Where Sin Increased (Part One)

1 Kings 18:1-15

There are times when the followers of Christ can feel as though there is little hope for the cause of God and truth in their land. They want to cry out, as David did, Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men (Psalm 12:1 NIV). Indeed, it seems like the godly will be wiped from the face of the earth. Who would have thought that Luther could survive when both the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Church were seeking his death? What hope was there for evangelicalism in England when Mary I (“Bloody Mary”) was putting to death its leaders?

The Bible instructs us to trust in the sovereign God, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few (1 Samuel 14:6). Where sin is on the rise and the triumph of evil seems certain, even there the Lord God is able to carry out his purposes. Our text is another example of God’s all-ability.

Sin was hard at work in the Northern Kingdom of Israel at that time. There was no public place where people could gather to worship the living God. From the time of Jeroboam I, the officially sanctioned religion was an idolatrous substitute for God and the covenant he had made with Israel (cf. 1 Kings 12:26-33). As we have observed, Ahab and Jezebel had forced Israel into deeper idolatry (cf. 1 Kings 1629-34). Without public worship and teaching, it became very difficult to maintain faithfulness to the God of Israel. It was a horrible time. Let’s think about this more.

There was no apparent concern for the glory of God or the good of men in Israel at that time. King Ahab was chiefly concerned about his property—that none of his animals would have to be killed because of the famine. 18:2b, 5. Now, there is nothing at all wrong with caring for animals. Proverbs 12:10 tells us A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal… (NIV). The problem was Ahab’s lack of a deeper concern—the glory of God and the good of his subjects. Contrast wicked Ahab with godly David (cf. 2 Samuel 24:17). Scripture teaches this principle: When you reject God, you eventually lose concern for the worth of people. Study, for example, Romans 1:18-19, 28-31.

There was no national repentance in Israel for their sins. National repentance was essential for the old covenant nation. Today in the new covenant, the church is God’s people, and not any of the nations of the world. What does the church need to repent of today? For some ideas, read Revelation 2-3. The physical suffering during the famine, a covenant curse (Leviticus 26:18-20), had not induced them to repent. Ahab was intent on ridding the earth of Elijah, not on confessing and forsaking his own sins (18:9-10). Unless the Lord gives heart changing grace along with the trial, people will not have a change of mind. At first, they might consider the trouble as a freak of nature. But later, if they think of God at all, they probably will grow bitter against him (cf. Revelation 16:9). However, people are sure to perish, unless they repent. No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well (Luke 13:3 CSB).

There was a policy of persecution against God’s prophets. This is seen in Ahab’s fanatical desire to find Elijah (18:10), and in Jezebel’s murder of the Lord’s prophets (18:4, 13). How could the godly survive an onslaught driven by fanatical hatred?

God has not placed believers in “heaven on earth”. No, we live in a world filled with rejection of God, refusal to love God, and rebellion against God and his ways. We must rid our minds of the deceptive notion that life here will be easy and that we will lack spiritual opposition. Oh, I know that Christians will agree with this in theory, but there is far too much hand-wringing and moaning in churches today. The Lord never told us that it would be easy. In fact, listen to what the apostles Paul and Barnabas told the churches they had started. “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 CSB).

Grace and peace, David

The Baptism of Jesus

Luke 3:21-22

Have you skipped stones on a lake or pond? Many people have. It is a fun pastime with friends, or on a date on a sunny afternoon, a playful challenge between male and female to see who can have the most skips or skip a stone the farthest.  Please don’t do it if someone is fishing nearby!

Over many years of teaching the Bible, I have found that many people like to play another kind of skipping. When they ought to be focused on the passage of Holy Scripture before them, they like to play, “Let’s skip this passage and talk about these other verses or ideas or something else.” I’m not sure what their problem is. Perhaps they have difficulty concentrating, or their minds were on something else in the first place, or they’re uncomfortable with what the passage is teaching, and they want to run away, Jonah style.

The problem with this, besides endless spiritual distraction, is that such skippers miss what the Holy Spirit has caused to be written for their benefit in the passage they’re supposed to be reading. This is one reason (there are others!) that cross references and study notes in a Bible might be hindrances rather than helps for some people.

So then, let’s focus on Luke’s account of the baptism of Jesus and listen to what he wrote, instead of thinking about Matthew, Mark, and John, which are excellent presentations. What does Dr. Luke tell us about the great event?

