Monday, December 29, 2008
His passion was that of recruiting missionaries for service with ABWE (Association of Baptists for World Evangelism). Specifically, on that day and on that particular college campus, he was looking for men—good men that would go to foreign lands and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I share his passion but also have another passion that I think is pretty important as well. Wow, what could be characterized as being as important as looking for men to be involved in world missions? How about Christian men acting like men instead of pansies? I’d say that is pretty important. How about those of the male gender whom also claim to be followers of Christ standing up and acting like Christ? I think that is a concern that warrants some tough talk and some tough questions, like, “Where are the men?”.
You see, I have a bone to pick with the church today and it is simply that men have been and are being allowed to act like less then men and no one calls them on it. I think there is a great need in our churches for men who have not been emasculated by the feminine dominated culture of our time and our churches to stand up and take charge. It is high time, our little boys and young men see our churches led, not by effeminate, limp-wristed, soft males who are afraid to get their noses bloodied, their hands dirty, their clothes soiled, and their feelings bent out of shape but by men who are strong, bold, courageous, and not afraid to stand up and take charge.
The Gospel is not proclaimed well by men who are sissies. Our Savior was not and is not a sissy. On earth as in Heaven, He was and is a man’s man. He was strong, bold, purposeful and compassionate, kind, and gentle all at the same time. Unlike many of those trying to minister to men today, He could enter a man’s world because He was one. Sure, he ministered to women but He didn’t hang out with them. He was very much comfortable relating to and enjoying the company of men—rough and tough men—and I think He preferred them that way for the simple reason that He created them that way.
Moreover, having said all this, I’d like to challenge parents of boys to not emasculate them. Moms don’t treat your boys like little girls. Don’t get in the way of dad trying to make them into men. In addition, dads, you had better be busy about the business of making your boys into men. Because if you’re not, there are plenty of influential people out there who have it in for your little fellas and are already busy trying to feminize them.
I’m glad I pastor a church where being a man still counts for something and where if you don’t act like a man—the kind of man that Jesus modeled for us in the Gospels—you’re probably gonna be called on it. Oh, we have a couple who could use a shot of testosterone but for the most part if you were to come to my church and ask the question, “Where are the men?”, you wouldn’t be disappointed.
On August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines flight 225 crashed just after taking off from the Detroit Airport, killing 154 people. Only one person survived—a four-year-old girl from Tempe, Arizona named Cecelia. Rescuers stated that whereas the bodies of the other 154 passengers were charred in the fire that resulted from the crash, Cecelia wasn’t burned or even tinged by the flames burning all around her. In fact, she wasn’t even hurt in the crash. This was a great relief to them because when they first heard her crying and discovered her underneath the body of an unrecognizable woman, Cecelia was covered in blood.
Crash Investigators later discovered that the dead woman that was on top of Cecelia was her mother and that when the plane began to go down, she placed Cecelia on the floor of the plane and then wrapped her arms around her and covered her with her own body to protect her from the crash and to shield her from the flames. And in doing so—Cecelia’s mother died but Cecelia was spared. Investigators also determined that the blood that covered Cecelia was not her own—it was her mother’s who had given her life to save her.
What a tremendous picture of what Christ did for us who were His enemies and wanted nothing to do with Him. You see, we who have believed in Christ for salvation have been spared from an eternity in hell paying for our own sins because Christ died in our place. His blood was shed so that we might be saved—and the fact of the matter is that just like Cecelia—we too have been covered by blood that is not our own—but rather the blood of the precious Lamb of God.
Last week we saw that God is able to forgive and justify sinners who will place faith in Christ, regardless of the gravity and seriousness of their sins because He sent Jesus to earth in order to send Him to the cross in order to satisfy His righteous wrath against them and their sins. But not only did Jesus have to suffer on the cross as our propitiation—He had to also die on that cross by shedding His blood for our sins.
Apart from the shedding of Christ’s blood and ultimately His death on the cross there could be and would be no salvation for anyone. That is why, Paul states in Romans 3:25, that God put forth Jesus publicly as the propitiation “by His blood”. In other words, the means by which Jesus propitiated or satisfied God’s wrath toward us and our sins was by the shedding of His blood and dying on the cross of Calvary. In essence, Jesus Christ was the sacrificial lamb of God that gave His life by the shedding of His blood so as to pay for the sins of every single person who would embrace Him and His sacrifice for their salvation from the wrath of God.
Therefore, when you really get right down to it, Christmas is the celebration of God bringing into the world through the miracle of the incarnation His Son the Lord Jesus Christ Whose primary purpose in being born was to glorify His Father by becoming our sacrificial lamb. Which is why, when John the Baptist was baptizing in the Jordan River and saw Jesus—he identified Him twice as “the lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36). And what is interesting is that in each instance, that John the Baptist identified Jesus as such, he did so by exclaiming, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” In reality, the exclamation was really a command, an aorist imperative, that we could very easily translate as: “Hey, heads up—there He is—the Lamb of God”, or “Open your eyes—there’s the lamb of God.” It was almost as though, John sees Jesus and realizing Who he is and why He has come—takes every opportunity he has to make sure people know that He is the One—He is the Lamb of God that they as a nation have been waiting for—that He has been preaching about and paving the way for.
We must keep in mind that this was not a customary way of identifying someone. I greatly doubt that those listening to John the Baptist identify Jesus as the Lamb of God—had ever heard anyone else identified as such. So they would have taken notice and their minds would have probably begun to think about the One that every morning and evening sacrifice in the Temple pointed to. Perhaps they would have remembered that Isaiah had prophesied that One was coming Who like a lamb would be led to slaughter to bear the sins of many (Is. 53). They would have thought about the Exodus and the Passover and of course all the lambs that were slaughtered every year in the Temple on the Day of Passover. Finally, they would have remembered the story of Abraham and Isaac when the very words John used to identify Jesus were uttered on a very lonely Mountain called Moriah.
In fact, go with me to that story because I think it will shed great light on what the people were thinking when they heard John the Baptist call Jesus, “The Lamb of God”. As you are turning to Genesis 22, let me explain something about how the Apostle John recorded John the Baptist’s words identifying Jesus. He uses either the Genitive Case or the Ablative Case and since the forms are identical its hard to tell which he has in mind. If he is using the Genitive then the phrase would be translated as we have in our English Bibles: “Behold, the Lamb of God”. However, if he is using the ablative case it would be understood as: “Behold, the Lamb from God” or “Behold the Lamb God provides”. I think he was using the ablative case because I think John is answering a question that is raised in the story of Abraham and Isaac and which had been asked for hundreds and hundreds of years since then. And that question was:
”Where is the Lamb God will provide?”
With that in mind, lets look at the story of Abraham and Isaac and let’s begin in Genesis 22:1. Notice that God tells Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, and travel to the Land of Moriah to offer him there as a sacrifice on one of the mountains which God would point out to him once he got there. And we know from verse 4, that it took Abraham and Isaac three days to get from Beersheba to this land of Moriah and the mountain where he was to sacrifice Isaac.
Now, at this time in which Abraham and Isaac are traveling to Moriah, there was nothing very significant about it. It was a deserted, barren piece of real estate with no city or town or even nomads. But it would become a place of great and eternal significance. You see, the mountain in the land of Moriah that Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac on was know as Mt. Moriah and if you turn to 2 Chronicles 3:1, you’ll see that Mt. Moriah was where Jerusalem and the Temple were eventually built. Therefore, God is telling Abraham to take his only son Isaac, the son that he loves with all his heart and travel three days to the place where he would be offered as a sacrifice to God—the same place where one day God would offer His own son Jesus—His only Son—the Son that He loved as a sacrifice for our sin.
Now most of you know the rest of the story. Once Abraham and Isaac get to that place on the mountain where Isaac was to be sacrificed, Isaac asks Abraham “where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” To which Abraham responds, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Well, as Abraham proceeded with tying Isaac to the altar and was about to kill him, the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and stopped Abraham from killing Isaac. And then when Abraham raised his head and cleared his eyes of the tears that must have been streaming down his face—he saw a ram caught in a thicket, which he offered as the burnt offering instead of his son. When we read that we all rejoice because indeed God did provide for Himself a lamb. But there is only one problem with that and it is simply that a ram is not a lamb. You see the Hebrew word for lamb which is(seh), and it means a lamb as in a baby sheep. Whereas, the Hebrew word for “ram” is(ayil), which means an adult male sheep or goat.
