Paradise Regained: Starting at the Resurrection

IMG_06101 Corinthians 15:20-28

In the beginning the Holy God created a perfect world and a people made in his image, sinless and able to glorify God by enjoying him always. The Holy God used to communicate with his people and they with him in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). Filled with joy, right with God, and in perfect fellowship with one another, it was truly Paradise. But the darkest day in human history happened early. Adam rebelled against God, and his transgression brought God’s curse and the resultant ruin that our race still bitterly experiences. Paradise had been lost. Now death, disease, discord, despair, and disaster became part of human life.

However, the loss of Paradise was not humanity’s only problem, as tragic and terrible as that was. Rejecting God’s rule, people became the followers of a new leader, willingly following the evil one in a sinful way of life (Ephesians 2:1-3). Rightly, the Holy God responded to mankind in holy wrath (Romans 1:18-32). But mankind responded, not in repentance, but by striving to build up a rebellion, a kingdom or reign of darkness, against God’s kingdom or reign (Psalm 2:1-3). Now as far as overthrowing God’s reign or rule, this kingdom of darkness is hopeless and totally insignificant in power.  In fact, when he views this rebellion, the Lord laughs (Psalm 2:4). He is God, the Creator, the Almighty, the Lord of the armies of heaven, and Sovereign over all. Let us worship God, as we consider his eternal reign (Psalm 47:2; 103:19; 145:11-13).

How did God respond to human rebellion? Before we can understand his response, we must understand who the Lord is and his eternal purpose. In everything God works to lift up the glory or shining significance of his name. He wants to display all that he is, and to have a people who will sense and share his glory. Like an overflowing fountain, he chooses to display his love, patience, goodness, kindness, mercy, peace, and joy. And he freely chooses to share what he is with a totally undeserving people, by his sovereign grace. He shows himself as all that we need that our comfort and joy might be only in him (Isaiah 40:1; cf. 51:12). We lost Paradise, but God’s story, the story of the Bible, is how God decided to regain Paradise for his chosen people, all to the glory of God’s name. God tells us he does this by setting up another kingdom in humanity—the kingdom of God through his Son. Let us listen to the story of his glory.

God’s kingdom involves the salvation (resurrection) of his people (15:20-24). The central idea of God’s reign is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In contrast to the basic truth of the gospel (15:3-8), some people connected with the Corinthian believers had been denying that there was a physical resurrection (15:12). Paul first responds that such denials are against the truth of Christ’s resurrection and our hope in Christ (15:13-19). Now he proceeds to demonstrate that Christ’s resurrection has made necessary everything included in God’s reign or kingdom, including the resurrection of all Christ’s people. So Paul sets forth the centrality of Christ’s resurrection. He calls Christ “the firstfruits of those who sleep” (those believers who have died, cf. 15:18). The idea is that Christ is the first one in the resurrection to eternal life, and his resurrection guarantees the resurrection of his people (cf. 16: 15; cf. 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:14). In other words, the resurrected Christ is God’s pledge that many others will be resurrected also. In Christ’s resurrection, there is the regaining of Paradise, but it is a regaining with power (cf. Romans 1:4; cf. Ephesians 1:18-21).

Next, Paul steps back a bit and places the event of Christ’s resurrection into the purpose of God in history. Since the losing of Paradise happened through a man, so also through a man Paradise must be regained. The Greek text reads simply: “For since through a man, death, also through a man [the] resurrection from [the] dead” (15:21). In God’s infinite wisdom, he chose to display his glory through a man to counter the effects on mankind’s rebellion against God. The glory of God would shine forth brilliantly through his Son taking on human flesh (Philippians 2:6-8), and through his true humanity bring about his purpose. God acts to build a new humanity through Christ’s resurrection. Again, the Greek text simply says: “For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22). Paul uses the “Two Adams” to set forth the truth of the relationship between, on the one hand, Adam and his fallen, sinful, and cursed humanity, and, on the other hand, Christ and his new, justified and glorified humanity. Anyone in Adam only has death; Paradise is lost. But everyone in Christ certainly shares in life; Paradise is regained. “Those who are ‘in Christ,’ those who have entered the new humanity through grace by means of his death and resurrection, will just as certainly ‘be made alive’; they will be raised from the dead into the shared life of the risen One” (Fee, p. 751, his emphasis).

Then Paul must answer a question: “If those who are in Christ share in his resurrection, then why do his people die? Why aren’t we living in the fullness of his resurrection now?” So he answers, “But each in his/its own order: [the] firstfruits, Christ; then at his Coming, those who belong to Christ; then the goal: when he hands over the kingdom/reign to God the Father, when he brings to an end/abolishes all rule and all authority and power.” God is working out a plan. In the first order is the resurrection of Christ. When he raised Christ from the dead, God the Father set in motion a process to bring about his goal. That goal is end of all opposition to his reign and the display of the full glory of his reign. In the second order is the resurrection of those who belong to Christ. This explains why Christians die. Though resurrection power is already at work in us, it is not yet God’s appointed time for the full expression of the second order. As we have been redeemed spiritually, so will our bodies will be redeemed, and we will enter glorious freedom (Romans 8:18-25). Paradise will be regained, but it is a better Paradise of glory.

