Tag Archives: Hope

The Futility of Created Things

“What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.” (Ecclesiastes 3:9–13 ESV)

What true gain does the worker have from his work? Provision? Yes. Accomplishment? Yes. True satisfaction? Not very often. The satisfaction of a job well down and the satiation that we seek escapes us; when we do feel it, it quickly fades. This is what life is like east of Eden. Work is no longer satisfying as it was intended to be; it is now wrought with thorns and thistles. Additionally, the business that God has given man seems meaningless in so many ways (Ecclesiastes 1:4-11). We get up, wipe the sleep out of our eyes, stumble into our days, do our work (which is often frustrating), return home, go to bed and do it all over again – there is a certain futility to it all. Our familial relationships are stunted; they are only whiffs of the glory that they should be. True friends and community are hard to find. This should cause lamenting in us for something that should be, something that once was, something that is now lost. But, it should produce hope as well, as we see God restoring and redeeming those things to their former glory (Romans 8:18-25, Revelation 21:1-5)! It is a grace to be able to stop and assess this and set our hope above the sun!

Despite the futility of this world and the seemingly endless cycle that we are on, there is beauty to be seen and experienced; there still exists a certain order, harmony and beauty in created things. The birth of a child; moments of true connection with a child, spouse or friend; the beauty of a sunset; the satisfying embrace of one’s spouse and lover; the satisfaction of a project completed; the spectacular glory of mountains capped with snow or a beautiful sunset. May this beauty point to Someone above the sun who is far more beautiful. May the glory that we feel in these moments not terminate upon these created things, but roll up to the Creator of these things.

“Humanity still has Eden in its veins. We have ‘eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11). Our souls instinctively yearn for a purposed life without end under this time-chained sun.”1 God has put an ancient, eternal, everlasting sense in our hearts that we cannot figure out or understand. There is a sense in all mankind that there is more than just life under the sun, but no amount of information, studying or learning can satisfy this longing. Facts and information do not resolve this deep whisper in a man’s soul. As wise and noble as Solomon was, he acknowledged that his ability to understand deep, eternal things on his own was limited. We are no different. We can’t figure it out, we can’t find God. Indeed, He is not lost – we need Him to find us – we are lost. We need Him, without Him we will not “figure out” the deep nag in the soul. Indeed, the answer is not under the sun.

Yes, there is frustration to life under the sun; we intuitively know that it is not as it should be, and that there are things that we do not know and cannot understand. Solomon concludes that we should learn to enjoy the good things that God gives us under the sun.  We should be joyful and do good because we know that anything satisfying east of Eden is a gift from the Creator because all things should be utter futility, but they aren’t. When we see clearly that created things can never fully sooth the nag of the soul, then we can learn to enjoy them for what they are – not expecting something from them that they lack the capacity to supply. We should learn to enjoy the good gifts that God has given us – like eating good food, drinking good drink with friends and finding satisfaction on our work. The ability to find satisfaction in these things is a gift from the Creator; joy is found in understanding the “givenness” of all things.  “In other words, the best good in the madness under the sun is found when we recover some small resemblance to what we were made for in Eden.”2

Against the transient backdrop of the vanities of this world, the absolute sovereign power of the Almighty shines all the brighter. This should cause us to see our position before Him as created beings that are finite, tiny and lacking. It should produce reverence and fear, a theme in Ecclesiastes (5:7; 12:13). But, redemption is coming; Eden will be restored. Lord, help us to park our hope on You, not on the things that you have created.

1Recovering Eden by Zack Eswine, Page 126
2Ibid., Page 15

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How Not to Read the Old Testament

Preaching Christ in All of Scripture Diagram

“Some people have understandably been deterred from the kind of Christ-centered approach that I am describing here. They may have had bad experiences with people who saw Jesus behind every bush (burning or otherwise) in the Old Testament. Charles Spurgeon, for example, said that if he ever found a text without Christ in it he would go over hedge and ditch to find the road to Christ4—and if you read his sermons, it seems at times that that is exactly what he has done. Not every perceived connection to Christ in the Old Testament is valid.5  So in this section, I want to look at various wrong ways to approach the Old Testament as preparation for learning to read it correctly.

