Conversion: The Renovation of the Soul

In his book Turning to God: Reclaiming Christian Conversion as Unique, Necessary, and Supernatural David Wells says, “Conversions of all kinds are commonplace in our world today. An alcoholic turns from drink to sobriety. Westerners afflicted with boredom renounce their way of life and seek meaning from Eastern gurus. One person joins a cult and closes the door on his or her prior way of life; another looks for the power hidden within and turns away from institutional religion. Although these ‘conversions’ may be triggered by dramatic crises and result in changed behaviors, they are not conversions in any Christian sense. If they do not have Christ as their cause and object and His service as their result…If they do not involve turning from sin to God, on the basis of Christ’s atoning blood and by means of the Holy Spirit’s work, they cannot be called Christian.”

Perhaps you feel the disdain our culture thinks of this? Conversion in our day conveys a negative image or a moment of forced decision, as if someone were strong-arming you into making a decision you don’t want to make. But I submit that this notion is largely an unfair view of conversion. For example if we were to look in a thesaurus we would find the following synonyms for the word conversion: change, adaptation, alteration, renovation, transfiguration, exchange, and even transformation. Interesting isn’t it? That our cultures view of the word conversion is so negative while the synonyms bring nothing but positive pictures into view. I suppose the negative idea of conversion has crept in from Church history; specifically those moments on both the Roman Catholic and Protestant side of the aisle when conversion was done by coercion. When it was forced either by trial, by inquisition, or by war. These are stains on the history of Christianity and are evidence that the Church is full of fallen men and women. Events like these have long lingered in the mind of man giving us our modern distaste for the idea of conversion.

When we come to the Bible we see an entirely refreshing and positive view of conversion. Rather than being seen as coercion we see it as the great work of the Holy Spirit in beginning the Christian life by raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life. It is the moment of transformation, when we become, by the work of the Spirit, something we never thought we would ever be. Conversion in the Christian sense of the word, in the biblical sense of the word is nothing less than a complete renovation of the soul. Throughout the Scriptures there is one word rises to the top when we discuss conversion. This word in Greek is metamorphous, which as you can probably guess is where we get the English word metamorphosis. When this Greek word shows up in the New Testament it is usually translated into English as ‘transformation.’

See this in 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 which says, “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Here Paul is comparing the glory of the Old and New Covenants.

To illustrate this comparison he speaks firstly of Moses, who had to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites wouldn’t be terrorized by the glory of God. Paul says even in his day when the Law is read there is still a veil over the hearts of the Israelites. “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (3:16). More so, Paul seems to interrupt his argument with a statement about the freedom that comes into the heart when the Holy Spirit removes the veils and takes up residence within us. But upon further examination Paul isn’t interrupting anything. Paul makes this statement about the Spirit in v17 in order to tell us that the One who does the work of removing this veil over our hearts is the Holy Spirit Himself, and because the Spirit does this, we now have freedom. Freedom from what? Freedom from the Law, freedom from the veil over our eyes, freedom from the veil over our hearts. Freedom from the shadowy nature of the old covenant. Freedom in the crystal clear nature of the new covenant. Freedom to see the glory of God with nothing hindering our sight. Freedom to finally draw near to God without sheer and utter terror.

Then, in what has to be one of the most famous passages of Scripture, Paul summarizes by detailing this Spirit produced metamorphosis and transformation saying that in the New Covenant all those who come to Christ by faith, now, with an unveiled face, behold the glory of the Lord. And from beholding God’s glory we are literally transformed by that glory into another kind of person. Initially this is the moment of conversion, or resurrection, of the new birth. But notice that once God transforms us, that transformation doesn’t end, it continues on progressively from one degree of glory to another. This progressive work of transformation is called sanctification, where God, by exposing us to more of His glory, makes us into His holy image. So the initial moment of transformation in view here is a one time act of God’s free grace on us, and the progressive transformation in view here is the continual work of God’s free grace in us. If there is any doubt in the reader as to who is responsible for this unveiling, transforming, metamorphosing work, Paul makes it clear in v18, “This (all of this grace!) comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

Be reminded: we learn here that conversion is a transformation, where the Holy Spirit does the work of removing the veil over our hearts so that we can truly behold the glory of God. And from beholding the glory of God, what happens? We are transformed…initially and marvelously and throughout our lives God the Spirit continues to transform us to greater and greater degrees. Notice the end of v18 again, “For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” This is why Paul is able to call believers letters written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God in 3:3.

Change is needed, change is possible, and in Christ by faith that change is the epitome of renovation!

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7 Ways to Stoke the Fire and Avoid Burnout

There are a lot of people burning out these days; some for moral reasons, others because they tried to balance too much for too long. Many who haven’t “burned out” are not exactly following Paul’s charge to, “not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit” (Rom. 12:11a). So what can we do to keep the fire going and avoid burnout? Here are just a few ways we can practically thrive in our walk with Christ…

  • Meditation

“I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” Psalm 119:11

Steep your heart in the Word everyday. Don’t just read with your eyes. Turn it into a prayer. Pray the Word back to God. Meditate, then memorize, then meditate some more on what you’ve memorized. One way to do this is to carry around a tiny notepad and record what God has spoken in His Word that day to give you something to chew on all day and savor it completely. The late Jerry Bridges made this helpful point, “God’s Word must be so strongly fixed in our minds that it becomes the dominant influence in our thoughts, our attitudes, and our actions. One of the most effective ways of influencing our minds is through memorizing Scripture.”

  • Perspiration

“…bodily training is of some value…” 1 Timothy 4:8a

I know perspiration doesn’t sound as spiritual as meditation, but it is also important. Many of the problems we face could be solved with a little exercise and some healthy eating. One author has stated, “The cure for anything is salt water…sweat, tears, or the sea.” While that obviously takes things too far, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a good sweat. God created our beating hearts and sweat glands for a reason. As embodied spirits, we often aren’t aware of how connected our bodies and spirits are. Many have seen depression and discontentment lift after a period of regular exercise. Doctors say our hearts should beat at a rapid pace at least 30 minutes each day and we will do wise to heed them.    

  • Recreation

“…much study is a weariness of the flesh.” Ecclesiastes 12:12

While similar to perspiration, recreation focuses more on the creativity God gave us. Hobbies are good for the soul. Whether it’s carpentry, karate, racquetball, or cooking, we all need diversions from the demands on us. Some think the Bible’s call to sober-mindedness condemns this, but this is wrong. The truly sober-minded know that high levels of work and stress often lead to sin, so they insert recreation into life. Ancient watchman were given one watch of the night so they’d be fully alert during that watch. We’ve also got to mention the all important…sleep. God wired us so that we’d need this nightly recharge and for those who won’t humble themselves to get it, God will see to it that they are humbled for lack of it. In his little book Zeal Without Burnout, Christopher Ash writes, “To neglect sleep, Sabbaths, friendships, and inward renewal is not heroism but hubris.”

  • Mortification

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13

There is no sanctification without mortification. The great men of God in the Bible and church history were known for vigilance in this. John Piper calls this, “Holy sweat” and we can’t forget John Owen’s famous line that, “We must be killing sin or sin will be killing us.” There is no more sad creature in all the world than a believer cozying up to sin. Unbelievers live in sin, but they are blind to the glories of Christ. Believers, however, are at odds with their new union to Christ when they sin. They feel what David felt when he said, “My bones wasted away…my strength was dried up.” This is why Jesus said of indwelling sin, “kill it, gouge it out, pluck it out, and tear it from you.” Peter told us indwelling sin, “wage[s] war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Along with killing sin, we’ve also got to learn to say, “No” to extra demands on our time that keep us from what is most important. Even learning to discipline ourselves to put down the smartphone could help us keep a good pace.

  • Association

“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25

No believer was created to be a lone ranger. We need fellowship with other believers, especially in a local body with which we have covenanted. The church who practices biblical church membership is built upon this deep fellowship in the body of Christ. But sitting in a pew once a week is not sufficient to stir up our souls. We need a one-on-one relationship of accountability in the body and we also need a small group in the church that will keep us lifted in prayer and provide us with the necessary encouragement. All the while, we must not forget that we are there to serve our brothers and sisters and not merely be served by them.

  • Proclamation

“…Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” 1 Corinthians 9:16b

The Dead Sea is a fitting example of the Christian who neglects evangelism. Like the Dead Sea, if we have no outlet of the Gospel into the lives of others, we will grow stagnant and dry. Evangelism always reminds me of the lostness of the world around me and the great wonder of God’s saving grace in my own life. When you rub shoulders with the lost and listen to them share their worldview, it may just remind you how blessed you are to be in Christ, in turn filling you with a passion to share the Gospel with unbelievers.

