Wednesday, August 31, 2011

John 3: That the World Might Be Saved Through Him

In yesterday's post, we looked at John 3:16. It contains the truth of the gospel in a bit-sized nugget, but doesn't quite answer the question of who the Son of God is and what about him you must believe.

This verse becomes fuller with meaning when the surrounding verses contextualize these words of Jesus.
    "No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
    "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (John 3:13-18 ESV)
Readers of the gospels know well that one of Jesus' titles for himself was 'Son of Man'. Jesus shows us what would happen to the Son of Man, and he shows us who the Son of Man is. Therefore, readers and hearers of God's Word should know just what they must believe in and who they must believe in to have eternal life.


Jesus is the Son of God. The statements from John 3:13-18 show that Jesus, the Son of Man descended from heaven, is God's only Son, and bears the title Son of God (c.f. John 5:18).

Jesus prophesies his death. Like the serpent in the wilderness, Jesus is lifted up (Numbers 21:9), and this shadows what we need to believe about the Son for salvation. Look at the Son of God on the pole, the tree, the cross and live. The venom of sin courses through our bodies, and Christ's death on the cross is the antidote to certain death.

Jesus is the savior. Four times this passage talks about believing in him to avoid condemnation and for inheriting eternal life (Acts 4:12). He does not condemn, for we have condemned ourselves by our unbelief. If you repent and believe you will be saved (Acts 16:31).

Salvation is exclusive. There is only one way to God, and that is through his Son Jesus Christ. Salvation is available to all who believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross to take away their sin. You can be certain this is true, for Jesus rose from the dead three days later as proof that his Word is true (1 Cor 15:3-4).

Additional Resources:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

John 3:16 - For God So Loved the World

It used to be the case that everybody knew John 3:16, but today it's no guarantee. Still, it's among the best known and most quoted verses in all the Bible. This is for good reason: it's a great summary of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Without any contextual support, this verse teaches:
  • We are at risk of perishing. The contrapositive of eternal life through belief is that those who don't believe will perish. Perhaps we don't know why we perish through this verse (sin), but it's clear that it will happen apart from belief.
  • We can have eternal life, and that comes in believing in him--God's only Son. The claim of eternal life is exclusive. The Son is necessary and sufficient to inherit eternal life.
  • God's love is universal. He gave his Son to the world, not to any one tongue, tribe or nation. But that does not mean that all are saved, but rather all can be saved--none are excluded on the basis of origin.
  • God's love is particular. God demonstrates eternal love only to those who believe in the Son he gave.
  • God is the source of salvation. He is the giver of the Son and eternal life. Salvation does not come from within man or any of his deeds. Eternal life is granted because God gives it.
In one sense, anyone who understands and accepts the message of this verse is saved, and this is likely why it is so widely taught. I will add one caveat: I do not believe that someone who wholly accepts the truth of this verse will be satisfied to remain only in its truth. But it doesn't take much work to see who the Son is and what you must believe about the only need to keep reading the gospel of John. As you zoom out and read the surrounding context, you find a much clearer understanding of the gospel of salvation. And what a glorious truth it is that God has given.

And that shall be the content of tomorrow's post.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Surprised By Joy, Chapter 7

It had been a while since something really popped out at me while reading C.S. Lewis' autobiography, but  chapter 7 surprised me. Much of the story to this point has been about his primary education, and now he talks about the social aspects of his secondary education. Being the modern American ignoramus I am, I knew of practically none of the literary references Lewis made (e.g. "Pan and Dionysus lacked the cold, piercing appeal of Odin and Frey"). Nevertheless, the insight into his experiences while at Wyvern College (the Coll) were profound. He named the chapter Light and Shade, but when I read it I can't help but think Oh The Humanity.

On literary snobbery:
I could not help knowing that most other people, boys and grown-ups alike, did not care for the books I read. A very few tastes I could share with my father, a few more with my brother; apart from that, there was no point of contact, and this I accepted as a sort of natural law. If I reflected on it at all, it would have given me, I think, a slight feeling, not of superiority, but of inferiority. The latest popular novel was so obviously a more adult, a more normal, a more sophisticated taste than any of mine. A certain shame or bashfulness attached itself to whatever one deeply and privately enjoyed. I went to the Coll far more disposed to excuse my literary tastes than to plume myself on them.
The [sarcastic] defense of the Wyvern hazing system:
Obviously a certain grave danger was ever present to the minds of those who built up the Wyvernian hierarchy. It seemed to them self-evident that, if you left things to themselves, boys of nineteen who played rugger for the county and boxed for the school would everywhere be knocked down and sat on by boys of thirteen. And that, you know, would be a very shocking spectacle. The most elaborate mechanism, therefore, had to be devised for protecting the strong against the weak, the close corporation of Old Hands against the parcel of newcomers who were strangers to one another and to everyone in the place, the poor, trembling lions against the furious and ravening sheep.
C.S. Lewis has profound insight into human nature, though he gives adults too much credit. I believe the difference between children and adults in this regard is that adults have learned to be far more subtle about self promotion. Adults can calculate more moves ahead in the game of life.
But the essential evil of public-school life, as I see it, did not lie either in the sufferings of the fags or in the privileged arrogance of the Bloods. These were symptoms of something more all-pervasive, something which, in the long run, did most harm to the boys who succeeded best at school and were happiest there. Spiritually speaking, the deadly thing was that school life was a life almost wholly dominated by the social struggle; to get on, to arrive, or, having reached the top, to remain there, was the absorbing preoccupation. It is often, of course, the preoccupation of adult life as well; but I have not yet seen any adult society in which the surrender to this impulse was so total. And from it, at school as in the world, all sorts of meanness flow; the sycophancy that courts those higher in the scale, the cultivation of those whom it is well to know, the speedy abandonment of friendships that will not help on the upward path, the readiness to join the cry against the unpopular, the secret motive in almost every action. The Wyvernians seem to me in retrospect to have been the least spontaneous, in that sense the least boyish, society I have ever known. It would perhaps not be too much to say that in some boys' lives everything was calculated to the great end of advancement. For this games played; for this clothes, friends, amusements, and vices were chosen.
Near the end of the chapter, Lewis comments on his only written work while attending Wyvern.
But the Northernness still came first and the only work I completed at this time was a tragedy, Norse in subject and Greek in form. It was called Loki Bound and was as classical as any Humanist could have desired, with Prologos, Parodos, Epeisodia, Stasima, Exodos, Stichomythia, and (of course) one passage in trochaic septenarii—with rhyme. I never enjoyed anything more. The content is significant. My Loki was not merely malicious. He was against Odin because Odin had created a world though Loki had clearly warned him that this was a wanton cruelty. Why should creatures have the burden of existence forced on them without their consent? The main contrast in my play was between the sad wisdom of Loki and the brutal orthodoxy of Thor. ...
The other feature in Loki Bound which may be worth commenting on is the pessimism. I was at this time living, like so many Atheists or Antitheists, in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.
The chapter ends with Lewis' analysis of his pessimism:
Never at any age did I clamor to be amused; always and at all ages (where I dared) I hotly demanded not to be interrupted. The pessimism, or cowardice, which would prefer nonexistence itself to even the mildest unhappiness was thus merely the generalization of all these pusillanimous preferences. And it remains true that I have, almost all my life, been quite unable to feel that horror of nonentity, of annihilation, which, say, Dr. Johnson felt so strongly. I felt it for the first time only in 1947. But that was after I had long been reconverted and thus begun to know what life really is and what would have been lost by missing it.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Keeping The Law By Faith

Here is a long post for the weekend. There may be a series that looks more in depth into this topic, for much more could be said about Law and Faith.