Jesus joined with the crowds in baptism. When all the people were being baptized… (3:21 NIV). At this point, we must remember the context. Their baptism was a sign of their repentance or change of mind. They said by this act that they needed to have a world and life view that was ready for the Lord to appear among them. They confessed they needed the forgiveness of sins (3:3). They became learned who were to produce fruit in keeping with repentance (3:8). But Jesus needed neither repentance or forgiveness. Then why was he baptized. He, the Lord, had arrived and he joined with the people to proclaim that his world and life view was centered on God and that he would live accordingly.

Jesus prayed at his baptism. And as he was praying… (3:21 NIV). Jesus didn’t merely participate in a ritual; he worshiped; he prayed to his Father in heaven. He demonstrated that our life in God’s presence is to be characterized by prayer. The prayer life of Jesus is a theme in the Gospel of Luke (5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28-29; 11:1; 22:32, 41; 23:35, 46). John had taught his disciples to pray (11:1), and so Jesus acted as a follower at his baptism. We all should pray as we participate in worship at our local gatherings of believers. It is what genuine disciples do.

Jesus received honor at his baptism (3:22). At this time, he was anointed by the Spirit for his ministry. Notice how God pointed out that this was a significant event.

Heaven was opened. Luke did not write all the details that we would like to know, but in some way the Father let Jesus have a vision of the glories of heaven after about thirty years in human form. This would provide encouragement and certainty to the man, Christ Jesus.

The Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove in bodily form. I think this is the only time in the Bible that the Spirit came on someone in bodily form. The point of this in Luke’s Gospel will be discussed in 4:14, 18. Here is the event; the interpretation of the event comes later.

A voice from heaven identified him as God’s Son. We should hear “echoes” from two important texts from the Old Testament Scriptures. The first is Psalm 2:7, where the Messiah is identified as God’s Son. The second is Isaiah 42:1, where the Messiah is identified as God’s Servant, in whom the Lord delights. We should hear the Father in heaven talking of the Son as a covenant for the people and a light for the nations (Isaiah 42:6). All three Persons of the Trinity join to mark the dawn of the new covenant era, the age of freedom and light!

We all personally ought to invest time in thinking through the implications of Psalm 2 and Isaiah 42:1-9 and their connection with Jesus, his baptism, and his ministry. God is pleased in his Son. Is he our delight?

Grace and peace, David

John and His Message (Part Three)

Luke 3:10-14

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked (3:10 NIV).

John preached God’s message of grace. The Lord Jesus was on his way to save his people from their sins (cf. Luke 3:6; Matthew 1:21). Salvation was the joyful news! However, the people needed to prepare to meet the Lord. For this reason, John preached a baptism of repentance—a change of heart that would produce a godly change in a person’s way of life. This is the correct context in which to read verses ten through fourteen. “What should we do then?” They needed direction.

Please understand very clearly that seeking guidance from the Holy Scriptures concerning how to please the Lord and to walk worthy of our calling is not legalism! Believers, because we have changed our hearts, turned, and trusted the Lord, live according to grace. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God and desire his glory. We want to know and to live a way of life that is consistent with glory. The grace of the coming salvation in the Lord Messiah teaches the hearts of those who listen to deny ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:12 NIV). John was a prophet who declared the word of God. The repentant people sought knowledge about the kind of changes the good fruit of would produce in them. This is the “doing” they spoke of, a doing not to earn grace but to respond joyfully to grace.

John gave practical examples of the changes that true repentance in the heart produces. Notice that the examples are consistent with a person’s calling in life. The idea is that we should think through changes in how we do our work, and our family and community life. Since I have been a pastor and teacher for many years, my repentance, for example, should bear the good fruit of ministering to people in a kind, loving, parental way (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12). Let’s listen to John’s examples, and then think through the changes that should be seen in our lives and work.

