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Thursday, December 22, 2016

So Where's the Peace on Earth?

With all the news of Islamic terrorists stabbing American college students and driving trucks into German Christmas celebrations, one might be somewhat puzzled by the seeming incompatibility of these things with the “peace on earth” that Jesus is said to have brought 2,000 years ago.  Two of our most treasured Christmas passages feature peace as a hallmark of the ministry of the Messiah on earth.  In Luke 2:14, a multitude of the heavenly host were praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 
And in Isaiah 9:6-7, we read: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
We sing so much about peace on earth during this time of year, but are we fooling ourselves?  If we pay attention to the news, clearly we’ve got a peace shortage here.  What are we to make of these things?
First, the description of Jesus as the Prince of Peace in Isaiah 9 is tied to the prediction that He would ascend the throne of David and over his kingdom to establish it and uphold it.  It is also said that His peace would never end.  So we should ask ourselves, “have those things happened yet?”  We could say, yes and no.  According to Peter in his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2, the resurrection of Christ represented His ascending the throne of David (Acts 2:29-31).  So we could say, yes, this has been fulfilled already.  But in another sense, it has not yet been fulfilled.  Jesus will ultimately and finally establish His kingdom on earth in the last days (Rev 21-22).  It is then that He will uphold the kingdom “with justice and with righteousness.”  It is then that He will establish peace.  The ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah 9 will take place at the consummation of the age. 
This is an example of the “already, not yet” that we occasionally talk about.  Many of the blessings we have in Christ, we enjoy in some sense already, but in an ultimate sense not yet.  Since the words in Isaiah 9:7 appear to describe events that have not yet been fully fulfilled, and since it is in that context that Jesus is described as the Prince of Peace, His ministry as the Prince of Peace must also be an eschatological reality.  That is, the fullness of who Jesus is as the Prince of Peace will be known in the last days.  After the Lord returns and vanquishes His enemies and destroys evil and brings about the new heavens and new earth, that is when there will be peace forevermore.  When we see evidence of chaos in the world, we can be reminded that Christ is on the throne of David, ruling over His kingdom, but the final consummation is yet future, and we can look forward expectantly to that glorious day.
Second, we must realize that there is more than one kind of peace – peace between men and peace between God and man.  The violence we see in the world is an absence of peace between men.  But Jesus’ work on the cross made peace between God and man.  So if the name Prince of Peace in Isaiah 9:6 refers to this part of Christ’s ministry as the mediator of our peace with the Father, there is no contradiction between what we read there and what we see in the world around us.  Even as man is at odds with one another, God has made peace with the believer through faith in Christ. 
As we think about the Savior in the coming days, let’s be thankful for three things: (1) we have peace with God now through the sacrifice of His Son; (2) Jesus rules even now from the throne of David; and (3) the day will come when His kingdom is consummated and there will be complete, final, eternal peace on earth.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

But That All Should Come To Repentance, Part 3

(If you’ve missed the first two posts in this series, you can find them here and here.)  As we continue to think about 2 Peter 3:9, I’d like to move into chapter 2 and consider how Peter’s argument there supports our interpretation of 3:9.  
(As a reminder, 2 Peter 3:9 reads, The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  Our contention is that this does not refer to a divine desire for all people without exception to be saved, but rather is a specific statement about the elect.)
As we saw last time, Peter uses the 1st chapter to exhort believers to good works, as this serves as evidence of one’s genuine conversion.  Toward the end of the chapter, in vv16ff, he encourages believers to pay close attention to the “prophetic word,” the Scriptures, reminding them that the Word is not composed of cleverly devised myths or man’s own prophecy, “but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
The purpose of chapter 1 becomes clearer once we read chapter 2.  The two main points of chapter 1 – a) be assured of your election by bearing fruit, and b) stay close to the Word – perfectly setup the teaching in chapter 2 regarding false teachers.  He warns in 2:1 that just as false prophets have come in the past, so there will be false teachers in the future.  They will bring in destructive heresies.  That is why it is so important for the believers to be sure of their election and to know the Word – so that they will not be caused to doubt their salvation due to the false teachings and so that they will not be led astray from the truth of the Word due to the false teachings.
It is important to note that from v1 on, Peter is speaking of future false teachers, not the false teachers of old.  “There will be false teachers among you,” (v1).  And yet, he says of them in v3, “their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”  So he speaks of future false teachers with condemnation from long ago.  What is the point?  Their condemnation is sure.  It’s not idle.  It’s not asleep.  It’s not being held in reserve just in case they don’t get saved.  The thrust of the paragraph is that they will certainly be destroyed. 
This is a big problem for those who understand 3:9 to communicate a universal intent to save: how to deal with the clash of tenses – future false teachers with certain condemnation from long ago.  The classic way of dealing with this problem is to say that the condemnation from long ago represents God’s foreknowledge.  That is, He knew from eternity past that they would bring condemnation upon themselves, so He went ahead and condemned them.  That’s not how the text reads, but let’s pretend for a minute that it does.  If God condemned them from long ago, in what sense does God will “that all individuals without exception should come to repentance,” as the universal interpretation of 2 Peter 3:9 suggests?  If He has condemned them from long ago, based on His foreknowledge, which cannot be wrong, there is therefore no hope for their repentance.  So the appeal to foreknowledge may help in 2:3, but it backfires with 3:9 and for that reason alone it should be rejected.
Peter has now spoken of two different groups, the elect and the false teachers.  Vv4-10 are dedicated to establishing the certainty of the Lord’s rescuing “the godly from trials” – the elect from chapter 1 – and the certainty of the Lord’s destroying the unrighteous – the false teachers from chapter 2.  Peter establishes this certainty by reminding the readers of God’s prior works of saving the godly and destroying the wicked.  His point is that if God did those things in the past, then He will certainly save the godly believers and destroy the false teachers in the future.  The words used of the false teachers’ destruction are chilling: He will “keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.” 
These references to certain destruction are starting to pile up.  And yet, a universal understanding of 2 Peter 3:9 demands that “all” means “all humans without exception,” which would have to include the condemned false teachers.  So to hold such an interpretation of 3:9, we would have to say, “God is not willing that any false teacher should perish, even though Peter wrote that God condemned them from long ago.  Rather, God is willing that all false teachers should come to repentance, even though Peter wrote that they are being kept by God for destruction.” 
When all the context, syntax, and lexical evidence is weighed, it becomes clear that 2 Peter 3:9 does not deny the idea of God’s intention to save the elect.  Instead, the evidence affirms that.  Christ has not returned because He is patient toward those He has chosen, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

