The Angel of the LORD – Introduction

Of all the characters in the Old Testament, perhaps none is more fascinating and mysterious than the angel of the LORD. He first appears in Genesis 16 talking to Hagar, the Egyptian servant of Sarai as she is running away into the wilderness, and he makes random appearances in the Pentateuch, the history books, and occasionally in the prophets. Although he is called the angel of the LORD, he is no ordinary angel. He exhibits powers and a presence that separate him from all the other characters who appear in the Old Testament. Why do I say that?

When the angel of the LORD speaks, he speaks as God, and not as a mere messenger of God. Whereas prophets would say, “Thus says the LORD,” the angel speaks in the first-person singular: “I say.” So, although he is not YHWH, he speaks as YHWH. Note that he does not speak for God, but he speaks as God.

The LORD Himself appears in some of the scenes where the angel of the LORD also appears, and in those situations, the angel is indistinguishable from the LORD. One seems almost to blend into the other. It is difficult to tell which is which. It is as if they are the same, even though they are distinct, almost as if the LORD and the angel of the LORD are one.

The angel of the LORD knows all the details of the situation as soon as he appears. He knows names of the people involved and he knows the issues involved; it is almost as if he is omniscient. He also knows the future and declares it as fact.

The people who see the angel of the LORD believe they have seen God face to face, and they are struck with terror when they realize who he is. Men and women encountering the angel of the LORD somehow know they should worship him. It is appropriate and fitting to do so. Their worship is almost spontaneous, as if it is incumbent on them to worship him. And, unlike all other angels in the Bible, the angel of the LORD accepts the worship of men as fitting and appropriate.

One final interesting point to make about the angel of the LORD: He never gives his name, nor is he ever identified by name. Several times the people that meet him directly ask him his name, but he avoids the question. He deflects the question and leaves it as a mystery. That is very interesting, that this amazing character remains nameless throughout the Old Testament. Other powerful angels like Michael and Gabriel are identified for who they are, but this powerful angel remains anonymous in the Old Testament.

WHO IS THE ANGEL OF THE LORD?

The angel of the LORD made the LORD visible. The LORD said, “You cannot see My face and live (Exodus 33:20),” but in the person of the angel of the LORD, sinful man could see the Holy One of Israel and not be consumed. As YHWH, God was a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), but as the angel of the LORD, the eternal one who dwells in unapproachable light could be seen and heard. Although clearly divine, the angel of the LORD had the appearance of a man. He was the image of the invisible God, a mediator between God and man.

Who is the angel of the LORD? Surely, it is obvious who he is. The angel of the LORD is none other than the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other candidate, no other suspect. Who else can speak as the LORD and yet not be the LORD? Who else is indistinguishable from God? Who else is divine, although He has the appearance of a man (Philippians 2:5-8)? Who is the one mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:4-6)? Who is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15)? Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father (John 14:9).” Just so, he who has seen the angel of the LORD has seen the LORD. And now we know His name: “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).”

A NEW SERIES OF BLOGS ON THE ANGEL OF THE LORD

For a long time, I have thought about writing about the angel of the LORD, and now I am committing to that. The series will probably be about 12-14 blogs. We will look at appearances of the angel of the LORD and see if he really is the pre-incarnate Jesus. It should be fun.

Our first post will be on Genesis 16 when Hagar, the Egyptian servant girl, encounters the angel of the LORD.

SDG                 rmb                 2/10/2021

The Beauty of Old Testament Narratives: A series

One of the fascinating features of the Bible is the large percentage of the Scriptures, in both the Old and the New Testaments, that are made up of narrative stories. Narrative stories have an inherent attraction to us because we all like to read a good story. We see other people like ourselves wrestling with the challenges of life or making decisions or trying to figure out their meaning and purpose or dealing with conflict and confusion and loss, and we identify with them. Narratives connect us at a basic human level, and it is the same with the narrative stories of the Bible. They are remarkably accessible, and the characters are surprisingly real.

But there is something else to consider in these narrative stories in the Scriptures, and it is this: Why were these stories selected to be included in the pages of the Bible? Of the uncountable events that have taken place in history and the millions of characters who have walked on the face of the earth, why did the authors of the Bible select these narrative stories to be preserved for all time? It would be one thing if these stories had great political or historical interest and showed prominent world-changers as they made history, but the narratives in the Scriptures, and particularly those in the Old Testament Scriptures, are chosen seemingly at random. The characters are, for the most part, ordinary people in ordinary circumstances. So, why these people? And if we figure out why these people are included (Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and so on), we may still have questions about why these events. Is there a reason these stories were selected?

