Tag Archives: God Centered

Bethlehem’s Supernatural Star

From Solid Joys by John Piper

“Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2)

Over and over the Bible baffles our curiosity about just how certain things happened. How did this “star” get the magi from the east to Jerusalem?

It does not say that it led them or went before them. It only says they saw a star in the east (verse 2), and came to Jerusalem. And how did that star go before them in the little five-mile walk from Jerusalem to Bethlehem as verse 9 says it did? And how did a star stand “over the place where the Child was”?

The answer is: We do not know. There are numerous efforts to explain it in terms of conjunctions of planets or comets or supernovas or miraculous lights. We just don’t know. And I want to exhort you not to become preoccupied with developing theories that are only tentative in the end and have very little spiritual significance.

I risk a generalization to warn you: People who are exercised and preoccupied with such things as how the star worked and how the Red Sea split and how the manna fell and how Jonah survived the fish and how the moon turns to blood are generally people who have what I call a mentality for the marginal. You do not see in them a deep cherishing of the great central things of the gospel — the holiness of God, the ugliness of sin, the helplessness of man, the death of Christ, justification by faith alone, the sanctifying work of the Spirit, the glory of Christ’s return, and the final judgment. They always seem to be taking you down a sidetrack with a new article or book. There is little centered rejoicing.

But what is plain concerning this matter of the star is that it is doing something that it cannot do on its own: It is guiding magi to the Son of God to worship him.

There is only one Person in biblical thinking that can be behind that intentionality in the stars — God himself.

So the lesson is plain: God is guiding foreigners to Christ to worship him. And he is doing it by exerting global — probably even universal — influence and power to get it done.

Luke shows God influencing the entire Roman Empire so that the census comes at the exact time to get a virgin to Bethlehem to fulfill prophecy with her delivery. Matthew shows God influencing the stars in the sky to get foreign magi to Bethlehem so that they can worship him.

This is God’s design. He did it then. He is still doing it now. His aim is that the nations — all the nations (Matthew 24:14) — worship his Son.

This is God’s will for everybody in your office at work, and in your neighborhood and in your home. As John 4:23 says, “Such the Father seeks to worship him.”

At the beginning of Matthew we still have a “come-see” pattern. But at the end the pattern is “go-tell.” The magi came and saw. We are to go and tell.

But what is not different is that the purpose of God is the ingathering of the nations to worship his Son. The magnifying of Christ in the white-hot worship of all nations is the reason the world exists.

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Marked by the Almighty

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.
Whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him. (Exodus 34:29–35 ESV)

God instructs Moses to cut two stone tablets (like the first ones that he broke) and to bring them up the mountain (Exodus 34:1) for their second face to face meeting.  The people feared God and appointed Moses as their mediator (Exodus 20:19).  Once Moses had climbed the mountain, the Lord descended from heaven and passed before him and revealed his majesty and glory to Moses (34:5-7).  The result?  Moses bowed his head and interceded on behalf of himself and the people (v8-9).  Moses worshiped and pled for mercy.  Being in the presence of the Almighty always brings a sense of awe, reverence and personal smallness.

Interestingly, when Moses descended from the mountain with the tablets, he was glowing.  His face literally shone with the glory of God.  It caused the people to be fearful so he wore a veil over his face.  He would remove the veil when he met with God and he would replace it when he met with the people.  The glory of the Lord was too much for them.  Moses had been marked by the Almighty.  His experience with God marked him – spiritually, emotionally & physically.

Being in the presence of the sovereign God of the universe always marks us – it leaves us changed, transformed.  Think about Isaiah’s experience with God in Isaiah 6.  Think about Psalm 73 where the psalmist wrestles with the prosperity & blessing of the wicked.  He wrestled with what he saw, “but when he thought how to understand this, it seemed to him a wearisome task, until he went into the sanctuary of God; then he discerned their end” (Psalms 73:16–17 ESV).  Though the psalmist wrestled with real world questions, he was marked by meeting God in His sanctuary and, as a result, his perspective changed.  David is another example.  In psalm 51:1-12, David is wrestling with his sin and being laid bare before a perfectly holy God.  Something interesting happens in verse 13, though – David is so marked by the forgiveness that he has received that he vows to “teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you” (Psalms 51:13 ESV).  David had been so marked by the forgiveness of God that it changed him to the core.  When Job encountered the Almighty face to face, he proclaimed “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” Job 42:5.

