Monday, April 30, 2007

The Highest Good in the World: The Glory of God

May the LORD be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act according to all the word with which the LORD your God sends to us. Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the LORD our God.
Jeremiah 42:5,6
Verse 6 is a peculiar statement: Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the LORD our God. This is the people of Judah speaking to the prophet Jeremiah telling him to go and pray to the LORD on their behalf.

Now there are particular things that a person who says this has to believe in order for it to be more than contradictory babble. One thing that I must believe if I were to say this is that not only is good good but bad is good. Or more precisely, I must believe that what seems to me to be bad is actually good. This means that there is another perspective I don't see, one from which the same thing that I perceive to be bad is actually good -- namely, the perspective of the LORD who is making His voice known to me.

The second thing that I must believe if I were to say this (and this is directly connected to the first) is that my conception of good and bad is faulty at best. I don't have the ability to determine what is good or bad. I must be told. I am not wise and I must seek wisdom. I have no understanding and must seek understanding. I must believe this to be true otherwise I will simply subject whatever I hear to my own wisdom and understanding and then approve or reject it based on the results of my evaluation.

This is exactly what the people of Judah did in Jeremiah 42 and 43. They subjected the words of the LORD that they heard to their own wisdom and understanding and consequently rejected them because they did not approve. What the LORD deemed as good, the people of Judah determined to be bad and trusted themselves more than they trusted God.

God had decreed that the Babylonians would come and rule over the people of Judah. So when this came to be the king of Babylon set an Israelite, who would report to him, to be governor of the land. When a rebellious Israelite kills this man whom the Babylonian king had chosen to be governor, the rest of the people remaining in Judah fear that the king of Babylon will punish them for taking down his man. And in that fear, they determine that the good thing to do, the best thing to do, is to flee Judah and go to Egypt before the king finds out and inflicts his wrath on them (Jeremiah 41:17,18).

But it just so happens that they then decide to ask Jeremiah to pray to God for them in order that He "may show the way we should go, and the thing that we should do (Jeremiah 42:3)." In other words, they want God to show them the good thing to do, the best thing to do in this situation. The only problem is that they weren't coming empty-handed. They were coming already holding their own understanding of what was good. So when the voice of the LORD says through Jeremiah that they should remain in the land of Judah, they reason that this must be a lie. They do this because what the LORD has said to them is contrary to their understanding that staying will cause them to be killed or taken into exile (Jeremiah 43:3), which to them is bad. So the result is that they go to Egypt (Jeremiah 43:7).

What God had in mind as good was that He be with them, that He save them, that He deliver them from the hand of the Babylonian king, and that He be the One to have mercy on them (Jeremiah 42:11,12). In other words, what God had in mind as the highest good was His glory shining forth in showing His infinite wisdom, infinite trustworthiness, infinite strength, infinite mercy, and infinite goodness on behalf of His people. But what the people of Judah had in mind as the highest good was their survival and freedom apart from God's glory. And so they bypassed God's glory, choosing indifference to it in order to attain what they desired most. For them, survival was the goal (read this previous post) instead of the glory of God being the goal.

Are we not the same as them? We push aside the glory of God and take that job or date that person or buy that unneeded item or you name it because we reason in our minds and with our own understanding that it is good, that it will give us the joy we seek.

