Friday, September 30, 2011

Galatians 6 - Marks of Jesus

Paul's efforts are spent reminding the Galatians that they are saved through the gospel of Jesus Christ and not by the works of the Law. One focus of the letter is circumcision. The Judiazers claimed that only a Law-abiding Jew could be a real Christian. Their real motives were rooted in pride and fear of man (Gal 6:12-13). But Paul says that trying to keep the law is vanity (Gal 5:3-4).

The purpose of this post isn't to delve deeply into the overall message of Galatians (though that would be a very worthy topic), but that context cannot be ignored either. Paul shows how the gospel saves us. It's not by keeping the law but by believing in faith (Gal 5:6). We have been crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20) which makes us a new creation (Gal 6:5, 2 Cor 5:17). Our flesh is dead, so circumcision has no meaning (Gal 5:24).

However, Paul does bear marks in his flesh. He speaks not of his own circumcision--the marks of which he would have as a devout Pharisee. These marks show that he is a disciple of Christ. Because of his bold proclamation, Paul has endured a lifetime's worth of physical abuse. In 2 Corinthians 11 we hear Paul tell the church that he is a man...
with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:23-28 ESV).
So to those who preach the mark of the Jew, he can say, "From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus" (Gal 6:17). So rather than accept the mark of the Old Covenant, let's accept the mark of the New Covenant. We are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Peter says we grieve and James says to find joy when we meet trials of various kinds. "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim 3:12).

Most of us won't suffer as Paul. Not many will become martyrs, but a hallmark of the Christian's call are persecutions, the marks of Jesus. They show you are set apart in Christ.
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27).

Thursday, September 29, 2011

2 Corinthians 4:17 - The Weight of Glory

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV)
The Weight of Glory

The word glory literally means 'weight' in Hebrew (kabod). The 'eternal weight' of glory evokes an incomprehensible weightiness: the weight of weight. This is the essence of God. Glory.

The most common image associated with glory is light. The glory shone in Moses face as he came off the mountain was bright enough that he had to cover himself for the sake of the Israelites. God could not reveal his full glory to Moses, "for man shall not see me and live" (Ex 33:20).

The glory of God is heavy light, the burden of which would crush a mortal.

Light Momentary Affliction

Paul says that our afflictions are preparing us for this glory. He calls these light momentary afflictions.
    We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 ESV).
Bearing our cross is serious business, but the reason we endure (besides having the life of Jesus in us, v10-11) is the hope of incomparable glory. No matter how crushing our affliction, it does not, it cannot compare to the glory to come. That glory is so great that it dwarfs any earthly force.

The Greek for 'beyond all comparison' is "kath’ hyperbolēn eis hyperbolēn". No words can describe the weight of glory, for it is 'excessively to excessively' or 'hyperbole upon hyperbole'. A Universe of glory dwarfs the quark of momentary affliction.


The real point of this verse is that the heat and pressure of trials prepares us for the eternal weight of glory. The glory that Moses could not bear, the infinite weight of God's essence, that which is hyperbole upon hyperbole will be our reality. God is preparing us for living in his presence through the grief of trial and the testing by fire. How much preparation have you experience in your life?
    Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 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. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9 ESV)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

2 Samuel 24: Costly Sacrifice

2 Samuel 24 lays the groundwork for the building of the temple. David takes a census of Israel with the wrong heart. Even Joab knows that David's command is sinful. [Note: If a deceitful murderer says you are wrong, perhaps you should listen!] God sends a pestilence through Israel as punishment, and relents when the destroying angel comes to Jerusalem. The 1 Chronicles 21 account allows your mind's eye to envision the terror.
    And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the LORD saw, and he relented from the calamity. And he said to the angel who was working destruction, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. And David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces...Now Ornan was threshing wheat. He turned and saw the angel, and his four sons who were with him hid themselves...And David built there an altar to the LORD and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the LORD, and the LORD answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering. Then the LORD commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath. (1 Chronicles 21:15-16,20,26-27 ESV)
David goes to build an alter on this land at Gad's direction and offers to buy it from Ornan (Araunah). Ornan is willing to quickly give it to David, but David insists on paying for the land saying:
     I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.
The narrative shows that God ordained this site for the Temple, but other lessons can be coaxed from the text.
  1. Obviously, our offerings to God must cost us something. If we do not sacrifice, it's not an offering. If your heart in giving to church is "I give what I can," then it's not really an offering. Consider Mark 12:41-44.
  2. The offering does not avert disaster. God relents from the pestilence first, then David is called to build an alter and sacrifice to the Lord. After the offering is accepted, the angel sheaths his sword. God demonstrates grace first, David responds to the Word of the Lord in faith, and then David and Jerusalem are saved.
  3. The grace offered to us in salvation through Jesus Christ is not free. It is freely offered, but it cost God dearly--the life of his only begotten Son. It is by the sacrifice of the infinitely worthy that we have hope in having our infinite debt satisfied.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Man After God's Own Heart

I've been a bit harsh on David recently (see these posts: Web of Sin, David Does Right Too Late), but when it comes down to it, David is the only man in the Bible who is called "a man after God's own heart." How could someone who has messed up so badly have that title? There are several reasons, but the main one is that David had a relationship with God and did not seek good except in God (Psalm 16:2), usually. David had glaring weaknesses and stumbled because of them, but he knew when he was wrong and he was quick to repent (2 Samuel 12:13).

This should be encouraging. You can still have God's heart without perfection as prerequisite. We sin and fall short of the glory of God, but in faith our heart can be made right. We find confidence in this because of David's Greater Son who had the actual heart of God and willingly sacrificed himself to become our propitiation.