The same was true of Peter and John when they were gathered before the elders in Jerusalem.  Luke tells us, “now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 ESV).  They were filled with the Spirit (4:8) and His presence marked them, transformed them and empowered them.

Let us goto out bibles intent on seeing God. Let us not search for trite formulas to make our lives work better in order to cope with living in this fallen world; let us not primarily focus on what we must do until we have spent plenty of time focusing on who He is and what He has done to forgive us, save us and adopt us into His family.  Let us seek to see Him and beg him to show us His glory.  We far too often approach the bible as a way to fix our problems, rather than a story that reveals a powerful, just, merciful God that redeems a rebellious people.  How we read our bibles matters.  Lord, help us to see you and savor you as supreme.  Help us to believe that “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalms 16:11 ESV).

 

John Owen on Romans

John Owen writes in the Introduction to Calvin’s Commentary on Romans:

“We have set before us in this Epistle especially two things, which it behoves us all rightly to understand — the righteousness of man and the righteousness of God — merit and grace, or salvation by works and salvation by faith. The light in which they are exhibited here is clearer and brighter than what we find in any other portion of Scripture, with the exception, perhaps, of the Epistle to the Galatians. Hence the great value which has in every age been attached to this Epistle by all really enlightened Christians; and hence also the strenuous efforts which have often been made to darken and wrest its meaning by men, though acute and learned, yet destitute of spiritual light. But let not the simple Christian conclude from the contrariety that is often found in the expositions on these two points, that there is no certainty in what is taught respecting them. There are no contrary views given of them by spiritually-minded men. Though on other subjects discussed here, such men have had their differences, yet on these they have ever been found unanimous: that salvation is from first to last by grace, and not by works, has ever been the conviction of really enlightened men in every age, however their opinion may have varied in other respects. It may seem very strange, when we consider the plain and decisive language, especially of this Epistle, and the clear and conclusive reasoning which it exhibits, that any attempt should ever be made by a reasonable being, acknowledging the authority of Scripture, to pervert what it plainly teaches, and to evade what it clearly proves. But a right view of what human nature is, when unrenewed, as exhibited in God’s Word, and as proved by history and made evident by observation, enables us fully to account for what would otherwise remain an enigma. No truth is more fully confirmed by facts (and it ought ever to be remembered) than that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God,” and that he “cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” This declaration clearly accounts for the fact, that men of great learning have often misunderstood many things in Scripture, and such things as are plain enough even to the unlettered when spiritually enlightened. The learned Scribes and Rabbins were blind leaders of the blind, when even babes understood the mysteries of the kingdom of God: and no better then the Scribes are many learned men, professing Christianity, in our day.

There is indeed a special reason why, on these points, unenlightened men should contrive means to evade the obvious meaning of Scripture; for they are such things as come in constant contact with a principle, the strongest that belongs to human nature in its fallen state. Other doctrines may be held as speculations, and kept, as it were, at a distance; but when we come to merit and grace, to work and faith, man’s pride is touched; and as long as under he is its prevailing influence, he will be certain, in some way or another, direct or evasive, to support merit in opposition to grace, or works in opposition to faith. When the authority of tradition supplanted the authority of Scripture, the doctrine of merit so prevailed, that the preposterous idea, that merits were a salable and a transferable commodity, gained ground in the world. A notion of this kind is too gross and absurd to be entertained by any who acknowledge God’s Word as the only umpire in religion; and yet what is not essentially different has often been maintained; for to say that salvation is partly by faith and partly by works, is really the same thing, inasmuch as the principle of merit is thereby admitted. Man naturally cleaves to his own righteousness; all those who are ignorant are self-righteous, and all the learned who understand not the gospel; and it is wonderful what ingenious evasions and learned subtleties men will have recourse to in order to resist the plain testimony of Scripture. When they cannot maintain their ground as advocates of salvation alone by merits, they will attempt to maintain it as advocates of a system, which allows a part to grace and a part to works — an amalgamation which Paul expressly repudiates, Romans 11:6.

