Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Three Lists: About God, the Wicked, and the Righteous from Psalm 92

Psalm 92 (English Standard Version)

How Great Are Your Works

A Psalm. A Song for the Sabbath.

1 It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
2to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
3to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
4For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

5How great are your works, O LORD!
Your thoughts are very deep!
6The stupid man cannot know;
the fool cannot understand this:
7that though the wicked sprout like grass
and all evildoers flourish,
they are doomed to destruction forever;

8but you, O LORD, are on high forever.

9For behold, your enemies, O LORD,
for behold, your enemies shall perish;
all evildoers shall be scattered.
10But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox;
you have poured over me fresh oil.
11My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;
my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.

12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13They are planted in the house of the LORD;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
14They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
15 to declare that the LORD is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.


Mark Futato writes about the structure of Psalm 92:

“The structure of the psalm focuses our attention on the exaltation of the Lord (92:8). This central verse is preceded by seven lines containing 52 words, which praise the Lord (92:1-4) and affirm the ephemeral nature of the prosperity of the evildoers (92:5-7). The central verse is then followed by seven lines containing 52 words which affirm the demise of evildoers (92:9-11) and the prosperity of the godly, who praise the Lord (92:12-15).”

Sometimes it is helpful to make some lists when we read Scripture. In this devotional I want to make three lists: a list about God, a list about the wicked, and a list about the righteous. Maybe at the end of the lists I will make a comment or two.

A List of Things Psalm 92 Teaches about the Lord

1.  He is the LORD (v. 1). The LORD is the name of the covenant God who redeems his people from their slavery. He is the great I AM, self-existent, upon whom all things depend.

2.  He is the Most High God (v. 1). He is the transcendent God, who is exalted far above his creation. He is exalted in glory, power, and majesty. He is the great King.

3.  Yet, this Most High God condescends to care for his people (v. 3). His covenant love has been manifested in his work of redemption from Egyptian slavery, and is even more glorious through the exodus Jesus accomplished by his death, resurrection and ascension. The God who has done so much for his people through his Son, will surely watch over our lives in love and faithfulness.

4.  The Lord’s ways are often times beyond our comprehension (v. 5). Although we know Jesus is the ascended Lord and King, yet his rule over a rebellious world from heaven is often baffling to us below. We must trust our King and his deep wisdom. A quilt may have a beautiful pattern when looked at from above, but look quite messy from below!

5.  The Lord alone is exalted (v. 8). I heard a person describe human beings as derivatives. In and of ourselves we are nothing. We derive our value, our meaning, and our significance from the Lord. This is why Proverbs 10:20 says, “The heart of the wicked is of little worth.” Human beings derive their glory from their connection to their Creator and Redeemer. The wicked reject the Redeemer, and thus they devalue themselves!

6.  The Lord is judge of the human race (v. 9). Scattering is always a symbol of judgment in the Bible. The wicked will not fare well on the day when Jesus Christ returns to judge all people.

7.  The Lord will exalt and bless his people (v. 10-15). Notice how God’s Word divides all people into just two groups: the wicked and the righteous.

8.  The Lord is righteous (v. 15). Righteousness in Scripture often means right relationships. The Lord always deals with each human being in a righteous way. It is human beings who are full of unrighteousness, not the Lord. It is we who do not live in righteousness, i.e., right relationships.

A List of Things Psalm 92 Teaches About the Wicked

1.  The wicked view life in a wrong way (5-8). Essentially, their mistake is to not take into account the Lord in their view of life. They value profit or success in this life as the measure of a human life. They totally leave the Lord out of their calculations. To put it in terms of Ecclesiastes, they live their lives “under the sun,” never looking to the God who is their Creator and King for purpose, meaning, security, and blessing. They are blind to the glory of their Creator, and therefore they are also blind to the meaning of life.

2.  The wicked will be judged with eternal death (v. 8-9). The reason for the eternal judgment of the wicked is that they prefer to worship the creature rather than the Creator. They live just for this life, and that is idolatry. They also make a god of their own wisdom, for they usurp God’s role of revealing to us good and evil, true and false, wise and foolish. Rejecting the word of God, they rely instead on their own understanding.

