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 his 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 (1 Chron. 29:11-12; Ps. 50:10-11; 1 Tim. 6:13-16) and eternity.

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 is 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.

 

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.

Do Not Despise Your Inconveniences

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Babe, now when we move in to our house, don’t be surprised by the imperfections and issues that we’re going to experience. Don’t get your hopes up. Expect something to happen.”

By God’s grace, my wife and I closed on our first home last fall. Knowing that moving can be and usually is a big deal, these were the words I spoke to my wife in an attempt to prepare her for transitioning from a small apartment to a house. Little did I know how much I needed to remind myself of these truths for what was to come.

After we had our refrigerator delivered and installed, I went back to our apartment to get a few more things. When I returned to the house, I walked into the kitchen welcomed by a huge puddle of water on the floor. I completely froze trying to figure out what happened. I checked the pipes, but they were okay. I managed to find every towel we owned and used them to soak up the water. After they absorbed all they could, I ran to the master bathroom shower to leave them there. When I got to the master bathroom, there was water all over the floor as well. “What is going on!!!” Again, I looked for leaks from pipes, but every pipe was dry.

I went back to the kitchen and I heard a faint noise. As I moved the refrigerator away from the wall, I noticed a slight spewing of water from the ice maker line/faucet connection. Realizing the appliance technician didn’t fully tighten the ice maker line, I tightened it as best as I could with my bare hands to stop the water flow. This is what happened the day we moved into our new home. Welcome to home ownership, right?

The next three weeks would prove to be the beginning of a two and a half month “nightmare”. Over the course of those 3 weeks we discovered that the leak wasn’t stopped and water traveled the opposite direction under the walls to a guestroom. It was discovered as my wife walked into the guest room and was met by an uncomfortable squish under the carpet. We later discovered that one third of the guest room was soaked as well as the entire closet. I couldn’t believe this was happening to our new home.

I called the store that we bought the refrigerator from and filed a complaint about the faulty workmanship. Thankfully, the company completely complied and made exceptional effort to correct the situation. They sent out an insurance adjuster to assess the damage to our kitchen, master bathroom, and guest room. The damage was more extensive than we thought as mold has started to grow and accumulate in 3 areas. As part of correcting the problem, we had to have a fire and water damage specialty company deconstruct the damaged areas to dry out the water with fans and dehumidifiers. After the areas were deconstructed, the fans and dehumidifiers were set up and had to run for 48 hours non-stop. They were loud and hot. Our house looked like a war zone. Due to the kitchen being almost completely inaccessible, my wife and I had to pick up dinner almost every night. Thankfully, the company compensated us very fairly for all of the damages ensued.

For the most part, things were running smoothly until it came time to re-construct the damaged areas. After researching general contractors in our area, I hired a company to repair our floor and baseboards. The contract was sent over and per his request, I paid fifty percent up front to cover the cost of materials, etc. After the materials were purchased, a time was scheduled for the contractor to repair our home. The agreed upon day arrived and the contractor informed me that his workers were unable to complete the job due to car problems. So we agreed on having the work done the following day. The following day, the contractor sends out another crew, but once they arrive they inform me that they’re not trained to install the flooring that I have. At this point, I am trying to maintain my composure. I called the contractor and told him about the issue and he was very upset about the mistake. I told him that I needed to have a crew at my home before noon or else I was going to find someone else and that I needed the remainder of my deposit back. He confirmed that he couldn’t find anyone on short notice and that he would refund the portion of my deposit minus the cost of the materials that were already purchased.

At this point, I started looking for another contractor and I quickly found one with great reviews on Yelp!. I arranged to have them begin work on my home later that week and all seemed to be going better. They arrived at their scheduled time and began working. However, as the day progressed, they realized they didn’t have enough material and the job was a bit more extensive than they bargained for. They agreed to come back the following day to finish the job, which was fine with me. The next day came and the owner of the contracting business came, but his worker didn’t show up. He was livid. He was extremely apologetic and I was in utter disbelief, but I tried not to show my annoyance to him. He told me that he was extremely sorry and said that his worker has never done that before. He offered to continue the job right after Christmas, but I wanted to have it done before then because my wife and I were having family in town. I didn’t want to have to subject my family to a semi-construction project home. I began calling around for a third contractor.

