Saturday, May 30, 2009

Search the Scriptures: Psalm 5

I was thinking today about Psalm 5:5 which says that the Lord hates all evildoers and that famous verse that says that God so loved the world that he sent his Son. How do we reconcile God's love for sinners and God's hatred for sinners? Someone has written a book entitled, "The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God." Maybe this is one of the difficulties that inspired the title of that book! At any rate, I added a paragraph to the Search the Scriptures devotional below that tries to reconcile the hatred and love of God for the wicked. Since we are not allowed to simply ignore or deny a verse like Psalm 5:5, the only option available to us is to harmonize both truths, that on the one hand the Lord in his holiness hates sinners, and on the other hand, he also loves them. If any of you have any thoughts on this, please let me know. --Bill

Psalm 5 (English Standard Version)

Lead Me in Your Righteousness
To the choirmaster: for the flutes. A Psalm of David.


1Give ear to my words, O LORD;
consider my groaning.
2Give attention to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you do I pray.
3O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.

4For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not dwell with you.
5The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers.
6You destroy those who speak lies;
the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.

7But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love,
will enter your house.
I will bow down toward your holy temple
in the fear of you.
8 Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness
because of my enemies;
make your way straight before me.

9For there is no truth in their mouth;
their inmost self is destruction;
their throat is an open grave;
they flatter with their tongue.
10 Make them bear their guilt, O God;
let them fall by their own counsels;
because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out,
for they have rebelled against you.

11But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may exult in you.
12For you bless the righteous, O LORD;
you cover him with favor as with a shield.

Comment:

Search the Scriptures asks, “What does this psalm reveal about God? Write out a list of the truths which you discover here, and let them inform your responsive worship.”

Let’s make a list:


  • We learn that God is holy. He is morally pure. He does not delight in wickedness (v. 4).
  • We learn that the Lord has a people, whom he blesses and favors (v. 11-12).
  • We learn that the Lord hates those who rebel against him (v. 5, 10).

Obviously this is a partial list, but I want to stop to focus on a truth that so many evangelical Christians would deny, namely, that the Lord hates the wicked. For the usual mantra we hear today is that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. But in verse 5 the Lord says, through his inspired king, that he hates all evildoers!

This psalm, as well as many others, teaches us that there are really just two kinds of people on earth: the wicked and the righteous. Who are the wicked? They are those who rebel against the Lord and delight in the very wickedness the Lord hates. Who are the righteous? They are those who take refuge in the Lord (v. 11). The righteous are not people who are free of the inborn infection of sin, but rather are those who have taken refuge in the Lord because they are sinners who need his protection!

Notice, how the Lord treats the righteous and the wicked:

  • The righteous have access to the Lord (1-4, 7); the wicked do not.
  • The righteous enjoy the Lord’s abundant love and favor (7, 12); the wicked are hated by the Lord (5).
  • The righteous are protected by the Lord (11); the wicked must bear their guilt (10).
  • In short, the righteous have the Lord’s favor while the wicked have his curse or disfavor.

Does this mean that the Lord will not accept the wicked into his favor if they seek refuge in him? No. The assumption in Psalm 5 is that there is no repentance on the part of the wicked. If the wicked will repent and turn to the Lord and his anointed king, then they too may enjoy the favor and blessing of the Lord. The Lord's invitation to repent, which is always extended to the wicked, is an expression of God's love for the world. But as long as the wicked continue on their path of rebellion, then they must have the Lord as their enemy, and not as their king and God who blesses them.

So does God love sinners or hate sinners? Maybe a way to look at it is like this. God loves the world and sinners, and has shown his love by sending his Son into the world to rescue it. Sinners who receive God's heaven-sent Son enter into his love---the love that has existed from all eternity between the Father and the Son. But those who refuse his Son and the salvation he accomplished remain in God's hate, so to speak, and under his wrath (John 3:36). They are displeasing to him because of their continued rebellion against him.

