What Did One Temple Say to the Other Temple?

One day The Temple walked into the temple.

In John 2:13-17 we find the account of Jesus walking into the Jerusalem temple to have a rather lively encounter with the money-changers and those who were profiting by selling animals for sacrifice. Jesus, God incarnate, sees these activities and cleans house with zeal and authority. His actions fulfilled Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

This section of Scripture has caused many people to place all sorts of restrictions about what we can and cannot do in church buildings. Is this action really applicable to modern church buildings and anything sold in a church premises? If John 2:13-17 is all you read, you might be inclined to think so. If you read further, there is more to consider in vs. 18-22.

“So the Jews said to him, "What sign do you show us for doing these things?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”

Jesus brought authoritative judgment into the Jerusalem temple and then claimed that he himself was the temple. This was of course confusing to all who heard it. The Jews were thinking of the physical structure of Herod’s temple being rebuilt in three days and the disciples were clueless onlookers until they witnessed the resurrection.

Essentially Jesus was showing that he himself was the fulfillment of the physical structure and its function. The temple was a place for obtaining right relationship with God through sacrifice. It was a place where Israel would gather for worship. It was a place that depicted God’s dwelling presence with his people and a constant reminder of the need for holiness. The zeal Jesus displayed with the money-changers had everything to do with their contempt for sacrificial atonement, God’s presence, worship, and holiness. When Jesus refers to himself as the temple it has everything to do with sacrificial atonement, God’s presence, worship, and holiness. All of this was fully displayed in Christ through his death and victorious resurrection.

Jesus has replaced the function of the temple. He is the once and for all sacrifice, the presence of God with his people, the only access to worship the Father, and the justifier of repentant sinners. As soon as you read Jesus’ statement about his own body you realize that the people of God no longer worship through a location but a Person. Jesus, The Temple, not the church building, the temple.

When Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples believed the Scriptures. Which Scriptures did they believe? One could argue that they believed Scriptures such as Psalm 16:8-11 that talk about the body not seeing corruption and being raised. Perhaps though the disciples realized that the physical temple had become a thing of the past because everything has been achieved by the once and for all Lamb of God. All of the Scriptures about the function of the temple had been completed in three short terrible and glorious days.

What did one Temple say to the other temple? “It is finished.”

Have You Forgotten Who You Look like?

As a kid I remember watching the classic film about Hans Christian Anderson. I enjoyed watching Danny Kaye sing and dance as he told stories to children and I can even remember the tunes today even though it has been years since I last watched it. One of the stories was about the ugly duckling who didn’t realize that it wasn’t so ugly after all. As it grew, the duckling realized that it was no duck at all, but as it looked into the still water found that it was an elegant swan. It was time for that swan to live out what it knows to be true.

Hans Christian Anderson might have been an early preacher of self-esteem doctrine, but there is still some reality to the message that we should not forget who we really are. The Apostle James says it another way to encourage Christians to live authentic lives that are consistent with our calling in Christ. I James 1:23-25 he says, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” If our identity is in Christ, we must not give it lip service. We are to not only hear the Word of God but to do it and show in our active lives that trusting Christ is how we live. James says this is like a reflection. We are to be like people who know who we are in a mirror so that we act that out in public. If we are God’s children, then the reflection of God must be evident in our words and thoughts and deeds.

I love that James uses the idea of reflection in his simile. In Christ, the reflection we see should be a reflection of our very identity. The identity of every Christian is that we are children of God in and through the Son of God. Our Father’s character should be a defining characteristic of who we are and how we act. The problem is that as we think about the consistency of our reflection, we realize that we are fallible human beings who have no possibility of a perfect representation of the pure, perfect, holy God. We just cannot live up to that.

This is why it is so wonderful that Jesus has accomplished all that we cannot and that his accomplishments are actually applied to us through faith. Does the bible tell us that Jesus has accomplished a perfect reflection of the pure, perfect, holy God? Yes, it does. Christ has done it in character, in words, in thought, in will, in action and in every way imaginable. We do not get any sense that Christ deviated even one percent from a perfect image of the Father. This is why the writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus is the, “…radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…”(1:3).

Jesus has no identity crisis. As the perfect Son of God, he is the very nature of God and his exact representation is in every aspect including the power of God, the work of God, and the majesty of God. He never forgets who he is. He is always our Creator who became our Savior in perfect obedience to the Father. He is the exact imprint of God in every way. God has represented himself to us in His Son.

If you are struggling in reflecting the image of the one true holy God of the universe, take heart. Look to Christ and find both an accomplishment in your place and the perfect example for us to follow. When you look in the mirror and see the scratches and bumps and wrinkles and when you are reminded that you are a desperate sinner, remind yourself that when the Father looks at Christians, he sees through the lens of a perfect reflection of himself. He looks at Christ in our place.

We are ugly ducklings. All of us. But our faith is in the most beautiful Swan and his reflection is always stunning.

The Fellowship of The Light

No, it is not the fellowship of the ring. There are no secret messages that light up when you get closer to Mordor. There are no dwarves and elves to help us on our pursuit in victory over evil.

There is, however, a people who have been saved out of the despair of sin and from the eternal and righteous judgment of God. Those people are one people called the Church. We are a people who have accepted the apostolic witness of Christ and in the enlightenment of the Spirit of God have heard and believed the good news of Jesus. This is the good news that Jesus Christ has given himself for our sin to rescue us from this present evil age. Yes, there is a victory over evil, but it is not or ever will be our doing. It is Christ’s alone on our behalf.

In 1 John 5-7 we read something about this precious fellowship that we have with the apostles as the believing church. “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

In the previous verses, John had told us that the apostles witnessed Jesus in a physically experiential way. They had touched Jesus and seen Jesus and heard him speak with their own eyes, ears and hands. John says that in the true revelation of Jesus Christ they have fellowship with the Father and the Son. They have a vertical relationship with God because of their faith in the one and only Messiah. In verses 5-7 we find that our fellowship as believers is directly connected to that of the apostles as we walk in the same truth in faithfulness in our life.

There is one characteristic about our Christian fellowship that we must all accept. It is a fellowship based on light. That light is God himself and in God there is no darkness at all. In the Scriptures it is very apparent that the entire world is in darkness due to the comprehensive power of sin. This darkness has no truth and this darkness has no holiness or hope. If we are those who love the world, we are those who love darkness. If we claim to believe upon the apostolic witness of Jesus, then we must trust that reconciliation with God in Christ brings us out of darkness into the light. We are no longer those who desire to walk in the darkness. We are no longer those who call darkness light.

Walking in the light of Christ and not in the darkness of the world confirms our claim of fellowship with one another. As we do so, we can look forward to the day when Jesus will finally cleanse us entirely of sin and the darkness will be eternally eradicated.

It is a beautiful thing to know that our Savior has already dealt with darkness. It is beautiful to see that our fellowship in Christ means that we don’t do it alone. Together, and in the continuation of the salvation that came to the apostles, we encourage and build each other up to continue to walk in the light and toward the eternal light that will never dim. Together we shine into a dark world.

Eagle's Wings: A Historical Reality

Perhaps you have watched a movie or TV show depicting a man crawling in his last moments through a hot, lifeless desert. As he climbs over one sand dune he sees countless more in front of him and the hopelessness of his situation is clear. He is going to die.

The people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. They were rescued by God as he gave them exodus from slavery through the parting of the red sea and drowning their pursuers. He brought them through a desert wilderness where in any other circumstances they should have perished. Instead of perishing, they were able to move through the desert without their shoes wearing out. God guided them by cloud and fire and provided food for them to collect every day except for the day they could collect double for the Sabbath. After a long and arduous journey, they came before enemies who opposed their very existence. Without God, Israel would never have survived.

If you read the book of Exodus, all of the above information about Israel is presented as an historical event that was echoed for generations as God pronounced his faithfulness to his chosen people. Israel was carried by the Lord through the desert as God took his people out of exile through exodus and into the land of promise. In Exodus 19:4, God’s sovereign deliverance and protection is described using the imagery of an eagle. “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.” The imagery of the eagle’s wings is a beautiful explanation of God’s sovereignty and providence in a period of history that would become a picture for God’s people in future times.