Those who follow Christ must live with a “resurrection outlook”.  We must be thankful for the now of Christ’s resurrection and assured of what will happen when Jesus returns and we are resurrected. Is the confident expectation of resurrection glory part of your world and life view? Make it part of your daily thoughts.

Grace and peace, David

Sing a New Song

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Psalm 98

As we journey through life, the followers of Jesus encounter a variety of experiences. All affect us in various ways from great joy to dismal grief. I do not know where your emotions are on this spectrum today, but we need to praise God when the circumstances call for songs of joy. We read in James 5:13: Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise (ESV). Today, let’s think about overflowing praise when God brings joy to our hearts.

Psalm Ninety-eight begins with a call to sing a new song to the Lord. Our God loves beauty and art. He has given us creative abilities so that we might reflect his glory as Creator. Music is a gift to gladden his heart and ours. We can say things with music that stay with people longer than with plain, spoken words. We express our emotions in artistic ways as we sing. Our big group gatherings provide opportunities to unite our voices with joyful praise. Or if you’re alone, put on some Christian music and bravely sing along.

We ought to sing to the Lord because he has done wonderful deeds (NLT). These deeds focus on the victory (NLT, HCSB) he has won. The mention of the Lord’s victory causes the psalmist to break out into exuberant praise. He senses God’s power and holiness in this victory, a victory that comes from his promise to love and be faithful to Israel (NLT) and that extends to all the ends of the earth (ESV, HCSB). Notice this is an exclamation of faith, a faith based on God’s ultimate purpose in Christ (Luke 24:44-47; Ephesians 3:11).

Next, the psalmist calls on everyone to join him in song (98:4-6). Yes, he wants them to sing and to shout (NIV, HCSB, NLT)! God’s victory is a very suitable occasion for all his people to shout and sing. Does your big group have sufficient freedom in the Spirit to be enthusiastic, high-spirited, and even boisterous? Please allow the Holy Scriptures to transform your experience of praise. Get out the musical instruments and shout for joy!

As the psalmist concludes his song, he senses that he needs a larger choir. For this reason, he calls on all nature to join in. He wants rivers to clap their hands and hills to shout for joy. Why can he call upon the inanimate creation to join in? God’s purpose includes the liberation of creation from its bondage when God reveals the freedom and glory of his sons and daughters when Christ returns (Romans 8:18-21). The Judge will come to set things right, and our songs will resound.

We need to shout and sing today. God has already won the victory at the cross of Christ (Colossians 2:15). His final victory is drawing near. So, unleash your voices. Sing a new song, shout, and clap your hands! Sing this psalm. Do you say you don’t know the tune? Then sing a happy paraphrase of Psalm 98 that Isaac Watts made years ago and was put to music by Lowell Mason. I’m sure you know it. Its name is “Joy to the World, the Lord Is Come!”

Grace and peace and joy, David

Draw Near to God

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Hebrews 10:22

We live in a day that emphasizes methodology and technique above character. People in our time suppose that it doesn’t matter what you are as long as you do what you’re supposed to, whatever that means. This can be seen in the attitudes of people towards star athletes on their favorite teams. Character doesn’t matter until the athlete does something so horrendous and out of control that people have to notice. However, people of true greatness avoid that trap. For example, consider John Adams at the time of the Boston Massacre. He was then a prominent lawyer with a growing practice and enlarging political prospects. Then came the tragic events of the evening of March 5, 1770. The British officer and soldiers who fired on the crowd were charged with murder. No one would defend them in court—except John Adams. Though he feared for his reputation and even the welfare and lives of his family and himself, he did not hesitate to take the case. Why? He did so because he believed in the rule of law and the right of every man to a fair trial and a proper defense. So he risked everything to do what was right.

Every church must have a sense of Christ’s character and want to demonstrate his character and way of life before a watching world, and more importantly, to God. To say this another way, our individual spiritual lives must be in right order before the collective “body life” of our church can be right. A crucial aspect of this way of life is drawing near to God. When Christians draw near to God, then they realize that they are near to each other. Consider Romans 15:7.

The Holy Spirit in this text gives as tremendous exhortation: “let us draw near”. But think of the One whom the writer encourages us to approach. He is the true and living God. He is the God who is glorious and majestic (1:3), the Creator of all things (3:4; 11:3). He is angry with sinners (3:10; 10:27) and is all-knowing (4:13). He is also the Judge of mankind (10:30-31; 12:23; 13:4) and is a consuming fire (12:29; cf. Deuteronomy 4:23-24). Anyone that takes these words seriously might want to draw back. We might well fear him rather than want to be near him. You see, in order to draw near to God, we must have a correct concept of the God who is there and who wants us to draw near! This involves an ever-deepening knowledge of God’s revelation of himself in the Scriptures.

