The ordinary course for the believer (Isaiah 6:1-8)

And then the day came for Isaiah ben Amoz that defined the rest of his life. He saw the Lord, and he would never be the same or see life the same again.

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. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said,

“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.”

And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said,

“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 King, the Lord of hosts.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

AN ORDINARY EVENT FROM EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES

The circumstances of Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord were remarkable indeed, but what was accomplished in this encounter between man and God was very ordinary. When we step back from these extraordinary circumstances, what we see is the “ordinary” event of a sinner becoming a sent one. What I mean is that, in Isaiah’s spectacular experience with the Lord, the Lord brings about “ordinary” conversion. Isaiah began this scene as an ordinary, everyday sinner, aware of the Lord’s existence, but unaware of the Lord’s holiness and of his own sinfulness. By the end of the scene, Isaiah has been cleansed of his sins and sent out by the Lord with a mission.

But the truly remarkable fact is that Isaiah’s experience in the temple is a condensed version of what happens to every believer. Every believer experiences the same “ordinary” conversion that Isaiah experienced. Every genuine believer begins their encounter with the Lord as an ordinary, everyday sinner, but concludes their saving encounter with Him having their iniquity taken away and their sin forgiven.

THE STEPS THAT MAKE UP THIS ORDINARY EVENT

Although it is impossible to prove, it is a generally accepted fact that, of the billions of snowflakes, no two are the same. It is also true that, of the billions of people in the world, no two fingerprints are the same. The Lord of the universe has displayed His creativity and power and glory in His creation in small and large ways so that His existence is unmistakable, and men are without excuse (Romans 1:20). And since God is infinitely creative, there are no two “ordinary” conversions that are the same. The details of the paths describing believers’ journeys from sinner to saint vary in practically infinite ways, and the circumstances of their “ordinary” conversions are vastly different, but all these “ordinary” conversions follow the same basic steps. And Isaiah’s “ordinary” conversion will serve as an example.

The first step was for Isaiah the sinner to encounter the holiness of the Lord. In his vision, Isaiah sees the Lord “lofty and exalted.” The Lord is high, and Isaiah is low. The prophet must look up to see the Lord on His throne. The Lord is ruler. He is King. He is sovereign, reigning over all. He fills the temple, as He fills all things. The seraphim cover their faces because they cannot look upon the Lord’s glory, and they cover their feet because the Lord’s presence is holy ground, and they call out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.” The temple is shaking violently and is filling with smoke. Thus, Isaiah is overwhelmed and shattered by this encounter with the Lord. The Lord’s holiness is too much for Isaiah to bear.

(The second step) The holiness and the power of the Lord not only display the Lord’s glory, but also fully expose Isaiah’s abject wretchedness. In the presence of the Holy One of Israel, every hideous sin is glaringly laid bare and there is no place to hide. Isaiah is thus made fully aware of his sin and his condemnation before God.

With no place to run and no place to hide, all Isaiah can do is acknowledge his sin. Isaiah confessed he was a man of unclean lips, a man marked by sin and iniquity, and a man, therefore, unworthy to even come into the presence of the living God. “Woe is me!” “I am ruined!” “I am a man of unclean lips!” Having been made aware of his sin, the third step is for the sinner to confess his sins to the Lord (1 John 1:9; Luke 18:13), and to repent (Mark 1:15), and to place their faith in the Lord Jesus (Acts 16:31).

The fourth step is the Lord’s response to the sinner’s repentance and profession of faith. Isaiah confesses his sin and cries out for mercy and forgiveness, and the Lord cleanses his sin and saves him. The seraphim brings a burning coal to Isaiah to burn away his sin. “I am a man of unclean lips,” so the seraphim touches the burning coal to Isaiah’s lips. The burning coal is a symbol of the judgment of Isaiah’s sins. Because of the burning away of his iniquity, his sin is declared to be forgiven. Just so, when the sinner confesses his sin and professes faith in Christ, he receives the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21).