It is helpful to begin with a diagram borrowed (and adapted slightly) from the late president of Westminster Theological Seminary, Dr. Edmund Clowney.6

The first wrong way in which we read the Old Testament is what I have called the way of allegorical moralism, in which we extract a detail from its original context and apply it directly to our own lives without reference either to its original context in Scripture or to Christ and the gospel. For example, a woman visiting our church recently told me how meaningful Ezekiel 48 had been in her life. In the prophet’s vision of Israel’s future, the passage describes the borders of the different tribes, and she had taken away from this the message, “the boundaries of Dan need to be restored.” This was significant for her because her husband’s name was Dan and, as she read this text, she realized that her husband had not been keeping good boundaries between work and home.

While this observation may have been true and relevant for her life and could probably have been drawn legitimately from other passages of Scripture, this insight is hardly the purpose for which the Holy Spirit inspired Ezekiel to pen the chapter! She had moved directly from text to application to herself without understanding the flow of the text or the significance of its original context. A great deal of preaching in evangelical churches today resembles this process of interpretation: it is allegorical in that it fails to connect the passage with its original context, and it is also moralistic because instead of showing us Christ and the gospel, it simply seeks “timeless truths” or “life principles” in each passage to become guides for our behavior.

The next wrong approach to the Old Testament is allegorical interpretation, whereby people (especially preachers) fasten once more on superficial details of the text, but this time use them to find references to Christ where none was originally intended. This approach has been pursued with great popularity throughout the history of the church. For example, in a sermon on Ezekiel 40:6–8, the church father Gregory the Great identified the east gate of Ezekiel’s temple as Jesus, the steps leading up to the gate as the merits of the virtues that lead to salvation, and the threshold of the gate as the ancestors of Jesus.7

In more recent times, a Christian author argued that the reason that the tent pegs of the tabernacle were partly in the ground and partly out of the ground was to teach us that the gospel is not just about the death of Jesus Christ (the part in the ground) but also about the resurrection (the part out of the ground).8 While this doctrinal conclusion is important and true, I would suggest that the reason the tent pegs of the tabernacle were partly in the ground and partly out of the ground was simply that otherwise it would have been impossible to secure the ropes that held the tabernacle to them! We may admire the desire to connect the Old Testament to Christ, yet find the outworking of the methodology misguided.

In an effort to avoid the wild excesses of allegory, many modern interpreters have rightly placed the emphasis on understanding an Old Testament passage in the light of its original context. They encourage people to discern the message of the text within the broader concerns of the book in order to search out the intent of the original author in writing it. Having discerned this original idea, the next step is often seen as discerning the “timeless truth” that stands behind this particular historical writing.9 What life principles does it teach us that are universal and unchanging? How can we then take those same universal principles and apply them skillfully to our own daily lives?

There is much that is right and laudable with this approach, yet I have labeled it moralism because of its inevitable tendency to place the reader in the center of the interpretive process and make the Old Testament fundamentally a story about us. In looking for universal principles of behavior that I can apply, this approach generally ends up urging me to “dare to be a Daniel” or “just say no to being a Jephthah.” It flattens out the contours of the Old Testament history of redemption, and treats Old Testament characters such as Abraham and David as if their primary function were to model a life for me to live by.

This is the strength of Dr. Clowney’s diagram, which reminds us that we must indeed begin by putting every passage of Scripture in its appropriate literary and historical context. We must start by seeing how this verse, passage, event, or institution relates to other verses, passages, and events around it. There is no place for the kind of allegorical speculation that takes a passage out of its original setting and completely ignores the human author’s intent.

