Monthly Archives: April 2019

Ye who think of sin but lightly…

Here is one of my favorite hymns, especially for Good Friday. It is something to think about on this day when we remember our Lord’s passion, death and burial.

Ye who think of sin but lightly
nor suppose the evil great
here may view its nature rightly,
here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
see who bears the awful load;
’tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God. (Thomas Kelly)

Every scheme designed by humans to take care of sin and suffering will ultimately fail, because the problem is far deeper than we can imagine.

Sin is uglier, deadlier, fouler than we can possibly fathom – and it affects all of us.

It can’t be fixed by purity schemes, modesty balls, virginity pledges. It can’t be fixed with home-schooling, Christian schooling or public schooling. It can’t be solved by patriarchalism, feminism, complementarianism, or egalitarianism. It can’t be fixed by putting all men on the board, or by putting all women on the board, or by having an eclectic mix of everyone.

It can’t be solved by conservatives or liberals. It can’t be solved by moderates. It can’t be solved by good policy or by bad policy.

And it certainly can’t be fixed by the law. Telling people what to do, even if you have a big enough weapon to enforce it, won’t take care of the problem of sin. It is far too ugly and cruel to be fixed that way.

Because sin isn’t fixed by democracy, by republicanism, by representative government or by dictatorship, by law or by compassion, or by anything at all under the sun. If we are to be saved, God must do it. He must come to us, for we cannot go to him.

Where there are men and women, there is sin – and it is far uglier than we think. We won’t even know how ugly it truly is until we see Him Who Is Beauty face to face.

I reject all forms of self-righteousness. It is impossible to add any of our works to our righteousness before the judgment throne of God, for the only works that can stand before God are those works that are perfect throughout, and ours are all defiled by sin. Those who try to merit some kind of favor from God don’t understand the power and ugliness of sin.

A little vomit, a little excrement, spoils the whole thing – and our sins are filthier than we can even imagine.

How bad is our sin? Our sin is so bad that the only solution was the death of the Son of God. He who is perfect innocence, infinite love, immaculate beauty, pure and undefiled goodness….the one who cried out with tears in Gethsemane “If you are willing, take this cup away from me”. But the cup would not be taken away, because it is the only way that sinners can stand before God. His compassion and obedience were perfect, for he is true and righteous man. And his power is infinite, for he is true God. “Not my will, but thine be done.”

How ugly is sin? Look at the cross. See the nails in the hands, the thorns on the head. The nakedness and shame and ugliness. He died – not on a bejeweled cross of gold, but a cruel cross of ugly wood surrounded by jeering soldiers and mocking Jews. Held up in the air to be shamed and mocked and outcast – unfit for human kindness and God’s compassion – he was made sin for us. He was counted among the criminals, the slaves, the outcasts. This is how ugly sin is. It is worse than we think.

Don’t miss it. As you fight to make this world a better place, as you give cold water or clothing to the hungry and naked, as you speak with kindness and compassion to your neighbors and friends, as you weep with those who weep, as you fight for justice, don’t forget Friday. As you fight for social justice and expose evil-doers and help untangle the mess that sin leaves behind, don’t mistake your works for righteousness. Sin is uglier than that.

All of these things are good. Food is good. Compassion is good. Justice is good. Love is good. Works that flow from faith are good. But they can never take away sin. They cannot ever reach the heart of the problem. Sin is far too ugly to be cured by advocacy, activism, politics, education, vows, rituals, works of any kind, or even good intentions and sincerity.

Why must he suffer death? Because the justice and truth of God required that satisfaction for our sins could be made in no other way than by the death of the Son of God (Heidelberg Catechism, 40)

In no other way…

…see who bears the awful load.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Christology, Gospel, Passion

We can’t fix it

We really want to. We want to fix everything. We even sometimes wonder why God isn’t fixing it.

Ministers molesting children. Men and women breaking up their homes through adultery, violence, abandonment, hatred, reviling. Drunkards in the pulpits. Injustice everywhere.

Sometimes it is overwhelming. And sometimes I hurt all over hearing the stories – YOUR stories. I hear you and my heart grieves. And I can’t fix it.

I can’t talk your abusive minister and elders into removing your excommunication for divorcing your criminally abusive husband. I can’t convince your grown children to become Christians. I can’t take away injustice. I can’t humble a proud man or convince a hater to put on love.

I would love to fix things, but then I remember that I am dust.

Stalin just tried to fix things. Marx just tried to fix things. Hitler tried to fix things. Pol Pot, Mao, Kim jong Il…

The world is littered with the corpses of the powerful men who tried to fix things.

The problem is sin. And the older I get the more I understand how powerful, complicated, tangled, horrible, fracturing and evil sin is.

The spot of paint inside the painting can’t see the painting. How can I even see what the problem is? How can I fix anything when I can’t even fully understand the tangled web of my own heart? I am simply a small fragment of the whole tapestry that only the Great Artist can see. I can’t see the creation from the perspective of the creator, for I am not the creator.

But here is what I know: Jesus hates injustice far more than we do. Jesus hates violence and murder far more than we do. Jesus hates adultery, cruelty and reviling far more than we can possibly imagine.

So why does it seem as if he is doing nothing about it?

