Raised together with Christ – Colossians 3:1-12 Part 2

In the previous article (Raised together with Christ – Colossians 3:1-12 Part 1 – Roy’s Reflections), we had begun a fairly deep dive into Colossians 3:1-12 in an attempt to answer the question, “If, for the believer, the ‘old self’ has died (Colossians 3:3) and our sin has been atoned for and forgiven because of Christ’s death on our behalf (Colossians 1:13-14), why does sin and the ‘old self’ continue to plague us?” This passage in Colossians had been chosen because we discovered that here, in these verses, the apostle Paul gives doctrinal teaching and exhortations that directly address these issues. The first article covered Colossians 3:1-4. This second article will look at the commands we can now obey since we have been raised up with Christ (Colossians 3:5-9). Then the third article will focus on the doctrinal truths about salvation that give the believer the power to obey His Savior’s commands (Colossians 3:9-12).

ALL IS CONTINGENT ON BEING RAISED UP WITH CHRIST (3:1)

In the first article, we saw the crucial importance of the first phrase in the passage, which reads, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ (3:1, NASB).” The “if” in this verse should be understood as meaning “since,” because everything that follows in this passage applies only if you have, in fact, been raised up together with Christ. If you have not been raised with Christ, Paul’s teaching and exhortation will be confusing, at best. But if, by God’s grace, you have, Paul will teach you doctrinal truth about what it means to be raised up with Christ and will issue commands that you are now able to obey.

SINCE YOU HAVE DIED, PUT SIN TO DEATH (3:5) COMMAND #1

In our last lesson, we discovered that “raised up with Christ” means that “we have died (3:3).” When anyone hears that Jesus Christ died on the cross to save sinners, and they repent of their sin and trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior, at that moment their “old self” dies. Now, we must understand that, while our “old self” was living, it loved sin and so it accumulated an ugly collection of sins in which to indulge, and our physical body (our “members” – NASB; our “flesh”) became accustomed to this sinful indulgence. Now we have been raised up with Christ and the “old self” has died, but our “members” are still craving the old sins. What are we to do? Since you have died, you are to put to death! “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you (3:5 – ESV).” Now that the “old self” has died, your former ugly sins are to be killed. Hunt them down. Shoot to kill. Make them become extinct. Starve them from all nourishment. Drive them away. Take no prisoners. Give no quarter. Celebrate the death of the “old self” by putting to death all its old friends. Yes, because you have been raised with Christ, you have the responsibility to put your sins to death.

PUT YOUR SINS ASIDE. THROW THEM OFF (3:8) COMMAND #2

In 3:5, Paul gives us instruction about what to do with our more fleshly sins, our former sexual sins, but we know that our former sins included much more than these. Now that we have been raised up together with Christ, we are a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17) who walks in newness of life (Romans 6:4) and who walks in the same manner as Christ walked (1 John 2:6). That means that now we are also to be done with our sins of anger and our sins of the tongue. Paul commands us to “put them all aside (Colossians 3:8).” For many believers, our anger is barely contained inside us, lurking just below the surface, ready to burst forth without warning like an exploding pressure cooker. Before we met Christ, we had no interest in containing our anger and were unconcerned about who was wounded by it. But now we have been raised up with Christ. Now we have died (3:3) and we no longer walk as the Gentiles walk. Now, therefore, we must put aside all these sins. Anger is a sin that must be thrown off like a soiled coat. The angry tongue must be silenced, and its slashing edge must be dulled, because we have been raised up with Christ.

DO NOT LIE TO ONE ANOTHER (3:9). COMMAND #3

Paul issues his third command in a row, and then tells doctrinal truths which empower the believer to obey the commands. “Do not lie to one another (3:9).” There may be times when we think that these instructions from Paul are new and that the Holy Spirit has revealed to Paul a new mark of holiness, but that is certainly not the case here. In Leviticus 19:11, in the Old Testament Law, the LORD commands His people, “You shall not lie to one another.” Also, the ninth commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Deuteronomy 5:20).” Truthfulness has always been a mark of God’s people, because our God is a God of truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6).” Since Jesus is the truth, those who have been raised up with Him must speak truth.

We may wonder where we are supposed to find the ability to obey all these commands. Paul has given us these commands, but these are anything but trivial, especially if we were in the “old self” for a long time. Putting sins to death and putting other sins aside and stopping my habits of lying; that is a pretty tall order. How do we do this? That will be the subject of the next article in this study.

