COVID-19 and the Glory of God

COVID19

In January of this year, COVID-19 was first diagnosed in America. First detected in China in late 2019, by January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global health public emergency. By March 11, it was declared a pandemic. Per government orders at the federal, state and city levels, preventative methods have been put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 or to flatten the curve. These methods include self quarantining, the prohibiting of community gatherings of 10+ people, closures of non-essential business, limiting the operation of essential businesses (i.e closing dining rooms of restaurants), regulating social distancing measures (i.e. standing 6 feet apart), reinforcing good hygiene (i.e. washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, using 60% alcohol based hand sanitizer, coughing or sneezing into our arms or tissue, no handshaking and not touching our faces and eyes) and mandatory shelter-in-place and stay at home orders.

While COVID-19 does not possess a high mortality rate (see history of pandemics), many have died from COVID-19. Those with pre-existing health conditions and compromised immune systems are the most vulnerable, but many generally healthy people have succumbed to the virus. Without a doubt, COVID-19 has affected our daily lives profoundly – rescheduling of weddings, vacations and sporting events, the inability to attend funerals, inability to gather for corporate worship, shortages of essential household items, reduction of employment, the burden on our economy and overwhelming the healthcare industry, etc. and not to mention the angst felt due to the uncertainty of when life can or will return to normal as we once we knew it. In times like these I suspect many people, including Christians, have questioned the goodness, the power and even the existence of God. Others are trying to navigate what faithfulness looks like in such bleak times. In other words, how should Christians generally respond to the present distress? As with any trial, Christians must remember who and whose we are and the hope we have, which should inform how we respond.

Who and Whose We Are

Having been redeemed by the blood of Jesus and being forgiven of our sin (Eph. 1:7; 1 Cor. 6:20, 7:23), we are the adopted children of God (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). However, unless we have an accurate understanding of God, the significance and implications of our adoption will not fortify us as it should. Some wonder if God is truly knowable. I believe He is, and yet He is incomprehensible. We have the ability to know God, but we don’t have the ability to know Him exhaustively simply because He has chosen to keep some things hidden (Deut. 29:29). Also, He is infinite and perfect and we are finite beings affected by the fall. But what He has chosen to reveal to us about himself is plenty to be in awe of and confident about. One of the most gracious acts God has done is to reveal Himself to man. He is a self-disclosing God. God has disclosed himself in creation (Gen. 1:26-27; Ps. 19:1-6), in His word (Ps. 19:7-14) and finally and most clearly in His Son, Jesus Christ (Jhn 14:1-9; Col. 1:15). Through these ways, we can know God’s character or particular attributes about Him. Two particular attributes revealed in Scripture that should strengthen us and reassure us during this pandemic are God’s sovereignty and his providence.

To be sovereign means to be a supreme ruler possessing ultimate power. God’s sovereignty means that He is the self-governing supreme ruler possessing ultimate power over all of creation. We first see God’s sovereignty at the very beginning of Scripture. Genesis 1-2 tell us God spoke creation into existence in six days. To call into being that which was not – ex nihilo– is a great demonstration of the supreme authority and power of God. For his own purpose and glory, God created the material universe from nothing by the very word of His power. That ought to make us pause and worship.

Scripture also shows us many places where God declares his sovereignty. Perhaps most known is the account of Job. Job was nominated by God to be tested by Satan (don’t miss God’s sovereignty in that) and after a series of conversations with his friends about his suffering, the LORD approached Job with a series of questions that do not directly clarify Job’s suffering. Rather, the LORD clarified his sovereignty to Job in two speeches (38:1-40:2 and 40:6-41:34), which purposed to humble him. Note how God begins to declare his sovereignty to Job in chapter 38 –

1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
7 when the morning stars sang together

and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Are you comforted by God’s sovereignty? Are you comforted knowing that our wise and holy God is absolutely in control over everything seen and unseen, including COVID-19?  No being or circumstance is outside of God’s authority or control. God reigns over all things in all places for all time and eternity (1 Chron. 29:11-12; Ps. 50:10-11; 1 Tim. 6:13-16).

Not only ought his sovereignty give us confidence, but also his providence. Whereas God’s sovereignty speaks of his absolute authority over all things, his providence speaks of his active involvement in creation to bring about his purposes for his glory and the good of his people. God is not unconcerned about us. We were created to know him and have everlasting fellowship with him. Rebuking Judah for their idolatry (literally worshiping inanimate sculptures), the LORD reminded his covenant people who He was in Isaiah 46

8 “Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
9  remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
11 calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it.

In these verses, the LORD declares his incomparable nature, his rule over time, events and creation and his purpose to bring his will to pass. As Christians, we must understand that nothing happens outside of the decretive and permissive wills of God. Since God is, there is no such thing as coincidence or luck. God is always actively working out his will even through people who directly oppose his rule and through circumstances that seem hopeless and insurmountable. Remember Naomi in the book of Ruth? She and her family experienced famine and hunger and fled from Bethlehem (the house of bread) to Moab, longtime enemies of Israel, for food. While in Moab, her husband, Elimelech died, her two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, married Moabite women, which was forbidden (Deut. 7:1-3; Num. 25:1-7) and they died. After hearing the LORD had visited her people with food, Naomi went back to Bethlehem, but urged her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to remain in Moab. Orpah conceded, but Ruth clung to Naomi in what amounted to Ruth’s conversion to the LORD. After a series of events, and through an honorable Ephrathite, Boaz, he redeems and marries Ruth and they have a son, Obed. Obed became the grandfather of David (Ruth 4:22), who was the ancestor of Jesus (Matt. 1:1-17; Lk. 3:23-38).

God was working through famine, hunger, death, and forbidden marriages to eventually bring about our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. That is his providence! He purposed to bring about a redeemer and it came to pass! God is continually working to bring about his redemptive plan through Christ (Jhn 5:17), even through COVID-19.

