Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Abundant Mercy of God

Part 4 of Summer in the Psalms 2019

Text: Psalm 51




Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions (v. 1). 


Will God Always Forgive Our Sin? 

Psalm 51 is a psalm of lament. According to one dictionary, a lament is “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.” Usually the laments in Scripture are about something external (e.g., the condition of Jerusalem in the book of Lamentations). But Psalm 51 is different. In this psalm, David laments about something internal: his sinfulness.

Will God always forgive our sin? Maybe my sin is too great? What if I keep committing the same sin over and over again? Will God always forgive my sin? Psalm 51 gives us the answer to this question.

Will God always forgive our sin? Yes, God will always forgive our sin. In Psalm 51, we find the reason for this answer and a condition to this answer.


The Reason 

Psalm 51 was written after the prophet Nathan had confronted David about his sin of adultery with a woman named Bathsheba. [1] And the psalm begins begins with David crying out to God, “Have mercy on me” (v. 1).

David’s request for mercy indicates that he believes he doesn’t deserve God’s forgiveness. He’s like a guilty man throwing himself on the mercy of the court. Will God show David mercy? Will God forgive him? Yes. God will always forgive our sin because he is a God of “abundant mercy” (v. 1).

“Mercy” [2] means “compassion.” In the story of the prodigal son, when the father sees his son returning home, he “[feels] compassion, and [runs] and embrace[s] him and kisse[s] him” (Luke 15:20). That’s a picture of the mercy of God.

When God revealed to Moses his “name” (i.e., who he is), he proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exod. 34:6-7). [3] This is who God is.

How merciful is God? God has “abundant mercy.” What do you think of when you hear the word “abundant”? I think of wealth. Ephesians 2:4 says that God is “rich in mercy.” God will never say to us, “Sorry, I can’t spare any more mercy.” God always has enough mercy for us--no matter how great or frequent our sin.


The Condition 

There is a condition we must meet in order to be forgiven by God. We must come to him with a “broken and contrite heart.” Verse 17 says, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” This is what is called repentance.

The prodigal son returned home with a broken and contrite heart. He confessed to his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). But what did the father do? He celebrated the return of his son (vv. 23-24). God will never turn away anyone who comes to him with a broken and contrite heart.

In Psalm 51, David is no longer trying to hide his sin. Verse 6 says, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being.” We can’t hide the truth from God, but we can hide the truth from ourselves (i.e., by telling ourselves lies about our sin).

In verses 3-5, David is finally honest about his sinfulness. First, he confesses his sin: “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (v. 3). Second, he doesn’t minimize (i.e., sugarcoat) his evil acts: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (v. 4). Third, he acknowledges his evil nature: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (v. 5).

In 2 Samuel 11, David’s question was “How can I get away with this?” Now in Psalm 51, David’s question is “How could I have sinned against God like this?”


The Cost 

What’s amazing is that God himself has paid the cost for our forgiveness. Ephesians 1:7 says, “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according the riches of his grace.” Without the death of Christ, there is no forgiveness.

Jesus said, “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). The opposite is also true: He who is forgiven much, loves much. We who have been forgiven much should love much. We should, as Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted [i.e., compassionate], forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

____________________

[1] This story is found in 2 Samuel 11-12.
[2] In the ESV, two different Hebrew words have been translated “mercy.”
[3] This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about sin. Verse 7 goes on to say that God “will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The God of Thunder

Part 2 of Summer in the Psalms 2019

Text: Psalm 29




Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness (vv. 1-2). 


Yahweh Versus Baal 

Psalm 29 is a psalm of praise. The object of the psalm’s praise is “the LORD.” In this psalm, you’ll find the word “LORD” eighteen times! In the original Hebrew text, the word translated as “the LORD” is “Yahweh.” This is God’s name.

Psalm 29 is also a protest against the worship of Baal, one of the Canaanite gods. The Canaanites believed that Baal was responsible for storms, thunder, lightning and rain that made the earth fertile. When the Canaanites heard thunder, they thought they heard the voice of Baal. In this psalm, the psalmist has taken phrases that were used in the worship of Baal and substituted “Yahweh” for “Baal.” [1]

Psalm 29 could be given the title “Yahweh Versus Baal.” The psalmist is saying that Baal is no match for Yahweh. Yahweh is the real God of thunder. 


A Call to Worship 

Psalm 29 begins with a call to worship: “Ascribe to the LORD [i.e., Yahweh], O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength” (v. 1). Who are the “heavenly beings”? Probably angels. “Ascribe” means to acknowledge. The angels are told to acknowledge the “glory [i.e., greatness] and strength [i.e., power]” of Yahweh.

The call to worship continues in verse 2: “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor [i.e., beauty] of holiness.” The NIV says “the splendor of his holiness.” Yahweh deserves worship. He is a God to be both feared and loved. Why?


The Voice of Yahweh 

In verses 3-9, the phrase “the voice of the LORD” occurs seven times. Verse 3 says, “The God of glory thunders.” In this psalm, “the voice of the LORD” is thunder. The psalm describes the movement of a powerful thunderstorm. Thunder was the loudest noise that ancient people ever heard.
The storm begins over the Mediterranean Sea: “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty” (vv. 3-4). I’m sure we’ve all witnessed a powerful thunderstorm. How did it make you feel? Afraid? Amazed?

The storm travels east to the mountains of Lebanon: “The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion [i.e., Mount Hermon] like a young wild ox” (vv. 5-6).

The storm travels further east to the wilderness of Kadesh: “The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire [i.e., lightning bolts]. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh” (vv. 7-8).

Then the scene shifts to the temple in Jerusalem: “In his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’” (v. 9).

Verse 10 says, “The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.” He is the king over everything. He is the king forever.

Psalm 29 reminds me of the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. [Read 1 Kings 18:17-29, 38-39.] When the prophets of Baal cried out to their god, there was “no voice” (v. 29), no thunder or lightning from Baal. “The LORD [i.e., Yahweh], he is God” (v. 39).

Richard Dawkins has said, “An atheist is just somebody who feels about Yahweh the way any decent Christian feels about Thor or Baal or the golden calf. We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” [2] How would you respond to this? 


Jesus Is the Voice of Yahweh 

The Bible begins, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). How did God create all things? By his voice. He spoke the words, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

When we flip over to the Gospel of John, we discover that the apostle John begins by saying, “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). “The Word” is Jesus. He is “the voice of the LORD.” John writes, “All things were made through him [i.e., the Word], and without him was not any thing made that was made” (v. 3). Then in verse 14, John declares, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.”

Do you remember the story of Jesus calming the storm? He said to the wind and the sea, “Peace! Be Still!” (Mark 8:39). The voice of the LORD can start a storm (as in Psalm 29) or stop a storm. How did the disciples react to this miracle? They were “filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” (v. 41).

It was this same Jesus who died for us. The voice of the LORD can be heard as we look at the cross. Yahweh--the holy, glorious, all-powerful God--says, “I love you.” Yahweh deserves our worship. He is a God to be both feared and loved.


Peace to Yahweh’s Worshipers 

Psalm 29 begins with the angels in heaven ascribing glory to God (vv. 1-2) and ends with peace on earth: “May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!” (v. 11). Does that sound familiar … glory in heaven and peace on earth?

