Saturday, June 15, 2019

Judgment and Glory

When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way. And they cried out, saying, “What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” Now there was a herd of many swine feeding at a distance from them. The demons began to entreat Him, saying, “If You are going to cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” And He said to them, “Go!” And they came out and went into the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the waters. The herdsmen ran away, and went to the city and reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw Him, they implored Him to leave their region. (Matthew 8:28-34)

The surface details have been talked about often, but what about the big picture? We have two men in this scene who are ensnared by demons, who are prisoners of evil. Jesus Christ sets them free, getting rid of the demons, and making the area safe from the violent men, but also removing the financial means from the Gadarenes by allowing the demons to drown their profit supply (in another gospel we find out that this was over 2,000 head of swine).

However, the economic loss to the community appears to be the instigating factor but not the true repulsion of Christ. Some say that there is a choice being made between the world and God's salvation, and the Gadarenes choose the world.  Since Jesus has rid them of their profit, they demand him to leave, but the root of sin lies deeper than that. Verse 34 reads: "And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw Him, they implored Him to leave their region." The whole city: let that sink in. This is not a few entrepreneurs and capitalists coming forth to chastise Christ for ruining their income plan.  This is a sinful rejection of the power of Christ. Jesus has done something very intense by driving demons out of extremely violent men who blocked the way.  There is an irrational rejection on the part of the world toward the saving power of Christ.  Because the power screams judgment at them.

Now, many are drawn to Christ when he performs wonders, but many more are driven away.  Even then, the ones who are drawn to him are usually drawn to him for the wrong reason.  They are drawn to the miracle itself.  Jesus accompanies each miracle with a teaching, and this teaching is usually a difficult one about the kingdom, and such teachings also drive away the superficial follower.  Let's look at similar versions of this rejection: one from the old and one from the new testament.

The prophecy of Amos 7 has God threatening to destroy the northern kingdom of Israel by two ways: locust and fire, both aimed at the farmlands...and the economic prosperity of the region. Amos begs the Lord to stop, and the Lord does each time, but then the third time God does not send locust nor fire but a plumb line. This is no longer an attack on their economics (and ruin of the country as a whole) but an attack on the people themselves. The sanctuaries of Israel will be laid waste by the plumb line. What is the plumb line? Jesus, of course. Jesus Christ comes to this crooked world, and anything that is not as straight and perfect as he is destroyed.  Of course, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  All people fall short of the plumb line, and so they are to be ruined, puts his faith in the plumb line itself. The only way to be saved is to put faith in the just judge.

The second half of Amos 7 describes the priest Amaziah doing the very thing the Gadarenes did in Matthew 8: he rejects Amos' prophecy and Amos himself, who is a mere shepherd called by God out of his life in Tekoa, south of Jerusalem, to go to another country, Israel, and preach the truth to them.  Now, this priest, representing the people of Jerusalem, tells Amos the same thing the Gadarenes tell Jesus: flee from here! The result is a direct prophecy to Amaziah: he personally will suffer the same fate as Israel, the loss of everything, because he has rejected the plumb line.

The other passage is in Acts 16. Paul travels to Philippi, where he plants a church with a woman named Lydia and then adds a family through the jailer.  The town, however reacts quite violently to them, until Paul declares himself to be a Roman citizen. Then the town rejects him on a whole different level, much in the same way the Gadarenes reject Jesus and Amaziah rejects Amos: they beg him to leave. Once again, this is not because of annoyance, or because of an economic problem, which it had been before. In Acts 16:19 Paul has destroyed a certain group's economic profit by casting a demon out of a servant girl.  So, yes, it begins this way, but something greater is happening at the end of the chapter: Paul has brought salvation into their midst, and instead of happily embracing such, they reject it in fear.  Just as Israel rejects the plumb line in fear. Just as the Gadarenes reject Christ in fear.

It's fascinating to see how people respond to Jesus, and it's scary when you realize that so many respond so negatively, but how do you respond? When your sin is shown to you, like when Peter hides his face from Christ in the boat, or when Isaiah is faced with the Lord's glory. Do you confess your sin and tell God that you are not worthy? Do you believe yourself to be ruined? Do you ask the Lord to depart in the way Peter did?  Christ responded with a call to follow him and to be a fisher of men.  Compare that with the begging for Christ to leave that was given by the Gadarenes, Amaziah, and the Philippians.  What is the difference? One pair (Peter and Isaiah) is confronted with God's glory, and they respond with humility. However, the others are confronted with God's judgment: the casting out of demons, the standard of the plumb line, and the salvation of sinners. And the reaction looks similar on the outside, but there is no faith and repentance on the inside. The wrath of God is finding its place, judgment is coming early upon them, and they are essentially asking the mountains to fall upon them.

How do you react to Jesus, the plumb line? Do you see judgment coming? Or do you see glory? Either should instill fear, but only one inspires faith and brings you into the kingdom.

Friday, May 17, 2019


A common question I hear from many who disciple is, "do those who reject Christ in life get a second chance after death?" The larger, hidden question behind that is, "what is it like after death?" Here are some verses from Holy Scripture that may help:

Psalm 6:4-5:
Return, O Lord, rescue my soul;
Save me because of Your lovingkindness.
For there is no mention of You in death;
In Sheol who will give You thanks?

It seems, for the lost, God doesn't even come to their minds. Why?

Psalm 88:10-12:
Will You perform wonders for the dead?
Will the departed spirits rise and praise You?
Will Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave,
Your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Will Your wonders be made known in the darkness?
And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

The implied answer to all these questions is, "no." God is not there. In fact it's the place from where God has banished himself, as well as all the good things he provides. Note, also, the term, "Land of Forgetfulness." There does not seem to be any thinking about God in the grave. No "missing" him.

Psalm 115:17-18:
The dead do not praise the Lord,
Nor do any who go down into silence;
But as for us, we will bless the Lord
From this time forth and forever.
Praise the Lord!

