Fire from Heaven (Part Three)

2 Kings 1:1-18

“If I am a man of God,” Elijah replied, “may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men!” Then the fire of God fell from heaven and consumed him and his fifty men (1:12 NIV).

As the Lord God tells the story of his glory in the Scriptures, he uses events like Elijah calling fire from heaven to make known his supreme majesty. He alone is God and there is no one else. By the act, God proclaimed through his prophet, “There is no other god,” and he does not want us to entertain that empty notion for a moment. For this reason, we do well to ask, “Why is this important in our lives?

We are morally responsible to honor only the living God as God. I know that responsibility and duty are forbidden words among people obsessed with their own supposed freedom, but God makes clear the obligation of all people everywhere to confess that the Lord alone is God.

Here is a brief overview of teaching of the New Testament Scriptures honoring God as our only God.

  • They set forth clear instruction. 1 Corinthians 8:4-6.
  • They condemn the transgression of this command. Romans 1:18-25.
  • They forbid a lifestyle built on the transgression of this command. Ephesians 4:17-24.
  • They command and commend repentance in relation to this command. Acts 17:30; 1 Thessalonians 1:9.
  • They command positive action consist with the God. 1 Corinthians 1:31.

We who believe and follow Christ desire to see this command realized in the hearts and lives of people, since God’s laws are written on our hearts (Hebrews 8:10), and since the Holy Spirit has been given to us to produce a holy way of life that reflects obedience to this command (Romans 7:4-6).

However, we do not enforce obedience to this command by physical means in this new covenant age. Biblically speaking, the church is not and never was a physical nation. Yet with great sorrow we admit that many have tried to join church and state, and they have brought great shame to the cause of God and truth. Examples of this wrong are medieval Roman Catholicism, Calvin’s Geneva, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony in colonial America. Even today there remains a desire among certain Christians to want to go back to the lifestyle of the old covenant theocracy and to use the “sword” to punish wrong-doers, or to call upon God to so punish. But let us avoid this error by thinking on and acting consistently with:

  • Christ’s correction of the mistake of the disciples (Luke 9:51-56).
  • The clear declaration of the Lord Jesus about his kingdom (John 18:36).
  • The correction given by the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 10:1-6).

What methods, then, may we use today to promote God’s honor in world of hatred and violence? (We know that we live in a climate of spiritual warfare also, Ephesians 6:10-18.)

  • A godly life that exemplifies the truth we claim to believe. This must begin in the home. And it demands love of other believers (John 13:34-35). We must go out in the world together where people of the world can observe that we do love one another.
  • A witness of the truth. Use the sword of the Spirit, God’s word, to spread the good news (Acts 8:4). When we get to the place where we are in conversations with them about life, we must tell them the good news of Jesus Christ.
  • A consistent life of prayer. God acts through praying people.

Grace and peace, David

Wavering Between Two Opinions (Part Three)

1 Kings 18:16-24

Next, let’s consider the object of the contest between the Lord’s prophet, Elijah, and the false prophets encouraged by Ahab and Jezebel. This is an unpopular topic in this day of the “intolerance of tolerance” (D.A. Carson). Political correctness in North America and Europe has reduced the level of communicating ideas to the level of complete silliness. If you say anything that disagrees with the opinions of the self-appointed intellectuals and pop celebrities, you are branded a bigot, intolerant, or worse and then roasted alive in social media. A truly open-minded person is willing to join in a discussion and to listen and to talk without inflammatory words.

Elijah acted in order that the reality of the worship of the Lord would be clear. True Christians are against violence and trying to coerce people to believe. We think that all people are free moral agents and must grasp the superiority of Jesus Christ and the gospel, if they are to follow him. No one can follow the Lord, unless they are convinced in their minds to follow him. Having said that, we also state that the worship of the living God is just not another religion to be tolerated. It is the right one. All others are wrong.