You and I can be a person after God's own heart if we are in Christ. As we are conformed to his image, our hearts can surpass that of David's because Christ dwells in our heart. We not only have a heart after God's, but God will dwell in our heart.
    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)
And oh do I pray for this heart, for faith. Why? To be filled with all the fullness of God.

2 Samuel 19: David Does Right Too Late

Sin is a nasty little bugger. It wraps its tentacles around parts of life that you might not see, so when you try to remove it, it rips out good with the bad. The longer the sin can fester and grow, the thicker and deeper the tentacles will reach, and far more collateral damage will ensue.

Looking at David's life as he tries to restore family and kingdom after Absalom's rebellion, it's not hard to see the pervasive effects of sin reverberate through the lives of those closest to David.

The restored king makes a very bold decision: Amasa replaces Joab as commander over King David's army.
And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my bone and my flesh? God do so to me and more also, if you are not commander of my army from now on in place of Joab’” (2 Samuel 19:13).
Frankly, Joab should have been deposed long ago, but David never took decisive action. Though this wasn't final enough, for Joab (along with Abishai and Ittai) was still in charge of a third of the army.

The ESV Study Bible notes say that David may have done this to punish Joab for killing Absalom. That's a bit speculative, because there are many good reasons to install Amasa. Joab may have upset David when rebuking him (2 Samuel 19:1-8). Perhaps Amasa was installed as a political maneuver. Since Amasa was chosen to be commander of Abaslom's army, David may have wanted to integrate the two factions and show unity (he was also David's nephew along with Joab and Abishai according to 1 Chronicles 2). David may not like that Joab was a bit of a loose cannon, first murdering Abner then killing Absalom against David's instruction. Or, perhaps it was a little bit of all these reasons.

Whatever the reason, as David starts to take the right steps, it doesn't solve the problem. He has allowed sin to fester in his own life and in the life of Joab for too long, and with little surprise, Joab murders Amasa from apparent jealousy.
When they were at the great stone that is in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. Now Joab was wearing a soldier's garment, and over it was a belt with a sword in its sheath fastened on his thigh, and as he went forward it fell out. And Joab said to Amasa, “Is it well with you, my brother?” And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. But Amasa did not observe the sword that was in Joab's hand. So Joab struck him with it in the stomach and spilled his entrails to the ground without striking a second blow, and he died.
    Then Joab and Abishai his brother pursued Sheba the son of Bichri. And one of Joab's young men took his stand by Amasa and said, “Whoever favors Joab, and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab.” (2 Samuel 20:8-11 ESV)
The saddest part about all of this is that, yet again, David does nothing. He doesn't even mourn this time. It is matter of fact that Joab is commander again (2 Samuel 20:23), and no justice is sought.

But Joab does not ultimately escape justice. For those reading the M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, they will see on September 30th that it takes David's son to finally seek the life of the murderer that David should have demanded years ago.

Friday, September 23, 2011

2 Corinthians 12: A Leader's Resume

When applying for a new job or a promotion, what type of resume would you submit? Naturally, you would share your education and work credentials to show your qualification for the job. In gospel work, however, the ways of the world are foolishness.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul defends his ministry to the church at Corinth against the so-called super-apostles. They not only boasted in their accomplishments (2 Cor 10:12), but they derided Paul because he would not (2 Cor 10:10). From here he takes an interesting tactic. Paul reinforces that all boasting is to be done in the Lord, and not in self-commendation (2 Cor 10:17-18). He shows them what foolishness boasting in the flesh is:
I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast...But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. (2 Corinthians 11:16-18,21-23).
Paul really was far more qualified than anyone else, but he loathed fleshly boasting. He mentioned that he was playing the fool six times in chapter 11.

Paul finishes his foolishness in chapter 12 and then demonstrates the real strength of his resume.

On my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12:4)

Why would he do that? Because the real source of qualification does not come from within but from God. So there is no room for personal boasting, and Paul demonstrates all boasting is in the Lord.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV)
How many churches would hire a pastor if all he interviewed on was his weaknesses? I'm guessing none, but he would probably be the most qualified applicant they've ever seen.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

2 Samuel 18: The Web of Sin

Today's chapter in 2 Samuel is a tragic one. David's men fight against Absalom, and it ends with Joab killing Absalom. So despite explicit instructions from David, "Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom," he mourns at the end, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"

The sequence of events can be traced to David's earlier failings, and they're all related to David's passivity. Even men after God's own heart are not perfect. David sacrificed his moral integrity for political expediency.

The first problem is that David did not bring Joab to justice when he murdered Abner, "And when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the midst of the gate to speak with him privately, and there he struck him in the stomach, so that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother" (2 Samuel 3:27). Abner killed Asahel in battle, within the rules of war, but Joab murdered Abner in premeditated revenge. David did not punish Joab for this sin, so Joab was still the commander of David's army. Perhaps David feared Joab or thought he was an irreplaceable commander. David's rationalization does not excuse Joab's sin.

The second problem came when David failed to act yet again. Amnon, David's son, raped his half-sister Tamar. "When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry" (2 Samuel 13:21), but he did not lift a finger. Absalom was Tamar's full brother, both born of Maacah. When David did not execute justice on behalf of Tamar, Absalom took justice into his own hands two years later by killing his own brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13:23-33).