SDG                 rmb                 3/1/2021

Raised together with Christ – Colossians 3:1-12 Part 1

If I have died to sin (Romans 6:2), why do I still struggle with sin (Romans 7:15-25)?

If he was a slave of sin, but is now a slave of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18), how can it be that Paul, the model Christian, laments his wretchedness in his struggle against sin (Romans 7:24)?

If the “old man” has been crucified, why does he still influence my behavior to sin?

I was musing on these and other weighty issues this morning and was led to consider Paul’s letter to the Colossians. As I meditated on Colossians 3:1-12, I discovered that the apostle Paul deals with several of these meatier matters here in this passage, so I decided to devote two or three articles to teaching on this.

ALL IS CONTINGENT ON BEING RAISED UP WITH CHRIST

What Paul is going to now teach in Colossians 3:1-12 is all contingent on his implied assumption in the first verse, which reads, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ (3:1, NASB).” The “if” in this verse should be understood as meaning “since,” because everything that follows in this passage applies only if the person described has, in fact, been raised up together with Christ. If you have not been raised with Christ, Paul’s teaching and exhortation will be confusing. But if you have been raised up with Christ, Paul’s teaching will be amazing and encouraging.

TWO QUICK COMMANDS

To his “raised-up-with-Christ” audience, the apostle issues two commands: seek and set. Since you are a born-again (John 3:3) believer in Christ, “Keep seeking the things above (Colossians 3:1b).” Keep hungering and thirsting for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). Keep thinking about your heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20). Keep eagerly waiting for our Savior from heaven (Phil. 3:20-21). And again, since you have been raised up with Christ, “Set your mind on the things above (3:2).” Your sight is to be fixed upward. Allow your mind to dwell on noble things (Phil. 4:8). Renew your mind through the Word (Eph. 4:23; Romans 12:2; 1 Peter 2:2). These blessings are only possible if you have been raised up with Christ.

DOCTRINE: SPIRITUAL DEATH AND LIFE, AND GLORIFIED WITH CHRIST

Now Paul adds doctrinal truth to his teaching. A word about doctrinal truth: Doctrinal truth is universal in that it applies to all persons in a defined group without exception. Our “defined group” is all those who have been raised up together with Christ. The doctrinal truth is, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God (3:3).” So, we see that, according to Paul’s teaching, all true believers have “died.” In some real sense, we have died, and yet it is obvious that we also live. How do we untangle this knot? This is a complex subject that we will attempt to address briefly. Because of the sin of Adam and the Fall of man, all people without exception are born into the world with a bent toward sin and with a love of sin. This “old self” (Colossians 3:9) is a slave of sin (Romans 6) and, unless and until this person is raised up together with Christ, they continue to be under God’s wrath and judgment because of their sin (Romans 1:18). If they physically die in this state, they will spend eternity in the lake of fire. But the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims the news that when anyone who is living in the “old self” hears that Jesus Christ died on the cross for sinners, and they repent of their sin and trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior, at that moment their “old self” dies, their “new self” (3:10) comes to life, and that person is raised up together with Christ. At that moment, that person has died to their old life of sin and they have been raised up with Christ to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Their “old self” has been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), but they live to the glory of God. So, in that sense the believer has died, yet they live. And since Paul is teaching doctrinal truth, this “died-yet-living” is true of all believers.

Finally, in Colossians 3:4 we learn still more doctrinal truth about those who have been raised with Christ. Since you have been raised with Christ, “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” Paul speaks unambiguously about that time in the future when Christ will be revealed. It is an undeniable fact that Jesus Christ is going to appear from heaven in blazing glory to judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1). It is a certainty that Christ will be revealed, but “When Christ is revealed,” what will be true of those who have been raised up together with Him? “Then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” This is the doctrinal truth that the apostle here declares: All those who have been raised up with Christ in life will be revealed with Him in glory in the resurrection. Those who have been raised with Christ will be glorified with Christ (Romans 8:30). (See also Phil. 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2; 1 Cor. 15:50-54; 1 Thess. 4:14-17.)