The narrative stories we will explore are from the pages of the Old Testament. The Hebrews held these writings to be inspired revelation from the LORD Himself and were, therefore, sacred writings. Since they were sacred, they could not be changed or altered, for then they would not be God’s word. These Scriptures were central to the life of the Hebrew faith community. In fact, two important jobs came from the Hebrews’ veneration of the Scriptures: the lawyer and the scribe. The lawyer’s job was to study the Scriptures to see what they meant, while the scribe was tasked with painstakingly copying the Scriptures, letter by letter, onto new scrolls so that the word of God would be preserved exactly as it had been received.

But why all this effort? Why all this tedious attention to detail to make sure that these obscure events about unknown people were preserved in their original form? Why? Because in the mind of God, there was a definite purpose for the Old Testament and even a definite purpose for how the Old Testament was written. These books of Torah and history and prayer and wisdom and prophets were given by God to the Hebrews to prepare the world for a coming event. The Scriptures were written to prepare the world for the appearing of Jesus, the Messiah. And so, some of these narratives point forward to show us the promised Messiah.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I plan to post a series of articles on selected narratives from the Old Testament Scriptures which give us foreshadows and clues about the first advent of Jesus the Messiah. As we explore these stories, we will see that, though ordinary in their characters and their details, the stories have a quality about them that transcends their ordinariness. We will also discover that the stories, though interesting in themselves, are written for the purpose of foreshadowing the one to come.

So, that is the plan. The first post in the series will look at Genesis 22:1-14, the story of Abraham and his son Isaac going to the land of Moriah to make a very unusual sacrifice.

SDG                 rmb                 2/9/2021

Means of Spiritual Growth (Romans 8:29)

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. – Romans 8:29

Spiritual growth is almost synonymous with being a disciple of Jesus. When a person repents of their sin and trusts in Jesus as Savior and Lord, they pass from death to life (John 5:24) and are made alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:5). Once blind, now they see (John 9:25). All this means that when you and I came to faith in Christ, we knew little about what it meant to walk with the Lord. We began our journey like newborn babies (1 Corinthians 3:2; 1 Peter 2:2), and now we grow in spiritual maturity until we are received into glory. So, all believers long to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) and to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23). But what is the means of spiritual growth?

The Lord has given the believer three primary means of spiritual growth:

  • The Word of God / the Bible
  • fellowship with other believers
  • prayer

In this blog post I will talk about these means of growth. I also want to say that, since spiritual growth is vital to a disciple of Jesus Christ, these means of growth should also be high priorities. These activities should appear on your daily and weekly schedules (explicit) and should also lodge in your brain as a non-negotiable part of your mindset and lifestyle.

THE WORD OF GOD AS MEANS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

Of the three means of spiritual growth, the Word is primary, because the Word of God informs all aspects of our spiritual life, including our fellowship and our prayer. The Bible is our spiritual food (Matthew 4:4). The Word is the primary means of our sanctification (“Purify me with hyssop.” Psalm 51:7) and allows us to see our sin (Romans 3:20; Psalm 119:9, 11, 67) and then guides us into repentance (Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:9, 10).

The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to man. As such, it is the source of all truth because God’s word is truth (John 17:17). When you are reading the word of God, you can trust what you are reading because it comes from the God who can never lie (Hebrews 6:18). The entire word of God is God-breathed and is therefore “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).” It equips you for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).

Perhaps the most important thing about the Word of God is that it is the source of the gospel of our salvation. The Bible declares to man the holiness of God, a holiness that manifests itself in wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). The Bible repeatedly warns man that he is a sinner in danger of eternal condemnation because of his sin (Genesis 2:17; Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Romans 6:23). Then the Bible proclaims God’s supreme act of His mercy and grace when it announces the Savior and the Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom God sent to earth to die on a cross for the sins of His people. Finally, the Bible urges us to be saved from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40) by believing in the Lord Jesus as our Savior and following Him wherever He leads.

One final comment: there is a direct correlation between the time spent in God’s Word and spiritual growth. If you want to grow in spiritual maturity, you must commit to spending significant time in the Word.

FELLOWSHIP AS MEANS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

First, we need to be clear by what is meant by “fellowship.” Fellowship, as I am using the word, necessarily involves other believers (2 Cor. 6:16; 1 John 1:3, 6-7), other people who are indwelt by the Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 2 Cor. 1:22), and therefore excludes nonbelievers. Also, spiritual growth from fellowship depends on the quality and the intentionality of the time. It is fellowship when it is understood that “spiritual benefit” is one of the main reasons for the interaction. Fellowship, then, is any interaction between believers where spiritual benefit/growth is implicitly or explicitly the intended result.

