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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.