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.