Blog Archives

The Judgment Seat of Christ

“Harvest to me my godly ones; ones who cut a covenant with me by sacrifice.”

(Psalm 50:5)

One thing that many Christians misunderstand is the idea of judgment. And here, I am not speaking about the judgment of the ungodly under God’s wrath, but even of the believer. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:10 that we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Does that imply that there are works expected as part of our salvation? No, absolutely not. When works are included in salvation then grace is no longer grace (Romans 11:6). Christ has paid the penalty of our sins, bought we who are God’s elect as his own and there is nothing that we can do to add or detract from that reality — we are clothed in Christ’s righteous, not some kind of blended material.

At the same time, we are accountable as to how we live and the words, “well done my good and faithful servant…enter into my joy” are words that every believer should desire to hear more so than any other words that our Savior could offer. And Scripture sets that idea before us when it speaks of the judgment seat of Christ. And so, in the context of this passage, with God calling the earth and heavens as witness as God testifies against them. Notice how, that when this verse is taken out of its context, it sounds like a wonderful thing; in its context, it is very much a fearful thing.

The idea of harvest is found throughout the scriptures and here as well. The Hebrew word which begins this verse speaks of how the farmer would go and harvest the sheaves of grain from the field and gather them into the barn. This is a task that we are called to enter into (Matthew 9:37-38). At the same time, it is a task that God also commissions his angels to work in the end times (Matthew 13:49-50).

What does the psalmist mean, then, by those who are “godly” or those who are “faithful”? The Hebrew word that is employed here is חָסִיד (hasiyd), which is derived from the Hebrew word חֶסֶד (hesed). The root word refers to keeping faithful to the covenant even when those with whom we are in covenant are unfaithful. It is often translated as mercy, grace, lovingkindness, or loyalty. And while we humans are the ones who fall short of the covenant, the 

חֶסֶד (hesed) of God is something that we are called to love (Micah 6:8). So, how are the godly defined? It is those who love and cherish the mercy of God in such a way that they are inclined to show mercy to others. 

Yet, חֶסֶד (hesed), in its Hebrew context, always has to do with the Covenant of God toward his people. God does not just bubble away and show mercy indiscriminately, but he does so in the context of his covenant — a covenant that is sealed with blood. In the Old Testament, this was the blood of animals that anticipated the blood of Christ to come. In the New Testament, the Covenant of Grace was fully ratified by the sacrificial blood of Christ being poured out — a once and for all time sacrifice (Hebrews 10:10) that is effectually applied to the elect of God.

So, who are the godly being harvested and brought before God’s judgment seat? It is believers. And that should cause all of us to take a pause and evaluate or re-evaluate or own lives. Is the way we are living the basis of the way we would like to see ourselves judged? Sobering, isn’t it?

The Escape!

“And Ehud went out of the window and he had closed the doors to the upper room behind him and secured them.”

(Judges 3:23)

Once again, depending on how you understand the visual imagery of what is going on will depend on how you translate this passage. For example, some commentators who interpret NØwdVv√rAÚp (parshedon) in the previous verse to Eglon’s dung coming out of him have presumed that this upper room was a place to go to the bathroom in the first place. Preferring to translate h…ÎyˆlSo (aliyyah) as “upper room” (as discussed above), I would simply see this as a cooler place to go after official activities were through. That means that the term NØwr;√dVsIm (misderon) as essentially a window — the opening in the upper room through which the breeze comes in and out to cool the space, not some sort of porch or ventilation shaft as some have suggested.

Yet, before Ehud leaves, he secures the doors so that others cannot easily come in to Eglon’s rescue while Ehud makes his escape. And thus, our hero is off, preparing to rendezvous with his soldiers and secure the victory over their wicked oppressors…leaving behind the body of the wicked king in a shameful condition…God’s judgment upon those who oppress his people.

It strikes me as interesting, noting accounts like this, that anyone would ever want to oppress God’s people. It always turns out bad for the oppressor. But knowing this full well, nation after nation, government after government, association after association have oppressed God’s elect through the ages. It is as if they said to themselves, “I know I’ll probably meet a terrible end for doing this, but I want to do this anyway.” Then again, isn’t that the mindset of ever sin we commit as well? God says , “no, don’t do this.” Yet, as Christians, we so often do it anyway. In eternity we may be forgiven in Christ, but God often disciplines us to break of us of these practices that dishonor his name.

For us, this is a passage that not only ought to encourage us as we face trials and oppressions in this life, but also one that ought to warn us against excusing sin, for God will call us to task on these matters. The clay must honor the design of the potter.

Agony

“Trembling seized them;

labor pains like giving birth.”

(Psalm 48:7 {verse 6 in English})

In our society today, how rarely we take seriously the idea of being under God’s judgment. We make jokes about it, there are movies that celebrate it, and people write books suggesting that if anything, Hell would be more fun than heaven. Yet, beloved, how evil such sentiments are and how deceived we have allowed ourselves to be in these matters.

The Bible paints another picture for us — that of being struck with fear and trembling at the notion of God’s wrath. Here the psalmist speaks of the trembling of abject terror seizing ahold of him so much so that he cannot move and then the torment that comes from facing the wrath of God being like that of a woman in labor, giving birth…and the psalmist is actually just getting started.

Loved ones, take these words seriously for God’s wrath is against his enemies…all of them. Do not envy the wicked, for while their revelries may seem to fill their days with laughter, those days are fleeting and the end result is suffering greater than our human imagination is capable of relating. The psalmist here is paralleling the experience of the enemies of God in history to what is to come so that we turn from our wickedness and repent of our ways, pursuing the God of glory rather than the glory of the flesh. May indeed all of us heed his warning.

The Fright of the Condemned

“For behold, the kings gathered together 

and they passed by it together. 

They saw it and thus were terrified;

They were horrified and ran away in haste.”

(Psalm 48: 5-6 {verses 4-5 in English})

It does not take much reflection to recognize just how often it plays out in history that the nations have waged war against God’s people. From the Exodus forward nations have attacked from all corners … Egypt from the south, Philistia from the west, Babylon from the East, and Persia from the north are just a few to get started. And apart from the times when the hand of the Lord was against his people in discipline, God was faithful as the Warrior of Israel…our rOw;b…Ig lEa (El Gibor — “the Heroic God” — Isaiah 9:6). He is our defender in times of trouble (Isaiah 33:2).

The language of God defending his people is common enough, but have you ever reflected on what it must have been like to be on the receiving end of God’s wrath in these cases? Have you ever wondered what it must have been like for the Egyptians to fact the dark side of the glory cloud, which defended Israel while they waited for the Red Sea to part (Exodus 14:19-20) or perhaps on the next day, what it must have been like for those Egyptian charioteers upon whom the walls of the Red Sea collapsed. Think about what it must have been like when the confusion came upon the camp of the Midianites and they, in their confusion, attacked one another (Judges 7:22-23) or when Shamgar slew 600 Philistines with an ox-goad (Judges 3:31) or Samson slew 1000 with a donkey’s jawbone (Judges 15:15). Can you imagine what the night must have been like when the Angel of Yahweh went out and delivered his people by slaying 185,000 Assyrians in a single night?

The examples abound when we look back across history, but there yet lays ahead an example that is singular in significance and awe. For when Jesus returns again, he will call his people to himself but enter into final judgement against his enemies…the reprobate. There all of the nations of the earth will stand before our warrior God and taste the fullness of his wrath and for all eternity find themselves under judgment.

The kings are described as gathering together to pass by — to pass through — Israel…with the implication that they will be plundering the land on their way and yet they were terrified. The Hebrew word used here is hAmDt (tamah), which means to be horrified and frozen with fear, and indeed, this will describe (at the very least) those who will be under God’s wrath. How might we escape this wrath, you ask? Through the gate of Jesus and through Jesus alone. Turn from your sins, confess them to God, and seek Jesus in the faith that only God can give. Yet, let us be clear, serving God rather than self or mankind is not primarily about escaping wrath…it is first and foremost about giving God the honor and glory that he is due. Let us stand in awe of our God, not out of fear of impending destruction but because he is glorious and worthy of our praise and adoration.

A Good Report

“And you know his character, how as child of a father he has served with me in the Gospel.”

(Philippians 2:22)

Over the years, between my time as a school teacher/administrator and as a pastor, one of the more enjoyable things that I have had the privilege of doing is to write letters of recommendation for students and former students. Whether they were applying for jobs, to colleges, or for scholarships or other honors, it is always a joy to tell others of the character of one you admire. And this, Paul has been doing on behalf of Timothy — and indeed, based on these words, Timothy has much to live up to, indeed.