I only did what I did because of what they did to me!

On Sunday, we did not have time to look closely at the first verse in our text, so I’d like to do that here.  Have you ever heard people explain their sin by pointing to ways that others have sinned against them?  I would venture to say that most of us have done that.  “I did what I did because of what that person did to me.”  It’s far easier to justify our sin by pointing to stimuli outside of ourselves than to consider that our hearts are naturally bent toward sin.
It is frequently the case that our sin is precipitated in some measure by an influence outside of ourselves.  Others wrong us all the time.  However, that does not mean that our sin in response is automatic or justified.
Consider how Exodus 6:9 explains Israel’s refusal to listen to Moses:
Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery. 
Moses spoke the words commanded by Yahweh in vv6-8 to the effect that He would save them from the Egyptians and take them to be His people.  That they did not “listen to Moses” indicates that they did not believe the word of the Lord, which is a sinful response.  The text explains this by the phrase “because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.”
At first blush, it appears that the explanation is completely external to the Israelites.  In other words, they failed to believe strictly because of how the Egyptians had beaten them down.  But there are actually two causes mentioned and they are not the same thing.  The text cites their ‘broken spirit’ and their ‘harsh slavery.’  The harsh slavery is an external influence, but their broken spirit refers to their own hardened hearts.  
The word translated “broken” is more literally “shortness”.  If we look at other places this phrase is used – “shortness of spirit” – we get the idea that it is more of a heart issue than just that they are beaten down.  For example, in Job 21:4 this phrase is used and it carries the idea of impatience.  That verse would very literally be, “why should not my spirit be short?”  But most translations have something like, “why shouldn’t I be impatient?”  The phrase is also used in Prov 14:29 where it is contrasted with being slow to anger, which would also indicate that it carries the idea of impatience or quickness to anger. 
So in Exodus 6, one reason given for the people not listening to Moses is that they are quick to anger or impatient.  They cannot endure difficulty.  It’s a heart issue.  It is that heart issue reacting to the external issue – their harsh slavery – that leads them to not listen to Moses, i.e. not believe God.  They don’t believe God because they are impatient/quick to anger in the face of their harsh slavery. 
When we sin, it’s usually going to be a wrong heart response to an external stimulus.  Can we then point to the external stimulus to explain our sin?  Not ultimately.  It was our heart that responded sinfully.  And if we are believers, we could have responded differently.  Christ was sinned against constantly in His earthly life and yet He never sinned in response.  
A huge lesson that we learn by watching the Israelites respond sinfully over and over is that they had a heart problem (Deut 29:4; Isa 29:13).  One of the blessings of the gospel is that Christ addresses that heart problem by removing the old heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh (Eze 11:19, 36:26).  As believers, we must recognize both our freedom from the old self, and our tendency to revert back to the old self unnecessarily (Rom 6:1-14).  By the grace of Christ, we are able, moment by moment, to respond in godly ways to ungodly treatment. 
The key is to be reminded daily of the truth of who we are in Christ – new creations raised to walk in newness of life (2 Cor 5:17; Rom 6:4), and to habitually engage in fellowship with Him through the Word, prayer, and meaningful interaction with the saints. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