The New Testament is full of “one another” verses which urge us to encourage one another and to interact with one another for our spiritual good. The idea is that, as I spend time with other believers, the Holy Spirit within us is going to cause spiritual growth. This fellowship is hard to describe, but it is commonly experienced. As I spend time with other believers, I hear how they talk and how they respond to life’s joys and challenges, and the Holy Spirit shapes me. As we discuss theological topics or examine a Bible study, ideas are presented and challenged and debated, and truth is indirectly instilled. As I interact with brothers and sisters different than me, the Spirit incrementally changes me into a person who understands others and loves them despite our differences. This is how we grow by fellowship. If Christ is at the center of the interaction, and we are longing to pursue Him more closely and to be conformed more and more into His image, we will long for more times of fellowship when other members of the Body can pour into our lives.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. – Proverb 27:17

“Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 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 10:24-25

PRAYER AS MEANS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

Prayer certainly is the most mysterious of these three means of spiritual growth. In prayer, the creature is allowed into the presence of the Creator, and the unholy draws near to the Holy One. In the time spent in prayer, as we offer up worship and praise and confessions and repentance and thanksgiving and supplications, the Lord is imperceptibly but irresistibly transforming us day by day.

Prayer is learned. The disciples asked the Lord Jesus to teach them to pray, and He taught them the “Lord’s prayer (Luke 11:1-4).” Just so, we must patiently learn to pray. Often in prayer, our mind drifts. There are long silences in the dialog. We do not know what to ask for. We do not know how to pray as we should (Romans 8:26). And how do we listen to the Lord in prayer? These are all things that every disciple must learn for themselves as they spend time with the Lord.

In prayer, we have the undivided attention of the most fascinating Person in the universe. The Bible declares to us that the Lord delights in His people (Psalm 147:10-11; 149:4) and He has chosen gladly to give us the Kingdom, so He is patient as we learn to talk to Him in prayer. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him (Psalm 103:13).” We also have His Holy Spirit dwelling within us, so as we spend time in His presence, the Spirit within us is molding us into greater Christlikeness. Like any relationship, the more time that we spend together, the better our communication. Therefore, it is wise to include times of prayer on your weekly and daily schedules. The more we “pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17),” the more we will see spiritual growth from our prayers.

SUMMARY

As we spend time fully engaged with the word of God and intentionally interacting with God’s people and wrestling with the Lord is prayer, we will experience spiritual growth.

SDG                 rmb                 2/4/2021

Imitating Bartimaeus (Mark 10:51)

There may be times in our lives when the stress of our disquiet and anxiety becomes distracting. The complexities and difficulties of life are coming at us too fast for us to deflect and to process and we are feeling overwhelmed. Maybe the issues are relational or financial or vocational, or all the above, but the net effect is a sense of being outmatched by life. How are we to pray in these situations? How do we cry out to the Lord when it feels like, “There is no escape for me; no one cares for my soul (Psalm 142:4)”?

As I look at the examples and the instructions of the Scriptures, I think the answer is to cry out to the Lord in faith with a specific request. Even when you see many threats and concerns bearing down on you and collectively creating anxiety and stress, there is usually one specific issue that is primary. That is, there is usually one issue that, if defused, would bring things back into the realm of the manageable. But in any event, whether you can identify the key issue or not, you begin by identifying one issue and then addressing that issue with the Lord in prayer.

So, having identified one specific problem or fear or threat, we can cry out to the Lord about THAT. We confess our trouble and probably our fear, and then we “pour out our complaint before the Lord (Psalm 142:2).” We are saying, “Here is my trouble and sorrow. O Lord help me! O Lord answer me! Deliver me!”

AN EXAMPLE IN THE DUST OF THE JERICHO ROAD

There was a day when Jesus was leaving Jericho (Mark 10:46). The Lord had been passing through Jericho on His way going up to Jerusalem (Mark 10:32), where He was to be arrested, beaten, and crucified. He was on His way to Jerusalem to accomplish atonement for all of God’s people for all time by His death on the cross. But as He is leaving Jericho, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus was sitting by the road (Mark 10:46), and the beggar began to cry out to Him, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me (10:48)!”

It is hard to imagine a greater contrast: The Son of God on His way to Jerusalem to accomplish the mission of salvation for the whole world and a blind beggar sitting in the dust beside the Jericho road pitifully crying out for mercy. Jesus could not be bothered with such a one as this, could He?

AND JESUS STOPPED

When Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus for mercy, what happened? AND JESUS STOPPED (10:49). Think about this for a moment. The Son of God is “on the road going up to Jerusalem (10:32)” and when, above all the noise of the large crowd, He hears a cry for mercy, Jesus stopped. Jesus temporarily set aside His mission of saving the world to talk to a blind beggar. He then calls Bartimaeus to Himself and says, “What do you want Me to do for you (Mark 10:51)?”

CONSIDER BARTIMAEUS: A MAN OF ONE REQUEST

The King of kings has just called Bartimaeus to come to Him and He has given this blind man a blank check. “What do you want Me to do for you?” Now is his chance. Now Bartimaeus has the full attention of the Lord of the universe and he can ask Him for any one thing. With this incredible privilege, what will he ask for?