“As long as we do not look beyond the earth, being quite content with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue, we flatter ourselves most sweetly, and fancy ourselves all but demigods. Suppose we but once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and to ponder his nature, and how completely perfect are his righteousness, wisdom, and power —the straightedge to which we must be shaped. Then, what masquerading earlier as righteousness was pleasing in us will soon grow filthy in its consummate wickedness. What wonderfully impressed us under the name of wisdom will stink in its very foolishness. What wore the face of power will prove itself the most miserable weakness. That is, what in us seems perfection itself corresponds ill to the purity of God” (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.1.2)

However, (and this is the good news!), because of God’s free grace to us in Jesus Christ, we can approach God with joyful confidence. This joyful confidence rests on what we have in Christ. “Since we have… let us…” (10:21-22). In the words of Margaret Clarkson in the hymn “We Come, O Christ, to You”: “You are the Way to God, your blood our ransom paid; in you we face our Judge and Maker unafraid.” Here we see the logic of the believer. Or to say this another way, God wants us to love and worship him with our minds. Think about what you have in Christ, and then think about what you should do because you have been so richly blessed. Our nickname for this is “Therefore Christianity”. Know what you have in Christ, and therefore, live this way. How then should we think? Don’t merely moan about your failings. Proper mourning over sin is fine; in fact, it is commendable (Matthew 5:4), as long as it doesn’t leave you in the swamp of depression. True spiritual sorrow over sin in a believer will lead the saint back to Christ and real repentance (2 Corinthians 7:8-11). However, don’t look for a supplemental experience, as if Christ were insufficient. Instead, by faith lay hold of Christ and then live like someone in Christ should live.

By these words God the Holy Spirit is revealing to us God’s desire for close fellowship with his people (1 John 1:3-4; 1 Corinthians 1:9). God wants you! Therefore, a Christian who is living by faith in Christ should have a good self-image. On the other hand, if anyone is struggling with self-image problems it shows some sort of failure in the life. It might be sin and a guilty conscience or more specific sins or weaknesses, such as not laying hold of spiritual blessings by faith, or having little faith, or becoming disconnected from Christ by legalism, or not meditating on the Bible, or not keeping in step with the Spirit’s leadership or grieving the Holy Spirit. To draw near to God is the way to have a little of heaven on earth. In heaven you will be with God; on earth he would be with you. Is there any difference in kind? So then, we see a spiritual attitude of which we should be giving evidence and promoting. What is it? We should be exhorting one another to draw near to God. “Let us draw near to God.”

Grace and peace, David

Our Great Priest (Part Two)

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Hebrews 10:21

What is the house over which Jesus Christ is the great priest? The house of God refers to the people of God (cf. Hebrews 3:1-6). In the days of the old covenant, this was Israel according to the flesh. At that time, it included all the descendants of Jacob, and it was a mixed gathering of a remnant of believers and many unbelievers. This physical nation had a physical temple or house of God. This house was only typical of the better house that Christ would build. Everything about it “came with an if”, and Israel could not keep what God by that “if” demanded.

In the days of the new covenant, this is the church that is made up of both Jews and Gentiles. The church is a spiritual house or nation (Ephesians 2:11-22) made up only of believers who are in Christ. Now there is no physical temple, because the people are the temple. See also 2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Peter 2:4-10. This is the house that Jesus built, and he rules over it. He is the unifying principle of membership in the house (Ephesians 2:21-22 – “in him”). You must be “in him” in order to be “part of the house”. The worship “in the house” is only and always “through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

As new covenant people, we must learn to think in conformity with spiritual realities. Since all Christ’s people form the house and he has called us to peace, we must maintain peace in the house of God. This requires a conscious focus on what we share in Christ that binds us together (Ephesians 4:3; Colossians 3:15). Every gathering of followers of Christ must strive for peace in their group. How can a group attain peace with one another? Each one must “wear the proper spiritual clothing” in Christ’s house: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with others, forgiveness, and love. The church (meaning people in Christ) that demonstrates these qualities toward each other will be having Christ’s peace reign in them. Since the house or temple is formed in Christ, it is a holy temple. We are set apart or consecrated to God. Therefore, our way of life must reflect that we are set apart for the Holy One (2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1). Since it is the house of God, it is the place in which God lives by his Spirit. Therefore, we must have a sense of his presence in his house. Whenever we are with one another, we must have a correct understanding of what is real in our assembly. There should be a proper sense of wonder and awe. “Wow! This is really neat! We have gathered together and God is here!” Think on 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; Matthew 18:20).

