Crippled in both feet (2 Samuel 9:3)

When I was younger, it was a lot easier for me to believe that people were a pretty noble lot and that, if a person applied themselves and made the effort, then life would turn out pretty well. But as I have gotten older and have seen so many of my own best efforts amount to nothing as plans disappear like mist, and as I have watched those with promising beginnings become mired in mediocrity, I have wondered if maybe I overestimated our nobility. Maybe the truth is that we are broken and crippled in both feet and need someone to lift us up out of our futile existence.

MEPHIBOSHETH, THE CRIPPLE

In 2 Samuel 9 we are introduced to Mephibosheth. It is an odd name that he was given. His name in Hebrew means “dispeller of shame,” which is ironic because Mephibosheth’s life is marked by brokenness and shame. When we meet him in this story, “he is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel in Lo-debar (9:4).” The most noticeable feature of Mephibosheth is that he is crippled in both feet (9:3).

“How did he become crippled?” you ask. Mephibosheth was the grandson of the king of Israel, King Saul. One day when he was five years old, the report came that his father Jonathan and his grandfather Saul had been killed in battle. His nurse took him up and fled, and in her haste, Mephibosheth fell. He fell and became crippled. In one day, Mephibosheth became crippled and orphaned. When he was five years old, all reasonable prospects for a happy future were irreversibly shattered. His father was killed, his legs were crippled, and the nurse he trusted failed him. And so, eventually, he drags himself out to Lo-debar, into the house of Machir the son of Ammiel. There in this dusty, backwater town, he ekes out his existence; forgotten, crippled, and orphaned. Helpless. Hopeless. End of story.

But it is not the end of the story, because there is an anointed king, King David, who is seeking for Mephibosheth. From his house in Jerusalem, King David “sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, from Lo-debar (9:5).” David calls Mephibosheth by name (Isaiah 43:1) and, for no reason other than to show him kindness, the king makes promises to Mephibosheth, extravagant and astonishing promises of kindness and of lands and of a place at the king’s table where Mephibosheth can eat regularly as one of the king’s sons. In one day, Mephibosheth exchanged the miseries of Lo-debar for the glories of Jerusalem, and the house of Machir for the house of the king.

How does Mephibosheth respond? First, he “fell on his face and prostrated himself” before King David. What else would a person do when entering the presence of the king? Then Mephibosheth confesses his own unworthiness to receive such mercy and kindness. “Why do ‘you regard a dead dog like me?’” This is not self-loathing or self-pity, but an acknowledgement by Mephibosheth that he deserves none of David’s kindness. All he can bring to the king is his homage and unworthiness.

Through David’s kindness, Mephibosheth, who once was living in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel in Lo-debar, crippled in both feet, now lived in Jerusalem and he ate at the king’s table regularly as one of the king’s sons. Oh, and he was lame in both feet.

THE GOSPEL IN THE STORY OF MEPHIBOSHETH

As fascinating as this story of Mephibosheth is, it is the “normal” story of everyone who has trusted in Jesus the Messiah. The sober truth is that we are all broken from birth. All of us are victims of the fall, ruined because of the sin of Adam. We are figuratively hiding out in Lo-debar, waiting for someone who can be a “dispeller of our shame.” All our reasonable prospects for a happy future have been shattered or have evaporated. Like Mephibosheth, we are forgotten, crippled, and orphaned. Helpless. Hopeless. It feels like the end of story.

Then one day, we hear about an anointed king, King Jesus, the Son of David, who is seeking for us (Luke 19:10) and who is calling us by name. As we listen to His voice, this King makes promises to us, extravagant and astonishing promises of forgiveness of sins, and of joy in this life and eternity in heaven, and of a place at the King’s table where we can eat regularly as one of the King’s sons or daughters. According to this gospel of good news, in one day, in one moment we can exchange the miseries of our brokenness for the pleasures of His holiness. Jesus the Messiah is the great dispeller of our shame.

