Man, the fearful creature (Isaiah 41:10)

Man is a fearful creature. Although he was originally created to enjoy fellowship with God and to walk with Him, today we know that the human being is a fearful creature. Ever since Adam and Eve rebelled against God and sinned in the garden, all mankind has known fear as the most basic of all emotions. We feel all alone in a hostile world where death is a constant threat and an inevitable eventuality, and we are exceedingly small facing challenges that are enormous.

THE SOURCE OF OUR FEAR

The source of our fear is our sin against the God who created us and to whom we are accountable. Adam and Eve had enjoyed sweet fellowship with God until they ate the forbidden fruit, and fear followed immediately after their sin. In their guilt and shame, they hid from God, and we, as the children of Adam, have been doing that ever since. Through Adam, all sinned (Romans 5:12), and so also through Adam all of us know the fear that comes from our guilt. Whether we know it or not, we sense that we deserve God’s judgment and punishment, and so we put on our own personal fig leaves and we go into hiding.

WE RUN AWAY, BUT THE LORD PURSUES

And what does the living God do in response to our sin and our hiding? We have broken His commandments and we have run away from any fellowship or relationship with Him. How does the Lord respond to our sin and fear? Remarkably, the Lord pursues us. As we turn the pages of Scripture, we encounter a God who pursues the sinner, any sinner, and offers that sinner reconciliation and restoration and relationship. In response to our running away in guilt and fear, the Lord commands us to “fear not”

“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

There is no human solution to the problems of guilt and fear. Your guilt is because you have sinned against the Holy One, the living God, and your fear is ultimately a fear of God and His terrifying judgment of your sin. And yet the God whom you have offended is the very one who pursues you to offer His forgiveness and His strength.

The Bible is full of commands from the Lord for His children to “fear not.” And why is it appropriate for the one who has been reconciled to God and who has been forgiven by God to no longer fear?

“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.’” Isaiah 43:1

It is inappropriate to fear when the LORD the Creator of the universe, has redeemed you. The One who formed you and called you to Himself in Jesus Christ is the One who is always for you and is ever at your right hand. So, fear not! Claim your freedom from fear that is the right and blessing of the twice born, of all those who confess Jesus as Lord!

“I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered my from all my fears.” – Psalm 34:4

How can the psalmist be delivered from all his fears? Because the LORD, the all-powerful One, is his God! When the living God is your protector, there is no reason for fear.

THE LORD GOD, THE CONQUEROR

But not only is the Bible full of exhortations to “fear not,” but the Bible is also full of examples of our God overwhelmingly conquering adversaries and enemies against seemingly impossible odds. The children of Israel were backed up against the Red Sea and the most powerful army in the world was bearing down on them. Then the LORD split the Red Sea so Israel could walk through on dry ground and the Egyptian army was drowned. Gideon had 300 men and some pitchers and lanterns and trumpets, yet 150,000 Midianites were defeated by the 300. David had nothing but a slingshot and confidence in the LORD, and the giant Goliath was struck down and his head taken off. Jerusalem and King Hezekiah were under siege from the Assyrians, who had conquered all the other countries around the nation of Judah and had boasted that they would destroy Jerusalem as well. Then the angel of the LORD struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians in one night, and the contest was over.

In the most glorious example of all, one Man was called upon to endure the agonies of the cross so that He could bear the full wrath of God against sin and could defeat death by rising from the dead. One solitary Man was pitted against the sin of the world and the horrors of death, and on Sunday morning sin and death lay vanquished at Jesus’ feet.

These examples show us that the God who pursues us for reconciliation is worthy of our confidence and trust.

JESUS SPEAKS ON WORRY

In one section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells His disciples of the futility and folly of worry. Five times in Matthew 6:25-34 our Lord mentions worry and instructs us why it does not make any sense. In simplest terms, what is the reason the disciple of Jesus should not worry? It is because you have a heavenly Father. Simple as that. Your heavenly Father is in control of all things. He feeds the birds and clothes the flowers of the field, and He is completely aware of your physical needs. You have a heavenly Father who knows you and loves you. What could you possibly be worried about?

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When my spirit was overwhelmed within me (Psalm 142:3)

Limitations and weakness define man. Although man is created in the image of God and is the pinnacle of God’s creation, he is nevertheless a dependent being fraught with limitations and weakness. We need other people, yes, but most of all, we need to know the living God, for He is the one who is able to rescue us when we call.

But why would we need rescue? Aren’t we “the captain of our ship and the master of our fate?” An occasional drive by a cemetery will quickly dispel any such myth. But it is not so much death that intimidates us as it is the day-to-day challenges of life. Is it just me, or do you also sometimes have the sense of overwhelming foes and underwhelming personal resources? The reality is that because our spirit is easily overwhelmed, our spirit is often overwhelmed. Will there ever be enough money? Will this conflict never end? Will I find a job? Will I keep my job? Will my children find their way in life? And so on. And so, my spirit is overwhelmed within me.

When my spirit was overwhelmed within me You knew my path.

In the way where I walk, they have hidden a trap for me.