A Christian Response

Considering the rapidly changing COVID-19 data, its impact on our daily lives and these truths about God’s sovereignty and his providence, how should we respond? The numbers are staggering. To date, 1.2M+ people globally have tested COVID-19 positive. There have been over 66,000 deaths globally, with Italy and Spain leading the world in those deaths. The United States is third in COVID-19 deaths. Infectious disease experts have said that Italy and Spain seem to be making some progress with flattening the curve, but the United States has yet to reach its peak. Let’s pray their modeling proves wrong.

As a first response, we need to be wise about COVID-19. We need to understand the disease and respond accordingly. Two of the wisest courses of action are practicing good hygiene and submitting to governing authorities by following social distancing guidelines and the shelter-in-place or stay at home orders. Because of the way the virus spreads, it’s important that we take heed so as not to potentially contract COVID-19 or infect others and continually overwhelm society and the healthcare system. This is loving our neighbor.

Secondly, while concern and caution are proper responses, we should not be fearful or anxious (Matt. 6:25-34; Phil. 4:4-6). But if we find ourselves fearful or anxious, we are to cast our cares on God because he cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). Jesus taught that anxiety cannot change our circumstances. Instead of being weighed down with anxiety, we are to entrust ourselves to our Father who knows all and has purposed to take care of his children. In the midst of this pandemic, we are to entrust ourselves to the God of all comfort.

Thirdly, we are to walk worthy of the gospel by being light in such dark times and loving the household of faith. What does it say to a watching world when Christians are not full of panic and anxiety? Our faith is demonstrated when the world gives way, we remain steadfast. When the world cries in fear, we sing. When the world hoards, we give. When the world blames God, we praise him. When the world feels hopeless, we offer hope. We offer Jesus, the one who has conquered sin and death (1 Cor 15:54-55; Rev. 1:18). Walking worthy of the gospel means we also love the brethren. The love of God ought to compel us to love other believers various ways to the end that the truth of Jesus is clearly witnessed (Jhn 13:34-35) and in ways that proves our salvation (1 Jhn 3:16-18).

Lastly, and perhaps most important, we are to have hope because we are a people who have been born again to a living hope (1 Pet. 1:3-5) and we are loved by God. That living hope is eternal life with Jesus in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21). It is obvious that life in a fallen world will not be free of problems. Jesus said we would have tribulation in this world, but for us to take heart and have peace because he’s overcome the world (Jhn 16:33). Whether it’s persecution or pestilence, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection has served to reverse the effects of the curse, which will be actualized one day. Consider these words of hope for believers from Paul in Romans 8

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

As Christians, we must know God and his word if we are to respond in a way that steadies our souls and glorifies God.

My wife and I were talking recently about what God is doing through COVID-19. As John Piper once said, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” Obviously, I don’t know all that God is doing through COVID-19, but Scripture gives us some idea of what God does in and through trials –

  • God uses trials to humble us and make us dependent on God (2 Cor. 12:1-10).
  • God uses trials that give opportunity for the gospel to be proclaimed to unbelievers (Phil. 1:12-14).

Life, as we know it, perhaps will never be the same. COVID-19’s global impact is astounding. The impacts on us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, at times are overwhelming, but God is greater than COVID-19. COVID-19 is subject to his authority and purposes.

For his people, God is working COVID-19 for our good (Rom. 8:28) and ultimately his glory. Amen.

 

Dignity & Worth (pt. 1)

i-am-a-man

I wasn’t reaching for it.” Those were the last words he ever spoke. The last image his four year old daughter saw of her father was of him bleeding and losing consciousness. Less than a minute prior to the shooting he was pulled over for a non-working brake light. After complying with the officer showing his drivers license, he informed the officer that he was in possession of a firearm. “Ok. Ok . Don’t reach for it then. Don’t pull it out!” Dashcam footage reveals the officer reaching his arm into the car firing seven shots. The autopsy revealed two bullets ripped through Philando Castile’s heart on July 6, 2016. The officer, Jeronimo Yanez, was acquitted by a jury of second-degree manslaughter.

This horrific incident, unfortunately, wasn’t the first or the last of its kind. What some saw as an isolated incident, others saw as an incident of a centuries old narrative of racism against black people by people in positions of power. Botham Jean and Atatiana Jefferson are two recent examples of black people murdered by white police officers. What makes these two situations even more devastating was that they were murdered while in their homes in Texas. In each case respectively, the officers, who claimed they were acting in self defense, have been charged with and indicted for murder.

While I am familiar with the history of racism in America, the senseless killings over the last few years have affected me profoundly. At times, I have been filled with anger and other times I have had to fight to feel anything because it was becoming all too familiar. Another murder. Another share on social media. Another Tweet. The repetition and visual availability of such horror can have the ability to desensitize us to the tragedy of taking a human life. We need to be awakened to the reality of the preciousness of human life and to the horrors of ideas and actions that senselessly devalue and take human life.

We need to understand why stealing people from their native lands for selfish profit is wicked. We need to understand why transporting stolen people in cramped desolate and disease ridden ships is wicked. We need to understand why beating, raping and lynching stolen people is wicked. We need to understand why devaluing someone on the basis of their skin color is wicked.

FountainWe need to understand why restricting people from participating equally in society because of their skin color or sex is wicked. We need to understand why the existence of “colored” and “white” water fountains, etc. were so demoralizing and psychologically scarring. We need to understand why there was a need for the Civil Rights Movement. We need to understand why killing the unborn is wicked. We need to understand why sex trafficking of human beings is wicked. We need to understand why any malevolent treatment of human beings is utterly wicked. However, before we can truly understand why such treatment is evil, we must understand what it means to be human. Once we understand that, then we’ll understand the dignity and worth of each human being and seek ways to respond accordingly.

The Foundation
I am fully convinced that no other worldview or religion, other than Christianity, adequately or consistently explains the origin, essence and purpose of humanity. Scripture attests to the existence of God and His intentional creation of all things – including humanity. Genesis 1 provides us the account of God creating the heavens and the earth and the fullness thereof in six days. After five days of creating the heavens and the earth, God created man on the sixth day. Genesis 1:26-27 says –

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

From these verses, it is evident that God created man. But what we must not casually overlook is that man was created in the image and likeness of God and both male and female bear the image and likeness of God. The word man in verse 26 is the Hebrew word אָדָם (‘adam). While used as a proper noun as Adam, ‘adam is also a general Hebrew noun for mankind. Therefore, it is better to interpret man as mankind in these verses since verse 27 affirms that males and females bear the image of God.

