Had God Abandoned Them?

Luke 1:5-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Nineteen (Part Nine)

Psalm 19:12-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and peace, David

By Faith Joseph (Part Two)

Genesis 50:22-26

In our previous post, we saw how Joseph completed his earthly pilgrimage with joy. We conclude this series on his life with this: By faith Joseph spoke about the future. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones (Hebrews 11:22 NASV).

For their immediate future, he encouraged them to rely on the Lord. He comforted them with the same comfort that he had received from his father (48:21). This is a pattern for our lives. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV). They who believe God’s promises are desirous of persuading others to believe also. That which had sustained him for over ninety years, he now leaves as a heritage of faith to his family.

Joseph had been the means of God’s support and protection for the family. Now that the means was passing away, what would become of the family? He directed them to the actual source of their security: The God who had made covenant promises to his people (50:24). “God’s gracious visits will serve to make up the loss of our best friends. They die; but we may live, and live comfortably, if we have the favor and presence of God with us” (Henry).

For the more distant future, he encouraged them to hope in God. God’s people must journey through this world with their hope (confident expectation) on what God has promised. We don’t look for satisfaction in this present world but in the world to come. Joseph’s family, which would become God’s covenant nation at Sinai, was not to look for satisfaction in Egypt. God had a better place for them, a place where they could flourish as his people. But they would not reach that land for many years. Until then, by faith Joseph spoke two messages of hope.

First, Joseph told them that God would come to their aid. Their way would eventually turn out to be bitter slavery. The people themselves would even turn to idols (Joshua 24:14). But God’s grace is greater than his people’s sins and sorrows. Hear the word of the Lord, “But God will surely come to your aid.”

Second, Joseph prophesied that God will surely take them to the land of promise. Egypt was not to be their home, and as a testimony to them, Joseph ordered that they take his bones out with them in the Exodus. Famous men often want to build monuments to their own honor in this world. Joseph was of a different spirit. Let Egypt do as it wished for the present; he had his sights set on a better country.

God’s people in all ages must keep their eyes on God’s promised rest for them. Let us remember where our home is. We are only strangers and pilgrims here. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth (Hebrews 11:13 NIV). We are looking for a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:13).

Let’s focus on some lessons we can learn from Joseph’s life.

  • What made Joseph tick? He had surely seen God do great things for him and through him! But was his experience his consolation in the end? No, it was the word of God. His hope was in what God had “promised on oath” (50:24). Two unchangeable things sustained him at the end, God’s promise and oath (cf. Hebrews 6:18). We will do well to pay attention to the word of the prophets made more certain, for it is the word of God (2 Peter 1:19-21).
  • Let us not be weary of repetition. Joseph repeated that God would surely come to their aid. Weak minds continually lust after new, exotic, spicy spiritual and intellectual dishes. Strong minds are content to feed on meat and potatoes. Make God’s word your delight and rely on it; beware the opinions of people.
  • Joseph endured thirteen years of suffering, but he also enjoyed eighty years of honor. Let us not lose heart concerning any present suffering for Christ. He can abundantly reward us. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17 NIV).
  • A godly man may die in the Egypts of this world. That matters not. All the godly will share perfection together someday (Hebrews 11:40). O that it was today!

Grace and peace, David

By Faith Joseph (Part One)

Genesis 50:22-26

We come now to our final posts about the life of Joseph. He could say that God intended his sufferings for good. Our own souls can benefit as we meditate on what God did for him, leading him through the lowest depths to the highest honors. Trials may come to the child of God, but the Lord is with him through the trials.

While it is God’s purpose always to work for the ultimate good of his people (Romans 8:28), it is our responsibility to trust him as he works toward that end. Suppose you have car with engine problems, and you take it to a good mechanic for repairs. How does he fix the car? By taking the engine apart. You must rely on his wisdom and good intentions.

By faith Joseph completed his earthly pilgrimage. God blessed him with a long life. In the old covenant, the first command with a promise (Deuteronomy 5:16; Ephesians 6:3) promised a long life. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation (Psalm 91:16 ESV). My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity (Proverbs 3:2 NIV). We must read verses within, not only their context, but also the context of the progress of redemptive history. Prior to the old covenant, we find that several of the godly (no record of the ages of the ungodly) attained very great years: Abraham, 175; Isaac, 180; Jacob, 147; and Job, 140+. Yet though they were loved by the Lord, sin’s partner, death, at last laid hold of them. We should daily thank the Lord for the gift of life and all that is necessary to sustain it and make it enjoyable. Now is the time to remember him. Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 NIV).