How do we respond? We fall on our face and prostrate ourselves before the glorious Messiah Jesus and we confess our sins and our unworthiness, and then we give Him our lives as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) so that He can make use of even our lameness and our brokenness.

Yes, we are Mephibosheth.

SDG                 rmb                 2/20/2021

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

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

The conscience and sin

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

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

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

The function of the conscience

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

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

The limitations of the conscience

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

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

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

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

The answer to revealed sin

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

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

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

SDG                 rmb                 1/11/2021

Jesus calls only sinners (Luke 5:31-32)

            In Luke chapter 5, we are at the place in the gospel account where Levi has just been called to salvation by Jesus. “Follow Me,” said Jesus, and Levi was forever changed. So, Levi throws “a great feast” and invites all his friends so they can meet this amazing Man, Jesus. Somehow some Pharisees and scribes find their way into the feast and complain to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answers them,

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:31-32

            Here in these two short verses, Jesus gives us some vital information. He tells us why He has come and for whom He has come. As we look at this passage, we want to make sure that we are among those for whom Jesus has come.

THE SETTING

            As usual in the gospels, the antagonists are the Pharisees and the scribes. Who were they? These were the strictest religious people in Israel. They were devout adherents to all the ceremonial laws and rules. They also viewed themselves as superior and looked down on “sinners” with contempt.

            At the other end of the religious spectrum were “the tax collectors and the sinners.” Tax collectors were Jewish people who were employed by the Romans to collect Roman taxes from their fellow Jews. If this wasn’t bad enough, they often overcharged and kept the extra. Tax collectors were despised by the Jews. “Sinners” were those with questionable or disreputable lifestyles. These included prostitutes or beggars or perhaps thieves. They were at the bottom of society.

            So, the Pharisees ask their question with a bit of disgust, “Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?” To them it is unthinkable for religious men to associate with such rabble. The logic of Jesus’ answer (see above, Luke 5:31-32) is cutting and profound:

“Those who think they are healthy have no need of a physician, but if you think you have a disease, you will seek out a physician. Just as it is only those who think they are sick who seek out a doctor, so it is only those who know themselves to be sinners who call out to Jesus for salvation.”

            We need to consider this very carefully. Why has Jesus come? He tells us that He has come to call sinners to repentance. For whom has He come? He tells us that He has come for sinners. For whom has He not come? Jesus has not come for those who do not see themselves as sinners.

            Here at last is the One who had been promised and foretold from of old. Here is the one Man who can deal with sin and not merely play religious games. All religions play games with sin, pretending that feeble human effort and invented works can quench God’s holy wrath, but Jesus deals with sin and vanquishes sin. Every child of Adam produces sin, but here is the one Man in all of human history who bears sin and who forgives sin and who takes away sin. Jesus is the only one who has this authority, and here He declares that He has come to call sinners to repentance.

            Jesus is the only Savior of sinners, but He is also the Savior only of sinners. The Pharisees and the scribes had no need of Jesus because they were religiously self-righteous and certainly did not see themselves as sinners. And since they did not see themselves as sinners, Jesus had not come for them.

            So far, so good. We see that the Pharisees were in trouble because they were religiously self-righteous. Got it. As long as I am not self-righteous, then I am good, right? Well, not exactly. It is true that Jesus has not come to call those who think they are righteous. That much is certain. But there is more than one group of people Jesus has not come to call. What do I mean? I mean that, according to this passage, Jesus has come to call SINNERS to repentance. Since that is the case, it must also be true that Jesus has not come to call anyone who does not see themselves as a sinner.

            For example, let’s say that you identify yourself as “basically a good person.” You have never been to prison, and you have never killed anyone, and you try to do what you think is right most of the time. Now, you are quick to admit that you are not perfect. “After all, nobody’s perfect.” (Jesus is.) But you are basically a good person. The fact is that you have no need of Jesus, because you are not a sinner, but are basically good. More importantly, Jesus has not come for you, because He came to call sinners, not basically good people.