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-20 ESV)

Jesus declares that The Law still stands. That raises several questions, mostly related to why Christians don't keep one part or another of The Law in the Pentateuch. These problems are compounded by an apparent contradiction by Paul. In Galatians 5:18 he says, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law", and in Romans 10:4 says, "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." How can a person know whether or not they are subject to The Law, and which parts? Must you follow The Law, or are you free from its demands?

Jesus says that he came to "fulfill" the Law. This means several things:
  1. Christ is who the Law and Prophets pointed towards. His coming literally fulfills their promise.
  2. We are justified as Christ has kept the Law on our behalf (substitutionary atonement)
  3. Christ is the ultimate substitute for sacrifice (Heb 13:11-15, 9:11-10:14)
One way many have tried to understand the implications is to break The Law into three portions: the Moral Law, the Civil Law and the Ceremonial Law. I'm not convinced it's appropriate to split the Law into distinctions (it seems to be the strength of argument for those wishing to break one part of the Law to fit their lifestyle), but we'll loosely keep that framework here for analysis.

Moral Law

Practically everyone agrees that we all must keep the Moral Law. It is never okay to murder another person. There might be debate about what constitutes the Moral Law, but it practically doesn't matter, because it's summed up in two commands--"And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets'" (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV). Love God, love others: that is the Moral Law.

Ceremonial Law

In the next portion we look at the Ceremonial Law. Hebrews strongly shows that Christ's sacrifice on the cross replaces the animal sacrifice ritual. Hebrews 10:1 says that sacrifice was part of the law, but it was just a shadow of things to come. This is one of the great ways that Christ fulfills the Law, and Hebrews 10:4 says that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin.  In that sense, since it was pointing to Christ and fulfilled in Christ, it was a means of grace from the Father. Keeping the Ceremonial Law was an act of faith--a belief that God's Word and covenant were true. Now our faith is in Jesus Christ. We see that Christ has fulfilled the Ceremonial Law when he moved the temple system from a physical location in Jerusalem to the body of Christ. We are the temple (2 Corinthians 6:16-18, John 4:23-24).

Civil Law

The most complex to understand seems to be the Civil Law. These are the commands that appear as if they were meant for living in ancient Jewish society. Mixing of different kinds is not allowed (Leviticus 19:19). Only certain foods are allowed, and there is a large emphasis on "clean" versus "unclean". Matthew Henry makes the insight in his commentary that these regulations were designed to demonstrate the holiness of God's people. God is holy and has called his people to be holy, and these laws were the means by which the Hebrews maintained distinctiveness. It was a reminder for Israel not to mingle with the heathen, the gentiles or the pagan, but to remain single-mindedly devoted to Yahweh. 

The way Christ fulfills this part of the Law is subtly different, but it's within the same chord as his fulfillment of the rest. He took the idea of holiness and moved it from outward practices and placed it on the heart. Just as hate is murder and lust is adultery (Matthew 5:21-30), all holiness is judged by what comes out of a person. So all foods are clean. Mixing fabrics (if done in faith) does not inherently violate the command to be holy. Social mixers with Gentiles is kosher.
And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:14-23 ESV)
Combined with Acts 10, you see that Christ has fulfilled the Civil Law through gospel inclusion instead of social exclusion.

One interesting thing about Mark 7 is that Jesus still rules out homosexuality (for those that argue it's part of the Ceremonial Law). That's not because it's Moral Law in the sense that you're loving or harming another person, but you're violating the God ordained order of the universe, so you're breaking the Moral Law of loving the Lord with all your heart.


All of these distinctives boil down to the Law of Love (1 Corinthians 16:14) through the Law of Faith (Romans 3:27). So if you can do a thing by faith, it is within the Law, otherwise your conscience breaks the Law. Living by faith, in the Spirit, you will love God and your neighbor. If you do something unloving, then it is not of the Spirit but of the flesh, and that is sin. If you do something without faith, it is sin (Romans 14:23). Read the rest of Romans 14 for a deeper understanding of how this plays out in Christian living.

What is the point, then, of the hundreds of commands? First, they reveal sin and judge men. Second, they give practical guidance on how to love God and neighbor. Third, they show how the world is wrong and incomplete, and they point to something greater--they instill a longing for fulfillment, so they give hope that God will provide salvation.

Now it's possible to see how the Law is not abolished, fulfilled in Christ, and how believers are not bound by the Law. Faith implies the keeping of and fulfillment of the Law. This does not mean a Christian is without sin, for there is still a battle between the flesh and the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26). But for every failure, Christ has fulfilled the payment of God's wrath on the cross, and by faith the Christian repents and is forgiven.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Luke 22: It Is Enough

Some portions of Scripture are confusing. I am incredibly thankful that the gospel message itself is abundantly clear. This passage ranks among the most confusing to me. Perhaps a kind theology professor reading this some day can offer a good explanation:
And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”
(Luke 22:35-38 ESV)
While I appreciate study Bible notes, I didn't feel particularly helped by the ESV Study Bible's Notes (apologies to Justin Taylor: it's nothing personal).
Luke 22:35–36 Earlier in his ministry, Jesus sent his disciples out with no moneybag (see 9:3; 10:4).moneybag … knapsack. Now, however, they will need extra provisions and supplies. let the one who has no sword … buy one. Many interpreters take this to be a metaphorical statement commanding the disciples to be armed spiritually to fight spiritual foes (cf. Eph. 6:10–17). In favor of this view: (1) In Luke 22:38 the disciples misunderstand Jesus' command and produce literal swords (v. 38); on this view, Jesus' response that “It is enough” is a rebuke, saying essentially, “Enough of this talk about swords.” (2) Just a few minutes later Jesus will again prohibit the use of a literal sword (vv. 49–51; cf. Matt. 26:51–52John 18:10–11). Others take this as a command to have a literal sword for self-defense and protection from robbers. In support of this view: (a) The moneybag and knapsack and cloak in this same verse are literal, and so the sword must be taken literally as well. (b) Jesus' response that “It is enough” (Luke 22:38) actually approves the swords the disciples have as being enough, and Jesus' later rebuke in vv. 49–51 only prohibits them from blocking his arrest and suffering (cf. John 18:11), that is, from seeking to advance the kingdom of God by force. (c) The very fact that the disciples possess swords (Luke 22:38) suggests that Jesus has not prohibited them from carrying swords up to this point (cf. John 18:10–11), and Jesus never prohibited self-defense (see note on Matt. 5:39). Both views have some merit. See note on Luke 22:49–51.
I don't think this passage has anything to do with self-defense, whether Jesus' words are to be taken literally or metaphorically. In my opinion, Jesus is not spiritualizing these swords [point (2c) is a good refutation of view (1) in the ESVSB notes] or offering doctrine on the use of weapons--that idea is very disconnected from the flow of the narrative.