Yet we must also ask where this passage fits in the larger history of God’s dealings with his people and what the divine Author’s intent was in including it in our Bible. How does this event or story advance God’s program and point us to the great work that God is accomplishing in this world, which is the work of salvation in Christ through the gospel? How does this passage show us the sufferings of Christ and the glories that follow? For example, does it uncover the sins for which Christ had to come and die? How does it demand or demonstrate the righteous behavior that Jesus came to perform in our place? Only after we ask these kinds of primary gospel-focused questions can we properly get to the secondary question of personal application: how does this gospel then teach us to live in light of this specific portion of God’s Word, out of gratitude for what God has done? Application is important, but the gospel comes first. What is more, even after we have applied a passage rightly to ourselves in this way, we constantly need to return once again to the comfort of the gospel’s focus on Christ, for even as believers we will never live up to the standard of perfect holiness that God demands.”

4Charles Spurgeon, “How to Read the Bible,” a sermon preached in 1879 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, http://www.spurgeon .org/sermons/1503.htm (accessed June 8, 2012).
5Spurgeon himself warns of making connections that strain credulity—for example, the preacher who spoke about the Trinity from the three baskets on the head of Pharaoh’s baker (Lectures to My Students [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972 reprint], 97).
66. Adapted from Edmund Clowney, Preaching Christ in All of Scripture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), 32.
7The Homilies of Gregory the Great on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, trans. T. Gray (Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1990), 179–85.
8Martin R. DeHaan, The Tabernacle (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1955), 37, 65.
9See, for example, Steven Mathewson, The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 101. Mathewson certainly wants to avoid moralism (see pp. 102–103), yet his method of application inevitably pushes him in that direction.

Duguid, Iain M. (2013-02-04). Is Jesus in the Old Testament? (Basics of the Faith) (Kindle Locations 144-198). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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.

Shame Interrupted

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”” (John 4:15–20 ESV)

The Providence of God had divinely orchestrated this conversation before time began.  Jesus offers her living water BEFORE He discusses her sinful lifestyle.  God always initiates, woos and draws.  This woman was a total outcast, but Jesus saw through her brokenness to her need. She was a:

  • Racial outcast. Samaritans were ½ breeds that were despised by the Jews and Gentiles alike (Luke 10:33; 17:16; John 8:48).
  • Gender outcast. She was a woman. Women were not highly valued in the first century.
  • Moral outcast. She had been married five times and was currently living with a man.  She was trading sex for rent; she was looking to satisfy her thirst in a relationship with a man.
  • Community outcast. Probably due to her decisions in life, she was a societal or relational outcast. She went to draw water in the middle of the day – the rest of the women would draw water in the morning or in the evening. She was alone.  It was hot in the middle of the day, most people would have been resting.

She was an outsider that didn’t feel like she belonged anywhere. She was alone.  She was religious, but her religion lacked the power to deliver her from the darkness in which she lived.  She was looked down upon, a status that she likely all too easily embraced.  She felt useless, meaningless, hopeless and alone.  Why in the world would the Creator come to such a sinful, hopeless and insignificant person?  Because Jesus came to seek and save the lost; Jesus came to find His lost sheep; Jesus came to redeem people just like this woman.  The messiest people become the greatest trophies of His majesty and grace.  We are all messy people, some are just better at hiding it than others.  What a beautiful picture of grace.

It seems apparent that she does not understand what Jesus was talking about, but wants some of the water that He has to offer if it keeps her from having to continuously go to the well to draw water for herself.  Her daily trip to the well must have been a painful reminder of her aloneness – anything that would eliminate that reminder was welcome.  Shame tends to cause us to hide, withdraw and isolate.

Jesus tells her to go and call her husband, and she responds with a technically correct answer, but her answer does not tell the whole story.  Jesus steps into her moral failure and filth.  He reveals her sin and His deity by telling her that He knows that she has had FIVE HUSBANDS and was currently living with a man who was not her husband.  You have to wonder what caused her to be so broken. The Almighty knew all of this about her, and still engaged her and showed grace and mercy to her. She already knew her sin and shame, what she needed was to be freed from it. Her own thirst had driven her to chase destructive things in her life. Jesus came to satisfy her thirst forever, setting her truly free.