This is a hard point for us to understand, but the reason there is eternal life and eternal death is because we are dealing with an eternal God who is infinitely exalted. Such an infinitely glorious God brings either infinite blessing or infinite curse to creatures made in his glorious image.

3.  The wicked oppose the righteous (v. 11), because they oppose God. The Bible is clear concerning the spiritual warfare between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). This spiritual warfare is as old as the conflict between Cain and Abel. Although Cain won that conflict on earth, from the eternal perspective, Abel won. Today, and forever, Abel is “planted in the house of the Lord,” where he is flourishing (v. 12-13). But Cain is in prison, awaiting his eternal judgment when the Lord returns to judge the living and the dead. Jude 11-13 mention Cain by name, and also his eternal fate:
“Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. 12These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.”

A List of Things Psalm 92 Teaches About the Righteous

1.  The righteous worship the Lord (v. 1-4). They delight to praise and thank the Lord, whom they know.

2.  The righteous speak the word of God (v. 2) (see 1 Peter 4:11). The righteous open their mouths to speak about God. There is no such thing as silent Christians: “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9).

3.  The righteous are joyful (v. 4). How can the work of God in Christ Jesus not make us glad?

4.  The righteous build their lives around their Creator, King, and Redeemer (v. 6-8). Unlike the wicked, the righteous factor the Lord into their worldview. They do not live “under the sun” but look outside of this world to the transcendent God for meaning, purpose, blessing, and eternal life.

5.  The righteous trust the Lord as King, even if they don’t understand his providence in this life (v. 5). The Lord’s wisdom is “very deep,” and much of what he does here on this earth we won’t understand until we see him face to face.

6.  The righteous will see the wicked judged in the future, and we will glorify him on account of his justice (v. 11). I take verse 11 as pointing to the future. Genesis 18:25: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” Indeed, he will.

7.  The righteous will be exalted forever because they have been united to the forever exalted Lord Jesus Christ (v. 8, 12-15). Eternal life is ours because our faith has united us to Jesus Christ, the God-man. He justifies us with his perfect righteousness. He sanctifies us by his promise and Spirit. He will glorify us to be with him forever, and will raise us from the grave to enjoy his resurrection life forever.

One final comment: When we look at life “under the sun” it is hard to see much difference between the righteous and the wicked. It appears that the wicked live just as long as the righteous. It appears that they are just as wealthy, just as happy, and just as successful as the righteous. And yet, the perspective of the Word of God compares the wicked to chaff which the wind drives away (Psalm 1:4), while the righteous are like palm trees (date palms are trees known for their long life) transplanted in the courts of the Lord (v. 12-13). Which perspective is right?

I wonder what Abel’s answer would be if we asked him today? Undoubtedly, he would say that God is always faithful to his Word. The Lord alone is exalted forever, and we must join ourselves to him if we want to enjoy life forever too.

But there is only one way to join yourselves to the Lord, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. Let’s trust Him who united his divine nature to our human nature, and in that human nature, died, rose, and was exalted to the right hand of God the Father forever.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Luther Quote Warning against the Idolatry of a Good Reputation and Money

Luther comments on Zechariah 8:7-8:
Thus says the LORD of hosts: behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country, 8and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness."
"And note here very carefully the two words "in faithfulness and in righteousness."  For God does not like hypocrites nor does He desire to be the God of the wicked.  These indeed would like it if He were a God in riches and honor, that is, if He would make them rich and glorious in the eyes of the world---let piety and righteousness remain where they will.  No, He is not a mammon, or a god of the belly.  He desires to be a God in faithfulness and righteousness.  Temporal goods, however, shall indeed come, as will follow.  "In faithfulness" means that the people are righteous toward God and not hypocritical, and that they serve God in true faith and sincerity; "in righteousness" here means the love and mercy with which they do right toward their neighbor.  On these two commandments depends the whole life of a holy people."  ---Martin Luther from the Treasury of Daily Prayer, p. 1164

Monday, April 26, 2010

Psalm 91:14, a Wedding, and Theological Liberalism

Psalm 91

I want to focus on just verse 14 of Psalm 91. In this verse we hear the Lord himself speak:
14"Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.”
These words are directed, first of all, to God’s Son, Jesus Christ. It is because Jesus held fast to the Father in love, that the Father delivered him from death by his resurrection. It was because Jesus acknowledged the Father’s name, i.e., character, that he was protected during his life until the hour of the cross.

