Once to die and after this comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27)

PREFACE: Another of a series of posts offering my own perspective on the issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. NOTE: I have edited the post from yesterday, “Some trust in chariots (Psalm 20:6-9)” because some of the wording needed to be changed. rmb

An interesting phenomenon has occurred in the last year and a half. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the threat of sudden, random death onto the screens of people all over the globe. When it first appeared in March of last year, the reports were that COVID only affected the aged and the infirm, but as the pandemic has raged and morphed, the threat of getting a severe case has gradually trickled down the age ranges until now everyone of any age is a potential victim. And death may result, whether you are nineteen or ninety. COVID is no respecter of age. Nor does COVID seem to discriminate on the basis of physical health. There is growing evidence that physical fitness poses no barrier to COVID. And death may result, whether you are a physical specimen or a couch potato.

A few days ago, it was announced that the COVID pandemic is now officially the deadliest pandemic in US history, surpassing the so-called Spanish flu of 1918. To date 676,000 Americans have entered eternity as a result of COVID-19. Yes, there is no question about it: death may result from COVID.

So, how should we, as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, respond to these realities? I suggest that we address these realities with the truths of the gospel.

THE TRUTH ABOUT DEATH

COVID has brought to many people an awareness of death, and an awareness of their own possible death, which has previously been absent. Of course, death is not new. Ever since Adam ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, death has been a reality on this planet. Every person who has ever been born either has already experienced death or will experience death. Death hangs over the head of every person living, and death may come at any moment. There is no negotiation. There is never a redo. There is no reversal. Death comes with stunning finality, and we humans are helpless before it. And death is a universal problem.

Human beings are unique among all the animals on earth in two ways related to death: First, humans are the only animals who know they are going to die; and second, humans are the only animals who will be judged by God because of their sin. Hebrews 9:27 puts it well:

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment

It is appointed for men to die. God told Adam, “The day you eat of it (forbidden fruit) you shall surely die.” Thus, death entered the world (Romans 5:12), and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). So, it is appointed by God for men to die. There is a day appointed for me and for you when we will die.

But the most terrifying thing about death is not the experience of death itself, but the truth that after death comes judgment. All of us must stand before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10). All unbelievers will stand before the blazing holiness of God Almighty and will be condemned for their sins (Revelation 20:15). This is why the unbeliever, whether they admit it or not, is frightened of death. They are frightened because, in their soul, they know that God’s judgment awaits.

AWARENESS OF DEATH

I mentioned before that COVID has brought many people to an awareness of the possibility of their own death. So, it is not death itself that is new, but it is the awareness of their own death that is new. Through the COVID pandemic, millions have seen men and women just like them dying of COVID and death has become part of everyday conversation. My awareness of my own possible death from COVID goes way up when I see a friend or a church member or a relative dying of the disease. What does the gospel have to say to those who are afraid of death and afraid of the coming judgment?

JESUS CHRIST HAS CONQUERED DEATH

So COVID threatens us with physical death, but the truth of the gospel declares that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. Jesus has conquered death by His glorious resurrection, and now the follower of Jesus has no need to fear death. Since Jesus Christ has risen from dead, all those who are in Christ will also rise from the dead in the final Resurrection. The Bible declares this over and over again:

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26

Jesus promises resurrection and eternal life to all who believe in Him. COVID cannot threaten me because Jesus has given me His promises.

53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

All believers must put on imperishable immortality. The Christian is promised a resurrection, so death has lost its victory and its sting.

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. – Philippians 1:21

The apostle Paul takes this idea into the most practical of places. Since faith in Jesus Christ has guaranteed a resurrection, the believer can live fully for Christ and then will gain heaven when they die. COVID has nothing to say to a life lived for Christ in that way.

So, the believer in Jesus can respond to the threat of death from COVID by simply declaring, “Because of my faith in Jesus Christ, I have no fear of death. My Savior has conquered the grave and risen from the dead, and in the end, I will also be glorified. So, I have no fear of COVID-19.” This, in my opinion, is the faithful response to the threat of this pandemic.

But I think there is still more that we can do with the threat of COVID.

AN OPPORTUNITY TO OFFER THE GOSPEL

As more and more become aware of their mortality and of the proximity of their own death, and as perhaps some we know or encounter even draw near to that awesome moment when life gives way to eternity, I am convinced that believers must warn the perishing of their peril and urge them to come to Christ before it is too late.

Is it possible that the Lord is using the deaths of this pandemic and the increased awareness of our own inevitable death to open a door for those who will tell the lost about the reality of the final Judgment so they will turn to Christ? In Ezekiel 33:1-10 we read the story of the watchman. The LORD tells the prophet that a watchman was appointed to send the alarm if he saw the sword of destruction coming upon the city so the city would be warned and get to safety. Then the LORD says, “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman’s hand” (Ezekiel 33:6). The LORD is saying that, because the watchman did not warn about the coming sword, he is responsible for the deaths in the city.

How does this apply to the believer during the COVID pandemic? We are the watchmen who have been appointed to warn of the coming Judgment. We are the ones who know that there is a sword coming, ultimately the double-edged sword coming out of the mouth of the Lord Jesus when He returns to judge the earth (Revelation 19:11-16). We have been appointed as the witnesses of the Lord Jesus (Acts 1:8), and if we do not warn about the coming judgment, the people will still perish in their sins, but we also will have to give an account for why we were silent. The point is that COVID-19 has made people, all people, much more aware about the possibility of death. That is an opportunity for us, for we know Him who has conquered death. We know Him who has removed our fear of death. “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). We know that the Judgment will be terrifying, and we know how those who are now under judgment can be set free. Let’s be vocal and bold in proclaiming Jesus to the lost.

Some trust in chariots (Psalm 20:6-9)

PREFACE: Ordinarily I stay away from trendy topics, preferring instead to mine the timeless resources of the Scriptures, but I have decided to throw some of my thoughts and opinions into the vast ocean of the COVID-19 dialog. This is the first of several posts on that subject. NOTE: This is an edited version of a post I made yesterday (9/22/2021).

