Friday, August 29, 2014

The Mind of God

“...but just as it is written [in Isaiah 64:4], ‘Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and 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; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit Who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words...for [as it says in Isaiah 40:13] ‘who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him’? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:9-13,16).

When the apostle speaks of “God” when also speaking of the Son and Spirit (as in the passage above), we have reason to believe he is specifically referring to the Person of the Father:
  • “Grace to you and peace from God our Father...” (1:3).
  • “...for us there is but one God, the Father, from Whom are all things and we exist for Him” (8:6).
  • “...then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father” (15:24).

The world certainly cannot know the thoughts of God (the Father), otherwise they would have known the eternal mystery of God revealed in the cross of Christ: “...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” (2:7,8). When the New Testament speaks of “mystery,” it specifically means God’s eternal plan to save a people through His Son in the fullness of time (Romans 16:25-27; Ephesians 1:9,10; 3:1-12; Colossians 1:25-2:2; 1 Timothy 3:16). If they did not understand the mystery (despite the fact that it was attested to by the Old Testament, Luke 24:26,27,44-47; John 1:45; 5:39; Acts 26:22,23; 28:23), they could not comprehend the blessings that would come through its fulfillment in Christ.

Oh, there are eternal, infinite, joy-unspeakable (1 Peter 1:8), absolutely complete blessings through the Son of God: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Ephesians 1:3,4). “Has blessed” (ευλογησας, aorist active participle) means...well, it means exactly what the English says it means. The Father has blessed (in the past, not in the far future) the saints with every blessing in His Son, and every eternal (“heavenly”) blessing is in the Son without exception. What we gain in union with Christ is the all-sufficient and eternal provision of the Father. We need nothing else than is already our re-birthright in Christ.

How does our experiential knowledge of this occur?

Believers are given insight into the thoughts of the Father through union with the mind of the Son by the revelation of the Holy Spirit (see the Trinity here!).

Knowledge of the Father’s mind, will, plan, and provision are revealed through His Son.
  • “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27//Luke 10:22).
  • “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18).
  • “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also...He who has seen Me has seen the Father...” (John 14:7,9).

The Spirit, Who is one God with the Father and Son, knows all the thoughts of God. He comes to us through the Son (Luke 24:49; John 15:26; 16:7; Acts 2:33) and at the same time seals us in union with the Son (Ephesians 1:13). Our “contact point” with the Triune God is the indwelling Holy Spirit. How do we experience Him?

We experience the Holy Spirit through the Word He has given us. Notice that 1 Corinthians 2:9-16 begins and ends with quotes from the prophet Isaiah (both Isaiah, 1 Corinthians, and all of Scripture is breathed forth by God the Holy Spirit). The Spirit unites us to the mind of the Son and thereby reveals the thoughts of the Father to us through the Scripture. It is by the Word and Spirit (together, never separate) that we know the mind of the Trinity.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Comfort One Another

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the Word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Most of us are pretty familiar with these verses. You’re also probably well-acquainted will the usually divisive efforts to fit the “rapture” described here into Revelation, 1 Corinthians 15, Matthew 24//Mark 13, or even Daniel (despite the fact that Paul doesn’t indicate that such integration is worthy of our attention). In consideration of these verses, the only time the last verse is mentioned is at a funeral. This is odd, since this verse is the only one with a command.

Just in case we don’t get it, though, Paul repeats himself immediately after this.

“Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (5:1-11).

Paul ends this section the same way he ended 4:13-18. In 4:18 he commanded us to “comfort [παρακαλειτε] one another.” In 5:11 he commands us to “encourage [παρακαλειτε] one another.” Same command. He says it twice. In the first section he is concerned with their knowledge (“we do not want you to be uninformed”). In the second section this is not his focus (“you have no need of anything to be written to you”), even though the theme is the same. What’s different about the second section?

Whereas the first section describes the culmination of the last days, the second section gives us an ethic for living day-by-day through the last days. All the days between the first and second coming of Christ are the last days (Acts 2:16,17; Hebrews 1:2; James 5:3; 1 John 2:18). We cannot live through the last days like they are any other days. We are reminded that we are “all sons of light and sons of day,” and have nothing to do with spiritual darkness/sleep. We are commanded to “be sober” by a constant living in and growth in faith, love, and “the hope of salvation.” The reality of the culmination (“we will live together with Him”) is repeated.