            Maybe you see yourself as a respectable, church-going person. You are good to your neighbor and you obey “the golden rule” and are in the church almost every time the doors are open. All things considered you are better than most. You are not perfect, and you do make mistakes, but you are not as bad as a “sinner!” Well, you have no need of Jesus, because you are not a sinner, and Jesus has not come for you, because He came to call sinners to repentance, not respectable people to being nice.

            You see the point. Jesus has come to call sinners to repentance, and He has come to call only sinners. If you do not acknowledge that you are a sinner, then you have no need of Jesus. More importantly, Jesus has not come to call you.

            Do you see yourself as a sinner? That is, do you acknowledge that you have broken God’s commandments and have sinned against Him and justly deserve His condemnation? Then Jesus has come to call you to repentance. Repent, and cry out to Him for His salvation. “For whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).”

SDG                 rmb                 11/3/2020

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

Celebrate Repentance (Colossians 3:5)

The other day I did a Google Search to find all the Celebrate Repentance groups there are in Charlotte, NC. Surprisingly, even in a city of Charlotte’s size, I did not find a single one. That meant that if such a group were going to exist, someone like me would need to start it.

Of course, this is a fictional organization. Celebrate Repentance as an organization does not exist, but I think that it should. And so, I began conceiving of what this group would look like. Although there are many passages in Scripture that speak about repentance, there are two that would be foundational to my group:

Luke 13:3, 5 and Colossians 3:5

LUKE 13:3, 5 – THE CALL IS TO REPENT OR PERISH

Jesus spoke with some people who supposed that a sudden, tragic end to life occurred only to those people who were rebellious and really wicked. In other words, “Of course the bad guys get punished. They deserved it, but the rest of us are okay.” Jesus used that occasion to speak about the universal sinfulness of man and the universal need for repentance. “I tell you unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:3).” To make sure that these people did not ignore His warning and imagine, instead, that He was speaking only in hyperbole, Jesus gave another story and restated His warning: “I tell you, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (13:5).” Jesus made a big deal out of repentance, so Celebrate Repentance would make a big deal out of repentance.

COLOSSIANS 3:5 – THE CALL TO PUT OUR SINS TO DEATH

In Colossians, Paul is writing to Gentile Christians who have recently been delivered from the pagan world of idolatry and immorality (“the domain of darkness” – Colossians 1:13) and been “transferred into the kingdom of His beloved Son (1:13).” To make sure that these disciples show the fruit of repentance and begin to display holiness, Paul gives them direct instruction: “Therefore, put to death the members which are upon the earth: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (Colossians 3:5).” Paul made a big deal about disciples of Jesus putting sin to death, so Celebrate Repentance would make a big deal out of putting sin to death.

From these two foundational passages there emerge two basic questions that would define the content for the local Celebrate Repentance chapter:

  1. What does it mean for the disciple of Jesus to REPENT?
  2. How doe the disciple of Jesus PUT SIN TO DEATH?

I anticipate that there would be two groups of people attending these meetings of Celebrate Repentance. One group wants to vanquish their indwelling sin and to cut it out of their life like a malignant cancer, and the other group wants to learn some new tools to better cope with their indwelling sin and to find some fellow travelers who could join them in their coping journey. These two groups are separated by a wide chasm, although they seem the same in outward appearance. What is it, then, that distinguishes a person from being a member of one group or the other?

A member of “the vanquish group” has mentally brought a scalpel to the meeting, and they are willing to use it. They have identified their sin and they have sharpened their dagger, but up till now, they have not learned how to use the dagger effectively enough to kill their foe. It seems that every time they think the quarry is in their sights, it somehow dodges the bullet. In fact, the reason they have come to the Celebrate Repentance meeting is to learn how to wield the dagger with skill so that the sin is put to death. A member of this “vanquish group” hates their sin and has come ready for war.

