Category Archives: Gospel

Cain and Abel

In my sermon The Dark Places, I wrote the following:

If Abel can be saved, there is no point in striving to be Cain, and that is unacceptable to Pharisees of every age.

A kind reader suggested that I turned the names around. It happens. Sometimes I turn the names around, especially if I am going too fast.

But in this case I have the names correct. When Cain was born, Eve called him Cain – saying, I have gotten a man from the Lord.

Cain was something. The heir apparent, the seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent – in Eve’s mind.

Our natural religion is that God is bound to be impressed with our religious services. Cain was the first Pharisee – no faith in the promise, because he didn’t need it. He was something. He was the man from the Lord.

When Abel was born, Eve called his name Abel – which means vapor, wind, vanity – nothing. He was a nobody. He wasn’t a somebody like Cain. He was the other, he was “whatev’s”

The only thing he had was the he believed the promise – that God would provide a sacrifice for sins.

So when Abel was accepted and Cain was rejected, natural order was overturned, Cain’s religion was proven faulty.

God put Abel over Cain because Abel had something that Cain would never have. The righteousness of Christ imputed to him.

This is why Cain killed him. This is why the cross is an offense. This is why Jesus was crucified.

Cain is the Jew of Romans 10 seeking to establish their own righteousness and not accepting the righteousness which is by faith.

Cain is the Pharisee of Luke 18:

I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
  12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
  (Lk. 18:11-12)

I can see Cain saying the same thing, over his offering of the fruit of the ground:

I thank thee, Lord, that I am not like this nobody over here. I thank thee that I can bring this great offering, this astounding offering, this offering that is the greatest, most wonderful, most supreme offering of all. And that I am not like the loser that is my brother “Nobody”

But God rejected Cain and his offering.

Cain was something, but salvation is only for the nobodies. Christ came only for those who take up their crosses – reckon themselves dead, nobody, poor.

Jesus died for the nobodies.

They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Mk. 2:17)

Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. (Lk. 18:22)

So I had the names right. I should have explained it better, I guess.

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The Dark Places

From a sermon preached at First Reformed Church in Yuba City

Text

John 8:1-12

Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.

2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.

3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,

4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not .

7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

(Jn. 8:1-12 KJV)

Sermon

In the house of our life we have attic with dark corners. In those dark corners there are boxes that hold our dark things.

One box is called pride. One is lust. One is called fear. There is trauma, guilt, pain, secrets that we hide from even ourselves…all the things we keep carefully hidden.

We keep hidden in our attics those things that cause us shame –  the things we try to get rid of but can’t.

The tears that we shed and then swallow, and bury. The shame that we will never, ever talk about. The feelings of being unwanted, alone – the emptiness of life.

Other boxes are filled with our pet sins. These are the things we don’t want to be rid of: The grudges that we nurse. The lusts that we hide. We keep those grudges carefully hidden and keep the outside of our house clean and smiling. But we keep records. We carry every offense up to the box in our attic and hide it carefully. Then we go up in secret and go through the boxes – reminding ourselves of all the ways that someone hurt us while the hatred grows into murder and rage.

 

Sometimes those boxes are filled with lusts. CS Lewis speaks of this.

Lust “sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself”

We keep a place in the attic of our minds for our imaginary harem, our grudges, our “if onlys”, our regrets, our desire for pre-eminence, our hurts, our loneliness, our ignorance, our shame and guilt. All of these and more hide in the dark corners. And in the dark, they grow. The darkness creeps about and takes over.

I think that these boxes of dark things are carefully stored away because of our fear of death – when death entered the world it brought a lot of ugliness with it. The ultimate uselessness of life – the insignificance. That in the end, nothing matters. We are only fit for the grave and no one will even remember my name.

But that is unbearable, so we hide away our treasures – those things we think will bring meaning and hope and significance and power and control to our lives. Even if that hope is in fantasy, we carefully store it away. At least we can control our fantasy. At least we can pretend we are powerful, wise, desirable, worthy of love…

But the ugliest box of all is the box of records that we hold on to – all of the proof that we give ourselves that we are really just a little bit better than Abel.

It’s a trophy room of our own accomplishments – those things that we think add up to make us just a little purer, holier, wiser, stronger, smarter, than our neighbor…

It is called pride, and it is the ugliest dark thing of all. Every moment of self-righteousness, every moment of cutting insight, every biting remark, taking someone down to size. I may not be perfect, but at least I am______, and the blank is filled with as many answers as there are people. Nice. Tall. Good (deep down), pretty, wise, handsome, not that guy… And the darkness grows.

It overcomes everything, it overwhelms everything. Eventually, there can be no pretense of light – for darkness devours all – except one thing – the light that God sent into the world.

In the introduction to his gospel, John says this:

4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

(Jn. 1:4-5 KJV)

Why Jesus has to go

This is a story of darkness and a story of light.

The scribes and Pharisees had already determined that Jesus must die. They had issued a warrant for his arrest.

The problem was this – they believed that if the nation sinned, God would destroy them. God sent them into exile once before because of sin. They didn’t keep the Sabbath. Now, if they wanted to stay in the land and have victory over the Romans, they had to do their part – obey God. Keep the Sabbath. Bring back moral fortitude.