Thus, God, while indeed sparing Isaac and providing a ram to be sacrificed in his place—did not provide the lamb Abraham prophecied he would. In fact, look closely at verse 14. This is Moses’ editorial comment on the incident. Look at what he says. “Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide” (Yahweh-Jireh) as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the LORD it will be provided.” Now note that in Moses’ editorial comment, he makes the point of saying that Abraham’s name for Mount Moriah, “Yahweh or Jehova Jireh” was the same name for the place in Moses’ day but with a slight twist.
In Moses’ day, the name had taken on the connotation of: “In the Mount of the LORD it will be provided” or “On this mountain the Lord will provide it.”
Now, what is the “it” referring to? The Lamb God was to provide, of course.
And note that the tense of “provide” is future in Moses’ day—thus God did not provide the Lamb in Abraham’s day or in Moses’ day—it was still to be provided.
In fact as late as the prophet Isaiah some 13 to 1400 years after Abraham—God still had not provided for Himself the Lamb. But, through the prophet Isaiah, God continued to promise that He would do this in the future and when He did the Lamb that He would provide would be slaughtered for the sins of God’s people (Is. 53:7-8). And finally 700 years after Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Lamb—He finally shows up and is identified by John the Baptist and He is none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.
So for about 2100 years from the time of Abraham to the time which Paul in Galatians 4:4 called “The Fullness of Time” when God sent forth His Son, those who loved God and feared God and believed God were asking and wondering the same question that Isaac asked his father Abraham—“Where is the Lamb that God will provide?” And thus the reason why when John the Baptist saw Jesus and the Holy Spirit whispered into his ear that He was the Lamb of God as well as the Son of God he exclaimed: “BEHOLD, the Lamb of God.”
When Jesus made His appearance to John the Baptist—he did so while John was baptizing just outside of Jerusalem in the Jordan River. Remember, what Genesis 22:14 stated. It said that, “In the Mount or on the Mount of the LORD, which is Jerusalem the lamb would be provided.” But even though recognized as the Lamb of God near Jerusalem—He still had a little less than three years to go before He would be the Lamb of God that was provided by God on the mountain for our sins.
The interesting thing about the Greek word, “lamb” that John uses is that it is the Greek word (amnos), which is the equivalent to the Hebrew word for the Passover Lamb, whose blood was applied to the doorposts of the Israelites in Egypt in order to deliver their firstborn from the angel of death.
In fact, it was the word that was used for the lambs that were specifically being raised to be sacrificial lambs sacrificed in the Temple and especially at Passover. Interestingly enough many Bible Scholars believe these were the kinds of lambs that the shepherds who were given the angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth were tending and feeding—“sacrificial Passover lambs”. And, it is very possible that when John sees Jesus it is against the backdrop of thousands of Passover lambs being herded to Jerusalem and that is why he identified Him as the Lamb which God provides. But whether or not John saw lambs being driven to Jerusalem on this day what is even more intriguing I think is that three years later on the day when Jesus made His entry into Jerusalem just a few days before His crucifixion, Jesus was sharing the path with hundreds of thousands of Passover Lambs. You see, this was the same day shepherds from all over Israel were herding their Passover Lambs into Jerusalem to be sold, sacrificed and then eaten at Passover. This was the Sunday we know as Palm Sunday.
To give you an idea of how many lambs were being herded into Jerusalem on this day which was the 10th day of Nisan, the Jewish historian, Josephus, recorded that one year the number of lambs herded into Jerusalem was 256,500 lambs. What this means is that with that many lambs being driven into the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus was surrounded not only by people but by thousands of sacrificial lambs. Thus, Jesus was not as so many Bible scholars indicate merely offering Himself as the rightful King of Israel but rather He was also presenting Himself as the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of those who would place faith in Him. And then on the afternoon of the crucifixion when Jesus was offering Himself as the Lamb of God which God Himself provided to take care of the sins of everyone in the world who would believe in Him—those 250,000 plus sacrificial lambs were also slaughtered for Passover. But only One was necessary and only One really mattered because only One—The Lamb which God Himself provided was able to cleanse us and everyone else who places faith in Christ from their sins.
One day when Jesus was arguing with a multitude of people whom He had offended through His teaching the topic of Abraham came up.
And Jesus made the comment: “Your Father Abraham rejoiced to see my day and he saw it and was glad.” I believe that Jesus was referring to the fact that on Mt. Moriah, 2100 years before He actually appeared on the earth—God gave Abraham a promise and a picture--
A promise and a picture that God Himself would provide an atoning sacrifice that would indeed put an end to all sacrifices and be the culmination of all sacrifices—a sacrifice which would be the payment for the sins of everyone in the world who would embrace Jesus Christ, the Lamb God Provided, as their Lord and Savior. So, Abraham saw Jesus’ as the Lamb of God, who would shed His blood on the behalf of sinners as the propitiation for their sins, from afar and rejoiced and was glad.
Let me ask you this question, Have you come to see that Jesus is the only Lamb Whom God Himself provided as the payment for sins? If so, have you embraced Him as your only Lord and Savior? If you have then you have every reason, just like Abraham, to rejoice and be glad. If you haven’t then you need to or else you will die in your sins and instead of seeing the Lamb of God—you will see the Lion of Judah and He Who could have saved you and would have saved you had you come to Him—will be your judge and condemn you because you didn’t.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
The Apostle Paul, was not a man to waste words. In all of his epistles, he chose, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, just the right words to communicate the theological concepts God Himself wanted us to know about Himself, especially as He reflected Himself in the Person of His Son, the Lord Jesus. And one passage in particular serves as a great example of how Paul used just the right words and just enough words to describe Jesus to us and for us. That passage of Scripture is Colossians 2:9. Speaking of Christ Jesus, Paul writes:
“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.”
Now, in these 12 words Paul gives us in as concise a description as there is a picture of Jesus Christ, the babe in the manger, that is almost incomprehensible. Look closely at what he is saying. In these 12 words in English that are a translation of but 10 Greek words—Paul is essentially telling us that the fullest expression of Deity and the most complete picture of the Person and the Character of God is found in Jesus.
That is what Paul means when he writes that “in Christ—all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form”. Note, he does not say—“that in Christ, we have a fairly good characterization and picture of who God is.” Nor does he say—“that in Christ, the overwhelming majority of deity dwells.” No—Paul says, “that in Christ, all the fullness of deity, as in the totality of deity or everything that deity is or everything that God is—dwells.
Thus, again—the fullest and most comprehensibly complete expression of God and Who God is in every facet of His Being is to be found and seen in the Person of Jesus Christ. In fact, you could go a step further and say that if you want to see God you must see Christ; if you want to experience God, you must experience Christ; if you want to understand God, you must understand Christ; if you want to know God, you must know Christ; if you want to love God, you must love Christ—because Christ is the purest and fullest and most comprehensive expression of deity there is. Again, as Paul writes—“For in Him (that is Christ) all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form.”
Key in on those words, “all the fullness”. What they are saying is that everything that God is—dwells in Christ—in its fullest, most absolute, most pure, and perfect extent—so that in Christ, God is wholly found because in Christ, God wholly exists.
You see, God has always manifested Himself to man--but just as Hebrews 1:1-2 explains, He has done so—only in part. But when it comes to Christ Jesus, God has manifested Himself completely and wholly and perfectly. Now with all this in mind—do you see what the real miracle of Christmas was—it was not the Virgin Birth, although that was a substantial and necessary miracle nor was it the Incarnation in which God the Son became a man although that too was a miracle of necessity if we were to be saved. No, the real miracle of Christmas—the most spectacular and most unbelievable and really most incomprehensible even for some of you listening right now is that God could manifest Himself perfectly and completely and purely and comprehensively in bodily form in the Person of Jesus Christ.
To take it a step further—God manifested Himself most wholly and perfectly not only in the Man Christ Jesus but also in the Babe Christ Jesus.
So that, the baby Jesus, while completely and wholly human was completely and wholly God.