Look to the right and see, for there is no one who regards me,

there is no escape for me, no one cares for my soul.

I cried out to You, O LORD.

I said, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” – Psalm 142:3-5

Like us, David knew what it was to face overwhelming foes. In this passage from Psalm 142, David’s spirit is overwhelmed within him. He looked to the right and he saw no allies, no escape, and no one who cared. Despair and surrender seemed inevitable. But then David reminded himself of this eternal truth:

You (LORD) knew my path.

God always knows my path because God is the one who has planned my path. He has determined my path. The living God who loves me and who has saved me is the God who has sovereignly ordained my path, and I can trust Him.

But also, while my human vision is limited to a little bit of my path at a time, God sees my whole path from start to finish at one time. With my limited vision of my immediate surroundings, my spirit is overwhelmed within me and I feel fear. But God knows my future path in exact detail and, when I trust Him, my fears retreat.

Finally, David cries out to the LORD and affirms his love for Him and his trust in Him.

I cried out to You, O LORD.

I said, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”

            When our spirit is overwhelmed within us, we need power. We need a Champion who cannot fail. When my resources are exhausted and my foes are not, like David, I will cry out to the LORD and confess, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living (142:5).” When we cry out to the LORD, we can say with David, “You will deal bountifully with me (142:7).”             SDG                 rmb                 2/18/2021

Fear not and go forward (Exodus 14:15)

What are we to do when we perceive a threat that is greater than our resources to resist? There is danger bearing down on us and there is no place to hide. We see what feels like the proverbial “death star” on the horizon. How should we as believers respond to these situations?

One of the blessings of the word of God, the Bible, is that it is filled with teaching and stories that give us guidance for every circumstance in life. Because we are weak people living in a fallen world and we frequently encounter frightening threats, one of the most common themes in the Bible is that of overcoming overwhelming and dangerous situations with the power of the Lord. In Exodus 14, the children of Israel were in a dangerous situation.

SETTING THE STAGE FOR EXODUS 14

            The people of Israel have just escaped from Egypt after the LORD killed all the first-born in the Passover, and now they are heading out into the wilderness. The LORD directs the people to encamp in front of the Red Sea, intentionally making them vulnerable to an attack from behind. The LORD then hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that he regrets letting the people go and decides to chase after them. So, the situation is that the people of Israel have murderous Egyptians closing in behind them and the Red Sea in front of them. The people of Israel became very frightened and cried out to the LORD (Exodus 14:10).

            Was this threat real? It most certainly was! In fact, the situation appeared hopeless. The Egyptian army with chariots and horses was bearing down on defenseless Israel and they had nowhere to run or to hide. This is the nature of our God, that the Lord will sometimes ordain situations which test our obedience and that tempt us to fear. In those circumstances, we are to continue to obey Him and to do those things He has commanded us to do.

A TIME TO ACT

            Moses tells the people, “Do not fear! Stand firm and see the salvation of the LORD. The LORD will fight for you (Exodus 14:13-14).” Moses reminds the people that the LORD is with them and therefore they need not fear. Even though the danger appears to be great, “the LORD will fight for you.” If the LORD is the one fighting for you, the danger has suddenly lost its threat.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.” – Exodus 14:15

            There is a time to cry out to the LORD and there is a time to ACT. The LORD is making clear that now is the time to obey Him with action. “Go forward!” Huh? To obey the LORD’s command, the people need to begin walking out into the Red Sea.

            Of course, the LORD has a plan. “As for you . . . (14:16)” Moses will divide the sea with his staff and Israel will walk through the sea. All Israel must do is obey and go forward.

            “As for Me . . . (14:17)” For His part, the LORD will be honored through Pharaoh and his army as He destroys them in the Red Sea. “Then the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD (14:18).” Thus, the LORD delivers Israel, destroys the Egyptians, and receives honor for Himself as He displays His power.

LESSONS

“Be strong and courageous and act (1 Chronicles 28:20).”

“Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed (Joshua 1:9).”

“Tell the sons of Israel to go forward (Exodus 14:15).”

These commands in Scripture are all given because the Lord is with His people. That is, I can be strong and courageous not because I am competent and mighty, but because my Lord who guides me is all-powerful. Because the Lord is with us like a dread Champion (Jeremiah 20:11), the believer is to have these commands as a persistent attitude and is to be ready at any time to put this attitude into action.

            This world is filled with threats and dangers, and our fallen flesh fans the flames of fear, but we are called to fear not, stand firm, and courageously go forward with the Lord.     

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Be anxious for nothing (Philippians 4:6)

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

            Our world is a factory of anxiety and worry, and the production of this factory has radically increased in 2020. Reasons for anxiety bombard us from every side, and the bombing is constant. Yet Paul tells the believer to be anxious for nothing. How are we supposed to do that? Many people today have a natural bent toward anxiety and worry. Is it realistic to suppose that someone living in this dangerous day and age can be free of anxiety, or was that just for people who lived in the simpler times of the first century?

            Of course, worry is a huge topic and there are those who have much more expertise in this field than I have, but I wanted to take a few minutes to consider this topic of anxiety (I will use worry and anxiety interchangeably) and see how the believer can slay this dragon by obeying the Bible’s teaching on the subject.