When Messiah comes, he will straighten people out. He will bring back law and order and usher in the kingdom of God, where everyone knows what right and wrong is, and everyone does what they are supposed to do, and everyone is righteous and pure. The foreigners are over there where they belong, and there is morality in the land, just like it is supposed to be…

And now – here is the problem. Jesus is here, and everyone is wondering if he is the messiah. The reason that they are wondering is that he is doing miracles that only the messiah can do. The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, demons are cast out. But he also eats and drinks with sinners. He also “breaks the Sabbath”. If only he validated our desire to be better than the other guy, if only he validated my fig leaves and hiding places, if only he validated my own system of what is right and what is wrong, there would be no problem. But he won’t play along.

This was where their darkness was revealed by the light. If Jesus eats with sinners and he is messiah, then that means that he fellowships with sinners. But that can’t be. Everyone knows that we are the righteous ones. Everyone knows that God only blesses and heals righteous ones. But if Jesus blesses and heals sinners, that means that everything I think I know about righteousness is wrong…

And this, Paul says, is the offense of the cross.

Nothing will make a man angrier than one who takes away the box that proves he is a little better than everyone around him.

In chapter 5, a man is lame. Jesus says, “Take up your bed and walk.”

He picks up his bed. That was when the Jews decided that Jesus needs to go. Because it is the Sabbath day. If Jesus is the Christ, then he blessed and healed someone who had the bad manners to be sick to begin with. Furthermore, he healed a man who was the kind of man who would carry a bed on the sabbath.

If a man who would carry a bed on the Sabbath, and who was sinful enough to be a cripple, could be healed by Messiah – then what is the point of good works at all??

And that would mean that there is nothing that makes me any better than that guy – that beggar, the cripple, that man who works on the sabbath. There are only two options for me. One, change everything I think I know about purity, morality, righteousness. Or 2, get rid of Jesus. Change is intolerable. If I change my view, I have to view myself as needing salvation, as one who needs a savior as much as this adulterer. So Jesus must be destroyed.

And every new thing that Jesus did, they wrapped it up in the paper of their hatred and stored it carefully away in the box in the attic. And they got angrier and angrier.

But the problem was even deeper than that. The Pharisees weren’t allowed to just murder someone. They had the pesky job of proving that the person was in the wrong and deserved to die. And they had to prove it to two groups – Romans, and the common people. The Romans, because they alone had the power of death; and the people, for they could cause problems. If they went after Jesus now the way they wanted to, there would have been rioting. Everyone knew that Jesus was righteous, a healer, a prophet sent from God.

And if they went to Pilate and accused him of breaking the Sabbath, Pilate would ask one question: What did he do on the Sabbath? And there was no way that they wanted to answer that question. To answer that question would be to prove in a Roman Court that Jesus was the Christ. They didn’t even want to go there.

So they needed an opportunity. And now there is one right in front of them: a woman taken in adultery.

Another child lost in the darkness. We don’t know the circumstances. We know that it was the Feast of the Tabernacles – This was a time similar to Mardi Gras – in Jerusalem. It was celebration time and the streets crammed full of people partying. Hundreds of thousands of celebrants from all over.

It would have been a simple matter to find someone committing adultery.

It was perfect. They needed to test Jesus with someone that everyone would despise – and who is despised more than a woman committing adultery…Homewrecker! And every other name one could think of. It is part of our fallen human nature. A man is excused – just carried away by hormones. But a woman! She is a seductress, a Jezebel! Away with her!

She’s the perfect test.

The story

And so they bring her to Jesus. The put on a great front of respect. Master. Rabbi. This woman was taken in the very act!!

They are sure that this will get him. There is no question as to her guilt. They caught her actually at it! The man, of course, is excused. There was wine, she seduced him, blah, blah, blah…

But her! Look at her! Surely you can see how society will fall apart if we allow this sort of thing. We can’t have women walking around naked and seducing men. We can’t have this sort of thing happening or God will certainly destroy us. Surely, Jesus, you can see how important it is that you denounce this immoral behavior, or the demise of our society will be on YOUR HEAD!!

“Moses said she must be stoned. What do you say?”

We got him – they think to themselves. If he says, “Stone her”, we tell Pilate and all the people that he is acting like a king, trying to take the place of Rome as judge, jury and executioner.

If he says, “None of my business” we will say, Look at this pretender. Acting like a teacher, a Rabbi, and he isn’t concerned about the decay of society at all.

If he says, “Be merciful” then we will denounce him to the people. He eats with sinners and adulterers. You know, he is probably sleeping with her himself. You know how these people are. You know, come to think of it – he does have a lot of women following him around everywhere. They even sit at his feet like disciples. Something hinky there…

“So. Rabbi. What do you say”

And he goes right on with what he was doing. He ignores them completely as if he didn’t even hear them.

He gives them an opportunity to think about what they are doing. You are, right now, plotting murder. You are liars, pretending something that is not true. You are planning to destroy this woman, and while you are at it you will deliver me to Pilate for crucifixion…And you DARE think that you are one step above this woman, whom you despise as a sinner?

In the darkness of their hearts, the light is working – exposing their corners, exposing their pride

While the longsuffering of God is waiting, as it did in the days of Noah.

And he keeps writing on the ground. The beat goes on.

And they ask again.

We don’t know how many times they asked. He gave them chance after chance to change direction. But they were set.

If Jesus will not denounce adultery, then everything we think about ourselves is wrong. If adulterers can be saved by God and healed by the Christ, then that means there is no point to my law-keeping. If Abel can be saved, there is no point in striving to be Cain, and that is unacceptable to Pharisees of every age.

And finally Jesus stands up and points his finger right at their dark place – “he who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone…”

And the light shines.