But it is remarkable how the innate disposition of man has displayed itself in this respect. Conscious, as it were, in some measure of moral imperfections, he has been striving for the most part to merit his salvation by ceremonial works. This has been the case in all ages with heathens: their scarifies, austerities, and mechanical devotions were their merits; they were the works by which they expected to obtain happiness. God favored the people of Israel with the rituals of religion, which were designed merely as aids and means to attain and preserve true religion; but they converted them to another purpose, and, like the heathens, regarded them as meritorious performances, and expected God’s acceptance for the very religious acts which they exercised: and in order to make up, as it were, a sufficient quantity of merit, they made additions to those services which God had appointed, as though to multiply acts of this kind was to render their salvation more certain. The very same evil crept early into the Christian Church, and still continues to exist. The accumulation of ceremonies is of itself a sufficient proof, that salvation by faith was in a great measure lost sight of: we want no other evidence; it is what has been ever done whenever the light of truth has become dim and obscure. We see the same evil in the present day. Outward privileges and outward acts of worship are in effect too often substituted for that grace which changes the heart, and for that living faith which unites us to the Savior, which works by love and overcomes the world. The very disposition to over-value external privileges and the mere performances of religious duties, is an unequivocal evidence, that salvation by faith is not understood, or very imperfectly understood, and not really embraced.

The only remedy, as means for this evil, is that which we find employed by Paul in this Epistle. He begins by showing what every man, Jew and Gentile, is by nature; he proves by the clearest evidence, that all have sinned and become guilty before God. And having done this, he discloses the way of salvation which God himself has planned and revealed; and he teaches us, that it is altogether by grace and through faith that we can be saved, and not by works. In order cordially to embrace this latter truth, it is necessary to know the first, that we are sinners under condemnation. It is impossible, according to the very constitution of man’s mind, that he should really and truly accede to the one, without a real and deep knowledge of the other. The whole need not a physician, but the sick. It is only he who is really convinced of sin and who feels its guilt and its burden intolerable, that ever will, or indeed ever can, really lay hold on that free salvation which God has provided. And when this free salvation is really known, all other things compared with it will be deemed as nothing; and then all outward privileges will be viewed only as means, and all outward acts of religion only as aids and helps; and then also all our works, however great and self-denying, will be regarded in no way meritorious, but imperfect and defective, and acceptable only through the merits of our High Priest at God’s right hand.

-John Owen

Wisdom Worships in Wonder

There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.
When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.
(Ecclesiastes 8:14–17 ESV)

It is frustrating and meaningless that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Let us not attempt to over spiritualize or sugar coat the reality that those who walk in open to rebellion to their Creator often times receive apparent blessings while those who seek to walk uprightly in humble dependence upon their God seem to have profoundly difficult circumstances that they must endure. There is no apparent reward for walking uprightly. Ah, but there lies the rub that reveals our hearts! Should we walk uprightly just to be rewarded or because the Creator calls us to and we long to walk in obedience? One is birthed out of wanting something, the other is out of wanting Someone. Choose the latter.

If God grants satisfaction and joy in the simple pleasures such as good food, drink and a few people to walk through this life with then be grateful. These pleasures, along with a degree of satisfaction in our work are nothing short of simple graces that the Almighty bestows upon His creations due to His goodness.