He did do something about it.

4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isa. 53:4-5 KJV)

All of the violence, hatred, grief, sorrow, murder, hatred and reviling came upon him. He became sin for us.

The fact is this: If he cleansed the earth of all wickedness, there would be no one left. That includes you and me. The wrath of God against sin doesn’t excuse me, because it doesn’t play favorites. When I cry out for justice, I also cry out for mercy, for without mercy I cannot stand a moment. God sees the heart. And that means that I am in trouble.

So before Jesus purges the earth of wickedness, he redeems a people for himself. For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son.

Those nails were meant for me. That crown of thorns belonged to me. The abandonment and shame were mine.

And all of the injustice and hatred and cruelty that is in the world he bore in his body on the cross. He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.

But now that he has died and risen again, now that he has provided salvation, why doesn’t he come in judgment? Why is he allowing such evil cruelty to exist in his church?

Jesus does not delight in the death of the wicked. He is giving every opportunity for the wicked to repent. He does not follow the timetable of men, for he sees far more than we do. When he finally comes in judgment, it will not be the bloodbath of the kings of the earth, it will be no holocaust, no great purge of Mao or Stalin.

He will judge the earth in goodness and righteousness and equity. He will be merciful to those who confess his name, and he will come in judgment for all the cruel, the murderers, the liars, the hypocrites, the adulterers, the revilers – no matter what outer form they take. He knows the difference between the sheep and the goats.

The one who took our sorrows will also vindicate his own. He will come to pour out his wrath against sin.

And there is comfort in that. He will wipe away every tear.

In the meantime, I will do what I can do as a creature of dust. I will seek to find the right words to comfort and rebuke as necessary. I can listen. And above all I can point to the One who died for me and invite you to meet him, the lion who is a lamb. I can only do that with the Bible. I don’t have answers on my own. I don’t have the solutions on my own.

All I have is the word of God, the record of the apostles and prophets. But that is enough – sufficient to equip us for all that we need. It points us to Christ, who died for us and rose again the third day – according to the scriptures.

Hold to that. When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.

4 Comments

Filed under Hope, justice

Here I am

Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.” (Isa. 28:16 NASB)

As I was studying this passage, I saw something I had never seen before. The speaker is the Lord God. But there is an odd anomaly in the quote. The subject and the verb don’t seem to match.

The first word in Hebrew is “hineni”. It means, roughly, “Behold I”. It is used when one is summoned to announce his presence. Abraham says it to the Lord when the Lord calls him. Samuel says it to Eli, when he thought that Eli called him. It is often translated “Here am I”.

God also uses it for his own activity to announce his own presence. “Here am I.” He announces when he is coming in judgment, when he is making a covenant, when he is working redemption and righteousness and judgment in the earth.

Isaiah emphasized the “hineni” with the next word, which is a verb. But the verb is in the third person, when you are expecting the first person. “He is establishing”. It doesn’t fit the “Behold, I.” The Hebrew says, “Behold I he is establishing a foundation in Zion.”

Most translations and most commenters assume that there is a mistake in the verb, and that it should be pointed as a participle, translated, “Behold, I am the one who is laying a foundation”. Not too bad, except that I don’t like “fixing” the vowels in the Bible. And I think we are missing some poetic beauty. The meaning is there, but the emphasis is missing.

After Ephraim has finally rejected the Lord completely, mocking the prophet and dismissing the promised rest, ridiculing the promise of a redeemer, God could have easily dismissed his people entirely. He is scattering Israel in judgment. The Assyrian army will come and will carry the northern tribes away. They have made a covenant with death and therefore they will suffer the consequences of that unbelief.

But God will not cast off his people forever. He will gather together his church in a way that no one could ever see. Israel, Judah and all the nations together have become corrupt, unprofitable, cast away. They have all become “not my people”.

But God will lay a cornerstone, a stone of testing. True Israel, our Lord Jesus. He who believes in him will not be disturbed, restless, fearful – fleeing from one abyss to another abyss. But they will learn to rest.

How do we know? for God has announced his presence. Hineni. Here I am.

You have rejected me. But here I am.

 

I would translate the verse like this:

Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Here I am.”
He is laying in Zion a stone, a stone of testing, a costly cornerstone, a foundation firmly placed. He who believes will not be hasty.

Isaiah 28:16

It is hard to capture in the English. But it is the announcement of God’s mercy in Christ. Here I am.

He has not left us with the covenant of death that we have willingly made, but has announced his presence. Here am I.

The covenant of death was broken because God took upon himself the flesh of Abraham in the womb of the virgin Mary. He paid that covenant and suffered the penalty of the broken covenant, that we might live. 

He didn’t wait for us to find him, for we weren’t even looking. “There is none that seeketh me.” He didn’t wait for us to overcome the curse ourselves. He didn’t come to find the righteous. He came to seek and save that which was lost.

The sheep have gone astray. they have been scattered. They have run from the shepherd. they have rebelled. And then he announces his presence. Here I am.

What we have in this verse is the promise of Emmanuel. God with us. There is where we find our rest. If we believe the promise, we can finally lay down our weapons and rest, even in the presence of our enemies.

Here am I. Such beauty in one little word!

3 Comments

Filed under Gospel, peace, rest