The distinguishing mark of a “religion”

The distinguishing mark of every “religion” is that, if Christ had never come into the world and there was, therefore, no cross and there was no resurrection and no empty tomb and Christ was not coming again to judge the earth, the “religion” would continue to function without interruption.

            This, in fact, is basically a functional definition of any “religion”: Any system of man-made practices and rituals intended to provide a worldview that intentionally operates or can operate without any meaningful reference to Christ. The point I am trying to make is that this is not an incidental product of the religious system but is completely intentional and is the very reason that the religion was created and exists. As we consider some examples of “religions,” it will be apparent that these systems are deliberately antichrist.      

A COMMON AUTHOR AND INVENTOR

            All religions are invented and crafted by the chief antichrist himself, Satan, and are therefore designed to exclude all references to and reliance upon the finished work of the Lord Jesus, to deny His glorious resurrection, and to omit and ignore the fact that He will return one day to judge the earth. Although religions come in a wide variety of guises, their primary purpose is to prevent the religious slave from seeing their own sinfulness, and from “seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4).”

Satan invents religions and then passes them on to wicked men who then propagate the lies of the religion so that religious devotees will never encounter our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, they will not become aware they are sinners, and they will become ensnared in useless rituals and works and ideas which profit them nothing. Religions are Satan’s primary means for obscuring Jesus. They avoid the biblical Jesus, they distort biblical teaching, and they twist the meaning of biblical words and ideas, and they do so intentionally and actively. Again, the reason they all have common characteristics is that they are invented by the same person, Satan, and they have the same purpose.

Religions exalt the devotee by appealing to the “works” that the religious person does to merit their “salvation.” The works and the efforts involved vary from religion to religion, but all religions base the achievement of the end goal (purgatory, nirvana, paradise, oblivion, heaven, your own planet, etc.) on the meritorious efforts of the followers. If the follower works hard enough and long enough, and they are good enough, they might get in. Oddly, this results in strengthening the chains of slavery that bind them to the religion by appealing to their fleshly pride and encouraging them to rely on his own efforts to please God.

HOW TO IDENTIFY A RELIGION

There is a marked and easily detected difference between true biblical faith and practice, and “religions.” Here is a series of questions that will help make this distinction:

  • Regarding SIN – Is sin clearly defined and presented as a major issue and as the guarantee of condemnation to an eternity in hell, or is sin undefined or vaguely defined and seldom or never addressed?
  • Regarding man – Is man portrayed as a sinner in need of rescue, or is man presented as basically good and possibly in need of a little help from above? Is man declared to be wretched and rebellious, or is he “better than most” and “doing the best that he can?”
  • Regarding the centrality of Christ – Is Christ the center of the worship and the preaching of this group and, therefore, mentioned often, or is Christ off to the side somewhere and seldom mentioned? Is Christ central or is He expendable?
  • Regarding salvation – Is man’s need for salvation made clear and then is Christ presented as the only means of that salvation, or is man’s need for salvation vague or unknown and Christ’s role in salvation likewise unclear?
  • Regarding the cross of Christ – Is the cross of Christ preached from the pulpit and exalted by all, or is the power of the cross and the purpose of the cross unknown? Does this group proclaim what Jesus accomplished on the cross or is this group ignorant of what Jesus accomplished on the cross?
  • Regarding the resurrection of Christ from the dead – Is the resurrection of Christ from the dead regularly preached from the pulpit without apology or nuance, or is the resurrection not mentioned at all or is it ignored as unimportant or explained away by natural means?
  • Regarding the return of Christ at the end of the age – Is the return of Christ something that is anticipated with excitement and that is proclaimed loudly by pastors from the pulpit, or is the return of Christ effectively unknown?

BE ALERT AND BE WARNED; THERE ARE FALSE RELIGIONS OUT THERE

            In his short epistle, Jude says, “Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh (Jude 22-24).” The last verse is addressed at false religions. Be wary and be warned! They are dangerous.

            There are many antichrists (false christs, false prophets, and false teachers) who have gone out into the world (1 John 2:18), and so the church is to be warned that there are deceivers and liars all over.

            What should we do in light of these things?

            Know your Bible as if your life depended on it. Be able to recognize false doctrine instantly by being intimately familiar with true doctrine.

            Find a solid fellowship in which you can trust the pastors and elders of the church to teach the word of God faithfully and truthfully. You must be able to trust that you are not the only one defending yourself from false teaching. You must know that your pastors and elders are guarding the flock from any false teaching and from false teachers. They are watching for wolves who would destroy the flock (Acts 20:24??). This trust in the pastors and elders must be implicit, and their vigilance must be intentional, not just incidental. The church must be serious about guarding itself from false teaching.

SDG                 rmb                 12/17/2020

Forgiveness of sin and consequences of sin (Psalm 130:3-4)

If You, LORD, should mark iniquity, O Lord who could stand?

But there is forgiveness with You that You may be feared. – Psalm 130:3-4

What does the Lord do with the consequences of sin? “There is forgiveness with the Lord,” but after forgiveness, what does the Lord do with the consequences of sin? Will He remove the consequences of sin from the sin that is forgiven, or does He leave the consequences, even when He forgives the sin? And what about the sins of unbelievers? Since all their sins are unforgiven, does the Lord bring on these people all the consequences of their sins? I was thinking about this recently and wanted to share some brief thoughts.

THEOLOGICAL TRUTH, BUT GOD IS GRACIOUS

It must be said up front that God’s forgiveness of sin does not mean that God will remove the natural consequences of sin. God is never under any obligation to remove any of the consequences of any person’s sin. If the worst consequences of every sin came to pass, God would not have violated any of His justice. He would remain perfectly just. God is obligated to forgive all the sins of every person who has placed their faith in Jesus Christ, but He is obligated to remove none of the consequences of anyone’s sins. Having stated this theological truth, we need to also state that God “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and great in lovingkindness (Psalm 145:8),” and, because of His grace and mercy, He ordinarily chooses to remove the consequences of people’s sins, of believers and unbelievers alike.