Concerning the significance of image and likeness, former systematic theology professor and pastor, Anthony A. Hoekema said – 

Although these words are used generally as synonyms, we may recognize a slight difference between the two. The Hebrew word for image, tselem, is derived from a root that means “to carve” or “to cut”. It could therefore be used to describe a carved likeness of an animal or person. When it is applied to the creation of man in Genesis 1, the word tselem, indicated that man images God, that is, is a representation of God. The Hebrew word for likeness, demūth, comes from a root that means “to be like”. One could therefore say that the word demūth in Genesis 1 indicates that the image is also a likeness, “an image which is like us”. The two words together tell us that man is a representation of God who is like God in certain aspects.”1

It is worthy to note that no other part of creation was created in the image and likeness of God. This was reserved for mankind alone and that difference not only sets mankind apart from and above other creation, but gives him inherent dignity and worth. Nothing in all of creation resembles God like man. It is with respect to this unparalleled truth that God requires retribution for any man who sheds the blood of another man, who is made in the image of God. Genesis 9:6 says –

Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.

In the New Testament, James undergirds his argument for the ethical treatment of people with regard to speech utilizing the same language as Genesis 1:26-27. James 3:1-12 urges Christians not to use our tongues (speech) to curse people made in the likeness of God. The intentional language is not to be missed. The Spirit inspired writers of Genesis and James want us to feel the gravity of what it means to be human and the severity of the abuse of one who was purposely created in the image and likeness of God. In his relational, structural and functional capacities, man puts on display, although in a limited way, what God is like. That is a glorious reality! This is what it means to be human.

Based on this biblical truth, every human being without respect to age (even in utero- Ps. 139:13), sex, ethnicity, socio-economic status, etc., is an image bearer of the invisible God possessing inherent dignity and worth. It is because of this truth that people are to be treated with dignity, respect and value. Therefore, injustice, murder, rape, trafficking, racism, sexism, classism, abortion, abuse, and all forms of malevolent treatment of image bearers is out of step with God’s plan for how we are to view and treat one another, especially among professing Christians.

My Concern
Though chattel slavery and Jim Crow laws are no longer legal in America, because of Genesis 3, the sin of racism still exists and manifests in several other ways in society and, unfortunately, also in the church. Given the tense racial climate our country is presently experiencing, I have lamented at times at how inconsistent or seemingly apathetic certain segments of the church have been to address and even work out their salvation with respect to this segment of anthropology, which ultimately is a gospel issue (Jhn. 13:34-35; Eph. 2:11-22; 1 Jhn. 3:11-24).Unfortunately, this stain has been on the American church since the country’s inception and she is not without her justified critics.

In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass stated:
“I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.”

In A Letter From a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. stated,
“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate (white clergy). I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Douglass and King served as prophetic voices of indictment against the white evangelical. What’s painful to realize is that Douglass penned his words in 1845 and King penned his in 1963. One hundred eighteen years separate the two writings, but the same sin of racism permeated white evangelicals forcing blacks to defend their humanity, prove their dignity and worth time and time again and, at times, suffer death, in cases like the bombing of the the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama in 1963. Four Klansmen were found guilty of the bombing killing four young black girls. This ought not to have been.Birmingham4
Today, the church in America has made some progress, but not enough. We don’t need more public statements of confession, position papers, panel discussions, conferences, or books. We simply need the church to keep in step with the gospel by recognizing and treating all of mankind, who is created in the image and likeness of God, with dignity and worth. Since the church is the pillar and buttress of truth (1 Tim. 3:15), we are commanded not only to proclaim the truth, but to live it. We need more prophetic voices in pulpits who are unafraid of jeopardizing their ministries seeking to uphold the truths of Scripture. We need more concentrated efforts to understand minority issues. We need more gospel rooted efforts to diversify mainline seminaries’ faculties and student bodies. We need more qualified diverse leaders in mainline denominations at every level, especially in local churches. We simply need to walk worthy of the gospel toward our fellow image bearers due to the unity and love we have from Christ and in Christ.

Our orthodoxy must not be hollow, for such is not the way of our Savior.

 

 

1Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994), 13.

The Desperation and Consolation of Christmas

Christmas2Media saturates our minds with images and messages of the “magic of Christmas“. We’re told this time of year is a time of family gatherings, love, selflessness, and cheerfulness. I admit, these are wonderful things. In fact, I love the Christmas season. I love the festive songs, decorations, gatherings and giving. The merriment of Christmas can be intoxicating. We are intended to believe all is right with the world as it is the most wonderful time of the year.   However, if we’re too consumed or even blinded by the common expressions and foci of Christmas, namely commercialism and materialism, we will not understand the desperation of Christmas. Former pastor and author, John Piper said, “Christmas is an indictment before it becomes a delight. It will not have its intended effect until we desperately feel the need for a Savior.”1

Before we are meant to understand and feel the true joy of Christmas, we must first understand its underlying message – we’re guilty and hopeless.  Genesis 3 tells us sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve.  In Romans 5:12, the Apostle Paul lays claim to Moses’ account regarding the entrance of sin into the world and its ultimate effect – death, which I believe is both physical and spiritual. Due to Adam’s sin, mankind has inherited a sinful nature (Ps. 51:5), is dead in trespasses and sin, following the prince of the power of the air and by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3).  The indictment – mankind is guilty of sinning against his creator, which also results in sins against himself and others. The desperation –  mankind is utterly hopeless in himself of living as God intended nor can he remove God’s warranted wrath, which the Bible describes as eternal conscious torment in hell (Is. 66:24; Mk. 9:42-48).  This is the truth we need to understand and seriously consider before we can appreciate the significance of Jesus’ infancy narrative of Luke 2

Perhaps one of the most overlooked instances of Jesus’ infancy narrative involves a man named Simeon. In Luke 2:22-34, Luke makes mention of Simeon during Jesus’ time of purification and dedication according to the Law of Moses. Simeon is mentioned as righteous, devout and one whom the Holy Spirit was upon. He is also noted as one who was waiting for the consolation of Israel and he would not see death until he’d seen the Lord’s Christ.  As God’s covenant people, Israel often experienced the chastisement and judgment of the LORD for violating the covenant made at Sinai (Ex. 20-23).  The LORD told Israel that if they obeyed his word, there would be blessings. If they disobeyed his words, there would be curses (Lev. 26; Deut. 27-28). If Israel disobeyed the terms of the covenant, God promised to punish them by bringing disease upon them, famine, drought and ultimately taking them out of the promised land, scattering them, allowing them to be oppressed by foreign nations. Essentially, the LORD would reverse the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant (land, people and blessing).  However, through the prophets, the LORD repeatedly promised to forgive His peoples’ sins, restore and comfort His people as an act of grace and mercy and to have His name glorified not only by Israel, but by all the nations.  