Someone might ask, “Isn’t that being rather narrow-minded?” Let’s use an illustration. If we had a table before us with 20 glasses on it, one filled with pure water and 19 with deadly poison, would it be narrow-minded to drink only the one filled pure water? If God’s word is truth, then all other religions are deadly error. Should Christians then work for the suppression of other religions? Israel was so ordered in the old covenant (Deuteronomy 13). No, because we live under a different covenant, which is not a ministry of death, but of life (2 Corinthians 3). The new covenant way is to avoid false teachers (2 John).

During the old covenant, God demonstrated his ability to effectively deal with sin. He operates in space and time. He reserves to himself the right to tell us how to interact with people who oppose him and truth. We are to love our enemies (Matthew 5).

In our time, we are in the midst of a great struggle within professing Christianity. Here are a few examples.

  • Is the object of religion to love God or oneself?
  • Is the Bible the word of God or a mixture of truth and error?
  • Can we even say that there is any such thing as absolute truth?
  • Is there eternal punishment for the unsaved or merely annihilation or even universal salvation?
  • Is a Christian someone who merely assents to the “Apostles’ Creed” or one who trusts in Jesus Christ alone in order to be right with God?
  • Is there any value in or purpose for being heavenly-minded?
  • Was Christ’s death and resurrection necessary to save us, or were they only moral examples?
  • Does God really care about sexual immorality?

Elijah acted in order that the people would serve God only. His demand was based upon a basic principle of the old covenant: “if… then follow…” (1 Kings 18:24). The law covenant prohibited the worship of any other gods and the making of idols and images (Deuteronomy 5:1-10). Once you know what is right, you must live in conformity with the truth. Jesus taught this same truth: no person can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). You must be for the Lord and live for him, or be for a false god and live for him.

What should we learn from this uncomfortable incident?

  • It is not enough to be brought up in a Christian home, and just to drift along with the tide when out in the world. You yourself must know Christ by faith and decidedly live for him.
  • It is insufficient to have an orthodox creed and to live a wicked life (Titus 1:16). True faith produces godliness.
  • It is not acceptable to be a Christian on Sunday, and yet fail to confess the Lord Jesus Christ during the week (Matthew 10:32-33).
  • Don’t waver between two opinions. Worship the living God and live for him!

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 63 (Part Three)

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory (63:2 NIV).

Verses two through eight presents five vital experiences of the saints (those set apart for God, which is a basic idea about true believers.) Each of us should seek to know each of these experiences in an increasing measure. Salvation is not some kind of “fire insurance policy” but the experience of eternal life with God that begins now. Each ideally will develop in an increasing measure. The five experiences are:

  • God’s glory
  • Praise
  • Satisfaction
  • Meditation
  • Trust

Unfortunately, some approach the Bible and its message with mere intellectual curiosity. They like to hear “steps for successful living” or how to be prosperous or moral or have a happy family or whatever quest they’re into. The Bible becomes a manual that provides a philosophy for life or counsel about how to get through their problems. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones said years ago, they have “taken up” Christianity, but Christianity has never taken hold of them. To them, it is practical information without spiritual transformation. This psalm does not permit such an approach. It speaks of the person whom the true and living God has “taken up”. Against a barren assent or knowledge, this psalm tells us of spiritual experience with God as the center, as the great desire of the heart. King David’s purpose in this song is to shout out that God himself may be known!

It is important to remember that David lived during the time when the law or old covenant governed a person’s approach to God. His worship had to be through physical means like sacrifices offered at an altar at the earthly sanctuary, the tabernacle. We must think about the means he needed to use in worship. Certainly, all believers in God in all ages know God himself through faith. My point does not concern the reality of fellowship with God, or even whether any particular believer in one age of redemptive history had a greater desire for or intimacy with God than a believer in a different age. Everything is in proportion to one’s faith. But we ought to keep in mind the historical setting of this psalm.