Let us not be mistaken. The Bible is clear about what God deems as the highest good in the world: His glory. But what the Bible also makes so abundantly clear if we wouldn't be so quick to dismiss it is that this is not at odds with our joy. In reality, the two pursuits (of God's glory and our joy) coincide. When we seek God's glory, we are seeking our highest joy. When we seek to magnify God's infinite wisdom, infinite trustworthiness, infinite strength, infinite mercy, and infinite goodness instead of to look after ourselves, we are the biggest winners because God pours these things out on our behalf! He works for us! He shows Himself to be great. We get the benefits of that greatness. He gets the glory! We get the joy! This is why God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Oh that sinners such as us would quickly acknowledge our bankruptcy and our lack of any wisdom or understanding whatsoever so that we might know and experience this to be the greatest news in the world.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
Proverbs 3:5-7
Father, this is the hardest thing in the world: to trust in You with all my heart so that I might do nothing other than to magnify Your glory. It is impossible because I am naturally inclined to lean on my own understanding: my own feelings, my own fears, and my own desires. These things dictate to me what my highest good is. But Your Word says something else about what my highest good is: that I seek Your glory. To do this is to be wise. To do this is to turn away from evil because doing anything other than bringing the most glory to Your name is evil. Father, I don't want to be wise in my own eyes, which is what I will be if I lean on my own understanding rather than Your voice as revealed through Your Word. I want to be wise by fearing You and the infinite horror of bringing disrepute on Your infinitely precious name. And so I pray for sovereign grace that makes the impossible possible. Please give me this grace today. Please give me this grace tomorrow. Please never leave me without Your sovereign grace for even a moment of my existence. I ask this for Your sake, that You would be shown to be the great grace-Giver in doing for me what I cannot do for myself. To You be all the glory forever and ever. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Perfect Power in the Proclamation of God's Word

Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today. It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.
Jeremiah 36:2,3
We learn from Jeremiah the prophet that the Word of God is indispensable to bring sinners to repentance. It in itself, according to this passage, is the instrument by which hearts are changed. Nothing more. Nothing less. The Word of God is perfect in its power. God ordains here through Jeremiah what He would later confirm through His apostle Paul: that "faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17)." There simply is no other way that faith or repentance can be created.

This is why it is so important that we must proclaim God's Word as it is, without any modifications or paraphrasing, in the Church today if we would continue to see sinners saved and sanctified (made more and more into the likeness of Christ). Baruch did nothing more than read the words of the LORD (v. 6, 8, 10, 15). And this was enough to produce trembling in those who heard. Is this not the type of people that we want to be in the Church? Is this not the type of people that we want to see filling pews in churches across America and throughout the world? It seems like these are the type of people that God wants to see, indeed the only ones to whom He will look: those who tremble at His word (Isaiah 66:2).

Do we in the American Church at large today believe that the words of the LORD in themselves have this kind of power to transform and produce trembling? Of course, for this question to even matter we have to desire to produce people in pews who tremble before the awesome holiness and majesty of the infinitely glorious God of the universe. I find it hard to believe that we do. Because if we did, I can't understand why pastors spend so little time reading the Word of God itself and so much time paraphrasing, telling stories, and tickling our fancies with humor, all with the intention of making the words of God reach us on our level so as to touch our hearts. This Scripture makes it plain that the Word of God will enter and transform our hearts the way they need to be transformed (with trembling) simply by being spoken as it is. In other words, "Thus saith the LORD" is completely sufficient.

We see in this passage that paraphrasing, as one example of what we might replace the spoken Word of God with, is not sufficient to bring about the necessary heart change. When Micaiah hears the words spoken by Baruch (the words of the LORD written by Jeremiah), he goes to tell the officials what he has heard (v. 13). There's no way Micaiah quotes to them verbatim what he has heard so we must conclude that he paraphrases for them what Baruch had said. And we have sufficient evidence for this in the fact that even still after the officials hear Micaiah rehash what Baruch had spoken, they send for Baruch to read the written words of the LORD in their hearing (v.14,15). And it isn't until they hear Baruch read the written words of the LORD that they tremble with fear (v.16). There simply is no substitute for the proclamation of the written Words of God. Now don't get me wrong. There is a place for paraphrasing but only as subordinate to the reading of the entirety of the Word itself. Paraphrasing should be done to synthesize what has already been read in its fullness or to introduce what will be read in its fullness. It should never be the substance.

And before we take this as a success-guaranteed method for "seeing results" so as to abandon it in favor of our preferred methods when it seems to not be bearing fruit, we must remember that the LORD determines who will respond, not our methods. This couldn't be more plain to see than in v.3 where the LORD tells Jeremiah that "it may be that the house of Judah will hear ... so that every one will turn from his evil way" and that He "may forgive their iniquity and their sin." This isn't a certainty. The LORD will be pleased to draw whom He draws through the faithful proclamation of His words so that He alone gets the glory and not the one speaking. For if the one speaking always obtained his intended result, we might somehow think that he is to get the glory for this. But God will not allow for us to make this mistake. He alone gets the glory. We see this when the very same words that produced trembling in the officials have no effect on the king and his servants when they are read in the king's presence (v.24).

