Had God Abandoned Them?

Luke 1:5-10

But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years (Luke 1:7 ESV).

Life does not usually conform to our expectations. We usually assume this is a bad happening, though occasionally we might say, “I’m glad that events went differently from what I wanted, because if they had, I’d be in bigger problems.” However, our typical pattern is to feel disappointed (or frustrated or hurt or bitter or envious or angry – you pick where you are on this spectrum). Let’s face it. We want God to give us what we want, when we want it, because we’re sure that we know what is best for us. In an affluent society, we can’t imagine anything but the full, immediate satisfaction of our desires to be God’s agenda for us.

We must beware of psychologizing our text. The Holy Spirit through Luke does not disclose the feelings of Zechariah and Elizabeth to us. He simply states the life situation they were in before God stepped into their lives with his kingdom agenda. You see, God has his plans for us, and he does not ask us to approve his plans before he puts them in motion.

Luke, as the careful student of history, tells us the historical setting of the beginning of the gospel events. They began in the time of King Herod, who ruled from 37-4 BC. Near the end of his reign, God acted in the lives of two of his people. Zechariah was a priest, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. (A thousand years before, David had divided the priests into twenty-four divisions.) Notice what the Holy Spirit lets us know about Zechariah and Elizabeth. Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord (Luke 1:6 CSB). They served the Lord, yet they were denied the blessing of children up to this point in their lives. They were nearly fifty (the age when priests retired from temple ministry), and though they had prayed for a child (Luke 1:13), God had not blessed them in that way… yet. God can answer our prayers “yes”, “no”, or “wait”, and they received the third trying answer. One of the lessons of their trial of faith involved waiting until God’s time arrived. This made it seem like God had abandoned them. I suppose God could have given them other children before John, but the Lord often calls his children to wait while he waits for his time. This is a “sharing of waiting” with God. It develops our faith in him.

Then one day, Zechariah’s number came up in the lottery (1:9). He was selected to go into the temple to offer incense, as required by the law covenant. Those who have studied this subject say that this was probably the only time in his life that Zechariah had this privilege. He had to wait to do what priests do for many years. But God had not abandoned him. God has many servants that he tells to wait for years before their hour comes. God wants us to live with him in his presence, serving him faithfully, while we think we are only waiting to serve. Don’t miss the small actions of your life, in which you serve the Lord, because you or your family or your friends or others don’t think they are significant. God had a special reason to delay Zechariah’s service in the temple. God only knows the reasons for apparent delays and seeming abandonments in your life. Keep on walking by faith!

Had God abandoned his dearly loved children Zechariah and Elizabeth? No, in fact, he was about to do much more than they could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). God had formed their lives for a significant purpose: to be the parents of the forerunner of Jesus their Messiah. Joy was about to enter their lives!

Grace and peace, David

Telling God’s Story

Luke 1:1-4

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (NIV).

People like to get a glimpse of a master craftsmen at work in his studio. They like to see how a genius puts things together, whether a work of art, music, design, etc. “Oh, so that’s how it’s done!” brings satisfied smiles to the onlookers. In the same way, Luke gives us a glimpse into his “study” about the holy writing we call “the Gospel of Luke”. In the above verses, he tells us about the method and the purpose that the Spirit led him to use.

Luke begins with his place in telling us the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. He was not the first to do this. He does not identify those who preceded him in this good work, but they included Mark and Matthew (John was written many years later), as well as others who had told the story orally. There were probably a number of spoken accounts of Jesus and the gospel events circulating, which should not surprise us, given the powerful authority of his person, message, and works. But the Spirit chose the four Gospel writers to set forth all this in Scripture (the Holy Writings).

Notice Luke’s emphasis on fulfillment: the things that have been fulfilled among us. He tells us that the good news of Jesus happened in conformity with the plan and promises of God. He wanted Theophilus, the original recipient, to know that what he had become part of, as a follower of Jesus, was in consequence of what the Sovereign God had purposed and accomplished. Nearly twenty centuries later, we need to know this, too. The Lord has called us into the true story of his glory in Christ, because by grace we are in Christ.

Luke reveals his method to us.