So, after the fourth step, Isaiah has been cleansed from his iniquity and has been forgiven of his sins and he is as saved as he will ever be. And it is the same for the New Testament believer. The one who has repented of their sins and has trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior has passed from death to life (John 5:24), has been saved (Romans 10:9), has the forgiveness of his trespasses (Ephesians 1:7), and has been justified by faith (Romans 5:1). He is in Christ, and for him all the promises of God are now yes. So, that is where the “ordinary” encounter ends, right?

THERE IS A FIFTH STEP IN THE JOURNEY

But as we go back to the Scripture, we see that, for Isaiah, there is another step in the encounter. For Isaiah to come to a place of faith and forgiveness is well and good, but it is not the reason for which Isaiah was saved. And so, as soon as Isaiah has his sin forgiven, he hears the Lord’s voice calling out for laborers. It is possible that the Lord had been calling before and Isaiah was deaf to His voice, but regardless, now the prophet hears his Lord’s call. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”

The fifth step, then, is the disciple’s service to the kingdom of his King. The disciple’s “ordinary” conversion experience is not complete until he has been put into service for his Savior. For this is the Lord’s purpose in salvation, not that we would come to faith in Jesus and receive all the promises of God and the forgiveness of sins and good works prepared beforehand (Ephesians 2:10), and then just sit down in a church pew to enjoy our salvation, but rather that, having come to faith and having been set free from our slavery to sin and having been given a mission to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) and to be Christ’s witnesses (Acts 1:8), we would joyfully give ourselves away in selfless service to the kingdom of God.

And so, Isaiah hears the Lord’s voice and says, “Here am I. Send me.”

The fifth step is the one that lasts the longest. It begins at the moment of salvation and continues until physical death. The fifth step involves the reason you were redeemed. The Lord redeemed you “for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that you should walk in them.” All your fruit is obtained in the fifth step (John 15). Your light only shines before men in the fifth step (Matthew 5:16).

But I sense that most disciples are not good stewards of their fifth step in “ordinary” conversion. So, the next article will explore how we can be better stewards of the fifth step.

SDG                 rmb                 7/13/2021                   #422

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

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

2 Corinthians 5:15-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SDG                 rmb                 6/29/2021                   #419

Yes, there were cities of refuge (Numbers 35:9-34)

In the book of Numbers, in chapter 35, we are told of the cities of refuge that were to be established in the Promised Land after the children of Israel crossed over the Jordan. This post is written to show how these point to Jesus and His sacrifice for sinners on the cross.

When we read this passage (Numbers 35:9-34), we can see that the Law prescribed six cities of refuge, places “that the manslayer who has killed any person unintentionally may flee there (35:11).”

THE VALUE OF THE CITIES OF REFUGE

Now, first, we should realize that these cities of refuge did not offer mercy to anyone who was guilty of murder, for there was no mercy under the Law.

“Anyone who has violated the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses (Hebrews 10:28).”

Instead, the cities of refuge simply prevented injustice by providing refuge in the extremely rare case of someone accidentally killing someone. In that case, the “manslayer,” the one who unintentionally killed someone, could flee to the city of refuge and would not be unjustly killed by the avenger of blood. The point is that this was not an act of mercy but was a provision in the Law that prevented injustice.

Second, we need to also consider how useful these cities of refuge were. I suppose if you and your friend went into the forest and the axe head slipped off your axe and struck your friend so that he died, and you knew about this obscure part of the Law that provided for cities of refuge for the manslayer, and you had the wherewithal to flee to the nearest city of refuge before the avenger of blood found you and killed you, then I suppose these cities of refuge would have been a very precious part of the Law to you. But as a practical matter, was any city of refuge ever used as a city of refuge? There is not one example of the use a city of refuge in the entire biblical record. Perhaps there was no use of this.