But because of Jesus’ obedience and deliverance, these verses also apply to us. It is because Jesus held fast to the Father in love, that we can call God our Father. It is because Jesus was delivered from death by the resurrection that we don’t have to fear death. In this devotional, I want to look at this key point: Because Jesus held fast to the Father in love and experienced his Father's deliverance by his resurrection, we too can know and love God as our Father.

A few weeks ago I attended a wedding of a distant relative on Bobbi’s (my wife) side of the family. The wedding was held at a Presbyterian Church in the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church of the USA), which is denomination that has slid into Protestant Liberalism. For those who don’t know what that is, essentially, theological liberalism begins when people give up their belief that the Bible is the Word of God, authoritative for what we believe and how we live. Once the Word of God is abandoned false beliefs result:
  • A different God: Without scriptural revelation, the result is a different God. People get rid of those aspects of the biblical God they don’t like. Usually one of the first doctrines to go is God’s jealousy or wrath. Eventually, the slide of liberalism leads to a complete loss of God’s transcendence, so that people look within rather than outside of themselves for spiritual reality and refuge.

  • A different source of authority: Without scriptural revelation the result is the exaltation of personal judgment. Human beings determine for themselves what is true and false or right and wrong. Man exalts himself to become God-like in his own judgments. This is just the opposite of Scriptural wisdom: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).

  • A different view of man: Without scriptural revelation, human beings exalt themselves. Men flatter themselves and no longer see themselves as sinners (Psalm 36:2). Losing the fear of the Lord, they also lose true wisdom. It is not a coincidence that in the increasingly unbelieving culture of the west, self-actualization has become the goal of human wisdom, not the glory of God.

  • A different Christ: Without scriptural revelation Jesus becomes merely a good teacher. Eventually Jesus is no longer seen as the eternal Son of God and the only way to God. Jesus becomes one way to God, but there are many ways, and all of the world’s religions are merely different paths.

  • A different salvation: Without scriptural revelation salvation is radically changed. There is no need for the cross, because sin is denied. Jesus becomes the therapist who gives us good advice, not the Savior who died to reconcile us to God. More and more, in the west, it is not people that need saving, but the planet!
Back to the wedding --- at this wedding a woman minister presided. She did a very nice job with the service. She was quite articulate, and her words and her prayers all sounded orthodox and Christian. One could hardly tell she ministered in a mainline liberal denomination. But one line in one of her prayers gave her away. She prayed to the Father, “who is Father of us all.” In her view every person is a child of the Father.

But throughout the Bible there is a clear demarcation between those who belong to the Lord and those who don’t. We see this division between those who acknowledge his name and those who don’t in verse 14. It is only those who hold fast to the Father in love and acknowledge his name that experience his salvation. It is only those who take refuge in the true God revealed in Scripture that can claim to be his own.

Psalm 91 is preminently a psalm of God's refuge, but God's refuge can be found in no other name than the name of Jesus Christ! As Acts 4:12 says, "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

God has revealed himself in his Son. The Son has made known the Father to us. The Son gave himself on the cross, so that we could know the Father and his forgiveness. Because of Christ’s obedience in his life, but especially in his death, we too can call God our Father.

But this privilege is only for those who acknowledge and love the true God. This true God is the God who sent his beloved Son into the world to die for the sin of the world. The revelation of this true God is given to us in the words of the Old and New Testaments. There is simply no safe way to abandon the Scriptures, or abandon what the Scriptures teach about God’s character or God’s Son. So let’s make sure we don’t follow liberal theology in its rejection of the Word of God, thereby endangering our salvation.