JESUS’ TEACHING ON WORRY – FIRST STRATEGY

            In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus teaches His disciples that they are not to worry because their heavenly Father cares for them. If the Father cares for them, then worry makes no sense. In the end, Jesus commands a change of focus. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (6:33).” Focus on the kingdom of God first and foremost, and then trust God to take care of you. This may be a bit oversimplified, but that is the basic point.

IS IT FEAR OR IS IT WORRY?

            For the purposes of this article, I am going to make a distinction between “fear” and “anxiety” to make sure that we know what we are discussing. You may see that some of what you call “fears” are actually nothing but justified worries.

            Fear is objective, meaning that all people can see the danger. Anxiety is subjective. It is unique to the possessor and other people have difficulty feeling your anxiety.

            Fear is adrenal. It causes feelings of “fight or flight.” It demands action. Worry is cerebral. It festers inside your head and there are no courses of action that seem to help.

            Fear is spontaneous, rising suddenly to a high pitch, whereas worry is prolonged, droning on and on at a fairly low level of constant negative stress.

            Fear bypasses the mind, but anxiety flourishes in the mind.

            Fear is a rational response to a genuine, imminent danger, a response that rises within us before we have a chance to bring up our defenses or bring our faith out of the sheath. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a prolonged sense of nervousness and unease when a person is concerned about an undefined or relatively insignificant or very unlikely threat.

THE PROBLEMS WITH WORRY

            “Everyone deals with worry, especially in this crazy world. Have you never heard of COVID-19?” This comment about worry is completely justified coming from an unbeliever. They should be anxious and worried about almost everything because they are all alone in this world.  But, despite many attempts and much poor teaching on the subject, worry is a source of serious spiritual problems for the believer. Here are some of them.

            Worry is a spiritual cancer that will hobble your spiritual life because worry is ongoing, persistent lack of trust toward God. Any lack of trust toward God is dangerous.

            No spiritual fruit flourishes in the soil of anxiety. “The worry of the world chokes the Word, and it becomes unfruitful (Matthew 13:22).” Anxiety will choke out your spiritual life.

            When the believer has anxiety, he is living as an orphan. Having been adopted into God’s family as a fellow heir with Christ, he now lives as a street urchin who does not know where he will sleep or what he will eat.

            To continue to live in anxiety and worry is to openly distrust the Lord and to despise His faithfulness. God has displayed His faithfulness countless times:

  • In the Scriptures by His power over enemies, by His promises of protection, and, supremely, by His salvation through Jesus Christ.
  • In our own lives by His providence, by His answered prayer, and by His patience.

Anxiety is living as if none of God’s displays of power and none of His promises are good enough to have you trust Him. This is serious.

Do you see the point? Anxiety is sin, and the disciple of Jesus must master anxiety and worry at all costs.

PAUL’S TEACHING ON ANXIETY – SECOND STRATEGY

            Here in Philippians 4:6, Paul gives us a two-fold strategy for combatting anxiety and replacing it with the peace of God. Paul gives a command to be obeyed and a means for obeying.

            First, Paul commands that we be anxious for nothing. Do not miss this essential first step. The disciple is to repent of anxiety. We are not to coddle it or condone it or to cuddle up with it. Rather we are to repent of our anxiety. Have a loathing for all anxiety as you would for any other sin and any other threat to your spiritual vigor. Put worry to death (Colossians 3:5). When you sense anxiety is trying to rear its ugly head, shoot to kill.

            Step two, we are to cry out to God in prayer and supplication in a spirit of thanksgiving. We are to bring whatever it is that is causing the worry directly into the light of God. We are to expose it to the light (Ephesians 4:13). Confess it to God for what it is – sin. Thank the Lord that He is mighty to save and “He is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20)” and ask Him to act on your behalf. Your job is to kill the worry and then to trust God for everything. His promise is to bring you to heaven and let you spend eternity with Him.

            In this way, “the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:7

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A tale of two threats (Isaiah 7 and Isaiah 36-37)

Would you rather be the person who feels great fear in the face of small threats or the person who feels little fear in the face of great threats? Our Bible study today in the book of Isaiah will look at this question as we examine the lives of two of the kings of Judah who reigned in Jerusalem long before Jesus was born.

AHAZ AND HEZEKIAH

The prophecy of Isaiah contains some of the most vivid foreshadows of our Lord Jesus Christ in all the Old Testament, as well as many passages of prose of great beauty and power, but it contains only a few narrative sections in its sixty-six chapters. In those narrative chapters, however, are the stories of King Ahaz and King Hezekiah. These two kings are implicitly compared to one another, Hezekiah being the righteous king who evidently loves and serves the LORD and drives out wickedness, and Ahaz being unrighteous, a king who worships foreign gods and engages in idolatry and immorality and leads Judah into deep sin. Hezekiah walks closely with the LORD, while Ahaz ignores and despises the LORD.

