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.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The First Day of the Week

Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. (John 20:1)

Why the first day of the week?  Did Christians move the Sabbath Day to Sunday from Saturday?  Why is Sunday more important than Saturday to Christians?  Well, let's look at creation.  Saturday is the day of rest that God took after creation.  He rested on the last day, and he established the week. This example sets the stage for all of human life.  We must rest from our labors.  This is not only loving our God by respecting his Sabbath but loving our neighbors by not forcing them to work too hard, by giving them breaks in life.  By giving them decompression.  This is a good commandment to have.

What is significant about the first day of the week in creation?  The beginning of creation!  The day where there was nothing but darkness and void, and then God said, "Let there be light!" and creation officially began! This is important to Christians, because Jesus' resurrection signifies the beginning of a new creation.  Paul tells us that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christ came out of the tomb with a new body, like the old one but imperishable.  Like the old one but impermeable.  Like the old one but indestructible.  This is the significance of the first day of the week--new creation begins.  This is the moment when Christ shows us what the new creation looks like, and this is the moment in which new creation is begun in all who believe in him.  Christ breathes his Holy Spirit on the apostles.  Christ stays with his disciples for forty days, no longer speaking to them in parables but intensely coaching them on the nature of reality, the reality of the new creation.

Christ had driven seven demons out of Mary Magdalene.  She was already changed by Jesus.  But she still reveals that she is not yet a new creation when she repeats that someone has taken the Lord's body and she doesn't know where it is.  When she faces Jesus himself, she assumes him to be the gardener, and she asks for Christ's body from him.  Then Jesus reveals himself to her, the first revelation of the new creation, and thus begins the forty days of education about the reality of things.  Now, no one gets a new, imperishable body while still living life on earth, but the Christian life is one of internal change.  The new body will come, but in the meantime the spirit of the believer is being changed to accommodate the new body.  New Creation is happening inside to meet the new creation that will happen outside.

This new creation is a work of God alone.  We cannot change ourselves.  God must do it.  The stone is rolled away before Mary arrives, even though she came early.  God has already done his work.  In her unbelief, she thinks that Jesus' body has been taken away.  When the disciples leave the area, she stays and weeps for a dead Christ.  Then angels reveal themselves to her, and she still doesn't believe.  Christ then approaches her, and she mistakes his identity, still not believing.  It is only when Jesus calls her by name that she wakes up to the reality that is happening.  The interior change begins.  Before, he cast out the demons to prepare the soil, but now the spiritual recreation has begun.

But Mary has faith, and that is what gives us hope.  God has given her the faith she needs to seek him.  Remember, Christ tells us to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.  Granted, Mary did not know that Christ was alive, and so she was seeking a dead Jesus, but seek him she did.  She sought him out of faith.  She got up early and went to the tomb out of love for her savior. When she finds him missing, she immediately goes to Peter and John to help her find his body.  When Peter and John leave, she remains weeping for her Lord.  She then stoops to look into the tomb, even though she knows his body is not there.  The suddenly appearing angels don't even stir her heart away from her quest for Jesus.  Even when Jesus appears to her, she is too focused on finding her Lord to realize that she has indeed found him.  Well, he found her, but her faith made herself available to him at the tomb.

Now, we know about the new creation, and we do not seek the living among the dead.  We don't have to go to the tomb to seek a body, because we know that Christ is risen.  We know that he is alive, and that we have seen him.  Mary went back to the disciples after Jesus spoke with her, and she said to them, "I have seen the Lord."  We can say that, too, because we read these words in the scriptures, and our faith grasps hold of them. We, too, have seen the Lord, because he has first seen us, and he has begun to change us into a new creation, on the first day of the week of our lives.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Light Shall Shine Out Of Darkness

"Light shall shine out of darkness." 2 Corinthians 4:6

In the darkness, where formlessness and void persisted, where there was extreme nothingness, God declared light to the darkness, and light did explode out of the darkness.  God then declared the light to be good, and so it was.  He also declares his light to be good within us.  We are born in darkness, we are formless and void, we have no essence in and of ourselves.  Nothing good is within us, and then God places the goodness within us--his own goodness.  He is the ultimate good and the source of good in the universe.  His is the light.  He is the light that shines in the darkness, and his Spirit he places within us is light that shines out of our darkness.

