearer way of looking at being "shrewd as serpents" and "innocent as doves." Being shrewd as a serpent is being wise in what is good. What does that mean? It means that, as saved Christians, we are interacting with the unbelieving world and the false church--not being OF them but being IN them--and injecting, whenever possible, good wisdom. When interacting with the wolves, we do not play their game and pretend to be wolves ourselves but let our words and actions be filled with Christ's righteousness. Ask questions, make statements, know the two-fronted enemy...and wisely insert God's truth into every possible moment of your discourse.

Innocent as Doves
As Paul writes in Romans 16, innocent as doves means being innocent in what is evil. We are all sinners, yes, but Christians are penitent sinners. We repent of sin, and our desire is to not know sin anymore. That means we are not to act worldly around the worldly, but we are to plead ignorance of the world's ways, even if we know such ways personally. This is not lying, not pretending to be something we are not, but to show our denial of our past selves, to be above the practice of sin that we used to be involved in, to placard our new lives in Christ on our faces and display Christ's righteousness within us.

In Hosea 7, the prophet preaches against Ephraim, one of the twelve tribes of Israel, part of the church:

Ephraim mixes himself with the nations;
Ephraim has become a cake not turned.
Strangers devour his strength,
Yet he does not know it;
Gray hairs also are sprinkled on him,
Yet he does not know it.
Though the pride of Israel testifies against him,
Yet they have not returned to the Lord their God,
Nor have they sought Him, for all this.
So Ephraim has become like a silly dove, without sense;
They call to Egypt, they go to Assyria. (Hosea 7:8-11)

We are to be in the world but not of the world. Now, we are not to isolate ourselves from the world. We see what has happened in this regard in history. When the church separates completely from the world, it becomes corrupt. Why? Because, as I wrote above, the true church has forgotten to take in to account the false church, which is among them, no matter how much we separate, and a tiny part of leaven will leaven the whole lump of dough. The leaven of the Pharisees and the antinomians will destroy the whole church. We need to be in the world and interacting with it, even as we are not OF it. Now, Ephraim, according to the prophet Hosea, has done the opposite: it has mixed with the world and become worldly, like a cake cooking on the grill that has not been flipped, and so the downward side blackens. The wolves begin to devour him, because he has abandoned the true church for the lie. The wisdom of the world becomes his wisdom. The Biblical wisdom begins to leave his discourse and the worldly wisdom begins to infiltrate it. He uses worldly expressions in his everyday life. He turns his back on his Lord and forgets to seek him ever. Their world is in Egypt, in Assyria, in Babylon. Ephraim is a silly dove, without sense. This innocence actually destroys the true church, because it is not innocent of evil but innocent of good and truth. Christ and Paul encourage us to be innocent of evil, and that means not being of the world, but we are to be shrewd as serpents, which means being in the world and injecting truth and goodness into all our interactions. So, we must be BOTH shrewd as serpents AND innocent as doves. We cannot be one without the other.

Christ the True Lamb
So, being shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves is a complex and tall order, and it may seem impossible to us weak souls. But the key to success in this lesson is not in ourselves but in Christ himself. In Luke 10, the disciples return with the happy results of their excursion into the world. They were even able to fight the demons, but only in Jesus' name. Christ is the true lamb. Christ is the shrewd serpent--always injecting righteousness into his interactions with the wolves. He is also the innocent dove who knows no sin. He is wisdom of God, who asks questions of the world and makes statements of truth to the unbelieving ear. He turned high-ranking Pharisees to his cause: men like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. He spoke against the false church in all of his discourses, and he even made a point of making sure we bewared the false church over the unchurched. Indeed, when we look at Jeremiah 29 next week, we will see that we have more to fear from the falsely converted than the unconverted.

Christ tells his disciples not to rejoice that the spirits are subject to them (a prominent aspect of the false church) but that their names are recorded in heaven. Indeed, this is the foundational motivator of the true church. We don't have the power of Christ in order to wield it and wage war with the world. We have the power of Christ, because we believe, and that power comes to us through faith. We have a supreme gratitude for our names being written in heaven, and this gratitude enables us to be lambs in the midst of wolves without fear. It enables us to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves, all in Christ's name. Christ is the lamb, and we have the lambs power only through faith.

Where do you see yourself? Are you Ephraim? Mixed with the world? An unflipped cake burning on the grill? Are you commanding Christ to serve you, so you can use his power for your whims (even if those whims are honorable)? Or are so so thankful that your name is written in heaven that you gladly preach Christ until he returns, no matter what the cost?