I close with these words from the Heidelberg Catechism on the nature of true faith. Please notice how the Heidelberg wisely links faith in the Scriptures as the Word of God together with faith in Jesus Christ, whose death brings us grace, forgiveness, and justification:
21 Q. What is true faith?

A. True faith is not only a knowledge and conviction
that everything God reveals in his Word is true;
it is also a deep-rooted assurance,
created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel,
that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ,
not only others, but I too,
have had my sins forgiven,
have been made forever right with God,
and have been granted salvation.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Good words about Liberal Theology

Albert Mohler:

“Once you buy into the logic of anti-supernaturalism, there’s no place to stop. . . . If you start to say, ‘It can’t happen; there is no possibility of a god who would act in that way,’ then you can’t stop at one doctrine just because you decide to stop there, or if you do, you need to understand that what you’re doing is merely exercising some arbitrary operation of the will, not some consistent operation of a theological mind. And one of the other problems that you have with this is that you run out of doctrines to deny. This is one of the most delicious predicaments of modern Protestantism. They started here, and they pretty much run through the catalog. Bishop Spong has denied every doctrine there is to deny, and he’s written a book on it, and he’s already been on the Today Show and Good Morning America, and there are no more doctrines to deny. He’s retired now.”

“When you come to understand liberal theology, you don’t know anything about theology, but you know a lot about liberals. Because their theology is an expression of who they are: ‘This is who I am; here’s my doctrine.’”

If you go to a mainline church where Liberalism is rampant, the best thing to do is leave before your own soul is imperiled.

Good words about the Church and Culture

Thabiti Anyabwile:

“We must be ruthless about rooting our pastoral purpose and the mission of the church in the Word of God itself, and the gospel itself. So just to make this plain, is it the purpose of the church to win the culture, or engage the culture, or change the culture? Is that your pastoral purpose when you show up Monday morning at the church office? I would suggest to you that that very language — winning the culture, engaging the culture, changing the culture — as ambiguous as it is, the language itself signifies that mission-drift is already underway. We are gospel men. We are proclaimers of this gospel; we are appliers of this gospel; we are representatives of this gospel; we are stewards of this gospel; and the one thing we must do, and not go away from, is this gospel, its proclamation, its preaching.”

“This attempt to acculturate the gospel, to make it fit into our own cultural confines, as we engage the culture, is an adjustment of the gospel, and less than the gospel. When we say ‘church,’ I would implore us to think, to understand, to see, whenever we hear the word ‘church’ — certainly not the building, certainly not just the Sunday gathering — when we say church, I implore us to see the people, and not just people, but by definition, nations. The church is a multi-ethnic thing. And let me be clear: it is not only inescapably multi-ethnic, biblically, but it’s not multi-cultural. It is multi-ethnic, but it is mono-cultural. And it is not any of our native cultures. It’s this new way of being that God has created through Christ in the gospel. It’s a gospel culture.”

The distinction between multi-ethnic and multi-cultural is vital for the church to remember.  There is only one culture in the kingdom of God, because there is only one Lord and one church.  This culture is shaped by the new creation Jesus brought about by his death and resurrection.

He is Worthy of all our Reverence, Trust, and Love --- Psalm 90, Part 2

Psalm 90

There are two key issues every person needs to sort out in their lives. On these two issues depend the welfare of our souls.

The first issue is this: Will you live by your own understanding or the word of God? This was the key issue at stake in the garden. Would man let God have his rightful place to determine right and wrong, good and evil, or would man usurp that role and determine good and evil, right and wrong, for himself? Our first parents chose to “be like God” and live by their own understanding rather than the will of God (Genesis 3:5). Sadly, this is now the default position for the human race. We all live as Proverbs 3 puts it, as “wise in our own eyes,” rather than in the “fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 3:7). Only repentance and faith produced by the Holy Spirit can change this proud and arrogant mindset of Adam and his race.

The second issue is this: How can sinners be right with God? Having rebelled against his authority by taking God’s place in determining right and wrong---arrogantly deifying ourselves in terms of knowledge and wisdom, is there any way back into God’s favor and blessing? The second part of Psalm 90 deals with this question.

What do we learn about the Lord in the second half of Psalm 90?