THE GLORY OF GOD’S GRACE

Now, we should consider these things for a moment to understand the greatness and the glory and the compassion of our God. Because God is gracious and merciful, and because He is mindful that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14), He has sent His Son Jesus Christ to become flesh and to dwell among us and to die on the cross for us, and God has obligated Himself to forgive all the sins of every person who believes in Jesus. God has promised that any person who believes in Jesus is forgiven of all their sins and will never come under judgment. But while God has obligated Himself to forgive the sins of believers, He is not obligated to remove any of the consequences of those sins. But because God is, by His very nature, merciful and gracious, and because His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), then God ordinarily and usually chooses, by His perfect wisdom and for His glory, to remove the consequences of people’s sins, not only those of believers, but also those of unbelievers, even though the sins of the unbelievers are not forgiven and even though unbelievers remain under God’s wrath and judgment. Think about how foreign this is to our human experience. In this world, we expect enemies to receive no mercy, but God’s mercy manifests itself by usually (but not always) removing the worst consequences of the sins of His enemies.

In Romans 9:22, we read that “God, though willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.” What this means is that God deferred His wrath and His judgment on the reprobate, even though they were destined for hell.

In Romans 3:25, Paul writes that, “in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.” Again, God delayed judgment because of His grace.

Paul is addressing the pagans in Lystra when he says that “In generations gone by God permitted the nations to go their own way,” while still giving them rains and good things. The point is that God’s common grace means that He defers His judgment, and He often removes the consequences of sin.

SDG                 rmb                 12/12/2020

What is the price of a treasure or a pearl? (Matthew 13:44-46)

What is so valuable that it is worth the ultimate price, the price of my life? That is the question that Jesus is going to address with these two short parables in Matthew 13:44 and then in 13:45-46. What cost are you willing to pay for that one thing you have been seeking your whole life?

In the first parable, a man finds treasure buried in a field. “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (Matthew 13:44).” The second parable is about a merchant seeking pearls. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matthew 13:45-46).” Although the details of the parables are different, their structure and their flow and, most importantly, their message is the same.

But before we get too far, we need to define what we mean by “the kingdom of heaven.” This phrase basically means salvation, and the peace and rest that King Jesus offers. The kingdom of heaven is that place where Jesus is King.

In both parables, the main characters are seeking something. There is something “out there” that they desire and so they seek it diligently. They were seeking something of immense value that can only be obtained at huge cost. But they know that, if they find what they are seeking, any price they pay will be justified by the value of what they obtain. So, they seek.

What are we seeking? Before we know Jesus as Lord, I believe we are seeking something “out there” that will satisfy our soul. Each of us has just one life to give away, but what is so valuable that it is worth the price of my life? Jesus asked, “What will a man give in exchange for his soul (Matthew 16:26)?” So, we seek something that is worth our soul. In Isaiah 55, the prophet says, “Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near (v. 6).” In Jeremiah, the LORD says, “You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart (29:13).” So first, we must seek.

Again, in both parables, the man and the merchant find what they are seeking. The man finds the treasure in the field and the merchant finds the pearl of great value. They realize that this is the moment that have been waiting for. This is that once in a lifetime find, the discovery on which their life pivots. This is it! Now is the opportunity to end their seeking and make the commitment.

What is Jesus telling us? It is clear from these parables that the kingdom of heaven with Jesus as King is the treasure in the field and is the pearl of great value. Jesus is declaring to all who will listen that this is the moment you have been waiting for. The kingdom of heaven is the end of your search. Will you make the commitment?

Finally, both the man and the merchant agree to pay the outrageous price. What is the price for the find of a lifetime? They go and they sell all that they have and buy it. There is no hesitation and there is no “buyer’s remorse.” Instead, there is joy! But how can there be joy when you have spent all that you have? There is joy when the value of what you obtained is infinitely greater than the cost. For the man with the treasure, the field cost him everything he had, but he obtained lifetime satisfaction. His treasure hunt was forever over. The pearl merchant was left with nothing but the fabulous pearl, but now he could rest from his search for pearls.

What is the price I must pay for the kingdom of heaven? What will it cost me to obtain eternal satisfaction for my soul? When Jesus was talking to the rich young ruler about the cost of eternal life in Mark 10:21, He says, “Sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and come, follow Me,” but the man was not willing to pay the price and he suffered infinite loss. The apostle Paul lost everything to follow Christ, yet he counted all he lost “as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3:8).” When Jesus called Peter, James, John, and Matthew (Levi), they “left everything and followed Him (Luke 5:11, 28).” It is the same for all who would follow Jesus. The price you must pay to obtain the kingdom of heaven is the price of your whole life. You must give everything you have. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it (Matthew 10:39).” The message of these two short parables is that Jesus is offering the infinite value of the kingdom of heaven to anyone who is willing to seek Him and find Him and give their life away in serving Him and obeying Him.

There is another reason why the kingdom of heaven is of infinite value. We have been talking about what it will cost us to obtain it, but we also need to consider how much it cost to make the kingdom of heaven available to seeking sinners. The kingdom of heaven is of infinite value because it was purchased for us at the price of the death of the Son of God. It cost the Lord Jesus the price of His life poured out on a Roman cross to buy access for sinners to the kingdom of heaven. Now the kingdom of heaven can be obtained by anyone who is willing to give their life away to Jesus. SDG                 rmb                 10/31/2020

Two biblical studies: Daniel’s Seventy Weeks and Yom Kippur in Leviticus 16

I am doing a lot of reading and studying in the end-times passages in the Scriptures, and have been digging deep into chapters 7-12 of Daniel lately. I have always enjoyed the narrative stories in Daniel 1-6 with their heroes and the amazing ways the Lord rescued and promoted His brave and faithful servants in Babylon, but I have thus far been reluctant to plunge into Daniel’s visions and prophecies in the second half of the book. But now, since I have more time available for study, I have rolled up my sleeves and drilled down. The latest fruit of that “drilling” is a thorough study of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9:24-27. My study can be accessed by the link below. Please read it and let me know your thoughts. rmb 9/22/2020

https://wordpress.com/block-editor/page/roysreflections.com/1721

Since the Jewish day of atonement, Yom Kippur, is approaching (it will be here on September 27 this year), I decided to take a long look at Leviticus 16, where the Bible records the LORD’s commands regarding this most serious of days, to discover what riches I might find there. It turns out that this passage is rich with symbolism and heavy with foreshadows. I wanted especially to help my Jewish friends answer the question, “Since this ceremony can no longer be practiced as the LORD commanded it to be done, how do we atone for our sins?” In the article that I wrote (see the link below), I describe what I believe is the answer. Check it out and see if you agree with me. SDG rmb 9/22/2020

https://wordpress.com/block-editor/page/roysreflections.com/1709

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

SCENE 1

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

“Why are you doing that?”