God blessed Joseph with a growing family. The text can be interpreted as either grandchildren or great-grandchildren. In either case, he could bless God as he saw the promise to Abraham begin to be fulfilled. Genesis 12:2. The enjoyment of grandchildren is a blessing from God. May the Lord bless you from Zion, so that you will see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life and will see your children’s children! Peace be with Israel (Psalm 128:6 CSB; cf. Job 42:16). I was joking with another grandfather yesterday that grandchildren are new and improved versions of children. We laughed, but I think that perception lies more within the grandfathers than the grandchildren, since we can love them and hand them back to our children after we have “spoiled” the grandchildren with kindness.

Note well that Joseph could rejoice in the mercies of God to him. He did not embitter his own life by obsessing on the suffering that he had had to endure because of his brothers’ cruelty. Since he knew that God had intended everything for the good of his family, he accepted his place in the plan of the Sovereign God. This required faith. God’s people must always live by faith.

Grace and peace, David

Blessing and Encouragement (Part One)

Genesis 48:8-22

It is remarkable that at the end of his life, Jacob became a prophet. He still had important work to do for the Lord. The latter days of God’s servants can be their best. Moses served the Lord constantly in the last third of his life. Don’t moan your way to glory. Trust God for grace and strength to glorify and to serve him until your last day.

In our text, we first see some common matters of life. When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, “Who are these?” “They are the sons God has given me here,” Joseph said to his father. Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.” Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them. Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.” (Genesis 48:8-11 NIV).

Jacob was blind because of his age. It is a weakness of our fallen race (Ecclesiastes 12:3). Everyone who lives by sight rather than by faith will eventually lose their guide. Old age has burdens along with its blessings. You can’t have one without the other. But you can rejoice in what the Lord does in your weakness (cf. Romans 8:26; 2 Corinthians 4:16-17). The eye of faith may be clear when the eye of the flesh is very cloudy. You can see the kingdom of God when you can’t see the kingdoms of this world. By faith like Abraham, look for the city that has foundations (Hebrews 11:10). This we ought to do, rather than groan about the weakness of our failing bodies.

Jacob was affectionate toward his grandsons. He thought he would never see Joseph again, but he had the joy of seeing Joseph’s sons. Older people often have a special affection for their grandchildren, perhaps even more than they had toward their children. Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers (Proverbs 17:6 ESV). In his providence, God often blesses his people beyond what they might expect. Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know (Jeremiah 33:3 CSB). “God is much better to us than our fears; yea, far better than our hopes” (Spurgeon).

Jacob and Joseph acknowledged God’s providence in their lives. Joseph praised God for the children he gave him. Jacob rejoiced that he could see Joseph and his sons after years of thinking Joseph was dead and sons had never been born to him. Every good thing we enjoy is sweetened when we see that all comes from the hand of a loving Father. Here is the way for the godly to talk. Neither father nor son praised the false goddess Luck, but the true GOD. For what five blessings are you thankful to God right now?

Grace and peace, David

An Important Personal Event (Part Two)

Genesis 48:1-7

In our last article, we saw that Joseph had taken his two sons to visit his dying father, Jacob. Everyone needs to honor the older members of their family, even when the visits might prove to be difficult. In our text, the visit became a little testy, because Joseph did not perceive what his father was doing. But Jacob was privy to God’s plan for Israel’s future. God told Jacob to do something that would affect the course of the tribes hundreds of years later. Jacob’s action is an example of God’s sovereign choice, an instance of gracious action (48:3-7).

Jacob recounted God’s goodness to him. He gave an account of God’s historical appearance to him. In a day without the written word, this would be very important to the next generation (cf. 35:9-13). We ought to give thanks for our Bibles, through which we have eyewitness accounts to the story of God’s glory. We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19 NIV).

Jacob also reminded them of God’s covenant blessing and promise. This was Jacob’s greatest treasure, and he shared it with his dear grandchildren. Those saved by grace should always speak highly of God’s grace. “In all our prayers, both for ourselves and for our children, we ought to have a particular eye to, and remembrance of, God’s promises to us” (Henry, Commentary). Let there be no doubt, Jacob was a man of faith (Hebrews 11:21). If Ephraim and Manasseh were worldly-minded, what would they have seen? Only a dying old man, who had been living off their father’s generosity for seventeen years. What could such a man give to them? To the spiritually-minded, however, the sight is vastly different. One of God’s chosen people, an heir of God, was speaking with them. Faith sees what human wisdom cannot.