One of the topics that has been glaringly absent from the endless discussions and diatribes about COVID-19 and its related vaccines is the topic of faith. Even when reading articles and Blog posts from Christian authors, the subject of faith is rarely mentioned and is never central. Now, I would expect unbelievers to run to these vaccines and to loudly tout these “miracles of modern medical science.” I would expect those who do not know the living God to be fearful in the face of this pandemic, since admittedly many people have died from COVID. It is understandable for unbelievers to stampede to the vaccine since they have no shield or refuge or defender or savior other then the two mighty jabs. For an unbeliever to cling to the feeble hope that some man-made means of rescue will keep them safe from the dreaded disease is perfectly reasonable. “A suspect parachute is better than no parachute at all,” or so the saying goes. So, I understand the responses of those who do not know God and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

What puzzles me, and sometimes alarms me, is the response of those who do claim to trust in the Lord. I would expect that those who know the living God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and who thus have all the promises in the Bible credited to their account, would respond to this disease and to the vaccine in a noticeably different way, but almost always I am disappointed. In what they write, in what they say in conversations, and in what they do, the overwhelming majority of professing Christians respond virtually identically as the world responds. Brothers and sisters, this ought not to be!

Consider Psalm 20:6-9.

Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed;
He will answer him from His holy heaven
With the saving strength of His right hand.
Some boast (trust) in chariots and some in horses,
But we will boast (trust) in the name of the Lord, our God.
They have bowed down and fallen,
But we have risen and stood upright.
Save, O Lord;
May the King answer us in the day we call.

20:6 – David knows that the Lord is the one who saves. Notice that he does not mention any other possible means of rescue. The psalmist then declares the truth that the Lord will answer His people from heaven. When God’s people cry out to Him, we have the promise that God will answer our cries. And how will the Lord answer our cries? “With the saving strength of His right hand.” Nothing and no one can stay the action of the Lord’s right hand.

20:7 – This promise of the Lord’s faithfulness and strength shown to His people (20:6) evokes trust from David. “Some” boast in chariots and horses. “Some” people have never seen the Lord’s strength and they reject His salvation, so they trust in their worldly weapons. “When I am afraid,” this person says, “I will remember that I have chariots and horses. They are mighty to save. Chariots and horses will keep me safe.” But David, speaking for the Lord’s people, proclaims that “we will trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Whatever threat may come, we will trust in the name of the Lord our God. He has proven Himself faithful and the saving strength of His right hand will defeat any enemy. All our trust is in the Lord.

20:8 – And what is the result of where a person places their trust? Does it make a difference whom you trust? Yes, it most certainly does. In Psalm 146:3, we read, “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man in whom there is no salvation.” If your trust is in the mortal things of this world, you will perish with them. In 20:8 we read, “’They’ have bowed down and fallen.” The “they” in this verse is the same people as the “some” in verse 7. Those who trusted in chariots and horses “have bowed down and fallen.” They trusted in things that could not save and could not protect them from the threats of this world. “But we have risen and stood upright.” There is a huge contrast between those who trust the Lord and those who trust in worldly shields and defenses. “Bowed down and fallen” or “risen and stood upright,” that is the contrast. All the difference is in whom you trust.

[ASIDE: As a further note on 20:8, it is possible that David is here talking about more than a victory in an earthly battle. The phrase “risen and stood upright” could be referring to the Resurrection on the Last Day. On that day, all believers will rise in glorious resurrection and will constitute a great army to join with the Lord Jesus when He comes to destroy and judge the unrighteous. Ezekiel 37:10 declares, “So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life (‘risen’) and stood on their feet (‘stood upright’), an exceedingly great army.”]

20:9 – Now David can cry to the Lord with confidence, “Save, O Lord!” The Lord has declared and proven His faithfulness and David has trusted in the Lord, his God, so the result is that the man of God can know for certain that the Lord will be mighty to save him.

For the Christian, the primary issue is trust. Whom do you trust? Not “Whom do you claim to trust?” but, “Whom do you trust?” Do you trust in chariots and horses, or do you trust in the name of the Lord, our God? Trust is the issue.

So, if trust is the primary issue, then how do we apply the teaching of Psalm 20:6-9 to our current pandemic and particularly with regard to its vaccine? To be very direct, I pose this question: “Can the professing Christian listen to Biden and Fauci and Moderna and Pfizer and the CDC and a thousand other voices, and obey them, and then claim to believe Psalm 20:6-9?” I don’t think so, because the issue is trust. Our trust in the Lord must manifest itself in practical ways in our lives. What glory does God receive when, with regard to this very public controversy about COVID, His people have the same conversations and make the same decisions on the same bases as the rest of the world? Would the watching world not conclude that we, too, need a vaccine to protect us from COVID? Would it not be a better demonstration of the power of our God and of our trust in Him to declare that, regarding this disease or any disease or any threat whatsoever, “We will trust in the name of the Lord, our God”?

Remember, “Some boast (trust) in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast (trust) in the name of the Lord, our God.” In whom will you boast?

For this reason, you also must be ready (Matthew 24:44)

NOTE: This post is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Last Act of the Drama: A guide for the end-times. rmb

In His teaching on the Mount of Olives, our Lord commands His people to be ready and to be on the alert. “Therefore, be on the alert (Matthew 24:42), for you do not know which day your Lord is coming,” and “For this reason, you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will (24:44).” Regardless of the details, the Lord Jesus will certainly return one day in power and in glory. Knowing this, His disciples persevere in faith and wait for the trumpet sound and for the appearance of the Rider on the white horse (Revelation 19:11-16). Our main “end-times task” is still to be ready when our King comes.

But how is the disciple to be ready for the return of King Jesus? The following are some specific suggestions from my own efforts to be ready during these last days.

GROW YOUR TRUST IN GOD

Grow your trust in God by regularly reminding yourself who He is, what He has done in creation, what He has done in His redemptive plan, and what He has done in your life, not only in your salvation but also in myriad providences and answered prayers and blessings that He has poured out on you.