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

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

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

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

SCENE 2       

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

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

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

“Why are you doing that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCENE 3

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

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

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

“Why are you doing that?”

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 10:4

SDG                 rmb                  9/4/2020

Drive out, destroy, and demolish (Number 33:52-55)

“How is it that a man or a woman who has recently come to faith in Jesus Christ is transformed from a person with filthy habits and cherished sins and wicked ways of thinking into a sanctified believer whom Jesus Christ is not ashamed to call a brother or a sister (Hebrews 2:11)?” For when you initially repented of your sins and trusted in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you were immediately “seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6),” because spiritually you were as justified as you would ever be. That is, when you “passed from death to life (John 5:24)” at the instant of your salvation, you were 100% fully saved. Through faith in Jesus, you had been declared righteous. You had been acquitted. There was, therefore, then and now, no condemnation (Romans 8:1) for you . . . ever, throughout all eternity. You were no longer under God’s wrath and never would be again. Legally and spiritually, everything had changed forever. BUT morally and in terms of practical holiness, you still had your old filthy habits and cherished sins and wicked ways of thinking. In terms of growing in holiness, your direction had changed 180 degrees, from running toward sin to running toward obedience to God, but your moral location was unchanged. From God’s perspective, you were a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17); the old had gone, the new had come, but from everyone else’s perspective, you were the same old you. So, again I ask, how is it that a disciple of Jesus grows into a holy person who can “let their light shine before men (Matthew 5:16)?”

Now, I am not changing subjects when I turn our attention to Numbers 33: 52-55 and ask, “How can the land of Canaan, that has been polluted by pagan idolatry and pagan immorality, be made suitable for the people of the Holy One, the LORD of Israel?” In this passage, the LORD gives His people Israel direct commands for what they are to do to transform the land of Canaan into a land worthy of the LORD. We will examine these instructions carefully, because what the LORD tells Israel to do literally to “sanctify” the land of Canaan will serve as a model for what we need to do figuratively to sanctify our lives and to grow in practical holiness.

In Numbers 33:52-55, then, the LORD gives the people of Israel a series of commands and then issues a warning.

  • “You shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land (52a).” The inhabitants of Canaan will be a constant source of temptation to return to idolatry and to pagan immorality. You must drive out this poison that is leaking into the land or you will fall to these temptations.
  • You shall “destroy all their figured stones (52b).” Figured stones were carvings that reminded them of their pagan gods. The pagans viewed them as cute and harmless, but the LORD viewed them as abominations. Because these figured stones reminded the Canaanites of their cherished gods, the stones must be destroyed.
  • You shall “destroy all their metal images (52c).” Metal images served the same purpose as the figured stones (above) in that these images kept the false gods in their minds and reminded them when it was time to worship. These images and stones kept the people enslaved to these idols. They must be smashed.
  • You shall “demolish all their high places (52d).” The high places were scattered all over the land to provide convenient places for pagan worship. They were like shrines or stone altars. The pagan could get in a short worship session without interrupting the flow of their day. These were to be demolished so that no one could use them again.

Notice that these first four commands called for violent, intentional action. “Forcefully, violently drive out the pagans until there are none left” was the idea. Get rid of them completely. Drive them out like a nest of vipers or like a hive of hornets. Eradicate them! Show no pity or compromise. Destroy their objects of worship and their reminders of their false gods. Smash them! Pulverize them! Leave no trace! Demolish their places of worship. Scrape them clean like you were wiping a dish. There is to be no remnant of these high places because remnants allow for revival and return. Demolish them so that they cannot be found.

  • “You shall take possession of the land (53a).” Now that the pagan residents have been driven out (52a), the void must be filled with the holy people. (Matthew 12:43-45 as a warning passage.) Now the LORD’s people are to move in and fill the land and subdue it (Genesis 1:28). They are to make this land a place where loud and public worship of the LORD fills the land from Dan to Beersheba.

Now we have seen the prescription for what the people of Israel were to do to transform the land of Canaan into a land suitable for the holy people of the LORD. The transformation required violent, intentional action that would continue until the land had been purged of its former ungodliness.

            This picture of transformation of the physical land gives us a blueprint for how we can transform our spiritual selves and grow in sanctification. First, we see that sanctification requires intentional, “violent” action.

  • The disciple of Jesus must figuratively drive out the former inhabitants of the land. The habits of the “old man” must be driven out, or they will be a constant source of temptation to drag you back into sin. Drive out the default behaviors and the cherished old sins. Drive them out of your mind and replace them with renewed, godly thoughts (Ephesians 4:23; Romans 12:2).
  • To grow in holiness and to walk worthy of the gospel (Ephesians 4:1), the disciple of Jesus must gather and then destroy all reminders of the idols of the past. Books must be thrown out. Old sinful songs must be erased and deleted. Photographs must go and phone numbers must be deleted. Websites are disconnected. Indulgences and distractions and wastes of time and entertainments that do not edify must be destroyed. This “search and destroy” mission must be ruthless. You desire to have nothing left that will drag you backwards into old sin.
  • Your sanctification will require that you “demolish the former high places.” This means that you go no longer to the places where you formerly went to celebrate your sin. These are your old “places of worship,” either mentally in your mind or physically with your feet.
  • Finally, after you have begun to drive out the former inhabitants, and have begun to destroy the reminders of your former idols, and have started to demolish all the old “shrines” and “altars” where you used to practice your former sins, then you need to move in and “take possession of the land.” What does this look like for the disciple that wants to grow in sanctification? I think this means that you move into your faith with vigor. You embrace the means of grace. You become intimately familiar with your Bible by spending hours reading the words of the living God. You sit under godly teachers and humbly receive the word implanted (James 1:21). You move into a local church and you learn what it means to love other believers who are very different from you. You take possession of serving and of giving and of encouraging and of doing things you don’t necessarily want to do for the benefit of others because that’s a disciple of Jesus does. You take possession of your faith and seek to bear fruit, thirty, sixty, a hundredfold. If you are patient and persistent in these activities of driving out the old inhabitants and destroying the reminders and demolishing the memories of your former sinful ways, and if you will take possession of your faith with vigor and enthusiasm and go deep with the Lord, then you will see the fruit of a transformed life.