The third problem is a complex assortment of scheming by both Joab and Absalom. Absalom fled, but again David threw his arms up and did nothing. Through the actions of Joab and Absalom, who were not on great terms with each other (2 Samuel 14:30), Absalom returned to Jerusalem and grew a heart that despised his father and lusted after power. So Absalom won the hearts of the Israelites, conspired a coup and warred to finish off David [2 Samuel 14-17].

David's men were mightier and won the war, but Joab purposely killed Absalom in the forest in a less than honorable fashion:
And Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on... And [Joab] took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak. And ten young men, Joab's armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him and killed him. [2 Samuel 18:9,14-15]
Sin has consequences, and often one sin leads to a chain of others, even when (perhaps especially when) it's refusing to do what's right via non-action. There are many things David could have done differently so that neither he nor Absalom had to die.

A final point of reflection is that God can and does use all of the actions of men (good and bad) to accomplish his purposes. In a complex plot that even Shakespeare couldn't invent, God used the royal drama to fulfill two plans.
  1. Absalom was the the instrument of punished against David that Nathan promised in 2 Samuel 12:11.
  2. God brought justice to Absalom for his sin against Amnon and David while being God's agent: 2 Samuel 17:14.
This ends up being a microcosm of the issues Israel struggled with during the exile, that God would use a sin-overflowing, evil, pagan nations to punish his chosen people.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Should We Pursue Holiness When We Don't Feel Like It?

What is man's role in sanctification? Do I not have the Holy Spirit, and doesn't God do the work inside me? What can I possibly add that God is not doing or cannot do? And if I choose to do something, to perform a work, am I simply reverting to a works-righteousness mentality instead of living by faith and believing in the free gift of God's grace? What does that look like if I don't have a desire to pursue specific disciplines in regards to sanctification (like prayer)? Is it simply legalism to perform the duty? This is a hard topic that's worth giving some thought to.

I see this topic having the same logic as that of God's sovereignty and man's free will. Most people ask the question as a dichotomy: is God sovereign (thus making us his puppets) or do we have free will (thus limiting the power of God)? But they don't have to be mutually exclusive even if our (finite) brains perceive them that way. God is sovereign and man has free will, and that's the sort of system that only an omnipotent God could create. In the same way, we might ask if it's God work in us that produces sanctification, or is it our actions? Yes! And how those things come together, especially when it appears we have so much control over one half of the equation, remains a bit of a mystery. The Bible does teach that it is entirely God's work, but it also teaches that we have responsibility (Philippians 2:12-13, 2 Peter 1:5, 2 Corinthians 7:1 and others).

A big part of the hangup, I think, comes from what you do when you don't feel like being disciplined. If God is at work within me, why don't I have a stronger desire to read my Bible and pray everyday (as examples)? And what am I supposed to do in that case, suck it up and do it with the wrong heart, or wait for God to stir the feelings up within me? I think the rub is that we don't feel like being disciplined because we're not disciplined. We don't feel like praying because we don't pray. What do we do in this case? We need repentance of that heart, the one that doesn't want to be holy. We need to go back to the cross in faith, believe in the work of Christ, confess our lack of care and turn our eyes again toward God. There, that was doing something, like a discipline! And as we confess our sin and dependence on God, as we continually repent and rest in our justification by the work of his Son, I am confident our hearts will be stirred by God's Spirit and that flame of desire will be stoked so that when we consider a discipline, the heart to do it will be there.

I think we all acknowledge that if we robotically and lovelessly perform our Christian duties (i.e. without faith), then our works are nothing more than filthy rags. None of us want to be there, none of us want to have that heart. So I think we need an extra measure of prayer that God would give us the right heart as we discipline our bodies and minds out of faith. At the same time, just because we don't feel like being disciplined is not an excuse to give up and not do anything. Like Paul (2 Tim 4:7) we need to fight the good fight, finish the race, keep the faith.

Kevin DeYoung is finishing a book called The Hole in Our Holiness, and this has stirred conversation in the reformed circles. Here are some resources for those interested in thinking through this topic even more.

John Piper and Kevin DeYoung, Part 1
John Piper and Kevin DeYoung, Part 2
Reformed Survey on Sanctification
When I Don't Desire God

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ephesians 4:11 - Is Evangelism a Gift?

Many Christians, even respected Evangelical leaders, would call Evangelism a spiritual gift (see post from The Resurgence). I would like to challenge that notion, or at the very least show that not having the gift of evangelism doesn't exempt a Christian from the call.

Commentators seem to point to Ephesians 4:11 as their understanding for calling evangelism a gift, "And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ." There is a direct parallel between this passage and Romans 12 (v6-­7), "Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching." Paul clearly calls prophecy and teaching spiritual gifts, so even though it's not explicitly mentioned in Ephesians 4, the link shows that being an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a shepherd or a teacher is a spiritual gift. So it's not strictly wrong to call evangelism a spiritual gift.

However, take another look at the list from Ephesians: apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher. You either have to play the game One of These Things is Not Like the Other, or acknowledge that Paul groups evangelist within the rank of teacher. Paul is consistent in at least one other place in pairing evangelist with teacher, for he exhorts Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist" (2 Timothy 4:5). If the spiritual gift of evangelism is understood in this context, then it appears that it refers to a teacher's ability to train others in evangelism (“to equip the saints for the work of ministry”).

Even with this understanding, though, that does not mean someone can't be a gifted evangelist! God has given all of us his Holy Spirit, he has gifted us in different ways to complement each other and build up the body. I believe that my wife's ability to play piano for church is just as much a spiritual gift as Paul's mention of an "utterance of wisdom" or “speaking in tongues.” "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Cor 12:7), and those manifestations can work themselves out in natural talent or miraculous ways. So, I'm not saying that people cannot be gifted in evangelism, but I believe that the “spiritual gift of evangelism” as Paul mentions it is a leadership gift.