One of the clearest promises made to God’s covenant people is found in Isaiah’s prophecy in the fortieth chapter – 

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

 and cry to her

that her warfare is ended,

 that her iniquity is pardoned,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

 double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;

 make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be lifted up,

and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

and the rough places a plain.

5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

 and all flesh shall see it together,

 for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

In these verses, through the prophet, the LORD is speaking comfort to His people though they’re on the cusp of experiencing His judgment through the Babylonian invasion.  Though Judah has been and would be the object of His discipline, He is now proclaiming comfort to His people. Judah’s warfare will end eventually and her sins will be pardoned. What a comforting promise from God! Surely being at peace with God is comforting rather than being the object of His chastisement and discipline. But how will this comfort come? Verses 3-5 gives us the answer. The LORD himself will bring comfort to His people. Matthew 3:1-3, Mark 1:2-3 and Luke 3:4-6 reveal that the voice crying out in the wilderness is John the Baptist, who will prepare God’s people to receive their Lord and King, Jesus.  Jesus is the object of God’s comfort to His people. He is the consolation of Israel that Simeon was looking for. Jesus came to bring peace and comfort between God and man of all nations. In Jesus, salvation will reach the ends of the earth (Is. 49:6). As Simeon held his Savior in his arms, he said – 

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,  

according to your word;

30 for my eyes have seen your salvation

31  that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

 and for glory to your people Israel.”

Jesus is the one appointed to bring salvation to all peoples! Jesus is God’s Servant, the True Israel of God who lived in perfect obedience to the Father and died for the sins of those who trust in Him for forgiveness. His resurrection is his vindication and the assurance of eternal life  for all who come to Him with repentance in faith. If you’re in Christ, may you delight and be consoled by the truth that Christmas is chiefly about Christ coming to destroy the works of the devil, absolve our indictment, relieve our desperation and reconcile us to God.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

1 “Prepare the Way of the LORD”, John Piper

Give Thanks

Praise and gratitude should be the refrain of the Christian heart. In fact, Christians are commanded to give thanks. Throughout the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms, the people of God are commanded to give thanks to the Lord. In a series of exhortations to the church at Thessalonica, Paul says, “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18). It is God’s will that His people give thanks to Him in all circumstances. 

Lately, I have been contemplating what grumbling and complaining are.  To grumble is to protest something in a somewhat muted ill-tempered way. To complain would be a more vocal ill-tempered protest. Given these understandings, are Christians ever justified when they grumble or complain? To answer that, careful consideration needs to be applied when assessing the root of complaining. Grumbling and complaining are both rooted in dissatisfaction. So can Christians ever be dissatisfied about anything? Certainly. Because of the fall and the pervasive spread of sin, we should be dissatisfied when we see acts of sin being committed or celebrated. We should be more than dissatisfied. We should lament (Lk. 19:41; Jhn. 11:35). We should be righteously indignant (Jhn. 2:13-17; Lk. 19:45). To show such dissatisfaction is to be in step with how our Holy God feels about sin. 

But when are our expressions of dissatisfaction unwarranted? I believe when our grumbling or complaining is rooted in a desire to obtain or preserve our comfort and satisfaction, we have wandered over into sinful grumbling and complaining, which is usually accompanied by an ill temper. It’s an exasperated expression of selfishness. One of the strongest biblical cases for this is highlighted in Exodus and Numbers concerning Israel’s deliverance and journey to the promised land, Canaan. Let’s look at the events- 

  • (Ex. 2:23-25) Israel cries out to God for rescue from being enslaved in Egypt and God heard their cry.
  • (Ex. 3 & 6:1-13) God commissions Moses to be His instrument of Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage. 
  • (Ex 7:14-12:32) God displays His power over the Egyptian gods via ten plagues that culminates with the death of every firstborn male, including Pharoah’s son, in Egypt whose home was not marked with the blood of a sacrificed lamb. God’s wrath passed over those houses who had the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and the lintel.
  • (Ex. 12:33-40) Israel begins to leave Egypt.
  • (Ex. 14) Israel crosses the Red Sea on dry ground as God miraculously drove the sea back via Moses’ outstretched arms. As the Egyptian army tried to pursue Israel, the waters came back down on them and they were consumed.
  • (Ex. 15:1-18) Moses and the people of Israel sing a song of praise to God for His deliverance.
  • (Ex. 15:22-27) Israel grumbles about the lack of good water and God provides water.
  • (Ex 16) Israel grumbles about food and God gives them manna and quail. 
  • (Ex. 17:1-7) Israel quarrels and grumbles against Moses for water and tests the LORD by inquiring if He is really on their side or not.
  • (Num. 12:1-2) Moses’ sister and brother, Miriam and Aaron, disapprove of Moses’ marriage to a Cushite (dark skinned) woman and questions his leadership, which was appointed by the LORD. 
  •  (Num. 14:1-4) After hearing the report by the spies, many people in Israel grumble against Moses and Aaron accusing them of bringing them out into the wilderness to die by the hands of the enemy. They also desire to raise up a leader who would lead them back to Egypt.
  • (Num. 16) Korah institutes a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, which was a form of rebellion against the LORD since the LORD had appointed Moses and Aaron to be leaders of Israel. The LORD brought judgment on Korah and all the insurrectionists via death.
  • (Num. 20) The remaining Israelites quarrel with Moses about water and accuse him of leading them to the wilderness to die.