SDG                 rmb                 9/2/2020

Jacob was left alone (Genesis 32:24)

Jacob took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone.

The Lord of the universe dwells in unapproachable light surrounded by many angels, myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy!” (Revelation 5)!” Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), sitting on a throne of fiery flames and burning fire, a stream of fire coming out before Him (Daniel 7:9-10). His eyes are too pure to look upon evil (Habakkuk 1:13) and He has a settled holy hatred of all sin. Why, then, would this thrice holy God ever have pity on us and pursue us to rescue us? And if He did, how could mere man ever bear an encounter with the living God without being consumed?

            We, the ruined ones, live among myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands of other ruined sinners. Crammed into this crowded planet, we wander down the wide way leading to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). We grope along the wall like the blind, growling and moaning as we go (Isaiah 59:9). Foolish and disobedient to the Lord, we, as slaves of passions and pleasures, pass our days being hated by others and hating one another (Titus 3:3). This is the picture the Bible paints for unsaved man, the natural man. It is not a pretty picture and it is not a picture with any hope.

THE LORD CONDESCENDS TO US

Yet here is one of the many mysteries of the Bible, for despite the fact that the LORD is a consuming fire and cannot be seen by mortal eyes because of His holiness, and despite the fact that all mankind has been ruined by sin and each of us is under God’s righteous wrath (Romans 1:18; John 3:17-18, 36), the Bible is full of encounters between the Lord of the universe and ordinary human beings. It seems impossible, but the Holy One, who is surrounded in heaven by myriads of angels, condescends to earth to meet with a single sinful human being, such that the human is not consumed, but is blessed and has their life changed. There is no way that mortal man can find or approach God, so God seeks out His chosen ones and brings them home (Luke 19:10). And in the Bible, these encounters are all one on one. The holy God condescends to meet with a single human being and arranges the circumstances so that the human is alone. It is just God and a single human.

JACOB AT THE JABBOK

In this post, I want to talk about the Lord’s encounter with Jacob in Genesis 32, because this encounter is staged to create a feeling of drama and awe and foreboding. Jacob has returned to Canaan from Paddan-Aram and is now defenseless against his brother Esau. Messengers have sent word to Jacob that the brother he tricked and enraged many years ago is now coming to meet him with four hundred men. In response, Jacob prays to the God he barely knows, asking Him to deliver him from his brother Esau, asking the LORD to protect his wives and his children. Jacob the deceiver has now become Jacob the man of prayer. Throughout his life, Jacob has tricked and cheated and deceived those around him. He tricked and cheated his brother Esau, not once but twice, stealing his birthright and then stealing his blessing. Jacob tricked and deceived Laban, stealing his flocks and running away with Laban’s daughters and grandchildren. By his conniving, Jacob has become two camps (32:10), but now it appears that Esau will have his revenge and will destroy all that Jacob holds dear. Jacob has no more tricks; he wants no more tricks. “Enough of tricks and conniving and deception! O LORD, I need You! I need Your help! You said, ‘I will surely do you good (32:12).’ I ask that You fulfill Your word.” Then Jacob sends his flocks and herds in droves as gifts to his brother Esau. “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me. Perhaps he will accept me (32:20).” So the present passed on ahead of him, and he stayed that night in the camp (21). The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok (22). He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else he had (23).

And Jacob was left alone (24a).

Alone. Jacob was left alone. Alone with his fears. Alone with his thoughts. Alone with his regrets. Alone. But he was not alone for long. “And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day (24b).” There at the ford of the Jabbok in the middle of the night, a humbled and fearful Jacob wrestles with “a man.” These two are alone in the wilderness. There is no one to witness their striving. And all night they wrestle to see who will prevail. Who is this “man” with whom Jacob wrestles? Where did he come from? How did he know that Jacob was here? What does he want from Jacob, since Jacob has already sent everything he has over the Jabbok to safety? At last “the man” tells Jacob to let him go, “but Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me (26).’” Who is this man? Then the man renames Jacob, calling him Israel, “for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed (28).” Jacob asked the man, “Please tell me your name,” but the man refuses. But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him (29). Who is this man who renames Jacob but refuses to tell his name? So Jacob called the name of that place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered (30).”

            The LORD had arranged this wrestling match at the Jabbok. Jacob is alone and is fearful and humbled. God condescends to Jacob, not only meeting him but wrestling with him all night. Instead of consuming Jacob in His wrath and overwhelming him with His unbearable glory, God takes on the appearance of a man and wrestles with Jacob. Of course, at any instant, God could have destroyed Jacob, but that was not the goal. Jacob needed this night to wrestle with God and with his own fears. Jacob needed to strive to a place of surrender. In eternity past, God had chosen Jacob as one of His own, and now He has arranged the details of this night to claim His prize. During this night God allows Jacob to wrestle himself into surrender. Jacob prevails, yet he leaves the encounter surrendered and limping on his hip. Jacob is allowed to prevail, but God has won His man. Before this night of striving beside the Jabbok, this second-born son of Isaac carried the name “he cheats,” but now God Himself has renamed him “he strives with God.” All alone, the human has an encounter with the living God and lives, emerging from the encounter blessed and changed.

            Our God is a God who ordains the events of history, of time and space so that He can encounter His people and bring them to Himself. He arranged the events of the night by the Jabbok so that He could wrestle with Jacob and break his resistance. We see this over and over again in the Bible. Not only Jacob, but also Gideon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Moses, Joshua, Hagar, and Elijah all have one on one encounters with God that define their lives and change them forever. And not only in the Bible, but our God does this with us as well. Not every believer, but many believers can testify to their own “night by the Jabbok when they wrestled with a man.” We emerge from these life-changing encounters humbled and blessed and “limping on our hip.” Somehow, we have encountered God face to face and our life has been delivered.