SUMMARY OF RAISED TOGETHER WITH CHRIST (COLOSSIANS 3:1-12) PART 1

Here is what we have discovered so far, in Colossians 3:1-4. “Therefore, since you have been raised up together with Christ:”

  • Keep seeking the things above (manifestation of faith / obedience)
  • Set your mind on the things above (manifestation of faith / obedience)
  • You have died in a spiritual sense, because the “old self” that loved sin and that lived a life of sin, has died (This is a doctrinal truth and is a consequence of faith.)
  • Your new life of holiness and obedience to God has begun (This is a doctrinal truth and is a consequence of faith.)
  • When Christ is revealed in glory, you also will be revealed in glory (This is a doctrinal truth and is a consequence of faith.)

The next lesson will continue with this passage and will see more of what Paul is teaching in Colossians 3:1-12.

SDG                 rmb                  2/27/2021

A sense of urgency: Witnesses (Isaiah 43:10-12; Acts 1:8)

These are indeed remarkable times. Paul wrote that “in the last days, difficult times will come (2 Timothy 3:1),” but I am not sure if we fully anticipated what he had in mind. It seems to me that each day brings new surprises about how quickly the foundations are being removed. Perhaps it is just me, but evil and lawlessness seem to be rising at an increasing pace, and there is nothing that I see on the horizon to restrain them.

But the beautiful thing about being a Christian is that my calling and my mission are not dependent on any circumstances. My mission is not one that I have chosen because I prefer it or because it is to my advantage to have my particular mission. Neither is my mission one that I adopted from my ancestors or selected because of its cultural relevance. Like every other Christian, my mission was given to me by the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. When I trusted Christ as my Lord and Savior, I accepted the mission He gave me. And the mission He gave me was to be His witness, to testify of His death and resurrection, and to proclaim the gospel to the world. And that mission has not changed and will not change with any changes in society and culture, or with any changes in my personal situation. I have been given my mission, and that is a beautiful thing.

Because this mission is a stewardship that I have been given from Christ Himself (2 Timothy 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:16-17), I think it is wise to consider how I am doing at carrying out my King’s mission. Do I have a sense of urgency? Is this mission something that is on my heart? So, I wanted to examine an Old Testament passage and a New Testament verse and evaluate my performance.

AN OLD TESTAMENT PASSAGE ABOUT WITNESSES

After declaring the futility of the nations in their pursuit of false gods, the LORD says,

“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed and there will be none after Me. I, even I am the LORD, and there is no savior besides Me. It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, and there was no strange God among you. So, you are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And I am God.” Isaiah 43:10-12

While this passage appears in the Old Testament, its message is timeless and applies to me in the 21st century. Notice that the LORD has chosen me as His servant, so that I may know Him, and may believe Him, and may understand that He is the one true and living God. There is no God before Him or after Him. There is no savior besides Him. He has taken the blinders off my eyes and raised me to newness of life so that I can know Him and believe Him, but there are many who do not know this and who still worship strange gods. There are many who do not know the only Savior. My mission, then, is to consider how I can be an effective witness to those people. Do I feel the urgency of the task? Do I devote appropriate time and energy to fulfilling my mission? Do I risk in order to communicate the message? What is there in my life to demonstrate this is a high priority? These questions spur me on and remind me that this mission of witness for the Lord deserves my attention and must not be allowed to fade off the radar.

A NEW TESTAMENT VERSE ABOUT WITNESSES

In the New Testament, the LORD of the Old Testament reveals Himself as King Jesus in His first advent. After His death and resurrection, Jesus gives His people their mission for the time until His return. Notice the beauty of this mission, that it is given to everyone who names Jesus as Lord and Savior, regardless of era when they live or ethnicity or social status or ancestors or wealth or any other distinguishing characteristic. If you claim that “Jesus is Lord,” then this is your mission.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Jesus Christ in Acts 1:8).”

The Lord has entrusted His followers with the task of being His witnesses in the world. Jesus has accomplished His work on the cross (John 17:4; 19:30) and now He has ascended back to heaven and is reigning until the time when He returns, and He has charged His church with the mission of gathering in His elect. Empowered with the Holy Spirit, His people are to go to the remotest part of the earth as His witnesses. I am not so much concerned about the remotest part of the earth as I am concerned about my part of the earth. In my corner of the globe, am I being a witness for Jesus? In practical terms that means giving off the aroma of Christ (2 Cor. 2:14-16) to those in my sphere of influence. Do those who know me have an opportunity to learn about Jesus? A faithful witness testifies about what they have seen and heard (Acts 4:20). Am I telling others about what I have seen and heard and about how Jesus has changed my life?