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The True Church

Look at John 9. We're not going to look at the whole passage: everyone's heard the story of the man who was born blind, how Jesus made an ointment out of clay and gave the man his sight back. But the more important thing that I want to talk about today is the idea that there are two churches within the Christian church.

We know that there are different religions and they have different beliefs. I was talking to a couple of parishioners last Tuesday, and we decided that other religions are like "scale" religions. You have your good deeds and your bad deeds on a scale. And if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds: "woo-hoo," you're in! If your bad deeds outweigh your good deeds: uh oh, that's too bad.

So all other religions, all the philosophies, even atheistic philosophies are like, "do good deeds, and you'll be rewarded." If you don't believe in an afterlife, you'll be rewarded in this life, karma, stuff like that, or karma even extends into the religions that believe in an afterlife: you'll get good things the next time around. So you've got the scale thing going. Christianity is the only religion that says there's no scale: throw it out. Yours are bad deeds, everything you do in the eyes of God, even the stuff you do that's good. Say you go build hospitals and do good deeds. In the eyes of God, if you're not doing them out of gratitude for him, they are sin, too. There's no scale at all and Christ came to say, "there's no scale, toss it out. Believe in me. It doesn't matter what your sins are, I will save you." For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Now, our reaction to that is one of gratitude. And so we begin to do good deeds, not because we're on this scale thing suddenly. God doesn't place us on the scale spectrum where suddenly now I go start weighing my good deeds. That's off the table.

It's faith in Christ and His works on the cross for the deliverance of you from your sins, which we all have, and they were all counting against us until Christ washed them away. Now, we continue to sin as believers. But if you have faith in Christ, your sins come and nip you, but it's God disciplining a son or a daughter and making you more into the image of Christ. Someone who doesn't believe or is working on the little scale method over here, practices sin and the punishments are the wrath of God happening in this life early. It's why sometimes it feels like "oh, there's a believer here suffering and then there's a non believer over here that's doing great!" We can't judge by what we see is happening in people's lives. But we can say, "if this person is a true believer, they're being disciplined by a loving father, to become the image of Christ." Over here, this person is prospering. But because he doesn't believe, it's all going away at some point, either in this life or the next.

In the Christian church, we have the scale religion, let's call it that.  It has always been there in some form. In the original Jewish church, at the time of Christ, the Pharisees were all the scale religion. Scale religion is, in a nutshell, "I'm not a sinner, you are, get out!"  And that's why it says here, the Pharisees were casting people out of the synagogue, probably to protect themselves, because, "I don't want to sin, and I'm not a sinner." But we are all sinners. And that's what Jesus came to tell everybody: "you're all sinners." Even the Pharisees, because they're doing ritualistic things, but their hearts are not for God. They don't love their neighbors as themselves. They're not obeying those two great commandments: love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. They are putting up an "us versus them" system. "I'm not a sinner, you're a sinner."

So when we read this passage, I want to look at the last part again. We know the story of the guy who was born blind--Jesus healed his eyes. And then he comes before the council who're like, "Oh, we know, Jesus is a sinner." Think about that. The only guy who's not a sinner! Jesus Christ did not sin. We have to have a God who did not sin, otherwise, he can't rescue people that do sin. Sinners can't rescue sinners. Only someone who is holy and righteous and does not sin can rescue a sinner from eternal peril.

So the second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, "give glory to God, we know that this man is a sinner." They're saying, we know that Jesus is a sinner. Why? Because he is preaching a different religion from what the Pharisees are preaching. The Pharisees are preaching a scale religion. It's a natural state we fall into. That's why I said atheists and philosophers will do it, too. We fall into it, because it's easier to say to ourselves, "I'm saving myself, I'm doing it myself, I'm going to try and try and then I'm going to succeed, and I'm going to be a non-sinner, I'm not going to sin." And so we fall into it. It's a natural inclination. We have this desire to save ourselves, we don't want someone else to do it. It's humiliating. And that's exactly what Christianity is. It's a bunch of people saying, I'm going to humiliate myself to the Lord and have him be my rescuer. And the prayer from The Valley of Vision that I prayed at the very beginning of the service was like, "we're going to make a botch of it. If we leave our salvation to ourselves, we're going to screw it up. We need you, God, to rescue us." And that's a very humbling thing. And you think it's an easy thing to do? Oh, yeah, all I do is just "give it up." You hear that? Let go and let God: people say that all the time. People don't want to do that. It's our natural inclination to avoid doing that.