Bartimaeus is ready with his one request. Without hesitation he said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight (10:51)!” This is a perfect request! Not only does the request demonstrate Bartimaeus’ faith by asking Jesus for what is humanly impossible, but it also clearly identifies the one issue that is most critical to the blind man: his sight. Bartimaeus gives Jesus a specific request. What happens next?

Jesus instantly and evidently answered his “impossible” request. No one there could deny what had taken place. A blind beggar had come to Jesus and had asked Him to give him his sight, and Jesus had spontaneously done exactly that. “Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road (10:52).” Thus, Jesus was glorified as the great healer and the one who answers impossible requests asked in faith.

APPLICATION

Now if we switch back to the situation where we are feeling overwhelmed by life’s complexities and difficulties, maybe we can learn from Bartimaeus’ example. Although as a blind beggar, there is little doubt that Bartimaeus must have had many challenging issues, when it came time to present his request to the Lord, our man gave one specific request. “I want to regain my sight.” Like Bartimaeus, once we have identified our major issue, we present our one specific request to the Lord in prayer. “Lord, here is the complaint that I am pouring out before You. Here is my trouble and my sorrow. Here is THE issue. O Lord please answer me!”

A specific request makes possible a clear, specific answer. The Lord is glorified by answering our prayer request and we are blessed by His answer.

SDG                 rmb                 1/25/2021

To fear the Lord, or not to fear the Lord? (Exodus 20:20)

One of the difficult concepts to understand in our walk with Christ is the concept of the fear of God. There are times in the Bible where the believer is instructed or commanded to fear the Lord, and then perhaps in the same passage he will be commanded not to be afraid. There are many commands to “Fear not,” but then there are those that say, “you shall fear.” How do we sort these things out? Are we to fear or are we not to fear?

This post will take a brief look at this idea of “the fear of the Lord” to give us a right perspective on it.

First, the believer is commanded to fear the Lord. Consider Deuteronomy 6:13.

You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.”

The verse seems clear, but what does the word “fear” mean in this context? Am I to be fearful of God? Am I to cower before Him or hide from Him because He is holy, a consuming fire? Is our relationship based on His threats and my frightened obedience? Of course, the answer is no. Because of Jesus, the believer has received grace and full forgiveness from the Lord, so there is no cause to be afraid of His judgment and condemnation anymore. The fear that is commanded is a reverential love and a steadfast hope. This is the fear that David is talking about in Psalm 34 when he writes, “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him and rescues them (34:7).” The “fear” that manifests itself in loving reverence and trust receives protection and rescue from the angel of the LORD. David goes on to say that this fear of the LORD will result in “keeping your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit; Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it (34:13-14).” So, this fear is not a cowering terror, but is a reverential love and trust that produces obedience and worship.

Second, there are times when the Scripture commands people not to fear the Lord. This is the case in Exodus 20:20 – Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” In this terrifying encounter with the LORD at Mount Sinai, the people trembled and stood at a distance (20:18). They were understandably afraid because the LORD was giving the Law and was revealing to them their sin. Moses is saying to those who will repent of their sins and will have a reverential love for the LORD and will trust the LORD have no need to be afraid of the LORD. Those who turn from their sins and obey the LORD relate to Him as a son or daughter relates to a father. So, the believer is instructed to not be afraid of the Lord, because perfect love has cast out fear (1 John 4:18), while at the same time they fear the Lord with reverential love and trust and awe.

Third, the Scripture commands the believer to not fear “ordinary threats and dangers,” because they are protected and defended and loved by the Lord. Consider these verses:

  • God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea. – Psalm 46:1-2
  • “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10. (See also 41:13, 14.)
  • But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” – Isaiah 43:1, 3.
  • But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” – Matthew 14:27.

Regardless of the peril of the circumstances, the believer is not to fear, because the believer has joined himself or herself to the Lord, and the Lord is greater than all. So then, for the believer to fear anything or anyone except the Lord is a sin, because they are distrusting the Lord and are declaring, by their fear, that something is greater than the Lord. Instead, for the one who fears the LORD, “He will not fear evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD (Psalm 112:7.” The one who truly fears the Lord should fear nothing else.

Finally, those who do not know the Lord and who are not covered by the atoning blood of Jesus are completely right to fear the Lord. They remain under His holy wrath (Ephesians 2:3) and under His judgment and condemnation. Whether they know it or not, they are fully “open and laid bare before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13),” and they are exactly one heartbeat away from meeting God, the consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).

So, yes, believers fear the Lord with a holy reverence. We are in awe of Him because of His holiness and because of His wrath against any and all sin. He is still the God of Sinai, the God of the Law, the Holy One of Israel.

But because of Jesus and because of His finished work on the cross; because of “Tetelestai (John 19:30)” and because of His resurrection, we are now those in whom the Lord delights. Amazingly, the Lord delights in us as those who fear His name (Psalm 147:10-11; 149:4).