  • Be a sharing neighbor (3:11). This is general instruction. The second greatest priority is, as Jesus quoted the Torah, Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). This requires us to share our resources to those in need. However, an essential perquisite is being aware and involved in the lives of our neighbors. How can I know that my neighbor needs a tunic, if I do not know my neighbors and their needs? We must forsake the hyper-individualism of our culture. God has designed us to be part of a community, even at the cost of making a community. By the way, this should be on our hearts when we start new churches or small groups or Bible studies. How can we make a new community out of a group of people? Sharing a tunic with someone means that you or I have one less tunic, right? What have you given to a neighbor that cost you more than a price of a week’s groceries? Do we know the happiness that Jesus points us to (Acts 20:35)? Sharing with others is a fruit of repentance.
  • Keep away from greed (3:12-13). We are taught to acquire more for ourselves. This is usually connected with the line “to enjoy your retirement”. I just searched the Bible for that phrase (these Bible apps are great time savers!), and guess what? God says nothing about providing for a pleasant enjoyable retirement. The tax collectors for the Romans could collect whatever they could coerce out of the taxpayers. Rome only cared that they brought in what was required. A tax collector could enrich himself off the sufferings of the people. John told them to only take what was a fair amount. What is the fair amount that the Lord has provided for us? Are we growing rich while others suffer?
  • Don’t abuse but learn contentment (3:14). Roman soldiers could easily misuse their power. The Jewish people were especially vulnerable. They were easy prey for those who wanted to enrich themselves. John told them to be content with their pay. We also are to learn contentment. Some subjects in school were harder to learn than others. Learning contentment is a tough one. Christ’s power is available to help us learn this subject (Philippians 4:12-13).

John’s practical instruction to his hearers still speaks to us. Meditate on his words to the crowds and consider how the Lord wants your repentance to bear fruit. The fruit will be seen in your treatment and relationship with other people.

Grace and peace, David

John and His Message (Part Two)

SAMSUNG

Luke 3:7-9

He then said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (CSB).

John the Baptist did what the Lord called him to do. He went out in the desert and proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3 CSB). It seemed like an unlikely and unpromising place to start a great work of God, such as the coming of the Messiah was promised to be (cf. Isaiah 35.) However, God’s ways are not our ways (cf. Isaiah 55:8). Who would go out into the desert to hear a preacher? The Lord did everything to make sure that John’s ministry would not rest in the power of man but the power of God. This is what most contemporary churches need to hear, because their “back door is as big as their front door.” Human schemes are no substitute for God’s word, prayer, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Some churches will do some sort of “40 Days of Prayer” program, be excited during it, and then… “We prayed for forty days, revival didn’t come, so let’s try something else.” That was not what John the Baptist did. He went out to the desert, preached the Lord’s message, and God sent the people. Crowds came to be baptized by him with a baptism of repentance. So then, what were John’s sermons like?

He did not try to please people (3:7). You do not please people by calling them a brood of vipers! Imagine entering any contemporary church and being a viper, which is clearly symbolic of being an evil person. The crowds in our time would not stay; they would walk out. Contemporary churches are ashamed of sin and afraid to call people sinners. They want everyone to feel comfortable. They want to be thought well of in their local community. They want everyone to like them. John the Baptist lacked such concerns. Please listen carefully. I am not talking about being rude and obnoxious. We ought to welcome people with joy. But that must never obscure the truth of the sinfulness of all people everywhere. We must tell people who they are in the presence of the holy God. That is what John was doing as he preached to his people. He was not afraid to challenge people “in his church” that they might actually be a brood of vipers! How would you react if your pastor dared to say something similar in your local church this Sunday?

He told people to change (3:8). Repentance is a change of mind, as we said in our previous post in this series. Repentant people think differently in their hearts about God, themselves, sin, Christ, and the way of salvation. This inward turn produces changes in people, both internally (ideas, attitudes, expectations, etc.) and externally in the behavior. The repentant person changes the way they walk and talk. By the way, many professing Christians need to stop using the substitute obscene and profane language they use to color their speech. So that no one misses the point, I mean all the substitute “F” words and “bathroom” words. Consider Ephesians 4:29; 5:4; Colossians 3:8. Crude speech is not the right means to lead others in godly ways. The fruit of repentance is godliness, the character that shows that a person is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Colossians 3:10 NIV). It is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and “the new clothing” of the new person (Colossians 3:12-17). It is what we add to our faith (2 Peter 1:5-8 NIV).