The owner of the third contracting business came out to my home to assess the work needed and he was able to schedule one of his workers to complete the job a few days after Christmas. The day arrived for the work to be done and the worker didn’t show up. “Lord, what is going on??!!!? How hard is it to get a floor repaired??” At this point, my wife and I are laughing in utter disbelief. I called the owner of the business and he told me that he would check with his worker and call me back. When he called me back he informed me that his worker had gone to the hospital the night before and he was still under observation. He promised to get back with me with a back-up plan, but he never did. I texted him and politely told him that I would not need his services. Meanwhile, I still hadn’t received my deposit back from the first contractor. After texting the first contractor almost everyday about my deposit, I settled in my head that he was a thief. I had resigned to take my financial loss. I found myself being angry for being seemingly lied to and and taken advantage of. The injustice was the source of my anger, not the dollar amount. My wife was in utter disbelief, but by the grace of God we both didn’t “lose it”. In fact, I told her, “The LORD has to be doing something because of all this is just strange. I just can’t put my finger on it because none of this makes sense to me.” Shortly after that, some of what the LORD seemed to be doing seemed to become more clear.

After the third contractor failed to show, I called the second contractor back and I was assured by the him that they could finish the job after New Years Day. We’d been dealing with this issue since October 21. As scheduled, the second contractor came back out to my home with his crew and they began working! “Finally!” As the crew was working, I was sitting at my dining room table reading my Bible. As I was reading, the owner of the contracting business asks me which book of the Bible I was reading. I was a little shocked. We talked for a little while about the Bible and he said that he loved reading the gospels, but that he didn’t go to church. “Yeah, I got introduced to Jesus a few years ago when I was going through a hard time and it really changed my life. I have a son and I want him to know what I know, but my girlfriend is an atheist, so it’s a bit harder for us.” I couldn’t believe he dropped that bomb in my lap so casually. “Maybe we can talk about this more?” I said. He obliged and went back to work.

As his lunch break approached, he asked me where he could get some good food. I told him a few places nearby and he left. I then went to the bank to get his payment, and while I was driving I called him to make sure I had the check made payable to his correct business name. As we were talking he invited me to eat lunch with him at a Vietnamese restaurant. I am not a fan of Vietnamese cuisine, so I hesitated. My taste buds were longing for something different. Then I thought to myself how much of an opportunity this was to share the gospel and that my taste buds would have to make a sacrifice. I told him that I would meet him there after I finished at the bank.

I arrived at the restaurant, ordered my food and we continued our conversation about the Bible and his life. As we were talking, I asked him if he knew the central message of the Bible. He responded with a works based answer – we should try to be good and help people as Jesus did. I pressed him a little more and asked him what sets Christianity apart from other world religions that also preach good works. He got quiet. I could tell he didn’t know. So I asked if I could share what the essential message of the Bible was and he obliged. After I shared the gospel, he seemed a bit intrigued. It was almost as if he’d never heard it before in such detail. He said that our meeting and talking was “meant to be”. He also shared how he wished his girlfriend would have the desire to go to church so they could take their son too. We talked a bit more of what it meant to follow Christ rather than follow the world and how that involves life changing sacrifices and turning away from things that are outright sinful or are hindrances to our walks. He thanked me again and said that he believes our talk was supposed to happen. I recommended he visit a church in his area that I was familiar with that clearly proclaims the gospel faithfully and he said he would check it out. It was at that moment that I confessed my sin to the LORD for being so selfish and failing to believe He was working good in this situation. That day would also be the day that I received my remaining deposit back from the first contractor.

A few years ago, I heard John Piper say, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” In other words, God is always working out His plans in our lives in all things, even the things that are very trying, inconvenient, and at times life threatening, and we don’t have the slightest clue that He’s working or how. This truth is derived from Scripture and one of the places we can see it most clearly was in the life of Joseph (Genesis 37-50). He was hated by his brothers, wished for dead, sold into slavery in a foreign land, jailed, falsely accused for sexual harassment and yet as the LORD remained with Joseph and elevated him to second in command in Egypt. It was in this position that God used Joseph to actually save his family during a famine and after reuniting with his brothers, he said, As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today(Genesis 50:20). God was doing 10,000 things in Joseph’s life and the rest of redemptive history shows that.