Notice too that these words of Paul’s about Timothy are not an empty compliment. Timothy has proved himself to be faithful and useful to Paul by labor, integrity, and sacrifice. It is the laboring of Timothy in faithful service that gives definition and meaning to this statement. Of course, as Christians, we too ought to strive, like Timothy, that the same might one day be said about us not only by those Christians who have mentored us but ultimately by God himself pronouncing the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” We certainly do not earn our salvation nor can we ever do enough and sacrifice enough to warrant such a statement from God, but that statement of God takes on meaning in light of the sacrifice and faithfulness of the service for which we strive.

Indeed, let me reassert, we are not saved by or through our works…if works are added to grace then grace is no longer grace (Romans 11:5-6). If even one single work is necessary…no matter how small or insignificant seeming…then grace is meaningless. Even if that one work is nothing more than a choice one makes to accept grace, then it is still a work and grace is nullified. Salvation is God’s doing from beginning to end and many of us are brought into the kingdom kicking and screaming…but even if we aren’t, it is still God who brings us. If we seek, it is because God is drawing us to seek Him. Apart from God we are dead in our sins and a dead man can do nothing to help himself. God must first give us life and then we can respond.

That said, we are also called to make our calling and election sure by building on the things that God has begun in us (2 Peter 2:5-11). My challenge to you is to do so in such a way that, like Timothy, a good report will be issued in that day we stand before Christ’s judgment seat.

Bowing in Submission

“in order that at the name of Jesus every knee would be bent in heavenly places and in earthly places and in places under the earth and every tongue would admit that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

(Philippians 2:10-11)

And all of God’s people said, “AMEN!” This is one of those passages that ought to stir us up because it is a reminder that there is a time coming when all of the pretense of atheism and all of the rebellion of false religions will be brought to a crushing halt and Christ in his fullness will be revealed even to his enemies and they will bow before him. Amen. Amen. Amen. What a day that will be.

Yet do know, this passage is not talking about universal conversion. The language of knees bending is language that refers to people bowing in submission to one who is greater than they are. In some cases, it refers to a willing submission to one’s good and just master. But in other cases, it is used to portray the humiliating defeat of a king’s enemies who are then forced to bow, if even under the crushing foot of the victorious king.

The confession follows along with that notion. Believers, of course, will joyfully proclaim the Lordship of Jesus. Unbelievers, though, will utter it out of abject hatred through clenched teeth. They then are the defeated foe made to confess the Truth against which they have been rebelling with all of their might. These who stand in rebellion against the King of Kings hate him so greatly that they would choose even the torments of hell to remove themselves from his presence. And had Jesus not saved us from our sin by giving us spiritual rebirth, changing our wicked hearts, we would be doing the same…seething at the notion of admitting to be true that which we had spent a lifetime suppressing in our hearts.

Thus, while these verses are a song of triumph and hope for the believer, they are utter condemnation to the unbeliever. It is glory and salvation for some and utter defeat for others. May indeed we all be amongst those who will celebrate at the throne of Christ, bowed in grateful submission before his feet. And to those who stand against Christ here and now in this life, know that there will be a time when you will stand no longer but will be bowed down in utter defeat.

Judgment and Salvation…one goes with the other

“And not intimidated in any way by the adversaries, which is for them an indication of destruction but for you of salvation, which is from God.”

(Philippians 1:28)

In our culture today, it seems, we talk at length about the troubles caused by bullying, particularly amongst children. And indeed, bullying is sin and condemnable. Yet bullying is also not constrained to the behavior of children nor is it something that is found only in our modern age. As it is a result of the Fall of Adam and Eve, we find people using manipulation, coercion, and bullying to get their way rather than pursuing what is True and beneficial to all. And next to Jesus, we could argue that the Apostle Paul is the poster-child for having had to face-down wicked men with ignoble schemes who were only interested in intimidating others to preserve their own power.

And Paul, who had to face down so much intimidation, says to us as well, “don’t let them intimidate you.” Why should we not be intimidated? In a similar context, Jesus’ answer was that we should not fear those who can only kill the body because that was all they could kill; God can kill body and soul in eternal judgment (Matthew 10:28). Paul speaks very similarly. Paul essentially is saying to us that when we stand in confidence of the Truth in the face of all adversaries, that very reality is a condemnation of those who would oppose us. Why is it a condemnation? One can stand in confidence upon that which is true; one cannot so stand when it is not truth that is stood upon.

When you know that which is right, what do you have to fear from those who would challenge it? On the other hand, if you are basing your ideas, your lifestyle, your preferences, your power and influence on things that are unproven, established by men, and are built on the power of men and not on the power of God…you have a shaky foundation at best. It is you who have the right to fear, and fear you should. For when you stand against God’s people, you stand not only against the people; you also stand against God himself.

And thus, the salvation of God’s own is also eternal condemnation for those who stand against him. God promises throughout the scriptures to preserve the elect; but in doing so the reprobate are judged. Both go hand in hand. There is no having one without the other. And yes, all of this is from God. He is sovereign over life and death, salvation and judgment. There is no other. And if we serve this God, what earthly thing have we to fear? What earthly power ought to intimidate us? No, not one.

So, how do we get out of being bullied? We stand up to the bully. We don’t back down from the one who would twist ideas to coerce us. We do not compromise truth. We stand  in the confidence of knowing that we serve a God who is sovereign over all of the affairs of men and who will crush those who stand in rebellion against him. That’s how we not get bullied…and folks, this kind of confidence applies not only to defending our faith against atheists or whatever “flavor” of unbelief that people are sporting in the culture; it applies to all things. It applies to business, to politics, to home life, to school, to sports, to whatever activity that God sets before you. If you do all you do to the glory of Him who gives you life; you will not fear what the wicked devise for you will know the end of the wicked. You want to take back the culture? Be bold in your faith and live it out everywhere and in everything you do…no compromise, the world should not intimidate you.

The Judgment Seat

“When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat in the Judgment Seat in the place that is called ‘Lithostrotos,’ and in Aramaic, ‘Gabbatha.’”

(John 19:13)

 

Most of our English translations refer to the place of Judgment as “The Stone Pavement” or something similar to that, but it seemed that as this is a specific location known to the people from where Pilate would pronounce judgment, its proper name in Greek might be more appropriate: “Lithostrotos.” And, as is usually translated, it referred to a pavement inlaid by mosaics from where judgments would be given. In Aramaic, it is called Gabbatha, and the name refers to a dome, or a slight elevation from which a judge would pronounce his judgment (not unlike the raised seats of judges today.

What is more significant is the idea of the judgment seat upon which Pilate sits, for there is another judgment seat that Scripture points to, and that is the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10), which is also spoken of as the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). For though Jesus must stand before Pilate’s judgment seat, there will come a time where Pilate would stand before Jesus’ judgment seat. On one hand, Pilate judges with the wrath of Rome, but on the other hand, Jesus judges with the wrath of God. Pilate’s sentence will be death on a cross; Jesus’ sentence will be the eternal death of the fires of hell. There is no debate over which seat of judgment is more Awful.

Yet, how often it is that we focus more on the power of men than on the power of God — fearing the judgment of men over the judgment of God. Men may kill the body, but God can kill the body and eternally destroy the body in hell (Matthew 10:28). Such truth ought to make our hearts tremble and our knees weak.

King of the Jews… An Earthly or Divine King?

“Yet there is a custom with regard to you that I should release one to you during the Passover. Do you desire that I release to you the King of the Jews?”

(John 18:39)

 

There is a lot of overlap between the different Gospel accounts at this point in the trial, each Gospel writer emphasizing those aspects that the Spirit directed to be most valuable for their respective initial audiences. Though all four writes mention the title, “King of the Jews,” it seems to me that John’s use of the term is the most directed — it is set off in ways that make it more pronounced.

Clearly, Pilate does not see Jesus’ kingship as a threat to his own power or the trial would have been done with already. We have also seen already the conversation that Pilate had with Jesus about the nature of Jesus’ kingdom — that it is a heavenly kingdom, not an earthly one. So why is Pilate continuing to use this language? Clearly he is seeking to taunt the Jewish authorities. What a pathetic king, from a Roman standpoint at least, one whom a mere Roman Governor has the power of life and death over. You can almost see the Priests squirming at this statement and Pilate enjoying every minute of that confrontation. Who is manipulating whom, we might ask as the politics of the event continue to unfold.

Yet, in the midst of the politics, what an appropriate title. Jesus is the King of the Jews from old, he is the one to whom they have always and historically looked as their divine King, and he is the one that all True Israel serves even unto this day, for if we have faith in Jesus Christ, we are children of Abraham. And even today, Jesus sits enthroned on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, worthy of all praise and glory and adoration and honor. Worthy of our obedience and our love.