But think about it. How common is “unintentionally killing” someone? If you struck someone with an iron object, it was murder and you “shall surely be put to death (35:16).” If you struck him down with a stone, you are a murderer and “shall surely be put to death (35:17).” If you struck him with a wooden object, you are a murderer and “shall surely be put to death (35:18).” If you “pushed him of hatred, or threw something at him lying in wait, or struck him down with your hand, you are a murderer (35:20-21).” Guess what? “The blood avenger shall put the murderer to death (35:21).” So, I am having a hard time thinking of an occasion (other than the stray axe head) that could be classified as “unintentional killing.”

And then, even if you legitimately flee to the city of refuge because of unintentionally killing someone, you must stay there in that city of refuge “until the death of the high priest (35:25, 28).” If you do not stay within the city but wander beyond the border of that city before the death of the high priest, the blood avenger can kill you with impunity! So, these cities are of little practical use. But this was the best refuge that the Law had to offer, a provision of a place to flee when you were not deserving of punishment.

BUT WHAT REFUGE IS THERE FOR THE SINNER?

But what about the person who had committed a sin that was deserving of death? Where does this person flee? What provision is there in the Law for refuge for the sinner?

We have already seen that the one who was guilty of murder “shall surely be put to death” and, under the Law, there is no place of refuge for the murderer. But this was true for every sinner under the Law. For the one who sinned willfully, there was no sacrifice for sin,

“but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries (Hebrews 10:26-27).” “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).”

But this judgment is only just, for the Law requires obedience and threatens a just recompense for all disobedience.

“Every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense (Hebrews 2:2).”

What then is the sinner to do? If there is no city of refuge, is there also no hope? Where, then, does forgiveness lie? It is certainly not available under the Law, for when Paul is prosecuting the Jews, the legalists who embrace the Law and attempt to earn their righteousness by their obedience to the Law, he declares in Romans 2:2,

“And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.”

God’s holiness evokes His wrath against all sin. God’s holy Law, therefore, demands justice and requires punishment. Sin surely requires, always requires a just recompense and the Law provides no refuge From God’s holy justice. So, again I ask, what is a sinner to do? Where is the place of refuge for the sinner?

REFUGE APART FROM THE LAW

This place of refuge is described in Romans 3:21-26, which begins

“But now, apart from the Law, a righteousness of God has been manifested (Romans 3:21).”

The old covenant, controlled by the Law, offered those who were not guilty of murder a city of refuge so that injustice would be prevented, but now, apart from the Law, the new covenant in Christ’s blood offers to every guilty sinner a Person of refuge “so that God would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).”

The cities of refuge, which were carefully established under the Law, were never intended to offer any forgiveness to anyone, but only offered physical protection to those who were not guilty. But the good news of the gospel, which was gloriously established at the cross, declares that faith in Jesus will bring complete forgiveness of all sins to every guilty sinner who will trust Christ as Lord and Savior, and that faith will guarantee them eternal life.

So, the next time you are in the book of Numbers and are reading about the cities of refuge in chapter 35, remember that these point to the cross and the eternal refuge of Christ.

SDG                 rmb                 6/14/2021                   #415

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

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

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

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

BACKGROUND

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

THE UNIVERSAL PROBLEM – YOU WILL LIKEWISE PERISH

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

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

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

SAME MESSAGE FOR YOU AND ME TODAY

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

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO REPENT?

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

HOW WILL YOU ANSWER?