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the angels praised God by saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). On that night, the voice of the LORD came to earth not as thunder, but as a baby--a baby who would bring peace.

Think about who Yahweh is--the God of thunder, the God who could destroy everything with just a word. Now think about what this God did for you. Think about the humble birth of Jesus. Think about his death on the cross. We should be filled with amazement. We should be filled with praise. We should be filled with love. We should bow down before this God and say, “Here’s my life. It’s yours.”

____________________

[1] Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Psalms, p. 199
[2] https://www.ted.com/talks/richard_dawkins_on_militant_atheism?language=en

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Blessed Life

Part 1 of Summer in the Psalms 2019

Text: Psalm 1




Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night (vv. 1-2). 


Our Search for Happiness 

We all want to be happy, don’t we?

Unfortunately, we often look for happiness in all the wrong places. We think we’ll find happiness in money, a job, a relationship, possessions, etc. But if all we have are these things, we won’t find happiness.

Psalm 1 tells us how to find real happiness.


#blessed  

Psalm 1 begins with what word? “Blessed.” What does “blessed” mean? It means “happy.”

Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount by repeatedly using the word “blessed.” Based on what Jesus says, we know that being “blessed” doesn’t necessarily mean that the person who is blessed has an easy life. For example, Jesus declares, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10).

The kind of happiness that Psalm 1 is describing is not a happiness that fluctuates according to life’s circumstances. The apostle Paul writes, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11, NIV). The blessed life is not always an easy life, but it’s the best life.

How can we live the blessed life?


Two Ways of Living 

In Psalm 1, there’s a contrast between “the righteous” and “the wicked.” The psalmist’s focus is on the righteous person (i.e., the person who is blessed), so that’ll be our focus as well. But as we look at the psalm’s description of the blessed life, we’ll compare it to the life of the wicked person.

First, what the blessed person doesn’t do: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (v. 1). The blessed person doesn’t “walk in step with the wicked” (NIV). He/she isn’t “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2). 

Second, what the blessed person does: “his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (v. 2). “The law” can be applied to all of God’s word.

The blessed person values God’s word. If our “delight” is in God’s word, what will we do? We’ll meditate on it. It won’t go in one ear and out the other. When we meditate on God’s word, we should be listening for what God wants us to hear (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16).

What does the wicked person value? Autonomy. The wicked person is someone who says yes to himself/herself and no to God. He/she thinks (foolishly) that happiness can be found in living life according to their own rules.

Third, what the blessed person is like: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (v. 3). The blessed person is like “a tree planted by streams of water.”

The blessed life is a fruitful life (doing good for others like fruit from a tree).

The blessed life is a resilient life. The blessed person has hope (because of the death and resurrection of Christ) even in the midst of terrible storms.

The blessed life is a prosperous life. How does a tree (e.g., an apple tree) prosper? It does what God made it do: bear fruit.

What does the wicked person like? He/she is “like chaff [i.e., the husk surrounding a seed] that the wind drives away” (v. 4). This is a life without direction, a wasted life.

How can we live the blessed life? We can only live the blessed life if we delight in God’s word. That begins with saying yes to God’s invitation to receive salvation through faith in Christ. It continues by saying yes to God’s word each day.


The Two Roads 

In verses 5 and 6 we see the final outcomes of the blessed life and the life of the wicked person: “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment [i.e., the final judgment], nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.” [Read Matthew 7:13-14.]

Notice the first and last words of Psalm 1. It begins with the word “Blessed” and ends with the word “perish.” Those two words tell us where the two roads of life lead. [Read Matthew 7:24-27.] 

Psalm 1 doesn’t give any commands. But it pictures two ways of life and shows us which is the wise choice and which is the foolish choice.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

This Is Your Wake Up Call

Part 7 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 13:11-14




Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed (v. 11). 


A Wake Up Call 

Have you ever received a wake up call? I’m talking about a literal wake up call: “Good morning, Mr. McLeod. This is your wake up call.”

Yes, hotels still do wake up calls. Why do people request a wake up call? Usually because they have something important to do the next day. Maybe they don’t want to be late for a very important meeting at 9:00 a.m. Or maybe they’re taking their kids to an amusement park and want to be there as soon as it opens.

The apostle Paul gives his readers a wake up call. He’s saying, “This is your wake up call.” He tells us to do two things: (1) wake up and (2) get dressed.


Wake Up! 

It’s time to wake up. Paul writes, “You know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep” (v. 11). What kind of “sleep” do we need to wake from? To “sleep” is to be “conformed to this world” (12:2). Christians are to be non-conformists.

Paul says, “You know the time.” Do we? Why is it time for us to “wake from sleep”?

(1) “For [i.e., because] salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (v. 11). “Salvation” refers to the believer’s future glorification (cf. 8:23, 29-30).

(2) “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here” (v. 12). “The day” is the day of Christ’s return (i.e., “the day of the Lord”). This is the next major event on God’s calendar. And it could happen at any moment! [Read 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10.]

How can Paul say Christ’s return is “almost here”? It’s been almost 2,000 years! [Read 2 Peter 3:3-10.] 

Some people who have almost died (e.g., heart attack) say they’ve received “a wake up call.” Their perspective on life has changed. Their priorities have changed. Some things have become more important to them, and some things have become less important to them.

We need a wake up call. This world as we know will one day pass away. So it’s foolish to be “conformed to this world.” We should have a different perspective and different priorities. The apostle Peter writes, “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness” (2 Peter 3:11).


Get Dressed! 

It’s time to get dressed. Paul says, “So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (v. 13).

When we think of “light” and “darkness,” we usually think of what is good and what is evil. But Paul probably also has in mind two different ages: “the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4) and the age of salvation to come.

In verses 12b-14, there are three pairs of contrasts: (1) “cast off the works of darkness” / “put on the armor of light” (v. 12b); (2) “walk properly as in the daytime” / “not in orgies, and drunkenness, not sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy” (v. 13); (2) “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” / “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (v. 14).

What does it mean to “put on the armor of light” and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”? Basically, they both mean to live as a follower of Christ should live.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Paul writes, “Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” Faith, hope, and love. We are to have faith in Christ, hope in Christ, and love for Christ.


What Are You Living For? 

What are you living for?

Imagine that Jesus is standing before you. Then ask yourself, “What is really important? What will last forever?”

Maybe we need a wake up call.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Love Is the Fulfilling of God's Law

Part 6 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 13:8-10




Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law (v. 8). 


The Dept of Love

It’s a good feeling when you finally pay off a debt—when your credit card balance is finally zero or the mortgage payments finally come to an end. But there’s one debt that will never be paid in full: the debt of love.

We’ll never get to the point where we can say, “I’ve been kind for long enough. I think it’s time that I stop being kind.” The apostle Paul writes, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other” (v. 8). What he’s saying is there’ll never a time when we’ll be excused from loving others.


Is It a Sin to Borrow Money?

“Owe no one anything” (v. 8). Is this a command to never borrow money? Let’s say we’re at McDonald’s and I realize I’ve forgotten my wallet. Is it wrong for me to ask you to lend me five dollars? No, Paul “is not prohibiting us from borrowing money but demanding we pay back what we owe [e.g., taxes (v. 7)]” (Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 436).