When David wrote “in the sanctuary”, he meant that physical place chosen by God as the home of the Ark of the Covenant. Earlier in Israel’s history, this had been the tabernacle built in the time of Moses; later it would be the temple constructed by Solomon. David lived in a transitional period, and he meant the tent he had erected to house the Ark. During the law covenant, God revealed his glory in connection with the Ark. The old covenant people could see the cloud of glory arising from above the gold mercy seat of the Ark, between “the wings of the cherubim”. Part of David’s experience was very physical.

In the new covenant, believers in Jesus the Messiah are God’s temple or sanctuary. For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people (2 Corinthians 6:17 NIV; cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Peter 2:4-5; etc.) We do not go to a place to see a physical appearance of God’s glory, but the Spirit of glory and of God rests on us (1 Peter 4:14 NIV). When we are with other believers in Jesus, we form the temple of God that we already are. The Lord Jesus is present in such gatherings (Matthew 18:20). This truth should cause us to worship together with reverence and awe! By faith we can see the Living One in our sanctuary! Since we are God’s temple, we can know his spiritual presence (which is very real; something does not have to be material to be real, witness God himself.) In our gatherings, we should see his power and glory. We should see his power in the transformation of lives. We should realize that there is shining spiritual glory in our meetings. We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18 CSB).

Grace and peace, David

The Temptation of Jesus

Luke 4:1-13

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Eighteen (Part Four)

Psalm 18:7-19

The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry (18:7 NIV).

In this psalm, David taught his people to sing with him about God’s deliverance of him, so that they might have confidence that God would bring full deliverance one day through the Lord’s Anointed, the Messiah. He previously declared the desperate situation he was in. Next, he pointed out in marvelous poetic pictures God acting to rescue him.

We gain our identity from big events in our lives. In birth, we enter this world and a family. That family gives us our name and forms our basic ideas, expectations, habits, and morals. It can take our God-given personality and either nurture it or twist it. When a man and a woman join in marriage, they give what they are to each other, and they form a new family identity, which in turn will nurture the new partners or twist them.

God gives us a new identity when he saves us and makes us part of our people. Our new identity comes from the event of redemption. God intends it to form us increasingly into his image, as we walk with each other in newness of life. Sadly, what we learn and experience with others in a local fellowship of believers can distort us from what our likeness to God ought to be. If you’re with people that are greedy or angry or judgmental or shallow, you will be influenced by their attitudes and behavior. In this new covenant age, the redemptive event is what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross and his resurrection. We ought to be gospel formed people. Our identity then influences how we think and act: You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20 CSB). Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1 NIV). The truth of the gospel sets the direction of our way of life.

In the old covenant, the event of redemption was the exodus from Egypt, including the crossing of the Red Sea and the receiving of the law covenant at Sinai. Much of what we hear about the old covenant people Israel in the Prophets and the Writings flows from the exodus. It gave them their identity. They were a physically redeemed people. Why did I go into this matter? It matters because David wrote about his deliverance from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul (see the heading of this psalm) through the “lenses” of the exodus. He used the language of the crossing of the sea and the giving of the law to talk about how the Lord rescued him.

We can speak of poetic language and metaphors, but this is more than that. It is personal and redemptive. David understood that the God of the exodus and Sinai was the Lord who delivered him. It was the God who redeemed his people from their enemy Egypt who delivered David from his enemies.

In our next post on this psalm, we want to look at the imagery that David used from the exodus and Sinai. But at this point, let us examine ourselves. Do we consciously think of ourselves as redeemed people? Does the truth of the gospel events permeate our world and life view? Do we act as people set free by Christ? We have a lot to glory in. Let us move forward with the joy of redeemed people. But the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away (Isaiah 35:9b-10 ESV).

Grace and peace, David

John and His Message (Part One)

Luke 3:1-6

He went into all the vicinity of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3 CSB).

Luke presented the true story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ as it occurred: in human history. He wanted Theophilus and every reader to know the certainty of the things you have been taught (Luke 1:4 NIV). The Lord wants us to have assurance and bold conviction about his person, word, and redemptive activity. Too often believers waver, faltering with   lack of confidence, which hinders our prayers, witness, and walk with the Lord. What did Luke do to bolster the conviction of the readers of the Gospel of Luke?

