Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Promise and a Warning from Psalm 85

Psalm 85

I want to focus on verses 1 and 8 of Psalm 85, and compare them to Isaiah 1:2-3. Here are the verses:
2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
for the LORD has spoken:
"Children have I reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me.
3The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand."

1LORD, you were favorable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.

8 Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;
but let them not turn back to folly.
I see three points of similarity in these verses from Isaiah and the Psalms. First, in both the Lord speaks. Second, in both the Lord is to be our master. Third, in both the Lord is to be our home. Let’s take a look at these three points:

  1. The Lord speaks. For the last two and a half centuries we have lived in a world increasingly distrustful of authority outside of ourselves. The most basic spiritual conflict in the world is this one: Where will we look for answers? There are really only two choices: either we will look outside of ourselves to the Lord or we will look within ourselves.

    Today, liberal theologians and mainline churches have lost confidence that God can speak. People have lost confidence in the Bible as the Word of God. Even though people in these churches maintain an outward form of Christianity, the authority of God has been undermined because all the people know that they are free to believe or disbelieve the Scripture at any point when it conflicts with their own personal judgment. In such a situation the Scripture becomes interesting as a history of religion, but ultimately meaningless.

    Our passages from Isaiah and Psalm 85 simply don’t give this kind of ultimate authority to personal judgment or preference. Instead this authority resides, where it should, with God himself. The biblical God is not like the dumb idols who cannot speak (Ps. 115). The biblical God speaks and his words are the words we must answer to either in belief or unbelief.
  2. The Lord is to be our Master or Owner. The Lord owns us because he created us. If we belong to him by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, then the Lord also owns us because he is our redeemer. If you own something, you have the right to command it and use it as you see fit.

    What is terribly sad, according to Isaiah, is that even oxen who are known for their stupidity, are wiser than the human race! The ox knows its master, but human beings don’t. The ox heeds its master’s voice, but the human race does not.

    I once knew a farmer who owned a few sheep. It was amazing to watch those sheep respond to his voice! But, sadly, people today feel free to ignore their Master’s voice in the Scriptures. Unless this situation changes, our souls (your soul?) are in peril. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Do Jesus’ people feel free to discard his Word because of personal judgment? No! It is arrogance to think that we can simply ignore, deny, or add to the word of our Owner and Master --- our Creator and Redeemer.
  3. The Lord is our home. Where is this truth found in Psalm 85 and Isaiah 1? In Psalm 85 it is found in the parallelism of verse one, where God’s land is connected to God’s people, Jacob. In Isaiah 1 it is found in the donkey who knows its "master’s crib" or barn. Isaiah’s point is that even donkeys know their home, but rebellious human beings do not! Our home is with Christ in heaven, which is what Israel’s land foreshadowed. As Colossians 3:3 says to Christians who have died and risen with Christ, “your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
So what do we do with all of this? How do we respond?

The good news is that God longs to be gracious to us despite our foolishness, ignorance, and rebellion. Yes, we have not listened to our Master or given him what he is due. Yes, we have preferred this earth and its blessings to the Maker of heaven and earth and the Giver of all blessings. But, God in his grace speaks a word of peace to us in his gospel. If we will turn back to him as our Master, and our home, then through the cross of Jesus Christ, we can have peace with God. We can be forgiven. We can know that heaven and every spiritual blessing is ours.

But we mustn’t come and then go back to our old self-willed ways. That’s the warning of verse 9 when it says, “But let them not turn back to folly.” We must become the true people of God, who acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord; who acknowledge his Word as our rule of life; and who seek our heavenly home more than this earth.

Monday, March 29, 2010

"Blessed is the One who Trusts in You!" --- Psalm 84

Psalm 84

A devotional by Bill Weber

Recently I have been reading about the doubt that characterizes so much modern, liberal theology. Part of this doubt among contemporary theologians, supposedly stems from the transcendence of God. If God is so holy or “other”, separate from his creation, and so unlike his creation, then how can we truly know anything about him?

At the same time that I was reading about the skepticism of contemporary thinkers who deny the possibility of knowing much of anything about God, I was considering Psalm 84. Psalm 84 paints a picture far removed from the dark and bleak landscape of modern skepticism’s lack of certitude about God. Instead it paints a bright picture of blessedness with God, who is our dwelling place, our home, our strength, our way, our sun, our shield, and our God!

In Psalm 84, God is indeed transcendent! Four times he is referred to as “Lord of hosts,” a title that points to his divine sovereignty and power. Lord of hosts is the name associated with the ark of the covenant and the exodus from Egypt. It speaks of God’s power, transcendence, and rule over all.

But, unlike modern skepticism, in Psalm 84 there is no sense that divine transcendence impedes the Lord from communicating and caring for his people who trust in him. The whole point of the reference to the little sparrow dwelling near the Lord’s altars is that God’s transcendence is no obstacle to his presence or blessing, even if we are weak and small.