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

SDG                 rmb                 6/9/2021                     #414

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

BACKGROUND OF THE PASSAGE

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

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

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

PARALLELS BETWEEN THE WATCHMAN AND THE WITNESS

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

Sword = God’s Judgment                    Trumpet = Gospel

Blow the trumpet = Proclaim the gospel

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

Ignores the warning + Does not respond to the gospel

Sword takes him away = Perishes forever in hell

THE KEY QUESTION: WHO IS THE WATCHMAN?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SDG                 rmb                 6/7/2021         #413

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

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

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

PSALM 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SDG                 rmb                 5/30/2021                   #409

The righteous and the unrighteous (Psalm 1)

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

PSALM 1

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

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

THE RIGHTEOUS

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

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

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

THE WICKED (UNRIGHTEOUS)

“The wicked are not so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

LESSON FOR THE RIGHTEOUS

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

LESSON FOR THE UNRIGHTEOUS

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

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

SDG                 rmb                 5/24/2021

Can wisdom produce purpose? (Ecclesiastes 2:12-23)

Is there any value in wisdom? And if so, how is that value obtained?

In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon mentions “wisdom” or “wise” more than fifty times, yet never does he find any satisfaction or peace or joy in wisdom. For Solomon, wisdom is a god who cannot speak (Psalm 115:5), a scarecrow in a cucumber field (Jeremiah 10:5). For wisdom you can seek, but wisdom cannot speak. Solomon has put all his chips on the spot called “WISDOM,” and when wisdom fails him (Ecclesiastes 2:12-23), his only course of action is to hate life (2:17). Solomon believed that wisdom could promise him purpose, but that is not true. Wisdom does indeed have value, but the value of wisdom is only available to the one who already has a purpose.

PURPOSE IS THE MAIN THEME OF ECCLESIASTES

The study of Ecclesiastes has long fascinated me. Although a relatively short book, it is nevertheless profound in the questions the author asks about life and about death and about meaning. I have concluded that the dominant theme of this wisdom book is the search for purpose. Until a person lays hold of their God-given purpose in life, they will be forever restless and dissatisfied.

In Ecclesiastes 2:21, we read

When there is a person who has labored with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and then gives his legacy to one who has not labored for it; this too is futility and a great evil.

Labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill only yield a legacy to one who has purpose, because these are mere tools to be used to reach a goal. Labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill are never an end in themselves, but are deployed to fulfill a meaningful desire. Of what value is all the knowledge in the world if that knowledge is not useful in accomplishing your purpose?

The main point is this: Labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill can never yield purpose. These will support a purpose, but they can never produce a purpose. For all his immense wisdom, King Solomon missed this point, and so do many others. All the resources in the world will not benefit the one who has no God-given purpose.

PURPOSE MUST PRECEDE WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE AND LABOR

Purpose precedes labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill as automobile precedes gasoline.

A map is only necessary when you have an intended destination. Just so, you need only employ wisdom when you are moving toward a previously chosen purpose.

How do you set your GPS if you have not decided where you are going? And the world’s best GPS will never determine your destination. In the same way, you must already have a purpose if you are to get any value out of wisdom.

It is “vanity” and a “striving after wind” to believe that labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill can give you a fulfilling purpose.

It is foolish to ask a caterpillar or a turtle to fly. Just so, it is foolish to ask labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill to produce your purpose. You are asking the impossible. It is not a question of discipline or effort or determination. It is a matter of ability. The most disciplined turtle will never fly. The turtle may plummet but fly he never will. Just so, all the labor and wisdom and knowledge and skill in the world will never produce purpose.

SOLOMON MISSED IT

Solomon invested all his time and effort and determination to develop his wisdom and knowledge, and only when he had grown old does he realize that, without a God-given purpose, all his most keenly developed wisdom is mere “vanity” and “a striving after wind.”

How do we make sure that we do not make the same mistake that Solomon made? How do we make sure that, as we approach the end of our days, we do not decide that we hate life (Ecclesiastes 2:17), and that “everything is futility and a striving after wind?”

A LIFE OF PURPOSE

Avoiding a meaningless life begins with bowing down before the Lord Jesus Christ and crying out to Him for salvation. He who would have a life of purpose must first embrace the God who gives purpose. So first, repent and believe.

