Be Thankful (Part One)

Colossians 3:15-17

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (NIV).

What are some blessings that you highly value? Now what are some characteristics that you highly value in other people? God highly values thankfulness. Yet I do not think that we take this positive quality of godliness very seriously. Read through the letter to the Colossians carefully and see the emphasis on being thankful. Thanksgiving should be part of our lives everyday. We should deliberately build it into what we are. One of the signs of a heart alienated from God is a lack of thankfulness to the Lord God. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:21 NIV).

We offer thanksgiving through Jesus Christ (3:17). This is part of our larger life view. In everything we are to be Christ-focused. This approach honors the Triune God, because God designed this as the way to come to him and to honor him. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world (Romans 1:8 ESV, my emphasis). An examination of the New Testament references to thanksgiving reveals an emphasis on the grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus. This is why, since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I never stop giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers (Ephesians 1:15-16 CSB; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:4; 2 Corinthians 8:9; 9:15; Philippians 1:3-6; Colossians 1:3-4; etc.)

Since Adam disobeyed God and ruined our race, God is building a new humanity in Jesus Christ, in whom we are restored to God’s purpose for us. When we are giving thanks through Jesus our Lord, we are functioning according to God’s will and as a byproduct, we feel right. We are in alignment with God’s intention for our humanness.

When we offer our thanks through Christ, we honor him as the mediator between God and mankind. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5 NIV). When we offer a sacrifice of praise through Jesus our great High Priest (cf. Hebrews 4:14), we display and develop humility before the living God. We are confessing our absolute need of Christ to consecrate everything to God concerning us, including our praise.

However, we do not want to think of this mechanically or ritually but personally. Offering thanks through Jesus recognizes our personal participation with him in worship. As new covenant priests (cf. 1 Peter 2:5), we join with him to glorify the Father. By faith we should have a lively sense of approaching the throne of grace with him as our leader.

To do this, we ought to prepare our hearts for worship. You might have to rush to get to the gathering of God’s people, because we live in a world where our best plans for getting ourselves and our family ready go astray. But there should be no rush in the inner persons of our hearts. “Oh no, now what am I doing?” Be calm; God knows what happens in your life, and your brothers and sisters in Christ need to accept that, too. Let’s have some holy deliberation in the way we live, and not act like we’re in some sort of panic or agitation.

Grace and peace, David

The Temptation of Jesus

Luke 4:1-13

Jesus answered, “It is written…” (Luke 4:4, 8 NIV)

Many have written about temptation in general and this temptation of the Lord Jesus by Satan specifically. The typical approach is either that it is an important part of the doctrines of sin and temptation, or that we can learn “practical lessons” about how to overcome temptation. Usually, Christians are drawn to the second approach, because too often Christianity is reduced to a “do it yourself” (DIY) method that concentrates on “practical” 3 to 12 step plans that usually neglect the Triune God. But that is a topic for another time. Yet, I purposefully mentioned this matter, because few are aware of how their reading, interpretation, and ideas of the nature of the Christian life are skewed by a demand for what is “practical”, so that they fail to see God’s glory in Christ. Their approach to the word becomes human-centered rather than Christ-focused.

In this article, I want to present what is far less considered; that is, the importance of this section to Biblical theology, which wants to know and to tell the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. When we know this, then the passage can enrich our systematic and practical theologies.