God said that light shall shine out of the darkness.  Our hearts are black and dismal, and yet he has given us the light in the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  To know that Christ is God is to have the ultimate knowledge of the light.  To know in our hearts the truth of Christ as the only propitiation for our sins is to have the light shine brightly in the darkness of our souls.  God puts this knowledge in our hearts, and our hearts react by turning from darkness to light.  We are weak vessels--humans--and so this blinding power of light cannot come from ourselves.  It can only come from God, who is outside our darkness. He places the light, like a candle, in the darkness of the room of our souls, and yet this candle burns with the light of a thousand suns, obliterating all the blackness and evil within us.  Try as we might, our darkness cannot comprehend the light.  It cannot overcome the light, and it is shut out.  We must understand--and also preach--that this light is from God and not ourselves.

To make this clear, the external Christian life is one of persecution and tribulation.  This is important to have.  We must be afflicted, so that our internal perseverance can be shown.  We must be forsaken on the outside to reveal the light on the inside.  When the body is destroyed the impermeable light inside is revealed.  If we are doing well on the outside, not only is it impossible to see the light on the inside, but people will assume there is only darkness on the inside.  This is a conclusion we do not want the world to make.  This is how Jesus lived--suffering on the outside, continually showing the light on the inside.

Passion Sunday is just as important as Easter Sunday.  Christ's resurrection is the revelation of the light, but Christ's crucifixion is the revelation of the darkness out of which the light shines, for that stark contrast.  We not only carry around in us the living Christ but also the dead Christ.  In fact, we primarily carry to the world the dead Christ, so that the living Christ can be revealed.  Without the dead Christ, the living Christ is without the magnitude of impact he needs.  We show the dead Christ in our sufferings and the living Christ in our redemption.  We must preach sin and death before the world can possibly understand salvation and everlasting life.

Allow yourself to be delivered over to death.  Die to your old, sinful life.  Die to your unbelieving friends and family.  The world will gladly help us in this goal, because the light inside must be shrouded in the dark agony of death.  The contrast must be seen, and the unbelieving world is willing to assist.  For Jesus' sake we must persevere through suffering, not lay fallow in outward prosperity.  The more mortal we are to the world, the more immortal Jesus becomes through us.  The weaker we appear to the world, the stronger Jesus appears.  The more we die, the more the light of life manifests itself outwardly.  When the light reaches the world in this way, the darkness of individuals will be touched by the light.  They, too, can now suffer on the outside as Christ changes their hearts on the inside.  The shadows of evil will begin to die, and those the Lord wills will be changed.  The contrast must be seen!  Passion precedes Salvation.  Persecution precedes perseverance. Let your worldly lives be destroyed, so that the light of God in Jesus Christ can show forth and bring life to an unbelieving world.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Repentance and Time

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

This verse answers the question that all Christians have from time to time: why does not God just wrap it up?  Why does he linger in ending this fallen world once and for all?  Can't he see things keep getting worse?  Can't he just put the world out of its misery?  We are ready for eternal life, the main story, to get started.  We are tired of the world, the flesh, and the devil rearing their ugly heads at every turn.  This is torture!  Come on, God! Wrap it up!

But the verse in question is deep in thoughtful ideas about this subject.  For instance

1) There is a difference between slowness and patience. Slowness implies that we are waiting for God.  Patience implies that God is waiting for us.  Slowness implies a lack of understanding of the way reality works.  Patience implies that the gospel is a firm reality in present life and must be responded to by each individual.  These words of scripture stir up our sincere minds.  Are our sincere thoughts stirred? Do we have a sincerity about the truth that is necessary for a solid faith? How do we stir up that sincerity?  We read the scriptures, of course.  The Bible is the surest way to stir up a sincere mind.  Insincere minds will reject its words.  Sincere minds will be stimulated.  Our faith must be sincere to be accepted by God.  We can't just say we believe.  We must believe with all our hearts, soul, strength and mind.