The history of human philosophy and skepticism always strikes me as a sad endeavor. For the truth presented in Psalm 84 is that the Lord is our home, our sun. When we consider the impossibility of physical life apart from the sun, the metaphor, “God is a sun” (v. 11), becomes a picture of the impossibility of human life apart from the divine presence, favor, and blessing.

Human philosophy and skepticism searches for ways to live life apart from God. But the search never seems to succeed, because the truth is that God is our sun, and just as life is not possible apart from the sun, so true life is not possible apart from the God of Jacob. God is our home, and our hearts are restless until they come home.

God in his mercy sent his beloved Son, so that we might be able to come home. The Son of God endured the eternal darkness of the cross, so that we might have his light and favor forever. We obtain this blessedness when we put our trust in the Lord of hosts, this transcendent God who longs for us to be near him through his Son. Let us put away our skepticism, and trust our gracious and glorious God. Those who trust in him are blessed (v. 12).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Friday Luther Quote (a day late)

"In baptism, therefore, every Christian has enough to study and to practice all his life.  He always has enough to do to believe firmly what baptism promises and brings---victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, God's grace, the entire Christ, and the Holy Spirit with his gifts.  In short, the blessings of baptism are so boundless that if timid nature considers them, it may well doubt whether they could all be true.  Suppose there were a physician who had such skill that people would not die, or even though they died would afterward live forever.  Just think how the world would snow and rain money upon him!  Because of the pressing crowd of rich men no one else could get near him.  Now, here in baptism there is brought free to every man's door just such a priceless medicine which swallows up death and saves the lives of all men.

To appreciate and use baptism aright, we must draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and we must retort, 'But I am baptized!  And if I am baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body."  This is the reason why these two things are don in baptism: the body has water pured over it, though it cannot receive anything but the water, and meanwhile the Word is spoken so that the soul may grasp it."

Morning Bell: This Process is Undermining the Rule of Law | The Foundry: Conservative Policy News.

Morning Bell: This Process is Undermining the Rule of Law The Foundry: Conservative Policy News.

This is shaping up to be one of the saddest weekends for the United States. A vote by the congress to nationalize health care is unconstitutional, because health care is not a constitutionally mandated power. The method congress is using to pass the bill is also unconstitutional. Taking over the banks, the auto companies, ...student loans, and now health care is not freedom, but tyranny. I am saddened to see the end of freedom in the United States. While I realize that Jesus is Lord and he will overrule these events for good, as an American citizen, this looks like it will be the saddest weekend in the nation's history.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Surviving a World Engulfed in a Spiritual War --- Psalm 83

Psalm 83

A Devotional by Bill Weber

Many have people have difficulty with the Old Testament because of verses like 9-12. In these verses the psalmist asks the Lord to bring vengeance on the enemies of God. The question, then, becomes why does Asaph have such an unloving attitude toward the people of the world? And, shouldn’t we grow past this primitive attitude toward a more modern, kinder view of others?

Closely related to the above objections are the wars of conquest which Israel sometimes engaged in at God’s command or with his approval. Can we make any sense of these sorts of things in the Old Testament? Do we have a God of wrath in the Old Testament and a gracious God in the New Testament? How should Christians deal with these kinds of verses in the Old Testament?

I can’t answer all of these questions in one, short devotional. But I do think there are good answers to these questions, and I will try to point out a couple answers from this psalm.

  1. God’s concern in the Old Testament, this psalm, and the New Testament is for the conversion of the nations. The Lord’s desire is that the nations, which belong to him (see the last verse of the previous psalm, 82:8) should come to know him. The proof of this is found in verse 16 and 18:
    16 Fill their faces with shame,
    that they may seek your name, O LORD.

    18that they may know that you alone,
    whose name is the LORD,
    are the Most High over all the earth.
    Wars of conquest in the ancient near east had evangelistic consequences. If one nation conquered another nation, the conquered nation was required to worship the conquering nation’s god or gods. The gods, according to ancient near eastern belief, commanded wars so that they would receive more honor from more and more people. If Egypt conquered a neighboring nation, Egypt’s supreme god would come to be worshiped by more people. Here, for example, is what Ahmen-hotep II (1439-1406 B.C.) said about his role as king or pharaoh:
    Ra (the chief Egyptian god) “appointed him to be king of the living . . . king of kings, ruler of rulers . . . victorious lord, who takes every land. . . . all lands, all countries . . . they come to me in submission.”
    Evangelism took place in Old Testament times through wars of conquest. When the psalmist asks that the hostile nations around Israel be defeated in war, there is this evangelistic component in the request. Conquest is so that the nations “may seek your name, O Lord” (v. 16). Conquest is so that “they may know that . . . the Lord [is] Most High over all the earth” (v. 18).

