Hell-fire & Brimstone

Camel hair, wild honey, Hell-fire and brimstone…If you’re reading this post then you know exactly who I’m referencing; John the Baptist.

Pastor’s today, including me, could (and should) learn a lot from this wilderness preacher. Granted, his office and calling are different than ours given that his coming was prophesied of hundreds of years in advance, his conception was miraculous, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth but it is from his ministry and preaching that we can learn and grow.

One Hit Wonder

John had one message, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mt. 3:2). It’s not that this is the only line he preached but that this was the central message every time he addressed the crowds. This was John’s task “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Lk 1:17). This was it…He had no other material; like Deep Blue Something singing “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, John only had one tool in his tool-belt.

But did you notice that the people flocked to John?

One Offensive Preacher

We don’t really have much, by design, about exactly what John said when he preached but what we do have wouldn’t fit very well into the “Church Growth Model”, the “Seeker Sensitive Model”, or a “Felt Needs” emphasis. He didn’t mince words or try to be crafty, indirect, or politically correct. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you of the wrath to come” (Lk. 3:7)? is not exactly the “Softly and Tenderly” approach we most often see today.

But did you notice that the people flocked to John?

One Pointed Preacher

John’s preaching was personal. He addressed not only specific people groups and occupations but specific sins that needed to go. John’s preaching was political. He addressed the rulers of his day and called them to repentance, publicly, for their specific sins (without fear of losing his 501c3). And John’s message was always pointed at holiness.

First, his preaching was pointed at the Holy One, himself, Jesus Christ. From “I am not worthy to untie” (Lk. 3:16) his sandals to “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). John was not concerned with how he was viewed in the public eye but that his hearers knew who the Christ was and that He alone could save them.

Second, his preaching was pointed at personal holiness as the evidence of regeneration. In short, if repentance from sin meant that your life would be marked by godliness, holiness, or Christ-likeness as we might say today, then if that was missing John warned clearly of the “unquenchable fire” that awaited you. Apart from a life marked by holiness, there was no evidence of salvation and it was not words that would convince John but your walk.

But did you notice that people flocked to John?

Our Pulpits Today

Why did people flock to John? Plainly, because they can have their ears tickled anywhere, and they actually do everywhere. Inherently, humanity knows we need to make right the wrongs, serve up justice, and that we’re going to be judged by God. People can have their ears tickled during TV commercials, what they need is to know the Truth; and we know it!

In spite of John’s singular message, as offensive as it was, and as unpopular as it was to those who were not concerned with living for YHWH, it was effective! It was effective! It was effective!

The message of the Gospel is a one hit wonder, it is an offensive message, it is personal, & it, always and only, points one to Christ with the assured result of holiness. The Gospel is the power of God to salvation…I think I’ve read that somewhere.

Our pulpits don’t need new and exciting, fresh and relevant, contemporary additions to draw in the new age. Our pulpits need the Gospel; unadulterated, unfiltered, strong, and without apology.

May we, pastors and laity alike, be found by God to be more like John, committed to the One who gave us the message and unconcerned with making the message palatable for those who need that same message that saved us!

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The Response of Grateful Hearts

At Eldred Baptist Church, we preach expositionally and since we started a new series preaching through Luke/Acts that means we are currently finishing the birth narratives of the forerunner, John the Baptist, and the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. Since March of this year, our congregation has been engulfed in the revelation of the Sovereign’s Intervention in the lives of His creation with the purpose of lavishing us with His grace.

There have been several theme’s that God has woven through the first two chapters of Luke but one has been a constant and borne fruit unexpected in our little country church, the fruit of joy.

We saw it first in Luke’s purpose of writing to Theophilus (1:3, 4). Next, in Gabriel’s proclamation to Zechariah (1:13), then, subsequently, in Elizabeth’s response to her conception of the Baptist (1:25). Joy manifested itself again in the womb of Elizabeth as the yet unborn Baptist leapt at the sound of Mary’s voice, surely in response to the Spirit’s revelation of the presence of his Savior in utero (1:41 & 44). Joy, again, exudes from the young, teenage virgin in Mary’s Magnificat (1:46-47). And in fulfillment of prophecy, Zechariah & Elizabeth’s family & friends rejoiced when the Lord blessed them with John (1:58) and Zechariah, now relieved of God’s curse from his disbelief overflows, blessing God from a joyful heart concerning the soon arrival of God’s Salvation and his newborn son’s involvement in the redemptive plan of God (1:64-79).

And all this joy comes before the Christ was born…

In chapter two, everyone, natural & supernatural beings alike, respond in joyful adoration of the arrival of God the Son; the angelic messenger to shepherds (2:10), the multitude of the heavenly hosts (2:14), the shepherds upon their arrival (2:16-20), Mary & Joseph (2:18-19), Simeon, Anna, and “all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (2:25-38).

I don’t know if you’re keeping count or not but that’s twelve obvious, joy-filled responses to either the news of Christ’s Advent or the Advent of the Christ! Clearly, the response of those who are filled with gratefulness concerning the Christ is joy; unmistakable, uncontainable, unfiltered, joy. And shouldn’t it be?

I mentioned that this series has borne some unexpected fruit earlier. Let me explain.

This theme of God’s people responding in joy as He reveals Himself has become contagious. Launching from the opening line of Mary’s Magnificat, EBC has begun a monthly “Testimony of Praise” that is presented by covenanted member during the worship service on the second Sunday of each month. For three months now, a member has come forward to present a testimony of praise to God for who He is and what He’s been doing in & through their lives.

This has become a Sunday that I, as well as others, are enthusiastically looking forward to. We’ve heard of God’s graciousness in bringing reconciliation to a marriage after they both were saved. We’ve heard of His goodness in restoring brokenness in families separated by years of the scars left behind by sin, supernatural peace amidst trials and anxiousness, a trust in His promises because He is ever-faithful and unchanging, supernatural growth in holiness through ordinary means long neglected, a new-found hunger and thirst for more of God and more personal holiness, and so much more. Truly, my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior as I hear of His faithfulness in this covenanted community’s life. Praise God!

In God’s grace, through the exposition of His Word, He has revealed to this little church another ordinary mean of grace that is overflowing our already full hearts! Let me challenge you, Pastors/Elders, to disciple your congregation to fill in these blanks—“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has _______________  ____________  ______________…” and then ask them to share God’s praise with Christ’s Church; He is worthy!

Your people will be edified, your speaker will be sanctified, & God will be glorified!

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:20-21).

Arrows in the Hand of a Warrior

Today is a special day. Fifteen years ago today, God blessed my wife Angie and I with our second child and only son. I was twenty-four years stupid (praise God for His forgiveness and patience) and the blessing that I had received had not yet become a reality to me. I had no idea the joys of fatherhood, the challenges of fatherhood, or the sanctification that God works through fatherhood. The Psalmist knew this well when he wrote, “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…” (Psalm 127:3-5).

The Joys of Fatherhood

It has been my joy to watch God grow our children into young adults who love & serve Him. There is no greater joy than to know that, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, God has saved our children and now they are “walking in truth, just as we were commanded by the Father” (2 John 4).

But their relationship with Christ is not the only joy; as a matter of fact, that may the greatest joy but there are almost innumerable others. For instance, the joy of their absolute, unconditional, overwhelming affection for their parents is, indeed, a heart-filler! I remember, so vividly, the smiles from ear-to-ear when I would return home from work, the wrestling on the living room floor with their disregard for their own safety as they would jump from anything, and any height, so long as they could land on daddy, and the cuddling as we read together, or watched movies together, and on, and on, and on. One of the greatest joys I’ve ever known is being daddy. Truly, “children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.”