  • He benefited from the ministry of those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. This usually happens in any human endeavor that makes an impact. People learn from skilled instructors and are able to take what they have received to the next level. Or more simply, they are in the right place at the right time. Luke received truth from eyewitnesses and teachers of the word. They handed it down to him.
  • He researched the material. He confirmed information and evaluated it. He had to sort through it and then to profit from it himself.
  • He started from the beginning of the story of Jesus. This led him to include important material about Jesus’ forerunner, the prophet John. Jesus did not come on the scene unannounced. God prepared the way for the coming of his Son.
  • He was cautious. He affirmed that he himself had carefully investigated everything from the beginning. While Luke tells us many things in common with Matthew and Mark, he adds a great block of material that is his own, when compared to the other Gospel writers. He desired to provide us with an accurate account of what Jesus said and did.
  • He considered carefully how to arrange his material: I too decided to write an orderly account for you. By orderly, Luke did not mean chronological. But he did have a plan. Perhaps, we can write more on this another time.
  • He wrote purposefully. He wrote to persuade Theophilus and others who would read. Thus, the Gospel of Luke is not “a life of Christ”. None of the Gospels are. They are theological narratives that are intended to inform and to convince people to follow Jesus Christ as fully committed disciples (learners). They are accurately telling us what happened, but in a way to change our ideas, attitudes, and actions.

So then, Luke asks for a careful reading of his work. Hopefully, we will do so, mixing it with faith in God, in order that we might profit from what is written. Luke wrote carefully; can we do anything less than to listen carefully?

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Nineteen)

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:22-24 ESV).

God is patient. “Far less has been written upon this than the other excellencies of the Divine character. Not a few of those who have expatiated at length upon the Divine attributes have passed over the patience of God without any comment. It is not easy to suggest a reason for this, for surely the longsuffering of God is as much one of the Divine perfections as His wisdom, power, or holiness, and as much to be admired and revered by us. True, the actual term will not be found in a concordance so frequently as the others, but the glory of this grace itself shines forth on almost every page of Scripture. Certain it is that we lose much if we do not frequently meditate upon the patience of God and earnestly pray that our hearts and ways may be more completely conformed thereto” (Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 70).

What is God’s patience, or as we could also call this attribute, his longsuffering or forbearance? Stephen Charnock answered this way. “It is a part of the Divine goodness and mercy, yet differs from both. God being the greatest goodness, hath the greatest mildness; mildness is always the companion of true goodness, and the greater the goodness, the greater the mildness. Who so holy as Christ, and who so meek? God’s slowness to anger is a branch of His mercy: ‘the Lord is full of compassion, slow to anger’ (Psalm 145:8). It differs from mercy in the formal consideration of the subject: mercy respects the creature as miserable, patience respects the creature as criminal; mercy pities him in his misery, patience bears with the sin which engendered the misery, and giving birth to more” (Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, Vol. 2, pp. 478-479). With this in mind, we should understand that God’s patience involves a sort of meeting point of God’s holiness and his love. A number of times God reveals himself as slow to anger (Nahum 1:3), and often this characteristic is linked with his compassion, love and grace (Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 103:8).

God’s patience is very great; for example, the apostle speaks of the riches of his patience (Romans 2:4). As the psalmist teaches, God is patient with his people continually, as the Holy One interacts with sinful people (Psalm 78:32-39). Patience shows God’s self-control in the face of provocation that is not only high-handed in the case of the wicked, but which comes from less than totally committed people who speak of our love for him. In human relationships we know the pain that comes when one party is less than faithful. Though we cannot frustrate the God, as we would be frustrated, because God is self-satisfied; nevertheless that does not excuse our lack of faithful love and trying God’s patience (Isaiah 7:13).

The patience of God is an integral part of God’s plan. Having decided to make known to his chosen people the riches of his mercy, it was necessary for the Lord to act with patience toward those he passed by (Romans 9:22-24), in order that he could call us out from that people. Clearly, if God had judged our pagan ancestors immediately, they would not have existed to be part of the line of human reproduction leading to us. For this reason, God acted with patience in the days of Noah (1 Peter 3:20), and afterward, letting the nations go their own way, while still providing for them (Acts 14:16-17; 17:30). God was patient with Israel after the Exodus, enduring their conduct in the wilderness (Jeremiah 11:7; Acts 13:18), in order that Christ might eventually come from Israel (Romans 9:5). And even more directly, God’s patience is directly active in preserving our lives prior to our regeneration and conversion, in order that we might come to salvation (2 Peter 3:9, 15). God’s patience is also evident in his forbearing to punish those who lived before Christ’s sacrifice. He forgave them and justified them through what Christ would do on the cross, and so in his forbearance he left their sins unpunished until Calvary (Romans 3:25-26).

