An encounter on the street with James

The other day I met James. I had just finished a last minute Christmas purchase of art supplies for my wife and was sitting in my car scrolling up my GPS to get me to my next extravagant expenditure. My car was facing out onto the street, and as I looked up from my cell phone, my eyes met the gaze of a thin man in a rumpled coat. He looked directly into my eyes and, after giving me the universal motions of imaginary feeding, he shrugged his shoulders and held up his hands, clearly indicating he needed me to provide money for his food.

His gesture was not done belligerently, and I did not feel like he was just pan-handling me, but I was locked into task mode and his appearance was unexpected and a little unwanted, so, in a blatant display of selfishness, I shook my head, “no.”

“Why not?” His question startled me. “Why not? Why won’t you help me out?”

“I don’t feel like it,” was my heartless answer.

“Why won’t you help out a hungry veteran?” he shouted in reply. “You have a chance to help out a fellow human being.” Then he pointed to a hole in the side of his neck and said, “That’s where a bullet went through my neck. I have served my country and now you won’t even help me out!” And he turned to walk away from me across the street, disgusted with my stubborn stinginess.

I jumped out of my car and yelled, “You’re right! You make a very good case. Hey, come back here! You are right!”

By now the man had crossed the main traffic lane and was in the turn lane, shouting at the cars as they drove past, too close for his comfort. “Hey, you almost hit me!”

Now I was on the curb, and he was in the street but walking toward me. He was thin, but not quite gaunt, with a full brown beard. His speech was sober, and I sensed he was an intelligent man. “You seem to be angry,” I said. “Why are you angry?”

Why was he angry? What a naïve question! The answer was obvious. He was angry because life had been cruel to him. He hadn’t planned to be homeless and living in trash dumpsters as he begs for food on the streets of the city. Every plan had failed, and each road had been a dead end. It was a life of opportunities squandered, of unwise choices, and of hard providences. Now this human being, this highest of God’s creatures, this one created in the image of God, was dodging cars to try and scrounge his next meal. Who wouldn’t be angry?

He was now only a couple of feet away from me, but he was still in the edge of the traffic lane. “You need to get out of the street,” I said as I put my hand on his shoulder and pulled him onto the sidewalk.

“Well, you were right to ask me for some money for food. You do need money, don’t you?” I asked.

“Yes, I need money for food.”

I pulled out my wallet and handed him a twenty dollar bill. “Are you able to find work? Or are you looking for work?” It turns out that, because he did not have a cell phone, he was not able to find employment.

“I do have a place to live, though,” he said. “I live in that storage bin beside that shop over there. You want to see it? It doesn’t smell too good.”

“No, thanks. What’s your name?”

“James.”

“How old are you, James?”

“I’m fifty.”

“Has faith ever been a part of your life?”

“Faith is part of my life now. Faith that I will be restored. Faith in Jesus Christ.” His words had a ring of sincerity to them, not the usual “faith talk” that you here from beggars who know that talking about Jesus with people is sort of expected. “Do you know John 1:1?” he asked. “Go ahead, James, tell me John 1:1.” And he quoted it verbatim. I added John 1:2. “Wait here for a second, James.”

I ran over to my car and grabbed a “Who is Jesus?” tract and gave it to him.

“Oh. ‘Who is Jesus?’” he said. “Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. John 14:6.”

I affirmed his quote of Scripture and encouraged him to read the tract and think about what it said. We talked a little more, then I shook his hand and said, “I have to get moving, but God bless you, brother.” As I got in my car, I shouted, “Maybe you can find a church that needs a good preacher!” Then we waved goodbye, and James disappeared into my rear view mirror.

The first thing I learned from my encounter with James is that I can still be self-centered and greedy and heartless. There are evidently times when my heart is hard and when I feel inconvenienced because a fellow human being pleads for my compassion and assistance. O, how I need to repent of my greediness! Our Lord Jesus commanded me to “Give to everyone who asks of you” (Luke 6:30), and I reject them because I am slightly inconvenienced or just don’t feel like helping. “Lord, please change me more into the image of Jesus with the heart of Jesus! Amen.”

