Call upon Him while He is near (Isaiah 55:6)

“We are still young, and we have lots of things that we want to do. There are girls and beer and experiences. When we are older, then maybe we will think about this religious stuff.” Thus Kostya, a Russian student, explained to me his thoughts about the gospel. In so many words, he said to me what many people believe: “The offer of the gospel can be received anytime, and when I am good and ready, I will accept God’s offer.”

Indeed, the Lord’s offer of salvation through the gospel seems to be always available to the sinner, at least that is what we are led to believe. It appears that the sinner, once informed of the gospel of salvation, is free to accept God’s offer whenever they choose to accept it, either today or tomorrow or on my deathbed.

This appearance, however, is a lie from the pit of hell. It is the devil’s lie that the creature is free to ignore the Creator’s offer of salvation until the creature decides to act. Satan propagates this idea because he knows that when a person postpones their gospel response, they effectively smother their gospel response.

But consider this from the standpoint of human experience. Is there ever a situation where a serious offer can be accepted at any time? No. No serious offer is made without an expiration date. In practice, an offer is made, and if there is no acceptance of that offer, the offer is withdrawn.

Now, if it is true in our experience that offers between people for mere earthly things are either accepted or they are withdrawn, how much more true is it that the Lord’s offer to sinful man for forgiveness and for eternal salvation must be accepted or it will be withdrawn. There is an urgency that accompanies the hearing of the gospel, and if the sinner does not respond, the Lord may withdraw the offer.

How, then, are we to respond? In Isaiah 55:6, the Scripture says,

Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.

            We are to seek the LORD, but it is clear from this verse that He is not always available. There is a time element to our seeking the LORD. We are to seek the LORD WHILE HE MAY BE FOUND. And since we do not know when the LORD may be found, we are to seek Him with all our heart (Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:13) THE INSTANT WE HAVE A DESIRE FOR HIM. When the gospel has kindled our desire for the LORD and has given us a hunger for cleansing and for righteousness, THEN we are to seek the Lord.

            And we must call upon Him, but again we see that He is not always near. How do I know when HE IS NEAR? If the gospel has been proclaimed and you have been convicted of your sin and have felt a longing for forgiveness, you can know that THE LORD IS NEAR. It is THEN that we are CALL UPON THE LORD. “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).”

            In Acts 17, the philosophers in Athens heard Paul declare to them the truths of the gospel and the glories of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul urged them to seek God (17:27) and to repent (17:30), but they sneered at him and said, “We shall hear you again concerning this (17:32).” But they never heard Paul speak again. Instead, “Paul went out of their midst (17:33)” and left Athens. They had heard the gospel, but they did not seek the Lord, nor did they call on His name, and the offer of salvation was withdrawn, and they perished.

            By contrast, in Matthew 13 we read two parables about seeking in 13:44 and 13:45-46. In the first parable, a man finds a treasure hidden in a field. He realizes that this is the opportunity of a lifetime and that he must act now and seize the moment. And so, “he sells all that he has and buys that field.” That is the attitude of the person who hears the gospel. “This is the moment of my life. I will seek the Lord and call upon Him until I receive His offer.”

            The second parable is similar to the first. In this parable, a pearl merchant finds a fabulous pearl of immense value. He realizes that this is the opportunity of a lifetime and that he must act now and seize the moment. And so, “he sold all that he has and bought it.” That is the attitude of the person who hears the gospel. “This is the moment of my life. I will seek the Lord and call upon Him until I receive His offer.”

            When God, in His infinite grace, chooses to bring the gospel near and to stir our heart with a desire to know Him and to be freed from our sin, then at that moment we must respond, for we do not know if God will ever do this again.

SDG                 rmb                 11/24/2020

The death of David’s son (2 Samuel 12:14)

“Because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.” – 2 Samuel 12:14

If we are watching a courtroom drama unfold where the guilt of the accused party has been clearly proven by evidence and cross-examination and there is no reasonable doubt that they committed the crime, and then the jury returns a verdict of “not guilty,” we are justly outraged. The guilty one has been unjustly acquitted. The law has been violated because the guilty have gone free. The law is in place to punish the guilty, and yet this guilty one has not been punished.

In these situations where men have ignored and run roughshod over man’s laws, it is right to be angry and outraged. How much more outraged should we be, then, when a person is proven guilty of violating God’s Law and is unjustly acquitted! Yet this seems to be exactly what we find in 2 Samuel 11-12 in the incident with David’s famous sins.

A quick review is in order for this familiar story. In 2 Samuel 11, “in the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David remained at Jerusalem (2 Samuel 11:1).” Whether by design or by chance, David is walking on his roof and sees Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, bathing. He sends messengers to bring her to his house, “he lay with her, then she returned to her house (11:4).” Bathsheba becomes pregnant by David, and now David has a problem. After calling Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband, back from the battlefield to Jerusalem, David tries to convince Uriah to go to his house to be with his wife. The noble and loyal Uriah refuses to go to his house to lie with his wife while Joab and Israel’s army are out in the open field fighting the Ammonites. With Plan A foiled, David then implements Plan B, which is to have Joab “set Uriah at the forefront of the fiercest fighting and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down and die (11:15).” Uriah is thus killed, so Plan B appears to have worked, “but the thing that David had done displeased the LORD (11:27).”

In the next scene, the prophet Nathan comes to David and tells him a story about a grave injustice done by a rich man against a poor man. Incensed by the injustice, David cries out, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die (2 Samuel 12:5).” Nathan famously declares to David, “You are the man!” The prophet then proceeds to tell David the details of his sins and the consequences that the LORD is going to bring on David because of his sins. David then says to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD (12:13).” Astonishingly, after this simple and brief confession, Nathan responds to David by saying, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die (12:13-14).”