LIFESTYLE HAS CONSEQUENCES

            If life went along exactly as we wanted it to go and if we were always more than competent to overpower any and every threat from the outside, then I suppose that the approach of either king would work, and maybe Ahaz would be okay. But you and I live in a world where things often go very differently from what we wanted and where threats are both common and often overwhelming. And, it turns out, Ahaz and Hezekiah lived in that kind of a world, too. Because King Ahaz had chosen a lifestyle of idolatry and disobedience and of despising the LORD, he was terrified when faced with a small threat. On the other hand, when King Hezekiah was faced with a vastly greater threat, because he trusted in the LORD and knew of the LORD’s power to save and deliver, he expresses no fear. Instead, Hezekiah seeks the LORD and cries out to Him in prayer, and he is delivered.

THE “THREAT” TO AHAZ

            In Isaiah 7, we read of the threat that came upon King Ahaz. “Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it but could not yet mount an attack against it (Isaiah 7:1).” How will King Ahaz respond to this threat? “The heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind (7:2).” So, both the king and his people are completely distraught by these two armies. This response might make sense, until we examine the situation. First, the reign of Pekah king of Israel was noteworthy because of all the cities and territory that he lost to Tiglath-pileser, the king of Assyria (2 Kings 15:29). By that time in their history, Israel was weak and disorganized and had no army to speak of at all. In fact, in about ten years Israel would be carried away into exile by Shalmaneser, the king of Assyria. Pekah was no threat. Second, we read in 7:1 that these two armies “could not mount an attack against Jerusalem.” Whether they were incompetent or cowardly is not clear, but the fact that they could not even manage to mount the attack is rather pitiful. Finally, we read the LORD’s assessment of the situation: “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands (7:4).” The LORD speaks to Ahaz about the two invading armies with derision and tells Ahaz that there is no need to fear.

            THE POINT: Ahaz faced a trivial threat, but “his heart and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.” Because King Ahaz chose to disobey and despise the LORD, any and every threat was a terrifying threat.

THE THREAT TO HEZEKIAH

            We turn now to Isaiah 36 to read of the danger facing King Hezekiah. “Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them (36:1).” This has a haunting ring to it, since only a few years earlier Shalmaneser king of Assyria had destroyed Samaria and taken Israel into exile. And this current Assyrian king has already taken all the fortified cities of Judah and now he approaches Jerusalem “with a great army (36:2).” The Rabshakeh speaks for “the great king, the king of Assyria,” and taunts Hezekiah’s trust in the LORD and warns of the destruction that will come if they do not surrender. The spokesman then tells of all the victories Assyria has already won; Hamath and Arpad, Sepharvaim and Samaria, and says, “Their gods did not deliver their lands. How will the LORD deliver you out of my hand?” Oh, this threat is real, and it is serious. What will King Hezekiah do?

            Hezekiah’s response is a model for anyone who is facing a threat that is way beyond their ability. Because this man walked with the LORD and sought the LORD regularly as part of his lifestyle, he was ready when he needed to cry out to the LORD in distress. Notice that, despite this overwhelming threat, Hezekiah never expresses fear. You will search the text in vain to find words of fear from King Hezekiah. “As soon as King Hezekiah heard it (the words of the Rabshakeh), he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the LORD (37:1).” WOW! What a response! But that’s just for starters. Then the king sent a contingent to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz confessing that he was overwhelmed, and he needed the LORD to help. He also mentioned that the king of Assyria had mocked the living God. Isaiah says, “Do not be afraid. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land (Isaiah 37:6-7).” You need to read the full story yourself in Isaiah 36-37, but in the end, “the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when the people arose in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies (37:36).” So, Sennacherib went home.

            THE POINT: King Hezekiah faced an overwhelming threat, one that he could never handle on his own, but he responded with courage and trust and prayer because he walked closely with the LORD. Because King Hezekiah chose to obey and honor the LORD, even a tremendous threat was not a cause for fear. Because Hezekiah’s confidence was in the LORD, even the great threats of man produced no fear.

APPLICATION

            When you were not a follower of Jesus, you feared what the pagans feared, and you had no promise of any protection from the Lord. You were like Ahaz, and small threats produced big fears. But now, you walk with the Lord and you have all the promises of the Scripture to secure your confidence. Like Hezekiah, you are among the company of the redeemed and you can say with Jeremiah, “The LORD is with me like a dread champion (Jeremiah 20:11).” And if the Lord is with us, we are “not to fear what the people fear, nor be in dread (Isaiah 8:12).” Like Hezekiah, we make the Lord our fear, and we make Him our dread (Isaiah 8:13) and we trust our great God and cry out to Him when threats arise.

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Luke 5:17-26. Part 2 – Who is this who claims to forgive sins?

Here in this article I will continue to explore the lessons that the Scripture teaches us from Luke 5:17-26, the story of the healing of the paralytic. In the previous post from November 30, we looked at the nature of faith and forgiveness, and in this post will examine the Person of Jesus as the object of faith and find out more about His identity.