I was despising the inconvenience of having to repair the flooring in our home, but here are a few things that I can tell that the LORD was doing through all of that.

  • He was showing me just how sinful I was by the way I responded to this inconvenience. I was impatient and frustrated at different times.
  • He was working to produce godly character in me (James 1:2-4).
  • He was working so that the second contractor could hear the gospel.

Too many times I think we’re guilty of looking at life from our limited, selfish, earthly perspectives. I was reminded that I am part of the outworking of God’s redemptive plan and that I needed to maintain perspective at all times. Since God is faithful, good, wise and powerful, we must trust that He is always working for His glory and for the good of His people no matter how painful life may get. It is because of this that we can learn not to despise our inconveniences, but trust that God is always working in the midst of them.

Christmas: God’s Grace Through the “Insignificant”

20171225_150202One of the reasons that grounds my assurance in God is His deliberateness. All that God does He deliberately does with purpose and intention. There are no accidents or happen-stances with God. Even when our minds can’t fathom how or why God chooses to work in particular ways, what we need to do as finite beings is trust in the wisdom and goodness of the Infinite. This is part of what it means to be human and what it means to be God.

One of the reasons why I like Luke’s gospel is his Holy Spirit inspired attention to detail. I often remind myself when I start to wonder why so much seemingly insignificant detail is mentioned, that God has a reason for including the particularities in Scriptures. They are for our good and our worship. God is in the details. In Luke’s account of the birth narrative of Jesus, every detail is important and the detail about Jesus’ earthly parents must not be taken lightly.

In Luke 1:26-38, Luke records the annunciation of Jesus’ conception and birth by the angel Gabriel to Mary, a virgin, who was betrothed to Joseph. However, verses 26-27 contain a great deal of important information. As I stated earlier, every detail of Scripture is significant, and these first two verses are pregnant with significance that we cannot afford to miss.

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.

According to this text, Mary was a virgin betrothed to Joseph, of the house of David and they were living in Nazareth in Galilee. Nothing seems unusual about these details on the surface, but let’s consider this information more closely.

The “Insignificant” People

Scripture reveals that Mary was merely a pre-teen or teenage Jewish girl who received this angelic annunciation. Except for one questionable lineage account, the Scriptures are silent concerning Mary’s lineage,which doesn’t give us any reason to assume she was a person of significance or importance in society. Mary, very well, was an ordinary Jewish girl of her times.

Verse 27, however, gives us a bit more detail about Joseph. Luke records here that he was of the “house of David”. Two other instances of Joseph’s lineage are mentioned in Luke 3:23-38 and Matthew 1:1-16, which both tie him to David. In addition to this familial detail, we also know Joseph was a carpenter by trade (Matthew 13:65, Mark 6:3). As a couple, Joseph and Mary were of meager financial possessions. Luke 2:22-24 records that after Jesus was born, they presented Him at the temple according to the Law and offered two turtle doves or two pigeons as a sacrifice to God. The book of Leviticus tells us that in the event people couldn’t offer a lamb or bull as a sacrifice due to economic inability, turtledoves or pigeons were acceptable.

Based on these truths, it is reasonable to conclude that both Joseph and Mary were ordinary working class citizens of Israel. By worldly standards, there was nothing significant about them.

The “Insignificant” Place

In addition to their ordinary statuses, they were residing in Nazareth of Galilee. Archaeological and historical discoveries have revealed that Nazareth was an ancient agricultural village that had between 200-400 residents in the first century. It was situated 65 miles north of Jerusalem and about 71 miles north of Bethlehem. While Jerusalem was the religious center of the Jews and Bethlehem was known for being the birthplace of David and eventually Jesus, Nazareth was not a significant place in the first century. In fact, one of Jesus’ disciples, Nathanael, couldn’t believe that the Messiah would be associated with Nazareth. In utter disbelief, Nathaneal uttered, Can anything good come out of Nazareth?(John 1:43-46). By worldly standards, nothing was significant about Nazareth.

