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

A Prayer During Affliction (Part One)

Psalm 25:16-22

We live in a world of troubles. As painful as it might be, think with me on this theme for a few moments. People suffer from fire, flood, storms and tropical storms, drought, landslides, earthquakes, and occasionally volcanic eruptions. Some people live in anguish because of disease or serious disabilities. Others find their lives in turmoil because of wars, terrorism, civil unrest like riots and looting, economic recessions, oppression by tyrants, or religious persecution. And still others suffer spiritually and emotionally through guilt, depression, betrayal, loneliness, anger, abuse, fear and disappointments. No one is exempt from affliction—no one.

The Bible talks much about afflicted people. “If you were to take out of the Scriptures all the stories that have to do with poor, afflicted men and women, what a very small book the Bible would become, especially if together with the stories you removed all the psalms of the sorrowful, all the promises for the distressed, and all the passages which belong to the children of grief! This Book, indeed, for the most part is made up of the annals of the poor and despised” (Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 32, p. 301). Think about how much of the Bible talks about a young man sold as a slave who suffers in prison in Egypt. And what of that baby boy, left to die in the river, and yet whose life is spared, only to lose forty years of his life in the wilderness, and then who spends most of his next forty listening to the bitter complaints of an ungrateful people. We read many chapters of a man who loses all his children and property, and then suffers from a dreadful disease, only to have his best friends accuse him unmercifully of being wicked. The Bible tells us of two widows, suffering in poverty and uncertain of their future. And have you read of a despised boy, left out in the fields to tend sheep? He becomes a hero, but then runs for his life for years, while having to care for other oppressed people. And we haven’t even begun to talk about a prophet whose only food came from ravens and a destitute widow, about women who longed for children, but who for long years were childless, or about a homeless teacher, who was mocked and eventually killed by those who hated him. And these are those favored by the God of heaven! Yes, it seems to me the Bible is a book for afflicted people and his plan for them. And listen to these words. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him (1 Corinthians 1:27-29 NIV).

Yes, God cares about the afflicted, and he invites us to draw very near to him in our suffering. He is so desirous of our approach that in his word, he even gives us the words to say to him in our anguish of heart. Let us, therefore, listen to this prayer with an understanding of God’s great compassion for us.

In this song, we hear an intensely personal approach to God. The psalmist David had meditated upon his friendship with God; now he acted upon it. We must know how to interact with God as his friend. David referred to himself some seventeen times in these verses! Notice the first-person pronouns I, me and my. After exalting God in worship, he boldly spoke as a friend in need. He or she who worships well can fellowship well. David expected God to be personally interested in his troubles. He was not of the opinion that we must only pray for God’s concerns or the needs of others. But having put God first, David was not ashamed to present his neediness to God. He knew that in this unequal friendship, he could depend upon God’s real awareness of and deep compassion for him. If this doesn’t convince you, meditate on Christ’s revelation of God’s compassion (cf. Matthew 9:36).

David used two pleas to persuade God to act for his benefit. He pleaded his trust in God (25:20-21). Notice the phrase “in you” (cf. 25:2-3, 5). Faith is a God-focused activity. It is consciously relying on the all-powerful God to be directly and personally involved in one’s life. It is looking out of oneself to God. He pleaded his miserable condition (25:16-18). Notice the words he piles up in this appeal: “lonely… afflicted… troubles… anguish… affliction… distress.”  But notice what David understood. He knew that he did not need to instruct God about what to do for him. He only wanted God to “look upon my affliction” and he was confident of help. Why is this enough? He knew the character of the God that he relied on (cf. Exodus 3:5-8).

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Five)

 Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you (Jeremiah 32:17 ESV).

God is unlimited in regard to power; that is, he can do anything that is in conformity with his nature and that he in his holy wisdom chooses to do and in the way he chooses to do it. The theological word for this truth is omnipotence. Neither the grace of his love nor the wrath of his justice can be hindered. He has the all-ability necessary to carry out his plans. The creation itself is testimony to his infinite power (Romans 1:20). The Scriptures many times assert the all-powerfulness of God. Numerous times he is called “Almighty” (Genesis 17:1) or the “All-powerful One” (Revelation 1:8). (See, for example, Zechariah 8 where this idea is used of God 17 times!) Nothing in creation can stop God from doing what he wants to do (Genesis 18:14; Job 42:2; Psalm 115:3; Jeremiah 32:17, 27; Daniel 4:35; Matthew 19:26; Mark 14:36; Luke 1:37; Ephesians 1:19-20; 3:20). Human agency has no bearing upon God’s power (Exodus 15:6-12; 1 Samuel 14:6; Proverbs 21:1).