    The same sort of thing takes place in the New Testament through Jesus Christ. In the ancient near east, kings viewed themselves as deity --- as sons of the gods. Listen to how Amen-hotep II sees himself as the son of the god Amon, and how he is called to wars of conquest for the glory of his father, Amon:
    “[I am Amon’s] real son, who came forth from his limbs, one with him, in order to rule that which the sun encircles, all the lands, and countries . . . that he might seize them immediately with victory and power.”
    Jesus, who is the true Son of God, says something very similar. He says, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). He says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Mat. 28:18-19).
  2. There is a spiritual war taking place on the earth. This war is for the souls of men. God the Father has raised his Son from the dead and raised him to the highest place at his right hand. Now, all people are called to submit to his King and Son. This brings both the Father and the Son glory.

    But in order to win our souls to himself, a war has to take place in a man or woman. Fallen people don’t just naturally submit to Jesus as their Lord and King. We have to be brought to a point where we understand and believe that, as verse 18 says, “you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth.” Or, to put it in New Testament terms, we must come to see that Jesus is God’s chosen and exalted king:
    “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).
    But what does it take to bring a sinful man to the point that he willingly bows his whole being, body and soul, to Jesus Christ? I submit it takes a war in that man’s soul. We have to come to the place where we are defeated by the law and the gospel---totally humbled. As our Psalm puts it in verse 17, we have to “be put to shame and dismayed forever.” We must learn the hard lesson of the cross, that I deserve nothing from God because of my sin, except everlasting shame and death. My rebellion against God is that horrible.

    Then, out of that shame and disgrace, I must humbly come to Jesus Christ exalted at God’s right hand, and plead for his mercy and grace. In the words of verse 16, I must “seek” God by bowing to the name above all names, Jesus Christ, trusting and knowing that his cross was a gracious sacrifice for my sins.
  3. If people do not submit to Jesus Christ as the King of all kings, and their conquering king, then they will face God’s righteous vengeance. Verses 13-15 speak of this vengeance or retributive justice of God:
    13O my God, make them like whirling dust,
    like chaff before the wind.
    14As fire consumes the forest,
    as the flame sets the mountains ablaze,
    15so may you pursue them with your tempest
    and terrify them with your hurricane!
    War is a horrible thing. How horrible it must’ve been for so many to live through World War II. Spiritual war is also a horrible thing. We wish it wasn’t here, but it is. Many people would prefer to deny its reality, but ever since Adam and Eve’s declaration of war against their Creator in Genesis 3, spiritual war has raged on this earth.

    As in all wars, the stakes in this spiritual war against the Lord are high. They are not just a matter of life and death, but a matter of eternal life and eternal death.

    In this spiritual war, we are born into the losing side. We are born into the rebel’s side. We are children of wrath as Ephesians 2:3 puts it. Unless we change sides by submitting to Jesus Christ, we will face the vengeance of God.

    This is unpopular to say in our self-esteem obsessed society. It isn’t very “nice” or "positive" to say that God will send people to hell. But this is the truth, as Jesus made clear on many occasions. Once he put it like this: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mat. 10:28).

    Heaven and hell, eternal life and eternal death, God’s favor or God’s blessing --- these are the stakes in this spiritual war. What side are you on? Jesus has won a great victory at the cross. He is God’s resurrected king, ruler over all the nations, and ruler over you. Have you submitted your life to him? That’s the only way to survive a world engulfed in a spiritual war.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Abasement of Pride and the Wisdom of Humility in Psalm 82

Psalm 82

A Devotional by Bill Weber

I take this psalm to be directed to human rulers. The “gods” in verse 1 and 6, are references to human rulers. Although there are a number of good reasons for holding this view, the best one is that Jesus himself viewed “gods” in this psalm as a reference to human beings (John 10:34).

If you remember, the devil’s first temptation was phrased like this: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). Being like God is a good thing because we were created in his image. The goal of the entire sanctification process is that we might be renewed and remade in the image of Jesus Christ.

But the temptation in the garden was to be like God in an illegitimate way. It was a temptation to pride. It was a move toward moral autonomy---determining for ourselves what is good and evil, rather than relying on God’s Word to tell us what is right and wrong.

The problem with the human rulers in Psalm 82 is pride, and pride is characterized by an independence from God. Instead of being guided by his ways, will, and Word, human beings proudly assert that they will judge for themselves what is good and what is evil---what is wise and what is foolish. And so, we exalt ourselves and our will, rather than God’s holy will.

Wicked rulers, ruling unjustly, are a continual problem throughout human history. The reason for this is simple, human rulers come from corrupt, proud humanity. Proud human beings are concerned with exalting themselves and their own glory, not the Lord’s.