  • Jesus came as God’s new man, the last Adam. The first Adam yielded to the temptation by the devil against the word of God. Adam the first fell in the Garden of Eden, where he was richly provided for by the Lord. He had all the food he could eat in the lush vegetation of the Garden nearby him. However, the first Adam disobeyed God, and we all sinned in him, and the reign of death began (Romans 5:12-14). Jesus Christ, the last Adam, went into the wilderness to do the will of God. Adam was told not to eat the fruit of one tree; Jesus was led by the Spirit not to eat any food, while in the desert. He would have to conquer a temptation about food to show that he was the obedient Son who could provide salvation to his people (Hebrews 5:8-9). That obedience required living according to the word of God.
  • Jesus came as the new Israel, the Servant of the Lord. God had brought Israel out of Egypt to serve his holy will to bring blessing to the nations. However, Israel was quickly side-tracked. Though God provided them with food every week, in the wilderness they complained against the Lord and his rich provision. For this reason, Jesus went into the wilderness where he lived in submission to God’s directives, without food. In the wilderness, Israel fell into idolatry (Psalm 106:19-22, 28-29). In the desert, Jesus refused to worship anyone but God alone. Israel forgot God’s miracles for their benefit. Christ did not put God to the test as they did (Psalm 78:40-41). (You can study this out more, by carefully reading Psalms 78 and 106, as you meditate on this passage from Luke.)
  • Jesus came to establish God’s kingdom, which involves the power of the Spirit (Matthew 12:28). Therefore, when the evil one tried to mislead him with the kingdoms of the world, he had no interest. His mission was to proclaim God’s kingdom, to tell people how to enter God’s kingdom, to describe the people in God’s kingdom, and to show the superiority of God’s kingdom to anything on earth (Matthew 13:44-46). He could hear the temptation about the kingdoms of the world and their authority and splendor and see all that as an enticement away from God and what is best… to idolatry. The new age of the Spirit, the kingdom of God, and the new covenant are of far greater value than any trifles of worldly authority and splendor. Jesus made the choice for the glory of God’s heaven, and so was prepared to preach the kingdom of God to others. From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17 NIV). To follow Jesus requires repentance from the pursuit of worldly splendor, in order to live for the glory of God.

So then, let’s us understand that this account of Jesus overcoming temptation is more than a manual on resisting temptation. It shows his glory as God’s obedient, trusting new man, servant, and preacher of the kingdom. And as we behold his glory, we reflect it and are transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.

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 Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-three)

John 14:22-26; 16:12-15

We have seen that the Holy Spirit had a crucial role in the production of the New Testament Scriptures and his “credentials” for that work. He is “the Friend at court” and the Spirit of truth. Next, let’s examine the success of the Spirit in this ministry of revealing God and his words.

We should begin by clearing up three misunderstandings about what Christ said.

  • He is not promising perfect knowledge in 14:26. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (NIV, my emphasis). “The Holy Spirit is not particularly concerned to impart to the disciples of Jesus an exhaustive knowledge of nuclear physics, astronomy, cell biology, the literature of Tanganyika, or the mating habits of the porcupine. Moreover, even if he had the inclination to attempt this transfer of knowledge, we would not be able to receive it; for our finiteness precludes the attribute of omniscience” (Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus, p. 71).
  • Nor is Jesus saying that we lack any need for human teachers in 14:26 (just “rely on the Spirit”), which would make Christ completely contradict himself in giving pastors and teachers to his church (Ephesians 4:11-16).
  • Nor is Jesus promising personal guidance in 16:13. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come (NIV, my emphasis). That is to rip part of a phrase completely out of its context. There is not even a hint in these words that the Spirit will somehow mysteriously lead Christ’s followers into perfect choices in their lives.

So then, what is the true success of the Spirit’s ministry? First, the Spirit made sure that the disciples learned all things (14:26) that they needed to know about Jesus (his full significance), brought to their memory everything he said (so we have a trustworthy account of his teaching), and he also would tell them (16:13) about things to come; that is, the meaning and significance of what was about to happen to Jesus—his crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost. “This is the test that will show how much of the Spirit there is in each of the various types of supposedly Christian theology that jostle for our attention in these days” (Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, p. 65).

Second, in all this, the Spirit glorifies Christ by taking what is Christ’s and making it known to Christ’s people in the New Testament Scriptures. So then, we see in a dominant Christ-focus in the New Testament writings.