The Challenges of Fatherhood

I don’t know that I’ve ever done anything or been given a title that has been as challenging as being a father. Chip Ingram said, “Your most exhilarating joys and agonizing sorrows will likely come from the same source…your children. As parents we understand that raising children is a high stakes adventure.” God has entrusted to parents the life and welfare of another human being and no one in your child’s life will have as great or lasting of an impact as you, even an eternal one. God is clear as to a parent’s task when he clearly expresses that what He wants from your union with your wife is “godly offspring” (Malachi 2:15). What a task! Who is capable of such a feat on their own?

The Psalmist likens our children to “arrows in a quiver.” Let’s explore that word picture. Arrows are crafted intentionally and precisely. Today’s arrows are crafted from carbon-fiber and weighed down to the grains-per-inch (that’s 1grain=1/7000 of one pound); that’s precision. But why; why are manufacturers so precise? Because those arrows are crafted with a purpose, to hit their mark every time they are released from the hand of the archer. Hasn’t God given us our children for the same purpose? Aren’t we, through the Word and by the Spirit, to intentionally and precisely mold and shape our children in preparation for their release?

In the not so recent past I was reminded by good friends of ours that we are raising our kids for Heaven, not Harvard. The world may claim that “success” is defined by what sports team, college, employment, or paycheck our children end up with but God is concerned with who their heart belongs to and that our children lay up treasure in Heaven where moth and rust do not destroy (Mattew 6:19-20). Our objective as parents is to produce “godly offspring” and the mechanism by which we do that is clearly laid out for us in Deuteronomy 6:4-9; I encourage you to stop reading this blog and read God’s instructions for how to intentionally and precisely craft your arrows for release.

The Sanctification that Comes from Fatherhood

Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage, said this concerning marriage but I believe it applies to parenting as well: “Any situation that calls me to confront my selfishness has enormous spiritual value…What marriage has done for me is hold up a mirror to my sin. It forces me to face myself honestly and consider my character flaws, selfishness, and anti-Christian attitudes, encouraging me to be sanctified and cleansed, and grow in godliness.” This is true for marriage and I believe it is true for parenting. Let me explain.

It’s not just your child’s unwavering faith that God uses to convict us of our own lack of faith (Matthew 18:3) but they are also the mirror reflecting to the world who you really are instead of who you want the world to believe you are (by “you” I mean “me”).  You see, children are little “mini-me’s.” Do you remember that mid-90’s comedy that had the “mini-me?” Mini-me dressed like his “father”, carried the same mannerisms, pursued the same goals, and basically mimicked his “father’s” every move. Our children are the same, really. I have seen my love for Christ come through in my children and for that I’m grateful but I’ve also see my sin manifest itself through them as well. God, in His grace, shows me who I am and how I sound and what I portray to the world when I see some of my “bad-habits” surface in my children. God uses my children to show me my sin, convict me of my guilt, and then leads me to confession and repentance both with Him and with them. God uses my “mini-me’s” to sanctify me so that I become more like His “Mini-me”, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:3). The Father makes me more like Christ through the blessing of being a father myself; what a privilege and blessing my children are!

Today, July 10th 2018, is not only my son’s birthday but it is also the day before he and I depart for Peru where we will, Lord willing, teach and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, together. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name” (Luke 1:46-49). I am blessed and although my quiver may not be “full” my heart is! Today is a special day. Thank you Jesus!

Happy birthday, son. I love you more than you’ll ever know until the Lord makes you a daddy too!

The Magnificat

Mary’s song of praise is typically a passage read, studied, and preached during the Advent season. However, for those who are committed to expositional preaching the Magnificat is glorious trove to be mined in the course of preaching Luke, regardless of the time of year. In it we find invaluable nuggets of timeless Truth concerning the nature and character of God, the soul’s response when God’s glory is revealed, and even a panoramic presentation of historical redemption. Mary, I believe, deposits a model of praise for believers in all times as she identifies the Person of her praise and fills the air God-honoring exaltation.

The Person of Mary’s Praise

Mary’s heart erupts in elation toward the One in whom she trusts, namely, the Lord God her Savior. As a young Jewish girl, Mary clearly knew the Scriptures and recognized that she not only needed a Savior to redeem her but also that the only Deliverer who could ever accomplish such a task would be none other than Yahweh, Himself. God identifies Himself, in Isaiah 43, as Yahweh, the only God, Israel’s Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the Creator, their King, and the only Savior.

After having received the overwhelming news from God’s messenger, Gabriel, that she would be carrying the Messiah, the Redeemer, the One who “would save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), Mary’s heart burst with joy, adoration, and praise toward the One who was fulfilling what was promised to her people. Notice that the focal point of Mary’s praise was directed to where it belongs, upon God alone. In the ESV the phrase “he has” is either clearly stated or directly implied nine times in six verses. Mary sought no attention for herself, no honor for her role, nor did she see herself as anything other than a recipient of the grace of God as a vessel to accomplish His plan of salvation.

The Person of Mary’s praise was none other than the One, True, Living God, the Only God, the Savior of Mankind. The God of Heaven came to man, taking on flesh & infirmities; the Omnipotent Creator was a defenseless baby, in utero, dependent for sustenance upon this teenage girl who carried Him & praised Him for His coming salvation.

Believers today would find themselves in great company if our praise were to focus on God alone. But that is not always the case.

Too often, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is an add-on to our busy conversations that center around us, our feelings, and our responses to the Gospel. Clearly, everyone responds to the Gospel and I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water but wouldn’t our praise be more appropriate if there was less conversation about “me” and more conversation/praise directed toward Him?

Can you tell me about your conversion without telling me what you do now that you’ve been saved? Can you tell me about God, your Savior, without telling me about when you were baptized, how often you attend worship, or what your Bible reading and prayer life look like? Can you tell me of His glory in creating you? Tell me of His mercy when He didn’t destroy you in your sin? Tell me of His grace in sending His Son? Tell me of the preservation of His Word that you might know who Jesus is? Tell me of Christ’s perfection and beauty and splendor in obeying God’s Law? Tell me of His substitutionary atoning sacrifice? Tell me of His resurrection, His saving you, sanctifying you, and promise to complete this work?

In other words, is your testimony of God’s work in your life more about your work in your life or more like Mary’s hymn of praise for the One who sees His people’s need, does great things for them and to them and through them, and who humbles the proud but exalts the humble through His Arm, His Servant, His Offspring? Oh that Christ would be preeminent in our praise!

May we, as Mary was, be found with our lips full of His praise as we “Praise Him, praise Him, tell of His excellent greatness…” (Fanny Crosby).