The time is short, and Jesus is coming quickly (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20). Soon the time to witness for Jesus will be gone. Soon His faithful servants will be done with their work and the Master will return for His own. “Well done, good and faithful slave (Matthew 25:21).” But before we hear that, let us be about the mission the Lord has given us.

SDG                 rmb                 2/25/2021

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 unprompted extravagance of God (Genesis 12:2-3)

“And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.

And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” Genesis 12:2-3

In these two verses in Genesis 12, the LORD pours out a landslide of seven unconditional promises of blessing on this man, this Abram the son of Terah from Ur of the Chaldeans. Take a moment with me and consider the unprompted extravagance of the LORD.

WHAT ABRAM DESERVED OR MERITED?

We begin by considering Abram and see why he received such an outpouring of blessings from the LORD. As we read of Abram ancestors in Genesis 11:10-31, we search in vain for any indication of anyone in his family tree having a knowledge of the LORD. Where are his forefathers who called on the name of the LORD? They are absent. Instead, we read through nine generations without a single mention of the LORD. Indeed, Terah, Abram’s father, was a pagan who worshiped the moon god. As we study Abram’s lineage, there is no evidence of any acquaintance with the LORD or with any exercise of faith. It is hard to imagine that Abram had any concept of the LORD before He called him.

THE EXTRAVAGANCE OF THE LORD’S CALL

Then at the time appointed by the LORD, He calls Abram to go forth from his country to an unseen, unknown land that the LORD will show him. There had been no relationship between Abram and the LORD and then suddenly the LORD bursts upon Abram’s consciousness, calls him to trust Him with his entire future, and pours out astonishing, unconditional promises on him. And all of this is completely unprompted and unrequested. There is nothing that motivated or prompted the LORD to choose Abram other than His own divine will. Abram was unaware of the LORD’s existence and could have died that way. Abram could have continued his father’s legacy of bowing down to the moon god and never have known the joy of walking with the living God. Abram could happily have continued in his ignorance, but the LORD chose to speak to this man. Why Abram? We do not know, but the LORD chose him to be the father of a multitude and to walk with Him.

ALL THE GRACIOUS PROMISES

And then, as if that were not amazing enough, the LORD immediately makes seven astonishing promises to Abram. This is the unprompted extravagance of the LORD, to call Abram to Himself and then to make these glorious promises of blessing, and all of this as an act of His grace, just because He chose to do this.

“And I will make you a great nation.” At the time of this promise, Abram had no children and a barren wife, yet the LORD gives him an unconditional promise that he will become a great and populous nation.

“And I will bless you.” Abram gets the LORD’s unconditional promise that He will bless him. This probably refers to material blessings of flocks and herds.

“And I will make your name great.” Abram will be known far and wide as a great man. He will be famous and respected. Another unconditional promise.

“And so you shall be a blessing.” Not only will Abram be blessed, but he will also be a blessing to others. He will be blessed to be a blessing. Another unconditional promise.

“And I will bless those who bless you.” Those who are allies with Abram and those who help and bless Abram will be blessed by the LORD. Another unconditional promise.

“And the one who curses you I will curse.” Likewise, those who oppose or threaten Abram, or who seek to curse him will themselves be cursed, for the LORD will protect him. Another unconditional promise.

“And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” This is, of course, the grandest extravagance of all, as the LORD gives Abram the veiled promise that he will be the forefather of the Messiah. Another unconditional promise.

EXTRAVAGANT GRACE TO ALL WHO CALL ON THE LORD

            God’s extravagance to Abram was clearly displayed as the Lord of the universe called a pagan shepherd from a far country to be a father of a multitude and to become a friend of God. But we also understand that this is not a unique situation, nor is it even an uncommon one. The Lord who sought out and found Abram in Ur of the Chaldeans and called him to a life of faith walking with the living God is also the same Lord who seeks out and finds all His elect wherever they are and calls them to faith in the Lord Jesus.

            My own story is a display of the Lord’s unprompted extravagance, since before I became a Christian, I was far from Him, had little knowledge of Him, and had less interest in knowing Him. I was content in my ignorance, happily careening toward judgment. Then one day on a cliff in California, in an act of unprompted grace, the Lord awakened me to my own mortality and called me to Himself and called me to change. In a short time, He had led me to a good church and made sure that I had a Bible. He brought me to repentance of my many sins and to faith in the crucified and risen Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He brought me from death to life and promised to never leave me or forsake me. In His Word, he gave me many precious and magnificent promises (2 Peter 1:4) that are all “yes” and “Amen” in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20).