There will come a day when all nay-sayers will bow their knee before the Lordship of Christ — sadly, for many it will be to their utter condemnation and judgment. Amongst those are this group here who are bickering over who will execute our Lord. While each is trying to ensure that the blood of Christ is on the others hands, by the dynamics that take place, blood is on the hands of all. God’s providence is remarkable…remember what Peter said of this in his sermon at Pentecost:

“Men of Israel — Hear these words! Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was proven by God to you though might and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, just as you yourselves know, this one, by the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, was delivered up through the hands of lawless men to be crucified and killed.”

(Acts 2:22-23)

Do you hear what Peter is saying? Who delivered Jesus up? Lawless men did. But lawless men did it because of the definite plan or design and foreknowledge of God. God superintended all of these things from the beginning through miracle and providence to reach this end. An end that will bring salvation to all those who call on Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

In the end, we are left with one question. Which king will you serve? Will you serve a divine one that rules even today? Or will you serve an earthly king who will be here today and gone with the passing of God’s providential design. Pilate and Caesar are dead. Pilate and Caesar have bowed before the crushing foot of God’s justice and are facing judgement in the fires of hell. Jesus sits enthroned. Which king will you follow?

 

Riding the Clouds

“Jesus said to him, ‘That’s what you say. Nevertheless, I tell you from now on you will witness the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’”

(Matthew 26:64)

 

“But Jesus said, ‘I am. and you will see the Son of Man seated on the right hand of power and coming with the clouds from heaven.’”

(Mark 14:62)

 

“‘From now on, the Son of Man will be seated on the right hand of the Power of God.’ So, they all said to him, ‘Are you therefore the Son of God?’ So he said to them, ‘You say that I am.’”

(Luke 22:69-70)

 

So what is it that Jesus is speaking of when he mentions Caiaphas seeing him at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds? In the New Testament, we certainly affirm that this is speaking of Jesus’ ascension to his Father’s side and his return again in judgment (Hebrews 1:3; 1 Peter 3:22), but how would this make sense from the perspective of one with only the Old Testament scriptures to guide him? In fact, the Old Testament speaks much to this work of the promised Messiah.

To begin with, Psalm 110 speaks of the Messiah seated at the right hand of Yahweh in power until his enemies are crushed beneath his feet (Psalm 110:1, Matthew 22:44), that the Messiah is seated at the right hand of Yahweh (Psalm 110:5) and that he will execute judgment on the nations (Psalm 110:6). Though it is not alluded to here by Jesus, this is the psalm that also speaks of the Messiah being part of the Priesthood of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4). In addition, in Daniel’s prophesy of the coming Messiah, he spoke of the “One Like the Son of Man” being given power and dominion over the nations (Daniel 7:13-14).

Even more pronounced is the language of the Messiah walking on the clouds of heaven in judgment. For example, Psalm 104:3 speaks of God making the clouds his chariot, Isaiah 19:1 speaks of God riding a cloud in judgment over Egypt, Nahum 1:3 speaks of God’s was as in a whirlwind and in a storm with the clouds being scattered like dust at his feet, and once again in Daniel 7:13 we find the Messiah descending from the clouds of heaven. God even presents himself to Job in the whirlwind (Job 38:1).

It is clear that in putting these things together, Jesus is identifying himself with the promised Messiah of the Old Testament and based on Caiaphas’ response in the verses that follow, it is clear that he understood Jesus’ reference. But what of Jesus’ reference to Caiaphas seeing him in the clouds? It seems to be a reference to judgment, that in the end, what these wicked priests will receive is wrath and judgment, not glory. When these men passed away from this world the next thing they would see is face Jesus once again, but that time with Jesus in the seat of power and pouring out judgment for their sins — a fearful position, indeed.

Loved ones, recognize that this is not the way one should desire to confront Jesus. The sad thing is that many people we know and care about will see Jesus in exactly that way and we have often been silent about it. May we be warned with the warning that Jesus gives to the Priests, while the believer in Jesus Christ will escape judgment, those who reject Christ as Lord and Savior will taste of God’s wrath.

The Noblemen Gather the People to God

“The noblemen of the people gather the people of the God of Abraham for to God are the shields of the earth. He is to be greatly exalted!”

(Psalm 47:10 {verse 9 in English translations})

 

The close of this psalm begins with an interesting visual picture. First of all, the term that we render as “noblemen” is the word byIdÎn (nadib) speaks of one who distributes or provides for those in his care. Thus, the idea conveyed by the term is not so much one of rank, but of activity. Similarly, the language of gathering is a farming analogy — the psalmist speaks one of gathering together the people like one would harvest grain or corn. Essentially what is being conveyed is that those who are leaders of men — responsible for providing for those under them — have a spiritual obligation to gather their people together — not just with a common vision or for work, but to exalt the God of creation.

How the nobles of our world have fallen short in their tasks. How often even those who are tasked with leadership in the church fall short of their task. So much time gets spent on managing money and wealth that often the point behind the wealth is missed entirely. For even the wealth with which we have been entrusted is to be used to the glory of God. If, once everything has been said and done, people are not gathered to worship our risen King, then leadership has missed its greatest aim and purpose. Paul writes to Timothy telling him that the people are to be in prayer for their civil leaders…why? So that they may live peaceful and godly lives (1 Timothy 2:1-2) — a life that can only be had when worship is your first and highest goal.

What follows the phrase about the people being gathered to God is the language of shields. What does it mean that the shields of the earth are to God? There are several ways in which this phrase could be understood. The word N´gDm (magen), or “shield,” can be understood literally as a piece of armor that would be used in warfare. Indeed, the armies of the earth — even the pagan armies — belong to God and will be used and disposed of to bring about his good and sovereign will. Yet, this term can also be used figuratively, which seems a better interpretation in the context of this psalm. Princes over the people provide protection for their charges — in fact, on an earthly level, that is one of the most significant tasks a prince must do. Thus, in a couplet, we find the Prince’s duties joined together in one — in terms of eternal priorities, he must bring his people to God and in terms of earthly priorities, he must protect them — something that can only be done effectively when the people find their refuge in the God of Israel.

And thus people from, all across the earth — Jew and Gentile — are brought before the throne of God — brought together as one flock. Indeed, that is something that is promised to take place fully and completely at one time — some to glory and some to eternal judgment. And God is to be greatly exalted for his work. May we all be found as wheat in the great mill press of God.

Therefore, God has exalted him and has graciously given him the name that is above all names, in order that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heavenly places, earthly places, and places under the earth, and that every tongue would admit that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2:9-11)

Blessed Be the Name of the Lord!

“You love all of the words of confusion on a tongue of trickery.

But God will tear you down forever,

He will take you and drag you from your tent;

He will repeatedly uproot you from the land of the living.

Selah!

(Psalm 52:6-7 {verses 4-5 in English Translations})

 

Here we transition and David proclaims the judgment of God against those whose words are filled with deceit, whose ends are their own stomachs, and whose love is to confuse (some translations render this word as “devour” as it shares a root with the word that means “to swallow,” yet in context, “confuse” seems to be a more accurate choice given the word’s range of meaning). Though the wicked love words of trickery (that double-tongue, speaking out of both sides of their mouth), God loves words of truth and will punish those whose ends differ from his own. God will tear them down, he will drag them from their homes, and over and over, he will uproot them from the land of the living. He will lay bare their generation.

How liberating it is to know that we have a God who will bring those who tear us down and destroy us into judgment — a God who will frustrate the plans of the wicked and establish the righteous in places of security. Your initial response might be, “But wait a minute, in the world we live in it seems like the wicked prosper and the righteous get beaten down.” Indeed, that was David’s experience as he was writing this psalm. At the same time, while David did not see the whole of the big picture, he did stand in the confidence of knowing that God does see the big picture and his hand controls every step we take. All too often, when we are in the midst of trials, we cannot see what it is that God is doing, or, we get focused on how we would like God to work out his plan for his church and not on how God is working out his plan for his church. And we are HIS church, by the way…

Ultimately life and blessing and judgment is about God and not about me. It is his will and his design and we can find our comfort in knowing that once everything is said and done, and we are finally able to understand the plan and design of God for our lives from His perspective, our words of response will be, “Blessed is the Name of the Lord, Amen!”

Come and See the Deeds of Yahweh!

“Come and see the deeds of Yahweh;

How he has brought destruction upon the earth.

He causes wars to cease unto their end;

The earth and bow are shattered;

And the spear is smashed to bits.

The wagons he burns with fire.”