The Fullness of Time & the Focal Point of All Things

“…Christians of all times and places have professed that Christ himself is the center of our preaching, our gospel, and our theology. Christianity is Christ…Our first allegiance is not to a set of eternal truths, as in Buddhism or Platonism, but to a person who lived in history to save us and who lives eternally as our heavenly High Priest.”[1]

Christianity is Christ. Every passage, every person, and every exploit from “Let there be light…”[2] to “And night will be no more…”[3] was either working toward this thirty-three-year window or pointing back to it. At least that is what the Apostle Paul believed when he penned “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”[4]

The angel Gabriel’s announcement, in Luke 1:26-38, concerning the conception of the Christ has this same end in mind; namely, the baby to be born is the Christ promised from long ago, the Center of Things. The point of God’s announcement is not Mary, it’s not Christmas, but Christ. Packed into the announcement is God’s pronouncement that this child is the Christ as seen in 1) The timing of His birth, 2) The location of His birth, 3) The means of His birth, 4) The family tree of His birth, & 5) the method of His Conception

The Timing of His Birth

As provided for us in the passage preceding, there would be born before Him a forerunner who would “make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (vs. 17). So, when Gabriel visits Mary to inform her of God’s intentions it should be no surprise that we find God declaring His intentions “In the sixth month…” (vs 26). Given the prophetic fulfillment of Malachi 3 & 4 concerning this forerunner, believers can take confidence in the timing of Jesus birth.

The Location of His Birth

A red-flag should rise when we hear that God sent Gabriel to virgin in Nazareth (Luke 1:26). The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and this young teenage girl was almost 100 miles north of God’s designated place of birth for the Christ. Of course, having Luke 2 we read how God moved the desires, intentions, & plans of Rome’s emperor and by His divine hand the Christ from Nazareth would be born exactly where God required. God Almighty moves the heart of the kings and turns it as He wills; He needs not the king’s approval or cooperation.

The Mean of His Birth

In spite of liberal theologian’s attempts to discredit the virgin-birth prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, Luke, Matthew, and Mary herself confirm that God’s intended meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy was that the impossibility of virgin birth would meet the Omnipotent King of Creation. “This took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet…” (Mt. 1:22). If God declared it would be, of course, it would come to be for who could “thwart his plans?”

The Family Tree of His Birth

Gabriel announces that the virgin-born boy would be “the Son of the Most High” and the offspring of “his father David.” This multi-layered proclamation assures the Christian that this Messiah would be both God and man. That Jesus’ family tree would be of divine origin and yet still retaining true humanity. He would need to be both “God-with-us” (Immanuel) and “us” so that “He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”[5] God’s announcement given through his messenger Gabriel confirms, both, Christ’s deity and humanity, permitting Christ to become both the Just and the Justifier.

The Method of His Conception

Luke 1 provides for us a trinitarian movement in the conception and incarnation of Jesus the Christ. Believers can take great confidence as they see the Father’s plan (vs. 26), the Spirit’s power (vs. 35), and the Son’s presence (vs. 32,35) all working in perfect harmony bringing us to “the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4). Reminiscent of God’s creative majesty in Genesis 1, the Spirit of God overshadows the emptiness of Mary’s womb, much like He hovered over the emptiness of a formless world, and from the Father’s eternal plan, the Eternal Son takes on material being. “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1:37). From creation ex nihilo to conception in a virgin from Divine origin, nothing is too hard for God (Jeremiah 32:27).

God’s word to Mary, from Gabriel, is a repository of faith-strengthening truth that encouraged and emboldened both the original recipient, Mary, and generations of believers for 2000 years. May we feast upon God’s faithfulness and he strengthens our faith in His Truth, Jesus Christ.

Citations:

[1] John Frame, Systematic Theology

[2] Genesis 1:3

[3] Revelation 22:5

[4] Galatians 4:4-5

[5] Hebrews 2:17

The Faithful Family

The family unit in America is clearly devolving to state a meaninglessness and despair. Marriage, parenting, the discipline of children both formative and corrective, and the flow and function of the family unit are deteriorating and leaving the masses questioning, “What’s happening to society.” Sadly, this is true inside the visible church as well. Author and theologian Douglas Wilson penned these appropriate words concerning the signs of our time:

“A short walk through the marriage and family section of the local Christian bookstore easily demonstrates that modern Christians have a tremendous interest in the subject of marriage and family. But this booming marriage business (books, conferences, seminars, marriage counseling) is really a sign of disease and not health…We are like terminal cancer patients, fervently researching alternative treatments, hoping against hope that something can be done. Desperate for happiness in our relationships and discontent with what God has given us, we are imploring the experts to show us the way out…The foundation of a godly [family] is the same foundation for all godly living—in everything we are to seek the glory of God.” [1]

This is a sobering assessment of the state of the family; even inside Christ’s Church.

Luke’s inspired description of Zechariah & Elizabeth, the faithful parents of Christ’s Forerunner, I believe, paints for us today a model of the faithful family. Clearly, God will use anyone for any purpose that He has ordained. But wouldn’t it be wise of us to place ourselves in the path of God, prepared in advance with the willingness and availability for His use? Of course. Just how did Zechariah and Elizabeth do this and how can I follow their example left for me?

Both Righteous Before God, Walking Blamelessly

Any serious student of Scripture understands that any righteousness that a naturally fallen man or woman has in their fallen state is righteousness not their own. As Martin Luther would come to describe it later, Zechariah & Elizabeth held an “alien righteousness.” These two had been justified by God, declared to be in right standing positionally, by His grace through faith. Notice that this “righteousness” was not a superficial righteousness or a perceived righteousness but they were righteous “before God.” What joy the faithful family can have knowing they “before God,” in Christ, they stand pardoned, relieved of their guilt! If a family is to enjoy intimacy with God, while being used by God, it starts here.

Notice that the faithful family is a family that goes beyond a mere profession of faith but lives out that faith daily. The family Zechariah & Elizabeth’s began when they said “I do” was a family marked by “I do” toward God’s Word and placement in their lives. They were said to have been “walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statures of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). This was a family committed to the daily maintenance of faith combined with daily repentance from sin toward God.

To find Zechariah & Elizabeth being used by God for a great work should be no surprise. The faithful family unit has been ordained by God to be one of the primary mechanisms through which He works. Take for example, Adam & Eve and the protoevangelium entrusted to them; or Noah & his family, their work and God’s salvation through them; or Abraham with Sarah (not Hagar), Isaac (not Ishmael), and Jacob (not Esau); and the list could go on and on. God establishes faith in families, strengthens faith within families, and then works from that faith of families; to the praise of His glorious grace” (Eph. 1:6). However, God has invited us to participate in this process with Him. Just how do we do that? By following in Zechariah and Elizabeth’s footsteps.

Marry Within the Bounds God Provides

Zechariah, the son of Aaron, married Elizabeth, a daughter of Aaron. Simply stated: Believers are not permitted to marry outside the bounds of the believing community. This command is clear from the Old Testament commands of God to the people of Israel not to intermarry with the pagans around them to the New Testament command not to be unequally yoked. Dads, this is primarily your responsibility in rearing up your children. Moms, your role is to support and reinforce your husband’s leading of the children as ,together, you steer your children’s decisions in relationships. That sounds crazy in our culture, but then again most biblical principles will. Pastors, your job is steer mom and dad, preaching the whole counsel of God and shepherding mom and dad as they shepherd their children. This is the foundation of the faithful family, for if one spouse is not in the faith there can be no foundation for covenantal continuity.

Live Within the Bounds God Provides

Zechariah and Elizabeth were walking blamelessly, daily pursing Christ righteousness and kingdom. They were able to do this because the knew Word, lived the Word, and gave their lives to serving the Lord. If the Word of God is not the centerpiece upon which your family is built, currently standing, and to where you turn for direction you cannot expect 1) God to hear your prayers (Luke 1:13), 2) Expect God to use us for great works (Luke 1:15), or 3) Expect our children and their future families to stand firm or follow the Lord (Luke 1:15-17). The faithful family will live within the bounds God has provided.

