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.

SDG                 rmb                 12/05/2020

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

He set His face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51)

The plan that had been established in eternity past and that had been necessitated by Adam’s sin and by every sin since Adam’s first sin was reaching its climax. The Lord Jesus Christ had entered time and space at Bethlehem and had been anointed for ministry and was displaying His glory in His ministry on earth. But now there had occurred a critical shift in direction, for now Jesus was headed for Jerusalem.

When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem. – Luke 9:51

            All the preliminary details had been accomplished and the preparation was done. Now Jesus’ face was set, and Jerusalem was His goal, and there was nothing in heaven or on earth that was going to prevent Him from reaching His goal. And what awaited Him in Jerusalem? Was He going to be crowned king and begin to reign? Oh, no. He was inexorably, irresistibly going to Jerusalem because a Roman cross awaited Him there. He set His face to go to Jerusalem so He could be “rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Luke 9:22).” His goal was Jerusalem because He knew that He had to die as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of His people, and He was the chosen sacrifice. And so, Jesus decisively set His face.

            Everything about Jesus displayed His authority and His holiness, but I wanted to make three observations about this part of His earthly ministry.

  1. Jesus was crystal clear on His mission. He knew what He was and what He was not to accomplish. There was no ambiguity in His mind, no waffling or wavering. Having a definite target on which to focus enabled Him to avoid distraction. There was a cross for Him in Jerusalem, and His mission was to reach it, and the rest was just noise.
  2. Jesus had unflinching resolve. Knowing the goal, Jesus made the commitment to reach that goal. Regardless of the cost or the difficulty of the path, Jesus was directing all His energies toward that goal.
  3. Jesus had confident trust in His Father. The Father had created the plan and the Father had called Jesus to accomplish this part of the plan. Jesus trusted that the Father would be with Him and would guide Him and provide for Him until He had fulfilled the mission. He trusted in God’s sovereign control of all things to bring about the desired end.

APPLICATIONS

            What can we learn from our Lord for our daily challenges?

  1. Be clear on my mission. Having a clear purpose and mission is a great help in directing our energies and activities. We are not going to be the savior of the world, but God has called us for a purpose and for a mission. What is my mission? Why am I here? Clarity on your mission will help you focus and avoid distraction.
  2. Resolve to press on and persevere. The best way to persevere is simply to resolve to not quit. All paths have monotony and difficulty, but a determination to continue and to persevere will make you an overcomer. “One thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).”
  3. Trust the Lord. If the Lord has called you to Himself, then He has adopted you as His child. He is for you. “If God be for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?” He is with you. “I will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).” The Bible is a book of the Lord’s faithfulness to His people. He is trustworthy. In the midst of the battle or in the midst of the calm, we can trust His sovereign control of all things to bring about His desired end.

SDG                 rmb                 11/4/2020

Living in the present with Joseph (Genesis 50:19-20)

My last post was about living in the present moment so that we can maximize our enjoyment of the Lord and can give ourselves away for the blessing of others. If I am dwelling in the past and lamenting things that cannot be changed, or if I am fearing the future and fixating on the threats that might come, then I am not living in the present. And the present is the only place where I can live and be faithful to my calling (Ephesians 4:1) and accomplish the works the Lord has given me to do (Ephesians 2:10).

In this post I wanted to further explore this idea of living in the present by looking at some biblical pictures of this and asking, “So, what do I do with my past? How do I handle thoughts and feelings about my past? Do I just pretend those things never happened?”

TWO ASPECTS OF THE PAST: MY OWN SINS AND THOSE OF OTHERS

It occurs to me that there are two aspects of our past that can prevent us from living fully in the present. First, there are my own sins and failures. There are the things that I have said and done in violation and rebellion against God’s moral Law and have thus wounded others, and these things now bring me the pain of shame and guilt and regret. How can I ever remove these black marks from my past when the sins are committed, and the words are said and cannot be taken back and are etched in history’s stone? Who will set me free from this guilt and shame (Romans 7:24)? The good news of Jesus Christ answers this question, because most of what the Bible has to say about our past and about how we are to deal with our past is focused on this aspect of our past. The Bible declares that, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool (Isaiah 1:18).” The Bible proclaims that, because the Lord Jesus Christ died on Calvary’s cross, your sins can be forgiven and your guilt and shame can be removed if you will place your faith in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. The gospel, and only the gospel, offers forgiveness, full and free, from all your sins and failures (John 8:36).  