I still think about James, and here’s why. I know that, except for the grace and providence of God, I could be where James is. If at certain critical points in my life, the Lord had not turned events in His providential and favorable direction, I would be sleeping in a storage bin and asking cruel strangers to give me the means of survival. If God had not been merciful and generous to me (And why has He been so good to me, the one who deserves His wrath and who should receive the consequences of so many foolish choices?), I would be living like James with no plans for the future and no hope for the present. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us . . .” (Ephesians 2:4). “Lord, let me ever praise You for Your mercy and grace.”

Finally, I pray that James reads the tract and that causes him to get a Bible and read it. I pray that his reading of the Bible creates the spark of faith in his heart and mind, and that he seeks the Lord with all his heart. I pray that he believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and that he finds a good church. How James’ life can be restored and straightened out so that it is useful again and that he is useful to the Master, I have no clue. Those things are too difficult for me (Psalm 131:1), but there is nothing too difficult for God (Jeremiah 32:17; Luke 18:27). I know that Jesus Christ is the only hope for James. Jesus Christ came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). He finds the prodigals in the pigsty and restores them to a joyful life in the Father’s house. If Jesus is willing, He can and will save (Matthew 8:2). So, I pray that James seeks Jesus with his whole heart.

SDG                 rmb                 12/26/2021                 #475

Where is the right path? (Proverbs 14:12 and John 14:6)

My friend Doug and I have had a weekly phone call appointment for more than 14 years, and for those 14 years we have walked through life together, experiencing highs and lows and seeking to pursue the Lord and to live for His glory. This week we were talking about our mutual feelings of yuletide incompetence, how the Christmas season offers virtually unlimited opportunities for us to disappoint others by not fulfilling our basic duties, when Doug changed to a more serious topic. “So, I got a text from Jonathan this week.”

The tone of our conversation was abruptly more sober. “The gist of his text was something like ‘How does it feel to be a future grandfather?’” My friend went on to explain that his son has apparently gotten his current girlfriend pregnant. We spent the rest of phone call talking about his son and about this turn of events and about how this is yet more evidence that Jonathan seems bent on destroying his life.

This morning I was reflecting on Jonathan’s situation. Despite being at an exclusive private high school and having a godly father who poured into his life, this young man had become involved in drugs in high school, first using and then dealing. He had escaped high school and had bounced from place to place, becoming a heroin user and a member of the opioid addiction community. He has spent significant time in jail. He has overdosed multiple times on heroin. At one point, it looked like his organs were shutting down, but he survived and, like a dog returning to its vomit (2 Peter 2:22), he returned to his destructive habits. He has lost jobs that were basically given to him to help him pull out of his long-term nosedive. He has been in and out of innumerable halfway houses and recovery programs. In fact, Jonathan had done basically everything he could do to ensure he would mess up his life, except get a woman pregnant. But now, even that disaster he has now inflicted on himself. With immense advantages and every opportunity to choose a path offering some degree of success, the young man has consistently chosen the path of disaster. Not the path of lesser success that could have turned out well but providentially did not, but the path that is obviously bad and that will almost certainly produce pain and misery. Jonathan seems bent on his own destruction and on ruining his life.

ALL FALLEN MAN

But isn’t that the state of all fallen man outside of Christ? Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” We are all born broken, with flawed wisdom and with selfish desires and sinful passions. All of fallen man is born blind (See Isaiah 6:10; 43:8; John 9:25.) and stumbles along life’s path, groping for some sort of light or trustworthy direction (Isaiah 59:10-14; Acts 17:27). We all pursue a path that seems right to us, that seems “right in our own eyes” (Judges 21:25), but the end of that path is death. There is only one way that leads to life, and His name is Jesus (John 14:6). All other paths are false trails, dark and slippery, that lead to death. There is only one gate, small and narrow, that leads to life, and the name of that gate is Jesus (Matthew 7:13-14). All other gates, gates wide and broad to admit the many who rush through them, are gates of destruction that lead inevitably to death.

Jonathan is manifestly on a path of destruction, but he is not alone on that path. While the degree of damage and ruin is more evident in Jonathan’s life than in most others, the trail he is walking is well trodden. The prophet speaks not of heroin addicts only, but of all mankind when he says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Our old heart of stone is deceitful and leads us down dark and slippery paths to our own ruin. The only solution for our deceitful heart of stone is replacement with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26-27). And the only one who can replace our sinful heart with a new heart is Jesus.