I do not pretend to have the answer, but I would like to point out a few things that I see as I read this passage. I think the entire paragraph hinges on Jesus saying, "For what is written about me has its fulfillment." Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17), and starting with the Triumphal Entry, event after event is a Christological fulfillment of various prophesies.

It would seem that the swords represent part of the fulfillment Jesus speaks, but what that fulfillment precisely is difficult to understand.

Jesus is the Suffering Servant

I believe one purpose may have been Jesus' final pre-resurrection demonstration of his earthly ministry. The Gospel of Mark has a heavy focus on this theme. Throughout Jesus' ministry, the disciples kept misunderstanding what the Messiah would accomplish. They thought he would be a revolutionary that would free Israel from political bondage. Many times the disciples tried to encourage Jesus to take the kingdom by force, but Jesus kept reminding them that he came to suffer and die (and free his people in a far superior way). They did not understand this until after the resurrection.

This theme of the Messiah as Suffering Servant is well known from Isaiah 53. Indeed, the quote that Jesus explicitly references (Luke 22:37) as being fulfilled is from Isaiah 53:12. So, it seems possible that Jesus is turning his disciples eyes from Conquering King (which he is) to Suffering Servant. It can't be seen just yet, but he drives the point home later on the Mount of Olives when he commands Peter to stop the violence (Luke 22:50-51, John 18:10-11).

Jesus is the Mountain of the Lord

This may be slightly more controversial, but perhaps this episode is a (partial) fulfillment of Isaiah 2. So many of Isaiah's prophesies were fulfilled in the prophet's day, but they also pointed to something or someone greater, and we have seen how many were fulfilled more completely in Christ.
It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
 (Isaiah 2:2-4 ESV)
I believe this passage will be completely and ultimately fulfilled with Christ's return, but some part of it was fulfilled with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. There is still war and not all peoples go up to the mountain of the Lord, so it is a prophecy that is not yet fulfilled.

However, when Jesus says, "It is enough," it could be a signal that swords shall be beat into plowshares. In one sense it might mean that we have the common grace of our Father (Gen 8:16, Matt 5:45). But more importantly, "he may teach us his ways" because he was "lifted up above the hills" and "established as the highest of the mountains." Today we may go to the house of the Lord and know him personally, and our access is through the Messiah.

So this prophecy sounds like an "already, not yet" fulfillment of Isaiah, and Jesus' focus on the swords may have been to point us to that understanding.

Jesus Orchestrates His Destiny

One final (quick) thought is that Jesus may have been organizing events to fulfill his destiny. He knew that Peter would use the sword against Malchus, and this may have been the necessary infraction to cause Jesus' arrest so that he might be "numbered with the transgressors." This is extra-biblical speculation however, so I would not be inclined to settle on this explanation. There is too much focus on Isaiah's prophesy in the context, but it's possible that Jesus was moving history along at his pace to fulfill his ministry (as when he told his disciples to fetch the donkey and prepare the room for the Last Supper).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book Review: Just Walk Across the Room

Book Review Disclaimer: When I finish reading a book, I'll write my opinion of the book. This is not a formal book review. When I read reviews according to publishing standards, it's pretty clear everyone tries to stay within convention. I don't care about those rules, so don't be surprised if the review is too long or short, and I will not necessarily try to give at least one positive and one negative point (pardon me, give constructive criticism). Many reviews have a contrived point because they must flesh out the template. I may or may not give a summary of the content, so if you feel something's lacking, I'm sure there are plenty of real book reviews that will satisfy your curiosities. Naturally, I'll be way behind the times, reviewing old books. I read the occasional new blockbuster, but I'm spending a lot of time catching up. If you have that same desire, to catch up a little, then perhaps these reviews can be of some help.

Bill Hybels tells stories better than anyone I know. I think this strength is one of the big reasons Willow Creek is so well attended. In that regard, his book Just Walk Across the Room: Simple Steps to Pointing People to Faith does not disappoint. Stories are how he accomplishes explaining why evangelism is important, how to do evangelism (and how not to), and his personal experience in various evangelistic circumstances.

This book is a great start. Evangelism is one of the most overlooked commands of Christ in today's church. It's true, we all have fear, and most cope by avoidance. So Hybels' encouragement is to seek some discomfort (he calls it 'The Zone of the Unknown') for the sake of eternity--to show love to the people in your life. He stresses genuine love, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness to contrasting that with methods that are wooden and contrived. We need hearts that bleed for the lost!

The vast majority in the church do not take the first step. We all stay in our comfortable circles, and we excuse ourselves by saying we don't have the gift of evangelism. We pass the baton to some proverbial gifted disciple hoping that they (whoever 'they' are) will take care of the task. We are all called to love our neighbor and share this great treasure, this pearl of great value, to all in our lives. For that calling I applaud Bill Hybels. Much fruit would be harvested if this call was heeded: the fields are white for harvest.

The other strong point of the book is the beginning of the last chapter. The exhortation to prayer is wisely and relevantly written, and the admonition is strong: Devote. Yourselves. To prayer. His thoughts about praying without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17) are very practical: "When you understand the concept of being devoted to prayer, it's as if you have one ear tuned in to the conversation you're in, while the other ear is tuned in to God. You may be in dialogue with someone about any number of things -- the latest news or sports or how work is going, whatever -- but you are constantly asking, God, is this an open door? Do you want me to probe that? Do you want me to encourage him? What do you need or want me to do Guide me here, please." And I believe that heart can extend to all of life, not just in areas of evangelism.

I would recommend going deeper, however. Perhaps after getting people to step on the diving board and consider jumping off, he might assume that a reader's desire would be for deeper understanding and further independent study. But throughout the book I felt his methods lacking. His personal means of evangelism was to invite people to church. Sometimes he never knew whether or not they ever came (unless they told him later). He warns against being a used-car salesman bent on closing the deal, and there is a real danger focusing on results instead of remaining faithful, but at some point you need to preach the gospel. A lot of learning what you need to gain a deeper understanding of evangelism happens when you simply get involved, so tie your tunics, strap your sandals and hit the road!