...But That All Should Come To Repentance, Part 2

Our study of Exodus has prompted us to consider that God hardens some and draws others.  (These are the doctrines of reprobation and election, respectively.)  We’ve seen these ideas in Exodus 4:21-23, but in the NT we also find them in passages like Romans 9:6-24.  But how are we to reconcile these things with other passages that seem to teach otherwise?  Last time we began to look at 2 Peter 3:9, a text that some understand to be a challenge to the doctrine of election.  The verse reads:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
We’ve already seen that the near context and the grammar of the verse itself will not allow us to understand this as a statement against the doctrine of election.  The key to understanding the scope of the verse is the word “you.”  In this post, I’d like to consider the question, “who is the ‘you’ in this verse, and what difference does it make?”
In short, Peter is writing to the community of professing believers, among whom he assumes are some who are not yet truly saved.  This can be demonstrated from the line of thought in the first chapter. 
In Chapter 1, the apostle states that the divine power of Christ has granted to us “all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature…” (vv3-4).  God has granted salvation (“life”) and sanctification (“godliness”).  Peter then exhorts the reader to “supplement your faith with virtue” and other various qualities that serve as evidence of salvation.  So God has granted salvation, and we are to bear evidence of that salvation in the way that we live.
V10 is key: “Therefore, brothers be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”  What does he mean?  He intends for them to find evidence of their calling and election in the presence of these virtuous qualities in their lives.  This tells us at least two things.  First, their calling and election result in the virtuous qualities, for it is “His divine power” granted to them that empowers them not only to be saved, but also to exercise godliness.  Without that divine power, there would be none of these virtuous qualities.  V11 says that it is this exercise of godly virtue (which results from the divine power that saves and sanctifies) that secures their entrance into the eternal kingdom of the Lord.
So if we follow the chain backward, we see that an entrance into the eternal kingdom is the result of the godly virtue that is the result of their calling and election.  Therefore, “be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure.”  Election results in eternal life. 
Second, this kind of exhortation is always two-sided.  (We find similar exhortations and warnings elsewhere in the NT –1 Cor 10:1-12; 2 Cor 13:5; Heb 3:12, 4:1-11 – these are all exhortations that essentially say, “Make sure you’re saved!).  On one side, it is an exhortation to the saved to work to show the fruit of salvation.  Why?  Because that evidence is comforting to the soul.  It is a way that we can be assured of our salvation.  On the other side, it serves as a way to show those who think they are saved that they really are not, and therefore should repent and believe.  Both sides serve the elect – one by assuring the elect of their salvation, the other by drawing the yet-unsaved elect to salvation.  In this exhortation is the implicit understanding that Peter is writing to a group in which there may be elect ones who have not yet been saved.
This point alone is enough to indicate that 2 Pet 3:9 has a particular audience in view.  Since, Peter in 1:10 has already exhorted the readers to examine themselves to see if their lives show evidence of calling and election, it would make perfect sense that in 3:9 he would say, “The Lord…is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”  1:10 and 3:9 address the same issue – there are some elect who have not yet been converted.
So early in the letter, we have a clear reference to election, which does not fit with a more universal understanding of 2 Pet 3:9.  The word “election” is a great difficulty for those who oppose the doctrine of election because it means “the state of being chosen”.  To understand the verse to mean that God doesn’t choose particular persons to be saved, but He desires equally that all people come to salvation, we have to either ignore this reference to election or come up with some other explanation for it. 
There are two ways that opponents to election try to deal with this.  One is to take it to refer to a corporate election.  In other words, God chose the church to be saved.  He chose the body, rather than the individuals, so that any individual who chooses to join the body may be considered elect by virtue of their membership with the church.  The individual has the prerogative to join the body or not join the body.  So where that word is found in Scripture, they read it as a corporate election.
However, that understanding doesn’t make much sense in the context of 2 Pet 1:10.  Under this view of election, God does not elect individuals – election is corporate.  Therefore, Peter would have to be saying here, “be all the more diligent to make the election of the church sure.”  How does that fit with the exhortation that precedes it – the exhortation to show the fruit of salvation?  How does evidence of individual salvation help to make the election of a corporate body sure?  It doesn’t. 
The other way that some try to deal with the concept of election is to assert that election is based on God’s foreknowledge.  In this view, God from the foundation of the world saw all those who would choose to be saved.  He then did a “preemptive choosing.”  Essentially, God chose to save those whom He foresaw would choose Him.  They read that understanding of election into each use of that word. 
But it bears repeating that “election” means “the state of having been chosen.”  It does not mean “the state of being recognized beforehand as one who will make a particular choice.”  It also does not mean “the state of being chosen preemptively.”  It simply means “chosen.”   
Now, it’s possible for a context to color the meaning of a word.  But the burden is always on the interpreter to find contextual markers that point to such a meaning.  In this case, in order to understand this as “election based upon foreknowledge” there must be something in the text indicating the basis on which the choice is made.  There are no such markers in this text.  There is nothing that would lead a completely objective reader to understand “election” to mean “election based on a foreknown choice.”   
So, I would hold that the material in 2 Peter 1, especially the reference to election in 1:10, precludes a universal explanation of 2 Peter 3:9.  Next time, we will look at chapter 2, which makes a universal understanding of this verse even less likely. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