When God is patient, it is an omniscient patience. He sees our sin and abhors it, yet he wills to look on us with pity. God’s patience does not come from his weakness, but from his strength. He has the ability to judge at any time, but chooses to restrain his anger to make known his grace.

God expects us to imitate his patience by being patient and forbearing (Colossians 3:12-13) in our interaction with other people. And we are to be patient in the face of suffering (James 5:7-11). We require patience to finish the course God has marked out for us (2 Timothy 4:7). In fact, patience is a key quality of true love (1 Corinthians 13:4).

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Eighteen)

For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath (Deuteronomy 4:31 NIV).

God is merciful. The living God is merciful (Deuteronomy 4:31; Daniel 9:9). But how is God’s mercy to be distinguished from God’s grace? Both are closely related, springing from God’s love and goodness, so we should not draw sharp distinctions between mercy and grace. For example, the repentant sinner is encouraged to return to God and receive a free pardon because God will have mercy. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon (Isaiah 55:7 NIV), and God’s forgiveness of his old covenant people is traced to his mercy (Psalm 78:3). Perhaps we can safely say this. Grace is God’s attitude and action toward sinners as undeserving, while mercy is his attitude and action toward sinners in misery. We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy (James 5:11). In the instance of Job, his suffering did not come from his sin, yet he needed God’s mercy.

“It is the great design of the Scripture to represent God as merciful. This is a loadstone [magnet] to draw sinners to him… God is represented as a king, with a rainbow about his throne (Revelation 4:3). The rainbow was an emblem of mercy. The Scripture represents God in white robes of mercy more often than with garments rolled in blood; with his golden scepter more often than his iron rod” (Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 93).

Here are characteristics of God’s mercy:

  • Like God’s love and grace, his mercy is sovereign and free. God extends mercy to people in misery because he chooses to do so (Exodus 33:19). God’s mercy causes him to extend mercy because he is “a gracious and merciful God” (Nehemiah 9:31).
  • God’s mercy is the source of his redeeming activity, both regarding the old covenant nation (Isaiah 63:9), and the spiritual redemption of God’s chosen ones (Romans 9:15-16). From his mercy comes our rebirth into a living hope. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).
  • God delights in extending his mercy to sinners in their misery (Micah 7:18). Being rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4), he has drawn up a plan of showing mercy to all—to both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 11:30-32).
  • God’s mercy involves powerful action on God’s part. He is able to relieve the suffering (Philippians 2:27) and to give us actual help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16), as we see many times in the earthly ministry of our Lord (Matthew 17:15; Luke 17:13; 18:38-39).

“One act of mercy engages God to another. Men argue thus, I have shown you kindness already, therefore trouble me no more; but, because God has shown mercy, he is more ready still to show mercy; his mercy in election makes him justify, adopt, glorify; one act of mercy engages God to more. A parent’s love to his child makes him always giving” (Watson, p. 94).

How should we respond to God’s mercy? Since we have been born again because of his mercy, God expects us to exhibit his quality of mercy to others. But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful (Luke 6:35-36 CSB; cf. Matthew 5:7; 18:33; Jude 1:22) with an attitude corresponding to God’s delight in mercy (Romans 12:8). God wants us to develop endurance in (2 Corinthians 4:1) and explanation of (1 Timothy 1:12-16) ministry that comes from recognizing that we are recipients of mercy. We are to face the future confidently expecting mercy from God (Jude 1:21). “Go to God for mercy. ‘Have mercy upon me, O God!’ (Psalm 51:1)… Give me not only mercy to feed and clothe me, but mercy to save me; give me the cream of thy mercies; Lord! Let me have mercy and lovingkindness… Though God may refuse us when we come for mercy in our own name, yet he will not when we come in Christ’s name. Plead Christ’s satisfaction, and this is an argument that God cannot deny” (Watson, p. 98).