What happens next is the supernatural power of God. If the light of Jesus Christ did not shine in their dark places, exposing, convicting and rebuking, they would have formed a line with stones. But Jesus’s words have power.

The same God who said, “Let there be light” also shone in the hearts of these wicked men. John says of them:

19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.

(Jn. 3:19-20 KJV)

He speaks. And then stoops back down to write on the ground – letting the light do its work.

And one by one, convicted by conscience, they all begin to slink away.

Until only one is left.

She also has a dark spot. She is a sinner. It seems to be clear that she was indeed caught in the act. Adultery. No excuse. She is exposed before everyone.

What dark places were in her heart? The longing to feel something? Guilt? Shame? Perhaps as a young girl she was attacked, and felt herself no longer pure. Perhaps she figured, “Why not have fun. This is all I’m worth anyway.” Perhaps she had her own trauma and hurt and helplessness. Being helpless and out of control is intolerable to the human spirit. At least, she thinks, I can have my control back.

Or perhaps it was a fear of discovery? Falling in love with the wrong man? Or perhaps she felt as if she had no choice for whatever reason.

Or she just got beguiled. We don’t know. But here is what we know. She was a sinner.

And she stayed. She stayed right there as all of her accusers, one by one, left.

And Jesus looks up and sees her.

Is anyone left?

No.

Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.

Because sin entered into the world, we love our darkness and fear the light. We have nightmares of being caught naked, unclothed. Exposed to the world.

We nurse our secret sins; bear our grudges.

Bury our trauma, our hurt, our pain. We cry out, like Tamar, “Where will I take my shame?” – and we hear no answer. So we wrap it up, carry it up to the attic and box it. And try to convince it to stay put.

But it doesn’t. Those dark places make us fearful. We don’t trust. We don’t open up. We don’ t love.

We commit adultery, but we can’t love. We cannot protect ourselves from the hurt that others do us, so we put on our happy faces and smile, and keep careful track of our grudges. And then we find ourselves picking up stones to kill and destroy.

The dark places overtake everything until goodness and beauty are gone, and all that is left is pain and isolation, destruction and sorrow.

 

And we will take comfort in the fact that at least we aren’t adulterers – like this Jezebel here.

At least we aren’t those people. That guy over there needs Jesus just a little bit more than I do.

And then comes Jesus with the light. He shines in our dark places. Right there.

He who is without sin…

  • Adam, where are you?
  • Cain, where is your brother?
  • Abraham, Sarah – leave your country, your safety zone, your refuge and go to a place that I will show you.
  • Abraham, take your son, your only son, the one that you love…
  • Moses, take off your shoes. The ground you are on is holy ground.
  • Samuel, Samuel

We pray for the presence of God. We long for him to smile upon us. To dwell with us. To be near to us. And when God answers that prayer for his presence, the darkness will be exposed. That is what light does, and God is light. All of our pain and hurt, all of our grudges and lusts, all of our sin and shame, will be exposed before the Lord and Judge of all. You have no options. The light will come.

And when that happens, you have only two options:

The first option – you can do what the scribes and Pharisees did: slink away. But that option always ends the same way: with death. With your darkness growing until you find yourself shouting “Crucify him, crucify him” because you cannot bear to look at the darkness of your own heart. But you cannot destroy it. Darkness never stays the same. It consumes everything else. Except the light…

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overwhelm it.

The second option. Stand still and wait before the Lord. Lord, here am I.

Be silent. No excuses, no blame shifting, no denying. Silent. You did it. You were caught in the act. You cannot fool God.

He knows all of the dark places, and either you stand before him naked and exposed or you continue to slink away, continue to sew fig leaves together.

But if you come out of hiding and stand before him, naked and exposed; When you bring to him all of your sins and your lusts and your grudges and your pain and your grief and guilt and shame; you will always hear his voice: “Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.”

It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Our natural reaction is to defend ourselves. Make an excuse. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Maybe it isn’t so dark. Maybe he didn’t mean it. Maybe I was just tired, or just afraid, or just….

And all of those things that we do to justify it only shut us away farther and farther from the light. The light exposes. Notice this woman. She didn’t say, “Look, here’s the deal. I didn’t mean to. It just happened. I haven’t had a date in a long time, and I just got carried away with the moment…”

Or whatever her story was. She waited silently for the judgment of the Son of Man.

Neither do I condemn thee…

Aren’t you tired of the war?

Isn’t it time to lay down your weapons?

33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.

34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.

(Rom. 8:33-34 KJV)

When you come to the light, there is no room for darkness. When you come to light the shadows flee away. When you come to the light the corners are opened and cleaned and filled with light.

There are no dark places in the temple of God – and you are a living temple, made up of living stones – Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone.

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Filed under Gospel, Light, Repentance

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.

If you haven’t heard the hymn, here is my own arrangement.

 

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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!

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Filed under Gospel, peace, rest

I believe in the life everlasting

In the heartache of life, when day blurs into day and night finds you staring in the dark remembering your sins

When the ugliness of the curse and the filth of sin cover everything

When you plod from place to place in pain, when every step hurts and your heart hurts and the tears won’t come because big boys don’t do that

When the miry pit grabs the legs and drags you down, it is easy to forget…

And so you remember, and you say…

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting…”

As you stood under the waters of your baptism, and the clean, cold, clear water flowed down your head, so also you are washed. You are clean. You are dressed in the finest robes you can imagine, the righteousness of Christ. A crown is on your head and your skin has been anointed with the finest perfume. You have an invitation to the supper. It was bought with the blood of Jesus Christ. But you are not just there, you are welcomed there. You belong there. You were reserved a place from before the foundation of the world, because God loved you in Christ.