The psalms point us to true reality. The reality is this: despite all of the differences between human beings, only one difference really matters: Are you one of the righteous who seek refuge in the Lord, or are you one of the wicked who lives in rebellion against the Lord? O the blessing of being able to saying with Jesus Christ to the Father, “my King and my God!” O the misery of not being able to say that of the Father!



Search the Scriptures: Psalm 4

Psalm 4 (English Standard Version)

Answer Me When I Call
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.

1Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

2O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
3But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself;
the LORD hears when I call to him.
4 Be angry, and do not sin;

ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
5Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the LORD.

6There are many who say, "Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!"
7You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
8In peace I will both lie down and sleep;

for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

Comment:

Search the Scriptures asks two questions about Psalm 4. Let’s look at one of those questions, which deals with verses 2-5. The question is this: “What counsel does David give his adversaries?”

In verse 2 we learn about these adversaries. They were men who turned David’s honor into shame. In other words, these were men who opposed God’s anointed king, who was destined to rule over the nations (Ps. 2:8). These were men who refused to listen to the Lord’s counsel to submit to His anointed king (Ps. 2:12). These were people who trusted in lies and vain words.

Jesus is the true David. God has sent his Son into the world. He is a descendent of David with regard to his human nature. He is God’s Son from all eternity with regard to his divine nature. To oppose David, God’s anointed king (the christ) was no small matter. To oppose Jesus who is the Christ, is an even greater matter. It is an offence against the Almighty.

The counsel David gives his adversaries is, first of all, to turn from lies and seek the truth. Dear friends, we must come to grips with the fact that truth or reality is determined by the Lord and his Word, and not by our own understanding of the world. As Jesus prayed to the Father, so we must learn that “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17).

Second, we must turn from our rage against the Lord. The idea in verse 4 is that this rage/anger against the Lord must be repented of. As Psalm 2 says, people are in the process of raging against the Lord, his Christ, and the Word of God (Ps. 2:1-3). The best translation of verse 4 is not to be silent, but to wail and moan, as Mark Futato brings out in his commentary. In other words, David counsels those who oppose him to mourn over their sin.

As Christians, we are not opposed to Christ as the unconverted are. But as Christians we should still wail and moan over our sinful nature, which opposes the Spirit (Gal. 5:17) and remains with us until we enter his presence. Each day the old man must be crucified with Christ.

Third, we must turn to Christ. Verse 5 is telling us that the way to be right with God and others is through sacrifice. All of the Old Testament sacrifices were pointing to Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. Only through the sacrifice of Jesus that removes God’s wrath and gives us his favor (“the light of your face” v. 6), can we be right with him.

When we are right with God through the sacrifice of Christ, we also are in a position to be right with others. In the sacrificial system of the Old Testament one ate the sacrifice with others in a fellowship meal. The community of Christ is the community of those who are forgiven, but also who forgive one another. We are not only reconciled to our Father, but also to one another. The Lord’s Supper ought to be testimony to our reconciliation with the Lord and one another.

Last, but first in importance and order is trust in the Lord. At the end of verse 5, David counsels his enemies to trust in God. But faith precedes repentance in order because no one repents unless he believes the Word of God. It’s only when we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who now has all authority in heaven and earth and is the One to whom we will one day stand before as our Judge, that we will turn to Him in repentance and faith.

Use these words, then, to search your heart. Is your life giving honor to Jesus Christ? Or is your life bringing him shame because you love vain words and lies? Your attitude to the Word of God, which is truth, is a crucial test of the condition of your heart. Jesus is our sacrifice and our king. As our sacrifice, let us find refuge and favor in His wounds. As our king, let us seek his power to live for him. Let’s honor him by seeking him with all our hearts.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Intertwining of God's Glory and Man's Comfort and Joy

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

128 Q. What does your conclusion to this prayer mean?

A. "For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever" means,

We have made all these requests of you because, as our all-powerful king, you not only want to, but are able to give us all that is good; and because your holy name, and not we ourselves, should receive all the praise, forever.