Solomon concedes that there is so much mystery that we will never find out. This mystery should point us to the Creator, but often times we double down and resolve to figure things out. Should we investigate, think, study, invent, create, etc? Of course, when we do so we reflect God’s glory as His image bearers! But the more that we make advances, the more we should realize the vastness of God’s creation and how little that we know and understand. This is rarely the case for we praise ourselves for new inventions or discoveries – as we should – but the praise terminates upon us. Our worship was designed to point to Someone greater. When we let our worship terminate upon created things instead of flowing through to the Creator of all things, we stunt our worship and become less human than we were designed to be. The more we know, the more we should see how little we really know, which should lead us to worship God more fully and deeply. It does not matter how hard we resolve and try, there are things that are God’s and we will never understand, know or have the capacity to comprehend. True wisdom knows when to worship in wonder; true wisdom knows when to stop and be amazed at God’s vastness and beauty. This should amaze us because this infinite, all powerful Creator determined to limit Himself by clothing Himself in flesh to rescue rebellious people like you and me.

Jesus, the New Israel

“Jesus is not merely the new Adam, however; he is also the true son of Abraham (Matt. 1:1) and therefore the true Israel. The genealogy in Matthew 1 flags that fact for you: it plots fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile, and fourteen from the exile to Christ. Then, in the opening chapters of his gospel, Matthew shows Jesus personally reenacting Israel’s story. In Matthew 2:13–15, like the young Israel, the young Jesus goes down into Egypt, brought there by a man named Joseph. Like the Israel of Moses’ generation, Jesus survives the attempts of a hostile king to slaughter all the infant boys (2:16). In fact, Matthew explicitly cites Hosea 11 to illustrate the parallel: in Jesus, God is once again bringing his firstborn out of Egypt (Matt. 2:15).

After leaving Egypt, Israel next crossed the Red Sea, a deeply symbolic moment of salvation (for the Israelites) and judgment (for the Egyptians) involving passing through water. For Jesus, Matthew immediately focuses on his baptism, a symbol of salvation through figurative burial and resurrection in water (Rom. 6:4). John the Baptist was puzzled by Jesus’ desire for baptism, since he thought of baptism as an act of repentance and confession of sin (Matt. 3:6). On those terms, John the Baptist needed to be baptized by Jesus instead. Yet Jesus nonetheless submitted to baptism not for his own sins, but for ours. For him, baptism was an act of identification with us, a symbolic foreshadowing of the baptism of fire that was yet to come, when he would bear the judgment curse for all his people at the cross (Luke 12:50). This would be the means whereby Jesus would accomplish the exodus of his people (Luke 9:31).12

After the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, they spent the next forty years being tested in the wilderness. Likewise Jesus’ baptism was followed by forty days and nights of testing in the wilderness. Even the form of Jesus’ temptations echoed the wilderness temptations of the Israelites. They were starving and grumbled against God because there was no bread (Ex. 16:2–3). So too Satan said to Jesus, who was hungry from his fasting, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matt. 4:3). Instead of grumbling, Jesus replied, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:3). Next the Israelites were thirsty and doubted that the Lord was really with them, putting the Lord to the test at Massah (Ex. 17:1–7). Satan next took Jesus up to the pinnacle of the temple and dared him to throw himself down, tempting Jesus to prove the Lord’s presence with him by forcing God to deliver him. In response, Jesus said, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test” (Deut. 6:16). In the wilderness, the Israelites made for themselves a golden calf and bowed down to it in worship, just as the Devil wanted Jesus to worship him in the third temptation. Yet Jesus replied, “Worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matt. 4:10, quoting the substance of Deut. 6:13). Israel faced three tests in the wilderness and failed three times. Jesus faced the same three tests in the wilderness and passed all three with flying colors. Jesus was personally reenacting the history of Israel, only in reverse, succeeding where Israel had failed.

The crucial significance of this reenactment of Israel’s history lies in the covenant that God had made with the Israelites at Sinai, which depended on their obedience for blessing. From the beginning, Israel constantly failed to keep God’s law. This was no surprise to God; even in the days of Moses he had told the Israelites that they would fail to keep the law and would end up in exile (Deut. 30:1). The law was never given to the people of Israel to provide them with a means of attaining blessing through their righteousness. The goal (telos) of the law was always Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:4). As the new Israel, Jesus personally fulfilled the law for the sake of all who are in him. His perfect righteousness as one born under the law is now given to all who are his people by faith, so that our salvation might be through faith, not works (Rom. 10:9–10). Or, more precisely, our salvation comes not through our works, but rather through the works of another, credited to our account.