Verse 18 shows that the Psalmist is not talking about all who die in verse 17. We have a distinction between the lost and the saved. Note that the lost go down into "silence." This seems important. The lost don't remember God, nor can they articulate anything. The land of the dead is a land of silence. This makes sense, since all good things come from God, communication is good, and so without God, there can be only silence.

Here are a couple other places that refer to silence in the death of the lost:

“He keeps the feet of His godly ones,
But the wicked ones are silenced in darkness;
For not by might shall a man prevail. (1 Samuel 2:9)

If the Lord had not been my help,
My soul would soon have dwelt in the abode of silence. (Psalm 94:17)

Ecclesiastes 9:10 tells us some more about the destination of the lost:

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.

We take for granted the good things that God gives everyone on earth: things like activity, planning, knowledge, wisdom. None of that exist for the lost in the land of forgetfulness.

Ok, let's rise out of this hole of darkness and see what eternal life is like for those who are in Christ. First, there is some forgetfulness, but what we forget is not God. Here are some verses from Isaiah 65:

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.

The sin and pain of earthly life are forgotten.

“But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing
And her people for gladness.

There is a rejoicing forever. Rejoicing involves sound.

“I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people;
And there will no longer be heard in her
The voice of weeping and the sound of crying.

The sound will not involve pain or sin but joy and gladness.

“They will build houses and inhabit them;
They will also plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
“They will not build and another inhabit,
They will not plant and another eat;
For as the lifetime of a tree, so will be the days of My people,
And My chosen ones will wear out the work of their hands.

For those alive in Christ, there is activity and planning, there is wisdom and knowledge.  All good things come from God, and being in the presence of God will accrue only good things.

Now, we tend to go to the final chapters of Revelation for a description of heaven, but I want to look at a different description of heaven, from Luke 15. The parables of the lost sheep, coin, and son, are usually analyzed for their salvation content, but look at the details of everlasting life:

And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:6-7)

1. Friends and neighbors together.
2. Rejoicing.
3. Speaking (and singing).
4. Celebrating.
5. Joy.

And why is there so much rejoicing and joyous noise? Because the Lord found another lost person, and that is the whole focus of heavenly life: the lost found, and not just found but kept forever.

“Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8-10)

1. Friends and neighbors together.
2. Rejoicing.
3. Speaking (and singing).
4. Celebrating.
5. Joy.

Look at the last one:

But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:22-23)

Once again, we have a joyous celebration over a lost soul found. Also, the very soul is honored as a king. But...

“Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. (Luke 15:25-28)

In Christ, there is music and dancing. But the lost are not willing to go in. They are jealous of the ones the Lord has found and refuse to be a friend and neighbor. The Lord even comes out and pleads with the lost, but they will not repent.

And that is the answer to the question. The seeking of the Father happens throughout this life.  The pleading occurs over and over. Second chances, third, fourth, four hundred. Ultimately the found are brought into honor and glory in the presence of God and friends and neighbors. And the lost banish themselves to silence.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Snakes and Stones

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:7-12)

1. Sin makes us ask selfishly. We actually ask for snakes and stones. Our parents used to deny us snakes and stones, because they knew they were bad things, but now they are happy to give us snakes and stones.

2. So, when we don't receive from God, we were probably asking for things that seemed like bread and fish but were actually snakes and stones. God knows all things, and he withheld the bad thing that we wanted.

3. So the problem of sin turns the Golden Rule on its head: we treat others badly, because we treat ourselves badly. We don't seek out God's kingdom and his righteousness.  When it is offered to us, we reject it. God, however, knows what is good for us in the long run, and so he disciplines us with temporal suffering. Suffering helps us tell the difference between bread and stones, and fish and snakes.

4. What are good things? Psalm 84 tells us that the Lord is the source of
a. Light,
b. Protection,
c. Grace,
d. Eternal Life, and
e. The destruction of sin forever.

5. What is a good thing? James 1:17 tells us that every good thing
a. is perfect,
b. is a gift from above,
c. is from the Father of Lights, and
d. is without shadow or blemish.

6. How can this be? Because there is only one good thing, and that is God himself.  Here is the Luke variant of the Matthew passage:

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13)

Notice what is read as "good gifts" in Matthew is read as "the Holy Spirit" here. The Holy Spirit, the down payment of eternal life, is given to us on this earth, in this life. The Spirit guides us in distinguishing between bread and stones, fish and snakes, eggs and scorpions.

7. Look at Romans 8:26-39:

a. The Spirit shows us the difference between bread and stones, between fish and snakes.
b. The Spirit asks, seeks, knocks on our behalf.
c. God knew beforehand whom he was to give his Spirit.
d. He predestined us to have his Spirit.
e. The Spirit calls us awake from the dead.
f. The Spirit justifies us.
g. Finally, the Spirit glorifies us (eternal life + destruction of sin).

How do we know that God has done this? Because he gave us the life of his Son first. This historical event, this sacrifice of the Son for the forgiveness of sins: if we can put our faith in that, we can certainly put our faith in the "easier" act of God that he predestined us to receive his Spirit.

In conclusion, the rest of the Romans passage says it all better than I ever could:

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Peter's "Yes"

Why do Christians try to put the Ten Commandments in public places and not the Beatitudes? The simple answer is that the Ten Commandments are for everyone, believer or unbeliever, and the Beatitudes are only for disciples, those who have been transferred into a covenant of grace by the Lord.  It would be fruitless to put the beatitudes in a public place, because the world is unable to possess them.  The beatitudes are descriptions of faithful Christians, and the only place where the unbelieving world factors in is in the latter part (verse 11), as people who insult and persecute faithful disciples.