THE PLOT OF THE STORY

            As the story opens, Jesus is teaching to a big crowd inside His house when four men try to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus, presumably for healing him of his paralysis. Since they are unable to get to Jesus through the crowd in the house, they go up on the roof and lower the bed-ridden paralytic down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus forgives the sins of the paralyzed man. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who seem to always be there to give Jesus a hard time, complain that Jesus is wrong to claim to forgive sins, since only God can do that. Jesus then miraculously heals the paralytic, proving that He is, in fact, God and, as God, has authority to forgive sins. The crowds are duly amazed.

THE PROTEST OF THE PHARISEES

            The four men and their paralyzed friend had placed their faith in Jesus, believing He had the power to heal their friend. But faith is only as good as faith’s object. The sincerest trust will not make a false hope true. Jesus was the object of their faith, but was He worthy of that faith and that trust? What a horrible deception it would be to believe that you had been forgiven of your sins, only to find out that you had trusted in a lie!

            So, when Jesus claims to forgive sins, in a sense it is right for the scribes and the Pharisees to challenge His claims. Here was a mere Man claiming to do what only God could do. By the way, it is important to note that there was no debate among the Jews about the statement that God alone could forgive sins. The Pharisees, the scribes, the Sadducees, the common people, and Jesus all agreed that only God can forgive sins. The protest from the Pharisees and the scribes was not a protest based on theology (“who can forgive sins?”), but was a protest based on identity (“who is this who claims to forgive sins?”). If Jesus was a mere man, then the Pharisees’ charge of blasphemy was sustained, Jesus’ pronouncement of forgiveness was void, and the men’s faith in Jesus was useless. If, however, Jesus proved to be God in human flesh, the Pharisees’ charge of blasphemy collapsed, Jesus’ forgiveness was certain, and the men’s faith had reached its fulfillment. So, the issue is the identity of the Man who claims to forgive sins. Is He mere man, or is He God?

THE POINT OF THE STORY

            What is the correct identity of Jesus? This is the entire point of this story in the gospel record. While in this story Jesus performs a miracle of healing, the miracle is not the focus of the story. Jesus is recorded as performing many healing miracles throughout the gospels, so this miracle is anything but unique, and this healing is relatively insignificant in itself, but is immensely significant in what it reveals. Who is this Man who claims to forgive sins? Is He, in fact, God in human flesh and, therefore, the worthy object of my faith, or is He a mere pretender, a blasphemer making grand, false claims?

WHICH IS EASIER?

            Jesus settles the issue as conclusively as it can be settled. As only God can do, Jesus perceives the thoughts of the Pharisees (5:22) and then brings the critical question out into the light by asking, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’ (Luke 5:23)?”

This question is not intended to be limited to its literal meaning but is to be understood by what it is really asking. Jesus is saying this to the Pharisees: “You are correct in saying that God alone can forgive sins. And you are correct to challenge My claim to forgive, since there is no visible evidence that any forgiveness has taken place due to My pronouncement. So, it is ‘easier’ to tell someone, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ because it cannot be readily disproven. But to command a paralyzed person, ‘Rise and walk,’ with only the sound of My voice is also something that God alone can do. A mere man has no authority to grant movement to the paralyzed. And, unlike forgiveness, if someone were to command a paralyzed person to rise and walk, there would be unmistakable evidence whether that command came with divine authority or not. So, if someone were able to command a paralytic to rise and walk, and the paralytic rose and walked, then that “someone” would have done something only God can do, and that Person would, therefore, have to be God.” Now back to the Scripture: “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – He said to the man who was paralyzed – “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home (Luke 5:24).” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God (5:25).

Jesus had given clear evidence that He had the authority to do what only God can do. The conclusion that must be reached is that Jesus is God. His identity has been unmistakably established. And since Jesus is God, He has authority to forgive sins.

AND SO . . .

            This story has conclusively established the identity of Jesus: Jesus is God. Certainly, there are many convincing proofs (Acts 1:3) throughout the Scriptures that attest to the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, but here the point of the story is to establish Jesus’ identity.

            Jesus has authority to forgive sins. This is a consequence of the fact that He is God. Since God alone forgives sins, and Jesus is God, Jesus can forgive my sins. Hallelujah!

            Jesus is worthy to be the object of our faith. We can confidently place our faith in Jesus and trust Him for our forgiveness and salvation and eternal life, because He has proven Himself to be trustworthy. SDG                 rmb                 12/03/2020

Luke 5:17-26. Part 1 – Faith and forgiveness

What is the nature of genuine faith in Jesus and who is this Man who claims to forgive sins? These are some of the questions that are addressed in the story of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic, a well-known story that appears in each of the synoptic gospels, in Matthew, in Mark, and in Luke. Over the next couple of posts, we will be looking at the account from the gospel of Luke, in Luke 5:17-26. I will be borrowing from the other gospel accounts for some of the details. This post will look at the nature of faith and forgiveness, and the next post will examine the Person of Jesus and find out more of His identity.

THE PLOT OF THE STORY

            As the story opens, Jesus is teaching to a big crowd inside his house when four men try to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus, presumably for healing him of his paralysis. Since they are unable to get to Jesus through the crowd in the house, they go up on the roof and lower the bed-ridden paralytic down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus forgives the sins of the paralyzed man. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who seem to always be there to give Jesus a hard time, complain that Jesus is wrong to claim to forgive sins, since only God can do that. Jesus then miraculously heals the paralytic, proving that He is, in fact, God and, as God, has authority to forgive sins. The crowds are duly amazed.