Sometimes debt reveals that there’s a problem in our hearts. People often get into debt because they worship the gods of materialism and pleasure. In Colossians 3:5, Paul says that “covetousness…is idolatry.”

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (12:2). Don’t live for present pleasures (and get into debt) like the world does. Be different.

Our hope doesn’t come from things or pleasures. Paul could say, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11). How? His hope was in Christ.


Love Your Neighbour as Yourself

Why do we always need to love others? “For [i.e., because] the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (v. 8). “The law” refers to the commands of God found in the Old Testament.

Jesus was once asked, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” What was his answer? He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Then he added, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:36-40).

So we could say that when we love, we are doing what God’s law requires. “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (v. 9).

Paul is dealing with our horizontal relationships (with one another), not our vertical relationship (with God). He’s saying that all of the commands that have to do with our relationships with others will be obeyed if we love our neighbour as ourselves. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (v. 10). (Who is our neighbour?)


How Do We Love?

What does it mean to love others? It means to love others as God has loved us.

Listen to Ephesians 5:1-2: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” Later in Ephesians, Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (5:25).

In Philippians 2:6, Paul describes Jesus as “being in very nature God” (NIV). He goes on to say that Jesus “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (v. 7) and that ended with him dying “on a cross” (v. 8). New Testament scholar D. A. Carson believes the verse 6 could be reworded to say that “because he was in very nature God,” Jesus died for us. Sacrifice isn’t just what God did; it’s who he is!

To love is to make a sacrifice for the good of others. Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Heaven's Citizens and Human Government

Part 5 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 13:1-7




Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God (v. 1). 


Submit to the Governing Authorities

When Christians come to this passage in Romans, more time is usually spent talking about what it doesn’t mean. But let’s start by talking about what it does mean.

The apostle Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (v. 1). Who are “the governing authorities”? The government—the people who make our laws.

Paul says, “Be subject [i.e., submit] to the governing authorities.” We might say, “But Paul didn’t know that Trudeau would be our Prime Minister!” Or Americans might say, “But Paul didn’t know that Trump would be our President!” That’s true, of course. But let’s talk about who was in power when Paul wrote these words.

Paul probably wrote his letter to the Romans in A.D. 57. Do you know who the Emperor of Rome was in A.D. 57. It was Nero. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather live under the rule of Trudeau or Trump than Nero!


Why?

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). Someone might say, “If I’m a citizen of heaven, then I don’t need to submit to ‘governing authorities.’” But Paul says, “You’re wrong. ‘Every person’ must submit to their governing authorities.

Why? Why should we “be subject to the governing authorities”? Paul gives two reasons. First, we should “be subject to the governing authorities” because God has appointed them. “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (v. 1b).

Daniel 4:17 says, “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” This was a lesson that King Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way.

The Roman governor Pilate said to Jesus, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” (John 19:10). How did Jesus reply? “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (v. 11).

Paul adds, “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (v. 2). If you refuse to pay your taxes, you’re resisting God!

Second, we should “be subject to the governing authorities” because they maintain order in society. “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (vv. 3-4a).

Do we submit to the governing authorities just to avoid punishment? No, we “must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience” (v. 5). We do it because it’s the right thing to do.


Always Obey?

Do we always have to obey the governing authorities? Paul says, “Be subject to the governing authorities.” To “be subject” (i.e., submit) is “to recognize one’s subordinate place in a hierarchy, to acknowledge as a general rule that certain people or institutions have ‘authority’ over us” (Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 797)  But this doesn’t mean that we should always obey people who are in authority over us.

Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s [i.e. taxes, etc.], and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). To God belongs our unqualified obedience. “If the state commands what God forbids, or if the state forbids what God commands, then civil disobedience is a Christian duty" (Timothy J. Keller, Romans 8-16 for You, p. 123). Peter said to the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).


Be Transformed

Let’s go back to 12:1-2. Paul says, “Present your bodies [i.e., yourselves] as a living sacrifice.” What’s our motivation? “The mercies of God.”

How does God want us to live? “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Be transformed by the gospel. Be different!

How should a Christian interact with a person with different political views? “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18).

[Read 1 Peter 2:13-17.] God “is more concerned with our humility and self-denial and trust in Christ, than he is about our civil liberties" (John Piper, "Subjection to God and Subjection to the State").

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Abnormal Love

Part 4 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 12:14-21




Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (v. 21). 


Following Jesus

[This sermon was preached in a baptism service.] Today we witnessed five baptisms. This church believes that baptism is to be preceded by faith in Jesus Christ. Acts 2:41 says, “Those who received [Peter’s] word [i.e., the gospel] were baptized.” First, faith, then baptism. The person being baptized is making it known that he or she is a follower of Jesus.

The decision to follow Jesus is a decision to live an abnormal life. Do you agree? Think about Jesus, the person you’re following. Was Jesus normal?


Love Your Enemies

The life of a follower of Jesus is to be characterized by love. Jesus showed us what love is. “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:2). Here’s a good definition of love: “Love is willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not require reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving” (Paul Tripp, What Did You Expect?, p. 188).

Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Matt. 5:46). That’s normal love. Jesus expects his followers to have abnormal love. [Read Matthew 5:38-47.] To most people, this kind of love doesn’t sound very appealing. Where do we get the desire to love others like this?

Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (v. 2). What we need is not behaviour medication. We need gospel transformation. The gospel should change the way we think and act. We should continually remind ourselves that we are sinners saved by grace. Are you more influenced by our culture or by the gospel?


Don't Seek Revenge

Paul writes, “Beloved never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (v. 19). This is what Jesus did: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:22-23). God will not allow evil to go unpunished. The cross shows us that God will not overlook sin.

Our hope should be that the person who has wronged us will repent of their sin. On the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). Paul writes, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head’” (v. 20). The last part of verse 20 is difficult to interpret, but the most popular interpretation is that it’s talking about the possibility that the person will feel ashamed and repent. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (v. 21).


We Live for God's Glory

What’s your response when you’re mistreated?

We don’t live for ourselves. We live for a higher purpose. We live for God’s glory. Paul told the Corinthians, “Why not rather suffer wrong?” (1 Cor. 6:7).

Think about what God has done for you. Jesus came to earth to be mistreated.

There is no greater way to show that we are the followers of Christ—and that the gospel has made a difference in our lives—than seeking the good of others even when they mistreat us.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Genuine Love

Part 3 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 12:9-13




Let love be genuine (v. 13a). 


Gospel Transformation

The apostle Paul writes, “Present your bodies [to God] as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). He is urging the believers in Rome to give their lives completely to God, to say, “Here’s my life, God. It’s yours.”

How do we get to the point where that’s our desire?

What we need in our lives is not behaviour modification. What we need gospel transformation. What or who you love affects what you do.

Paul makes his appeal “by the mercies of God” (v. 1). He’s saying, “Think about your sinfulness. Think about the mercy and grace of God. Think about the gospel.”

Paul says, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (v. 2). That’s how we’re transformed. It’s by thinking about the gospel more and loving God more. Then obedience becomes something we want to do.

So it’s not “I gotta be better.” It’s “I am so grateful for what God has done for me that I want to give my life to him.”


