Monday, June 23, 2014

An Old Lie Trumped by an Eternal Truth

It’s Monday morning, which means that Sunday is coming. I am working on that approaching Day’s sermon from Genesis 3:4,5. In this text the serpent contradicts the Word of God, and worse, slanders the character of God

The serpent implies that God is not good in His character, His plans for His people, and in His Word. The antivenom to this lie is a firm belief that God is good. He is good no matter what. He is good all the time.

The Bible assures us that the covenant relationship-God, “the LORD” (יהוה) is good:
  • “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).
  • “O taste and see that the LORD is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8).
  • “For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:5).
  • “Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; sing praises to His name, for it is lovely” (Psalm 135:3).
  • The LORD is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:9).
  • “Thus says the LORD, ‘Yet again there will be heard in this place, of which you say, “It is a waste, without man and without beast,” that is, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man and without inhabitant and without beast, the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say, “Give thanks to the LORD of hosts, for the LORD is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting”; and of those who bring a thank offering into the house of the LORD. For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were at first,’ says the LORD” (Jeremiah 33:10,11).
  • The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him” (Lamentations 3:25).
  • The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him” (Nahum 1:7).

The Old Testament does affirm that “God is good” (the generic אלהים used by the serpent, who avoids the covenant title יהוה) but only does so one time, and that one time limits this goodness to His covenant relationship with His people: “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart!” (Psalm 73:1).

However, there’s an interesting exchange between Jesus and an inquirer in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 19:16,17//Mark 10:17,18//Luke 18:18,19). In Jesus’ first answer to this man, He seems to deny His own deity. Arians (in their various heretical incarnations) have pointed to these verses from generation to generation as proof that Jesus Himself did not claim to be God. However, in doing some background reading as part of sermon prep, I found Stephen Charnock’s (1628-1680) commentary on this text. The connection between the goodness of God and the deity of Christ becomes beautifully coherent in this Puritan’s observations: “Some think that Christ hereby would draw him to an acknowledgement of Him as God; you acknowledge me ‘good’; how come you to salute me with so great a must own me to be God, since you own me to be ‘good’; goodness being a title only due, and properly belonging, to the Supreme Being. If you take me for a common man, with what conscience can you salute me in a manner proper to God...He doth not here deny His Deity, but reproves him for calling Him good, when he had not yet confessed Him to be more than a man. You behold My flesh, but you consider not the fullness of My Deity; if you account Me ‘good,’ account Me God, and imagine Me not to be a simple and a mere man. He disowns not His own Deity, but allures the young man to a confession of it...why dost thou own Me to be ‘good,’ unless thou own Me to be God...had He said, there is none ‘good’ but the Father, He had excluded Himself; but in saying, there is none ‘good’ but God, He comprehends Himself...if you are serious, why do you call me ‘good,’ and make bold to fix so great a title upon One you have no higher thoughts of than a mere man?” (The Existence and Attributes of God, Vol. 2, Discourse XII).

The serpent implies that God is not good, an all-powerful Denier of goodness to His Creation.

Jesus Christ implies that to confess Him to be good is necessarily to confess Him to be God, Him Who is both eternal God and - at the same time - the boundlessly good Provision of God for His people.

May we in every moment of every day walk away from the lie of the serpent and run toward our good God in His Son Jesus Christ. “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Draw near. He is good.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

His Truth Is Marching On

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted this week at its General Assembly to allow its ministers to bless same-sex marriages in states where such unions are legal. I have seen a lot of gloating about this on the internet ("even the Calvinists have come around!") from people who don’t care one thing about the denomination, would never join one of its churches, and don’t have the slightest understanding about biblical or historical Christianity. Still, they’re happy. The “tolerant” rejoice that another dissenting voice has agreed to change its tune to their own. It is one more institution of the counter-cultural resistance that has fallen.

In Matthew 19:3-6//Mark 10:2-9 Jesus endorses the Creation Ordinance concerning marriage (Genesis 2:24). In other words, Jesus agrees with one of the foundational laws of God in the Bible and defines “traditional” marriage. It takes precedence, in fact, over Moses’ limitations on divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4), given because of the “hard hearts” among God’s people.

Once a Church decides it will no longer follow the Word of God (and specifically the Word of Christ), it is no longer a Church. It has forfeited that privilege. The Church is created by the Word, and if the Church leaves the Word, it has cut itself off from the root and is no longer a living organism. This reality is not governed by human beings, human law, or human confessions/creeds/directories of worship. It has been proclaimed by God in His Word.

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20).