...But That All Should Come to Repentance

On Sunday we spent a bit of time considering God’s plan to harden Pharaoh’s heart and then judge him for his obstinate refusal to let the people go.  The passage has implications for our understanding of God’s control of human decisions.  This subject is not only difficult to understand, but also is difficult to reconcile with other passages of Scripture that seem to uphold that God does not harden people or that He desires for all people to be saved.
In a blog series many moons ago, I worked through some of these passages seeking to explain them in their appropriate contexts.  But it’s been a long time and I’m sure it would be helpful to revisit these things, especially as we’re working our way through Exodus, where we will be confronted on numerous occasions with the meticulous sovereignty of God.
2 Peter 3:9 is a verse that is frequently cited as being a difficulty for the notion that God hardens some sinners and elects others to salvation. 
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
A cursory reading of this verse, outside of its context, would seem to present a very different picture from passages like Exo 4:21-23 and Romans 9:6-26, which teach that God hardens some and draws others.  Peter, here, seems to say the opposite – that God desires all people, not just some, to be saved. 
But the key phrases in the previous sentence are “cursory reading” and “outside of its context.”  When we look carefully at the verse in its context, the difficulty disappears altogether.  It will take a while to develop this – more than one post – but if you’ll hang in there, you’ll most likely be able to understand how this works and you’ll also be able to help others who have questions about it.
Let’s consider first the immediate context of the verse.  In a later post, we’ll look at the greater context of 2 Peter, including the first couple of chapters.  Peter writes 3:9 as part of a response to skeptics who claim that the Lord is not going to return.  He warns in vv1-3 that scoffers will come in the last days, and in v4 he gives the content of their scoffing:
They will say, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation."
The argument of these scoffers is that Jesus must not be coming back since nothing has changed since the beginning of time.  Peter’s first point in response is that these scoffers overlook the fact that God has already brought judgment once before in the form of the flood (3:5-7).  His second point is that God does not mark time as we do – a thousand years is as a day and vice versa (3:8).  In other words, it may seem to us like the Lord is slow to fulfill His promise to return, but that is only because of our relative experience of the passage of time. 
His third point is crucial and is found in 3:9: The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  It’s essential that we keep in mind that this verse is answering an objection regarding the return of the Lord.  The promise mentioned is the Lord’s promise to return for His bride.  Peter is explaining why the Lord has not returned yet.  He has not returned yet, “because he is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”  The Lord is patient – He is waiting to return – until “all” repent. 
Those who contend that this verse refutes the idea that God chooses to harden some and to draw others hold that “all” means all people without exception.  They would say that this verse indicates that God wants every single person to be saved. 
But will the context allow us to understand “all” in this way, especially if we keep in mind that this is being given as a reason for the Lord’s waiting to return?  Who is “all”?  If “all” is all people without exception and if God is waiting to return until “all” repent, then we are forced to conclude that the Lord will never return because other Scriptures are clear that not all people come to repentance.  In fact, 2 Peter alone contains numerous references to the certain judgment of the wicked (2:1, 3, 4-9, 12-13, 17, 21; 3:7, 10, 11-12, 16).  It is not merely a possibility that some will not repent and therefore be judged.  It is a certainty predicted in this very epistle.  It is a certainty that some will not repent.  Therefore, if Jesus is waiting to return until all people without exception repent, He will never return.  
But that is clearly not Peter’s point.  This section is intended to reassure the recipients that the Lord IS going to return.  After all, Peter is refuting those who say that the Lord is not going to return.  He’s going to return when “all” repent.  It must be that “all” does not mean all people without exception.
And we can know that “all” doesn’t mean all people without exception based upon 3:9 itself.  Consider the grammatical structure of the last half of the verse: 
because he is patient toward you,
not wishing that any should perish,
but that all should reach repentance
The parallel phrases “not wishing that any should perish” and “but that all should reach repentance” both modify the clause, “He is patient toward you.”  In other words, both of those phrases clarify or explain the preceding clause.  “You” is the key word here for helping us to understand to whom Peter is referring.  The Lord’s patience is not toward all people without exception, but toward a specific group, “you.”  The “any” that He does not want to perish and the “all” that He wants to come to repentance are both contained in the “you” of the main clause.  That’s the grammatical structure.  The grammar of the text itself will not allow us to understand “all” to be all people without exception.  Rather, it is “all” of the “you.”
So who is the “you”?  The context tells us.  We’ll look at that next time.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