What?? This is outrageous! David willfully commits adultery with Bathsheba whom he knows is married to Uriah the Hittite, one of his thirty mighty men (23:39), and then wickedly sees to it that this noble man, Uriah, dies in battle, effectively murdering him, and then utters a brief confession of “I have sinned,” and he gets off the hook? “I have sinned,” and adultery and murder are just sort of swept away? How can this be right? O yes, I am sure it was extremely painful to watch as your infant son die, knowing that his death was your fault, but that in no way satisfies the demands of the Law. Surely this is gross injustice! How can the LORD allow this?

SOLVING THE OUTRAGE

            This does seem to be an outrage but consider these things. The death of the child born to Bathsheba highlighted David’s guilt and reminded him of the wages of his sin, but the death of that child brought him no forgiveness. For if Nathan is telling David that he is forgiven because of the death of the child of Bathsheba, then the injustice of that forgiveness and the outrage remain. David violated the Law of God on two counts, and the Law of God demands death for the violator. By David’s own words, “The man who has done this deserves to die!” “The soul who sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4).” The justice of God demands a death penalty for these sins, and the death of Bathsheba’s son could never satisfy the Law’s demands. Bathsheba’s son died as a judgment for David’s sins, not as a propitiation for David’s sin, because this unnamed son of David was not an acceptable sacrifice for David’s sin. This child was not a worthy substitute.

            How, then, can the LORD take away David’s sin, and how can the LORD legally forgive one who has flagrantly and repeatedly and willfully rebelled against His holy Law? If the death of this child cannot atone, what can wash away David’s sin?

            Nathan can declare that the LORD has taken away David’s sin not based on the death of Bathsheba’s son, but based on the death of Mary’s Son. The death of David’s son born in Jerusalem could not atone for any of David’s sins, but the death of David’s Son born in Bethlehem atoned for all of David’s sins. The unnamed son of Bathsheba was not an acceptable sacrifice for David’s sin, but the Son of Mary, who was named Jesus because He would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), gave His life as an acceptable ransom (Mark 10:45) for David’s sin by His substitutionary death on the cross. Therefore, Nathan can declare that the LORD has taken away David’s sin because Jesus the Messiah, the glorious Son of David, that Child who is born to David shall die.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as a  propitiation in His blood through faith (Romans 3:23-25).”

APPLICATION

            Now the question that we asked earlier about David must be answered by every one of us. How can the LORD legally forgive one who has flagrantly and repeatedly and willfully rebelled against His holy Law? For the truth is that we have all rebelled against the Lord and we have all flagrantly and willfully violated His holy Law. How can God legally forgive us? But the good news of the gospel is that the Jesus who died for David’s sins is also the Savior who died for the sins of all those who put their faith in Him. If you repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15), then Jesus died for your sins, as well. Praise God that the Child who was born to David died!

SDG                 rmb                 11/14/2020

The question of the conscience (Romans 2:15)

The issue in the book of Romans is righteousness, that is, a right standing before God. Paul’s theological masterpiece describes how God legally grants righteousness to those who are manifestly unrighteous and sinful, and who, because of their unrighteousness, deserve His wrath and condemnation. The means of obtaining this righteousness is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” If a person hears and responds to the gospel, they will be saved (Romans 10:9-10), but if they do not, they remain condemned (John 3:18, 36).

AWARENESS OF SIN

One of the critical components of the gospel message is for a person to come to an awareness of their own sin. This is where the conscience fits in. God has created man as a moral creature, and that means that we are all accountable to God for every disobedience of His commandments. So that we can know when we have broken one of God’s commandments, God has given every human being a conscience. And what does the conscience do?

            Romans 2:15 puts it this way:

They (the Gentiles) show that the work of the Law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

            Paul is saying that the conscience makes the sinner aware of their sin by functioning like a copy of the Law written on their heart. The same God who issued His holy Law at Sinai is the God who has, by the conscience, written a copy of His Law on every human heart. So, when you or I violate one of God’s commandments, our conscience is provoked and accuses us of sin, and we experience guilt, as we should. And this is true for every human being, regardless of any external factors. God has given everyone a conscience so that we would all be aware of our sin and would, perhaps, seek for the Savior.

            But is the conscience enough to bring about salvation? No, it is not. The conscience renders all people guilty of violating God’s Law but offers no relief from the guilt. My conscience merely leaves me without excuse, justly deposited on death row without an apparent hope of pardon. My conscience reveals to me my unrighteousness but tells me nothing about where righteousness lies. The necessary bridge between a guilty conscience and the joy of righteousness is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only by faith in the crucified and risen Lord that my guilt is washed away.

APPLICATION

            Because all people have a conscience, all people should be aware of their sin and guilt. In our evangelism, then, we can be confident that some will be sensitive to their own unrighteousness and will be open to hearing about a forgiving Savior.

SDG                 rmb                 10/27/2020

Sowing the gospel seed (Mark 4:26-27)

“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.” Jesus, Mark 4:26-27

            Our pastor recently conducted an evangelism workshop at our church. During the workshop, the men at my table had been working on our evangelism exercise, trying to present the gospel (God-Man-Christ-Response) in less than two minutes, and were finding the exercise difficult. I heard myself going through the presentation with my voice, but in my head having my doubts. Although one of my friends described it as “technically correct,” no one at our table felt that it was either convincing or persuasive. We just felt that we were declaring huge truths to people in rapid fire and expecting the impossible, that they would believe these truths about God and man and sin and salvation, and then to have some kind of saving response. But this seemed very unlikely.