  • Continuation

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

All of the above will not matter if we fail to persevere. Jesus said it is those, “who endure to the end who will be saved.” While it is true that God preserves His people, it is also true that God’s people persevere. In the same short letter, the Apostle Jude referred to believers as those, “kept for Jesus Christ”, then commanded us: “Keep yourselves in the love of God”, only to conclude, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling…” May we not lose heart and give up, for there is nothing but destruction for those who do. Hebrews 12:2 reminds us to, “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus…”

May we all run this marathon race of life with endurance, focus, and sustainable pace.

Sin is Like Pickles

Widely known for it’s licentiousness and loose living Corinth was one of the chief cities especially suited for sowing wild oats. So many oats were sown that Corinth reaped a widespread reputation for being the epicenter of vice in the 1stcentury. But sadly, within Corinth itself the Church had a worse reputation and to this very day whenever one speaks of the Corinthians the sin of chapter 5 quickly rises to the surface.[i]Why? Not solely because of sexual immorality. No, something worse was allowed to exist among them, something so atrocious that the pagans even blushed at it. Listen to Paul describe the specifics in 5:1, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.”

This man’s mother had most likely died and he was now living with his stepmother who may or may not have already divorced his father because of this sinful relationship.[ii]Whatever the details were there is no doubt about what’s happening here. 5:1 implies that this had been going on for sometime and was still going on at the time Paul wrote this letter to them. In such cases Paul is clear. The Church in Corinth must discipline the wayward man. Listen to 5:2-5, “And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”

Yes this man’s sin needs rebuking, but see how Paul calls out the Church in Corinth for how they’ve tolerated this man’s sin and allowed it to exist? This sin should’ve humbled them, shamed them, and brought the Church to repentance but v2 says they were arrogant. Perhaps they justified this man’s sin away saying it was a unique circumstance that required some more thought before any action is taken. Perhaps they saw it as a matter of this man’s Christian liberty to do as he pleased. Perhaps because such stout early Church theologians had taught them they thought God would overlook such things. Notice what Paul’s instruction is. Does he say this man’s membership is to be suspended? Or that this man should be enter into a lengthy counseling program? Or even that this man should be sent off to a rehab center where he can heal and grow. No, none of that is in play here. Paul’s instruction is simple and straightforward. “Let him who has done this be removed from among you…you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh…” On this man Paul has already pronounced the judgment the Church wouldn’t. So, he says, the very next time they assemble together in the name of the Lord Jesus, to worship the Lord Jesus, they are to remove the man who refuses to obey the Lord Jesus. Why? For His own good. To destroy the unruly lusts of his sinful flesh for sure, but more “…so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” If he refuses to obey Christ, the Church can no longer affirm his profession of faith in Christ, which means he must be removed from the Church of Christ for the very purpose of rebuking him, humbling him, bringing him to repentance so that he’ll be saved, in the end, on the day of Christ.

Many think this kind of excommunication is arrogant judgment within the Church that’s inconsistent with love, but it’s in fact the opposite. Love cannot be true where there is no discipline. Hebrews 12:6 tells us “Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines…” Remember, as the Father let his prodigal son wander off with his inheritance to allow the bitter consequences of what he’d chosen be experienced, so too this man in Corinth was to be removed so he’d experience the consequences of his sin.[iii]To not obey the Lord in removing this man who’s not obeying the Lord is also sin against the Lord. The Corinthians apparently weren’t willing to do it, so Paul commanded them to do it, for this man’s own good, in effect saying, ‘Love him in this way.’

Paul goes further. He says the wayward man in view shouldn’t only be removed for his own good, but should be removed for the good of the Church as well. We see this in 5:6-13 where Paul warns them of the effects sin can have when left undealt with.

It’s like pickles…follow me here.

Pickles are to some people what make the sandwich or burger complete, providing that last little garnish that elevates the flavors to their highest potential. These people are wrong and they are not to be trusted. Why take a perfectly good cucumber (or anything for that matter) and drop it into vinegar to make it better? I hate pickles. Not only do they taste awful, they leave a residue that is impossible to remove. For example…once at Chick-Fil-A I ordered a spicy chicken sandwich without pickles. Accidently someone put pickles on it, it was brought to the table, I picked it up and opened it to see if pickles were left off or not (as has become my custom)…and to my dismay they were still there! I knew what was going to happen. As quick as I could I reached down and took them off, cleaned my hands off, and looked back at the bun and saw those two little green circles where the pickle juice had soaked into the bun. It was all over. I ate the sandwich, don’t hear me wrong, but the instant I bit near those circles you could taste and smell the green ooze of pickle juice…it had invaded this perfectly good sandwich.

Lesson?

Sin left undealt with is like pickles, it invades everything in a church.

Paul uses another image, one from the Passover. Like leaven that easily and quickly goes through the whole dough, sin left alone in the congregation eventually effects and impacts the whole congregation. Or to say it another way, sin no one deals with eventually becomes sin that everyone deals with.[iv]What can they do to become pure once again? They must remove the old leaven so they would become a new lump. This is, after all, why Christ the true Passover Lamb was sacrificed – to make His people pure and holy. As Israel was set free from Egypt as a result of the Passover and made a clean break from them, so too the Christian from the work of Christ the Passover Lamb has been set free from the world, the flesh, and devil and because of Christ’s work we are now to make a clean break from the sin that entangles us.[v]If the Corinthians continue in their sinful arrogance they show themselves to be soaked through with the leaven of malice and evil, when they were bought and redeemed and filled with the Spirit of God in order to soak them through with the gospel leaven of sincerity and truth.

 

Citations:

[i]F.W. Grosheide, 1 Corinthians – NICNT, page 119.

[ii]John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, page 122.

[iii]Mark Dever, Twelve Challenges Churches Face, page 52.

[iv]Dever, page 53.

[v]MacArthur, page 129.

Jesus’ Questions for an Anxious Heart

Anxiety is something many of us face on a regular basis. From the womb to the tomb, we encounter a multitude of events that can lead us to doubt God’s good plans for our lives. In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus questions our sinful tendency to worry. Jesus was a master of answering questions with deeper questions, thus causing us to consider life from an eternal perspective. In Matthew 6:31, Jesus portrays our anxiety as worrisome questioning and fretful concern which wonders, “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear?” Yet Jesus’ answer to these questions comes in the form of more questions. Aside from commanding us three times, “Do not be anxious,” Jesus leads us to consider the foolishness of our fearful anxiety.

Is not life more…? (v. 25)

The first question Jesus uses to counter our fretfulness zooms out to view the full scope of our lives in light of what is currently worrying us. Ironically, Jesus identifies the most extreme causes of worry, implying that all other less-important causes are covered as well. Our Western mindsets worry primarily about much less significant things like financial stability, social likeability, and that inner feeling of success in life. But life is more than food, clothes, friends, account numbers, titles, and degrees. So when we begin to worry about something, we must learn to ask ourselves, “Isn’t life more than [insert your worry here]?” The rhetorical yes answer will remind us to live not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Are you not of more value than they? (v. 26)

Jesus’ second question turns our attention to what theologians call the imago Dei. As humans, we have been created in the image of God. Genesis 1:27-28 states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” Jesus had just called the people to consider the birds flying about over their heads there near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This reminds me of when God, “took Job to the zoo” (Mahaney) in Job 38-41, but the focus is different. Here Jesus wants us to consider our heavenly Father’s care for His creation. If God cares for the little animals under Adam’s dominion, then most assuredly He cares for Adam’s race. This side of the cross, we know God’s special love for those made in His image has been proven. Romans 8:32 reminds us, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”

Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (v. 27)

Worry and fretfulness not only cannot add time to our earth clock, but has been proven to take away from it. Not only do we waste time when we stress and worry over things, but we put our health in danger. So the next time you find yourself doubting God’s faithfulness in your life circumstances, consider the time you are wasting.

Will God not much more clothe you? (vv. 28-30)

From worries over food to worries over clothing, Jesus encourages us to consider God’s loving concern for His people. Earlier Jesus said to look up at the birds for a reminder of God’s provision and now He calls us to look down at the grass for it. We serve a God who provides the richest of clothing for the most lowly of His creation, so we should take heart. God will give His children what they need to glorify Him.