God Doesn't Need To Be Rescued

Have you ever read something about God in the Bible and thought, “wow, that can’t mean what it sounds like it means – God’s not like that”?  There was one verse that we read in our passage on Sunday that made a somewhat startling statement about the sovereign control that Yahweh exerts over His creation.  Some of us may have had a strong impulse to rescue God from that verse…but does He really need our rescue?
You’ll remember that one of the objections Moses raised to the Lord’s call was that he was not an eloquent speaker, to which Yahweh responded, "Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” (Exo 4:11). 
Who makes the mute man mute?  Yahweh.  Who makes the deaf woman deaf?  Yahweh.  Who determines if a particular person is seeing or blind?  Yahweh.  We could extend that to other things as well.  Who makes the cancerous child cancerous?  Yahweh.  Who makes the stillborn baby stillborn?  Yahweh. 
In much of modern Christianity, people struggle with how to explain what some have called natural evil, which would include natural disasters and disease.  How do we explain tsunamis and earthquakes?  How do we explain that some people are born with extreme birth defects?  Some Christians would immediately begin to describe man’s fall into sin and the effects that sin has had on this world.  Those effects include natural evil and so when we see these kinds of things – hurricanes that kill and children born blind – we should be reminded of Adam’s fall into sin and how horrible sin is.  God doesn’t want these things to happen; man chose them when he chose sin.  In other words, some explanation is found that lays the genesis for these disasters somewhere other than at the feet of Almighty God.  “Man chose to sin.  Sin caused these things.  So in a sense man caused them and sin caused them, but God did not.  God is as bothered by them as you are.”
Others in the church, recognizing that the Bible claims more sovereignty for God, seek to accommodate that teaching while still absolving God of responsibility for natural disasters and sicknesses.  They explain that God selectively “allows” certain disasters to happen.  He “allows” particular illnesses to take shape in the womb; He prevents others.  So God is like a gatekeeper, not causing these things to take place, but allowing certain ones to pass.  I find this option attractive although the text of Scripture, including Exodus 4:11, the more I read it, persuades me that this is an inappropriate explanation.  Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?
We have an impulse to rescue God from responsibility for birth defects and illnesses and earthquakes where He seems to feel no such compulsion.  Being recognized as the creator of mute mouths, deaf ears, and blind eyes does not appear to be problematic to Him.  He claims responsibility with absolutely no apologetic explanation. 
In Exodus 4:11-12, Yahweh says, “I make mouths.  All of them.  I make them work well.  I make them work poorly.  I make eyes, too.  I make them see and not see.  I make ears, too.  I make them hear and not hear.”  And He offers no explanation to get Himself off the hook, even though we are so eager for Him to do so.  He appears to want us to understand that He is in control even of these kinds of things. 
But there is a “therefore.”  Yahweh wanted Moses to trust Him with his mouth and speech because He created it and was Lord over it.  Why was Moses not “a man of words” as the original more literally reads?  It’s not that God allowed this to happen to Moses.  God made him that way.  Why?  So that Moses would trust in Him and not himself. 
Paul finds the same thing at work in his own trials in 2 Cor 1.  The apostle describes his and his companions being burdened beyond their own strength, so burdened that they despaired of life itself.  They felt that they had received the death sentence.  But this burden came with a purpose.  “That was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Cor 1:8-11).  The trial, horrific and terrifying, was from the hand of God for the purpose of God. 
I’m challenged more and more by passages like Exodus 4:11-12 to let the Bible teach me about God, to accept and embrace what it teaches, and to resist the impulse to rescue Him from what the Bible says.  Where He shows no desire to rescue Himself, He must want to be there, and I have no business removing Him. 
We’ll have more opportunities to consider these things as we continue in Exodus and as we continue our Wednesday night series, Walking in the Excellencies of God.  If you have questions, join us for both!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

His own did not receive Him...

We saw on Sunday a number of parallels between Moses and Jesus.  But there was one that we did not have time to develop.
When Moses came upon the two Hebrews struggling and said to the aggressor, “Why do you strike your companion?”, he answered, “who made you a prince and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exo 2:13-14).  We might have expected Moses to be received as a hero among the Hebrews but by this response it appears that he is unwanted. 
And this is but a taste of what Moses will receive from the Israelites once he is officially their leader.  They will complain about Moses’ interference before the exodus (5:20-21), just before the crossing of the Red Sea (14:11-12), and just after the crossing of the Red Sea (15:24; 17:1-7).  In Num 12:1-16, his own brother and sister will oppose him.  The people will refuse to enter the Canaan land (Num 13:1-33) and will threaten to choose a new leader to take them back to Egypt (Num 14:1-4).  All of this will take place in the midst of miraculous acts of salvation, preservation, and provision never seen before.  As Yahweh says to Moses in Exo 32:9, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people.”
So we could say that Moses came to his own but his own did not receive him.  Contrast that with the reception he received after merely running off some bullies in Midian.  The priest of Midian brought Moses into his house, shared a meal with him, and made him part of the family, giving him his daughter for a wife (Exo 2:15-22).  His own people treated him as an unwanted nuisance, but when Moses went to those who were not his people, he was honored as a heroic deliverer. 
The parallel with Christ is obvious.  John 1:11 says of Jesus, He came to his own, but his own people did not receive him.  All four Gospels note the cool reception that Jesus received among the Jews.  In recent years, we found this to be a prominent theme of Matthew.  The Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah and the latter chapters show Jesus teaching via parables that the kingdom would be taken from them and given to another people, the Gentiles (Matt 21:41-44).  Certainly, there were those among the Jews who believed in Christ during His ministry and after His ascension, as recorded in the book of Acts.  But the Jews’ rejection of Christ is what provided for the extension of the gospel to the Gentiles.
As tempting as it may be to throw stones at the Jews for their blindness, and though they are culpable for their rejection of the Christ, we must recognize that this was part of God’s sovereign plan to bless all nations through Abraham (Gen 12:1-3).  Paul teaches that in making the promise to Abraham to bless all nations, God had in mind that He would justify the Gentiles by faith through the preaching of the gospel to them (Gal 3:8-9).  But the kingdom would not have been extended to the Gentiles had the Jews not rejected it.  This truth – that by the inclusion of Jews and Gentiles into the one church, God will save all His people – prompts Paul to revel,
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?  Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom 11:33-36)
Praise God for this and many other opportunities we’ll have to consider our great exodus in Christ as we study Exodus.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Father Knows Best What is Good for Us

