God displays His holiness (Exodus 19)

Our God is a holy God, and His holiness requires wrath and judgment against all that is unholy. Therefore, all sin receives His full wrath in judgment. Because our God is holy, we should not be surprised that the Bible presents us with occasions when the wrath of God breaks into time and space.

As the children of Israel fled the Egyptians into the wilderness, they quickly arrived at Sinai where God was going to give them His Law (Exodus 19). This giving of the Law was the first time that God had explicitly manifested His holiness to His people, stating in a moral code the expression of His holiness in commandments and ordinances. As stated, His Law was inflexible and uncompromising, and every violation received a just recompense (Hebrews 2:2). It was a Law of condemnation and judgment that required blood sacrifices if there was to be any forgiveness. The Law was terrifying and awesome and was meant to instill fear and reverence in the people.

When God delivered His Law and displayed His holiness, everything about the occasion brought feelings of awe and fear. The LORD told Moses,

Let the people be ready for the third day, for on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:11-12).

Then, in 19:16:

16 So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud over the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.

18 Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the entire mountain quaked violently. 19 When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him with thunder.

The LORD is holy, and whenever He manifests Himself to sinful man, man is overwhelmed and undone (Isaiah 6). But here, not only is the LORD coming down from heaven to speak to His people, but He is also delivering His holy Law, the Law of condemnation, the Law that every one of His people will violate (Romans 3:23), the Law that will result in judgment, the Law that will require the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. So here, on Mount Sinai, everything evokes awe and fear. There is thunder and lightning flashes and thick cloud. There is a loud trumpet sound coming from heaven (19:16), and this eerie, heavenly blare of the trumpet grows louder and louder (19:19). The entire mountain is engulfed in smoke and fire. The smoke ascends like the smoke of a furnace, and the entire mountain is quaking violently. “Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).” Abject terror is the response from the people, which is entirely appropriate. God is manifesting His holiness in Law and judgment, and it evokes terrified reverence.

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. – Hebrews 10:31

But there was another occasion even more awesome than this day at Mount Sinai when God again manifested His holiness. This occasion involved a hill instead of a mountain, and there was no thunder or lightning or fire or billowing smoke like a furnace. There was no eerie heavenly trumpet blast getting louder and louder. The scene was fairly quiet, just some bystanders looking on as three men endured the agony of crucifixion. Then something changed.

When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour. – Mark 15:33

Darkness. There was darkness over the whole land, the darkness of judgment, the darkness of condemnation. Darkness as the expression of God’s holiness. And now the Man on the middle cross seemed to be enduring an agony much deeper than mere physical pain. This is Jesus Christ, the Chosen One. This is Jesus, the only One worthy to bear our sin, the only One able to bear our sin, Jesus Christ the Holy One enduring the full fury of the wrath of God against the sins of His people.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. – 2 Corinthians 5:21

So, for three hours on this Friday, Jesus Christ became sin for me and received the punishment that my sins deserved. He encountered the holiness of God in judgment.

At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” – Mark 15:34

But Jesus’ suffering did have an end, for there was a goal in view. By His awesome work on the cross, Jesus propitiated God’s wrath. In John’s gospel, after the agonies of God’s wrath, Jesus shouts a victory cry.

Therefore, when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. – John 19:30

Because Jesus died on the cross, we no longer stand terrified at the foot of the mountain, dreading the wrath of God and His judgment. Now, because of Jesus, God’s holiness is our holiness. Because of Jesus’ work on the cross and our faith in Him, Jesus’ perfect righteousness is our righteousness. Because of God’s grace, by our transformed lives we are now displays of God’s holiness.

SDG                 rmb                 4/7/2021

Our suffering as accomplishment (1 Peter 5:9)

“But resist him (the devil), firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” – 1 Peter 5:9 (NASB)

            Christ has suffered, and so His body, the church, is also called to suffer. Paul’s goal is to know “the fellowship (“koinonia” in Greek) of Christ’s sufferings (Philippians 3:10).” It may correctly be said that to be a Christian is to anticipate suffering for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:10-12). The apostle Peter mentions in his first epistle that Christ suffered and left us an example to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21). As Christ has suffered, so we will suffer as witnesses to Him. Jesus said, “And you shall be My witnesses (Acts 1:8),” and the Greek word for witnesses is the word “martyr.” So, we are certainly to anticipate suffering for the name of Jesus. But while it is true that Christ suffered in the flesh (1 Peter 3:18; 4:1) and that the church also suffers, there is a profound difference between these two experiences of suffering.

