Thoughts on the Reformation (Part One)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV).

The Reformation (1517-1648) was one of the great awakenings (like Pentecost and the First Great Awakening) in the spread of Christ’s kingdom on the earth. Centered in Northern Europe and Great Britain, the power of the Spirit of God and God’s word brought about a very strong witness to the good news of Christ and salvation. Many were born again from above, and a new way of life began in the regions it touched. It showed the value of human life in the here and now, and multitudes lived for the glory of God, including in the 1600s, North America. Like any matter in which people are involved, the Reformation was far from perfect, but that should not prevent us from rejoicing in the salvation of people and much good that resulted through people who had been brought from darkness into God’s marvelous light. Let us avoid the destructive trap of smashing good things because of a few flaws we perceive. It is right to point out errors, so that we can walk more precisely in the truth. But it is very wrong to reject God’s work because of the remaining sin among his people.

The Bible tells us that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, at his appointed time: But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son (Galatians 4:4 NIV). The Reformation also came in this way. The sovereign God prepared the times and the seasons for the quick spread of the good news through people chosen by him. Among the many preparations were the rediscovery of ancient languages (to rightly understand the Bible in its original languages) and the printing press (which enabled the inexpensive publication of the Bible and messages based on the Bible). God used many men to translate his word into the languages of people, so that men and women could hear, read, and meditate on his message to them.

This was an important development, because prior to this the corrupt medieval church had strictly controlled access to the Bible, and its leaders had told people that they could only know truth through the church. This meant that the church told people that the way of salvation was through its sacramental system. However, when people could read the Bible, they discovered that people are saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. When any sinner trusts in the Lord Jesus, he or she is declared right with God. With this in mind, we can appreciate why the first point of Reformation theology is “according to the Scriptures alone”.

In religion, we often see a divided authority. The usual scheme is a holy book, an accumulation of traditions and/or folk practices, and a group of “holy people” that interprets the holy book and the traditions for the adherents of the religion. In practice, this means that the “holy people” are the final authority. This is what happened in the medieval church. It had morphed into a religion that the bishops and priests controlled to keep people paying money in the sacramental system. As long as they controlled the authority structure, they controlled the people. As the Reformers studied the Scriptures, they came to realize that the Bible itself was the written word of God and therefore, our final authority for what we believe and our way of life. The Bible, not the church, declared the way of salvation. Anyone reading the written word of God in a normal manner can clearly understand how to know God and to be right with him, and how to please him.

This first point of Reformation has ongoing value. We do not have to rely on church traditions or her leaders. God wants us to listen to him directly. The practical questions are do we accept the final authority of God’s written word and do we read it carefully, so that we know what God has revealed to us?

Grace and peace, David

God’s Reassuring Promise (Part One)

Genesis 46:1-7

The setting of this scene is the happy reunion that Joseph had with his brothers, and his encouragement to them to come to Egypt. There he promised to provide for them. Pharaoh and his high officials approved of Joseph’s plan, and likewise encouraged Joseph’s family. Truly God was at work in their hearts that they would so readily receive foreigners into their land.

Older dispensational theology considered the event spoken of in this section to be the final climatic failure of man under the so-called “dispensation of promise.” According to that view, mankind had failed to live by promise; now God will put mankind under a new test, the Law. However, I think it will be clearly evident, as we consider this section, that it teaches no such thing. There is not a hint of rebuke by the Lord to Jacob for what he does. No other Scripture condemns him either. Instead, we find God reassuring Jacob to proceed with the plan suggested by his son Joseph. What really took place was this. In the plan of God announced to Abraham (Genesis 15:13-14), the time for Israel’s entrance into Egypt had arrived. The Lord himself spoke to encourage Jacob to not shrink back from this time.

First, we Jacob’s faith in action (46:1). So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:17 ESV). He had to believe in God’s word through his son Joseph. His faith had to overcome a great obstacle. He believed Joseph had been dead for twenty years. Think of the way that Jacob had lived based on that misinformation for twenty years! He had to come to a complete change of mind now. In a similar way, the unbelieving sinner has lived on wrong ideas his or her whole life. When brought by grace to Christ, a thorough change of mind occurs. It is a long process to work this change of mind out in all areas of life with actions appropriate to repentance.

Jacob’s faith was strengthened by the evidence presented. He received the word of Joseph (45:27; cf. 45:9-11; 37:11). He saw the carts that were sent to take him to Egypt. We have like evidence. We have the written word of God and what it tells us of the Risen Christ. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).

His faith impelled Jacob to set out for Egypt. What good would it have been to say, “I believe God can provide for me and my family,” and not leave for Egypt to get the provision? True faith in God is accompanied by believing activity. A true faith in Jesus Christ goes to Him for the free gift of righteousness, and then lives according to the gift received.

