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God, My Rock

“I shall say to God, my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?’

Why do I go about darkened with respect to the torment of the enemy?”

(Psalm 42:10 [Psalm 42:9 in English translations])

 

The term “rock” is one that is often attributed to God. Why is that? Is God cold and unmoving? No, of course not! God is described as a rock in terms of his safety and security as well as his strength. In the torrents of trouble that flood our lives in this world (remember verse 7), God provides the strength and stability that we so desperately need. He gives us shelter in times of trial and persecution and herein the psalmist takes comfort—even in the destruction wrought by God on Korah and those who revolted with him, God preserved these Sons of Korah for his purposes in the life of Israel and in his redemptive plan. As Peter writes, God certainly does know how to rescue the godly while at the same time destroying the wicked (2 Peter 2:9-10).

In addition to God being referred to as a “rock” in scripture, it should be noted that his Word—the scriptures—is also described in the same way (Matthew 7:24; Exodus 32:15-16). Not only is he the rock to cling to during the trials and torrents of life, but his word provides for us the rock foundation upon which our lives are built sure. If you want to live a life that is reckless and swayed by the winds of change, then avoid this rock with all your power, but if you wish to know a life of sublime pleasure, then God gives us a foundation upon which to build…his most Holy Word.

How often, though, like the psalmist, we go about either saying or wanting to say that God has forsaken us. It is as if God had said that in Christ all things in life would be trouble-free. Yet, this is the gospel of the charlatans, not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead, Jesus said:

“If the world hates you, know that it hated me before you. If you were from the world, the world would love as one in the same. But because you are not from the world—rather I chose you from the world—for this, the world hates you. Remember the word which I spoke to you—a slave is not greater than his lord. If they drove me out, they will also drive you out. If they treasure my word, they will also treasure yours.”

(John 15:18-20)

In other words, Jesus is reminding his Apostles and us how if we are faithful to him, the world will treat us as it treated him. The world put Jesus to death; why do we feel that we should expect to be treated differently?

The psalmist, understands this, I believe, and he continues by asking himself the rhetorical question, “why do I go about darkened…”—”why am I depressed and downcast” is what he is saying to himself as he looks at the torments of his enemy. For indeed, we know that our God is a great redeemer and a rock and if we rest in him we will be held secure from all eternal dangers. One may destroy our bodies but they cannot destroy our eternal souls. Beloved, why is it that so often we lament over the trials we face, for our God is with us and he has promised us that he will use such trials to strengthen us and to mature our faith (James 1:2-4). There is indeed a time to come when we will enjoy the bliss of being in God’s presence eternally, but for now, we remain in this world for a singular purpose—to glorify God by working out the Great Commission…that of making disciples of all of the nations—a program that begins in our neighborhoods, in our homes, and in our own hearts.

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“’Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

-John Newton

 

 

First Importance (1 Corinthians 15:3)

 “For I delivered to you of first importance that which I also received—that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;”  (1 Corinthians 15:3)

 

Paul now is about to lay out for the Corinthians once again the essentials of the faith.  Please note, these things that he lays down are what he calls things of “first importance.”  As you read through the writings of Paul, you will find other doctrines that are of high importance for a Christian to hold to, but the doctrine of Christ’s death and resurrection is the first and most important of all doctrines.  Regardless of what other things you may or may not hold to, if you do not hold to this doctrine you cannot call yourself a Christian.  It is of first importance.

Through the history of the church, there have been those who have tried to deny this doctrine.  Even in our own day, there are those who would teach that there was no historical Jesus.  Friends, these people are heretics and blasphemers and we should never allow ourselves to be swayed by their arguments; rather, we need to call them to repentance.

Why is this doctrine so important?  To understand the doctrine’s importance you need to unpackage what Paul is saying.  In this verse, Paul lays before us one half of the doctrine; namely, that Christ died for our sins.  There are three elements that come out of this statement.

The first element is that Christ died.  To die, Christ had to be fully human.  Were Christ some kind of legendary Greek god-man or demi-god, being part human and part God, there would have been no real death, for an immortal God cannot die.  Christ did die, and that means he had to be fully human by definition.  Were Christ not fully human he could not have identified with us, he could not have suffered like we do, and no sacrifice would have been made.  For atonement to be made, blood needed to be shed; this is the purpose of all of the Old Testament sacrifices.  Jesus offered himself up as the sacrificial lamb, which means his blood needed to be shed for our sins.