2) Both Old and New Testaments are equally important. God is the same God in both.  The New Testament helps explain the difficult parts of the Old Testament, but that does not make the Old Testament any less vital.  In fact, it makes the older texts more vital.  The Old Testament, we are told, is a different religion.  Or, we are told, God changed from the Old to New.  Being immersed in both will inform our souls that there is no change in our Lord.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

3) At the same time, the unbelieving world will continually attack the scriptures as being false.  They do this by attacking primarily the Old Testament, although they do attack both testaments.  How we react to the Bible is a great divider.  More and more people are taking sides for and against the Word of God.  More people who said previously that they believed--and who still say that they believe--are casting down the validity and veracity of the sacred scriptures.  Actual confessing Christians say that they are not necessary.  And yet they are the only texts that stir up the sincere Christian mind.  How do we react to God's Word?  I think the great dividing line will fall on the Bible and what it says about the truth.  We will face God and confess to believing his whole Word, not just the parts we liked.  They who reject the Bible reject Christ and reject all of the faith.

4) God does not wish any to perish. Alas, many will.  The world attacks the truth that is found in God. The world confidently stays lost to God and perishes. Confessing Christians reject God's word and perish.  The world laughingly rejects God's son and perishes.  So many perish.  It breaks the heart in two. But God does not wish any to perish, and so he provides time: not slow time but patient time, so that all will have a chance to accept or reject the gospel. We have grown up in a world where lies are intensely affirmed as true, and we aren't even aware of a possible alternative until God's Spirit unlocks true truth for us.  In Peter's time--and our own--the world denies any catastrophic events in earth's past.  The world denies the flood.  Peter tells us that believing that the flood happened is important, because it (1) reveals the nature of everything and (2) gives us promise that something catastrophic will happen again.  Remember slowness v. patience?  Patience is more hopeful, because at the end of God's patience comes catastrophe.  At the end of slowness comes catastrophe, too, but with patience comes a purpose.  God is being patient with us, because he wishes that none will perish.

5) The sincere mind, stirred up by the scriptures, the knowledge of truth, knowing that a catastrophe will come, and an awareness of God's patience, realizing that he wishes none to perish--all these things should give us hope for the gospel.  But we must never forget that the true gospel involves repentance.  God wishes that none perish but that all come to repentance in this patient time he is giving us.  Because the gospel involves repentance, it involves something to repent of.  The gospel always must include sin, something to repent of, or else those who hear this "half" gospel will be lost forever.  Repentance means you know that you are guilty of sins against God, sins that you would never be able to atone for.  Repentance means admitting that you are guilty before a holy God, and this repentance only occurs when one knows the truth that can only be found in Jesus Christ.  He took the punishment we deserve.  He atoned where we could not.  We cannot atone for our own sins.  He atoned for the sins of the whole world of those who believe in him.  This belief--this true faith--a faith only found with a sincere mind, stirred up by the scriptures--this faith brings us to repentance.  This faith saves us.

God is not being slow.  He is being patient, so that you will find yourself on the correct side of the dividing line--the repentant side.  Read the scriptures for yourself.  See what they say about your hopeless condition.  Read what they say about the only one who can save you.  Stir up your sincere mind and allow God's spirit to drive you to your knees in repentance.  The catastrophe will come, and it will come like a thief in the night, at a time when we least expect it.  All will end.  You could be washing the dishes.  You could be driving to the grocery store.  You could be walking the beach.  We won't know when the catastrophe will come, when everything will be burned up.  Now is the time for salvation, now is the time for repentance and belief in the one, true God and his son Jesus Christ.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Repentance and the Kingdom

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 4:17

Jesus repeats these words of John the Baptist when he begins his ministry in earnest. Within this simple sentence is packed the gospel message, if we choose to see it:

1) The word "repent" begins the sentence.  This is from the Lord's own mouth.  Many content that it was an addition to the gospel added by church fathers. Here it is coming from Christ himself. Many contend that repentance is a work that needs to be performed before God can save you. From careful study and even experience, we see that repentance and faith go together: you cannot have one without the other. If one does not have faith in Jesus Christ for the deliverance from and forgiveness of sins, he will not repent.  Repentance is an immediate and continual fruit of the Spirit of God communing with one's soul.

2) The last word in the English sentence is actually the second word in the Greek sentence.  The word means "is drawing near" and the NASB uses "at hand", which gives an impression that the kingdom is "within one's reach."  Now, this does not mean that we are capable of taking the kingdom of heaven under our own power, but it does imply an action on our part, an action that comes as a fruit of faith, and that is grasping the kingdom of heaven.  But "is drawing near" is very good, too, because it implies that God is the one doing the drawing.  We were not looking for the kingdom of heaven, because we are ensnared by sin, and we do not want it.  However, it draws near to us anyway, because God will have us.