Too many have used "not having the gift of evangelism" as their excuse for never evangelizing. According to Barna, that number is growing over time, and roughly (or less than) ten percent of professing Christians participate in evangelism! Our biblical responsibility to make disciples is very clear. Even beyond the Great Commission of Matthew 28 are a few exhortations to share our faith: Acts 1:8, 1 Peter 3:15. The message becomes clearer with an inductive study of the entire New Testament. The apostles simply have no context for not sharing the gospel-­-it is a treasure of too much value to keep to one's self. I hope we grow a heart and all become more gifted in sharing the precious news of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Monday, September 19, 2011

2 Corinthians 8: Money, The New Covenant's Manna

Paul devotes a lot of space to the issues of money and generosity in 2 Corinthians 8. His main argument in the chapter is that Jesus Christ became poor so that they may become rich (2 Cor 8:9), so have the same heart, go and do likewise (2 Cor 8:10-11). There may be a little surprise in what Paul is saying here, for he says he is not giving them a new command (2 Cor 8:8), but rather promoting the love for their brothers in Christ they ought to have had (John 13:34).

Paul could have stopped there and told them to be generous because Christ has been supremely generous with us and, frankly, he commanded it. But he doesn't end with that exhortation, he uses a reference to manna in the wilderness (from Exodus 16) in verse 15:
For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15 ESV)
Care should be taken in extending the analogy, but there is a relationship that Paul is making between the manna God provided wandering Israel with and the money he gives us today. The analogy is anchored to 'supplying need' or 'having no lack.' God ensured that his people had enough to eat while they wandered in the wasteland for 40 years, and Paul exhorts the Corinthian church to supply the needs of other Christians or other churches who were in a position of need.

If it can be extended, the analogy might fit on the other end as well: no one should have an excess. For those who gathered too much manna, they found their stores corrupted by rot and worms. Even though that does not physically happen to an accumulation of money, it can certainly have the same effect on our hearts, for the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. There are certainly Christians who live by this principle: they set a maximum income they'll live by and give the rest away. The point isn't to set a rule, however, it's about having the right heart. It would be easy to set a standard of living cap and have a miserable attitude, and that would be sinful (it does not proceed from faith, and God loves a cheerful giver). However, I believe most people struggle not with this heart so much as the first one: actually giving away in a sacrificial manner. Fear of sin of one extreme is not license to sin in the other extreme.

Aside from trying to zip up the analogy from bottom to top, however, it appears that God's heart for the collection of manna and money are the same. Do not collect too much for yourself; it's purpose is so that everyone has their needs met. Money should be like water in our hands, and we should position ours over those whose hands are dry and blistered. Paul shows us that we should have the heart of Macedonia. This is a sacrificial heart--the heart of Christ in giving:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5 ESV)
I know I need to grow in this heart. And it comes by giving ourselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to others. Macedonia loved the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and their neighbor as themselves, and proved it through their wallets.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Luke 13: O Jerusalem

One of the grave dangers in reading the Bible is to sit in judgment against those that failed to do what's right in the narrative. "Those silly Israelites, grumbling after God brought them out of Egypt," or "those evil Pharisees; they're such hypocrites!" The judgment may be right, but if you don't apply it to your own heart and life, you've missed a significant point. I often think about how I probably would have followed Jesus for the tangible, earthly benefits if I lived in first century Palestine. I would have missed that he is Lord and Savior, and I would have been disappointed that my hope for food and health was gone when he died. In many ways today I am still a Pharisee. I am so grateful for the Holy Spirit; he has opened my eyes to see how precious the grace and salvation Jesus bestows on us is, for in my flesh I would have missed it all.

Luke 13 has one of those passages. We could read it and sit in judgment against Jerusalem.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Luke 13:34-35).
Those silly Jews, killing their prophets and crucifying their Lord! But wait, it was my sin that nailed him to the cross too.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:3-6 ESV)
And in this life, we're never done learning our lesson. Think about the great atrocities mankind has committed in the last century. Think about your very sin this day. This is one of the reasons I like Casting Crowns' song While You Were Sleeping. We as a nation are still missing our Savior the way Jerusalem missed him 2,000 years ago. Don't miss what he has done for your soul.

If you would like to listen to the song, you can find it on YouTube.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


My wife and I were sitting in the living room earlier this week after the kids went to bed, and I forget what I was reading that prompted this comment, but I said something along the lines of, "It seems like God is going to pretty much give to those he saves what Adam and Eve were looking for when they sinned." I got a well-deserved funny look. Read Genesis 3 to understand what I was saying:
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:4-6 ESV)
Adam and Eve were seeking to be like God, and though we're made in the image of God (so we're already like him to some degree), I believe he will make us more like him than we could have ever been in our pure humanity.

The main question about my statement was one of the degree of redemption. Isn't God simply restoring us, to be like Adam and Eve were as they were first created, when God saves us through his Son? The answer is yes, but he's also making us so much more!