The Apostle John would later write that Christ is our propitiation (1 John 2:2).  Though sometimes this word is translated as “atonement,” there is a difference between atonement and propitiation.  Atonement is the bringing of two parties back into harmony after they have been separated.  Christ certainly did just that, becoming a bridge to cross the gap between a sinful mankind and a Holy God.  But, propitiation is the act which brings atonement.  Jesus’ act of propitiation was his death on the cross, where he took the just punishment for the sins of the elect upon his own head.  This required his sacrifice, which required his death, which requires that he be fully human.

Secondly, the sacrifice is for our sins.  The only one who had the ability to make a perfect sacrifice for sinful man was God himself.  Because of the fall, sin tainted all that we are and all that we do.  We are not capable of satisfying God’s righteous judgment.  This is why God sent his son, that those who believe in as their Lord and Savior would be saved.  That means that Jesus, by definition, was also fully divine.  He had to be fully human to make the sacrifice, but he had to be fully divine for that sacrifice to be effective.  Oh, the heresies of the church that would have been avoided had people listened to the Apostle Paul’s words!

Thirdly, all this happened in accordance with the scriptures.  God had proclaimed in his word the promise of a coming redeemer.  He did so as far back as the fall (see Genesis 3:15).  And, throughout the scriptures, particularly as you read the prophetic writings, there is a clear hand that is always pointing to Christ.  And Christ fulfilled all of the prophesies that point toward him.  This is an amazing fact.  This means two things for us.  First, it means that God is in complete control of all of human history.  Were God just influencing things as they went along (making good guesses as the “Open Theists” would say) then some of the prophetic statements would have necessarily fallen through the cracks—none did.  The only way that hundreds of statements about Christ could have been fulfilled in Christ was if God had intimately controlled history, and indeed, he wrote the book.  Second, it also tells us that the entirety of the Old Testament is about Jesus.  Jesus is directly or indirectly the subject of all of scripture!  What an amazing statement that is, dear friend.

And these things only represent one half of the doctrine of first importance.  Paul is essentially telling the Corinthians that until they get this doctrine right, they will never make any sense of the other doctrines of the church.  As I said earlier, this is not the only essential doctrine of the Christian faith, but this is the doctrine that will provide the foundation for the other doctrines clearly taught in scripture.  Friends, grasp a hold of this doctrine and cling to it.  It is the foundation of your hope.  Without Christ’s shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins, and as we will soon see, without his resurrection, there is no hope of life beyond the grave.  Be encouraged by all God offers to you in Christ.

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 6)

“As with fat and the choicest cuts of meat, my soul will be satisfied.

My lips will exult; my mouth will exclaim hallelujah!”

(Psalm 63:6 {Psalm 63:5 in English versions})

 

Now, in a culture that is as health conscious as ours is, we somewhat lose the impact of the initial metaphor.  We usually think of fatty food as something bad and to be avoided because it is just simply not good for you (or at least, in a society that is as sedentary as ours is, it is not good for you).  Yet, one thing that must never be forgotten is that typically, when you are dealing with meats, the fattiest cuts are also the tastiest cuts.  As a child, before I became aware of this and that health concern and when I was active enough that I could eat whatever I wanted and never gain a pound, one my favorite things about when Dad made steaks on the grill, was eating the fat on the outside of the cut.  And that is exactly what David is communicating.  Take all of your health issues and set them to the side and think simply of the wonderful taste that comes with fat, and recognize that David is saying that his soul enjoys his God in the same way as his taste buds enjoys the fatty cuts of meat. 

We, as humans, respond to food.  This is not a cultural thing, but it is tied to our very being—we like to eat and we like to eat well.  We have made an art out of fine cooking, and almost everything we do on a social level is done around food.  Different cultures may have different styles of food that is popular with their palates, but there is food, none-the-less.  And what David is seeking to communicate to us through the ages is that as satisfying as the best meal may be—and when we have an exceptional meal prepared for us, it is not uncommon for us to think of that meal for days if not weeks—and crave it again—so too, David says, his soul enjoys God.  The question that needs to be asked, then, is does your soul crave God in the same way your mouth craves a favorite food.  Do you look forward all day to your morning or evening prayer time in the same way that you look forward all day to a special meal that is being prepared?  Do you savor your time in prayer as you do a good meal or do you see it as just one more thing to do?

Beloved, I think that we are all guilty of falling short of the mark that David sets for us, but he continues his metaphor in the second line of the psalm.  Just as your lips and mouth do not remain silent, but instead rejoice, in a good meal, so too, his lips and mouth cannot remain silent at the presence of God in his life.  And, indeed, David’s mouth did not remain silent, but from his mouth came the many sweet psalms of the first part of the book of Psalms.  Loved ones, does your heart sing, do your lips exult, does your voice refuse to remain silent at the wonders of God?  If so, then praise God, but if not, I pray that these words of David will spur you on and help nurture within you a heart of praise. 