Luke informed his readers of the place in history of God’s story (3:1-2). Before the creation of modern calendars, people kept track of the years by the reigns of earthly rulers. This way of telling the years is not as exact and easy as calendar years, but it is accurate. While we are on the subject, we should not expect ancient writers to conform to our standards of precision. They thought and wrote according to the tools and methods they had available, and that is the only standard that we can hold them to. Some ‘biblical critics’ are anachronistic, which makes their complaints ridiculous. Beware of such stuff on television or other media. Luke started with the Roman emperor and added regional rulers to give us an accurate time setting for the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus.

Luke told us about the origin and nature of John’s message (3:2-3). The message focused on the need for repentance. What is repentance? It is a change of mind about God, oneself, sin, Christ, and the way of salvation that produce a change in a person’s way of life. The change starts in the inner person of the heart, which works out through our words and actions. The internal change must be present first. John called people to repent and to make an outward testimony of their change of heart by being baptized, which is to be immersed in water. Jesus requires this testimony of his followers (Matthew 28:19). If you haven’t given this testimony yet, you ought to as soon as possible in your local church. Talk to your pastors and elders.

As is often pointed out, there is no precedent for this baptism in the Old Testament Scriptures. Why did John do this? He preached this, because the word of God came to John (3:2 NIV). At the dawn of the new covenant age, God had the forerunner of the Messiah proclaim a new identity marker for the people of God, who would come from all nations. No longer would God’s people be known by keeping the requirements of the law (the old covenant). Instead, they would be known as a people of repentance. They are a people that take God seriously, humble themselves before the Lord, seek to live in a way that honors God, focus on Christ their Lord, and depend upon Jesus for eternal life.

Luke linked John to a prophecy in the Isaiah in the Old Testament Scriptures (3:4-6). A new day arrives with John, but God had planned it from ancient days. As Isaiah announced God’s good news, he told of a man who would come before the Messiah to prepare the way for him. His ministry would occur in the desert places, rather than the cities. People would need to leave their comfortable homes to hear about the Coming One. They would also need to make radical changes, which is shown by the metaphors of the roads, mountains, and valleys. Again, John is the herald of the new age that the Messiah would bring. All mankind will see God’s salvation.

In our time, the good news is running all over the world as never before! People from all nations are being saved. To whom are you taking the good news?

Grace and peace, David

A Promise Fulfilled

Luke 2:25-35

For my eyes have seen your salvation (Luke 2:30 CSB).

Waiting can be difficult. How we all struggled with waiting when we were children! Most of us still struggle with waiting as adults. Think traffic snarls, doctor’s offices, and being seated at a popular restaurant on a busy weekend. Patience to wait for God’s time is a spiritual grace that comes from the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:22-23).

Our text is about a man named Simeon who had to wait. We are not told how long he waited, but it is apparent that he waited for what God would do to bring comfort to Israel from the time he came to faith in God, and he was apparently old (2:29). God’s comfort to Israel had been prophesied seven hundred years before Simeon by Isaiah (Isaiah 40:1, 9-11). Since Simeon was righteous and devout (2:25), he waited for God to fulfill his word.

Besides the ancient promise from Isaiah, Simeon waited expectantly for another reason. The Holy Spirit was on Simeon and had told him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (Remember that Christ means Messiah or “the Anointed One”.) The Promised Rescuer was about to appear. During the old covenant, the Spirit of God came on a person to enable them to do some task for the Lord. Simeon’s mission would be to say something significant about the Christ, which is the reason God assured him life until he would see him. In new covenant days, the Spirit lives in all God’s people constantly.

In some unexplained way, the Spirit directed Simeon to go into the temple courts at the very time Mary and Joseph obeyed the Lord about the required sacrifices regarding her son. Notice that their walk of obedient faith brought them to the place where they reached confirmation about the person and work of Jesus. It is important to be doing what the Lord wants us to do! For example, when we gather to pray, the Lord often uses the prayers of our brothers and sisters to refresh our spirits. So then, what did Joseph and Mary hear from the Lord through Simeon?