FAITH RESULTS IN FORGIVENESS        

            What principles can we learn from this story about the nature of saving faith?

            First, faith in Jesus always results in forgiveness of sins. Faith is the trigger for Christ’s forgiveness, because Jesus always perceives and responds to genuine faith. After Jesus saw their faith, He declared to the paralytic, “Man, your sins are forgiven you (5:20).” Notice that neither the paralytic nor the paralytic’s friends asked Jesus to do anything, but Jesus, “when He saw their faith,” spontaneously granted forgiveness of sins. This is always the case. Then and now, faith in Jesus always results in forgiveness of sins and salvation. If you have placed your faith in Jesus, you, too, have received forgiveness of sins.

            What does Jesus require for Him to forgive sins? Faith alone! “When He saw their faith” What “works” does He require to extend His forgiveness? None! Unlike other false religions and false teaching, there are no works required for Jesus’ forgiveness (Romans 4:2). It was the men’s faith that saved, not their effort. Just so, your faith alone saves you.

            Jesus granted unlimited forgiveness, in essence, absolute forgiveness. “When He saw their faith, He said, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’” Jesus did not say, “Your known sins and your felt sins are forgiven,” so that the man would need to return later if he felt guilty. Nor did Jesus say, “Some of your sins are forgiven, but some are not.” Rather, Jesus said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36).” When Jesus forgives sins, He forgives ALL sins forever. He does not forgive some but leave the rest unforgiven. His forgiveness is permanent and comprehensive. If Jesus has seen your faith, then you can have complete confidence that all your sins, past, present, and future, are forever forgiven.

            The proper end of all faith is salvation (Ephesians 2:8), and Jesus grants forgiveness and salvation to this man based on the man’s faith. When Jesus grants forgiveness, He is declaring that the righteous requirement of the Law (death for sin) has been fulfilled in us by means of His death on the cross (Romans 8:4). Because Christ has fulfilled the Law’s requirement on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18), our forgiveness and our salvation are two sides of the same coin. Thus, the person whom God has forgiven has also been saved.

FAITH PRODUCES ACTION

            There is another principle that we see here in this story about those who have genuine faith: Genuine faith manifests itself in faith-filled actions.

            Notice that faith precedes the “works,” or faith precedes the action. So, first, the men had faith that Jesus could heal their paralyzed friend, and then, second, they visibly demonstrated their faith in Jesus by carrying their friend all the way from where he was to where Jesus was. Their faith led to faith-filled action.

            In this story, the men’s faith-filled action was not for Jesus’ benefit, but for the benefit of the crowd that was watching. Jesus saw their faith, but the crowd needed to see the radical action that their faith produced. It is most often faith-filled action that makes genuine faith visible. Those outside of Christ cannot see or understand faith unless our faith is manifested by the actions of our lives. As James says, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (James 2:18).”

APPLICATION

            An application of this principle that genuine faith produces action would be to ask ourselves, “Does my faith in Jesus produce faith-filled action?” In other words, if anyone were watching my life, would my actions clearly betray that I am a man or a woman of faith in the Lord Jesus? This is a challenging question for us all, but I think it is incumbent upon us to consider it. Does my faith manifest itself in my life such that an unbeliever could see it?

            Some actions that have occurred to me as evidence of faith are: prayer (Do others know you pray? Do they know to whom you pray? Do they know why you pray?), obedience to Scripture (Do you make decisions that puzzle others because you are obeying a clear teaching of the Scripture?), submission of all aspects of your life to the Lord (Does the Lord have first priority in your life?), unselfishness, humility, your speech. These are everyday ways that we can make our faith visible to others.

NEXT POST

            The next post will use this same passage to examine the Person of Jesus and find out more of His identity and why He claims to forgive sins.

SDG                 rmb                 11/30/2020

Outmatched by great matters (Psalm 131)

Is anyone besides me feeling overwhelmed by life’s challenges these days?

            As I was considering all that is currently going on in my world in particular and in our world in general – in politics, in economics, in culture and society, and, of course, regarding COVID-19 – my soul cried out for a greater simplicity. I felt yet again how limited I am and how complex and overwhelming is the world in which I live. I am a simple man with small abilities seeking to glorify God in a world of ferocious challenges and daunting complexity. So, feeling that my abilities were entirely inadequate for the demands of my world, I once again turned to the pages of God’s word and to Psalm 131, a short psalm of David.

O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;

Nor do I involve myself in great matters,

Or in things too difficult for me. – Psalm 131:1 (NASB)

            David enters this psalm distressed and seeking quiet for his soul. “Where in this world of threats is peace to be found?” And why is David distressed? Because David has done a realistic evaluation of his abilities and has made a sober assessment of the challenges arrayed against him and humbly acknowledges that he has an “ability-deficit.” The threats against exceed the defenses in-hand, and David, in faith by an act of the will, chooses to trust the LORD for his protection and to believe that the LORD will be his shield and fortress, and will make up the deficit.