(Psalm 46:9-10 {verses 8-9 in English translations})

 

Come and see the deeds of Yahweh! Indeed, the psalmist calls to us to witness the power and the might of our Lord. Usually, when you hear this kind of language, the images that come to mind are images of grace and mercy given to the undeserving, yet that is not the direction that the psalmist takes as he challenges us to come and see. Instead, he speaks of the destruction brought by God’s judgment. The word he uses here is hDÚmAv (shammah), which is a term that is always used to refer to the destruction that follows judgment. Sometimes this word is rendered as “atrocities” to give it more force from the perspective of those under said judgment.

And indeed, God’s wrath is horrific for those under his judgment. Think about those who perished in the flood of Noah’s day or in the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah. Think of the plagues that God set upon the Egyptians and even the judgments against those like Korah who rebelled in the wilderness wanderings. In the Israelite entrance into the Promised Land, God commanded entire cities be put to the ban; bringing death to every living thing that dwelled within the city. And then in God’s own judgment poured out against his Son, Jesus, when he was on the cross of Calvary. Indeed, these are horrific events, but events with a purpose.

Often Christians shy away from the language of God’s wrath, but in doing so, they leech the Gospel of its power. If we do not have a clear-eyed-view of what it is that we are being saved from, we will not appreciate the salvation that is extended. James says that the demons tremble at the name of God (James 2:19); unbelieving men and believing men alike rarely give God’s wrath a second thought. Why this contrast? It is because the demons know the justice of God is poured out in wrath and that they are bound to receive it in full; men have deceived themselves into thinking that God is little more than a senile grandfather who dotes on his grandchildren. What a rude awakening many will receive.

So what is the purpose of such events? On one level they are meant as a warning to us to drive us to our knees in repentance. In addition, they are a reminder that God is a just God who will not allow sin to go unpunished. Sometimes, when we look at judgment, we may be tempted to cry out as children so often do, “not fair!” Yet, were we to really grasp the magnitude of our own sin we would be forced to concede that God indeed is fairness defined. It is only through and because of the work of Christ that we have any reason to hope for an escape from judgment because he took our judgment upon himself.

Indeed, come and see the justice of our God! To you who believe, know that in our God we have a strong refuge but to you who stand firmly in your own arrogance and pride; beware, for the judgment of God is horrific indeed. Hell is a place where the fires burn and are never quenched, where the worms consume and never go away, where we are eternally in the process of being torn down and are separated from anything that is good. Such is the just punishment for our sins against a Holy and Righteous God. Praise be to God for the redemption that is given in Jesus!

Embezzled Grace

“Nevertheless, love those who are hostile to you — do good and lend money without disappointing anyone — and your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is benevolent to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be compassionate just as much so as your Father is compassionate”

(Luke 6:35-36)

 

“Yahweh is good to all; his mercy is over all his works.”

(Psalm 145:9)

 

“In the generations which have gone by, he permitted all of the nations to go on their own paths. Yet he did not abandon them without a witness. Doing good giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and cheerfulness. Even with these words, they barely caused the masses to cease sacrificing to them.”

(Acts 14:16-18)

 

When Christians talk of God’s grace, we talk about it in two separate ways. We talk about God’s Saving Grace, given to those that God has elected from all of the earth, by which he draws men and women to himself. And we talk of God’s Common Grace, which is the grace that he gives to all of the world — the rains in spring, the sun to make the crops grow, joy, laughter, and fellowship — things that the believer and the unbeliever enjoy alike, things which come from God’s own hand. Scripture tells us that this Common Grace is given so that no people at no time can ever say that they have not known the reality of a God who created the earth and who created them (Romans 1:18-20), yet the masses of people in the world choose to worship the created order or the works of their own hands rather than the one who created them.

The question that this raises is why does God show Common Grace to the world and when will that grace end? In the broadest sense, the answer to the question, “why,” stems back to the character of God. As the psalmist states, God is good and as a result of his goodness, he is merciful to all of his works. Jesus clarifies that statement even further in the Sermon on the Mount where he states that God is benevolent to the ungrateful and to the wicked and then, of course, God’s benevolence becomes a model for our benevolence toward the same class of people.

Yet, to narrow this matter down somewhat, we can pose another related question. What is the purpose of this grace? In a portion of the Apostle Paul’s sermon to the people at Lystra, Luke records Paul teaching that God has given his grace in this way as a witness to them — a sign of his existence with the intention that the sign would point people toward seeking the God who had set the sign into the world. In his letter to the Romans, Paul develops this line of thinking further by stating that because of this Common Grace, all men and women of the world instinctively know and understand the “invisible attributes” of God — his power and divinity (Romans 1:19-20). In turn, all mankind, because of God’s Common Grace, are left without excuses in terms of the day of judgment for their actions.

For the unbeliever, Common Grace is just as undeserved as Saving Grace is undeserved for the believer — yet, there is a distinction that must be made. While the believer is undeserving of Saving Grace, the cost of that grace was paid for by Jesus upon the Cross of Calvary. If you will, by his perfect life, he earned the glory of heaven and by his sacrifice, his shed blood atoned for the sins of those trusting in him as Lord and Savior. Believers stand before a righteous God clothed in the righteous work of Jesus Christ, not in our own works.

And thus, Common Grace is not so much the design of Jesus’ work on earth as it is the byproduct of what Jesus did. Were Jesus not to have agreed with the Father to take on flesh and to atone for fallen man, there would have been no reason for God to have done anything other than to enter into judgment and to allow this world to become as bad as it could be…a veritable “hell on earth.” Yet because of Jesus’ work, redeeming the elect through all of the generations from Adam to the end of time as we know it, the goodness of God can be seen by all through Common Grace. The unbeliever who will not trust in Jesus as his or her Lord and Savior — those whose names have not been written in the Book of Life since before the foundation of the world — benefits from Common Grace because Saving Grace is given to others.

The term “embezzle” means to misappropriate something that does not belong to you though it may happen to be in your trust. Thus, an accountant who steals from his employer by fudging the books is called an “embezzler.” Common Grace truly belongs to God and is shed into this world because he has given his Son as Savior to those who would come to him in faith. But, as mentioned above, Common Grace is also designed to demonstrate to the unbelieving world that God does exist and that they stand guilty in rejecting the God who has given them such grace. Thus, the one who would receive such Common Grace and not acknowledge the God from whom that grace is coming, is in a real sense, guilty of embezzlement. Certainly, it is not embezzlement without God’s knowing (like an accountant who would embezzle from his employer); God knows and allows it to go on as the unbelievers enjoyment of the benefit of Common Grace simply heaps judgment upon his or her own head. In a sense, it is like the employer who discovers his accountant is stealing from him, but lets it go until the accountant has stolen so much that any judge in the land would throw the book at him without question.

And indeed, the book of the law will be proverbially thrown at the unbeliever in the day of judgment. Thanks be to God for the redeeming work of Jesus Christ that I and all of those who are trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior will not receive what we rightly deserve were we left to our own devices. The question for us really is whether or not we will continue to allow those we care about to embezzle the grace of God to their own destruction, or whether we will share the good news of Jesus Christ with them that they too might be saved.

 

Warning of Coming Judgment

“And Enoch, the seventh son from Adam, prophesied these things saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with his holy myriads with him to bring judgment against all, to convict all human life of all their works of impiety, which they did impiously, and concerning all the cruelty that impious sinners spoke against Him.  These are grumblers and complainers, walking according to their cravings and their mouths speaking boasts, flattering to gain advantage.”

(Jude 14-16)

 

This is the second time that Jude quotes from non-canonical literature.  Here he quotes from the Apocalypse of Enoch, pointing to the second coming of Christ with his angels to judge the wicked (if you want a picture of those myriads of angels take a peek at Revelation 5:11).  Do you notice a theme in this section?  Impious, impious, impious…   Sin is impious and sin brings death.  It is only by being born again in Jesus Christ that we can be saved from the wrath that is to come.  Woe, Woe, Woe.  Revelation also contains three woes (Revelation 8:13).  Three is a number of completion or fullness.  Here we find the fullness of the woes of sinful man.  These men have made full and complete their ungodliness and impiety and their judgment to come will be equally full and complete.

Make careful note of verse 15.  When Christ comes again, he will execute judgment against all mankind, not just the evil ones.  The Apostle John tells us in Revelation 20 that God will judge all mankind according to their works, and all whose names are not written on the Lamb’s Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his minions.  No one can stand upon his own works, it simply cannot be done because of indwelling sin.  Only Jesus Christ has earned salvation by his works and he alone offers a way to paradise, being clothed in his righteousness.  That comes through faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.  There is no other way to avoid the punishment that we deserve.