So that the baby Jesus, while in His mother Mary’s arms being sustained by milk from her breasts was at the same time sustaining her and the whole universe that He had created.
So that the baby Jesus, Whom Mary had delivered as a beautiful little baby boy would 33 short years later deliver her from her sins as an unrecognizable bloody mess of a man Who had been beaten and crucified on a cross that had her name and our names on it.
The miracle of Christmas is that not only in Jesus as a babe, did God manifest Himself but also in Jesus as a man.
So that when Jesus felt compassion for sinners—it was God feeling compassion for sinners.
So that when Jesus intervened to spare the woman caught in adultery and said to her—“Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”—it was God sparing her.
So that when Jesus played with little children and delighted in having them brought to Him—it was God playing with the kids.
So that when Jesus built a table, a chair, or a house as a carpenter in Nazareth—it was God building those things.
And perhaps even more incomprehensible than that—God manifested Himself most wholly, perfectly, purely, and completely not only in the Man Christ Jesus and the Babe Christ Jesus but also in the crucified and dead Savior Christ Jesus Who was delivered to the Cross of Calvary for our sins.
So that when Jesus was spit at, mocked, beaten, abused, laughed at, stripped naked, humiliated, unfairly tried as a criminal, condemned, and then led to Golgatha to be nailed to a cross made from the very tree He had created—God was spit at, mocked, beaten, abused, laughed at, stripped naked, humiliated, unfairly tried as a criminal, condemned, and then led to Golgatha to be nailed to a cross.
So that when Jesus cried out to His Father in Heaven—“My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me.”—it was God crying out as He stood condemned bearing the undiluted, uncompromised, undiminished, and full brunt of His own wrath toward us and our sin.
Thus, the reason why the Bible tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that “God was in Christ. . .” when Christ was accomplishing His work of redemption and salvation on our behalf and in our place. Yes, indeed, in Christ all the fullness of deity dwelled and continues to dwell.
So that right now—at this time and at this place in your life—everything that God is and can be for you dwells in Christ Jesus.
So that in Christ Jesus, God will come to you and will meet you at your place of greatest need regardless of what you have done with your life or to mess up your life.
Because in Christ, God sent us the message that it is His pleasure and joy to forgive sinners and reconcile them to Himself so as to give them new life and a new beginning every day of their lives.
That is the message of the miracle of Christmas that everything that God desires to be for us is found in Christ Jesus-the babe in the manger—the teacher in Israel, the Savior on the cross, and right now as the exalted resurrected and majestic King of Kings and Lord of Lords Who is still the friend of sinners.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
I remember what it was like to have a little boy, my first little boy, at my side during what seemed to me to be his every waking moment. I remember seeing him every day, from the moment he woke up until I carried him to his bed in a heap, completely spent and exhausted from a day of hard play.
I remember meals together with him around our table, giving him his nightly bath, pushing him in a stroller and oftentimes carrying him on my shoulders. I remember him pulling me down to the floor so he could pretend he was a mountain climber as he crawled and climbed over one side of me only to do it again—up the other side—and on and on it would go until I was mercifully rescued by something else that caught his eye.
I remember taking him to school and telling him story after story as he laughed and laughed at what no one else would ever think was funny. I remember him helping me mow the grass, plant trees, paint the house, pound nails, butcher pigs, build fences, put up barns, and anything else I was busy doing.
I remember somewhere along the way him saying, he loved Jesus and I was glad. I remember him learning how to read and wanting to read the Bible and I was glad. I remember just watching him and knowing that God’s hand was upon him and wondered what he would become or do.
I remember teaching him how to play baseball and how proud I was when he became the first-string pitcher on his little league team. I remember going to all his games and feeling every cheer as well as every criticism, he received. I remember his fears about playing ball and not wanting to fail. I remember how proud he was of his uniform but how glad he was when the season was over. I remember that he didn’t play much baseball again.
I remember when he learned how to play the guitar and the little jingles he would write. I remember listening to his songs and wondering where thoughts like that came from. I remember when he began to lead worship in church and how proud I was to see him grow from being a follower and a learner to a leader.
I remember teaching him Greek, how to study his Bible, how to drive, as well as hunt, cut wood, take care of animals, love his family, to do things right the first time, and to always do his duty with integrity, honor, and joy.
I remember the day he joined the Army and the fatherly pleasure I experienced as I saw him follow in a family heritage of serving his country. I remember him leave for Iraq and I cried to see him go. I remember him coming home on leave and how much shorter two weeks is now than it was years ago when he was younger. I remember a little boy who is now a man and I am so glad I have so much to remember.
He’ll be leaving soon—in just a few hours. He’s all grown up and has responsibilities all his own and a duty to fulfill. And he has much more to do with his time than laugh at my stories and ride piggy-back around the house and he’ll probably never know, until he is a father, the matrix of pride, sadness, and joy I feel as from a distance I watch him pack his things and watch the clock at the same time. Pride in the man he has become, sadness in how short our time together has become, and yet such great joy in having so much to remember.
Dads don’t piddle your time with your children away. The delusion of our time is that time is on our side. It’s not. Live life with your family. As I send my son to Iraq again, I look forward to his next homecoming with great anticipation as well as with the joyful satisfaction that whether it is with me or His Heavenly Father—I have lived a lifetime with my little boy and enjoyed every minute of it.
Have you ever given any thought to the idea that God has ever had something to prove or has something to prove? Well, some of the heavy weights in theological circles would say “No”, God being completely free and independent of His creation is under no obligation to created beings in any way, shape, or form. And while I believe the Bible does indicate that God is independent and free and is not obligated to and does not owe us who are created anything including an explanation for anything that He does or does not do—God stepped out of that theological box at Christmas and even though not obligated to—took it upon Himself to prove two very important things through the miracle of Christmas and by extension Calvary. If you’ll turn to Romans 3:25-26, we’ll see exactly what it is was that God had to prove in sending His Son to earth and thus what exactly it is that Christmas proves to us.
Now, in these two verses, Paul poses a question everyone asks in regard to others but rarely in regard to themselves, which is how can God be just and holy and still forgive sinners freely without making them pay for their sins?
To bring it into living color let me rephrase it this way—“How can it be that God is a God of justice when He forgives murderers, child molesters, and serial rapists who truly come to Jesus for salvation without making them pay for their horrendous crimes? In fact, since God Himself in His inspired Word makes the point in Proverbs 17:25 that “He who justifies the wicked . . . . is an abomination to the LORD”, how can God justify sinners like us and not be an abomination to Himself? I mean what would we think about a judge who simply let tried, convicted, and sentenced criminals go free without paying for their crimes? We would say they were unjust and unrighteous judges.
So—how is it that God can remain just and still justify wicked sinners so as to let them go free and not pay for their sins? Furthermore, how can we be expected to believe that God takes sin seriously when He seems to forgive it so quickly and easily? Well, again, that is the issue we have in Romans 3:25-26.
The first part of verse 25 is giving us God’s answer to the problem He brings up in the second part of the verse which was that He appeared to be unjust in freely forgiving sinners for their sins. The problem seemed to be that God in forgiving sinners for their sins and not demanding immediate punishment and eternal punishment at that appeared to be taking sin lightly.
King David is a good example of this. In 2 Samuel 12 he is confronted by the prophet Nathan for committing adultery with Bathsheba and then having her husband killed. David is convicted by Nathan’s rebuke, and in verse 13 he says, "I have sinned against the Lord." To which, Nathan responds, "The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die." Now both of these sins were capital crimes in Israel that demanded the death penalty yet God just lets it go. He doesn’t put David on probation and doesn’t make him do penance—He just forgives him. David did not avoid the natural consequences for his sins but nevertheless he was not punished by God for them. But again—how could God do that and remain just and how does He still do it today and remain just? I mean how many times have you waited for His divine hammer to come crashing down on you for sin and it never does?
Well like I said the answer is found in the same passage as the question so lets dig in and find out what Christmas and the Cross prove. Now, before looking at the these two great things that Christmas proves—let’s take a look at verse 25 and see what Paul means when he says that God publicly displayed Jesus as a propitiation in His blood through faith.