Right now in our own nation we struggle with unjust laws made by unjust rulers. Over 40 million lives have been aborted since 1973 all because of an unjust ruling by seven unjust Supreme Court justices. Our elected leaders are trying to force a federal health care system on its people, even though the U.S. Constititution is quite specific in laying out the mandated powers of the federal government, health care not being one of those powers. Our federal government has “stolen” so much land from the states, that one state, Nevada, is 90% federal land. The problem of wicked and unjust rulers is an age old problem, and we still deal with it today.

The good news of Psalm 82 is that there is a Judge who will judge the judges. There is a Ruler to whom the rulers must answer. There is a wholly just God to whom all unjust human rulers must one day face.

Mark Futato lays out the psalm in chiastic fashion, like this:
A --- God judges the judges v. 1
B --- The indictment of the judges v. 2
C --- The responsibility of the judges v. 3-4
D --- The result of the failure of the judges v. 5
C’ --- The status of the judges v. 6
B’ --- the sentence of the judges v. 7
A’ --- God judges the earth
In this chiastic pattern the center (D) highlights the result of human failure, while the outer frame (A and A') highlights the need for divine intervention. When Jesus Christ comes to judge the earth, the true king who is both God and man, then will the problem of injustice finally be solved forever.

Two points to consider before closing. First, the center verse (v. 5) points to the great turmoil ungodly and ignorant rulers can cause on the earth. Human wickedness and injustice is the primary cause of human misery. If rulers, and the ruled, would reflect their Creator in his “knowledge” and “understanding,” and “walk” in his ways, how things would change. As Proverbs 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”

Second, in the end, God will be exalted and human pride will be abased. The truth is, the kings have a King. The rulers have a Ruler. Human beings have a God to whom they will answer. He is the Judge, and the judges will be judged. Verses 6 and 7 tell us that no matter man's proud pretensions, the Lord alone will be exalted.

What is the application for us in all of this? A healthy dose of knowing our place! He is God and we are merely his creatures. If we are wise and humble, we will acknowledge his rule and that of his Son; let him determine what is good and evil through his Word; be guided by his holy will for our lives; and, care about “the afflicted and destitute” of this world both physically and spiritually, for His sake.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Remarkable Worship Service in Psalm 81

Psalm 81

A Devotional by Bill Weber

Reading Psalm 81 is like being in a church service. In the opening verses, the congregation praises the Lord at an appointed feast. They praise him because they have been called to worship by the Lord himself: “For it (this feast time and its praise) is a statute for Israel” (v. 4).

In a similar way, the Christian congregation is also called to worship on our feast day, the day of Christ’s resurrection---the Lord’s Day. In the call to worship, the Lord calls us to worship him in response to his greatness and goodness.

The amazing thing about this particular church service in Psalm 81 is that the preacher of the morning’s message is the Lord himself! Starting in verse 6 until the end of the psalm, the speaker is the Lord. Psalm 81 is a worship service with a guest preacher like no other!

But, actually, if we understand Christian preaching correctly, we believe that the preached word is the word of God himself, if the minister’s words faithfully echo the words of Scripture. This should not surprise us that God speaks to us through human instruments, for 1 Peter 4:10-11 tell us this very thing: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God.” The Second Helvetic Confession teaches the same thing about faithful preaching:
“Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful.”
To summarize, every Christian can speak God’s word to others, if his or her words faithfully echo the written Word of God. But lawfully called ministers who faithfully interpret and teach the Scriptures, speak the word of God as Christ’s representative, and with his authority in a unique way. Nevertheless, Psalm 81 is still quite remarkable in giving us a sermon preached by the Lord himself. But if we have eyes to see it, Christian worship, characterized by faithful praise and preaching, is also quite remarkable, for in it the Lord calls us to worship, and speaks to us through faithful ministers, who are called to faithfully interpret his Word and speak on his behalf.

What stands out about this sermon by the Lord God himself? In Psalm 81 we have the Lord himself preaching! So what does he say? How does the Lord preach?

I want to suggest that the Lord gives us a model sermon with four parts:

  1. Law and Gospel Preaching. The Lord preaches both the law and the gospel:

    "I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
    your hands were freed from the basket.
    7In distress you called, and I delivered you;

    These words refer to the exodus. The distress was the hard labor under Pharaoh in Egypt. This is the preaching of the law. When we preach the law we tell people about sin and its misery. Living without God in the world, living under the tyranny of the devil, and the enslavement of sin, brings increasingly bitter distress.

    The preaching of the gospel is the announcement of how the Lord has saved us from our sin and misery. In verse 6, the Lord announces the good news of the gospel, when he says, “I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket. . . . I delivered you.”

    Faithful, biblical preaching tells sinners (and Christians sinners!) both the law and the gospel. Apart from the law, the gospel has no context. We need to know what we are saved from, so we will flee to the gospel and the cross for salvation and comfort from our bitter “distress”.
  2. Preaching that Calls for a Response to the Gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ calls for a response of repentance and faith. Just hearing the gospel won’t do us any good. Just being in a church service won’t do us any good. Unless we respond to the gospel in the appropriate way, we leave church unchanged, and as we will see shortly, in a worse spiritual condition. We must respond to the gospel in the right way.