SDG                 rmb                 8/26/2020

Judgment and Grace in Babylon

The book of “Daniel” in the Bible divides neatly into two parts. The first six chapters give us narrative accounts of the adventures of Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, as they interact with the kings in Babylon. Then the last six chapters give us prophetic visions of the future, a future that covers the time of Daniel till the end of time. In the narrative section, two of the kings we encounter are King Nebuchadnezzar and King Belshazzar. It is these two kings that I want to consider, particularly exploring their relationship with the Most High God of the Hebrews (whom we know elsewhere as Yahweh, the LORD).

BACKGROUND

The best way, of course, to gain a grasp of the background of these two men and to understand the context of their stories in the Bible is to read the accounts of their lives in the respective sections of Scripture. So then, be sure that you have read “Daniel” chapters 1-4 about Nebuchadnezzar and “Daniel” chapter 5 about Belshazzar in preparation for this article.

Several things are obvious from the pages of Scripture. The most significant feature of both these men is that they are pagans. The word is not to be understood as judgmental, but as factual, because the word “pagan” just means “a worshiper of any god or gods other than the God of the Bible.” These men lived far away from Israel and Jerusalem and were completely ignorant of the God of the Hebrews. So, they did not know or acknowledge “the Most High God” or “the God of heaven.” This ignorance of the LORD and of His Law means that the Babylonian culture had no moral standards, and so Babylon was marked by the immorality and the idolatry that inevitably follow such a worldview.

Since this article is exploring their individual relationships with the Most High God, it is necessary to describe how the Most High God, the LORD, viewed these pagan kings. As is true for all those who violate His holy Law and who live immoral and defiant lives, so it was true for Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, that their transgressions and their sins brought them under the judgment and wrath of God (Romans 1:18). As we have already mentioned, when they are first introduced to us in the book of “Daniel,” it is obvious that they both kings know nothing about this “Most High God.” Nevertheless, from the LORD’s perspective, they have each violated His holiness and broken His holy laws and are thus both subject to His wrath and judgment. This means that, according to the clear teaching of the Bible, unless something changes in their lives, both these men deserve eternal punishment and will spend eternity in what the Bible calls “hell.”

JUDGMENT FOR BELSHAZZAR

We will first look at King Belshazzar. It becomes clear from Daniel 5 that Belshazzar is not only completely ignorant of the God of the Hebrews, the Most High God, but he is also defiant in his attitude toward this God, in essence treating Him as just another petty pagan deity of a defeated people. In the midst of his drunken party (Daniel 5:1-4), he calls for the vessels from the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, to be brought out so that he and all his pagan partiers may drink wine from them and use those vessels to praise the pagan gods of Babylon, “but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored (5:23).” This is clearly dangerous business, and, in the end, this final act of rebellion seals the doom of Belshazzar and his Chaldean kingdom, as the LORD brings judgment. Thus, Belshazzar dies and perishes (5:30).

Before we move on to an examination of Nebuchadnezzar, it would be good to digest what happened to Belshazzar. Tragically, he perished; that is, he remained under the judgment of God until the day of his death, and therefore, he will be punished forever in what the Bible calls “hell.” I mentioned above that something needed to change in Belshazzar’s life, or he would be judged and condemned. Well, nothing changed. Belshazzar continued in his rebellion against the Most High God and did not repent or worship the God of heaven. He, therefore, received his deserved judgment.

GRACE FOR NEBUCHADNEZZAR

There is a grand mystery in how the Lord, the Most High God, deals with the children of Adam. The Bible makes clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).” The Bible also makes clear that “the wages of sin is (eternal) death (Romans 6:23),” thus making plain that every single one of us deserves God’s terrifying judgment. But the Bible also makes plain that not all receive God’s judgment. God will certainly punish all sin, but not all people will be punished: this is the mystery. Indeed, Job asks the question, “But how can a man be in the right before God? (Job 9:2)” In Job’s way of thinking, if a person sinned, there must be punishment. Sin meant a person was no longer “in the right before God.” So, how could they be reconciled? This is the mystery.

The solution to this mystery has now been revealed in the Scripture, and it is summed up in one word: grace. Grace has been described as God’s “unmerited favor,” favor that He freely chooses to bestow on certain undeserving sinners, with the result that those so chosen are delivered from His wrath and judgment and are instead forgiven of their sins and are adopted by God as His very own children and are guaranteed an eternity in heaven with Him. God’s grace and mercy and love were supremely demonstrated in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cruel cross.

I bring up the subject of grace now because here in Daniel chapters 1-4 we see a demonstration of God’s grace through the spiritual journey of King Nebuchadnezzar. We have already seen how Belshazzar received his deserved judgment. But by contrast, as we read of King Nebuchadnezzar, we see that he receives amazing patience and grace from the God of heaven. Make no mistake about it: Nebuchadnezzar starts out fully as ignorant of the Most High God as any other Chaldean would be. The king has serious anger issues, demonstrated in his flying into a tirade because his magicians cannot tell him his dream (Ch. 2) and then in getting furious when the Hebrew men will not bow down to his golden image (Ch. 3). Finally, in chapter 4 we see Nebuchadnezzar’s immense pride as he congratulates himself for all that he has accomplished in Babylon. Ignorance and malevolence and arrogance make a pretty nasty brew, but such is the Chaldean king.