She wants to change the subject.  She does not want to discuss her life – its way too close to home. She wants to discuss God, worship and the differences between her (a Samaritan) and Him (a Jew). She wants to talk religion and Jesus graciously obliges her.  She knew that she was unclean, unworthy and dirty (the law reveals our sin) and being reminded of that was more than she could bare.

Jesus makes unclean people clean. More than that, He makes unclean people, holy people. Even the offer of freedom and forgiveness is more than she can imagine.  It had been a long time since she had experienced hope.  Hope that she could be free, different, clean and truly loved. She was beginning to sense that redemption was possible; she was beginning to believe that redemption was here. It was and she was talking to the Redeemer.

The Thirst of the Soul

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
“Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.””
(John 4:10, 13-14 ESV)

The providence of God compelled Jesus to travel through Samaria in order to meet with this woman to offer her Living Water that she could never buy on her own.  Jesus had asked her for a drink from the well (4:7)  and the woman was quite confused as to why a Jew would ask her for a drink.  Jesus came to interrupt the shame in which she was walking.  She walked in racial shame for being a half breed that didn’t fit in anywhere, gender shame for being a woman because women were looked down upon in the ancient world and moral shame for the life that she had led.  Jesus enters into her world by saying, “if you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  She was speaking to the gift of God and though He didn’t look all that impressive (Isaiah 53:2), He was the gift of God to all peoples.  This shame laden outcast was speaking to the Word who spoke her and all things into existence.  The Word, Creator, Almighty condescends Himself to a defiled, unclean, unholy place and people in order to redeem them – to make them acceptable, clean and holy.

Jesus does not offer this woman some second rate version of redemption because she had lived such a morally corrupt life.  No, Jesus offers her the best – He offers her God!  We know from John 7:38-39 that this living water was the Holy Spirit reigning in the hearts of the redeemed.  He offers her God and nothing less.  Not just eternal life, but the presence of the Almighty reigning in her heart.  A heart that was weary, dirty and wounded was offered restoration, redemption and rest.  The same offer is made to you and me.

Jesus says that she will never thirst again.  Seeking to satisfy your thirst on your own with created things is a fools errand because created things are powerless to quench the thirst of our hearts. You can spend your life arranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic or you can come to Him who will quench your soul’s thirst.  Drinking water from the well (or faucet) will not quench your soul’s thirst for love, approval, affection, belonging, meaning, purpose or power.  However, the soul will be irrigated forevermore by the living water that God provides. We regularly want to turn from this living water to our own cisterns that we have hewn ourselves in order to satiate our thirst.  However, the Living Water that God provides will become a spring that wells up within the heart of the believer providing eternal satisfaction. The human soul is thirsting for something greater than created things can offer it, only God Himself can satisfy the soul’s thirst.

This woman had hewn cisterns herself, but they could not hold water – and if they could it would have been dirty runoff water.  We, like this woman, forsake the Living Water and run to our own hand hewn, leaky cisterns due to our own unbelief.  We must battle unbelief – the source of all sin – and we see from this passage that all we must do is ask. We must plead with the God of the universe to “help us with our unbelief” (Mark 9:24).  Lord, give us ears to hear, eyes to see and hearts to believe.  Lord, satisfy our thirst with You.

Where broken people find true freedom (1 John 1:5-10)

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:5–10 ESV)

God is pure, perfect and totally holy, void of any darkness – He is absolute pure light. We are all imperfect and sinful people, but those who prove that they are His are the ones that make a pattern of walking in light versus walking in the darkness – though imperfectly, they chose light over darkness.  This is part of our progressive sanctification as we grow in holiness over time.

Our actions always speak louder than our words.  We can say that we love God and serve Him, but if we are walking in ongoing sin then we are not in fellowship with Him regardless of what we say.  We are lying to and deceiving ourselves.  Satan’s primary tool against Christians is his ability to manipulate & deceive – it is what he did to Adam & Eve in the garden and it is what he still does today.  Sin is always a declaration of autonomy, we just don’t want to submit to anyone; we want to be in control and to do what is right in our own eyes (Judges 17:6, 21:25).  This is marked by, “I think,” “I feel,” “my experience has been.”  We should never discount our thoughts, feelings, or experiences, but we should always weigh them in light of what is good, holy and right.  This is primarily revealed in the scriptures and applied in the context of Christian community.  We all have blind spots and we need others to help illuminate them and put them to death (Colossians 3:5).