Jacob received his grandsons as his own children. Though born in Egypt and not his own, Jacob called them his own sons. This is a picture of our adoption as sons (Galatians 4:3-5). Jacob pointed the two young men to the place where blessing truly is to be found. It was better for them to embrace God’s people in their affliction than Egypt in its wealth. This is a lesson rarely learned in our day (1 Timothy 6:9-10; Hebrews 11:26).

In this way, Joseph came to receive the birthright, for he received a double blessing (cf. 1 Chronicles 5:1-2).

Jacob added a wise proviso in the event Joseph had other sons. Wisdom on the part of parents can prevent much grief in a family after their departure. What struggles, by those who call themselves Christians, have been carried out for a small earthly inheritance!

Jacob spoke of his long-departed wife, Rachel. It was very natural that Jacob would think of her that he deeply loved such a time. Ephraim and Manasseh were her grandchildren, too! “Strong affections in the enjoyment cause long afflictions in the loss” (Henry). In the end Rachel was vindicated, for she was the wife Jacob chose, and though barren for a while, her firstborn received the pre-eminence. In summary, this section shows a man of faith with his eye on the promised land to the end. We will do well to imitate his faith (Hebrews 11:13-16). Let us keep Christ and our eternal inheritance fully and firmly in view.

Grace and peace, David

Reunion

Genesis 46:28-30

Now Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen. When they arrived in the region of Goshen, Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time. Israel said to Joseph, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive” (NIV).

We have seen God’s power at work many times in the life of Joseph. God spoke to Joseph through dreams, enabled him to interpret dreams, protected him from death a couple times, and helped him to endure terrible suffering and the near loss of hope. God also raised him from slavery and imprisonment to become the second in command in the kingdom of Egypt. In this section, we see God at work in a different way.

This incident is one of those times in the Scriptures when faith became sight, when hope received its fulfillment. Events of this type are recorded in the Bible for our encouragement, in order that we may have hope. For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope (Romans 15:4 NIV). Another example would be when the disciples saw Jesus risen from the dead. Let us remember that all Scripture is useful for training in righteousness. Instead of running to the Psalms automatically in your troubles, it might be to your profit to meditate on the historical parts of the Scriptures when you are depressed or discouraged. Think on what God has done for his people in the past and what he is able to do for you.

Jacob and the son he thought was dead had a happy reunion. Here is the mutual love of a godly father and his son for each other. The Holy Spirit shows the reality of these people. They were not wind-up, super-spiritual dolls. They had strong affections just as we do. God approves of such displays of love. Think of the reception of the lost son (cf. Luke 15:20). It is very manly and good to express love for one’s family like they did. There is a strange idea that has been circulating for many years: “Big boys don’t cry.” Perhaps boys don’t, for big boys often have mistaken notions of maturity. But godly men cry when it is appropriate (John 11:35; Philippians 3:18; Psalm 126:5-6).

Jacob acquiesced to what God had done: “Now I am ready to die….” He had seen the fulfillment of a dream. His dearly loved son is alive! God’s word has been proved true! Consider Simeon’s joy at seeing the infant Messiah (Luke 2:28-32).

Yet again, Jacob was mistaken in a way. He was ready to die, but it was not yet his time. In fact, Jacob still had 17 years to live (cf. 47:28). Over the years of being a pastor, I have seen many people live much longer than what the medical professionals thought possible. It is good to be ready to face the Lord, but we cannot determine that any particular event (except salvation) makes us ready. So then, don’t quit too soon! You don’t know what job the Lord might yet have for you to do for him. Old age brings a decline in strength, but it adds the benefit of vast life experience. Use what God gives you for his glory.

Grace and peace, David

Jacob’s Trial of Faith (Part Two)

Genesis 43:1-14

Nobody likes to admit their mistakes, especially if it is a major issue and if we have been stubborn in holding to a position. Jacob had resisted his sons’ arguments about taking Benjamin to Egypt that they might be able to buy food. Some older men will never admit their wrongs, even if plainly shown to be in error. They’re like the captain wanting to go down with the ship. But Jacob made a wise turnabout (43:11-14). Two qualities stand out in his change.

Jacob exercised prudence (43:11-13). He thought through the possible consequences to the best of his ability.