In Isaiah 40, God gives a rebellious Judah hope in the midst of his judgment. Isaiah is writing to Judah to give them comfort about God’s faithfulness in the future exile that they are going to experience at the hands of Babylon. As Isaiah brings God’s comfort to exiles, he reminds them that God is the omnipotent Creator of all and that the most powerful of human nations are simply like withering grass. Babylon is no threat to God and Judah should trust that their God will faithfully fulfill the covenant that they could never keep. In verse 31 God uses imagery that this people have heard before in the writings of Moses. “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Those who trust God can know that he is a God who will bring them out of exile and sustain them again in a new exodus. The reason that the exiles can take comfort in this is because God is referring to something that he has previously accomplished in history as a real-life example. It is a reference that Judah remembers as an historical foundation of their very identity as God’s people.

In Revelation 12, John gives this image of an eagle once more. This time the book of Revelation is written to a church living in this evil world of persecution and problems and looking for hope awaiting the final consummation. The Apostle John talks of a woman who goes through the wilderness and gives birth to a boy who rules the nations with a rod of iron. This is the same statement we hear from Psalm 2:7-8 that is no doubt a reference to Jesus. Through God’s chosen people the promised child comes, and while the great dragon attempts to slay him, the child is caught up to God and to his throne (Rev 12:5). The woman is then is pursued by the dragon but is given the wings of an eagle to be sustained in the wilderness wandering of this world for an allotted period of time (Rev 12:14).

If we know our history, the imagery in Revelation 12 should give us great hope. We may feel like the persecution and problems in this world are too difficult to bear, but we should always remember that just like God had brought Israel out of Egypt and out of exile in Babylon, he will bring his people out of exile in this evil world and sustain us through the wilderness until he also brings us home. The reality of this imagery gives us hope not because these are beautiful pictures but because of the historical reality they depict. They depict God’s saving grace in choosing and protecting his children. Our exodus from this world comes through the cross of Christ, the Child born of a woman and hunted by the world. In Christ we have a faithful God who is bringing his people all the way home. The historical relevance of God’s saving grace and providence are the eagle’s wings that will carry us into his promise of a new creation. The historical reference of eagle’s wings tells us that when God saves, he faithfully saves to the uttermost.

The Bible: Not Science, but Not Disconnected from It.

As I grew up around the ministry of Answers in Genesis and worked in that ministry for many years, I was certainly impacted by the clear thinking this organization promoted when it comes to the subject of the bible and science. I know other creation apologetics organizations do similar and I am thankful for their contribution in serving God’s Church.

One of the common accusations made against biblical creationists (often known as young earth creationists) is directed toward how they treat the bible. You will hear statements such as, “The bible is not a science textbook.” This claim suggests that biblical creationists misinterpret scriptures by seeing them essentially as a scientific instruction manual rather than God’s revelation of himself. This is quite a distinct misrepresentation of biblical creationists. In all my years around creation apologetics ministries I have not met one biblical creationist who believes that the bible is a scientific instruction manual. What I have found is that biblical creationists (many are also PhD Scientists) believe the first eleven chapters of Genesis are historical narrative revealed by God and written through Moses to give an account of the history of the origins of all created things in the context of the entire history outlined in scripture. This means that the identification of biblical genres (particularly historical narrative), historical recording of genealogies in the Old and New Testaments, the use of biblical language and grammar in interpretation, and the consistency applied through all of scripture, point biblical creationists to a solid stance on a young earth originally created in a period of six normal days (and a day of rest). In short, they come to their position firstly through the historical recordings of the bible and not because they believe it to be a science textbook.

If the history of the bible had no connection to the real world in which we live, then it would be an absurd book. The commitment of our brothers and sisters in biblical creation ministries is one that comes from recognizing that faith is not blind. They believe that the historical narrative serves a very real purpose of telling us about what happened in this real world and in a real past. They believe that the real evidence we all see in this world should corroborate with the historical narrative of creation, fall, flood destruction, and animal and human diversity outlined in the text. The scientific observations they make show real and obvious connection to the historical narrative of the bible without having to incorrectly perceive the bible as a scientific textbook. In this way, the bible is not a science textbook, but the history cannot be, and is not, disconnected from scientific process and discovery. If it was, it would not be a real history. God created a real world and he recorded it in history. He put us in this real world with capacity to experience the physical realities of what he accurately revealed to us in the historical accounts of the bible. We have seen these physical realities in biology, astronomy, geology, anthropology and archeology.

This Sunday we commence a series called The Jesus of Genesis. We will be looking at the themes in scripture that run through the historical accounts that start in Genesis and lead to Jesus. Before we really get into this series, we must acknowledge that the themes of biblical history that run directly to Christ are themes that start, proceed, and finish in a real world with a real historical origin that is not disconnected to our central focus on Jesus who is our real historical Savior.

So yes, I am thankful that Answers in Genesis and other creation apologetics organizations seek to serve the church in showing how the historical account of creation connects to a real physical world in which we live. It might simply be one aspect of highlighting the importance and the authority of the bible, but it’s one that is often overlooked in its helpfulness in seeing both the spiritual and material unity of the biblical message. It helps us in knowing that the biblical themes that run to Jesus are not merely intellectual playgrounds for bible scholars but real historical lines that outline God’s purpose for us in Christ. They start in reality, they proceed in reality and they point to our future reality.

A Thank You Letter To My Church Family

A Thank You Letter to my Church Family

Dear Hyde Park Baptist Church Family,

We have recently taken 5 months working through our Savior’s Sermon on the Mount together. Last Sunday we heard five representatives from our church give testimony of how this sermon series has impacted their lives. I cannot help but think that our five brothers and sisters are simply a representation of our wider body.

As I thought about what each of them had to say, I realized how much you do really think through the teaching that is placed before you each Sunday. Many of you have indicated different aspects of the Sermon on the Mount that have touched your heart and challenged you to change for the glory of God.

As I have contemplated this in the past few days, I have done so with a joyful heart of gratitude to God for his kindness to us. It is not easy to hear some of the hard-hitting statements in Jesus’ sermon. Each of us have had to look at our own hearts before the holiness of our perfect Lord. Each of us have had to evaluate our lives against his unattainable standard. Each of us have had to come to grips with the fact that our only answer from this sermon is that we need a Savior. Well, we have one. Isn’t our Savior so magnificent beyond words?

Some of you have changed your attitudes in certain areas. Some of you have changed your behaviors. Some of you have simply changed your thinking, and some of you have taken certain heart issues more seriously. I hope all of us have found areas for repentance and renewed faith. All in all, your feedback from the testimonies of our brothers and sisters has given me so much more confidence that God’s Word is not bouncing but penetrating. So, this is the response of a grateful pastor.

My gratitude, and the gratitude of my fellow elders, is because in obedience you have allowed the word of God to penetrate your hearts through the renewal of your minds. Thank you for hearing and heeding the Word of God. I know you don’t need my gratitude. You didn’t listen and respond for my sake but because of the glory of our Savior and Lord. That in itself does make me thankful and I can’t help but express it.

In one of our last sermons we heard some corresponding verses from James 1:25, “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” Please let us never abandon this promise in our church family. Let’s never only hear the Word of God but let’s both hear and obey it. Let us seek to please Christ by actually applying his beautiful revelation to our lives in true repentance and living faith. Let’s live together as doers who are blessed. Let’s make our desire as a body to honor our Lord. As we listen to our brother Robert preach this Sunday, let’s do it together yet again.

Thank you Church Family, I love you!

Who Is the Authentic Jesus?

As you read through the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, it’s not difficult to see that Jesus is talking to his disciples about what it means to be an authentic disciple. The beatitudes describe the beautiful attitudes of those who have truly placed their faith in Christ. Jesus preached about disciples who do not hide their light as they bring gospel saltiness to the world. Jesus also explained that his authentic disciple is less concerned about meticulous law-keeping than the state of their hearts from which obedience flows. Disciples are not focused on what is seen and acknowledged by men but are primarily concerned about their hearts before God in private. Disciples do not need from this world that can only cause anxiety but put all hope in the eternal Kingdom of Heaven. Disciples acknowledge their own need for mercy and resist the hyper-critical, condemning attitude of the self-righteous. Disciples are able to recognize their own sin and live out active repentance before trying to fix other people. Disciples love their enemies and live out the golden rule of the way they treat others. Disciples go through the narrow gate. Disciples bears good fruit. Disciples make true claims, and the disciples build their lives on solid rock. Everything we read from Jesus’ amazing sermon helps us to understand his call on our lives when we claim to be his disciples.