Living for the Applause

Paul writes, “Let love be genuine” (v. 13). These words really serve as a heading for what follows. Love is more than an emotion. Love shows up in what we do and say. We are to have the same kind of love that God has for us (i.e., a love that gives).

What’s the opposite of “genuine”? Fake. So Paul is saying, “Don’t appear to have love but actually have fake love.” What do we call this kind of person? A hypocrite. A hypocrite is like an actor who plays a part. An actor is usually very different from the character he/she plays.

Did Jesus encounter any hypocrites when he was on this earth? Yes. [Read Matthew 23:25-26.] It’s easy to be a hypocrite (e.g., being friendly to a person but then gossiping about that person).

A hypocrite lives for the applause. [Read Matthew 6:1-4.] Does God applaud the hypocrite? No. He’s not impressed. We are nothing if we don’t have genuine love. [Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.] 


How Are You Treating Christ?

How we treat the church is how we treat Christ. Do you believe that?

Do you remember what Jesus said to Paul (then Saul) on the way to Damascus? He said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). Saul’s persecution of the church was a persecution of Jesus himself.

And Jesus also said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it [i.e., an act of kindness] to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). Our kindness to our brothers and sisters in Christ is kindness to Christ himself.

How are you treating the church (i.e., your brothers and sisters in Christ)? We say that we love Jesus, but then we do what grieves him.

Remember that we were not loved by God because we were lovely. Genuine love comes from the heart—a heart transformed by the gospel.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Humbly Serve One Another

Part 2 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 12:3-8




For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned (v. 3). 


Gospel Transformation 

The gospel transforms lives.

How do we know if our life has been transformed by the gospel? Examine our relationships. Our relationships reveal the level of our gospel transformation.

Gospel transformation is to be lived out in community. 

We’re fooling ourselves if we think we’re can be good Christians while neglecting the command of Jesus to love others as he has loved us—even if we do lots of good things (e.g., read the Bible daily).


It Begins in the Mind

If I had to sum up verses 3-8 in one statement, it would be: Humbly serve one another. 

Humility and service are two things that don’t come naturally for us. So how do we get to the point where we humbly serve one another?

Paul writes, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (v. 2). When we change the way we think, we change the way we live.

We need to think about two things.

First, we need to think about what the gospel tells us about ourselves. 

Paul says, “By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (v. 3). In other words, be humble.

Most of us have an inflated opinion of ourselves. Even if we have low self-esteem about some areas of our lives, we still think too highly about ourselves in other areas of our lives. “I’m smarter than that person.” “I’m a better parent than that person.” “I know more about the Bible than that person.” 

What does the gospel tell us about ourselves? The gospel tells us that we are sinners and that we are saved only by God’s grace. Don’t think too highly about yourself!

And how were we saved? By Christ’s death on the cross. So the gospel also tells us that we are loved and valued by God. Don’t think too lowly about yourself!

Christ died for me, but he also died for that believer who’s hard for me to love. I need to remember that God doesn’t love and value that person less than he loves and values me.

Second, we need to think about the reason why we are members of the body of Christ. 

Paul writes, “For as in one body [i.e., our physical bodies] we have many members [i.e., parts], so we [i.e., the church], though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (vv. 4-5).

There is unity (one body) diversity (many members) in the church (just like in the human body).

And the members of the body of Christ are meant to serve one another (just like the parts of the human body serve one another): “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (v. 6).


Discerning the Body

In Paul’s instructions about the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34), we find “body” three times. In verses 24 and 27, “body” refers to the physical body of Christ. But I believe “body” in verse 29 refers to the church: “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

Paul writes, “There is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17). But what was happening in the church in Corinth? “When you come together as a church, I heard that there are divisions among you” (1 Cor. 11:18). They were tearing apart the body of Christ.

When we eat and drink during the Lord’s Supper, we are to remember two truths: (1) Christ died for us; (2) we are one body. We are to discern what God’s will is for the church. He wants us to be unified in love for God and love for one another.

Do we love God if we don’t love one another? Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Are we keeping his command to love another as he has loved us?

We won’t humbly serve one another unless we love one another.


Christ Is Our Example and Energy

Christ is the ultimate example of humble service. He declared, “Whoever would be first among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45).

Christ is also the energy for humble service. Why do we humbly serve one another? The thing that motivates us most should be our love for Christ. Do you love Christ? He also wants us to love his church.

Let’s examine ourselves to see if there are attitudes in our hearts that are hindering us from humbly serving one another.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The "Now What?" of the Gospel

Part 1 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 12:1-2




I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (v. 1). 


Now What?

Up to this point in his letter to the church in Rome, the apostle Paul has explained the gospel. And now in chapter 12, Paul gets to the “Now what?” of the gospel: we believe the gospel, now what?

We don’t forget the gospel and go on with our lives. What we believe about the gospel should make a big difference in our lives. 


A Living Sacrifice

Paul writes, “I appeal to you…brothers [and sisters]” (v. 1). He’s saying, “I urge you.” So what he’s about to say is very important.

He urges them, “Present your bodies [i.e., yourselves] as a living sacrifice” (v. 1).

What he’s saying is that we are to offer ourselves completely to God. “Here’s my life. It’s yours.” 

This kind of sacrifice is “living” (as opposed to the OT animal sacrifices), “holy” (i.e., “set apart”), and “acceptable [i.e., pleasing] to God” (v. 1).

This is not an optional second step of the Christian life.


The Mercies of God

“Therefore” (v. 1) points back to what Paul has previously written in this letter. He’s written about “the mercies of God” (v. 1).

Paul is saying, “Think about how good God has been to you. This about his mercy. Think about his grace. Think about how he has saved you.”

Is giving your life to God “as a living sacrifice” an easy thing to do? No. But it becomes easier when we remember what God has done for us.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:23-25).

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32).

What did we contribute to our salvation? What part did we play?

Imagine that I made a huge mess in our church building. And then a group of you came and cleaned up the mess, and I said, “Look at the great job we did!” You’d probably ask me, “What did you do?” And I would say, “I made the mess!”

What did part did you and I play in our salvation? We made the mess. We created the need for salvation. Still, God didn’t need to save us. In his mercy and grace, he chose to save us. How? By giving his own Son to die for us.

Do you believe that God loves you? Do you believe that he gave up his Son for your salvation? If you really believe these things about God, how can you refuse to give your life to him?


Live That Please God

Paul says that offering our lives to God is our “spiritual [logikos] worship” (v. 1). The KJV says “reasonable service.” Perhaps “reasonable” is the better translation of logikos. Douglas Moo prefers “informed” (Romans, p. 395). Our worship is to be informed (i.e., based on what we know about God and what he’s done for us).

Theology leads to doxology. But it shouldn’t end with praise. Theology also leads to obedience. Both praise and obedience are ways we worship. Worship is the way we live, not just what we do on Sunday morning.

God wants our hearts—seven days a week. This is the kind of worship that pleases God. This is the kind of worship God deserves.


Gospel Transformation

Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world” (v. 2). He’s saying, “Don’t act like everyone else.” Instead, we are to “be transformed” (v. 2). We are to be different. We are to act like Jesus.

How can we be transformed? “By the renewal of [our] mind[s]” (v. 2). All theology is practical. When we change the way we think, we change the way we live. 