But the second aspect of our past that can prevent us from living in the present is the things that have been done to us by others. This second aspect has to do with dealing with how others have wounded and harmed us. People can often be thoughtless, and they can be intentionally cruel, and they can inflict deep and long-lasting damage to us. But regardless of who or how the damage is done, we are the ones who must mend and forgive and untangle and resolve and defang these deep pains from our past. These kinds of wounds can stay with us a long time and can leave us trapped in the wreckage of the past. How do we deal with this part of our past? How are we able to bury these specters from the past so that we can live and flourish in the present?

JOSEPH RECEIVED CRUEL AND EVIL TREATMENT, AND YET . . .

            Joseph was the favorite son of his father, Jacob. Then one day, while obeying his father’s instructions to find his ten older brothers (Genesis 37), his brothers conspired together to strip off his special coat and to throw him into a pit to die. Before they could kill Joseph, however, some slave traders come along, and the ten older brothers decide to sell Joseph to the slave traders heading to Egypt. When Joseph is gone, they dip his robe into goat’s blood and tell his father that he is dead. Meanwhile, as a slave in Egypt, Joseph is falsely accused and thrown into an Egyptian prison. Here is a man who should have been trapped by his past and by the evil that was done to him by others. Here is a man whose major hope for the future would be to get out of prison so he can take revenge on his brothers.

            But that is not what we find. Through God’s providence and God’s plan, Joseph is dramatically promoted from prison to the palace and is made second in charge to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. And what does he do with the pain of his past?

MANASSEH AND EPHRAIM

            Pharaoh gives Joseph a wife and through her, Joseph has two sons. He names the firstborn Manasseh, for “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house (Genesis 41:51).” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction (41:52).” Joseph is able to break free of the poison of his past because he focuses on what God is doing, and he focuses on God’s goodness. It is as if he says, “Yes, people can be cruel and evil, but God is good and I will rejoice in Him and I will trust Him to run His universe as He sees fit.” Joseph could have remained trapped in the past, bitter and vengeful and blaming others for his pain, but he chooses instead to trust the Lord and to live in the present and to do today what God has commanded him to do today.

RECONCILES WITH HIS BROTHERS

            What will Joseph do with his feelings toward his brothers? How can he ignore the hateful evil that they did to him, throwing their own brother in a pit and then selling him off to slave traders? But even in this Joseph will not be a slave to his past. He will not be trapped in the pit of self-pity or in the chains of revenge. Instead, when he finally confronts his brothers, the men who robbed him of his home and of the peacefulness of his youth, he says, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life (Genesis 45:5).” Joseph knows the God is the one who used the evil deeds of his brothers to preserve life in Egypt. God is the one in control. and God is good. God has made Joseph lord of all Egypt (45:9). Joseph focuses on God and is thus able to escape the slavery to his past. So, Joseph chooses to forgive his brothers and not to hold them under his judgment, and thus is able to live and love in the present. At the end of this scene, Joseph “kissed his brothers and wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked with him (45:15).”

CONFESSION OF SIN AND FORGIVENESS AT LAST

            Joseph has been freed from his past, and he has forgiven his brothers’ sins against him, but because his brothers have never admitted (confessed) their evil to Joseph and have never asked for his forgiveness, they remained trapped in the past. They remain fearful that Joseph may some day remember the evil that they have done to him and may take revenge. But finally, the brothers, too, are set free from the evil that they did to Joseph. “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong (Genesis 50:17).” Joseph responds to their request for forgiveness by weeping, as all the evil of the past and its pain finally rolls away, and he says, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good to preserve many people alive (Genesis 50:19-20).”

FORGETTING THE PAST SO WE CAN FULLY LIVE IN THE PRESENT

            By fixing his focus on God, and not on the evil deeds of men, Joseph is able to move past his past, so that he can fully live in the present. The Lord has given him the ability to forgive his brothers so he can forget their cruelty to him. He thus forgets what lies behind, so that he can be free to embrace what lies ahead (Philippians 3:12-14). When we focus on the Lord and His goodness, we remove from our past the power to enslave us and we can joyfully live in the present.

SDG                 rmb                  10/1/2020

Ever in the present (Exodus 3:14-15)

The LORD, the one true and living God, is eternally in the present. That is what the Bible teaches and what the LORD declares about Himself. All events take place in the present for the LORD because He exists beyond time. He is aware of time, for He is the One who created time, but He is not bound by time, so He does not live within time.

I AM WHO I AM

In Exodus 3:14, when Moses asked His name, God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Say to the people, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Then God told Moses that His name was “the LORD.” The word that we have in Hebrew for God’s name is “YHWH,” which is connected with the Hebrew verb “to be.” The point is that even God’s name declares that God is always in the present. He did not say, “I WAS,” or even “I WILL BE,” but He proclaimed “I AM.” For God, all the events of His universe occur in the present. “I AM WHO I AM.”