3) Now that we have repentance and "at hand" in place.  It's time to look at what we are getting.  Repentance is the turning of the heart from one kingdom to another.  God has drawn his kingdom of heaven near.  We are to repent, which means to alter our course from the one toward destruction to the new path of everlasting life.  What kingdom have we been born into?  Well, the kingdom of Satan, of course.  Christ calls him the prince of this world.  We gave it to him by disobeying God and allowing ourselves to be ensnared by the devil.  Now, all people are born into this unholy kingdom.  What do we do?  Well, there is nothing to do.  We are in an insurmountable bind.

4) But God has brought the kingdom of heaven near to us, and what happens is we switch our allegiance from one kingdom to the other--from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of heaven--through repentance, and repentance is a gift of God by faith.  Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world, and just previously in this chapter, Jesus was offered, by Satan, the kingdoms of the world, because they were his to give. Jesus taught us how to pray, "thy kingdom come."  When Jesus shares the parable of the wheat and tares, he explains, "as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one."  He lays the two kingdoms out for clarity.

5) This sounds so easy.  Repent to turn from the kingdom of destruction, wherein you stay at your own peril, to the kingdom of eternal life.  And yet, we don't do it, because we don't fancy ourselves to be in need of repentance.  This is the curse we live under: not only lives of destructive sin but a complete denial of our sinfulness.  The Holy Spirit not only makes us aware of our sin but give us the means to repent against it.

6) When the kingdom draws near to us, several things happen.  First, we are made aware of our sin and our need for a savior.  Second, we are made aware of our savior as the only means of our escape from the kingdom of destruction.  Third, we are given the faith to believe the savior. Fourth, our faith gives us the ability to repent and turn from the ugly kingdom to the beautiful kingdom.  Finally, as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, we pray for the people who refuse to repent and who remain in the old city.  We are aware of their predicament, we pray that we won't slip into their predicament, and if we feel ourselves stumble, we are quick to confess our sins and receive Christ's continual forgiveness for our sins, made possible by his death on the cross, a substitute death for the one we deserve.

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  It has drawn near, and it is within your grasp.  Put your faith in the savior and repent.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Repentance and Rebellion

"They have refused to repent." Jeremiah 5:3g

At the end of Genesis 18, the Lord tells Abraham of his intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, because of its thorough wickedness.  Abraham begs him to spare the cities, if he can find 50 righteous men.  God agrees, but after a comical exchange (at least it would be if it weren't so tragic), Abraham haggles him down to ten righteous men.  As we find out, God destroys Sodom, Gomorrah, and the nearby cities, because he is unable to find ten righteous men.  This definitely is tragic, but these are pagan nations. In Jeremiah 5, God is telling Jeremiah about Jerusalem, and his words sound eerily similar.  This is not a bunch of pagan cities; this is God's own city, Jerusalem. We can shake our heads at the ungodly of this world, the heathen, but within the church are many who are not regenerate, and if this passage is any indication, the unregenerate are many and the saved few.  From this passage in Jeremiah we learn...

1) Try as we might, it seems impossible to find a regenerate person.  We have enough tears praying for and pleading for the people outside the church, but we can search throughout the church and find many that seem just as lost. First John reads that one of the signs of a true Christian is that he likes hanging out with and discussing God with other Christians.  Are there many that we can share lengthy discussions about God with in the church? Does it not seem that congregants want to talk about anything BUT God?  And Jesus Christ is way off topic, it seems. Subjective Christianity seems to be the norm these days.  But, we shouldn't be surprised.  Repentance is not taught in our churches.  That is why God tells Jeremiah to, "roam to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and look now and take note."  There is no specific denomination that is pure.  There is no sect of Christianity that has complete knowledge of God.  The true, invisible church stretches across all boundaries, consists of individuals, and it is the only church that God can see.  We have to preach to the unconverted and "converted" alike, as if no one were saved.  However, we must show love as if everyone were saved.  We cannot just let someone stay lost, as if they deserved it and we didn't.  We all deserve eternal death.