As humans, we tend to read these words and think solely about what it means for us. While it is essentially true that this sermon is all about what it is to be an authentic disciple, it is impossible to read this sermon and not see the authentic Christ. Let us never forget that Jesus is preaching discipleship to his own disciples. Sitting around their Master on a hill, with a great crowd surrounding them, the disciples are hearing Jesus teach them what it means to follow him. After three years of living with Jesus in active ministry and then witnessing the resurrected Lord, the words from Jesus’ great sermon would surely ring in the ears of the disciples in an infinitely more powerful way. I can just imagine their post resurrection conversations about the Sermon on the Mount.

We might just hear statements that sound like this:

“When Jesus told us that we should be poor in spirit, we had no idea that it was actually HIS holiness that exposes our sin.”

“Yes, and do you remember when he was telling us that our righteousness needs to exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees? Jesus’ righteousness actually did!”

“What about those things he told us about the law? When he said that he came to fulfill it, that was actually true. It’s impossible for us to fulfill his standards, but he did it all for us. Then he took our penalty for what we couldn’t do.”

“That statement about being perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect keeps echoing in my mind. You have to be God to keep that standard, and Jesus kept it”

“Remember how he told us not to look for rewards from men? He said that knowing that he was actually going to get crucified by men in order to be glorified by the Father.”

“When Jesus told us to love our neighbors, I had no idea that this was what he was doing to us all along and even going to his own death.”

“What about those closing remarks? If all these other things were not true about Jesus, his closing remarks would be arrogant delusions of grandeur. Who is Jesus to tell us that we have to go through his narrow gate unless he has authority to claim that he is the only way?”

“That’s true, and Jesus actually said that on the last day we will stand before him and call him Lord. He actually made the statement that he is the one judging who does and does not go into the eternal Kingdom. By what authority could he possibly determine anyone to be in the kingdom of heaven? He had to have all the authority of the everlasting God.”

“I don't know if any of you doubted that authority when we actually heard him preach. After his resurrection all my doubt has been removed.”

I think it would be a safe assumption that conversations like this between the disciples did actually happen. One of those disciples, Matthew, wrote us a gospel. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Matthew penned the words of Jesus and then gave us a short summary of the type of conversations we just imagined. Instead of recording all the statements of the disciples and the crowd, Matthew simply finishes chapter 7 with these final words, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” Matthew 7:28-29

Yes, this is the authentic Jesus.

The Lesson I Should Have Learned Earlier From My Father

So often we can describe the character traits and quirks of our parents and overlook that there are great lessons to be learned from the way they lived out their life. My father was organized and ready for anything. When we went on vacation, he would prepare the camping gear and make lists of what to take. He would ensure that everything was in working order and he planned for any kind of inclement weather.

It wasn’t this way just with camping. Dad was always early in case there was a problem with traffic or anything else that might cause an unexpected delay. He was a man who was always ready to leap into a task with confidence because his preparation afforded him that very confidence. Sometimes my father’s diligence in preparation was simply an annoyance to me. Why did we always have to be early? Why can’t we just load the camper on the day we leave?

It may have taken decades, but I now see that my father was a very wise man. Preparation is a mark of wisdom and this is a truth that is applicable in every sphere of life. When it comes to facing our ultimate day of judgment, preparation (being ready) sorts out the wise from the foolish.

In Matthew 25:1-13 Jesus tells a parable about the wise and foolish virgins. Ten virgins went to meet the bridegroom, but the bridegroom was delayed. They all had lamps but only five virgins were wise enough to take oil with their lamps. When the bridegroom arrived, only five wise virgins were actually ready to meet him. The parable ends with the daunting prospect of the five foolish virgins obtaining no recognition from the bridegroom and being sent away.

Jesus uses this parable to make one big point. He is going to return and none of us know the time or the day that he will return. The time therefore to be prepared to meet Christ is now.

This is very similar to the illustration of the wise and foolish builder that Jesus uses with his disciples in the closing comments of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus makes a huge distinction between wisdom and foolishness in that only the wise man was truly prepared to weather the storm because he had enough sense to be serious about the right foundation. When we stand before Christ on judgment day, our seriousness about preparation will be evident. Did we heed his warnings about our need for a Savior? Did we heed his warnings about what true saving faith really is? Were we truly confessing Christ as Lord or was it just lip service? Those who are wise will be serious about our future judgment before Christ. We will be serious about that future time today and every day until his expected and yet unexpected return.

My Dad was a man who attempted to prepare for all matter of contingencies. Most of all, my Dad was a man who prepared for Christ. I witnessed his relationship with Jesus as he prayed in his favorite chair. I watched him preach the gospel and teach the Scriptures. I saw him appeal for our need to know Jesus before it was too late. I saw him arrive early to do all those things. I witnessed a wise man. A wise man (or woman) is a prepared man (or woman). It is someone who lives their life every day in faith by preparing to meet Jesus. That preparation should be seen in every aspect of our life. It took me too long to see the wisdom of preparation in my father. Let us not look over this lesson when it comes to standing before our Heavenly Father.

God's Terrifying Judgments Are His Kindness.

Often when we read of the judgment and condemnation of God, we shudder with fear at how the eternal wrath of an infinite being might be experienced. Throughout the Old Testament, God warned his sinful children of Israel that they would experience his great wrath because of their disobedience. As you read through Jeremiah, it is impossible to miss that God not only describes his terrifying judgment at the hands of other nations (particularly Babylon), there is also explicit description as to God’s true perception of those who are supposed to be His children. They are a faithless whoredom who have placed stone and wood above His own majesty. They have made their own gods and followed after the false gods of other nations. This has resulted in an unimaginable depravity of people who are supposed to reflect God’s glory.

God chose a young man by the name of Jeremiah to go to the people of Judah and warn them of their impending demise. His words are clear and brutally descriptive of their coming plight.

Jerermiah 7:33-34. And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away. And I will silence in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, for the land shall become a waste.

When you read these verses, it may be difficult to acknowledge the kindness of God. From a human perspective we hear nothing but a horrific future and tragic demise. Reading these words has led many people to think about God as unloving or to consider that the God of the Old Testament is somehow different to the God of the New Testament. Not so!

Intertwined throughout the horrific judgments are statements that call Judah to repentance.

Jerermiah 7:3, 5, 23 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. ... 5 "For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, ... 23 But this command I gave them: 'Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.' ...

Whenever we hear the prophets speaking judgment upon God’s disobedient people, we should not overlook that mixed in these warnings are calls to repent and obey and to put their trust in the one true God who has power to both judge and save. Judah did not heed these calls and as a result were taken into exile by Babylon who destroyed their cities. Even so, Judah could not sit in captivity and say that God was not just or kind. They had ample warning from a God who faithfully keeps his promises. In warnings of judgment, there is the kindness of God.

Jesus gave these same warnings to his disciples. In Matthew 7:21-23 he warned that many who call themselves Christians would one day stand before Him and find themselves condemned to eternal punishment. His warning to us as Christians today is that lip service is not the same as saving faith. His warning is a kindness for us to turn to him in urgency before we stand before him “on that day.”

Romans 11:22. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.

Detecting a Wolf the Right Way.

Jesus told us to beware of false prophets who are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

I have a reasonable knowledge of the people who attend my Church and even though I cannot see their hearts, I have confidence that there is not a wolf among us. Even so, Jesus told his disciples to “Beware” of wolves and gave them guidelines to recognize them (Matthew 7:15-20).