How can the teaching of this text strengthen us in the life of faith? The consideration of Christ’s greatness leads to the confirmation of our faith and the production of a proper reverence in our hearts toward him. For example, knowledge of music and the thematic structure of a musical composition lead to a greater appreciation of a musical performance. Or participation in a team sport leads to confidence in and respect for the abilities of your teammates. As we by faith meditate on the Spirit’s revelation of Christ in the Scriptures, he develops “Christ appreciation” in us, which in turn strengthens us spiritually. We do not mean strength apart from Christ, which is a trap that many fall into, but becoming “strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10).

Learn to have confidence in our great high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Have confidence in the greatness of his office and the sufficiency of his sacrifice (Romans 8:33-34). Have confidence in your right to approach God through Christ (Matthew 11:28; John 6:37). What excellent promises are found in these verses!

Have confidence only in Christ.

  • Some at first see their complete need of Christ, but then they think their Christian experience will carry them through. And so they suppose that their spiritual experience and use of what are called “the means of grace” (like prayer or reading the Bible) will serve them well. And that is why some do so poorly in their Christian walk. They rely on means, instead of relying on Christ personally.
  • “No Christian can ever outlive the necessity of employing Christ as High Priest in all the steps of his life; and in the last step through death we must still lean upon this High Priest….” [Traill]
  • An evidence of spiritual life is when a person sees his need of Jesus Christ; an evidence of a growing spiritual life is to find out that you need him more and more and more! Do you sense that you need the Lord Jesus more today than last year or five years ago or ten years ago?
  • Have a joyful confidence in Jesus Christ! The bottom line of knowing that you have a great priest over the house of God is to rejoice in that great priest! Read these verses and then have a deep drink of the river of life (Philippians 4:4; Romans14:17-18; 15:13).

Grace and peace, David

Our Great Priest (Part One)

DSCN0646Hebrews 10:21

In human history only a few people have been called “the Great”. For example, there was Alexander the Great, who conquered a large portion of the world by the time he was thirty-three. Or think of Charles the Great, often called Charlemagne, who formed a strong empire in medieval Europe in the midst of the fractured states of his time. However, as one studies these great people, he finds out that that their greatness lasted only a short time, and their heirs could not hold their empires together or lost the vision of the “great one”.

In our text, the Holy Spirit wants us to see one who is truly great—our Lord Jesus Christ. And in particular in this verse, he glorifies Christ by calling him the great priest over the house of God. So then, as we think about what God is telling us here, we should think about what is meant by “a great priest” and the sphere of his ministry, “over the house of God”, and then the practical importance of this doctrine to us.

We must stay focused on the Spirit’s purpose. He is telling us who Jesus is in order that we will live as we ought to. So note carefully the Spirit’s method. He first reminds us of two important possessions of every believer—confidence to enter the Most Holy Place and our Great Priest—and then he sets forth a number of ways that we ought to live, since these things are so. Therefore, if we are to live as we ought, we need a clear understanding of what it means to have Jesus as our great high priest. This is important, because it is at this point that many fail. They begin with Christ, but then they promptly forget him as they seek to follow him.

For example, there are some who say, “You must go to Jesus for justification, but then Jesus will take you by the hand back to Moses for sanctification.” That is nonsense. If the law of Moses cannot justify, what makes someone think it can sanctify?

Why is Jesus called a great priest? Our Lord is called a great priest because of his dignity as the eternal Son of God. His greatness flows in part from his divine being and glory (Hebrews 1:2-3a). His greatness as God demands that he should be worshipped as Son of God (Hebrews 1:5-9). When you worship, do you approach the Lord Jesus as the glorious Son of God?

Our Lord is called a great priest because of the unique worth of the sacrifice he offered. His sacrifice is identified as “by the blood of Jesus” or by his own blood” (Hebrews 9:12). Compare also the statements made in 9:14, 25-26; 10:10.  His sacrifice is praised on account of its efficacy (the power to produce effects or results). What did Jesus accomplish on the cross? Consider Hebrews 9:12, 14, 26b; 10:10, 14). Think about shopping for a car. You might talk with a salesperson, who discusses the car and a possible purchase price. But all that talk is mere information. In order to purchase the car at that price, the sales manager or officer of the establishment must agree to the price. Then the contract is effective. Jesus was not a mere salesman. As great priest he put the contract, the new covenant, into effect by the offering of himself. This happened by his sacrifice, Jesus turned God’s wrath away from us (Rm 3:25). By his death, Jesus reconciled us to God (Romans 5:10) Any counselor can tell you how exceedingly difficult it is to restore a marriage, because the husband and the wife become alienated from each other. Most marriage problems can be easily solved, if, and this is a big if, their estranged attitudes can be brought back together. Jesus has actually brought God and believers together. “The greatness of Christ’s priesthood will never appear so fully, as when the whole virtue of his sacrifice shall be seen, when all the heirs that his blood has bought shall appear together, and all the glory and the possessors thereof” (Works of Traill, Vol. 3, p. 247; cf. Revelation 5:9-11).