  • He recognized that his sons were telling the truth, and so he changed his mind and acted decisively. He listened to reason, even from his own children. A wise man will alter his opinions when confronted with the truth. Previous statements he may have made do not matter. It is better to be correct than consistent. Learn to agree with the Scriptures instead of your own old opinions.
  • He did what he could to appease the governor and earn his favor. After all, his sons’ lives were at stake! A gift given in secret soothes anger (Prov 21:14a NIV). Here was a strange providence. The family had plenty of honey and spices, but they had no grain. American churches have fancy buildings and plenty of money, but what of the preaching of the word of God and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit?
  • He acted to make known their honesty. He sent the money back! Jacob had done this before with his brother Esau. Sometimes we must buy peace with others, and the cost may be very high. Faith in God also uses means.
  • He sent them at once. Having seen his error, immediately he set out on the proper course. Further delay was pointless.

Jacob acted in faith (43:14). He prayed. Having done what he could, he sought God’s blessing on the outcome. Perhaps the Lord will be merciful and all eleven sons will return.

Prayer is important. Recently he had complained, “Everything is against me” (42:36). Now he more wisely sought God’s blessing. He resigned the situation to God’s providence. The former schemer and wrestler bowed himself to wait for God’s will. Faced with a dangerous situation, godly people trust God. Remember what Esther said in a crisis moment. “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16 NIV). Do not be mistaken. This was a costly moment for Jacob. His enduring love for departed Rachel, which was expressed in his attachment to Benjamin, was finally sacrificed.

Having made his decision, Jacob had to wait for the outcome. That wait would last at least several weeks, perhaps a couple months. A believer must live by faith to the end of his days. Let us learn the patience of faith instead of striving with God.

Grace and peace, David

On the Pilgrim Way (Part One)

Hebrews 6:11

Now we desire each of you to demonstrate the same diligence for the full assurance of your hope until the end (CSB).

Sharon and I recently watched a series of video lectures on Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Many times the lecturer pointed out how Bunyan portrayed the concern of pastors and other ministers for people on pilgrimage. He also commented many times on Bunyan’s emphasis on perseverance. Perhaps both were on my mind the other day as I read the second half of Hebrews six.

In our time in our culture, professing Christians have taken a strange turn from the concepts of pilgrimage and perseverance. For too many, it has become a quasi-religious, entertainment, program-driven experience. It has become something for them to consume. But Christianity is a way of life in which believers endure or persevere to the end. Christians are on a journey to the heavenly city and ought to be motivated with that goal in their thoughts. So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:1-2 CSB). As a minister of Jesus Christ and the gospel, I want to encourage you to follow Christ in the walk of love, and as this and the next verse declares, the walk of faith and hope. One of the first hymns that I can remember hearing says, “O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way, leaning on the everlasting arms.” Our way of life is one of “Leaning on Jesus, leaning on Jesus, safe and secure from all alarms.” I want to build you up to diligently pursue your hope.

However, we should not skip over the opening words.

The Spirit says through the writer, “Now we desire each of you….” Desire is a strong word. It is used for greediness (Romans 13:9), hunger (Luke 15:16; 16:21), and sexual lust (Matthew 5:28). Ministers, pastors, and elders ought to show a deep desire for the spiritual well-being and progress of those to whom they minister. Part of the problem with American churches is that the pastor(s) and elders are much more interested in running a business than in caring for and nurturing people. As one of these neglected saints recently said of her church leaders, “All that matters is money.” Very sad!

The task of Christ’s servants is to serve him by serving his dearly loved people. They ought to, we dare to say, lust for their spiritual good. If you deeply desire someone, you make sure you are with them, you show that you care about them, and you shower them with kindness. This is a task for spiritually mature people, who possess a strong faith that their Father in heaven has already met their needs.

This strong desire is for each of you. Yes, everyone who is part of a local gathering of believers. However, local churches have become places where the oldest are neglected and the older leaders forced out. The rich are loved, while the poor are mere ministry “projects” or worse. And we could list others. But Christ’s servants are to have a deep desire for the imitation of the Lord Jesus in everyone.

Pray for leaders of your local church that possess strong desires for the spiritual progress of all its people. Pray that the Spirit of the Lord would transform the leaders, so that they follow Christ and pursue others to join them on the heavenward journey. “O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way!”

Grace and peace, David

The Importance of the Resurrection (Part Two)

Romans 10:9-10

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved (NIV).