Because the three Persons of the Trinity are identical in nature, what makes them distinct must relate to their respective roles.  One of the Father’s roles that we considered last night is that the Father is the giver of every good and perfect gift.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17).
What good thing do you have that you did not receive from the Father?  Nothing.  From the smallest good to the greatest good, all good things comes to us from the Father.
And this includes the gift of the Son, whom the Father gave to save us from the wrath to come:
"For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1John 4:10).
The Father’s good gifts include the Spirit, as well, who teaches us, intercedes for us, and testifies to us about Christ:
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Rom 8:26).
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26).
The gifts of the Son and the Spirit prove the Father’s benevolent heart toward us.  As Paul wrote in Rom 8:32, He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  If the Father did not withhold the greatest gift, the greatest sacrifice, why would He withhold lesser good gifts?
Still, we may on occasion regard God the Father to be a stingy ogre, who only begrudgingly gives us good gifts when He is absolutely sure they won’t make us happy.  We regard Him this way because we perceive that He withholds from us things that we believe are “good” for us.  God certainly denies us things we want, but He does this because He knows better than we do what is good for us.  We tend to equate what will make us happy with what is good for us.  God is wiser than that.  The things that may make us happy for a moment are often the worst possible things for us. 
How many of us, in our fallen state, would have chosen the gift of the Son over our own idea of what is good?  None of us would have.  Paul teaches in 1 Cor 1:18 that the word of the cross – the gift of the Son – is foolishness to the world.  Left to ourselves we never would have chosen this greatest Gift.  And we only regarded that gift as a wonderful blessing after the Father opened our eyes and gave us repentance and faith.  Praise the Father that He knows better than we do AND that He did not leave it up to us to see the desirability of the gift of Christ.
If the Father knew better than we did regarding the gift of the Son, certainly we should trust Him with all lesser things.  If God withholds a certain thing from us, it must not be good for us, at least not at that particular time.  After all, if He did not withhold His Son, “how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?”
The extravagance of the gifts of the Son and Spirit should indicate to us that God's great desire is to lavish His children with good gifts.  If He hasn’t given something to us, it is because He knows best what is good for us.  But the things He has given us, particularly in Christ and the Spirit, are of inestimable value.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Walking in Light of the Deity of the Spirit

Last evening in our study, Walking in the Excellencies of God, we considered again the triune nature of God, focusing on the deity of the Holy Spirit.  We have a dual emphasis in this study: knowing the excellencies of God and living in light of those excellencies.  So our discussion always turns to the practical benefit of believing true things about the nature of God.
In the case of the deity of the Spirit we discussed a couple of ways that belief in this truth should affect the way that we live.  First, we should care deeply about how we care for and use our bodies.  We know that the Spirit resides inside of us (John 14:17).  Paul takes this to mean that our bodies are temples and should be treated accordingly:  Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1Cor 6:19-20).   
Apparently, in the church at Corinth, some were participating in prostitution.  So the context pertains to sins of the body.  Earlier in the passage, the apostle writes, Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! (1Cor 6:15). It matters what a Christian does with his or her body!
The prevailing attitude of our culture is that your body is your body and what you do with it is your business.  No one can tell you what to do with it.  If you want to engage in any manner of sexual behavior, that is your prerogative.  If you want to abort your baby, it’s your body.  If you want to use drugs or overeat or mistreat your body in any other way, that’s completely up to you.  It’s no one else’s business.
But if the Holy Spirit is God, those of us who are believers are walking temples of the living God and our bodies are not our own.  This is Paul’s point explicitly – you are not your own…so glorify God with your body.  This should be powerful incentive to care deeply about our bodies.  We can and should apply this to sexual ethics as Paul does, but we need not stop there because the principle is broader than that one area.  We ought not eat ourselves into poor health, nor starve ourselves into poor health.  We ought not over-exercise or under-rest ourselves into poor health.  Likewise, we ought not under-exercise or over-rest ourselves into poor health.  We ought not ignore signs that we are ill.  We should take care of our bodies – glorify God in our bodies – which are temples of the Holy Spirit.
Second, we should be comforted by the intercession of Almighty God on our behalf.  There is a wonderful passage in Romans 8:26-27, which teaches that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.  When we don’t know what to pray for ourselves, “the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Many of us find comfort knowing that others are praying for us.  We are called to pray for one another, we are right to enlist the prayers of others on our behalf, and we are right to be comforted knowing that our brothers and sisters are interceding for us.  But how much more comforting should it be to know that the Holy Spirit – fully God – intercedes for us before the Father – fully God?  We often refer to certain saints who devote themselves to prayer as “prayer warriors.”  But whose intercession could be more efficacious than that of the Holy Spirit?
On top of that, Paul notes just a few verses later that the Spirit is not alone in His intercession for us, but He is joined by God the Son:  Christ Jesus is the one who died-- more than that, who was raised-- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us (Rom 8:34).
Are you beset by troubles? All three persons of the Trinity are engaged in intercession for you.  God the Spirit and God the Son intercede for you, and God the Father receives those prayers.  Find comfort in that supernatural prayer support!
Join us next Wednesday at PBF at 6:30p as we continue to consider how the truth of God's triune nature informs our everyday lives.  Teaser: Did you know that God submits to authority, and when we submit to authority we are being like God?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Walking in Light of the Deity of Christ