The description of false prophets being wolves in sheep’s clothing should help us to discern that false prophets often look and sound just like sheep. Often when evangelical Christians have thought of the description of false prophets, we have pictured the tele-evangelists who have fleeced millions of dollars out of people to buy their new personal jet. They are most definitely wolves, and they do use Christian rhetoric and biblical text as their tools. For most believers, the mega star wolves are easy to detect, but the fact that Jesus has to inform us of how to recognize them leads us to believe that they can be very subtle and not so easy to detect. Jesus says that we are to know them by their fruit. This is not restricted to what they say, but also how they live, their allegiance to Christ, their attitude of repentance, and their pursuit of holiness. Sheep should have fruit that reflects a regenerate nature. If a wolf can be that subtle, how can a church be on alert without raising suspicion and pointing fingers at every single action or statement that does not match up with the regenerate nature of a sheep? If we cannot take every sheep at face value, how do we live together without being everyone’s personal policeman? How do we acknowledge that sometimes even sheep sin, even grievously, in their pursuit of holiness?

The beautiful thing about God’s Word is that it is always authoritative in both truth for orthodoxy and orthopraxy. That is, we have Scripture for both the truth we uphold and the way we uphold it. This includes the way we live out being alert for wolves. Let’s think about some factors to consider.

1. While in Matthew 7:15 Jesus tells us to be alert for wolves, we should remember that Jesus has already told us not to be defined by a condemning spirit (Matthew 7:1). The grace of God we have received generally helps us to realize that we are not to walk around with a judgmental attitude. If we see a wolf like characteristic in someone, we will be careful to watch and listen more before we pounce.

2. Paul’s genuine love for the church at Corinth caused him to have a “divine jealousy” for them. He did not warn them of the “super apostles” from a desire to be right in exposing their error. His motivation was the love of the church. If we have this type of love for the church, we will act out of protection of something we hold dear rather than exposing something we simply know to be wrong. (2 Corinthians 11).

3. In 2 Timothy 2, Paul warns Timothy of some false teaching among them in Ephesus. In the instruction he tells Timothy not to be quarrelsome, but to make sure he can teach truth and correct with gentleness. Paul also says that God may give grace to help them see the error of their ways and lead them to repentance. If this actually happens, we are obviously not dealing with a wolf. (2 Tim 2:24-26).

4. In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus tells his disciples how the church is to deal with sin and error by approaching a brother or sister one to one with a view to win them. We should see this as the goal of our approach. If someone might be won personally or even if it takes two or three witnesses, the goal of winning a brother or sister defuses the pride of correcting or judging for our own personal motives.

5. Love! In the beautiful love passage of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul tells us that we can have all the oratory gifts and even speak in the language of the angels but if we do not have love we are just a clanging gong. This means that even if we do detect a true wolf, we cannot expect that person to hear us if we just sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Without love, our words of correction will be useless.

6. Most of all, we should acknowledge that Jesus gives this command to his disciples. Throughout the New Testament, we see that the church as a body, particularly in its local context, is responsible for upholding doctrine and protecting purity under the headship of Christ. It is only in the local church context where correction and discipline can happen in a way that there is real concern for the soul and an ability to reinstate where repentance is a reality. The church has something that non-church ministries and blogging can never accomplish no matter how helpful and good they are. The local church is able to carry out good judgment in the active truth and love of inclusion and exclusion in the protection of purity.

Wolves are real, and Jesus says that they are seriously dangerous. We do have to beware and realize that there is a great history of churches being ravaged by wolves. From Roman Catholicism to Liberalism to prosperity doctrines, practices and propagation of heretical ideas have first formed in the minds and mouths of individuals in churches who looked and sounded just like us. We do have to beware. We do have to be on alert. In doing so, we apply a biblical balance of grace and the right motivation to please Christ and love his bride.

Choose Life!

Deuteronomy 30:19-20: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them."

There were two distinct ways that God had put before his chosen people.  Be my people in obedience and faith and you will enjoy the possession of the land.  Be disobedient and faithless and you will know death and curse.  Anyone who knows the history of Israel realizes that Israel was a disobedient and unfaithful people.  They suffered exactly what God had promised and saw the devastation of death and exile from the land. 

The fact that God gave this command to “choose” one way over the other seems an uneasy consideration for some.  If we accept that there is a responsible choice to be made, are we denying the sovereignty of God in his electing grace? In the case of Old Testament Israel, one might attempt to argue that this people were already the elect of God.  It is true that God had chosen Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and that this people was a product of his electing love, but it is also true that Israel as a national people of God was filled with both believers and unbelievers. The individual responsibility for each person to live in obedience to God’s covenant was an undeniable reality. While the call to Israel is a national call to choose life, it had to be enacted individually. To faithfully obey the command of God is an individual responsibility even if it is a corporate call. 

We who live in the New Covenant live in the reality of Jesus who is the only human being to have kept God’s covenant and he did so on our behalf.  We stand before the judge of the universe and we are all individually responsible for our sin and our acceptance of Jesus who has kept the covenant on our behalf. Jesus is our only way into the promised land.  He is our only gate to life.  Therefore, just as Moses said to wandering Israel, Jesus says to us, “Choose life.” 

Jesus used different words than Moses, but it is the same call and appeal to our responsibility before God.  Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. ” (Mt. 7:13). The appeal of Christ is for us to forsake all else to trust and obey him as our King. 

We know that in the wider teaching of Scripture that Jesus also tells us that all that the Father gives him will come.  He tells us that he already knows each of his sheep by name and that his lost sheep must be found. Paul tells us that we are saved by grace through faith and that this is not of our doing. Yet, none of the Scriptures that emphasize the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation undermine his instruction that we are responsible before him and called to choose and enter the only way of life.  

Biblical balance is the only balance we can maintain.  The fact that humans cannot understand how to make human responsibility and God’s sovereignty meet does not mean that one must triumph over the other.  Every human being is responsible before the Lord.  The Lord saves by his electing love those who he has predestined and called. Human responsibility points us toward response.  We stand before the God of the universe and we must choose life and we must enter. This is an impossible task except for the grace of God, but it is not our responsibility to consider whether that grace has been applied to us.  It is our responsibility to enter.  It is our responsibility to repent and believe. In doing so we must thank God for his grace. 

Social Gospel or Social Imperative?

There are some statements in Scripture that we love to either put in the too hard basket or simply skip over because we deem them less important than others.  One of those statements is made by John the Baptist as he was preparing the way for the Messiah, Jesus.  

Luke gives us very detailed information about how John described what repentance looked like for the Jews that were watching him baptize and listening to him preach.  Luke reports in 3:8-14, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." And the crowds asked him, "What then shall we do?"  And he answered them, "Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise." Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Collect no more than you are authorized to do." Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation and be content with your wages."

While the Jewish elite were claiming their physical heritage in Abraham, John was reminding them that the true family of God is identified in the fruit of repentance in our life.  John then describes what that repentance looks like.  It is a love that treats people with dignity and respect and is interested in the needs of others and does not act unjustly.  This echoes the type of complaint that many of the Old Testament prophets had with Israel as they had dismissed the love of God and were treating the poor and needy in despicable ways.  Whether we want to admit it or not, John is saying that true repentance and faith is going to be reflected in the way we live out the love of God in our life toward others.  We have received mercy and we must show that mercy.  

Some people gloss over these words because many of us have been fearful of the appearance of a social gospel. However, this concern is easily accounted for if we just read some of the other statements that John had already made. A few verses earlier, Luke had already recorded John as saying that we need repentance for our sins, that his job was to make way for the coming Messiah “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.' (Luke 3:3-6)" John (and Luke) were very concerned about salvation from sin and not just social welfare.  So, while we can be sensitive to the fact that some people have wrongly attributed social justice and welfare as the contributing factor to salvation, John and Luke have identified the social imperative as an outworking of true repentance and saving faith already obtained.  It is the outworking of that which reflects that we are already the true people of God. We love and have compassion like God has loved and has had compassion upon us. Justice and compassion are attributes of the heart of God that can be seen in the Old and New Testament.  They are attributes we must reflect as his sons and daughters.

In his book, “The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism,” Carl Henry wrote, “The social spirit of John’s preaching was not contrary to Jesus’ own message. Replying to the imprisoned forerunner’s inquiry concerning the Christ, Jesus endorses a particular expectation about the Messiah which the Baptist had doubtless gleaned from the Old Testament: “Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Matt. 11:4-5, Luke 7:22). In view of so central a passage, it is difficult to find room for a gospel cut loose entirely from non-spiritual needs. It is true that the New Testament repeatedly employs phrases like the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, and the dead receiving life, in the figurative sense of spiritual regeneration.  But that cannot be said for the lame walking, nor for the lepers being cleansed; furthermore, Luke definitely prefixes Jesus’ reply to John with the comment that “in the same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight.” (7:21). There is no room here for a gospel that is indifferent to the needs of the total man nor of the global man.” 