A peeve I had through this book is how Hybels makes Jesus into his image. Every Bible account is retold through the glasses of Bill, as he would talk if he were Jesus. This need not necessarily be a bad thing, but a lot of the embellishment includes extra-biblical assumption. This can be dangerous and give people who don't know the Bible very well a false impression of what it actually says. That said, this man understands the true implications of accepting or rejecting Christ, and while he'll put as positive a spin on everything he preaches, he remains faithful to the message the Bible teaches.

Personally, I will use this book as a reference, but I probably wouldn't recommend it as the first book on evangelism to read. The heart behind the book is sound even if I don't agree with all of the methods. The lessons can be taught fairly quickly--they don't require an entire book. If you learn to be bold in evangelism, get involved in the lives of others (love your neighbor), know how to give your testimony, and actually get involved in evangelistic (or pre-evangelistic) activities, you've got most of what this book can teach you.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

1 Samuel 15: Saul's Sacrifice

Much can be said about this chapter, and for a good devotion on the topic, I would as usual recommend D.A. Carson's For the Love of God entry. I'd like to highlight Carson's call that reminders like 1 Samuel 15:22-23 need to be enshrined in contemporary evangelism. Christianity is not a lucky rabbit's foot.

The idea I would like to investigate is Saul as an antitype to Abraham. If you don't remember the account, read Genesis 22 to brush up on Abraham's call to sacrifice his son Isaac.

In Genesis, God calls Abraham to sacrifice his son of promise. In demonstration of complete trust, he goes through with the command up to the point that God stops him as Abraham holds the knife over his son. He obeyed out of faith, knowing that God would keep his word, believing that Isaac would come back to life (Gen 22:5 c.f. Heb 11:19). Abraham knew that God would provide a lamb (Gen 22:8), and what a Lamb he did provide through Abraham (John 1:29).

Contrast this to Saul, who was called to sacrifice (devote to destruction, or utterly destroy) the Amalekites. Normally a king gains the spoils of war for battle success, but in this case God forbids it (1 Sam 15:3). In some sense, this was a test for Saul the same way Issac's sacrifice was a test for Abraham.  But the response and result are entirely different. Saul disobeys a very specific command, lies to God's prophet, tries to shuffle off the blame to others, and gives insincere "repentance." God did not bless his disobedience, but instead demonstrates a divine regret over Saul (1 Sam 15:11, 1 Sam 15:35).

In the end, God called Saul to sacrifice something. But instead of sacrificing what God commanded, he chose to sacrifice his integrity, his honor, and ultimately his kingship.

Are all who call themselves Christians immune to divine regret?

Monday, August 22, 2011

How Do You Face an Impossible Situation?

  Matthew 6:6

Pray for God's Will
  Matthew 6:9-13

Pray for Forgiveness
  James 5:16
  Hebrews 13:18

Fast and Pray
  Matthew 6:16-18

Pray Unceasingly
  1 Thessalonians 5:17

Pray with Endurance
  Matthew 26:36-44

Pray for Wisdom
  James 1:5

Pray for Transformation
  2 Thessalonians 1:11

Pray for Deliverance
  James 5:13
  Matthew 6:13
Pray in the Spirit
  Romans 8:26

Put on the Whole Armor of God (and Pray!)
  Ephesians 6:10-20 (Eph 6:18)

Have Faith (and Pray!)
  Matthew 21:21-22

Finally...Pray, for the Father is Good
  Matthew 7:7-11

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
(Matthew 19:26 ESV)

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
(Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saul's Installation

Even though the nation was begging Samuel for a king (1 Samuel 8:5, 1 Samuel 8:20), 1 Samuel 11 reveals how fickle the people were, "Then the people said to Samuel, “Who is it that said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Bring the men, that we may put them to death”" (1 Samuel 11:12). "We want a king," the people said, "but who are you to appoint him?"

From the time Israel asks for a king until now, God has been orchestrating events in order to give them the king they want. In his omniscience, God knows that Israel will not simply accept any man claiming to be king, so the nation is organized in order to install the monarch.

God's Prophet Anoints the King [1 Samuel 9-10]

Samuel poured oil on Saul's head to show that this man was God's chosen king (c.f. Luke 4:18). This was a private affair, with Samuel's companions and Saul's servant.

Saul Is Chosen By Lot [1 Samuel 10]

After Samuel sends Saul away, the people in the region of Mizpah are gathered. "Then Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, and the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. He brought the tribe of Benjamin near by its clans, and the clan of the Matrites was taken by lot; and Saul the son of Kish was taken by lot. But when they sought him, he could not be found" (1 Samuel 10:20-21 ESV). They use what I would presume to be the Urim and Thummin to determine the king, and God directs the lot to Saul.

Israel Confirms Saul as King [1 Samuel 11]

The events to this point are already incredible. Anybody could have been chosen by lot, if subject to natural forces, but the lot fell on the man whom the prophet had anointed. But not all of Israel was present, and they certainly were not going to accept any man as king. To firmly establish the throne, God stirs up the Ammonites to attack and humiliate the Israelites at Jabesh-gilead.
And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of the messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!” Then the dread of the LORD fell upon the people, and they came out as one man. (1 Samuel 11:6-7 ESV)
God uses Saul to rescue the people in a way that makes him sound like a new judge [Judges 14:19], but God's plans were higher this time. Saul rallied all of Israel to protect Jabesh-gilead [1 Sam 11:8], organizes and leads them, and God grants him success [1 Sam 11:11]. At this point we see the question:
“Who is it that said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Bring the men, that we may put them to death” (1 Sam 11:12)
And God establishes Saul by giving him the ability to mediate. Not very long ago the man was hiding amongst the luggage, too shy to accept kingship, but now he speaks with authority.
But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the LORD has worked salvation in Israel.” (1 Sam 11:13)
This opportunity is used to confirm Saul in the presence of all Israel.

Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingdom.” So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal. There they sacrificed peace offerings before the LORD, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly. (1 Sam 11:14-15)
God is sovereign, and has done according to his will. This is true for all nations, so even though it may seem like some nations or rulers are terrible, rest in knowing that God has ordained it for his purposes.
He changes times and seasons; 
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
(Daniel 2:21 ESV)

Blessing and Pride

Sadly, while God works out history to exalt Saul onto the throne, he helps God along by exalting himself. Saul descends from humility (1 Samuel 9:21) to pride and disobedience toward God (1 Samuel 15:26). Saul was among the lowest of the low. The tribe of Benjamin had nearly been wiped out (Judges 20:41, Judges 20:46-48). Saul's clan was the least important in Benjamin (1 Samuel 9:21). And Saul was small in spirit when chosen to be king (1 Samuel 10:22). But though he seemed humble and lowly, his heart was not God's. He did not think it was important to obey the Word of the Lord spoken through his prophet, and so he disqualified himself as king.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Great Eight

Read Romans 8, then read it again. This may be my very favorite chapter in the whole Bible. It is a wealth of gospel truth, and I think I have more highlighted and underlined here than anywhere else.