A SAVIOR WHO SAVES

While there is pity and sadness when we see someone like Jonathan making a shipwreck of his life and running headlong down the path of destruction, we need not despair. Jesus is a Savior who has come to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). Humanly, we may see the sinner as being far down the path of destruction, but distance is no obstacle for the Lord, because nothing is too difficult for Him (Isaiah 59:1; Jeremiah 32:17, 27; Luke 18:26-27). The Lord can deliver any sinner from his circumstances, no matter how deep the well into which he has fallen (Jeremiah 38:9-13). There is no place the sinner can go from which the Lord cannot deliver him unto salvation. The distance a sinner has wandered is of no consequence to the Lord.

The situation for Jonathan appears bleak. He seems to have wandered into a place from which there is no rescue. And if Jesus Christ had not been sent from heaven to earth and had not lived a sinless life and died an atoning death; if Jesus had not been raised from the dead and did not now offer His atoning blood as payment for all the sinner’s sins; if Jesus was not a glorious Savior, King of kings and Lord of lords, mighty to save so that anyone who places their trust in Him will be saved (Acts 16:31), then there would be no reason for any hope for Jonathan.

Like Jonathan, all mankind outside of Christ is on the way to destruction. Titus 3:3 says, “For we were once foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.” A bleak situation, indeed, but not hopeless. “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for all mankind appeared, He saved us” (Titus 3:4-5). Because of Jesus Christ and His glorious gospel of salvation, all who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus will be saved.

SDG                 rmb                 12/24/2021                 #473

“They will come to Me” – (John 6:37 – Part 3)

INTRODUCTION: This is part of a series of blog posts studying John 6:37, a verse in which Jesus teaches us about the sovereignty of God in salvation. In this series, we will examine not only what Jesus explicitly teaches in this verse, but also its implications based on other passages of Scripture and plain reasoning.

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” – John 6:37 (NASB)

In our second study in this series, we considered the next phrase in the verse, “will come to Me.” (See post #468 on 12/10/2021.) In that post, we focused on answering the question, “Who will come to Jesus?” This led to a detailed study of the nature of the elect and election, and how this displays God’s sovereignty in salvation.

But now, in this post we seek to answer the extremely important question, “What does it mean for the sinner to ‘come to Jesus’?” Since it is only those who “come to the Son” who are saved from eternal condemnation, we should strive to know what “will come to Me” means.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO ‘COME TO JESUS’?

The expression “come to Me” appears twice in this verse. Jesus says they “will come to Me” and He says, “the one who comes to Me.” To “come to Jesus” is one the most important themes of the entire Bible. Jesus Christ, God the Son, was sent from heaven to earth on a rescue mission, “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10) as He “gave His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The only way that anyone receives salvation is by coming to Jesus. The Bible teaches that God has divinely chosen those people whom He will bring to salvation, but this doctrine of God’s election is given to us so that we may know the power of God’s sovereignty in salvation, not so that we may be confused about how to be saved.

Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me.” For the human sinner, the most important part of Jesus’ statement is, “will come to Me.” If you want to be saved, there is something that you need to do. If you want to be saved, you must actively come to Jesus.

“What does it mean to ‘come to Jesus’?” First, you must believe in Jesus. In John 1:12 says that to those who believed in Jesus’ name become children of God. In John 20:31, the Bible says that those who believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, have eternal life in His name. This believing can be understood as an unshakeable trust in Jesus, that He is who He said He was and that He is my Savior and my Lord.

Second, this inward faith and trust in Jesus manifests itself in an outward profession. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Faith in Jesus cannot remain an inner, silent thing, but must be expressed outwardly in a verbal profession. When you come to Jesus, others should know that Jesus has become your Lord and Savior.

Also, to come to Jesus means to repent of your sin and to begin to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt. 5:6). John the Baptist cried out, “Bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). At Pentecost, the people asked, “What are we to do (to be saved)?” Peter replied, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). The Philippian jailer asked Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31).

Finally, to come to Jesus, the Son of God, means obeying Him. In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” If you have come to saving faith in Jesus, you will have a desire to obey His commands and to walk in holiness and righteousness. You will forsake the wicked ways of your past. Paul says that, if you have come to Jesus, “you laid aside the old self with its evil practices” (Colossians 3:9). Jesus says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (John 14:23).