The word “propitiation” simply means something that “satisfies the wrath and/or demands of another against you”. Thus, Jesus Christ was put forth by God the Father as the One Who could and would satisfy His wrath and righteous demands against sinners. The words “put forth” come from a Greek word, which basically means to present something or place something before others with or for a purpose in mind. In other words, Jesus was put forth publicly before the world as the only satisfaction for God’s wrath against the believer’s sin with a purpose in mind. And that purpose was to demonstrate God’s righteousness even though He passed over sins without demanding immediate eternal punishment from the sinner.
The word “demonstrate” used in the NASV and the NIV (“declare” is used in the NKJV) comes from the Greek word endeixis, which means “to prove” or “to provide the proof by way of a demonstration”. So, what exactly did God prove in sending Jesus to earth that first Christmas to die on the cross in order to satisfy His righteous demands and anger against our sin?
In other words, what does Christmas prove?
1. Christmas and the Cross prove that God took our sin seriously and punished Jesus for it because our sin left unpunished would diminish God’s glory.
Remember what we saw last week in verse 23: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." And what we must realize is that what is always at stake when anyone sins is the glory of God. When Nathan confronts David, he quotes God as saying, "Why have you despised me?" We could easily imagine David saying, "What do you mean, I despised you? I didn't despise you. I wasn't even thinking of you. I mean the minute I saw Bathsheba bathing all my thoughts about you went right out the window and well after that, You weren't even in the picture." And God would have said, “And that is exactly the problem—you chose sin over me. You put Me out of your mind as sin filled its every available contour. You forsook Me the Fountain of all pleasure and replaced Me with a sin-driven, guilt-laden, empty, temporary, and destructive pleasure that in the end will cost you more than you could ever have bargained for. And in choosing sin over Me—David--You despised me and you belittles My glory."
You see, all sin is a despising of God, before it is a damage to man. All sin is a preference for the fleeting pleasures of the world over the everlasting joy of God's fellowship. And in choosing sexual sin and then murder over obedience to God, David demeaned God's glory. He belittled God's worth. He dishonored God's name. That is the meaning of sin - failing to love God's glory above everything else. Therefore, the problem when God passes over sin is that God seems to agree with those who despise his name and belittle his glory. He seems to be saying it’s no big deal that his glory is spurned. He seems to condone the low assessment of his worth. That is what the passing over of sin -forgiving sin, justifying the ungodly communicates all by itself—God's glory and his name and worth are of minor value, or no value. And that is the essence of unrighteousness.
God would be unrighteous if he passed over our sin and forgave us for our sin without dealing with our sin in such a way that He demonstrated his infinite passion for his glory. And according to Romans 3:25-26, this is the most basic problem that God solved by sending His own Son, Jesus to earth in order to send Him to the Cross. You see, God could have settled accounts by punishing all sinners with hell. This would have demonstrated that he does not minimize our falling short of his glory - our belittling his honor and that would have demonstrated the infinite worth of His eternal glory. But it was not God's delight to eternally punish us-it was His delight to save us! And so God the Father, in His desire to spare sinners like us and yet to ensure His glory was not diminished and in fact was revealed even more vividly in sparing us, chose to crush His own Son in our place.
You see, in sending Christ to earth on that first Christmas to die for His people’s sins—that is the sins of all who would believe in Christ for salvation—(Matt. 1:21)—God the Father demonstrated to the world that He takes sin so seriously the only thing that could appease His righteous anger toward us for sinning and thus despising His glory was the infinite value of the life of His Son the Lord Jesus becoming the payment for our sin. And in propitiating or satisfying God’s righteous wrath toward the believing sinner and his sins by dying on the cross—Jesus vindicated God the Father’s righteousness in forgiving sinners who didn’t deserve to be forgiven. And so Jesus was sent to the cross in the place of all who would believe in Him in order to pay their sin penalty and thus appease and satisfy God’s anger and righteous demands against them and in so doing to vindicate God’s justice and restore the glory of His Name in justifying them.
Therefore, one could say that the reason God took and continues to take our sin seriously is because He takes His glory seriously.
2. Christmas and the Cross prove how greatly God loved us and still loves us right now regardless of how well we have lived the Christian life.
The essence of the Gospel is that God loved us so much that He put his own Son forward to absorb the punishment we deserved so that he could not only demonstrate that he is just in justifying sinners who trust in Jesus but so that He could also show us how much He loved us and still loves us. God sent Jesus Christ to die for us so that He could bring us to Himself. God sent Jesus to die for us so that we could come home to the God whose great delight and joy is to save us from our sins so that we might find Him to be our greatest treasure and pleasure in life. This is love. You see, God’s love for us is proved in God doing what He had to do, at an unbelievably great cost to Himself, so that we might know that He really does love us and wants us and looks forward to us being with Him for all of eternity.
But why did God go to such lengths and such trouble and such sacrifice to prove to us that He really does love us? I think one answer to that question is because we all have such a hard and difficult time truly believing on a consistent basis that God does really love us and desires our best. You know most of us probably have no problem believing the great theological concepts of the Christian Faith such as God becoming a man, the doctrine of the Trinity, Predestination, the Virgin Birth, or the fact that God created everything in six literal days—But what I think we do struggle with believing--that God really does love us and is not mad at us or disgusted with us or wishing He had never saved us.
I think we all have times in our Christian lives where we can identify with the believer who being diagnosed with cancer and being told he had only a few weeks to live said-- I wasn’t afraid of dying, I was afraid of the disgusted look on God’s face when I would meet him face to face for having failed so miserably as a Christian. Because we are all prone to these kinds of thoughts from time to time and some of us most of the time—God went to the lengths that He did in saving us to show us that His greatest delight and joy was in saving us and forgiving us not punishing us.
You know John 1:18 tells us that one of the other reasons Jesus came to earth and gave us Christmas was to show us what God the Father was like and specifically how the Father felt about us who would one day place faith in His Son Jesus. And with that in mind I began to peruse Jesus’ works and words and without a doubt the theme He taught the most and exemplified the most was that God loved sinners and desired to have them be reconciled to Him. And that’s why sinners liked to listen to Jesus.
Look over at Luke 15:1. Now why did the sinners want to listen to Jesus? Why did people who struggled with the thought that God could love them and even desire them find comfort and encouragement in Jesus’ teaching? Well, listen to just this sample in Luke 15: 11-24. Especially, note verses 20-22.
In this story that Jesus is telling sinners about how His Father receives sinners who come to Him acknowledging their sin and looking for mercy—note that there was no look of disgust, or anger, or even disappointment on this Father’s face—just great joy and delight. And if this is how Jesus portrays the reception God’s enemies get when they finally come to Him—why would you think that we who are already God’s children would get any less of a warm reception when we desire to draw near to Him?
Listen, if Christmas proves anything—it proves that God loves us—inspite of the mess we have made of our lives, which is why in Romans 5:8 Paul writes:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that
while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Note, the verse does not say, “But God demonstrated His own love toward us”. It says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us.”
The cross is not merely the proof that God loved us—it is the proof that He still loves us and will always love us even after we have failed Him as Christians who know better. And this is why God went to so much trouble and extreme sacrifice to save us—He wanted us to know not only that we could be saved but that He really wanted to save us—that it was His greatest joy and delight to save us—that it was His pleasure to save us.
A few years ago a very large church was celebrating Christmas with a live nativity program that included the acting out of the Christmas story using live farm animals, huge stage props, and a bunch of toddlers from the church before a live audience. During the program, which also included stage lighting, one of the donkeys got tangled up in one of the floor lights and ended up knocking over one of the props.
Well, this started a domino effect in which three of the props measuring about 12’ tall by 16’ wide and weighing about 50 lbs. a piece began to fall toward the two dozen toddlers who were sitting quietly in front of manger listening as the teenage actors portraying Jesus and Mary were telling them the Christmas story.
Once the parents in the audience realized what was happening—it was too late for them to run up and grab the small children—it appeared as though they were all going to be crushed by the falling wooden flats.
But then the teenage girl playing Mary in an attempt to grab a couple of the toddlers next to her—shoved the hard plastic doll of Jesus she was holding in her arms into the cradle so that it was standing upright in the cradle when the three 50 lb. flats fell on the manger scene.