The goal here is for your trust in God and your experience of His greatness to overwhelm all fears. The LORD declares that He is God, and there is no other. He is sovereign over all things, and that means over ALL things. He has displayed His glory in His creation, which He spoke into existence from nothing (ex nihilo), so that His people would give Him glory and know His power (Romans 1:20). He has conceived and executed His redemptive plan that allows Him to forgive wretched sinners like me. The Lord remains just even though He is the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). And, if you are in Christ, God has redeemed you and called you by name, and you are forever His child and treasured possession (Isaiah 43:1). God has proven Himself faithful. So then, even if “the mountains slip into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:2) and everything in our world collapses, we will not fear because God is our refuge and strength (46:1). We get ready, then, by making sure that our trust in God will not waver regardless of what happens.

GROW DEEP IN YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD’S WORD

Your Bible is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18). It is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). It is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105). The Bible has been breathed out by the third Person of the Trinity (2 Timothy 3:16) so that His people will be ready for the battle. As the lawlessness and persecution of the end of the age intensify, we must wield the sword of the Spirit with precision and skill. The strategy is straightforward: Know your Bible and believe what it says as truth from God. Know your Bible so well that all fear is consumed in your reverent love of God and your unwavering trust in Him. In this way you will be ready to persevere until the King comes.

GROW IN YOUR LOVE FOR CHRIST’S CHURCH

In His grace, at our salvation, the Lord sealed us with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13) and joined us to the body of Christ, which is the church of all believers in Jesus in the world. Now, as those who have been joined to Christ, we enjoy fellowship not only with God the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, but also with all the saints who will make up “the great multitude which no one could count from every nation and tribe and people and tongue standing before the throne” in heaven (Revelation 7:9). That worship will go on forever, but now on this side of eternity, we also get to worship with the saints in our local church. And one of the most powerful and effective ways to be ready for Jesus’ coming is to learn to love the saints in your local church. As the end of the age draws near, it is the local church that will provide the encouragement we need to press on. The author of Hebrews says this:

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:23-25

Especially as we contemplate persecution and think about being hated by the world because of our faith in Jesus, the blessing of the local church, of real flesh and blood followers of Jesus who are committed to loving us to the end, becomes sweeter. Notice that the author of Hebrews exhorts “us” to hold fast the confession of “our” hope. We don’t have to go it alone. We will be ready for Jesus because the saints in our local church have continually stimulated us to live out our faith and to persevere. We will continue to assemble as a body of believers because we enjoy our time together and because we need the encouragement, especially as we “see the day drawing near.” So, loving the saints in my local church is part of what it means to be ready.

GENERAL TACTICS FOR THE END-TIMES

Lastly, there are also some other tactics that help me keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and not be distracted and not be “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind” (Ephesians 4:14) of culture and every scheme of the devil (2 Cor. 2:11; Ephesians 6:11). These tactics are not intended to sound drastic or dramatic but are meant to communicate the immense importance of our perseverance. Our enemy is committed to our destruction, and we must therefore be committed to glorifying the Lord through our perseverance in holiness.

  • Expect persecution so that you are not surprised by it (1 Peter 4:12).
  • Prepare for persecution. This may involve envisioning specific persecution and deciding now how you will respond then. Again, the local church would be a tremendous encouragement here as we resolve together now how we will respond then. There is tremendous power in that type of commitment.
  • Commit now to persevere to the end no matter what comes. “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). It is only the one who endures to the end who will be saved. Be ready to persevere to the end.
  • Finally, resolve now to die rather than deny Christ. Make that decision now while the skies are still mostly blue. “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

These suggestions should help you to be ready when the last trumpet sounds.

SDG rmb 9/16/2021 #434

The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)

Most of us have heard about Yom Kippur, even if we are not Jewish. The descriptions of Yom Kippur on the Internet are universally serious and sober. One site calls Yom Kippur “the most solemn of Jewish religious holidays, observed on the 10th day of the lunar month of Tishri (in the course of September and October), when Jews seek to expiate their sins and achieve reconciliation with God.” Many Christians are unaware that Yom Kippur, translated as the “day of atonement,” is part of every Bible. The fundamental teaching on the day of atonement is given in Leviticus 16, and that is where I will be focusing for this post. The New Testament book of “Hebrews” also spends a good bit of time explaining the significance of the day of atonement and teaches how Jesus the Messiah has fulfilled this foreshadow or “type” by His sacrificial death on the cross.

With this post, I want to carefully go through Leviticus 16 and show how this Jewish ceremony established by Moses 3,500 years ago points to the finished work of Jesus the Messiah that He accomplished in His death and resurrection.

(I will be using the New American Standard translation of the Bible.)

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE CEREMONY

Before we get into the actual ceremony and what Aaron the priest was commanded to do on the day of atonement, there are several preliminary observations to make.

  • First, the LORD Himself spoke to Moses and gave him the requirements for this day. In fact, The LORD is the only person who speaks in Leviticus 16. The LORD speaks to Moses and describes the precise requirements for the day of atonement if the sins of the people were to be removed. Therefore, the ceremony was not invented by Moses, nor were the details of the ceremony made up by other people. Rather, “The LORD spoke to Moses (16:1, 2).”
  • Second, the day of atonement was observed on one day of every year, the tenth day of the seventh month, and it was a permanent statute for the children of Israel, meaning that they were required to perform this ceremony every year (Leviticus 16:29). Yom Kippur was not optional.
  • Third, the purpose of Yom Kippur was that “on this day, atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the LORD (16:30 – read 16:29-34).” The LORD God is a holy God and our sin creates a separation between us and God (Isaiah 59:1-2) and brings us under His righteous judgment and condemnation (Ezekiel 18:4). In the Law (Torah) of the Old Testament, the LORD, through Yom Kippur, provided a way for the sins of man to be cleansed and washed away, so that men and women would not be condemned before Him. Every year the Hebrew people were required to repeat the ceremony, as a reminder of their ongoing sinfulness.
  • Fourth, only the high priest could perform the ceremony of the day of atonement and, as we will see, he was required to perform his duties precisely according to the instructions the LORD gave. Every part of the priest’s duty was for a purpose and no part could be omitted. Acceptable atonement depended on the priest performing his duties exactly as prescribed. If he did not do everything according to the instructions, the priest would die before the LORD and the people’s sins would remain.