JESUS IS THE ETERNALLY PRESENT ONE

In John 8, when Jesus was being challenged about His identity and about His claims to deity, He said to the Jews, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM (John 8:58).” The Jews picked up stones to stone Jesus because they understood that Jesus was claiming to be YHWH. Jesus was claiming to be the ever-present One for whom everything is in the present. Jesus did not say, “Before Abraham was, I was.” That would not have angered the Jews, but it may have confused them. Ah, but when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” there was no question what Jesus was claiming. Jesus was claiming to be YHWH, the great “I AM.”

JESUS MODELED FOR US WHAT IE MEANS TO LIVE IN THE PRESENT

In Jesus, we see the unique combination of eternal deity entering time and space and intentionally being subject to the ravages of time and even subject to the experience of death. While Jesus lived on this earth, He had a mission to accomplish (Matthew 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19 – and parallels; also John 17:4), which involved Him being delivered over to evil men who hated Him and then being crucified on a Roman cross. Jesus understood in the fullest possible terms exactly what His mission required, and yet at no point in His ministry does He dwell on the cross. Instead, Jesus remains always in the present moment.

For example, in Mark 10:32, “they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed.” The crowds are going up to Jerusalem so that Jesus can be arrested and crucified. There is no one who is more aware of what is shortly to take place than Jesus. He knows every lash from the whips, and He knows the spit that will drip down His face, and He knows the blows He will feel. He knows the mocking He will endure. He knows the nails that will rip into His flesh. He knows that, as He bears all the sins of His people, He will be abandoned by His Father. He knows the words that He is to say from the cross to fulfill the prophecies of His crucifixion. He knows all this perfectly. But now is not the time for that. Now is the time to walk up the mountain to Jerusalem, so He walks on ahead of the crowd. Now is the time to stop and have mercy on Bartimaeus, and to give him back his sight. Now is the time to call Zacchaeus down from the sycamore tree so He can go to be a guest in his house. Now is the time to ride the colt into Jerusalem. Now is the time to baffle the religious leaders with parables, and to tell His disciples about His return, and to have a final supper with His apostles. In all these events, Jesus is fully in the moment, fully present, completely trusting what is to happen in the future into the hands of His Father. Even though the horrors of the cross drew steadily closer, Jesus remained in the present moment, perfectly obeying the Father’s every commandment.

As in everything He does, here also Jesus, as the perfect Man, models for us how we are to live for the glory of God in this fallen world. Jesus lives in the present moment and entrusts His future into the hands of His Father. Just so, we are also to strive to live in the present moment and entrust our future into the hands of the Father.

HOW THE DISCIPLE IS TO LIVE IN THE PRESENT

            PRINCIPLE/THEORY: The more we live in the present, the more we live like the Lord. This is based on the idea that because Jesus lived in the present, He has shown us that we are to live in the present. This keeps us in the middle of the “trust zone.”

            When I am dwelling in the past, I am often dwelling in the place of sin and shame and failure that cannot be changed. While there can certainly be pleasant memories from the past, most often if we are living in the past we are living with regret or with guilt that holds us prisoner and that robs us of present peace and contentment and joy.

            On the other hand, when I am living in the future, I am living in a place that does not exist and I am distracted from giving my energy and my attention to what is here and now. More than that, because we live in a fallen world, the future often evokes fear and dread. Often our future skies are full of dark clouds and whirling tornadoes as threats of loss loom large.

            So, how am I to live in the present, in the so-called “trust zone” with Jesus, when I am haunted by my past and frightened of the future?

THE ANSWER IS THE GOSPEL

            The answer is that I am to believe in the Lord Jesus and trust Him.

            What do I do to forget the past and to stop dwelling on the sorrows and wounds of the past? Practically, I will rest in the Lord and trust Him with my past, knowing that He has sovereignly ordained all the events of my past for His perfect purposes to produce the man He wants me to become. I will forget what lies behind (in the past), and strain forward to what lies ahead (in the present) and press on toward the goal (Philippians 3:13-14).

            How can I overcome my fears and doubts about the future, especially in our present time when there are threats on all sides? Practically, I will trust the Lord with my future, because the Lord has declared that there will never be a time in the future when He will not be with me (“I will never leave you or forsake you (Joshua 1:5).”) “The LORD is with me like a dread Champion (Jeremiah 20:11).” “If God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?”