We know that this man is a sinner, they're so sure. What's the truth? He's not the sinner and they are sinners. He doesn't answer. "Whether he is a sinner, I do not know." He's not going to play on that field. The man who was once blind is not going to play on that field. I'm not going to go into that area. He said, "one thing I do know though I was blind and now I see." And we know that that physically happened. He was physically blind, and now he sees. It's also a spiritual truth. He was blind, he was a sinner. We're all blind. We're all sinners. Jesus comes and opens our eyes in many different ways, millions of different ways Christ can open our eyes. So what this once-blind man has done by saying this, is he's showing the two different religions that are in the synagogue. We can transfer that to being the church, because we still have it going on now. That happens today. There was a reformation, because the church had gone to a scale religion, weighing good and bad deeds. And then here are some things that you can do to try to tilt the scale, or you can pay to the church building fund and have the scales tip in this direction. So many things like that.

The Church has gone this way many times. Cults--there are lots of cults. They're a little bit more secretive than they were back then when they were obvious. They use the same language as Christianity. But how do you know it's a cult? Scales, suddenly you see the scales coming up. Let's talk about good deeds and bad deeds. What this once-blind guy is saying is, "I don't know about that scale religion stuff. What I do know is I was blind and now I see, that's it." If we want to define Christianity, we can say Christianity, instead of being a scale religion is a religion where blind people are made to see. Jesus opens the eyes of the blind. We're all blind people walking around, not knowing God. And Jesus comes in some form: could be a conversation with a friend, it could be a billboard, it could be thrown out my crazy grandma's Bible because she was some crazy Bible believer, but I'll look at it real fast: Oh! It could take anything. It takes the Holy Spirit to do it, but the eyes are now open. So Christianity is the only religion where blind people are given sight. It's not everybody, as we can tell, because everybody else is jumping on the scale religions. Christianity is the one where blind people are given sight by Christ. And once they see, they see the truth and the truth sets them free. So I was blind now I see. So he's showing the two different religions.

They said to him, "what did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" He answered, "I told you already, and you did not listen." See that there's a miscommunication of ideas, something I've been really thinking about a lot lately. I'll just insert that here. Why not? Babel, we know the story of Babel. What's happening? They're building a tower to the heavens, they're unified, all the people have the same goals, have the same ideas. We have prosperity, we have unity, we have all these things that are going well for everybody. And they're using it to build the tower. And God said, "I will confound their language." And then they're scattered, because they can't understand each other. And we always assume, and I assume this too--and I think it's true--there is an aspect of this, that we're talking about spoken language, and so that's why we have all the different languages of the world. But there are plenty of people who don't believe in Christ, who can learn other languages. There are people that know many languages and can communicate amongst people. So my idea is, what if the language that God confounded... Because what the problem was, these people will be unified, and they didn't need God, they didn't need him at all. So he's saying, they need to need me, so I will confound their language. And we think it means spoken language. What if it's ideas? What if it's economic language? Right now we have a big divide in the world: we have socialism, we have free economics, and there the two never meet. Everybody's arguing about what will work, and one side says, "this will work. It's has worked." The other side says, "No, no, ours will work, it just hasn't been tried yet." And the other side says, "Oh, yes. It's been tried many, many times. And it has resulted in mass murder." And the other side says, "that didn't happen, you know," and so, back and forth. What is that's the language that God confounded? Because one side thinks it's obvious, and the other side thinks it's obvious. What if that's what God was doing by confounding the languages: it wasn't necessarily the spoken word of everybody, because we do learn those. They're very similar. We go, okay, there's a verb, there's a noun, we can learn this. I'm trying to learn French right now. It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but I'm starting to learn that. But what if it's ideas, what if it's something deeper?

Anyway, I just wanted to share that with you. Because that's what's happening. We have two churches
and there's an obvious difference between them, but we can't figure out which one is right. But the Bible will tell us which one is right. The real church is the one of blind people being made to see. And the other church is the Pharisees who say, "we're not sinners, you are! We've proven you to be a sinner, get out!" And that's what's happening here.