THE CEREMONY ITSELF

            As we have said, the ceremony for Yom Kippur is carefully explained in Leviticus chapter 16. There are many steps and actions described in this chapter which are necessary to atone for sin and trying to follow all these details can be confusing, especially to a reader who is relatively unfamiliar with Israel’s sacrificial system. To simplify matters, the whole ceremony can be described in three broad ideas, namely:

  • The forgiveness of any sin requires shedding the blood of an acceptable sacrifice. Therefore, the high priest must bring blood into the Most Holy Place to be sprinkled on the mercy seat (“the propitiatory”).
  • The central focus of the day of atonement is on the two goats, one goat that is sacrificed as a sin offering and another goat that remains alive and is sent away into the wilderness. To understand Yom Kippur and how Yom Kippur allowed for the atonement of the sins of the people, a person must understand the meaning of the two goats.
  • The ceremony is steeped in holiness and was a unique sacrifice among all the sacrifices of the Hebrew sacrificial system. This was the only sacrifice when the high priest was allowed into the Most Holy Place (“the Holy of holies”). This was the only sacrifice that required two animals. This was the only ceremony in the sacrificial system where a live animal survived. 

LEVITICUS 16, VERSES 1-10

            The first ten verses give an overview and preliminary instruction for what will happen during the whole ceremony. The LORD reminds Moses of how serious this day is and that even the high priest must not enter the Most Holy place (“Holy of holies”) unless he brings blood to atone for his own sin. We are also introduced to the two male goats, who are the focus of the ceremony. Aaron is to “cast lots for the two goats (16:8).” One goat will be sacrificed to the LORD as a sin offering and the other goat will be the scapegoat (or “the goat of removal”). “The scapegoat will be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as a scapegoat (16:10).”

LEVITICUS 16, VERSES 11-14 – The bull of the sin offering (inside the veil)

            Now the action of the sacrifices begins. Aaron, the high priest, must offer the bull of the sin offering (16:11); he must slaughter the bull of the sin offering (16:11); and he must take some of the blood of the bull into the Holy of holies (“inside the veil” – 16:12) to sprinkle it on the mercy seat (16:14).

All this is done to atone for the high priest’s own personal sins. He cannot come into the presence of the LORD unless his sins have been atoned for. Also, notice that, before he enters inside the veil and into the presence of the LORD, the high priest must prepare a cloud of incense (16:12-13) to cover the mercy seat, “otherwise he will die.”

LEVITICUS 16, VERSES 15-19 – The goat of the sin offering (inside the veil)

            After making atonement for his own sins, the high priest goes back out to the holy place inside the tent and slaughters the goat of the sin offering (the first goat). He then brings the blood of that goat inside the veil, into the Holy of holies, to sprinkle its blood on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat “to make atonement for all the assembly of Israel (16:17).” In this part of the ceremony, the blood of the sin offering atones for the sins of the people.

LEVITICUS 16, VERSES 20-22 – The goat of removal (outside the tent)

            But now the high priest goes outside the tent of meeting and offers the live goat (16:20). Then the priest “shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins (16:21).” By confessing the sins of all the people over the head of the live goat, the high priest has transferred those sins to the live goat. Then the goat, which is now bearing the sins of all the people, is sent away into the wilderness so that their sins will be remembered no more.

AN ODD CEREMONY – WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

            As we consider this ceremony of Yom Kippur that the LORD prescribed for taking away sins, a number of questions may arise, like:

  • How can animal sacrifices, even those commanded by the LORD, atone for human sins?
  • What sorts of sins did the children of Israel have to confess? I am pretty sure their sins were different than our sins.
  • This ceremony took place a long, long time ago. What does this have to do with me today? Things have changed since then. Surely God does not still require atonement for my sin and does not still require blood sacrifices.
  • Why would God create such an unusual ceremony to atone for sin? Doesn’t God just sort of wave His hand and forgive sin? Why this elaborate ceremony?
  • Why did this have to be repeated every year as a “perpetual statute?” It seems like it would be done once for all time and that would be that. Why the repetition?
  • This ceremony cannot be done now because neither the tabernacle nor the temple still exists, and because sacrificing animals is just not done in our culture. How, then, are God’s people supposed to atone for their sins now?

YOM KIPPUR IS A FORESHADOW OF SOMETHING ELSE

            These are all interesting questions, and they probably deserve answers, but these questions miss the main point. The main point, and the point that will answer most of the questions above, is that the LORD prescribed the ceremony of Yom Kippur not as an end in itself, but as a picture of something much greater that was to come. We refer to this picturing of something in the future as a “foreshadow.” The idea is that we see the shadow now, but we know that the greater reality is coming soon. Since we see the shadow now, the substance will be right behind it. So, Yom Kippur is a foreshadow of a greater reality to follow.

The day of atonement as described in Leviticus 16 shows us several things:

  • All people have sinned against the commandments of the LORD. Notice that the high priest needed to make atonement for all the people. That means that all had sinned.
  • The LORD God is holy and requires atonement for sin. That is the entire purpose of the ceremony. God is very serious about sin.
  • We cannot make ourselves righteous before God, but we need a sin offering to atone for our sins. The priest had to bring the blood of the prescribed sin offering inside the veil to sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat. Just so, we need the blood an acceptable sacrifice to atone for our sins.
  • We also need a “goat of removal” who will take our sins away “into the wilderness” so that we will no longer be under the judgment of God.
  • Leviticus 16 describes Yom Kippur, which was to berepeated every single year, but we need a permanent solution to our sin problem. We need a once-for-all time sacrifice to atone for our sin and we need some way to permanently take our sins away into the wilderness.

Yom Kippur foreshadows the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah as an atonement for the sins of His people. In His death on the cross, Jesus was “the goat of the sin offering.” He was the acceptable sacrifice who “gave His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). It is His blood that serves as atonement for the sins of His people. But Jesus is also “the goat of removal,” because by His resurrection “He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). That is, because He rose from the dead and lives forever, He is always able to take away the sins of His people into the wilderness.