Our Lord is called a great priest because of the supreme glory to which he has been exalted. Consider the contrast with the priests of the law covenant. They were always restless and active; their work was never done, because they offered a sacrifice unable to satisfy God. But Christ’s work is completed in one, supreme offering of himself. And since his sacrifice is complete, perfect, and acceptable and satisfying to God, he is able to sit in God’s presence. 1:3b; 8:1 Christ now waits for the time appointed by the Father for the final subjection of his already defeated enemies (10:13).

Our Lord is called a great priest because of the power and efficacy of his office.

  • He is able to help his people (2:14-18).
  • He continually intercedes for his people on the basis of his finished work, and this guarantees the ultimate salvation of his people (7:18-25).
  • He has a better covenant, of which he is the mediator, for his people (8:6; 9:15).
  • He will bring full salvation to his people (9:27-28).

Follower of Jesus, mediate on these truths, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Pray that he would give you a fresh sense of the greatness of your Redeemer and Lord.

Grace and peace, David

What Your Eyes Will See

DSCN2577Three years had passed since I had visited the optometrist’s office. I checked in filling out the necessary paper work and was shortly led to a room where a young man did the preliminary tests on my eyes.

Three years ago there had been only one machine to test the pressure of the eye. When I walked in there were three machines! I sat down in front of the first newer machine and asked what it would do, and was told that they needed to see the inside of my eye. Pictures were taken and then I sat in front of the machine that I had sat at before. A puff of air was blown into my eye. The next machine was the newest, and I commented on its newness. This one had a very bright light!

After the pictures had been taken, I was led to the examination room. He took my glasses and said the doctor would be in in just a few minutes and he would bring back my glasses after looking at my previous prescription, and left pictures on the computer screen of my eyes. Not that I could then see them! I sat waiting and wondering what they had seen. I prayed that the Lord would stand by me, and wondered some more! Soon the doctor entered and began my exam. His equipment allowed me to see very large letters and very, very small letters!  He showed me the pictures of the inside of my eyes and told me they looked good. A yellow spot indicated my optic nerve, and I saw the nerve that allowed me to see all these years. I was impressed. God had seen the inside of my eyes since He formed them. Now, through modern technology, I was seeing them! Then he told me what I was not prepared to hear. “Sharon, your eyes are better than they were three years ago. There is no need for you to get a new prescription!”

I smiled a big smile and said, “That is the best news I’ve heard this year!” We shared a laugh and then inquired about each other’s children. He has been my eye doctor for years. He knows I love to teach and I love to teach children. His son had just turned seven and is in second grade. He loves to read.

Then the Holy Spirit put these words in my thoughts and I spoke them to my Doctor. “Could you answer this question? What will every eye see someday?” He thought about it and admitted he didn’t know the answer. As we sat there, I pointed up and smiled as I said, “God. We will all see God someday.”

So, did my doctor learn something that day? Did I learn anything about the eye that I didn’t know before he showed me what his equipment could do? The answer is, “yes”. I’m sure the Lord will do something with his word, for it never returns unto Him empty. I had quoted Revelation 1:7 to my doctor that God wanted him to hear that day. He will do whatever He wants with it. Why did I say it? I don’t know, but God does.

Then, as the two of us walked out of the office, he reminded me to pick up my purse. We walked to the desk so I could pay the bill. There stood my husband, Dave, so I shared the good news with him. And as we stood at the desk discussing Dave’s eyesight, I said, “Doctor, you found out about Dave’s diabetes during an eye exam. Years later you told him that he had cataracts, which he got taken care of.

Thank you.” We then shook his hand and we all smiled.

Had God blessed our day? “YES”! Going to the eye doctor, God had put a verse into my mind that I had memorized when I was a child. People have been praying for us and our ministry for many years! Forty-two to be exact! We are blessed! I shared my thoughts with Dave with tears in my eyes, thankful for all those prayers, as we shared a cup of hot tea that afternoon at the mall. Yes, we have seen a lot together! And someday we will see God!

Looking forward to seeing Him, Sharon

When God Speaks to His People

IMG_0519Isaiah 43:14-17

In the book that bears his name, Isaiah prophesied of the exile of Israel to Babylon. This was difficult news for God’s old covenant people to receive. God had given them the Promised Land. It was the place where he would live among them; it was the place of blessing and peace. The Lord God had warned them that if they did not obey him fully, he would remove them from the land; in fact, he would scatter them among the nations. Exile would mean separation from all they had known, loss of their property, separation of family and friends, and no way to worship the Lord according to the terms of the law covenant. The prophesied exile to Babylon was a warning shot over the bow, and as we sadly know, they did not listen.