I'm going to flip to the third letter of John.  What you have here is a letter from John to Gaius. It's right before Jude, which is right before Revelation. So, third-to-last book of the Bible, and I'm just gonna read it. I'll make comments throughout. See if you can see the two churches. The elder--John--to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper, and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. For I was very glad when brethren--fellow Christians--came and testified to your truth--not relativism, not his truth--that is, how you are walking in truth. The other Christians have come to me and told me that you were blind, and now you see. You are walking in truth, you are someone whose eyes have been opened. I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in truth. It's essentially saying, I know that in the church of blind people, you are one that has sight, because we have a visible church, which can consist of everybody that professes to be a Christian. And then we have an invisible Church of people who actually see and God knows they see.  Beloved, you are acting faithfully and whatever you accomplished for the brethren, and especially when they're strangers. So he's taking care of his fellow Christians, especially when he doesn't know them. That's one of the big hurdles in life. We think, oh, we're all about taking care of strangers. Yeah, yeah, it is one of the largest hurdles in life to take care of somebody you don't know, to help someone you don't know. And to be able to identify if they're walking in the truth, if their eyes are open. And that's one of our goals is to help each other whose eyes are open. And they have testified to your love before the church--so these strangers, to you, have even testified to your love, and you will do well to send them on their way, in a manner worthy of God. For they went out the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Think of them. Remember, Jesus sent his apostles out and he said, "You know, if people are walking in darkness, and they reject you, just stay away. "Accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore, we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth. Think of truth being light, think of truth being sight.

So there's the church. Now, I wrote something to the church, John is saying, but Diatrophes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. He sounds like a leader in the church doesn't he, Diatrophes? He loves to be first among them. He does not accept what we say. And this is John who was with Jesus. If anybody has authority in the church, it's John. But here's this guy Diatrophes in the visible church. And whenever somebody comes to him like the blind man and says, "Hey, Christianity's about blind people seeing," he's like, "get out of here. That's not what we are. We're scales." He does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words. And not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so, and puts them out of the church. It's interesting how the people who were blind and now see don't go about the business of putting the people who are still blind out of the church. (This is different from church discipline in Matthew 18 and properly approaching unrepentant sinners). The idea is to help those blind people see, but the people who are blind and are in a different religion, their goal is to get the people who see out of the church: it's a one-directional thing. One side is pushing the other side out of the church. The other side is trying to help those people see, so that they can be seers of Christ, too.

Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God, the one who does evil has not seen God. Notice he didn't say, the one who does good is of God, the one who does evil is not of God. That would have been very parallel. But he says, the one who does evil has not seen God, is still walking in darkness from birth.

And then he talks about another person: Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone and from the truth itself, and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true. So don't be discouraged. Here's another person in the church with you, Gaius. He is also walking in the light. Stick together, become light. As Jesus said, he wants us to become light for others in the church. We think, "oh, we're all here in the church. Let's go out and get these people covered. But there's housecleaning to do, and we don't want to make waves. So we don't we stray away from that. But it's not making waves, because they're the ones that are making waves by trying to push people out. Our waves, and I'm preaching to everybody here, as if we are all people walking in the light, our way is to be light in the darkness and get people who are walking in darkness into the light, too.

Think of yourself. Self examine? Are you someone who has been walking in darkness and are now walking in light? Or are you someone preoccupied with figuring out, "Am I doing more good deeds than evil ones?" This stops becoming an issue because, I've been there. I've said, I'm a Christian, but I'm really worried about whether my good deeds are outweighing my bad deeds. Because that's the religion that we're fed. You have to change your thinking, convert your thinking to, "we are members of Christianity, a religion where blind people see, are made to see by Christ's spirit," and suddenly everything changes: the way we behave, the way we think, the way we speak, the way we act, because we're no longer focusing on, "are my good deeds outweighing my bad deeds? Am I going to get into heaven because of this?" Christ died on the cross. It's already done. He died for your sins. That's happened. Being someone who lives who walks in the light, walks in the truth, is all about gratitude, repaying Christ for what he's already done. If you're worried about the scales, you're not believing that he's already died for your sins, because you're worried about trying to get your sins off the scales, you're trying to save yourself. If you have faith that Christ has already accomplished that on the cross, this goes away, and it becomes nothing, and then it all becomes about walking in the light and showing light to others, and obeying the law but out of gratitude for Christ's sacrifice for you. That's already been done. He doesn't have to do it again.