HOW DO WE RECEIVE THE ATONEMENT JESUS OFFERS?

APPLICATION: Jesus grants atonement and forgiveness of sins to all His people. Who are “His people?” His people are all those who have placed their faith in Him as Lord and Savior. Regardless of ethnicity or past sins or social position or age or any other external differentiation, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart a person believes resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” – Romans 10:9-10.

When we place our faith in Jesus, we figuratively place both our hands on His head (Leviticus 16:21) and declare our faith in Him and we confess our sins to God. In that act of faith, Jesus dies for us as “the goat of the sin offering” (Lev. 16:15-19) to take away the penalty for our sin, and, by His resurrection, He also lives for us as “the live goat” (Leviticus 16:20-22) to continue to take our sins away into the wilderness, “to a solitary land” (16:22). If you have never done that, now would be a good time to receive that atonement and the forgiveness that Jesus has to offer.

If we confess our sins (1 John 1:9)

PURPOSE OF THIS POST: To come to a correct understanding of 1 John 1:9 and of what it means “to confess our sins.” BACKGROUND: At first glance, this verse can appear to be teaching us to regularly confess our sins so that our sins are forgiven. This is how the verse has been mistakenly taught in the past, perhaps because of some carryover from the Roman Catholic practice of confession. A careful reading of the verse, however, reveals John is actually teaching us about the nature of our salvation. When we “confess our sins,” God forgives us (all) our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Therefore, this confession of sins results in salvation. This post studies this verse to understand its true meaning.

The epistle of 1 John can be viewed as a letter that assures true believers of their salvation by walking them through a series of spiritual tests. If you pass the tests, you should be assured in your faith, but if the tests raise doubts and concerns, you need to examine your faith to see if it is real.

Before John gets into his spiritual tests, he presents a series of contrasts between the one who merely claims to be a follower of Jesus and the one who actually is a follower of Jesus. Verses 1:6 and 1:7 form one such contrast and verses 1:8 and 1:9 form another. We will examine these verses to see what they tell us about true faith.

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

1:6 – If we say/CLAIM “we have fellowship with Him,” but we walk in darkness, we are still unsaved and have an evil, unbelieving heart (Hebrews 3:12) and we do not believe in Jesus.

This is then contrasted with 1:7.

1:7 – BUT, if we walk in the Light (that is, if we believe in Jesus and walk with Him),

Result 1 – we have fellowship with one another (according to 1:3, believer has fellowship with believer and believer has fellowship with Father and Son), and

Result 2 – the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (Emphasis mine.) That means that all our sin – past, present, and future – has been washed away. This is a one-time event that occurred at salvation.

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1:8 ‘we say/CLAIM “we have no sin,” we are refusing to confess our sin. That is, we will not acknowledge that we are sinners, and therefore we deny that we need forgiveness. As long as we say/CLAIM we have no sin, our sin will never be forgiven. The Lord will never forgive the one who denies their sin. The one who claims to have no sin cannot be saved.

Result: ‘we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ We are living in an ongoing state of self-deception. The truth is that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), but we are rejecting and ignoring that truth. Romans 5:12 declares that all sinned, but we CLAIM that “we have no sin” to confess or be forgiven.

In Luke 18:10-14, Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee is proud of his religious performance and the tax collector simply beats his breast saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” And the tax collector receives mercy from the Lord because he acknowledges his sin and begs the Lord for mercy. Just so in this pair of verses. Some claim that they have no sin and so have nothing to confess. They will perish. But there is the contrast.

1:9 – “(But) If we confess our sins”

This confession of sins has in view the acknowledgment by the convicted sinner that they have transgressed the Law of God and are justly condemned for their sin. They know they deserve the wrath of God. The person has been brought under full conviction by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8) and feels the weight of their sin. The person fully and unreservedly confesses their sins to the Lord. This confession is synonymous with repentance unto salvation. It is the cry from David which said, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and You forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5). This confession of sins contrasts with the proud, godless refusal to confess or acknowledge sin that was expressed in 1:8. Instead, this confession to God marks the initial repentance by the sinner and so represents the moment of salvation.

Result: “He (God) is faithful and righteous to forgive us (ALL) our sins and to cleanse us (confirm in 1:7) from all unrighteousness.”

The result of this confession confirms the nature of the confession.

1:9 – “If we confess our sins,” we read of the results.

Result 1 – God forgives (ALL) our sins, and

Result 2 – God cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

Notice that these results are two aspects of what God does in justification.

Result 1: God’s forgiveness – God’s forgiveness is bestowed on the repentant sinner at the moment of salvation. In justification, God declares the sinner to be forgiven of all of their sins. This is, by definition, a one-time event, for in the moment of salvation, God forgives all the person’s sins, based on their faith in Jesus. If all the person’s sins are forgiven, what is the reason to repeat this forgiveness again?

Result 2: And at that moment, God cleanses the person from all unrighteousness. Our confession and acknowledgement of our sins transfers all our sins to Christ, so that our sins were punished on the cross, and imputes Christ’s perfect righteousness to us, so that we are seen and treated as righteous. Our sins are forgiven because they have been atoned for and our unrighteousness is cleansed and replaced with Christ’s righteousness.

CONCLUSION

What we see happening, then, is that John is establishing the necessary starting point for passing all the tests in his first epistle. If you have come to faith in Jesus and you walk in His light; if you have confessed and repented of your sins; in short, if you have been born again, relax. You will pass the tests.

SDG                 rmb                 9/5/2021                     #432

Those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12)

The Scripture is very clear that persecution should be expected by the follower of Christ. This is stated in numerous places in the Bible, but perhaps the clearest is 2 Timothy 3:12:

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

WHO ARE THESE WHO DESIRE TO LIVE FOR CHRIST?

Who are these men and women “who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus”? The following is not an exhaustive list, but it does present some of the prominent characteristics.

Their lives proclaim that they live for Christ. These people are “tall blades.” By that I mean that they faith is not a private affair hidden under a rock. Rather, their faith is evident in everything about them. If you are looking for a Christian, these are not hard to find.

The light of Christ shines out of them (Matthew 5:16). This is related to the trait above. They let their light shine before men.