God reveals his omnipotence in various ways:

  • Creation – Genesis 1:1, 3; etc.; Exodus 20:11; Psalm 24:1-2; Psalm 33:6-9; Jeremiah 10:12; John 1:3; Acts 17:24; Revelation 14:7
  • Preservation – Psalm 66:9; 104:10-15; Matthew 5:45; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3
  • Protection – 2 Chronicles 14:11-12; Isaiah 14:24-27; 46:4
  • Miracles – Exodus 3:20; 7:3-5; Matthew 8:3; Luke 8:24; John 11:43-44
  • Judgment – Ezekiel 22:13-16; Revelation 20:11-15

“As holiness is the beauty, so power is the life of all his attributes in their exercise; and as holiness, so power is an adjunct belonging to all, a term that may be given to all. God hath a powerful wisdom to attain his ends without interruption; he hath a powerful mercy to remove our misery; a powerful justice to lay all misery upon offenders; he hath a powerful truth to perform his promises; an infinite power to bestow rewards and inflict penalties. It is to this purpose power is first put in the two things which the Psalmist had heard (Psalm 62:11-12)” (Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, Vol. 2, pp. 15-16).

“Get an interest in God, and then this glorious power is engaged for you. He gives it under his hand, that he will put forth the whole power of his Godhead for the good of his people… It is a comfort in several cases” (Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 81).

  • He can give us power against our remaining sin (Galatians 5:16)
  • He has power to keep us from temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13)
  • He is sufficient to support us in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9)
  • He can provide for our needs (Matthew 6:30)
  • He is able to protect us from our enemies (Romans 8:31)
  • He will raise us to eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:57)

This attribute of God fuels the faith and hope of his people. We can trust the Holy One, who is able to do much more than we ask or imagine. We can confidently expect eternal glory, because he can get us to be with him forever.

Grace and peace, David

Thinking about God and His Friendship with His People (Part Four)

Psalm 25:8-15

Previously in this series, we have thought about God as the friend of his people. The Lord is good and upright, he forgives great sin, and he confides in his people. Next, we want to consider how to respond to God’s friendship. We must remember that this is an unequal friendship. The awesome Creator and Controller of all wants to be our friend, yet he is God. Therefore, we must always realize that he is God, and not try to pull him down to our level.

This text mentions four ways to express friendship with God (humility, obedience, godly mindedness and fear of the Lord). In this article, we learn that we express friendship with God by being humble before him (25:9).

Humility is hard for postmodern people to come to terms with. Certainly, people claim to be turned off by arrogant, pushy people. Yet, since people like to think they can interpret the world in agreement with their own ideas and preferences, arrogance is fueled by their core values. This results in humility being interpreted as weakness. From a Christian world and life view, humility is valued and essential. How do we attain humility before God? Two ideas:

  • By having a correct view of God (Hebrews 11:6; 1 Timothy 1:17) – We cannot be a friend of the living God, unless we know him as he has revealed himself to us in the Bible. Until we are convinced of his majestic holiness, we will struggle with his right to do as he pleases (cf. Romans 9:20-21), and this will hinder our friendship with God. “You are God; you are God!”
  • By believing that righteousness before God is only through the gospel (Philippians 3:4-9). Too many try to develop a relationship with God based on their religious efforts; that is, by keeping the rituals and rules of religion or spirituality. Paul knew religion quite well, and he rejected all he could do in favor of relying on Christ and his righteousness to be right with God.

Is your friendship with God based on the grace of God in Christ? Only those who rely on Christ alone for salvation are accepted by God (cf. Ephesians 1:5-6).

How is humility expressed? Humility is expressed by an active faith in God (1 Peter 5:6-7). Faith acknowledges God’s almighty power and is willing to wait for God to lift the believer up in his time. Until that time comes, he or she casts every anxiety on God. We see examples of this in the life of Abraham. Consider how Abraham humbly obeyed God by faith.

  • The Lord said to Abraham, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” What did Abraham do? “So Abram left, as the Lord had told him” (Genesis 12:1, 4).
  • Abraham was distressed greatly, because Sarah wanted him to get Hagar and her son Ishmael out of their household. God tells him, “Listen to whatever Sarah tells you…” What did Abraham do? Early the next morning he sent Hagar and her son away (Genesis 21:11-14).
  • The Lord said to Abraham, “Sacrifice Isaac there as a burnt offering.” What did Abraham do? Early the next morning, he took Isaac to the appointed place (Genesis 22:1-19).

In our lives, there are four special occasions that require us to especially humble ourselves before the Lord.