For those in Christ:

  • There is therefore now no condemnation (Rom 8:1)
  • He has set you free from sin and death (Rom 8:2)
  • You have gone from flesh and death to Spirit, life and peace (Rom 8:6, Rom 8:9)
  • The Spirit gives your mortal body life (Rom 8:11)
  • You are sons of God, adopted by him and can call him "Abba! Father!" (Rom 8:14-15)
  • You are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17)
  • You will suffer with Christ (Rom 8:17)
  • You will be glorified with Christ (through the suffering) (Rom 8:17)
  • You have real hope (Rom 8:24-25)
  • The Spirit helps you in your weakness (Rom 8:26)
  • The Spirit intercedes for you (Rom 8:26-27)
  • God works all things together for [your] good (Rom 8:28)
  • You are and will be predestined, called, justified, and glorified (Rom 8:29-30)
  • God is for you (so who can be against you?) (Rom 8:31)
  • God (who gave his Son for you) will give you all things (Rom 8:32)
  • Jesus Christ is interceding for us (Rom 8:34)
  • You are secure in the love of Christ and God the Father (Rom 8:35, Rom 8:39)
One of the reasons this chapter is so encouraging is the hope it can give to a Christian through any situation. The truth about your life is that despite your suffering (whatever that suffering is), God has compassion toward you, and he's using that trial for your good (and ultimate good in his ultimate plan), to glorify you in Christ. No matter what you are suffering through, the glory to come cannot be compared to that--it is incomparably greater. Hope! Yes, your suffering may feel like an unbearable burden, but the glory revealed to you will be orders of magnitude better than the severity of the current pain. It is an indescribably great hope, and through the work of Christ and the Spirit he gives you, is secured for all time.

No poet can put this into words. They might try, but it will not even be a dim reflection of the bright intensity of glory being described. The Spirit's groaning is inside you, and here is why a poet can never express the depth of the hope and the truth: it's too deep for words. It's a poem from God resonating in his creation, too marvelous for words.

How real is this to you? Do you really believe this, or do you think it's a nice story...for some people? Can you find joy in suffering because you know of the future good, the future glorification, or do you think you can't survive? Remember that nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Jesus Christ is the start of your hope, the Spirit sustains it in you , and the promise of future glory propels you into eternity.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Luke 14: Excuse Me

Reading Luke 14:16-24 is a little depressing, mostly because I hear modern variants of the excuses given in the parable.

But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”  
(Luke 14:16-24 ESV)
These kinds of excuses haven't stopped; I hear many reasons for ignoring all things spiritual. There are too many trinkets, too much entertainment, too many activities impeding spiritual growth. Parents have their children scheduled for activities 24 hours a day, television is too addictive to give up any of the five (or more) hours a day spent in hypnosis, and it's all too easy to get sucked into spending too much time at work or on a hobby. Yes, I am guilty of much of this myself. For those enlightened, this class of excuse is very popular to give for skipping church, ignoring Bible reading or forgetting about prayer time. For people outside the church, these reasons are the primary ones given for not getting involved in anything spiritual. It's not that most people object to Christianity, they simply don't have time for it.

I realize that the point of this parable is that the Jews would reject the gospel, so it was going to go out to the Gentiles. But most people are in the same position now as the Jews were in the first century. We "know" the gospel the way the Jews "knew" God's Law (Romans 3:2). Sufficient interest does not exist to make the gospel a priority, however.

These verses (particularly verse 21) have an interesting parallel to the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-12). Expanding beyond the local culture, there is a time-independent message of the type of person God gathers into his kingdom. In Matthew 9:12, Jesus says, "Those who are well have no need for a physician, but those who are sick." God is seeking the poor, the broken, the lost and the sick to bring into this kingdom, and these refer to spiritual conditions. There is no room for the proud, the religious, the distracted and selfish.

What would you be willing to sacrifice to inherit eternal life? [Matthew 13:44-46]

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

King of Israel

For those following the M'Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, Israel demands a king (like the nations) in today's reading (1 Samuel 8).

I've always thought it was interesting how Israel progressed through history to where they wanted to appoint a king. It begins with a prophesy through Moses just before they enter the Promised Land.

“When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.
“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:14-20 ESV)
As Israel settles the land and strays from God, they cycle through judgment and deliverance as God raises up judges to rescue his people. Through this period, one judge's (Gideon) son, Abimelech, made himself king over Israel after his father died. That lasted three years and Israel went back to the rule of the judges.

And he went to his father's house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself. And all the leaders of Shechem came together, and all Beth-millo, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar at Shechem. (Judges 9:5-6 ESV) [Read all of Judges 9 for the rest of the account]
Near the end of the book of Judges, the writer keeps repeating the phrase, "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25). The book closes with the judgment. The greatest tragedy about this statement is that God himself was not King over Israel, as he should have been.

So as the story progresses into Samuel, the nation starts clamoring for a king as Samuel's sons rule Israel with corruption. But they don't want a king because they want a just ruler, they want a king to be their military leader.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” (1 Samuel 8:4-9 ESV)

So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.” (1 Samuel 8:10-18 ESV)

But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.” Samuel then said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.” (1 Samuel 8:19-22 ESV)
God uses this (starting with David) to complete his greatest plan of salvation. So while the nation of Israel had impure motives, God still used it for their (and our) good. Praise God for his sovereign rule over his creation, that he would send the Perfect King to save us and judge the nations (Matthew 21:5, Matthew 27:11, Revelation 15:3, Revelation 19:16).

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Genesis 50:20 ESV)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Luke 12: These Things Will Be Added To You

In the course of Jesus' teaching, he makes the following claim (also found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:31-33),
And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on... Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. (Luke 12:22,31) [Read all of Luke 12 for context]
Does he mean that if you seek the kingdom of God as your highest priority, you won't need to worry about basic necessities--that he will provide food, water and clothing for his followers? And looking at it from the other end, does it imply that if you lack these things that you are not truly seeking God's kingdom first? Surely there have been godly saints through history that have gone hungry; does that dispute Jesus' teaching?

Before we try to answer the question, we should look at the context of this teaching. Right before this paragraph about the anxieties of daily life, a man asks Jesus to arbitrate a dispute regarding the family inheritance. Rather than judge them, Jesus points them to the covetous heart behind the request. Most people listening to Jesus (and most people today) were concerned with worldly matters: food, wealth, pleasure. But we're reminded that "one who lays up treasure for himself is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:21).