The Spirit blows where it wishes (John 3:8). So let us tremble before God pleading with Him that He would be pleased to send His Spirit upon the faithful proclamation of His Word, which is perfect in its power. And let us not wander from the proclamation of the written Word of God in favor of more "relevant" methods, knowing that this is the only method that He is delighted to honor, if He so chooses. Soli Deo Gloria!
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching , but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
2 Timothy 4:3,4
Father, the sad reality is that this day has come. Many of us in the Church today no longer desire to be a people who tremble at Your Word but instead desire to have our itching ears scratched. Forgive us. And forgive the so many of us who cease to proclaim Your Word in its entirety and in its preciseness simply because we have stopped believing in its perfect power. It was perfect in Jeremiah's day. And we declare that it is perfect today. So I pray Father that You would raise up faithful proclaimers of Your Word who aren't afraid to be criticized or have their attendance numbers go down as people go elsewhere so as to show that their greatest desire is to please the perfect God of glory and not sinful man. I pray that You would raise up faithful proclaimers of Your Word who aren't bent on seeing results Monday from Sunday's sermon because they trust that Your Word will never return to You empty. Raise up more John MacArthur's, James Montgomery Boice's, and John Piper's who will stand tall in their pulpits for multiple decades and unflinchingly declare the whole counsel of God so as to do away with any idea that the method must change with the times. You know all things Father, especially that this is our greatest need in the Church today. So I pray that You would be pleased to see revival spread throughout the land so that churches again become a place where people come to tremble at and be broken by Your Word instead of to feel good about themselves. Do this for Your Name's sake and for the sake of Your Son whom You love infinitely so that He might indeed receive a bride that is without blemish on that Day. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Our Hope: God's Physical Presence

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:3-5

The man named John who wrote this was a man who needed hope. He was writing at a time when innocent Christians were being ruthlessly killed in ways similar to the events of this past Monday at Virginia Tech simply because of what they believed. John was basically a prisoner of war on the Greek Island of Patmos in the year 95 AD who didn’t know if he would see tomorrow.

So how do these words keep Him from despair and hopelessness even though he knows that each moment people he loves are continuing to die?

1) These words give hope because they show that God is not ignorant of such evils and He doesn’t approve of such evils.

v.4 says: [God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

God will wipe away every tear. He couldn’t wipe away any tears that He does not see. Death shall be no more. God can only bring an end to death if He knows that it is viciously stealing people. Neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain, for the former things have passed. What are referred to as the former things have to at some point be the current things that God witnesses.

God is perfectly aware of these present realities. Not only is He not ignorant of these realities but we know that He doesn’t approve of them because, if He did, why would He want to bring an end to them? He is making all things new in a way that He will be able to one day take perfect pleasure in. He does not take perfect pleasure in the way the world is right now.

2) These words give hope because they show that God has the power to bring an end to such evil.

v.4 says: He will wipe away every tear…

v.5 says: I am making all things new…

The voice of the One seated on the throne is referring to God when He says He will wipe away every tear. The One seated on the throne says He Himself is making all things new. The One on the throne is the King over all who has all authority to be able to say these things. The One on the throne is God. The evils that we continue to witness and experience in this life aren’t just going to come to an end. God is going to bring them to an end. He alone holds all the power in the universe and He will use it to bring an end to all evil once for all. Terrorists think they have power, but their power isn’t as absolute as they think it is. God’s power is absolute over them because He will one day do away with them all.

3) Best of all, these words give hope because they show that God will one day be present with us physically.

v.3 says: Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.