Amen.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Life and Death

According to Romans 14:7-9, not one of us--us being Christians, professing Christians who have a penitent faith in Christ--lives for himself, and not one of us dies for himself. Those without a penitent faith in Christ do live for themselves, or they live for an idol or idols, but such cannot die for themselves, for they cannot save themselves. Christians live for the Lord. Everything we do, we filter through the lens of God's will. Christians die for the Lord, we die to preserve his holy name, and we die satisfied that we are his, and that to die is not eternal death but the start of an eternal life in which we know God forever. So, there is no living for the Lord with the idea that our relationship with the Lord ends at death. We are the Lord's in both life and death. And we aren't just living for the Lord in order to achieve some kind of benefit after death. We love the Lord, and our relationship with him begins in life and that same relationship continues into death and life after death. The Lord owns us now, and he will continue to own us forever. Otherwise, why are you willing to be the Lord's if not forever?

This is the reason for the resurrection. Christ is Lord. He is Lord of the living and the dead. His resurrection showed us--irrefutably--that death was not the end. He rose again from the dead to show us that we, too, will rise from the dead. That all who have faith in him will rise from the dead. When we have faith in him, it means that he owns us. We are Christ's and he owns us, because he paid for us with his blood. We cannot buy ourselves back, because we cannot afford it, and why would we want to buy ourselves back? Being owned by Christ is the ultimate state of being. God put the Christ--the messiah--in place to be our Lord and Savior, to not only save our souls from destruction but to be our Lord and Master, sanctifying us by his Spirit, and changing us into his likeness. Only a Lord and Master has the authority to do that with those whom he owns.

In John 20, the gentiles begin to seek Jesus, and he knows that the time has come for his death and resurrection. All the world needed to see what eternal life looked like, even though many would--and still do--reject the offer. Jesus told his disciples that anyone who does not die to himself is isolated from God. This is hell--eternity without God. However, if we die to ourselves, if we give up all the pleasures of worldly living and begin to live for God, we will bear much fruit for the Lord, fruit that carries over into the next life.  Jesus said, "he who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal." Since Christ owns us, we must serve him, and that means following him: living for him and following his path. We are talking about a literal following of him, so that where he is, there we be also. This is not a head-only acknowledgement of Christ's Lordship. He is our master, and so where he tells us to go, we go, and that means following him to the grave. We die to ourselves. No man can serve two masters. Only master Jesus is possible. The result is the Father honoring that servant with everlasting life.

Are you living for Christ? Are you ready to die for Christ? Are you following Christ's rule? Are you being a citizen of his kingdom by obeying his every command? Are you bearing his fruit? Have you killed the worldly life in you? Have you disowned all but Christ? Are you serving him and him alone?

Saturday, June 16, 2018

God's Works

Plenty of evidence points to God's existence, especially creation itself, but so many do not believe in God at all (even though he has placed knowledge of his existence in the hearts of all people). With all the obvious evidence, still many do not believe. We try all kinds of proofs, all kinds of brain exercises to logically infer God, and yet those techniques still do not work. I read CS Lewis' Mere Christianity and was convinced of the truth of the Christian God, but I know of many who have read the same book and were not convinced at all. What we need is not a brain-knowledge of God but a heart-knowledge. Striving to understand God's essence is not effective, but contemplating him in his works is very effective. God will seem true and near to us when we study his deeds.  This is why the Bible is mostly about what God DOES in history, and even what he SAYS is about what he DOES.

David tells us that we should meditate on his works in Psalm 145. God is too vast to adequately grasp, but if we look upon his works, we will grasp him sufficiently for salvation. We can look at creation itself, the impossibility of all this happening by accident. We can look at the miracles of the Old Testament: the flood and rescue of Noah, the Tower of Babel, the providence of Joseph, the exodus from Egypt, the preservation in the wilderness. We can look at the miracles of the New Testament: the incarnation and wonders of Christ, the resurrection, the salvation of Paul. We can look at the deeds of God in history, like the reformation. Finally, we can look at the wonders of God in our own lives, like the healing of my daughter's eyes, or his saving even me from destruction.

What does such knowledge do? This heart knowledge of God's works leads us to worship and hope of the future life. All of his works on earth point to something greater to come after this world passes away. The persecution and suffering of the pious and the success and prosperity of the wicked also points to an afterlife of perfect justice, where the pious are rewarded and the wicked get their just desserts. So, in the end, we cannot look at each of God's works individually and then stop looking.  We must look at ALL of his works as a whole, as if looking at a massive painting, to see where they all fit together. When we focus on one thing, like say the conquest of the promised land, we tend to get mired down in God's essence again: who is God at his core? When we look at all of his works together, we see God's work in the salvation of his people, the righteousness, goodness, justice, and mercy for his people. We see an heroic epic.