But in the midst of all these theatrics, we must not miss what God is doing by His providence. Instead of bringing judgment upon Nebuchadnezzar for his many and great sins, He graciously uses a series of providences to draw the king to Himself, so that, in the end, he not only knows about the LORD, but he also praises Him as his God. Notice the progression:

  • In Chapter 1, since Nebuchadnezzar is so far from Jerusalem and is so distant from the knowledge of the LORD and of His Word, the LORD providentially arranges to have four “ambassadors” (Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael) sent from Jerusalem to Babylon to begin to live in the very court of the king himself. Now, through the means of a conquest and an exile, there are four messengers of the LORD in close proximity to the pagan king.
  • In Chapter 2, the LORD gives Nebuchadnezzar a dream about a multi-metallic statue. The dream cannot be told by the Chaldean magicians and so, providentially, Daniel comes into the presence of the king to tell the dream and its interpretation. In the course of telling the dream, Daniel introduces Nebuchadnezzar to the “God of heaven.” In Daniel 2:46-47, Nebuchadnezzar declares to Daniel, Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries.” At this point, then, Nebuchadnezzar knows about the “God of heaven” and is impressed with His power, although certainly the king is not a worshiper yet.
  • Chapter 3 is the well-known story of the deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace. When confronted with certain death as the price of their obedience, the Hebrew men politely defy the king and tell him that their God can deliver them from his furnace. Nebuchadnezzar is astounded by what the “God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego” does in “sending His angel and delivering His servants who trusted in Him (Daniel 3:28).” Now Nebuchadnezzar not only knows about the existence of the Most High God, the God of the Hebrews, but he also knows that this God is able to save from the fire. This God is more powerful than a blazing fiery furnace and this God will act to deliver His servants from the flames. This God is a saving God. Do you see how the LORD is slowly, graciously drawing Nebuchadnezzar to Himself?
  • Chapter 4 is the culmination of the grace of the LORD toward Nebuchadnezzar, as we see him both at the beginning of the chapter and at the end giving praise to the Most High God, the King of heaven (4:2, 34, 37, etc.). In fact, Chapter 4 could well be considered Nebuchadnezzar’s personal testimony, for in this chapter the king talks about “the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me (4:2).” He describes how, through the means of another dream interpreted by Daniel, he went from being  a proud king to a man humbled to the level of a beast, to then being restored to his kingdom, but with a new perspective on the King of heaven, whom he praises, extols, and honors. Through God’s providence and grace, the Most High God has become HIS GOD.

As the Bible so often does, here in Daniel chapters 1-5 the Scripture illustrates for us theological principles through these narrative stories. Here we see the grace of God that patiently leads King Nebuchadnezzar to become a worshiper of the Most High God. And we also see the justice of God demonstrated in King Belshazzar that subjects to judgment those who do not repent and who do not bow the knee to worship the LORD.

REFLECTIONS

The story of the justice of God and the grace of God continues to this day and will continue until the Lord Jesus returns. This is a story that touches every single human being, for it should be clear that, as both these kings deserved God’s judgment because of their sin, so every one of us deserves God’s judgment because of our sin. But the grace of God has provided a substitute for those chosen by God who will take our punishment in our place. Jesus Christ is our substitute and the greatest picture of God’s grace.

For those who are already followers of Jesus, another point of reflection is to try to grasp the grace of God that has been given to you, for it is crystal clear that your salvation was entirely undeserved. The only thing that we are able to merit is condemnation and judgment. Yet God, for reasons known only to Him, has decided to lavish His grace on you and to reckon you as righteous because of the work of Christ. He would have remained perfectly righteous and just to have cast you headlong into an eternal hell, but He chose instead to give you His grace, His unmerited favor. His grace included His patience and His providence as He carefully crafted the steps of your journey to faith in Him. Like His grace toward Nebuchadnezzar, He guided you every step of the way so that you would arrive at repentance and faith and would become His adopted child.

SDG                 rmb                 7/17/2020

Giant Enemies or Giant Grapes? (Number 13-14)

            Our world today is a place that bombards us with reasons to fear. I do not think there are many who would dispute that statement. Our own country, which used to be fairly insulated from the general worldwide chaos and disintegration, is no longer a safe haven, and we who have spent many years enjoying America’s restful bubble are now adjusting to a country where most of what we have always held dear is being discarded or demolished. Stability and security are fading memories and the future is anything but bright. As a result, the fuel for fear is bearing down upon us and we fight for joy.

            Despite this situation, for followers of Jesus, the mission has not changed. We are still charged to “Fear not” (Isaiah 41:10; 43:1; etc.) and to “Rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16; Phil. 4:4) and to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Since that is the case, the question becomes, “How do I do that?” How do we continue to see the world through the eyes of faith and not succumb to the pressures of fear?

            This study will look at the narrative from Numbers 13-14 to draw out answers to these questions. In this story, the children of Israel have made their exodus from Egypt, have crossed the Red Sea, and have traveled to Kadesh Barnea at the southern end of the land of Canaan. From there, Moses sends twelve spies into the land of Canaan to give him a report of the nature of the land. When the spies come back, there is a sharp disagreement about the nature of the land. Some of the spies have faith and some do not and that makes all the difference in how they respond to the call to invade the land. This, then, is a study in contrasts. It is a study of FEAR and of FAITH. At the conclusion, we will try to learn some lessons from their challenges that we can apply to our own increasingly shaky environment.

SETTING THE STAGE

            Before we begin to look at the spies, it is important to notice that the LORD had decided to give the children of Israel the land before the spies went in. In Numbers 13:2, the LORD commands that the men be sent to spy out Canaan, “which I am giving to the sons of Israel.” Since the LORD has given the land already, the only correct response was to go in, for victory was assured. To add to this case, when Moses sent the twelve spies into the land, he did not ask them to decide whether the rest of the people should go in. He gave them ZERO executive authority. Moses wanted a report and some fruit (13:17-20). That was the extent of their assignment. So, again, they had no authority to persuade the rest to refuse to go in and to decide to head back to Egypt.

            When the spies go into the land of Canaan, they go up and down the whole length of the land from north to south. They also see the people of the land and the fruit of the land. Two verses are key, 13:22 and 13:23. In Numbers 13:22, the Bible tells us that “the spies came to Hebron, where the descendants of Anak were.” The Anakim were giants, men of great height and strength. (It is likely that Goliath (1 Samuel 17) was a descendant of Anak.) Even from spying distance, it was obvious to all twelve spies that these giant men would make scary enemies. Numbers 13:22 is all about fear. Then in Number 13:23, we read about the fruit of the land of Canaan. There in the valley of Eshcol, the spies find a single cluster of grapes that is so large that it must be carried on a pole between two of the men. This giant cluster of grapes is a testimony to the goodness and provision of the LORD, that He is giving them a very fruitful land. Numbers 13:23 is all about faith. Thus, the twelve spies return to the camp of Israel in Kadesh.

THE TWO REPORTS

(For simplicity, I am going to refer to the ten unfaithful spies as either TEN or as FEAR. I will refer to the two faithful spies, Joshua and Caleb, as TWO or as FAITH.)