And then to everyone’s amazement the three flats that fell into the manger scene where all the toddlers were sitting were stopped from falling and crushing the small children by the hard plastic Jesus doll which had been placed upright in its cradle.
And then still in shock over what might have been—parents began to cry and laugh as they heard one of the little tykes cry out—“Mommy, Jesus was crushed and is broken but we’re OK.”
Little did he know—the truth of the Gospel he was communicating.
For us, who believe in Him, Jesus was crushed and broken so that God could prove Himself just in declaring us OK with Him as well as demonstrate to us for all of eternity the infinite magnitude of His love for us who come to Him through faith in Christ Jesus.
So Christmas and the Cross are the proof that God took our sin seriously and loves us with a love it will take all of eternity to fully experience—and even then there will still be more.
Friday, December 12, 2008
In all honesty, we probably find that both of these kinds of lifestyles are ours depending upon where we are and what we are doing on any particular day. But is there a quality of life difference between the two? I think there is. Throughout God’s Word, we are told to busy ourselves with good works however the business of busyness is to be done in a quietness of spirit that reflects dependence upon God to accomplish the tasks set before us. Isaiah 30:15 addresses this in stating to the very busy people of Judah that “. . . in repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength—but you were not willing.” What weren’t they willing to do? First of all, they were unwilling to slow down, take a breath, and spend time reflecting upon their own relationship or lack of a relationship with God. Second, they were not willing to step on the brakes and put a stop to the flurry of activities their lives were becoming overwhelmed with.
I think the reason for Judah’s problem with busyness is our problem. I also think we often stay busy for the same reasons they did. You see, they were unwilling to slow down because to slow down meant they would have time to think and then they would have to deal with their “issues”, whether those issues were with God or others. A lifestyle characterized by busyness and the constant “fluttering of wings” that must be involved in activity after activity and project upon project is often characteristic of a person who is afraid to allow time and space in their day to think because they have undealt with issues (read—sin) and/or guilt, fear, shame, insecurities, etc. that they are unwilling to face. The people of Judah would not slow down because they were unwilling to repent. Their hustle and bustle lifestyles in which they rushed about from place to place and activity to activity were indicators that they couldn’t stand the quietness of a life examined and in touch with God.
I realize that there will be people reading this that will argue, “busyness and activity are my personality—it’s the way I’m wired”. I don’t doubt that there are people who by nature are more prone to a busy lifestyle than others. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with occupying your life with productive and meaningful activities that God is leading you and energizing you to accomplish. I consider myself a busy person in these terms. However, I also realize that apart from time spent in quiet dependence upon God in which I stop, take a breath, and apply the brakes so that I can relate to Him and to my own family, I could never accomplish the tasks God has placed before me.
Years ago, I learned that the Bible does not teach that believers are to meet other people’s needs regardless of what they are. Yes, you read that right. I learned instead that we are to be busy engaging ourselves in meeting “pressing needs” (Titus 3:14). Everyone has needs. And if you believe it is your job to try and meet everyone’s needs you will live a frenzied, harried and really unproductive life for the Lord. Our responsibility is to meet “pressing” needs. Those are needs that are real. These kinds of needs as defined by the Greek word Paul uses in verse 14 have to do with the necessities of life rather than the comforts or conveniences of life. These are needs that if not met will radically affect a person’s ability to survive physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Now, to obey the Lord in this you must have and use great discernment in determining what is a pressing need and what is not. This, my friends, takes prayer and thought. And this requires a quiet heart.
The most productive Christian is usually not the busiest one. This is a hard lesson to learn, especially for the likes of me. But it is a necessary one to learn. Jesus taught it often and even made a point of letting us know which is the better way when it comes to a blustery busy spirit that is always trying to be “busy” for the Lord and a calm quiet spirit that desires to be with the Lord. You know the story. Its found in Luke 10:38-42. The main characters were two women, Mary and Martha. While Martha fluttered, fumed, and fussed—Mary sat and listened. In assessing whose activity was most valuable Jesus put it this way:
"Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; But only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, Which shall not be taken away from her.”
By the way, the Greek word used for “pressing needs” in Titus 3:14 and the word "necessary" above are one and the same.
Let’s not get caught in the trap of unbridled busyness. Let’s be busy but busy doing the right thing, which will inevitably lead us to accomplish the right things.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Over the years it has not been uncommon for Orcas or Killer Whales to find themselves trapped in Puget Sound in Washington State. When that happens, rescuers in sometimes hundreds of boats actually try to herd the whales out into open water similar to the way cowboys herd cattle. One of the keys to effectively moving the whales back into open water and thus safety is using the boats to actually funnel them into a very narrow pathway that will eventually lead to open water. But to do this the boats have to constantly be cutting off the whales’ potential avenues of escape so as to keep them in course and eventually in the funnel of boats and nets until they are forced by this artificial and makeshift channel into the Pacific Ocean. And this is a good picture of what the Apostle Paul has been doing in the Book of Romans beginning in Romans 1:18 all the way to Romans 3:20.
You see, Paul has been funneling us to the only avenue of escape for sinners who are under the wrath of God and he has been doing that by cutting off all our imaginary avenues of escape. In Romans 1:19-32, he cut off the escape route of ignorance in which people think they’ll be able to plead their ignorance before God by saying—well I never knew there even was a God because I believed in evolution. In Romans 2:1-16, he cut off the escape route of the moral goody-goody who thinks they have never done anything bad enough to offend God and be sent to hell.
Then in Romans 2:17-29, he cuts off the escape route of religion in which people think that they’re in good shape with God because of their church attendance and religious observations. And then in Romans 3:1-20, he cuts off the escape route of people who think they are able in and of themselves to earn salvation either because they think they are righteous, have spiritual understanding, are seeking God, are good people, and do a pretty good job of keeping the ten commandments.
You see, in cutting off all these false avenues of escape from the wrath of God—Paul is essentially funneling sinners toward the only avenue of escape for sinners under the wrath of God there is—and that is to run to God for the salvation He offers to every sinner who will trust in Christ.
Now when you boil the unbeliever’s problem down to its most basic element what you have is a person who lacks the righteousness required to be made right with God and thus saved from His wrath for their sins. And not only do they lack this required righteousness—they have no way of producing it. And this is bad news for sinners. But the good news is that God saves sinners—and the way that He saves them is by giving them the very righteousness He requires them to have when they believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
And in our passage this morning, which is Romans 3:21-24, Paul wants us to see that:
The Good News of the Gospel is that God has provided all sinners who believe in Jesus Christ with the gift of His own righteousness so that they can be declared righteous and saved from the wrath of God for their sins.
This is really the message of the rest of the Book of Romans. You see, God has provided a way for sinners to be made right with Him so that they do not have to go to hell and pay the penalty for their sins. And God has provided this great salvation as a free gift of His grace alone and for His glory alone to the sinner who will trust in Christ alone. But in order for God to save the sinner from the just penalty for his sins—He has to declare him judicially righteous in His sight.
You see, to simply declare a person as “not guilty” is not enough for the simple reason that one can be not guilty of particular sins and still not be righteous.
There are plenty of people who stand before judges in our courtrooms every day who while being found “not guilty” of a particular crime or series of crimes are still not positively righteous people. Thus, it is not enough for God to declare a person “not guilty” or even “innocent”.
No—the only thing that can make sinners right with God and thus save them is for God to declare them righteous and perfectly and divinely righteous at that—in fact the only way a sinner can be made right with God is to be declared as righteous as God—but that sure takes some doing. You see, before He could declare any sinner to be that righteous—God had to do a couple other things. First, He had to remove their sins from them and ensure they were completely paid for and two, he had to provide the sinner with a righteousness not his own that would be completely equal to His own personal righteousness. That way—He could truly be just and still declare the sinner righteous so that he could be reconciled to Him and saved from the due penalty of his sins and his unrighteous condition.
So—God in putting this plan into action—sent His Son Jesus to the cross—where Jesus took upon Himself the sins of every person who would believe in Him and then He paid for these sins—every single one of them—committed from the day they were born until the day that they die.