As we conclude this post, we should notice two things. First, all those who come to Jesus will be saved. This should be an encouragement to anyone who desires to be saved from the coming judgment. But second, only those who come to Jesus will be saved. This should instill a sense of urgency. Those who were thinking about coming to Jesus but never did, and those who never expressly rejected Jesus, but who also never came to Him in repentance and faith alike will perish forever. All second chances are forever blown away at the final heartbeat. At that moment, eternity opens wide, and the lake of fire receives another unrepentant sinner. I urge you to come to Jesus.

In our next post in this series, we will examine the truth that the one who comes to Jesus He will certainly not cast out.

SDG                 rmb                 12/11/2021                 #469

“All that the Father gives Me” (John 6:37) – Part 1

INTRODUCTION: This is part of a series of blog posts on John 6:37, a verse in which Jesus teaches us about the sovereignty of God in salvation. In this series, we will examine not only what Jesus explicitly taught in this verse, but also its implications based on other passages of Scripture and plain reasoning.

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” – John 6:37 (NASB)

In our study, we will examine the verse in small bites.

All that the Father gives Me” – From this opening phrase, we conclude that there is a specific, fixed number of souls that the Father has given to the Son. The Father has not given every soul to the Son, but only “all that the Father gives Me.” This phrase limits the number of those who will be saved to only those given by the Father. We know, therefore that all will not be saved.

It is also true that the Father certainly knows the number who will be saved, for “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19). If the Father knows the number of hairs on each person’s head (Matthew 10:30), then He certainly knows the exact number of souls that He has given to His Son, so we can say with confidence that the number is specific and fixed.

We also know that the number of those who are given to the Son for salvation is specific and fixed because these were chosen by the Father “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). At a time that was before all time, “before the foundation of the world,” God the Father chose the full number of those who would ever be in Christ. Once the Father “chose us in Him,” the full number of future saints was forever established and could not be changed. Thus, we can say that the number is specific and fixed.

Notice also that the Father is completely sovereign in this giving of souls to the Son. The Father alone has determined the exact number of souls that will be given to His beloved Son, and the Father alone is the One who gives them. The people who are chosen by the Father for salvation and then given to the Son are passive. (NOTE: This does not mean that we are saved passively. We will address what it means to come to Jesus for salvation later in this series, but our salvation is not passive. What we are discussing here is that we who are the recipients of salvation made no contribution to our being chosen by the Father and being given to the Son.)

Finally, we call “all the Father has given” to the Son “the elect” or “the chosen.” Substituting this term into the opening phrase yields, “All the elect (will come to Me).”

In the next post, we will consider the phrase, “will come to Me.”

SDG                 rmb                 12/6/2021                   #465

Why are the warnings in Hebrews so severe?

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

THE WARNINGS IN HEBREWS

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

WHY SO SEVERE?

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

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

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

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

WHO IS THE AUTHOR TRYING TO ALARM? THE MOST ELUSIVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

SDG                 rmb                 8/7/2021                     #428

Ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:15-21)

In this passage, the apostle Paul teaches how it is that the “not many wise and not many noble (1 Corinthians 1:26)” who make up the majority of the people of God are transformed into ambassadors for Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:15-21

15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

16 Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

5:15 – The apostle starts by telling us that we (believers in Jesus) are “no longer to live for ourselves.” That means that “I” have moved way down the list of priorities. I am no longer consumed with the question, “How can I benefit from this?” I am not obsessed with “what’s in this for me?” My desire now is to be useful to Jesus.

I have been bought by another. My life is not my own and, therefore, my life and its preservation and pleasure are not my concern. Another now holds the title deed to my life. I am no longer the master. Instead, I serve the Master, the Lord, and do what pleases Him.

I now “live for Him who died and rose again on my behalf.” Therefore, my new first question is, “What is my Master’s will?” What is His highest priority? What has He bought me to do for Him? What has He called me to do for Him, in general and specifically?

5:16 – Now we do not assess a person based on what they are “in the flesh.” In other words, we do not judge our fellow believers on the basis of outward appearance or worldly circumstance. It is immaterial if the brother is rich or poor. It is of no consequence whether the disciple is a man or a woman, young or old. Their ethnicity is only a feature of their personhood. “We recognize no one according to the flesh.” Why?