The elect, those whose names are written on the Lamb’s book of life and were written there from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), are the ones who will escape judgment, but all else will face eternal damnation.  These, Jude reminds us again, are grumblers and complainers who chase after their own cravings.  The word that we translate as “cravings” is the Greek word e˙piqumi÷a (epithumia), which refers to cravings or lusts, more times than not, for things that are forbidden.  Also Jude points to judgment for the flatterers.  This is the word qauma¿zw (thaumazo) in Greek, which literally means “to marvel” or “to be amazed.”  This is not subtle flattery, but loud, boisterous flattery designed to inflate the ego of the listeners.

This is not to categorically state that all that are guilty of grumbling or flatterers are going to Hell, what it reflects is the idea that these things should not reflect the heart of the believer.  God forgives us when we stumble and repent of our sins, yet if we remain hardened and unrepentant, we will face eternal punishment.

All of Jude’s warnings can begin to weigh on you.  He warns you from the past, the present, and the future.  But there is a reason that we are given warnings—they often keep us from harming ourselves.  When I was in the Boy Scouts, I took Life-Saving Merit Badge.  A great deal of the badge dealt with water rescues.  But one of the things that the instructor impressed upon us was the value of preventive measures.  Those measures begin with clearly posted warning signs.  The letter of Jude is one of those signs.

Before we shift gears into Jude’s exhortation to the faithful of the church, I want to drive home the need to beware.  There are spiritual predators who seek to fill your pulpits and they will seek to guide you down a false path.  Watch closely through the eyes of scripture and prayer, not being impressed by flash or new ideas but holding true to the faith that was taught by the Apostles and handed down through the ages.

 

The Nature of These Men

“They are a stain to your love feasts, eating without fear, shepherding themselves; they are waterless clouds, blown by the wind—unfruitful trees in late autumn—twice dead and uprooted.  They are wild waves at sea, foaming up their own shame, wandering stars for whom the dark gloom of eternity has been kept.”

(Jude 12-13)

 

Eating without fear:  These men have fully engaged in the “love feasts” or the aÓga¿ph (agape), which given its context both here and in historical literature, is most likely what we call Holy Communion today.  Paul writes a stern warning against those who would approach the Lord’s table in an unworthy manner and goes as far as to say that those who do eat and drink judgment upon themselves (1 Corinthians 11:27-30).  Unbelievers sometimes balk when we fence the communion table, preventing them from participating, but we do that not to exclude them, but to save them from imminent judgment.  To the unbeliever, the communion cup is a cup of poison and judgment, it should be understood that it is a blessing that we withhold communion from those who would take it wrongly.

But this warning is important for believers to here as well as unbelievers.  This is because those who would come to the communion table still holding sins or hatred against a brother, being unrepentant, also heap judgment upon themselves.  We need to come to the table with great joy at the privilege that has been offered to us, but at the same time, we should approach God with fear and trembling, trusting in his grace and not taking that privilege and gift for granted.

 

Shepherding Themselves: These men have assumed the role of pastor without any concern or care for the sheep—they just want a paycheck to satisfy their own lusts.  If a shepherd is not vigilant, the sheep will soon be devoured.  These men are reckless with the flock that they tend and are more interested in the condition of their bellies than the spiritual condition of their flock.

One of my fears is that when we ordain men to the Gospel ministry, we pay more attention to the facts they know than to the man’s character.  This is a recipe for disaster.  Robert Murray M’Cheyene once stated that the greatest need of his congregation was his personal holiness.  How true that is!

 

Waterless clouds:  A cloud that is without rain may look pretty from a distance, but when up close you will quickly realize that they have no substance.  They are valueless and will drift along with the winds of change.  Oh, how this speaks of many American pastors today!  How many ministers of the Gospel really cherish the Gospel they have been called to preach?  How many would lay down their life to preserve the truth of the Gospel?  How many pastors have the spiritual depth and density to truly feed their congregations?  When sermons are filled with fluff, it is likely that the preacher is filled with the same.  Jesus said that those who would come to him in faith would become fountains of water (John 7:38).  As the Holy Spirit waters the believer in abundance, the believer’s cup runneth over with rivers of living water.  To use the language of 2 Peter, these men are dry wells.

 

Fruitless trees:  Not only do these trees bear no fruit, making them useless, but it is late in autumn and they have no sap in their veins to nourish growth and they are uprooted, never to see growth again.  These men are twice dead, they are dead to sin here on earth and they are dead spiritually, an enemy of the giver of life.  As Jesus said, the branches that do not bear fruit will be cut off, and they will wither and die being separated from the sap, and then, they will be thrown into the fire (John 15:1-8).  Friends, our Lord has told us that we are to judge a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20), these men are not only bearing no fruit, but there is no hope for them to bear fruit—they are twice dead.  Be alert to those who would come in your midst in a like manner.

 

Wild waves:  The ocean waves are loud and chaotic.  Their shame and immorality is like the foam at the top of a breaker.  They rage wildly in their sin without trying to hide it.  They crash to the shore and they toss everything and everyone caught in their breakers around wildly.  There is no safety to be found in these waters, only destruction.  Remember that even in Jude’s day the sea was a place of danger and mystery, and so too are these false teachers.

 

Wandering stars:  The language of stars is often used of angels, and in the context of verse 6, this implies that the false teachers will share the same fate as the fallen angels.  They will be lost in darkness and damned forever.  The believer will spend eternity with Christ, the unbeliever will spend eternity separated from Christ.  Christ is true light and apart from him there is no light at all.  Flames, weeping, gnashing of teeth, the worm consuming, separation from all that is good and right, and darkness—not a pretty image.

 

And none of this paints a pretty picture of the people who have become leaders in the church to which Jude is writing.  This is a dark time for them.  These men are destined for Hell in more ways than one and the church has fallen into their trap.  Yet, these descriptions are sadly contemporary.  Many churches, as well as whole denominations, have been seduced by men like this.  We must be ever vigilant that we do not allow anyone to lead us or our congregation down such roads.  We need to be keenly aware of who we ask to lead us.  We need to watch to see whether these men are ones who will build up Christ’s body or only their own.  We need to see whether they will bring unity or discord.  We need to see whose agenda they are working toward.  And most importantly, we need to see whether their life is pointing toward Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  These are not only questions that should be asked of pastors, but should be asked of all the members of Christ’s visible church.  And, we absolutely must be asking them about our own lives.  

Warnings about the Church’s Present: Blasphemy

“To be sure, in the same way, these people are dreaming, and to be sure, they defile the flesh.  Also, they reject authority and they blaspheme.  As for Michael, the Archangel, when disputing with the Devil, arguing about the body of Moses, he did not dare to judge—to bring denigration—but he said, “The Lord rebuke you.”  For in these things which, as other things they have not known, they blaspheme.  Likewise, the things that are known naturally to them (like unreasoning beasts) will bring their destruction.”

(Jude 8-10)

 

Here Jude is beginning to bring out the heavy spiritual artillery to describe these people who have entered into the church and are leading people astray.  He does so by pointing out a that they are blaspheming, they are following in the footsteps of the false prophets, and then Jude uses some telling imagery to describe their character.  In this passage, Jude addresses their blaspheming and he shows that they are doing so in three ways.

 

They are dreamers:  They create theology with their imaginations.  They sacrifice the truth for what is innovative and creative.  Sound familiar?  How many churches have wandered into error because they ordered their theology according to their thoughts and experience rather than ordering their thoughts and experience through their theology?  How often do we hear something that “sounds good,” and we incorporate it into our theology or worship even though it doesn’t really fit with scripture?  Yet, the end result of this kind of behavior is sin.  It will lead to defiling the flesh, the rejection of authority, and in turn blaspheming God. 

Dreams are highly subjective.  Jude is contrasting their dreamy theology with his truth that has been once and for all time delivered by the apostles.  The interesting thing is that their dreaming is causing them to defile the flesh.  Never forget that your theology shapes who you are and how you behave in all of life.  When we begin to be seduced by the evil of false theology, other parts of your life will follow suit.

And these things are blasphemy.  They are elevating their own words and ideas above the words and ideas of God.  They reject the authority of God in favor of their own authority.  This is the sin of Adam and Eve.  They took God’s law, rejected it, and justified their actions—at least to themselves, for one can never justify sin before God.

 

They speak in arrogance:   Jude uses the illustration of Michael and the body of Moses to demonstrate how these people speak.  Satan is sometimes called the “accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10).  Prior to the resurrection of Christ, Satan would make claim on the souls of believers, in his defeat by Christ, he no longer has room to argue and simply seeks to destroy believers.  Thus, when Moses died, the Devil sought to argue for the body of Moses.  Moses was a sinner and accordingly deserved damnation.  Yet, Moses had faith in the promise of the Messiah and upon that faith, he was redeemed.  It would have been right for Michael the Archangel to have rebuked Satan directly, yet, Michael understood that was not his place to denigrate Satan.  He said, “the Lord rebuke you.”  Even our Lord, Jesus Christ, who had every right and power to rebuke Satan during his forty days of trial in the wilderness, rebuked Satan with scripture.