So, let’s not skip over these verses that give us an uneasy conscience.  Yes, salvation is all of grace, only through faith and in Christ alone in his redeeming work of the cross. But that salvation that brings the dead heart into life is a salvation that reflects the life-giving love of the Father to all to whom we come into contact. For the Christian, loving our fellow man is not negotiable and neither is it cut off from the only saving message of the cross.  Uneasy? That’s ok, think it through. Those uneasy verses are still there. 

Do You Pass the Hyper-Critical Test?

Jesus talks to his disciples about their judgmental attitudes.  He tells them that the way they judge others will come back on them when they stand before him on judgment day. In Matthew 7 we read, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” This seems serious and something of which all Christians should take careful note.  

As you continue reading Matthew 7, it is obvious that the essence of Jesus’ concern is that we should be led in humility. We should have a priority concern about the way we approach making judgments just as much as the accuracy of the correction itself. The fact that Christ is more concerned about the log in our own eye compared to the speck in somebody else’s tells us that humility and approach is as important to him as accuracy. Hyper-critical people tend to focus much more on the accuracy of dogma than the approach.  They are more concerned with people being corrected and the truth being proclaimed than they are with how it comes across.  Jesus seems to be equally concerned with both dogmatic accuracy and approach. We see this clearly shown in many passages. 

1.    Matthew 7:3-5. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
Jesus is clearly showing that it is right and good to approach a brother or sister about error or sin in their life.  He is also showing that it is only right and good if that approach has an air of humility with a desire to prioritize your own sin. When we only see ourselves in the right, we are blind guides to anyone we seek out. 

2.    Galatians 6:1-3. Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
Paul encourages the Galatians to restore brethren who they find in sin.  It is not simply a matter of telling them that the bible teaches that what they are doing is sinful, but Paul exhorts the Galatians to approach the situation with gentleness. If they ignore the approach that Paul is talking about, they will run the huge risk of falling into sin themselves.  They are not to simply correct dogma but to actually come alongside the sinning brother or sister and bear their burden as they seek to repent and obey their Savior. 

3.    2 Timothy 2:24-26. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
In his instruction to Timothy, Paul encourages him to keep away from quarrels, be kind, be patient, and use gentleness.  Of course, also within this text are the words, “teach” and “correct.”  If those words are separated from the approach, Timothy will be disobeying Paul’s command as an Apostle of Christ. 

Sometimes I have heard the objection from people that Paul was firm and hard-hitting when he needed to be.  This has often been used an excuse for our own lack of gentleness. The fact that we have a description of Paul’s words in apostolic authority to churches to deal with issues among them does not negate that Paul also tells the churches how to do it. Often when you read more carefully and fully, you find that Paul is gentler than these critics give him credit.  After all, he opened his toughest of all the letters by calling the Corinthians his brethren. They were in an obvious mess but his love in the first chapter simply leaps from the page. 

Criticism/correction is not wrong, but it can be.  These texts clearly show that correction is wrong when it is not accompanied with a humble attitude of gentleness and love even if the dogma is accurate. If we are concerned for the authority of the Scriptures, then correcting dogma is only one aspect of the realm of that authority.  If we camp on correction, we will be hyper-critical.  If we are serious about the authority of the Scriptures, we will also obey that authority when it comes to approach.  We can turn the hyper-critical attitude into one that sincerely loves the object of the correction and is willing to do the hard yards in walking with them in their journey. This is the only way we can truly claim biblical authority – if we are willing to submit to both its teaching on dogma and approach. 

Remember one other thing that Paul says. If we have all the rhetorical ability in the world and even able to speak with the tongues of angels, and do not have love, we are just a clanging gong. We are a loud noise that means nothing.  So instead of speaking out about everything and everyone that is wrong, how about exchanging a hyper-critical approach for a biblical one.  How about sitting down with the wrong-doer and loving them as you speak truth in a way that edifies. How about living out the full scope of the authority of Scripture. 

When Scientific Explanations Don't Cut It.

Imagine a life without wonder. Wonder is something fabulous and brings an exciting flavor to life. Wonder sometimes helps us to place higher value in its object.  We wonder in beauty and value it higher than ugliness.  We wonder in excellence and intrigue and power and splendor. All these things cause us to wonder because in each object of wonder there is something beyond us. If we could all paint like Michelangelo we would simply see his work as ordinary.  Wonder brings fascination and awe. In terms of God, wonder helps us to trust. 

When Job was suffering in loss and sickness, his three friends came along side and gave explanation.  Their explanations were devoid of wonder.  They believed they had the answers for Job’s condition but were only exacerbating his pain and sorrow. Job desperately needed something to hold on to in the midst of his trouble.  He was steadfastly attempting to trust God while his friends were wearing him down with accusation and explanation. Job was fraught with sorrow and without answer. In stating his innocence, Job seems to stray in not acknowledging his own human sinfulness in the presence of God.  He later repents of his attitudes about himself and God. 

One of Job’s friends, Elihu, brings an argument about God’s wonder.  In the presence of God’s wonder, Job should realize whether he is innocent in this particular circumstance or not, he falls short of the glory and awe of the Creator.  Elihu says, “Remember to extol his work, of which men have sung. All mankind has looked on it; man beholds it from afar. Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable. For he draws up the drops of water; they distill his mist in rain, which the skies pour down and drop on mankind abundantly. Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds, the thunderings of his pavilion? Behold, he scatters his lightning about him and covers the roots of the sea. For by these he judges peoples; he gives food in abundance. He covers his hands with the lightning and commands it to strike the mark. Its crashing declares his presence; the cattle also declare that he rises.” (Job 36:24-33). 

Perhaps you might remember back to your primary school years and think of the first time you learned about the water cycle. Sometimes it seems that when know more about something the less wonderful it becomes in your ability to explain it.  We might be tempted to say that Job and Elihu had not really studied the scientific realities of the water cycle and therefore attributed natural explainable phenomena to God. Elihu wrote of clouds and rain and wondered in something that we can give natural explanation for today. This would be a mistake. Firstly, the bible clearly shows that human beings were created without any lack of human intelligence and ability to scientifically reason beginning with our first parents. We should also be careful never to be so arrogant as to use a scientific explanation to deplete the glory of God.  On the contrary, the more we know about something the more we should be amazed at the brilliance of our Creator who has made it possible for us to understand a minute fraction of an infinite amount of information. God is the God who created the water cycle.  Regardless of our understanding of general operations, we must always acknowledge that God ordains every crack of lightning and every roar of thunder.  He is in charge of every rain drop and sovereignly ordains each and every high and low pressure system. The clouds, thunder, lightning, wind, rain, hail, snow, clouds and the sky itself is his creation and is ordered and sustained by his hand.  We might understand some of the operation of cloud formation and weather systems, but we are not the creators of them.  We are not sovereignly using them for our eternal purpose.  We cannot explain their origin or the establishment of the very laws that govern them. All of this must cause us to wonder.  

For Job, this is the defining argument by which he truly trusts God in his most trying time of life.  Elihu’s statements in Job 36 are a mere forerunner to the two chapters of questions God asks Job about his creative power in order to bring Job to his knees in wonder and to repent of any arrogance in the sight of God. 

This same argument extends to us today.  Jesus says to his disciples that if God provides food for the birds, how much more will he for us.  We should wonder.  Birds survive under the providence of God.  If we are more important to God than birds, the wonder that we see in his provision for them has even greater significance for us.  Wonder takes away the pettiness of our earthly worries to help us see that the God who loves us is infinitely more awesome than any of our human explanations. God IS the explanation for all that we cannot explain.  He is our only point of worthy trust and our only point of hope beyond the explainable frailties of this world. We need a God of wonder beyond our explanation otherwise there is nothing else to live for and no answer for our troubles.

Jesus is Coming, Ready or Not.

Jesus is coming back.