5:17 – Now we see every believer as a new creature in Christ. Whatever came before has passed away. Were you a drunk or a drug addict? It matters not. You are now a new creature in Christ, and new things have come. Were you a homosexual or were you a prostitute? Gone! Those things have passed away and you have now put on Jesus’ white robe of righteousness. You are a new creature in Christ. Were you a thief or a liar or a cheat? Did you have a foul mouth and a fouler mind? Were you angry and hateful and vengeful and cruel? For His people, Christ has vanquished all these things by His death on the cross. “If ANYONE is in Christ, he is a new creature!” The old is GONE. The new has come.

5:18 – So we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and, having been reconciled and made new, we have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. Having experienced the power of the ministry of reconciliation, we are now to be participants in proclaiming reconciliation to as many as we can.

5:18-19 – God has reconciled us to Himself so that our highest priority is to fulfill our ministry of reconciliation. We have been reconciled to be reconcilers.

Since we have been saved by the gospel, we are now obligated to proclaim the gospel. God has committed us to the word of reconciliation.

5:20 – THEREFORE! What is the reason that Paul has told us about this ministry of reconciliation? Why has he declared to us the glories of the new birth, that if ANYONE is in Christ, they are a new creature? Where has Paul been headed in this passage? Well, he has been headed here! This has been his intended destination. Because we now no longer live for ourselves but now all believers live to please Christ. Because, regardless of the wreckage of our past, we are new creatures in Christ, and the old has passed away. And because we have now received the ministry of reconciliation, THEREFORE, we are ambassadors for Christ. The living God makes His appeal to lost sinners through us. THEREFORE, the disciples of Christ beg the perishing to be reconciled to God through Christ. This is our mission.

5:21 – And what is it that we are to proclaim to those who are outside of Christ? What are we to tell those who are still hell-bound? Here is 2 Corinthians 5:21 we have a one verse summary of the gospel.

21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, has died an atoning death on the cross so that all who believe in Him will receive His righteousness imputed to them and will be reconciled to God.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us commit fully to our role as ambassadors for Christ and let us fulfill our ministry of reconciliation.

SDG                 rmb                 6/29/2021                   #419

Avoiding hell, according to Jesus (Luke 13:1-5)

If Jesus Christ Himself told you explicitly how you could certainly avoid going to hell when you died, would you listen to Him? If Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, gave you simple concrete steps for not perishing forever, would you follow those simple steps?

In this passage from the gospel of Luke, you will have an opportunity to answer those questions, because in Luke 13:1-5, Jesus gives a message that is so clear that you almost have to try to miss the point.

13 There were some present at that very time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perishOr those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” – Luke 13:1-5

BACKGROUND

A little background would be helpful. Jesus is in Jerusalem and, as usual, He is surrounded by a large crowd. Some people in the crowd made a comment to Him about an atrocity that Pilate, the governor, had committed in killing people who had come to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the temple.

THE UNIVERSAL PROBLEM – YOU WILL LIKEWISE PERISH

Instead of addressing their comment, however, Jesus talks about the universal problem confronting every member of the human race. “Do you think these were worse sinners than all the others? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:2-3).” Jesus establishes the truth that physical death is of secondary importance. The critical question is, “When you physically die, will you eternally perish?”

Jesus then repeats His message in another context. Eighteen people had died when the tower of Siloam fell on them (Luke 13:4). But the question was not, “Did they die this way because they were bad people?” No, the question was, “They died, just as you will die someday. When you die, will you eternally perish?”

The Lord uses events from the daily news to bring into the spotlight the eternal question of heaven and hell. Jesus was asking these people to consider their eternal destiny. “You are so concerned about what happens to others, but will you not consider that your dying day is also arriving sooner than you think? When you have your own ‘tower of Siloam,’ will you likewise perish? Will you repent or will you perish?”

SAME MESSAGE FOR YOU AND ME TODAY

Of course, the message Jesus gave to that crowd on that day almost two thousand years ago is exactly the same message that He gives to everyone living today. All the living will perish unless they repent. Twice our Lord Jesus Christ Himself tells all who will listen explicitly how they can certainly avoid going to hell when they die. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Twice Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, gives simple concrete steps for not perishing forever. Again, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” But if any man or woman will repent, they will not perish.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO REPENT?

To repent means to turn away from your sin and to consciously choose to obey God. To repent means to hate your sin and to love righteousness. Repentance is when you confess to God that you are a sinner and that you no longer want to live your life of disobedience and rebellion but want to live as a disciple of Jesus. Notice that Jesus Himself gives a promise to all those who repent, that you will not perish.