    Here is the call to response in the Lord’s sermon:

    8 Hear, O my people, while I admonish you!
    O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
    9There shall be no strange god among you;
    you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
    10 I am the LORD your God,
    who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
    Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.

    The word listen is repeated five times in this sermon. Jesus would often say, “He who has ears, let him hear.” Good listening involves not just understanding, but also believing. If we truly understand and believe the gospel message---that it is for us, then we must have no other gods before us. Jesus Christ must be our Lord and God, and we must have no other.

    The Lord must give us our self-understanding. We can no longer look to foreign philosophies or psychologies for our self-understanding. Instead, we look to his Word to define the human dilemma and solution. He knows us better than we, or the social sciences, or the psychiatrists, or anyone or anything knows us.

    He must satisfy our souls. We must not look to idols of pleasure, sex, drugs, or self-indulgence for satisfaction. Instead, we must look to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, trusting his words, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”

    All of this is a matter of trust, and specifically, trust in God’s Word to us. The gospel requires us to believe and to forsake all “foreign gods” (v. 9). In our marriage vows we promise to forsake all others. The marriage vow reflects the commitment which union with Jesus Christ through the gospel entails. We must cling to our heavenly husband, Jesus Christ, and forsake the idols of this world and their false promises of understanding and satisfaction.
  3. Preaching the Consequences of Hearing the Gospel. The Lord’s sermon in Psalm 81 does not just end with an invitation. It tells us that there are consequences when we hear the word of God. If we believe God’s gospel word, then the Lord promises to satisfy our souls: “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” But if we refuse to receive his word, there are also consequences:

    11"But my people did not listen to my voice;
    Israel would not submit to me.
    12So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
    to follow their own counsels.

    These words should scare us. The Lord tells us that the result of refusing his word is judgment. But the Lord's judgment is not a thunderbolt, but to let us go our own way. It’s as though the Lord says, “If you want to follow your way rather than my way, go ahead. Following your own heart will be your judgment. Following your own counsels, rather than mine, will bind you tighter in the chains of your sin. It will take you further and further from me, the true source of life, understanding, and satisfaction. Such a way is already hell on earth, and eventually leads to everlasting chains and an everlasting prison.” Such a rejection of the gospel leads a person to “hate the Lord” (v. 14), and this is a fate that can “last forever” (v. 14).
  4. Preaching the Heart of God. The Lord is good and gracious. He does not want anyone to perish in their sins. The final verses, beginning with verse 13, reveal the Lord’s gracious heart toward us. How he longs for us to come to Him. How he longs to be our God and satisfy our souls:

    13 Oh, that my people would listen to me,
    that Israel would walk in my ways!

    16But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
    and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you."

You and I have heard law and gospel preaching in this psalm. We have heard the Lord himself call for a right response to his gospel. The Lord himself has told us about the consequences of blessing and judgment that come from either a believing or unbelieving response to the gospel. The Lord has told us that his heart longs to be gracious toward us. Can we really doubt the love of a God who sent his beloved Son to suffer and die on our behalf, so that we might be forgiven and live with him in fellowship and blessing? How will you respond to his gracious gospel?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Good News of the New Covenant: Jesus Obeyed the Old Covenant --- Psalm 80

Psalm 80

A Devotional by Bill Weber

Mark Futato divides Psalm 80 this way in a chiasm:
A --- Pleading the shepherd’s favor (1-3)
B --- Lamenting the shepherd’s anger (4-7)
B’ --- Lamenting the vinedresser’s neglect (8-14a)
A’ --- Pleading for the vinedresser’s favor (14b-19)
At the heart of this chiastically arranged psalm, then, is lament and petition. Asaph was lamenting the sad condition of Israel under the old covenant. But Asaph was also praying for the Lord to change the situation for God’s people. Above all, Asaph prayed for the Lord’s favor and grace for the community of God’s people. This is seen in the refrain:
Restore us, O LORD God of hosts!
Let your face shine, that we may be saved!
The idea of God’s face shining conveys the idea of favor and good will, which leads to life.

The good news is that this prayer has been answered by the Lord under the new covenant. Under the old covenant, Israel was blessed or cursed depending on their faithfulness to the Lord. God’s was often displeased with his faithless people under the old covenant. This is what we read about in verses 4-14. The Lord was justifiably angry with his disobedient people, and so he gave them over to their enemies. Verses 5 and 6 show the results of the people’s unfaithfulness:
5You have fed them with the bread of tears
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
6 You make us an object of contention for our neighbors,
and our enemies laugh among themselves.
How has the new covenant changed the situation for God’s people? What has changed under the new covenant Jesus established by his death and resurrection?