I believe in the forgiveness of sins.

And the day will come when the gulf between heaven and earth will be no more. The curse will be taken away. The last war will be fought, the last argument heard, the last illness, the last death, and then the voice of the Son of God will be heard and the dead will be raised incorruptible.

I believe in the resurrection of the body. Wherever my ashes are scattered, wherever my bones end up, every speck is accounted for, preserved in death by the One who went there before. And when he speaks, the dead are raised incorruptible.

And we will walk in the new heavens and the new earth where the lion and lamb lie down together, where the leviathan and behemoth dwell in peace with man and man is at peace with man and God and all pain is gone. The thorns and thistles are no more, the uselessness and drudgery of this earth are no more.

And we will stand in the presence of our God forever.

I believe in the life everlasting.

I cannot imagine life without pain in my legs, and ache in my heart. I cannot imagine life without sin and death and pain and misery.

But I get a glimpse ever now and then. I taste the apricot and the apple, so I know what tastes good and fresh and wholesome. I hold my wife close and I know what intimacy and love should look like. And I get a glimpse in the scripture of who Jesus is, and long to see him face to face.

For then beauty will be perfect, and life and holiness and righteousness will be  complete. Then we will know what we only taste now. And we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. When God says to “think on these things” he would have our affections in heaven, where Christ is seated. There is our treasure, there is our hope, there is our end.

We are driven by the future. We are not determined by our past, we are not forever locked in the drudgery of the present. We are not defined by what we have done or what has been done to us.

We are defined by where we are going, who we are in Christ, and where we end up. The grave is not the end. Yesterday will pass away. Today will fade. Tomorrow brings “bright hope” for the place in heaven has already been prepared for us.

And when I finally reach the River, I will pass through to the Promised Land. My sins will be left behind. My filthy garments. My hopelessness and vanity, as well as my aches and pains, my sleepless nights, my pain-filled days – I will leave all of that behind in the River of Death, and victory will be mine at last.

That is where we are going. Jesus is already there. He is the way, the truth and the life. How do you get there? Only by trusting in him. You have to have his garments and his invitation, which only come by faith.

Look beyond this present world, with its loves and hates and fears and terrors. Look beyond the brokenness and hatred and rage and sorrow. Raise your head up and see where you are going. Jesus stands there at God’s right hand, ready to receive you…

I believe in the life everlasting…

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Filed under Gospel, Hope

Liberty

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (Gal 5:1)

Let these words sink down into your soul. Grapple them to your heart, bind them as frontlets before your eyes.

You are complete in Christ. You are a dearly loved child of God. The curse of the law said, “Do this and live”. But that ensnared you in an endless cycle of attempting keeping up with a standard that you had already broken. How can you love God with your whole heart when God is angry with you because of your sins.

In the law, you can only approach God as a judge; never as a father.

But Christ fulfilled that law perfectly in your place. The curse of the law was placed upon him and he died instead of you.

And now you are set free. Set free.

Not to fulfill your lusts and to walk in hatred and enmity, but set free to love God and love your neighbor. You can now love freely without fear. You can walk in the commandments of God, which are good and give life and freedom of conscience. And when your conscience is free through the gospel you are free indeed.

So why are we so eager to be ensnared again in the endless cycle of “Do this and live”? Why do we spend thousands on books and conferences to tell us all the ways that we disappoint God, that we don’t measure up, that we have failed?

Why do we allow the celebrity preachers tell us that our clothes are too feminine or our voices are too high? Why do we allow the elite to tell us to “quit acting gay” whatever on earth that means? Does it mean that I am not supposed to like poetry and art? Does it mean that the schoolyard bullies were right and I am somehow not a man because I don’t play sports and don’t like hunting and can’t imagine sitting through an entire baseball game, much less playing one?

Why do we allow someone we have never met put us again in bondage by telling us how to submit to our husbands more, be more feminine, be meeker, be better, do more…? And then we pay them for it??

Does this make any sense to you?

God gave us Ten Commandments, and he added no more. As Christians we seek to please God. So here is what is pleasing to God. Love him and love your neighbor. And please quit paying celebrities to tell you how to be more manly, more feminine, more submissive, a better leader, what to eat, what to wear, what businesses to shop at, what businesses to avoid, what music to listen to, what books to read.

Why did we allow someone we never met convince us to never, ever allow our kids to read Harry Potter? Why did we allow someone we never met, who was never ordained and not married tell us to not allow our kids to date? Why did we allow an organization that spent hours and hours watching pornography so they could tell us how bad it is teach us about “family values”?

Does this make any sense to you?

Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made you free.

If you like beer, buy one. If you want to wear a flowered pink shirt because you like the colors, wear it. If you like romantic movies and tear up at the end of Babe when the farmer says, “That’ll do, pig”, then by all means to so and don’t let some half-baked, self-promoting pseudo-guru continue to plague you with guilt because he has rolled his crystal ball and decided that you weren’t manly enough, or feminine enough, or submissive enough, or a good enough leader. (I need a deep breath after that sentence.)

Aren’t you tired of it? Aren’t you tired of the never ending line of rich, popular preachers continually adding more and more to the commandments of God?