HOW WILL YOU ANSWER?

We began this article with a couple of questions. Jesus Himself has now told us the simple steps we can take to avoid perishing forever. Will you listen to Him and repent, or will you ignore Him and perish?

SDG                 rmb                 6/9/2021                     #414

Warnings of the watchman (Ezekiel 33:1-7)

BACKGROUND OF THE PASSAGE

The prophet Ezekiel had been appointed by the LORD to be a watchman for the house of Israel (Ezekiel 33:7). The word of the LORD had come to the prophet and had described for him the circumstances that demanded a watchman for the people and what the obligations were for this person.

The people needed a watchman because there was an imminent danger of destruction. There was a sword from the LORD coming upon the land and the watchman was appointed to blow the trumpet and warn the people so that they had an opportunity to escape. Sounds simple enough, right? But there was a catch. If for any reason the appointed watchman did not blow the trumpet and warn the people, the sword would certainly take a person away, “but his blood I (the LORD) will require from the watchman’s hand (33:6).”

Clearly, when the LORD appointed a watchman for the people, He expected the watchman to blow the trumpet at the appearance of the approaching sword. Things did not go well for the silent watchman.

PARALLELS BETWEEN THE WATCHMAN AND THE WITNESS

While at first glance this story of watchmen and trumpets and swords may seem far removed from our own experience, when seen through the lens of the gospel, the picture is strikingly relevant. Let’s make some word substitutions.

Sword = God’s Judgment                    Trumpet = Gospel

Blow the trumpet = Proclaim the gospel

Take warning = Believe the gospel     Delivers his life = Is saved

Ignores the warning + Does not respond to the gospel

Sword takes him away = Perishes forever in hell

THE KEY QUESTION: WHO IS THE WATCHMAN?

The critical question in this parallel is, “Who is the watchman?” Is the watchman every believer, or is the watchman one of a small subset of all believers? We need to explore this question to be sure that our blood is not being required because of our silence.

It is possible that “the watchman” is a special Christian who has been set apart by God for this special task of proclaiming the gospel. It is possible that the large majority of believers are not obligated to communicate the good news to the lost at all but are free to be silent about the terrifying peril facing the unsaved and to be silent about the salvation that is promised to all those who will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is possible that the large majority can be silent while a small minority bears all the obligation to proclaim. I suppose it is possible that is the case, but there are several things that make me nervous about that.

One thing that bothers me about the idea that a special, select group of believers shoulders the responsibility for proclaiming the gospel to the lost is that I cannot find that in the New Testament. Jesus’ statement, “You shall be My witnesses,” is for all those who have received the Holy Spirit, not just for an elite subgroup. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is given to every member of the church, not to just a handful of specially gifted people. If I accept that I am a member of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9),” then I must also perform the duty of proclaiming His excellencies. If there is a special group of people who serve as New Testament “watchmen,” I need to know who they are and how they are identified to be sure that I am not unknowingly among them.

But there are other things that cause me concern. Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of man (Matthew 4:19).” That sounds like if I do the one, I also do the other. If I follow, I also fish. It sounds like all followers, fish for men, not just a select few. Doesn’t it?

Paul wrote, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:20).” But aren’t all believers to be ambassadors to the lost?

In that same chapter, Paul also says, “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men (2 Cor. 5:11).” Surely all believers know the fear of the Lord’s judgment. So, all believers should be involved in persuading people that the sword of God’s judgment is poised above all those who have not fled for refuge to the Lord Jesus.

Bottom line is that the Bible teaches we are all the Lord’s watchmen and, therefore, we do not get a pass. In fact, we read that there is a consequence that flows from our silence. Notice that if Ezekiel had been silent, the blood of those who perished on his watch would have been required from Ezekiel’s hand. I am not sure what the phrase “blood required from your hand” means, but I do know that I do not want to find out.

Ezekiel was appointed a watchman to blow the trumpet and warn the people of the coming sword. In the same way, we, as followers of the Lord Jesus, have been called out of darkness to let our light shine (Matthew 5:16). The Lord has bought us at the price of His own blood, and He has given each of us a huge sack of seed. It is written, “The sower went out to sow (Matthew 13:3).” And what are we to sow? We are to scatter the seed of the gospel everywhere and everyday so that the world may know of Jesus and so “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).”