All those who come to the Lord Jesus in repentance and in faith have received a new purpose for their life. As a believer, you now have a Bible which guides you into new obedience so that you glorify God with your redeemed life. You have been sealed with the Holy Spirit, so you are now able to hear God as He speaks to you and guides you. With all the rest of God’s redeemed people, you have the purpose of glorifying God in all you do. All believers have this purpose, and this purpose is fulfilling and satisfying and lifelong.

But the Lord who saved you is also the Lord who saved you for His unique purpose. That is, every believer has been chosen and saved for a purpose that no one else can accomplish (Ephesians 2:10). Among the great joys of being a follower of Jesus is finding that unique place where you sense that you are fulfilling God’s unique purpose for your life. After years or even decades of searching and sanctification, the Lord has sovereignly placed you in a place of great usefulness and service. I believe this is what “purpose” means, to find that place where God is most glorified by the life that we live for Him.

SDG                 rmb                 5/20/2021

The elect, the believing, and the one the Father draws (John 6:39, 6:40, 6:44)

NOTE: This article is a detailed study of three verses from John chapter 6 about those whom Jesus will raise up on the last day in the Resurrection. The result is fascinating, as my study revealed how God the Father ensures that all His elect will certainly come to believe in Jesus, the Son, and be raised up on the last day. I hope you find it an edifying study. rmb

Who are the ones that Jesus will raise up on the last day?

John 6:39 – “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing but raise it up on the last day.”

LOOKING AT THE VERSE:

Who are “all that He has given Me?” These are all the elect (righteous) of all time whom God has chosen for salvation before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). These have been given to the Son by the Father.

What will Jesus do with all those whom the Father has given to Him? He will raise them all up on the last day. This “raise up” is certainly the Resurrection. Jesus even adds emphasis by saying that, of all that the Father has given Him, He will lose nothing. All the elect will be raised up on the last day. All the elect who are living will be resurrected, and all the elect who have died will be resurrected. Jesus makes no distinction between the living and the dead in terms of whom He will raise on the last day. “All that He has given Me” will be raised up on the last day. Thus, the Resurrection of all the elect occurs on the last day.

John 6:40 – For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

LOOKING AT THE VERSE:

COMMENTS: At first glance, it might seem that Jesus is just repeating Himself, but that is not the case. Jesus is teaching that the Resurrection of the righteous is two sides of the same coin. In John 6:39, our Lord stated that He will raise up “all that the Father has given Him” on the last day, and it is clear that the expression “all that He has given Me” refers to all the elect. Thus, in John 6:39, Jesus is talking about God’s sovereign decree of election and declares that He will raise up all the elect on the last day. But in John 6:40, we are looking at the righteous through the lens of believing unto salvation.

Notice that in both verses we read of the “will of the Father.”

In John 6:39, “the will of Him who sent Me” is that Jesus will raise up on the last day all that the Father has given Him (all the elect). This is the Resurrection of all the righteous.

In John 6:40, “the will of My Father” is that Jesus will raise up on the last day everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him. And this is the Resurrection of all the righteous.

ALL THAT GOD HAS GIVEN JESUS” EQUALS “ALL WHO WILL BELIEVE IN JESUS

We know that the will of the Father will always come to pass (Psalm 115:3; Ephesians 1:11). Now, since it is the will of the Father, we know that all that He has given Jesus will be raised up on the last day (6:39), and, since it is also the will of the Father, we know that everyone who believes in Jesus will be raised up on the last day (6:40). What Jesus is teaching here is that “all that the Father has given the Son (6:39)” is identical with “everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him (6:40).” Everyone who will ever behold the Son and believe in Him unto eternal life was given by the Father to the Son in eternity past, and all whom the Father has given to the Son will behold the Son and believe in Him unto eternal life. In simpler terms, we could say, “All the elect equals all who will ever believe.”