CHRIST HAS FREED ME FROM SINS IN THE PAST AND FEAR OF DEATH IN THE FUTURE

            But the ultimate answer is that I will live in the present, secure in the fact that Christ’s death on the cross has erased the sins of my past and His resurrection has removed the threat of death in the future. (John 11:25-26; Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:54-55; Hebrews 2:14-15) This glorious reality allows me to live in the present, in the middle of the “trust zone” with Jesus. SDG                 rmb                 9/24/2020

More thoughts on Ecclesiastes 11

Back on August 31 I had posted an article about Ecclesiastes 11:1-4, “Casting bread upon the waters.” I have some more thoughts about that may be helpful and encouraging. This post will be not so much a single article but a collection of related thoughts.

The key words that come to mind in Ecclesiastes 11 are risk, stewardship, loss, trust the Lord, wisdom, contentment. The context of Ecclesiastes 11 can easily be adopted to wisdom about investing.

Regarding risk: Is risk different for a Christian? That is, does Christ make a difference in our view of risk? I think that the answer should be an unqualified “yes.” Perceived risk is directly related to trust in the Lord and to stewardship.

Stewardship is a word used mostly by Christians. Stewardship relates to how well my resources (primarily monetary, but they could also be time and talents) are being used for the purposes that Christ would approve.

CHANGED DEFINITIONS

            Since I have become a Christian, I find that even the definition of words related to money have changed. PROSPERITY: Prosperity has been dramatically redefined. Before I was a believer, “prosperity” was an entirely material word. It was about what was going on “under the sun.” More was always better. There was little regard for quality, because what I was measuring was dollars, and there is no “quality” for dollars. It’s about quantity. But now, prosperity is much more about pleasing the Lord. I am prosperous when my life is being lived in a way that is pleasing to the Lord.

            My monetary goals change as I grow as a Christian. Before I was a Christian, it was all and only about greed and about keeping score with dollars. The only goal was wealth and it was easy to keep score: He who dies with the most money wins. It was like Monopoly for adults. Since the objective was clear, the means for achieving the objective were clear and few. My peace, my contentment, my feeling of satisfaction, how well I was serving others, and so on were not considerations that deserved much attention.

            Hoarding money, which would have been a potential strategy for achieving my greed goal, reveals fear and distrust. I hoard money because I am afraid that if I don’t, I will not have enough. A hoarder has no confidence or trust in the giver of the goods. A hoarder feels the need to rely upon themselves.

            Saving money can be either a response to fear or an act of wise stewardship, and it can be difficult to detect the difference. If “saving” continues when there is more than ample resources available (Give us THIS DAY our daily bread), saving has become hoarding and it reveals a low level of trust in the Lord.

            Perhaps the action that shows the most spiritual maturity is an attitude of “godly spending.” Money is simply a conduit for bringing good things to others. It must be remembered that money is only good in its use.

GENEROSITY

            We can be generous with our resources because we have been promised prosperity by the God who sovereignly controls the universe. We can be generous because our trust is in the sovereign Lord, who loves us and has given us His promises. We can be generous because the Lord who controls all things makes a distinction between His people and the rest. The LORD delights in His people, and so His people have an enormous advantage. Because we have placed our faith in Christ, we can have confidence in an uncertain world. Faith in Christ entitles me to embrace the Lord’s precious and magnificent promises.

            The beginning of wisdom is THE FEAR OF THE LORD.

            Progress in wisdom flows from TRUST IN THE LORD.

IT IS SAFER TO TAKE RISKS

Because we have already died (Colossians 3:3), we should have no fear of death.

Jesus says that we can never die (John 11:25-26). Thus, what do we have to lose.

The heroes of the Bible consistently take risks because they trust the LORD. Some of these risks are much more than outrageous. Gideon reduced his army from 30,000 to 300. David went up against Goliath with no sword, no shield, and no armor bearer, yet he was victorious because the LORD was with him. In Exodus 14, the LORD commands Moses to put the people of Israel in the place of maximum risk, then the LORD demolished Pharaoh and the Egyptian army.

In Numbers 14, the children of Israel refused to go into the land from Kadesh-Barnea because they feared the people of Canaan. Thus, they rebelled against the LORD and despised His provision. The consequence was that everyone from that generation fell dead in the wilderness wanderings.

Jeremiah was constantly threatened by his peers and by the kings who reigned while he prophesied, yet Jeremiah did not back down or shrink back. He declared, “The LORD is with me like a Dread Champion (Jeremiah 20:11).” If we have that same God giving us the same promises that He gave Jeremiah, why would we be any less bold than Jeremiah? This applies to our entire lives, including our perception of risk.

Finally, the LORD ALWAYS makes a distinction between His people and the rest. The LORD has promised to do us good. Psalm 1:3 gives us the promise that “everything that he does will prosper,” but if nothing is done, how can the LORD prosper the venture?

SDG                 rmb                 9/4/2020