Again, we are to “comfort” or “encourage” one another. We cannot do it alone, and Paul reminds us by these commands that we must do it together.

There is a difficulty of translating the Greek word παρακαλεω (here “comfort” or “encourage”). Our English word “comfort” comes originally from the Latin phrase cum fortis (“with strength”). The origination of the word doesn’t carry with it the empathetic or emotionally-supportive meaning it has now. For example, in the Latin Vulgate, the “strong man” of Luke 11:21 is said to be cum fortis, or “fully armed.”

When Paul gives this command in 4:18 and 5:11, he is not commanding us to console one another. We are being told to live a last days ethic with a view to the completion of the last days that makes us stronger (not emotionally assuaged) in our faith-lives together.

Live in these last days in such a way that we – together - are strong in the faith. Live in these last days in such a way that we are motivated and inspired and emboldened by the reality that we will inevitably and gloriously be together with our beautiful Lord.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Riches of Delayed Judgment and Eternal Mercy

On Sunday nights we’re considering the book of Numbers. Last Lord’s Day evening we looked at chapter 21, where, for the first time, Israel engages in warfare during the wilderness wanderings. Some of the ethical questions that rise up when reading Joshua also come up here.

“When the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming by the way of Atharim, then he fought against Israel and took some of them captive. So Israel made a vow to the LORD and said, ‘If You will indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.’ The LORD heard the voice of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites; then they utterly destroyed them and their cities. Thus the name of the place was called Hormah” (Numbers 21:1-3).

Too often we allow the atomistic tendencies of biblical scholarship to govern our reading of the Scripture. We don’t consider Numbers in its greater context as part of the first five books of the Bible (I have no problem standing with tradition and calling them the books of Moses). Numbers 21 does raise ethical dilemmas – until we consider it as the “continuing story” of a much larger saga. In verses 1-3 the Canaanites are destroyed. Why? The greater epic tells us.

These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated. Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father's nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him. So he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brothers.’ He also said, ‘Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant’” (Genesis 9:19-27). The curse of Noah on Ham and his descendants begins to come to fruition centuries later in Numbers 21. The sin of their father is visited upon them.

What about the Amorites? “...Israel sent messengers to Sihon, king of the Amorites, saying, ‘Let me pass through your land. We will not turn off into field or vineyard; we will not drink water from wells. We will go by the king's highway until we have passed through your border.’ But Sihon would not permit Israel to pass through his border. So Sihon gathered all his people and went out against Israel in the wilderness, and came to Jahaz and fought against Israel. Then Israel struck him with the edge of the sword, and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as the sons of Ammon; for the border of the sons of Ammon was Jazer. Israel took all these cities and Israel lived in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all her villages...thus Israel lived in the land of the Amorites. Moses sent to spy out Jazer, and they captured its villages and dispossessed the Amorites who were there. Then they turned and went up by the way of Bashan, and Og the king of Bashan went out with all his people, for battle at Edrei. But the LORD said to Moses, ‘Do not fear him, for I have given him into your hand, and all his people and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon, king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.’ So they killed him and his sons and all his people, until there was no remnant left him; and they possessed his land (Numbers 21:21-25,31,35).

Again, seeing this passage as part of the greater story answers some of our questions. “God said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete’ (Genesis 15:13-16). God’s plan was declared for this land and people centuries prior to the judgment. If we don’t consider this, Numbers 21 will seem unfair and even cruel. In light of Genesis 15:16, however, it is the end of an extremely long delay in judgment. What does the Bible say about this? “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds” (Romans 2:4-6). Hundreds and hundreds of years of delayed (and deserved) judgment was a display of “the riches of His...patience,” but they never repented.

Judgment may be delayed, but it is never cancelled. It begins to fall in Numbers 21.

One day in Athens the apostle Paul stands in the Areopagus and speaks to the gathered intelligentsia: “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead(Acts 17:24-31).

Why did God create the nations of people, giving them boundaries and limited times? “...that they would seek God...” And, after centuries of existence with God’s patience but no repentance, judgment comes.

“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me...” (Exodus 20:3-5//Deuteronomy 5:7-9). Unfair? No. Because each generation not only receives the consequences of the previous generations’ sin, but embraces this sin and makes the lawlessness its own.

“...through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned...for as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners” (Romans 5:12,19).