The ten commandments have a use for the unbelieving world. They are the spelling out of the eternal conscience that all people have. All cultures know that they should not covet, steal, lie, murder, commit adultery, and disobey their parents. Everyone's conscience also tells them that there is a God and that we should love him, but many find successful ways to bury that truth.  However, the ten commandments are the best, most universal way of getting across solid boundaries that prevent the world from harming their neighbors.  All successful laws are founded on them, and even though the world will try to eradicate them from the public places, they cannot refute that they are the foundation of all good law. 

The beatitudes, and the sermon on the mount in general, are a completely different animal. Only faithful disciples in a covenant of grace can even come close to following them. They run counter to the world's teaching, and whereas the world will look to the ten commandments and with honesty say that at least commandments 5-9 are rules to live by, the world teaches the opposite of the beatitudes.  The sermon of the mount in its entirety contrasts the two covenants: the covenant of works that all are born into and the covenant of grace that only believers (true disciples) are transferred to by the Lord himself.

1. The beatitudes are descriptors of a faithful disciple.
2. True disciples are evangelists to the unbelieving world.
3. Following the ten commandments, even to the letter, does not make one a true disciple.
4. True disciples follow the spirit of the law, which is deeper than the letter of the law.
5. Social justice in the covenant of works does not look like social justice in the covenant of grace.
6. True disciples value heavenly things and not earthly things.
7. True disciples have peace, even in adversity.
8. True disciples do not judge others but help them to also become true disciples.
9. True disciples have a good relationship with God and their neighbors.
10. True disciples walk a narrow path impossible to walk for those in the covenant of works.
11. False teachers will teach the covenant of works as a rule for disciples and lead many astray.
12. Jesus concludes the sermon with an analogy of two foundations. The covenant of works is built on sand, while the covenant of grace is built on the rock of Christ.

The entirety of the law can be summarized thus: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, soul, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. The ten commandments only touch the surface of this. Like I said before, the world does not keep the first four commandments at all, and they can't keep the last six, either from failure or indifference. A disciple who wants to keep them cannot do so in order to be saved. God saves us through his grace alone, by our faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. The result of his salvation is the desire in the believer to please God and live in the covenant of grace as espoused in the sermon on the mount, not the ten commandments (although the sermon on the mount contains a deepened version of the ten commandments).

Let's look at loving your neighbor:

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-5)

How do I love the God whom I can't see? By loving my neighbor whom I can see. In the example above Jesus shows one in the covenant of works pretending to love his neighbor in order get praise by other people. This is not true love of neighbor. This is nowhere near love of God.  Now look at John 21:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)

Peter is in the covenant of grace. Jesus does not command him to do good works in order to gain God's love. God already loves him, and Christ has died for Peter's sins. Now Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. He asks him three times. Peter is not saying "yes" each time so that God will accept him. God has already changed his heart. He has already taken him from the covenant of works and put him into the covenant of grace. Peter's "yes" is in response to his trust in Christ for the forgiveness of his sins.  He knows that God loves him.  Does he love God? His answer is "yes." Now, how does he show that he loves God? Jesus tells him: "feed my sheep." Love your neighbor, not to be seen by others, not to be rewarded, but to love the God whom you cannot see.

Peter himself affirms this in his first epistle: "Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight NOT UNDER COMPULSION." In other words: not from within a covenant of works. Not out of fear of hell or reward of heaven but out of love for God. Not under compulsion, Peter tells us, "but voluntary, according to the will of God." Yes, God wills his believers to shepherd the flock of God, because they are now operating within a covenant of grace. In God's grace we are subject to his will alone.  Peter finishes, "not for sordid gain (Matthew 6:1-5), but with eagerness (John 21:15-17)."

You don't have to be a pastor to shepherd God's flock. True disciples share the gospel with each other and study the bible together.  They seek Christ and his kingdom together. And they do all things for each other out of love for God. They do not seek to be praised by others. They don't do it because they feel they have to or God will punish them.  They offer up their lives each day to serve their brothers and sisters--whom God has given them to serve--because loving their neighbors is loving the Lord who has eternally saved them.  God brings them from being rebellious self-servers into faithful God-pleasers. God loves you. Do you believe that? Are you loving the brethren?

Saturday, April 20, 2019


Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.” (Matthew 28:10).

1. When Jesus mentions his "brethren" in this verse, he is not talking about his natural family. In Matthew 12:46-50, Jesus' natural mother and brothers seek him, wishing to speak with him. Jesus asked, in response, "who is my mother and who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Behold, my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother." So, we know from these verses that Christ's disciples are more closely related to him than his natural family.

2. Now, we learned from John 8 that not all disciples can be called such. One can follow Jesus and not put his faith in him for his salvation. At the end of Matthew 28 we read, "But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee." So, when Jesus designated his "brethren" to meet him, he was not talking about the mass of followers but specifically the eleven, those whom he knew would put their trust in him, those who indeed had left their livelihoods to be with him.

3. However, the great commission Jesus gives to his eleven disciples encourages them to make disciples of all the nations. He's not talking about making disciples of the kind who may follow for a time and then fall away, who are believing Christ's teaching until something they don't like comes up. Jesus is talking about making disciples of the kind the eleven are, those who put their full trust in Christ for their salvation, for the forgiveness of their sins.

4. In Romans 8, Paul tells us for these specific disciples, God causes all things to work together for good. These are the disciples who truly love God, because they are putting their faith in him. God works things out for their good, even dark trials and tribulations are part of this working out. These disciples are called to him. This is not a general call of discipleship but a special calling into a spiritual family. God knew whom he was going to call from the foundation of the world. And these individuals are being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Even more than being called brethren in name only, true believers are transformed into the kind of people that please God, making them brethren of the spirit as well.

5. None of this would be possible without the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 2:9-18 tells us that Christ has done the following for those he calls his brethren:

a. He gives us understanding of the gospel. We identify Jesus Christ as the only way to the Father.
b. He tastes death on our behalf, so that we may have eternal life.
c. He suffers for our salvation and glory.
d. He cleanses us to be fit for the Father's presence, just as he is clean. We can call him brother.
e. He also takes possession of us. The Father chose us before the foundation of the world and has given us to his Son.
f. He destroys the power of the devil over us.
g. He frees us from slavery to sin and death.
h. He makes us descendants of Abraham through faith.
i. He is merciful and faithful to his brethren.
j. He is our great high priest, sacrificing himself for the sins of the brethren and reconciling us to the Father.