The God of the “Insignificant”

Mary was a young Jewish girl. Joseph was a poor teenage carpenter. Nazareth was small non-respected agricultural village in upper Galilee. Yet, God purposely chose all of these elements to accomplish His redemptive plan in Christ. As Luke records, Joseph and Mary were betrothed and he was from the “house of David”. The significance lies in the fact that centuries before God made a covenant with King David stating that a king from his line would have an eternal kingdom (2 Samuel 7:8-13). From a worldly perspective, the seemingly insignificant are profoundly significant in God’s redemptive plan. We must have eyes to see and ears to hear the profundity.

May Christmas be a reminder that our God deliberately accomplished His significant plan of redemption in Christ through seemingly insignificant people or circumstances so that He alone will get the glory and praise that He rightly deserves.  Rejoice in the fact that God extends grace through the insignificant and to the insignificant to accomplish His eternally significant purpose. 

Merry Christmas!

d.

Thankfulness: The Melody of the Christian Soul

…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:8)

As the holidays approached, my wife and I kept noticing how store decor went from Halloween to Christmas. In fact, back in July we were at a home decor store and we noticed Christmas decorations already being displayed. We asked one of the store employees why Christmas decor was already being displayed and we were told that many customers like to purchase Christmas decor in preparation for the Christmas season, but it was all for commercial marketing. The end goal was financial capitalization. However, what we also noticed was that there was very little attention paid to the Thanksgiving holiday.

Although there is much discussion about the origin of the Thanksgiving holiday, one thing that we must understand is that it was a day set aside to respond with gratitude. According to American Colonial history, the origin of Thanksgiving originated with praises to God for His benevolence by religious separatists from England in 1620 and was made an official United States holiday on October 3, 1863 by Abraham Lincoln toward the end of the Civil War.

Read Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation

It is clear from Lincoln’s proclamation that a day of thanksgiving was to be set aside nationally as a day to thank and praise God for His abundant mercies toward the United States, even in the midst of a Civil War. Not only was it a day of thanksgiving, but it was also a day to confess national sins seeking the mercy of God. Now, I’m not here to debate the theology of Abraham Lincoln or the sincerity of his Christian profession, but to reveal what the proclamation stated. It is important to understand that the Thanksgiving holiday was started as a response to the benevolence, grace and mercy of God.

The Grounds for Thanksgiving

Every year around this time something strange happens that I’ve noticed and I imagine you have noticed it too. I hear people say, “We’re so thankful!”, “I’m thankful for….”, “I’m blessed.” These expressions of gratitude lack an object of gratitude. In other words, there are expressions of thankfulness attached to no one. They are just impersonal expressions of gratitude as if the blessings for the things that people are thankful for occur in a vacuum. There is no one on the receiving end of those impersonal expressions of gratitude. Think about that. Isn’t it strange how the human heart can detach the origin of the blessings from an expression of gratitude? Does an expression of gratitude truly make sense apart from the provider of such blessings? In my loudest voice I want to shout out, “To whom are you thankful for such things?!!”

Scripture repeatedly reminds us that God is the source of all of our blessings. The epistle of James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

But we don’t have to get that far in the Bible to understand that everything that has been given to us has been created by God. We read of this in the very first book of the Bible. And this is a refrain throughout the rest of Scripture. The Lord reminds His people, and even those who oppose Him, that He is the Lord of all and He gives and withholds according to His discretion. He causes it to rain on the just and the unjust. He alone is the person we give thanks to for everything. Without someone ultimately to thank, gratitude is meaningless.

What Thankfulness Reveals

For Christians, thankfulness ought to be as normal as breathing if we truly have grasped the gospel and its implications. If we are a thankless people, either we have not truly grasped the gospel or we are really not part of God’s elect. Consider the gospel and some of its implications: we have been freed from the Father’s wrath, there is no condemnation for us, we have been reconciled to the Father through Jesus, we are the friends of Jesus, we will receive an eternal inheritance in the new heavens and the new earth, we are no longer dominated by sin, we will no longer be afflicted by Satan, we have the Holy Spirit, we have the word of God, we have the community of the church, we have spiritual gifts, God provides our daily needs and all of the effects of sin will one day be removed from our experience. We have so much to be thankful for! Praise be to God for his indescribable gift! (Romans 11:36)

To be thankless is to stand in opposition of all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus. However, genuine expressions of gratitude by Christians reveal the fundamental truths about our nature and God’s.