            How does this work, then? How is it that a brief proclamation about how Jesus Christ has died for sin so that sinners who trust Him for salvation can be delivered from the wrath of God and thus have eternal life; how can that message ever get traction?

            As I was pondering these things, I remembered three times in my own past when people had spoken to me about Jesus.

My first recollection is of me on a bench in downtown Asheville. I was probably eleven years old (~1970) and I was waiting for my mom to pick me up after a doctor’s appointment. A man probably in his mid-twenties approached me and sat down on the bench with me and proceeded to tell me about his journey. He was strung out on drugs and was running from the law and his life was a mess, and then he met Jesus Christ. He asked Jesus into his heart and Jesus had changed him. “Don’t you want Jesus in your heart?” What was I going to say? “Sure (if you will promise to leave).” So, we prayed “the prayer” and I was saved. Then Mom came and picked me up and I forgot all about that. Or so I thought. A seed had been planted.

Fast forward to about 1986. My girlfriend had taken me to the local Baptist church, where during the service an executive at Proctor & Gamble had talked about how he came to faith in Jesus. “So, if anyone is interested in talking to me more about how Jesus can change your life, please get in touch with me.” His story impacted me, so I contacted him. We met for breakfast at a restaurant in Roswell, GA. He did his best to tell me about Jesus and about how I could know Him as my Savior. The seed had been watered.

In 1988, I was on a date with another girl I had taken a fancy to. We were on a patio of a restaurant in north Atlanta and she brought up that she was a Christian. She told me that she believed in Jesus Christ and that Jesus had forgiven her of her sins. I think I may have asked a question or two about her faith, but that was about it. But the seed had been watered again.

Isn’t it interesting that, of all the experiences that I have had in the last fifty years, I remember these three times when random people talked to me about Jesus? The point is that the gospel makes an impact. It is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” So, God used these obedient people to plant and water the seed of the gospel in my life.

Then, when the Lord was ready to bring me to Himself, after an experience on a big cliff and visits to a church, in late 1990 I repented of my sin and believed in Jesus as my Savior. How did that happen? “It is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.”

So, what do we do? We sow the gospel seed far and wide, “in season and out of season.” We proclaim the gospel to unbelievers as often as the Lord will give us opportunity, trusting that the power is in the message of the cross and not in the cleverness of the speaker. “God is well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21).”

SDG                 rmb                 10/23/2020

Psalm 110: A brief lesson in Christology

The LORD says to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand . . .”

INTRODUCTION

Thus, David begins Psalm 110, a psalm that held many mysteries for those who lived before the Incarnation. “The LORD says to my Lord.” “Yahweh says to my Adonai.” Right from the start the psalm presented difficulties. God is talking to God. Yahweh is talking to Adonai, so there appear to be two persons here, but the Shammah from Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” So how can this be? There is no clear solution to this puzzle.

            Jesus Himself brings out another conundrum from the psalm, as He questions the Pharisees during Passion Week. At that time, Psalm 110 was accepted by Hebrew scholars as a messianic psalm. The images and the drama of the psalm made it obvious that it pictured the victorious exploits of the Messiah. But the Holy Spirit had inspired David to write a theological riddle. So, Jesus asks, “Whose son is the Christ (Matthew 22:42ff)?” “The Son of David,” the Pharisees reply. The trap has been set and the bait has been taken. Jesus then quotes Psalm 110 and asks the obvious question: “If (in Psalm 110) David calls him (the Messiah) ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” In other words, “How can the Christ (Messiah) be both David’s son and his Lord?” No answer is offered because no answer is available. The Pharisees have no solution to the riddle.

            But the mysteries are even deeper than that. While the psalm was acknowledged to be about the victories of the Messiah, the only reference for the pronouns “You” and “Your” in verses 1-4 and the only reference for the pronoun “He” is verses 5-7 is “the Lord,” which in Hebrew is Adonai, a divine name of God. Therefore, taking all this into account, from Psalm 110 we discover that the Messiah is the Lord Adonai, but He is also the human Son of David “according to the flesh (Romans 1:3),” a Man like us who “will drink from the brook by the wayside (Psalm 110:7)” to quench His thirst. Sort of like a God-Man.

            Does that sound familiar? It should because Psalm 110 points unerringly to the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, this psalm is one of the most complete pictures of Jesus Christ in both His first and second advents in the Bible. The psalm provides us with a lesson in Christology that is supported by many other Scriptures. The rest of this article will explore Psalm 110 verse-by-verse and show how it reveals Jesus to us.