Finally, his resurrection ensures that he will raise his brethren up on the last day. When we read our bibles, we see Christ's suffering in his incarnation, we see his sacrifice for the sins of his brethren, and we see the firstfruits of eternal life in his resurrection. Can you be called his brethren? Are you drawn to him? Do you believe he died for you? When you see the risen Christ in the pages of scripture, are you filled with an overwhelming sense of love? Do you have faith in him for your salvation, for the forgiveness of your sins?

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Christ's "Yes"

“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil. (Matthew 5:33-37)

Christ tells us to make no oath or vow at all, neither a false vow nor a true vow. Why? Because making a vow or an oath is exercising a work, depending on a man-made construct for doing good. I want to keep my word because my heart is truthful, not because I made a vow and I am superstitiously bound to the vow, whether I want to fulfill it or not. Oaths an vows force us to do the right thing, even when our hearts are not desiring to do so. The Sermon on the Mount overall tells Christ's disciples what the attributes of a true believer are. So, he tells them, "you don't want to make any vow, because you will be putting your faith in the vow." You want to put your faith in Christ, and so when you do so, Christ changes your heart to one pleasing to God. You don't need to keep a vow, because you are in a new covenant, where your yes is yes and your no is no.

Let's see this in action:

From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” (Matthew 16:21-23)

What is "God forbid it?" It is a vow that Peter is not able to keep. He is in the covenant of works.

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and *said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away.” Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:69-75)

Peter denied Christ with an oath. Yes, Peter is still in the covenant of works, and he doesn't get out of such until Christ gives him the Holy Spirit.  Here is one last example:

Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.” (Matthew 27:11)

No oath, no vow. Jesus' yes is "yes." Do you see the difference? Through the Sermon on the Mount, Christ sets up clear delineations between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace:

1. Works: do not commit murder. Grace: your heart does not anger.
2. Works: do not commit adultery. Grace: your heart does not lust.
3. Works: do not make false vows. Grace: your heart is honest.
4. Works: repay crimes with equal punishments. Grace: your heart forgives.
5. Works: Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. Grace: your heart loves your enemy.

When Jesus moves us from one covenant to the other, our hearts change. Peter's heart changed when Jesus moved him. The covenant of grace is a covenant of love. Those in such do not get angry, they do not lust, they are honest, they forgive, and they pray for those who persecute them. They also know that Jesus' death on the cross was crucial for the salvation of the world.  They don't deny Christ, and they willingly die for each other. When one is in the covenant of grace, Christ is transforming him into a new person. It takes our lives, and we stumble and fall often, but our hearts know we are being changed. Which covenant are you in?  Do you look at the cross and see failure, or do you look at the cross and see the highest love?

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Freed Slaves

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31-37)

1. There is a difference between "following Jesus" and putting your absolute trust in the Jesus of the Bible. There were Jews following Jesus, and even believing what he was saying, but then, he told them that they were not free, and they stopped believing.  Now, if they went to the scriptures at the time, they would see the story of a people who were not free. They had been enslaved to Egypt, but God had set them free. However, they were continually slaves to sin, and they were captured into exile. God did set them free again, but now, because of their disobedience to God, they currently were enslaved to the Romans. They were not free. Jesus was giving them the truth about himself, and they stopped believing in him. Their following Jesus had been the following of a false Christ, even though they were technically following the true Christ. They did not know enough about him, and in this moment, he has revealed "one truth too many" for their hearts to comprehend.  They now reject him.

2. To properly disciple, one needs to stay in the word, where the real Jesus is found. Here is part one of the truth that Christ lays upon them. You find the true Jesus in God's word and nowhere else. The act of knowing the real Jesus through his word is called discipleship. This can be done alone with a Bible or with others who are truly seeking to discover the real Jesus.

3. Here is part two of the truth Christ speaks: to know the real Jesus, the truth, frees one from slavery to sin. Romans 8:2 reads, "the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death." The truth that the Jews did not want to hear was that they were slaves, even to sin and death. Many today do not like the doctrine that we are born into slavery to sin and death, and yet the Bible says it is true, and our own experience declares this to be true. Here is Romans 6:16-18:

"Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness."

4. Those who follow a different Jesus deny reality. The Jews denied the reality of being slaves to sin, but they also went further in denying the reality of any physical slavery in their history. Not only will one deny Christ, but one will deny all reality, when he is confronted with the truth.

5. Sin and its slaves will be destroyed. The Son and his slaves will endure forever. We are all born slaves of sin, and Jesus tells us in this passage that the slave does not remain in the house forever. The world of sin is passing away, and all its slaves are passing away, too, but the Son, Christ tells us, does remain forever. If we are slaves of Christ then we will endure forever, just as Christ endures forever. How do we move from being a slave to sin to a slave of Christ?

Christ purchases us. He actually purchases his Church, but we become members of the Church through faith. We believe Christ when he says that we must continue in his word. We believe him when he tells us we are disciples. We believe him when he tells us that all truth is in his word, and that knowing his truth--THE truth--will free us from the bonds of slavery to sin. We believe him when he tells us that we are slaves. This was the hurdle that the Jews--and the visible church today--not to mention the unbelieving world--could not get past. We believe that we are spiritual wretches, that we can do no good of ourselves, that we are totally depraved. This honest self-evaluation is impossible for anyone whom Christ is not changing, not purchasing, not adopting. So, we believe in our desperate state, and we believe that Christ is the only solution for our state. Do you believe this? If you do, you have already been purchased with his blood. The Holy Spirit is now presenting the bill of sale and claiming the property for the rightful owner.