So, we are not afraid of the LORD God like Adam was (Genesis 3:8-10), who hid from the Lord’s presence because of his sin, but we are those who come boldly into His presence (Hebrews 4:16; Ephesians 3:12) in reverential fear, cleansed from our sin by the blood of Jesus and adopted into God’s family as His beloved children (John 1:12; Romans 8:14-17; Eph. 1:5).  

SDG                 rmb                 1/19/2021

The quest for purpose (Luke 13:7)

Man is a purpose-seeking creature. Built into man’s very nature is the deep need for a purpose that gives meaning to his days. Yet even though there seem to be myriad paths available to a person, there is no obvious guide for deciding which path to choose and there is no universal, default destination for where the chosen path should lead. So, without a path and without a destination, the natural man struggles to find purpose. Sometimes we feel like Alice in Wonderland as she encounters the Cheshire cat at the fork in the road. Alice asks the cat, “Please tell me which road I should choose.” “Well,” replies the cat, “that all depends on where you are going.” “I don’t know where I am going.” “In that case, either road will get you there.”

JUSTIFY OUR EXISTENCE

Man needs a purpose because in some sense he wants to justify his existence. If someone were to ask him one day, “What are you doing here, anyway?” he would like to give some credible answer. And yet, what answer could he give? “I don’t really know what I am doing here. I just showed up one day and kept breathing.” We seek to justify our existence and are frightened to discover that our best offering is pretty shaky.

CAN I FIND A MISSION?

We would love a compelling mission for our lives that gives us a laser beam focus, but, if the truth were told, we would settle for any mission at all. The scene that opens the movie “Apocalypse Now” shows Martin Sheen sitting on a sweat-soaked bed in Vietnam as the ceiling fan slowly stirs the sultry air, and then the voice-over says, “Saigon. Waiting for a mission.” That pictures the state of every person as they begin to grow toward maturity and begin to contemplate their existence. “Here I am. Waiting for a mission.” Where can anyone turn to find an answer to the question of purpose? Jesus tells a parable about a man who had a fig tree planted in his vineyard that produced no fruit. “Cut it down!” he says. “Why should it use up the ground? (Luke 13:7)” Whether we know the Lord or not, this question haunts us. “Why should he use up the ground?”

THREE KINDS OF PURPOSE

In my observation, there are three broad categories of purpose into which people fit.

  • No purpose
  • A man-made or man-invented purpose
  • A God-given purpose

NO PURPOSE

The natural state and the starting point of all people in their quest for purpose is “no purpose.” This is the result of the Fall of man when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. One of the consequences of man’s sin is that he is separated from God and so is groping around for purpose and direction like the blind. Isaiah says, “We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes (59:10).” There may be some casual searches for meaning at different points in life, but eventually the search is abandoned, and life becomes a long and aimless chore. Often this is a life defined by random choices because they lack a compelling ‘why,’ and random choices are usually bad choices. Tragically, I think this may describe the majority of people.

A MAN-MADE PURPOSE

It has already been observed that there are myriad paths in life available to a person, but there is no clear means for deciding which of those paths to take or why, and there is no default destination toward which a man or a woman should strive. Nevertheless, there are many who, because of their circumstances in life or because of their personality and character makeup, or both, find a path that, for whatever reason, appeals to them. The choice of path or purpose is often random (I remember we were on a trip to Florida on a summer break from college when I saw a rocket engine and decided to become a Mechanical Engineer!), but, having selected that course in life, men and women pour themselves into this “man-made purpose” with obsessive energy.

Some choose a career as being their obsession. Others choose their children or their family. Making money can be the purpose. Or sexual conquests. Or sports. Or really anything. Wrestling crocodiles. Chasing tornadoes. Politics. Being a “foodie.” The man-made purpose does not need to be important or impressive in the eyes of the world (although it often is). My obsession in my twenties and early thirties was rock climbing. (Like I said, it does not have to make sense or be impressive.) I poured myself into that activity and sacrificed almost everything else to pursue cragging. It seems foolish, but that is the nature of the man-made purpose. Once chosen the choice of the purpose is rarely questioned.

The author of Ecclesiastes, “the Preacher,” had chosen man-made pursuits. Enormously successful at all that he did, he was miserable. “So, I hated life! All is vanity and a striving after wind (Ecclesiastes 2:17).” Having given his life to wisdom and pleasure and accomplishment, he encountered that great equalizer. He encountered the problem of the six-foot hole. When considering his own death, he says, “The same event happens to all of them. How the wise dies just like the fool! As one dies, so dies the other (Ecclesiastes 2:14, 16; 3:19).” All those who pursue a man-made purpose will find vexation and emptiness in this life, and judgment in the next. “This, too, is vanity and a striving after wind.”