• Expressions of gratitude to God reveal that we are insufficient for all things.
• Expressions of gratitude to God reveals our recognition that God is wholly the source for all things.
• Expressions of gratitude to God reveal our humility.
• Expressions of gratitude to God reveal His benevolence.
• Expressions of gratitude to God guards our hearts from having a critical spirit against God.
• Expressions of gratitude to God are forms of spiritual warfare against Satan and his demons.
• Expressions of gratitude to God are ways of inducing joy to the heart.
• Expressions of gratitude to God is worship.

Because God’s mercies are new every morning, thanksgiving should be the melody of the Christian soul.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalms 118:1)

Grace and peace,

d.

Joy to the World – Pt. 4

jtw4If you’re familiar with the storyline of the Bible, one of the major themes that you may have noticed is mankind’s need for a righteous king who doesn’t die.  The book of Judges is where we start to see this need more clearly.  Israel had been given a covenant, but she continually broke God’s covenant and God judged her by allowing her to be oppressed by wicked rulers. Israel would cry out for deliverance from her oppressors and God would send a judge (savior) to deliver her.  However, soon after Israel’s deliverance, the judge died and Israel fell back into sin breaking God’s covenant because there was no king and the people did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6).

However, this pattern didn’t start in Judges, but in Genesis 3. The lie the serpent told Eve was that she would be like God – The Ultimate King, if she ate from the forbidden tree. Though mankind was created in God’s image to rule creation under God’s authority (Gen. 1:26-28), mankind’s problem is that we want to be a law unto ourselves. We want to be kings independent from the rule of God.  

The period after the judges didn’t prove to be much better for Israel. In their desire to be like the nations desiring a king, God told them that their desires would lead to bad leadership over them ( 1 Sam. 8).  God had already provided them stipulations for a king (Deut. 17:14-20), but Israel’s eyes were enamored by the rulership of the nations.  1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles details the wickedness and failures of Israel’s and Judah’s kings. Despite Israel’s rebellion and ours, God was gracious enough, for the glory of His name, to provide the king mankind needs. That king is Jesus (Ps. 2).

Unlike the wicked and unfaithful earthly kings, Jesus’ kingship over His people will be righteous and a blessing.  Verse 4 of this hymn describes the kingship of Jesus. It says –

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love

Characteristics of Christ’s Rule

This verse says Christ’s kingship will be characterized by truth, grace and love. The Apostle John said Jesus was full of grace and truth (Jhn 1:14) and he drew attention to Jesus’ teaching on love as a chief mark of being a disciple (Jhn 13:31-35; 1 Jhn 2:7-17, 3:11-18, 4:7-21).  But what gives credibility to Jesus’ teaching was His life.  He not only taught truth,  but He is the truth (Jhn 14:1-12) as the very word (logos) of God (John 1:1).  In these verses, John 14:1-12, Jesus was declaring himself to be the very essence of God and Paul makes this same point in Colossians 1:15-16 and in the Father is no darkness, but light (truth) (1 Jhn. 1:5).  Therefore, since the Father is the essence of truth and Jesus is the image of the Father, Jesus is the truth!

Concerning grace, Jesus coming in the flesh is an act of God’s grace to save sinners. Our salvation is all a work of God’s grace. In the new heavens and new earth, we will be reminded of the grace of God extended to us in Christ.  We will forever be reminded that Christ not only bore the wrath of God for our sins, but also that we were given the righteousness of Christ that we do not deserve.

Christ’s love is first rooted in His eternal nature as God. He cannot not love, for God is love.  Secondly, His kingship will be marked by love because of His love for the Father.  John said, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only son….” (Jhn. 3:16). Christ submitted to the will of the Father because He loved the Father.  Christ taught that love is evidenced in obedience – “If you love me, you will keep my commands” (Jhn. 14:15). Since Christ kept the command of the Father, we can safely say He loved Him. Thirdly, His kingship will be marked by love because He loves His people.  During His earthly ministry, Jesus loved His disciples (Jhn. 13:1), He loved Martha, her sister and Lazarus (Jhn. 11:5), he loved the rich young ruler (Mk. 10:21) , and He loves all the saints (Rev. 1:5). The ultimate demonstration of His love is his laying down His life for His people (1 Jhn. 3:16).  Jesus is the embodiment of the steadfast love of the LORD for the saints and His love will never cool or grow dim, but will be a fulfillment of Psalm 23.