            Christ has suffered in the flesh and has perfectly accomplished the work the Father gave Him to do. In John 17:4, Jesus said, “I glorified You (the Father) on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.” What work did He accomplish? Jesus accomplished the work of atonement. That was the reason Jesus was sent to the earth, to accomplish the work of atonement, a work that He alone could accomplish. To accomplish this work, Christ had to endure the full fury of the wrath of God against all the sins of all His people of all time. Thus, Christ suffered as a means of accomplishing His work. Accomplishing His work involved suffering, but His work was not the suffering itself. How much suffering was Christ required to endure? Exactly the amount of suffering needed to propitiate the wrath of God against His people’s sins.

            Then, when God had poured out all His wrath on Christ, Christ’s work was done. Therefore, Jesus could cry out, “Tetelestai!” “It is finished (John 19:30)!” Three hours of suffering the full wrath of God had been endured and His work was accomplished. Once Jesus’ work of atonement was accomplished, His life could be yielded up (John 19:30; Luke 23:46; Matthew 27:50), because the purpose of His life was fulfilled, and now He needed to die.

            We have already said, “Since Christ suffered, so we will also suffer,” but for Christ’s body, the church, our suffering is central, not incidental. That is, there is an amount of suffering that the body of Christ must accomplish. Note what Peter says in 1 Peter 5:9: “the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” The verse says that the suffering is the work being accomplished. God has ordained that the body of Christ must suffer as an end and not merely as a means to some other end. As we have seen above, Christ’s suffering was the means necessary to accomplish His work of atonement, but the church’s suffering is the work to be accomplished.

            The New Testament has much to say about suffering for the name of Jesus Christ, but there is also an underlying theme in the New Testament suggesting that there is a predetermined amount of suffering which the church must “accomplish” to fulfill her purpose of witnessing. Consider these verses.

  • “Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered’ (Romans 8:36).” As the sheep were sacrificed routinely and anonymously, so the church suffers continually and without glory to give testimony to the worth of Christ.
  • “Now I rejoice (!) in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Colossians 1:24).” Notice that Paul’s sufferings are on behalf of the church and that they are “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” This thought is consistent with the idea that the purpose of the church is to witness to Christ through suffering.
  • We have already looked at 1 Peter 5:9, “the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.”
  • Underneath the altar were the souls of those who had been slain (for Jesus), and they cried out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood?” They were told to rest a little while longer until the number of their fellow servants who were to be killed even as they had been would be completed also (Revelation 6:9-11). The clear message from this passage is that God has determined a set number of martyrs who must be killed to complete the testimony of the church.

The church is called to be a witness to the risen Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8). This is one of the purposes of the church, and the collective suffering of the entire church is accomplishing this part of the church’s purpose. Thus, it may be said that a suffering church is an accomplishing church.                         

SDG                rmb                 1/20/2021

Do we seek suffering? – Part 2 (Philippians 3:10)

“that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings.” – the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:10

It seems that the statement is made at some point in conversations about suffering, especially among American Christians. It is usually well intended and sounds like an appropriate thing to say in response to affliction for the name of Jesus. “Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering. . .” But the more I think about that statement, the more uncomfortable I become. Is that true? Are we not to seek suffering? And if that is the case, then why do so many of my heroes in the Bible and so many Christians in history suffer for their faith? Is it normal to be a serious Christian and not suffer for my faith? And what do I do if God is calling me to a course of action that almost certainly includes suffering to some degree?

            Because of the importance of the topic of suffering for the believer, I am going to spend several posts exploring what I see to be problems with the statement, “Of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering.” The goal is to arrive at a solid perspective on suffering that makes me more useful to Jesus.

            Problem #1 (January 5) dealt with the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ effectively sought out His own suffering as the necessary means for accomplishing His mission of redemption and atonement. Since Jesus sought suffering, it seems hard to imagine that we do not. In this post we will look at Problem #2.

“Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering . . .”

PROBLEM #2

            “That’s really a trivial statement.”