I will sing of my Redeemer, and his wondrous love to me:

On the cruel cross he suffered, from the curse to set me free.

Sing, O sing of my Redeemer!  With his blood he purchased me;

On the cross he sealed my pardon, paid the debit and made me free.

-Philip Bliss

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 12)

“The King will rejoice in God;

and boast, will all who swear by him;

for the mouth will be shut of all who speak a lie.”

(Psalm 63:12 {Psalm 63:11 in English Bibles})

 

And David, who is the rightful king of Israel, will rejoice in God (even in the midst of having to flee for his life) because God will shut the mouths of the liars—God will vindicate David’s name and bring to shame those who would seek to speak ill of him.  What an amazing statement!  David is saying that because God is who he is, that he has no fear.  Even in the situation he is in, where people are seeking his life and his kingdom, that David is entirely confident that God will bring truth to the surface and will bring an end to the lies that are being spoken about him. 

Beloved, were it that we could only have such faith!  That we could walk with such confidence as to know that God will stop the mouths of those who lie about us.  Yet, friends, we can because God will!  How often do we respond to lies about us by angrily confronting the liars?  How often do we drop everything that we are doing just to focus our energies on “restoring our good name?”  Loved ones, do not misunderstand me, a good name is an important part of your Christian witness, but do you not think that God will restore your good name for you?  Do you not think that God is able to put an end to false talk about you?  If you believe that God will do this and that he is able to do so, why do you fret and panic about the lies of the enemy so?

Loved ones, you are held in the hand of the one who is the very definition of truth and righteousness—pursue His truth and righteousness and the lies of the enemy will be shown for what they are.  As our Lord, himself said:

Blessed are you when they reproach you, persecute you, and say evil and lies of you because of me. Rejoice and Exalt!  For your reward is great in heaven.  For thus they persecuted the prophets who came before you.”

(Matthew 5:11-12)

Beloved, let our lives sing and boast of the one we serve, for what other god is like our God?  None!  No not one!

I will sing of my Redeemer, and his wondrous love to me:

On the cruel cross he suffered, from the curse to set me free.

Sing, O sing of my Redeemer!

With his blood, he purchased me;

On the cross he sealed my pardon,

Paid the debit and made me free.

-Philip Bliss

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 6)

“As with fat and the choicest cuts of meat, my soul will be satisfied.

My lips will exult; my mouth will exclaim hallelujah!”

(Psalm 63:6 {Psalm 63:5 in English versions})

 

Now, in a culture that is as health conscious as ours is, we somewhat lose the impact of the initial metaphor.  We usually think of fatty food as something bad and to be avoided because it is just simply not good for you (or at least, in a society that is as sedentary as ours is, it is not good for you).  Yet, one thing that must never be forgotten is that typically, when you are dealing with meats, the fattiest cuts are also the tastiest cuts.  As a child, before I became aware of this and that health concern and when I was active enough that I could eat whatever I wanted and never gain a pound, one my favorite things about when Dad made steaks on the grill, was eating the fat on the outside of the cut.  And that is exactly what David is communicating.  Take all of your health issues and set them to the side and think simply of the wonderful taste that comes with fat, and recognize that David is saying that his soul enjoys his God in the same way as his taste buds enjoys the fatty cuts of meat. 

We, as humans, respond to food.  This is not a cultural thing, but it is tied to our very being—we like to eat and we like to eat well.  We have made an art out of fine cooking, and almost everything we do on a social level is done around food.  Different cultures may have different styles of food that is popular with their palates, but there is food, none-the-less.  And what David is seeking to communicate to us through the ages is that as satisfying as the best meal may be—and when we have an exceptional meal prepared for us, it is not uncommon for us to think of that meal for days if not weeks—and crave it again—so too, David says, his soul enjoys God.  The question that needs to be asked, then, is does your soul crave God in the same way your mouth craves a favorite food.  Do you look forward all day to your morning or evening prayer time in the same way that you look forward all day to a special meal that is being prepared?  Do you savor your time in prayer as you do a good meal or do you see it as just one more thing to do?

Beloved, I think that we are all guilty of falling short of the mark that David sets for us, but he continues his metaphor in the second line of the psalm.  Just as your lips and mouth do not remain silent, but instead rejoice, in a good meal, so too, his lips and mouth cannot remain silent at the presence of God in his life.  And, indeed, David’s mouth did not remain silent, but from his mouth came the many sweet psalms of the first part of the book of Psalms.  Loved ones, does your heart sing, do your lips exult, does your voice refuse to remain silent at the wonders of God?  If so, then praise God, but if not, I pray that these words of David will spur you on and help nurture within you a heart of praise. 