Immediately after the verses we're examining comes Jesus' instruction on which treasure you should be seeking, Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Luke 12:33-34).

The point through all of this is clear: do not covet, seek the kingdom of God and store up treasure in that kingdom. If you're still concerned about what you eat or the clothes you wear, then you are not trusting in God, you are not seeking his kingdom, and these earthly concerns are actually the least of your troubles: "Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" (Luke 12:20). There is an element of a disciple in close fellowship with God not caring that they've had nothing to eat, for "man does not live by bread alone" (Deuteronomy 8:3). That person will know that "to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).

The Father knows if you are suffering. He sees your need and has compassion, even as he ordains the suffering. But even through that trial, you are still called to not be anxious; have faith, and continue to seek his kingdom.

As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children's children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
The LORD has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all. (Psalm 103:13-19 ESV)

But that still does not resolve the difficulty of the apparent promise that Jesus makes. How can he say that if you seek the kingdom of God first that 'these things' will be added to you? I believe you receive the pragmatic answer with Jesus' final command in this discourse on covetousness.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:32-34 ESV)
If seekers of the kingdom sell their possessions and give to the poor, then those lacking will find themselves full. Jesus is really trying to cause his hearers to repent. There was a worldly self-focus, and he wants a change of heart from seeking these possessions to giving them away.

A Church full of kingdom seekers giving away their possessions will see that through his people, God will clothe, feed and care for his children. The first century church modeled this very well. The modern church does well in spots, but overall I believe we're still overly concerned (anxious) with our own daily needs. We need gospel maturity in the church. If you live in the United States, you are quite capable of obeying the command of Christ to give away your possessions to provide for the poor (and best of all, you'll be storing up treasure in heaven!).

Let's love our neighbors as we love ourselves!

Friday, August 12, 2011

A World Turned On Its Head

God turns the world upside down.

If you ever read through Genesis swiftly, you might notice a peculiar pattern. On four occasions, the blessings of the birth order are reversed in the genealogies.

It first happens with Abraham in Genesis 16. Even though Ishmael was born first to Abraham and God promises to bless him, the Abrahamic blessing still goes to the second born, Isaac. Perhaps this was a case of the birthright going to the first legitimate son, but this is not the only case of reversal. In the very next generation (Genesis 25), Jacob steals the birthright and blessing from his older twin brother Esau. Despite Jacob's underhanded methods, God used these events to work out his plan, for he declares "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" (Malachi 1:2-3, Romans 9:13).

Twice more the birth order is switched. First, in a minor account, Perez and Zerah trade places during birth in Genesis 38:27-30. And finally, at the end of the book, Jacob blesses Ephraim over Manasseh though he was the second born to Joseph. This result of this is seen in the established nation of Israel; Ephraim is the dominant tribe in the North, and the Northern Kingdom is often represented by the name of this ancestor.

A Biblical Pattern

This historical pattern points to a spiritual pattern of God's dealings with man. Role reversal shows the sovereignty of God. Human history has unfolded according to the will of God, not the strength of man. This works out in very practical ways.

1. God Exalts the Humble (and Humbles the Proud)

Much energy is spent throughout the Bible to show that God tears down the lofty and raises up the lowly. This is nowhere near an exhaustive list, but intended to give a sample of God's attitude toward humility and pride:
  • The Tower of Babel (Genesis 10-11)
  • God's choice of David as King (1 Samuel 16)
  • Psalm 8:2
  • Proverbs 16:19
  • The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-12)
  • Jesus famous phrase, "The last shall be first, and the first last" (Matthew 20:16)
  • "God Opposes the Proud but Gives Grace to the Humble" (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5)
2. God Replaces the First Covenant With the Second

When God established the pattern of reversing the first and the second, he was pointing toward his replacement of the first covenant with a second. The summary of this theology can be found in Hebrews 10, with the culmination in verse 9, "He does away with the first in order to establish the second."

3. God Fulfills the Pattern by Sending Jesus Christ

The very idea of Infinite God becoming man is the ultimate role reversal. "Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:6-7).

The King of the Universe became the Suffering Servant (Mark 8:31).

The typology of replacement with the Second is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He is the Second Adam, and because the Perfect and Righteous becomes our representative to God the Father, those found in the Second Adam will be saved. "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22).

By humbling himself, Jesus is exalted by God and acceptable for our salvation:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:8-11 ESV)

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-31 ESV)

-- to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:27 ESV) 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Luke's Version of the Parable of the Soils

The parable of the soils appears in all of the Synoptic Gospels, and it's well known. If you wish to brush up, read Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20 and Luke 8:4-15. There is some structure in the story, where each subsequent soil is a bit closer to fully accepting God's Word, the gospel.

SoilReceives WordGrowthConclusionScripture
PathWithout UnderstandingNo ChanceNo Belief, Not SavedMatthew 13:19
RockyWith JoyEndures for a whileFalls AwayMatthew 13:20-21
ThornyHears ItUnfruitfullyChoked by worldly concernsMatthew 13:22
GoodHears It and UnderstandsBears FruitEndurance, SavedMatthew 13:23

Something about the way Luke phrases Jesus' explanation of the thorny soil stood out.
And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. (Luke 8:14 ESV)
This third soil, the one with the thorns actually becomes a mature looking plant, but because of the thorns, it cannot bear fruit. Matthew and Mark phrase it as the plant being unfruitful, but Luke shows that there is an expectation of fruit that never blooms. The riches of the world are a devious deception, for you can appear to be a mature christian, but because of worldly cares, the fruit never blossoms, and in the end it's found out that the plant was not really the right kind of plant (James 3:12)--that person is not saved.
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24 ESV)
Luke also phrases the explanation of the good soil differently from Matthew and Mark, and it would be a fruitful exercise to investigate those differences as well.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Eleven's the Eleven That Went Straight to Heaven

First, a little culture: listen to Great Big Sea's Come and I Will Sing You (Twelve Apostles).

The last verse begins with:
Twelve, twelve apostles
Eleven is the eleven that went straight to heaven 
I have no idea what half the lines represent in that song (though it's fun to imagine), but it's pretty clear what the writer was saying here--Judas did not go straight to heaven.

However, can we be so sure? To some it may sound like a silly question, but ultimately God is Judge, and we simply do not know. God is the potter who makes honorable and dishonorable vessels. 

Consider Judas' response to his betrayal. 
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” (Matthew 27:3-4 ESV)
On the face of it, Judas confessed ("I have sinned") and repented ("he changed his mind"--Greek metamelētheis literally means "repented himself").