Think about what Jesus has done for us. He declared, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). How would our lives change if we loved others as Jesus has loved us?

We’re fooling ourselves if we think we can be “good Christians” by doing good things but lacking love for others.

Offering ourselves to God is “the will of God” (v. 2) for our lives. And if we live this way, we will discover (“by testing you may discern,” v. 2) that God’s will is “good and acceptable [i.e., pleasing] and perfect” (v. 2). 

Some of the best things we ever do are also the most difficult things we ever do.


Don't Forget the Gospel!

Students, in frustration, often ask, “When am I ever going to use this (e.g., algebra) in my life?” Many of the things we learn in school don’t end up being very important to our lives.

But that’s not the case with the gospel! What we learn about the gospel never stops benefiting us.

When we initially accept the gospel, we don’t say, “That’s done. I’ve got my ticket to heaven. Now I can get on doing what I want to do.” No, we say, “Now what? God, here is my life. I give it to you. What do you want me to do?”

And that sacrifice is reasonable—it’s what we should do—when we remember what God has done for us.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Will You Believe?

Part 4 of No Greater Love

Text: John 20:30-31




Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (vv. 30-31). 


John's Purpose Statement

In verses 31, John reveals the reason why he wrote the Gospel of John: “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” So John’s purpose statement includes two goals:

  1. That people “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” 
  2. That “by believing [people] may have life in his name.” 
We need to make sure we understand correctly what John meant when he wrote the words “believe” and “life.”


Signs

John writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book” (v. 30). In the Gospel of John, the “signs” of Jesus are his “miracles.” The miracles Jesus did were signs. They showed that he was the Christ. (We say, “Give me a sign.”) In John 2, Jesus performed “the first of his signs”—turning water into wine—and “his disciples believed in him” (v. 11).

In his Gospel, John didn’t include everything Jesus ever said and did. If John had done that, the Gospel of John would have been a much bigger book! But John did include the miracle that—more than any other miracle—shows that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”: the resurrection.

John’s account of the resurrection ends with Thomas seeing the risen Jesus and confessing that Jesus is his “Lord” and his “God” (“My Lord and my God!,” v. 28; cf. 1:1, 14). Have we heard this so often that it’s lost its impact?


Believe

The first part of John’s purpose statement is that people “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” What does it mean to “believe” in Jesus? Is John talking about a belief that is intellectual? Or is he talking about a belief that is life-changing? It’s both. What you believe about Jesus will affect the course of your life.

To “believe” in Jesus is more than believing the truth about him; it also means having enough belief (i.e., confidence) in him to entrust him with our lives. 


Life

The second part of John’s purpose statement is that people “may have life in [Jesus’] name.” What kind of “life” is John talking about?

Is he talking about an easy life? Your best life now?

We should go back to 3:16, where belief in Jesus and life are also mentioned: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The life that John wants us to have is eternal life.

But we should also take a look at what Jesus says in the prayer found in John 17: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (v. 3). Eternal life is more than a quantity of life (i.e., life without end); it’s also a quality of life.


What Kind of Belief?

Does “believe” in 20:31 mean “come to believe” or “continue to believe”? The Gospel of John encourages both kinds of belief—initial belief and persevering belief.

John’s Gospel shows us that there’s no greater love than the love of Jesus.

Believe in him.

Continue to believe in him.

Believing Without Seeing

Part 3 of No Greater Love

Text: John 20:1-29




Jesus said to [Thomas], “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29). 


You Don't Need to See Jesus to Believe

Jesus says to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29).

People are often like Thomas: “Unless I see it with my own eyes, I won’t believe it.”

In John 20, there is one person who believes in the resurrection without seeing the risen Jesus. Who is this person?

It isn’t Thomas. Before Jesus appeared to Thomas, he says, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (v. 25).

It isn’t Mary Magdalene. Before Jesus appeared to Mary, she assumes that someone had taken the body of Jesus out of the tomb (vv. 2, 13).

It is John himself. Verse 8 says, “Then the other disciple [i.e., John], who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.”

You can believe in the resurrection without seeing the risen Jesus, but most people don’t believe without seeing something.

John saw something in the tomb that caused him to believe in the resurrection. What did he see?

John saw “the linen cloths lying [in the tomb], and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself” (vv. 6-7).

John realized that if someone had stolen the body of Jesus, the linen cloths would not have been left behind as they were. In that moment, he believed that the tomb was empty because Jesus had risen! 


Look at the Evidence

Most people need to see some evidence of the resurrection, before they believe. So let’s look at some of the evidence.

The majority of scholars—both Christian and non-Christian—accept the following statements as facts.

First, Jesus of Nazareth was a real person. There are people who claim that Jesus is a fictional person, but there are also people who believe that the moon landing was fake.

Second, Jesus was crucified. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that Christ “suffered the extreme penalty [i.e., crucifixion] during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.” [1]

Third, the tomb was empty. If the tomb of Jesus had not been empty, the story of his resurrection would have been easily disproved. The enemies didn’t dispute the fact that the tomb was empty. Instead they invented a lie to explain why the tomb was empty: “[Jesus’] disciples came by night and stole him away while [the guards] were asleep” (Matt. 28:3). [2]

Fourth, the followers of Jesus believed they had seen the risen Jesus. The followers of Jesus didn’t act like people who had stolen his body. They were willing to endure persecution and even martyrdom to spread the story of the resurrection. Liars make poor martyrs.

Fifth, a notorious enemy of Christianity was converted. The apostle Paul was once a persecutor of the church, but something changed the course of his life. Paul claimed that the risen Jesus had appeared to him (1 Cor. 15:8). Skeptics will argue that the disciples could have thought they saw the risen Jesus because they wanted to believe that he was alive. But the same can’t be said of Paul.

Yes, the story of the resurrection of a crucified man is an incredible story, but how do you explain these facts?

Also, the Gospel accounts have the ring of truth. Two details in the Gospel provide evidence that the resurrection isn’t a made-up story.

First, the first witnesses of the resurrection were women. “Not only is [the story of the resurrection] hard to accept, but culturally such a story from women would be viewed with suspicion.  [3] One of the main proofs that the resurrection story is credible is realization that the first-century church would never have created a story whose main first witnesses were women.” [4]

Second, the first skeptics of the resurrection were the disciples. Thomas wasn’t the only disciple who doubted. “If someone created the story of resurrection, would the apostles have been made to look so incredulous? The account’s honesty has an air of reality, which points to its truth.” [5]

If we’re like Thomas and say, “Unless I see the risen Jesus, I won’t believe,” then how can we believe in any historical event prior to the invention of the camera?


Why Are You Weeping?

Twice Mary Magdalene is asked, “Why are you weeping?” (vv. 13, 15).

She was weeping because the tomb was empty. The body of Jesus was gone.

But the body of Jesus wasn’t gone because someone had taken it. The body of Jesus was gone because he was risen!

In this life, we do weep. There is pain, sorrow, and death. But there’s also hope. There’s hope because of the empty tomb.

Do you have this hope?

If you don’t, receive it through faith in Jesus.

If you do, live like it!

____________________

[1] Tacitus, Annals 15.44 (c. A.D. 115).
[2] In the second century, Justin Martyr wrote that this lie was still being circulated in his day (Dialogue with Trypho).
[3] The apostles didn’t accept the women’s testimony: “these words seemed to them an idle tale [i.e., nonsense], and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11).
[4] Darrell L. Bock, Luke, 607.
[5] Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, 1899.