129 Q. What does that little word "Amen" express?

A. "Amen" means, This is sure to be! It is even more sure that God listens to my prayer, than that I really desire what I pray for.

2) Scripture

Psalm 115:1: Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

John 1:14-16: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Comment:

The Heidelberg Catechism begins with man’s comfort and joy, asking the question: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” The catechism begins its answer with the words, “That I am not my own but belong---body and soul, in life and in death---to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” Some have criticized this beginning, saying it is too man-centered and not enough concerned with the glory of God. These critics sometimes point to the beautiful God-centered beginning of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.”

Besides, posing a needless conflict between two wonderful Reformed catechisms, the truth is that there is the closest connection between God’s glory and true, human happiness. Psalm 115:1 teaches us that the Lord receives glory in the exercise of his love and truth to his people! When human beings take hold of the grace and truth God offers us in the gospel of his Son by faith, they glorify God. For the triune God’s greatest, most glorifying work is the salvation the Father planned, the Son accomplished, and the Spirit brings to our hearts through the word of the gospel. To reject that salvation greatly dishonors the triune God. To receive that salvation greatly honors the Father, Son, and Spirit.

In Jesus Christ we see the glory of God, and that glory is full of grace and truth. When we receive that grace and truth by faith, for our comfort and joy, the Father receives glory. There is no contradiction between our comfort and his glory, so let us seek to glorify our Father through faith in his Son. For as the Scriptures say:
“‘but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.’

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed,
but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:38-39).
To God alone be the glory who has given us his beloved Son for our comfort and joy. May we live by faith in our faithful Savior Jesus Christ to whom we belong, body and soul, in life and in death, both now and forevermore. Amen.

Discussion: Is there a conflict between glorifying God and human happiness? How does faith in Jesus bring the Father glory? How does faith in Christ bring us comfort and joy?

Prayer Starter: Thank the Father that our happiness is so intimately connected with glorifying his name. Receive Christ and his benefits by faith once more for the Father’s glory and your good.


What is our request when we pray: Lead us not into temptation?

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

127 Q. What does the sixth request mean?

A. "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" means,

By ourselves we are too weak to hold our own even for a moment. And our sworn enemies---the devil, the world, and our own flesh---never stop attacking us.

And so, Lord, uphold us and make us strong with the strength of your Holy Spirit, so that we may not go down to defeat in this spiritual struggle, but may firmly resist our enemies until we finally win the complete victory.


2) Scripture

Psalm 95:7b-11:

Today, if you hear his voice,

8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generationand said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
11 Therefore I swore in my wrath,“They shall not enter my rest.”

John 6:3-7: Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”

John 14:8-10a: Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?

Comment:

This sixth request of the Lord’s Prayer can be a bit puzzling. We ask the Lord not to lead us into testing, but clearly the Lord does test his people. Although James 1:13 makes it clear the Lord never tempts anyone with evil, we know that the Lord does send tests and trials to his people. In fact, in John 6 we see the Lord testing one of his disciples, Philip. So what exactly are we requesting when we ask the Lord not to lead us into testing[1]?

The key to understanding this sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer is what happened at Massah, the place of testing in the Old Testament. There at Massah, (the name of the place means testing) the Lord’s people were tested, failed the Lord’s test in their unbelief, and came under the Lord’s wrath (Hebrews 3-4). In the Lord’s Prayer we are asking not to be tested like this ever again, where the testing results in God’s anger against us. Instead we are asking that all of the Lord’s tests and trials would lead to blessing and favor in our lives.

We are also asking that our faith may not fail in the tests and trials the Lord sends our way. Israel’s problem at Massah was their unbelief. They failed to believe in the goodness of the Lord. Instead of trusting the Lord’s good will toward them, they accused the Lord of bringing them into the wilderness to kill them! In unbelief they doubted the goodwill and presence of the Lord. In this sixth petition we ask for a different kind of heart---a heart unlike the heart of Israel in the desert. We ask for a heart to trust that the Father and the Son are enough to satisfy and give rest to our hearts.