These words “indicate that it is by means of the apostolic witness (now inscripturated in the New Testament), not by direct revelation of the Spirit to individual believers or by corporate revelation of the Spirit to teaching officers (the claim which was to be developed in the Roman Catholic magisterium), that Christ’s person, his teaching and his future purposes are made known.” [Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, p. 71]

In the words of the old song, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus!” The story of the Bible is the true story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. In it, the Spirit guided the apostles and New Testament prophets to record the gospel narrative and to explain its meaning and significance to the church, that we might live for the glory of God. Thank God for the success of the Holy Spirit as you profit spiritually from reading the New Testament Scriptures.

Grace and peace, David

A Reminder to All Disciples

img_0011-22 Timothy 1:13

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus (NIV).

Every believer is on a mission, which is to follow the Lord Jesus and learn how to fish for people (Mark 1:17). An immediate question is, “How does this happen?” From my experience in fishing for fish, I observed that you must be where the fish are: beside or on a body of water. I used to practice casting in my backyard, but there was no water, and there were no fish to catch. So then, we must be where people are to catch people. That should be obvious, but it seems many Christians expect to catch fish in a Sunday worship service. But few people care to jump into that pond to be caught.

Since our mission is not to make people religious but followers of Jesus Christ, we need to have the right kind of bait. You see, you cannot catch people to follow Christ, unless you follow him first. This also ought to be obvious, but many settle for trying to get people to sit in a church building, to participate in a church activity, and oh, to put money in the offering plates. After they pick up the lingo, get baptized, and join the church, the religious mission is accomplished. Hurray! But that is not what Christ or the Holy Spirit sets forth in our text. It tells us that we must keep or follow (ESV) or hold on to (HCSB) what we have heard. A follower is an attentive listener to Jesus and to those who teach his words. We must have the character of a Christ follower to catch people to follow Christ. Notice the brief reminder that Paul gave to Timothy and to all who read this letter.

  • We start with what we have been taught in God’s word. This is the pattern of sound teaching. The Bible, whether in its narrative or commentary sections, provides a formative pattern for us. It gives us a perspective on life and how to act as adult sons and daughters of God in life’s situations. For example, as God led the church through times of opposition (Acts 4 & 12), the Spirit made clear that the church responded to the opposition by prayer. Too often modern Christians respond by watching a movie about prayer, saying the movie was tremendous, and then not praying. But I digress…. First Peter was not written to give material for Christians to huddle in a living room and talk about their feelings about what Peter wrote. It was written to tell Christians scattered how to live for God’s glory through Christ. It is a formative pattern for us.
  • We keep the teaching with faith and love. Our Father in heaven does not wish our heads merely to be filled with a collection of facts. He wants them lived out in a specified way. Our life is to be a life of faith, of dependence, of commitment to God’s all-ability and promises. Faith often will not make sense in a self-centered world where people assume they are fixers. Love also is essential. I suppose every follower of Christ hears this early on (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). But we cannot fish for people unless we love people. Love makes us abandon our comfort, and faith our self-reliance. Neither option is palatable unless a person has truly repented and believed. The follower of Christ delights in being formed in faith and love.
  • These graces happen in Christ Jesus. Everything in life for the follower of Christ is focused on or built on the Lord. We believe in Christ and through him. We love because Christ first loved us and then love through his love. Faith and love happen by a dynamic relationship with the Lord. Then, when someone asks, “Why did you help me like you just did?” we have the right and humble response, “I did that because of Jesus Christ.”

Keep the pattern, and go fish for people!

Grace and peace, David

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Three)

img_4493Acts 1:8-9

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight (ESV).