By contrast, a member of “the coping group” has brought no scalpel and no dagger to the meeting. They may have identified their indwelling sin, but they have no current plan or desire to kill that sin. While they do not like the effects the sin is having on their life and they are a little ashamed that they haven’t gotten rid of it yet, they have not resolved to kill the sin and to do violence to it. They do not hate the sin; truth be known, there are times when they still enjoy the sin, even though they know they should not.

The vanquish group” will find fellow warriors in the Celebrate Repentance group who are willing to give them ammunition and tactics for putting sin to death. The “coping group” will probably decide that they need to find another group that “knows more about grace” and allows them to continue in their sin as they continue to “struggle” with their sin.

Celebrate Repentance would indeed be a celebration of the freedom that we have in Christ to live as conquerors (Romans 8:37). Repentance is the weapon that appropriates for us the freedom that Christ bought for us on the cross. “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed (John 8:36).” We were slaves of sin, but now we are slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:18), and Celebrate Repentance would give you the comrades and the tactics to trample sin underfoot and to rejoice in the holiness we were meant to have (1 Peter 1:16).

What do you think of this idea of Celebrate Repentance?

SDG                 rmb                 8/28/2020

Trifling against sin or Striving against sin? (Hebrews 12:4)

“You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.” Hebrews 12:4

There is “trifling against sin” and there is “striving against sin.” It may be apparent, but these two expressions are vastly different from one another. “Trifling against sin” suggests a friendly tussle between equals. Either contestant may win, but it makes no real difference who eventually comes out on top. Win or lose, it’s just not worth a lot of excitement and energy. The world trifles against sin (of course, not using this expression) when some famous someone is exposed as having a particularly distasteful habit. “He is struggling (trifling) against his (fill in the blank).” For example, imagine that a famous athlete is “trifling against his ‘sexual addiction’.” He knows that it is not “good” for a famous athlete to have this unsavory habit of being found in bedrooms of women other than his wife, so he checks himself into a clinic where he can wrestle with this problem and develop some coping strategies so that the filthy habit is not so prevalent or obvious. This is his attempt to placate his fans and work on his “addiction,” but he is merely “trifling.” He does not want to get rid of the behavior; he just wants to manage and disguise the behavior. After all, if he never stops the distasteful habit, what real difference will it make? It doesn’t really matter who wins this contest.

Sadly, many professing Christians have also adopted this same worldly way of thinking. Many believers today have an attitude of “trifling against sin.” For example, when the Holy Spirit or a brave and faithful brother or sister points out sin in their life, they know that it is time to begin “struggling” against that sin. So, they will do something drastic, like check themselves into a support group that deals with these types of issues. Maybe it is Alcoholics Anonymous or maybe it is Celebrate Recovery or some other group where, together with the other members of the group, they can “struggle against their sin.” The reality is that many of these efforts amount to trifling against their sin. They know that it is not “good” for a professing Christian to have this blemish of sin on their record, so they go to a support group to learn some coping strategies and learn to manage and minimize the behavior. After all, the point is for others to see that you are fighting against this filthy sin. If he never stops the distasteful habit, what real difference will it make? It doesn’t really matter who wins this contest. Or does it?

            A number of years ago, I was sitting at the bar in a restaurant watching the TV screen behind the bar. On the screen was a nature broadcast about some large white birds similar to egrets who lived in South America. These birds made their nests directly above the river as a means of protecting their young from predators. No predator was willing to risk the dangers of the river to get to the birds’ nest above the river. The broadcast showed two of the young, gangly birds perched on the thin branches of the nest and the surrounding area. They seemed to be balanced carefully until one of the fledgling birds slipped off the branch. What ensued was a desperate struggle as the bird fought ferociously to regain its perch. Because the bird was awkward and gangly, the struggle appeared almost comical as the bird flapped and pulled and clawed to make its way back onto the branch. It seemed like “much ado about nothing.” “Relax, guy! You don’t have to try so hard!” Finally, after several minutes of all out war, the young bird was back on the branch sitting peacefully beside its sibling, and all was well.