He turned people from false hopes (3:8). As the last of the old covenant prophets and the forerunner of the new age, John warned the people not to trust in their ethnic heritage. Far too many rely on their descent for assurance that God accepts them. The people of God in the new covenant are only repentant believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Your physical heritage counts for nothing in God’s sight (John 1:11-13; Romans 2:9; 3:23; 9:6-8; Colossians 3:11). What does count is the grace of God freely given through Jesus Christ. In him, you can be part of the people of God!

He warned them of the wrath to come (3:9). Yes, John did not make people feel comfortable. He wanted all outside of God’s grace to feel very uncomfortable! Again, the contemporary church doesn’t want to offend anyone. Political correctness rules the day, unless it is something distasteful to their own political agenda, but that is another subject. People do not want to hear of the fires of the wrath of God. They are like people whistling as they pass a cemetery, but in this case, it is not a cemetery but hell itself. The are like toddlers playing “peekaboo”, assuming that if they don’t hear about hell, it doesn’t exist. John told the crowds the truth. We do not help people by failing to tell them their very serious problem before the throne of God.

John the Baptist was faithful to his mission. May we be faithful to the mission the Lord Jesus has given us (Luke 24:45-47).

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

The Case of the Unbelieving Believer

Luke 1:18-25

The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news” (Luke 1:19 CSB).

Unlike many people, I have never been into watching crime and detective shows. The exception would be Dragnet, which I always watched with my dad, including reruns. But I digress. We all know that detectives attempt to solve cases that involve murders or other crimes. Counselors also consult case stories with others to help them learn how to help others. In Zechariah, we have a case of a believer who failed to believe.

Let us understand clearly that Zechariah was a believer. How do we know this? The Holy Spirit had already guided Luke to write that Zechariah and his wife were upright in the sight of God (Luke 1:6 NIV). The only way anyone can be right with God is by grace through faith (Romans 3-4). His faith showed itself in his works, in his zeal to obey God. The Spirit wants us to know that Zechariah was a good man.

Zechariah had heard a message of good news for himself and his people through the angel. His prayer for a son would be answered. His heart ought to have been rejoicing! But… he began to doubt. He looked at his and his wife’s physical capabilities and knew that in the normal course of life, childbirth was impossible for them. This is where you and I often get trapped. How many times have I seen a church count noses and pocketbooks and assume that a challenge to move forward for the Lord was simply “impossible”. This corporate experience is simply the overflow of the hearts of the members of the church, who have for long years assumed that it was simply “impossible” for them to see their friends and neighbors become followers of Christ. And so, they choose easy ways “to serve the Lord”, like being greeters or working in the nursery or buying cookies for Vacation Bible School or serving on church boards and committees. Faith in God is simply “impossible”, because they live by sight, rather than by faith. I can’t listen to Zechariah explain his failure to believe God two thousand years later, but I’m rather certain where our failures lie.

Gabriel, God’s chosen messenger, did not shrug off Zechariah’s unbelief, like you and I regularly do. Contemporary Christians have a very short list of sins, and our unbelief and the unbelief of our family and friends isn’t on the list. In fact, if anyone raises the issue of our unbelief, we become huffy and “hurt” by the mere suggestion. All right, I’ll risk “offending” you. What matters of unbelief in God and his provision are you struggling with? Could you be a case of another unbelieving believer? Back to Gabriel, he had a “tough love” response to Zechariah’s unbelief. He removes his ability to speak until his son is born. Boom! And let him know that Gabriel’s message will certainly happen. Boom!

Since Zechariah could no longer speak, Luke returns to the waiting worshipers. They wondered about his delay in performing the ritual, and on his return to the temple courts, they realized that he could not speak. He had some kind of vision in the temple, but they didn’t know what had happened.

When Zechariah finished his temple service, he went home. Then he acted in faith and made love to his wife, and… she became pregnant, though he had previously thought it “impossible”. Here is the good news. The unbelieving believer can return to believing when he or she trusts God and his promises in the Good News. God works through the good news of the gospel to save (Romans 1:16-17) and to change (Titus 2:11-14) his people. You and I can by grace turn back to a believing condition. As for Elizabeth, she believed, since she traced back her pregnancy, not to natural circumstances, but to the power of God. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people” (1:25 NIV). Thank God that the gospel is always good news for his people. So then, let’s trust God to do what he sets before us!

Grace and peace, David

Holy Desires (Part Five)

2 Timothy 2:22

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart (NIV).