But not only did Jesus take their sin upon Him—the Bible tells us that He also gave them His righteousness so that God the Father would be able to look at them and see that their sins had been removed from them and paid for by Christ as well as see that Christ’s very own righteousness was now theirs because it had been applied to their account the very moment they believed in Christ for salvation. Thus, the moment a sinner places faith in Christ—the Bible teaches he or she is declared righteous by God and is thus saved from their sins. And this declaration of righteousness which is necessary for the salvation of any person is called “justification” in the Bible. And those who have been given Christ’s righteousness are called “justified”.
And what I want us to see in our passage this morning are five principles regarding the righteousness that is necessary for our salvation.
1. The righteousness that saves sinners is a righteousness apart from the Law and their own personal merit. (21)
The reason why Paul needs to drive this truth home again and again in the Bible is because of our inflated and incorrect sense of our own personal goodness and righteousness. Many unbelievers are simply not convinced that they are as bad as God says they are and thus they have the idea that they through their own personal merit can attain to the righteousness God requires for salvation by simply doing good things and not doing bad things. These kinds of people believe that God gave the Law for them to keep so as to earn their acceptance with Him by proving how righteous they are. And that is why Paul made the point in verses 19-20 that the Law’s purpose was never to save anyone but rather to condemn everyone.
The Law will save no one—thus no one can earn the righteousness required by God to get into heaven by obeying God’s Law—it is simply impossible. And even if you could obey the Law of God perfectly—you would still not be as righteous as God because God transcends His Law. Now it is true that only God Himself could keep the whole law perfectly—which is exactly what Jesus did. But, Jesus is far more righteous than the Law.
The Law does not authenticate Jesus’ righteousness—rather Jesus authenticates the Law as a standard for man to measure his own lack of righteousness by. Thus, to think a man could prove He is as righteous as an infinite God is infinitely righteous by obeying a finite law code is utterly ridiculous. You see, God is above and beyond the Law in terms of righteousness. To think that you would be like God and thus as righteous as God because you simply keep a list of rules and regulations is paramount to saying that an ant is like me in every respect because it obeys the ten commandments for ants.
The Law is not for God—it is for man—thus no one will be saved by keeping the Law even if they could because keeping the Law does not mean you are as righteous as God and that is the requirement for Heaven according to Jesus in Matthew 5:48. Thus, the righteousness needed for salvation comes apart from the Law because it exceeds the requirements of the Law—as it must be the very righteousness of God Himself.
One other point to note before we move on to verse 22 is that this righteousness of God that is required for salvation is not something new and unique only to the New Testament.
Look at verse 21 again. The righteousness of God which He has given to sinners who believe in Christ is a righteousness that while apart from the Law was witnessed or attested by the law and the Prophets.
In other words—God’s means of saving sinners in the New Testament is the same as His means of saving them in the Old and this is attested to by a correct understanding of the Law and the Old Testament Prophets, which according to Luke 24:44 were all talking about Jesus.
The Bible does not contain two ways of saving sinners. It is not true that the Old Testament sinner was saved by law whereas the New Testament sinner is saved by grace. Everyone who has been saved and will be saved has been saved by grace through faith in God’s promise of salvation and we’ll see that in Romans 4.
2. The righteousness that saves sinners is a righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone. (22)
The righteousness that God requires for a person to be declared righteous and thus saved and thus granted entrance into Heaven is accessed by only one means and that is the means of faith in Christ Jesus alone.
Note that there are no qualifiers in this phrase so that it says: “through faith in Jesus Christ and by performing good works, or going to church, or observing certain religious ceremonies, or by doing anything.” In other words, the righteousness required for salvation comes through faith in Christ and Christ alone. Salvation is not through works or through Christ plus our works—it is through faith in Christ alone!
And this was the major problem in the Roman Catholic Church that the Reformer Martin Luther identified in 1517 when he really inadvertently began the Protestant Reformation—whereas the Catholic Church believed that salvation was by grace through faith in Christ—they left out the word “alone”, because they believed that a person was justified by Christ’s righteousness and their own meritorious works. But as Luther maintained and the Apostle makes perfectly clear here in Romans 3:22, sinners are justified by faith in Christ and that’s all—there is nothing to add. We are either justified by faith in Christ alone or we are not justified at all.
3. The righteousness that saves sinners is God’s own righteousness imputed to the believing sinner’s own account. (22)
Note that what comes to the sinner who trusts in Christ is the “righteousness of God”. And don’t miss the fact that the act of justification, in which God’s righteousness is imputed to the sinner’s account so that God declares him or her righteous, occurs the moment the sinner first believes. Now it is important to understand that when a sinner is justified he is not made experientially righteous—he is simply declared righteous. Thus, he is not made sinless—he is simply declared by God to be righteous in God’s sight because God has imputed His own righteousness to that sinners account.
Justification is a judicial verdict in which God acting as the Judge declares the believing sinner righteous and thus acquitted of all charges that could ever be possibly brought against him. Becoming experientially righteous is the progressive work of sanctification in which God the Holy Spirit after a person is justified begins the work of making them holy and righteous.
Thus, what is happening in every true believer’s life is that they are becoming in their experience through sanctification what God has declared them to be in justification. They are becoming what they are in God’s sight.
4. The righteousness that saves sinners is for all who believe regardless of how badly they have sinned and continually fall short of the glory of God. (22-23)
Notice that the righteous of God is given to all sinners who believe—without distinction. And then in verse 23, Paul makes the point that everyone without distinction who believes in Christ and thus is given the very righteousness of God has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And thus, your sin or how badly you have sinned or how much you have sinned has no bearing upon whether or not you can be saved—it simply is not an issue when it comes to who can be saved and who can’t be. The issue—the only issue—is whether you believe in Christ Jesus.
Paul also mentions that everyone who has believed and thus given the righteousness of God has also fallen short of the glory of God and in fact is continually falling short of it right now. But even that has no bearing upon your salvation or you keeping your salvation. You are justified not because you have not sinned or not fallen short of the glory of God—you are justified by faith alone in Christ alone.
I find it also interesting that just as the phrase “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” is in the present tense in the original language so that it should read “and continually falls short of the glory of God”. The phrase, “being justified as a gift” in verse 24 is also in the present tense so that you could render it, “being continually justified”. Translated literally, the two phrases together read—“for all have sinned and continually falling short of the glory of God are continually being justified as a gift . . .”
Now it is not saying that every time we sin and thus fall short of God’s glory as believers we need to be justified again because we are only justified once for all time. What it is saying is that as believers we still sin and thus are continually falling short of the glory of God but that our status as being justified does not change. Sinning and falling short of the glory of God as believers does not change our continual and unchanging status of “being justified”. Thus, we are as the Reformers put it—“justified sinners” who still are continually “falling short of the glory of God”.
5. The righteousness that saves sinners is a gift that comes through grace alone. (24)
Finally look at verse 24. Paul writes that the sinner who is justified—that is declared righteous by God and thus saved from his sins is justified as a gift by God’s grace. The word “grace” simply means “God’s unmerited and unearned favor toward sinners who don’t deserve it and won’t ever deserve it.” The justification of a sinner is always by grace. It is never earned or merited. That would be impossible. And note that this justification comes through or on the basis of “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
God did not merely wish our sin away or sweep it under the rug. A price had to be paid for our sins to be removed from us and us from them and the price that was paid was Jesus Christ Himself. He, the God-Man died for our sins as our sin penalty in order that we might go free. And note that this redemption or freedom from being under the penalty for our sins is “in Christ Jesus”. In other words, the redemption that leads to justification that leads to salvation is found only in Christ Jesus.
There are not many roads to Heaven—As Jesus told his disciples in John 14:6, “I am the way. . . no one comes to the Father but by me.”
The only Killer Whales that are ultimately saved from dying a slow and painful death trapped in Puget Sound so as to enjoy life in the wide expanses of the Pacific Ocean are those who being funneled toward the narrow channel leading to the Ocean swim through it to safety.
And the only sinners who are ultimately saved from eternal death so as to experience eternal life are those who being funneled by God toward the narrow way—go through it by faith in Christ alone.
As Jesus Himself said in Matthew 7:13-14,
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life and there are few who find it.”
So, upon which road and through which gate are you hanging your hope?