Finally, slavery to Christ is not truly slavery. It is the only time in our lives in which we are truly free to do good, to choose the good, which is God himself. Pure joy and everlasting life comes with this kind of slavery. So, the Son must make you free, if you are ever to be free. If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed, eternally, forever.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Cry, Fear, Wait, Hope

Psalm 130:

Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive
To the voice of my supplications.
If You, Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared.

I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait,
And in His word do I hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
More than the watchmen for the morning;
Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is lovingkindness,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
And He will redeem Israel
From all his iniquities.

We all find ourselves in the depths of despair.  This psalm gives us hope.  It is a song of ascending from the lower depths to a higher state of life with God. Here are four things it tells us to do when we feel down:

The cry is a voice of supplication. It's a cry for help. Psalm 28 associates crying for supplication with reaching out toward the place of God's sanctuary. This is important. Worldly supplications will not ascend. God himself is the true supplication. We reach toward his presence, his healing, through the living word. We commune and disciple with the saints. We seek to know him and his kingdom. We seek rest in his arms. That is the goal of our cries.

Why does the psalmist say that God's forgiveness will instill fear? Is fear a good thing to have? When the fear is in God, yes! Jeremiah 33:8 and 9 read:

'I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned against Me and by which they have transgressed against Me. It will be to Me a name of joy, praise and glory before all the nations of the earth which will hear of all the good that I do for them, and they will fear and tremble because of all the good and all the peace that I make for it.’

Here is no better proof that fear of God is, for believers, a deep awe of him.  God forgives our sins. He cleanses us. He pardons us, even though we have offended and grieved him deeply. He is good! God is pure goodness, and that makes our sinful hearts tremble with fear and joy. We don't deserve it, and yet he grants us this mercy. It should make us quake.

Waiting is meditating on God, meditating on his word. Our minds are focused on the wonderful attributes of God. Watchmen stayed up all night, anxiously awaiting the dawn, when the danger of the darkness was truly over. We, too, live in worldly danger, continually. We wait on the Lord to bring us home, or to finally come and restore all things to newness. In this night, we study and meditate on his word, so that we may fear him until he comes.

Finally, we hope. Because when the end finally comes, all those who are not in Christ are lost forever. None are born righteous. God must transform them, and he does through his Son. In Romans 3, Paul tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but God justifies some as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 1:7 reads, "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace." Jesus Christ died to save us.

This is the final element that brings us from the bottom of the sea to the shore: believe in Jesus for your salvation, and you will be free indeed from the oppression of sin. Cry to him, fear him, wait on him, and hope in him: all these will lift you from despair and deliver you eternally.

Saturday, March 16, 2019


To understand God's providence more, let's look at 1 Samuel 23:

David is on the run from Saul, who wants to take his life. At the same time, the inhabitants of Keilah are being plundered by the Philistines. David does not know what to do, because fighting the Philistines is extremely dangerous, so he asks God. God tells him to fight. David does, and he wins. Here is an example of David willingly submitting his will to God's will. He asks what God's providence will be, and God tells him. He submits (23:1-5).

The next scene has Saul knowing about the deliverance of Keilah and amassing his army to go besiege David. This is such an interesting scene: Saul's will it to take David and destroy Keilah. David asks God what will happen. God tells him if he stays in Keilah, the people there will turn him over to Saul. David decided, on this information, to leave Keilah. Saul hears about it, and does not come to Keilah at all (23:7-14). It appears God has given David an alternate future, one that was conditional, and when David made his decision, God changed the future accordingly. Some theologians say this means the God not only knows the future, but he knows all possible futures as well.  After meditating on these verses, I have reached a different conclusion: God never sees the future; God causes the future to happen. Yes, he has foreknowledge, but his knowledge is of what he, himself, is going to do. Providence now transforms from a deistic, natural set of occurrences into a focused, powerful set of ordained actions on the part of God. God is not impotently sitting on the sidelines and waiting for us to make our moves, cheering us on when we make the right moves and crying when we make the wrong ones.  He didn't have two possible futures that he knew and let David decide his fate. No, he give David a deeper glimpse into providence to show him how it works.  If your will wins, he tells David, this is what would happen, but my will will always win. My will will have victory. Providence is God's will being played out without causing violence to our own wills.  But his will is always played out, because he wills the good of those who love him.

The third instance shows this. David has left Keilah and is running around in the wilderness to avoid Saul.  Saul has surrounded David, surely he will get him.  But then a messenger comes to Saul, telling him that the Philistines have made a raid on his own land. So Saul departs. Here is God's providence working itself out. He did not control Saul's actions.  He did not control David's actions. Capture was certain, but God's providence ordained the Philistines to attack Saul's land at that time, and the message came to Saul at that moment. God did not control the Philistines, but he made them, and he knows their nature, and he knew how they would act, and he set up secondary causes to influence their attack on Saul at that time.  God did not control the messenger, but he set up secondary causes so that the messenger would reach Saul with the news at the exact right time. This is how providence works. He caused the events to happen without infringing on the free will of the people involved.

David retreats to a cave and there writes Psalm 57, where he reveals his understanding of God's providence:

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me,
For my soul takes refuge in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge
Until destruction passes by.
I will cry to God Most High,
To God who accomplishes all things for me.
He will send from heaven and save me;
He reproaches him who tramples upon me.
God will send forth His lovingkindness and His truth.

To God who accomplishes all things for me. Romans 8:28 reads, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose." We see this in the ultimate good for those who love God: namely the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In Mark 8:31, Christ teaches his disciples the he must suffer, and he must be rejected by his own people, and he must be killed, and he must rise again. This is not God predicting the future but ordaining it.  These things must happen. They will happen, and nothing we will can interfere with God's plan. In fact, God's plan is carried out with the aid of our wills, because he made our natures, and he knows how we will behave and act. When Peter attempts to exert his own will over Christ's, Jesus tells him to, "get behind me, Satan!" His will will not be infringed. Once again: God does not foresee the future. He causes the future to happen. We have free will, but God's will supersedes our wills.