This verse gives wise counsel. However, we must understand wise counsel wisely. Good and godly teaching can be misunderstood and misapplied. We see that every follower of Jesus Christ is to avoid the evil desires of youth. Here is the necessity of an ongoing repentance. If you think that you are going to make an “once for all turn” in this matter, you are deeply mistaken. Sin must be put to death continually. Occasionally, we hear testimonies of people who were involved in outward, socially unacceptable, life-dominating sins. After coming to Christ, they profess that they have never fallen into that sin again. All right, we know that such conversions happen. But we need to make a few clarifications.

  • They are not delivered from all sins. Listen to the apostle John. If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:8-10 CSB). Being freed from one or a couple life-dominating sins is not the same as escaping from the influence of every sin. Spiritual warfare is not against one sin but all sins.
  • Failure to realize how extensive are the effects of sin in us can produce pride that can devastate a person spiritually. Supposing themselves free from a few sins can blind them to the seductions of many others. Free people in Christ must offer themselves to God as servants to righteousness (cf. Romans 6:14-22).
  • Part of the problem is that many have a “short check list” view of sins. This develops through an overemphasis and misunderstanding of the Ten Commandments, which are exalted over many other parts of the Bible. They are not the ethical summary of the Bible, but the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai (Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 4:13; etc.) This wrong view also develops the consequent wrong assumption that sin is mainly a breaking of a few prohibitions.
  • There is no “instant godliness”, though we all wish that it was that easy. We must seek help from the Lord on a daily basis (Matthew 26:41). The life of faith involves a daily reception of grace from the Lord (John 15:1-8).

Part of the growth process involves self-control. By the Spirit, we must shun youthful desires. For example, there are countless internet sites and phone apps, but there are many that we should never go to. Taking the apps off the phone and unsubscribing from certain YouTube channels is part of self-control. Some places simply fuel wrong desires, and I do mean only wrong sexual desires. Shopping apps can fuel greed in anyone’s heart.

Another important matter is how we view ourselves. While we realize how easily sin can entangle any follower of Jesus Christ, God’s people should not view themselves as “sinners”. We are in Christ, and we ought to find our identity in him. (Read Ephesians about ten times!) We flee the evil desires of youth, not as “sinners” but as “saints”, as those already set apart for the enjoyment of God and his glory. We are new in Christ. How can we get involved in the evil desires of youth?

Grace and peace, David

A Picture of Repentance

Genesis 44:1-45:3

Our last section in the life of Joseph served as a picture of electing grace. This one illustrates repentance. Joseph worked to draw this out of them so that his relationship with them could be restored. Again, let us remember not to push the details of this historical narrative too far. The repentance of the brothers is evident, but everything is not a parallel to what happens in conversion.

First, we see a change of mind (44:1-13). Joseph had a clever plan to discern his brothers’ hearts (44:1-5). He had to use this stratagem (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7). Though God knows our hearts (Jeremiah 17:10), he, too, uses events to bring out our repentance and faith; for example, Abraham, Genesis 22:12. Joseph’s action is not a model for us to follow. The fact that any Biblical character did something is not in itself a warrant for us to do the same. The imperatives of the New Testament set forth God’s wisdom for our way of life. The narrative sections of the word provide examples of how men and women honored or dishonored the Lord by their choices. We must compare their choices with the imperatives.

The change of mind produced evidence of their repentance (44:6-13). They acted honestly regarding the silver. Previously, they had sold Joseph for silver, but now they had offered the silver back to rescue Simeon. They also were loyal to Benjamin. Although he was Rachel’s son, they cast in their lot with him. They acted as brothers ought to act. They didn’t say, “Too bad Ben; a rather sorry turn of events for you. Keep a stiff upper lip, young man.” They did not leave him even when they had the liberty to leave. Instead, they tore their clothes as a sign of their sorrow. Their remorse, at least, would be evident when they were taken to Joseph. While there have been emotional excesses in the past when people were converted, I hardly think the present lack of emotions is healthy either (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:8-11).