FINDING JESUS IN PSALM 110

  • Verse 1 – The Lord is told to sit at the right hand of the LORD because He has accomplished something that merits the seat of honor. Christ is exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3) because He has accomplished the work of redemption that He was given to do (John 17:4). He is highly exalted as a result of His perfect humiliation by his death on the cross (Philippians 2:5-11). He has been allotted a portion with the great (Isaiah 53:12).
  • Verse 1 – We have already talked (above) about the divine and human natures of the one who is the Lord (Adonai) and yet the Son of David.
  • Verse 2 – A “strong scepter” is a symbol of this King’s power. “The LORD sends forth Your strong scepter from Zion.” This scepter is the gospel that is sent forth and allows Christ through His church to rule in the midst of His enemies, “as sheep in the midst of wolves (Matthew 10:16)”. With the scepter of the gospel Christ will conquer the nations and bring many into His kingdom.
  • Verse 3 – There is a certain day in the future, “the day of Your power,” when His power will be on full display. We know that this will be the day of the Lord, the day of Christ’s return. In that day, “Your people will volunteer freely” and they will be dressed “in holy array.” This is describing the glorified saints arrayed in white robes who will come with the Lord Jesus upon His return. (See 1 Thess. 4:14; 2 Thess. 1:10; Revelation 19:14)
  • Verse 4 – The LORD has taken an oath and has sworn, and when God Himself takes an oath, it indicates the unchangeableness of the promise (Hebrews 6:13-20). This is the solemnity of the oath that the LORD has made to the Lord Jesus. The oath cannot be broken or changed.
  • Verse 4 – What is the nature of the oath? That Christ is “a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” First, then, He is a Priest as well as a King. There were no such kings in the Davidic line, for the priests were descended from Aaron in the tribe of Levi and the kings were from David in the line of Judah. Thus Christ, the Son of God, is the only one allowed to be both King and Priest because He is of the priestly order of Melchizedek. As a priest, Jesus makes intercession for His people. As priest, He is also the one who brought the blood of the eternal sacrifice to the heavenly mercy seat (See Hebrews 9-10).
  • Verse 4 – Christ is a priest forever. The priesthood of Jesus had no beginning and will have no end. In eternity past, the LORD swore with an oath that Jesus was a priest forever. He always lives to make intercession for His people (Hebrews 7:25). His people always have an advocate, a priest to intercede for them with the Father.
  • Verse 4 – For a study of Melchizedek as a type of Christ, spend time in Hebrews 7.
  • Verse 5 – “The Lord is at Your right hand.” Thus, begins the day of the Lord’s wrath. Verses 5-6 speak about the day of Christ’s return in wrath and judgment. We recall from verse 1 that the LORD invited the Lord to sit at His right hand. On the day of wrath, the Lord will still be at the LORD’s right hand as they render judgment to the unrighteous. In Revelation 6:16, the kings of the earth say to the mountains, “Hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne (the LORD), and from the wrath of the Lamb (the Lord).”
  • Verse 5 – “He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath.” From that same passage in Revelation 6:15-17, the Lord shatters kings and the great men in the day of His wrath. Psalm 110:5 is describing the events of Revelation 6:15-17.
  • Verse 6 – The Priest-King of the order of Melchizedek “will judge among the nations.” Can there be any doubt that this is the terrible day of Christ’s final judgment? This is described in Matthew 25:31-46, when Jesus separates the sheep from the goats and casts those on His left “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (v. 41).” We see a glimpse of this in Luke 19:27 and in Revelation 14:9-11. Psalm 2:9 also mentions that the Son “will break them with a rod of iron and shatter them like earthenware.” Finally, in Revelation 19:11-16 we see the Lord Jesus coming in His final judgment.
  • Verse 6 – “He will fill them with corpses.” In the great day of judgment, there will be many slain by the Lord Jesus as He returns to deal out retribution. In Revelation 19:17-21, the Scriptures declare that the birds in midheaven will feast on “the flesh of kings and the flesh mighty men,” and all of these will be “killed with the sword that came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse.” The one on the horse is the Lord Jesus in His Second Coming. There will be many corpses on that day.
  • Verse 6 – “He will shatter the head over a broad country.” What would it mean for Jesus the Messiah to “shatter the head?” In Genesis 3:15, we read that the Messiah, the seed of the woman, will bruise Satan on his head. Now here we read that the great Priest-King, the Messiah “will shatter the head.” Psalm 110:6 is speaking of how Jesus crushed Satan’s head when He was crucified at The Place of a Skull. We also know that Jesus will finally “crush Satan’s head” when throws him into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10).
  • Verse 7 – The final verse may be the most mysterious of all. “He will drink from the brook by the wayside.” From this phrase it is unmistakable that this Warrior is human, for He thirsts and so He must stop by the wayside to drink from the brook. He wields the divine sword of judgment, yet He also needs water to slake His thirst.
  • Verse 7 – There may be more intended from the phrase, “He will drink from the brook.” For we know that, during His first advent, Jesus the Messiah was required to drink the cup of God’s wrath which He was given (John 18:11; Matthew 20:22). We know that, while He was on the cross, the Messiah thirsted (John 19:28). It is possible, then, to understand this phrase as speaking about His suffering in His earthly life. He drank from the brook of suffering that ran by the wayside of His life.
  • Verse 7 – If drinking from the brook does, in fact, point to Jesus’ suffering in this life, then the second half of the verse fits well into Scripture. In Isaiah 53:11, “As a result of the anguish of His soul . . .” Then in 53:12, “Therefore, I will assign Him a portion with the great.” In Philippians 2:8, Jesus was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” But 2:9, “Therefore also God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.” (See also Revelation 5, where the Lamb is given glory and honor because He has conquered.) Because the Messiah endured the cross, “Therefore He (the LORD) will lift up His (the Lord’s) head.” And this understanding would bring us back to the start of the psalm when Jesus ascends to the right hand of the LORD.

CONCLUSION

            Psalm 110 presents us with a powerful picture of Jesus the Messiah in His first advent as the suffering Servant, but also in His Second Coming as the Warrior-Judge. This psalm also highlights the prophetic nature of some of the psalms as clearly foreshadowing future events. Finally, the psalm reveals again the divine inspiration of the Scriptures as these words written by David a thousand years before Jesus’ Incarnation are fulfilled by our great Priest-King.