It Is Finished!

Part 2 of No Greater Love

Text: John 19:28-30




When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (v. 30). 


What Was Finished?

Just before Jesus died, he cried out, “It is finished”! (v. 30). What was finished? 

After Jesus said, “It is finished,” he “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (v. 30). Was Jesus saying that his life was finished?

No, what Jesus really meant was that his work was finished (“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished…”, v. 28). He was saying, “Mission accomplished!” His mission was to suffer and die for the sins of the world.


Thirsting to Complete His Mission

Before Jesus said, “It is finished,” he said, “I thirst” (v. 28). Why does John tell us this?

First, he wanted to emphasize the humanity of Jesus.

Second, he wanted to portray Jesus as the innocent sufferer. “I thirst” connects the suffering of Jesus to Psalm 69: “For my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink” (v. 21).

Third, I also think that there might be a connection between “I thirst” and “It is finished.”

Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me [i.e., the Father] and to accomplish his work” (4:34). To hunger or thirst for something means to desire that thing. You could say, “I thirst for a cold drink.” Or you could say, “I thirst for righteousness” (cf. Matt. 5:6).

The number one desire of Jesus was to “accomplish” the work the Father had sent him to do. And when that work was finished, he said, “I thirst.” He had completed his mission, and now he could drink.


The Work Is Already Done

Many people think that Christianity is about doing lots of good things in order to gain acceptance with God. If that’s true, why was the cross necessary?

Jesus died on the cross to do everything that needed to be done to make salvation possible for us. Everything has been done. “It is finished”


He Gave Up His Life

Jesus “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (v. 30). “Gave up” indicates that the death of Jesus was voluntary. He had declared, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).

There is no greater love than the love of Jesus. “Love so amazing, so divine, / Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Who Was Responsible for the Crucifixion of Jesus?

Part 1 of No Greater Love

Text: John 19:1-16a




So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” (vv. 5-6a). 


Who Was Responsible?

If you do a Google search for “who was responsible for,” you’ll discover that people want to know who was responsible for various tragic events (e.g., responsibility for the September 11 attacks). 

Sometimes the answer isn’t completely clear (e.g., responsibility for World War I).

What about the crucifixion of Jesus? Who was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus? 


If They Had Only Known

Before we attempt to answer the question about who was responsible for the crucifixion, we should take some time to consider the flogging and mockery of Jesus by the Roman soldiers. Even before the crucifixion, he suffered greatly.
  • Jesus was “flogged” (v. 1). Sometimes the flogging was so severe that the victim’s entrails or bones became visible. What’s amazing is that some people thought that the flogging “was merciful because it so weakened the prisoner as to hasten his death on the cross.” [1] This speaks volumes about the awfulness of crucifixion. 
  • The Roman soldiers put a “crown of thorns” on his head (v. 2). They were making fun of the idea that this Jesus of Nazareth could be a king. 
  • They dressed him in “a purple robe” (v. 2). 
  • They said: “Hail, King of the Jews!” (v. 3). They were pretending to address him as the Roman Emperor: “Hail, Caesar!” 
  • They “struck him with their hands” (v. 3). 
If only those soldiers had known the true identity of Jesus!

Pilate made two statements about Jesus: “Behold the man!” (v. 5) and “Behold your King!” (v. 14). I think Pilate might have said these things to try to gain sympathy for Jesus (i.e., this man is no threat to anyone). What Pilate didn’t know was the Jesus is the man—God “made flesh” (John 1:14), the King of kings!

Perhaps these two statements that begin with “Behold” are meant to point us back to what John the Baptist said about Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29; cf. 36). Like one of the sacrificial lambs, Jesus would die for the sins of humanity.


What About Us?

Let’s get back to the question: Who was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus?
  • Was Pilate responsible? Pilate believed that Jesus wasn’t guilty of any crime: “I find no guilt in him” (vv. 4-6). But, in the end, he handed him over to be crucified (v. 16). Why? It was because of fear. Doing the right thing would have hurt him politically: “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend” (v. 12). 
  • Was Judas responsible? Judas betrayed Jesus and delivered him into the hands of his enemies. Why? Maybe because of greed, though thirty pieces of silver wasn’t a life-changing amount of money. 
  • Was Caiaphas responsible? Jesus had said to Pilate, “He who delivered me over to you has the greater sin” (v. 11). He was probably talking about Caiaphas. He was the Jewish high priest, the head of the Sanhedrin. He and several other Jewish leaders were the ones who demanded that Jesus be crucified: “Crucify him, crucify him!” (v. 6). Why? Because of hatred. 
  • What about us? John Stott writes, “Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us…, we have to see it as something done by us….” [1] Jesus was crucified because of our sin. 

But There's More 

But we still haven’t completely answered the question  about the responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus? [Read Isaiah 53:3-7, 10a.] Jesus was crucified because it was the plan of the Father. “It was the will of the LORD to crush him” (Isa. 53:10).
  • “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). 
  • “Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28). 
  • “God so love the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). 
  • “He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). 
But Jesus wasn’t forced to die. Jesus was crucified because he laid down his life.
  • “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18; cf. v. 11). 
  • “Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?’” (John 18:11).
  • “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He laid down his life not only for us but also because of us. 
When we consider who he really is and what he did for us, how can we say no to Jesus?

____________________

[1] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (vol. 2), p. 1119.
[2] John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 63.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Theology and Doxology

Part 7 of Questioning God

Text: Romans 11:25-36




Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (v. 33). 


THE SALVATION OF ISRAEL 

Paul has an intense desire that Israel be saved.
  • “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen, according to the flesh” (9:1-3). 
  • “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (10:1). 

In verse 25, Paul brings up a “mystery” about Israel: “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers…” (v. 25). In the NT, a “mystery” is truth that has previously been hidden but now revealed. So what’s this mystery? The mystery is this: “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. [1] And in this way all Israel will be saved” (vv. 25-26).
  • Who will be saved? The context makes it clear—in my opinion—that “all Israel” refers to the nation of Israel (as opposed to the “remnant”). Does “all Israel” mean every single Jew? No, but it does mean the majority of Jews. 
  • How will they be saved? Israel will be saved the same way everyone else is saved. There aren’t different ways to be saved. Jesus declared, “I am the way” (John 14:6). The apostle Peter said, “There is salvation in no one else” (Acts 4:12). 
  • When will they be saved? Israel will be saved around the time of the second coming. “The Deliverer [i.e., Jesus] will come from Zion [2] [i.e., heaven], he will banish ungodliness from Jacob [i.e., Israel]” (v. 26; cf. Isa. 59:20-21). 

Is it really possible that “all Israel will be saved”? Doesn’t that seem unlikely? It does seem unlikely, but is it less likely than the resurrection of Jesus or his second coming? If we believe Jesus rose from the dead and that he is coming again, then we can believe that Israel will be saved.