The remedy: Trust your Father and Make Him Known (vv. 31-34)

Once we have questioned our anxieties through Jesus’ approach, we have no reason for them remaining. We’ve discovered that life is more than what bothers us, God has a special love for those in His image, life is too short to worry, and we will have all we need to serve Him. But now what do we do with our lives? Jesus says we should live by faith in God and live for the fame of God. Those who seek to know God and make Him known will have all they need to further know and make Him known. Instead of filling our lives with doubts and concerns, we must fill them with faith that is active in the world for the glory of God. Faith in God fuels living for God’s fame. Since our heavenly Father loves us enough to send His Son to Calvary’s cross in our stead, we can now spread His kingdom in this world. And the good news is, we don’t even have to worry about His kingdom spreading, for He promised to build His church.

From Passover to Lord’s Supper

The word sacrament comes from the Latin word ‘sacramentum’ meaning a solemn or sacred oath. Roman Catholics believe there to be seven sacraments, most Protestants only believe there to be two of them; baptism, given to us in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), and the Lord’ Supper, given to us in Jesus’ teaching in the upper room (Matthew 26:26-29). In addition to the word sacrament is the word ordinance, which simply means a statute or command Jesus ordained for the Church. The difference between these two words comes down to what we believe is happening while engaging in these activities. To prefer the title ordinance over the title sacrament generally means one believes there is no grace communicated from God to those participating in the activities themselves. To prefer the title sacrament over the title ordinance generally means one believes there is grace communicated from God to those participating in the activities themselves. I prefer to call baptism and the Lord’s Supper sacraments because I believe God strengthens us in His grace through them, but I also do not mind the term ordinance either because these two practices truly have been ordained by God for the Church.

Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 92 asks, “What is a Sacrament? A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ, wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.” Did you notice that both the word sacrament and ordinance are present in this definition? Though we find people rejecting one title in preference of the other, it’s good to use both in defining what they are.

We can also state generally that both sacraments function as signs and seals. Signs, in that what the preaching of the gospel is to our ears, the sacraments are to our eyes.This means they visibly signify or show the invisible truth of God to us. In a very real sense the sacraments are a dramatized display of the gospel. But they are also seals. Just as a ruler in ancient times would seal a document with his royal seal to communicate that the message was from him and carried his authority, so too, the sacraments are visible seals from God promising that all who receive them truly participate in the grace given through them. Paul makes this point well in Romans 4:11-12 saying, “Abraham received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.”

As with all sound doctrine we must look into the whole of Scripture to find the whole overview of any particular doctrine. And this is especially true when we come to the Lord’s Supper, because its roots take us all the way back to the Exodus. Recall that during and after God redeemed Israel out of slavery in Egypt He instituted the Passover. As the final plague was drawing near God warned His people (in Exodus 12) to prepare for this moment by putting the blood of an unblemished lamb on each doorpost of their homes. The people were then to eat the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs in haste with their belts on and sandals on their feet. As God passed through to strike down the first born of the land of Egypt He saw the blood and passed over all the homes who have done this. This hasty meal was to be a memorial day feast celebrating the beginning of Israel’s new year from this day forward and it was these things that each prophet of God called the people of God back to throughout the Old Covenant. Then there’s a change.

As Jesus’ hour was drawing near He gathered together with His disciples to celebrate this Passover one last time in Luke 22. At this meal in the Upper Room Jesus did something new. Rather than repeating what the Israelites had done for ages and ages, He changed things. Here is how Luke recounts the moment. “And when the hour came, He reclined at table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood” (Luke 22:14-21).

As God instituted the Passover long ago for the remembrance of what He did to redeem Israel from slavery in Egypt and from the death of the first born, so too here Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper for the remembrance of what He was about to do to redeem God’s people from a greater slavery, sin, and a greater Pharaoh, Satan. And just as the Passover was to be a repeated event for Israel each year as they did life together in the land God brought them to, so too the Lord’s Supper is to be a repeated event for the Church as we do life together where God has placed us.

As often as the Church does this, her members see Christ’s death showed forth and are, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism question 96 says, “…not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of His body and blood, with all His benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.”

Job’s Rare Pearls – Scene 2

Two weeks ago we looked at the first scene showing us Job’s rare pearls (1:6-12). Today let’s look to scene 2.

Scene 2: Earth (1:13-22)

Here we move from heaven to earth, from the first specific day in v6 to a new specific day in v13. This day begins like any other day but ends up being a day he’ll never forget. Four messengers each with their own message come to him, they end up being, to him, more like the four horsemen of the apocalypse.[6]

v13-19 tells us the horrific details, “Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”

v13 sets the stage and we see that all his children were together in the oldest brothers home having one of their festivities. v14-15 is the first intrusion where we see a messenger come with news that all of Job’s oxen and donkey’s have been taken and the servants caring for them have been killed. Before we can catch our breath another messenger comes in v16 with the second intrusion saying all of Job’s sheep were destroyed by fire from heaven (lighting) and the servants caring for them have been killed. Again, before we can catch our breath from these first two messages, in v17 we see another messenger come saying all of Job’s camels have been stolen and the servants caring for them have been killed. First was the oxen and donkeys with some servants, then the sheep with some servants, then the camels with the rest of the servants. As these three messages hit Job wave after wave he stands in a stunned silence, probably unable to believe he has been bankrupted and stripped of most of his wealth in one afternoon. He’s gone from riches to rags.

But poor Job[7]doesn’t have time to process these losses when the fourth and final messenger comes. And we as the reader dread what’s coming next. We’ve felt wave upon wave with Job, and as this fourth wave approaches we think back to v13 wondering why we were told that all his kids were together. Then the worst news comes, a great wind has blown down the house with all the children in it, and they are dead. If we dwell on these four waves long enough it is not hard to weep with Job. Two terrorist attacks and two natural disasters leave Job basically all alone.

We, again, remember: the glory of God is more important than our comfort. We know it’s true, and Job does too, but Job didn’t get our privilege of seeing behind the curtain into the details of God’s providential governance of all things. What will he do? Will he curse God and reveal that he only loved God for God’s gifts? Or will he reveal that He loves God still, for God alone, despite what has occurred? v20-21 show us, “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

After all that has taken place what does he do? He acknowledges that one day he will die and leave it all behind, and he worships God confessing that God is God and that dark as his road may now be whatever God ordains for him is right. Job words have stood the test of time. Speaking of them Charles Spurgeon said, “Some of the rarest pearls have been found in the deepest waters, and some of the choicest utterances of believers have come when God’s waves and billows have been made to roll over them.”[8]

In v22 we see a wonderful conclusion to a truly horrible story, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”

By remaining godly Job gives us a breathtaking preview of Jesus Christ who remained faithful while walking a harder road for us.

 

 

Citations:

[6] Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 48.

[7] Ash, page 48.

[8] Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon Study Bible, page 642.

How’s Your Diet?

“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,  for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature.” (Hebrews 5:11-14a)

Stacey Irvine ate almost nothing but chicken nuggets for 15 years. She never tasted fruits or vegetables. She occasionally supplemented her diet with French fries. One day her tongue started to swell and she couldn’t catch her breath. She was rushed to the hospital, her airway was forced open, and they stuck an IV in her arm to start pumping in the nutrients she needed. After saving her life, the medical staff sent her home, but not before they warned her that she needed to change her diet or prepare herself for an early death (Story by Kenneth Berding).

Here is a woman who had plenty of opportunity to eat the way she needed to be healthy and strong, but she opted to eat primarily chicken nuggets neglecting the very nutrients she so desperately required. When we read this story we may think to ourselves, “How foolish can someone be? Why wouldn’t she simply mix in some fruits and veggies for a well-rounded diet? Why would she neglect her health in that way?”  But before we criticize her let’s take a look at our own lives. We may not be guilty of neglecting the physical nutrients we need, but are we guilty of neglecting ourselves of the spiritual nutrients we need?

In the above verses the author of Hebrews is scolding his readers for their spiritual diet. He is telling them that, “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.” His readers ought to be growing in their knowledge of God and in their spiritual maturity. But rather they have neglected the Word of God, becoming spiritually unhealthy.

And if we are not careful, the same could happen to us. We have plenty of opportunity to read God’s Word, go to Bible studies, and to hear sermon’s preached, but so often we neglect these things, becoming spiritually weak. And when we do this we hurt ourselves. We need the nourishment found in God’s Word to grow and thrive in the Christian life.

Paul in Colossians 3 tells the Colossian Christians that they are to “let the word of Christ dwell” in them “richly” and the Psalmist, in Psalm 119, declares that he has “stored up God’s Word in his heart.” And we too, need to be a people who regularly soak up the Word of God. It should be on our minds and in our hearts with regularity. God uses His Word to show us Himself and He uses His Word to transform our hearts and minds. Without it we will not grow, but rather we will be weak and immature in the faith.

Let’s not neglect that which is good for us, but rather let us regularly consume God’s Word for greater enjoyment of Him and greater growth in our Christian walk.