I will sing of my Redeemer, and his wondrous love to me:

On the cruel cross he suffered, from the curse to set me free.

Sing, O sing of my Redeemer!  With his blood he purchased me;

On the cross he sealed my pardon, paid the debit and made me free.

-Philip Bliss

A Proverb in a Song: part 2

“Hear this, all ye peoples!

Listen carefully, all who dwell in the world!”

(Psalm 49:2 {Psalm 49:1 in English Bibles})

 

Notice to whom this psalm is written.  All too often we only think of the scriptures in terms of being written for God’s people, yet, this psalm is addressing all people of world!  Oh, what an important reminder this is that the oracles of God are to be shared with all of creation—young and old, rich and poor, far and near.  The gospel is for every culture and race and the truth of God is suitable for all.

How often we adopt the attitude, when dialoguing with non-believers, do we back down from holding to this great truth.  We adopt the attitude of our culture which says, “Let me believe what I want to believe and I will let you believe what you want to believe…”  It makes people uncomfortable when you hold fast to the position that the truth of scripture is the only truth and all other things that masquerade as truth have their origins in the pits of Hell.  It does not sound very “tolerant” to say that, does it?  Yet, is light tolerant of the darkness?  Indeed, not!  Light casts darkness away!

We live in a world where people have preferred darkness to light (John 3:19), for in the darkness, the sins of men remain hidden.  Light exposes sin for what it is and light hurts the eyes when it is seen for the first time, yet, beloved, light is where we belong, for God is light.  And as we are in the light, we then must, by necessity, reflect the light of His glory into the world and the world will largely reject us—not for who we are, but for whose light we shine.  Beloved, do not be shy about shining your light amongst men and women, the truth of scripture is for all mankind—without qualification or exception.  Truth is truth, regardless of the circumstances.  So shout to the world, with this psalmist, that they would hear the truth of God’s wonderful revelation!

I will tell the wondrous story,

How my lost estate to save,

In His boundless love and mercy,

He the ransom freely gave.

Sing, O sing of my Redeemer!

With His blood he purchased me;

On the cross he sealed my pardon,

Paid the debit and made me free.

-Philip Bliss

Save Me From Bloodguilt: Psalm 51 (part 15)

“Save me from bloodguilt, O God,

God of my salvation;

My tongue will exult in your righteousness!”

(Psalm 51:16 {Psalm 51:14 in English Bibles})

 

What an amazing picture David paints for us in this verse!  Yet, to understand what he is showing us, we must understand the concept of “bloodguilt” in the Old Testament.  To begin with, blood represented life—it was seen as the life of a man and as the life of a beast (Genesis 9:4); hence the restriction against eating any flesh that still has the blood in it (Deuteronomy 12:23, Acts 15:20).  And, so that we do not end up being smug in our scientific advances, let it be said that there is great truth in this idea that life is in the blood, for when blood is lost, life ebbs away.  If you lose a little, say from a cut, it may be of little consequence, but when a pint is lost, one tends to get a little weak in the knees and light-headed.  And if too much is lost, one will die.  You can commit many crimes against another person, but the shedding of his blood is the most destructive, for it is one he may never recover from.

Hence the idea of “bloodguilt.”  If you are guilty of shedding the blood of another, you are guilty of his blood.  To take this idea one step further, in ancient Jewish practice, there was a member of the family who was seen as the “avenger of blood” (Numbers 35:19).  Were one of his relatives murdered, it was his role to put the murderer to death.  Note that this is not meant as a means of revenge, but as a means of exacting justice.  The blood avenger had rules and restrictions that he had to abide by, and this was simply one means by which capital punishment was carried forth in ancient Israel.  At the same time, God established places in Israel called “Cities of Refuge” where the guilty could flee if the murder committed was not premeditated (Numbers 35:11).  If you made it to the city of refuge before the avenger of blood could kill you, you were given sanctuary.  In turn, you were required to stay in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest; when the high priest died, you would be free to return without fear of retribution.

And in this ancient practice, we have a wonderful picture of Christ.  Beloved, our sin makes us guilty of blood—not just the blood of bulls and goats through the generation, but of the blood of one another, and most importantly, of the blood of Christ.  It was Christ, whose sacrifice was planned and set since before the beginning of creation (1 Peter 1:20), who shed his own blood as atonement for our sins.  The penalty for sin is death (Genesis 2:17)—thus sin cannot be forgiven without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22).  Our own blood, being tainted by sin, both inherited and actual, is tainted and ineffectual in atoning even for our own sins, let alone for the sins of another, and thus, the necessity for another to provide a sacrifice for us.