Jesus did not force Judas to betray him. Jesus picked Judas to be an apostle, because he knew he would betray him. He didn't see Judas betraying him in the future. He knew Judas' heart, and knew it would be his nature and will to betray him. Think of someone stronger then you. His will is going to win in a battle, because he is more powerful. He has not taken over your will; he does not control your actions like a pawn on a chessboard. He just has his way. You are allowed to exercise your will to the extent where it doesn't interfere with his. Think of renting an apartment. You can decorate the apartment with whatever you wish, live your life in it however you wish, but you can never sell the apartment. It's not yours to sell; it is the owner's. And if he plans to sell it to a developer, who is going to tear it down, you have no say. You just have to leave when the time comes. If you decide to stay and go down with the building, the plan of destroying the building has not been altered in any way. You are merely destroyed as well. Your free will has not been infringed. This is how God's providence works.

Finally, God's providence will eventually be understood and clarified to the saints in the next life.  Christ tells Peter, when he is washing his feet, "What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter (John 13:7)." Individual instances of providence will be revealed to us over the course of our lives, but when we are finally with the Lord, all of his providence will be revealed, and it will astound us.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Job's Friends' Error

Here is a paraphrased segment from Joseph Caryl's Practical Observations on Job, Vol 2:

Job has three friends that counsel him in his distress. One of the confusing aspects of this book of the Bible is that his friends' counsel seems doctrinally sound, but we know from the book's conclusion that they are in error.  How can this be? The answer is that there are actually four principles the friends and Job discuss, and the friends actually agree with Job on three of the four principles.  The fourth, however, and the most crucial, is where the error lies.  Here are the first three principles where Job concurs with his three friends:

1. All afflictions and calamities that befall man fall within the eye and certain knowledge of God.
2. God is the author and efficient cause, the orderer and disposer of all afflictions and calamities.
3. In regard of his most holy majesty and unquestionable soveriegnty, God neither does nor can do any wrong or injury to any of his creatures, whatsoever affliction he lays or however long he is pleased to continue it upon them.

The third one may be shocking, but let's look at them again in an even briefer context:

1. God knows all man's afflictions.
2. God causes all man's afflictions.
3. These afflictions are not wrong.

In other words, the afflictions which God ordains are for our good. Now, here is the fourth principle, which the friends hold with the other three, but which Job utterly denies. This fourth principle has two parts:

1. Whoever does good receives good reward to the measure of the good he has done, and whoever does evil is rewarded with evil equal to the evil he has done.  This is karma.
2. Whenever a wicked man seems to prosper, it is only momentary, and he will soon (in this life) be afflicted. Also, whenever a godly man faces adversity, it is only momentary, and he will suddenly (in this life) be blessed. Observation and experience reveal this not to be so.

This builds up the fourth principle: because Job is greatly and lengthy afflicted, therefore he is numbered with the wicked.

Job disagrees with this last principle, and Job's view is doctrinally sound.  It is this:

The providence of God dispenses outward prosperity and affliction so indifferently to good and bad, to the righteous and to the wicked, the no unerring judgment can possibly be made up of any man's spiritual estate by the face and upon the view of the temporal.

Afflictions happen to the godly and the wicked alike.  For the wicked, the afflictions are judgments. For the godly, they are disciplines that perfect the believer more into the likeness of Christ.

Original Sin

In this first Sunday of Lent, I want to look at what Original Sin is and how it differs from actual sin. To start, we have to look at Free Will, so let's start in Genesis:

1. God created man in his own image (1:26-27).
2. God created man very good (1:31).
3. God endued man with free will, the ability choose life or death (2:16-17).
4. Adam (man) chose death (3).
5. All of Adam's descendants are created in Adam's image (5:3).
6. This spiritual death is ingrained in the nature of all Adam's descendants (5:3).

So, there's this spiritual death, along with physical death, that is genetically passed down to all mankind. This death is also filled with selfish desire and sin: emnity against God and self-worship. Here is what Christ has to say about this original sin in the Gospel of Matthew:

1. Sins do not come from outside the body and then contaminate the spirit (15:11).
2. Sins come from the dead soul we are born with and come out of us (15:11).
3. In the heart is emnity against God. This is original sin from out of a dead soul (15:18).
4. From this emnity comes actual sins, such as evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders (15:19).

Paul gives us an overall view of the situation in Romans 5:

1. Through Adam, sin entered into the world (5:12).
2. This self-centeredness and rejection of God causes death (5:12).
3. All in the image of Adam (all humanity) are in this condition (5:14).
4. However, God has bestowed upon humanity a gift of grace in the from of Jesus Christ (5:15).
5. Jesus Christ is a second Adam, but instead of breeding emnity and death in the human soul, he removes the emnity and breathes life into the dead soul, making it alive (5:17).
6. So, Adam transfers spiritual death to his descendants, but Jesus Christ transfers spiritual life to all who put their faith in him.

All of this fits in with the whole gospel as expressed best in Ephesians 2:

1. Everyone, saved and unsaved, began dead in sins (2:1).
2. God is rich in mercy and makes us alive (2:5).
3. This grace from God is a free gift (2:8).

From all this we must know these important truths:

1. God is not the author of sin. He is not responsible for it, and therefore he is not responsible for the death that accompanies it.
2. God is responsible for the rescue of sinners from this state.

Keep these things in mind this lenten season.

Saturday, March 2, 2019


In Matthew 5:13, Jesus tells his disciples that they are the salt of the earth, and that if they lose their salt then they are no longer good for anything. What does it mean to be salt? It means that one's interaction with others is to gospel-filled: one's language, ideas, words, all must be biblical. Two aspects of salt are most apparent:

1. Salt keeps meat from rotting, and so in being salt, we bring the gospel to others to preserve their lives and keep them from perishing.
2. Salt adds flavor, so the conversation is deeper, more nourishing, and gospel-filled.