SDG                 rmb                 10/20/2020

The Eschatology of Isaiah – 26:21 The Coming of the LORD

The prophet Isaiah wrote powerful prophecies not only of the events of Jesus the Messiah’s first advent, but also about the events of that day, the final day when the glorified Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the resurrected Lamb of God, returns from heaven on a white horse (Revelation 19:11ff) to judge all the earth.

It is Isaiah’s eschatology that we have been exploring in this series of studies, from one brief passage of four verses, Isaiah 26:19-27:1. Here the prophet tells us of things to come at the end of time. As we have seen in the post of December 1 of last year, Isaiah 26:19 told us about the great final resurrection of the dead when the tomb will become a womb and the dust will give birth to those who will sing for joy. A little later, in late December of 2019, we examined Isaiah 26:20, where the prophet writes about the time of tribulation of God’s people. Now, about nine months later, I want to examine the next verse in the passage in which the prophet tells us about when “the LORD is coming out of His place.”

PART 3 – The LORD is coming out of His place – 26:21

“For behold, the LORD is coming out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it and will no more cover the slain.”

There are definitely passages in the prophecy of Isaiah that are difficult to understand, but this is not one of them. Just to state the obvious, there will be a time in the future when “the LORD (YHWH) is coming out of His place.” For anyone familiar with the passages in the New Testament that talk about the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, the meaning of this phrase is clear. Isaiah is prophesying the return of the risen Christ at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead (confirm from Matt. 24:30-31; 25:31; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thess. 4:14-18; 2 Thess. 1:7-8; 2 Tim. 4:1-2; Titus 2:13; 1 Peter ; 1 John 3: ; Revelation 19:11-21; etc.) Revelation 19:11ff, for example, is virtually identical to Isaiah’s prophecy and will be used as a comparison in the exegesis below.

            Phrase by phrase, the passage in Isaiah 26:21 says:

  • The LORD is coming out of His place. The Bible confirms that, in this instance at least, “the LORD (YHWH)” is Jesus, and that He will be coming “out of His place.” “His place” is heaven. This is exactly what Rev. 19:11 says as heaven opens, and a white horse appears and seated on the horse is the one called Faithful and True.
  • To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity. When Jesus returns to earth from heaven at the end of the age, He is coming to judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1). As Isaiah says in other words, He is coming to punish the unrighteous for their iniquity. Now is the favorable year of the LORD (Isaiah 61:2) when the gospel is proclaimed and men and women can repent and believe the gospel and be saved from the wrath to come. But when Jesus returns and is “revealed from heaven in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance (2 Thess. 1:7-8);” when “He judges and makes war,” “strikes down the nations,” and “treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (Rev. 19:11, 15),” there will be no more repentance, but only punishment and recompense.
  • The earth will disclose the blood shed on it and will no more cover the slain. Without going through this phrase word by word, the meaning of this phrase is that, when the Lord returns in judgment at the end of the age, there will be no sin that will not be exposed to the light of God’s holiness and there will be no iniquity that will not receive the full fury of God’s judgment. In this age it can seem that the unrighteous prosper and seem to get away with murder (see Psalm 73, for example). While God’s judgment is delayed, people can believe that sin is not a big deal and that, because punishment is delayed, punishment for sin will never occur. But there is no sin that God does not see and record (Revelation 20:12-13 – “and the books were opened”). Every sin matters to God, because every sin of His people required the death of His Son on the cross, and because every sin of the unrighteous requires eternal punishment. So, there is no sin that escapes His notice. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, for all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13).”
  • Because the Lord will return to bring wrath on the unrighteous, now is the day to repent and trust in Christ (2 Cor. 6:1-2). When Isaiah wrote his prophecy about the coming of the LORD in judgment, there were yet 700 years before the First Advent of the Lord Jesus. When Isaiah wrote his prophecy, there were no miracles of Jesus, there were no apostles, there was no perfect Man who fulfilled the Law, there was no cross, and there was no empty tomb, There was no gospel to proclaim that allows sinners to be saved. There was no New Testament which clearly tells of the coming judgment and of the return of the glorious Lord Jesus, and that warns men and women to repent before the time to repent is gone. But we have no such ignorance, and now the time is short. Soon, and very soon, the LORD is coming out of His place to judge. “Behold, NOW is the favorable time; behold NOW is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2).”

What we have seen so far in our reading of Isaiah 26:19-21 is that, even though Isaiah wrote at least 700 years before the New Testament was written, his prophecies about the events of the Second Coming of Jesus the Messiah are entirely consistent with the prophecies of the New Testament. This is yet another confirmation of the “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) nature of the entire Bible, and evidence that the same God who inspired Isaiah in his writings is also the God who inspired the New Testament authors. This should increase still more our confidence in the Scriptures and should persuade us that, when we handle the Bible, we are indeed handling the word of God.

The next post in this series will look at Isaiah 27:1 which will tell us more about the events surrounding the return of Jesus.

SDG                       rmb                        10/02/2020

How will they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14-15)

BRITTON BUSINESS SCHOOL CASE STUDY

The sales manager was at a loss as to what to do next. Sales had been flat to slightly declining for almost five years now, despite having a clearly superior product at a more competitive price. True, the product had not been changed or been upgraded for a while, but the existing features and benefits already so far exceeded all the competition that an upgrade should have been unnecessary. That, in combination with a sales price much less than the competing products, made it hard to explain why sales were not steadily increasing.

“Far superior product at a lower price; Why can’t we move the needle on sales?”

He considered the company’s decision to cut marketing. Could that be it? Yes, they spent less than 25% of what the competition spent on marketing, but that could not be the full explanation.