But this presents us with a difficult question. “How can the Father make sure that all those whom He has given to the Son will actually believe in the Son?” For election does not save. While it is true that God chose us, the elect (all the righteous), in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), it is also true that a sinner must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. So, again, how do the elect become those who believe in Jesus unto eternal life? Consider John 6:44.

John 6:44 – “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”

LOOKING AT THE VERSE:

COMMENTS: What does it mean in this verse “to come to Jesus?” For Jesus says, “No one can come to Me.” In most contexts, but especially in the gospel of John, we should understand “come to Me” as meaning “believe in Me,” because to come to Jesus has no significance unless the one who comes to Him also believes in Him.

But Jesus says, “No one can come to Me unless. . .” This word, “can,” speaks about ability. In fact, the original Greek could be written, “No one has the ability to come to Me.” In other words, “It is not possible for anyone to come to Me.” Then, if we added our interpretation, it would read, “No one has the ability to believe in Me.” This is an alarming verse, but we must remember that Jesus added a condition. “No one has the ability to believe in Me UNLESS the Father who sent Me draws Him; and I will raise Him up on the last day.”

From this, I have three ideas:

  1. Since no one can come (has the ability to come) to Jesus unless the Father draws them, it means only those that the Father draws will come to Jesus. (By the way, we can see here God’s sovereignty in salvation. If He does not draw you, you are not saved.)
  2. On the last day, Jesus will raise up all those whom the Father draws. John 6:44 implies, “If the Father draws them, I (Jesus) will raise them up on the last day.”
  3. From our previous work in John 6:39 and 6:40, we already know those whom Jesus will raise up on the last day. From John 6:39, we know that, on the last day, Jesus will raise up all the elect. And from John 6:40, we know that, on the last day, Jesus will raise up all those who believe in Him.

PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER

I know that I have been going very slowly through this passage, but now we are ready to put the pieces together. Earlier in our study, we asked the question, ““How can the Father make sure that all those whom He has given to the Son will actually believe in the Son?” Then we asked that question another way, “How do the elect become those who believe in Jesus unto eternal life?”

Now in our study of John 6:44 we have the answer: The Father draws all those that He has given to the Son so that they all come to the Son to behold the Son and to believe in the Son.

Here is a simpler way to understand these verses: Jesus will raise up all the elect on the last day, and Jesus will raise up all those who behold the Son and believe in the Son, and Jesus will raise up all those the Father draws.

So, the Father draws (John 6:44) all the elect (6:39) to the Son so that they behold the Son and believe in the Son (6:40).

            SDG                 rmb                 4/28/2021

Justified by faith and justified by works (James 2:14-26)

“Does the Bible teach that we are justified by faith alone, or does the Bible teach that we are justified by our works?” This question was one of the central issues of the Protestant Reformation and remains the main dividing line between evangelical Christians and Catholics. “Justification by faith alone” is a non-negotiable doctrine of the Christian faith because it is a central teaching of the New Testament. On the other hand, a major doctrine of Catholicism is that the Catholic is saved by faith and works. This teaching was firmly established as Catholic doctrine at the Council of Trent and is still the doctrine of the Catholic Church today. Thus, the two positions contradict one another. Justification is either by faith alone or it is by faith and human works, but both positions cannot be true.

A PROBLEM PASSAGE?

And this brings us to a passage in the New Testament book of “James” that seems to create a conundrum, because James explicitly states in James 2:24,

“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

Now, it is a fact that the overwhelming majority of New Testament teachings on justification explicitly state that justification is by faith. “Works” are either expressly rejected within the passage or are prohibited by the context of the passage. (A list of these passages is given at the end of this article.) But now we see that this passage in James 2 seems to declare that justification is by works. In light of this verse and this passage, Catholics say that their doctrine of justification by faith plus works has biblical warrant.

Is this the case? Do Paul and James contradict one another in the fundamental doctrine of justification? Is there a contradiction in the New Testament, indeed, a major contradiction? Is the Bible ambiguous on how a sinner is justified? We will need to investigate this passage in James 2:14-26 to see if these things are so.