Three times this one verse tells us that God will be with us. He won’t just be our God. He will dwell with us as our God. John uses that same Greek word for dwell in his gospel when He says that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).” Yahweh Himself tabernacled, if you will, among us in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. And God almighty will do so once again, NEVER to leave us that time. This is the reason there will be no more evil. Because evil CANNOT stand in the presence of a perfectly holy and goodness-filled God. Pain cannot happen in His presence. Mourning cannot happen in His presence. Crying cannot happen in His presence. Dying cannot happen in His presence. These things cannot happen because we know that “in [God’s] presence there is fullness of joy, at [His] right Hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). That’s how great God is. And that’s why we feel His absence so strongly in this life. Pause for a moment and think about this. Let that take your breath away. There is no such thing as a perfect world without God. There would be nothing to make it perfect. Surely not us.

And so this is why we will ever stand in this life with that other suffering apostle named Paul as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10).” In this life we will always be sorrowful because we are not in the presence of our God. And a great sorrow it is. But at the same time we will always rejoice, because we know that we one day will come into God's ineffable presence where He will wipe away every countable tear, and do away with all measured pain, mourning, and death. And here we will stay for an uncountable, immeasurable eternity ... as rejoicing only.

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever ...
Isaiah 65:17,18
Father in Heaven, we weep with those who weep for the devastation that happened in Virginia. But more than that, we weep that this world doesn't know You as its only hope. Words cannot express how we ache for that day when we will be with You. Oh, if only the rest of the world could have the eyes to see that this is why our world is the way it is! Because You aren't present in Your fullness. In the aftermath of Monday's tragedies, I pray with all my heart that we wouldn't just join hands and love each other more, thinking that this will make for a better world. But I pray that we would see that we as sin-sick human beings are what is wrong with this world and that we need You to come and put an end to our sin once and for all. Thank You that that day is coming and the only reason that we will not be destroyed along with all the evil in this world that will be trampled under Your Sovereign foot is because the evil in us was destroyed in the destruction of Your Son's body on the cross. And His righteousness was imputed to us so that on that day we can stand in Your presence without being obliterated by Your holiness. Help us to see the incomparable beauty of Jesus Christ so that we might treasure Him above all in this sorrowful life. And make us to spend our short lives rejoicing in that which we see of You now so that we will indeed have our joy made complete when Jesus comes to wrap it up once for all. May He come quickly. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, April 16, 2007

He's Not Just God. He's MY God!

And you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
Jeremiah 30:22
...and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness.
Jeremiah 31:14
This is the gospel. And we don't even know it.

Jeremiah 30:22 is the rock solid foundation of Jeremiah 31:14. The former is the ground on which the latter is able to stand -- indeed without which it doesn't stand. God makes two statements in verse 30:22 which we can see directly worked out in verse 31:14. Verse 30:22 is the essence of everything the Bible aims to communicate to us. It is the sweetest of all promises from which every other promise we find in the Bible proceeds. Let's take the second statement made in verse 30:22 first because the first statement is rooted in it. Verse 30:22 doesn't communicate what it communicates if the word God is replaced by servant or friend or anything else.
I will be your God.
The outworking of the fact that He is God is played out in verse 31:14 in that He is the One who is filled with all goodness. He is the One who can pour out all goodness because all goodness originates in Him. But something else is true about this goodness based on what God says in this verse. And what's true about this goodness that God pours out is that it is so immeasurable and staggering in its immensity that it is able to more than satisfy every heart. And so it is guaranteed to satisfy the heart that it aims to satisfy. My people shall be satisfied with my goodness. This is what it means for Him to be God and these truths couldn't be communicated using any other word to convey what He is to me besides God. I don't want Him to be my friend. I don't want Him to be my servant. I don't want Him to be my advisor. I don't want Him to be my helper or co-pilot. I want Him to be my God. I need Him to be my God! Oh that this postmodern generation would know and love the sweetness of that word!
You shall be my people.
Now let's take the second statement made in verse 30:22. The outworking of the fact that we are His people, or that He is our God, is played out in verse 31:14 in that all that He is in His infinite goodness that can more than satisfy every soul is directed at us. It's not just a general goodness directed at every heart. It's a directed goodness aimed at a specific target -- namely, His chosen people -- so that our souls will indeed be satisfied forever.

It simply doesn't get any better than this.

But it's not true for everyone. Who is this sweet promise of Jeremiah 30:22 true for?

Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus desires to show those around Him that He is sent by the Father and is indeed one with the Father. He repeatedly uses the term my Father to communicate that God is His Father. But nowhere along the way does He say that God is our Father. Why? Because sinful man has no claim to a family of perfect holiness. A sinful creature has no right to call God his Father. Only the spotless Son of God can rightfully call God His Father because He is without sin. Until...
Jesus said to [Mary Magdalene], "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' "
John 20:17
After rising from the dead, Jesus tells Mary that He is ascending to His Father. But not just His Father. For the first time, He intentionally makes it clear that He is ascending to a Father who has more than one descendant. God is not just Jesus' Father. God is not just Jesus' God. He's the Father of the Twelve. He's the Father of Mary. He's the God of the Twelve. He's the God of Mary. He's my Father. He's my God.

What happened so that God can now be my Father and my God even though He wasn't before? Through His death and resurrection, Jesus has taken upon Himself my sin and wickedness that made me an enemy of God rather than a son of God. The implication of this was that not only was God's goodness not aimed at me to satisfy my soul forever, but His wrath was aimed at me to torment my soul forever. God was not neutral. He never is. He's either for us or against us.

But by inexplicable, undeserved grace, I am now able to go from being an enemy of God to an adopted son of God by embracing Jesus as my life, my righteousness, my treasure, my all in all so that I'm holding on so tightly to Jesus that when God looks at me, He sees the righteousness of His Son (alien to me) instead of my inherent wickedness and instead of aiming His infinite condemnation at me, He aims His infinite goodness at me.

So now infinite goodness, infinite justice, infinite righteousness, infinite wisdom, infinite power, and infinite love are directed at me rather than against me because Jesus absorbed all that was directed against me in His death. The infinite energies of the One who neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4) are now used to build me up and make me happy forever instead of to tear me down and make me miserable forever.

The same is true for any who would embrace Jesus. You want God to be your Father? Embrace Jesus. Cling to Jesus. You want God to be your God? Embrace Jesus. Cling to Jesus.

So, once again, who is the sweet promise of Jeremiah 30:22 true for? Who is a part of the people of Israel? Anyone who would embrace and cling to Jesus Christ as his or her treasure. Not a person more and not a person less.

There's only One reason that God is not just God but is my God: the perfect and precious Jesus Christ.
But to all who did receive him (Jesus), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
John 1:12,13
Father, I tremble to think that I don't even deserve to offer up these words to You right now. It is sheer grace that I can call You Father and draw near to Your throne of grace. And how humbling it is to know that Your good pleasure to be my Father and my God, to be the God of Israel, is rooted in Your infinite pleasure and love for Your Son and not in Your pleasure in me. Thank You that Your Son died so that You would be my Father and my God even though You weren't before. Father, these things are too lofty for our minds. But oh how precious are such thoughts! And so I pray that You would make us a people who know that Your great delight in being our God and Father isn't ultimately about Your great delight in us but rather about Your infinitely overflowing delight in Your Son Jesus. Give us that kind of delight in Him. Destroy our infatuations with self and low affections for Christ and instead make us to long for that day when we will be able to love Jesus the way You love Him, which we know will one day come because Your Son prayed for it before He went to the cross. And You always give Him what He asks for because He is infinitely worthy. Christ is our great hope and security in this vapor of a life because He is all in all. May we know what it means that Jesus is the source, the means, and the end goal of our faith. In His precious name, Amen.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Non-Negotiable Price of Spreading

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
John 12:24-26
It doesn't get much harder than this. It doesn't get more glorious than this. Jesus at the same time has given us the most devastating news in the world and the most glorious news in the world. Sound familiar? Terribly devastating and gloriously liberating (see my previous post on this). The paradoxes abound in Christianity because this is the pattern of the cross: the most horrific of events and the most wonderful of events happening at once in the death of Jesus Christ.