Jacob’s faith included worship. He found a suitable place to worship. We who live in the new covenant and worship by the Spirit of God (John 4:21-24) ought to remember a different way of worship applied to all believers who lived before Jesus the Messiah appeared. This can help understand various passages, like Psalm 84.

It was a place where the Lord had appeared to his father Isaac and promised his blessing. There was an altar there (Genesis 26:23-25). Jacob approached God in a suitable manner of worship. Jacob offered sacrifices to the Lord as the godly seed had since the time of Abel. Now we have a better sacrifice, which says, “It has been paid in full! Christ is your righteousness and way to God” (cf. Ephesians 3:12). Because of Christ’s finished work of redemption, we can approach the Holy God boldly and joyfully. We can rely on him through all of life’s unexpected twists and turns, and turnarounds.

Grace and peace, David

An Illustration of Electing Grace

Genesis 43:15-34

As the Scriptures tell us the story of God’s glory in Christ, some sections are illustrative of God’s acts of grace. Obviously, an illustration should not be pressed at all points, and we should not lose touch with the historic nature of the account. But with that in mind, we can observe some matters about God’s electing grace.

Electing grace is not the result of human effort (43:15-16). Joseph’s brothers were involved in the normal pursuits of this life. Their minds were set on finding food. They were not looking for Joseph. This is a characteristic of the lifestyle of a worldly person, involved in matters of life to the exclusion of God. Jesus calls us to a different way to live. For the Gentiles [the nations] seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:32-33 ESV). As the brothers were not looking for Joseph, so people do not seek the Lord (Romans 3:11). Sin rules over them so that they have no room for God in their thoughts (Psalm 10:4).

Yet Joseph had a plan to work for their good, a plan for a greater good than they could imagine. All that he has done to this point in time has been with a concern for their ultimate happiness, even if they had to have sorrows along the way. The time had come to interrupt their lives. He wanted to restore his relationship with him, though they had greatly wronged him. God interrupts the lives of his chosen people. He meets them as they go their own way. This interruption comes from his grace alone. View Joseph’s method. Were they seeking food? He would use a banquet to begin to teach them his grace! Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4 ESV).

Electing grace uses ministers in its plan. His servant acted according to Joseph’s will (43:17). Obedience to the master’s will is the first concern for proper service. Once R.C. Sproul was asked in a seminary class, “Why bother to evangelize if God has chosen who will be saved?” He answered, “I guess possibly because he told us to.” Joseph’s brothers misinterpreted the servant’s obedience (43:18). For this reason, the servant had to deal with their objections. The brothers stumbled over the events of providence in their lives and tried to justify themselves (43:20-22). But the steward pointed them to God as the true explanation for the event (43:23). God was the first cause, though Joseph was the second cause (cf. 42:25). We must tell people that God is involved in human history.

The servant did the most important thing; he led them to Joseph (43:24). He took them to the correct place. Sinners meet the Savior at the cross. Take them there to Christ (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). He dealt with them kindly. God’s servants ought to show forth the generosity, kindness, and compassion of their Lord. Do sinners see the beauty of the Lord when you speak to them?

Electing grace throbs with love. Joseph’s affections were set on them, even when that was hidden from them. He was interested in their well-being and inquired about it (43:27). Joseph was deeply moved when he saw his brother (43:29-30). Compare Christ’s attitude (Hebrews 12:2).

Joseph was self-controlled in the pursuit of his plan (43:31). He would not directly eat with them until the relationship was restored (43:32). He gave evidence of his great wisdom (43:33). He was discerning in his bountiful provision (43:34). In the same way, we should honor God for his wisdom in electing grace. Read Romans 8:28-30 with joy!

Grace and peace, David

Exploring Matthew 10

And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 10:7 ESV).

In the Gospel of Matthew, we encounter five great discourses or teaching sections of Jesus. Each of these contains essential lessons from the Teacher to his learners (disciples). The first, third and last in the list below bear the names usually attached to them:

  • The Sermon on the Mount (5-7)
  • The Instructions for Mission (10)
  • The Kingdom Parables (13)
  • The Community of the King (18-20)
  • The Olivet Discourse (24-25)

If you want an easier list to remember, think: life (5-7), mission (10), kingdom (13), community (18-20), and outlook (24-25). Starting with your thumb, visualize a word written on each fingerprint and memorize the list. Now to chapter ten itself.

Matthew 10 is linked to the end of the previous chapter (9:35-38). In it we observe Jesus involved in the work the Father gave him to do and his prayer request for laborers for the harvest. Matthew 10:1-4 reveals a partial answer to that request. From his learners, Jesus chose twelve to form a special group in which they are also called apostles (“sent ones” – this is the only time that Matthew uses the term). These twelve disciples are listed in pairs, which is suggestive for the way others would be sent out to minister (cf. Luke 10:1).