The Pastor’s Wife

Let me begin by saying that what compels me to write this is not personal frustration with church members, but a pure desire to consider this great woman in the life of our church and point us to a more biblical view of the pastor’s wife.

There is perhaps no greater calling in the world than that of the pastor’s wife.

That being said, there is perhaps no more difficult calling in the world than hers. While the pastor gets the accolades, his wife often gets the odd looks and questions. While the church loves a pastor they can call on 24/7, his wife must get accustomed to saying goodbye to him at the drop of a hat. While the pastor is busy sharing the eternal gospel, leading sinners to Christ, and counseling struggling Christians, his wife’s ministry is behind-the-scenes and often considered less important. Some even take the liberty to say things to their pastor’s wife they wouldn’t dare say to the pastor, but for some reason they think she needs to hear it. Because of this, I think it would be helpful for us to consider a few questions together about this woman in our church…

Who is my pastor’s wife?

I must sadly admit that I never gave much attention to my own pastor’s wife growing up. In my mind, she didn’t even exist until the pastor called attention to her. Thankfully, I had a pastor who didn’t call negative attention to his wife as I’ve heard some heavily influential pastors do. Yet my pastor’s wife was never an individual soul, but always scrutinized through the lens of her husband. She wasn’t Ellen in my mind; she was Pastor Larry’s wife. As a matter of fact, I was kind of disappointed when I did see her occasionally (it was a mega church) for some odd reason, and I think it was because she didn’t meet my expectations of a pastor’s wife (and I didn’t even think I had any!). After talking to many church members, pastors, and pastor’s wives, I don’t think I’m alone here. Over the years of my life, I’ve lived in various places for college, seminary, and ministry, and have learned an important lesson: No two pastor’s wives are alike. One may be a type-A personality who is gifted in teaching the Bible to women or hosting events each month for the church; another may be introverted and quiet, more interested in one-on-one discipleship. But who is your pastor’s wife? I think the best thing we can do is first consider her to be another church member before we attach some label to her.

Why do I view her so differently?

I think if we’re all honest, we view the wife of our pastor differently than that of another church member’s wife. There are good and bad reasons we do this. Some expect that the pastor’s wife is to have similar spiritual gifts as her husband, but this is nowhere taught in Scripture. Others view the pastor’s wife as another overseer in the church, but this also is unbiblical. Still others have a biblical understanding of the pastor’s wife and yet still treat her as an employee of the church. Now that I’ve been married and in ministry for the last five years, I’ve seen this weird dynamic of a pastor’s wife from firsthand experience, and even I’ve struggled to understand her role at times. Mostly well-meaning people have told my wife things about how she can do a better job raising her children, how she needs to serve in the church more, on down to how she needs to wear her makeup. All of these statements to my own wife over the years have revealed that people expect their pastor’s wife to be someone more than God calls her to be. From comments like, “Hey, the toilet is overflowing in the women’s restroom!” to, “I’m sorry I wasn’t here last week. I’ll try to do better,” pastor’s wives are often put in awkward positions.

So then what are the biblical expectations of the pastor’s wife?

Are you ready for it? Okay, here it goes:

They are simply the same as that of every other believing wife in the New Testament, and praise the Lord for that.

God places on each of us no greater burden than that of faith in Jesus and the lifestyle that aligns with such faith. In the Pastoral Epistles, the Apostle Paul doesn’t address the pastor’s wife in his qualifications for overseers, and what he says about deacon’s wives is nothing monumental. Paul says deacon’s wives, “must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” (1 Timothy 3:11). I think it is safe to say these qualifications are expected of every Christian, not just those serving in church ministry. Why does Paul pinpoint deacon’s wives? Perhaps because he knows the position of their husbands means others will see their lives in a more public way. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t expect anything more from our pastor’s wife than we would from any other godly woman in our church. She is to love and submit to her husband’s leadership in the home (Ephesians 5:22-24), nurture and disciple her children (Titus 2:4-5), love and serve her church family with her unique gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-7), and be a godly example in this lost world (Titus 2:3-5).  

What can I do to be an encouragement to her?

This is perhaps the most important question for us. The pastor’s wife and family live in one is commonly called a “fish-bowl.” Since the wife of your pastor is viewed differently, you and I should make it our priority to be an encouragement to her as much as possible. One seasoned pastor’s wife in a church in our town shared how a church member had greatly encouraged her at the beginning of their ministry with one small statement. This statement was so uplifting that this pastor’s wife held it dear for decades, and it was this: “I want you to know that you are free to be Randy’s wife.” Now that may not sound like much to you, but it meant the world to this pastor’s wife. Have you ever spoken into your pastor’s wife’s life with a word of genuine appreciation like this? It could change her world or even the future direction of your church.

But perhaps the greatest thing you can do for your pastor’s wife is to pray regularly for her. What should you pray? The same thing you would for any other godly woman: to abide in Christ, to love her husband and children, to shine for Christ in this world.

Besides encouraging her and praying for her, you can also consider ways to serve her. I spoke with another pastor friend today who said his wife hasn’t been able to enjoy a church service in weeks because no one volunteers to help her children. This was really sad for me to hear, but sad to say I wasn’t surprised. One woman in our church noticed my wife had to take our toddler-aged children out of the sanctuary one Sunday when children’s church was canceled and she simply offered to watch the children. This is one simple way to truly encourage your pastor’s wife. You could even get her a small gift or write a note to her that expresses how much she means to you and your church. On top of all this, you could simply befriend her. Many pastor’s wives feels isolated from the regular ministry of the church, so you could just get to know her as a friend and sit with her during church services. Who doesn’t want a friend who cares about them like this?

A word to the pastor’s wife…

I know there are pastor’s wives who read these blogs. If you happen to be one, let me encourage you. Don’t let the current spiritual health of the members in your church discourage you. Don’t let your husband’s endless demands on his time discourage you. Don’t let the awkward position that you’re in each week discourage you. When the kids are climbing the walls of your house like chimpanzees and your husband has to leave five minutes after he walked in the door to make a hospital visit and when the only things you hear from other members are ways you can do better, don’t get discouraged. How? Keep drinking from the enriching milk of God’s Word. Keep your soul saturated in the life that is yours in Christ. Keep your eyes fixed on the certain and sure hope of heaven that awaits all God’s suffering saints. Keep finding your life in Christ and Christ alone. Only then will you be the woman God has called you to be instead of trying to be the woman others sinfully expect you to be.

Job’s Rare Pearls – Scene 1

In the Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayer’s, a prayer named Man’s Great End begins with the following words, “Lord of all being, there is one thing that deserves my greatest care, that calls forth my ardent desires, that is, that I may answer the great end for which I am made – to glorify You who have given me my being…truly, life is not worth having if it be not improved for this noble purpose.”[1]In other words, our lives only matter if they serve the great purpose of the glory of God. Therefore it would be right to say that the glory of God is more important than our comfort. Right? Isn’t this a statement one we would all agree with? Of course we would. But, are there not some consequences to this statement that make us a bit uncomfortable? Yes the glory of God is the most important reality in all of life, but would we still believe that if God saw fit to glorify Himself by allowing suffering to come into our lives? We want to say “Yes!” but an honest assessment of our hearts may reveal a different answer and bring us to our knees in repentance.

In Job 1:1-5 we we’re introduced to a world where everything has a shiny veneer, a world where everything runs as it ought to run, where the great are also the godly and the good. But as v6 begins we see that this well ordered world is about to given to a very real and uncomfortable level of disorder. But in the disorder we’ll see one thing clearly. In God’s world there is a godly man who is great and, wonder upon wonder, when all of his greatness is taken away he continues to be a godly man.[2]This shows us that, to Job, God is worthy of worship because of who He is apart from anything He’s done for us. By remaining to be godly Job gives us a breathtaking preview of another man who would walk this road of suffering for us, Jesus Christ.

In 1:6-2:13 there are four scenes to witness:

Scene 1: Heaven (1:6-12)

v6 begins “Now there was a day…” and what a day it was! The events of this day would change Job’s life forever, and the ironic thing about it is that throughout the book of Job we never read of Job being made aware of the events of this day (which is itself a reason why Job couldn’t have written this book himself). We read that the sons of God, meaning the heavenly court or the divine council, came to stand before God. That they came to present themselves before God and stood before God shows us that these supernatural beings, though higher than men, are lower than God. Only God is on the throne and that these beings come when summoned shows us as much. It also prohibits us from believing this scene is something similar to a sort of Mt. Olympus scene where gods of equal power converse about how to run this world. This scene is nothing like that. Here only God is God, only God is in rules, and only God wields authoritative power in this gathering. All those present are the ones through whom God governs the world. No doubt, this is a meeting that makes any earthly governing body look puny in comparison.