2) Look at the marketplace of ideas and find that not many know what true Christianity even IS. So many contradictory theological ideas permeate the world we know. Heresies abound, especially those that have been conquered in the past.  They rear their ugly heads again and again, as if they were new and fresh and cutting-edge.  The same deadly sins run rampant within the church as they do outside.  God tells Jeremiah to, "seek in her open squares, if you can find a man, if there is one who does justice, who seeks truth, then I will pardon her." Here we hearken back to God's discussion with Abraham.  Can we find a man who does justice?  Can we find a man who seeks the truth?  Notice that the two go together.  We have many in the world, inside and outside the church, who strive for social justice, but the truth of Christ is nowhere to be found near them.  Likewise, we have many who know ABOUT Jesus, who study and learn all about him, but their hearts remain turned inward, and they don't know what to do with such knowledge.  They haven't been inspired by the Lord toward good works.  They have no urge to share or live the gospel to anyone.  Or the gospel they share is a secular invention that sounds like Christianity but does not come from the scriptures.  God's church is saved, indeed, but the church that we see with our eyes is not the church that God sees with his.

3) The visible church speaks highly of God and pretends to follow his precepts, but God tells Jeremiah that this swearing is a false one.  We cannot assume that anyone who speaks of Jesus in an uplifting way is a Christian.  It seems logical, but experience and the confirmation of God's word tells us that many in the church are hypocrites.  Indeed all of us are, especially me, in many ways, but the true Christian tries to walk upright, to be righteous, and when he fails--as he inevitably will do--he repents, because God's Spirit brings him to his knees.  Each time, living righteously comes easier, and yet still he fails, but then repentance comes easier, too.

4) God knows his people.  His eyes seek out the truth.  His Spirit abides in those whom he loves.  He disciplines his children, but his wrath abides on those who are not his children.  Discipline draws a child TOWARD the parent, but the enemy of God is driven away from the one who created him.  God allows his children to be smitten, and they are sanctified.  God allows the unregenerate to be smitten, and the hate for him builds.  They do not weaken.  They stand proudly upright and look their maker in the eye with defiance.  They clench their jaws against him.  He consumes them with truth that burns like fire, but the unregenerate refuse to hear, to learn.  They make their faces harder than rock.  They refuse to repent.

5) Just as there is no distinction between individuals in Christ, there are no people groups who are excluded from salvation--all one needs is a true faith in Jesus--so there is no distinction between the unregenerate.  Jeremiah figures that perhaps the poor and uneducated person is merely unable to understand the great gift that God has extended to his people.  Surely the great, smart ones will know the way of the Lord and his ordinances.  God responds in the negative.  They, too, have broken their bonds.  They have, like Adam, placed themselves upon the pedestal of self-idolatry.  They only live for themselves.  No one type of person is exempt from sin.  The rich fall short just as the poor.  The World has an excuse, because it does not know God (even though in their heart of hearts they do know God, and so they do not have an excuse), but the people in the Church have no such excuse, because they've heard the gospel, they have rejected it, and yet they pretend to be saved.  They hang around as if salvation could be contracted from others in the group, like an illness.

Here's the solution to this problem: all of us deserve everlasting death, but God sent his son, Jesus Christ, not to the hypocrites, because they don't need to be saved, in their own minds.  They are doing just fine, these pretenders. No, Jesus came to the broken sinners of the world, the ones who admit they have sin in their souls.  He came to save sinners, and the sinners drew to him.  Indeed, sinners who know they are sinners, who understand their condition and their fate, draw near to Christ when they feel his presence.  The hypocrites, the ones who say they have no sin, grumble when they see sinners coming to Christ.  Why should Christ come to THEM? Aren't WE his church?  Aren't we the ones who are God's chosen people?  An unrepentant sinner who has been in the church all his life and who believes that he is on the fast track to heaven, he doesn't understand why Jesus would choose people he wouldn't have anything to do with himself.

Jesus responds: these are lost sheep, each going his own way, and the Lord himself has gone out of his way, in much pain and suffering, to condescend to these lost sheep of Israel, and he has sought them out, and he has found them, and he has not lost a single one.  The sheep who aren't "lost" (which is nonsense, because all are lost, it's just that many don't believe it) watch in awe as the Lord searches the whole earth for his own.  The sheep from a different flock, who don't hear the Lord's voice, because their shepherd is another, scoff at the foolishness of Christ in seeking after those losers. He takes the lost sheep from the ends of the earth, the darkness where it had kept its head for years, since birth, and he picks it up, immobilizes it by checking its limbs, and he puts it over his shoulders and carries it back to the rest of his flock in his fold.  And all the angels in heaven rejoice when they discover that the Lord has achieved his purpose in saving what was lost.  That salvation involves repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  It doesn't matter if you are outside the church or in the church, if you don't have faith in Christ, you won't repent, you won't want to repent, or you think you have already repented, when you actually haven't.  Repentance is the primary sign of faith, and without faith one isn't saved.  Don't think you're saved just because you're "out to pasture" in the church. A saved sheep is one that was once lost but now is found.  He is a rebel who has laid down his arms and comes willingly to the king's court in sorrow and penitence.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Repentance in Dust and Ashes

"Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes." Job 42:6

Job is one of the most compelling books of the Bible, because we can identify with Job's misery, we all have friends who try to give us bad advice, and we are baffled as to what God's plan with our lives actually is.  Job was a near-perfect man who pleased God, but God allowed Satan to cause him to fall, to test his faith.  Job struggles for dear life, philosophizes and soliloquizes up a storm, and in the end he perseveres, because he does not curse God.  However, God chastises him at the end of the book.  Why?  Because merely questioning God's motives is sin.  Even the most pure human being on Earth is still a sinner, because the mere act of questioning God shows disrespect for the one, perfect being. Indeed, this is the problem we all have today.  Our culture has poisoned us to believe that innocent questioning of the perfect God is safe and even desired by him.  Yes, he is perfect love, and so he tolerates our failings and shortcomings, but the incessant objections from mankind are still sinful.  So, even nigh-perfect Job, after almost forty chapters of struggle with God's motives, gets a mighty earful of chastisement and heavenly wisdom about how far short he has fallen from understanding the true God. Job finally responds to God's reprimand with several points that we should all take to heart:

1) He now knows that God can do all things. We say we believe that, but do we really? God can literally do all things, and he has done all things. We talk about Science v. God. I've got news: God invented science. Anything a scientist discovers, God already knows, because he created it.  Any book you read with information in it: that information was already known by God.  That information wouldn't exist without God.  Also, he knows all things that a scientist cannot discover: what lies in the human heart, how all creatures think and move and be, and whether someone has a true, saving faith or not.  There are no rogue atoms.  Not one thing behaves in a certain way without God directing it.

2) No purpose of God is thwarted. Everything may seem to go south continually, but God is using every circumstance to his purposes.  He works all things for good for those who love him.  He makes no error.  It may seem that he does, and so we question his motives, but he does not, so we shouldn't. If a young Christian dies, that person has eternal life.  If a young, unrepentant sinner dies, another unrepentant sinner may then repent.  God knows every soul that is his, and so everything is orchestrated to draw his souls toward him or push lost souls away.  We make the free choices on this earthly plane, but the pig picture, the grand plan is only knowable by God, and it will not be thwarted.

3) We pretend to be wiser than we are.  Job quotes the Lord back to him: "Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?" A little learning is a dangerous thing, because we think we know more than we do.  Even so, much of the time, we don't even have the "little" learning.  We just heard something from someone, somewhere and we just assumed it to be true.  All the false knowledge we have about God, the World, the Universe: it all accumulates until our minds are completely filled with nonsense.  Socrates said, "he is wisest who knows he does not know."  God's first words to us when we stand before him may be, "what were you thinking?"

4) Not only do we declare what we do not understand, but the truth is more wonderful than we can imagine. We would rather perpetuate the weak lie than proclaim the glorious truth.  We focus on how we feel about things than rather what we think about things.  The emotional response is the one we favor, and the truth is not in us.  God is truth.  Sin makes the watered-down lie more appealing to us, because the truth is more astonishing than we can comprehend.  God is light and in him is no darkness at all.  His perfection eludes us, and we then conclude that he has deception.  We judge God, proclaiming him to be beneath us, when in fact we are so far beneath him that the darkness we are in looks like light to us.

5) We must humble ourselves to God. We must listen to God through is Word.  He speaks clearly when we listen.  When we earnestly seek his instruction, it is readily available.  The problem is that we don't listen; we don't earnestly seek his instruction.  We hear about God from others and the picture we get of God is incomplete and sullied, spoiled.  Only through God's word to we get a clear picture of our Lord.  Only through God's Word do we see the one we are to worship clearly.  The Bible provides the clearest picture of God that exists on Earth.  Only in heaven will we see him perfectly.