Second, they pleaded for mercy (44:14-34). Immediately, they had to face Joseph’s seeming reluctance (44:14-17). He put on a stern face to draw out their true attitudes. Consider Christ and the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28). Jesus used this means so that she could express her faith. The brothers had nothing to say in their defense. What could they say? Though the parallel is imperfect, note Romans 3:19. Joseph declared his justice (44:17). They tried to bargain in the face of their uncovered “guilt”, 44:9, 16. Both times the answer was justice. God doesn’t want bargains from the sinner. He demands justice. What hope can a guilty sinner have? Only the death of Christ our Sin-bearer. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:25-26 NIV).

Judah humbly offered a fervent plea (44:18-34).

  • He acknowledged Joseph’s superiority over them (44:18).
  • He recounted their recent history (44:19-29). It was a very moving account.
  • He set forth Jacob’s condition (44:30-32). This also showed their repentance. They would now do anything to avoid bringing Jacob more grief. Judah would even become a slave that Benjamin might be free.
  • He offered himself as a substitute (44:33-34). This is another picture of Christ!

Third, Joseph made a great and gracious discovery (45:1-3). His time had arrived. In his case, it came at this point, in part, because of his human weakness. His emotions were so strong they overcame any other possible courses of action. Emotions are very powerful in humans. Facts and logic will matter little to anyone under their control. Ask yourself, “What is ruling me, my mind or my emotions?” Joseph wanted his disclosure made in privacy – only to his brothers. The relation between Christ and his people is intimate, like that between husband and wife. He meets us privately. The world has no part in it (cf. Matthew 7:6). He revealed his identity. This was unbelievable to them. Wasn’t Joseph dead? They had told that story so long that they believed it. What would he do to them? “What a discovery the soul makes when it perceives that Jesus whom it crucified is Lord and God” (Spurgeon, cf. Acts 2:37).

Let us learn the following for our own growth. There is hope of repentance for those we esteem unlikely to repent. “We cannot judge what men are by what they have been formerly, nor what they will do by what they have done… Those that had sold Joseph would not now abandon Benjamin” (Henry). We should learn what our attitude should be in reaching out to people who have changed their minds (cf. Luke 17:3-4). Most of all, learn God’s attitude toward every repentant sinner. Read Luke 15 on your own.

Grace and peace, David

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Ten)

John 3:6

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (ESV).

Our subject is the work of the Holy Spirit in our regeneration or new birth from above. In this great action, he acts to renew us, so that we have a close relationship or friendship with the Holy God. In regeneration, the Holy Spirit conveys an image or likeness of the Begetter to the begotten (Colossians 3:10). As the first Adam begat a son in his image (Genesis 5:3), so by the Spirit the last Adam begets sons for God that bear his image (1 Corinthians 15:49). This image or likeness to God lies in two things:

  • It is conformity of spirit to God’s, which means a radical break from the rule of sin to the government of holiness or being set apart to God (Romans 6:17-18; cf. 1 Peter 1:15-16). This involves love (Romans 13:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9) at the core. This is what caught the attention of the world as they looked at the early church. They said, “Look how they love one another!” To participate in my college’s athletic program, every team member had to read Schaeffer’s The Mark of the Christian and then sign a statement that they had carefully read it. God’s love ought to permeate our interactions with fellow Christians and reach out to those we seek to see become Christ’s followers.
  • It is having God’s glory set up in our hearts as our ultimate purpose, and as the measure of all our attitudes, affections and actions.

This image or likeness to God is what is meant by Peter’s statement (2 Peter 1:3-4). The regenerated inner person of the heart now has a disposition to seek God and righteousness as the unregenerate person sought sin and darkness. Have you found an attitude in your heart to seek holiness and the glory of God?

How does the Holy Spirit do this? He directly acts on the inner person of the heart. Frankly, the Holy Spirit does not tell us much about exactly how he produces new spiritual life. There is mystery here. All we can say is that he is the efficient cause. He produces spiritual life in the heart of a person dead in sin. “The Spirit gives birth to spirit” (3:6). “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (3:8).

The Spirit of God uses the Holy Scriptures to create new life. The word functions like seed in the heart (1 Peter 1:23). The Spirit adds his power to the living word of God and produces life. This is a deliberate action of God. He gives new life through the word of God because he has chosen to so act (James 1:18).

What happens when the Holy Spirit causes us to be born again?