Why does Paul use the word “now” in verse 32? “So they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.” If Israel will not be saved until around the time of the second coming, why does Paul say they “now receive mercy”? “The best explanation is that Paul wants to emphasize the imminence of Israel’s salvation. As the next item on the agenda of God’s plan, the return of Christ and the conversion of Israel can take place at any time.” [3]

What about “all” in verse 32? It means “all” without distinction—in other words, all kinds of people—not “all” without exception. This verse is not teaching universalism—the belief that everyone will eventually be saved.


DOXOLOGY 

[Read verses 33-36.] Is Paul expressing frustration in these verses? It’s true that there’s so much about God that we don’t understand: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9).

Paul is not filled with frustration because of what he doesn’t know about God; he’s filled with praise because of what he does know about God. We can’t understand everything about God, but what we can understand should cause us to be amazed!

It’s not completely clear in the original Greek if Paul is referring to three or two of God’s attributes in verse 33. The ESV says, “Oh, the depth of the riches [i.e., riches of God’s kindness] and wisdom and knowledge of God!” The NIV says, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” If the three-attribute translation is correct, then each of the three rhetorical questions in verses 34 and 35 can be seen as corresponding to one of these attributes.
  • Since God is infinite in knowledge, “who has known the mind of the Lord”? 
  • Since God is infinite in wisdom, “who has been his counselor”? 
  • Since God is infinite in riches, “who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid”? 

From him and through him and to him are all things” (v. 36). “God is the creator, sustainer and heir of everything, its source, means and goal.” [4]

Theology (our belief about God) and doxology (our worship of God) should never be separated. “To him be glory forever. Amen” (v. 36).
  • There should be no worship that is without truth. 
  • There should be no teaching or study of truth without worship. 

Learning about God should always lead to worship of God.

____________________

[1] “God has determined the number of Gentiles to be saved. Once that number is reached, Israel’s hardening comes to an end” (Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 377).
[2] Isaiah 59:20 actually says, “And a Redeemer will come to Zion.” “Zion” in this verse refers to Jerusalem. Jesus will come “from Zion”—the heavenly Jerusalem (see Heb. 12:22)—“to Zion”—the earthly Jerusalem.
[3] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 381.
[4] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 311.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Don't Distort the Grace of God!

Part 6 of Questioning God

Text: Romans 11:11-24




Note then the kindness and severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off (v. 22). 


SO WHAT? 

Romans 9-11 is about Israel. You might be wondering, “What does this have to do with us?” It actually has a lot to do with us!
  • If God has broken his promises to Israel, how can we trust God’s promises (e.g., the promises in Romans 8) to us (i.e., the church)? In Romans 9-11, Paul argues that “the word of God has failed” (9:6). God has not broken his promises to Israel, and he will not break his promises to us. 
  • In Romans 11, Paul warns that we could be “cut off” (v. 22) from “the olive tree” (v. 17)—a metaphor for the people of God—if we don’t continue believing. How should we understand this warning? 

KEEP THE FAITH! 

In verse 13, Paul speaks directly to Gentiles. The church in Rome was comprised of both Gentiles and Jews, and there was probably tension between the two groups. The Gentile believers needed to be careful about not having a distorted view of grace.
  • Grace doesn’t give us a reason to be arrogant about our salvation (vv. 17-20). 
  • Grace doesn’t give us a reason to be presumptuous about our salvation (vv. 21-23). 
Is the warning of verse 22 a pretend warning? No. Is there a contradiction between this warning and the promises concerning the eternal security of believers? No.

Part of the answer is that some people appear to be believers, but later reveal their true nature. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plan that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).

The Bible teaches both the preservation of the believer and perseverance of the believer. “God infallibly saves, but we are fully responsible to respond to his grace in such a way that that infallible salvation does finally transpire” (Douglas J. Moo, Romans, 375).
  • “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12b-13). 
  • “…if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heart” (Col. 1:23a). 
  • “For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labour would be in vain” (1 Thess. 3:5).

Monday, March 18, 2019

Let Grace Be Grace!

Part 5 of Questioning God

Text: Romans 11:1-10




So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace (vv. 5-6). 


LET A COOKIE BE A COOKIE!

Sometimes my wife tries to make cookies with healthier ingredients. But how much can you change a cookie and it still be a cookie? To me, a cookie is supposed to be sweet. I say, “Let a cookie be a cookie!”

What a cookie is or isn’t is subjective. But to the apostle Paul, what grace is and isn’t is black and white. And the meaning of “grace” is incredibly important because over and over again in his letter to the Romans, Paul states that we are saved by grace.

If we are saved by grace, that means salvation is a gift. It’s undeserved. We aren’t saved by God’s grace plus our works. You can’t add works to grace, “otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (v. 6). Paul is saying, “Let grace be grace!”

How does the concept of grace make you feel? Should anyone—regardless of what they’ve done—be saved by grace? Does salvation by grace lead to a passive Christian life?


CHOSEN BY GRACE 

In chapter 10, Paul says that the Jews of his day had heard and understood the gospel, but most of them had rejected it. Now in chapter 11, Paul brings up the question “Has God rejected [i.e., given up on] his people [i.e., the Jews]?” (v. 1).

Paul’s answer is “No!” He says, “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew” (v. 2). [1] To “foreknow” is to “chose ahead of time.” [2] Here Paul is talking about group election (i.e., election of the nation as a whole), not individual election.
“The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the faith of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all people, but it is because the Lord loves you” (Deut. 7:6-8). 
In Paul’s day, even though most Jews had rejected the gospel, there was a “remnant” within Israel that was saved. Paul writes, “At the present time there is a remnant” (v. 5)
  • There was a remnant in Paul’s day. Paul says, “I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (v. 1). 
  • There was also remnant in Elijah’s day. Elijah thought he was the only follower of God left in Israel, but God said to him, “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (v. 4; cf. 1 Kings 19:1-18). 
Paul says that the remnant in his day was “chosen by grace” (v. 5). This is individual election. They were not chosen “on the basis of works” (v. 6). If works had anything to do with it then “grace would no longer be grace” (v. 6).

Paul writes, “Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking” (v. 7). What was Israel seeking? The Jews were seeking justification (i.e., the acceptance of God). Paul says, “The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened” (v. 7).


RESISTANCE TO GRACE 

Many people have a resistance to the concept of grace. We want to say, “I earned that.” Or, “I had a part in that.” That’s pride.

And to many religious, self-righteous people, it’s offensive that God would save “bad” people.

To accept the gospel requires humility. It requires us to admit, “There’s nothing I can do to make me acceptable in God’s sight.”


WHAT GRACE DOES 

Does grace lead to a passive life? If we’re saved by grace, can’t we say, “I’m saved by grace, so it doesn’t matter what I do”?

Think about Paul’s life. He says, “I am … unworthy to be an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 15:9). He realized that he was completely undeserving of salvation: “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (v. 10).

How did grace affect Paul’s post-conversion life? He says, “[God’s] grace was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of [the other apostles], though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (v. 10).
____________________

[1] In the OT, “know” refers to something more than intellectual knowledge. In Amos 3:2, God says to Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” And in Genesis 4:1, we read, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived.”
[2] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 354.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Can Anyone Be Saved?

Part 4 of Questioning God

Text: Romans 10:5-21




For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved?” (vv. 11-13). 


WHO CAN BE SAVED?

We have no greater need than the need to be saved.

Can only the elect be saved? Or can anyone be saved?