First, it is important to see that Jesus has fulfilled or obeyed the old covenant perfectly. Jesus Christ is the new vine the Father has planted. Jesus Christ is the new Israel. Jesus Christ is God’s Son. Jesus is Israel reduced to one man. This is God’s answer to Asaph’s prayer. Jesus has obeyed at every point where Israel failed. Jesus is the faithful Son, the fruitful vine, the new Israel. We could not keep God’s covenant, so Jesus kept it for us and in our place.

But maybe you ask, why was this necessary? Why was it so important that Jesus succeed where Israel failed? Why did Jesus have to keep the old covenant?

The answer has to do with God’s character. God cannot simply overlook sin. Sin cannot be simply forgotten, because God is just. All sin must be punished. All faithlessness must be judged. In order for God to make his face shine upon us, there must be a sacrifice for sin. Sin must be judged and punished, and this is what Jesus was doing for us on the cross.

The good news of the new covenant is that anyone in union with Jesus Christ is viewed by the Father as if he himself had suffered and died on the cross. Even more, the Father views us in Christ as if we had obeyed the covenant as perfectly as did our dear Christ, the true vine, true Israel, and Son of God. Through faith in Jesus we are engrafted into Christ, justified and accepted by the Father. Unlike Israel, whose blessing depended on their own faithfulness, those who are truly in Christ, have the Father’s favor forever.

Does this mean, then, that we can live in sin? Since God now views us in Christ as if we ourselves had died on the cross and lived a perfect life, does that mean it does not matter how we live? To answer these questions, let’s look at verses 17-18:
17But let your hand be on the man of your right hand,
the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!
18Then we shall not turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call upon your name!
"The man of your right hand” was originally a reference to Israel, but now we see in the light of Christ’s coming that Jesus is the son, Israel was not. Jesus is the man who came and obeyed the old covenant perfectly in our place, even bearing the punishment of the broken covenant. But now that Jesus has come, and we have come to Jesus in faith, trusting in his sacrificial death for us and his righteousness credited to us, now we are in Him.

But now that we are in Christ by faith, what should this union with Christ mean for our lives? How, then, should we live? I think verse 18 gives us that answer:

  1. “Then we shall not turn back from you.” The Christian life is a life of daily devotion to our Lord who has saved us. By the Spirit we make it our goal to follow Christ, and not to turn back from following him.
  2. “Give us life, and we will call upon your name.” Living a life devoted to Jesus Christ and God our Father is too high for us, just as it was too high for Israel. Therefore, Jesus must communicate his life to us. He is the vine and we are the branches. Devotion to Christ is only possible through the Spirit, who unites us to our life-giving Lord in heaven. The Christian life is one of complete dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ, who is not only the vine, the Son, and Israel, but also our Lord and shepherd.

    The same union with Christ that brings about our forgiveness, justification and acceptance with the Father, also brings about a new life with new desires. That new life is a life lived in fellowship with the Father and the Son by the Spirit.
Heavenly Father, how often we fail you, just as Israel failed. Our old sinful nature often flares up and causes outbursts of sin. But through faith in your Son, we are forgiven and justified. You view us as if we ourselves hung on the cross. You view us as if we ourselves had obeyed you perfectly as did your Son. We thank you for this perfect salvation and acceptance. Father, forgive us through the blood of Christ, and send forth your Spirit into our hearts that we might stay near you and our Savior each day. Renew our devotion to Him each day. Through Christ we pray, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit forever. Amen.



A good point about original sin and how we look at sins like homosexuality.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Briefing Library: Experiencing God

The Briefing Library: Experiencing God

An absolutely superb article!

The Briefing Library: Experiencing confusion

The Briefing Library: Experiencing confusion

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Friday Luther Quote on Music

"I would certainly like to praise music with all my heart as the excellent gift of God which it is and to commend it to everyone. . . . Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.  She is a mistress and goveness of those human emotions . . . which as masters govern men or more often overwhelm them.  No greater commendation than this can be found---at least not by us.  For whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate . . . what more effective means than music could you find?  The Holy Ghost himself honors her as an instrument for his proper work when in his Holy Scriptures he asserts that through her his gifts were instilled in the prophets, namely, the inclination to all virtues, as can be seen in Elisha [2 Kings 3:15].  On the other hand, se serves to cast out Satan, the instigator of all sins, as is shown in Saul, the king of Israel [1 Sam. 16:23].

"Thus it was not without reason that the fathers and prophets wanted nothing else to be associated as closely with the Word of God as music.  Therefore, we have so many hymns and Psalms where message and music join to move the listener's soul, while in other living beings and [sounding] bodies music remains a language without words.  After all, the gift of language combined with the gift of song was only given to man to let him know that he should praise God with both word and music, namely, by proclaiming [the Word of God] through music and by providing sweet melodies with words."
   ---from the Treasury of Daily Prayer p. 568

Thanking and Praising the Lord Forever --- Psalm 79

A Devotional by Bill Weber

Psalm 79

The scene envisioned in verses 1-3 is more than likely the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC at the hands of the Babylonians:
1O God, the nations have come into your inheritance;
they have defiled your holy temple;
they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
2They have given the bodies of your servants
to the birds of the heavens for food,
the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth.
3They have poured out their blood like water
all around Jerusalem,
and there was no one to bury them.
In 587 BC the Babylonians devastated the land (inheritance) of Israel, including, Jerusalem and the temple. Many died of starvation and many died of warfare.