Instead of continually searching your heart to see if you desire God enough, look at Christ and what he has given you. Instead of continually searching your wardrobe to make sure you clothes are manly enough, look at Christ, the Son of man and the son of God, and live boldly. Instead of searching the blogs to see if you are a submissive enough wife, simply look to Christ and live.

Stand fast in the life and liberty that he purchased for you with his precious blood.

Every time a new commandment is invented, we sell a little more of our liberty for a mess of pottage. It is the mentality of the slave. Quit making the bricks for Pharaoh. Quit giving these guys clicks. Quit going to their conferences and quit buying their books.

Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made you free.

Look that transgender fellow in the eye and stop being afraid. Take your gay friend to lunch and stop being afraid. Love your wife boldly and quit fearing the opinions of people that you won’t ever meet.

As for me, I will continue to listen to Barbra Streisand and Lady Gaga, if I want to. And Pink Floyd and Queen when I want to, because sin isn’t something you catch off of a record. You might catch me listening to Gorecki or Passenger depending on my mood, but I certainly don’t check the opinion of some blowhard before I decide what kind of music I like. This is what liberty is.

If you look at my library, you will find Calvin and Berkhof, Stephen King and Nora Roberts. And I won’t ask your opinion before I buy a book I like. Because sin isn’t something you catch from reading the wrong books – otherwise Christ would not have died. If we could have been saved from our sins by proper censorship, we would not have needed Christ to die for our sins.

I will wear my sparkly paisley shirt and my lavender tie, and wear my stripey socks and use soap that makes me smell nice just because I want to, and I am created in God’s image and have no problem reflecting his beauty and strength and wisdom.

I will continue to moisturize because I like how my face feels when it isn’t all dried out and I just don’t give a fig anymore if some testosterone-challenged, knuckle-dragging, schoolyard bully thinks I’m effeminate or not. My wife likes me just the way I am and she’s the one who has to live with me.

And more importantly, God calls me his child. He has put my sins far, far away from me and calls me to live in liberty for his glory, and not according to the doctrines and commandments of men.

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The Death of Death

4 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?”
5 They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them.
6 Now when He said to them, “I am,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
(John 18:4-6)

Jesus had just spent an agonizing night in Gethsemane. It isn’t just that he knows that he is about to be beaten to a bloody pulp and nailed to a cross to die. It isn’t just that he knows that he is despised and rejected of men. It isn’t just that he knows he is about to be numbered among criminals and reduced to a slave.

It is that he knows that he will bear the sins of the world. He knows that it is the Father’s will that he take the infinite blackness and ugliness and hatred of sin upon himself and be forsaken by God. He will experience in his soul the pains and torments of hell, the forsakenness, the pain, the immense suffering of the wrath of God. He who was righteous was made sin for us. And he willingly bore it.

He knows that God’s wrath against sin is infinite, fixed, unchanging. And he is about to bear the full brunt of it. God will consider Jesus to be worst than the worst. Jesus will take the full weight of God’s wrath against idolatry, murder, blasphemy, rape, torture, adultery, cruelty, oppression, slander, wicked speech and wicked actions, and drink the cup to the very bottom.

And the soldiers come to arrest him.

Jesus says, “Whom do you seek?”

They say, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

He says, “I am”. The same answer the God gave Moses when Moses asked his name. The same name that God gave to his covenant people. The name above every name, the name that the Jews considered so holy that they wouldn’t pronounce it. “I am”.

And then the divine majesty of God shines through the form of the servant. This weak, tired man…Jesus of Nazareth…speaks “I am” and the ray of uncreated light breaks through the dark night and the soldiers fall flat on their faces. This is the majesty of God revealed.

This is not what it seems. It seems as if Satan has won. It seems as if Jesus is about to lose control of everything. It seems as if there are events that are taking place that will carry Jesus along like a tidal wave and end up with his death. It seems as if Judas, the soldiers, the Jews, and the Romans are in charge and Jesus is about to be eliminated.

But then Jesus says, “I am” and God’s majesty shines forth. The Word was made flesh, and for a moment that flesh was pulled back and a tiny glimpse of the infinite beauty, majesty and power of almighty God was revealed.

“And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten Son of God, full of grace and truth.”

And with one word, the soldiers could not even stand in His presence.

Jesus is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For us and for our salvation he became flesh for this very reason – to drink the cup of God’s wrath to the very bottom – so that we might be called the children of the living God. This is why it is not fitting to pity him. He was not an unwilling victim. Instead, we worship and adore, we bow before him in wonder. We fall to our faces in astonished silence and then cry, “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to him forever and ever!”

This is the great exchange – his righteousness is mine. My sin is his. And he bore it away, he drank the cup wrath to the bottom. The majesty of God is seen in the suffering of Gethsemane, the cross of Jesus, the empty tomb.

The majesty of God is revealed in the death of death on the cross of Christ. It was not the soldiers in charge that day. At any moment, Jesus could have put an end to all of it.

The human tendency to flinch at a whip was overridden by the majesty of God and the infinite love of Jesus. He willingly bore every stroke, every nail, every spit, every mocking word. He hung on the cross while the sun refused to give its light and bore God’s wrath. In the darkness, God hid from our eyes his judgment against sin for we could not have borne to even see it. But Jesus bore it.

Every splinter, every thorn, every drop of the wrath of God.

The majesty of God, the infinite beauty of God, the infinite holiness and justice of God, and his infinite love came together that day. Find it there, or not at all.

“Amazing love, how can it be? That thou my God shouldst die for me?”

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Filed under Gospel, Love, Sin and Grace

“Masculine men only”???