This is the significance of what theologians call the active obedience of Christ: as our covenant representative, he has obeyed the full scope of the demands of God’s law given at Sinai, thereby meriting the promised covenant blessing of life forever in God’s presence. Jesus Christ didn’t simply come to earth to take away our sins. If that had been his purpose he could have proceeded immediately to the cross. Instead, he came to share our human experience to the full and to do so perfectly, completely without sin, so that he could replace our defiled garments with his own pure, clean garments of righteousness (as depicted in Zech. 3).

This incarnation of the people Israel in a faithful individual is anticipated in the Old Testament in Isaiah’s servant of the Lord. Isaiah proclaimed that this servant would accomplish the things that were earlier attributed to the Messiah, bringing justice and light to the Gentiles (compare Isa. 42:1 with 11:2–4 and 49:6 with 9:2–6). But is this servant the nation of Israel, as seems to be the case in Isaiah 41:8–9 and 43:10? Or is he an individual distinct from the nation, as in Isaiah 49:5–6? The answer is that there is a crucial shift in the identity of the servant in Isaiah 49. Between chapters 40–48, the figure of the servant represents the nation of Israel. The people once rejected by the Lord because of their sins and sent into captivity in Babylon will be redeemed by the Lord and brought back to their land. Their hard service is over, and their sins have been paid for. Now they are called to bring justice to the nations (42:1–4). Yet the historical Israel that returned from exile was far from the ideal presented in this verse. The people were discouraged and disorganized, unequipped to answer the call.

In Isaiah 49, however, we meet a servant who both is himself Israel (v. 3) and yet at the same time has a mission to Israel (v. 5). Israel’s failed ministry to bring light and justice to the nations is now taken up by the servant in her place. Unlike Israel, which was disobedient and suffered for her own sins, complaining that the Lord had abandoned her, this servant would be obedient, suffering in silence for Israel’s sins, and looking forward in hope to his final vindication (Isa. 53). Who is this mysterious servant? Is the prophet speaking of himself or of someone else? The Ethiopian eunuch asked this very question of Philip in Acts 8, and Philip responded by telling him the good news about Jesus. Jesus is the personification of Israel, who takes on himself the suffering that Israel’s sins deserve and fulfills Israel’s neglected calling to be a light to the Gentiles, uniting in himself the two halves of the servant’s mission described by Isaiah.”

Duguid, Iain M. (2013-02-04). Is Jesus in the Old Testament? (Basics of the Faith) (Kindle Locations 393-447). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.

The Gospel Centered Life at Work

IdolsThe Gospel-Centered Life at Work is a great resource to help us keep the gospel in focus as we go about the work that God has set before us.  Work was not part of the fall, it existed before the fall.  The toil in our work was a consequence of the fall.  Through the gospel, God is redeeming our work to push back darkness and provide order in a broken world.  God uses our work to reveal our hearts, reflect His image in the world, and reveal deep idols in our lives that we run to for fulfillment.  In this study, you will see how we tend to gravitate towards a performance based or pretense based outlook on our work.  The study helps us to learn what a gospel centered response looks like.  This study provides a comprehensive, gospel centered approach to our work that is practical, accessible and faithful to Scripture.

Image adapted from The Gospel-Centered Life at Work © 2014 by Robert Alexander. Used by permission of New Growth Press. Excerpt may not be reproduced without the express written permission of New Growth Press. To purchase this and other helpful resources, please visit www.newgrowthpress.com.

The Providence of God

he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.” (John 4:3–5 ESV)

Seven words form a short sentence that we often read right over in order to get to the “real story.” When we do so, we miss a beautiful truth that will stir our affections for the Almighty.  Jesus did not physically “have” to travel through Samaria.  It was the most direct route between Judea and Galilee, but no respectable Jew would travel that route.  Devout Jews would go around Samaria by crossing the Jordan and going up the east side in order to avoid becoming unclean or defiled by coming in contact with a Samaritan.