I've said again and again that I am on board with John Piper when he sounds off the trumpet blast that he exists to:
Spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.
Notice the only verb in that sentence: spread. Do I really want to spread a passion for God's supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ? Because if so, I've got to know something: it isn't free. There is a cost to be paid. And I don't set the price. It's a high cost. And lest naivete overtake us, this passage makes it as plain as day what that non-negotiable cost is. What is the cost of spreading set by God Himself?
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone (it WILL NOT spread); but if it dies, it bears much fruit (it spreads).
John 12:24
And oh how it spreads! There is simply no other way. This is the way ordained by the council of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in their infinite wisdom in eternity past. This is how they get the glory.

In our spreading, we are following the pattern that Jesus set for us. We are following in the steps of our elder brother (Romans 8:29). Jesus decided that the only way for Him to spread was to die. So when He says in John 12:26a that we must follow Him if we are to serve Him, we learn two things:
  1. Following Jesus means dying (because that is what He is referring to in this context)
  2. Serving Him means bearing fruit for Him (because the one who dies bears fruit). In other words, serving Him means spreading a passion for His supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples.
And in this, we will be honored (v.26b). This is the glorious inheritance we have. Jesus obtained the glory that He has because He suffered (Hebrews 2:9). When He died on the cross, He didn't just suffer so that we wouldn't have to suffer. In one sense that is true. But in another sense He died to call us to suffer.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
1 Peter 2:21
And so we must follow in the steps of our perfect elder brother. We will be honored only if we go with Jesus where He is. For this is what it means to serve Him. There is no way around it. We can't change the terms.
[We are] fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Romans 8:17 (emphasis added)
We often want the honor, but not the death. Jesus says that to have one we must embrace the other. Are we willing? Do I REALLY want to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ? Or do I care more about having what I want in this life? A life free of struggling and strife? Do I care more about the comfort and conveniences that the rest of the world chases after? Both cannot be true. And my actions will show what I value most highly in my heart.
Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.
Hebrews 13:13,14
And let us spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. For when we do this, we show that He is infinitely more valuable than the high cost that we pay.

So, Father, I say it again. I exist to spread a passion for Your supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. I don't care what the cost. Enable me to walk the path of Calvary that Your Son walked before me. Remove any shroud of confusion or naivete about what this means. I don't pretend to think that I'm strong enough. But that's not the point. As the apostle Paul knew so well, Christ is most strong where I am most weak. So would you allow me to fall on His all-sufficient strength in my utter weakness. Give me great rejoicing in this. Not the kind of smile that says that it doesn't hurt when I'm agonizing inside. But the kind of joy that weeps knowing that there is an eternity of joy on the other side of this excruciating pain that will make the present seem like a vapor. Fit me for that world, Father. That world where You are my glorious inheritance with Your face forever to behold. Thank You for the cross that enables this. Give me the grace to pay the cost, whatever it may be, to show that You are of infinitely greater value so that You are most glorified in me by my being most satisfied in You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Glorying in God's Grace

And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and their daughters, and everyone shall eat the flesh of his neighbor in the siege and in the distress, with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them.
Jeremiah 19:9

These are the words of God Himself addressed to His chosen people in Jerusalem. That’s right. Cannibalism is ordained by God Himself—not Satan or anyone else—and for His own people. And this is more than cannibalism; this is wickedness of the worst kind. Think of it. Mother eating daughter. Father eating son. This is the wrath that God inflicts on His people because they have “stiffened their neck, refusing to hear [His] words (Jeremiah 19:15).” And this is NOT an overreaction. This should tell us something of how infinitely offensive it is when we belittle the glory of God. It’s plain to see how much God loves His glory in the Old Testament. So much so that He is quickly willing to despise human well-being to make clear what His highest allegiance is to—namely, His infinitely glorious name.

Yet I have often heard it said that we encounter a God of a different nature in the New Testament from the One that we encounter in the Old Testament. I hear something of the likes: “In the Old Testament, God is a God of wrath and justice. In the New Testament, God is a God of grace and mercy.” But this cannot be because the inspired, inerrant Scriptures teach us that God is the One “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17).” We read that Jesus Christ, very God of very God, “is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).” In other words, God is not one way yesterday (Old Testament) and different today (New Testament). So here’s how I would correct that statement: In the Old Testament, God is a God of grace, mercy, justice, and wrath. In the New Testament, God is a God of grace, mercy, justice, and wrath.