Retract your weak ideas about God!  Recant the false attributes you have assigned to him.  Repent for the evil in your hearts.  We are dust and to dust we shall return.  We deserve to be ashes at the base of a fiery pit.  However, God, in his mercy, does not destroy us as we deserve.  His goodness manifests itself in our savior Jesus Christ.  When we compare what he has done for us on the cross with what we say and think about him in return, our only recourse is to repent in dust and ashes and beg forgiveness.  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Repentance and Intercession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 10, 2018

On the Fence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Virtue of His Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Covenant of Day and Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Obedience

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 12, 2018

My Father's House

And he said to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" Luke 2:49

Where do we find Jesus?  We take him with us, through life, as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  But this "working out" of salvation is sanctification and it consists of us following the Spirit's lead.  We work out our salvation in conjunction with God's spirit, but only as saved Christians.  The act of justification, or being counted righteous in the eyes of God, the transfer of the soul from eternal death to eternal life, is an act solely on the part of God. He does that alone.  We are sinful enough to not want that.  We want to work out our salvation with God's help, but not his lead.  The ungodly want to work out their salvation without God entirely.  The "saved" want to control the direction of their sanctification and turn to God only when they need assistance.

We drag Christ along with us as we attempt to be good people.  We are excited to show our savior how well we are doing.  Look how I'm obeying the law, we tell him.  Aren't you proud of me? we ask him.  We drag him along like a little child, because the words, "and a child shall lead them," mean nothing to us.  We don't want to surrender to Jesus, because Jesus is just a little boy.  We have allowed the Christ child into our lives, and the first thing we do is tell him the "rules" of living with us.  Here are the ways I do things, we tell him.  If I need you, I'll call on you.  Otherwise, just do your magic in the background.  Keep me from falling into holes.  Prevent bad things from happening to me.  Make my dreams come true.  Don't get in the way; remain silent; watch me be a good person all by myself.  Offer some constructive criticism when I ask for it.  I've got this.  Watch me roll.

And we go on and on, living our lives, trying to be good people, trying to love our neighbors as ourselves, and we suddenly find that Jesus is not with us.  We were going about our daily routine, doing good deeds in the way we saw fit, and we looked about for Christ in the thick of all our plans, and we found him not.  We didn't know it at first.  We thought he was with us the whole time, and he was merely remaining quiet because he approved of the way we were handling things.  He was so enraptured with our behavior, with our love, that we believed him to be there on the sidelines, like a quiet fan, silently cheering us on.  But we didn't realize that the silence was due to his absence.

We try to find him nearby.  We try to find him among our friends and family.  He is not there.  We try to find him among our things.  We try to find him among our desires.  We try to find him in the laughter, in the tears, in the joys and sorrows of our life.  Certainly he should be there!  Doesn't he care for us?  We find him not.  We scour our lives for all the things we are doing "right," because that was where we believed him to be.  We do not find him there, either.  We even try to find him in our despair.  No Christ.

So, we go back to the beginning to search for him. We search our salvation.  We remember our conversion.  We ponder on the moment when we moved from the congregation of the ungodly to the congregation of the righteous.  We try to remember how we felt.  We try to recapture that feeling.  We try to remember what words were spoken that opened the eyes of our hearts.  What was said?  What did we read?  What did we hear?  How did we taste and see?  To continue in sanctification we have to re-experience our justification.  Where do we find that?

The Word of the Lord is a temple of knowledge.  The Bible is the place where the one, true God is found.  The scriptures are the place where we read about Christ, the real Christ, not the false Christ that the world presents.  This is where we found Christ before and where we find him again.  We heard a sermon.  We heard a friend's testimony.  We read a verse that moved us.  We learned about the truth.  We took a hard look at our lives, and we compared it to the life that Christ offered.  We realized we were in a dark place, that we were without hope.  That our attempts to save ourselves had failed and would always fail. They will fail forever.  Our only hope, we realized, was in full trust in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  God made a way for us to be saved.  It was a solitary way, but it was an easy way.  Faith alone in his blood.  He died so we could live.  He did all the work.  How easy is that?

And his answers are the best answers.  We hold up the wisdom of the world to the wisdom of Christ, and Christ's wins every time.  We try earthly philosophies, pseudo-religious philosophies, myriad worldviews, and they all fall short of the glory of Christ's gospel.  His wisdom crushes the wisdom of the world.  His Word, where we find his wisdom, is impervious to anything else written.  It withstands the test of time.  It has not been refuted yet.  It can only be refuted by alteration, by misinterpretation, by inattention.  It can only be attacked by false teaching.  But in reality, his Word, his Bible, his scriptures abide forever.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  The Bible attests to this.  This is where we found the Christ that changed us.