However, Isaiah’s prophecy was more than a gloomy message of punishment for their breaking of the covenant. It was also an encouraging announcement of hope. At all times God wants us to understand our situation in his presence and the better life we can experience when we walk with him in faith. For this reason, the Lord talks to Israel through the prophet about “a new thing” that he will do in what was then their future. In order to give them this word of hope, he reminds them of who he is. It is necessary to know God, so that we might be able to lay hold of what he is able and willing to do for those who trust him. To know him, we need to listen carefully when he reveals himself to us.

First, the Lord (Yahweh) calls himself their Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel (43:14). God joins two names that might seem to pull them in opposite directions emotionally. Redeemer is a joyous name. God proclaims that he cares about them and is willing to do what is necessary to set them free. This would fuel confident expectation in people contemplating the horrors of exile. Though they would be exiled, God promises to free them from captivity. Yet at the same time, he is the Holy One of Israel. He is the One supreme over all things, including the false gods they had been worshiping. He is set apart from the sinfulness of people. A study of the Old Testament Scriptures reveals that idolatry was a constant problem in Israel before the exile. Idolatry in the heart is a very serious spiritual problem (Ezekiel 14:3-5). A life based on idols will breed sinfulness in a person’s way of life. So then, God promised to free them from exile, but the deliverance would be consistent with his holiness.

Second, the Lord repeats the truth of his holiness, and then reminds them that he is their Creator and King (43:15). God is asserting his rights in relation to Israel. The Creator has ownership rights of what he has created. This is one motive for people to deny creation and to prefer evolution. God is telling Israel that they belong to him, and so he has the right to send them into exile and to free them. Since he is their King, he also has the power and authority to do this. The people needed to have a proper view of the dependence on God for their destiny, in order to have a firm basis for confident expectation in God’s plan. Simply put, you cannot deny God’s rule and have real hope. Without hope, you fall into defeatism, depression, dread, and despair. God calls to his people to avoid this dark path.

Third, the Lord reminds them of his glory in the exodus from Egypt (43:16-17). He points them to redemption in their past to lead them to hope in a fuller redemption in their future. Egypt had seemed unbeatable, and they had acted arrogantly toward Israel, oppressing them in terrible ways. However, God had set them free from Egypt through ten mighty signs and wonders. But then, Egypt had decided that they did not want to lose their slave labor and pursued them to the brink of the sea. When all seemed hopeless, the Lord made “a path through the mighty waters” and defeated the enemy army totally. In the same way, we need to remember how God has set free those who trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior. His victory in that redemption provides us a firm basis of hope as we contemplate our future. We can know that followers of Christ are now like “scattered exiles”, and yet God has already given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (cf. 1 Peter 1:1-3). Is your hope and trust in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ? You can have eternal confidence when you turn from your rejection of God as God, your refusal to love him first, and your rebellion against him and his ways to trust in Christ for forgiveness and freedom from sin, guilt, and condemnation. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).

Grace and peace, David

Spiritual Confidence (Part Two)

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Hebrews 10:19-20

Last time we spoke of the liberty that every follower of Jesus has to enter into the presence of the true and living God. Next, let’s explore the kind of entrance that is ours. We enter “by a new and living way”.  It is a new way of entrance. Some matters are not intended by “new”. It was not a new invention of God, because it always was part of his eternal purpose (Ephesians 3:11; 2 Timothy 1:9; Revelation 13:8). A growing Christian will investigate and rejoice in what the Bible says about God’s eternal purposes. Neither was it newly revealed. God had promised this way in the Old Testament Scriptures (Jeremiah 31; Isaiah 53).

Why is this entrance called “new”? “Because it comes after another [kind of entrance], as the apostle teaches us to argue, Hebrews 8:13” (Traill). This was the entrance of Jesus into heavenly majesty as our great high priest. The new covenant could not be put into effect until the Lord Jesus entered heaven for us. It is also new “because it is always new and never gives place to another”. Consider Hebrews 13:20.

It is a living way of entrance. [First four points are from Traill; last is from Hughes]

  • “In opposition of the old way of the law, which is not able to give life.” Cf. 2 Corinthians 3:7
  • “In relation to Christ’s resurrection, who, though he were put to death, yet was he raised again, and ever lives, Romans 6:9.”
  • “In regard to the end of the way, which is life….” John 14:6; 1 John 5:12
  • “In reference to the effect of it. It puts life in us” and makes us alive. John 11:25; Galatians 2:20
  • In conformity with the fact that this way is a person—the person of “our risen, dynamic, ever living Redeemer.”

Our entry into God’s presence is based on his entry, and our entry “takes place only because by divine grace we are one with him.” [Hughes]

How do we exercise this blessing of entrance into God’s presence? We enter “by the blood of Jesus”. This requires us consciously to recognize Christ’s better sacrifice of himself as the only basis of our acceptance with God. We are not saying that we do this by a perfunctory or unthinking voicing of the words, “In Jesus name. Amen.” Those words can be very meaningful or totally mechanical and irreverent. You and I must always act reverently, whether in public or private prayer, or in prayer before meals, and during any other times of prayer! Instead, by the blood of Jesus we come thoughtfully and reverently into God’s presence, realizing that our access to God is only on account of Christ and his saving work.