Israel repeatedly grumbled and quarreled about food, drink and God’s appointed leaders. Warranted judgement befell a remnant of Israel. Essentially, they were questioning the love of God. Although they had been the recipients of God’s covenantal love and saw mighty acts of His deliverance and provision, they grumbled and quarreled against God because they were dissatisfied with how God was ordering the events in their lives. Their dissatisfaction was rooted in unbelief and resulted in grumbling, quarreling and rebelling against God. 

Aren’t we just like Israel? We often think the events of our lives ought to go as we would like. When they don’t, we end up being dissatisfied and grumble against the Lord. Instead of recalling God’s past faithfulness and being thankful, our selfish short-sightedness only looks at the present and doesn’t factor in that God is working out all the events of our lives according to His will for His glory and for our good (Rom. 8:28). God is not obligated to do things the way that we would like them to be done. He is obligated to carry out His perfect will to achieve the most amount of glory and He will do just that while at the same time conforming us to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29). Oh how we need to recall God’s goodness toward us, which is primarily evidenced in salvation through Jesus Christ. A heart filled with trust, praise and gratitude has no room for grumbling and complaining. 

Has God saved you? Give thanks! Is God keeping you? Give thanks! Does God promise to bring you to himself through Christ for all eternity? Give thanks! Is God good? Give thanks! Does His mercy endure forever? Give thanks! Does creation testify to His glory? Give thanks! Has Christ defeated every sin and death? Give thanks! Is God’s love toward His people unmovable and unshakable? Give thanks! Has God not given us His Spirit? Give thanks! Has God not given us His Word! Give thanks!  

We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.

Psalms 75:1

Bible Reading: As a Means of War and Worship | pt. 3

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There is no shortage of resources available regarding the subject of Christian worship. Just visit your favorite bookstore or online retailer and enter “worship” in the search bar and you’ll find a plethora of recommendations. You’ll see resources that range from the worship culture of ancient Israel to the modern church’s form of worship through song. But what exactly is worship? We must answer this question correctly and then we must answer subsequent questions – Who is to be worshiped and What does acceptable worship look like? – to form a more accurate definition.

Worship – What is it?

Worship is generally defined as an act of religious devotion usually directed towards a deity.  Biblically, we must understand how the inspired writers of Scripture defined and used worship. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for worship is שָׁחָה (pronounced shacah) and it means to bow down or prostrate oneself before God. This word was used 172 times in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the Greek word for worship is προσκυνέω (pronounced proskuneo) and it means kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication. This word was used 65 times in the New Testament and the similarity of definitions is striking.

To answer the second question, worship was only to be directed toward the triune God. Worship toward anything or anyone else is the chief sin against God and the pathway to all other forms of sin. This was Israel’s first and second commands as the LORD was constituting them at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20:3-6). Israel was to have no other God before Him and they were not to fashion any sort of idol to bow down to as a representation of Him.

The answers to these two questions set the framework for acceptable worship. Both definitions of worship from each testament include physical prostration or a bowing down. This physical prostration, I believe, is a visible manifestation of one’s heart or attitude of humility and honor. Humility and honor are right responses to God, the maker of heaven and earth and the fullness thereof! With respect to this imagery, worship is more appropriately defined as a right response to the character and worth of God. New Testament scholar, D.A. Carson offers the following definition – Worship is the proper response of all moral, sentient beings to God, ascribing all honor and worth to their Creator-God precisely because his is worthy, delightfully so. 1

But how does one express such reverent responses of honor to God? What are acceptable forms of worship? If we’re considering corporate worship settings, some advocate for the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) and others advocate for the Normative Principle of Worship (NPW). If we’re considering our individual worship, I believe the New Testament commands what is described in Carson’s definition. Worship is a lifestyle response to the worth of our Creator.

The Bible: A Means of Worship

In the epistle to the Romans, after explaining the merciful indicatives of their regeneration, Paul exhorts the believers at Rome to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that is by testing, you may discern what is the will of God, what is good acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

Here we see the direct call to offer their bodies as living sacrifices, which was their spiritual worship. Then we see the exhortation to not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of the mind, that by testing they may discern the will of God. Worship involves both mind and body according to Paul. But where is the will of God found? The Scriptures. If we are to worship God according to his will, we must be well acquainted with the Scriptures. Since Mt. Sinai, God has used His written word to form, shape, remind, and disciple His people. Obeying His word is worship. Consider how the Scriptures themselves testify to its necessity for worship within the covenant community. 

  • God wrote the Law on two tablets of testimony that was to govern the people. – Exodus 32:15-16, Deuteronomy 5:22
  • God told Moses to make two more tablets for testimony after gold calf idol incident. – Exodus 34:1, Deuteronomy 10:1-5
  • Israel was to have written reminders of God’s law within their community. – Deuteronomy 6:1-9; 11:18-20
  • Moses wrote Deuteronomy (2nd giving of Law) and it was to be read before the nation every 7 years. – Deuteronomy 31:9-13
  • The LORD instructs Joshua to obey the Book of the Law. – Joshua 1:7-8
  • God warns Solomon of judgment if he refuses to obey His word. – 1 Kings 9:6-9
  • The Lord sent the (writing) Prophets, who were covenant enforcers, to warn His covenant people about their covenant breaking. (see Isaiah – Malachi)
  • Ezra and others were used to read and explain the Law to the exiles that have returned and rebuilt Jerusalem. – Nehemiah 8:1-8
  • Blessing for delighting in the Law of the LORD. – Psalm 1:2
  • The Law of the LORD is good for us. – Psalm 19:7-11, Psalm 119
  • The gospels reveal Jesus as the promised Messiah, who teaches on the kingdom and is recognized as the Word of God that we might believe and have life (See Matthew – John, John 1:1-3, 19:35, 20:30-31 *note Matthew’s numerous quotes of the Prophets.
  • Jesus testifies that the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms find their fulfillment in Him. – Luke 24:2-27, 36-45
  • Paul references the wilderness generation’s idolatry as a warning for the Corinthian church. He expressed how the written account of their failure is useful for the Corinthians. – 1 Corinthians 10:1-11
  • Paul reasons from the Old Covenant Scriptures to make different arguments relating to the New Covenant. -Romans 4-5, 9-11, Galatians 2:15 – 3:29
  • Paul instructs Timothy to hold to the pattern of sound teaching for the work going on in the Ephesian church . –1 & 2 Timothy
  • Paul testifies to the sufficiency of Scripture for the maturing of the saints. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
  • The writer of Hebrews reasons from many Old Covenant texts to show its insufficiency when compared to Jesus. – Hebrews
  • James instructs us to be doers of the Word, not hearers only.– James 1:19-27
  • Peter elevates the divinely inspired Word over his experiences. – 2 Peter 1:16-21
  • God gave a vision to John and told him to write it down and distribute to particular churches. – Revelation 1:9-11
  • There is a special blessing for the reading, the hearing and obeying Revelation. – Revelation