In Psalm 40, David says that evils beyond number surround him, and even his own sins have gotten the better of him, and he is unable to see his savior clearly. The heart love that he has for his Lord seems empty and insufficient. God is far away. But he looks at the big picture.  He looks at the way God has saved his church from destruction. He has saved the bride of Christ by saving Christ from destruction. His church is wed to him, and so the church gets saved, too. We are in Christ and Christ in us.

See the big picture. See the salvation of the Lord. Are you hung up on trying to understand a presence more vast than all of humanity put together? Are you nitpicking God's individual deeds in order to find fault with him? Or are you looking at the big picture, seeing the face of the Son who died to save us all? Are you looking at the fullness of time and seeing God's intercession in history through Christ the savior, who saves his people from their sins by his death on the cross? Do you see in all the Old Testament the foreshadowing of the big picture? Do you see in the New Testament the description of the big picture itself? Is knowledge of the Lord present in your heart by meditation on his mighty works?

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Three Psalms on God's Glory

I want to look at three Psalms on God's glory. One is about how we can experience God's glory from creation itself. The second one is how we can discern God's glory from man's stewardship over nature. Finally, the last one is on how we see God's glory in his sovereignty over man's salvation. What we have is an increasing pull-back from nature to man's place in nature to God's rule over all things, all of which glorify God.

Psalm 104

What we have here is a description of what mankind has been doing since the beginning: assigning physical attributes to the invisible God using nature as descriptors. God clothes himself in light, stretches out the sky like a tent, and uses the waters as a housing structure. He rides on the clouds like a chariot (do you see how man corrupted these images into false gods like Zeus?), stands upon the wind, and uses the elements to communicate with humanity. No true Christian thinks of God as an old man in the sky, despite what the ungodly tell us what we believe, but when we know that God is sovereign over all of nature--even the unpredictable elements--it's hard not to imagine the power of the almighty God behind a chaotic thunderstorm and realize that he is communicating his glory to us. In fact, this is what we should do. We should think of God as all-powerful and potentially destructive to the evil that man has brought about. If we live in awe and fear of God, we will respect him and put our faith in him. Read the rest of the Psalm and know that God is in control over all the seemingly random things in nature:

He established the earth upon its foundations,
You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
The waters were standing above the mountains.
At Your rebuke they fled,
At the sound of Your thunder they hurried away.
You set a boundary that they may not pass over,
So that they will not return to cover the earth.
He sends forth springs in the valleys;
He waters the mountains from His upper chambers;
He causes the grass to grow for the cattle,
He made the moon for the seasons;
The sun knows the place of its setting.
You appoint darkness and it becomes night,
O Lord, how many are Your works!
In wisdom You have made them all;
The earth is full of Your possessions.
There is the sea, great and broad,
And Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it.
They all wait for You
To give them their food in due season.
You give to them, they gather it up;
You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good.
You hide Your face, they are dismayed;
You take away their spirit, they expire
And return to their dust.
You send forth Your Spirit, they are created;
He looks at the earth, and it trembles;
He touches the mountains, and they smoke.

Psalm 8

Here is where we see the glory of God through mankind. He made man's mouth for singing his praises, even from infancy. The Psalmist tells us that with all the works of nature that we read about in Psalm 104, there is no need for God to even create man in the first place.  So much glory of God lies in nature, that it almost seems that mankind is an afterthought. But no! Man is God's crowning achievement, and God has made him to be a steward over majestic creation, representing God as like a regent, taking care of the kingdom until the true king can step into the role. All of creation is put under the dominion of man, and our job is to glorify God by taking care of such. Do we succeed? No, which is why we need to read the 107th Psalm.

Psalm 107

Finally, we have the ultimate Psalm of God's glory--God being glorified through the redemption of mankind. He put us in charge and we botched it. We let the enemy in through the gates, and we have no life in ourselves. God created nature, then he created a reasoning creature to take care of it--both for his glory. Then the reasoning creature fell into sin and death, and now God gets to be glorified by recreating all things, beginning with the reasoning creature.

Man has starved himself by cutting himself off from God's life. He cries out to the Lord who delivers him. Man is in the desert. God steers his way to a majestic city of eternal life. Mankind consists of rebels in chains, prisoners in misery, lost laborers. Mankind cries out to the Lord who saves them. God sets man free from his bonds and brings him out from under the shadow of death. Man lives under a self-imposed plague, and the Lord heals man with his word. Mankind has made shipwreck of our faith. We plunge deeper and deeper in misery. The very nature we were commissioned to subdue has overtaken us. We failed in our stewardship and nature has ruined us. But the Lord stills the storm and hushes the waves. He guides us to the desired haven.