A GOD-GIVEN PURPOSE

The best of all purposes is a God-given purpose. This is possessed by all those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Having been called by God to faith in Jesus, the believer has received the blessing of a clear purpose that pleases God, that is intensely fulfilling, that lasts a lifetime, and that receives the commendation in heaven, “Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21, 23).” The believer has the indwelling Holy Spirit who is a divine guide for directing him or her to the right path (Isaiah 30:21). The believer has the mission of being a witness for Christ (Acts 1:8) and of being His ambassador in the world (2 Cor. 5:20), a mission that is joy-producing and satisfying and challenging. In trusting Christ as Savior, the believer has received a purpose that justifies their existence and that is worth spending a lifetime to accomplish. This purpose is worth living for and it is worth dying for.

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” – the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21 

SDG                 rmb                 1/15/2021

Making the most of the time (Ephesians 5:16)

The goal of the disciple of Jesus is to be “making the most of the time,” as Paul commends us in Ephesians 5:15-16. That goal is clear from Scripture. Moses asks the Lord to “teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).” Same idea. We are called to make the most of every day. But the question is, how do we do that? That is, who is to say what “making the most of the time” looks like? With so many ways to spend my time, who determines when I am “making the most of my time?”

PRINCIPLE: “Making the most of the time” is spending your time according to God’s priorities for life. These priorities are expressed in the Bible and are constrained by and applied through the circumstances of each individual life, with its specific roles and responsibilities.

Because the best source for discovering God’s priorities is the Bible, the better a person knows the Bible, the better they can “make the most of the time.”

            “But wait a minute” you may say. “The Bible is a big book full of all kinds of teaching and stories and songs and prayers. How do I find God’s priorities for life in all that?” A great question! While it is true that there is not a special section in the Bible that explicitly spells out God’s priorities for life, it is also true that the Bible is a book that is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). God Himself has inspired the Bible to be His word to His people, and so the Bible informs ANY life, and it informs ALL of life. The Bible is written such that it speaks to any believer in any circumstance and communicates God’s message to that believer, regardless of their circumstances. And the Bible is written to communicate God’s guidance for all aspects of life, “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).”

            So, again I say, the better a person knows the Bible, the better they can “make the most of the time.”

            Practically speaking, God’s priorities gradually become our own over time as we abide with the Lord in His word and in prayer. After years spent living and reliving the many narrative stories in the Scriptures, we gradually absorb their lessons, and we see the errors and the successes of hundreds of characters, and we learn something of God’s priorities. Reading and rereading the gospels allows us to learn from the God-Man Himself, the Lord Jesus, and so have God’s priorities shape us. Repeated trips through Job and the Psalms and Proverbs and Ecclesiastes allow us to implicitly see God’s priorities as we read the wisdom literature. The point is that extended time with God in His word will gradually instill His priorities in your heart.

            So, when Paul exhorts us to “make the most of the time, because the days are evil,” He has not given the follower of Jesus Christ an impossible assignment. Diligently read your Bible, be often in prayer, and carefully examine your life to make sure that you are intentionally living for Jesus, and you will probably be making the most of the time.

SDG                 rmb                 1/14/2021

The conscience, the Law, and sin – Part 1: The conscience

In the next several days I will be writing two articles, one on the conscience and sin, and one on the Law and sin. The connection is that the conscience and the Law are two of God’s means of grace which bring our sin to our attention so that we can repent. These articles will examine how the natural man responds to these God-given means of grace.

The conscience and sin

What do we know about the conscience from the Bible? We will look at a passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans that addresses the conscience and use that as our starting point. Then we will examine several other verses that further inform our understanding of our conscience and try to apply those ideas to our lives.

For when Gentiles, who do not have the Law, do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves in that they show the work of the Law written on their heart, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternatively accusing or else defending them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. – Romans 2:14-16

Paul writes that “Gentiles do not have the Law,” but they do have a conscience. From this we can conclude that all people are born with a conscience. This is, in fact, what the whole Bible makes plain. All people have a God-given sin-detector called a conscience. Whether Jew or Gentile, or believer or unbeliever. A conscience is part of the standard equipment for all people.

The function of the conscience

What is the function of the conscience? Since not everyone knows about the moral Law of God as written in the Bible, God in His grace has given everyone a conscience to reveal to us our sin so that we can be led to repentance (Romans 2:4). In fact, as we read the passage above more carefully, we see that the conscience does “the work of the Law.” The conscience functions as a copy of “the Law written on our heart,” and it either accuses us of sin or acquits us of not-sin as we go through our lives. Here is how this might work. As I am talking to someone, I tell them what I know to be a lie. My conscience immediately convicts me of that sin, and I know that I have lied, and thus I have the opportunity to repent. Or else I walk past a co-worker’s cubicle and see that he has left his wallet on his desk while he went out to lunch. I could steal the wallet, but I resist, and my conscience defends me because I did not steal. The conscience, then, is evidence of God’s grace, revealing to us our sin so that we can repent.