Upon examination, we realize that the declaration above (“Of course, we do not seek suffering”) is somewhat trivial. What I mean is this: Of course, Christians do not seek out suffering! No one in their right mind seeks out suffering as an end in itself, so saying that the Christian is not called to seek suffering is just stating the obvious. Jesus did not call His disciples to seek suffering for suffering’s sake, but He did call us to follow Him wherever He leads regardless of any real or imagined consequences. The consequences of my obedience are the Lord’s responsibility. He determines those, and one of those potential consequences may be suffering. Another consequence could be my physical death. As a disciple of Jesus, I choose to obey regardless. The duty of obedience is my responsibility. I obey because obedience to my Master is my highest aim. I long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

When viewed in this light, the possibility of suffering is irrelevant. It is beside the point. Suffering is just one of the potential consequences of my obedience to the Lord. Why focus on one potential consequence instead of focusing on the goal or the prize of my obedience (Philippians 3:14)? Why highlight this one possible personal consequence instead of bringing all glory to Christ and focusing all my energy on proclaiming the gospel? Why think about a consequence of obedience that might cause me to shrink back from God’s appointed path (Hebrews 10:38-39), instead of running with endurance the race before me and fixing my eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2), which will spur me on?

The bottom line is that the disciple of Jesus does not seek out a path just because it offers an opportunity to suffer, but neither does the disciple of Jesus shrink back from any God-appointed path that requires personal suffering. Suffering is not sought, nor is it required, but neither is it ever avoided.

SDG                 rmb                 1/9/2021

Do we seek suffering? – Part 1 (Phil. 3:10)

            It seems that the statement is made at some point in most conversations about suffering, especially among American Christians. It is usually well intended and sounds like an appropriate thing to say in response to suffering for the name of Jesus. “Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek suffering. . .” But the more I think about that statement, the more uncomfortable I become. Is that true? Are we not to seek suffering? And if that is the case, then why do so many of my heroes in the Bible and in history suffer for their faith? Why does the Bible have so much to say about suffering if my experience of the Christian life can safely avoid it? Is it normal to be a serious Christian and not suffer? And what do I do if God is calling me to a course that will almost certainly result in my suffering to some degree?

            Because of these questions and because of the importance of the topic of suffering, I am going to spend the next several posts exploring what I see to be problems with this statement. The goal is to arrive at a solid perspective on suffering that makes me more useful to Jesus.

“Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering . . .”

PROBLEM #1

“Can you support that statement with Scripture?”

The first reaction to this statement may be to agree with it and let the conversation move on, but as discerning followers of Jesus, we must respond to these types of statements with at least a small challenge.

“That’s an interesting idea. Can you support that statement with Scripture?” Scripture is the place where all disciples of Jesus find a common foundation. Does a given theological position, or a faith practice find solid support in the word of God?

When I think about the fact that Jesus Christ was acutely aware of His appointed suffering on the cross from the beginning of His ministry and had, in fact, been sent to earth for the express purpose of suffering and dying on the cross, I seriously wonder if I can support the statement above. My entire salvation depends upon Jesus seeking suffering. Jesus’ mission could only be accomplished if He suffered and died on the cross. Where does the Lord Jesus tell His disciples that they are not to seek out suffering? Chapter and verse, please.

What about Paul? Paul intentionally did things that provoked persecution and inevitably resulted in his suffering. In Philippi he cast out a demon that ended the merchants’ revenue with the slave girl. He must have known that this was going to result in his being punished and his suffering.

Paul continued his way to Jerusalem knowing that conflict awaited him there (Acts 20-21). His own people pleaded with him to turn back and to change his plans, but Paul steadfastly refused even though he knew that he would suffer. Would Paul agree with the statement that the Christian does not seek out suffering?

And then there is Peter. Peter was warned repeatedly that, if he continued with his preaching about Jesus in Jerusalem, he was going to be severely punished (Acts 4-5), and yet he never even slowed down. If the Jewish or Roman authorities needed to punish someone for preaching about Jesus, Peter was not hard to find. Also, his first epistle has as its central theme the perseverance of the believer in the face of suffering for Christ. Would Peter say that the believer does not seek suffering?

            In the Old Testament, evil kings and false prophets warned the true prophets that, if they did not silence their prophecy or change their message, they would be punished, and the true prophets remained true to the message the LORD had given them to proclaim. For example, more than once, Jeremiah suffered for the message that he preached, but he would rather be punished with the stripes of men than fail to obey the LORD and deliver His message.

            So, while these heroes from Scripture may not have sought suffering, the prospect of suffering was not a factor in their decision-making. They sought to be obedient to the LORD, regardless. That is the view that the Scripture supports.

SDG rmb 1/5/2021

But let’s take a step back for a minute. Maybe the problem with the statement is the statement itself. That is, maybe we are saying what we mean in a clumsy way. My next post will explore that possibility in PROBLEM #2. rmb