He thought about sales training as a possible answer. “Maybe our salespeople need more training.” But that didn’t make sense, because both his salespeople had been selling the product for at least twenty years. Both knew how to prospect, how to make and convert cold calls, how to show the superior features and benefits of the product. As far as skill at one-on-one sales, the sales manager would put both his salespeople up against anyone in the business.

Then he wondered whether it was the competition. While it was a fact that the competition was well-established in the market, it was also a fact that almost all of their existing customers had at one point in time been using the competitive product and had switched when they heard about our product and what it had to offer. “No, it’s not the competition. It must be something else that I can’t put my finger on. There has to be some reason why we can’t get more market share, especially with more than 50 million potential customers in our territory.” The sales manager decided to call his two salespeople into his office and see if they could brainstorm and come up with an answer.

CASE STUDY ANALYSIS

            As business consultants, how would you explain the lack of anticipated sales at this company? What would be your recommendation for the sales manager as to how to increase sales?

            Okay, time’s up. What is your answer? I hope that you said something like, “Get more salespeople out there! If you have a market of 50 million people and TWO SALESPEOPLE, you are desperately understaffed and need to figure out how to let more people know that there is a far superior product available at a lower price. People will not buy the best product in the world, even if it is free, if they don’t know that the product exists.

THE GOSPEL ANALOGY

            In Romans 10:14-15, the apostle Paul lays out four essential steps for any person anywhere to be saved. After declaring that, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13),” Paul then tells how that blessing of salvation takes place, starting with the end and working backwards. So, he asks how they will call on the Lord if they have not believed in the Lord. (Implied answer: They won’t!) Backing up one more step, he asks how they will believe in Jesus if they have never heard the gospel about Jesus. (Implied answer: They won’t!) Finally, he asks the critical question, “And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Implied answer: They won’t!) All these steps are necessary for salvation. No step can be omitted. Therefore, it is necessary for salvation for there to be “a preacher” (see below for a description of what it means to be “a preacher”) to proclaim the gospel message so that an unsaved person will hear the gospel. And it is necessary for salvation for the person who hears the gospel message to believe that message. And it is necessary for salvation for the person who believes the gospel message to call on the name of the Lord in repentance and faith as a response to their believing the gospel message that was preached and heard. Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth (a verbal call on the name of the Lord) Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” That means that if there is true belief in your heart, it will issue forth in verbal confession from your mouth and then in life and behavior change as sanctification occurs.

WHO IS A PREACHER?

            So, from Scripture we see that a preacher is necessary for salvation because the gospel message must be heralded to the unsaved. But now the question comes up, “Well, who is a preacher?” Various pictures may be conjured up in your mind in answer to this question. The caricature seems to be of some man sweating profusely as he shouts at his hapless congregation. The popularity of this image would suggest that the picture was designed in hell and has resulted in the perishing of many souls as they laughed off “the preacher.” But the biblical word that is used in Romans 10:14-15 is that of a herald, of a person who had been entrusted with a critically important message and was sent out to proclaim exactly that message, even if the herald was killed in carrying out the task. This is the biblical picture. In the Bible, Paul was a preacher (2 Timothy 1:11). John the Baptist was a preacher. Solomon was a Preacher (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Noah was a preacher (2 Peter 2:5). Most significant of all, the Lord Jesus Himself was a Preacher. There is no reason to shrink back from being a preacher based on reputation.

            But who is a preacher? Think about the preacher’s task. The preacher is a herald sent out to proclaim a message. Now consider Matthew 28:19-20, when Jesus told us to “Go, therefore” in the Great Commission. Jesus was sending every member of His church out to proclaim the gospel to the nations. In Matthew 4:19, Jesus says to His first disciples, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Those are herald words. In 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Again, herald words. Jesus told the parable in Matthew 13, “The sower went out to sow.” We find out that “the sower” sows the Word of God, and it doesn’t take a leap of imagination to see that every believer could be described as a sower. Again, more herald words.

            Who is a preacher? Who is a herald? Who has been sent out by the Lord Jesus Christ to herald His message to perishing men and women so that they might be saved? That is the privileged calling of the preacher. Who wouldn’t want to be called to that task? And what Paul is saying in Romans 10:14 is that you and I have been called as preachers (“heralds”) of the good news so that people will hear and believe and call on the name of the Lord.

            So, whether your audience is few or many, you are the one who has been called by your Lord and Savior to let others know about Jesus and about how they can be delivered from the wrath to come.

            In Matthew 9:38, after seeing the misery of the people who were like sheep without a shepherd, He said, “Therefore, beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” Just as the company in the case study needed more salespeople, so the Lord Jesus is seeking more heralds who will be active in His harvest.

SDG                 rmb                 9.8.2020

Why are you doing that? (Romans 10:2-3)

SCENE 1

The squirrels had been in my attic for a while now. I could hear them overhead, running the length of the attic as they played in my insulation. It was driving me crazy. I hated those squirrels. “How are they getting into my attic?” Then one day I was standing in the front yard and saw a squirrel cross the street and head directly toward my house. It climbed up the trunk of a small tree near the house, jumped onto a branch of the tree, which bent under the weight and then sprung back up, catapulting the squirrel onto the roof of my house. “Oh ho! That’s how they are getting onto my roof and into my attic!” So, the next Saturday I was out with my tree saw and started to cut down the tree that the squirrels were using as a catapult. My neighbor wandered over to me and asked,

“Why are you doing that?”

“What do you mean, ‘Why am I doing that?’ I am cutting down this tree because I don’t want squirrels in my attic!” He shook his head and smiled and said, “Cutting down that tree won’t stop squirrels. You know, squirrels can just climb up the brick on the outside of your house and get onto your roof.”