I’ve been occupied for a while. This morning I’ve been catching up on articles and blogs that I missed when they first came out. I’ve been saving them for the quiet coffee moments, which are sometimes few and far between.

Some of these articles have been quite good. But some have been very disappointing. Take this one, for example.

Normally, I would give an article like this one a raspberry and simply move on. But it has been floating around and getting some attention. It also gives me an opportunity to perhaps cause someone to think a bit before they speak.

Words mean something. We can hurt and drive away, or we can gather, heal and restore. Since we are first of all Christians, and second of all, pastors, we should take a great deal of care with how we use words. I do not believe it is adequate to simply say, “Well, people shouldn’t be so sensitive” and ignore the cries of those who are crushed and broken under our foolish tongues.

36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. (Mat 12:36 KJV)

18 Like a madman who throws Firebrands, arrows and death,
19 So is the man who deceives his neighbor, And says, “Was I not joking?” (Pro 26:18-19)

We may dismiss and cover over idle words, but our Lord certainly does not. So it would do us well to think about the words that we use.

I do not wish to spend a lot of time on this article, but there were three things that struck me as I read it.

First, the goal of the article, as stated in the title, is not a biblical goal.

The title is “On getting and keeping masculine men in church.” Notice, however, that the author nowhere quotes any scripture, but simply assumes that this is a goal that every church should have. But is it a biblical goal?

Is “masculine men” a biblical category? Are we speaking now of a third gender? Male, female, and masculine men? I don’t believe that the author had this in mind, but he certainly did not define what he meant, nor did he go to the scripture to justify his goal. Why masculine men, and not just men? Are there now two categories of men, one of whom we want in the church and the other we just want to go to hell? What about women? Are they OK if they accompany men? What if they come alone?

He seems to imply that a large ratio of women in the church is a problem. As if they are OK as long as there aren’t too many of them. But what if there are 30% masculine men, 20 percent effeminate men, and 50% women. Would that be OK. How do we decide who to put into which category?

I would like to remind the author that Paul preached the gospel to Lydia and her friends down by the river, and didn’t once bemoan the lack of “masculine men”.

The second problem somewhat follows the first – the elimination of “effeminate men” as qualified for church office.

1 Timothy 3 has been ignored by the church for decades, but now we seem to simply be inventing our own categories. “Effeminate men”. I hate this word. Really, really hate it. It is the word of school-yard bullies, ignorant cretins, loudmouth, abusive men. I hate it.

He seems to define it as someone with “effeminate characteristics” or a “high voice”. Once again, no biblical text to back up his statement. He simply states it. Now we are left to define for ourselves what that means.

“I don’t like his necktie. I don’t like his pastimes. I don’t like his voice. I don’t like how he walks. I don’t like how he gestures.” He has now given an excuse to every hardhearted man to ignore the preaching of the word if the pastor’s voice is too high. Is this really where we want to go?

There is always danger whenever we condemn someone apart from scripture. There is always the leaven of Pharisees involved whenever we say that someone has a quality or a personality that God condemns. Whenever we go outside of scripture for our ethics or our ecclesiology, we become authoritarian and oppressive.

We could ask the same question that God asked Moses. “Who made man’s mouth?” Who are YOU to tell God that he made this person wrong. His voice is too high, God. You made him wrong. Effeminate. You made a mistake.

What appalling gall! I hate that word. Hate it.

Before anyone quotes that King James translation of 1 Corinthians 6:9 at me and condemns anyone with a high voice to hell, let me remind you all that this is not what that word means. Paul is talking about immoral sex, not personalities, voice frequency, or mannerisms.

Now here is where the hatred of our words come in. Suppose there is a young man whom God loves. God made him with a beautiful voice with a high register. Perhaps he sings like an angel. Now comes this author, speaking on his own authority, without any backing from scripture, denying him a place in the kingdom of God. “You cannot be a pastor, because God gave you a high voice.”

You are a second class citizen. In fact, we don’t even want you in church. We want 50% “masculine men”, not you with the high voice. Why not cast away the left handed people, those who have red hair and those who are too short as well?

Third, he calls women and children the property of a man.

In the context of touching a woman or a child, which the author forbids, he writes,

When you refrain from touching another man’s stuff, you subtlety communicate your respect for him

Really? Can we all just stop and think about these words and what they convey?

“Don’t touch a woman or a child because if you do, you are touching another man’s things. His property. It shows a lack of respect for a man.”

I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Take this to its logical conclusion. A man has the right to his property to do with it as he pleases. A man’s family is his “stuff”. Not heirs together of eternal life, not beloved of God, not firstborn sons of God – but my stuff.  I can smack them around a bit. Use them as I see fit. They are my “stuff” after all. That’s my first problem.

The second is this – if a woman is molested, is the problem that there was a sin against God and against the woman, or is the sin that someone showed a lack of respect for a man’s stuff?

Don’t blow me off. It is a serious question. If we do not get a handle on this, we will never even understand the problem of sexual assault in church, domestic abuse in church, and we will have no communication whatsoever with the millions of women and children who have been abused, oppressed, despised and condemned by those supposed to be representing Christ to them. We, as the church of Jesus Christ, have become the school-yard bullies. But far worse than that, we have failed to uplift and edify and encourage. Instead we used words that are an offense against God and our neighbor by speaking that which was not right. Every idle word. Every man that you dismissed as effeminate, every woman that you dismissed as a man’s stuff, every child you turned your back on, you will have to give an account for your negligence on the day of judgment.