They bear much fruit (John 15:5), meaning that their life is rich in good works (Ephesians 2:10). These people are intentional in focusing their energies and their resources in channels that are going to commend Christ and the gospel and that will do good to others.

It is evident that they love the body of Christ. Their love for their brothers and sisters in Christ is almost tangible.

These men and women spend time in prayer and in reading God’s word.

In summary, these men and women are born-again followers of Jesus.

EXPECT PERSECUTION

Because these are born-again followers of Jesus, these men and women joyfully accept persecution as an expected part of following Christ. Jesus Himself promised His disciples, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Our Lord also told of the blessing that comes to those who are persecuted.

10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:10-12

Jesus left us an example to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21). He accepted the cross and uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to God the Father, who judges righteously.

Jesus’ apostles clearly told us to expect heat and hatred from the world. Peter wrote, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). And so we as followers of Jesus accept persecution as a stamp of authenticity. As J C Ryle wrote,

“Persecution, in short, is like the goldsmith’s stamp on real silver and gold. It is one of the marks of a converted man.”

THE HEAT IS INCREASING

And so, as we see those who hate Christ rising to places of power, and as we watch out religious freedom being systematically demolished and our ability to worship our God specifically attacked, we must be sure our resolve to persevere to the end is firmly established. Only a very few years ago the idea of severe persecution or martyrdom in America would have been absurd, but no more. With only a little bit of imagination, we can see that what used to be a prayer for far away people has become a real possibility here.

As I was considering my own possible martyrdom and wrestling with an encroaching fear, I went to the Scriptures to again find God’s assurance and peace. Again, 2 Timothy 3:12:

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

We will all be persecuted, but we will not all be persecuted in the same way.

Some of those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be martyred as they persevere to the end. They will experience the first resurrection (Revelation 20:4-6) and will be among the dead in Christ who will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16) in the Resurrection. Their persecution was unto death.

And some of those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will die before the Resurrection but will not die as martyrs. They persevered to the end, but they were not killed for their faith. They will experience the first resurrection (Revelation 20:4-6) and will be among the dead in Christ who will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16) in the Resurrection. Their persecution was not unto death.

And some of those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be alive and remain until the coming of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:15, 17). They will persevere to the end and, in the Resurrection, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. Instead, they will be changed (i.e., glorified; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52) in the Resurrection. Their persecution was not unto death.

Those are the three possible outcomes for the true believer, and they all three end in heaven. If we persevere to the end, our eternity will be glorious.

SDG                 rmb                 9/4/2021                     #431

The God who creates spiders and welcomes sinners

“For that which may be known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen through what has been made so that men are without excuse.” – Romans 1:19-20

This morning I noticed that the spider, whose web is in the corner of our kitchen window, had captured a rather large bug in its web and appeared to be feeding on that captured bug.

And I again marveled. God designed and created insects of a certain size with an exoskeleton that keeps all of their vital fluids within that hard case. And God designed and created the spider of a certain size who creates a web that is sticky and allows the insect to be caught in the web. The spider who created the web can run back and forth on the same web that traps the spider’s prey in a sticky tomb. But also, not only did God design and create the spider to produce the material for its web, but He also designed and created the spider with the ability to create webs with the web material its body continuously produces, webs of the perfect shape to capture the spider’s prey. And God designed and created the spider to build the same web repeatedly. And God designed and created each species of spider with its own unique web design, such that, if you see the web, you can know the species of spider. But also, God designed and created the spider such that its mouth can penetrate the exoskeleton of the insects which are captured by its perfectly created web and thus feed on its prey.

And there are myriad other details of this infinitely complex drama of spider and prey, this drama that unfolds in the corners of kitchen windows all over the world every morning. And this drama of spider and prey, in all its infinite complexity, has gone on virtually unnoticed since God designed and created the heavens and the earth.

But this infinitely complex drama of spider and prey is an infinitely minute and insignificant component of an uncountable number of similarly infinitely complex dramas that interact with one another in perfect unison day after day and year after year. Such is the nature of God’s creation.

And it all began with nothing.

Our God created all this infinite beauty and complexity “ex nihilo.”

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” from nothing.

God spoke, and nothing became everything.

Try to grasp that with your finite mind and you will quickly be driven to overload.

But there is something more mind-bending than that.

This same Creator-God has put on human flesh and has visited this planet that He created. Earth is the visited planet. Jesus Christ has visited this planet. The God-Man has come down to dwell with the people He created.

And this God has made a way for the very humans who have disobeyed Him and who have killed His Son, Jesus, whom He sent, and who have broken His laws and have disobeyed His commands, to be reconciled to Him and to be rescued from His holy, righteous wrath by trusting His Son Jesus for eternal life.

This is the God whom I serve and love and worship, the one true and living God, who has created the world out of nothing and who now invites every sinner to come to His throne and receive eternal life.

“For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, nor has the eye seen a God besides You, who acts on behalf of the one who waits for Him.” Isaiah 64:4

God is worthy of all praise!

SDG                 rmb                 9/2/2021                     #430

Isaiah 12: Streams of salvation – Part 1

This post begins a series of blogs exploring and enjoying this short chapter from the prophet Isaiah.

In six verses, Isaiah 12 takes us on a journey all the way from a time of being an enemy of the LORD to being His joyful herald as an inhabitant of Zion. The chapter divides neatly in half, with the first half telling of the author’s journey from being under the LORD’s anger to his enjoying the LORD’s salvation, and the second half urging those who have received salvation to trumpet the LORD’s praises and declare His excellence throughout the earth.

Then you will say on that day,

“I will give thanks to You, O LORD,

For although You were angry with me,

Your anger is turned away

And You comfort me. – Isaiah 12:1

“THAT DAY”

The text tells of a certain day called “that day.” In this context, what is “that day?” In many Old Testament contexts, “that day” is referring to the day of the LORD, the Last Day, when the LORD finally pours out His wrath on all those who do not bow the knee in worship to the Lord Jesus Christ. But here in this context, “that day” is referring to the day of this man’s salvation. This is the day when any man or any woman passes from death to life (John 5:24). “That day” is the day when God’s wrath toward that sinner is quenched and is forever turned away, and God’s blessing and God’s favor forever replaces it. This is “that day.” (See Isaiah 49:8, quoted by Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:2.)