We learn that the Lord is worthy of all our reverence, trust, and love. This truth comes especially from verse 11, as we find it stated in the NIV:
11 Who knows the power of your anger?
For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
How much fear is due to the Lord? To put it in slightly different words, What do we owe God?

When we remember the fact that the Lord is our creator, the answer is everything! In fact, this is why the world fights so hard to deny God as creator. Once you acknowledge that the Lord made you, it necessarily follows that you owe him everything.

But the Lord not only created us, he also sustains us. Every breath we take is his doing. He preserves his creation. He is not a god as the Deists imagined, who created the universe like a wind-up clock that runs on its own. No, the Bible teaches us that we are sustained every moment by word of God’s power.

But the Lord is not only the creator and sustainer of our lives and the entire universe, but he is also glorious in his majesty! Astronomers have discovered that the universe is incredibly big.

Recently I read this about the size of the universe:
“Just think about the size of space for a moment. Imagine you could get into the fastest jet on earth (last time I checked, this was the SR-71 Blackbird). Its official speed record is almost 2,500 miles per hour. Now imagine you could speed it up 100 times to 250,000 miles per hour. Then imagine that you could take it on a trip to space. It would take you an hour to get to the moon—that's pretty reasonable! It would take you eight days to get to Mars, the closest planet to Earth. It would take you four months to get to the planet Saturn (remember, we're travelling 100 times faster than the fastest jet ever built). It would take you a year and a half to get to the planet Pluto at the edge of our solar system. To get to the closest star to the sun, Proxima Centauri, it would take you 12,000 years. To get to the centre of our own Milky Way galaxy, it would take you 80 million years. To the next closest galaxy, Andromeda, it would take you seven billion years. To get to the edge of the visible universe, it would take you 40 million million years. And they think that the size of the non-visible universe is vastly huger than this: that would take you a million million million million, etc. years.”
But the Lord is bigger than the universe he made! He transcends both space and time. How gloriously infinite is he! How we owe him our reverence and awe!

But we see God’s glory, not just in the size of the universe, but also in its design. Recently I read this about the complex design of the universe:
"There are over 20 fundamental physical constants in the universe that all work together to make the universe work as it does, and that can't be explained as a coincidence—at least, not yet. If any one of these constants had been a tiny bit different, life couldn't appear. For example, if the force of gravity was even slightly different by a colossally tiny factor (1 part in 10 to the 40th power (10 plus 40 zeroes!)), no life-supporting stars could exist. Or I could talk about the statistical improbability of life itself emerging—the fact that even a small protein has 10 to the 95th possible folding combinations, and the chances of a protein folding by accident into a functional life-conducive shape during the lifetime of the universe is something like 1 in 10 to 65th power."
But this beautifully intricate design points us to the beauty, glory, wisdom, and power of the Lord. If the world he created is glorious, how much more glorious is he? We owe such a God all our reverence and trust.

But the greatest glory of God is seen in his redeeming love. The Lord is worthy of all our reverence, trust, and love because this amazing God who created us in his image, went to great lengths to save proud and rebellious sinners. He himself condescended to become one of us without relinquishing his own divine nature. Then he went in that human nature to the cross, where he endured his own infinite wrath, so that we might have his favor forever. The Son of God humbled himself for proud, self-exalting creatures, so that we might return to the God who created us to live in Him as our eternal dwelling place (Psalm 90:1).

How can sinners be right with a God, whom we have offended by our lack of reverence, trust, and love? Psalm 90 teaches us that the fear we owe him is immense because he is immense in his glory and grace. But we have not given him the fear that is due him, and therefore his wrath is great toward sinners.

Is there any hope? Remember the prayer Jesus taught us to pray. Part of that prayer says, “Forgive us our debts.” The debt we owe the Lord is immense, huge, unpayable by ourselves, but not by God’s Son! God the Father, in his great love for sinners, sent his Son to pay our infinite debt. Jesus paid that infinite debt for us at the cross. If we will but come to the Father through the Son in repentance and faith, we can return to the favor and blessing of God. We can find in the triune God what we were created for, namely, joyful fellowship with the Father and the Son. We can know the life and blessing of the Lord as our dwelling place:
1Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.

14Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

17Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What Psalm 90 Teaches About the Lord --- Part 1

Psalm 90 (English Standard Version)


From Everlasting to Everlasting
A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.

1Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

3You return man to dust
and say, "Return, O children of man!"
4For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.

5You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.

7For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
8You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.

9For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?

12 So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13 Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
14Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
17Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!


A good question to ask when we read the Bible is this one: What does this passage teach us about God? Let’s look at Psalm 90 with this question in mind.

  1. The Lord is the Giver of true life---eternal life (v. 1-2).

    1Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    in all generations.
    2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

    Psalm 89 asked the anguished question about God’s faithfulness to the Davidic covenant. How could the people of Israel go on without their Davidic king? Psalm 90 reminds them of the time before the monarchy. Stripped of their human monarch, they are urged to remember their true monarch, even the Lord. He is the true home for his people.

    The Lord showed himself to be the King over all, by his creation of the world. The analogy of birth is used to describe his creation. Before time and space came into being, the Lord was there. He is the eternal One, who transcends space and time.

    Luther spoke of letting God be God in our lives. The Lord is God of our lives when we receive his revelation given to us in his Word. There are only two ways to live. Either we will live by our own understanding or we will live by every word that comes from the mouth of God. We let the Lord be God in our lives when we accept his instruction---the very thing we are given in Psalm 90 and the rest of the Scriptures.

    Life that is blessed by God---eternal, abundant life---comes only to the humble who let God be God, and receive his revelation to us through his prophets and apostles, which were preserved for us in writing. The man who follows his own heart and his own understanding, will not know the eternal life, to which the opening verse of Psalm 90 points. Only those who receive the Lord’s instruction can know the Lord as their eternal home.
  2. The Lord gives life, but he also takes life away (v. 3-6).

    3You return man to dust
    and say, "Return, O children of man!"
    4For a thousand years in your sight
    are but as yesterday when it is past,
    or as a watch in the night.
    5You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
    like grass that is renewed in the morning:
    6in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
    in the evening it fades and withers.

    The same word that gives life (“Let there be light”), also gives death (“Return, O children of man!”). Death is the penalty for sin. Just as some blessings are common to all people (Mat. 5:45), so death is common to all people because all have sinned in Adam.

    We live our lives at God’s behest. We live as long as the Lord wants us to live. All of our healthy eating will not prolong our lives even a minute past the time the Lord has appointed for our deaths. As Job said, “his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass” (Job 14:5).

    What should our response be to this Lord, who holds the power of life and death? How should we respond to a God who gives us physical life, but also takes it away when he determines? Should it not be to fear him? Should it not be to humbly receive his instruction? Should it not be to let the Lord be God in our lives, and to seek to find in him our eternal home?
Next time, Lord willing, we will conclude our look at Psalm 90 as it teaches us about the Lord.

Friday, April 16, 2010

How to Avoid Assuming the Gospel

How to Avoid Assuming the Gospel

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Suffering Pastors?

Ray Ortlund posted an excellent quote from Luther about the inevitabilty of faithful pastor's suffering for the gospel.  It reminded me of Christopher Green's words to the same effect based on 2 Timothy 1:8-12:
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12 which is why I suffer as I do . . . .”
Commenting on these verses, Green says something that would shock most evangelical and Reformed Christians in America:
“The logic is simple: if we are authentic Christian ministers then there will be suffering. It may not be as extreme as Paul’s suffering, although there are Christian pastors in prison for their faith today, but suffering will come at some stage, for all. Timothy needs to be reminded of this of course, because of the danger of thinking that it is abnormal to suffer. His Christian subculture, much like ours, assumed that truly godly leaders will experience an automatic blessing of growth and success from God, and that leaders who find leadership tough are in the wrong job. Not at all, says Paul, God has placed me in the ministry he has, and that is why I am suffering as I am. But I am not ashamed."
A bit later in his commentary, Green draws this astonishing conclusion on the basis of Paul’s words: “Timothy is to recruit, teach and train people of ability and reliability to a ministry of teaching and therefore of suffering.”