Before we leave this passage, we should also notice that there is a vitally important reason why we need to repent. You see, there is a judgment coming. There will be a day in the future when “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” On that day, all sin that has not been forgiven will receive the full wrath of God through Christ Jesus. The sins that you think are safely secret are all known to God, and you will be judged for them. The sins that are unknown to you are all known to God, and you will be condemned by them (Romans 2:12). So, the natural man needs to listen to his conscience and repent of his sin.

The limitations of the conscience

Since everyone has a conscience, we would expect that people would be aware of their sin and would often repent of it, but this is definitely not the case. Why is this not the case? It is because of the limitations of the conscience in the face of the fallenness of man.

First, while the conscience convicts of sin universally, it convicts of sin weakly. The pang of guilt from the conscience is never that sharp, so the natural man learns very quickly how to ignore and silence the conscience. The Bible says that the conscience can be seared (1 Timothy 4:2), and the conscience can be defiled (Titus 1:15). In both these cases, the convicting effects of the conscience are silenced, and the people can proceed in their sin with a feeling of impunity. The sin remains and condemns, but the conscience’s ability to convict is smothered. This is what all people learn to do as they go through life, to a greater or lesser degree.

But second and more importantly, unsaved man loves his sin. In the gospel of John, he says: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed (John 3:19-20).” The Bible is clear that the natural man is a slave of sin and he loves his slavery. The unsaved have given themselves over to the desires of their flesh and hate anything that seeks to limit their sin. Thus, unsaved people hate the conscience because they hate to be told about their sin.

Finally, while the conscience can convict of sin, it can only convict of sin. That is, the conscience can make the sinner aware of their sin, but they cannot restrain the sinner from sinning. More than this, the conscience cannot remove from the sinner the guilt and condemnation which they have revealed to the sinner. The conscience tells the sinner, “You are guilty of that sin!” The sinner replies, “Oh. How can I be forgiven of that sin?” “I don’t know,” says the conscience. In some sense, the conscience is like a fire alarm in your house. The fire alarm is good at letting you know that there is a fire in your house. Its piercing shriek is designed to basically wake the dead so that you are aware of the danger. But if you are relying on the alarm to save you from the fire, you will be sadly disappointed. An alarm without a separate escape plan is a casualty. Just so, your conscience can do nothing about your sin except to point out your guilt. If you do not have a way of being forgiven of that sin, you will surely perish in the judgment.

The answer to revealed sin

If the conscience cannot remove my sin or forgive my sin, then what am I to do? There is only one way to be forgiven of any sin, whether known or unknown, whether revealed by the conscience or by some other means.

“In Him (Jesus) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses (Ephesians 1:7).”

            It is only through repentance of your sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that you can have forgiveness of sins. If your conscience is bothering you and you are convicted of your guilt before a holy God, confess your sins, and repent, and come to Jesus in faith. (1 John 1:9; Mark 1:15)

SDG                 rmb                 1/11/2021

Do we seek suffering? – Part 2 (Philippians 3:10)

“that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings.” – the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:10

It seems that the statement is made at some point in conversations about suffering, especially among American Christians. It is usually well intended and sounds like an appropriate thing to say in response to affliction for the name of Jesus. “Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering. . .” But the more I think about that statement, the more uncomfortable I become. Is that true? Are we not to seek suffering? And if that is the case, then why do so many of my heroes in the Bible and so many Christians in history suffer for their faith? Is it normal to be a serious Christian and not suffer for my faith? And what do I do if God is calling me to a course of action that almost certainly includes suffering to some degree?

            Because of the importance of the topic of suffering for the believer, I am going to spend several posts exploring what I see to be problems with the statement, “Of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering.” The goal is to arrive at a solid perspective on suffering that makes me more useful to Jesus.

            Problem #1 (January 5) dealt with the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ effectively sought out His own suffering as the necessary means for accomplishing His mission of redemption and atonement. Since Jesus sought suffering, it seems hard to imagine that we do not. In this post we will look at Problem #2.

“Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering . . .”

PROBLEM #2

            “That’s really a trivial statement.”

Upon examination, we realize that the declaration above (“Of course, we do not seek suffering”) is somewhat trivial. What I mean is this: Of course, Christians do not seek out suffering! No one in their right mind seeks out suffering as an end in itself, so saying that the Christian is not called to seek suffering is just stating the obvious. Jesus did not call His disciples to seek suffering for suffering’s sake, but He did call us to follow Him wherever He leads regardless of any real or imagined consequences. The consequences of my obedience are the Lord’s responsibility. He determines those, and one of those potential consequences may be suffering. Another consequence could be my physical death. As a disciple of Jesus, I choose to obey regardless. The duty of obedience is my responsibility. I obey because obedience to my Master is my highest aim. I long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

When viewed in this light, the possibility of suffering is irrelevant. It is beside the point. Suffering is just one of the potential consequences of my obedience to the Lord. Why focus on one potential consequence instead of focusing on the goal or the prize of my obedience (Philippians 3:14)? Why highlight this one possible personal consequence instead of bringing all glory to Christ and focusing all my energy on proclaiming the gospel? Why think about a consequence of obedience that might cause me to shrink back from God’s appointed path (Hebrews 10:38-39), instead of running with endurance the race before me and fixing my eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2), which will spur me on?