SOMETHING CHANGED

What has happened on “that day?” Something life-changing has happened that has prompted spontaneous and irrepressible thanks, something astonishing that has somehow resulted in God’s righteous anger being turned away from this person and being replaced with the LORD’s comfort. This man pours out thanks to the LORD because “although You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away.”

THE DOCTRINE OF THE LORD’S RIGHTEOUS ANGER AGAINST US

The Bible teaches that the LORD is holy, and because He is holy, He will not tolerate sin. His holiness requires Him to punish the sinner. When we sin, the LORD’s wrath rests upon us (John 3:18, 36). He is angry with the sinner (Ephesians 2:3), and He will punish the sinner for his sin. (Also Psalm 32:3-4; Romans 1:18)

And so, this truth answers one of our questions. “For although You were angry with me . . .” The author acknowledges that there was a time when the LORD’s anger rested upon him, but we wonder, “Why was the LORD angry with him? Isn’t it true that the LORD is a God of love? What horrible thing did this man do that warranted the LORD’s being angry with him?” Now it has become apparent that this man did nothing that you and I have not done. The LORD was angry with him because he was a sinner, and that his “ordinary” sin brought the LORD’s “ordinary” wrath and judgment. And if the LORD was angry with this man because of his “ordinary” sin, it follows that the LORD also must be angry with me for my “ordinary” sin.

BUT THERE IS “ALTHOUGH”

But we must read on, for the LORD’s wrath is not the end of the story. There is hope for the sinner (there is hope for me!) because there is this word “although.” O, what is the meaning of this “although?” We will explore that in our next post.

SDG                 rmb                 8/14/2021                   #429

Why are the warnings in Hebrews so severe?

There is no shortage of warnings in the Bible. God has sent His word to mankind to warn us that we are in peril because of our sin and to alert us that God, the Holy One of Israel, will surely judge and will condemn the unrighteous. And so, in each genre of the Bible and in many places in each genre, the Bible issues warnings so that men will turn from their sin and repent.

THE WARNINGS IN HEBREWS

But while there are many warnings in the Bible, there are some warnings that are particularly striking and daunting, that pierce like an arrow and slam into us like a cutlass. The warnings in the book of Hebrews are of this variety. There are multiple warnings in Hebrews and each succeeding warning seems to be more unsettling than the last. In chapter 2 we are warned not to drift away from so great a salvation (2:1, 3). Chapter 3 tells us about the dangers of an evil, unbelieving heart (3:12). Chapter 4 urges us not to come short of God’s rest (4:1). In the well-known passage in chapter 6 we read of the impossibility of renewing to repentance those who have heard the word of God and then have fallen away (6:4-8). Then in chapter 10 we have perhaps the most frightening, as we read that, if we sin willfully after we have claimed faith in Christ, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment” (10:26-27). This passage (10:26-31) is punctuated with the warning, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31).

WHY SO SEVERE?

Why does the author of Hebrews dramatically and repeatedly warn his readers in such alarming terms? What is it about the purpose of the epistle that warrants these strident warnings? As I have studied the book of Hebrews, I have reached the conclusion that the reason for these devastating warnings has to do with the particular people the author is trying to reach.

When you design an alarm system for a facility that stores explosive chemicals, politeness is not a design criterion. Rather, the alarms are designed to be as loud and irritating and irresistible as possible so that, if there ever appears any threat of an explosion, the people in the facility will be alerted and will evacuate and get away immediately.

If you were going on an African safari into lion country, your weapon of choice would not be a small caliber handgun. You are going after a target animal that requires potent weapons which assure a kill when they encounter the target. Best be sure that the first bullet does the job, for you may not get a second.

Likewise, the author of Hebrews has as his purpose to alarm and warn a specific type of person in the congregation, and he is determined to achieve his purpose. The last thing he wants to do is issue a so-called warning that falls short of arousing and that fails to alarm. There is nothing more pathetic than warning people who are in terrible danger with an alarm that is not capable of alerting or alarming. It is like a fire alarm that is mistaken for the music of an ice cream truck. People perish in the flames because of the incompetence of the one who issues the alarm. The author of Hebrews will not be accused of issuing such a warning.

WHO IS THE AUTHOR TRYING TO ALARM? THE MOST ELUSIVE

This epistle is intended to rouse to awareness that most elusive and stubborn of all unbelievers, the person who is comfortable with Christian words and Christian practices, who regularly attends church services, who writes checks to his church and who is generally a decent, polite fellow, but who has never been born again, who has never been personally delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. These startling warnings are for those who are merely going through the motions and who are simply doing the external works of Christianity, thinking that these are all that the Lord requires. The author’s warnings are severe and drastic because he is attempting to rouse the external “Christian.” The external, nominal “Christian” is not born again and so is not saved and has not been set free by Jesus, but they wrongly believe they are, based on their religious performance. He would, in fact, be insulted and offended if anyone were to suggest to him that his external, formal Christianity was somehow not good enough to get him into heaven. Even this person’s own pastor would be treading on thin ice if the pastor suggested to this “fine Christian man” that his walk needed to show the fruit of repentance and should display greater holiness in order to display genuine faith.

“If you were accused of being a biblical Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

The author of Hebrews must make these warnings severe and harsh and drastic so that the nominal church-goer, still dead in their sins, might be shaken from their slumber and stirred to consciousness, and might be frightened into genuine repentance. The alarm must be loud and piercing and prolonged because of the spiritual stupor of the religious once-born. The one who has been dutifully plodding through the external motions of Christianity for a long time has been lulled into a spiritual coma (confirm in Hebrews 6:4-6). A loud, piercing, prolonged alarm is needed to rouse them and, alas, even that alarm rarely rouses. The one in the coma assumes the alarm is for someone else and that their listless church experience is the real deal. So, the author of Hebrews makes his warnings harsh and direct because his intent is to rouse those who are still dead but think they are alive. (See the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6.)