So did Judas have "godly sorrow that leads to repentance" (2 Corinthians 7:10). I think I would tend to agree with Thomas Gallaudet (a Puritan children's author). Here is an excerpt from his excellent book, The Child's Book on Repentance, chapter 9 (pp 99-100).
  And yet this self-reproach, very bitter and painful as it is, may exist, and there be no true repentance in the heart.
    Judas, the wicked and ungrateful disciple who betrayed Christ, must have felt this selfreproach in a very high degree. His conduct shows that he did. When he saw in what his base betraying of his Lord and Master had ended, and that Christ was condemned to death, "he repented himself." He felt how very wickedly he had acted; he was sorry for it, and wished that he had not betrayed Christ.
    It was not the right kind of repentance, however. For if I had time, I could easily show you that there are two kinds of repentance spoken of in the Bible. One is such as Judas had, without any change for the better in his feelings--a sorrow for sin only because he felt its shame and reproach, and dreaded the just displeasure of God against it; but without any real hatred of sin, as wrong in itself, and without any love to God, and obedience to his commands.
    The other kind of repentance spoken of in the Bible, is what I expect yet to explain to you. "Judas brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? See thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself."
    What a striking instance of self-reproach on account of sin!
    And yet there was no true repentance connected with it. Had there been, Judas would have shown a far different spirit from what he did. He would not have rushed madly upon the violation of one of the positive commands of God, by taking his own life. He would have desired to live, that he might humble himself before God and his fellow-men; and that he might, if possible, in some way repair the wrong which he had done to Christ, and to his cause. [My note: Judas at least should have come to understand that Christ could repair the wrong Judas had done, but he did not seem to have that Spirit.]
    There is great danger, my children, of your mistaking the self-reproach of which we have been speaking, for true repentance. It is a painful feeling, and you suffer under it. You may think that you are the better for such suffering. You may almost imagine that it is a kind of punishment for sin, which being endured, the sin is done away and will be forgiven.
    But forget not that this self-reproach, in itself alone, is not true repentance. Other views and feelings are necessary. Be not deceived in this respect; and let the example of Judas, who gave such a striking illustration of this selfreproach without any true repentance, be fixed in your memory.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Baptism By Fire

Have you ever gone through a baptism by fire?

It has a particular secular meaning, but most Christians probably think of 1 Peter when they hear the phrase.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7 ESV)
Modern usage has derived from a soldier surviving enemy fire, with the first use coming from Barry E. O'Meara's Napoleon In Exile (1822):
I love a brave soldier who has undergone, le baptême du fer [baptism of fire], whatever nation he may belong to.
-Yale Book of Quotations (p. 545)

But if you're reading this, you have not undergone a baptism by fire, at least not the one John the Baptist speaks of it in Matthew 3:11, "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

The baptism of the Holy Spirit, which was fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-3), sounds like it goes along with baptism by fire in this passage. But the context provided by the rest of John's quote in the next verse shows they are actually contrasted:
His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:12)
In other words, everyone will be baptised. But in the judgment of Christ, you will be found to be wheat or chaff. The good grain are those who have been baptized by the Holy Spirit. The chaff will be consumed in the baptism by fire. This matches Jesus' teaching through his ministry (John 15:6, Matthew 13:41-42).

That's why it's of first important to repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Even many who go to church every week don't really believe, because they haven't surrendered their whole lives to Christ. I beg of you to consider this carefully in your own life; ensure that you will not be one baptized by fire! If you want to explore what it means to sincerely believe, to have faith, or to fully trust what Christ accomplished for you on the cross, spend some time reading An Open Letter to Seekers.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Theme of the Day: What Is Man?

Every so often Providence arranges life so that a clear theme resonates through its events (or at least in what you read). Perhaps the Spirit is simply promoting an avenue of personal growth and someone else would not see the connections. But this day has seen a marvelous pattern of publication showing the greatness of God, the humility of man and the magnitude of the awesome love that comes from this relationship.

D.A. Carson's modification of the M'Cheyne Bible Reading Program includes Psalm 8. Verse 4 asks the following, "what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?"

In his For the Love Of God devotional for the day, Carson acknowledges, "Variations of this question carry different overtones, depending on the context." When I consider the majesty of man (rather, the lack thereof), it impresses on me the sheer infinity of God--at least, as far as my finite mind can grasp.

Consider yourself as you sit in your seat. Now ascend to where you can see the earth in your mind's eye. Can you see yourself anymore? Go out further to the edge of the solar system. The earth itself is nothing but a Pale Blue Dot. Zoom out to the edge of our galaxy, and the Sun is lost in a sea of galactic star light. You need not travel to the edge of our universe, where our galaxy's light would be extinguished, to understand how insignificant you are in comparison to this universe. And our very Universe is but a grain of sand to the Almighty Creator. What is man that God is mindful of him?

Scotty Smith wrote a prayer today pointing to where this thought should lead us:

That being said, it’s shocking to realize how much you [Jesus] love us—how much you actually make of us, Lord Jesus. Knowing you’ve forgiven all our sins is more than enough reason to praise you for eternity. Knowing you’ve covered us with your perfect righteousness is reason to praise you for ten eternities. But to see and believe you’ve made us your cherished Bride is staggering… thrilling… and ever so liberating. We’re not just going to heaven when we die, we’re entering a bridal chamber when you return.
How can this be, Lord Jesus? How can this possibly be? You’ve made us, a most unlikely and unworthy people, your bride, wife and queen for all eternity. This isn’t the story of Cinderella we’re in. There was nothing about us, or in us, that made us attractive to you. We’re the mean stepmother and the two conniving stepsisters—completely ill-deserving of your pursuit and affection. But such is the measure of your mercy and grandeur of your grace. You loved us in your death and now you serve us by your life.
God's greatness itself is great enough to dumbfound us with awe, but beyond revealing himself to us, he stoops down into humanity (Phil 2:6-7), and pours out a love where he sacrifices himself on the cross to redeem us (Phil 2:8). It's not simply about how big God is and how small man is, because any deist would could affirm that truth. The greatness of God that surpasses understanding is the love he shows to a seemingly insignificant speck of his creation.

A more significant part of our humility comes not from our physical stature but our spiritual depravity. Every person rebels against God and wishes to be like God, and wishes to be God. The love of God becomes all the more glorious, and Jonathan Edwards reminds us of this in a sermon entitled "The Spirit of the True Saints Is a Spirit of Divine Love" (thanks to Dane Ortlund for posting Edwards: Loving God):  
Consider what Christ has done for you. He died for you. O what did he bear for you. If you knew the pains, the distress, and the agonies the glorious Son of God underwent for you, how would the thoughts of his kindness and love to you overcome you. . . .
God in Christ allows such little, poor creatures as you are to come to him, to love communion with him, and to maintain a communication of love with him. You may go to God and tell him how you love him and open your heart and he will accept of it. You may be familiar in your expressions of your love to Christ, as little or unworthy as you are, for he is near to you. He is come down from heaven and has taken upon him the human nature on purpose, that he might be near to you and might be, as it were, your companion. . . . You may place yourself in his divine embraces.
As Paul points out throughout his letters, this work simply points back to the glorious grace of our Savior. Philippians 2 continues with what shall become of man, "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV). Our relationship, through the promises of God and faith in Christ proclaims the riches of God's glory:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV) 
We can see how God-centered this universe is. It comes from and goes to verses 1 and 9 of Psalm 8:

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Judges 20 - Why did God let Israel fail twice?