Does this statement make you nervous or joyful?  If you are in Christ, you should have a joyful anticipation in confidence of a glorious eternity.  I propose that your joyful anticipation will be proportionate to your readiness for his return.

Matthew 24 and 25 can be summed up in two words, “Be ready.” At the end of Matthew 24 Jesus tells his disciples that no one knows the hour or the day when the Son of Man will return.  Jesus further tells them that there are two types of servants (Matthew 24:45-51).  There are those who are authentic servants of their master who serve their master well and the master is pleased with them upon his return.  There are others who claim to be his servants and yet have nothing to do with serving their master while he is away.  They are banking on his delay and desire to live according to the enticements of the world rather than living to please him. The master returns when the wicked servant least expects him, and this servant suffers the ultimate consequence for his hypocrisy. The point that Jesus is making is that when it comes to being in the kingdom of Christ, there is no such thing as delay. We must be ready.

In Chapter 25, the parable of the ten virgins again teaches that five were ready for the bridegroom and five were not. It was too late at the last minute for the five foolish virgins to be ready.  Once again Jesus informs us that we should be ready and keep watch for we do not know the hour or the day of his return.

Following the discussion of the ten virgins, Jesus told the parable of the talents.  Two of the three master’s servants used the gifts given them to please him upon his return.  One foolish servant did nothing to serve his master with the gift he had been given. He lost all that he had been given.

In the whole gospel of Matthew, we are continually pointed to faith in Christ alone as the way of salvation.  This section in Matthew 24-25 is not contradictory to this but does point to the fact that the fruit of faith is evidence of a transformed life.  There are many who claim Christ but seek to live their life for the kingdom of this world rather than the kingdom of heaven. It is in the remaining section of Matthew 25 that we find that Jesus will one day sort out the true sheep from the goats.

While these chapters may make some readers nervous, their purpose is actually to point the true believer to confidence in joyful anticipation of Jesus’ return.  While it is true that many will be found to be false believers who had no real concern for Jesus, we also read of true servants of Christ who will be rewarded with great joy. The faithful in Christ are encouraged toward confident, joyful anticipation in readiness of the return of Christ.  We should see these following words leaping from the pages of Matthew 24 and 25.

Mat 24:46-47 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.

Mat 25:10b …the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.

Mat 25:21 His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'

Mat 25:23 His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' ...

Mat 25:29a  For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance

Mat 25:34 Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

Can you even imagine what it will be like to enter the joy of our Master?  Let us put our faith in Jesus and let’s live by faith in the Son of God who died for us and loves us.  Let’s live today with a desire for our eternity with him.  Let’s live with the confident, joyful anticipation of his return. Let’s live with eyes focused on Christ and his kingdom rather than this world that is hurtling toward destruction.  Let’s bring as many with us as we can.

Should We Call God "Daddy?"

I am a Father. I love it when my son calls me, “Dad.”  I loved it when I ran around the house with my daughter because she wanted to play ‘chase and tickle’ with Daddy. I miss the days of a little hand tugging on my shirt as the word was repeated over and over, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.” But is it appropriate for us to use this term “Daddy” for our Father in heaven? 

When the Jews referred to God as a father, they were referring to God’s sovereign authority over their nation.  He was the Father to be revered and to be feared when they sinned against him.
Deuteronomy 32:6 Do you thus repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your Father, who created you, who made you and established you?
Psalm 103:13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
Isaiah 63:16 For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.
Malachi 2:10 Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?

The Jews revered God as their Father through his mighty acts of creation, compassion and redemption. God was known as the One who is superior to Abraham as the living God of his covenant people. In every sense of thinking of God as their Father, the Jewish people understood him to be the transcendent God to be revered.  You might note with all of these verses quoted, though God is being described as Israel’s Father, he is not being directly addressed as “Father.” When the Old Covenant people approached their God, they did so only through the access of the temple where God placed his presence and name. 

When Jesus came and preached to his disciples, he referred numerous times to their “Father in heaven.”  Jesus told his disciples directly that they might approach their Father in prayer by saying, “Our Father…” (Matthew 6:9). I am sure that this would have been a shocking thing for these Jewish disciples to hear.  How can we approach this sovereign Creator in such a direct manner?  The consideration of this one little phrase of direct address was most probably a jaw dropping moment, but Jesus was sitting right in front of them. He is the fulfilment of the temple and being a disciple of Christ brings direct access to the transcendent God of the universe.  

What has changed for the New Covenant people of God? I propose that we first realize what has not changed.  God, The Father, is still the transcendent God of the universe.  While the Scriptures show that God is both transcendent and immanent, we must not forfeit his transcendence to enjoy his immanence. Both in the Old and New Testaments, God is described in his transcendent holiness as a consuming fire. 

The change for us comes in the ransom that has now been fully paid on our behalf through Jesus Christ in his work on the cross. This payment has secured not only our salvation, but our adoption as sons and daughters of the living God.  This adoption is most notable in us when we can have such intimate access to God in that we may directly address him as ‘our Father.’ I believe this is the intimacy that Paul is speaking about when he says in Romans 8:15 that we have, “received the Spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry, ‘Abba Father’.” Paul is describing a new intimacy that the Old Testament people of God could never know without the sacrificial work of Christ and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit upon conversion.  While it is true that the term “Abba” brings a sense of intimacy with God, it is an intimacy that says more about the new covenant than it does about how much familiarity with which we can address God. Because our direct access to the Father is through Jesus Christ, the New Covenant Church has become the temple of the Holy Spirit and this is an intimacy unknown before the cross. 

To suggest that “Abba Father” means “Daddy” is to humanize and possibly even trivialize an intimacy that is so much more gloriously understood in the spectacular blessing of being in the New Covenant. It is so much more glorious when the intimacy is understood through the work of the cross rather than a designation we give to feeble human Dads. 

Should we call God, “Daddy?” Well, it wouldn’t be my suggestion to do so. What we can do, is come to the transcendent God of the universe who cannot be contained by highest heaven and actually call him “Father.” We can do this because Jesus has signed our adoption papers in his blood and the temple curtain has been torn in two.  The dwelling presence of this awesome God is with his children who we know as the church.  The regenerate people of the New Covenant in Christ. In Jesus, God is our Father.  Our glorious, transcendent, immanent Father.

Finding Freedom in the Fear of God

Christians lose freedom every time we fear something more than God.  When children are most concerned with the affection of their parents, they become enslaved by that perceived need.  When Parents are most concerned with gaining respect from their children, they become enslaved by that perceived need.  When a wife is most concerned with receiving love from her husband, she becomes enslaved by that perceived need.  While it is not a bad thing to desire affection, respect or love, when we place any other human being as our source of satisfaction we are saying that we fear man more than God.

The Old Testament has countless examples in the lives of patriarchs, judges, priests, prophets and kings where we can see that the fear of man results in disappointment and even tragedy compared to the blessing that comes from fearing God.  As an example, just look at the life of King Asa in 2 Chronicles 14-16.  Asa is known as a good king who did right in the eyes of God.  He commanded Judah to fear the Lord and he took down the places of worshipping false gods (14:1-4).  As a result of this beautiful fear of the Lord, we read, “And the kingdom had rest under him. He built fortified cities in Judah, for the land had rest. He had no war in those years, for the LORD gave him peace.”(vs. 5b-6).

The point here is not that when you fear God, you will never have troubles.  Asa had his fair share of problems to deal with.  He was King of Israel when God’s people were known in national identity. The peace and freedom of this kingdom was noticeable when Israel feared God over the nations.  One way we particularly see this is when Ethiopia came against Judah with 1,000,000 men.  That’s right, One Million! Judah had a maximum of 580,000 men.  They were out-numbered by this impressive army by two to one. Asa feared God.  He did not go to the other pagan nations for backing. He did not make treaties to bolster his forces. He sought out the Lord who he feared, and God gave victory.  The point is that his fear of God gave Asa confidence that he was already on the winning team. His God was bigger than the nations. Many people would be shivering with fear and enslaved to worry.  Asa was confident in his God and free to trust. 