The Holy Spirit came to empower the church. This empowerment is for a specific purpose: to carry out Christ’s program of worldwide ministry. During the old covenant age the people of God, with few exceptions, were confined to Israel. Even at its end, when Jesus the Messiah lived under the law, he usually limited his ministry to the people of Israel. But with his ascension, a great change occurs. The Spirit would come upon his followers and go with them into all the world. One of the themes of the book of Acts shows how the message about Jesus Christ knocked down cultural barriers to spread from the Jewish people group to all the peoples of the world. It is good to desire the salvation of one’s own people group (cf. Romans 9:1-3; 10:1). At the same time, we should recognize the cross-cultural intent of the Lord for the good news to spread to the end of the earth. Most of us have easy contact with other people groups. What efforts are we making to reach them?

The Holy Spirit produces a “Christ-focus”. Pay careful attention to Christ’s words. He said that those who would be Spirit-empowered would be “my witnesses”. The job of a Christian is simply to testify to the glory (worth, value, significance) of the crucified, risen and ascended Christ. People who know the glory of Christ will talk about Him! This agrees with Christ’s teaching in John 16:12-16, when he told the apostles how the Spirit of truth would guide them into all the truth that comes from Jesus the Messiah and that speaks of him. Like Packer wrote years ago, the focus on Christ is as a spotlight that directs our attention to someone. The Spirit directs our attention to Jesus Christ. For example, our task is not merely to tell people to know God, but to tell them how to know God through Christ. Our concern is not merely that people be saved, but we tell them that the way of salvation is by grace through faith in Christ. Our message must always be Christ-focused.

The Spirit of God promotes evangelistic activity. He directs Christ’s followers to reach out to whatever people we encounter. We must see that the Lord Jesus has commissioned us to be his representatives on his mission. Yes, you are a “kingdom rep”! We are Christ’s ambassadors (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20) to speak for him and his Father in heaven to whoever the Spirit brings into our acquaintance. If the Lord the Spirit gives us an opportunity to get acquainted with a person, we ought to consider that we are to tell the good news to that person. If he or she becomes a friend, we definitely must seek to bring them to the Savior. The Holy Spirit gives boldness to do the job. This is called the filling of the Spirit.

Christ “would have them look neither for assistance in their work, nor success unto it, but from the promised Spirit alone; and lets them know, also, that by his aid they should be enabled to carry their testimony of him to the uttermost parts of the earth. And herein lay, and herein doth lie, the foundation of the ministry of the church, as also its continuance and efficacy. The kingdom of Christ is spiritual, and, in the animating principles of it, invisible. If we fix our minds only on outward order, we lose the rise and power of the whole. It is not an outward visible ordination by men… but Christ’s communication of that Spirit, the everlasting promise whereof he received of the Father, that gives being, life, usefulness, and success, to the ministry” (Owen, Works, Vol. 3, p. 191).

In the weeks to come, we want to explore with you the majesty of the Holy Spirit and the greatness of receiving him. But in all this, you must maintain a proper Christ-focus, or you will surely go astray. All proper knowledge of the Spirit will lead you closer to the Lord Jesus Christ. That is how you can check your own heart. “Am I growing closer to Jesus my Lord?”

Grace and peace, David

The Scroll of Kindness

IMG_0870Ruth 1:1-4:22

Hello my friends! Today, we begin a new study in the always precious and valuable word of God. Our subject is the book of Ruth, which is by a general consent an extremely well-written love story. Yet you can see that our title for this opening article is “the scroll of kindness”. Why such a title? And why is there such a book in the Bible, God’s written word?

First of all, let us think more generally about the Holy Scriptures (the Holy Writings). When we come to the Bible, we must come to it in conformity with what it presents itself to be. If we fail to do this, we will not profit from it. But what does the Bible tell us about itself? Here are five basic perspectives:

  • It is the word or message of the living God, which means it is sufficient and authoritative for what we believe and how we are to live (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
  • It is true (John 17:17; cf. Titus 1:2)
  • It is a Christ-focused message (Luke 24:27, 44-47); its ideas and the way of life it presents are structured according to Christ
  • It is spiritually profitable (Psalm 19:7-11)
  • It must be listened to with faith in God (Hebrews 4:2)

Therefore, we must look at Ruth (meaning the book in the Bible) from the vantage point of all these perspectives. Here is an example from the first perspective. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

  • Teaching – what does Ruth contribute to knowing about God and his ways and the good news of Jesus Christ?
  • Rebuking – what areas of our thoughts, ideas, attitudes and actions does Ruth show us that need godly change?
  • Correcting – how can Ruth promote restoration and healing in our lives?
  • Training in righteousness – how does Ruth prepare us to serve Christ and others better?