God created everything. He sustains all things. He controls all things. He will recreate all things. He has already begun recreating all things, beginning with you. You dwelt in desert places, because of your sin. God delivered you from sin though Jesus Christ's death on the cross. Your faith in this particular deliverance determines your re-creation. Are you being recreated into the likeness of his son? Are you being recreated for the new heavens and the new earth? Are you being recreated for everlasting life? Or are you still under the shadow of death? Are you still sinking into the dark of the deep, drowning in sin and misery? Have you embraced the son? Or are you to wander in the desert for eternity?

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Importance of the Trinity

It is very important for our salvation that our God is a trinity.  The word "trinity" is not used in the Bible, but that God is three in one is everywhere in its pages. The Father creates us, the Son redeems us, and the Spirit sanctifies us.  All three of these things are necessary for the Christian life.

Matthew 3:16-17. When Jesus is baptized by John in the river Jordan, he comes up immediately from the water, and the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on him.  He has been "christened" for his office as redeemer.  A voice out of the heavens--the Father--says that Jesus is his beloved son, in whom he is well pleased.  The Father is the mastermind behind the plan of salvation, and he is pleased with the human vessel to carry the plan out.  Jesus is the redeemer of the world, the Word of God made flesh, who dies for the sins of believers.  The Holy Spirit applies redemption to the believers and carries out the cleansing of our sins, making them white as snow, like a dove.

Matthew 28:18-20. The Father has given the Son all authority in heaven and on earth.  Jesus, the Son, takes that authority and passes it down to all believers, giving us the power to preach the gospel to all nations, making disciples.  Baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit begins the regeneration process.  Believers are preached to and become sanctified.  The act of discipling is conceived by the Father, enabled by the Son, and impossible to accomplish without the Spirit.

John 14:16. Jesus tells his disciples that he, the Son, will ask the Father, and he will give his disciples the Spirit of truth to help us. Once again, the Father is the mastermind, Christ is the agent of change, and the Holy Spirit is the substance of enlightenment.  In this case, he will lead his children in all truth, teaching all things, opening the scriptures to understanding, and testifying about Jesus to the world (John 15:26).

John 16:5-11. The Spirit also keeps in our minds the trinity. Not only does he convict the world of sin, but he alerts the world to the righteous solution for sin, because Jesus is with the Father, interceding for us. The Spirit also promises a day of judgment and that there is only a short time left, time enough for us to receive faith in God.  Faith is not just believing in God, but a thorough understanding of the gospel, and that understanding involves knowing the trinity. The gospel doesn't make sense unless the roles the trinity plays make sense.

Salvation involves the complete trinity. If you don't have the Spirit, you don't have the Son.  If you don't have the Son, you don't have the Father.  Not believing in one means you don't believe in any of them.  Not being aware of the work of one means the other two are not working in your life, either.  How do you know if God is active in your life? The Holy Spirit bears fruit in the believer's life.  If you can see the fruit of faith, then you know the Holy Spirit is sanctifying you, and you know that the Son is interceding for you, and you know that the Father has elected you.  If you practice the deeds of the flesh, then you are outside the trinity.  The deeds of the flesh, according to Galatians 5, are immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing. The fruits of the Spirit are love (as Christ loved us), joy (even in persecution), peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Examine yourselves.  These fruits are not difficult to discern.  Is the trinity at work in your life? Has the Father created a new person?  Has the Son spilled his blood on your behalf?  Is the Holy Spirit sanctifying you? Are you bearing the fruit?

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.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Washing in the Word

Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” (John 13:10)

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the narrative of a passage in the bible, in the social underpinnings of the text, on what it means to be a doer of the word, on how to be socially aware of the world around us, what it means to be a Christian, how to interact with the believer, the unbeliever, the stranger, that we miss the spiritual aspect of what God is trying to tell us.  Many times, yes, we will over-spiritualize a practical passage of scripture, but there are also other times in which we will over-practicalize a spiritual aspect of the Word, knowing that the practical applications are there, and are apparent, and are easily discerned, sometimes so overtly obvious that we forget there being a spiritual aspect at all, and then, with careful reading, and deep meditation, we discover the spiritual aspect, shocked that we missed it in the first place, and wondering why we hadn't seen it right off from the first.