  • They heard an encouraging word that God keeps his promises (2:29). This was soon to be personally important, because this event happened before the terrorist Herod ordered the execution of the infants around Bethlehem. As the Lord God kept his promise to Simeon, so he would keep the promises about Jesus.
  • They heard confirmation that salvation would come through Jesus (2:30; cf. Matthew 1:21). They needed this, because it is hard to get one’s thoughts around the idea that a baby in arms would become the Savior of the world
  • They received insight into the Lord’s global vision (2:31-32). All spiritual blessing for all people from all nations would come through the Messiah, who was their baby (Ephesians 1:3). The great turning point in history had arrived when all people would be brought back together in Christ. Luke gradually builds on this concept through Luke and Acts.
  • Yet from a different angle, they learned that Jesus would bring division to humanity (2:33-35). Jesus would cause some to rise and others to fall in the people of Israel. When Christ began to announce who he was, many rejected his claims, while some bowed before him in faith. In this personal word to Mary, Simeon foretold the cost to her own soul. A sword would pierce it! Oh no! Horrors! This happened when she saw her son hanging on the tree, bearing the sins of his people whom he came to save. Up to this point, Mary had glorified God for the blessings connected with her son. Suddenly, she experienced the painful side of the story of God’s glory in Jesus.

We must listen to all God’s message, not simply what pleases us. In the unpleasant parts, God is also acting for his glory and our good. Don’t try to soften the “rough edges” of the gospel. They also reveal the glory and goodness of the Lord to those who will humbly listen in faith.

Grace and peace, David

Zechariah’s Prophecy

Luke 1:67-80

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied (Luke 1:67 CSB).

God has given his word to people like us in an understandable form. The Spirit of the Lord guided the biblical writers to express God’s message, not as random sound bites, but through word structures that make it easier for us to comprehend and to recall. For example, the Spirit tells stories, uses songs, and develops themes in “teaching patterns”. In this “prophetic song” of Zechariah, the Spirit led him to speak through a pattern: A-B-C-D-E-F-E-D-C-B-A. Let’s look at this together.

The bookends of this pattern are the A sections (1:68a; 1:80). The pattern in this case is completed by Luke’s comment. Zechariah praised the God of Israel in his prophecy for what the Lord was doing to accomplish his plan for his people. Luke completes the thought by stating that John, the son of Zechariah, came to Israel. God cared for his people by sending the forerunner of the Messiah to them. He prepared the people to meet their Lord. This was an act of God’s mercy.

Next inside the bookend pairs as the B sections (1:68b; 1:78-79). They talk about two visits of God to his people. Zechariah saw the first as a done deal, although its accomplishment would take thirty plus years. The day of redemption had arrived; God had come to set his people free. There would be a new and better exodus (cf. Luke 9:31 – the word translated departure by NIV, ESV, and CSB is exodus in Greek) through Jesus the Messiah. Zechariah also saw another visit, which would bring light to the people (Matthew 4:14-17; Ephesians 4:13-14; 1 Peter 2:9).

Moving further inside are the C sections (1:69; 1:77). They announce the great news of salvation! First, Zechariah thinks of the son who would soon be born to Elizabeth’s relative, Mary. The Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15) would come through the line of David, since Mary was descended from David. John would talk about salvation, not through an earthly monarch, but through the forgiveness of sins (1:77; cf. John 1:29).

Next, we find the D sections (1:70; 1:76). They are linked together by the idea of prophets. God gave his word to Israel through his holy prophets hundreds of years before Zechariah lived. But now, John would be the prophet foretold by Isaiah to prepare the way for the Lord (Isaiah 40:3-5).