            The TEN spies give their report first. After a brief mention of the land and its fruit (13:27), they go on to say, “Nevertheless (which is a word that effectively negates what was said before), the people who live in the land are strong (13:28).” Their report quickly descends into a terrified account of people who are all enormous and of cities that are large and fortified and of a land that “devours its inhabitants.” Basically, they describe a death trap and imply that all the people are doomed.

            Caleb interrupts the TEN with his own account of their reconnaissance of the land, saying, “Let us go up at once and occupy the land, for we will surely overcome it (13:30).” How can two reports be so vastly far apart?

            Despite Caleb’s FAITH, the TEN hold sway and succeed in striking FEAR into the heart of the entire congregation. The people lament their leadership, they blame the LORD for their imagined desperate situation, and they want to find a new leader to take them back to Egypt (14:1-4). This is all specific rebellion and wicked disobedience.

            The TWO once again gain the floor and try to speak sense and FAITH into the people. The land is “an exceedingly good land (14:7; contrary to the brief mention of 13:27).” The LORD will bring us into this land that “flows with milk and honey.” “Do not rebel against the LORD and do not FEAR the people of the land. The LORD is with us, so do not FEAR them (14:9).”

            Finally, the LORD Himself brings down the verdict. “How long will this people despise Me and how long will they not believe in Me, in spite of all the signs I have done among them (14:11)?”

OBSERVATIONS OF FEAR AND FAITH

  • The LORD was giving the land to the sons of Israel (13:2). FAITH accepts the LORD’s gift and prepares to go into the land. FEAR is all doubt and uncertainty and keeps retreat as the preferred option.
  • FEAR fixes our gaze upon the threat (13:22) or the enemy and dreads the coming disaster, but FAITH fixes our gaze upon the LORD (14:9) and anticipates His power being displayed. (Hebrews 12:2)
  • FEAR magnifies and multiplies the adversaries (13:28-29, 31-33), but FAITH trusts the LORD to vanquish my adversaries (14:9).
  • A spark of FEAR can quickly grow into an inferno (13:31-33), so snuff it out quickly.
  • FEAR causes a person to project evil upon the LORD (14:3), a grievous sin, when the LORD is always and only good.
  • To act out of FEAR is “to rebel against the LORD (14:9).” This is no minor offense but is calling into question the very trustworthiness of the LORD. The LORD has declared and demonstrated that He is trustworthy. Therefore, we must not FEAR.
  • FAITH exhorts people with the words, “do not FEAR (14:9).” FEAR discourages the people to have no FAITH (14:1-4).
  • FEAR is a word of the devil and of the world and of the once-born. FAITH is word of the LORD and of the fellowship of believers and of the born-again.
  • To not trust the LORD is to “despise” the LORD (14:11). Again, we may imagine that not trusting the LORD is just a small chink in my discipleship armor, but the LORD views this lack of trust as “despising” Him.
  • To not trust the LORD is the same thing as not believing in the LORD (14:11). This is sobering, indeed, for if we do not believe in the LORD by the LORD’s own assessment, are we not ‘unbelievers?’ To not trust the LORD is a serious thing.
  • FAITH commits to the course and, thus, eliminates options of retreat.
  • When Joshua and Caleb went to spy out the land, they were inspecting their new home. By contrast, the TEN were visiting a strange land to see if it was safe.
  • Joshua and Caleb spied out the land as conquerors. On the other hand, the TEN spies went in as tourists.
  • Joshua and Caleb spied out the land with the LORD at their side (14:9). The TEN went into the land under their own strength (13:31-33).

APPLICATIONS AND LESSONS

            Going through this list of observations about faith and fear (above) can be instructional as we evaluate our own attitudes toward threats. It is certain that our natural response to threats and instability is fear. This is a result of the sin of Adam in the Garden and the Fall that followed. Therefore, the natural man always responds to threats with fear. But it is also true that the “old man” and the “flesh” within the follower of Jesus still draws us toward fear. Because that is the case, the disciple of Jesus must intentionally learn to resist and to reject fear and instead to respond to threats with faith, regardless of the nature of the threat.  In this light, I have several thoughts about ways we can move away from fear and move toward faith.

  • Always consciously CHOOSE to trust the LORD. This is the habit that Caleb had developed. He certainly saw the same Anakim (giants) that the other spies saw, but he CHOSE to let his thoughts dwell on the LORD and His power. Just so, when we are confronted with something that threatens us (job loss, COVID-19, widespread violence and anarchy, serious illness, relationship turmoil, persecution, personal loss, etc.), our first act must be to CHOOSE to turn to the Lord and trust the Lord and seek the Lord.
  • Ask the question, “What would be the OBEDIENT thing to do?” In the face of threat, the person of faith strives to continue to obey the Lord. Ideally, all actions are obedient actions.
  • Ask the question, “How would the Lord want me to act in this situation?” Consider examples of heroes from Scripture. How would they respond? Or what would be a response that would be pleasing to the Lord? Go, and do likewise.
  • Develop strong habits of prayer, especially during seasons of relative calm, so that the weapon of prayer will be available when the battle is joined. Therefore, pray:
    • To remind myself of the Lord’s faithfulness in the past. (Psalm 42:4, 6 “remember”)
    • So that I remember His love for me and His delight in me (Psalm 147:9-10; 149:4; Romans 8:31)
    • That the Lord would clarify the task in front of me so that I know the right path (Psalm 119:105)
    • That the Lord would give me the resolve to take action, when He has made known to me the path
    • To request the Lord’s help and to ask for His power
  • Be aware of my thinking and recognize when I am allowing my mind to dwell on fear or to drift into areas of spiritual unpreparedness.
  • When fear begins to well up, arrest those thoughts and turn my mind to obedient thoughts, like 1 Thess. 5:16-18; Psalm 131; 46; 56:3; 27:14; 34:4-6
  • Maintain the attitude of a soldier and be on the alert and be battle-ready (2 Timothy 2:3-4; Nehemiah 4:17; Ephesians 6:10ff; 1 Peter 5:8)

Caleb and Joshua saw all the same obstacles and threats in the land of Canaan that the other ten spies saw, but because they were men of faith, they chose to fix their eyes on the Lord and to act in faithful obedience to the Lord. Like these two heroes, we, too, see that same obstacles and threats that the rest of our world sees. Yes, there is no argument that the sources of potential fear and discouragement are many, but because we are people of faith, we can choose to trust our great God and we can continue to joyfully live out the mission that our risen King has given us. SDG                 rmb                 7/9/2020

Will you surrender, or not? (Jeremiah 38)

            There comes a time when surrender is the only wise choice. If all your resources are exhausted and you have no effective plan for escape, and the enemy is just outside the gate awaiting your starvation or your destruction, and that same enemy suddenly offers the option of unconditional surrender to avoid certain disaster, I would suggest that the wise choice is to unconditionally surrender.