Grace and peace, David

Rejected

Isaiah 53:3

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem (NIV).

Most people can understand the bitter pain of rejection. It is often experienced in childhood on various levels. We might have felt rejection in being the last person picked for kickball or because we wore glasses at a young age. Teen years might have brought the rejection of being “shot down” or never asked regarding dates, being excluded from the “in” social groups. Young adulthood might have brought rejections by colleges and employers, or even the rejection of a broken engagement. Adults experience a multitude of rejections, until finally, older adults sit alone in nursing homes, rejected by most everyone. If you feel rejected, you may weep.

Our verse, however, points us not to what bitterness we might feel from rejection, but to one who came into this world to be rejected, in order that his people might be accepted. The bitter cup of rejection he accepted for our benefit. Take a few minutes to ponder the depths of rejection that Jesus the Messiah felt to bring us salvation and joy. The baby in the manger became the despised man and held in low esteem on the cross. If you sense somewhat of the rejection he received, you may weep.

I wish that his rejection had ended, and that all people everywhere might accept him, bowing before the Lord Christ in repentance and faith. But most of the world prefers to reject him continually, despising both him and his offer of saving grace. Father in heaven, pour out your Holy Spirit, that people might see the glory of your dearly loved Son and turn to him!

While we pray that fervently, we must face the ways that we his people still reject him. This is ugly, but we must understand this ugliness, in order to turn from it.

  • The Lord Jesus is rejected in the theological systems people build. Our knowledge of God and the story of his glory ought to be built on and formed by the Lord and his work. Yet too often, the church’s viewpoints have been crafted around things like covenants, dispensations, rituals and rules, and church structures. I am glad for a few recent books about seeing Christ in the whole Bible, but most fall woefully short in presenting the Bible in line with the Lord of glory.
  • The Lord Jesus is rejected in the way we worship. Someone will object, “But we sing about Jesus in our songs and say, ‘in Jesus name’ when we close our prayers.” Yes, I know that, and I also know that most cannot explain what ‘in Jesus name’ means. Worse still, Christ is our high priest and mediator (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:1; 9:11; etc.), but we do not consciously worship the living God through him. When was the last time that your church was called to worship God through Jesus Christ our mediator? Jesus is the latest forgotten member of the Trinity.
  • The Lord Jesus is rejected in our goals and purposes, both individually and corporately. I’m not talking about church mission statements, which are crafted by people who know they ought to say such things like, “Our mission is to make followers of Jesus Christ.” I’m speaking of the attitude of the local congregation. Too often, a church caters to the whims of church shoppers that want their perceived needs satisfied. We ought to say and to mean, “We gather to make you think like Christ, have his attitudes, and make choices that express his glory and goodness.” Philippians 2:1-11 might be preached and admired, but it is rarely performed.
  • The Lord Jesus is rejected in our love. Listen to what Jesus himself said to the church at Ephesus long ago. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first (Revelation 2:4 NIV). It is one thing to sing, “O come, let us adore him.” It is another to adore him with the choices you make. Will we choose to love Jesus today in our hearts and way of life? He desires our love, and he wants us to share his love with others. Let us return to him today.

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Seventeen)

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6 NIV).

God is gracious.

Like other words, the word “grace” is used in various ways. All words depend on the context in which they are used to establish their exact meaning. As we study the Scriptures, we find that “grace” is used in three general ways.

  • Grace is the favor God shows or extends to people (Jonah 4:2). In regard to sinners, this favor is always unmerited or undeserved or without cause in the sinner. In the same way, then, there is also at the present time a remnant chosen by grace. Now if by grace, then it is not by works; otherwise grace ceases to be grace (Romans 11:5-6 CSB).
  • Grace is the power of God acting to change a situation or person. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a CSB).
  • Grace is the response of thankfulness that induces worship and service to God. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God (Colossians 3:16 ASV).

The Bible teaches us that God is gracious in his nature—that he has the attitude of showing favor and the power that flows out of that attitude to change situations and people (Exodus 34:6; Nehemiah 9:17,31; 111:4; 116:5).