            The next scene was a few days later, and once again, the two young birds were perched on their branch. Suddenly, one of the two birds slipped off the branch and did not catch itself but splashed into the water of the river. Within seconds, the first piranha arrived, and that fish was followed by dozens of others. The doomed bird tried to flap and jump, but the piranha attacked mercilessly until, in less than two minutes, all that remained of the young bird was a few feathers floating on the water.

            Then I realized that the first scene had been far from comical. The first scene showing the young bird trying to regain its perch was a life and death struggle where failure was not an option. If that bird did not get back on that perch by the nest, it was going to be food for the river’s piranhas. The bird’s life depended on getting back on that branch. The goal was clear, and the outcome mattered.

            One of the great dangers for disciples of the Lord Jesus is somehow to assume that our striving against sin is, like the first scene with the young bird, comical and largely unnecessary, and that the outcome of a “slip from the branch” doesn’t matter. If we make that assumption, we will always trifle with sin. We will assume that we do not need to vanquish the sin, but just put on a sincere show of “struggling.” We will try to manage and minimize our sin, but we will not put it to death. We will think that our trifling with sin is good enough and that, even if we “fall off the branch,” no harm will be done. But, what if instead we feared sin the way those young birds feared the piranha? What if we viewed holiness as a life and death struggle where failure was not an option? What if we realized that trifling with sin can lead to shipwreck (1 Timothy 1:19-20)? What if we strove against sin because we feared that “an evil, unbelieving heart” could really lead us to fall away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12)? What if we heeded the warning of the author of Hebrews who tells us that neglect of diligence in our faith and a failure to come all the way to true repentance can lead to falling away, a place from which it is impossible to be renewed again the repentance (Hebrews 6:6)?

            Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of faith, endured the cross to purify for Himself a people for His own possession (Titus 2:14), who are zealous for good deeds. Like our Lord, we are to strive against sin and “be holy, just as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16).”

SDG                 rmb                 8/25/2020

David’s Repentance (Psalm 51)

How is a disciple of the Lord Jesus to rid himself of besetting sin?

As a disciple grows in their walk with the Lord, it is certain that sin will emerge from the murky depths of the soul. The pure milk of the Word begins to soak into the recesses of the mind and into the closets of the past, and loathsome sins well up from the depths. Until we come to faith in the Lord Jesus and come face to face with His holiness, we have no concept of the ugliness of our sin. If Isaiah the prophet felt himself ruined when he saw the thrice holy Lord, lofty and exalted, and declared himself a man of unclean lips (Isaiah 6), how much more should we expect to need to dredge the black mold of sin out our lives!

But once the sin is uncovered and identified, how do we get rid of it?

Before we get too far along this article, I need to make clear that, in this article, I am not talking about the way for sin to be forgiven. No amount of confession or repentance will ever result in one sin being forgiven. Offering “thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of oil (Micah 6:7)” will give the Lord no delight and will leave you exactly where you were before the offering. There has always been only one way for any sin to ever be forgiven. “In Him (Jesus), we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses (Ephesians 1:7).” It is the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ that is the only means of forgiveness of sins. Do you want to be forgiven of your sins? “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).” If you have placed your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and are following Him in faith, all your sins are forgiven. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has the LORD removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12).” “The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).”

But for the disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ who has come to faith in Christ and has thus had his sins forgiven, there arises the matter of practical righteousness. Through faith, my sins are forgiven, but the ugly effects remain. As the Holy Spirit reveals sin in my life, and as I begin to recognize and identify and confess my sins before the Lord, the question becomes, “How do I remove the remaining sin?” This is what repentance is for. Repentance is the most powerful weapon in the disciple’s arsenal for removing the filthy remains of sin, but for repentance to be effective, it must be genuine. How do I know if my repentance is genuine? You know you have truly repented when the sin ceases. True repentance results in victory over sin. Colossians 3:5 tells me to “put to death whatever is in the earth of your members: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed.” How do you know if you have put sin to death? It is no longer active. It no longer moves. There are no signs of life. Repentance is the blade that puts sin to death. If the sin remains active, you have not yet truly raised the blade of repentance.