The remainder of the chapter develops the concept of mission in three ways:

  • The short-term mission of the Twelve (10:5-15) — The instructions to the twelve disciples are part of the narrative. In God’s plan, Jesus had work for them to do to extend the impact of Jesus’ earthly ministry. While some matters clearly for the Twelve on their first “mission trip” (like their restricted location and ability to perform miracles), there are general principles that apply to missional living for all disciples. We are to serve people in their need, trust God for provision, and look for a “person of peace” and extend a local ministry from that person. Notice that even on this short-term trip, there was the possibility of opposition (10:14-15).
  • The long-term mission to the whole world (10:16-23) — Developing the idea of opposition, Jesus wants us to be aware of several matters: He knows the dangerous situation that he sends us into; he tells us that danger will come because of our relationship to him and the witness we give for him; he provides the Spirit as our Helper; and tells us to persevere for him in spite of persecution, even from our own families.
  • The response of disciples to the world’s opposition (10:24-42) — First, the Lord knows our hearts and talks to us about fear. The idea is to replace fear with trust in the Father’s care (10:26-33). Second, he counsels us about his agenda. He does not intend to bring peace but a sword, and so we should not think that something has gone wrong. We must maintain a proper Christ-focus at all times (10:34-39). Third, the response of people to us depends on their response to Christ. He will reward those who care for his followers (10:40-42).

Hopefully, this will give you an overview as you explore this chapter. Read it many times, because it presents attitudes that we need as we join Christ on his mission. Take many notes. Hide this passage in your heart. How can we expect to follow Christ faithfully in this world unless we know his will?

Grace and peace, David

Redeeming Love

IMG_3670Ruth 4:5-12

Last time, we read how Boaz followed through on his promise to redeem Ruth, if possible. However, he knew there was an obstacle in his path; another kinsman was a closer relative of Naomi and had the first right to redeem. At first “Mr. So and So” agreed. He saw a perfect opportunity to add property to his estate. However, people were also part of the deal, and he was unaware of this.

So then, Boaz clarified the cost of the deal (4:5). Having shown what his relative was able and willing to do, Boaz proceeded to show what he is not willing to do. Boaz told him that the cost to redeem was greater than he thought. The people of Christ’s time had wrong ideas about the work of the Messiah. They thought that all that was involved was freeing Israel from political oppressors. “Defeat the Romans and we’re free! We believe you can do that Jesus! You can be our king” (see John 6:15). But when Jesus explained them what God’s plan for the Messiah really was, they weren’t interested. They did not want to turn from their sins and to trust in him for eternal life (see John 6:35-66). The cost to have the Messiah was greater than they thought.

Boaz told “Mr. So and So” that he must also marry Ruth to maintain the name of her dead husband (and through him, Elimelech’s name also). In that culture, the first son born to Ruth would inherit all the property that had belonged to Elimelech, and thus his name would not vanish from Israel. (Recall that the people and the land where important concepts in old covenant Israel.) This disclosure revealed the full cost of this redemption. If he redeemed the land, he would not simply gain title to it at the year of Jubilee, because Elimelech would have an heir, and it would go to Ruth’s son. Put simply, the man would be out the price of redemption with nothing to show for it, and his own family would lose the money that he had spent to redeem and to care for Naomi and Ruth. Their inheritance would not increase.

Faced with these conditions, “Mr. So and So” refused to be the kinsman redeemer. It is important for us to realize that he was under no legal obligation to redeem. It was a voluntary act. As far as the law was concerned, he was okay. But as far as love, kindness, loyalty and compassion were concerned, he failed miserably. As far as we know, he had not helped Naomi and Ruth; now, he flatly refused to help. His money meant more than kindness. This is where the story can get uncomfortable! Do we too easily look for excuses not to help others in need? They might need the kindness we can show, but do we look for a way out, for a way to justify our inaction? “It might cost me too much! I might endanger my retirement fund!” Yes, you might. But where are you seeking to build up treasure? “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV)

For this reason, he handed over his rights to redeem to Boaz. Guess what? He got to keep his money! But there is something else. He vanished from the pages of Biblical history, but God had something better in store for Boaz, though neither man knew it at the time.