Live With a Repentant Heart

Zechariah was not a perfect man. Even having been delivered a message directly from the throne room of God Most High (Luke 1:19) he still doubted. And he had reason to doubt if was looking to himself. God promised an old man and an old woman, well past child-producing or child-bearing years, a son. However, after being disciplined by the Lord for his doubting (Luke 1:20), Zechariah was quick to repent when naming his promised, miracle baby boy (Luke 1:57-66), and just as quick to praise the God who gives for His great mercy.

This gives me great hope for me and my family. Zechariah, the righteous, blameless, servant, doubter, who God used to advance Christ’s Kingdom. May the Lord find me and my family fit for His service as well.

 

Citation:

[1] Reforming Marriage, pg. 13, 14

Luke: The Faith-growing Gospel

Greetings, salutations, introductions, and openers are generally overlooked, ignored, and discounted. They are often viewed as the “lets get this out of the way because the content of what is written is what’s important.” But for the student of Scripture, the one who genuinely believes that all Scripture is breathed out by God, even the introduction is given to us by God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correcting, and training in righteousness. Luke’s introduction is just that; praise God!

In Luke’s introduction (Luke 1:1-4) a few gems sparkle brighter than the rest. Luke informs “most excellent Theophilus” (Friend of God) that the purpose of his writing this Gospel is to (1) provide an orderly account, a logically flowing narrative of the Christ’s life, ministry, death, burial, & resurrection & (2) that Luke was offering it to him “that [he] may have certainty concerning the things [he] has been taught” (Lk 1:4). What a joy this must have been for Theophilus, the gentile convert, to have an orderly, logical account intended to solidify his already laid down faith. Just as concrete laid, in time, grows to profound strength, so too Luke’s Gospel will take the faith already laid and harden it into a firm foundation in our souls.

An Orderly Account

One need not “check his brain at the door” of Luke’s Gospel account. Luke was man of immense intellect, an historian, and a passionate pursuer of Truth. This becomes clear as one opens up and explores his introduction; even the manner in which it was written. His usage of the Greek language of his day, his balance in the structure of his writing, and his word choice all demonstrate that Luke intended to provide for his reader a record worthy of trust, both theologically and historically. The doctor was concerned greatly with sharing Christ with orderliness, multiple eye-witness testimonies, and even his personal witness so that Theophilus could be sure of what he had been taught. And in God’s providence, the gentile author providing this account to a gentile audience has left us, a greater gentile audience, with a repository of Truth solidifying our faith, factually, historically, and theologically. Praise God!

Certainty of Our Faith

Theophilus had been taught the Gospel, had believed the Gospel, and now was being given a thorough, written account of the Gospel that his faith might be firmly rooted, concreted, having certainty that what he had believed was legitimate, solid, and trustworthy. Luke’s Gospel account contained several “proofs” that would bring Theophilus, and consequently us, this certainty of faith: Proof from Prophecy, Proof from Miracles, and Proof from Growth.

Proof from Prophecy

When taking Luke/Acts as a continuous unit, as Luke intended, one theologian counted 47 references & allusions to how the life, death, & resurrection of Jesus Christ fulfilled the O.T. Scriptures. Imagine what 47 pieces of written evidence, backed up by eye-witness testimonies, in a courtroom would render; certainly, proof beyond a reasonable doubt. What a comfort to know that the God who said “this” would happen also made it happen and left us the proof of his happenings!

Proof from Miracles

For Luke, the proof was in the pudding. In Acts 2:22, Luke records that God confirmed Jesus identity by the “mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst…” The miracles that the people remembered seeing Jesus do was God’s proof that Christ’s message was legitimate. This was Jesus claim as well in Luke 7:18-22 when He confirmed that he was the long-promised and awaited Messiah and the proof of His identity was in the blind seeing, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead living, and the poor receiving the good news, all by His divine hand; and this, too, was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Messiah. The miracles of Christ were proof that the message of Christ was authentic!

Proof from Growth

Even a casual stroll through Luke’s account of the early church, Acts, radiates certainty as the masses were coming to faith in Christ they could not see. At first there were only 120, and then 3000, with more being added daily, and then 5000, followed by rapid expansion of the Word of God regionally (Judea, Galilee, & Samaria) that caused massive spiritual growth across geographical boundaries to such that they could no longer be numbered (Acts 2-12). Finally, as if to place an exclamation point, the missionary journeys of Paul, commissioned by the Holy Spirit, caused explosive multi-continental growth of Christianity fulfilling the prophetic word given by Gamiliel in Acts 5:33-39 “…if [the Gospel of Jesus Christ] is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

The Gospel of Luke is sure faith-builder. It was written as such and intended to be just that for Theophilus and continues to stand as such today! May God increase our faith as we joyfully feast upon “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)…even the introductions.

Not in Vain

In God’s grace, I have been blessed recently to witness the Holy Spirit’s regenerating power in the lives of some men, as well as His supernatural sanctifying power in the lives of men I’ve known for a long time. God, truly, is good!

But with this new life in Christ and this new growth in Christ there have been some steep costs. God never calls us to Christ to leave us as we are but He calls us to salvation, by grace, through faith, and then works in us repentance. Faith & repentance always carries a cost with it.

The cost is always high and the change is always dramatic. When ones eyes are opened to sin and righteousness and when the heart is given new life, we cannot but change and change is costly: relationships, employment, leisure, entertainment, interaction with family, indeed, every facet of life.

The Twelve knew this very well. They left their homes, traveled with this preaching miracle worker and it cost them deeply. They were essentially homeless, separated from family, unemployed with no prospect or thought of returning, living entirely off of God’s provision through other people’s generosity. Their cost was high, but the promise of reward was even higher. Surely, the cost of following Christ weighed heavily upon them at times and undoubtedly they wrestled with, “Can I endure? Is it worth it?” In one of those moments God, in His mercy, gives us this account from Peter as He sought the soothing balm of assurance that the road he was traveling was not in vain.

“Peter said, ‘See, we have left our homes and followed you.’ And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life'” (Luke 18:28-30).

Some of you have left your homes to follow Christ; this was not in vain!

Some of you have lost your spouses when you followed Christ; this was not in vain!

Some of you have left behind your extended family to love, serve, and pursue the advancement of the kingdom of God with reckless abandon; this was not in vain!

The road is not always smooth but be encouraged, dear Christian, you will receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life, because God called you to this life. And He’s not called you to walk it alone. Even though you walk through dark valley’s, because of His presence you don’t have to fear. Even though the cost is high, the rewards are higher, in this life and in the age to come!

Rest in His assurance, Christian. And what a rest He is!

Knowledge of the Holy One: The Ever-Present God

I remember vaguely, what felt like, the long rides laying in the back of my parent’s station wagon in the early hours of the morning picking up my dad from his job at the factory (this was, of course, before car seats and the bubble-wrapping of our kids for their safety). It would be late at night or early in the morning while the moon was still bright in the sky; the bumps on the road, the bed mat in the back, and the chill of the early hours. I remember it so well because I recall being afraid that the moon was following us. Every street we turned down, every intersection we crossed, every time a building would shield us from its ever-seeing eye it would emerge on the other side, never ceasing to watch over us. For a little, sleepy boy this was pretty scary.