In our look at the triune nature of God last evening, we focused on the truth that the Son is fully God.  After looking at the voluminous biblical evidence for the deity of Jesus Christ, it is truly amazing that anyone would question it.
But as this Wednesday night series is focused on the practical ways that our knowledge of God should affect the way we live (“Walking in the Excellencies of God”), it is crucial to consider not only that it is true that Christ is fully God, but how this truth should inform our living. 
The practical relevance of the deity of Christ is found in that it is an essential component of the gospel.  If Christ were born of man, not of the Holy Spirit, He would have been “in Adam” (1 Cor 15:22).  That’s a problem because “in Adam all die.”  Christ would have been born in the original sin of Adam, unable to become our new federal head.  Additionally, were Christ not God, He could not have provided an infinite payment for our infinite sin debt.  Only God could satisfy the wrath of God.  No finite man could satisfy the wrath of God for his own sins, let alone the sins of the world.  His deity provided for a perfect, single sacrifice for sins that put an end to any further need for propitiation (Heb 10:11-18).
So how does that matter to everyday life?  There are a number of ways.  I’d like to share just a few.  First, how many of us tend to go back into our past to reclaim former sins – and then beat ourselves up with them?  Many believers struggle with the continued guilt and shame of sins covered and forgiven through the sacrifice of Christ.  We must recognize that this constitutes practical unbelief in the full deity of Christ.  In other words, when we live in the shadow of forgiven sin, we are living as if Jesus Christ was only a man.  We are living as if His sacrifice was insufficient to pay for our sins, as if there is still payment to be made, payment that can only be made by us. 
Second, how many of us view our obedience as a means of gaining or retaining the Father’s favor?  Though we confess with our mouths a biblical, by-grace-through-faith view of the gospel, with our minds and our lives we confess a works-based view of a right standing before God.  Some believers fear that their performance determines God’s disposition toward them.  If they are obedient, He loves them.  If they are disobedient, His wrath is rekindled.  This, too, betrays a degraded view of Christ’s deity.  If Christ made an infinite payment for sin, which He could only do as God, there should be no question that He fully paid our sin debt, providing for our adoption by the Father.  Now, God relates to us as a loving Father, not a wrathful Judge.  To live differently is to practically deny that Jesus is fully God.  If we believe that Jesus is fully God, we should not try to earn the Father's favor OR reclaim the guilt of forgiven sins.
Third, how many of us live as if we lack the resources to respond rightly to the situations facing us on a daily basis?  We have family issues, work problems, health trouble, and a whole host of other difficulties on top of the Biblical call to walk in a manner consistent with the gospel.  Many of us live in habitual defeat, regarding these pressures as insurmountable obstacles.  This, also, represents a denial of, or at least a failure to purposefully remember that Christ is God.  How so? 
If Christ is fully God, then He is all-powerful, all-wise, and perfectly loving toward us.  This is greatly significant because it is His Spirit who lives inside of us (John 14:17)!  The power of Christ exists inside of us and is at work in us to empower us to live for Him (Eph 1:18-23; 3:20-21; 2 Pet 1:3-4).  When Paul wrote that he was content with weaknesses so that the power of Christ might rest on him, he had in mind not the power of a mere man, but the power of Almighty God (2 Cor 12:9).   
When we believe that Christ is God and allow this to shape our thinking about ourselves and our circumstances, it can and should affect the way we live.  May the Lord help us to continue to press into the excellencies of God with a view toward how thinking rightly about Him will help us to live in ways that expose His glory.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Discovering the Absurdity of Our Idols