Yes. Only the elect can be saved, and anyone can be saved.


SALVATION IS ATTAINABLE BY FAITH 

Paul says there are two kinds of righteousness (i.e., two ways to pursue justification): (1) “the righteousness that is based on the law [i.e., obeying the OT commands]” (v. 5) and (2) “the righteousness based on faith [i.e., believing the gospel]” (v. 6).

There’s a contrast here between the law and the gospel.
  • The law is about doing (which basically sums up every religion other than Christianity). Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5: “the person who does the commandments shall live [1] by them” (v. 5). 
  • The gospel is about believing. [2]
In verses 6-10, Paul explains that “the righteousness based on faith” is attainable. Here he goes back to the book of Deuteronomy. [3]
  • The phrase “Do not say in your heart” (v. 6) is from Deuteronomy 9:4. The full verse says, “Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land.’” This fits very well with what Paul has been saying about justification in Romans: I am not justified because of my righteousness
  • The rest of the quotes are from Deuteronomy 30. [Read Deuteronomy 30:11-14.] The people of Israel didn’t need to ascend into heaven or descend into the sea/abyss to get God’s law. God gave it to them. [4] And we don’t need to ascend into heaven “to bring Christ down” (v. 6) or descend into the abyss “to bring Christ up from the dead” (v. 7). God has already brought Christ down from heaven (i.e., the incarnation) and brought him up from the dead (i.e., the resurrection). 
  • Paul uses the words “mouth” and “heart” (found in Deuteronomy 30:14) to explain how a person can be saved: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (v. 9). [5]
“The word of faith” (v. 8) [6]—the message that we must believe in order to be saved—consists of two parts: (1) “Jesus is Lord” (who he is) and (2) “God raised him from the dead” (what he’s done). 


SALVATION IS AVAILABLE TO ANYONE 

Who can put his or her faith in Christ and be saved? Paul says “everyone”! He quotes two OT verses to make this point:
  • Isaiah 28:16: “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame [i.e., condemned]” (v. 12). 
  • Joel 2:32: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v. 13). In Romans 10, “the LORD” is Jesus.” In Joel 2:32, “the Lord” is Yahweh. When the early Christians declared Jesus to be Lord, they were saying that Jesus is God. 
Many people believe that 1:16 is the key verse in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek [i.e., Gentile].”


THE GOSPEL NEEDS TO BE HEARD AND UNDERSTOOD 

In verses 14-21, Paul writes that the gospel needs to be heard and understood. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (v. 17).

Did the Jews have an excuse for not being saved? No.
  • “Have they not heard?” (v. 18). Yes, they had heard.
  • “Did Israel not understand?” (v. 19). Yes, they did understand. The Gentiles were believing, so the Jews had not excuse. 

WHAT NOW? 

This passage tells us that we need to do two things.
  1. We must believe the gospel. 
  2. We must communicate the gospel. (Notice the great concern Paul has for the unsaved Jews in Romans 9-11.) [7]
____________________

[1]“Live” doesn’t mean “gain eternal life.” It means enjoying the kind of life God wants us to live.
[2] When we get to Romans 12, we will see that believing leads to doing.
[3] Romans 10, we find several OT quotations. Paul often quotes the OT in very creative ways—sometimes in such an unusual or unexpected way so that he’s accused of misapplying the OT. Paul’s quotations from Deuteronomy 30 are especially difficult to understand because Deuteronomy 30 is about the law, not the gospel.
[4] We shouldn’t think that the law was a bad thing. It was a gift from God to Israel, and God doesn’t give bad gifts. But the law wasn’t intended to justify a person (i.e., make a person perfectly righteous). A lawnmower is a good thing, but you don’t expect it to wash your car! That’s not a lawnmower’s intended purpose.
[5] Paul isn’t saying that verbal confession is a requirement for salvation in addition to faith.
[6] Paul also calls this “the gospel” (v. 16) and “the word of Christ” (v. 17).
[7] Before we communicate the gospel, we must pray. “Notice that because Paul believes the truth about God, and because he cares about those around him, he prays. Our prayer lives— whether we pray, and what we pray— tend to reveal what truly lies in our heads and hearts” (Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 for You, p. 65).

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

How Do I Know if I'm One of God's Elect?

Part 3 of Questioning God

Text: Romans 9:24-10:4




For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (10:4). 


ARE YOU ONE OF GOD’S ELECT? 

In Romans 9-11, the apostle Paul brings up the subject of divine election—a subject that today often leads to arguments among Christians. Divine election is the biblical doctrine that God, in eternity past, chose who would be saved.

My view on divine election is that it’s unconditional (i.e., not based on God knowing who would believe). What the Bible says about divine election and human freedom (i.e., our ability to make real choices) appears to be a contradiction. It’s a paradox.
  • Before creation God chose who would be saved. (Those whom God has chosen to save are “the elect.”) 
  • God word promises that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). 
People often wonder, How do I know if I’m one of God’s elect? It’s an important question!


VESSELS OF MERCY 

Paul describes those whom God has chosen to save as “vessels of mercy, which [God] beforehand prepared for glory” (9:23). The “vessels of mercy” include both Jews and Gentiles: “even us [i.e., Paul and the believers in Rome] whom [God] has called [i.e., called to salvation], not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles” (v. 24).

Then Paul fires off a series of OT quotations that speak of God showing mercy to both Jews and Gentiles.
  • “As indeed [God] says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people [i.e., the Gentiles] I will call “my people,” and her who was not beloved I will call “beloved.”’ ‘And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” there they will be called “sons of the living God”’ (vv. 25-26; cf. Hos. 1:10; 2:23). [1]
  • “And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay’” (vv. 27-28; cf. Isa. 10:22-23). 
  • “And as Isaiah predicted, ‘If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah’” (v. 29; cf. Isa. 1:9). If it wasn’t for God’s mercy, all of Israel would have been destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 17). 

CHRIST IS THE END OF THE LAW 

In verses 30-33, Paul presents an irony: The Gentiles, who weren’t seeking righteousness (i.e., justification) had found it, and the Jews, who were seeking righteousness, had missed it. Why? Paul writes, “Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works” (v. 32). The Jews had “stumbled over the stumbling stone” (v. 32).

The “stumbling stone” is Christ. Paul quotes Isaiah 28:6: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (v. 33). Because they were pursuing righteousness by works (i.e., obedience to the law), they didn’t see their need to trust in Christ.

“Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (v. 4). What does Paul mean when he says that Christ is “the end of the law”?
  • “End” could mean “termination” (though we still have commands—“the law of Christ”—that we are to obey). 
  • “End” could mean “goal.” Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). 
  • It could be that both meanings are included in the word “end.” (My view.)
We could think of the “end” as being the finish line. Christ is the finish line. Everything in the OT points to him and our need of salvation. The Jews though thought that the finish line was the law. 

Paul has given two reasons why the majority of Jews in his day were not saved. 
  1. God had not chosen them to be saved (divine election). 
  2. They had rejected Christ (human freedom). 

HOW DO I KNOW? 

The apostle Peter writes, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10). 
  • Make sure your trust is in Christ. Everyone who is justified will be glorified (Rom. 8:30). It’s not “Can I be justified?”; it’s “Will I be justified?” 
  • Show evidence of a changed heart.