Now, we do not know the guest list for this meeting but we are told in v6 of one individual who was present, Satan. We also do not know if he was a regular attender at these meetings or a regular member of the divine council, or if he was something of an uninvited guest or a kind of meeting crasher here. Whatever the case is, God speaks to him saying in v7, “From where have you come?” Remember God is God. He will not learn anything that He does not already know in Satan’s answer. In this sense God’s question to Satan here is similar to God’s question to Adam in Genesis 3:9 where God called out to Adam, “Where are you?” This was meant to reveal to Adam the weight of his own folly and sin, that he was hiding from the God who made him. The question was not meant to tell God something that he didn’t already know. So, that God asks Satan this question shows us that God already knows his reply and already knows that Satan is up to no good.

Satan’s response confirms this, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” This is a slippery answer, similar to the answer a teenager would give his parents when they ask what they’ve been doing all day. “Nothing, just stuff.”[3]The answer reveals that there’s more to the story that the individual in question doesn’t want to share. Clearly then Satan is up to something but God is aware his slipperiness and aware of his plans to attack one of His own. So He states in v8, “Have you considered My servant Job?” God then repeats in v8 what we’ve already seen in v1. He is blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning from evil. Commenting on v8 Christopher Ash says, “These fateful words, singling out Job as conspicuously genuine and godly, are to prove devastating in their consequences for Job.” Just as Jesus heard about His friend Lazarus being sick and waited two days for him to die before coming to help, so too, God, being very pleased by the life of Job, is the One who points Satan in the direction of Job.

But Satan believes something different about Job. That he’s not as holy as he may appear to be. In v9-10 Satan accuses Job before God saying he’s godly and upright because God has hedged him in so tightly, blessed the work of his hands so greatly, and increased his possessions so vastly. This is why Job is really godly, not because of who God is but because of what Job can get from God in return.[4]More so, Satan says in v11 that the only way to publicly establish if Job truly loves God or not is to take away this hedge, remove his greatness, and eliminate all his prosperity. Satan’s intentions here are horrible for sure, but do not miss that they’re correct. Now, God already knows what Job would do if all he has were removed, but no one else does. So its true that the only way to publicly prove to the watching world that Job loves God for God and not just for what he can get from God is to take away all he has. Flip the story around for a moment. If Job were a holy poor man, wouldn’t it be similar logic to give him riches to be sure that his holiness wasn’t just the result of his poverty? Indeed it would.[5]Either way, rich Job becoming poor Job or poor Job becoming rich Job, the root of Job’s love toward God will be exposed and all will see if it’s genuine. So, in v12 God gives the terrible instruction and permission, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.”

Pause here. We do not like the idea of God permitting Satan to attack Job, but that is what happens. For all his hatred Satan is doing something here for the glory of God.

Do you see it?

In a deep way it is necessary for it to be publicly seen by the watching world that God is worthy of worship apart from His gifts and blessings given to men. So ironically God uses Satan to play a role in this. It’s a role of opposition to be sure, hostile and hateful, but a role nonetheless that God wields for His own glory. Do not think Satan is God’s equal and the two of them are now locked in an epic chess game over the true affections of Job. No, God is God. He knows the end from beginning, and more so, He ordains all things that come to pass.

All of this teaches us that Satan is nothing more than ‘God’s Satan’ as Martin Luther was fond of saying. He’s only able to go where God allows him to go. So when, in the governance of all things, God sees fit to glorify Himself through the devil, He does so, and we perhaps remember our first thought again – God’s glory is more important than our comfort. Job got a first hand lesson in this, Christ got a first hand lesson in this, and we ourselves (though I’d say in a vastly lesser manner) must remember this every time we suffer in any way, shape, or form. That more is happening than meets the eye, and that God is always leading us well.

 

Citations:

[1]Valley of Vision, page 13.

[2]Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 37.

[3]Ash, page 42.

[4]Ash, page 43.

[5]Ash, page 44.

A Well Run World

Victorian author Thomas Carlyle once said, “Job is the grandest book ever written with pen.”[i]In the introduction to Job the recently published Systematic Theology Study Bible says, “Job is a literary and theological masterpiece. It combines surprising narratives and heated conversations that test the mettle of its main characters. The book’s goal is wisdom, which here and other OT books amount to balanced living based on a proper understanding of God and people.”[ii]And lastly, in the introduction to Job the also recently published Spurgeon Study Bible says, “The book of Job teaches that suffering comes to everyone, the righteous and unrighteous alike. God does not always keep the righteous from danger or suffering. Ultimately God controls all of life’s situations, including limiting the power of Satan. God’s comfort and strength are always available to the trusting soul.”[iii]

Before getting into Job 1:1-5 allow me to make two introductory comments.[iv]

First, Job is a very long book, forty-two chapters to be exact. And while we are very familiar with the beginning and end of the story, most of us have no idea what to do with the middle. But ask a question here at the start, ‘Why is Job so long?’ Perhaps the answer is that God wants to take us on a journey. A journey that will take some time. Through this journey God intends to make you into a different person. How? By entering into, becoming familiar with, and being unsettled by the suffering of Job. And learning that when suffering is in view, there is no easy answer. There is no quick fix. So rightly handled, Job cannot be distilled to a few sermons and general application. You must enter it and listen carefully. But not only is Job’s suffering in view, Christ’s suffering is also in view. Indeed without Christ’s suffering coming into view in Job’s suffering Job would only be a record of unanswered agony.[v]

Second, Job is poetry. Other than chapter 1, 2, and 42 all the rest of Job is poetic and we must remember that. Poetry always has a personal take on something, aiming not just at the head but at the heart of the reader. Because of this on one hand poetry is well suited to speak to the needs of the whole person. But on the other hand we must recognize that poetry doesn’t often sum things up in neat and clearly defined categories. Rather it tends to slowly work on us, revealing deeper and deeper layers as we dive deeper into it again and again. Christopher Ash on this very point says, “You cannot ‘do’ Job as a one-day tourist might ‘do’ Florence.”[vi]

As you can imagine there have been many commentaries, books, sermons, and songs produced from these forty-two chapters. A glaring omission in most all of them is Christ. How are we to see Christ in Job’s suffering? To see this, I’ve chosen Christopher Ash’s commentary to be our guide. It is careful, compelling, and Christ-centered. I encourage you get a copy of it and read it devotionally at some time in your life. I promise, you’ll find it very worth your time.

So without further ado, let’s look into Job 1:1-5.

If I were to ask you ‘What kind of world would you like to live in?’ what would you say? We’d eventually all come around to similar answers I think. We’d like to live in a world where that isn’t fallen, a world where the wicked don’t prosper and the good aren’t trampled on. Our friends across the pond in the U.K. have a saying to describe a gathering or meeting of important people. When talking about it they say ‘the great and the good were there.’ Isn’t that the kind of world what we want? Where the great men and women leading our world always do good, governing with justly and humbly? This well run world is what we find as Job begins.

v1-5 tell us four things about this prominent man from Uz.[vii]

His Place

Job lived “…in the land of Uz…” We don’t know much of Uz in Scripture. We read of it in Lamentations 4:21 which says, “Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, you who dwell in the land of Uz…” So from all we can gather it seems Uz was a city in Edom, a pagan land east of the promise land. Notice here not mainly where Uz is but where it is not. It isn’t in Israel and Job’s story never really comes into anything having to do with Israel at all. Most think Job was a contemporary of Abraham so remember the Jewish people hadn’t become a people yet, they weren’t enslaved in Egypt yet, God hadn’t given His Law yet, and He hadn’t brought them into the promis land yet. Before all these things, here is a man named Job who should’ve known almost nothing of God, yet truly does know God, trusted in God, and worshipped God.

His Godliness

Of all the things we hear of Job in v1-5 one of the most important things we hear of is his godliness. v1 says it, Job was, “…blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” This same word that shows up here as blameless is used elsewhere in Scripture. In Joshua 24:14 it is translated as sincerity. In Judges 9:16 it is translated as integrity. God calls Abraham to walk in this blameless way in Genesis 17:1, and in Psalm 119:1 we find that blessing will come to those whose way is blameless. So when Job is in view, what you see is what you get. This is the opposite of hypocrisy, a pretending to be something outwardly while knowing it’s a different story inwardly. Centuries later Paul had to counsel Timothy on how to pastor those who “…had the appearance of godliness but denied its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). Job is refreshing for us to see, for he has the appearance of godliness because there was real godliness about him.