Now, what are some aspects of being salt to others? A good place to look at gospel-filled speech and interaction is from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, chapter one. Here we learn:

1. Salt does not equal cleverness of speech, such cleverness nullifies the cross (1:17).
2. Salt is foolishness to those who are perishing (1:18).
3. Salt has power to those who are being saved (1:18).
4. Simplicity is wiser than academic cleverness (1:20).
5. God has arranged things so that the most clever and "smart" people, the academics, are farthest from knowing God (1:21)
6. The simplicity of "foolishness" of the gospel message--salt--has a saving effect on those who believe (1:21).
7. Christ crucified is a foolish message, a simple message, that makes no sense to the worldly (1:23).
8. This foolishness, in fact, is wiser than the most clever wisdom of the world, because it has power, whereas the wisdom of the world does not (1:25).
9. God actually used unlearned people to preach his message! Not the academics (1:26).
10. Even academics like Saul of Tarsus had to be humbled and unlearn all they they knew in order to be qualified to preach the gospel (1:27).
11. A salty man is a humble man (1:29).
12. Paul was humbled by God in order to proclaim the gospel (2:1).
13. Paul's message is reduced to two things: Jesus Christ and Him Crucified (2:2).
14. Paul came to the Corinthians weak and trembling (2:3).
15. This is key: because of the simple message, his words had no power to persuade in and of themselves, so the converting power of the message was completely on the side of the Holy Spirit (2:4).
16. This key aspect of salt puts all the power in God's hands and not in man's (2:5).

All this has to do with the preserving of men's souls from corruption, from death. This is the preserving aspect of salt. This is the salt that brings unbelievers into a state of believing.  It is entirely on the part of God the Holy Spirit that this occurs.  Our message is foolish, or simple, and has no power in itself to save. It is a lifeline cast out that may or may not be grasped. The Spirit of God is what turns the heart and draws the believer to the lifeline.

Now, the second aspect of salt, the depth and flavor of conversation--discipleship--is touched on by Paul directly after these verses in chapter two:

1. Among saved Christians, among maturing Christians, deeper things of God are conversed about (2:6).
2. This wisdom is deep, more complex, and "academic," but it is still not the wisdom of the world by any stretch of the imagination (2:6).
3. God's wisdom, his depth, is plumbed by searching the scriptures and unlocking the mysteries of God's doctrine for the continued sanctification of believers (2:7).
4. These mysteries are things the world cannot see. They are "white noise" to the unbelieving, but to the saved, they are rich revelations of truth (2:8).
5. These mysteries are revealed, again, through the Spirit, but now the Spirit dwells inside the hearts of believers (2:10).

Salt means the ability for a disciple to speak a simple, saving message to the world. It also means the ability to share deep and complex doctrines among fellow disciples. The thing both sides of saltiness has in common is that both revolve around Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. The cross of Christ saves the lost. The cross of Christ is also the mystery revealed in all the scriptures.

Now, being aware of this, examine texts like the Sermon on the Mount. Whenever Christ speaks complexly (like 5:13), this verse is meant for disciples, because it contains a mystery to be unlocked. When Christ speaks plainly (like 7:7), he is reaching the unbelievers on the outskirts of the crowd. The verse alone may not be complete for salvation, but it can be grasped easily and draw someone closer to faith. Once you see this distinction, you can find it everywhere in scripture.

Friday, January 25, 2019

What Christ's Baptism Means For Us

After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

We can talk about the details of this passage and stick to the surface, or we can go deep and see what it means for us. The surface discussion provides some interesting things.  For example, did only Jesus see the dove? Or was it Jesus and John? Or was it everyone? Once again, these are fascinating things to talk about, but the point of this passage, and all passages of scripture, is to glorify Christ and reveal to us what he has done for us by way of salvation.

So, I want to look at three aspects of this pair of verses and what they mean for us:

I. The heavens were opened,
II. The Spirit descended as a dove, and
III. The voice spoke from heaven.

I. The heavens were opened. What is up there? Vacuum? Emptiness? Void? Darkness and void were there before creation, and now we live post-creation. We are told by the world that in the heavens above is vast, empty space with scattered bodies like stars and galaxies and nebulae. For the most part, the implication is that space is mostly NOTHING. This is bleak and discouraging. However, with Christ, the heavens are actually opened up, and the reality behind the emptiness is revealed. When Stephen was being stoned in Acts 7, the heavens opened to him and he saw Christ seated at the right hand of the Father. The point is that Christ reveals to us that there is more to heaven than space.

There is not only a place to receive us after death, a place that is not vast emptiness, but it is a place opened for all believers, all who have a penitent and abiding faith in Christ. God's love and light come to us from above, and we are given boldness to enter into that holy place. Jesus Christ, we know, is the ladder upon which the angels ascend and descend from above. Through Christ we can communicate with God, have communion with God, and learn from God, obeying his divine commandments and repenting through Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.

II. The Spirit descended as a dove. Christ did not need to receive the Holy Spirit as a believer does. But the guiding of his ministry is by the Holy Spirit, and so the Spirit is with him as he works. The Spirit is continually working in a guiding role for the Church, even as he works inside all believers. As Christ has the Spirit upon him, and as he is married to the church, the church therefore has the Spirit upon her. Gifts, graces, and comforts all come to the church by the Holy Spirit.

The dove is the prefect symbol of innocence and peace. Harmless and inoffensive, the Spirit enabled Christ's humanity to not cry out or fight back during his passion. The Spirit enables us to be peacemakers, to be mourners, essentially to fulfill all the beatitudes, just as Christ fulfilled them. The dove inspires penitence, living sacrifice, and purity. The dove brings good tidings, as it did to Noah, and it still does through the church to the world that God forgives and saves sinners. That reconciliation with God is not only possible but can be obtained only through Jesus Christ.