Reflect on the hymn “Rock of Ages”: Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling; naked, come to Thee for dress, helpless, look to Thee for grace; foul, I to the fountain fly, wash me, Savior, or I die!

There is no alternative to this way. We cannot approach God except by the blood of Jesus. Many sing and pray and attend church, but they have never once drawn near to God in his appointed way, the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). For example, sometimes you might read on a statement that payment must be made in US dollars. The only payment that the living God accepts is the sacrificial death of Jesus the Messiah on the cross. So then, you must answer this question: “What gives me the right to approach the living and holy God?” Are you relying on your works? Are you depending on your religious experiences? Do you trust in church membership? God will not receive you unless you rely only upon the Lord Jesus Christ and his shed blood.

Please note this. The existence of this new and living way “brings us nothing until we have boldness to enter in. Why stand we without [outside]? Jesus brings us near, and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. Let us not be slow to take up our freedom, and come boldly to the throne” (Spurgeon). If we entered a house as a thief, we would not enter boldly but would fear being caught. You and I might enter a stranger’s house, without invitation, but we would feel no boldness there. We might even enter as guests, but we would not feel sufficiently bold to walk to the host’s bathroom and look into their medicine cabinet. However, we do not enter the Most Holy Place as housebreakers or as trespassers or as guests on a visit. We come in obedience to God’s call to fulfill and to enjoy our calling. We come as righteous and as sons in Christ. When we trust in Jesus and his better sacrifice of Himself, we are immediately “at home” with God. “Where should a child be bold but in his father’s house?” [Spurgeon] Believer in Jesus, enjoy your entrance into God’s presence!

Grace and peace, David

Spiritual Confidence (Part One)

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Hebrews 10:19-20

When my sons Kyle and Trevor were in high school in upstate New York, they were both on the high school track team. I was working two and three jobs at the time, but I tried to attend every home meet that I could. This was a small high school, and so the track coach was always looking for help at meets, so he often drafted me to run one of the field events. (When my boys would run, I’d stop my event so I could watch them!) Usually I ran the long jump and triple jump, but at least once, I was in charge of the high jump. Perhaps you know how this works. When all contestants clear a given height or some are eliminated for failure to do so, the bar is raised higher for the next round, until finally one person clears a height above all the other competitors. The Holy Spirit is “raising the bar” in this section. Instead of wandering, as some of the original recipients of the letter to the Hebrews were doing, the Spirit wants Christ’s followers to move to a higher level. If we do not grow stronger, we will become weaker, and that is not an acceptable alternative. So let us listen to what the Lord the Spirit says. If we are to grow, there needs to be a sharpening of our understanding and practice of the doctrines of the Scriptures concerning Christ and what we have in Christ and how we are to live because God has richly blessed us in Christ.

First, we read of a basic possession of every true Christian: “confidence to enter the Most Holy Place”.    This means you, whether you are a new believer, or in a severe struggle with sin, or very weak in body because of cancer treatments and hardly able to pray as you think you should. If we are to appreciate what the Holy Spirit is telling us, we must know what he means by entrance to the Most Holy Place. In a word, this means “God’s presence”, as a comparison of 9:11-12 with 9:24 shows. The writer has already talked about the old covenant shadow (9:1-10). At that time in the history of God’s people, the common people could never enter God’s presence. Neither could the priests, though they could go into the Holy Place. Only the high priest could enter, only he had that privilege. However, even the high priest could only enter once a year, on the Day of Atonement, and then only for a short time in a strictly regulated way. This was part of the bondage of being under the supervision of the old covenant law. God was present among the people, but no one could really draw near to God.

The writer of Hebrews has also discussed the new covenant reality. What we now have in Christ is better than anything the law offered or could do. Now every believer has liberty to enter God’s presence, as our text states. Since Jesus is our Great High Priest and he has sat down at the right hand of the Father and since we are in Christ, we possess this liberty. God encourages us to make full use of this liberty of unlimited access (Hebrews 4:16).

Second, focus on the proper attitude of new covenant worship. Under the old covenant all believers, even the best of believers, had to keep what Spurgeon called, “a reverent distance” from God (12:20-21). In contrast, the great call of the new covenant is “let us draw near to God” (10:22; cf. Ephesians 3:12)! The word confidence describes the state or frame of mind that all new covenant worshipers are intended to possess. We have the right, privilege, liberty and boldness of access to the Holy One. We can enter into the immediate presence of the living God in Christ Jesus. All that the old covenant pictures represented, we have a better reality in the new and better covenant. “This is the great fundamental privilege of the gospel, that all believers in all their holy worship have liberty, boldness, and confidence to enter into the gracious presence of God” (Owen).