The Samaritans were a people that resulted from the intermarrying between Jews and people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva and Hamath that the king of Assyria brought in to settle the region (2 Kings 17:24–31). The Samaritans had their own version of the Pentateuch and worshiped on Mount Gerizim instead of in Jerusalem.  They were half breeds that were despised by both the Jews and the Gentiles.  They didn’t fit in anywhere, they were alone.

Jesus had to pass through Samaria because of the providential call of God.  The Greek word used here (see also John: 3:7, 14, 30; 9:4; 10:16; 12:34; 20:9) means that it was necessary, it was a divine mandate or requirement – it was part of God’s plan.  He had to travel through a land that would make Him unclean, but one of the beautiful realities of the messiah is that He cannot be made unclean by interacting with defiled people.  Quite the opposite, He makes dirty people clean.  Religious Jews would go around this region.  Religion always blinds us and makes us self righteous and avoidant of those we deem to be unworthy – as if we are worthy because of our own doing (1 Corinthians 4:7).

We must ask the question, “why?”  Why did Jesus have to go through Samaria?  Why did God’s providence lead Him there?  Could it be that He is showing us that no one is too unreachable, too unworthy or too unclean?  Could it be that He was demonstrating that the gospel is for all ethnicities, genders, socio economic classes and moral type of people?  Jesus had to go through Samaria because He came to seek and save His lost sheep and apparently there were quite a number of lost sheep in Samaria because many of them believed (John 4:39-43).

The Samaritans asked Him to stay two extra days and He obliged them – I can only imagine what the disciples were thinking!  Many believed in Jesus based upon the woman’s testimony alone.  Jesus stays with a group of outcasts two extra days! Jesus loves those who are unloveable by the world’s standards.  We often times seek to be loveable – that is to bring something of merit before the Almighty – instead of resting in the love that He has for us.

These unclean, outcasts profess Jesus as the Savior of the World.  He is not only the Savior of the Jews, but the Savior of the world.  He saves all people – from every nation, tribe and tongue!  First to the Jews (Nicodemus in John 3:1-15), then to the Samaritans (John 4:1-42) and then to the Gentiles (the official at Capernaum in John 4:46-54). This is the mission of the church.

What does this providential appointment mean to us today?  The Word, Creator, Almighty condescends Himself to a defiled, unclean, unholy place & people in order to redeem.  The Creator serving the created is backwards, but that is what it took to undo the effects of the fall (John 4:30-34, Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28).  God providentially invades the world of His lost sheep.  God’s redemption means that He makes lost sheep forgiven, acceptable, clean and holy. He makes unclean outcasts clean.  He makes clean people holy.  He makes us family.  In God’s kingdom, the unwanted outcasts are welcomed with open arms.  Jesus’ good words of forgiveness & redemption are only spoken to those who feel unworthy, alone and dirty because  good people see no need for grace.  The grace of God has adopted you and made you His son – perfectly acceptable.  You are no longer on the outside looking in and this was done because He “had to” go through Samaria and He “had to” come to you.  You didn’t seek Him, He sought you.  You were lost and He found you, redeemed you and adopted you according to His plan which He determined before He breathed a star into the heavens.

The Anatomy of Sin

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house.”  (2 Samuel 11:1–4 ESV)

David had defeated the Syrians and was now concentrating on Rabbah.  Something is wrong, though.  Kings normally go out to battle, but David stayed back.  David was enjoying leisure (he arose from his couch) while his men were out fighting.  The sin started long before Bathsheba.  He should have been out with his men, leading them in battle.  Idle hands are dangerous.  We were not built for idleness, we were built for work (Genesis 2:15).  To be idle is to be disobedient.  This, of course, does not mean healthy rest, but far too many men are content to be bored and idle in life.