  • In times of visible confusion in the world (cf. Psalm 46:2-3, 6). How does the person of faith humbly respond? “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:7).
  • In times of amazing, divergent variety in the conditions of believers. Think about this. “Some under persecution always, — some always at peace; some in dungeons and prisons, — some at liberty in their own houses; the saints of one nation under great oppression for many ages, — of another, in quietness; in the same places some poor, in great distress, put hard to it for daily bread all their lives, — others abounding in all things; some full of various afflictions, going softly and mourning all their days, — others spared, and scarce touched with the rod at all; — and yet, commonly, the advantage of holiness and close walking with God lying on the distressed side” (Owen, Works, Vol. 9, p. 114). Why does God deal so differently with his people whom he loves? “Who can, now, with an eye of reason, look upon them, and say they are all the children of one Father, and that he loves them all alike? Should you come into a great house, and see some children in scarlet, having all things needful, others hewing wood and drawing water, — you would conclude that they are not all children, but some children, some slaves: but when it shall be told you that they are all one man’s children; and that the hewers of wood, that live on the bread and water of affliction, and go in tattered rags, are as dear to him as the other; and that he intends to leave them as good an inheritance as any of the rest; — if you intend not to question the wisdom and goodness of the father of the family, you must resolve to submit to his authority with a quiet subjection of mind. So is it in the great family of God; nothing will quiet our souls, but humbling ourselves to the law of his providence” (Ibid, p. 115).
  • In times when their circumstances change suddenly. At sunrise, life seems wonderful, but before twilight comes, one’s life seems ruined beyond recovery. Yet how does humble faith respond? Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).
  • In times of deep, continual, apparently hopeless suffering. But how does humble faith respond? It says as Joseph said to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

In all things, the humble friend of God rests on the revealed truth that God is righteous, in control, and wise. “When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace… When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.” Bow in humble dependence before your God this day.

Grace and peace, David

Exploring Matthew 8-9

When we read the Four Gospels, we should remember that the evangelists were not writing biographies. Their object was not to write a “life of Christ” but to tell the good news about Jesus the Messiah. As they wrote about the story of God’s glory in Christ, they chose events from his earthly ministry and selections from his words to display his glory that is good news for us. This knowledge will help us as we explore Matthew 8-9.

After the large teaching block that we call the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chose several events to flesh out three ideas from the teaching: authority, faith, and discipleship. The transitional verses at the end of chapter seven move from the teaching section to the doing section on the pivot of his authority. And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes (7:28-29 ESV, my emphasis). In chapters 8-9, Matthew sets forth examples of our Lord’s authority. In some, his authority is openly stated; in most, it is declared by his words or acts.

  • His authority over disease (8:1-4)
  • His authority over disease (8:5-13)
  • His authority over disease (8:14-15, 17)
  • His authority over demons (8:16)
  • His authority to call people to follow him (8:18-22)
  • His authority over nature (8:23-27)
  • His authority over demons (8:28-34)
  • His authority to forgive sins (9:1-8)
  • His authority to call people to follow him (9:9)
  • His authority over his critics (9:10-13)
  • His authority over spiritual activities (9:14-17)
  • His authority to heal (9:18-20)
  • His authority over death (9:21-26)
  • His authority to heal (9:27-31)
  • His authority over demons (9:32-34)

So then, Matthew gives us much material to think about in these fifteen events. By faith, we can see Jesus acting with authority. It ought to make us ask the disciples’ question. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (ESV) The cumulative intent is to lead us to bow at his feet and confess “Jesus is Lord”, which is the basic Christian confession. As we explore these chapters, our minds and hearts ought to be stirred deeply, so that we choose to submit to his authority as our Lord. Read these chapters many times, asking God the Holy Spirit to make you feel the presence of the Lord.

Throughout these events, Matthew also highlights faith. This is essential, since some people like the scribes (9:3) and Pharisees (9:11), saw Christ’s authority in action, and became critics instead of followers. The Gadarenes saw his power, and asked him to leave (8:34). A Gentile had great faith (8:10), while the disciples had little faith (8:26). Matthew records that those who approached the Lord in faith received blessing from him (9:2, 22, 29-30). When we sense Christ’s authority, we must trust him and commit ourselves to him. As you read, examine yourself to see if you rely on the Lord.

Since Matthew’s Gospel is about discipleship (28:18-20; etc.), he provides examples of people that heard his call and had to make a choice. Some suppose they are ready, when they don’t understand the cost of discipleship (8:19-22). Others like Matthew heard Christ’s call and followed him. In either case, people witnessed his power and his compassion (9:36). Read through these chapters and notice the mercy that Jesus showed to sinners and to the suffering. This Lord cares about people. He seeks others to labor in his harvest of making disciples and serving others. Will you pray his request (9:37-38)? Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Are you ready to follow him in this costly mission?

Grace and peace, David