The whole Bible of course is the essential and sufficient rule of faith for Christians, but I wanted to draw attention to a just a few specific places where it attests to its own importance throughout redemptive history.

God has graciously provided and sustained His Word that we might be convinced of sin, turn to Christ by faith and live a life of worship and holiness by the Spirit’s power according to the revealed will of God. That’s what it means to be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2).

If we are going to be a faithful people who have been redeemed from sin and reconciled to worship our Creator, we must be people of the Book. God’s very mind, heart and will are revealed in Scripture.

To love God is to obey Him (John 14:15). To neglect the Scriptures, is to neglect God.
However, as we come to the Scriptures, with faith and trusting the Spirit’s illumination, we will see our sin more clearly. We will see the provision for our sin. We will better understand what worship looks like. We will rejoice in our blessed hope – the appearing of Christ! We will see Christ more clearly. We will behold our God! And like the Psalmist, we will sing –

Bless the Lord, O my soul!
O Lord my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty, …

(Psalm 104:1)

 

 

1D.A. Carson, Worship by the Book, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2002), 26.

Bible Reading: As a Means of War and Worship | pt. 2

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The most significant day in my life was the day I was regenerated and sought the LORD for forgiveness of my sins. One of the things that I recall very clearly from that night was not just the strong conviction of my specific sin, but a conviction of sin in general. I had an acute awareness of what was morally right and wrong. Sins that I tried to justify in the past, I could now easily see that they were offenses against God. It was truly a sign of God’s work of redemption. Later, I would come to understand that I had been transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). Despite my elation with Christ, I realized that I still had remaining sin that I needed to deal with (Romans 7: 7-25) as well as I needed to learn how to live in a world of full of sin.

At that point in my Christian walk, though I had the desire, I hadn’t yet found a church home. In many ways, I felt alone as none of my friends were Christians. Without knowing that Christians were commanded to share the gospel, I began telling my friends about Jesus and my salvation, but they were not interested. Again without knowing what spiritual warfare was, I began to experience mild persecution (i.e. name calling and social ostracization). I realized that my allegiance to Christ meant that I was at war against the world (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15). Christ told His disciples, If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19) and this was what I was beginning to experience. However, in my excitement and sadness, I diligently sought the Scriptures for understanding, comfort and as a means of war – war against the world, my flesh and Satan.

The Bible: A Means of War
Let me be clear – we will make no progress in the faith apart from life-long reading, memorizing and studying Scripture. Both testaments clearly state that God’s people are to be students of His Word, which not only instructs us about Him, but also about how we are to walk in holiness (the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai – Exodus 20-23; Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Psalms 19:7-11; Psalms 119; Colossians 4:16; 1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12, etc.). We will make no progress in holiness unless we make it a daily practice to fight sin – sin within us and around us. One of the chief methods of fighting sin is fighting the lies sin tells us and fighting temptations by reminding ourselves of truth, which is God’s word.

As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10 – the weapons of our warfare are not flesh, but have divine power. He also goes on to say that we destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. Though not the only weapon, I believe one of the weapons Paul has in mind that has the power to destroy thoughts against God is God’s word. Ephesians 6:10-20, also written by Paul, reminds us that our enemy isn’t flesh and blood, but instead are rulers, authorities and cosmic powers (i.e. demons) and the last weapon mentioned in the Christian’s suit of armor imagery is the sword of the Spirit – which is the word of God. The Bible is our means of war!

Jesus’ Temptation and War with the Devil
Before Jesus began his public ministry, he was baptized by John the Baptist to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22). After he was baptized, both accounts note that the Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove and the Father publicly affirmed that Jesus was indeed his beloved Son, with whom he was well pleased. In this Trinitarian scene, the Spirit descending on Jesus was very significant. As a human, Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit to walk in obedience to the Father. Yet, the Father publicly declared him to be his Son, which points to Jesus’ deity. This was a reiteration of the angel Gabriel’s message to Mary (Luke 1:26-35).

But what happens next is significant. Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil for forty days (Matthew 4:1-2; Luke 4:1-2). Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness for forty days is likened to Israel’s forty year wandering in the wilderness en route to Canaan – the promised land. Israel, God’s son, was called to faithfulness during the journey from Sinai to Canaan, yet failed. Jesus, God’s Son, remained faithful to God during that time of testing. Israel’s downfall was a failure to believe God despite all he’d done for them and shown them in their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. Jesus’ victory was rooted in obedience to God’s word.

At the onset of his public ministry, Jesus is tempted by the devil repeatedly. Both accounts detail the same series of temptations by the devil, but in different order. Two times the devil asks Jesus, “If you are the Son of God,…..” and one time he blatantly asks Jesus to worship him in exchange for the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:3-11; Luke 4:3-13). It is interesting to note that the devil’s questioning Jesus regarding his Sonship comes right after the Father publicly declared Jesus as his Son. What’s at the heart of the devil’s temptation is seeing what kind of Son of God Jesus will be – a faithful one or a faithless one like Adam and Israel. But note Jesus’ response. Jesus, the Son of God, empowered by the Spirit and the Logos of God quotes Scripture to the devil! “It is written…..” Jesus goes to war with the devil with Scripture! In response to the devil’s temptations and misuse of Scripture, Jesus responds to the devil from Deuteronomy.