He feared God and turned away from evil meaning verticallyhe had a true devotion/love for God. He was an upright man meaning horizontallyhe was honest and moral in his dealings with others. Job was a man you could trust to give you counsel and a man you could trust to do business with. Job was a man with true piety, and is certainly an exemplary model for Christians in all ages.

His Greatness

In v2-3 we learn Job has seven sons, three daughters, 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 oxen, 500 female donkeys, and many servants. From these things there is only one conclusion we can arrive at, Job “…was the greatest man of all the people of the east.”

Seven sons was seen as something of a goal to aim at. Naomi’s friends describe Ruth as “…being more to you than seven sons” (Ruth 4:15). When the formerly barren Hannah has children she praises God saying in 1 Samuel 2:15, “The barren has born seven!” The number seven symbolizes a complete number, and in this culture sons were not only a help with daily work but were also a promise of an extended family lineage. What more could you want then seven sons? Well, how about daughters? Three of them to be exact, which is also seen as a number of completion. Job’s quiver is full and his life is blessed for it. And in addition to his children we see him having an enormous amount of possessions. When you combine all his animals and servants that manage his entire estate we come to see that Job is a man of great wealth and power. So great and so powerful that there is no one like this man in all the east.

On this point Christopher Ash says of Job in his commentary, “Job was, on a regional or local scale, what Adam was meant to be on a global scale – a great, rich, and powerful ruler.”[viii]Pause on this and note. Job was enormously blessed by God, and Job was immensely faithful. But we also notice that there’s another thing about Job we see in v4-5 that shows us more of the story.

His Anxiety

In v4-5 we see that each time his sons and daughters got together for one of their birthdays, a festivity, or a feast day Job grew anxious. He would call each of them to his house for a ceremony. Rising early in the morning he prepare a burnt offering for each one of them. As God’s people would come into being, be rescued from Egypt, and be given God’s Law, they were commanded to do burnt offerings as well. This offering was an expensive ceremony, where a whole animal was burned up in fire. The fire symbolized God’s anger toward sin, the animal symbolized the sinner, and that the fire would then consume the animal entirely symbolized what God would do to sinners for their sin unless redemption occurs. As Job did this for each one of his children, perhaps he pointed to it and said, ‘This one is for you’ until all his children would be represented in their own offering. Seeing this we can rightfully ask, ‘Why go to all this trouble and expense to do this after each family get together?’ v5 tells us, Job would think, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Job had a deep integrity that is clear, but he isn’t so certain about his children. This, Job did continually.

So, in v1-5 the stage set for what is to come. In v1-3 we meet the man himself and in v4-5 we see what he did continually. “This sets a happy scene with one shadow. The happiness consists in a good man being good, a pious man being a prosperous man. It is a picture of the world being as the world ought to be, a world where the righteous lead. It is ironically a world where the prosperity seems to be true.”[ix]The shadow is that even in this seemingly perfect setting something dark lurks beneath the surface. Job is anxious about it after every family gathering. Even in this perfect scene we learn two great truths. First, in the best and most materially abundant of environments the possibility still exists for men and women to curse God in their hearts. Second, only sacrifice – bloody, gory, wrathful, substitutionary, atoning, sacrifice – can cover such sinful hearts.

 

Citations:

[i]Quoted in Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 15.

[ii]Systematic Theology Study Bible, page 567.

[iii]Spurgeon Study Bible, page 640.

[iv]Ash, page 22.

[v]Ash, page 15.

[vi]Ash, page 23.

[vii]Ash, page 30-36.

[viii]Ash, page 34.

[ix]Ash, page 35.

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

Creeds, Confessions, Catechisms, and Covenants in Corporate Worship

In his instructions to Titus, Paul writes that ministers are to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). The pulpit ministry that upholds and follows biblical exposition heeds these words of Paul. The pastor preaching the Scriptures verse-by-verse by using the historical-grammatical-theological/redemptive hermeneutic feeds his congregation. Theologically-rich, biblically based hymns are also a means by which the congregation is taught sound doctrine.

I would like to recommend a further means why which the preaching of sound doctrine can be faithfully taught in the corporate gathering of the saints each Lord’s Day. The 4 “Cs” are a way in which the congregation celebrates biblical truths, theology, and ecclesiastical bonds with the past. These four “Cs” are: creeds, confessions, catechisms, and covenants. Each of these is rooted in the Scripture: 1. an expression of doctrinal beliefs, 2. a reminder of the importance of church membership, and 3. a guide believers in the instruction of the faith.

Creeds

Perhaps you have heard that Baptists have “No creed but Christ” or “No creed but the Bible.” Some have boldly asserted these phrases to celebrate what they perceive as a Baptist distinctive: anti-creedalism. But Baptists are not anti-creedalists. While it is true that Baptists rejected creeds as a litmus test for citizenship, since Baptists abhor a state church, Baptists never disowned creeds as though they had no importance in the life of the church. Baptists have always held to Christian orthodoxy as expressed in the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Both Particular and General Baptists affirmed the use of creeds. The Baptist Orthodox Catechism, edited by the Particular Baptist, Hercules Collins, says the Nicene Creed and Athanasian Creed ought to be taught. In The Orthodox Creed, the General Baptists affirm and encourage Baptists to learn and teach the aforementioned creeds. The early Southern Baptist theologian, B.H. Carrol, affirmed the importance of creeds, when he wrote: “The modern cry: ‘Less creed and more liberty,’ is a, degeneration from the vertebrate to the jellyfish, and means less unity and less morality, and it means more heresy.”

Why should Baptist churches use the historic, ecumenical, orthodox creeds in corporate worship? These creeds provide biblically faithful and understandable defenses and explanations of the Trinity, the hypostatic union of Christ, and other central tenets of the Christian faith.

How should Baptist churches use these creeds in corporate worship? I recommend that churches consider using the creeds at the after they celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Reciting the creeds together will remind the congregation of the essential doctrine that unites them, but it will also remind them of the link they have with those who have gone before us in the Christian pilgrimage. As all churches are commanded to celebrate the Lord’s Supper until Christ returns as an expression of union and communion with Christ, the creeds reinforce the universal communion of all churches of Jesus Christ by reinforcing the essentials of orthodoxy.

Confessions

Founders Ministries has many excellent resources on confessions of faith. The public reading of confessions of faith is of practical use in corporate worship. Either the leader behind the pulpit or the entire congregation may read an article or paragraph from one of the historic Baptist confessions during congregational worship to teach the church sound doctrine and to express praise and worship to God for such wonderful truths. The New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith and the Abstract of Principles are excellent confessions that can be read systematically by article. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith often explains its doctrines in longer form and thus might require the reading of multiple paragraphs and it could take a little longer. In any case, reading sound confessions in worship and explaining them teaches the church sound doctrine. Additionally, as a pastor preaches through a book of the Bible, he might come upon a theological truth that is particularly well-articulated in a confession of faith, and he could use a confessional definition in his sermon. Utilizing confessions of faith contributes to the sound doctrine being taught to the people. This will also equip them to explaining the faith to others.

In 1855, C.H. Spurgeon gave an explanation as to why the 1689 was reprinted and the importance of confessions:

This little volume is not issued as an authoritative rule, or code of faith, whereby ye are to be fettered, but as an assistance to you in controversy, a confirmation in faith, and a means of edification in righteousness. Here the younger members of our church will have a body of divinity in small compass, and by means of the scriptural proofs, will be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in them.

Consider the exhortation given by Spurgeon: employ confessions to train believers in the faith.

Catechisms

Some in Baptist life think that only Roman Catholics use catechisms. But that notion reveals a lack of knowledge about Protestantism in general and Baptist history in particular. Baptists employed catechisms from the very beginning. An Orthodox Catechism edited by Hercules Collins in 1680 and The Baptist Catechism of 1692, perhaps edited by William Collins and Benjamin Keach, reveal the emphasis Baptists put on training in the Scriptures. In Southern Baptist life of the 19th century, both James P. Boyce and John A. Broadus wrote catechisms to teach Baptists sound doctrine. C.H. Spurgeon modified The Baptist Catechism and also produced a catechism for his church.

Parents should use catechisms regularly in the home as a tool for training up their children in the Lord. Catechisms are also great tools to be used in corporate worship. For example, the leader could ask the congregation a catechism question, and the congregation could read the answer from the worship guide, which has the Scripture references printed there as well. Families could then use the worship guide during the week to review and learn the catechism’s question and answer. Catechisms are wonderful tools of memorization. A case might be made that Baptist young people are unable to defend their faith when it comes under assault, partly because Baptists have neglected catechisms over the past century. It is nothing short of heartbreaking that men and women sitting in Baptist churches for 50 years are unable to explain in a simple way the tenets of the biblical faith. Once again, consider the counsel of C.H. Spurgeon:

In matters of doctrine, you will find that orthodox congregations frequently change to heterodoxy in the course of thirty to forty years, and it is because too often there has been no catechizing of the children in the essential doctrines of the Gospel. For my part, I am more and more persuaded that the study of a good Scriptural catechism is of infinite value to our children.

