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.

 

Dignity & Worth (pt. 1)

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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.

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.

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!

Do Not Despise Your Inconveniences

keys

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.

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!

Joy to the World – Pt. 1

jtwIn 1719, Isaac Watts penned what has become one of the most famous hymns sung during the Christmas season. Known as the Father of  English Hymnody, Watts often wrote his hymns based on the Psalms.  His theological propensity led him to write The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. This work was a collection of paraphrased Psalms and his paraphrase of Psalm 98 is what we know as Joy to the World.

Psalm 98 is known as a royal psalm. Royal psalms are psalms that describe the kingship of Jesus Christ.  This psalm is a call for praise to the LORD for His salvation (v2) and for His judgment (v9) at Jesus’ second coming. Joy to the World was specifically written around verses 4-9 , which means that this hymn is not about Christ’s first coming (1st Advent), but His second coming (2nd Advent). While we typically sing this song during the Christmas season, Watts did not intend to have this song sung during the Christmas season. It is appropriate for every day of the year. You’ll notice the incarnation of Jesus is not mentioned in this song, but the culmination of redemption is, in which all of creation praises Jesus for his deliverance from the curse of sin. That is the point of Joy to the World.

However, since this song is widely associated with the Christmas season, I believe examining the truths found in the lyrics will be of great encouragement. In four parts (consistent with the number of verses in the song), I want to expose the beauty of these truths and I pray this is beneficial to the reader. So let’s start by examining the first verse-

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare him room,

And heaven and nature sing.

When we consider the 2nd Advent of Jesus Christ, who are the joyous ones? We know from Matthew 24:30, Revelation 19:11-15 that Jesus’ second coming will be a time where Jesus will finally defeat all His enemies. He will come as a conquering king, deposing all earthly kings and anyone else set against Him, including Satan.  But the call for joy is for God’s people who experience the consummation of their salvation. Believers will fully recognize their King and gladly submit. This is what it means for our hearts to prepare Him room.  Also, we will rule and reign (2 Tim. 2:12) with Christ and forever be reconciled with our Creator (Rev. 21:3).

Not only will humanity be reconciled to God and submitted to the authority of Jesus, but all of creation will be as well. Romans 8:20-21 says, 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.”  Creation itself is presently under a curse, but it too longs for salvation from the curse that it was subjected to (Gen. 3:17-19). All will be right with the world, particularly in the new heavens and new earth, when Christ comes back to complete the establishment of his eternal kingdom (2 Sam. 7:12-13) where there will be no traces of sin and its effects (Isa. 65).  This is what is meant by the earth receiving her king. Creation will sing joyous praise as it realizes its deliverance from the curse by its King, Jesus. The end result of the salvation to come is heaven and nature singing. I take heaven to mean the angels. Nature will be figuratively singing (Ps. 98:7-8) as it exists free from corruption, but I believe the angels will be forever rejoicing and praising Jesus for His work of redemption and for bringing all of creation under His rule (Rev 5:9).

The second coming of Christ will be a day of great praise for God’s people, but we must not forget the importance of Christ’s first coming. It was His first coming that began the work of redemption for His people and creation. In His living, dying, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father, Jesus conquered sin and death and ceased the hostility between God and His people.  Jesus came on a mission to die for His people to bring them to everlasting glory (Tit. 2:13). This is the reason for our joy!

Merry Christmas!