            I began to feel just a tiny bit stupid, realizing that he might be right, but I continued cutting down the tree anyway. “There,” I said, as the small tree sunk to the ground. “That will stop them!” My victory was short-lived, however. About two hours later, I felt chagrined and outmatched as I watched that same squirrel scamper up the corner of my house, using the brick as you or I would use a sidewalk, pop over onto the roof and then disappear into my attic.

            What had just happened? Because of my ignorance of the real nature of the problem, I had employed a strategy that could never get me the results I wanted. I wanted to get rid of the squirrels in my attic, so I cut down the tree. No good. Waste of time. Bad idea.

            Now, other than a little bit of humiliation in the eyes of my neighbor, my blunder had no real consequences. No big deal. Lost a tree and kept the squirrels. Oh, well.

SCENE 2       

For the next scene, we turn to the Bible as Paul is applying the truths of the gospel to his Jewish countrymen in Romans 10. Paul presents a troubling scenario. Paul writes, “For I testify about them (his Jewish brethren), that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge (10:2). For not knowing about God’s righteousness (that is, not knowing about salvation by grace through faith in Jesus the Messiah), and seeking to establish their own (by religious works), they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God (10:3).”

            So, what I want to do is frame this scenario in terms of the incident with the squirrels in my attic, because these scenes are similar. Let’s say that an observer was talking to one of Paul’s friends, who was a Pharisee.

“I see that you are really zealous about doing religious things. You fast twice a week. You tithe from all that you get. You pray long prayers on the street corners. You always wash your hands before you eat, and you never do any work on the Sabbath. Everyone knows that you give to the poor. I’ve heard you even cast out demons and occasionally do a miracle! But . . . “

“Why are you doing that?”

            The Pharisee replied, “Because I want to be righteous, of course!” The observer sadly shook his head and said, “Doing all these religious works does not make you righteous. In fact, no amount of religious works can EVER make you righteous. Do all your works, but your sin will remain.”

            The Pharisee said, “That’s nonsense! Anyone can see that I am more righteous than you! I know that my religious works please God.”

            Once more, the other man tried to get through. “Actually, in Isaiah 64:6 the prophet says, ‘All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.’ The only way to be righteous is to believe in Jesus the Messiah.”

            For a brief moment it seemed that the Pharisee was considering what had just been said. Did Isaiah really say that thing about the filthy garment? And if he did say that what might that mean for me? Could my Rabbi be wrong? Could I be wrong? Could this guy be right? Then the mental window slammed shut. “I don’t need to be taught by you!” he said. “I will continue to work my works!”

            What had just happened? Because of the Pharisee’s ignorance of the real nature of righteousness, he was employing a strategy that could never get him the results he wanted. He wanted righteousness, but he is trying to obtain his righteousness by his own works. No good. Waste of time. Bad idea.

            But it is right at this point that things radically change. For while my blunder with the squirrels cost me a small tree and a little bit of embarrassment, the Pharisee’s error will cost him an eternity in hell. You see, “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness for all who believe (Romans 10:4).” The only possible way to obtain righteousness before the Holy One, the God of heaven, is to believe in Jesus the Messiah. This is not a preference issue. This is not a question of semantics. This is not an issue where you go at your way and I go at it my way and then we will probably both get there eventually. If the Pharisee does not change his mind and repent and bow the knee to Jesus the Messiah, he will never obtain any righteousness. In fact, he will miss righteousness by an eternity.

SCENE 3

            The final scene is a lunch discussion between me and Jack. Jack is a business associate of mine. We have developed a bit of a friendship and know a little bit about each other. I know that Jack is a Catholic, and we have had a couple of discussions about each other’s religious views. On this occasion, I have steered the conversation in the religious direction again.

            “So, as a Catholic, what sorts of things do you do? In other words, what religious things do Catholics do?”

            “We have talked about this before, Roy, but anyway. We do confession and we do the Mass every Sunday with the Eucharist. We do some ‘our Fathers’ and some ‘hail Marys.’ Some people do the rosary. We pray to various saints. Like that.”

“Why are you doing that?”

“What do you mean, ‘Why am I doing that?’ I am doing these things because I don’t want to go to hell!”

At that moment, I felt like the neighbor who was telling me the truth about squirrels or like the “other guy” who was telling the Pharisee the truth about righteousness. Jack said that he wanted to avoid hell, but he was pursuing a strategy that guaranteed that he would arrive there. He had adopted the Catholic plan which promises that good Catholics will avoid God’s wrath by doing religious things. For Catholics, trying to do your best and obeying the Catholic Church will at least get you into Purgatory. These are the inventions of the Catholic Church that keep people from hearing the truth.

So, I tried to explain to Jack that this was not a preference issue. I tried to tell him that there was no such thing as Purgatory (“Jack, I think you have a hole in your parachute.”) I told him that Jesus died to atone for sin, so there is no longer an ongoing sacrifice needed through the Mass. The priest has no authority to forgive sins or to give you any sort of penance that you can do to remove your sin. But my words fell on hard ground and we basically left the restaurant a tiny bit incensed with one another and probably a little more polarized.

The lesson from this is that we must be clear about what is wisdom and what is absolute truth. With regard to salvation, we must insist that there is no room for compromise or personal preference. When the fireman crashes your door down with an axe, it is not so he can debate with you whether your house is on fire. For everyone of us, our house is on fire, and there is only one way to safety. His name is Jesus.

For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness for all who believe.