God is restoring his elect to be like Adam and Eve again. That happens in some ways now, but God will complete the work [Phil 1:6] when we enter his presence in heaven.
  • Our relationship with God becomes personal (Jeremiah 31:33)
  • We will not sin (Rev 21:27, Rev 22:15)
  • We will not die (Rev 21:4)
  • Our home will be like the garden of Eden (Rev 22:1-2)
Already in the list are hints of the ways God's redemptive work is better than simple restoration. When God created Adam and Eve, they possessed all the blessings listed above, but they also had the potential to stumble and fall from God's grace (which, of course, they did rather swiftly). God will remove that potential, and because he bought us with a price, he will be faithful to us for all eternity. So we inherit the perfection of Adam and Eve once again, but the primary reason God's redemption is so much better is that we will possess the perfection of Christ. We will be glorified. We will be fully conformed to the image of Christ. In the same way that Jesus is the good and better everything (Adam, covenant, sacrifice, prophet, king, priest, etc.), the work he accomplishes in us will be a good and better copy of the work of Adam's creation. We will be a new creation.
  • We will live in the presence of God (Rev 21:3, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man." That sentence needs an exclamation point!)
  • There cannot be sin, sickness, pain or death (Rev 21:4)
  • Life will be eternal joy and comfort (Psalm 16:11)
The primary reason I made the original statement, however, is that God will give us wisdom. We will have knowledge like God. I don't think we'll be omniscient, for we are not God, but we will clearly have knowledge of good and evil, and we will have a measure of the wisdom of God that Adam and Eve could never have had before the fall. We will intimately know the saving wisdom of Jesus Christ. And Paul says that one day we shall see clearly, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known" (1 Cor 13:12). So that which Adam and Eve were seeking, God is giving it to us, and so much more. He is giving us himself.

"He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" (Rev 22:20)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Surprised By Joy, Chapter 9: New Atheists

Having said that he [Lewis' instructor "Kirk"] was an Atheist, I hasten to add that he was a "Rationalist" of the old, high and dry nineteenth-century type. For Atheism has come down in the world since those days, and mixed itself with politics and learned to dabble in dirt. The anonymous donor who now sends me anti-God magazines hopes, no doubt, to hurt the Christian in me; he really hurts the ex-Atheist. I am ashamed that my old mates and (which matters much more) Kirk's old mates should have sunk to what they are now. It was different then; even McCabe wrote like a man. At the time when I knew him, the fuel of Kirk's Atheism was chiefly of the anthropological and pessimistic kind. He was great on The Golden Bough and Schopenhauer.
C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, p. 152

What's old is new again. The recent resurgence of the New Atheists sounds much like the proselytizing atheists of Lewis' day. It is fascinating that some atheists are not content to stew in their own nihilism. They defeat their own argument by caring so much; for if they were right, there would be no point in convincing every they're right: all will be gone, all will be lost at the heat death of the universe. There may as well have never been pain and sorrow, joy and delight, life itself, for the memory of existence will fade away. By finding meaning in something, the anti-theist imparts significance to life. This group sounds a bit like what C.S. Lewis had previously called himself, "very angry at God for not existing."

Lewis makes a great point about what the New Atheism accomplishes: giving boldness to someone who has already made up their mind. That's it. They do not truly harm those with faith, for those who truly believe in God know that the New Atheists are just dabbling in dirt.

These who have set their lives vehemently opposed to God need prayer and witness. If this group succeeds in fooling the world with their non-belief, life will become very dark. But exceeding the horror of earth's consequences is the eternal destiny of their souls. If they do not confess in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, their eternal separation from all of God's grace is tragic. Soul-rendingly, heart-breakingly tragic.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ezekiel 15 and John 15: The Vine

The M'Cheyne readings for Sunday and Monday both included illustrations using the vine as a metaphor. This post will look at them in reverse reading order, but historical chronological order.

Ezekiel 15: The Vine Is Charred

First, through Ezekiel, God has been describing to Jerusalem precisely how evil their behavior had become. See yesterday's post for a taste, or better yet, read Ezekiel for yourself to see how Jerusalem decayed. In chapter 15 (a very short chapter), God describes Jerusalem as a useless vine:
Son of man, how does the wood of the vine surpass any wood, the vine branch that is among the trees of the forest? Is wood taken from it to make anything? Do people take a peg from it to hang any vessel on it? Behold, it is given to the fire for fuel. When the fire has consumed both ends of it, and the middle of it is charred, is it useful for anything? Behold, when it was whole, it was used for nothing. How much less, when the fire has consumed it and it is charred, can it ever be used for anything! Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so have I given up the inhabitants of Jerusalem. (Ezekiel 15:2-6 ESV)
Israel was meant to be a useful vine. If you take God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 12, "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." and his instruction to Israel in Exodus 19, "and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation," then you see that one of God's purposes for Israel is to be a light to the world. The nations of the earth would know that God was holy by his work in his people Israel. God would draw in the nations through his chosen race.

As the city neared exile, it was clear Jerusalem had defiled their covenant with God (read Ezekiel 16 for a graphic depiction of how God viewed their actions). So the vine branch to the world burned itself and became useful for nothing. Mostly nothing, for God had not fulfilled his final plan through this broken nation. Through Israel, God sent his Son a few hundred years later to save both Israel and the Gentiles, and by that revealed the True Vine Branch (Jer 23:5), the Source (Heb 5:9) and Head (Col 1:8, Col 2:9) in the Messiah. So Israel was not the branch source, but rather a shoot off of the real vine: Jesus Christ. But through their apostasy they cut themselves off from the source and withered.

John 15: The Vine Is Christ
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (John 15:5-6 ESV)
The Vine has life, and we have a choice to abide in him and bear fruit, or we wither, are thrown into the fire and burned. Jesus goes on to talk about a connection between abiding in him, loving the Father, the Son and one another, keeping his commands and bearing fruit. All of those flow through Christ to us, as he chose us and appointed us that we should go and bear fruit (John 15:16).