Nor do I involve myself in great matters,

Or in things too difficult for me.

            Here, David makes another resolution. By not involving himself in great matters or in things too difficult for him, David consciously chooses to let a lot of things go and entrust them to his great God. There is both wisdom and faith displayed here. Wisdom is displayed because, by humbly acknowledging that there are many things “above his pay grade,” David is freed up to not waste time or to worry about those things, and he is enabled to focus on the things that do matter. And faith is displayed because David is entrusting the great matters and the things too difficult for him to his great God, for whom nothing is too difficult (Jeremiah 32:17, 27). David is willfully casting his anxiety on the LORD (1 Peter 5:7) and believing that, because the LORD loves him and is with him and has promised to be his God, David can confidently let the great things and the too-difficult things go.

            And the result of David’s faith and trust in the LORD? “Surely I have composed and quieted my soul (131:2a).” David’s distress and anxiety have vanished like smoke, and he now rests in the LORD and hopes in the LORD in quiet trust “like a weaned child rests against its mother (131:2b).”

APPLICATION

            How can we who are simple enjoy the same composed and quieted soul that David enjoyed? Well, first we need to do what David did here in this psalm. David began by humbly realizing that he had an “ability-deficit” (also known as a “limitation-surplus”), and that the world that he faced did indeed outmatch his abilities. Once we have admitted our own ability-deficit, we need to make sure that we have a great God who has promised to bring us all the way through life to heaven (Philippians 1:6; John 10:28-29), a God who will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), who is able to take care of our deficits by His great power. Second, we need to surrender “the great matters and the things too difficult for us” into the hands of the Lord and get them off our radar screen so that we can focus on our “small matters.”

OTHER SUGGESTIONS

            I have a couple of other suggestions that may prove helpful as we all wrestle with the complexities of our world and with our realization of our own limitations.

  • Simplify your life by defining the essential elements of God’s calling for your life and then intentionally cutting away the rest. We can only focus on so many things, and the fewer, the better. By paring away the peripheral elements, we are left with fewer attention drains. In a personal example, I used to spend some time playing a classical guitar. I enjoyed working through a fairly complex piece of music and trying to make it sound like the recording, usually without much success. One day I realized that I would never be able to be very good and that time spent on the guitar was not “core time.” So, the guitar now sits quietly in a corner. Battle complexity by intentionally simplifying!
  • How do I make the most of my limited talents and abilities? How will I best steward my one God-given life? First, focus your energies into a narrow range. Limited talents and abilities diligently focused will produce more than great talent dissipated. Water can be used to water your ferns or to cut through steel. It all depends on the degree of focus. Also, while we all have the same amount of time, we do not all use the same time in the same way. Since life is short and our talents limited, it is best to never waste time and, instead, to make the most of the time, for the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16).

SDG                 rmb                 11/23/2020

A Strategy for fear (2 Chronicles 20)

How do you respond to the fear that comes with a genuine threat? There are times when we are afraid of things that turn out to be mere perceived threats, but there are also times in life when we detect a threat and realize that threat is real and dangerous. Then we feel fear. What is the disciple of Jesus to do in this situation? In 2 Chronicles 20, Jehoshaphat is confronted by a real threat and is afraid, but his response reveals for us a strategy for dealing with that fear.

Jehoshaphat is king of Judah in Jerusalem. He gets word that “a great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea (2 Chronicles 20:2).” Jehoshaphat detects a real threat that could result in serious harm. There is a great multitude coming against him and “Jehoshaphat was afraid (20:3).”

We all know well this feeling of fear. When we encounter a real danger, our unconscious response is for fear to arise and for adrenaline to flow. Fight or flight. The Bible speaks a lot about fear, because the Bible is written for people who live after Eden in a world full of threats and for people whose natural reaction to threat is to be afraid. But the Bible gives counsel and comfort to those who feel fear: “When I am afraid, I will trust in You (Psalm 56:3).” “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine (Isaiah 43:1).” “Deal courageously, and may the LORD be with the upright! (2 Chronicles 19:11)” How, then, should the disciple of Jesus respond to fear?

The first thing to do when we feel fear is to acknowledge the fear and admit that we are afraid of something. There is a threat, and we are afraid. This acknowledges our weakness and positions us for receiving help.

When Jehoshaphat heard of the threat and felt the fear, “he set his face TO SEEK THE LORD (20:3).” “Judah assembled TO SEEK HELP FROM THE LORD (20:4a).” “Judah came TO SEEK THE LORD (20:4b).” When we feel fear, the disciple of Jesus seeks the Lord. This is perhaps the most critical part of the strategy. Being fully aware of the threat, we willfully turn our eyes from the threat to our God, and we seek Him. We remember His power that He has demonstrated to us countless times. When feeling his own fear, the prophet Jeremiah said, “But the LORD is with me like a dread champion (Jeremiah 20:11).” Our Dread Champion is greater than any threat, so we need to seek Him. Seek His face – what does He think of this threat? “If God be for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?” Since God is on our side, we cannot lose. We seek the Lord and make sure that we are “strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Ephesians 6:10).”