A nation of people exists in a certain time and certain place for the sole purpose of seeking God. When they reject this purpose generation after generation, two things are happening. First, they are rejecting the wealth of God: His patience. Second, they are compounding the coming judgment by not only rejecting repentance, but taking their parents’ sin upon themselves and making it even greater in their generation.

Too many believers have a low view of the sinfulness of humanity. They conceive of humanity as full of “good” or “well-meaning” or even “innocent” people. So passages like those in Numbers 21 shock and disturb us. The Bible teaches a deep and eternally deadly lostness among all of humanity without exception.

There is a sobering application here, of course. From God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 15 to the fulfillment of that promise in Numbers 21 is something like 800-1000 years. The U.S.A. (just to use one example) is 238 years old. Delay is not suspended or non-existent judgment, especially since two centuries is a very small period of time compared to the average in human history.

Preach the Law, contemporary violation of it, salvation from its consequences in Christ, and command repentance in your preaching, Church (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15; 6:12; Luke 13:3,5; 24:47; ; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 11:18; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20). May God’s rich patience and sweet grace bring revival so that instead of compounding the coming judgment we pass on an inheritance of blessing: “...I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God...showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:5,6//Deuteronomy 5:9,10).

This is not just a promise from the Law, but also of the Gospel:
  • “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).
  • “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” (John 14:15,21,23,24).
  • “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 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 15:9,10).
  • “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected” (1 John 2:3-5).
  • “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” (1 John 5:2,3).

Judgment is promised and inevitable, but the blessing of forgiveness, eternal life, and the riches of God Himself are freely given in His Son. “...the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Repent and believe today. For those who do, the riches of delayed judgment today become the song of a rich mercy throughout eternity: “so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).

Monday, August 4, 2014

I Want It More Than I Want It

“Lord, Your testimonies are completely reliable; holiness is the beauty of Your house for all the days to come (Psalm 93:5, HCSB).

That forever-house is where we will experience the holy Father (John 17:11), holy Son (Mark 1:24//Luke 4:34; Luke 1:35; John 6:69; Acts 2:27; 13:35), and holy Spirit fully and eternally, hearing and joining in the heavenly song, “holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!” (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). It is where the battle against sin will be ancient legend, and the command to be holy as He is holy (Leviticus 11:44; 19:2; 20:7; 1 Peter 1:14-16) will be as natural and free and exhilarating as breathing in rain-scented air in the desert.

I want it more than I want it.

That was my first thought when I read Psalm 93:5 yesterday morning. It was my thought when one of our men read it in the call to worship at the gathering of the saints later that same morning. Some part of me wants that unending beautiful holiness more than my distracted, stressed, and usually confounded mind wants it. I want it more than my often-divided and tempted heart wants it. I definitely want it more than my flesh wants it (Psalm 63:1...can my flesh realize this one day, please?). But there is something (Someone) in me that desires with a longing alien to this earthen vessel for that holiness which it barely knows or comprehends. I want it.

I understand the incredible promises of no more night (Revelation 21:25; 22:5), no more tears (Revelation 7:17; 21:4), no more pain, the banquet table (Matthew 8:11), the peaceful rest (Hebrews 4:9), and even to some extent the glory of heaven promised to us. I marvel at the thought of seeing Him face-to-face (Revelation 22:4)...but maybe even more that in seeing Him I will somehow, unimaginably, be like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 John 3:2). Even in His beautiful holiness.

Holiness. Do you know what it is to be holy, or that He Himself is infinitely holy? Can you comprehend what it means for that holiness to be the beauty of our forever-home, Church? As the Holy Spirit makes us holy, He is preparing us for that wedding Day when the beauty of the Bride will be the beauty of holiness (Ephesians 1:4; 5:27; Colossians 1:22). Beautiful holiness is our destiny.

Until then I will want it more than I want it, and by the grace found in Christ alone will sing and pray the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs of the ages about His beautiful holiness.

“Ascribe to Yahweh the glory of His name; bring an offering and come before Him. Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness” (1 Chronicles 16:29).

“Ascribe to Yahweh the glory due His name; worship Yahweh in the splendor of His holiness” (Psalm 29:2).

“Your people will volunteer on Your day of battle. In holy splendor, from the womb of the dawn, the dew of Your youth belongs to You” (Psalm 110:3).