In our previous post on these verses, we saw that Christ’s resurrection is the fulfillment of his crucifixion. Yes, God the Father sent his Son as the Lamb of God to take away our sins, but he also sent him to rise the third day. What did God intend through the resurrection?

Belief in Christ’s resurrection means salvation. Let’s begin with the place of belief—“in your heart”

What is the meaning of the heart? So often in our culture we use heart in reference to the emotions. But in the Bible the heart is the center of personality, which includes the mind and will, along with the emotions. It determines what a person is.

So then, to believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead means that the truth of Christ’s resurrection has so secured the consent of what we are that it determines all our convictions about religion and life. Think of a farmer planting his corn. The seed is sown in the ground, and as it grows, a mature corn plant develops. So it is spiritually, the Holy Spirit puts the truth of Jesus and his resurrection in the heart, and a life develops that conforms to that truth.

The person that is Christian in name, but not in reality, may agree to the fact of the resurrection intellectually, but the truth of Jesus and the resurrection has not taken over his life. Contrast this with the apostle Paul (Acts 17:18, 30-31). What has happened in your heart?

The happy result of this kind of belief—“you will be saved”. What does it mean to be saved? To be saved is to be rescued from the holy wrath of God that is against sinners because of our rebellion against God and his laws and to be brought into the possession of eternal life and joy (Romans 4:5-8; 5:1-2, 9-11). Observe carefully that the Scriptures speak with certainty at this point—“you will be saved.” There is nothing of a “hope so” attitude or a “blind leap of faith”. Not, not at all! Instead, we read a solemn guarantee. Read Romans 8:31-39. Do you have this certain hope?

The belief that saves produces a grand outward confession—“Jesus is Lord”. The confession, “Jesus is Lord,” refers to the lordship that Jesus has because he died and rose again. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living (Romans 14:9 NIV).

  • Since Jesus is Lord, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him (Matthew 28:18).
  • Since Jesus is Lord, there is a message of the good news of peace to all (Acts 10:36).
  • Since Jesus is Lord, he rules over all for the good of his church (Ephesians 1:22).
  • Since Jesus is Lord, all angels, authorities and powers are subject to him (1 Peter 3:22).
  • Since Jesus is Lord, he is waiting for his enemies to become his footstool (Acts 2:34-36; Hebrews 10:13).
  • Since Jesus is Lord, he has poured out the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33).
  • Since Jesus is Lord, he is exalted to the highest place, has a name above every name, and every knee will bow to him and every tongue confess that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

“The thing to be confessed is that Jesus Christ is Lord. That is, we must openly recognize his authority to the full extent in which he is Lord; acknowledge that he is exalted above all principality and powers, that angels are made subject to him, that all power in heaven and earth is committed unto him, and of course that he is our Lord. This confession, therefore, includes in it an acknowledgment of Christ’s universal sovereignty, and a sincere recognition of his authority over us. To confess Christ as Lord, is to acknowledge him as the Messiah, recognized as such of God, and invested with all the power and prerogatives of the Mediatorial throne” (Hodge). The Christian recognizes Christ’s lordship and bows before him now. But what of you?

The confession, “Jesus is Lord,” is the fruit of faith in his resurrection. Someone might say, but confession is mentioned before belief, so how can it be the fruit of faith? The answer is simple. The apostle is following the order mentioned in verse eight. “Confession is here put before faith, as it is confession which gives visibility to faith—Paul following the order suggested by the words of Moses” (Brown). Notice also how he turns confession and faith around in verse ten.

Confession with the mouth is evidence of genuine faith in the heart. If someone believes that Jesus Christ is risen and so has become Lord of all, he/she will confess that verbally and openly. “Confession verifies and confirms the faith of the heart” (Murray).

A person “becomes righteous, perfectly righteous, through believing God’s record concerning His Son. But the evidence that this faith is genuine is found in the open confession of the Lord with the mouth in everything in which His will is known. Confession of Christ is as necessary as faith in Him, but necessary for a different purpose. Faith is necessary to obtain the gift of righteousness. Confession is necessary to prove that this gift is received” (Haldane).

“Those who are ashamed or afraid to acknowledge Christ before men, cannot expect to be saved. The want of courage to confess, is decisive evidence of the want of heart to believe, vers. 9, 10” (Hodge). Since Jesus Christ is risen indeed and is Lord over all, shouldn’t you bow in faith before him and trust him as your righteousness and so be saved?

Grace and peace, David