If you turn to the end of Asa’s life in 1 Chronicles 16, we find a different king.  Asa was threatened by the northern kingdom of Israel.  Instead of seeking out the Lord and fearing God, Asa feared man and sought the help of Syria.  Asa then received a very profound rebuke. “At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, "Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, he gave them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars."(2 Chronicles 16:7-9).  Asa spent the remainder of his life enslaved to man-fearing and didn’t even seek the Lord when he was struck with disease.  He became an angry man who treated people with cruelty in his final days. Surely Asa could tell us something about the freedom in fearing God compared to being enslaved to our sinful desires in the fear of man. 

True freedom comes through living a life where you are not anxious about your reliance on other humans but by having complete satisfaction in God who provides all and generously loves. It comes through knowing that everything we ever need for all eternity is found through the cross of Christ. When we forget God, men and women become bigger in our eyes than they actually are. Freedom is being able to serve God and rely on the concrete hope we have for eternity.  It comes when God is the biggest most glorious focus of our life. When that happens we can actually say, “What can mere man do to me.”  That is freedom. 

Matthew 5: Poetry in Mountain

This week our church comes to the end of Matthew 5.  Here are some poetic reminders of the truths we have been through in this first chapter of Jesus' great sermon. I suggest you have your bible open as you read.  I hope it blesses you. 

In timelessness and wisdom full,
The counsel of The Triune God,
Determined for His glorious good,
To be with man on earth to trod.
Revealed to us, created ones,
A grace too great for minds to hold.
The Unique Son is God with us, 
His Kingdom come as once foretold. 

Matthew 5:1-2
He sat upon the great ascend,
Amidst the crowd He gathered some.
To those who knew Him to be true,
He taught them of this Kingdom come.
Embody now contented joy,
To hear from lips, anointed truth.
Oh blessedness to us employ,
The sense of our eternal youth.

For Christ is King, and Kingdom sure,
His blessings far too much to count.
He teaches life beneath His throne,
In this great sermon on the mount.

Matthew 5:3
Oh joy and bliss to start this word,
That comes from depths of great despair.
For sin revealed in perfect light,
Is more than mortal man can bear.
One vision of the King with crown,
Will bring a sinful man to grief.
But cross and empty tomb exchange,
The curse of death for true relief.

Matthew 5:4
And of this sin, rebellion’s pride,
Our sorrow will not pay its toll.
Be dead to sin and mourn its grasp,
Flee from its power and control.
My feeble will is impotent,
Forgive me Lord, I seek Your face.
Gratitude for Mercy mine,
The comfort of extended grace.

Matthew 5:5
All earthly conquerors and kings,
Who think they have a reigning role,
Has not The Christ enthroned above,
Placed them according to His scroll?
And yet this station now is mine,
Deserving not this crown received,
Inherited from God alone, 
And none of self yet be deceived.

Matthew 5:6
This Kingdom not just moral good,
But justified by pure Divine.
A holiness that none can know,
Unless our hearts to Him incline.
More as the deer will thirst and pant,
That I will seek my daily fill,
Rejoicing in the promise true,
That He will give His heavenly will.

Matthew 5:7
Living in eternal grace,
His mercy covers guilt and shame.
How can this be? A wretch is free?
When bound to sin I am to blame.
Oh Mercy true and flowing full,
The one who wrongs is sure to know,
A pardoned stamp upon my head,
When mercy now to him shall flow.

Matthew 5:8
A heart of sin now beats for Him.
My eyes are poised on His embrace.
For gift of joy and joy of need,
Complete in gazing on His face.
Forbid me now to look abroad,
To seek the things of temp’ral earth.
But look on Him and know in full, 
The wonders of a greater worth.

Matthew 5:9
Restore my love for those at war,
The traitors of our conquering King,
It once was mine, the traitor’s fight,
But now Your love and peace I bring.
You promised peace in gospel news.
This peace so infinitely priced.
For living in my Father’s will,
The peace I bring, is peace in Christ.

Matthew 5:10
This Kingdom Christ has taught is true.
No earthly gain can near compare.
However man may cause us pain,
Know this, that Christ had more to bear,
In face of persecution’s fire,
Deny the cross or lie in tomb.
My Kingdom is beyond this world,
And entrance from a virgin’s womb.

Matthew 5:11-12
Oh blessedness oh joy Divine,
Secure in Him there’s none can hurt.
Kingdom has come and Christ is King.
My joy is not in dust and dirt.
I stand accused by what men say,
Attacked because I claim my Lord.
Desire and fear is not in man,
But in my God is my reward.

Upon this truth is more to come,
For those of old have testified.
They sought Messiah’s truth to tell,
And for it suffered scorn, and died.
But do we dread for those before,
Who lived to tell the Savior’s tale?
They do not weep beyond the grave.
They too were saved by cross and nail.

Matthew 5:11-16
Rich in act and rich in words,
Upon the rock of truth imparted,
Christ has taught a Kingdom joy.
A teaching for the heavenly hearted.
For this on earth we have a season.
Salt to give this world some flavor.
Living out this grace of Christ.
Exhibits of electing favor.

How does one taste a human salt?
This allegory worth its weight.
How does one stand in front of friend,
And spread a season on his plate? 
In every task, event and time,
Display of Christ is ample.
Gospel grace in human sight.
Gospel grace in sample.

My Lord may I be used in grace,
For earthly citizens to see.
When those who come intend to harm.
May I show mercy as your plea.
But Lord forbid that I should act,
Just as the world would now expect.
For then they should not taste your love,
And Your gospel not detect.

Lights should shine as beaming rays.
Not hidden in the dead of night.
Christ should gleam with radiant love,
Glory full and glory bright.
Sheep are lost and Shepherd seeking,
Sends us out with torches lit.
With light in us will quicken death,
And save them from eternal pit.

Matthew 5:17-20
This glorious life in Christ our King,
Tis not defined by points of law.
He did not come to add this weight,
To echo that from Moses jaw.
Our Lord is man in sinless state,
Fulfilling all from Scriptures past.
Our Lord is God in ruling reign,
Perfection His with which to cast.
Can there come a change in law? 
This flag that flew from Israel’s mast? 
Can Decalogue be done in time? 
Have Moses words now been surpassed? 
Tis not abolished from our time,
Nor ceases to expose our guilt,
But in The Lord personified,
Perfection past the law is built.

Beatitudes have shown the way.
The glory of the Christian life.
Rich in Christ, our standard set,
Church as bride, obedient wife.
Pharisees and Scribes of old,
Could not breathe with Moses breath.
If we cannot then better this,
We too, dance, the dance of death.

Comes the One in humble light.
Keeps each jot and breaks no tittle.
Comes the all-perfecting God.
In Him alone is our acquittal.
Comes the one we must adore.
Shows us more than law itself.
Comes the Everlasting Lord.
Our greatest reach, our highest shelf.

Matthew 5:21-26
Do you say then “Do not Murder”? 
Is this but now enough to live? 
BUT HE SAYS “Don’t even hate them”
Yet be ready to forgive.
Is your sin upon the paper? 
Or is it written on your heart? 
For if we curse the one we hate,
Sin and we are not apart.

If we with swift and fast paced action,
Meet the one who hurts us most,
Does this not show within our spirit,
This is He in Whom we boast?
If all the world will wait and linger,
‘Til a time is set in court,
Our salt and light then comes apparent, 
If peace instead is used to thwart.

Matthew 5:27-32
To take the woman not your own,
To lead her in forbidden lust,
The consequence is deep and wide,
The breaking of a wedded trust.
BUT HE SAYS “don’t you even look”
An eye of lust will cause you sin,
And take away that thing that tempts,
That lustful thought where you begin.

Cut it off and cast it out.
Whatever leads you to despair,
For paths to hell are on this road.
There is no place for peace down there.
Salt and light works differently,
Like Joseph with his master’s wife.
Fleeing from temptations arms,
And keeping family tree from strife.

But more than this, don’t have a door.
An opening for your excuse.
Divorce on paper might seem right,
But with The Lord it has no use.
When Christian couples say “I Do”
They willingly are bound till death.
What thing can Christ not overcome,
To keep them till their dying breath?

If one has then already done,
This deed with woman not his own.
The marriage bed has been defiled.
The sin to break already known.
Even then don’t flee to friend,
And marry with a second vow.
The salt in works can bring repair,
Seek The Lord to show you how.