Covenants

If you grew up in a rural Baptist church in the South, like I did, you attended a church that had a “Church Covenant” on the wall, but the document was never taught, enforced, or even acknowledged. That is a tragedy because the doctrine of the covenant is one of unifying themes of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Church membership is covenantal. In a time when membership has become meaningless and even non-existent in many Baptist churches, I submit that church covenants need to be restored and used. Does it mean anything to be a member of your church? Baptists historically have used covenants to teach and strengthen the covenantal bonds among members in a local church. Timothy George describes the early Baptist covenants this way:

Common themes which resound through the various church covenants . . . include a commitment to doctrinal fidelity, the maintenance of family worship, mutual prayer and watchfulness over one another, financial support for the church, the faithful administration of the ordinances and discipline of the congregation together with the public worship of God, and an openness to receive further light from God’s revealed Word.

Historically, Baptist churches would often recite their church covenant before taking the Lord’s Supper together. Communion has direct links to church membership and church disciple. A congregation that reads the covenant together beautifully reminds everyone of the sacred vows that they have taken to Christ and of the oaths they have made to each other. Churches may also find it useful to read the church covenant at the business meeting to help promote the blessed ties shared among members.

Conclusion

You might not be in a position where you can implement all of the “Cs” in your context immediately. Be patient. Incorporate their usage prudently. Explain to the church why they are important. You might begin with catechisms in a Sunday School class or teaching through the church confession on a Wednesday night. Expose your people to these rich documents that are built on the Bible, linked to church history, distinctively Baptist, and promote church unity. In his opening convocation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the fall of 1993, Dr. Albert Mohler made this remark about the Abstract of Principles: “The Abstract remains a powerful testimony to a Baptist theological heritage that is genuinely evangelical, Reformed, biblical, and orthodox.” Brother pastors and laymen, let this be the heritage taught and passed on in our day!

This article originally appeared on Founders.org.

Deliberate Demilitarization with a Donkey

History has known many grand entries.

The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is one such entry. After the dinner party His friends threw for Him, beginning in John 12:12 we see the events that unfolded on the next day. Passover was once again approaching and Jesus decided to come into Jerusalem, being fully aware and already knowing that the chief priests and the Pharisees had put a price on His head. We read in John 12:12-13 that those who had come into the city to celebrate the feasts leading up to Passover heard of His coming and went out to greet Him.

Now, in the Jewish year three occasions held a prominent importance. Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. While Tabernacles was the most festive and joyous feast because it was a celebration of the end of harvest, Passover was, without a doubt, the most solemn occasion of the three. Here they remembered the Exodus liberation when the blood of the Lamb covered, protected, and saved them from the angel of death. Because Passover was such a cherished event for the Jews, almost every Jew from the nation would come to Jerusalem for it. The historian Josephus points out to us that on average around 2.7 million Jews would come to the city for the occasion.

So when we read that the large crowd heard Jesus was coming into town and then see this large crowd going to out to greet Jesus on His way into town in, do not imagine a small band by the side of the road making their way to greet Jesus. Picture it as it was. Near 2.5 million people vying for a spot close to the road to get a look at this Jesus who taught great things and did great things as well. So in He came and this massive hoard of people “…took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’”

Notice they brought palm branches with them. Question: palms are nowhere prescribed in any of the feasts of Israel, so why did they get them and bring them to the roadside? Answer: because of what they meant. 200 years earlier the Maccabees, after much struggle, finally and fully removed the wicked tyrants of the Seleucid empire who desecrated the temple and restored the true worship of God once more. After this removal and restoration took place they people celebrated with music, dance, feasting, and the waving of palm branches. From that point on the palm became a national symbol of military triumph the eventual liberation the Messiah would bring.

See then what these people were saying by bringing the palms with them. They thought Jesus would do to the wicked Romans what the Maccabees did to the wicked Seleucids. They thought Jesus would at any moment stop, blast the trumpet, and call the nation to pick up arms against Caesar. They thought Jesus would be their conquering King who would crush their enemies once and for all. This is seen in all the ‘Hosanna’s’ they cry out as well. Hosanna means ‘save now’ and it comes from Psalm 118 where we find the following, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save now (Hosanna!), we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!” (v22-26a) They were indeed looking for salvation from Jesus, but they were looking for it militarily. They were indeed looking to Jesus to redeem them, to deliver them, but they missed what His redemption and deliverance was truly about. That they added that last bit on about Jesus being the true ‘King of Israel’ shows that they wanted Him to be their King and usher in a new kingdom, and King He was and a Kingdom He would bring! But He would not be the King nor bring the kingdom they wanted.

Because He so disappointed the military desires of the people they would soon usher this so called king to a throne they would construct for Him, a throne made of wood, in the shape of a cross.

Jesus further illustrated these things with what He did next. In John 12:14-15 we read, “And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’” The quote is a combination of two Old Testament passages, Isaiah 40:9 which says, “Go up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’” And Zechariah 9:9-10 which says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and He shall speak peace to the nations; His rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

Having read these two passages which John has combined in v15 and knowing what kind of king the people were rejoicing in with palms as He came into the city, see what these two Old Testament passages put forward to us about the special kind of king Jesus came to be. These passages do not speak of a conquering King riding His war horse into the city, eager and ready to rouse he nation to revolt once again. No, these two passages speak of leaving fear behind, taking up great joy, and rejoicing loudly. Why? Because as they look and behold the King who is coming with righteousness and salvation, they see that He is a King like no other! He is humble, riding on a donkey not a royal steed, bringing peace to all nations in His global kingdom. By coming into the city in this way Jesus further deliberately demilitarizes the vision of a war bent king by coming as the Prince of Peace. He wasn’t the king they expected, but He was the King God had long ago appointed. This continues to show us how a crowd that cheered Him so loudly here on Palm Sunday could mock Him so wickedly on Good Friday.

If there ever was a picture to keep in your mind about who Jesus is, it is this one. He doesn’t come raging in fury bent on revolt riding a royal steed, but comes meek and lowly riding on a donkey bringing peace to the world through His gospel. If ever there was a picture to keep in your mind of what the Church is, it is this one. The gospel is a gospel of peace not of worldly power. We don’t spread the gospel of peace to this world with sword, might, or human strength, but with gentleness, humility, and peace. In this way the Church exists in this world to reflect the character of God to this world.

Indeed, Jesus is a King unlike any other, and He leads and builds His Church to be a people unlike any other.

Learning From Mary’s Extravagance

As John 11 ends and the chief priests came to agreement that they needed to kill Jesus, we saw Jesus leave the city and go to Ephraim to be with His disciples. As John 12 begins in v1 we see Jesus return to Bethany six days before the Passover to be with His friends again. John reminds us that Bethany was where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. And because He came His friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus threw Him a dinner party.

Now, we don’t see a guest list here. It could’ve been just the four of them or it could’ve included many people from the village who had been at the tomb when Jesus resurrected Lazarus. We do see what the three friends were doing though. Martha is doing the serving, Lazarus is doing the eating and reclining at the table no doubt enjoying being alive, and Mary, well Mary does something so extravagant that it caused quite a stir. John tells us in v3, “Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair.”

We see an action like this and are a bit confused because this custom seems a bit distant from us. In their day expensive ointments or perfumes like this were often used and poured on someone’s head for special days whether it be a wedding or a festivity of some kind. In describing this event John seems to go out of his way here to point out that this action was fantastically expensive.[ii] Mary grabbed perfume, not just any perfume but expensive perfume, not made from any old plant by the side of the road, no, this stuff was made from pure nard, and she poured all of it out, a whole jar of it. In v5 we learn more, that this much of that kind of perfume costs 300 denarii, which was a year’s salary to a common worker. This is the equivalent of $40,000 today. In a few seconds, in one pour, it’s all gone. Some conclude from this that these friends must have been wealthy to be able to afford perfume like this. If they were they show a good example of not hoarding riches but using riches for good and godly purposes. But we don’t know of their wealth or lack thereof, the perfume could’ve been a family heirloom, something of a prized possession in the home.[iii] Whatever their economic status was, that she used this whole costly jar up in this moment showed what she truly valued.