Joyfully Walking in the Light of Christ and His Benefits --- Psalm 89

Psalm 89:15-18

15Blessed are the people who know the festal shout,
who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face,
16who exult in your name all the day
and in your righteousness are exalted.
17For you are the glory of their strength;
by your favor our horn is exalted.
18For our shield belongs to the LORD,
our king to the Holy One of Israel.


Psalm 89 ends the third book of the five books of the Psalter. Just as Moses gave the people the five books of the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) so David gave the people the five books of the Psalms.

The first part of Psalm 89 celebrates and describes the covenant the Lord made with David. But the last section of Psalm 89 expresses anguish about the Davidic covenant, for it appears that the Davidic covenant was over. There was no longer a Davidic king on the throne of Israel. After the exile and return from Babylon, the Davidic king no longer reigned on Israel’s throne. Did this mean that God had not kept his promises?

Here is the promise God made concerning David:
34I will not violate my covenant
or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
35Once for all I have sworn by my holiness;
I will not lie to David.
36His offspring shall endure forever,
his throne as long as the sun before me.
But here is the concern expressed during those centuries between the exile and Jesus Christ’s coming:
49Lord, where is your steadfast love of old,
which by your faithfulness you swore to David?
The ultimate answer to this anguished question comes when Jesus comes. The Lord did not forget his covenant with David. This covenant will last forever, because David’s Son and Lord will reign forever. Zechariah spoke of the Lord’s faithfulness to his promise to David in Luke chapter one:
67And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

68 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
69and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David.
Living now in this time where we can see how God was faithful to his promises and sent his beloved Son to be the Davidic king to rule forever, what should be our response? What should be our response to the Son of David and the eternal Son of God who has come to keep the promises made in the Old Testament (OT)?

Psalm 89:15-18 give us that answer, and will show us how to live in response to the Father’s love and faithfulness given to us in His Son:
15Blessed are the people who know the festal shout,
who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face,
16who exult in your name all the day
and in your righteousness are exalted.
17For you are the glory of their strength;
by your favor our horn is exalted.
18For our shield belongs to the LORD,
our king to the Holy One of Israel.
As Christians who live in this time of Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament promises:

  1. Let us joyfully walk in Christ and his benefits. Jesus fulfilled all the OT feasts. The feasts of Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles, and the Sabbath have all been fulfilled in Christ. We are people who “know the festal shout,” because we see how Jesus has fulfilled the festivals of the OT.

    John’s Gospel has an entire section (chapters 5-8) that shows us how Jesus fulfilled the OT feasts. The result of this fulfillment is the favor of God! We can “walk,” i.e., live our lives “in the light of your face.” In other words, we can live our lives knowing that we have the favor and blessing of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

    Apart from Jesus, the world is in darkness. Sin has estranged us from God. Our guilty conscience bears witness to a God who is displeased because of rebellion. All of the religions of the world grope in ignorance, but cannot find the way to God. If we are to be saved from the darkness of sin and ignorance, we need light, and Jesus is the light of the world.

    Jesus is not merely a teacher who bears witness to the light. Jesus is not merely an enlightened human being who points us to God. No Jesus is the light, even as God is light. Jesus is the transcendent God who entered the world by taking to himself our human nature. Jesus is God in human flesh.

    At the cross Jesus solved our problem with sin. When verse 16 says, “in your righteousness [we] are exalted,” the cross is in view. For at the cross Jesus was made to be a sin offering for us, so that joined to Him by faith, we might receive his perfect righteousness and standing before the Father.

    Jesus has solved our problem with sin, but he also solves our problem with ignorance. When Jesus speaks to us through the Word (the Bible), we hear God himself speaking to us. Jesus is a prophet, but he is more! He is God in human flesh, and when he speaks his authority is unequaled. He alone can speak of heavenly realities because he came from heaven and returned to heaven via his death and resurrection.
  2. Let us rejoice that we belong to Jesus. Verse 18 points to the fact that the Davidic king belonged to God. In a far greater way, Jesus belonged to the Father. From all eternity, the Son had existed in closest union and communion with the Father and the Spirit. But when the Son entered the virgin’s womb, God united himself to humanity in the closest possible way.