Our health as a vine branch is directly related to how completely we are grafted in--to our spiritual health. As we separate from Christ (John 15:5 says this applies to all of life!), we wither and die, but as we abide in him, we grow and bear fruit. How close is your relationship to your Savior? How grafted in is your life in Christ?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ezekiel 14: Righteousness

Chapter 14 of Ezekiel from Sunday's M'Cheyne reading has several fascinating elements in it. As usual, D.A. Carson has a brilliant devotional on the chapter in his book For the Love of God, and his thoughts are far more worthy to ponder.

The thing most striking about Ezekiel 14 is the list of names given: Noah, Daniel and Job. We know them as righteous men God used for significant historical purposes, but what is so surprising is that Daniel is listed among Noah and Job. Genesis says "Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God" (Genesis 6:9). Job was "blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil" (Job 1:1). When Ezekiel was in service to the Lord, the Scriptures speaking of Noah and Job were already written. But Daniel was a contemporary, living in Babylon as Ezekiel wrote his scrolls. Through the Spirit's inspiration, Ezekiel knew that Daniel's righteousness was in the same league as Noah and Job. We know in hindsight, by God's recorded Word, that Daniel was faithful to the end (Daniel 6:28). Part of the surprise is that another faithful hero of old wasn't named, such as Moses or David. Perhaps Daniel was even more righteous than these men, as there are no recorded events where Daniel stumbled in his life.

Another peculiar statement in Ezekiel 14 is, "they would deliver neither sons nor daughters." This is used three times in the chapter (Ezekiel 14:16, 18, 22). This evokes thoughts of what Noah and Job endured. Noah did deliver his sons and daughters from the global flood. But Job's sons and daughters were lost despite (or perhaps because of) his righteousness. The Bible does not speak to whether or not Daniel had any children, but his biography reads as if he lived a bachelor's life. Regardless, Jerusalem has become so wicked in Ezekiel's day that no others besides these men would survive, apparently not even their family members. That could be interpreted a few ways:
  • God showed grace to Noah's family in saving his children through the flood even though they may not have had the same righteous heart toward God as Noah. After the flood subsides, the behavior of Ham was not blameless (see Genesis 9:20-27), though neither was Noah's.
  • The culture of wickedness was so extreme in Jerusalem that it may have swayed the children of these men despite their own righteous lives and teaching. After all, Noah was able to convince at least his family to join him on the ark. Perhaps his three children, and any others among Job and Daniel, would have succumbed to societal pressures.
  • The most likely meaning is that God would not spare Jerusalem for the sake of a few righteous citizens. God would deliver the righteous to safety, thus preserving a remnant, and the rest would be swept away in judgment (devastatingly complete judgment through beasts, war, disease and famine).

The last interpretation would remind the reader of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Genesis 18-19). God determined to destroy those cities for their wickedness; he would not relent despite Abraham's intercession. Abraham knew his nephew Lot lived in Sodom, but Lot was the only [or least un-]righteous man living in the city. God rescued Lot and his family, and the cities were destroyed in a fiery hailstorm. I believe God is saying that he would not have spared Lot's family if they had been living in Jerusalem in Ezekiel's day, for Lot's wife certainly did not trust in the Word of God (Genesis 19:26), and Lot himself would not have been righteous enough to spare his own life or Jerusalem's. Indeed, a while later, God calls Jerusalem Sodom's older (and more evil) sister, "As I live, declares the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it" (Ezekiel 16:48-50).

Do we presume upon God's kindness, forbearance and patience? Can you think of any nation that has pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, but does not aid the poor and needy? Do we defend the indefensible?

"Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations" (Ezekiel 14:6 ESV).

Friday, September 9, 2011

John 13: The Greatest Leader

Who is the greatest leader in the world today? What makes that person a great leader? Leadership has practically become an industry unto itself. Countless books and seminars teach the effective principles, and enrollment in degrees within leadership disciplines (e.g. MBA) has steadily grown.

How would the greatest leader communicate his authority? With commanding presence? Eloquent speech? Amassing great wealth?

Consider the actions of the Jesus:
He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:4-5 ESV)
This is the least likely action anyone would expect a leader to perform. Peter confirms this, "Lord, do you wash my feet?" (John 13:6). Why would Jesus do a slave's job? He is not asserting his authority through his actions, but rather makes himself lower than his disciples.

After he finishes, Jesus explains his actions:

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. (John 13:12-16 ESV)
If you want to be a great leader--if you want to be like Jesus Christ, then throw out everything you know about leadership and follow his example: grab a towel and wash someone's feet. You cannot be a great leader and ignore the example and command of the Lord, for you are not above him. He is clear and consistent in teaching that a leader makes himself the least and becomes a servant (Mark 9:35).

If this was not the model of leadership, we would have no hope of salvation. Even though Jesus was teaching his disciples humility and love by physically washing his disciples' feet, he was also pointing to his death. We receive a greater washing by an even greater act of humility. Jesus was on his way to the cross, and his greatest act of humility was going to wash our souls with his blood. Jesus came as the Lamb. Had he come as King of the Jungle, we would all have been devoured.

A good leader loves. A great leader loves sacrificially. Jesus builds on his object lesson at the Last Supper by summarizing:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35 ESV)
Jesus Christ loved, served, and sacrificed, and if you would be a great leader, you will go and do likewise.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16 ESV)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sin and Sacrifice: Part 3

To conclude the series on sacrifice (see Part 1 and Part 2), we turn our eyes to Christ to find the perfect fulfillment of God's sacrificial system. The reason God gave us sacrifice was to show mercy and forgiveness (Genesis 3:21, Hebrews 9:22) and draw us back into a relationship with him (Exodus 20:22-26). But we took God's gift and corrupted it. Sadly, man turned sacrifice into his own image instead of recognizing the justice and mercy of God and worshiping him for his grace.