            And, although there are as many variations as there are salvation testimonies, this display of His unprompted extravagance is what the Lord does all the time. This is who He is. He is a God who gives and loves extravagantly, and His blessings on His people are unprompted by anything in us and are only the expression of His mercy and glory and generosity and grace.

            Abram and you and I have this in common: we have been the recipient of God’s unprompted extravagance and His promises of blessing.

SDG                 rmb                 1/3/2021

Behold, he is hiding in Lo-debar (2 Samuel 9)

            The last day of the year is a good day to reflect on the glories of Christ and on His unlimited merit before God, and how He came from heaven to earth so that unworthy sinners who merited nothing but God’s wrath could be saved and seated at the Lord’s table through faith in Jesus. The story of David and Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9 is always fascinating to me.

HIDING IN LO-DEBAR – A STORY

The day dawned just like every other day in Lo-debar had dawned, probably since time began. His name was Mephibosheth, which in Hebrew meant “dispeller of shame.” “What a twist of cruel irony!” he thought to himself, as he dragged his crippled feet off the cot and onto the floor. “The great ‘dispeller of shame,’ the man from Lo-debar!”

It would be difficult to find a less likely ‘dispeller of shame.’ Mephibosheth was the grandson of Saul, Israel’s first king. Saul had failed as a man and failed as a king. He was defeated by the Philistines and then, in defeat, had committed suicide on the battlefield. Saul, his grandfather, was then beheaded by his enemies, and his body was nailed to the wall of Beth-Shan in an act of ultimate humiliation (1 Samuel 31). Jonathan, Mephibosheth’s father, was also killed by the Philistines and nailed to the city wall alongside Saul. All Mephibosheth’s worldly inheritance vanished that day, dying with his father and grandfather, and he was left humiliated and destitute. The only thing that he inherited from his father was defeat and shame.

As if adding insult to injury, when Mephibosheth’s nurse heard that Israel had been defeated and that Jonathan was dead, she had fled with Mephibosheth to find refuge. As they were fleeing, he fell and was crippled in both feet (2 Samuel 4:4). Thus, on one day when he was five years old, Mephibosheth had become an orphan and a cripple, and the course of his life was set.

Now, years later, Mephibosheth is far away from Jerusalem, safely forgotten and hiding out in a desolate village in Gilead, in the town of Lo-debar. The town’s name means “no pasture,” which accurately describes the dusty village and its forlorn surroundings. Each today in Lo-debar is like yesterday, and tomorrow will be more so. In Lo-debar there is no future and there is no hope, but the village’s desolate obscurity provides Mephibosheth with a strange sense of security. No one asks about his past, so he does not need to deal with the shame of his family’s failures. The fact that he is crippled is actually an asset, because while he cannot work and cannot be a soldier, he can receive alms from people out of their pity for his misery. Most of all, he will never be found by the great warrior, King David. The misery of the monotonous life of Lo-debar is a small price to pay to remain hidden from the eyes of the great king in Jerusalem. Mephibosheth could not bear the thought of having to face the great king.

Then suddenly Mephibosheth’s safety is shattered. Messengers have come all the way from Jerusalem to Lo-debar and they have come looking for him. Ziba, the faithful family servant, has betrayed his location and has told David exactly where he has been hiding (2 Samuel 9:3-4). The messengers take Mephibosheth and bring him all the way to Jerusalem, into the very presence of the man he fears most, King David. Of course, David will kill him. He is the only remaining heir from the line of Saul, and conquering kings do not long tolerate rivals, even rivals as pathetic as Mephibosheth. So, no doubt David has brought him to Jerusalem to slaughter him personally. As he is brought into the king’s presence, Mephibosheth falls on his face and prostrates himself before King David. Perhaps the king will feel some sense of pity and will show him a moment’s compassion before he dispatches the miserable Mephibosheth.

EXALTED ON THE BASIS OF ANOTHER MAN’S MERIT

            But Mephibosheth does not receive the king’s wrath and he does not experience the king’s vengeance. King David does not speak of the fact that Mephibosheth is crippled in both feet nor does he remind Mephibosheth of his shameful past, that he is the lone survivor of a failed monarchy. Instead of trying to find Mephibosheth so that he can kill him, David has made a diligent search for Mephibosheth and has called him by name (2 Samuel 9:6) so that he can bless him and show him the kindness of God (2 Samuel 9:3).