The bottom line is that the disciple of Jesus does not seek out a path just because it offers an opportunity to suffer, but neither does the disciple of Jesus shrink back from any God-appointed path that requires personal suffering. Suffering is not sought, nor is it required, but neither is it ever avoided.

SDG                 rmb                 1/9/2021

Are we distracted, seeing the wind? (Matthew 14:30)

Our time is a time of uncertainty and distraction. Much of what was the bedrock of our existence and of our routines has begun to show alarming fractures, and we are sensing that our boat is being battered by the waves and that the wind is contrary (the disciples on the sea of Galilee in Matthew 14:24). There are storms swirling all around us – political storms, medical storms, social storms, relational storms, moral storms – and it is increasingly difficult not to be distracted by the winds and be swept up in fear.

PETER AND THE DISCIPLES IN THE STORM

Jesus’ disciples faced a similar situation one night on the Sea of Galilee, not figuratively, but literally (Matthew 14:22-33). Jesus had stayed behind on the shore while they tried to row to the other side of the lake. Their boat was being battered by the waves, for the wind was contrary (14:24). Jesus came to them, walking on the sea, and reassures them in the midst of their plight, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid (14:27).” Then (28) Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” (29) And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.

But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” – Matthew 14:30

(31) Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

As we consider how Peter responded to his storm, we will learn several things about how to respond to our own storms.

SEEING THE WIND, NOT THE LORD

Peter began to sink because he was seeing the wind, not the Lord Jesus. This is the major lesson we can learn from this. Jesus is the Lord of all nature and thus the Lord of all storms and all winds. He is the one who speaks to the winds and the sea and they obey Him (Matthew 8:27). He is the one who made the sea and the dry land (Psalm 95:5). Jesus is also the Lord of glory, the King of kings, the Son of God. This Jesus had commanded Peter to come to Him (14:29). Yet, with the Lord of glory beckoning him to come to Him, Peter was distracted by the winds. The incarnate Son of God was a short distance away, and Peter took his eyes off Jesus and put them on the wind.

Let us consider this: When we take our eyes off Jesus and are distracted by the prevailing winds, even the invisible becomes dangerous. But when we fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2), our field of vision is taken up by Him who is most powerful and most lovely. When Jesus consumes our gaze, we seem to have supernatural power to attempt the impossible and are reminded that we can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).

When Peter was concentrated on Jesus, he had supernatural power to walk on water, but when he was distracted by the prevailing storm and was “seeing the wind,” he sank like an ordinary man. Just so, a faithful walk with Jesus calls for us to be concentrated on Him. We are not involved in a pastime or a hobby with which we dabble from time to time. No! We are involved in a minute-by-minute faith-walk with the King of kings that involves our whole being. So, we press forward with vigor and we ignore the winds of distraction, no matter how hard they blow. Jesus is worthy of being the one who fills our entire gaze and captures all our attention.

WHEN PETER FAILED

Peter is one of only two human beings who has ever walked on water. This is a remarkable achievement. When the fishermen got together around the Sea of Galilee, Peter could stop the boasting by saying, “Well, I guess that’s impressive, but I walked on water.” End of conversation.

But we also notice from the story that Peter failed. Peter’s zeal to walk to Jesus on the water was drowned by his fascination with the invisible winds. Peter got distracted, and “seeing the wind, he became frightened and began to sink (14:30).” Has that ever happened to you? I mean, have you ever failed, despite your best intentions? How does Jesus respond to Peter’s failure? DON’T MISS THIS. When Peter is sinking and cries out, “Lord, save me!” . . .

“IMMEDIATELY Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him.”

Peter exercised incredible faith and boldly attempted something that should have been impossible. Ultimately, his attempt failed. What do we hear from Jesus? There is no rebuke, no ridicule, no chagrin. Instead, the same hand that in the Creation formed the sea and the dry land is immediately stretched out to take a firm hold of His beloved disciple. Peter cries out for the Lord to save him, and immediately the Lord Jesus does exactly that. Jesus upholds His own with His righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10). When we pass through the waters, Jesus is with us (Isaiah 43:2). When we fail, as we inevitably will, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1).

APPLICATIONS

There are basically three takeaways from this study, three applications that have emerged.

  • Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and don’t spend time “seeing the wind”
  • As an act of your will, IGNORE THE WIND. That is, IGNORE THE DISTRACTIONS.
  • Attempt bold things for the glory of God, because Jesus is our Advocate (1 John 2:1).

SDG                 rmb                 1/7/2021