The Old Testament God who is often characterized by wrath and justice is the same God who, after the Israelites had created a golden calf to worship and Moses had pleaded that God not destroy them for this, “relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people (Exodus 32:24).” Is this not grace and mercy?

The New Testament God in the person of Jesus Christ who is often characterized by grace and mercy, the One who is called the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29),” is the same Lamb that many will be referring to when they call out to the mountains and rocks one day saying, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:16).” Is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world not the same Lamb full of wrath?

So how do we understand the differences between the Old and New Testaments? How do we understand God the Father and God the Son who are unchanging? Once again, we let the Scriptures answer for us as they tell us about Jesus:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
John 1:14,16-17

As we see in many places throughout the Old Testament, God isn’t One who is without grace and mercy. Indeed, He describes Himself to Moses as “a God merciful and gracious (Exodus 34:6).” But quite often we see Him get angry. We see Him show His wrath. We see Him bring His vengeance on people who rebel against Him as is the case in Jeremiah 19:9. We see Him often withhold grace. And this passage in John seems to imply that His purpose all along was to let that grace shine most brightly through the person of His Son, the One who is full of grace and truth. The people of God wouldn’t know the full meaning of Yahweh as a God merciful and gracious until the Word would become flesh and dwell among us. The Father withheld it and Jesus wouldn’t.

Ponder the statement John makes when he says of Jesus “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace (John 1:16).” Grace upon grace. Gift upon gift. The nature of grace is that it is a free gift. It is undeserved. And so this means that we can never presume upon it. We should never think that we deserve it. But Jesus gives it to us time and again in the form of mercy and forgiveness and life and breath and food and families that aren’t eating each other. And so much more. Again and again and again and again. This won’t mean anything to us if we don’t understand the righteousness of God in acting the way He does in Jeremiah 19:9. Jesus should treat us that way, but He doesn’t.

Jesus shouldn’t receive and forgive the “woman of the city” (read: prostitute), but He does… (Luke 7:36-50)

Jesus shouldn’t save and redeem the corrupt, swindler of a tax collector named Zaccheus, but He does… (Luke 19:1-10)

Jesus should condemn the adulterous woman, but He doesn’t… (John 8:2-11)

Jesus shouldn’t embrace and reinstate the disciple who three times denied Him, but He does… (John 21:15-19)

Jesus shouldn’t grant me breath in this next moment, but He does…

…And grace upon grace upon grace upon grace that I can’t count and don’t even know…

The grace of God Almighty is fully realized in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. This was His plan all along. The law that we could never keep brought us condemnation and wrath through Moses. But the grace to save us from it came through the person of Jesus Christ. And this grace finds its apex on the cross where Jesus died. Indeed, all grace before and after the cross is secured by the cross. It was made possible only through Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection. So as we go through this Holy Week, let us love the glorious person of Jesus Christ who shines so brightly in His infinite grace most fully manifested on the cross.

Jesus shouldn’t have been crucified on the cross, but He was… (Matthew 26:39, John 19:30)

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised…in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
Romans 15:8,9

Father in Heaven, thank You for the cross. Thank You for Your Son. Thank You that there is none like Him. Grace is so cheap to us. That statement that we have received “grace upon grace” is so true in our lives that we get used to these graces and they lose their wonder. Forgive us for the ways that we so often treat grace so plainly. May You remind us especially in these days leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday that grace is not cheap. Each grace that we receive cost the Son of God His life which is of infinite worth. And Father, may we never look at the way Jesus treats people in the Gospels and say or think in our minds and hearts that this is the way You should treat people. For then grace would no longer be grace. May we instead look at the horror of Your wrath in the Old Testament, believe that this is the way you should treat us today, and then glory in Your grace because You don’t treat us this way. May we never look at anything You do in anger as an overreaction but may we know that Your Name is infinitely valuable so that we see rebelling against You as worthy of the most terrible, unspeakable punishment. And so make us a people who value Your glory more than we value our own lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.