Monday, December 8, 2008
But, since I am subjected to these mindless advertisements at least four times in a half hour news show I decided to analyze what “commercial America” is trying to sell me. What I have found is that everything they are trying to get me to sink my money in has some connection to the bedroom. Therefore, I am bombarded with the messages that if I will buy sleep medicine (Lunesta & Ambien) and a Serta sleep-by-the number mattress I will be a much happier person and really enjoy the American Dream. I’ll save the sexual enhancement products for another update.
I wonder when the old American Dream turned from being the opportunity to work hard in order to make something of yourself to having to pop pills in order to fall asleep on a specialty mattress. It seems to me that if people really worked hard in pursuing the old American Dream they wouldn’t need a medicine chest full of pills and specialty mattresses to pursue the new American Dream of simply trying to get a good nights sleep.
I know I am over simplifying the matter but I do think there is a connection between America’s inability to get to sleep and stay asleep and her unwillingness to fear the Lord. Proverbs 19:23 makes the point well:
“The fear of the LORD leads to life, so that one may sleep satisfied . . .”
I can’t help but think that there is a much cheaper and less intrusive way to get a good night’s sleep (barring any physiological problems or nursing babies) than buying the wares being sold on primetime TV. Just fear God to the point that you are obeying God and you’ll be so busy working hard during the day on a variety of things that you’ll sleep great at night.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Kissing Retirement Goodbye
December 3, 2008
By John Ensor
I kissed retirement goodbye—at least the kind traditionally planned for in America. My mother has finally persuaded me that there are better things to do when I reach her age.
In August, I wrote about caring for family with end-of-life challenges. My mother, at 78, started to go blind while on a mission trip to Mongolia. Her sight was saved through high-dose steroids, which tripped other health concerns which were compounded by the discovery of breast cancer.
The subsequent surgery left her fragile. She fell and added injury to sickness and disease. We gathered with her in August to discuss how to care for her as she enters what I call “the frowning years.”
Ecclesiastes calls them plainly “the evil days” when
the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low—they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets. (12:1-5)
The point of this description is to “remember your creator in the days of your youth” (12:1). I take this to mean:
Taste and see the goodness of God while all your senses are in full function, and your strength is still intact.
Savor him while you can—before your teeth fall out (the grinders cease) and your eyes fail (the windows are dimmed) and your bones ache with every move (the grasshopper drags itself along); before the fears of dying assail you and sap your strength and try your faith one last time before they are swallowed up in victory.
Evidently, at 78, my mother is still in the days of her youth. Since August, she has prayed and fought for her health.
Last week she left for Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. She joined a team of trainers for a Leadership Development Conference in which 90 teachers from around the country took their school vacation week to learn to study and teach the Bible through an inductive-study method. Seven more teachers planned on being there.
But my mother writes, “They did not get here because their charter bus was ambushed by robbers and the driver was killed.”
In spite of such things, she writes of the thrill of watching teachers learn to read out of the Bible its unsearchable riches rather than read into it preconceived notions.
She concludes, “I have been so blessed to be here that at times I think I will burst!” Evidently, she intends to die with her mission boots on as she faces down those “frowning years.”
John Ensor is the Executive Director of Urban Initiatives for Heartbeat International and author of The Great Work of the Gospel.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Under Sin or Under Grace?
To look at this large and happy family of eight now living in
They had chosen to homeschool their children instead of sending them to public school and it is illegal to homeschool you children in
In a similar way, we who have believed in Christ Jesus as our Lord and personal Savior have been giving spiritual asylum in the sense that the moment we believed in Christ we were transferred from Satan’s kingdom and the position of being “under sin” to Christ’s Kingdom and the position of being “under grace”. And as long as we are in Christ’s kingdom and under grace, we are not subject to the authority, control, and power of Satan or sin in and over our lives. And since we will be in Christ’s kingdom and under His dominion forever, we will forever be “under grace” and never ever have to worry about coming under the authority or being subject to the authority of Satan and sin again. But, even though this is true of us who have believed in Christ—we sometimes act as though it is not true and live as though sin still had authority and power over us. Many times, we much like many of the slaves that were officially freed at the end of the Civil War but continued to live like slaves, continue to live as though we were still slaves of sin even though we have been freed from sin by virtue of Christ’s work on our behalf.
Today, I want us to consider what Paul means when he tells us that before salvation we were all “under sin” and what happened to us when Christ saved us. Usually it is the case that most preachers come to a text like Romans 3:9-20 and highlight the depraved nature of man before his salvation, emphasizing his wicked and reprehensible character and conduct apart from Christ as we have done for the last couple of weeks. And this of course is a good thing to do and a good thing to preach as our salvation is brought into focus to a far greater degree when who we were and what we were like before we were saved is seen clearly. However, if this is as far as you go into this doctrine of radical and total depravity then you have really missed the boat when it comes to seeing and understanding the greatness of our salvation and what we were actually saved out of. You see, we were saved from much more than our depraved character and conduct and conversation and conceit. We were also saved from our position of being “under sin”.
As a result of the Fall of Adam—our representative—all of our being was affected so every bit of us became utterly and radically depraved—intellectually, emotionally, volitionally, and physically. There simply was nothing about us that was pleasing to God or able to merit in the slightest degree the grace of God so that He would even be inclined to save us. But more than that—the very reason we could not merit or earn God’s grace and the very reason for our wretched depravity was the fact that we were under the authority, dominion, control, and power of sin as those who belonged to Satan’s kingdom of darkness. Whereas a person must be saved from his sins—he must also be saved from being “under sin” so that he is no longer hostile to God and naturally resistant and rebellious toward Him as a sinner who has no choice but to sin as he exists under the reign and control of sin and thus the condemnation of the Law of God. To merely forgive all our sinful attitudes and behavior would not have been a complete salvation and would not have resulted in our really being saved at all.
You see, in order to save us completely so as to make us a truly new creation in Christ—God had to deal with more than our depravity in terms of how it affected our person. He also had to change our position and remove us from being under the power and control of sin as well as the subsequent condemnation of the Law. And unless we grasp the truth that whereas before salvation we were ”under sin” but as a result of God’s amazing grace in our lives, we are now “under grace”—it will be impossible for us to truly grasp the wonder of our salvation—as well be impossible for us to grow in sanctification. So turn with me to Romans 3:9 where Paul tells us that every single one of us without exception was “under sin” before we were saved.
The phrase “under sin” is probably best defined by its synonyms found in such passages as Colossians 1:13, where Paul refers to it as “the domain of darkness”. Actually, the word “domain” is literally rendered “authority” and so we see that before salvation we were under the authority of darkness or sin. In Acts 26:18, Paul again refers to our former position and the current position of all unbelievers right now as being in “darkness” and under the “dominion or authority of Satan”. In fact, the unbeliever is so identified with being under the dominion and authority of darkness that Paul in Ephesians 5:8 describes them as actually being “darkness”. Earlier in Ephesians 2:2 Paul describes what it is like to live in this darkness under the dominion of sin and Satan. He says that those who were in this condition lived their lives “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Jesus, in the Gospel of John describes those who are in the darkness as being people “who love the darkness rather than the light” in John . And then in John , Jesus makes the point that those who are not believers and thus are “under sin” have as their father—the devil—whom even unconsciously they want to serve. Peter also makes the point in 1 Peter 2:9 that in saving us God called us out of this darkness of being “under sin”. The Old Testament also makes the point that unbelievers live under the power, authority and dominion of darkness before God turns the light of salvation on for them. In Isaiah 9:2 Isaiah writes that: “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land—the light will shine on them.”
So with all this in mind, we see that when Paul tells us in Romans 3:9
that all unbelievers, Jew and Gentile, are “under sin”—he is telling us that in our unsaved condition we were under the reign, dominion, authority, control, and power of sin and Satan as we lived in complete spiritual darkness. Thus, we were slaves to sin and could do nothing but sin. And thus the reason why there was none righteous—not even one. And none who understood and none who sought God and none who did good and why we were all under the condemnation of the law with no hope and no help in and of ourselves.
Thus to merely forgive a person of his sins without removing him from under the dominion, power, and authority of sin would be no salvation at all because he would still be under the authority, dominion, control, and power of sin. And unless we understand the extent to which we were lost in terms of both our practice and our position we really can’t comprehend or grasp the infinite value of Christ’s work in saving us. And if all we see ourselves saved from is merely our sins and our own personal depravity rather than from the dominion, authority, power, and the reign of Satan as he controlled us through sin—we really have no idea of how great a salvation God has provided for us.