You don’t think this is a problem? Look at it again. “Get your hands off my stuff” – talking about a human being, created in God’s image!

I am floored.

The author admits that this flows from “common sense” rather than, apparently, the scripture. But I would prefer that he keep this kind of “common sense” to himself.

Instead of this, let me suggest an alternative for pastors:

2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. (2Ti 4:2)

Do you remember that? It’s what we are supposed to be doing. Preach the word. Not attracting “masculine men” and “feminine women”, whatever those words mean. We are to preach Christ and him crucified.

Christ crucified means that there is no hope whatsoever in your maleness, your testosterone, your estrogen, your body parts. There is no hope whatsoever in the flesh. Whether you are a man or a woman, with “masculine” or “feminine traits”, Christ crucified puts an end to all of it.

So preach Christ. Preach Christ to men, to woman, to slaves, to free, to every race, every kindred, every tongue. Put to death your pride in your testosterone, your body parts, you maleness. Quit putting your trust in your personality or the frequency of your voice. Quit pointing at the others and saying, “I thank God I’m not like other men – like that “effeminate guy” over there” and just stop.

Stop, stop, stop. Remember Jesus said that the one pointing at the publican did not go away justified. He died in his sins. You cannot take pride in the flesh and embrace Christ. You cannot build the church of God and brag about the “masculine men” there. It doesn’t work that way.

Preach Christ, and him crucified. Open wide the doors. Quit preaching yourself and your testosterone, and preach Christ. Mortify the flesh. Welcome the sinners of every kind and give them Christ.

Welcome the people like you, and the people unlike you. Welcome the ones that grunt and sweat and talk about big holes and football and monster trucks, and welcome the ones that paint and sew and make music and like colors and fabrics. Because salvation isn’t in those things.

I would hope that anyone visiting First Reformed Church would not count the masculine men and the feminine women, but would simply notice that it is a church where Christ is preached, full of sinners saved by grace, made new by the blood of the lamb.

Christ crucified. That’s it. When we step, even a hair, away from that, we no longer have the right to stand in Christ’s pulpit. Get down, and let someone else do it, someone who knows what the gospel is.

And for the love of everything holy and good and beautiful and lovely, quit saying effeminate. It is a horrible word, every bit as bad as Raca, and every bit as destroying.

Thanks for listening.

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Filed under feminine, Gospel, Masculine, Men and women

Peace and Rest–thoughts on Psalm 19

Thoughts on reading Douglas Kelly’s Systematic theology and Psalm 19…

The heavens declare the glory of God. God is invisible. He is not accessible to our senses. Our eyes do not see him, for he is not made of matter. We do not hear him, for his passing does not ruffle the wind into sound waves.

And yet, God delights to reveal himself. How does God reveal himself to us?

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” God’s invisible attributes are seen in creation (Romans 1). The colors of the world direct us to look to the one who created the colors. The stars in the sky direct us to the one who scattered them.

The earth is perfectly placed – during the day, the sun shines and the stars are hidden. The stars are greater than the sun, but they are far away. And yet, they are not too far away. They “come out” at night when the sun retreats. And God’s wisdom and beauty and love are seen. He scatters Pleiades and Orion and ursa minor, so the hearts of men will rejoice. They look to the stars and see the familiar, the stability of the universe, they find their bearings.

For what reason does Mars sparkle red, other than for the delight of men and women? For what reason does the eye see in color, other than the delight of the children of mankind? There is far more to creation than the mindless pursuit of sex and food and reproduction. The law of the jungle doesn’t explain the platypus and the rainbow and the snowflake.

The heavens declare the glory of God.

God is supremely beautiful, but our eyes only perceive matter. So God created the world to reflect his beauty and his goodness.

The most common colors in all of creation are green and blue, the colors of rest and peace. How different would the world of men be if the sky shone red instead of blue or if grass was white instead of green.

God created the world to be a home for humankind, for man to rest in peace and rejoice.

The devil hates rest and seeks to destroy it. Shame and fear and guilt pound red in the eyes, the voice of enemies shout in black and white – nobody loves you. You are fat and stupid and worthless. God can’t even stand you. Look at you. You’re a disgrace. Shame on you.

Children of God, this isn’t the voice of God. God calls in love – come to the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. Find rest for your souls. God is a God of peace and desires that you find rest in Him. He who painted the earth in greens and blues also says, “Come unto me, and rest.” Cannot the one who put the stars in the sky to direct you north and south also guide you to the safe harbor across the Jordan of death? Does not the one who made the meadow know how to give peace and rest?

He leads me beside the still waters. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He restores my soul.

The sky curves down and meets the earth. The sun descends into twilight. The horizon bursts into colors – blue and orange and purple and red. How beautiful it is when heaven meets the earth! And how much greater is the one who painted the sunset with the word of his mouth! He made the stars also! What a universe of wonder in such a few words!

How can the One who created the brook and the water-lilies be unable or unwilling to do us good?

Cease from warring against him. He became flesh in our Lord Jesus Christ. Immanuel. God with us. We could see him, hear him, watch him, hold him. They watched him eat and drink. They watched him sleep. And then he woke up and commanded the sea to be still. And there was peace.

This is the one who calls to you. Peace, little one. Be still. Your sins are forgiven. Your iniquities are pardoned. No one can harm you under my wings. Peace. Be still.