Next, Jehoshaphat prays to the LORD and cries out to Him. And what a prayer! The king declares the power of the LORD (20:6), the works of the LORD (20:7), and the promises of the LORD to rescue His people (“If disaster comes upon us, we will cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save (20:9).”). Then Jehoshaphat clearly states the threat (20:10-11) and asks the LORD to act on his behalf (“we are powerless, but our eyes are on You.”) (20:12). This is a model prayer when a threat looms large.

Then a prophet speaks out and tells Judah and King Jehoshaphat, “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the battle is not yours, but God’s (20:15).” The prophet goes on to say, “Stand firm and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the LORD will be with you (20:17).” When it is time for us to confront the threat and to act, we do so in the confidence that the Lord is with us. We are not afraid or dismayed but are assured that He will be with us and will act for us. “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides You who acts for those who wait for Him (Isaiah 64:4).”

Finally, as Judah and Jehoshaphat go out to meet the enemy, they choose to believe and to trust that what the Lord has promised, He will certainly perform. “Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established; believe His prophets, and you will succeed (20:20).” Jehoshaphat has cried out to the LORD is prayer and has acted with courage, and now he leads Judah into the battle, believing that the LORD will act on their behalf. Just so, having seen that the Lord is greater than any of our threats, we move forward trusting that the Lord is with us.

SUMMARY

What we see here in Jehoshaphat is a basic strategy for responding to threats and fears:

  • Acknowledge the threat and the fear
  • Seek the Lord
  • Pray to the Lord and cry out to Him
  • Act with courage; do not be afraid or dismayed
  • Believe in the Lord and trust in the Lord

SDG                 rmb                 11/17/2020

The secret things and the revealed things (Deuteronomy 29:29)

A healthy walk of faith seeks to know and live out all that God has revealed to us, while at the same time accepting that the Lord our God is God and, as such has reserved for Himself “the secret things.” He has revealed to us the things that are essential and has invited us to trust Him with the rest. In this light, we will consider Deuteronomy 29:29:

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us forever. – Deuteronomy 29:29

Notice the order of presentation in the verse. First, the Lord establishes His sovereignty by declaring that He has kept for Himself “the secret things.” As His creatures, we have no secrets from Him, for “all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13).” The LORD “discerns my thoughts from afar and is acquainted with all my ways (Psalm 139:2, 3).” There is nothing hidden from Him, but He, as God, proclaims His sovereign right to have “secret things” which belong to Him alone and which remain hidden from our knowledge. No one can know these things because they are reserved for His eyes only.

But second, the verse speaks of all that the Lord has graciously revealed to us that we may receive and believe. God has published in His Bible everything that we need to live a fruitful life that is pleasing to Him, that is useful to others, and that is deeply satisfying to us. In fact, we are commanded to learn everything we can learn from the Bible by hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, meditating, and even praying back to the Lord the words of His book. We are free to do this to our heart’s content without restriction and without limitation.

And what has the Lord revealed to us in the Bible?

  • How the universe came to be and how God created man
  • How sin came into the world and where death came from
  • God’s holy Law that shows us that we are sinners
  • God’s plan to redeem sinners
  • God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ
  • How I can be saved from God’s just condemnation
  • That Jesus will return in power and glory
  • How the world will end
  • What eternity is like

As we explore the Scriptures, we are amazed at all that the Lord has chosen to reveal to us. Peter says that God “has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:5).” So, we study to know the limits of His revealed promises so that we can legitimately claim all that He has promised us. We study to know the limits of His revealed truths and doctrines so that we can proclaim His gospel to the nations and tell of all His excellencies in all He has accomplished and declare the greatness of His power and wisdom. We search out His revealed commands so that we can joyfully strive to match our obedience to His holy demands and so walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. The disciple delights in all that the Lord has revealed.

But there are limits. Beyond what the Lord has revealed are “the secret things.” Our knowledge is limited like the waves of the sea in Job – The LORD “prescribed limits for it and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed (Job 38:10-11).’” Just so, God has placed limits on our knowledge. The Lord, He is God and is beyond our comprehension. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).” “O, the depths of the riches, both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways (Romans 11:33)!” His glory is infinitely greater than He has revealed to us. His wrath against sin is infinitely more furious than He has revealed. His mercy, demonstrated in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, is infinitely deeper than He has revealed. His power, which is displayed in His creation (Romans 1:20) and which He manifested in raising Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20), is infinitely mightier than He has revealed. God is infinitely higher than us, infinitely greater than us. He is so very “other” from us, and yet He has chosen to reveal to us not only the truths and the commands of His Word, but He has also chosen to reveal Himself to us and to call us into a relationship with Himself and to give Himself to us for us to enjoy forever.

What, then, do we do with “the secret things” that belong to God and are not available to us? We trust the God to whom these “secret things” belong. There are unknowns to us. There are “secret things” that we cannot know. But there is nothing that God does not know. So, we entrust the control of the “secret things” to Him who sent His only Son into the world to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10) and who found us.

SDG                 rmb                 11/10/2020