The two purposes previously given for sacrifice are incomplete (and will probably remain so), for animal sacrifice was not the totality of God's plan. Sacrifice was to accomplish two other goals, and Hebrews 10 explains those purposes:
  • God was laying the foundation and pointing to a future, greater fulfillment of his plan
  • God created the system through which his Son would offer salvation to the world
A Shadow of the Good Things to Come
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1-4 ESV)
The author tells us that it is not the blood itself that takes away sins, even though a chapter before he tells us that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. God wanted people, as they sacrificed animals year after year, to ask what the point of it was and to see that there is something more, something better coming. For a Hebrew, this would be the object of their faith: trust in something greater--complete trust in God and his plan for redemption. Even though they didn't know Jesus Christ, they put their trust in him when they had faith in the God's total plan through history. For those with the benefit of history and the New Testament, we know that Jesus is the perfect sacrifice and the final installment of God's plan (Hebrews 10:14).

Behold, I Have Come to Do Your Will

Sense the divine irony of this whole setup. The Son of God is crucified under the system that Father designed to save his creation. In sending his Son to the cross, Jesus had to perform a supreme act of obedience to the Father, and our failure to obedience ushered in this sacrificial system. 

The problem we explored yesterday showed that people approached sacrifice backwards. They used it as license for sin, trusting in the ritual instead of God. God wants obedience instead of sacrifice. We see that Jesus is the fulfillment of obedience, especially obedience by sacrifice (Phil 2:8):
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” (Hebrews 10:5-7 ESV)
So in Christ we have the sacrifice, and our obedience is found in him. As we trust in God's Son as our Savior, the Sacrificial Lamb, he becomes our obedience before God. In him we have sacrifice and obedience; he fulfills all things (Hebrews 10:17-18)--his sacrifice was effective. So now the blood takes away sins. It's the blood of the only begotten Son.

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sin and Sacrifice: Part 2

God instituted sacrifice as a means of grace from the very beginning (explored in Part 1). In it he shows that he is good and forgiving (Ps 86:5), merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Ps 103:8). It appears that atonement comes through sacrifice (Heb 9:22), and God desires a renewed relationship through its practice.

In the course of history, it doesn't take long for people to take this institution and twist it for their own selfish purposes. Without exploring each instance here, we can see how the evil that necessitated sacrifice became infected with evil:
  1. Cain presumed upon God's blessing (Gen 4:5-7)
  2. Pagan nations substituted with their own depraved rituals (Lev 20:2)
  3. All peoples eventually treat sacrifice superstitiously (1 Kings 18:26)
  4. God's covenant people devolved into syncretism (Eze 8:6, Hos 6:6)
It's tragically common to take a gift from God and treat it with contempt. All this corruption stems from disconnecting the ritual from its Giver. There are varying degrees of separation, but the further removed from the Source, the more perverted the practices.

1 Samuel 15 gives an account of Saul trying to manipulate God and his prophet Samuel through the sacrificial system. Saul was only interested in his own greed and glory, and pretended that his disobedience was meant to bless God. Samuel is not fooled and exclaims:
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
he has also rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23 ESV)
Saul disobeyed God's direct command, and when he was caught, he tried to shift blame, cover his tracks, and justify himself (1 Sam 15:15, 1 Sam 15:20-21, 1 Sam 15:24-25, 1 Sam 15:30). God's message was that Saul should not have disobeyed in the first place; God would not forgive Saul's premeditated sin simply because he performed a ritual. Saul may have even sinned with the intention that he could seek forgiveness at a later time. To Saul, God is Aladdin's genie and the sacrifice of burnt offerings is his lamp.

This would not be the last time Israel used the burnt offering as license to sin. Until the exile, it become more commonplace to trust in God's rituals (Hos 6:6) rather than God himself despite warnings from David and Solomon:
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar. (Psalm 51:16-19 ESV)
To do righteousness and justice
is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. (Proverbs 21:3 ESV)
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination;
how much more when he brings it with evil intent. (Proverbs 21:27 ESV)
Finally, despite the exile, Israel's hardness of heart never changed. Jesus chastises the religious leaders of his day for exactly the same heart: Matthew 9:13, Matthew 12:7. But in him we find our hope, our perfect sacrifice, and that will be the subject of tomorrow's post.
How do we presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sin and Sacrifice: Part 1

I am very excited; I received some of my first feedback and questions for the blog by someone who is not my wife! My responses to these questions will probably be the subject of the next few entries. 

The first topic covers Samuel's words in 1 Samuel 15:22-23, where it seems like Samuel is placing the concepts of sacrifice and obedience in a comparative relationship. There is truth to this, for we have sacrifice because of our lack of obedience. Would it not be better to obey in the first place? So at first glance it appears that both obedience and sacrifice are good things (and they are), but that obedience is a greater good than sacrifice (which it is). But we need not stop there, and that wasn't quite the point Samuel was making to Saul in 1 Samuel 15.

This short series on sin and sacrifice will be an opportunity to add a dimension of depth to one point I made in one long post.