 

In their arrogance, the false teachers were uttering words of arrogance not humility.  How often have we heard others, or have we ourselves, sought to rebuke the Devil on our own strength?  Brethren, this is not the example that has been set for us, let us use God’s words to rebuke the accuser who seeks to destroy.  These false teachers were making bold claims, but were claiming authority within themselves, not God’s authority.  When we place our own authority above God’s authority, that is blasphemy. And remember, these false teachers were not teaching a “new religion,” they were claiming to be Christian, using God’s name to further their own agendas.  That is a violation of the third commandment; that is blasphemy.

It is important to note that this passage about the archangel Michael and the body of Moses is taken from a Jewish Apocryphal work called The Assumption of Moses.  One thing that we must make entirely clear is that just because Jude quotes from the work does not lend canonicity or inerrancy to the work.  It simply means that this section, that Jude quoted from, accurately describes what did happen.  Non-Canonical works can be useful for us to understand history and culture, but it is important to always remember that they are human documents and are not the inspired word of God.  It is valuable to read them, but when they contradict scripture, they cannot be held as accurate.

 

They speak in ignorance:  These men speak on spiritual matters but have no personal relationship with Jesus Christ to inform their speech; they are speaking without understanding.  We must always be reminded that spiritual truth requires the work of the Holy Spirit to gain understanding.  When the pagan reads scripture, he may glean some good practical advice, but he won’t understand the things of God.  That is why we pray, as believers, before we study scripture, for we know that our minds are fallen and we cannot discern these things apart from His Holy work. 

Jude uses the example of how animals act on instinct to describe the thinking of these unbelievers.  Animals have emotions, but they do not reason through issues.  When a situation arises, an animal acts based upon its natural instincts.  When a person is born, his fallen instincts are to sin.  It is not until the Holy Spirit does a regenerating work on the person that, in God’s strength, he or she can resist said sins.  Apart from being born again, a person acts like an animal when it comes to spiritual matters, following their natural instincts to sin. 

One of the problems that has manifested itself in our culture is the turning of the Christian ministry into a career and not a calling.  People go into the ministry because they like the idea of helping others and not because they are born again and have been called to serve as a pastor.  Also, there is such a demand for people to fill pulpits, churches are sometimes hiring pastors who themselves are not born again.  Even in evangelical circles, there are many who enter seminary unsaved, but knowing all of the right terminology to sound acceptable.  They look at scripture like a group of human documents, full of flaws and in need of correction.  This is just as much blasphemy as the previous two examples.  They speak of what they do not know and only end up speaking lies and contempt against the truth.  And that which they do know well—that is sin—will condemn them.

 

Warnings from Israel’s Past: Sodom and Gomorrah (Sexual Immorality)

“As Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, in like manner committing sexual sin and going after each other’s flesh, they are set before you as an example of suffering justice and eternal fire.” 

(Jude 7)

 

Thirdly, Jude deals with the sin of sexual immorality by pointing to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  This destruction is only a shadow of the destruction that will come on the ungodly in final judgment, for at that time the fire of judgment will be eternal. 

Friends, we live in a culture that glorifies sexual immorality, not unlike the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Our culture has rejected the idea that sexuality is meant to be enjoyed within the confines of a marriage relationship.  To understand why this is, we must understand what sexuality represents.  Sexual relations between a husband and his wife represent the sealing of their marriage covenant, which is why we say that a marriage is not consummated until after sexual relations have occurred.  Covenants, both in Biblical language and in the larger ancient world, were confirmed by the shedding of blood.  The shedding of blood when a husband takes his wife in sexual relations and her hymen is broken is representative of the confirmation of this covenant.  Afterwards, when a husband and a wife come together to the marriage bed, they are renewing the covenant which they made with each other before God.

This is why marital infidelity is so heinous in the eyes of God.  For not only does it break the emotional and spiritual trust that is to be held within a family relationship, but it is a breaking of the covenant which was made by bringing someone who is not a member of the covenant into the covenant relationship.  This is also why pre-marital sex is considered a sin, for it pretends to confirm a covenant that has never been made. 

Throughout scripture, God uses the illustration of marriage to represent his covenant with his people.  He is the faithful husband and Israel is the wife who falls repeatedly into sin.  When the church worships idols, she brings an outsider into the marriage bed.  To confirm the covenant with his people, God shed his own blood—the blood of Christ on the cross—thus, when God’s people fall into idolatry, they are simply playing at a covenant that does not exist.

Just as God uses the illustration of marriage to represent his relationship to the church, his faithfulness in his marriage to the church is to be modeled in the marriages of his people.  Given that we live in a culture where the divorce rate amongst believers is as high as it is in the culture, it would seem that we don’t tend to take this very seriously.  Friends, the faithfulness that you demonstrate within your marriage sends a message to the world about what you think of God’s faithfulness.  If you want to send a message to the world that we must take our covenant with God seriously, then you must do so by demonstrating to the world how you take your covenant with your spouse seriously.

The sexual immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah and the sexual immorality of our culture today mocks the covenant relationship that God has with his people.  It makes light of the blood that was shed to confirm such a covenant.  And, it downplays the idea of the covenant itself.  The penalty for these two wicked cities and for all of the surrounding cities was for God to rain down fire upon them, wiping them from the face of the earth.  And, this is the same judgment that faces those in our own culture that chase after sexual immorality—in the day of judgment.  Our culture has exchanged the truth of God for a lie.  We have adopted the idea that momentary pleasure is better than lasting pleasure and physical pleasure is better than spiritual pleasure.  The pleasure that God offers in himself is eternal and infinitely satisfying.  The pleasures of the flesh are fleeting and leave you unsatisfied and with a guilty conscience.  Which will you chose?

 

 

Warnings from Israel’s Past: Angels (Pride)

“And the angels who did not hold to their own office, but deserted their own dwelling place to enter judgment on that great day, are kept, chained eternally in gloom.”

(Jude 6)

 

Secondly, Jude describes the pride of the fallen angels, who looked to increase their own power and authority above the position that they had been set to by God himself.  They have been cast out of their original place, which is heaven, and have been kept chained in darkness for judgment.  This is a verse that has brought many a misinterpretation because we know that demons, which are fallen angels, travel the earth seeking to destroy.  Two things that we must remember.  First, while Satan and his minions are working to attack us, they are like a lion on a tether.  They are chained and can only go as far as God allows them to go.  God allows them to roam for many reasons (judgment on unbelievers, testing the faith of believers, restraining the pride of believers, etc…), but they can never go further than God allows.  Secondly, these fallen angels once lived in Heaven in the very presence of God.  When you have seen the glory of God face to face, even the brightest day on earth is as black as pitch. 

We don’t know a lot about the fall of the angels, for scripture does not tell us much.  We know of Satan’s fall from Revelation 12 and how he took one-third of the stars (a symbol regularly used to describe angels) with him.  These are his minions.  And, there is no forgiveness for fallen angels.  You see, the angels understood the full glory of God and chose to reject it.  Our rejection is a rejection based on sin and ignorance, not full knowledge of the truth.  Even Adam, who walked with God, did not quite understand the fullness of God’s glory—that would be revealed in Christ’s work.  As Augustine wrote, “more is gained in Christ than was lost in the fall.”

If we understand Ezekiel 28:11-19 as a statement of the fall of Satan, as many hold, then we understand that reason that was underlying the fall of Satan and his angels was pride.  Jude builds on this when he says that the angels “did not hold to their own office…”  The word that we translate as “hold” is the Greek word, thre÷w (tereo), which means “to keep”, “to hold”, “to guard”, or even “to cherish.”  The word that we translate as “office” is the Greek word aÓrch\n (archan), which refers to a sphere of influence (note that the word also can mean “from the beginning” and is the word we get “arcane” from). 

These angels demonstrate for us what pride looks like.  They were unsatisfied with the place in the created order that God had given them, thus they despised that place, and sought to elevate themselves above God.  This was also the sin of Adam and Eve.  And, as Paul writes, it is the pride of a debased mind that leads to unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, mean-spiritedness, gossip, slander, God hating, insolence, arrogance, boastfulness, inventions of evil, disobedience to parents, covenant breaking, lacking of affection, and lacking the ability to show mercy (Romans 1:29-31).  Friends, pride gives birth to this.  This is the result of the fall and these things reflect the general disposition of the Devil.  When we chase after sin, choosing it over righteousness, we chase after these things.  Christian, seek the righteousness of God and the fruit of the Spirit; reflect God in your daily living and not the devil.