During David’s idleness, he saw a beautiful woman bathing on her roof after her menstrual period.  David knew that she was married to Uriah the Hittite, but summoned Bathsheba anyway.  It is doubtful that he made his intentions clear to her because he sent messengers (plural).   He probably disguised it in concern for her wellbeing and for her family.  That was not the case, of course, the lust of David’s heart – despite having multiple wives to fulfill his sexual desires – ruled the day and he took Bathsheba and they had intercourse.  She became pregnant.

So what happened here?  What drove this offense?  It  did not start with adultery, it started with coveting.  David wanted that which was not his.  It started by breaking the 10th commandment (Exodus 20:17), which led to breaking the 7th (Exodus 20:14), which ultimately led to breaking the 6th (Exodus 20:13).  Sin ALWAYS STARTS IN THE HEART.  Sin says, “God is not good and that He is depriving us of something good because He is oppressive. It elevates us above God – determining right from wrong in our own eyes.  It puts us in a place where we believe that we have a clear view and absolute perspective.  We don’t.  Sin always uses created things to tempt us.  That is what Satan used in the garden to tempt Adam & Eve – a created thing.  External strategies like bouncing eyes, porn filters and accountability are all good things, but they are powerless to free the heart from the grip of sin.

Jesus came to set you free; a life that is free from sexually acting out but is still ruled by lust is not free.  Whatever we stare at and ascribe ultimate worth to is the object of our real affection.  When you worship sex, you will be ruled by lust.  The answer is to see Jesus as the risen and reigning Lord and that knowing Him is far superior to any lesser desires.  Lord, give us eyes to see and ears to hear.

Thoughts from Jude (part 1)

“To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.” (Jude 1:1–2 ESV)

Jude writes to those who are called – “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30 ESV).  Don’t miss the string here – or elsewhere in scripture – there are no human fingerprints on it!  God called us to be His BELOVED (those are familial words) and He will KEEP US in Christ Jesus.  He predestines, He calls, He justifies, He keeps & He glorifies.  We are along for the ride as we ACTIVELY contend for the faith.

“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 1:4 ESV)

Ungodly people had crept in and perverted the truth.  These were designated for destruction – they did not catch God off guard and they did not cause God to have to figure out what He was going to do!  They were unnoticed because they acted like Christians, but were not.  They talked it, but did not walk it.  They perverted grace and made it cheap grace, which is no grace at all.  Cheap grace always produces license – sensuality.  They ultimately denied Christ by their actions and unwillingness to submit to His commands and obey Him.  We may be able to talk a good talk, quote bible verses, walk aisles & pray prayers, but ultimately if we are not willing to walk in joyful obedience to Christ and submit to Him then we prove ourselves to be on shifting sand.  This is perhaps the greatest risk in our modern evangelical churches.  We don’t know what we believe, we don’t teach it and people have a very weak view of God and His grace.  God is nice, but He is not compelling.  Unless one has been deeply moved by the sovereign majesty of God, he will not understand the grace that has been given to him – He will not be moved to worship or obey.
  This is why Jude starts with God calling, God loving & God keeping.  Most in our midsts today would not deny Jesus explicitly, but deny Him by the way that they live.  He is not important to them, He is not the hub that their lives revolve around, He is not adored or served, He is just One of many gods in our lives.  This should scare us all!

“Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” (Jude 1:5 ESV)

Jesus saved a people out Egypt.  Wow, Jude is saying that Jesus is God!  Powerful.  Those who did not believe were destroyed in the desert – that should really scare us.  These were people that experienced the miraculous deliverance God had provided them from Egypt, His commands at Sinai and His ongoing deliverance and guidance.  And yet they did not believe and were destroyed for their unbelief.  Our battle is for belief!  Those who did not endure in belief did not see the Promised Land (1 Corinthians 10:5; Hebrews 3:16–19) – and neither will we unless we endure.  Judgement awaits those who persist in unbelief!

“Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.” (Jude 1:8–10 ESV)

These false teachers had come to rely on the subjectivity of their dreams instead of the objectivity of the scriptures.  Revelatory dreams still happen, but they should always be subjected to the authority of scripture. These people pollute the flesh and defy authority. They blaspheme the glorious One.