If we walk in the light, we have fellowship with Him and with each other – and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from our sins.  As we walk in the light with other transformed believers, we experience increasing freedom from sin.  Walking in the light means walking in right doctrine, moral purity and not hiding sin from ourselves and from one another.  It means that we strive to put to death that which is sinful in us (Colossians 3:5).  We are to murder the sin that is within us, and not just the external symptoms, but the root from which it springs.  Extreme measures should be taken to kill sin in our lives (Matthew 5:29-30).  This requires others, but not just any “Christian Community” will do!  Putting sin to death requires a grace saturated Christian Community of people who are deeply aware of their own depravity and God’s great holiness and the unearned, undeserved, unmerited favor, approval & affection that bridges this chasm.  This community is marked by grace that is freely extended to other broken sinners who want to confess their sins & turn from them to find true freedom.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  BOLD!  Indwelling sin is a reality of life on fallen planet earth.  Even John recognizes that He is still sinful.  The height of pride and blindness is to say that we have no sin – or to say we are sinful, but are unwilling to address it specifically.  No one is without sin, and the person who wants to downplay their sin and call it dysfunction or wiring or “just the way I am” is someone who is unwilling to acknowledge their sinfulness.  God help us.  There is a difference between walking in ongoing, unrepentant sin and saying that we are without sin altogether.  Indeed, the mature believer is coming to see just how deep the roots of sin run in his heart and is becoming increasingly more appreciative for the grace of God.

The gospel declares the good news that God is faithful to heal sinners who come to Him and confess their sin to Him.  Confession and repentance are all that are required to be clean and free.  But, we rarely want to confess and repent of the deepest, darkest parts of our hearts.  To confess it means the risk of judgement from others, but to hold it in is to walk in slavery.  To be free, you must find some grace saturated Christians to confess your deepest sinfulness to so that it can be put to death (James 5:16)!  There is no penance that you must do, however there may be consequences.  We are all shocked when a “tame” lion attacks someone who is close to it.  We say, “it was such a gentle and tame lion, I can’t believe he’d attack that poor person!”  What!?!?  He is an alpha predator, all he does is kill and eat things.  We are shocked when we keep our secret sins on a leash (like a tame lion) and they turn around and attack us and destroy our lives.  We must be willing to drag our pet lions out into the light of day and put a bullet in its head.  This is a community effort, we all need to get our guns and help each other kill our sin!

When God is Silent

“O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.”(Habakkuk 1:2–4 ESV)

Habakkuk opens this short book asking, “how long shall I cry for help and you don’t hear our cry for deliverance and you not respond?”  Sound familiar?  It does to me.  Wickedness is happening around him and Habakkuk can’t understand why things are turning out this way and where God is in the midst of it.  Habakkuk uses the covenant keeping, personal name for the LORD here indicating that He believes God is not absent, but is struggling with where He is and why He seems to be silent.  Have you ever been there?  I have.  These are times where we have to walk by faith and not by sight – times when we believe the unbelievable (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Simple, but certainly not easy!

Habakkuk surveys the wickedness, moral bankruptcy & spiritual disconnect and He cannot understand why it seems that the Lord is sitting “idly” by and is not judging the perversity.  This sounds like us – “where are you God, why do you seem to be so absent, why are you slow in acting?”  This is a common theme in the Bible, Peter addresses the same line of thinking when addresses the scoffers that are among them by saying that God is not distant, disconnected & slow in acting (2 Peter 3) God rarely acts on our timetable and yet we feel compelled to accuse Him of being distant & disconnected, as if we were sovereign.