 

Warnings from Israel’s Past: Egypt (Idolatry)

“Now I want to remind you, though you have known all these things, that the Lord once saved a people from the land of Egypt and afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”

(Jude 5-7, ESV)

 

Within this section that offers warnings from the history of Israel, we find three sins that are being addressed:  Idolatry, Pride, and Sexual Perversion.  In the context of the letter of Jude, these sins are likely the sins that these false teachers have brought with them.  Jude wants the church of his day, and by extension, the church of all ages to understand just how dangerous these sins are and that God will not permit these sins to flourish in the life of his people.  These are sins of the world and Christians are not to be of the world.

These are also extraordinarily dangerous sins.  The medieval church developed what they called the “Seven Deadly Sins” which were wrath, avarice, sloth, pride, lechery, envy, gluttony.  One pastor friend of mine argues that all sins stem from the sin of pride—as pride was at the heart of the first sin.  I would argue that Jude is laying out a trio of sins that God deals most harshly against.  There are certainly some sins that God is a bit more lenient towards when you read the ancient law, for example, but these three sins are sins against which God’s heaviest wrath is poured out.  And, I would suggest that the reason for this is two-fold.  First, these three sins will surely and rapidly take you out of fellowship with God.  Second, these sins produce other sins in a person’s life. 

Remember well the Apostle Paul’s argument in Romans 1.  The reality of God can be seen in his natural revelation—Creation itself—but people chose to chase after their own desires, “exchanging the truth of God for a lie” (Romans 1:25).  Their punishment for their denial of God was to be left to their sin.  Sin destroys—it corrodes our souls.  But Paul emphasizes three sins in particular:  Idolatry (vs. 25), Sexual Perversion (vss. 26-27), and Pride (vs. 28).  These are the same three sins that Jude is bringing out, and from these three sins, flow all other sinful living (Romans 1:29-32).

The greatest problem that the Israelites had in their wilderness wanderings was Idolatry.  Over and over again, the people are contending with Moses about how things were so much better in Egypt.  They made the golden calf, and as they approached the promised land, they also engaged in idolatry with the pagans of the region.  Because of this, God kept them in the wilderness for forty years so that none of the original people who left Egypt would enter the Promised Land.  Many of these were even killed directly with sickness, war, or natural disaster.  Yet, even in the midst of such idolatry, God preserved a faithful remnant for himself.

We may be tempted to wonder about what God was doing, rescuing his people and then killing off those who were unfaithful.  Yet, what happened in the wilderness is a picture of what will happen in judgment.  There are many who have entered into fellowship with the visible church, but not all of these people are born again believers.  There will come a time when we will all stand before God’s throne of judgment and whether we are redeemed or condemned will have nothing to do with which membership card we held in life.  It will have everything to do with whether we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Anything that has captured our hearts other than Jesus—whether that be our money, our careers, our families, our accomplishments, etc…–this is idolatry.   And idolatry is not something that God tolerates in his body.

The Fire and the Cedars (Judges 9:15)

“And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you anoint me to be king over you, enter and take refuge in my shadow.  But if there is not, let fire go out from the bramble, and let it consume the cedars of Lebanon!’”  (Judges 9:15)

 

There are two levels to how we need to approach this passage.  The first level is the immediate context of the passage.  Here, the bramble is given kingship and will subjugate all of the trees, destroying them in the process.  Indeed, there is a curse that is attached to the acceptance of the bramble:  may fires go out to consume even the great and stately cedars of Lebanon.  Abimelech will be made king, he will rule with an iron fist—and does so for three years—and not even the greatest of the people who made him king will be able to stand against him, indeed fire will consume even his strongest opposition during his reign.

And, were we just studying the book of Judges, we would leave this verse be with that translation.  But, given that all scripture is authored by God, it is important for us to see where this imagery is referenced in other books of the Bible.  And, indeed, the imagery is referenced in other books of the Bible, and in those cases, the language carries with it Messianic intent. 

Indeed, just as Abimelech, the false king of Israel destroys his enemies, so too, does the true king of Israel destroy his enemies with fire.  The book of Amos, within its first two chapters, repeatedly finds God sending out his fire to consume his enemies.  Also, in Zechariah 11:1-3, God pronounces his judgment against the unbelievers in Israel by declaring that his fire will devour the cedars of Lebanon.  Though this language is often used figuratively, it also looks backward to a time before the time of Judges, during Israel’s wilderness wanderings, where God literally destroyed his enemies with fire (Leviticus 10:1-7).

Yet, there is an even more compelling allusion to the language of this parable that occurs nearly 1300 years after the Jotham’s telling of this parable.  In Revelation 11, there is a reference to the two witnesses of God breathing out fire and destroying their enemies.  Now, admittedly, there is a great deal of debate as to just what these two witnesses represent, but I hold the position that they represent Christ during his earthly ministry.  The two witnesses are described as the two olive trees that stand before the lampstands which are before God.  This is imagery taken right out of Zechariah 4, where the two olive trees are the “anointed ones” that stand before the Lord (Zechariah 4:14).  Who is the anointed one before the Lord?  It is the Messiah—Jesus our Lord. 

Why then is Jesus represented by two witnesses?  I would like to suggest two options: first, Jesus’ witness is to both the Old Testament believers and to the New Testament believers, and second, Jesus had dual natures—one human and one divine.  Thus, two witnesses are given within the figurative language of the book of Revelation.  And indeed, getting back to the imagery that we spoke of earlier in this passage, Jesus is the olive tree; he is the rightful king of Israel.

Did Jotham have all of this in mind when he told his parable?  I very much doubt it.  Jotham was telling a story to tell the people what they had gotten themselves into.  At the same time, God, through other Biblical writers and in other times, used that imagery to warn those who would be the enemies of his son.  Abimelech would rule as a despot, and the righteous had much to fear; Jesus rules as the rightful and righteous king, and the unrighteous have much to fear.  Our God will obliterate even the strongest resistance to his rule—even the modern cedars of Lebanon cannot withstand his wrath.

I find it comforting to serve a God who has all of his enemies at his feet.  As believers, we know just how the story will end up and who ends up on top.  We do not worship in vain and we worship a God that gives life and sanctuary to those who enter under his shadow.  Jesus calls out to all who would hear:  “come and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  Won’t you rest in him?

 

Cessation: Hebrews 1:1-4 (part 14)

after making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

 

Jesus “sat down…”  The imagery of this is of a victorious king who has returned home after the defeat of his enemies.  The sitting symbolizes that the victory is final and decisive.  And indeed, we who have received the benefits of that victory can and do rejoice in the wonderful victory of our King!  Oh, the peace and confidence that come from knowing that our Lord reigns unopposed.

Yet, with this in mind, there are several observations that must be made from this clause.  The first observation is that this victory took place at the cross.  “After making purifications for sins,” this passage begins, Jesus sits down in victory.  Beloved, Jesus’ victory over the devil and sin is not something that has yet to take place, but it has already taken place at the cross.  Indeed, the devil still rages against believers.  Indeed, sin still haunts our lives and the effects of sin still surround us.  But these things are the death throes of a defeated enemy and we can rejoice in knowing that the attacks we endure have lost their sting (1 Corinthians 15:55-56) for the law has been satisfied by the work of Christ (satisfaction is another aspect of the atonement—see above).  The devil is dead and he knows it, he is simply thrashing about to do as much damage as he can to God’s people for as long as he is able.  Indeed, there is a time when our Lord will once again leave his throne and enter into our world in final judgment, casting the devil and his servants into the eternal lake of fire, but for now, our Lord reigns victorious while he brings the entirety of his elect church to himself.

The second thing that we must note about this passage is where our Lord takes his seat.  It is at the right hand of God the Father in all of his glory.  Now, we know that this is metaphoric imagery.  We know that God the father does not have hands and we know that God the Father and God the Son (as well as God the Holy Spirit), while three persons, are one God, so to make too much about designation and location is inappropriate—there is no real subordination, for example, within the Godhead (though, we can argue that there was an economic subordination in the sense that certain members of the Godhead primarily focused on certain tasks in redemptive history, but all-the-while knowing that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are present when God the Father is working, etc…).  All of this having been said, we must note that the right hand was symbolic in ancient cultures of the hand of power and authority.  In other words, sitting at the right hand communicates that all of the power and authority of God are at the disposal of the one to that side.  It is the side given to the honored guest, brought into the fellowship of one in authority (note that we retain some of this imagery in our modern culture when we extend the right hand of fellowship to another in a handshake).  The symbolism of the right hand is seen as a confirmation that Jesus’ completed work of atonement has met the full satisfaction of God the Father and nothing more needs to be added.  Jesus’ work is complete; his sacrifice never needs repeating.  God’s justice and honor has been satisfied and his wrath has been meted out in terms of the elect—there is no more work to be done for the redemption of God’s people.