Extent of Christ’s Rule

Two words that describe the extent of Christ’s rule are world and nations.  Human history is riddled with poor examples of human rulers of nations , especially those who try to exert their rule over other nations. Under certain forms of government, people are oppressed and denied basic human rights. We’ve seen what has happened under leaders like Nebuchadnezzar, Nero, Mao Tse-Tung, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Fidel Castro, and Vladimir Lenin. And while other forms of government provide more freedom and flourishing, no human government is perfect that will enable the fullest human flourishing possible. Human history has recorded this. People have been oppressed. Wars have been fought. Lives have been lost.

Yet, repeatedly in Scripture, Christ is mentioned as one who will rule the world with the nations submitting to Him. By nations, the Scriptures mean people groups or ethnicities. When Christ comes back to consummate His kingdom, as the King of kings and the Lord of lords, those who have repented of their sins, regardless of ethnicity,  will be under the perfect rule of Jesus.  

Psalm 2:8 says –

Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.”  

John’s vision of Christ in Revelation says this in 5:9-10 –

9 Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

When Christ comes back, His rule will be global and full of righteousness.  Isaiah 9:6 gives us a very vivid picture of the kingship –

Of the increase of his government and of peace

   there will be no end,

on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

   to establish it and to uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

   from this time forth and forevermore.

Why This Matters at Christmas

While this season is often celebrated with great affection and fervor, it is also a season of sadness for many.  For many, this season is a reminder of pain, unhappiness, and unmet desires. Many question the goodness of God or His existence because of their life experiences.  But there is hope! There is hope because Jesus Christ came in the flesh. It is a historical fact. It is a historical fact that He lived on the earth and grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. It is a fact that He gathered Apostles and taught them the gospel. It is a fact that He was crucified, buried and was raised on the third day. It is a fact that Christianity began to spread as the remaining disciples and one named Paul began missionary endeavors to proclaim the gospel of salvation and God’s kingdom, even to the point of death. The incarnation of Christ is about God reconciling man to Himself and establishing His kingdom headed by Jesus Christ where righteousness eternally dwells.  

This is the hope we have and why we ought to fervently sing this hymn during the Christmas season!

Merry Christmas!!

Joy to the World – Pt. 3

joy-to-the-world.jpgThe third verse of this hymn, like all of the other verses, is rich with important biblical truth that we cannot afford to miss.  As Christians, we’re called to delight in God’s truth and understanding the content of verse 3 should cause us to delight in God.  Verse three says –

No more let sins and sorrows grow,

Nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make His blessings flow

Far as the curse is found,

Far as the curse is found,

Far as, far as, the curse is found.

Sins, Sorrows, Thorns and a Curse

This verse is describing what redemption looks like. Much like what Part 2 discussed, the world is presently under a curse because of Adam and Eve’s rebellion. Part of the curse, pronounced to Adam in Genesis 3 says-

17And to Adam he said,“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it, cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life, 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken, for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

After mankind’s rebellion, part of the curse described is creation working against man. No longer would Adam’s work as a cultivator of the ground be easy and bear plentiful produce. His labor would be painfully hard and the harmony between man and the rest of creation would be strenuous.  Like Adam, we live in a world where our work is often riddled with proverbial thorns, not often enjoyed nor yielding the “fruit” we desire.  In addition, the very ground that Adam was supposed to rule would ultimately consume him. That is our lot without a redeemer.  We are born into this life under God’s curse for Adam’s sin with death and eternal condemnation as our lot (Rom. 5:12,18-19). As stated in previous writings, all of creation is under a curse longing for a liberator.

Cosmic Redemption & Everlasting Joy

That liberator is Jesus.  During Christ’s earthly ministry He often stated that the kingdom of God had arrived, yet it wasn’t always understood nor was it fully actualized. His ministry not only consisted of teaching His Father’s truths, but He also demonstrated authority over creation (Mk. 4:35-41), over disease (Matt. 8:1-3, Mk. 5:21-34)  and over death (Mk. 5:35-43, Jhn 11:1-44). His ministry was to demonstrate the in-breaking of the kingdom of God and provide glimpses of victory over Satan and the effects of sin – especially on man. In essence, Christ’s victory in His death and resurrection reversed the curse pronounced in Genesis 3.