Today, I can look back on that and laugh but it does remind me of the ever-present God who created all things and is never absent, even in the unseen world. And honestly, God’s omnipresence can be a terror for those who seek to hide themselves or their works, just as I was scared as a little boy, or a comfort to those who know Him and are known by Him. That God is omnipresent in the material realm, the spiritual realm, and even in eternity is clear from the Scriptures and I pray a comfort to you.

The Ever-present God in the Material Realm

Psalm 139:7-18 declares that from the north to the south, from the east to the west, in darkness or light, God is there; even while in our mother’s womb and before we were conceived. What a comfort! What a joy! That God is always with me,  is already where I am going, and will be there when I’m gone is my fuel, strength, and confidence in evangelism, discipleship, ministry, and missions. That we are joining God in what He’s already doing, that we are partnering with Him instead of He with us, is the confidence King David shared when he said, “…even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” (Psalm 23:4). Where can you go that He is already not? What has He asked you to do that He has not joined you in, led you to, and is walking with you through? Praise God!

The Ever-present God in the Spiritual Realm

Amos 9:2-3 can be seen as a “sister-text” to the Psalm 139 passage mentioned above. Here, God doesn’t reveal His presence as a comfort for His children but as a terror for those who oppose Him. “If they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; if they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down. If they hide…I will search them out and take them…” What a terrifying reality.

This is not so much of a statement on God’s spatial presence as it is His relational presence. Some have argued that God is so holy that He cannot be in the presence of sin but that is a distortion of His Omnipresence. God is everywhere, in His fullness, at all times but withholds good from those who hate and oppose Him.

Like a two year-old believing he is hidden as he covers his eyes, so are those who believe that God is not present in their iniquity. We laugh when we see a toddler hide behind a small lamp stand and fill his diaper because he honestly believes that no one knows what he’s doing. But God’s ever-presence spiritually is no laughing matter. As His presence is a comfort to those who love Him, His presence should be a terror to those who oppose Him; for nothing is outside of His present reality.

The Ever-present God in Eternity

Revelation 21:22-27 give believers a glimpse of the physical presence of God in eternity as God Almighty and the Lamb are the center of life and the focal point of eternity. To think of God’s intimate, personal, and very real presence in Heaven is no stretch at all. It’s the hope of our endurance!

But what of Hell, is God present in Hell? Revelation 14:9-12 paints a terrifying and tragic picture of the eternal state of those who refuse to believe in the resurrected Christ and repent. In this passage we read, “…[they] will drink of the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and [they] will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”

In the presence of the Lamb? Jesus will be in Hell? John MacArthur writes, “Unrepentant sinners will be banished from God’s presence relationally; they will be forever barred from the loving fellowship with Him that believers will enjoy. They will not, however, be away from His presence in the sense of His sovereignty and omnipresence—even in Hell.” Yes, even in Hell. All of His Goodness withheld, all His Wrath poured out in full strength, un-watered down, un-filtered, un-relenting, all-consuming, superintended by the Savior once spurned.

God’s omnipresence can be a comfort or a terror. To those whom He has poured His ever-present grace upon, His presence is the salve of our weary sin-soaked souls. To those who spurn His call to faith and repentance, a terrifying reality that I pray God would remedy in them, by His grace and for His glory.

The “Share the Gospel by Your Life” Lie

Enough is enough, really.

Have you heard it? Perhaps you’ve said it. Maybe you’ve even taught it or preached it…“You don’t have to share the Gospel with words. The most powerful Gospel is shown by your actions.” Putting it very simply and plainly, that’s nonsense. And it’s worse than nonsense when it comes from pastors, teachers, and preachers; the ones called & supernaturally equipped by God to take His Word about salvation from His wrath through Christ’s substitutionary atonement and share that Word with a world of people condemned unless they believe the Gospel and repent (Mark 1:15).

The Gospel must be presented with words. The Gospel is only fully presented with words. The Gospel comes from the Word and the Word is powerful & effective (Isaiah 55:11; Romans 1:16; Hebrews 4:12-13).

Paul writes to the Romans that belief comes from hearing and hearing comes through preaching and preachers are sent to do just that, proclaim the Good News of God’s salvation (Romans 10:14-15). And just in case the Romans, and we for that matter, didn’t get it the first time he summarizes those verses and repeats himself in verse 17 when he says, “Faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.” Note that Paul does not say “preach the Gospel and use words when necessary.” Can you imagine if Paul would’ve evangelized the Gentiles with that lie? He’d have been a happy-go-lucky, kind-hearted, forgiving, polite, tent maker who never saw a single person saved from their sin and given eternal life.

Yes, we need to live the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ never, and I repeat, never leaves a life unchanged. Yes, you can observe, through actions, a difference between someone who is a Christ follower and someone who is not.

But being kind does not share that Jesus Christ died to pay your sin debt and that he rose from the dead for your justification (Romans 4:25).

But being polite does not share that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life and that no person will ever be in God’s presence unless they come through Christ (John 14:6).

But being joyful does not share that Christ bore in his body your sins and that by his wounds you can be healed (1 Peter 2:24).

But being nice to people does not share that their good works and their best obedience is not the measurement of God’s satisfaction of them and that their best effort will never earn them eternal life (Galatians 2:15-16).

You may be asking, “Where is this blog post coming from? Why the aggression about this topic?” Honestly, I expect this from the world. I expect the world to say things like “don’t worry about telling people about Jesus,” but I don’t hear it from the world, I hear it and read it regularly from the Christian community. Church, and church leaders, we need to stop believing and stop propagating this lie! We need to repent & tell everyone about the forgiveness of sins through Christ alone.

Christian:

“…do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord…” (2 Timothy 1:8)

“…what you have heard from me…entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also…” (2 Timothy 2:2).

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season…” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

“…the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it” (2 Timothy 4:17).

May you find yourself in the company of Jesus Christ who “must preach the good news of the kingdom of God…for [he] was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).

May you find yourself in the company of the Apostle Paul who was “eager to preach the gospel” to a people he had never met before (Romans 1:15).

And may you find yourself as an answer to Christ’s prayer as he prayed for laborers to harvest God’s people (Matthew 9:38).

Don’t get sucked into the lie that the Gospel is best presented by your way of life. The Gospel is best presented with the Word of God, coming from a life that has been changed by God, bearing witness to the power, love, grace and mercy of God found only in the cross of Christ.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive…”—The Gospel of Jesus Christ, from 1 Corinthians 15:3-6

The Knowledge of the Holy One: El Shaddai

Recently, I have been on a quest to, as my wife and I joke, become ‘less fleshy.’ Beginning the Monday after Thanksgiving, I began a wholefood meal plan and workout routine (when I’m not cheating). One thing I’ve found is that in consuming small amounts of “good fuel” and then expending that “fuel” at the gym leaves me running on empty and depleted of energy. In short, I have to keep eating to keep powered. That’s not rocket-science is it?

But this is not, and never has been, true of El Shaddai, The Almighty, Omnipotent One. As A.W. Tozer so aptly penned, “…the Lord God omnipotent can do anything as easily as anything else. All His acts are done without effort. He expends no energy that must be replenished. His self-sufficiency makes it unnecessary for Him to look outside of Himself for a renewal of strength. All the power required to do all that He wills to do lies in undiminished fullness in His own infinite being.”[1] For he who holds not the power to do as He has determined is not, after all, sovereign or powerful; but God is. Just as, he who attempts to carry out his own pleasure and finds himself short of ability is not God; but God never fails to accomplish that which he desires. The Sovereign, Almighty One is just that!