The Origins of Sacrifice

Today's post will look at the reason sacrifice is required. Beginning with Genesis 3, God shows us a picture of his pattern for justice and mercy. After Adam and Eve disobey God's single command, they deserve wrath, condemnation and death from their Maker (Gen 2:16-17). While death does enter the picture of history (Gen 3:19), God mercifully delays their punishment and sacrifices an animal to simultaneously cover their naked bodies and their naked souls (Gen 3:21). One way to know that sacrifice was the pattern that God established is that the practice is carried out by the next generation. Cain and Abel know that they must sacrifice to the Lord, and this sacrifice establishes their relationship before the Lord (Gen 4:3-5). After exiting the ark, Noah sacrificed some of every clean animal he had brought on the ark (Gen 8:20-21). Mankind knows of sacrifice and its meaning from the beginning even though the Mosaic sacrificial system had not been given yet. Most readers of the Bible know at the very least that God instituted some kind of system of sacrifice through Moses and that stayed with Israel through the time of Christ.

The Reasons for Sacrifice

Based on its origin, it appears that sacrifice acts as an atonement for sin. God did not take the life of Adam and Eve because he took the life of an animal instead. A proper sacrifice seems to reconcile a person to God. Even the New Testament points to this purpose of sacrifice (a hint for those who struggle to understand the Old Testament: read the New Testament as it offers an inspired exposition of the Old Testament): "Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb 9:22). There is more depth behind the idea of blood and sacrifice, but for now this understanding will be sufficient.

Another theme of sacrifice in the Old Testament is to remember the grace of God. It was God's grace that spared Adam and Eve instant death, and their animal skin clothing should have been a daily reminder of what God had done for them. Similarly, when God brought Israel out of Egypt and gave them the Law at Sinai, he reminds them of his gracious acts first, then mentions sacrifice immediately after he gives them the Ten Commandments:
And the LORD said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven. You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it. And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it.’ (Exodus 20:22-26 ESV)
God shows his people the real purpose of the sacrifice: to cause his name to be remembered. The sacrifices were supposed to be a constant reminder of the goodness of God, the commitment of his covenant, and a renewal of a relationship with God. Blood was not a magic potion. Sacrifices were supposed to be a reminder of God's faithfulness and a call to faith in him. They were to be performed under the belief that God's Word is true--from his word that sacrifice atones for sin to his commands of holiness in our lives.

The Sacrifice of Belief

Human have a tendency to twist anything religious into legalism and superstition. This could be seen in the perversion of the sacrificial system by the Canaanites as Israel settled into the promised land. It also crept into the practices of the Israelites as they headed toward exile. A deeper look at this fall will be the subject of tomorrow's post.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Free Slave

Every one of us is a slave to something, but that slavery protects us, or "frees" us from its antithesis.

Romans 6 is very explicit about this contrast.
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18 ESV)
You were a slave to sin, then you were born again, and now you're a slave of righteousness. This is an exclusive proposition; you cannot be under the yoke of both sin and righteousness. Jesus teaches this truth in the Sermon on the Mount.
 “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)
Many (myself on too many occasions) try to live under righteousness, but also seek the desires of the world. Paul says you cannot do that, you have been set free from sin. In Galatians, Paul says, "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Gal 5:1). We're trying to walk back to our old master. Doesn't that sound like Israel as they left Egypt? (Numbers 11:4-6, Numbers 14:2) We are just as ridiculous when trying to put back on the yoke of the flesh.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:13-17 ESV)
Sin and righteousness, the flesh and the Spirit, freedom and slavery--these are all institutions that every person lives under. The interesting part is that not only are we a slave to one of them, but we are free from the other. As mentioned previously, if we are slaves to righteousness, we are free from sin. We are not required to sin; we can escape sin's clutches by the power of the Spirit. It works the other way around too. If you are a slave to sin, you are free from righteousness. Indeed, you cannot do right. (Isaiah 64:6, Psalm 14:1-3, Romans 3:23)

If you are free from righteousness, then the shocking truth is that you are also free from the grace God gives the righteous.
I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 34:17)
What a horrible freedom. But we need not remain there. Jesus sets the captives free. Be truly free, be a slave of Christ (John 8:36). Jesus paid the ultimate price, his own life, to set you free, "For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men" (1 Cor 7:22-23).

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21 ESV)
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Book Review: The Child's Book on Repentance

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.

Stop whatever you're doing to read Thomas Gallaudet's little book, The Child's Book on Repentance. Rev. Gallaudet was a Puritan writer, so a beautiful thing about this book is that it's in the public domain. One place to read the book for free is at Google Books [book it here], which works in your browser as well as many other devices.

He hints at this in his subtitle, but the title could really drop the word 'Child'. I do not think most Christian adults understand the true fullness of repentance. Repentance is intimately linked to belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ [Matt 4:17, Mark 1:15, Luke 13:5, Acts 2:38]. You have not actually believed anything Jesus has said unless you've repented.

The first half of the book is devoted to showing types of false repentance. Too many fool themselves with insincere religion--there is no real change of heart--and a person's type of repentance is a good measuring stick to test the genuineness of their faith. Most types of false repentance revolve around selfishness with an appearance of repentance, but the true motive is simply to pursue personal benefit or escape punishment (sometimes only temporarily).

The book improves as it progresses, and the last four chapters are fantastic. Gallaudet shows how true repentance is seen by a mourning over sin since it's against a holy and perfect God, a heart of consistent repentance, a trust in Jesus Christ as Savior as the hope for repentance and the Holy Spirit as the means of repentance. The whole concept is wrapped up exactly where it belongs--in the gospel. You cannot have the gospel without repentance, and you cannot have repentance without the gospel.

You'll adapt to the language after a couple of chapters, and it should really start speaking to you. It's a short book, but it's profound. Get this book and read it to your family. If you're a pastor, buy a copy of the book for every member in your congregation, and exhort them to read it.