To say this in a different way, this is the boldness of an adult son or daughter of God approaching their Father in heaven, clothed fully in the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus. Dear brothers and sisters, no law forbids you from coming to God, but infinite love invites you to draw near to God! Then why do you stand far off and tremble like a slave? Draw near in joyous faith.

As the high priest of the law came into the presence of God in the tabernacle or temple, so we truly come into his glorious presence in Jesus Christ. To paraphrase Spurgeon, do not live as if God were as far off from you as the east is from the west. Live not far below on the earth; but live on high, as if you were in heaven. In heaven, you will be with God; but on earth, he will be with you: is there much difference?

Grace and peace, David

A Prayer Meeting

IMG_0522Acts 12:1-18

To the eyes of people, the church in Jerusalem was not experiencing success, and it was less than fifteen years after Christ’s resurrection and ascension. It seemed that the Lord’s great plan for the spread of his message was not working, at least it wasn’t in regard to this gathering. The early years had been very promising. That first assembly of followers of Jesus grew from one twenty to over three thousand on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:15; 2:41), and soon there were over five thousand men that were counted part of that congregation (Acts 4:4). In our time we would call that a megachurch.

However, the enemy struck back and persecution came. First, the attack was on the apostles (Acts 4:5-31; 5:17-42), but in answer to prayer, the apostles were freed, and the word of God spread. The number of learners of Jesus increased rapidly (Acts 6:7). Then it seemed that a complete conversion of all Jerusalem was possible. But there was another enemy, a very religious man named Saul, who led a persecution against first Stephen, one of seven leaders of the Jerusalem assembly (Acts 6:8-8:1), and next against the entire church (Acts 8:3). The result was that the entire church was scattered, except for the apostles. That local gathering had to be rebuilt (not a building but the assembly of Christ followers). This the apostles accomplished by God’s grace, though Luke does not give us much information. We only learn that after Saul’s conversion there was again a gathering of disciples (learners) that he tried to join and that grew in numbers (Acts 9:26-31). The group had problems, especially about accepting non-Jewish people from the nations as believers, but the church in Jerusalem achieved a new measure of strength and stability.

Nevertheless, the enemy of the good news stirred up another man to oppose the church. This was King Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great, who had tried to kill the infant Messiah Jesus. He arrested some that belonged to the Jerusalem assembly, including the apostle James, whom he executed. When he saw that James’ death pleased the non-Christians in Jerusalem, he decided to arrest Peter, in order to put him to death also.

How did the church in Jerusalem respond to this new wave of persecution? They did what the church had done after the first event of persecution (Acts 4:23-31). They prayed (12:5). They prayed earnestly. They prayed together (12:12). Far too many churches who dare to call themselves Christians have abandoned gatherings for prayer. They seem to think that that a few little words uttered alone in their comfortable homes is all that needs to be done.  And then they mistakenly assure themselves that they are practicing historic Christianity. My friends, never be misled by those who arrogantly claim that there is nothing about meeting together to pray in the New Testament. Such boasts are very wrong. Devoting ourselves to prayer when we come together is a basic description of church practice. Consider Acts 2:42 and 1 Corinthians 1:2, as well as various places in Acts (those mentioned and Acts 20:36; 21:5). The love of ease by grievously mistaken church leaders and those that follow them lies at the root of churches without gatherings for prayer. And could it also be that old unbelief is the co-conspirator with a love of ease? What do I mean?

Look at the text (12:13-15). Even when the Jerusalem church prayed for Peter, they did not expect the Lord to release him. Instead of checking out the servant girl’s message, they insulted her. When she would not abandon her message, they became falsely theological. “It must be his angel.” No, it wasn’t his angel, but it was Peter himself knocking! Thankfully, the Lord had answered their prayers, in spite of their little faith. The church succeeds according to God when it follows him in all his ways. This includes following Christ’s example of prayer.

I think that many churches in the post-Christendom west are deeply infected with unbelief regarding prayer. They have drunk deeply at the philosophical and supposedly scientific wells of anti-supernaturalism. They do not believe that prayer is necessary or can accomplish anything. For example, once Sharon and I were at a Bible conference and were in its bookstore. Sharon was looking at a book called What Happens When Women Pray? Another pastor’s wife remarked to Sharon as she held it, “Nothing.” We were both appalled at this spirit of unbelief.

Mission FifteenFive takes its name from John 15:5. Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, we can do nothing. Relying on Christ requires prayer, and not only individual and family prayer, but prayer together as believers in the true and living God, who is able to do much more than we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). The church in America needs to return to prayer. Put your hope in God, and we will be able to praise him. But we need to return to earnest, fervent prayer together to the Sovereign Lord of the church.

Grace and peace, David