Verse 4 seems to be a description of those who managed to survive the Babylonian invasion and were now in a new situation of scorn:
4We have become a taunt to our neighbors,
mocked and derided by those around us.
This new situation was not good. Israel was supposed to be a light to the nations. Instead, they became the object of hatred and scorn by the nations. This causes the question of verse 5:5
How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever?
Will your jealousy burn like fire?
The psalmist knew that Israel’s situation stemmed from their covenant disloyalty. The Lord was Israel’s husband. Israel was the Lord’s unfaithful wife, who had gone after many idols, forsaking her husband. The fall of Jerusalem was no accident, but the result of the just anger of the Lord.

Despite Israel’s guilt, Babylon and the nations were not without guilt themselves:
6 Pour out your anger on the nations
that do not know you,
and on the kingdoms
that do not call upon your name!
7For they have devoured Jacob
and laid waste his habitation.
The guilt of the nations consisted of three things:

  1. They did not know or acknowledge the true God, but worshiped idols.
  2. They did not call upon or pray to the true God for mercy and grace so that they might know Him.
  3. They attacked God’s holy people and holy place.
These sins are not small. They deserve God’s wrath and judgment. God is Creator and Judge of all people. Each of the three sins above deserve guilt and punishment.

In verses 8 and 9, the psalmist prays for mercy:
8 Do not remember against us our former iniquities;
let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
for we are brought very low.
9 Help us, O God of our salvation,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and atone for our sins,
for your name’s sake!
First, notice that we do not deserve forgiveness ( “compassion” v. 8). Forgiveness is not something we earn. Instead, it is the result of God’s mercy or compassion.

Second, notice that while we do not earn forgiveness by what we do, there is Another who does earn that forgiveness for us (“atone” v. 9). Jesus Christ atoned for our sins. He paid for our sins by bearing them on the cross. God is just and sin will be punished either by us or by his beloved Son at the cross.

Third, notice that God receives glory through the mercy and forgiveness of sins given to us through his Son (“for the glory of your name” v. 9). Jesus Christ has helped us, delivered us, and atoned for our sins, and this salvation has brought the Father glory forever.

Finally, notice that there are two destinies for all people depending on how they respond or fail to respond to the salvation Jesus Christ has accomplished through his death and resurrection. First, there is the destiny of those who refuse to call upon the Lord for mercy:
10 Why should the nations say,
"Where is their God?"
Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants
be known among the nations before our eyes!

12Return sevenfold into the lap of our neighbors
the taunts with which they have taunted you, O Lord!
God will judge all people. His enemies are those who do not know him, who do not call upon his name, and who do not befriend his people. The world will pay an awful price for the rejection of the Son the Father sent into the world to take away sin. When we pray, “your kingdom come,” such prayer includes the judgment of all who continue in their sin against God.

But, thankfully, it is possible to move from the Lord’s enemies to the Lord’s people. It is possible to call upon the Lord, and to know Him and his grace. If we will but come to the Father through the Son he graciously provided for our forgiveness and blessing. In Christ we can experience the richness of heaven and blessing upon blessing. The final verse of Psalm 79 expresses the attitude of God’s saved people---people who know their sins deserve God’s righteous wrath, but instead have received God’s eternal favor and forgiveness through Jesus Christ and his cross:
13But we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
will give thanks to you forever;
from generation to generation we will recount your praise.
An attitude of gratitude and praise should permeate the lives of God's saved people. We have been saved from God's righteous wrath and judgment we deserved because of our sins. Those sins included a willful ignorance of God, not asking and seeking his mercy and grace, and, in some cases, a disdain for his saved people. But Jesus bore our sins and has brought us into the knowledge of God, forgiveness of sins, and membership in his people. Such a great salvation deserves a life of thanksgiving and praise from generation to generation and forever.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Lessons about Catechesis from a Historical Psalm --- Psalm 78

Psalm 78

Psalm 78 is known as a historical psalm. Along with Psalms 105, 106, and 136, historical psalms are “history with a lesson.” Mark Futato outlines the psalm as follows:
Introduction 1-8

The first recital 9-39:
God’s people rebelled 9-11
God was merciful 12-16 (Egypt and Zoan, a city in Egypt)
God’s people rebelled against the “Most High” 17-20
God heard and was angry 21-33
God provided forgiveness 34-39

The second recital 40-72:God’s people rebelled 40-42
God was merciful 43-55 (Egypt and Zoan)
God's people rebelled against the “Most High” 56-68
God heard and was angry 59-64
God chose Zion and David 65-72
If God’s people rebelled Psalm 78 is “history with a lesson” what is that lesson or lessons it wants to teach us? Here are a few I saw, and maybe they will be helpful to you:

  1. The need to catechize the next generation. This lesson comes from the first few verses:

    4We will not hide them from their children,
    but tell to the coming generation
    the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
    and the wonders that he has done.