  • He gives a new heart (inner person) and life. Ezekiel 36:26-27; Jeremiah 24:7; Ephesians 2:5-10
  • He gives the gifts of repentance and faith (Acts 16:14). Repentance is a gift of God (Ac 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25-26) and so is faith (Acts 13:48; 18:27; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29; 1 Timothy 1:14; 2 Peter 1:1). As Spurgeon said, “No Christian can lay his hand on his heart and say, ‘I believed in Christ without the help of the Holy Spirit.’”
  • He breaks the power of sin (Deuteronomy 30:6; cf. 29:4; Colossians 2:11; Romans 8:9; 6:22; Acts 26:18).
  • He opens our hearts to Christ and his glory (Acts 16:14; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Matthew 16:16-17; Ephesians 4:20-21; cf. Philippians 3:3ff).

The good result is that former rebels against God become his submissive, humble, trusting children. We live in newness of life.

Grace and peace, David

Up to This Point (Part Two)

dscn38511 Samuel 7:2-13

When we return to the Lord, it is easy to expect a free pass from difficulty for a time. We think, “Now that God is for me (Romans 8:31), life will be easy.” Part of the problem is a muddled evangelistic presentation that makes promises that God does not. Another source is that self-centeredness is the attitude of the times. We suppose we have denied ourselves (Mark 8:34), when we have only taken the initial step of a lifelong journey in self-denial. God does not call us to a life of ease. Salvation involves service of the living God (1 Thessalonians 1:9). To be saved is not to be given assurance of party time in this world (John 16:33).

From a Biblical perspective, then, we can understand that after a revival, we might experience crisis (7:7-11). The enemies of God and his people are always seeking opportunities (7:7). From their point of view, the Philistines probably sensed danger in the religious assembly of Israel. The children of evil are shrewd in their observations. In our day, they know that a renewed church would upset their evil plans, so they strike constantly at us. Notice carefully that this crisis came when the people were returning to the Lord. How often evil seems to accompany what is good. God does not automatically make trouble disappear when we repent. He uses troubles to give us occasion to exercise our renewed faith. A change of mind on your part does not require God to dissolve all your troubles in an instant. He has an eternal plan. If you find yourself asking, “Then why bother to repent?” perhaps you should consider that you have not yet changed your mind. Your eternal relationship with God is the primary issue, not the disappearance of your temporary crisis.

So then, the crisis became an opportunity to express their faith in God (7:8). They sought the means of prayer in old covenant fashion, looking to a mediator like Samuel or Moses on other occasions. In the new covenant, our only mediator is the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). The key was that they relied on the Lord to rescue them. When we stop saying, “How are we going to handle this problem?” and pray and ask, “Lord, we trust you to handle this problem”, then we have made spiritual progress.

God helped his people (7:9-11). He helped his people while the old covenant sacrifice was being offered. God didn’t wait until the ritual was finished. God is free to act when he pleases. God used an extraordinary means—thunder. If you’ve ever lived around the Great Lakes in the summer, you know how awesome thunder can be! When God himself pushed the “thunder” button to rout an army, it must have been spectacular! How easily are the most supposedly bold people overwhelmed by lightning and thunder or ice and snow! All scoffers can try jousting with hurricanes and tornadoes, if they please. The men of Israel had only to do a mop-up operation. Where did they get their weapons? There were probably many to pick up that the Philistines had thrown down in their panic.

Hope was the outcome (7:12-13). They looked at the past. It is wise to stop and remember what God has done. Hopefully, you concluded last year by taking time to thank God for all the benefits he gave you in 2016. It is wise to be God-focused in our remembrances. “Thus far has the Lord helped us.” We need to approach our every gathering with Christ’s followers as being “in the presence of God”. This rejuvenates all our worship.

God’s past work induced them to look toward the future. The stone acted as a means to keep on recalling how God had helped them to this point. I have seen God help Sharon and I year after year. Up to this point, we can say, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.” My brothers and sisters in Christ, since God has helped us up to this point, year after year, don’t you think he is able to help us again in 2017? God’s faithfulness in the past and present is a sign pointing to his help in the future. God has more grace and greater grace to lavish upon us!

So join with me! Let us joyfully raise up a figurative Ebenezer, a stone of help, as we begin 2017! Let us have hope in God, for we will still praise him together! Let us confidently expect the exceeding riches of God’s sovereign grace to be poured out on us, his dearly loved people. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Grace and peace, David