We should know these four important characteristics of God’s grace:

  • God’s grace is eternal. Since it is an essential part of his eternal plan, we must not think that is some sort of “Plan B”. Some teachings give the wrong impression that God first planned to deal with mankind on the basis of works, but when Adam disobeyed, God had to shift to other plan to have fellowship with the now fallen humanity. However, God teaches us that his plan of grace included us in Christ before the beginning of time (2 Timothy 1:9).
  • God’s grace is free, which means that it is without cause in the recipients of grace (Romans 3:24; Ephesians 1:6). From this comes salvation by grace and not by works (Ephesians 2:5,8-9). No person will ever be able to claim that he or she deserved to be saved or somehow earned salvation. In fact, even repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18) and faith (Acts 18:27; Philippians 1:29) are gifts from God. In this way God receives all the praise for salvation.
  • God’s grace is sovereign; that is, he extends grace to sinners who deserve his wrath as he decides (2 Thessalonians 2:16; Titus 2:11). Since we all deserved wrath because we have rejected God as our God, no one has anything to complain. What ought to surprise us is that the Lord chooses to show grace to anyone!
  • God’s grace is given in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Romans 5:15, 17, 21). No one can expect to find grace apart from Christ. Throughout all eternity, God’s chosen people will enjoy God’s kindness in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:7).

How should we respond to God’s grace?

First, our hearts should overflow with gratitude toward God and worship him for his grace (Psalm 86:15). Thankfulness for grace received should form an essential part of the way that we relate to God (2 Corinthians 9:15; Ephesians 1:3). We ought to thank God for his grace to others (Romans 6:17; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Colossians 1:3-4), the blessings we enjoy through those who have also received grace (1 Thessalonians 3:9), and his action in our lives (2 Corinthians 2:14). Second, we should pray that God’s grace would be extended to others (Romans 1:7; Galatians 1:3; etc.). Third, graciousness should be part of our conduct (Colossians 4:6). Fourth, we should live in the expectation of grace from God (Hebrews 4:16) and keep ourselves in the way of grace (Hebrews 13:9).

Grace and peace, David

A Lesson in Praise (Part Two)

Psalm 145:1-3

I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom (NIV).

Proper worship requires a correct perspective (145:3). To use painting as an illustration again, can you paint a portrait or a landscape without some knowledge of what you’re trying to paint? Can you paint in the dark? How well can you paint with while wearing smudged glasses?

For this reason, we must know the reason for praise.

  • We have a perpetual reason for praise in the character of God. Consider this, does a weak, immature view of God cause weak, immature praise? If you love and know the living God, you ought to have much to say about him! Here is the foundation of David’s ongoing, daily commitment to praise. He was a human like we are. He had both good days and bad. He had joys and sorrows. But the source of his praise did not come from the varying circumstances of his life. They came from the being and character of the Lord.
  • Another reason is the awesome greatness of our God. We cannot fully search out the majestic greatness of God. God is too much to explore, since he is infinite. This does not mean that we do not explore. America is filled with scenic wonders. What a beautiful land we have! I do not expect to see this whole country. It’s too big. That does not stop me from viewing its beauty where I can look. Even so, as we explore the glory of God’s greatness, we will see new wonders.

Our praise is to correspond to its object. Give great praise to our great God. Ponder the scene in Revelation 5:9-14. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped
(ESV).

The God we praise is infinitely greater than the praise we are able to offer. We should search out God’s greatness, but after doing our best, we must confess it to be unsearchable.

George Whitefield, an evangelist during the First Great Awakening, used to say, “Anoint my stammering tongue to tell thy love immense, unsearchable.” We ought to have his desire to praise. A true believer does not need a “holy day” for an occasion to praise the Lord. While we should give thanks on Thanksgiving Day, every day is a day of thanksgiving, every day a day of praise. Observe also the repetition of David’s determination to praise God. Do we share his viewpoint?

Grace and peace, David

A Lesson in Praise (Part One)

Psalm 145:1-3

I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom (NIV).

Have you ever thought about everything our ancestors had to do to survive? A trip to Old Sturbridge Village or Plimouth Plantation can remind us of how much of their lives was dedicated to survival. Think of all that they had to make by hand. Except in museums and among survivalists, their skills are basically a lost art. Except on Thanksgiving Day, their praise and worship of God has been lost also.