So, you and I are “the watchman.” We see that there is a judgment coming and that there is only one means of escape. “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).” So, we blow the trumpet of the gospel so that men and women may find refuge in Jesus.

SDG                 rmb                 6/7/2021         #413

The King in Zion and the kings on earth (Psalm 2)

It is evident from studying the psalms that the arrangement of these prayers and poems in the psalter is not random but is planned for a purpose. This is certainly true of the two psalms that open the psalter. Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 are placed at the head of the book of psalms to establish the themes that will be developed throughout the rest of the book. This will be a two-post series on the first two psalms.

Back on May 24, we had explored Psalm 1. From this psalm, we learned that there are two groups of people on earth, the righteous and the unrighteous. The LORD blesses the righteous, but the wicked will be destroyed in the judgment. The rest of the book of psalms, indeed the rest of the Bible, will resound with the truth that, “The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. The face of the LORD is against evildoers (the unrighteous), to cut off the memory of them from the earth (Psalm 34:15-16).” Psalm 1, then, commends the righteous and warns the wicked.

PSALM 2

            This second psalm introduces us to the rightful King in Zion, the Son, who deserves all glory and honor, and tells us about the rebellion of the nations.

1 Why are the nations in an uproar
And the peoples devising a vain thing?
The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us tear their fetters apart
And cast away their cords from us!”

The psalm opens with the nations in open rebellion and the peoples plotting their evil opposition. The kings and the rulers join them in their scheming against the LORD and against His Messiah (anointed). Jesus is the rightful King, the Son, and the Messiah, but we see that long before His Incarnation in Bethlehem, the unrighteous were already arrayed against Him and were prepared to reject Him. Man has been in rebellion against their Creator since the fall. In his defiance he “takes his stand against the LORD” and shakes his puny fist at the omnipotent one. He is a rebel against all constraints and desires to be rid of all God’s commandments. “Give us no moral fetters or cords of obedience!” This psalm makes clear that natural man intentionally rejects God’s rule and rejects God’s Ruler.

He who sits in the heavens laughs,
The Lord scoffs at them.
Then He will speak to them in His anger
And terrify them in His fury, saying,
“But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”

How does the LORD respond to man’s defiance? The LORD laughs at man’s pitiful rebellion because man’s defiance is of no consequence. But while the opposition of the nations cannot possibly threaten the LORD, their opposition does serve to anger the LORD. Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), and we have already seen that the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:6). No one defies the LORD or violates His holiness with impunity. There will surely be a just recompense on the unrighteous. Remember, “the wicked will not stand in the judgment (Psalm 1:5).” But to the rebellious nations the LORD has the final word: “I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain.” And who is this King who has been installed in Zion? “Who is this King of glory? The LORD (Jesus), strong and mighty. The LORD (Jesus), mighty in battle (Psalm 24:8).” This King is Jesus.

“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
‘You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.’”

Notice that this next stanza is spoken by the Son. The Son tells of the decree of the LORD. Again, we ask, “Who is the Son?” Can there be any question? There is only one Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly, it is Christ who is speaking in this stanza. We read that the Son is begotten of the LORD. In John 3:16, we read that “God gave His only begotten Son, (Jesus)” to the world for eternal life. We also read here of both of Jesus’ roles, as Savior of the righteous and as Judge of the unrighteous. In His decree, to the Son the LORD “gives the nations as Your inheritance and the very ends of the earth as Your possession.” “The nations” and “the ends of the earth” are people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation that will praise the Lamb for all eternity (Revelation 7:9) in heaven, those who have been gathered through the preaching of the gospel. But there will also be those whom the Son “shall break with a rod of iron and shatter like earthenware.” These are the unrighteous who will be cast into the lake of fire in the judgment (Revelation 20:11-15).

10 Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
Take warning, O judges of the earth.
11 Worship the LORD with reverence
And rejoice with trembling.
12 Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!

The psalm concludes with a sober warning. “Do homage to the Son” or “you will perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled.” The judgment will come suddenly like a flood, and then there will be no room for repentance. Your doom will be forever sealed. Now you have received warning, and today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to do homage to the Son, for tomorrow may be too late. But if you bow the knee to the Son and if you do homage to Jesus, you will receive His full blessing:

“How blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”

SDG                 rmb                 5/30/2021                   #409

The righteous and the unrighteous (Psalm 1)

In studying the psalms, it is evident that the arrangement of these prayers and poems is not random but is planned for a purpose. This is certainly true of the two psalms that open the psalter. Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 are placed at the head of the book of psalms to establish the themes that will be developed throughout the rest of the book. This will be a two-post series on these first two psalms.