At the second coming of Christ, which will bring judgment for the unrepentant, also brings salvation for His people. No more will the effects of sin rule and dominate the earth nor His people. His redemption will be consummate as far as the curse is found.  God and man will be reconciled. Man and man will be in unity in Christ. The new heavens and new earth will be in perfect harmony with man. God’s dwelling place with be forever be with man on the earth where there will be everlasting joy (Rev. 21:3-4). Sin and sorrows will grow no more as they will be non-existent.

Why This Matters at Christmas

While this season looks back at the birth of Christ, it is imperative that we understand why looking back is crucial to what lies ahead. If there was no birth, there could be no death. No death of a redeemer means we’re still in bondage to sin, under God’s curse and fit for His eternal wrath.  Christ came to die for His people that they might live forever in peace and joy with God! His second coming will complete God’s plan of redemption that was planned from before the foundation of the world! 

Merry Christmas!

Joy to the World – Pt. 2

jtw2Part 1 of this series briefly introduced the history of this celebrated and widely known hymn. What I found amazing was that Watts never intended for this song to be a celebration of Christ’s first coming, but of  His second coming.  Nevertheless, when we consider every aspect of Christ’s ministry, His birth, His life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension and His return, the integration of these aspects is crucial and cannot be divorced from one another.  Therefore, during the Christmas season, it is entirely fitting to celebrate the  redemptive victory that Christ will accomplish.

The second verse of this hymn almost mirrors the idea of the first verse. It says-

Joy to the earth! the savior reigns;

Let men their songs employ;

While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

The Call to Praise

The first verse of this song is a call to praise for the coming of Jesus.  Similarly, verse two contains praise, but for a different reason. Praise ensues because in addition to Jesus coming, He will rule all of creation and His kingdom will be forever (2 Sam. 7:8-13, Dan. 7:13-14).  

Reason for Praise

Unless we understand what is wrong with the world, we will not see the reason to be overjoyed about the coming and ruling of Jesus.  Genesis 3 tells us what went wrong with the world – man rebelled (sinned) against his creator and God cursed man and all of creation as a result. Instead of a harmonious loving relationship, man’s relationship with God was broken and the created order was subject to disorder as well.  As previously mentioned, the Scriptures remind us that although  we and creation groan as a result of the curse, there is hope.  Romans 8:20-24 says- 

“…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. 24 For in this hope we were saved.  

 In addition to that curse, the world is presently under the power of the evil one (1 Jhn. 5:19). Because of Adam’s sin, the devil is the ruler of this world (Jhn 12:31, 16:11; Eph. 2:2, 2 Cor. 4:4) So how will it be set free from this bondage to corruption? Who will do it?

There was an ultimate reason to Christ’s incarnation – redemption.  He came to destroy the devil and his works (Col. 2:15; 1 Jhn 3:8), absorb the wrath of God on behalf of His people (Isa. 53) and gather His people into a new family (Jhn. 10:11-16; Rev. 7:9-10)!  Christ entered humanity, lived as a man under the Law, and yet died as one who had violated the Law becoming a curse in the place of guilty man. And in His becoming the curse for us, He lifted the curse from all of creation. His redemption is cosmic! All of creation will one day be under the glorious rule of Jesus Christ. It is no wonder that Psalm 98 pictures Jesus as the celebrated Savior (98:1-3), King (98:6) and Judge (98:9).  At the second coming of Christ, there will be no more disharmony and disunity between God and all of His creation.  While in exile, the Apostle John was given a vision from Jesus concerning the future. Revelation 21 says –

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Sin and its effects will be forever gone. There will be a new heavens and new earth unaffected by sin. God and man will be forever reconciled. Death, mourning, crying and pain shall forever be gone. All groaning (Rom. 8:20-24) will turn to triumphant praise! This is the hope we have to look forward to! This is why the song says –

Let men their songs employ;

While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

All of creation will praise Christ eternally for his work of redemption from the curse and the works of the devil.

Our Response at Christmas

In light of this truth, may we rejoice at the birth of our Savior! Praise God for His indescribable gift! Rejoice because salvation has come and is coming!

21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Merry Christmas!