Fifty eight times, the Bible refers to God as The Almighty. From the beginning of God’s Self-Revelation to the end, the omnipotence of God is directly stated, implied, demonstrated, celebrated, feared, and praised, and necessarily so. In the Old Testament, Job, was the man chosen by God to predominately declare his omnipotence. Thirty-one of the forty-eight references to God as Almighty are found in the pages of the troubled and rewarded righteous man. In the New, it is the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John that most pronounces the unbridled, unhindered power of El Shaddai. God Himself, the angelic host, the elders around the Throne, the saints awaiting Christ’s second advent, the martyrs, and the Church all profess the omnipotence of God, by declaration of identifying Him as “…the Lord God Almighty.” Nine out of ten New Testament references to “the Lord God Almighty” are found in Christ’s Revelation. It is important to note that in the entirety of Holy Writ, “Almighty” is used of God alone; never man, never beast, never any created thing. God is God alone and God alone is Omnipotent!

Ephesians 3:20-21 may, perhaps, be the greatest expression of the incomprehensibility of the omnipotence of God. The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul encourages Christ’s Church in reminding us of the Truth in which believers find shelter and abide (Psalm 91:1). This is a familiar passage to the Publicans readership, as it is with all students of Scripture. But let me share with you Steven Lawson’s[2] exposition of this passage with nothing more than the passage itself. I pray that it moves you to a place of glorying God in Christ Jesus, as it did me. Prayerfully read and meditate on each word, each morsel of Divine Bread, and let it feed your soul.

“Now to him…”

“Now to him who is able…”

“Now to him who is able to do…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

It is this Almighty God that has chosen to reveal Himself to us in spoken Word, written Word, and incarnate Word and we would do well to find our strength and rest in Him, for He alone is the Source of both!

As Pink leads his readers, “may [we] all tremble before such a God…[and] ‘Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and we perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little’ (Psalm 2:12)…and adore such a God…[for] ‘Who is like unto you, O LORD, among the gods? who is like you, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders’ (Ex. 15:11)…and trust such a God…who ‘is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’ (Psalm 27:1).”[3]

The God who lacks no strength or ability to accomplish that which He has purposed, that is the True and Living God and there is no other. “God’s power is like Himself: infinite, eternal, incomprehensible; it can neither be checked, restrained, nor frustrated by the creature.”[4]

[1] AW Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, pg. 67

[2] Steven Lawson, The Attributes of God DVD, Ligonier Ministries

[3] AW Pink, The Attributes of God, pg. 42-43

[4] Steven Charnock

The Advent of God’s Faithfulness

Hear the Word of the Lord:

“The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all the beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her Offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel…”

“Now the Lord said to Abram…’I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’…And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a Ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.”

“Then Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in the days to come…’Judah, your brothers shall praise you…[and] the scepter shall not depart from you, nor the ruler’s staff from between your feet until [Shiloh] come…and to Him shall be the obedience of the peoples…’

Your Lamb shall be without blemish…take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses…They shall eat the Flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with Unleavened Bread…[This] is the Lord’s Passover…The Blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the Blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you…This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast…’

“…and the Lord said, ‘I will raise up for them a Prophet like you, [Moses], from among their brothers. And I will put my words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I commanded Him. And whoever will not listen to my words that He shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him…”

“…say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of Hosts…I took you…I have been with you…I will make for you a Name…I will raise up your Offspring after you, One of your own sons, and I will establish His Kingdom…and I will establish His Throne forever. I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to me a Son…I will confirm Him in my House and in My Kingdom forever, and His Throne shall be established forever…'”

“…the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Immanuel…and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…”

“…But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah [of Judah]…from you shall come forth for me One who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from old, from ancient days…And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth. And He shall be their Peace.”

“And the Angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end…And she gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger…And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a Baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger…Glory to God in highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

“Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”

Amen.

As surely as God’s faithfulness delivered to us the Promised Messiah, He is coming again to take all those who eagerly await Him to be with Him. “And so we will be with the Lord, forever…Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

The Knowledge of the Holy One: God is Sovereign

I remember all the buildup and hype very well. It was 20 years ago that Mike Tyson made a meal of both of Evander Holyfield’s ears in the boxing ring as he faced the man who just, one year earlier, dethroned him as the WBA World Heavyweight Champion. The “bites” were as strange as the fight was epic but even that monumental fight pales in comparison to the fight that often arises when the Sovereignty of God takes the ring against man’s desire to rule and reign over himself.

“That God is, and the God who is, is the God who reigns…this is the bedrock doctrine of all doctrines. This is the immovable mountain of God’s supreme authority and his right to exercise his rule; absolute, active, continual reign over heaven, earth, and even hell itself. It is His undisputed right to govern all that He has created, with unhindered, unrivaled majesty.”[1] This is God’s Sovereignty. This is what it means to be God; for no god is God unless he holds within Himself the authority and power to rule and reign over that which He presides.

We hear His sovereignty confessed, even from the unbelieving world, when it is so boldly proclaims “Who do you think you are? God?” Inherent in such a rhetorical question is the authority that God possesses to do as He pleases. A.W. Pink opens his writing on God’s Sovereignty by stating that “Being infinitely elevated above the highest creature, He is the Most High, Lord of heaven and earth. Subject to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent; God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases. None can thwart Him, none can hinder Him.”[2]

Who, especially in orthodox Christianity, would take the ring against such an august confession of The Sovereign God of Creation? Sadly, many. But God’s, inerrant, infallible, authoritative, and sufficient Word is replete with the testimony of the Absolute Sovereignty of the Most High:

Genesis 1:3 “God said ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

Job 37:6-13 “To the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour…He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter His lighting. They turn around and around by His guidance, to accomplish all the He commands themHe causes it to happen.”

Psalm 115:3 “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”

Psalm 135:6 “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in the earth, in the seas and in all deeps.”

Daniel 4:35 “…He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitant of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’”

Ephesians 1:11 God “works all things after the counsel of His will…”

Romans 11:36 “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” (emphasis added)

And perhaps the most indisputable proof of His Sovereignty comes from His own mouth in Isaiah 14:24 & 46:10 when The Almighty, El Shaddai Himself, roars from His Throne Room,  “As I have planned so shall it be, and as I have purposed so shall it stand…My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…”

From the counsel of none other, the Triune God spoke and the heavens leapt into being (Gen. 1 & 2); they had no other choice but to obey. By the will of none other, the wind and the waves obeyed the command (Matt. 8:23-27) of the Holy One of Israel (Is. 41:14 & Luke 4:34) and peace immediately rested and stilled the tumult; they had no other choice but to obey. By the authority of none other, the demons were cast into the swine and fell headlong to their demise (Mark 5:13); they, too, had no choice but to obey. And from the voice of none other, spiritually dead men and women are raised to life and made right with their King, their Maker (John 6:37; Rom. 9:16-21; Eph. 1:5-6, 2:8-9); they had no other choice but to obey.

Space & time, the natural & spiritual realm, even humanity itself is subject to The One, True, and Sovereign, Almighty.

The Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon exhorts us all, even still today, when he said, “There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that sovereignty overrules them, and that sovereignty will sanctify them all.”[3] What greater comfort could there be to God’s people? God has, by His sovereign will, decreed all things, ordained all things, orchestrated all things, brought all things, and caused all things to be in order, to bring you to this very moment, and has guaranteed that this event is working out for your greatest good and His greatest glory (Romans 8:28 & Isaiah 43:7)!

What kind of God could want something for you that He had not the power to carry out? What kind of God could decree something of you and not have the resources to accomplish that which He proclaimed? What kind of god would God be, if He must impotently, idly sit by hoping that what He commands, what He decrees, what He proclaims, what He wills must take second fiddle to the fickle, unstable, always changing will of His creation? This god is no God at all!

The God of the Bible, the God of Adam & Eve, the God of Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob, the God of Elijah, the God of David, the God of the prophets, the God of the Twelve, the God of the Apostle Paul, and The Only Sovereign reigns supreme, asks permission of no one to act, and is restricted by no one or nor could be withstood even if everyone stood against Him…

Thus says God, Yahweh, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am Yahweh; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am Yahweh; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them. -Isaiah 42:5-9

“So Yahweh controls the entire course of nature and history for his own glory and to accomplish his own purpose.” [4] Who else can make such claims and deliver? Who else holds the power within himself to consult with no one and act alone, guaranteeing the outcome? Who else but El Shaddai?

The Sovereignty of God is what makes God so attractive to the believer, so fearful to the unregenerate, so hated by idolaters, and so rejected by those who wish to be a god unto themselves.

Rest in His Sovereignty, God’s chosen, beloved by Yahweh, saved and kept by His sovereign grace in Christ. God is God; a truth that can never and will never change.

[1] Steven Lawson, The Attributes of God DVD Teaching Series

[2] AW Pink, The Attributes of God, pg 25

 

[3] Ibid. pg. 25

[4] John Frame, Systematic Theology, pg. 21

The Knowledge of the Holy One: Holy, Holy, Holy

MJ or Kobe? The Shark or Tiger? Montana or Brady? Rivera or Hoffman? Howe or Gretzky? However you choose, you’re sure to find someone, somewhere who can explain one over the other and possibly begin to sway you toward someone not even in consideration. And such is the case when considering the attributes of God.

As the World Trade Centers once dominated the New York City skyline, the holiness of God is argued by some as the supreme attribute that towers above the others. This, of course, is figurative language since, as RC Sproul contends, “…all of God is all of his attributes in their entirety. God’s holiness is immutable, omnipotent, eternal, and omnipresent. In like manner his immutability is holy, omniscient, and eternal…Every attribute we ascribe to him applies to the whole of God. His attributes all exist mutually in a kind of reciprocity of attributes.”[1]

As was once true of NYC and the WTC, one cannot cast their gaze toward the face of God without the holiness of God gleaming against the night sky with brilliance and clarity. But what does “holy” mean, anyway?

Defining Holy

John Frame, in his excellent work [2] defines holiness in this way: “Holiness, then, is God’s capacity and right to arouse our reverent awe and wonder. It is his uniqueness (Ex. 15:11; 1 Sam. 2:2), his transcendence as our Creator. It is his majesty, for the holy God is like a great king, whom we dare not treat like other persons.” But this, if I may be so bold, describes God’s holiness from a reactive position. It’s almost sounds like God’s holiness would be lacking if humanity were not here to react to it/Him. Surely, that is not Frame’s position, in spite of how it may sound.

Pink, deriving at his definition from Revelation 15:4, 1 John 1:5 & Habakkuk 1:13, explains holiness as “the very antithesis of all moral blemish or defilement.”[3] Although I agree with the Holy Scriptures and Pink’s assessment, moral purity doesn’t quite go far enough, does it?

Tozer tackles the 400lb gorilla of God’s holiness with meekness, humility, and obscurity, when defaults to “Holy is the way God is. To be holy He does not conform to a standard. He is the standard. He is absolutely holy with an infinite, incomprehensible fullness of purity that is incapable of being other than it is.”[4] And I can’t say that I blame him for retreating here! After all, this peasant has sought an audience with the King that I might know Him, and as my acquaintance grows my understanding becomes overwhelmed in the Sea of His Resplendence and I, too, come away in awe, incapable articulating what my heart screams about my interaction with Him.

It was one of our modern treasures from God that helped this beggar digest the meat of God’s glorious holiness. “When the Bible calls God holy, it primarily means that God is transcendently separate.”[5] What Sproul is saying is that God holiness means that he is completely distinct from all things (holy/sanctified: to be set apart), He is transcendent over all things (to be set above all), and His moral purity is the backdrop against which all things are measured (He is unstained by any imperfection).

He is Transcendentally Separate in His essence, being, and nature and all that God does is a natural outflow of who He is. Therefore, the Holy One’s activities are by necessity holy, separate, and above; even above our comprehension (Isaiah 55:8-9). It was Rudolph Otto who made a strong case God’s “Complete Otherness;” a point which I can concede so long as this proposition isn’t taken to mean that God is completely unknowable; only that he is entirely unknowable.

“Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory”(Yahweh in place of LORD added)![6] Transcendentally Separate, Transcendentally Separate, Transcendentally Separate, in essence and action is the God of Heaven, the Only, True, Living God. His glory is observable in all that is, ever was, and ever will be!

How Should We Respond to the Holiness of God?

Very simply: We adore, sing praises, marvel, stand in awe, fall prostrate, gawk, stand and point with our jaws gapping wide…silent because of his effulgence (it’s ok, stop what you’re doing and look up effulgence…it’s worth the extra 30 seconds if you’ve read this far already), if that were possible.

Worship.

It’s the only appropriate response to the Majesty that is the Holiness of God; a single word sentence full a beauty, complexity, and profundity that makes the heart of your Creator explode with joy as you experience Him! But this can only be done rightly in Spirit and in Truth, having been made holy by Him who is Holy.

Isaiah was purged of his filth and stood on his feet by a Divine act in the presence of the Holy One (Isaiah 6:7). And how did he respond? Paraphrasing, “Whatever you want, whatever you ask, wherever you send, pick me!” Like a 10 year old with his hand raised high, stretching his little fingers ever so higher, straining for even an additional millimeter so as to be noticed by “the big kids” while picking teams for sandlot kickball…”Pick me, pick me. I’ll do it for you! I’ll do a good job, I promise!” Isaiah responded in fear, terror, dread, and brokenness until the Holy One washed him clean, stood him upright, and gave the sinner the confidence needed to draw near to the throne of the Holy (Hebrews 4:16).

True Israel, the Church, is commanded to respond in faith, trust, and dependence upon Him. In Isaiah 43:3, God identifies Himself as “…the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” But just before He does, He issues this command in verse 1, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you.” The source of our trust and dependence upon Him stems from the utter incomprehensible truth that He saved us, redeemed us, and that by the His own blood at Calvary. If a holy God was willing to purchase our freedom from sin’s grip and its just sentence of death, what could we not trust and depend upon Him for? What is there to fear if the terror of The Holy One’s judgement has been replaced by the peace afforded to us by our position in His Son? This was the glory of Paul’s closing argument in Romans 8:31-39, “If God is for us, who can be against us…Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect…Who is to condemn…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or danger, or sword?..No…For I am sure…[nothing] in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Faith.