TWO DIFFERENT QUESTIONS

First, the good news is that there is no contradiction in the Bible’s teaching on justification. The Bible is the Holy-Spirit inspired, God-breathed infallible word of the living God and, as such, has no contradictions. The Bible is the Christian’s final source for all matters of faith and practice and is trustworthy. Therefore, we know from the outset that Paul and James do not contradict one another. But, having said that, we must nevertheless carefully consider this passage in James 2 and see why there is no contradiction with the rest of the New Testament.

Second, a reading of James 2:14-26 will reveal that James is addressing the situation where the person in view already has faith. James’ teaching in this passage requires that the person under consideration already professes faith in Jesus. In fact, the entire passage is predicated on a claim of saving faith. So, in this passage James is not addressing the question, “How does a person receive salvation?” Rather, this passage addresses the question, “Is the faith that you claim you have received a saving faith that manifests itself in works keeping with salvation?” The answers to these two questions cannot contradict each other because they answer two entirely different questions.

JAMES AND PAUL ON JUSTIFICATION

Paul’s teaching on justification is almost entirely focused on answering the first question above, “How is a sinner justified unto salvation?” Paul consistently and repeatedly answers that question with, “The sinner is justified by faith (alone).”

By contrast, in James 2:14-26, James is dealing with the second question; namely, “How is the faith that you claim justified (proven)?” James answers that question with, “The claim of faith must be justified (proven) by your works.” So, it may be said that James is, indeed, teaching “justification by works.” James is teaching that saving faith is “justified” by a changed life full of “works,” full of evidence that you are saved.

With that understanding as a background, the difficulties of James 2:14-26 disappear, and the passage flows easily.

INTERPRETING THE PASSAGE

  • 2:14-17 – James gives an example of faith without works. “What use is that (2:16)?” The expected answer is, “It’s not worth anything!” “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead.” A works-less faith is dead.
  • 2:18 – The difficulty of a claim of faith is that anyone can make such a claim. It may be a justified claim, or it may be an empty claim, but there is no way to tell based on the claim alone. Ah, but show me your godly works, and show me your obedience, and show me your fruit in keeping with repentance, and I will believe your claim of faith.
  • 2:19 – You can make a claim of faith and the demons can make a claim of faith, but if your claim is not justified by visible godly works, your claim will net you a demon’s reward.
  • 2:20 – James is now going to give illustrations of those who were justified by saving faith, because “faith without works is useless.”
  • 2:21-23 – Abraham proved the immensity of his faith by obediently being willing to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice. The faith that had justified Abraham and that was reckoned to him as righteousness many years before (Genesis 15:6); that faith was justified and perfected when Abraham offered up Isaac on Moriah.
  • You see that Abraham was justified by faith, but Abraham’s faith was justified by his works.
  • 2:24 – “You see that a man is justified by works and not by (a claim of) faith alone.”
  • 2:25 – Even Rahab the harlot proved that she had saving faith because she risked her life by sending the spies out by another way. In this way, her invisible saving faith was made visible. So, she was justified by her works.
  • 2:26 – James concludes his argument, “Faith without works is dead.”

APPLICATION

            The first application of this teaching is to assure the believer that James and Paul are not at odds and the Bible is not unclear about justification. James and Paul are addressing two different questions and are using “justification” in two different ways.

            The second application would be as a possible Bible study opportunity for one of your Catholic friends. If your friend was willing to listen to this teaching from James AND also listen to the teaching on justification by faith unto salvation, you may be able to use this as an evangelistic opportunity.

            SDG                 rmb                 4/26/2021

It is faith alone that saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.

“Justification by faith” verses or passages:
Romans 3:22, 24, 28, 30; 4:2-6; 5:1; 9:30-33; Galatians 2:16, 21; 3:6, 8, 11; Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 11:6, 7, 17-19; 1 Peter 1:5, 9