“And His mother and brothers came to Him, and they were unable to get to Him because of the crowd. And it was reported to Him, ‘Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wishing to see You.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it’” (Luke 8:19-21).

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments...he who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him...if anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s Who sent Me. These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you...if you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love” (John 14:15,21,23-26; 15:10).

“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:1-5).

“So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (Revelation 12:17; 14:12).

There are still denominations that still hold to the truth of the Word of God in the United States of America.* The P.C.U.S.A. has been dying for some time before this, and this capitulation to the culture will not change that. It is unsurprising to see the culture do what it does, but is grievous when an institution proclaiming itself to be a church of the Lord Jesus Christ reject His Word and the Word of Him Who sent Christ.

With the original apostles we confess “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). This is what it means to be the Church. What of those who vote to ignore the Word? It doesn’t change one thing about the truthfulness of the Word. This has been argued and addressed before: “...they were entrusted with the oracles of God. What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That you may be justified in Your words, and prevail when you are judged’” (Romans 3:2-4).

The true Church has persevered in its faithfulness to the Word of God since the beginning, and will continue. One-voice “tolerance” and “diversity” aside, “the Word of God is not imprisoned” (2 Timothy 2:9). The Kingdom of God is eternal, unstoppable, and has the promised victory.

*Including the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I have people I greatly admire in both denominations and am sorry that some will confuse the P.C.U.S.A. for these two denominations in their ignorance.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Making the Mystery Clear

“Devote yourselves to prayer...praying...that God will open up to us a door for the Word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it [the mystery] clear in the way I ought to speak (Colossians 4:2-4).

What was this “mystery” that Paul desired to communicate clearly from the Word? “The mystery of Christ” that the apostle desired to speak was that “which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints” (1:26). It is God’s plan to save a people for Himself “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9) through the saving work of Jesus Christ His Son.

This was God’s plan from eternity past and His purpose behind all He did in the Old Testament leading up to the coming of Christ and the establishment of the new covenant in Christ’s blood. Paul’s prayer was that the mystery, woven through the entirety of the Old Testament Scripture, would be clearly shown by his preaching:
  • “Now to Him Who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 16:25-27).
  • “Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written [Isaiah 64:4], ‘Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.’ For to us God revealed them through the Spirit...” (1 Corinthians 2:6-10).
  • “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles - if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power” (Ephesians 3:1-7).

May we have such a passion to see Christ in the Old Testament and proclaim Him from those pages, and may that passion begin with Paul’s prayer request becoming our own: that God’s purpose in Christ be made clear from our reading and teaching of the entire Bible – even the Old Testament. It is not a technique or hermeneutic alone, but the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer. As we study and learn together, the Author of the Book (the Holy Spirit) unveils the purpose of the Father through the Son in every page. This is why it is a matter of prayer.

All glory be to Jesus as we read, study, pray, and clearly tell of Him from the entirety of the Book of books.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Desire for Holiness and the Presence of Christ

How do we experience the presence of Christ in the gathering of the Church? Prayer? Music?

How about Church discipline?

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20). We often quote this verse, usually out of its context. Church discipline. Read Matthew 18:15-20. This promise is attached to the revelation of “stumbling blocks” in the congregation. We have no right to attach it to something more to our liking.

Read 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Corinthians 2:1-11. In these passages on Church discipline, there is a similar implication that Christ is present in this action: “In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus...but one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ” (1 Corinthians 5:4; 2 Corinthians 2:10).

Finally: “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!” (2 Thessalonians 3:14-16).

Three times the New Testament tells us that Christ the Lord is present when His people take a stand for His holiness and disassociate from unrepentant sinners. His holiness is the boundary line for true, biblical, peaceful fellowship. “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). In our desire for peace in the congregation, we are not to sacrifice the process of being made holy (“the sanctification”). If we do, we are promised that we will not see the Lord. He will not be present in our gatherings, no matter how good the music is or how sincere the prayers are. We do not dictate the terms of the presence of the King.

The unrepentant sinner has no place in the gathering of the people of the King of kings. We do not fool Him by modifying, watering down, or simply ignoring His commandments. They are the conduit of His love (John 14:15,21,23,24; 15:10). They are the purpose of our mission (Matthew 28:20). Further, obedience is the mark of the true people of God (Acts 6:7; Romans 1:5; 6:16,17; 10:16; 15:18; 16;26; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; Hebrews 5:8-10; 11:8; 1 Peter 1:2,14,22).

Do we desire the presence of Christ in His Church? Then we must humbly, repentantly desire His holiness. Together.