If Jesus, the Son of God, relied on Scripture during his time of temptation, how much more do you and I need to have it written on our hearts and etched in our minds to fight sin that wages war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11) and to stand against the cosmic powers (Ephesians 6:12)?

If we will do our souls well, we will take up the joy and necessity of reading the Word of God frequently. For temptations will always be within and the devil waits for opportune times to assail us (Luke 4:13).

Read. Stand firm.

Bible Reading: As a Means of War and Worship | pt. 1

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The Good Book, God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures – these were some of the monikers I heard growing up regarding the Bible. As a child, I remember thinking it was a special book for older religious people. I remember seeing several Bibles at my grandparents’ home. Back then, I didn’t understand why they had so many Bibles. To their defense, I did see my grandparents reading their Bibles from time to time, but there were so many other copies in their home that seemed to serve as decoration pieces. Some of their Bibles were red, green, maroon, and black. Some had praying hands or a sword embossed on the front. I wondered if those were the extra special Bibles.

Then it happened – I got my own Bible when I was about 8. It was hardback with an artist’s depiction of “happy Jesus” walking through a meadow with a staff in His hand followed by smiling children. As a teen, I received a modern looking NIV Teen Bible with a computer generated picture of the toughing fingertips from Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam”on the front and back with no words on the front cover. This definitely wasn’t my grandparents’ Bible! In fact, one wouldn’t know it was a Bible unless they read the spine of the book or opened it. I wrote my name on it and began to read portions of it. I was quickly surprised and pleased at the lack of “thees”, “thous”, “willeths” and “killeths”, which made the reading much more accessible. More than once, my grandfather encouraged me to read through the book of Proverbs by reading one chapter a day. I didn’t though. As a teen, I was unregenerate and had no desire to read the Bible, though I esteemed it to some degree.

By God’s grace, He saved me just a few months before my 24th birthday and one of the changes that I quickly noticed was a desire to know Him. I’d never been a voracious reader. I read enough to make good grades in school and earn an undergraduate degree, but reading wasn’t something I typically enjoyed. However, as a new believer, I now had a desire to read – to read the Bible. While I didn’t properly understand much of what I read, the Holy Spirit was allowing me to understand some key things I needed to know at that point in my life. This fueled my desire to keep reading the Bible and I noticed my affections for Christ being kindled as I pored over His word, sometimes for hours. That Bible I received as a teen was being put to use, but I soon got a study Bible that accelerated my understanding.

I remember taking my Bible to work and reading it during my lunch-break. After coming home from work, I would read for most of the evening only taking a break to eat dinner. Over time, I noticed new convictions for godliness and against ungodliness. I was being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29) having my mind renewed (Rom. 12:2) by reading the word of God (Ps. 19:7-8; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). In my new found love, little did I know that the discipline of Bible reading would be so useful in times of great temptation and as a means of rejoicing through exaltation.

It would be some time before I understood the gravity these words spoken by Yahweh and the LORD, Jesus Christ –

“…. man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:3)

It also would be some time before the thought crystallized in my mind that reading the Bible is a means of war and worship.

The Fulfillment of Advent

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Since Genesis 3:15, God has been making several promises concerning His redemptive plan for creation. As I stated in my last Advent article, the Old Testament can be summed up redemptively as promises made and the New Testament can be summed up as promises fulfilled. It would take me quite a while and several other treatments to explain that all of God’s covenant promises are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. However, Luke’s account of the gospel helps us tremendously and succinctly.

After Jesus’ resurrection, two men approached the tomb of Jesus. While there, they were confronted by what appears to be angels, and were told that Jesus is not among the dead, but that He had risen from the dead. As they were walking on a road to Emmaus, Jesus appears to them and converses with them, unbeknownst to them. Toward the end of their conversation, Luke records these important words, 25 And he (Jesus) said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)

Jesus himself declared that all that had been written from the writings of Moses to the Prophets concerned Him. Jesus was declaring that He is the focal point of God’s redemptive plan. He is the one who has come to fulfill the promises God made to His people. I listed several promises in the previous article concerning Jesus and He fulfilled each one of them. Several promises or prophecies were about places and times, which are important so we can clearly identify that it was indeed Jesus who fulfilled them. But what’s more important concerning Jesus’ promises is what He came to accomplish. Why did Jesus enter humanity? This is the question of utmost importance.

In Galatians 4:4-5, Paul said, “4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” These verses answers the question of why Jesus entered humanity. Jesus, the eternal second Person of the Trinity, entered humanity to redeem people deserving of the penalty of the Law. He came to gain possession of a rebellious people and call them brothers and adopted children of God! Our sin has caused a great rift between us and God and warrants eternal judgment. Christ came to fulfill the promise that God would defeat the work of Satan (Gen. 3:15; Col. 2:13-15; 1 John 3:8) and reclaim a people for Himself (Eph. 1:5). And how He did this was a promise fulfilled too. Christ came to redeem a people for Himself by His own blood. Jesus lived a perfect life according to the Law, but willingly died and drank the cup of his Father’s wrath for our sins. Jesus died for those who exercise faith in Him for the forgiveness of sins on the basis of His righteousness.

Over 700 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned these words concerning Jesus –

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his wounds we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned—every one—to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.

Christ was pierced, crushed, chastised, and wounded for our transgressions and iniquities. This is what theologians call substitutionary atonement. Christ bore the wrath of the Father, not for His sin, but for our sin. We are transgressors. We have committed iniquities. We have gone astray. We have turned to our own way. But He was the faithful one! He was wounded for us that we might be healed. This is the fulfillment of Advent! Christ has come to reconcile to Himself a wayward people deserving of eternal condemnation and to lift the curse from creation (Rom. 8:21). Christ has come to restore harmony between Creator and creature and to establish His sovereign eternal reign (2 Sam. 7:13; Rev. 7:9-10).

May Christmas be a refreshing, sober, and joyful reminder of God’s love for His people in Christ!

Merry Christmas!