This is what Philip, and all of Christ’s disciples, are learning in their tests and trials. We are learning that fellowship with the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit is enough for us. Jesus is the bread, who is sufficient to satisfy our souls. As he himself said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). In other words, he is our only comfort in life and in death!

The good news is that no longer does the Lord test his people as he did at Massah. Jesus succeeded where Israel failed, thus fulfilling the old covenant for us and in our place. Now the Lord tests his people always for their blessing. He teaches us the lesson, as he taught Philip in the wilderness, that he is good and he is enough to satisfy us body and soul forever!

Discussion: Why is the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer a bit puzzling? What was the end result of the testing at Massah? What kind of heart are we asking for in this sixth request of the Lord’s Prayer? What lesson did Philip need to learn about the Lord concerning his goodness and ability to satisfy?

Prayer Starter: Praise the Lord for the gift of his beloved Son, his all-sufficient One, who is enough for us.

[1] Since James teaches us that the Lord never tempts us with evil, it is probably best to translate the word as testing. Lead us not into testing, is closer to the meaning of the petition.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Temptation and Trust in the Father's Word

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

127 Q. What does the sixth request mean?

A. "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" means,

By ourselves we are too weak to hold our own even for a moment. And our sworn enemies---the devil, the world, and our own flesh---never stop attacking us.

And so, Lord, uphold us and make us strong with the strength of your Holy Spirit, so that we may not go down to defeat in this spiritual struggle, but may firmly resist our enemies until we finally win the complete victory.

2) Scripture

Matthew 4:1-11:

4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”


5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’

and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up,

lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.


Comment:

It is hard to overestimate the importance of the Word of God for us. As Jesus taught us, the Word of God is to be like the air we breathe and the food we eat. We simply cannot live a genuine human existence with our God apart from his Word!

God’s gospel Word regenerates our souls, and once we are born from above as God’s children, the same Word of God nourishes our souls. As Peter taught us, we should long for God’s Word the same way a newborn infant longs for milk, for by the Word of God we grow and mature spiritually (1 Peter 1:23-2:2).

The Word of God is also vital in times of temptation and in the daily spiritual struggle every Christian faces. The psalmist asks, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” He answers: “By guarding it according to your word” (Psalm 119:9). When Jesus was tested in the wilderness, how did he overcome Satan’s temptations? Three times Jesus showed that the Word of God was the authoritative rule of his life, for three times he said to the tempter, “It is written.”

And yet, we are wrong if we think that Scripture works like magic, and if we simply quote a verse, temptation will disappear. No, we must trust the Father whose Word it is! If we don’t trust the God who speaks, we will surely go down to defeat in the spiritual struggle every Christian has with the world, the flesh, and the devil.

But how do we come to trust God? When we are tested, the basic issue is trust: Will we trust our Father and his ways or will we believe the lie that we are missing out on some good thing the Father is withholding from us? What will increase our trust in our heavenly Father?

The answer is found in getting to know him, for we trust those we know and love. As Psalm 9:10 says, “Those who know your name put their trust in you.” But how do we get to know our God, his character, and name? Again, the answer is his Word! The Father has graciously given his redeemed children his Word, the Bible. It is a book that perfectly reveals his character to us, and culminates in the sending of his beloved Son, who is the exact representation of his nature (Hebrews 1:3).

I love this prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. O that we would truly make it the prayer of our hearts!
“Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Discussion: What is invariably the basic issue in temptation and spiritual struggle? How did Jesus show that he trusted his Father when tested in the desert? Why is the Word of God so vital in knowing the character of God? Who is the exact image of God?

Prayer Starter: Use the prayer above to begin your time of prayer.

Monday, May 18, 2009

God's Hero and God's Story

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

127 Q. What does the sixth request mean?

A. "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" means,

By ourselves we are too weak to hold our own even for a moment. And our sworn enemies---the devil, the world, and our own flesh---never stop attacking us.

And so, Lord, uphold us and make us strong with the strength of your Holy Spirit, so that we may not go down to defeat in this spiritual struggle, but may firmly resist our enemies until we finally win the complete victory.