Yet, the picture does not end there in terms of the idea of bloodguilt, for it is in Christ that we have our city of refuge—it is in Christ and in Christ alone that we who bear the bloodguilt of sin can flee for refuge.  And what is even more glorious is that is that Christ, the great High Priest, went to his death so that we might be forgiven, no longer convicted criminals hiding for their lives, but forgiven men and women forgiven and adopted as sons and daughters.  Oh, beloved, what a picture of Christ we have in the Old Testament laws of bloodguilt, and here, King David is crying out to God in faith that he would be delivered from the bloodguilt that his sin has brought him—forgiveness that only comes from God through Christ.  This is something that David understood well and looked forward in hopes for the day of seeing the Messiah come.

And as a result of the salvation that is given by God, David rejoices and exults in the righteousness of God.  The verb that David uses to describe his praise is !n:r” (ranan), which means, “to sing,” yet the verb is in the Piel construct, which, in Hebrew, intensifies the verb and gives it a sense of ongoing repetition.  Hence, the idea that David is conveying is of an exuberant, ongoing praise of God, rejoicing in song over and over again in praise.  Oh, were this to describe the praise that we give to God in the salvation that he offers us!

Beloved, in the wake of the forgiveness that God offers us, let us rejoice loudly and with every fiber of our soul.  Let praise flow from our tongues and let joy fill our countenance!  We are redeemed of God!  Christ has provided both a city of refuge and a sacrifice for our sins.  He has done for us what we could never dream of doing for ourselves.  And in Christ we are free and able to proclaim the good news to all that would hear.  And when those around us ask us why it is that we are filled with such joy, let us simply respond, “because Christ is my salvation!”

O worship the King all glorious above,

O gratefully sing his power and his love;

Our shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,

Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.

-Robert Grant

Against You I have Sinned: Psalm 51 (part 5)

“Against you, and you alone,

I have sinned

And that which is evil in your eyes, I have done—

Thus, you are justified in your words

And pure in your judgments.

(Psalm 51:6 {Psalm 51:4 in English Bibles})

 

Here is a verse that people sometimes stumble over until they begin to understand that sin, in any manifestation, is outward rebellion against God—it is a repetition of the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve.  God had given them a righteous command—don’t eat of this tree—and it was a command that was meant for their own good.  The tree, we are told, was the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Indeed, goodness they understood, for they had a perfect relationship with God on high and there was no separation between God and man—what more magnificent goodness could one know?  Yet, what they did not know was evil and evil’s relationship to good—and there is the rub—they chose to make their own rule—thinking themselves wiser than God—and ate of the fruit.  From that point on, a world that only knew good now knew evil as well, and not in an abstract way, but deeply, intimately, and personally.  And when you or I willfully enter into sin and do not resist sinful temptations, we are repeating the acts of Adam and Eve.  Oh, what a sick and depraved race we are.

Unless you understand the wickedness of sin, when you come to this verse, you may be tempted to ask the question that many do, “How can David’s sin be only against God?”  “Did he not sin against Uriah?”  “Did he not sin against Bathsheba?”  “Is not the baby paying the price for David’s sin?”  The answer to these questions is that yes, David did sin against Uriah and Bathsheba.  And though the child would die, it is the parents, David and Bathsheba, who will bear the worst part of the grief for the loss of the child, for indeed, this child of believers will go straight to his heavenly father’s side.  David also sinned against the people for betraying his responsibility as their king.  With this being said, what David understands is this—no matter how ugly the sin may be in the eyes of the world, it is outward rebellion against a holy and righteous God and that makes it an infinitely greater offense.  Sins against men will pass with time; sins against God are eternal.  And because of that, his sin stands before God and before God alone.

And what of the last clause in this verse?  How is God justified in his words?  God had spoken through the prophet Nathan that this child would die because of his sin.  David is saying that as he understands his sin to be an affront to God, God is righteous and pure in punishing sin—both in this world and in the next.  In seeking forgiveness, David acknowledges that he already stands guilty and convicted by his sin and that he is deserving of wrath.

Beloved, do you think of sin in these terms?  If you don’t, you should—indeed, you must.  Until you begin to come to terms with your total and complete unworthiness, how can you rest in the work of Christ?  We will never rest wholeheartedly on another if we think there is even a small handhold for us to reach for, and upon Christ, and Christ alone we must rest.  There is no other that can save us for there is no other that has borne the punishment for our sins—it is Christ and Christ alone to whom you must cling.

My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine;

For thee all the follies of sin I resign.

My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art thou;

If ever I loved thee, my Jesus ‘tis now.

-William Featherstone