In chapter one, we saw the contrast between Ruth and Orpah. Neither one had to return with Naomi to Bethlehem. Both were legally free from any obligation to help her. Orpah took the easy way and stayed in Moab. Ruth made the hard choice of faith and trusted that God would help her as she helped Naomi. And as the story has unfolded, we have seen God’s blessing on Ruth, since she trusted in him. In this chapter, we see two men, Boaz and his unnamed relative, who have a choice to make. “Mr. So and So” made the easy, worldly wise choice, and like Orpah, he walked away from the story of God’s glory and is lost in history. Boaz made the hard, costly choice to redeem and is remembered wherever the Bible is read. What choice are you making? Are you making the easy choice to enjoy life now? Or are you making the hard choice to lay up treasure in heaven?

But we should see more. In the hard choice of Boaz, we should see the One who is greater than Boaz, the Lord Jesus Christ. He did not have to redeem us. He could justly have let us perish forever in hell. But love and kindness stirred him to make the hardest, costliest choice. He chose to take our sins upon him and die on the cross as our substitute, in order to pay the full penalty for us. He did that for us so that we might be free from sin and live forever with him in glory. Are you trusting in Christ our Redeemer? Are you praising him for dying to set you free? Are you rejoicing in his redeeming love? Today, right where you read these words, turn from your rejection of God, your refusal to love God and others, and your rebellion against his ways and trust in the Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. If you call on him, he will save you. If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

Grace and peace, David

An Unsatisfying Conversation

IMG_1732Exodus 5:22-6:12

Everyone experiences conversations that do not go as well as we wish. If we evaluate such disappointing talks objectively, which is a difficult task, we might able to realize that our own motives and/or expectations were incorrect concerning the outcome we desired. Usually we are left with less than pleasant thoughts about the other person. We can end up feeling rather dissatisfied.

This passage in the story of God’s glory (the Bible) is about a man who was in a conversation with the Lord God and walked away dissatisfied. I think that it is a fair evaluation, because he ends the discussion with a complaint that ties in with a previous dialogue that wasn’t satisfying to him also. The man was Moses, but not the heroic Moses of the pretend world of “God does nice things for us that make us happy”. Instead, it is the real Moses who was beginning to find out that living God is not someone that we people get to order around. The Lord patiently led Moses through this discovery process.

Moses began the conversation with a complaint that the Lord had let him down. Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all” (Exodus 5:22-23 NIV). Since Moses is human like us, it might be beneficial to consider how many of our prayers are complaints. (I’m not implying that Moses usually prayed this way, but simply asking a question.) It is a rather doubtful method to build your friendship with God by constantly complaining about something. Do you want to a friend that incessantly complains? Moses had a lot to learn, but he had enough insight to recognize a couple points:

  • He saw that the Lord God was in charge of the unpleasant events. Seeing God as in control of all that happens is almost a prerequisite to prayer. Since God is God, he is sovereign over all.
  • Moses saw that Pharaoh was one of the responsible agents in oppressing God’s people Israel. Everyone is not “nice”, some are very evil and destructive. There is no “spark of goodness” in human hearts. Moses could evaluate Pharaoh and call him out as wicked. Moses was telling the truth at this point.
  • He was disappointed about God’s schedule. If he had listened carefully to the Lord (in Exodus 3-4), Moses would have known that God planned to rescue his people from Pharaoh and Egypt over a period of time. The rescue would be a process, not a single act. God works the story of his glory out in time. We want him to do everything yesterday, naively forgetting that there are plenty of people yet to be rescued today and tomorrow. We need to accept that the Lord works out the rescue or salvation of people from sin to glory over time. We must be willing to wait calmly as the rescue happens.

Next, we hear the first of the Lord’s answers to Moses’ complaint. God didn’t dismiss Moses for his failure, but used it as a teaching opportunity to make more of himself known to Moses and to us. God’s answer is to reveal some of the most important truths about his relationship with his old covenant people, Israel. But first, he decided to answer Moses’ complaint. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country” (Exodus 6:1 NIV).

  • The Lord told Moses that his rescue operation was on time; in fact, now was the time. For his own wise purposes, the sovereign God allows people to reach the full measure of their sins before he steps in (cf. Genesis 15:16). God’s people must be patient during those times. We wait and trust and look for the dawn of salvation.
  • God said that he would act against Pharaoh. He knew the identity of the oppressor and would bring him to justice. The sovereign Lord sees and he will act at his appointed time. Anyone who comprehends this will not dare to oppress other people.
  • God planned to use his mighty hand to accomplish the rescue of his people. As we will see in future articles, the Lord had a good and wise purpose in this method. He used the whole situation to demonstrate his glory.

I don’t know what unsatisfying conversation you might be in with God. But I know that his word, the story of his glory, reveals his ways to us, and that he invites us to be a partner in this great story. You may enter into it through the gate, the Lord Jesus Christ (John 10:9-10). If you are a partner, let God’s story transform the way you look at your life. Let your complaints become humble questions to your Father in heaven.

Grace and peace, David