By these strident warnings, the author also does an immense service to the pastor who is duty-bound to preach these warning passages to those in his own congregation whom he suspects to have fallen short of salvation. These severe and stunning passages allow the pastor to preach with great boldness without stretching the text too far. The brave pastor can thus declare the warnings that lie plainly in the text and then apply the warnings to his flock without being accused of reading into the passage his own pleadings and opinions.

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

So, preach boldly, my friend, with the full sanctioning of the Scriptures.

SDG                 rmb                 8/7/2021                     #428

Maintain your zeal all the way to the end

I have been reading through J. C. Ryle’s book Practical Religion and have recently finished the chapter on “Zeal.” In his usual direct style, Ryle convincingly presents the case that the only way to run the Christian race is to run with effortful zeal. He presents example after example, both biblical and historical, that demonstrate that those who make a difference for Christ live with an abandoned zeal for the things of Christ. Theirs is an unclouded gaze that is set toward heaven which sees life as a brief window of time to be spent in undistracted devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:35).

This resonates with me. In our age of distraction and dissipation and dissolution, where it seems that all in our society is intentionally designed to obscure Christ and to lure people into the wasting of their lives, the believer needs to be spurred to action and encouraged to press on with zeal. We are those who are convinced that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He is King of kings and Lord of lords, that He is worthy of all praise, and that He is coming back soon to judge the living and the dead. He is the One who has died on the cross and He is the One who has been raised from the dead, and He is the One who now rules and reigns. We proclaim His name and call the nations to bow down to Him. We are those who declare, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Therefore, in a world that is hostile to everything that I have just stated, the believer must be diligent to maintain his zeal without wavering.

Below are some of my own random thoughts on this subject.

My prayer – “Lord, let me never let up on the throttle! Let me never coast. Lord, fill me with Your Spirit so that I am useful until the day that I draw my last breath. Give me undimmed zeal. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

There is danger in coasting in the Christian race, even for a little while, and coasting poses a significant threat to your future usefulness. Reasons:

  • There is not one biblical reason to choose to coast, so any decision to ease up on your zeal is a decision against the Scripture. The Scripture speaks to the contrary and expects the believer to “die at their post.”
  • Because the flesh still indwells us, we are unwise to consciously reduce our zeal and “give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:27). Zeal for Christ suppresses the flesh, but reduced zeal gives the flesh breathing room. If given the chance, the flesh will kill your zeal for Christ and for His service and will turn you into a harmless pew-warmer.
  • The Lord rewards zeal, but He often withdraws His hand from those who desire to coast, and once His hand is removed, He rarely replaces it.
  • Human nature is such that when we decide to reduce our effort, even for a short while, it is difficult to get back on the track. This is seen in many human endeavors, but especially in our pressing toward the goal for Christ. The danger is that once we get accustomed to coasting, we find that our zeal has been lost. Once effort is reduced, we suddenly develop an aversion for work and an affinity for ease.

THE SCRIPTURE SPEAKS OF ZEAL

The Scriptures speak to this issue.

Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Since God has prepared for us good works to carry out, we need to be zealous for good works to be sure that we do all the works that God has prepared for us.

Titus 2:14 – Jesus “gave Himself for us to purify for Himself a people zealous for good deeds.” According to this Scripture, Jesus Christ gave Himself to establish a people zealous for good deeds. This was not the only reason He gave Himself up on the cross, but it is certainly one reason. If Jesus died so that I would be a man zealous for good deeds, how can I be otherwise? My very identity is tied to my zeal. If I am not zealous for good deeds, where does that leave me with Christ?

Matthew 25:15 – The Lord gives to His people a certain number of talents, “each according to his own ability.” The thing is that you don’t know how many talents He has given you. You may live under the assumption that you are a one-talent person and so live with that level of zeal and effort, when, in fact, He may have given you five talents. He may expect much more from you than your effort produces. Therefore, better to spend all your energy for the greatest impact.

Nehemiah 6:3 – Nehemiah was building the wall of Jerusalem, which was certainly the work of his lifetime. To rebuild the wall of Jerusalem was the reason Nehemiah was created, and he knew that. So, when his enemies Tobiah and Sanballat invited him to come have dinner with them, he smells a rat and declines their invitation. But notice what Nehemiah says to them. “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” Nehemiah would not be distracted from his life’s work. In the same way, we should seek our “great work,” that work for which the Lord created us, and then live spending ourselves for that work.

2 Corinthians 12:15 – “I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls.” Paul’s zeal for Christ manifested itself in the unrestrained outpouring of himself for other believers. Whatever he had and whatever he was, he eagerly poured out for the blessing and the encouragement of others.

Isaiah 6:8 – “Here am I. Send me.” In this scene, the prophet sees a vision of the Lord in the temple, lofty and exalted, and he is ruined. In the misery of his sin, he cries out to the Lord for mercy and the seraphim takes away his sin with a burning coal. It is then, after his sin is cleansed, that Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord calling for laborers to go. “Here am I. Send me.” In the zeal of his cleansing, and in his joy for now being in fellowship with the Lord, Isaiah gives the Lord a blank check for his future service to the Lord. The prophet gives no conditions to his service, and no limitations. Anywhere, anytime, for however long, he is available to be sent. And this is the normal zeal for the believer. We have been cleansed of a terminal stain and have been placed in the service of the Lord. With zeal, therefore, we give ourselves away to the Lord for as long as He sees fit to use us.

Philippians 1:21 – “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” No comment is required to understand the zeal in this statement.

2 Timothy 4:6-7 – “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” The apostle Paul is drawing near to the end of his life. Shortly, the Roman guards will lead him away to his place of execution and his faithfulness will be sealed by his death. But Paul’s zeal has had its full expression. He will have been poured out. There will be nothing left. He has held nothing back in reserve. All will have been expended for Christ. This chosen instrument will have accomplished the work he was given to do. At some point in his journey, Paul realized that zeal is only for this life. It is only now that you can pour yourself out for Christ. Only in this fallen world can you be exhausted and expended, so Paul decided to be exhausted and expended for his Savior.

Let us imitate Paul’s zeal.

SDG                 rmb                 8/6/2021                     #427