It’s the only appropriate response to the Majesty that is the Holiness of God; a single word sentence full of beauty, complexity, and profundity that makes the heart of your Creator explode with joy as you experience Him! And yes, I am aware that I just copied a sentence from above. But, faith in the Holy One of Israel, Israel Himself, Jesus Christ, is the first acceptable act of worship stemming from the heart of flesh given rebellious man at regeneration. Listen to the words of Jesus from the disciple whom Jesus loved, “‘Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.’ Then [the people said to Jesus], ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”[7]

The Holiness of God on Display

Did you see it? The Gospel, that is. We respond rightly to the holiness of God by responding rightly to the Holy One of God (Mark 1:24), “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Sproul[8] agrees with Pink[9] when they write that God’s holiness is most visible in the cross of Christ (as well as perhaps all other attributes). Sproul writes, “The cross was at once the most horrible and the most beautiful example of God’s wrath. It was the most just and the most gracious act in history. God would have been more than unjust, He would have been diabolical to punish Jesus if Jesus had not first willingly taken on Himself the sins of the world. Once Christ had done that, once He volunteered to be the Lamb of God, laden with our sin, then he became the most grotesque and vile thing on this planet. With the concentrated load of sin he carried, he became utterly repugnant to the Father. God made Christ accursed for the sin He bore. Herein was God’s holy justice perfectly manifest. Yet it was done for us. He took what justice demanded from us. This ‘for us’ aspect of the Cross is what displays the majesty of its grace. At the same time justice and grace, wrath and mercy. It is too astonishing to fathom.” 

Indeed, it is.

Faith fueled worship empowered by God’s Spirit, from God’s Truth. That’s how God’s chosen from all ages have always responded to God’s Holiness.

How Then Shall We Live? 

The great puritan pastor and theologian Stephen Charnock accurately summarizes the new life in Christ afforded to those who have been birthed to holiness by Holiness, “As [holiness] is the splendor of all the Divine attributes, so it is the flower of all a Christian’s graces, the crown of all religion.”[10] We would do well to wear such a crown in obedience to our Lord as he charges all men everywhere, especially Believers, “…be holy, for I am Holy…”[11] (emphasis added).

May God grant us the grace necessary us to be so.

[1] RC Sproul, Truths We Confess, pg. 36-37

[2] John Frame, Systematic Theology, pg. 276-279

[3] AW Pink, The Attributes of God, pg. 33

[4] AW Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, pg.105

[5] RC Sproul, The Holiness of God, pg. 46

[6] Holy Bible, ESV, Isaiah 6:3

[7] Ibid. John 6:27-29

[8] RC Sproul, The Holiness of God, pg. 147

[9] AW Pink, The Attributes of God, pg. 34-35

[10] Stephen Charnock, Existence and Attributes, pg. 529

[11] Holy Bible, ESV, Leviticus 11:44

The Knowledge of The Holy One: What is God? Pt. II

Close your eyes for a moment (yes, I know you can’t keep reading if your eyes are closed) and consider this: There was a “time” when there was nothing but God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; always, perfectly content, having never changed and in no need of change. Before the first blog, before the Internet, before television and televangelists (we could probably do without both of these entirely), telephones and telegrams, before there were mountains and seas, birds and trees, before there was man and beast, even before there was light, God was. He is the Eternal One, entirely self-sufficient, perfectly content, in need of nothing outside of His own unchanging abundance. Wow! Such thoughts are too much for me (Psalm 139:6)!

In “What is God, Pt. 1” I considered God’s spirituality, immateriality, invisibility, and infinity from the Westminster Shorter Catechism question four when it asks “What is God?”

Answer: God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

It is my aim in this post to address His eternality; from which logically flows his self-sufficiency and immutability.

God’s Eternality

God’s eternal nature and being is clearly proclaimed, without excuse or defense, in the Scriptures. One cannot study the nature of God without being confronted by this obvious, yet incomprehensible reality. Perhaps the Everest of the Spirit’s proclamation concerning God’s eternality is found coming from the hand of Moses and divinely preserved for us in Psalm 90:2 when he penned, “…from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” A.W. Tozer masterfully expounded upon this passage in his book on God’s attributes when he wrote: ‘From the vanishing point to the vanishing point’ would be another way to say it quite in keeping with the words Moses used…The mind looks backwards in time till the dim past vanishes, then turns and looks into the future till thought and imagination collapse from exhaustion; and God is at both points, unaffected by either.[1]

This is an unimaginable reality; an incomprehensible truth for the finite. Perhaps one could consider eternity future. It is feasible, for us to begin from where we started and gaze into the distant future, the unforeseeable future, and look beyond this millennia, maybe even a millennium of millennia’s, if you’ve been created with expansive creativity. But you cannot, indeed no created being can, have intimate personal knowledge beyond their creation. You see, we cannot even consider the Eternality of God without assigning words to it/Him that deal with time; a concept He created and therefore lives outside of. Let’s take a shot at it…

Q) What was God doing before the earth began?

“Before” & “Began” both deal with and operate inside of time. God lives above and outside of such temporal considerations.

Q) What was God doing when there was nothing else but Him?

“When”…a word engulfed in the sea of time keeping. The Eternal One created the when, the was, and the is; all words describing “being.”

Q) How long…ugh, that won’t work either

Genesis 1:1 makes no apologies, excuses, or defenses for the pre-existence of God; it simply states that He is, He created, and that’s how we know He was. “God dwells in eternity but time dwells in God.”[2]

God’s Self-Sufficiency & Immutability

Entire books, perhaps even volumes, could be written on either of these subjects stemming from God’s eternal nature so please forgive my feeble attempt to reduce these into digestible morsels.

Stemming from God’s eternality is the necessary doctrine of God’s self-sufficiency (aseity) and inability to change (immutability). The simple fact that God has always been naturally leads to his lack of need for anything outside of Himself and the fact that He has no need of anything demonstrates that He is perfectly complete, lacking in nothing, and therefore has no need to add anything to Himself or remove anything in order to improve; He is perfectly perfect. Clearly, an attribute that we cannot comprehend as we are infinitely needy and dependent.

A.W. Pink, when considering God’s Aseity & Immutability quotes from Exodus 15:11 in the Song of Moses, “Who is like you, O Yahweh, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” Undoubtedly, the question is rhetorical intended to ignite passionate praise of the Infinite, Eternal, and Unchangeable One! Pink continues, “During eternity past, God was alone: self-contained, self-sufficient, self-satisfied; in need of nothing.”[3] The Sovereign Self-Sufficient reminds every reader of his self-sufficiency, and lack of need when He states “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.”[4] The Apostle Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles, proclaimed God’s self-sufficiency in Romans 11:34-36 when he penned, “…who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all thing. To him be glory forever. Amen.” The Scriptures are replete with proclamations of unimaginable realities of God’s gaining nothing from us because he has nothing missing from which he derives need. 

How wonderful that God is self-sufficient! What kind of impotency would be displayed by a god who needs; not Jehovah. It is we who need Him!

Naturally, because He is lacking in nothing He does not, indeed cannot, change. Change would indicate an improvement or a declination. Therefore, the Eternal, Self-Sufficient, Immutable One can be relied upon, trusted in, and rested in; for his Faithfulness will naturally be infinite, eternal, and unchangeable!

What joy & peace is derived from, as well as Spirit-filled praise can be given from, a simple glimpse (if there is such a thing) into the attributes of God. It is only then, when we know God rightly (Proverbs 9:10), that we can begin to know anything.

[1] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, pg. 39

[2] Ibid. pg 39

[3] A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God, pg 5

[4] Psalm 50:12, ESV