Moving closer to the core are the E sections (1:71; 1:74). In both, Zechariah praises God for the rescue that God will give his people from their enemies. Since the earliest days, humanity has been divided into two groups: the righteous and the unrighteous. Cain’s murder of Abel was the first act to make this division clear. Zechariah sees an end to the hatred, so that the godly might serve God without fear in his presence.

Finally, we come to the core, the F section (1:72-73). Why was God doing all this? It was because of his holy covenant. God had made a promise to Abraham and his seed, and he confirmed his promise with an oath (Hebrews 6:13-20). As God mercifully remembered his people at the time of the first exodus (Exodus 2:23-25; 3:7, 9, 16), so in Zechariah’s time, he remembered his sworn oath, and he sent his son to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

Luke will pick up the idea of a covenant again (Luke 22:20). The next time we read of a covenant, it will be about a new covenant, as the Seed of the woman and of Abraham points to his final sacrifice for the people of God. This new covenant guarantees the writing of God’s laws on our hearts, union with God as his people, the certain knowledge of God, and the full forgiveness of the sins of his people by God (Hebrews 8:10-12). In Christ, we have all these spiritual blessings. God indeed is merciful to us!

Grace and peace, David

The Dawn of a New Era

Luke 1:11-18

He will be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God (Luke 1:15b-16 CSB).

Excitement undoubtedly filled the hearts of Zechariah and Elizabeth, because this was to be a special day. Zechariah the priest had been chosen by lot to offer incense before the Lord in the temple. He boldly entered to do what the law covenant required, and at that moment his life, and the lives of all people began to change, for the Lord was about to make a joyful announcement. But Zechariah knew nothing about God’s message until he entered the temple. The Lord often surprises people when he steps into their lives by his grace. Can you remember when God came to you with a powerful, joyful message? What did he experience when God spoke to him that day?

  • Zechariah was startled and afraid when he saw the angel next to the altar of incense (1:12). We all can understand his fear. Who hasn’t felt alarmed when someone suddenly pops out of hiding? Plus, this was a messenger from the heavenly realm. We’re not accustomed to receiving spiritual visitors. Zechariah is not to be blamed for his reaction.
  • Zechariah heard that his prayer had been answered (1:13). His prayer was to have a son. To have children was very important for God’s people under the law covenant. Since Zechariah was a priest, it was not a matter of passing an inheritance in the Promised Land unto his son, but it was a sign of God’s blessing (Deuteronomy 28:1-4; Psalm 127:3-5). The angel told him that Elizabeth, who had been barren, would be blessed and bear a son, whom they were to name John.
  • Zechariah received information about caring for his son (1:14-15). The birth of John would signal the start of the new covenant age. Not only the happy couple find delight in their son, but many people will rejoice because of his birth. The kingdom of God is a matter of joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17 NIV) and the fruit of the Spirit is joy (Galatians 5:22). The time of the promise of the Spirit was about to arrive, and the Spirit comes to produce life (Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 3:3-8; Titus 3:5). At the end of the old covenant age, John was to be consecrated to God like a Nazarite (Numbers 6:1-4). The Holy Spirit would fill John from his mother’s womb to do the work that God had called John to do.
  • Zechariah learned the mission of his son (1:16-18). John would be the promised forerunner of the Lord Messiah (Malachi 3:5; 4:5-6; Isaiah 40:3-5). The I AM, Yahweh, was about to come to his people and to enter the temple. John’s task would be to call the people out to the wilderness of a new Exodus, that the Lord himself would accomplish (cf. Luke 9:31). He was to seek a turning or repentance in the hearts of the people. This would involve a restoration of relationships among the people and to wisdom, as in the book of Proverbs. When the Lord himself stepped on the scene, there would be people ready to follow him (cf. John 1:35-51).

So then, Zechariah received exciting news! A new era in the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ was about to begin. He ought to have worshiped joyfully. We who have heard the good news should be filled with joy, because the Anointed Savior and Lord has come. But are we? Or do other concerns fill our hearts? Are we ready for the return of our Lord? Read Luke 12:35-40.

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