With these ideas in mind, let us continue with a brief overview of Ruth. First, let’s think of a few general facts.

The author and date of writing of Ruth are unknown. Ideas vary widely, even among evangelical Christians. It is not a subject worth troubling one’s mind about too much, as long as you accept it as part of God’s word.

Ruth is an historical short story. It is named after one of the three main characters of the book. Ruth (the person) is mentioned only once in the New Testament Scriptures (Mt 1:5). The plot moves along by the actions and interactions of the three main characters. In chapters two through four, each in turn takes the initiative: Ruth, Naomi and finally Boaz. If you study the plot carefully, you will find that it seems to be a story about Naomi. (Due to space constraints, I will not demonstrate this now. Read Ruth for yourself this week and you will see this!) So then, if it is a story about Naomi, why is it called Ruth? To find the answer is to discover the purpose of the book.

The book of Ruth has always been accepted by God’s people as canonical—part of God’s word. But there are two divergent opinions about its place in the canon of the Old Testament Scriptures, which had three major divisions in ancient times: the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (cf. Luke 24:44 for Jesus’ use of this general division). Our English Bibles are arranged differently: Law, History, Poetry, Major Prophets, and Minor Prophets. However, from the time of the Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures called the Septuagint, Ruth was placed after Judges, and so we usually think of it as one of the books of History. Regretfully, this might distort the view of some about the book, assuming that it is a mere appendix to the larger book of Judges.

The older arrangement of the Hebrew people placed Ruth among the Writings, and within the Writings, it was considered one of the five festival scrolls. (Remember that the word was originally written on scrolls, not in book form.) Over time in Jewish worship, one of the five festival scrolls was read at each of the five major festivals. Ruth was usually read during the Feast of Weeks. The advantage of this approach is that it allows us to view each of these festival scrolls (Ruth, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther) from the standpoint of “promise and fulfillment” in regard to the story of God’s glory and to see each as a necessary contribution to our worship of God.

I encourage you to read Ruth on your own. Try reading it four times this week, making your own notes as you read. If you have a question, please contact me, and I’ll seek to answer it at some point in the blog or answer you directly.

Grace and peace, David

Christ Our Covenant (Part 3)

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Isaiah 42:7

God tells his purpose for his Servant’s mission. The Father sent his Son to give sight to the blind. One of the great needs of mankind is to be healed of spiritual blindness (2 Corinthians 4:4-6; cf. John 9:35-41). When Jesus gave sight to the blind (Mark 10:46-52; John 9:1-5), it was evidence that he was the Messiah and able to give both physical and spiritual sight (Isaiah 35:4-6; Luke 7:18-23).

The Messiah came to give liberty to those in bondage. People live in spiritual bondage, unaware of the chains of darkness that bind them (John 8:34; 2 Tm 2:26). Jesus fulfilled the prophecy and set people free (John 8:36; Galatians 5:1). All this was accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:17-21; 7:18-23; Acts 2:38; 2 Corinthians 3:17). We become part of God’s purpose to set people free (Ac 13:47; 26:18).