Such is the 13th chapter of John's gospel, where Jesus washes the disciples' feet. The chapter begins by telling us that Jesus knew that his hour had come and that this last discourse, private for his apostles, was going to have deep spiritual significance, and that he was going to speak very plainly to them, the parables having gone, and although the plain speak may not be clear, and he would have to clarify on the fly, and repeat many things, he was going to speak in that direct language that the apostles could understand, because he needed them to know what to do after he was gone.  He would also speak to them plainly in the forty days after his resurrection and before his ascension, but now the time has begun, and his speech was becoming plain for them. He knows that he is ready to begin the last journey to the cross and beyond, and that he would end up at the right hand of the father, and he knows his own, who are in this hostile world, and so the instruction needed to begin, in how to handle themselves against said hostile world, with the love that he was bestowing upon them.  He saw the danger was great toward them from the world, and he was going to, over the next few chapters on this gospel, take them gently through all the truths, plainly.

Supper was over, and the text says that at that moment, the devil had put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray Christ, and so Jesus began his discourse with a demonstration.  We think there are two sections to this, that the demonstration is distinct and separate from the multi-chapter discourse that follows, but the teaching has already begun with the example.  Yes, the devil was about to use one of his own to betray him, but all things were his, given to him by his father, and he was in control of all reality and truth.  It was time to begin the discourse.  Of course, when he begins to wash the disciples' feet, they do not understand what he is doing.  Peter outright refuses, but then Jesus tells him that he will have no part in him if he refuses--a spiritual truth, of course, because Christ is talking about the washing away of sin, and this is what the demonstration is spiritually about--and so Peter immediately reverses his stance on the washing and demands Jesus drench him from head to toe!

Here is the crucial verse that begins everything in the upper room: he that is washed needs not a full-body cleansing, and we should know that Jesus is speaking spiritually here, because his disciples haven't physically washed.  He is only physically washing their feet, a symbol of the continual washing in the word of God that they will need to undertake day-in and day-out of their lives.  Jesus tells them later (15:3) that he has washed them in his word, and that they, too are to wash each other in the word, and the wash outsiders in the word.  Jesus tells them that they are clean--the first to be washed from sins by his atonement, which is to come, but the spiritual truth is there, as he tells them that they are clean--except for their feet.  Walking through the world, even the saintliest Christian is going to get dirty from the world itself.  The most faithful Christian stumbles, the most faithful Christian sins, and he must continually repent while living in this world, for he has not been glorified yet by the Lord.  So, as he walks, his feet get dirty, and so we must wash his spiritual feet, by repenting, by washing his neighbor's feet, his brother's feet, encouraging them spiritually, and pressing them to repent of their day-to-day sins.

But then there are those like Judas, who falls into a special category, one in which he is a pretender, not like the unbelieving world, but more like the false church, who pretends that he is one of the apostles--and he was never an apostle in truth--and who reveals himself to not have the slightest inkling of faith in his Lord.  He is not an apostle who was and then was not.  As Jesus says a chapter earlier, he was a thief who was stealing from the till.  He was never one of them, as John tells us again in his first letter to the church.  This is one, like an unbeliever, who has not the Spirit of God in him, who does not believe, and so is not clean in his entirety.  He not only has dirty feet, but he has dirty hands and head, as Peter so aptly describes.  Those who reject the God who made them are also those who betray Christ, as we all once were, but Jesus takes us and washes us in his blood, the blood that was spilled by his death on the cross,  Others are not washed.  We may have our dirty feet that need to be continually washed in the water of the word and repentance, but theirs are souls that are completely lost to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. 

Our feet are dirty.  We must be "continually purged of our corrupt affections and worldly cares which remain daily in us."  Jesus taught us this with symbolic examples and he spoke to us plainly.  Then he went to the cross to actually execute this purging in reality.  And, as we celebrated last week, he rose from the dead to reveal God's glory.  In that same discourse, the one where Jesus tells them that they are clean, he tells them that he is now glorified.  Even though he had not suffered on the cross yet, he pronounced them clean.  Even though he had not risen from the grave, he pronounced himself glorified.  The Word of God cleanses us, as the Holy Spirit cleanses us, and keeps us walking in this world safely, until our glorification in the next world.  Put your faith in Christ, in the words that he spoke, in the words revealed in the scriptures, and be made clean.