First, some context is in order. In Judges 19 we hear of a Levite's wife who was raped and murdered while staying overnight in the territory of Benjamin. After the Levite finds his wife dead, he cuts her into 12 pieces and sends them through the tribal territories. Israel responds in outrage and gathers men to make war against Benjamin, specifically the city Gibeah, where the offense happened.
Then all the people of Israel came out, from Dan to Beersheba, including the land of Gilead, and the congregation assembled as one man to the LORD at Mizpah. And the chiefs of all the people, of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, 400,000 men on foot that drew the sword. (Judges 20:1-2 ESV)
Then the people of Benjamin came together out of the cities to Gibeah to go out to battle against the people of Israel. And the people of Benjamin mustered out of their cities on that day 26,000 men who drew the sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah, who mustered 700 chosen men. (Judges 20:14-15 ESV)
The people of Israel arose and went up to Bethel and inquired of God, “Who shall go up first for us to fight against the people of Benjamin?” And the LORD said, “Judah shall go up first.” (Judges 20:18 ESV)
So, not only is Benjamin outnumbered 15-to-1, but it sounds as if Israel has God's blessing to punish Benjamin by war. But the first two times that Israel went out for battle, they were routed by Benjamin. The first day Benjamin killed 22,000 Israelites, and the second day they killed 18,000 Israelites. Both days God told Israel to "go up against them."

Finally, on the third day, God tells Israel to go out again, but this time he tells them they will succeed. Israel changes their battle tactics (very interesting), sieges and burns the city after drawing the Benjaminites out of Gibeah.
So all who fell that day of Benjamin were 25,000 men who drew the sword, all of them men of valor. (Judges 20:46 ESV)
Israel finally succeeds in defeating Benjamin. But the question posed in the title remains: with God's apparent direction, why did Israel fail twice in battle against Benjamin? Were the men of Benjamin simply better warriors?

If you read the previous three chapters of Judges, I believe you can see the answer there. First, looking forward to the next chapter of Judges, in the very last verse of the book, you read, "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25). You see this "in those days" phrase in the previous three chapters (Judges 17:6, Judges 18:1, Judges 19:1). The moral degradation had progressed enough in the established nation that all were culpable. This would give a very good explanation for Israel's initial failure. The atrocity that caused this skirmish deserved the discipline of the nation, but the nation exacting God's justice deserved punishment as well.

Failing [only] twice may have been an act of mercy. The men of Israel probably deserved to fail 11 times before succeeding (or they all deserved to be wiped out), but it appears that God heard their cry of repentance. This was probably the first time in a long while since the whole assembly came before the Lord in contrition.
Then all the people of Israel, the whole army, went up and came to Bethel and wept. They sat there before the LORD and fasted that day until evening, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. (Judges 20:26 ESV)
D.A. Carson has some wise words about this passage in his devotional book, For the Love of God. He writes:
That is the sort of thing that happens when the rule of law dissolves, when people start acting out of tribal loyalty and not principle, when vengeance overtakes justice, when superstitious vendettas displace courts, when brothers no longer share a common heritage of worship and values, when government is by fear and not by the consent, it can ignite a Bosnia, it can start a world war. It is the stuff of dictators and warlords, the lubricant of gangs and violence.
The sad reality is that every culture is capable of this. The ancient Israelites sink into this quagmire not because they are worse than all others, but because they are typical of all others. A society that no longer hangs together, whether on the ground of religion, shared worldview, or at least agreed and respected procedurals, is heading for violence and anarchy, which, sooner or later, becomes the best possible breeding ground for the ordered response of tyrants — power authorized by sword and gun.
May God save us from living as if we have no King in our days, for doing what is right in our own eyes.

Friday, August 5, 2011

First Religious Experience

My mother's death was the occasion of what some (but not I) might regard as my first religious experience. When her case was pronounced hopeless I remembered what I had been taught; that prayers offered in faith would be granted. I accordingly set myself to produce by will power a firm belief that my prayers for her recovery would be successful; and, as I thought, I achieved it. When nevertheless she died I shifted my ground and worked myself into a belief that there was to be a miracle. The interesting thing is that my disappointment produced no results beyond itself. The thing hadn't worked, but I was used to things not working, and I thought no more about it. I think the truth is that the belief into which I had hypnotized myself was itself too irreligious for its failure to cause any religious revolution. I had approached God, or my idea of God, without love, without awe, even without fear. He was, in my mental picture of this miracle, to appear neither as Savior nor as Judge, but merely as a magician; and when He had done what was required of Him I supposed He would simply---well, go away. It never crossed my mind that the tremendous contact which I solicited should have any consequences beyond restoring the status quo. I imagine that a "faith" of this kind is often generated in children and that its disappointment is of no religious importance; just as the things believed in, if they could happen and be only as the child pictures them, would be of no religious importance either.
--C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, pp. 20-21 (emphasis mine)

C.S. Lewis mentions that this kind of "faith" is often generated in children. He would change his mind if he lived in this generation--this kind of faith seems to be the primary kind of people young and old.

The despair of false faith is that it's false enough that it can't detect its own falseness. There is no real expectation of result, so any disappointment seems normal and consequently there is no conversion. Many give up on God because he doesn't fulfill their wishes (as if he were a genie), but they never really expected him to do anything to begin with. There is no true belief. There is no faith.

This theme is the second most common problem in relating to God. The first and most severe problem with every single person is utter rebellion against the rule of God. From Adam and Eve down to you and me, every single human being who was not Jesus Christ has actively rebelled against the Creator. But for many that appear to turn back to him, they don't want to follow God, they want God to follow them. The Bible shows this often, from the wandering Israelites, Balak, King Saul, to the seven sons of Sceva. There are no lack of examples. Today, many preachers make a living teaching this message through a (sometime subtle) prosperity gospel. And if we were all to evaluate our lives, we would see signs of this creeping into parts of our heart.

God can do awesome, miraculous wonders in our lives (Matthew 7:7-11). Is your heart aligned with God's will? Do you want what God wants, or do you expect God to want what you want? Do you genuinely believe that God works in his creation, inside you, changes hearts and moves mountains?
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8 ESV)