We must think seriously about spiritual bondage. Many people are enslaved by various things:

  • Some are in bondage to pleasure. Their life is a constant pursuit of the next high, whether from food, sex, alcohol, the sights and sounds of casinos, bars, or video games, etc.
  • Some are in bondage to the need to feel in control. What can they do to make it seem that life will go their way? Some become obsessive-compulsive, others pour their lives into politics (that is not why everyone is in politics, but it is why some are), others must watch the news endlessly, thinking that by knowing what some talking head says, they have a little better grip on their lives, etc.
  • Some are in bondage to the past. They look upon it as the time when they were happy, so they desperately try to create the illusion that the past is still present and will be their future. Those were the glory days, and they constantly hug their trophies or keepsakes. Others are in bondage to the past in another way. There is some “big sin” they committed or that was committed against them. They feel that God can never forgive them, or that they are morally filthy, because someone abused them for their evil pleasure. Everyday their past haunts them. They do not rejoice in the Lord.
  • Some are in bondage to fear. Oh, their fears might not be as extreme as the fears of some, but their lives are ruled by the desire to feel safe. Some build shelters and hoard food and water to feel safe. (I wonder if they have a tank to protect their stuff.) Some build shelters of various kinds around their children, supposing that if they can keep their children within their sphere of protection, all will always be well. Some have been hurt and never want to be hurt again, so they build walls around their hearts. Some seek protection from God, because they have never trusted him. They try to buy God off by rituals, going to church, reading their Bibles, praying, spiritual disciplines, and/or doing good works.

What kind of bondage are you in today? My friends, only the Lord Jesus Christ can set you free. This is the good news. Christ, the Son of God is able to set people free! Do you understand that Christ can be your new and better covenant with God? In Christ, you know the Lord, God becomes your God and Father, and forgives your sins (Hebrews 8:10-12). Has the Lord Jesus Christ given you spiritual sight? Do you see that he is your salvation? Has he set you free from sin and its partner, death? Today, you may have light, life and liberty in the Lord Jesus Christ. Turn from the ways of darkness and death. Trust in Christ alone for salvation, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:9-10).

Grace and peace, David

Jesus and the Nations

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Isaiah 42:1-4

Every builder of houses knows that a building must rest on a firm foundation. If the foundation is defective, the house will eventually have other structural problems that will lead to an inevitable collapse. In the same way, every local church must be built on the Lord Jesus Christ. Read the words of the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 3:9-11). For this reason, every gathering of believers in Christ and individual members of these assemblies (local churches) need to pay careful attention to these words of God about Jesus Christ. Even more, all need to focus on Jesus the Messiah as God encourages. In this text, God the Father lifts up the Son and calls everyone to look at his Son, who is his Servant. He tells us that his Servant is his Chosen One, that he delights in him, and that he has put his Spirit on him. Next, let us listen carefully to the mission or task that the Father sent his Servant to accomplish.

God assigned a task to the Servant of the Lord (42:1d). It was to “bring justice to the nations”.

What is the meaning of “justice”? Certain words are difficult to translate from one language to another. The Hebrew word for justice is more comprehensive than our English word. Every word must be translated in its context with other words. This is what can make word studies very dangerous, especially when they try to tell the meaning of a word from its supposed roots. Use word study tools, including concordances cautiously.

In the general context, Isaiah uses the word “justice” three ways:

  • God’s order in creation (40:14). God made everything according to his own counsel and wisdom.
  • In 40:27, it speaks of the judgment or legal decision that God’s people expect when they present their situation to the Lord. They expect the Lord to bring his holy order into their lives.
  • The Lord invites the nations to come to him for a hearing about who is in charge of history (41:1). In this meaning, the Lord asserts his rule over all, and his people can trust him (41:8-10). When the Lord’s justice comes, people live in peace.

What is very surprising in our text is that the Servant of the Lord will bring the Lord’s justice or order to the nations. All might seem chaotic as Cyrus and his Persian armies conquer many nations (41:2-3). But Cyrus and his empire was not the goal of history; instead, the Servant and his accomplished mission will be mankind’s ultimate destiny.