But it should not then go unsaid, 
That many who do not have life,
Are married to a Christian man,
Or married to a Christian wife.
If they are then to go their way,
To take their leave from marriage bed,
Let them go to where they will,
Tis Christ’s to deal with them instead.

Matthew 5:33-37
What better way to taste the salt,
Of Christ’s elect in practice true.
When grounds of trust are built and firm,
Integrity is clear in view.
But need of oath to say your piece,
And truth becomes a nervous guess.
BUT HE SAYS “need ye not of this”
But simply let your yes be yes.

Matthew 5:38-42
When stricken by aggressor’s doom,
Or one who steals your shirt and tie,
Will striking back then seal his fate,
Or eye for eye or death to die?
BUT HE SAYS “give that man your coat”
Give them more than they desire.
“What salt is this that tastes so good? 
That sets my conscience well on fire?”

And to the need of him who comes,
Insulting need for more of much,
To him give more and then again,
Whatever he can hold and clutch.
Is it yours to hold it back? 
For meaning of these words are great.
Christ owns us and is on display,
Revealed within our generous trait.

Matthew 5:43-48
And speaking of one hard to like,
What comes of them we call our foes?
Our friends we seek so soon to love,
But those who hate seek to oppose.
BUT HE SAYS “love your foes as well”
You may win them for your King.
His providence grows their grass too.
They have a winter and a spring.

Again the world will tread our salt,
And notice not the richly taste,
If all we do is just like them, 
To fight our foe with fear and haste.
Is love of friend a true reward?
Or is there better to receive?
When Jesus seeks to save our foe,
To leave his sin for Christ to cleave.

Why Your High View of Marriage Is Not High Enough

It is very easy for Christians to fall into the simplistic, moralistic trap as we live in a world and culture that has distorted God’s natural order.  We see our culture’s approval and legalization of same-sex marriage and think we have a high view of marriage simply by stating that marriage is “one man for one woman for life.” While I hope we can stand strong in this simple statement, I would also argue that this statement is missing the new covenant emphasis that marriage is a picture of redemptive hope. This is where marriage finds its greatest definition in the whole spectrum of redemptive history. 

It is no doubt true that God created marriage as part of his perfect order.  In Genesis 2:24 we read, “Therefore, a man shall leave his mother and father and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh.” The pre-sin creation of the natural order gives us a perspective that a man and woman should come together as one in their calling to reflect the glory of God as they spread and multiply across the earth. This is a picture of joint worship and obedience in a one-flesh union with a ring of absolute permanency. Even from Genesis 2, when we simply identify that marriage is one man and one woman without also identifying the context of joint worship, we miss a large part of God’s initial purpose in the compatibility of their roles to serve and honor their Creator. 

With the introduction of sin in Genesis three, comes the introduction of not only the distortion of the one-flesh male and female union, but mankind’s denial of God to worship self. No wonder today we see all sorts of distorted definition for marriage. However, one thing we must never overlook, is that God’s divine sovereign purpose from before the foundation of the world is the glorification of his Son through the work of the cross (Eph. 1:3-4).  Even as we read Genesis 2, we must keep in mind that this marriage of Adam and Eve, in the timeless mind of the sovereign Creator, was always going to be about Jesus. 

Therefore, there are three reasons in Christ that we should view marriage redemptively rather than simply moralistically.  To help us, let’s engage the words of the Apostle John in Revelation 19: 6-9.  “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure"-- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are the true words of God."

1.    We have been taken off the market. 
Revelation 19 has a ring of victory to it.  Babylon has been defeated and the smoke of her ashes goes up forever and ever (vs. 1-3). God’s people have been saved out of Babylon.  We are no longer of the world and instead we are a great multitude around the throne giving praise to our God and Savior. We are no longer available to be lured by temporary sensualities of this world. Babylon is dead to us, her smoke is rising, we have no need for her.  We are betrothed to Christ. Marriage is not just a fact that we have become unavailable to other men or women, but that we are a picture of no longer being available to Babylon. The Church is a new bride awaiting a wedding day to a husband that is not of this world. 

2.     We are preparing for the big day. 
One day the church will stand before Christ, face to face, in front of his unveiled glory and in the ecstasy of eternal joy and satisfaction. The words given to John from Jesus are that this is like a bride preparing herself for a great wedding banquet. Marriage is worshipful. It is supposed to be a picture of the holiness of worship as God’s people are being sanctified to meet Jesus face to face. Whenever we see a young lady carefully arranging her hair and flowers and dress and make-up (and everything else) for her big day, it should remind us that Christians are also preparing as we anticipate the coming of our King. As husbands and wives come together in betrothal and ceremony and in a life of mutual edification, they should do so intentionally as a picture of our anticipation of future consummation.  The bride in Christ is seen in the splendor of fine linen, bright and pure. 

3.    The Bride price has been paid. 
We cannot read past these words in Revelation 19 without also seeing that the wedding banquet is attributed to the “Lamb.”  Every time we see this description of Jesus, it must remind us of his ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. We are a bride that has been purchased at great cost.  The sacrificial love of Christ for his bride is depicted in the reality of the eternal righteous judgment of God being poured upon him in furious holy wrath. The love of Christ is inexpressible in a sacrifice that is unfathomable. This is why Paul says that a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25). While this kind of love is completely unachievable for any of us, our marriages have this as our standard of love that points to the redemptive act of our Lord to whom all Christians are ultimately betrothed. 

Do you really have a high view of marriage? It is more than a man and a woman for life.  It’s a man and a woman in Christ. 

Christians Can Watch Something Better Than Hamilton

I went online to look at ticket prices for Hamilton.  When a live performance is done well, especially when it has historical value, I really love them. I soon realized that I didn't love them enough to spend over $300 per ticket. But there is a greater live drama that is totally free.

This week our church has a live drama that exceeds everything the world has to offer. We are having a baptism Sunday. I was considering the solemn importance of this ordinance that was given to us by our Lord. Let’s think for a moment about what is on display, namely, the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the declaration of the gospel through faith. This is not any declaration, but it is the acting out of the most central and important point of human history.  While people are paying over $300 to see an extraordinary life portrayed in musical theater, this week our church will watch a re-enactment of the pinnacle event in all time and space where death and sin were conquered and the head of the greatest enemy of humanity was crushed. 

For our baptism service this week I simply want to answer two big questions and give one big invitation. 
1.    Are you the sort of Christian who says, “It’s just a baptism service?”
If you are the sort of person who says this, then by default you are also the sort of person who says, “It’s just the gospel.”  This is not saying that I believe you are at all saved by baptism.  The text of Scripture is clear that we are in God’s family through faith, and baptism is a visible declaration of this (Galatians 3:26-27, Colossians 2:11-12). However, baptism is a visible enactment of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We will watch and hear a person testify of their faith in Christ.  We will understand their hope in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. We will watch them taken under the water that signifies the waters of judgment over them much like the flood of judgment in Noah’s day.  We will think upon the horrific event when Christ was drowned in the eternal furious wrath of God on our behalf.  We will think of him buried in a tomb as the body will be submerged under the water.  We will think of Christ’s glorious hell conquering resurrection as the one being baptized emerges. We will leap in our hearts because this is a visible testimony of another one who has been grasped out of the pit of hell to declare that they are one of us. 
2.    Are you the sort of Christian who has excuses for not being baptized? 
If this is you, I would encourage you to think through the answers to these questions.  How excited are you about being saved? What value do you put in the cross? How much do you appreciate that the church was bought with the blood of Christ? Is the gospel beautiful enough for you to act it out in visible recognition that you too have claimed Christ? Are you linked to Christ in the way that you wish to be identified with his bride in local visibility where we gather? Bottom line, if you love Christ, you have no option but to identify with all the others who love Christ. That identification in Scripture first happens with baptism. While baptism is not necessary for salvation, it is still important and commanded in our declaration of salvation. 

So, this is the invitation for every single baptism service our church will ever have. Come and watch the most magnificent re-enactment of the most vitally important historic event in the history of the universe. Come and see that this event is not just a piece of history to be dramatized before you, but it is the declaration of the transforming effect it has already had on the one who will be baptized. And…..it’s free.