Romans 10:4

SDG                 rmb                  9/4/2020

What if I am unaware of the disease? (Leviticus 5:17)

                I want to start out this article with a medical question:

MEDICAL QUESTION

            Is it possible for a person who does not know that they have terminal cancer to still die of that cancer?

            Many people in our society today have enough medical knowledge to answer this question. From our common medical knowledge, we know that, unless cured, terminal cancer ends in death. So, the answer to the medical question above is, yes, a person who does not know that they have terminal cancer can still die of that cancer. In fact, if the cancer is not both detected and cured, the person certainly will die of the terminal cancer, whether they know they have it or not.

            That answer was pretty easy. Let’s move into a different field and see if we can answer a similar question. So, let me ask a theological question:

THEOLOGICAL QUESTION

          Is it possible for someone who has sinned against the Law of God without knowing it to still be guilty and condemned by that sin?

            This theological question will probably be more difficult to answer than the medical question because relatively few people in our society have a great deal of theological knowledge. God has given us everything pertaining to life and godliness in His book, the Bible, and yet few people take the Bible seriously. In the Bible is all the theological knowledge necessary for a person to spend eternity in heaven in loving fellowship with the living God, the Creator of the universe, and all the theological knowledge needed to avoid condemnation and an eternity in hell. Yet, again, few people can be bothered.

            In my current Bible study, I am reading through the book of Leviticus, a book that gives careful instruction about the various sacrifices that the ancient Hebrews were to give to the LORD to atone for their sins. Leviticus is a fascinating book, and in Leviticus 5:17 it says this:

“Now if a person sins and does any of the things that the LORD has commanded not to be done, though he was unaware, still he is guilty and shall bear his punishment.”

            Here in this one verse, in Leviticus 5:17, we find the answer to the theological question that was posed above. From this verse, it is clear that any person who sins and breaks any of the LORD’s commandments is guilty and is under condemnation, whether they know about their sin or not.

            Now, because our sin is against the living God, there is no more dangerous place to be than to be guilty of sin and under condemnation. Just as it is the nature of terminal cancer, unless detected and cured, to end in physical death, so it is the nature of sin, unless detected and removed, to end in eternal death. And because the situation of our sin against the living God is so perilous, the Bible is full of warnings about our sinful condition. Here in Leviticus 5:17 we read one such warning, which tells us that we are guilty of all our sins and liable to punishment, whether we know it or not. Just as the MRI and the CAT scan detect and warn us about our terminal cancer so that we can remove it and live longer physically, so the Bible detects and warns us about our sin so that we can remove it and live eternally in heaven.

            We know, from our medical knowledge, that there are some cures for cancer, but what is the cure for our sin against the living God? If the Bible is full of warnings about our sin, which will lead to eternal death, surely there must also be some instruction somewhere in the Bible about how we can remove our sin. If the Bible graciously tells me about my sin and warns me about my condemnation, doesn’t it also graciously tell me how I can escape from my condemnation? Having revealed to me my disease of sin, doesn’t it also tell me of the cure?

            The Bible does indeed provide the cure for the disease of sin. Having revealed to us the ugliness of our sin and condemnation, the Bible also reveals to us the beauty of our salvation. Or rather the beauty of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. As condemned sinners, we need a Savior who will rescue us, and so God sent Jesus Christ from heaven to earth on a rescue mission. After living a sinless life filled with miracles, teaching and healing, the Lord Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross as an atoning sacrifice for sinners. He died on that cross and was buried. On the third day Jesus rose from the dead, proving that He had conquered sin and death, and ascended into heaven. Now the good news of the gospel is that any person who has sinned and has done many things that the LORD has commanded not to be done, will be forgiven of his sins through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”

the apostle Paul to the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:31

SDG                 rmb                 8/9/2020

A Transformational Event

Without a transformational event in our lives; without an occurrence that fundamentally changes us and redefines us, all of us remain chained to our past and remain defined by the mistakes and failures of our past. But if in our lives there has been a transformational event of such power that it changes who we are and how we define ourselves, we will be freed from our past and will have a new point of reference.

In nature, this is pictured in the caterpillar and the butterfly. The caterpillar’s life is chained to it origin and is therefore defined by crawling on the ground, a worm gnawing on leaves. The caterpillar has a physical birth, but it lacks a transformational event. But now contrast this with the butterfly. The butterfly has gone through a metamorphosis, a transformational event, and now the days as a caterpillar are gone and forgotten. Now the same creature is defined by the results of the transformational event. Life is defined not by physical birth, but by the new transformed creature. Now there is the dazzling beauty of glorious wings, the drinking of nectar for food and the journeys of effortless flight going from flower to flower.

The analogy should be clear, for just as a caterpillar needs to be transformed to experience the life of freedom and beauty displayed in the butterfly, so every human needs to experience a great transformational event to rise above their ugly and sinful natural state. But where is such an event to be found? How am I ever to be transformed and rise from my natural misery and wretchedness?

The Bible gives the answer to this question in multiple places expressed in various ways:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Jesus Christ in John 3:3

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My words and believes Him who sent Me . . . has passed from death to life.” Jesus Christ in John 5:24

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.  2 Cor. 5:17

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ, and raised us up with Him.   Ephesians 2:4-5

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you.” Ezekiel 36:26

In these verses and more, the gospel message is clear: Encountering Jesus Christ and being transformed by Him is the only event that has transformational power. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be transformed. Other events may change your circumstances, but those changes will leave you a caterpillar. Trust Christ and you will be born again and your new transformed life as a butterfly will begin.

SDG      rmb       7/19/2017