God had a purpose in this mission. This text is part of the unfolding of the story of God’s glory in Christ. Think of a paper road map or a trail map for hiking in parks. As you hold it in your hand neatly folded, you can’t see much of the trail or road system. But as you unfold it, you can find the way to your destination. God gradually unfolds his plan in the Scriptures, but he has one great eternal purpose (Ephesians 3:11). Our text is part of the unfolding plan, which God increasingly made clear (Genesis 12:1-3; Psalm 2:7-9; 117:1-2) until the Lord Jesus accomplished eternal redemption and his apostles explained it in the New Testament Scriptures.

All this leads to the new humanity that God would bring about in Christ and his people (Ephesians 2:11-16).

We need to keep God’s plan before us. God’s “unfolded map” has been given to us, so that we won’t lose our way in the foggy times of our lives. We need to keep the whole map before our eyes, so that we might know our place in God’s story. You see, we can become much to focused on our small situations. Yes, you have your sins to fight, your pain to endure, your calling (job, career) to fulfill, and your family and friends to love. But there ought to be more to your and my interests than the immediate situations we are in. We are here for God’s purposes, and so we need to look at the whole unfolded map and consider everything God is doing. Doing this helps us see the greatness of the Lord Jesus, and how we are to labor with him toward his goals. Since Christ will bring justice to the nations, and we are in him, we are to participate in this purpose. What are your group, your church, and you doing?

Grace and peace, David

Look to God’s Son

 

Many people, activities and things beg for our attention. Think of our family members, fellow Christians, friends, neighbors, ads for new products, stuff on sale, recreational activities, political issues, the troubles of life, etc. It DSCN0334seems like our days and weeks have less available time as more parts of life call out, “Pay attention to me!”

Since the true and living God is our all-knowing and all-wise Creator, he knows where we need to concentrate our limited time and energy. He made us as people that are responsible to him for what we ought to do. For example, each of us must invest part of our time with our family and friends. Yet God desires that we focus on his Son, who alone is worthy of our foremost devotion. The truth of our text is like God putting a spotlight on his Son. He calls us to look up from our misery and despair! It can be too easy to concentrate on our sin and guilt. It is also too easy to minimize our sins and our problems, to apply some religious goo to our spiritual pain, and to assume we can work our way back to respectability on a legalistic and pious treadmill. God the Father says to you, “Why do you put so much value on your own righteousness and religious performances? Here is my Servant!”

Our Bible passage (Isaiah 42:1) is from the opening of the first of what are called the Servant Songs (Isaiah 42:1-9; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12; and 61:1-3). In each of these, God the Father presents his Son as his Servant who will carry out all his will. May the Holy Spirit of God give us grace to fix our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ! The Spirit gives us three reasons we should fix our minds and hearts on Jesus Christ.

First, we should fix our attention on him because he is God’s servant (cf. Ac 3:13).

The Son of God came with a humble appearance (Philippians 2:6-8). The great Creator took on created humanity. No one can comprehend what it was like for him to descend from the glories of heaven to the lower, earthly regions, to be born of a virgin and rest in her arms, to be cared by for her, while he still held all creation together (Colossians 1:17). Who can understand how very rich he was? Yet he was born in poverty and lived the humble life of a carpenter, until he became a penniless teacher, dependent on the gifts of others.

While he lived among mankind, he faced mocking and opposition. He experienced being forsaken by the crowds, once they realized what he was saying, and finally he was denied and betrayed by his closest friends. Then there was the cruel death of the cross, and what it more, it was his Father’s will for him to suffer this way (Isaiah 53:10). “For lordship to submit to service, for God to be man, the blessed God to become a curse, here is a matter of wonder indeed” (Sibbes, Works, Vol. 1, p. 7).

The Son came on the most important mission. God the Father sent him to fulfill two important tasks (Rm 3:25-26). He came to vindicate God’s righteous character. God had forgiven sinners like Abel and Abraham, Jacob and David during the time before Christ’s first coming. But no perfect sacrifice had been offered that could pay the penalty for sinners. Where was the justice of the Holy God? He also came that sinful people who believe in Jesus might be justified or declared right with God. We needed a perfect righteousness that we could never supply, since we all are sinners. People reject God as the True God; they refuse to love him; they rebel against God and his commands. How can such people ever be declared right with God? The Lord Jesus came to provide us with his perfect righteousness.