In our Wednesday night study (Walking in the Excellencies of God) last night we began to discuss the triune nature of God by exploring the voluminous testimony of Scripture that there is only one God.  The major implication of monotheism is that Yahweh alone is worthy of worship.  One way that the prophets drive this truth home is by exposing the absurdity of worshiping idols.
We’ve noted many times at Providence that though we may not worship literal, physical idols made by human hands as the Israelites did, we do have other objects of worship that should be considered idols.  We could say that anything that is more important to us than God is an idol.  So our idols could be almost anything including career, sex, material comforts, and entertainment.  We can even worship as idols things that are good things, like the safety of our children or a godly reputation. 
So how might we go about destroying our worship of these false gods?  Isaiah 44 and Jeremiah 10 provide us with a paradigm.  Let’s walk through one of these passages and see how it exposes the absurdity of idol worship and how we might use it to overcome our idols.
Isaiah begins by asserting that Yahweh is the only God:
6 Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. 7 Who is like me?
“Who is like me?”  The implied answer is, “no one!”  That is the question and implied answer that must be applied to our every idol.  Our idols must be compared to the One True God and exposed for all the ways that they fall short.  Let’s suppose that the idol we are dealing with is the praise of men (John 12:43).  That is, we want so badly for others to think highly of us that we’ll sin in order to attain it or we’ll sin if we don’t attain it.  As Isaiah does with idols of wood and metal in Isa 44, we must hold up the praise of men next to the magnificence of Almighty God so that the praise of men is shown to be nothing by comparison.
12 The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint.
Isaiah describes a man creating an iron idol.  Here the “creator” is the man, but this creator is a creator who gets hungry and thirsty and whose strength fails.  If the “creator” is this needy, how much more needy will be the idol which depends upon man for its existence?  Isaiah is exposing the absurdity of idolatry.  He continues by describing the making of an idol from wood:
14 He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, "Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!" 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!"
What could be more ridiculous than using half of a tree to cook your food and making the other half into a god before which you fall down and worship?  The portion that became the god could just as well have been fuel for a fire!  Again, the prophet demonstrates the absurdity of worshiping idols.  He then provides a contrast by pointing to the greatness of Yahweh:
21 Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. 22 I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.
The idols made by men are worthless.  They “do not profit” (v9); but Yahweh, by contrast, is all powerful.  The idols of Israel were formed by men; but Israel was formed by Yahweh.  The idols of Israel can do nothing but sit wherever they are placed; but Yahweh is a redeemer of souls. 
Every idol is going to have its own unique absurdity when compared to the One True God.  Our objective is to find that absurdity and magnify it by comparing it to the superiority of our God. 
In the case of the idol of the praise of men, we could prayerfully think through the essence of this false god.  A helpful picture for understanding this idol is found in John 12:42-43, where the Jews believed in Christ but refused to confess him for fear of the Pharisees.  They feared the displeasure of the Pharisees, which would lead to being put out of the synagogue, more than they feared the displeasure of God for rejecting Christ.  At its core, a desire for the praise of men is really the fear of man as opposed to the fear of God.  We seek man’s pleasure and fear man’s displeasure rather than seeking God’s pleasure and fearing God's displeasure.   We perceive that it will be more beneficial for us to have the pleasure of men than the pleasure of God.  Where is the absurdity?
Consider the power of man versus the power of God: The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? (Psa 118:6)  Man is impotent in the face of the power of Yahweh.  There is nothing man can do to me against the will of God.  Why on earth would I seek the pleasure of man and fear the displeasure of man over against that of God?  It’s absurd.
Consider also the heart of man versus the heart of God.  The Scriptures teach that every intention of the thoughts of the heart of man are only evil continually (Gen 6:5).  Man’s heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick (Jer 17:9).  On the other hand, God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exo 34:6).  He demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8).  Why then would I seek the favor of the fickle, evil heart of man over the gracious, forgiving, saving heart of God?  It’s absurd.
Consider also the wisdom of man versus the wisdom of God.  Men, professing to be wise, became fools in rejecting God (Rom 1:22).  The foolishness of God is wiser than men…(1 Cor 1:25).  Indeed, the wisdom of God is so vast it cannot be fathomed (Rom 11:33).  In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3).  So even if men had it within their power and inclination to do me good, they do not have the wisdom to carry it out in the best way possible.  God alone is good, powerful, and wise.  Why then would I desire the favor of men over the favor of God?  Why would I expect that man could do good for me in a way that God could or would not?  It’s absurd.
There are undoubtedly other ways in which worshiping the praise of men is absurd, but this demonstrates how one might go about thinking through such things using Isaiah 44 as a paradigm.  Having identified the absurdity, then we could meditate on this daily – both the absurdity of the idol and the superiority/magnificence of God, praying that God would help us grow to hate the idol and love Him.
I encourage you to take a look at Jeremiah 10 and think about how it also might help you discover the absurdity of idolatry and make war on false worship.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Why I Don't Pray, Part 3

As we continue to consider common reasons for prayerlessness, think with me about one that may be less than obvious.  (You can read the first two articles in this series here and here.)  Sometimes we don’t pray because of the implicit belief that we are better able to handle our concerns than God is.  In other words, sometimes we don’t pray because we’re prideful.  Peter connects pride to prayerlessness in 1 Peter 5:6-7
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
I’m inclined to believe that when Peter uses the phrase “casting all your anxieties on him,” he has prayer in mind because this language echoes so closely Paul’s phrasing from Phil 4:6, which does explicitly mention prayer: do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
For Peter, the act of casting one’s anxieties or concerns upon the Lord is an act of humbling oneself.  There is a connection between trusting the Lord and humility.  In fact, the command in verse 6 to humble oneself is accomplished by casting one’s anxieties upon the Lord.
The text gives us a couple of reasons to trust the Lord, or to cast our anxieties upon Him.  First, God is powerful.  Peter writes, Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God…   This speaks of God’s ability to help us.  He spoke all things in to existence and upholds the existence of all things by the word of His power (Gen 1; Heb1:3).  Surely, dealing with our temporal concerns poses no strain on Almighty God.
Second, God cares for His children.  God has marshaled all His resources to accomplish His great purpose for us, our transformation into the likeness of His Son.  All of salvation history has proven His indomitable care for us.  As Paul notes in Romans 8:32, God’s grace toward us in Christ in the past proves that His loving disposition toward us is guaranteed in the future: He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
When we put those two truths together – that God is all-powerful and that He cares for us – we find that He has both the ability and the inclination to work all things for our good, just as He has promised (Rom 8:28-30).  And this is why it is so incredibly prideful to remain prayerless, not casting our concerns upon Him.  When we do this, we are making the implicit statement that even though God is almighty and supremely loving toward us, we are better equipped to deal with the situation than He is.  Our prayerlessness simultaneously denies that He is powerful and caring and exalts us above Him.
When we are prayerless, we should first repent of our pride.  We should confess our implicit denial that He is powerful and loving.  We should ask forgiveness for thinking more highly of ourselves than of Him.  We should return to the Scriptures and remind ourselves of the Lord’s testimony about Himself -- the Word testifies repeatedly to the power and care of the Lord for us.  Finally, we should humble ourselves by praying and trusting Him with what concerns us.