This action was not only fantastically expensive, it was action was fantastically humble. Mary didn’t anoint His head but His feet. Bathing wasn’t as common then as it is today and streets were not as clean then as they are today. Taking these things into account and adding the heat of the day into the mix, you can only imagine how nasty and smelly feet were back then. Because of this when one entered someone’s home either a slave or they themselves would have to wash their feet so nothing would get tracked in. To attend to ones feet in this day was the duty of the lowliest of slaves.[iv] This act is all the more striking because in this day a Jewish woman wouldn’t normally let down their hair in public, to do so was seen as a mark of loose morals.[v] Recall that John the Baptist once said he was unworthy to even untie the sandals on Jesus’ feet (1:27). That Mary attended to Christ’s feet and wiped them off with her own hair, was her own way of saying the same thing, and it indicated that she was gladly willing to not only freely give to Him what was very costly to her, she was also willing to do the lowliest of tasks for the sake of Christ.

Charles Spurgeon, seeing how each of these three show their inward devotion to Christ outwardly, once said, “The children of God do not always feel moved to serve the Lord Jesus in the same fashion or to express their love to Him in precisely the same manner.”[vi] Martha served, Lazarus reclined, and Mary, what an example we see in Mary, she gave sacrificially and served humbly. Mary’s love for Christ was extravagant and her actions remind us that it is always appropriate for an extravagant display of devotion to Christ. Perhaps Mary was thinking of Isaiah’s vision of beautiful feet, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns” (Isaiah 52:7).[vii] Perhaps she looked at Christ, who He was, what He was doing, what He was teaching, and concluded that He was worthy, worthy of everything she had.

Here’s my question for you: what could you and I possibly do that would be too extravagant in honoring Jesus, too extravagant in praising Him, too extravagant in giving Him glory?

Is there an offering to big?

Is there a song to loud?

Is there a study too deep?

Is there a heart to happy?

No!

So, what are you, right now, giving to Christ that shows your love for Him? What could you, right now, give to Christ that shows your love for Him? Is it extravagant? Is it costly? It is sacrificial? When it comes down to it, if we know Jesus we’ll recognize that in Him we have more than any earthly possession could ever give us. This frees us to give extravagantly, not only to one another, but back to God as well.

When we see the result of Mary’s very visible devotion in v3b, that the whole house was filled with a pleasant aroma, we cannot help but think of the pleasant aroma of gospel grace that every church and every heart as we serve one another sacrificially and humbly.[viii]

May this be true of us.

 

Citations:

[i] Richard Phillips, John 12-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary, page 72-73.

[ii] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 576.

[iii] Phillips, page 73.

[iv] Morris, page 576.

[v] Morris, page 576-577.

[vi] Spurgeon Study Bible, notes on John 12:2-3, page 1444.

[vii] Wolfgang Musculus, John 1-12 – Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 437.

[viii] Johannes Brenz, John 1-12 – Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 439.

The Folly of Sunday Morning Segregation

At the end of John 11 a group of unbelieving Jews sneaks off and tattles on Jesus for raising Lazarus from the dead. The result is that a council is gathered. But the surprising result of the council is that a spiritually dead man proclaims the global atoning work of Christ. We see much in this scene.

The council is made up of chief priests and Pharisees and the initial hullabaloo of the council begins with the words we find in John 11:47-48, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” These words expose much about their hearts.

Firstly, they’re at a loss. They acknowledge that Jesus has truly performed many miracles and that everyone will believe if they continue allowing Him the freedom to do so. It’s understandable that they would feel like this but do you see how they’re making a bit of an exaggeration? Have they forgotten how the massive crowds left Him once He began teaching hard things at the end of John 6? Have they forgotten that just now a group of Jews came to tattle on Jesus after raising Lazarus from the dead? Have they forgotten that not everyone has believed in Him? It seems they have.

Secondly, note their continuing unbelief. They do truly acknowledge that Jesus has done these miracles, yet this acknowledgement doesn’t lead to belief, it only spurs them toward a more wholehearted opposition.[i] This is usually not what we see happen. People in Scripture who recognize Jesus’ power to do what no one else can do usually respond to Him by falling at His feet calling Him Lord. So why do these guys grow more hostile after recognizing His true power? Because of the hardness of the their hearts. They know Jesus’ miracles to be true, to be powerful, and therefore they know His claims to be God must be true as well. But that doesn’t push them toward belief. It pushed them deeper into unbelief.

Thirdly, they’re fearful and anxious. If Jesus continues to gain momentum with the people they believe they’ll lose two things: their place and their nation. By referring to their ‘nation’ they mean the Romans will see Jesus’ movement as a rogue religious Jewish threat and desire to put a quick end to it militarily. If that happens they’ll lose the religious freedom Rome now gives them as a nation and since their religion is what by and large defines them as a nation, Israel as a whole would be lost. But I’m not convinced that’s their main concern.[ii] By stating the concern they have for their ‘place’ first shows what they’re really worried about. Sure the nation may be lost, sure their religion could be wiped out by Rome, but if all that goes what also goes with it? Their prominent role in the spotlight as chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees. So, Jesus was threatening their position of power and prestige among the people. This was their main concern.[iii]

After this first outburst of anxiety this council is silenced by their leader. Caiaphas, the high priest, spoke up in v49-50 saying, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” Into this frazzled mix Caiaphas brings sharp rebuke. He makes it clear that they have no idea how to see this situation for what it is and that only he has a clear enough insight to see things as they are and give the needed answer.[iv] In his wisdom he suggests that they need to kill Jesus in order to save the people. Now be sure to understand that he didn’t mean this in a Christian sense, he meant that they must execute Jesus so that their ‘place’ and ‘nation’ as a whole would continue to exist.[v] But we, and really any reader of John’s gospel after the cross, can’t help but see more in his words. Caiaphas calls for the execution of Jesus for the purpose of self-preservation, but we see a call for the execution of Jesus for the purpose salvation. Lest we think we’re just reading too much into Caiaphas’ words, the beloved disciple John gives us proper interpretation in v51-52, “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”

Now we must pause and linger to see what is being said to us.

I bring these things up because in v51-52 we come face to face with one of the most important matters in the entire Scripture, the atonement of Jesus Christ. The questions ‘Why did Jesus die?’, ‘Who did Jesus die for?’, and ‘What did His death accomplish?’ are all answered for us in this text. In its simplest form we’re told here that Jesus’ death was a death for others and not a death for Himself.[vi] How is it a death for others? It is a death intended to gather in the children of God spread across the nations. In theological terms we’re told here that Jesus’ death was a substitutionary death. Meaning that on the cross, Jesus offered Himself up as a sacrifice, taking our curse upon Himself, bearing the penalty we deserve, satisfying divine justice in our place as our substitute, so sinners like us could be reconciled to God and welcomed into His family at the feather touch of faith. Caiaphas believed it was either the nation or Jesus that would die, and that if Jesus died the nation would live. It would be his life for theirs.[vii] Caiaphas callously and cynically was speaking only in political terms of what Jesus’ death would mean for Israel. But unbeknownst to him, he spoke (prophesied) of what Jesus had come to do as the Lamb of God, not just for believing Israelites but for all those from every nation who believe as well. The irony John points out to us here is that what Caiaphas intended for harm God intended for the eternal salvation of His global people.

Be reminded, in v51-52, why Jesus died, who He died for, and what His death accomplished. But also be reminded that His death is a death that is global in its scope. Any person, from any nation, people, or tribe that hears the gospel, and is struck by the depth of their sin, struck by the breadth of Christ’s beauty, turns away from that sin, and turns toward Christ in faith will become children of God.

Because this gospel is global in its scope every ministry in every nation should be global in its scope. This not only moves us toward giving to missions and sending missionaries to spread the gospel in other parts of the world, this moves us toward being intentional about becoming congregations that reflect the global nature of the gospel. In our racially divided world, do you see what a breath of fresh air the Church ought to be? It is a sad truth of our time that Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours of the week. v52 ought to make you grieve at that reality.

The global nature of the gospel demands that the culture of Christ’s Church not be defined by the color of our skin but in our common bond in Christ.

Since Christ’s death is multi-ethnic in its scope we must strive to have more than mono-ethnic congregations.

Since Christ’s death is multi-ethnic in its scope we must strive to cease living mono-ethnic lives.

From seeing the global nature of the atonement we must embrace the global scope of the gospel. May this be your desire: there is a wideness in God’s mercy as wide as the sea, far it be from me that His mercy ends with me.

 

 

Citations:

[i] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 563.

[ii] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC, page 420-421.

[iii] R.C. Sproul, John – St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 215-216.

[iv] Morris, page 567.

[v] Carson, page 422.

[vi] Morris, page 568.

[vii] Morris, page 568.