            And why does Mephibosheth receive all these blessings? Is it because he is really a pretty spectacular guy and deserves to be showered with blessings? Were all his thoughts of humiliation and shame just the results of poor self-esteem, and has David seen that Mephibosheth is really a “diamond in the rough?” Despite being physically crippled and emotionally damaged and financially destitute, isn’t Mephibosheth basically good?

            No. Mephibosheth’s assessment of himself was accurate. There is nothing in Mephibosheth himself that merits anything from David except contempt. If Mephibosheth got what he deserved, then he would be destroyed at once.

            Mephibosheth receives grace and blessing from King David, the Lord’s anointed king, because of the merits of another. You see, Mephibosheth was Jonathan’s son, and David loved Jonathan as his own soul (2 Samuel 1:26). David goes in search of Mephibosheth because Mephibosheth was related to Jonathan. Because of Jonathan, David summons the “dead dog (2 Samuel 9:8)” from Lo-debar in the wastelands of Gilead to his own house to eat at his own table as one of his own sons. Because of Jonathan, all that belonged to Saul and to Saul’s house is restored to Mephibosheth. Because of Jonathan, all of Mephibosheth’s weaknesses and shame and faults are concealed under Jonathan’s merits and worth. Mephibosheth is treated as if he himself possessed all the merits of Jonathan, because he is associated with Jonathan. David pours out his favor on Mephibosheth not because of anything in Mephibosheth, but because David loved Jonathan. Mephibosheth can offer nothing to King David. He has no merits. He can only bring his lame feet and his shameful past, and he can plead for mercy based on his father, Jonathan. And that plea for mercy based on the merits of another will place him at the king’s table to eat regularly as one of the king’s sons.

A MODERN-DAY MEPHIBOSHETH

Like Mephibosheth, I, too, once dwelt in Lo-debar, far from the King, hiding in my shame and fear. I was ashamed of my sin and my weakness and failures, and I was fearful of God’s judgment and His punishment. Oh no, of course I did not know these things at the time. I only knew the misery of my wretchedness, being convinced of having ghastly, oozing flaws which, though invisible to me, were immediately and glaringly obvious to others, and these flaws caused others to be repulsed by me.

But then the King sought me out. The One who owned everything and who knew everything, including all my sin and shame, the King who ruled the universe from His eternal, heavenly throne began His search for me. “Is there someone for whom My Son has died whom I can now bring into My house to dwell with Me forever?”

Then the King sent messengers to me in “Lo-debar” to tell me about the Lord Jesus, the one who was worthy of all glory and honor, the one who had merited God’s perfect favor based on His perfect life. I saw the beauty and the power and the glory of Jesus, but I could not understand how that had anything to do with me. “Surely, O King, You do not mean for me to dwell with You! I am flawed and full of shame. I could never merit Your love.” But the King said, “I do not need for you to merit my blessing, for Jesus, My Son, is the favored one. He has merited My favor, and if you will love Jesus, then His merits will be credited to you. You see, you could never get to heaven on your own merits, so I have sent My Son to earth to give you His righteousness. He is the great ‘dispeller of shame.’ Believe in Him, and His merits become your merits and His righteousness becomes yours. Because of Jesus, you can be fully accepted. By believing in Jesus, you can put on His perfect robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). Because of Jesus, you can eat at My table as one of My adopted sons. Because of Jesus, you can dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Because of Jesus, even though you are lame in both feet (2 Samuel 9:13), you will live with me as My child.”

And so, this “dead dog” was raised up with Jesus and seated in the heavenlies with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-7).

AS WE END 2020

            As we end 2020 and head into a new year, I would encourage us to think more deeply about all that God has accomplished for us through the Lord Jesus. He has done the impossible. He has brought those who deserve His wrath into His presence as adopted sons and daughters based on faith in the Lord Jesus.

“that He may be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).”                        SDG                 rmb                 12/31/2020

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

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

THE PLOT OF THE STORY

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

FAITH RESULTS IN FORGIVENESS        

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

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

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

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

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

FAITH PRODUCES ACTION

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

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

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

APPLICATION

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

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

NEXT POST

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

SDG                 rmb                 11/30/2020

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

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