PSALM 1

Ever since Adam’s first sin in the Garden, mankind has been divided into the righteous and the unrighteous. Therefore, from the beginning of history, there have been two, and only two, groups of humanity, the righteous and the unrighteous. All humanity is included in these two groups. You are either righteous or you are unrighteous, and there is no exception.

Psalm 1 explores the significance of this fact. We have before us the deeds of the righteous and the destiny of the unrighteous. If your life does not evidence the fruit of the righteous, then you will experience the fate of the unrighteous. Built into this psalm is the implicit call to evaluate your own life. Does your life reveal that you are among the righteous or the unrighteous? If among the unrighteous, will you heed the warning? The psalm certainly commends the righteous, but it also certainly warns the unrighteous that they are in great peril.

THE RIGHTEOUS

The psalm begins by pouring blessing and accolade on the righteous for the company he avoids (Psalm 1:1). He does not allow the deeds and the lifestyle of the unrighteous to influence him to ungodly behavior. Therefore, he will not walk with the wicked nor stand with sinners nor sit with scoffers. Notice that the righteous man is called blessed for that choice: “How blessed is the man.”

How, then, does the righteous spend his time? The righteous person delights in God’s word (Psalm 1:2), reading the Bible not with a sense of drudgery or duty, but with a sense of pleasure and privilege. “Here are the very words of the living God and so I will dwell and feast as on my necessary food.” The truth of the Word gives the righteous all things pertaining to life and godliness.

For the one who does not walk with the wicked but delights in the Law of the LORD, there is a fourfold promise of blessing. He will be firmly planted, his life will yield rich fruit, he will have a full life, and everything that he does prospers (Psalm 1:3).

THE WICKED (UNRIGHTEOUS)

“The wicked are not so.”

The contrast between the righteous and the unrighteous is abrupt and absolute. For the wicked, for those who remain unrighteous in the sight of God, there is no blessing, either now or in the future. Instead of a tree firmly planted, they are chaff blown away (Psalm 1:4), here today, gone tomorrow, and forever forgotten. Their legacy is like smoke in a gale and their memory is a morning mist.

Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. – Psalm 1:5

But while their impact on earth is forgotten, their lawless deeds are vividly remembered in heaven. There is a judgment coming when all unrighteousness will receive a just recompense. In God’s final judgment, the wicked will be declared guilty and forever condemned, and will be cast headlong into eternal torment. “The wicked will not stand in the judgment.” All unforgiven sinners will be excluded from the assembly of the righteous in heaven.

Again, the LORD makes a distinction between the righteous and the wicked.

“The LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” – Psalm 1:6

The LORD blesses the path of the righteous and the life of the righteous on earth, and the LORD will welcome the righteous into heaven forever. But “The way of the wicked will perish.” The word “perish” does not speak of oblivion or of annihilation but speaks of losing all sense of any good or mercy or peace forever while never being delivered from judgment. “Perish” is a word intended to evoke dread. “Perish” is a wrath word and a judgment word and a retribution word, a word of ultimate misery and hopelessness of relief. The LORD blesses the life of the righteous, but He curses the way of the unrighteous.

LESSON FOR THE RIGHTEOUS

Who are the righteous? Who are these who can proclaim before God their righteousness? The righteous are all those who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. These have been declared righteous through faith in Jesus Christ and their faith has been reckoned to them as righteousness. For the righteous, this psalm commends their ongoing obedience and promises them blessings from the LORD.

LESSON FOR THE UNRIGHTEOUS

And what if you realize you are among the unrighteous? That is, what can you do if your deeds have been wicked, and you have long walked contentedly along the path with the sinners? Is there any remedy for the one who longs to escape the judgment and to stand in the assembly of the righteous? O, hear the good news! Salvation is promised to anyone who will repent of their sins and who will bow down to Jesus Christ as Lord of their life. “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).” Anyone who trusts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior has passed from death to life (John 5:24) and is, at the moment of initial faith, counted as righteous.

If you would be righteous, you must believe in Jesus.

SDG                 rmb                 5/24/2021 #406