III. The voice of the Father from heaven. The Father is a vast mind, so it makes sense that one cannot see an image of him, but certainly, because the Word of God is so paramount, we can hear his voice. And what's more, the voice that we hear is eternally presenting the gospel. What does the gospel tell? This is my son. This is he. Right here. This is the way I have made for salvation. There is no other. From the beginning, I have planned this to be the only way to be saved, and now, everyone here can see that this is he, the messiah, standing before you. "This is my son," means. "this is my way." This is redemption. This way comes directly from God, like a son begotten from a father. He is mediator, the go-between for church and God. Once again, he is the ladder that connects heaven and earth. In him we find the elect, for he is elect, and his church is his bride, and therefore she is elect by marriage. He is the covenant of grace, in which all believers dwell. Finally, he is the sacrifice for our sins. His death brings us eternal life. He is the substitution for God's wrath. We find life and love only in him.

Note that the voice does not say, "with him I am well pleased," but "in him I am well pleased." God is pleased in him, and so God is pleased with all who are in him. All who are united to Christ by faith also share in God's pleasure. When we were outside of Christ, we were recipients of God's wrath, but now we are in Christ, and so his anger is turned away. We are accepted in the beloved. None come to the father except through the son. In him our living sacrifice is acceptable to God. In him the gospel can be successfully preached. In him our war against sin is possible and battles are finally won. With God, we should be able to say, "This is our savior, in whom we are well pleased."

Look to the heavens and know that there is not only something there, but what is there is the ultimate reality. See the dove and know that, by the Holy Spirit, reconciliation with God and peace with the world is possible. Look to Christ and know that redemption is real and has been given freely to all who put their trust in him. Look to me and be saved, all ye ends of the earth, for I am God and there is no other (Isaiah 45:22).

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Marrow of Modern Divinity

25 parts of my reading of the Marrow are on YouTube so far, and I try to be regular about posting one part a day.  Check out the series for yourself:

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Saturday, January 5, 2019

Out of Egypt

Out of Egypt I Called My Son (Hosea 11:1)

God loves his church, like a husband loves his bride, and like a father loves his son. He has had great care in us before the foundation of the world, in his elect, and like a doting father he has loved us from the beginning.  When we were new children in Christ, when we were born again, he revealed himself to us as the creator of our souls and source of our rest. We were born into sin, because of our first father, Adam, and while we were yet sinners, in that state of unrepentant slavery to sin, God picked us up and took us into his arms.  That laborious drudgery of a fallen soul with nowhere to turn, lost in his own despair, cries out for salvation, and God, our father, loving us from when we were young, comes to our rescue.

Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, but our old man, our false king, our sinful master, who beats us and brands us his own, our Herod, hears about the true king, the real king, who has come to redeem his people, and he sets up a plan to destroy our salvator. Joseph is warned in a dream, and he takes his wife and newborn son down to Egypt to hide, until the sinful, old man is dead, the Herod who ruled over us in our lost state, is dead. The son comes back to Israel.  We cried out in Egypt and the son was brought near.  His blood spilled over the doorways to protect us from the creeping death.  Now that the old ruler of our hearts is dead, we are free to come home, but first we must travel through the wilderness.

The prophets warned us.  The prophets still warn the church.  They warned Israel.  Moses warned them, and then all the rest of the prophets over the centuries.  They called them to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.  John the Baptist called them again in the time of Christ.  However, the Israelites rejected Moses.  They rejected the sound teachings of God.  They rejected his commandments.  The more the prophets preached, the more the church fled from the sound counsel of the Lord.  The more the church slipped in to idolatry.  We see this in history, and we see this in our own lives.  The time spent on YouTube could have been time spent with the Lord in his Word, and the more we are called to pray to God, it seems the more we run in the opposite direction and look for something damnable to do with ourselves.

Yet he taught us to walk. God held our hands and showed us how to step. And we repay him by walking in the wrong path.  We choose the wide path of destruction, not the narrow path of Christ.  He took us in our arms, and then we pushed him away.  He healed our hearts, and then we attributed the healing to worldly things and celebrated the darkness.  God restrains us from self-destruction and heinous ruin, and yet we complain that he fastened any kind of yoke to us, even though the bonds he gave us were easy and the burden light.  The cords he ties us with improve us, but our sin cries out that he has made our lives worse.  Every word that comes from his mouth is precious remedy for our souls, and yet we spit his word out of our mouth as if it were poison.

We will not return to the land of Egypt.  Our old lives are truly behind us, but many will attempt to return there, and what they will find is much, much worse than Egypt.  In Egypt, God was there, he sustained us and gave us good things, even in our adversity.  In Assyria, where the unrepentant sinner is bound, there is no solace from God.  There is no hope.  When we go to Assyria, we ask God to forsake us.  We ask him to remove himself from our lives forever, and when that happens, we realize how much God had been caring for us all along, now that it is gone.  We refuse to return, because the sanctifying wilderness is too rough, and we would rather return to our place of sin.  But now, our sin has overtaken us, and it is in complete control of our lives.  When all is sin, all is death, and all is sorrow.

But he will never give up his elect.  He will never surrender his true church.  He will never destroy us, and his heart breaks for us.  He is compassionate, slow to anger, and he is patient for us to awaken and return to him.  We will walk the narrow way, because he is fierce and strong, and he is our protector.  Like the child who is severely disciplined, he trembles and shakes as he returns to the father's side in repentance and awe.

Jesus died for our sins.  He came to Egypt to rescue us, and he led us away from sin and death.  He opened his arms and embraced us.  Now, we go through trials, we go through wilderness, and we are tempted to walk away from it all, back to our sins in Egypt, not knowing that we will not get Egypt but Assyria.  Go trembling to the side of the father through the love of the son.  Only through Christ is one redeemed.  He suffered all things on our behalf, so that we would not suffer again for eternity.