As long as our higher technology endures, it doesn’t matter if we are ignorant of their basic survival skills in physical matters. It is nice to know about the past, but we don’t need to live in it. Yet we must realize that there is another area of life, the spiritual, in which our technological achievements provide us no help. We can operate things we have made: automobiles, automatic dishwashers and vacuums, online banking, entertainment devices, microwave ovens, and computers. The Pilgrims would be at a complete loss about what to do with them. But we do not know how to relate to the God who created us. We need a lesson in praise.

In the Bible the Holy Spirit has told us how we can know God and relate to him. He used men like David, the man after God’s own heart, to write about the way to praise God. In this psalm, David praises God for his glory and fame (1-7), his goodness (8-10), his kingdom (11-13), his providence (14-16), and his saving mercy (17-21). Let us listen attentively to what has been written about praising God for his glory and fame.

Proper worship requires full personal involvement (145:1-2). It begins with entering into a personal relationship with the living God. It is the wonder of being known by God and knowing God. We hear his voice in the Scriptures, and respond to him through faith by the Holy Spirit.

The foundation of this relationship is our union with Christ, in whom we are right with God by grace through faith. David understood it and gloried in it. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them” (Romans 4:5-8 NIV). Since his sins were forgiven, he could call the Lord my God the King. The fountain of praise bubbles with the joy of justification. David understood his place in this relationship. Though he was king of Israel, he knew that he had a King, the Lord God Almighty. The forgiven soul likes to kneel before the Throne of Grace and worship the King of grace.

Since he had a relationship with the living God, David acted as such a one should. We know that a husband and wife should treat each other with love and respect. They pledge these things to each other in the marriage covenant. In the context of this psalm, how does David teach us to treat God? He committed himself to praise forever. A new master plan is in place for the rest of his existence. He also committed himself to praise daily. A new, happy routine or habit was added to his life. The first commitment is the big picture. The second is each stroke of the paintbrush. An artist doesn’t usually paint the whole picture at one time. He or she consistently works toward the larger goal. So it is with our life with God. We walk with him daily, always grateful, while growing in gratitude.

Evaluate your own commitment to praise. Is there one? How well are you doing? To use the illustration, how consistently have you worked on the painting? Do your brushes need cleaned? Do you need to add some new colors?

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Nineteen (Part Ten)

Psalm 19:13-14

Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (NIV).

We conclude this great psalm about God’s revelation. Its closing words speak joyfully about his confidence in God and the grace that is freely received from him. God’s words are intended to lead us to his joy, but that is only received as we trust in him, as he has revealed himself to us.

“Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.” As David prays for help against sin, he uses the argument that such help will enable him to live for God as he should. This is the blameless character of which he speaks. He would be blameless in regard to willful or defiant sin. Every saint should make this his/her aim, as also the apostle Paul tried to live. Because of this, I always try to maintain a clear conscience before God and all people (Acts 24:16 NLT).

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart…” David concludes this psalm with what has become a very well-known prayer. Notice that he asks for God’s help with both his outer man (“my mouth”) and his inner man (“my heart”). As Jesus taught, the mouth speaks what comes out of the heart. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him (Matthew 12:34-35 NIV). What David prayed showed his concern for the purity of the whole person, body and soul. We might perhaps say the right thing, but if the heart is not producing those words, we are being hypocritical.

David recognized that his heart would meditate or ponder on things that his mouth might not necessarily say, yet he wanted to be pure in heart also, for he knew that God knew what he was thinking in his heart (cf. Psalm 139:1-6). Idolatry of the heart is as evil as outward performance (Ezekiel 14:3-4). David wants God alone to be worshipped by him.

David was focused on the Lord. He desired that his words and thoughts would be pleasing in your sight…. Here was David’s great concern, that his whole person and actions would bring pleasure to God. The believer should not merely be concerned about avoiding offense to God, but he or she should have a positive concern about how to please the living God. If we are made to glorify God and to enjoy him forever, then we ought to recognize that we are not reaching the goal of our being until there is this joint pleasure of God in us and we in him. True Christianity is more than not doing things; it is living in the Lord’s presence in fellowship with him to bring him honor and pleasure and to enjoy all his excellent worth.