King David was a man after God’s own heart. His passion and zeal for the LORD explode from the psalms which he wrote. The LORD was with David and he rose in power and conquered all the neighboring kingdoms. There seemed to be nothing that David would not accomplish. But David was also very human, and he had some prominent areas of weakness. David was a man who seemed to have a weakness for the fair sex. When he was king in Hebron, he had six sons by six different wives. Then when he moved to Jerusalem, David added more wives and concubines. And finally, there was the disastrous one-night stand with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Through the prophet Nathan, the LORD confronted David and told him that there would be consequences for his sin and his rebellion against the LORD, but more than that, the LORD made clear that if David did not repent of his sin and once again draw near to the LORD, or the LORD would bring more disaster upon David until he was destroyed. David immediately confessed his sin (2 Samuel 12:13) and went into the temple to pray for sin’s consequences to be taken away. But most of all, David repented.

How do we know David repented? First, as a result of his sin, David wrote Psalm 51, his powerful psalm of repentance. In none of the 19 verses of Psalm 51 does David ask the LORD for forgiveness (because David is already forgiven – see above), but he does long to be purified with hyssop, to have the joy of salvation restored, to be washed whiter than snow, and to have the LORD blot out his transgressions and his sins. As a result of David’s sin with Bathsheba, we have this powerful psalm of repentance that can serve as a model for how we can repent of our sins. But second, we know David repented because, when he came back to Jerusalem after the defeat of Absalom, he refused to be intimate with his concubines. Remember that genuine repentance vanquishes sin. David had repented of his sexual sin and so he refused to indulge in any more sexual sin with his concubines. His repentance bore the fruit of repentance. The third piece of evidence of genuine repentance involved Abishag the Shunammite. She was a beautiful young virgin who served the king and kept him warm in his old age (1 Kings 1:1-4), but the Scripture makes explicitly clear that “the king did not know her.” David refuses to violate his repentance from sexual sin by “knowing” this beautiful young woman.

REFLECTIONS

  • Repentance is the most powerful weapon in the disciple’s arsenal to defeat active, remaining sin in their life.
  • True repentance results in the vanquishing of sin. If the sin is not vanquished, then the repentance is not genuine. You must hate the sin to put it to death. If you don’t yet hate the sin, then you will not hire the assassin of repentance.
  • Psalm 51 is an excellent Scripture to use for repentance.

SDG                rmb                8/18/2020

The Pot and the Potter (Isaiah 45:9)

            The picture in the Scripture is intentionally a little bit absurd, that is, the picture of a clay pot arguing with the potter who created the pot. Yes, the picture is intentionally absurd because no pot would ever argue with the potter who made it. The pot is the created and the potter is the creator, and it is absurd to think that such a pot, which was brought into existence from a formless lump by the predetermined plan of the potter, would argue with the one who conceived of the pot and then fashioned the pot into something useful. This picture is presented in the Bible to show the absurdity of people rebelling against and disobeying the Lord, their Creator.

            In Isaiah 45:6, the prophet tells us ab out just such an argument:

“Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker – An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’?”

            In addition to the futility of this argument, there will also be woe (calamity, disaster) to the one who quarrels with his Maker. How absurd it is then – a clay pot saying to the potter, “What are you doing?” and bringing upon itself unnecessary woe and disaster!

            But as absurd as it is for a clay pot to make demands upon and to defy the potter, it is much more outrageous for man the creature to disobey and despise the Lord, his Creator, and bring upon himself woe and disaster! Yet this is what is done by many people in our world as they willfully and intentionally satisfy the desires of their own flesh and do what their conscience tells them they should not do (Romans 2:14-16).