Furthermore, we really cannot understand how it is that God has provided for our sanctification in the sense of overcoming sin’s influence in our lives.
You see, if being “under sin” was where we were in our position before salvation—where are we now that we have been saved?
Colossians answers that question by stating clearly and emphatically that God the Father “rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” And as a result of this change of address in which we no longer are living in Satan’s domain and under sin’s dominion in the kingdom of darkness--the Bible tells us in Romans 5 & 6 that we are no longer “under sin” but “under grace”. And the neat thing about this is that grace is infinitely more powerful than sin, thus there is never ever any danger that we will be extradited back to our former position in Satan’s kingdom. Look at Romans 5:17, 20-21.
Once we have been transferred from being “under sin” to being “under grace” it is forever—that is what Romans is saying. Grace will reign in our lives to “eternal life” through Jesus Christ our Lord. What did Jesus say about it? He said in John 8:36, “If the Son makes you free—you shall be free indeed.”
What he meant by the word “indeed” at the end of his statement was that your freedom from the power, control, and authority of sin would be a true freedom—a real and genuine permanent freedom not just a temporary detant.
And the reason why—He said that “if the Son makes you free—you have this true, real, genuine, and permanent freedom from the power of sin is because He removed you from being “under sin” to being “under grace” as your new and permanent position in Christ.
Thus, there is never a single moment when the believer the child of God is outside the grace of God and not acceptable to God or accepted by God. Because we are living under the reign and dominion of God’s grace—His unmerited favor—and because God’s grace always increases and is more than abundant to deal with and cover our sin there will never be a time in our lives as believers where our standing before God is ever changed or in question.
Listen, being “under grace” means that our acceptance with God has forever been secured for us and will never ever change in the slightest degree so that we are ever less acceptable or more acceptable to Him. As a believer in Christ Jesus who is now “under grace” you are as accepted by God right now as you will be when you have been in heaven ten thousand years and having not sinned for those ten thousand years. Being “under grace” rather than being “under sin” means that even when you do sin on this earth—your sin has no bearing at all upon God’s love for you or desire for you.
The fact that we are now under grace and forever will be under grace ensures our eternal destiny and ensures that God will always deal with us in accordance with His grace and not in accordance with our sin. Listen, as believers we will never get the punishment we deserve. We will never ever fall from grace and thus incur God’s wrath or anger toward us regardless of how much we sin or how badly we sin as Christians.
And these kinds of statement while so very comforting to most of us who do sin much and badly—also causes others of you some concern doesn’t it?
To you—it sounds as though what I am saying is an encouragement for professing believers to just go out and sin all they want because God will never be angry with them or deal with them in accordance with their sin. I mean—if we cannot out sin God’s grace and if when our sin increases—God’s grace abounds all the more so as to cover it—why not just live any way we want and sin to our hearts content? Well—this is a good question. And in fact, it is the very question that Paul anticipates and then asks in Romans 6:1. But unless you understand that when he asks, “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” that he means: “Are we to continue living as though we were still under sin’s reign, control, dominion, and power so that grace may increase?”, you’ll end up missing the whole pint of Romans 6 and really of our sanctification and how it is that God makes us holy especially when dealing with sin habits and besetting sins.
Look at his answer that begins in Romans 6:2. “How shall we who through faith in Christ Jesus have been transferred from being under sin to being under grace and thus have in effect “died” to sin’s authority, control, power, and reign in my life—still live as though we are under sin’s power?” And then in rest of Romans 6, Paul explains this truth by teaching us that in as believers in Christ—we are in union with Christ so that everything that is true of Christ Jesus in this chapter is also true of us by virtue of the fact that we are completely identified with Christ. Keep in mind that baptism in the Bible is first and foremost a symbol of identification with either a teacher, a teaching, or both. And as the word is used here in this chapter, it is talking about our identification and union with Christ. Thus again, what ever is true of Christ is true of us. And so, because our old self really was crucified with and in Christ at the cross and because our old self really was buried with Christ and in Christ—who we were outside of Christ is dead and gone.
Now what this means practically is that you really did die to sin’s power over you when you trusted in Christ so that you really did become a new creation in Christ who no longer is under sin but under grace and thus is no longer under the power of sin but under the power of God. Thus, Romans 6:3-7 makes the point that as a believer in Christ you and I are no longer slaves to sin and to our sinful passions because we are no longer under sin’s jurisdiction and authority and thus we are no longer under sin’s power and control. Thus, as verse 7 points out using the present tense, if you are a Christian—a believer in Christ Jesus—it is not that you will someday be free of sin’s power and control in and over your passions—you are right now free from sin’s power because you are no longer “under sin”. Thus, we who know Christ as our Lord and Savior have been freed from sin and its power over our lives. In essence, we do not have to sin any more. Oh, we will but we do not have to.
In fact, whereas before salvation we sinned because it was our nature to do so as those who were under the reign of sin—now when we sin—as those who are no longer under the reign of sin but under the reign of grace—it is because we have chosen to do what we did not have to do and for that we are most foolish. So as those who are no longer “under sin” but “under grace” how do we then deal with sin’s temptations and our sinful lust’s cravings to pursue sin?
Look at Romans 6:11. We must reckon or consider that what God says about us is true and believe the fact that we really are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus because we are no longer “under sin” but “under grace”. And once we believe the truth about ourselves—then and only then are we able to obey Romans 6:12.
You see, God’s way of sanctifying us—that is making us practically and experientially holy is the same method He used in saving us—it is the method or the means of faith. Just as we had to believe God so as to be saved—we have to believe Him so as to be sanctified. And herein lies the battle—when you are struggling with sin and it has gotten the best of you more times than you even care to remember and you feel as though you are helpless to fight it and say “no” to it—and God’s Word tells you to believe and reckon yourselves as dead to sin’s power and control because the fact of the matter is you are no longer “under sin” but “under grace”.
This is the battle of faith. This is where you must exercise faith and in the midst of yet another sinful failure say—I will believe God and consider that everything that is true of Jesus in this passage is also true of me by virtue of the fact that I am in union with Christ. Therefore, I am as dead to the power and control of sin in and over my life as Jesus Christ is because I am in Christ—therefore, I do not have to obey this temptation and lustful passion that is raising its head in my life and in fact, I have the power to say “No”. And then do exactly that!
Of course, you may ask—well how can I truly say that I am indeed dead to sin when I am conscious of sin in me and feel like a terrible sinner? You must do as Abraham did in Romans 4:18-21 and believe the Word of God even when everything in us and about us is telling us otherwise. Again, this is the battle of faith. Now—there is so much in Romans 6 that we have not had the time to touch upon—in fact, it is my guess that once we get to this chapter we will spend weeks in it if not months.
Yet, I hope you have seen that not only were you and I saved from our acts of sin—we were saved from the domain and the dominion of sin so that we truly are new creatures in Christ Jesus. We are no longer “under sin”. We are “under grace”. Sin has no jurisdiction or authority over us, no control in us, no power to make us fall—but if we are to experience this freedom from sin’s power and control in our lives and thus really to experience our salvation at work in our life—we must live the Christian life the same way we began it—by faith in the promises of God.
Romans 8:1 really is true of us who love Jesus. There is no condemnation for us because not only have we been forgiven of all our sins—past, present, and future—we have been removed from the reign of sin and Satan to the reign of grace in Christ Jesus. And thus in removing us from under the reign of sin—God delivered us from the condemnation of being “under the law” and from the fear of death—because as 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 puts it:
“O Death where is your victory?
O Death where is your sting?
The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law;
But thanks be to God Who gives us the victory through
Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Oh, how great a salvation and how amazing is God’s grace to us who believe!
Listen, every single person who is here today is either “under sin” or “under grace”. You are either under the jurisdiction and authority and control of sin or you are living under grace. There are no other possibilities. If you are in Christ you are under grace. If you are outside of Christ you are under sin and therefore under the condemnation of God’s law and thus on your way to a Christless eternity in hell.
Won’t you believe in Christ today and receive spiritual asylum from sin?