The laws of God are being completely ignored and the people are doing whatever they please.  The law was not impacting their hearts.  This is a familiar refrain:  “everybody did everything that was right in His own eyes.”  Life was hard for the remaining faithful & righteous remnant.  It was easy for Habakkuk to feel alone – like God had abandoned Him.  We find ourselves in the same shoes at times.  All Habakkuk could see were the trees, but God is going to help get his head above the trees so that he can see the forest.  Despite the fact that Israel only occupied the promised land for 530 years, God was still faithful to them and to His plan.  They were slaves for 400 years in Egypt, lived in the land as a combined kingdom for 530 years and then were under the rule of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans.

Today we can see how God was working out a beautiful plan of rescue for His elect.  And yet when we go through hardships for a day, week, month, year or lifetime we want to cry out to God – “foul, where are you, why are you silent and not acting!”  God never promised us ease, comfort or prosperity – He gives us something far greater:  Himself.  The pain is real, for sure.  But our crying out and accusations must ultimately land in a place that says, “not my will, but yours be done,” because we are not sovereign – He is.  If you find yourself suffering, struggling or hard pressed, cry out to God.  He can handle your questions & accusations.  If you will walk in this and trust that God is indeed sovereign and that He is indeed good (and does good [to you]) then you will find that He is enough regardless of whether deliverance comes.  The most gracious thing that God could do for us is to give us Himself, which is the very thing that He does at the cross.

Our identity is in Christ and our inheritance is in glory

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” (1 Peter 4:1–5 ESV)

Since Jesus suffered, so too should we expect to suffer.  We should “arm ourselves with this way of thinking.”  We should expect suffering – we should not go looking for it, but when it comes our way we should not be surprised.  When suffering comes, we must remember that our identity is in Christ and our inheritance is in glory.  We must remember that this world is broken and that one day God is going to make all things right; He is going to make all things new (Revelation 21:5)

Peter says, “for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” which represents either Jesus as our sacrificial sin offering, our new “dead to sin” nature that Paul discusses in Romans 6:1-11 or the fact that suffering has a way of killing sin at its root.  All of these are true and regardless of how this is interpreted, Peter points us to abandon our fleshly, human passions and embrace the will of the Lord – which for this audience was suffering.  If God is really sovereign, as Peter emphatically says in 3:22, then suffering must be part of His grander plan.  Though we rarely see the reason during trials, and often times don’t after the trial (remember Job?), we must trust in His goodness & sovereignty and set our hearts toward heaven.  We are exiles, sojourners, aliens & strangers – this is not our home.  Our home and inheritance is in glory.

The believer that finds his identity in Christ & inheritance in heaven will readily abandon fleshly acts of debauchery.  This will surprise those around them who participate in these acts and they will likely malign believers for not participating.  This world is all that they have so they need to get everything that they can!  All people will have to give an account for what they have said and done.  All sin will be paid for – either at the cross of Jesus Christ or by the sinner himself.  Justice will be served.  This enables the saint to persevere when he suffers injustices.  So set your eyes upon Christ, trust in His sovereign goodness and know that you have an inheritance waiting that is grander than you could ever imagine.

The Ultimate Sufferer will put our frustration & futility to an end

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:13–18 ESV)

Peter zooms out to give us a big picture vantage point on life.  He is not saying that we won’t suffer – his reader’s already were suffering.  But, ultimately all things will work for their good (Romans 8:28-31).  Peter reminds them of the Lord’s words:  ““Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10 ESV).  Peter urges them to dwell on Ultimate realities, on the bigger picture.  When we suffer, we can either be driven to God and His bigger eternal work or inwardly and bemoan our own personal hardships.  Peter calls us to run to God and see that He is work in the arc of eternity.

Peter argues here to be able to give a winsome response to people when they ask about our hope.  Hope is interesting here because the real pivoting point is where is our hope really found?  Is our hope really in Jesus or some other idol?  If our hope is really in the Lord, then people will notice the poise and ballast in our lives when they are squeezed and pressed by hardship and suffering.  Only grace soaked people will be able to endure with hope – for they know this is not all that there is.  Hope is the expectation of good as the Christian is confident & joyful that he has an inheritance that is certain & secure.  Some of the time, Christians will suffer for doing good – even though the claims against them be baseless.