There are many examples of ways that we rebel against the Lord, somehow believing that we have the right to rant against and to defy our gracious God and that He will bear with our rebellion forever without consequence.

            But this is not the case. The Bible is clear from Genesis to Revelation that there is coming a day of judgment “when God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus (Romans 2:16).” Yes, the LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness (Psalm 103:8). Yes, the Lord desires for all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy2:4). Yes, the LORD takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23, 32), but the Lord also declares that the only way for you to escape the terrifying day of judgment is to repent of your sins and to place your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Therefore, I will judge you, each according to his conduct,” declares the Lord GOD. “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed! Why will you die? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the LORD. “Therefore, repent and live! (Ezekiel 18:30-32)”

            The living God sees all our rebellion, and the consequences for created clay pots who persist in rebelling against the Potter will be disastrous, indeed. My advice is for you to bow the knee to Jesus today, and enjoy the blessings of the Lord, your Creator.

SDG                 rmb                 7/15/2020

I saw the LORD, high and lifted up (Isaiah 6)

The genesis of this series of articles began back in February of this year as I began thinking about the many pictures that the Bible presents of people of faith encountering the Lord. As I considered these biblical episodes, I thought about how these experiences are often shared by many modern-day Christians. Yes, we will not experience all of these encounters with the Lord and we will not experience them to the same degree, but if our life is devoid of these types of encounters with the living God, then at some point we must question whether we truly know the Lord. In other words, these types of encounters are part of the very fabric of what it means to be a Christian. The Lord relates to His people, not only in the next life, but also in this life. He delights to be with His people and we delight when we experience Him in an intimate and personal way. This is the second of these articles.

The prophet Isaiah had a personal experience with the Lord that is recorded for us in Isaiah 6, and this experience determined the course of his life. “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple (Isaiah 6:1).” The seraphim are covering their face and covering their feet and are calling out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” The foundations of the thresholds of the temple trembled and the whole temple filled with smoke. With a cry of abject misery, Isaiah cries out (6:5), “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the LORD of hosts.”

No doubt Isaiah was as morally pure as anyone in Israel at the time. No doubt his friends would have called him ‘blameless’ and would have considered him a righteous man. But that would be just comparing one sinner with another sinner. When we measure our righteousness by other sinners, there are some who will stand out as pretty good. But Isaiah was not in the presence of another sinner. Rather, he was in the presence of the thrice holy Lord of all the earth, and in that place, Isaiah could only cry out in woe, seeking some shelter or some covering to hide his filthiness. The blazing glory of the LORD rendered all of Isaiah’s most righteous deeds as filthy rags (64:6). In the presence of the holiness of the Lord, all of Isaiah’s sins were open and laid bare and were exposed for all to see in all their vileness and their wickedness. Isaiah the sinner was fully exposed by the dazzling light of the LORD and all he could do was utter a plea for mercy.

Have you ever encountered the Lord in this way? That is, has there ever been a time when you saw the dazzling glory of the Lord and His pristine, perfect holiness and fell on your face in utter misery? When you have contemplated the power of the Lord and the beauty of the Lord and the holiness of the Lord, has there been a time when you felt your own sin in the depth of your soul and longed with all your being to be cleansed and purified and to have your filthiness and your sin washed away as far as the east is from the west? This is a normal experience for the Christian to have. You could go so far as to say that this is an expected experience in a believer’s life, for this is what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness. The life of the believer is marked by both an acute awareness of my own sin and unworthiness and, simultaneously, an experiential knowledge of the LORD’s absolute holiness.

And so this is what it means to see the Lord on His throne, lofty and exalted. So I ask you again, “Have you see the Lord in His temple, lofty and exalted?”

Soli deo Gloria                        rmb                 9/4/2019