    5He established a testimony in Jacob
    and appointed a law in Israel,
    which he commanded our fathers
    to teach to their children,
    6that the next generation might know them,
    the children yet unborn,
    and arise and tell them to their children,
    7so that they should set their hope in God
    and not forget the works of God,
    but keep his commandments;

    When I use the word catechize I do not mean that we must use catechisms to teach the next generation the glorious doctrines and deeds of the Lord, although catechisms are helpful for that purpose. But somehow we must find a way to teach the next generation about the Lord---who he is and what he has done.

    We live in an era that does not like doctrine. We live at a time in history where we dumb down everything for everyone. I recently heard about a survey given to kids in college exposing the fact that most college students don’t know the basic facts of American government and how it works. But I am afraid we would find a similar ignorance about the Lord and his ways in our churches. How many people sitting in the pews today know and can articulate the meaning of justification, regeneration, calling, adoption, providence, and sovereignty? The sad fact is we don’t know the grammar of our own faith. How can we be light if we are still in doctrinal ignorance and darkness? While it is certainly possible to know all these things and still not live them out, if we don’t even know them we have no chance of living them out!
  2. The need to rightly respond to the character, ways, and works of God. This lesson is also seen in the early verses of Psalm 78:

    7so that they should set their hope in God
    and not forget the works of God,
    but keep his commandments;
    8and that they should not be like their fathers,
    a stubborn and rebellious generation,
    a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
    whose spirit was not faithful to God.

    History is important, because we need to understand the wonderful works of God. So much of the Bible is the history of his great and marvelous deeds. The Gospels, for example, tell us what God has done for us in Jesus Christ through his perfect life, mighty miracles, teaching, death on our behalf, resurrection, and ascension to the Father. But history in the Bible is never just mere history. It is given to move us so that we would “set [our] hope in God” and “keep his commandments” (v. 7). The Lord would not have us repeat the follies of previous generations that were stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful (v. 8).

We could go on and look at more lessons from the history of Psalm 78, but let’s stop and ask how we are doing with these first two lessons?

First, are we rightly responding to the character, ways, and works of God? Are you growing in your trust in and love for Jesus Christ and God your Father? Can you honestly say that you love the Lord? If you cannot say you love Jesus it is a problem for you, for God’s Word says, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! (1 Cor. 16:22).

One of the ways Psalm 78 teaches us to increase our faith in and love for the Lord is to consider God’s goodness, grace, and mighty deeds on our behalf. It’s as we consider Jesus Christ and all the spiritual blessings he earned for us, that our hearts are warmed and moved to trust, love, and obedience.

Second, are you involved in teaching the next generation about the Lord and his ways? There are many ways to do this: in our homes, in the church, through ministries, etc. In our homes, we should often talk about the Lord and Scripture. The Puritans viewed the home as a mini-church, with parents as the pastors of their children. Parents can greatly influence/shape/disciple their children. While we cannot guarantee that our children will love the Lord, we can teach and pray to that end.

In our churches, pastors need to stop spending time on trifles, in order that they might teach their congregations the grammar of our faith. Sometimes I get frustrated with the educational system when my children come home and tell me some of the silly stuff they do in school. Let’s not make that same mistake in our churches when we have even less time. Let’s take the Scriptures and teach them faithfully to the next generation, and then pray that the Lord will bless what is faithfully taught.

There is one final lesson I want to bring up from Psalm 78, because I think it needs to be learned especially in our generation. The lesson is this: The Lord controls nature. Throughout this Psalm we see the Lord’s control of nature or creation:

  • He divided the sea so that the people could cross through it on dry land v. 13
  • He gave them water in the desert v. 16
  • He controls the wind and gave them meat in the desert v. 26-28
  • He gives humans their lives, and he takes them away v. 31, 33
  • He controls rivers, frost, hail, lightning, diseases v. 44, 47-50
  • He controls animals, such as flies, locusts, frogs v. 45-46
  • He controls human events, such as wars v. 53-55

Today, people mistakenly think that because we can explain nature in a scientific way that we are now through with God --- that somehow God is no longer involved in his creation. But a scientific explanation does not change the truth that Jesus Christ preserves and rules over all nature (and human events) by his mighty word. We need to learn this truth taught in Hebrews 1:1-3 in an era that has ruled God out of the very universe he created and sustains!
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . . .

Here is the beginning of my post. And here is the rest of it.

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