Loved ones, let that sink in a bit.  Jesus’ redemptive work is complete.  We neither need to nor are even able to add to it on a saving level.  Jesus successfully accomplished what we could not accomplish for ourselves.  Jesus’ merit was sufficient to satisfy the righteous law and his sacrifice was sufficient to satisfy the justice of his Father—what more is there left but for us to adore him!  Oh, loved ones, when we speak of the “Cessation” of the Son’s work, we are not suggesting that he puts his feet up on a celestial ottoman and sips divine lemonade for all eternity, no, he lives to make intercession for his people (Hebrews 7:25)!  Yet, in terms of the work necessary to redeem his people, that work was fully completed on the cross—we are just going through history while that redemptive work is slowly realized in the lives of the elect (2 Peter 3:9).  Believer, rejoice in the knowledge that your Lord and Savior sits in such  a place of honor and privilege in the grand scheme of God’s great plan, yet, for those who may not believe and have a relationship with Jesus Christ, be afraid, for the one you reject is the one who has the Father’s ear and who promises that none will come to the Father save through the Son (John 14:6).

To God be the glory, great things He has done;

So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,

Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,

And opened the life gate that all may go in.

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,

Let the earth hear His voice!

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,

Let the people rejoice!

O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,

And give Him the glory, great things He has done.

-Fanny Crosby

The Day of Divine Retribution: Isaiah 61:2b

 

“And the day of divine retribution of our God.”

(Isaiah 61:2b)

 

            Isn’t it interesting that we find the language of divine retribution—God’s moral judgment against sin, in connection with the language of the “year of the Lord’s favor”?  How often we forget to remember that the two go hand in hand.  We seem to have entered into an age of the church where many want to dwell only in the goodness and joy of the favor and blessing of the Lord—blessings brought about by the redeeming work of Christ Jesus.  Yet, was it not also at the cross that sin was judged in its finality—that the devil’s head was finally crushed and his power broken?  Indeed, we must always remember that for the believer, the cross means judgment and eternal life in the presence of Christ, but for the unbeliever, the cross symbolizes eternal condemnation in the fires of Hell. Oh, how important it is to see that one goes hand in hand with the other.

            One may protest in that Jesus does not quote this part of the verse, but ends with the language of the Year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:19).  Yet, as we have mentioned before, when New Testament writers are quoting from the Old Testament, they are expecting the Old Testament passage to be understood within its original context—a context that speaks of judgment as well as redemption.  In addition, Jesus speaks a great deal about the judgment that will come as a result of his own redemptive work (Matthew 13:47-50, for example). Thus, to suggest that Jesus did not have the full context of Isaiah 61:2 in his mind when he read these words cannot be supported.

            One other thing that I find particularly interesting in this verse is the contrast of time between the language of the Year of the Lord and the Day of Retribution.  Though I am not sure that we can draw a hard and fast principle from this, I do think that we can safely infer that a contrast is being made between a time when judgment is met out with finality and fullness (ultimately in the general resurrection when all men will stand before the throne of God and the books will be opened (Revelation 20:11-15)) and the ongoing and long-enduring nature of the Year of the Lord’s Favor, a time which was initiated at the cross and will be consummated in the new creation with the wedding feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-10).  Oh, the enduring nature of our Lord’s promise and the finality of His judgment upon sin and unbelief—how they are wed together, and  how they  are inseparably a part of Christ’s redemptive work!  Beloved, do not miss the importance of Jesus’ earthly ministry and of the cross—upon the cross, both judgment and redemption find their meaning—apart from the cross, divine wrath is all we could ever hope to know.

 

 

 

 

 

Forgiving the Wicked Servant

“After summoning him, his master said to him; ‘Wicked servant!  I forgave all of your debit because you begged me, thus is it not necessary that you show mercy on your fellow servant as I also showed mercy to you?’  And angered, his master delivered to the inquisitors until he could pay back all that he was obligated to pay.  And in this way your heavenly father will treat you if each of you should not forgive your brother from your heart.”

(Matthew 18:32-35)

 

            If you turn to the Gospel of Matthew and take a peek at the passage that these verses come from, you will see that this is the conclusion of what is often called “The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.”  As the story goes, there was a master who had a number of servants.  Because the servants were not always wise in their dealings, sometimes the master would loan them money.  One day the master decided that it was time to bring the accounts up to date.  When his accountants presented him with his financial books, he quickly realized that one of his servants had accrued a substantial debit; in fact, it was a debit so great that the master knew that the servant had no hopes of ever being able to pay it off.  Thus, he called the servant in to see what he had to say for himself.

            When the servant came in, he was horrified at the prospect of having to pay such an astronomical debit and fell on his face, repenting of his evil ways and pleading with the master for mercy and forgiveness.  Because the master was a kind and loving master, he not only extended mercy to the man but grace as well.  He forgave the man the entire debit so that the servant might know what a good and merciful master he served.  The servant understandably went away rejoicing at the master’s gift.

            Sadly, bad habits die hard and soon this servant found himself wanting for money again.  Then, he remembered that a neighbor owed him respectable, but not overwhelming sum of money.  Thus, the servant went to his neighbor and demanded payment.  Unfortunately, times had been difficult for his neighbor as well and his neighbor did not have the funds to pay the servant what he owed.  The neighbor pleaded with the servant to allow him to pay in smaller installments, but that was not good enough for the servant, and he had his neighbor thrown into debtor’s prison until the neighbor’s family could raise the money to pay his debit.

            The master heard about what had transpired, for news travels quickly in any region of the world, and he was enraged by what he had heard. He had shown mercy to the servant in a great way and the servant had been unwilling to show even a small amount of mercy to his neighbor.  The passage above relates the master’s fierce rebuke of his servant.

            There are a few things about this parable that we should put before us so that we can understand its full impact.  The first is that as Jesus tells the story, he refers to the amount of debit that each man had in terms of denarii and talents, and while those measures of money were clearly understandable in Jesus’ day, we have trouble relating to the measure of these debits.  A denarius was equal to about a day’s pay for a common laborer during Jesus’ day, thus the money that the neighbor of the unforgiving servant owed was nearly 5 months’ wages (based on a 6 day work week).  While not an impossible amount of money to pay off, it was still a sizeable debit—probably about the same level of burden that a new-car payment would be to us today.

            A talent on the other hand was equivalent to about 6,000 denarii.  In the parable, the servant owed the king 10,000 talents—or 60 million days worth of labor.  On a 6-day workweek, that would take nearly 192,308 years to pay off!  It would take the entire salaries of 2,000 workers, working for 96 years to pay this debit off!  In modern terms, this figure would look something like the national debit.  With this before us, now, perhaps, we can start to get a better feel for the ratio of debit that these two men had to their names.  To help bring things into perspective even more, the gross national income during the height of Solomon’s reign was 666 talents of gold.  Solomon was the richest of the kings of Israel and the debit that this lowly servant owed was 15 times greater.

            Friends, Jesus did not tell this parable simply to make us shudder at the amount that this unforgiving servant owed, but he used such great amounts to try and give us a picture of how much we owe to God as a result of our sin—a debit that a hundred, indeed, not even a thousand lifetimes could repay.  This debit, Jesus offers to pay for us if we just would put our faith in him.  As the hymnist, Elvina Hall once wrote:

Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe;

Sin has left a crimson stain,

He washed it white as snow.

            Yet, there is another side to the coin.  The punishment for the servant who was forgiven yet refused to forgive was to be thrown into torture. This is no debtor’s prison that the master sends the servant to, but literally, the passage says that the master handed him over to the basanisth/ß(basanistas).  This word is used not so much to refer to a jailer, but to refer to a jailer who tortures.  Probably the closest thing that we have in our more modern history is the Inquisitors that worked for the Roman Catholic Church not only in Spain but elsewhere in the world.  These men went out of their way to devise tortures that would push men and women to the point of death without killing them.  This is the general idea that Jesus is conveying.  It is not simply that this unforgiving servant will have to sit in jail for all of eternity, but he will experience horrendous torture day in and day out for that time.

            If you haven’t made the connection yet, Jesus is painting a picture of what Hell is like.  It is a place of never-ending torment and pain.  It is a place devoid of mercy.  It is the place prepared for the Devil and his minions, yet unbelieving humans will be sentenced to that place as well if they stand unforgiven by God.

            Friends, you who have been forgiven so much, how is it that you can refuse to forgive the comparatively small debits that people around you owe.  Even the greatest offense that one can inflict upon you is but nothing compared to what you or I owe to God.  Believer, you have been forgiven that which you could never hope to pay—demonstrate that same mercy that God has shown you to the world around you.