2) Scripture

John 16:33b: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Hebrews 4:14-16: Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

1 John 5:3-5: For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Comment:

Every person has a story, typically, birth, childhood, young adulthood, middle age, old age, and then death. Our identity is formed by our family background, abilities, and opportunities. I suppose all of our stories are a mixture of happiness and sadness, good times and bad, satisfactions and regrets.

Good stories often have heroes, and in our vanity I think we all like to think of ourselves as the heroes of our individual stories. Yes, there are leading characters around us (mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, friends, etc.), but in our pride we tend to see ourselves as the hero or heroine of our own stories!

But in the true story of the human race as told by God the Father, there is only one true hero, and he is Jesus Christ, his beloved Son. Jesus alone was able to defeat all of the enemies of the human race: the devil, the world, our own flesh, and the final enemy, death itself. Jesus alone was able to overcome every temptation. Jesus alone was able to overcome the world by trusting his Father in every trial and temptation.

The fact that Jesus is the hero of the human story is good news for us! Sure, it means we have to leave our imagined starring role behind. But when our story is joined to God's story by faith in the Son of God, and our baptism which symbolizes the faith that unites us to Christ and his story, then our lives can become truly heroic in a new sense. United to Christ our Hero, we too can learn to overcome our spiritual enemies by the same trust in the Father that enabled Jesus to win the victory for us. Through faith in the Son of God, we are not only joined to the One whose overcoming is credited to us for our justification, but by the Spirit’s working we learn to trust that our Father’s will is always best for us no matter the circumstance.

In our pride, we should never take our Hero’s place! Jesus alone has overcome, and his overcoming is what makes us right with the Father. Jesus alone has earned salvation for us. But now that our faith has united us to Him who has overcome and earned our salvation, we can live a new life characterized by trust in our Father and Lord. While we may often feel like the man who cried out in his weakness, “I believe, help my unbelief (Mark 9:24),” nevertheless, by the power of God’s Word and Spirit a new life of trust is possible. A new role is possible in our Hero’s story --- in God our Father’s story, and how great is that!

Discussion: Why is Jesus the only hero in the story of human history? Why is it so important that we be joined to Jesus’ story? How are we joined to God’s story in Christ? In what sense can we live heroically in the world?

Prayer Starter: Thank Jesus for overcoming our spiritual enemies. Praise the Father for the privilege of being united to Christ, which brings us justification and the indwelling Spirit. Ask to have your trust in the Father and Son strengthened.



Monday, May 11, 2009

Weakness and Trust in Temptation

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

127 Q. What does the sixth request mean?

A. "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" means,

By ourselves we are too weak to hold our own even for a moment. And our sworn enemies---the devil, the world, and our own flesh---never stop attacking us.

And so, Lord, uphold us and make us strong with the strength of your Holy Spirit, so that we may not go down to defeat in this spiritual struggle, but may firmly resist our enemies until we finally win the complete victory.

2) Scripture

Exodus 17:1-7: All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Matthew 4:1-4: Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,

but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Comment:

One of the first lessons a disciple of Christ must learn in dealing with trials and testing is his or her weakness. This is what we confess with the catechism: “By ourselves we are too weak to hold our own even for a moment.”

We learn of our weakness in the Old Testament when we see first, Adam, and then, Israel, fail the Lord’s test. Adam, of course, sinned in the garden when he failed to trust God his Father’s perfect wisdom and instead trusted his own wisdom. Adam declared his independence from God by determining for himself good and evil, rather than trusting his Father’s word. Israel repeated Adam’s sin, not in a garden but in a desert. After experiencing the wonderful rescue from Egypt and the Lord’s victory over Pharaoh and his army, one would think that Israel would trust God, their Father and Redeemer. But instead we find distrust. They didn’t believe that the same Lord who had just saved them from Egypt would also save them from the perils of the desert.

We make a mistake if we think we are made of better stuff than Israel. The whole human race is cut from the same sinful quarry, and this is why we confess with the catechism: “By ourselves we are too weak to hold our own even for a moment.”