Through Christ's word we understand things we once wrestled with all our lives.  We couldn't understand creation.  God's Word revealed it.  We couldn't understand sin.  God's Word exposed it.  We couldn't understand redemption.  God's Word exuded it.  We were astonished at how clear everything became, once the antiseptic spray of the Bible was applied to the darkness.

But we left the excitement behind.  We attempted to live our lives the same way was did as before we knew Christ.  We attempted to fall into the same ruts, love the same rabble, wear the same rags.  We discovered that the World hates Christians, so we tried to be "cool" Christians who could love Christ and the world simultaneously.  Surely Jesus would still fix everything.  Our lives have been fixed by Jesus, right?  Things were tough, but now Christ has made our lives better, right?  But as we went along, trying to incorporate Jesus into our old lives, we forgot that his change in us was permanent, and so we attempted to change ourselves back, and we kicked against the goads.  We were "saved," but we refused to be changed.  We then went a great distance away from God, and we then decided to look for Jesus, and we discovered that he had gone back to the basics.  He has gone back to his scriptures, and when we sought him, we found him there.  There he remains, and if we are to follow him, we need to follow him there.

At first we are angry.  Why is he taking us to this boring place?  Why can't he build on the progress that we made on our lives before we found him?  We have invested sometimes years in our old lives.  Can't Jesus build upon what we already started?  Christ says no, because what we built was taking us to hell.  We were building our own Babel, trying to reach God, but really reaching perdition.  Conversion means to turn from your sickness and walk in the opposite direction, with Christ, but we wanted to keep going in the wrong direction, dragging Jesus along with us.  We search for Jesus in the places we want him to be, but we can't find him.  When we go back and search for him in the places he is likely to be, we find him.  Those places are in the Word of God, the truth, everlasting life.

We are distressed, because we WANT him to be in those evil places that we can't let go of, and when we confront him, he responds, "Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"  Why were we looking for him?  Did we not know where he must be?  Why do we look for Christ among the wiles of the world?  We do we look for him among the weeds?  Why do we look for him among the thorns, the brambles?  Why do we look for him among the darkness of the world, our natural home?  Why are we even there in the first place?  Why did we try to drag him back to our homes of darkness, our sinful lives of reproach?  Why did we think he would want that?  Why was that dark place even an option, and why was it the first place we looked, the place we assumed we would find him? 

Why didn't we know that he would be in his Father's house?  Why would Jesus Christ be anywhere but his Father's house?  He even tells us that he MUST be in his Father's house.  He cannot be anywhere else.  He can only be found in the Word of God, the scriptures, his Father's house.  And for believers, he is found in our hearts, because we are temples of the most high God, but our temples are places of learning and teaching.  They are not emotional roller coaster rides of mindless feelings.  When boy Jesus was in the temple, he was teaching and answering questions and crushing the wisdom of the world with his own.  When we find him in the temples of our hearts, his Father's house, we find him teaching us the truth, our learning the truth, the answers to all our problems about life.

And still we do not understand.  When we come to Christ, we give up everything we ever held dear.  We destroy the old passions, and Jesus becomes our new life.  He is ours, and we take him with us, but we don't carry on the way we did before.  He changes us from the inside out.  He alters our hearts until we hate the things we used to love and love the things we used to hate.  He rebuilds us.  We are born again.  Our foundation is now Christ, the Rock, upon which we build our house, a house not in darkness but in ever-shining light.  Jesus is our all in all.  He dies on our behalf.  His death opens up the way to life for us.  But one thing we can never do is try to take him into the darkness with us, to try to pull him into our old, sinful lives.  He will not go, and if you are able to go back, you cannot have been born again.  That is a place you will not want to ever go to again.  You may see it from afar, and you may even shed a tear for its loss, but you will never desire it.

You are on a new path, a narrow one, and you are following Jesus, not leading him.  He is taking you where he wants you to go.  He leads you into righteous paths, all for his name's sake.  Remember these things.  They are the difference between life and death.  Do not take Christ with you.  Submit yourself and let Christ take you with him.  He will lead you to love.  He will lead you to righteousness.  He will lead you to paradise.