            In Jeremiah 38, we encounter just such a scenario. The time is around 589 BC and the geography is the land of Israel. The army of the Chaldeans under King Nebuchadnezzar has again come from Babylon to Jerusalem to besiege the city, and the nation of Judah with their puppet king Zedekiah is beginning to collapse under the strain of the siege. It is apparent that Zedekiah is king of a city doomed to destruction, and Jeremiah the prophet has already told the king this on several occasions. The Chaldeans are visible just beyond the gates of the city and there is the threat of a clear and present danger.

THE PROPHET OFFERS THE KING DELIVERANCE

            We will pick up the story in Jeremiah 38, verse 14. King Zedekiah sends for Jeremiah the prophet and asks him a question about the future of the city. Jeremiah, who has just been rescued from the bottom of a cistern, is understandably cautious to talk to Zedekiah or to trust him and replies with his own question. “If I tell you, will you not surely put me to death? And if I give you counsel you will not listen to me (Jeremiah 38:15).”

            Listen carefully to the king’s reply: “As the LORD lives, who made our souls, I will not put you to death or deliver you into the hand of these men who seek your life (38:16).” Notice that Zedekiah promises to protect Jeremiah from his enemies (for what that is worth), but he makes no promise at all about listening to the prophet’s instructions or advice. How can you help someone who refuses to listen to words of rescue?

            Jeremiah speaks to Zedekiah in the name of “the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life will be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live (38:17). But if you will NOT surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city shall be given into the hands of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand (38:18).”

            When Zedekiah responds to Jeremiah’s offer of salvation with a silly excuse, the prophet graciously repeats his instructions: “Obey now the voice of the LORD in what I say to you, and it will be well with you, and your life will be spared (38:20). But if you refuse to surrender (38:21), all your wives and your sons shall be led out to the Chaldeans, and you yourself shall not escape from their hand, but shall be seized by the king of Babylon, and this city shall be burned with fire (38:23).”

            Here, Zedekiah had heard a clear message of rescue from Jeremiah that he understood completely. There was nothing that Jeremiah told him that was vague or mysterious or difficult, and it was entirely within the king’s ability to do what was required for his life to be spared. Jeremiah twice presented the king with a simple choice between peace and disaster, between life and death. The only way for Zedekiah to be spared was for him to unconditionally surrender to Nebuchadnezzar, the conquering king. If he surrendered, he would be spared, and if he did not, he would suffer judgment and destruction. What will the king do? What would you do?

            In 38:19, we read that Zedekiah is more concerned about a few Judean deserters than he is about the entire Chaldean army. In the end, he refuses Jeremiah’s urgent plea to surrender. Thus, we read in the next chapter, in 39:6-10, of the disaster that comes upon Zedekiah and Jerusalem at the hands of the Chaldeans.

APPLICATION OF THE LESSON

            This story is a fascinating study in human behavior, but there is much more going on in this interchange between Jeremiah and Zedekiah than a dialog about Chaldeans. This passage is a clear portrayal of the gospel of Jesus Christ with the names changed and the circumstances slightly altered. It is not an exact portrayal, but it is a clear portrayal, nonetheless.

            What do I mean by that? Let me try to explain. In the story that we just studied Zedekiah is facing certain doom. Nebuchadnezzar has come to Jerusalem to be an instrument of God’s judgment on the king and on the city, and there is no avenue of escape. Then, just when things are looking blackest, the LORD’s prophet, Jeremiah, tells Zedekiah of a way of escape, of a way of salvation that is available to him, if he will only take it. If Zedekiah will SURRENDER TO THE CONQUERING KING, then he will be spared from the coming destruction.

            What does the gospel say, and why has God made the gospel available to us? “The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16),” but what does it declare to us? In the gospel, we discover that all people are sinners and are under the judgment of God for their sin. All people are, therefore, facing eternal condemnation. In a very real sense, we are all facing certain doom. We are all like Zedekiah, in that we are facing God’s judgment and there appears to be no avenue of escape. By ourselves, there is nothing that we can do to remove the guilt of our sins, and so we justly DESERVE GOD’S JUDGMENT. We have all sinned, and the Bible declares that “the soul who sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4, 20),” and “The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).” Things appear hopeless.

            But just when things are looking blackest, the LORD Himself provides a way of salvation, for the gospel declares that, if ANY SINNER WILL REPENT OF THEIR SINS and TRUST IN JESUS CHRIST AS THEIR LORD AND SAVIOR, they will be saved. As Jeremiah came to doomed Zedekiah and explained to him that the only way of salvation was to SURRENDER TO THE CONQUERING KING, so a Christian witness brings good news to doomed sinners and tells them that God’s ONLY WAY OF SALVATION IS TO SURRENDER TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. If Zedekiah had listened to Jeremiah and just obeyed what the prophet told him to do, he would have been spared, but if he refused to listen and to obey, he would surely be destroyed. In the same way, if ANY SINNER will listen to the good news of the gospel and will SURRENDER TO JESUS, they will certainly be saved from God’s judgment; but if they refuse to obey and if they reject the only way of salvation and forgiveness, they will certainly perish in the Judgment.

            When Jeremiah told him about the simple way of escape, Zedekiah hesitated and made excuses and ignored the pleas of the prophet. As a result, he met with disaster and his city was burned with fire. You have heard the good news about God’s only appointed means of salvation – surrendering to the Lord Jesus Christ. What will you do?

SDG                 rmb                 7/2/2020