But the failure of Adam and Israel set the stage for the coming of God’s beloved Son. When Jesus was tested in the desert, this Son of God trusted his Father and his Word completely. Unlike Israel, Jesus trusted his Father even after going without food for forty days. He trusted in God’s Word, and believed it was enough to sustain him. Jesus never doubted his Father’s love, but clung to his Father’s Word completely.

After Jesus’ victory over testing in the desert, there are now only two kinds of people in the world: adopted sons of God who live like the Son of God by trusting the word of their heavenly Father, and those who distrust the Father’s word and trust in their own wisdom. One group lives dependently, trusting the Word of God. The other group lives independently of God and his Word, trusting in their own wisdom to determine right and wrong, good and evil.

Which kind of person are you? Are you an adopted son of God, who lives by faith in your heavenly Father’s Word? Or are you still living independently of God, preferring your wisdom to his Word? The way of faith in God’s Word is the way of blessing. The way of independence from God, neglect, and even contempt of God’s Word, is the way of God’s disfavor and destruction. Which way will you go?

Discussion: How do we learn of our weakness to face testing from the example of Adam and Israel? How did Jesus differ from Adam and Israel when facing temptation? What are the two ways to live described above?

Prayer Starter: Confess any ways you have lived preferring your own wisdom to the Word of God. Ask for a heart that trusts the Father and his Word.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Trust and Temptation

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

127 Q. What does the sixth request mean?

A. "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" means,

By ourselves we are too weak to hold our own even for a moment. And our sworn enemies--- the devil, the world, and our own flesh---never stop attacking us.

And so, Lord, uphold us and make us strong with the strength of your Holy Spirit, so that we may not go down to defeat in this spiritual struggle, but may firmly resist our enemies until we finally win the complete victory.

2) Scripture

Proverbs 3:7-8:

7 Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
8 It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.

Psalm 4:7:

You have put more joy in my heart

than they have when their grain and wine abound.

Comment:

When we face temptation the basic issue is always trust. Will we trust the Lord or will we trust our own understanding? Will we believe that the Lord and his ways are best for us? Will we trust that the Lord’s revealed will found in Scripture is good, wise, and brings a person true peace and joy?

Proverbs 3:7-8 gives us three commands that are basic to remember in times of testing. These three commands are parallel to each other and are vital in resisting temptation:

  1. Don’t trust in your own wisdom --- “Be not wise in your own eyes.”
  2. Trust in the Lord’s wisdom and goodness --- “fear the Lord.”
  3. Obey the Lord’s instruction --- “turn away from evil.”

Temptation seduces us into thinking there is a better way than the Lord’s way. We falsely believe we are missing out on something that will bring us joy and satisfaction when we to yield to temptation rather than following the Lord. But Proverbs 3:8 presents us with the truth: True life and joy are found in trusting the Lord and yielding ourselves to him.

Proverbs 3:8 uses the picture of bodily health to speak about the entire person: body and soul. When we trust in the wisdom of the Lord, who is the giver of either, blessing or curse, heaven or hell, we can be assured that he will satisfy our entire being with joy far greater than those who trust in their own wisdom and disobey the Lord.

The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer to our Father. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us how to pray, but also how to live. Basic to living as Christians is trust in our heavenly Father --- that his revealed will found in the Bible is always best for us and brings us true joy and blessing. The Son of God trusted his Father in all things. As those who are united to the Son of God let us learn to trust our Father in all things too, and then, we will find health, healing, and true comfort for “body and soul, in life and in death.”

Discussion: Why is trust in the Father’s goodness, wisdom, and ability to give his people joy so important during times of temptation or testing? How does the fatherhood of God point to his trustworthiness? What areas of your life do you need to trust the goodness, wisdom, and ability of the Lord to give you joy and satisfaction?

Prayer Starter: In your prayer to the Father thank him for his goodness, wisdom, and power. Confess your lack of trust and commit your way to him.




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