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Out of Egypt I have called my son

There is a very perplexing verse in Matthew’s gospel:

13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.
  14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:
  15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. (Matt. 2:13-15)

In verse 15, Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says that this event in the life of the child Jesus fulfilled a prophecy. He quotes that prophecy as “Out of Egypt, have I called my son.”

One of the best things that you could do when reading the scriptures is look up the passages that the New Testament apostles quote. It is quite enlightening to see how they interpreted the scripture. They didn’t do the modern “proof-texting” – where you take a verse out of context and twist it to apply to some point you want to make.

So here is the interesting bit. Matthew is quoting Hosea 11:1. It is the only passage he COULD be quoting. In Hosea’s context, God is rebuking Israel for rejecting the great privilege that he had given them. He loved them, and redeemed them from Egypt. But even more than that, he gave them the great honor of being called the son of God. Here is how the  passage reads:

When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.
  2 As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images.
  3 I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them. (Hos. 11:1-3).

This is quite perplexing until you understand how the apostles viewed the sacred scriptures. What does this passage have to do with the child Jesus fleeing to Egypt from the wrath of Herod? Does Matthew know how to interpret scripture? Could the original readers of Hosea have known that this was a prophecy about the Christ?

Is Matthew’s hermeneutic (the science of the interpretation of scripture) wrong?

This passage always puzzled me. I knew that Matthew was not a modern preacher just picking a verse that reminded him of what he wanted to say. He was a far better expositor than that. More than that, he was inspired by the Holy Spirit, inerrant and infallible. We can trust his words.

So here is the question – in what sense did the historical event of Jesus returning from Egypt as a child fulfill Hosea 11:1.

The heart of the gospel is this: God is seeking a people for his name, a people who worship him in spirit and in truth. Adam was created in God’s image, and was called the son of God (Luke 3:38). But Adam failed.

Israel, the descendants of Abraham, were delivered from Egypt to be the peculiar people of God, His own special treasure (see Exodus 19). They also were called the sons of God. But they failed spectacularly, which is what the book of Hosea is about.

Will God’s bride be forever lost? This is the tension in Hosea. How can God be just and loving at the same time? How can God love Israel, when the very nature of Israel is an abomination to the Lord. They are idolaters, oppressors and thieves. They are a nation of adulterers. God cannot abide sin. He cannot pretend to be pleased with their human sacrifices to demons, their calf worship, their adultery and murder. And yet, he loved them.

Since God cannot abide sin, but is angry with the wicked every day; since we are all sinners and come short of the glory of God; since we are all covenant breakers like our father Adam, and like the nation of Israel; how will God fulfill his desire to redeem a people for his name. God desires a nation to call his own special people. My son.

The answer is found in the book of Galatians, primarily in the 3rd and 4th chapters:

4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
  5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
  6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
  7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Gal. 4:4-7).

Jesus was the son promised to Abraham. Jesus was the seed. Jesus is the Israel of God. He is the one who succeeded where Israel failed.

So it was necessary that he be tempted in all points, like as we were, that we might be saved IN HIM. This included being “redeemed out of Egypt”. He is the reality, and the nation of Israel was the shadow. The whole miraculous event of the Exodus was given to us for one purpose – so that when the Christ came out of Egypt, we would know for certain that “Out of Egypt have I called my Son.”

The exodus was about Christ. Not about the twelve tribes. It was about the people of God.

Jesus is the Israel of God. For this reason, immediately after his baptism, Jesus is taken to the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. He is there 40 days, re-living the 40 years that Israel spent being tested in the wilderness.

The temptations were the same. God is not good. Put him to the test. Force him into your box. And if you just bow to the calves and worship me, I will give you your heart’s desire. Israel fell to each one of these temptations.

Moses rebukes them in Deuteronomy chapters 6-8 and calls them to repentance. They should have remembered who God was, Moses said. They should have known.

Jesus resists each temptation by quoting this exact passage 3 times. He remembered his God. He obeyed perfectly. He was the true and faithful son of God.

We know also from scripture that Jesus is the eternal, natural son of God which we can never share. He is truly divine, of the same essence as the Father, and we will always be human. But that is another post.

Matthew is reminding us that Jesus is the son of God in another sense. He is the one who obeyed and loved perfectly, who was faithful even until death. He was the well-beloved son, succeeded where Israel and Adam and each one of us continually failed.

And the whole point is this – if we believe the words of the apostles, by faith we are also sons of God, and heirs according to the promise. It is Christ who is the Israel of God. And when we believe in him, we are also children of the same promises. Whether we are Jew of Gentile, male or female, bond or free, in Christ we are also “delivered from Egypt”, “obedient in all things” and the “well-beloved sons of God.”

That is the gospel. It is why the book is called the “Good news according to Matthew”.

The nation of Israel is not the true Israel. The Gentiles are not the true Israel. Only Christ is the true Israel. And all who are ingrafted into that tree by faith are also the true Israel of God, and heirs according to the promise. The promise that “all Israel will be saved” is a promise that God will also call Israel to himself by faith in Christ and not forget any one of his elect. He has not cast off the physical Israel, but he will call them also in Christ, when the fulness of the Gentiles are brought in.

And if you believe on the Lord Jesus, you also are children of Abraham, just as scripture says, because He was a child of Abraham. This promise is yours in Christ, the true seed of Abraham. This is why the New Testament begins with a genealogy – Jesus is the true seed of Abraham, the true seed of David. He became flesh for us, that we might become the sons of God – each one of us.

And thus was fulfilled what John the Baptizer said, “He is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”

There is a lot here. Think on these things….

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