We do not know what Jude is referring to in verse 10, it has been lost in history. Won’t it be a glorious day when we can see more fully what we only see in part now!?  Michael understood his place in God’s created order so he did not tread on God’s authority. Lord, help us to learn from your authority!  Michael left the devil to God’s authority.

These false teachers operated on their instincts (like an animal) instead of on the authority of scripture.  We must subdue our instincts, feelings and sinful thoughts – they must be engaged by the grace of God and wrestled into submission by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  All that these people knew was how to follow their instincts and feelings regardless of whether they adhered to God’s moral decrees or not. This is dangerous – this is how people end up in the weeds and destroy their lives and the lives of others.

“Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.” (Jude 1:11–13 ESV)

These false teachers were motivated by coveting and greed because they were dissatisfied with the position that they currently occupied. He uses examples of Cain (Genesis 4:5-8), Balaam (Numbers 22:5-7, 2 Peter 2:15) and Korah (Numbers 16:1-3, 31-35). How often do we get derailed by being dissatisfied with where we are in life? We need believe that our deepest satisfaction in life is found in an abiding relationship with Jesus alone.  It is not found in the next accomplishment, relationship or position in life.

These false teachers are like hidden reefs because they are suffering no immediate consequences for their sinful behavior. This is sad! Like a ship sailing on the open water thinking that things are OK until they strike the reef just below the surface. These people live openly depraved lives and experience no consequences for their sinful behavior. They do what they want and are largely unchecked. Why is this? One can only speculate, but I wonder if this is because we don’t like conflict or because we feel like we are being ungracious by judging or confronting someone else?  It is not ungracious or unloving to confront people in their sin – it is what is required to help people see the light of day, though it is incredibly difficult!

Laws, rules & commands don’t produce love (1 John 2:7-11)

“Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:7–11 ESV)

John is not launching a new command, but reiterating the singular command of scripture:  Love God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and others (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:34-40).  The requirement of God has always been to love Him first and to obey Him as a reflection of our love for Him.  Our obedience was always supposed to flow out of our love for Him.  However, we learn through the whole of the Old Testament and from our personal lives that being commanded to love God is impossible for us to obey.  Laws, rules & commands don’t produce love.  Love must be shown, love must be demonstrated.  The Law modeled what loving behavior looked like, but was powerless to produce it on its own.  It was all pointing to One who would demonstrate perfect love by coming and living a perfectly obedient life of love on our behalf.

John also says that this command is new.  The command to wholeheartedly love God has now been fulfilled by Jesus.  God clothed Himself in the confines of human flesh, subjected Himself to a life on broken earth, was tempted in every way (but never sinned), was spit upon, ridiculed and murdered for His goodness – all for us.  He demonstrated perfect love for God and for us.  Who goes through what He went through for His enemies?  Who does that to make enemies family?  Our love for God is the natural byproduct of believing what Jesus has done on our behalf.  The more we meditate on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection on our behalf, the more we are moved by His demonstration of love for us.  His love marks us and produces a love for God that flows into a love for others.

It is impossible walk in the light and hate others.  But, how do we learn to love others?  We abide in Him, we revel in and behold the beautiful love that Jesus had for us – the most depraved, broken and rebellious of people.  In an abiding relationship with Jesus, there is no darkness.  If we have hatred for others, we are walking in darkness and are blinded by the darkness.  So if we feel hatred boiling up in us, do we just try harder to love Jesus and that person?  No.  We run to the foot of the cross, we behold Him and Who He is and what He has done.  We beg God to awaken our dead hearts to the redemptive beauty and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  We ask to see God’s majesty, holiness & glory more clearly and to understand our depravity more deeply.  These are the things that make love and grace something that no longer needs to be explained because they are now experienced.  When we know just how bad we really are and just how perfect & powerful He really is, we fall on our knees in worship because we know how unworthy we really are to be called His children.  This worship gives way to a love for others that is supernatural.