Right now as you read this, you may turn from your sin and rely on the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness and righteousness. Jesus came to save sinners, and he invites you to receive a full and free salvation.

Second, we should focus on him because he is God’s Chosen One. The Father selected him to be Savior and Lord. He is the Savior of all who believe in him, and he is Lord of all, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth whether they want him to be or not. By his death and resurrection he secured his lordship over the living and the dead (Rm 14:9). So I advise you to pay attention to him. Jesus knew he was sent from heaven to earth to accomplish God’s purpose (John 4:34; 5:23; 6:38-30; 12:44-46). The Holy Spirit affirmed this purpose in the apostle’s writings (1 John 4:9-10). People everywhere have their schemes to get back into God’s favor, or perhaps more audaciously, to try to dethrone and to replace God. But all of them are chasing after the wind. God has chosen his Son Jesus Christ to secure our salvation and to be the Judge of mankind (Acts 10:42). We ought to be content with God’s choice.

The Father chose his people for salvation in the Chosen One. We believers share in what Christ is (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 2:4-9).We had no worthiness in ourselves that God should desire us. Although we were sinners, he chose us to salvation in his Son. This teaching ought to give us joyful confidence. “If God has chosen him, and we have been chosen in him, why would he ever reject us?” Think of this. God has chosen to love you and to embrace you as his dearly loved child in Christ. Believe in Christ and rest secure in the Father’s love. All this should cause us to say, “Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ!”

Third, we should build our world and life view on him because he is the Father’s delight. The Father loved him from before the creation of the world (John 17:24). Here is mystery. We serve an independent God who had absolutely no need to create. All that was necessary for his eternal joy was already found in the perfection of the Holy Trinity. His desire to create and to save is the overflowing of his love and joy. Whenever the Father viewed the Son in what we feebly call “eternity past”, he was filled with joy in what he saw in him.

The Father loved him during his earthly ministry (Matthew 3:17; 17:4-5). God’s unvarying testimony was his pleasure in his Son. The Father was pleased with his Son when he was baptized, when he changed the water into wine, when he cleansed the temple, talked with Nicodemus and the woman at the well, healed the paralyzed man on the Sabbath, fed the five thousand, and walked on the water. God was pleased about how Jesus went up to the Feast of Tabernacles, how he spoke with the Jewish leaders, and how he healed the man born blind. He was pleased with the way his Son answered his critics, with how he raised Lazarus, and that he was anointed with very expensive perfume by Mary. God was pleased with the way his dearly loved Son prayed and suffered and died. And God showed his great pleasure by raising him from the dead! The Father loved him because he laid down his life for the sheep (John 10:17; cf. Isaiah 53:12; Ephesians 5:1-2.)

So then, how should we obey this truth about Jesus the Son of God?

  • If God so delights in Jesus Christ, then so should we (1 Corinthians 16:22). If God has chosen him, then so should we. Have you? “It should shame us therefore when we find dullness and coldness upon us, that we can hear of anything better than of Christ, and arguments concerning Christ are cold to us” (Sibbes, p. 14).
  • If God so delights in his Son, then we may be assured of our own acceptance by God, if we are in Christ by faith (John 17:26).
  • If Christ the Son of God was delighted to serve God, then we ought to be delighted to serve him, too (Philippians 2:1-11). Christ was not infatuated with his own greatness. Though he was equal with God, he became God’s servant. Oh, we should come down from the tower of our self-importance and self-centeredness. The heart of every person by nature is proud; it is a deep well of pride. People think, “What! Shall I stoop to serve Christ?” Instead, we ought to think, “Did God the Son humble himself to the death of the cross, while I remain proud?” Let us humble ourselves before the Lord.