O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer: Here is the focus of David’s life. The God who has spoken in creation and in the holy writings is more than a communicator to David. He is also personally interested in David, and graciously makes himself available to those who trust in him. David views him as his Rock, the one who is able to provide full stability to David’s life, and as his Redeemer, because he had set David free from his sins (see Romans 4). The goal of the Scriptures is to lead us to have fellowship with the living God. David entered into that purpose. Have we?

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Nineteen (Part Nine)

Psalm 19:12-14

But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (NIV).

As we consider the subject of secret sins, we come to a fourth point. The person who knows the Lord has confidence in the grace and compassion of the Lord. This is the confidence in God that is part of the essence of faith. Here we see a believer that has sinned freely confessing hidden sins to his or her God. But why does the believer confess them? We do because we know that God is ready to receive us, to help us in our weaknesses, to blot out even the stain unseen. Make no mistake, people set apart for God take their sins seriously, because God is very serious in our lives. (In other words, we fear God.) But we also have a large view of the magnitude of redeeming love, and so we ask for forgiveness! However, there is more to our war against remaining sin.

Keep your servant also from willful sins…. The law covenant recognized two categories of sins: unintentional and defiant (Numbers 15:27-31). The law covenant made provision for a sacrificial covering for those who sinned unintentionally. However, there was no sacrifice provided for those who sinned defiantly or willfully. The law had only one word for any such sinner: death. Since David lived under the law covenant, he was concerned not to bring the force of God’s law upon his head. Compare 1 Corinthians 15:56: The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law (ESV). So, David prayed that God would keep him from such sins. It is good and wise that we pray for God’s help in spiritual warfare. In the new covenant, we have the Holy Spirit as our Helper against sin (cf. Galatians 5:16-26).

David continued with the plea may they not rule over me. Again, we must remember that David is praying as an old covenant believer. In many areas, our spiritual experience is similar to those who lived under the law. But in others, we must never underestimate the difference that Christ established in his new and better covenant. We must understand this phrase used by David carefully, because what David prayed for under the law, we now possess in the new covenant. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). “What he [David] there [Psalm 19:13] so earnestly prays for, the apostle in the words of the text [Rm 6:14] promiseth unto all believers, by virtue of the grace of Christ Jesus administered in the gospel [the new covenant].” [Owen, Works, Vol. 7, p. 506.] Having said this, we must carefully consider the following facts:

  • Sin still continues in new covenant believers (Romans 13:14; Galatians 5:17; 1 Peter 2:11). Sin still continues to incite us to rebellion against God and to break his commands. In this way sin has lost none of its character as sin, whether one has been a Christian five minutes or fifty years. Sin is still deceptive and persistent.
  • Yet sin is a weakened force in believers. Though it is still sin, it is unable to rise to dominate the inner person of the heart of the believer. There is a new master in the heart, the reigning grace of Jesus Christ the Lord (Romans 5:21; 6:15-22).
  • Though sin is weakened in believers, it still strives for domination. We are still in a war against sin. Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls (1 Peter 2:11 NLT). And since we are in a war, we need to make use of every kind of privilege and spiritual armor that God has given us to fight sin (Ephesians 6:10-18).

“This is one principal difference between the law [the old covenant] and the gospel [the new covenant], and was ever so esteemed in the church of God, until all communication of efficacious grace began to be called in question: The law guides, directs, commands, all things that are against the interest and rule of sin. It judgeth and condemneth both the things that promote it and the persons that do them; it frightens and terrifies the consciences of those who are under its dominion. But if you shall say unto it, ‘What then shall we do? this tyrant, this enemy, is too hard for us. What aid and assistance against it will you afford unto us? what power will you communicate unto its destruction?’ Here the law is utterly silent, or says that nothing of this nature is committed unto it of God; nay, the strength it hath it gives unto sin for the condemnation of the sinner: ‘The strength of sin is the law.’ But the gospel, or the grace of it, is the means and instrument of God for the communication of internal spiritual strength unto believers. By it do they receive supplies of the Spirit or aids of grace for the subduing of sin and the destruction of its dominion. By it they may say they can do all things, through Him that enables them” (Owen, Works, Vol. 7, pp. 546-547, my emphasis).

Grace and peace, David