Peter links the power to suffer well to our identity in Christ – He suffered on our behalf so that one day we wouldn’t have to.  This is a major verse on the atonement – Christ, the Righteous, suffered for us, the unrighteous, so that we may be brought to God.  He died in the flesh so that we could be made alive in spirit.  So regardless of where you find yourself today and regardless of the suffering that you face – financial, relational, emotional, physical or familial – set your eyes firmly upon Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.  He was the Ultimate Sufferer so that one day our suffering would end.  Remember your inheritance as a child of God; there is coming a day when He will make all things new.  Our lives will be truly lived as they were designed to – no more frustration and futility.  We will live in perfect paradise in the presence of our glorious Father.

Only grace soaked people are able to walk in joyful obedience

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.  For
“Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”” (1 Peter 3:8–12 ESV)

Finally.  Peter transitions now from instructions aimed at specific groups to general godly virtues that should accompany all believers.  The Greek word for “finally” is also translated “end” or “goal.”  So the end goal should be behavior that encompasses these characteristics.  These are internal, heart level traits that are Holy Spirit wrought.  Peter mentions:
• Harmonious (unity of mind) – sounds like meekness; willing to press God’s agenda and not our own.
• Sympathy – sensitivity or sorrow for the hurting, broken & down trodden.  Even for those who are depressed and suffer mental ailments.  For it is the grace of God that we don’t suffer the same way.
• Brotherly love – more than just love, but love like a brother – permanent, covental, familial.
• Tender hearted or compassionate – We have to see the bigger picture of our ultimate inheritance in order to be truly tender hearted towards others.
• A Humble mind – Thayer:  “the having a humble opinion of oneself; a deep sense of one’s (moral) littleness; modesty, humility, lowliness of mind.”  Humility is knowing one’s place in creation; we are created, He is Creator.

Peter ups the the ante by telling his readers not to repay evil for evil, not to keep score.  People who keep tabs mentally are miserable people, let us not be numbered among them!  On the contrary bless those who curse for you are a blessing.  Only grace soaked people will be able to execute this.  It seems to be imbedded in the human psyche to get even and keep score and unless God rebuilds that we always will.

As believers, there will be a longing for the word of God because we have indeed tasted & seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8 & 1 Peter 2:3).  If there is an absence of desire for the word of God, the person has to ask if they have ever really tasted & seen that the Lord is good – does he really have a regenerated heart?  Peter connects his thoughts to the truths in Psalm 34:12-16).  Do you a desire to love life & see good days?
• Then don’t speak evil & deceitfully.  A life of daily obedience to God yields the blessings of God.  But our obedience must be a joyful obedience, a glad submission.  If we obey to get the blessing then we don’t love God, we love ourselves!
• Turn from evil & do good.  Obedience, in glad submission, yields the blessings of God (not always external) while disobedience yields the discipline of God, for the Lord is against those who do evil (Psalm 34:16, 21 & Hebrews 12:4-11)
• Seek & pursue peace.  Peace with God & peace with others.  Sounds like the words of our Lord:  ““Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9 ESV)
• The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous & his ears are open to their prayers.  Wow!  The sovereign Creator of all things has open ears to hear the prayers of the righteous!  That is amazing.  But, who is righteous – none are, no not one (Romans 3:10).  The righteous live by faith (Galatians 3:11).

As Christians, these should be growing in our lives.  It is interesting that Peter highlights the blessings of God while writing to suffering Christians.  How are they blessed while suffering, how are we blessed while we are suffering?  We are chosen children of the Creator with an inheritance beyond our wildest imagination.  That should produce wow and worship in our souls.  We should meditate upon and be moved by the fact that the divine, holy, perfect, sovereign Creator would determine before He formed the world to adopt you.  We were His enemies, objects of His holy wrath and He chose to make us new: He chose to regenerate us, forgive us and adopt us.  We weren’t good, we didn’t seek Him – He sought and saved us.  That is the fuel to suffer well.  When we have this perspective we begin to sound like Paul when he wrote:  “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18 ESV)