The Promise of Advent

In  my previous Advent article, I sought to briefly expose the nature and necessity of Advent. As previously stated, Advent means “coming”. Advent is a celebration of the first coming of Jesus Christ into the world. This is what Christmas is about – the incarnation of our Savior. That is the nature of Advent. I also briefly touched on why there was a need for Christ to come into the world. Genesis 3:1-14 details humanity’s treason against its Creator and Romans 8:20-21 explains that because of Adam’s rebellion, God subjected all of creation to futility or depravity and its effects. God has judged treasonous man by declaring him guilty and by subjecting all of creation to a curse. This curse has brought physical and moral corruption. However, at the end of Romans 8:21, we learn that God subjected creation to futility in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom. All is not lost or ultimately consumed by the just wrath of God. There is hope! Liberation was promised. Creation will be set free from its bondage to corruption!

Did you notice the passive language? Creation will be set free. It cannot set itself free; it must be delivered by another. I stated that Genesis 3:15 gives us a hint that God has appointed an emancipator. One will come and deliver creation from its curse. That deliverer will be the offspring of woman that will bruise the head of the serpent (the devil), but in the process, the deliverer’s heel would be bruised (the deliverer would be struck). That was the first Messianic promise of Scripture. That promise was concerning Jesus.

From this point on in the Old Testament, we are given more promises that provide greater clarity and explanation about the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, and the results of His ministry. The grand narrative of Scripture is that a Holy God has reconciled a sinful people to Himself through His appointed King, our Redeemer and Savior, Jesus Christ. Some have rightly summarized the Old Testament as promises made and the New Testament as promises fulfilled. Some of the most significant promises made concerning Jesus are:

What grace from God that throughout the course of human history He would speak to us in the Scriptures through ordinary men and women concerning the identity of Jesus, the one promised to come liberate us from our bondage to sin and corruption.

During this Advent season, may we praise God that He is a God of hope, mercy, forgiveness and grace and that He has not been silent concerning the salvation He has for His people through Christ!

The Nature and Necessity of Advent

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This year, December 2 marked the beginning of Advent. Advent is a period of four weeks in December that many Christians observe to prepare for the celebration of the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ. While it is commonly known that Jesus was not born on December 25, His birth is traditionally celebrated on this day by many. Advent is the Latin word for “coming”, which makes Advent preparation to commemorate the incarnation of Jesus Christ (Lk. 2).

However, it’s obvious that all who celebrate Christmas are not celebrating the birth of Jesus. For non-Christians, the Christmas season is merely a time for winter trips, shopping, parties, decorations, exchanging presents, etc. For the retail industry, it is usually a time when businesses recover from financial deficits throughout the year. This profit surge usually starts on the Friday after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday. Corporate budgets typically shift from red (deficit) to black (profit) due to the increase of demand for their products. Certainly, Christians contribute to retail and travel industry profits during this time of year, but at large, the culture is not seeking to genuinely glorify Jesus Christ. For many, He’s a mean to a great financial end. This is just one of the reasons why Advent significantly matters and is so desperately needed.

Why the need for Advent?

As stated, the Advent season is a time to commemorate the coming of Jesus Christ. The most significant person ever to be born was Jesus Christ and part of what validates that claim is understanding why there was a need for Him to be born.

Everyday all across the globe we see and hear of terrible and tragic events. All one has to do is tune in to their local news or national news channel or social media outlets to see or read about various tragedies occurring non-stop, as it seems. Tragedies and sufferings are experienced by all of creation. These tragedies and sufferings are what the Bible calls the groans of creation longing to be free from the curse that it was subjected to.

Romans 8:20-23 says –
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

While Romans 8 is arguably one of the most encouraging chapters for the believer, it does explain why all of creation, including you and me, suffers. Let’s observe what this text says as it pertains to the present condition of creation, our response to these conditions and why this condition exists.

Verse 21 tells us that creation is in bondage to corruption. Though there is much beauty to behold in all of creation, it is marred by corruption. This corruption expresses itself in physical corruption and moral corruption. Every tornado screams corruption. Every stillborn baby screams corruption. Every cancer diagnosis screams corruption. Strife and deception among humanity screams corruption. Man’s rejection of his Creator screams corruption. Corruption and its effects are pervasive physically and morally.

Verses 22 and 23 tell us that all of creation, including humanity groans, but is awaiting an emancipation from our corrupted state (See v21 & 23b). These groans serve as a witness that all is not right and there is a deep desire for an emancipation from corruption.

However, verse 20 seems to be the most provocative verse in this passage. It says “creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it…..” The original word for futility means that which is devoid of truth or appropriateness or perverseness and depravity. Creation was subject to that which is devoid of truth or depravity, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it. Someone subjected creation to a condition of corruption or depravity. There has been some debate about who him is in this verse, but Genesis 3 settles that debate.

After transgressing the clear command of God to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God curses Adam, the woman and the serpent. With respect to the curse pronounced to Adam, creation would work hard against man’s rule and cultivation. All that man had dominion over would be subject to futility. Due to Adam’s sin, man’s relationship with God, with his wife (and all other human relationships) and with creation was broken. This was God’s judgment for Adam’s sin – futility. God subjected all of creation to futility as a form of judgment. Creation groans because of the curse we’re under and the corruption we experience every day. In fact, this is the whole point of Ecclesiastes. All of life without God is vanity or futility. Also, futility is our natural state (Ps. 51:5, Eph. 2:1-3). Due to Adam’s rebellion, we’re born in a state of moral corruption.  Our sinful nature is incapable of pleasing God in any way and only fit for His just wrath. We need liberation from sin and from God’s wrath. 

Thankfully, Romans 8:20b-21 reminds us that that futility is not the end. God subjected creation to futility “in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom….”.

But how? How will creation be set free from its bondage to corruption?

Genesis 3:15 gives us a small hint of the one God would send to set man and the rest of creation free from His wrath and from the bondage to corruption to obtain freedom. The rest of the voices of the Old Testament grows progressively louder concerning the coming of this appointed emancipator.

May our Christmas season be a joyful gratuitous expression for the Christ who has come and brought freedom!