    Although the line between the Creator and creature is never to be crossed, God wants the creatures he made in his image to live in the closest possible union and communion with Him. By faith in Jesus Christ, the God-man, we too belong to the Lord, and this is the highest privilege we can have as human beings.

    Do you know that privilege? Do you belong to Jesus Christ by faith? Have you come to Jesus as your Savior, who died for your sins and grants you his righteousness to make you acceptable in the sight of the Father? Have you come to Jesus as your Lord, whose word is your light and your will for living?
I love the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism. It speaks of the incredible blessing of belonging to Jesus Christ and knowing his benefits. May you and I be able to confess its truth from our hearts:
Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A. That I am not my own, but belong---body and soul, in life and in death---to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Luther Quote on the Daily Use of Our Baptism

"Finally, we must also know what Baptism signifies, and why God ordained just this sign and external observance for the Sacrament by which we are first received into the Christian church.  This act or observance consists in being dipped into the water, which covers us completely, and being drawn out again. These two parts, being dipped under the water and emerging from it, indicate the power and effect of Baptism, which is simply the slaying of the old Adam, and the resurrection of the new man, both of which actions must continue our whole life long.  Thus a Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, once begun and ever continued.  For we keep at it incessantly, always purging out whatever pertains to the old Adam, so whatever belongs to the new man may come forth.  What is the old man?  He is what is born in us from Adam, irascible, spiteful, envious, unchaste, greedy, lazy, proud, yes, and unbelieving; he is beset with all vices, and by nature has nothing good in him.  Now, when we enter Christ's kingdom, this corruption must daily decrease so that the longer we live the more gentle, patient, and meek we become, and the more free from greed, hatred, envy, and pride.

This is the true use of Baptism among Christians, signified by baptizing with water. Where this amendment of life does not take place but the old man is given free reign and continually grows stronger, Baptism is not being used, but resisted.  Those who are outside of Christ can only grow worse day by day.  It is as the proverb says very truly, "Evil unchecked becomes worse and worse."  If a year ago a man was proud and greedy, this year he is much more so.  Vice thus grows and increases in him from his youth up.  A young child, who has no particular vice, becomes vicious and unchaste as he grows.  When he reaches full manhood, the real vices become more and more potent day by day.

The old man therefore follows unchecked the inclinations of his nature if he is not restrained and suppressed by the power of Baptism.  On the other hand, when we become Christians, the old man daily decreases until he is finally destroyed. This is what it means to plunge into Baptism, and daily come forth again.  So the external sign has been appointed not only on account of what it confers, but also on account of what it signifies.  Where faith is present with its fruits, there Baptism is not empty symbol, but the effect accompanies it; but where faith is lacking, it remains a mere unfruitful sign.

Here you see that Baptism, both by its power and by its signification, comprehends also the third Sacrament, formerly called Penance, which is really nothing else than Baptism.  What is repentance but an earnest attack upon the old man and an entering upon a new life?  If you live in repentance, therefore, you are walking in Baptism, which not only announces this new life but also produces, begins, and promotes it.  In Baptism we are given the grace, Spirit, and power to suppress the old man so that the new may come forth and grow strong.

Therefore Baptism remains forever.  Even though we fall from it and sin, nevertheless we always have access to it so that we may again subdue the old man.  But we need not again have the water poured over us.  Even if we were immersed in water a hundred times, it would nevertheless be only one Baptism, and the effect and signification of Baptism would continue and remain.  Repentance, therefore, is nothing else than a return and approach to Baptism, to resume and practice what had earlier been begun but abandoned. . . .

Therefore let every one regard his Baptism as the daily garment which he is to wear all the time.  Every day he should be found in faith and amid its fruits, every day he should be suppressing the old man and growing up in the new." 


Luther Quote on Infant Baptism

"On this I build, that it is Word and command.  Just so, I go to the Sacrament of the Altar not on the strength of my own faith, but on the strength of Christ's Word.  I may be strong or weak; I leave that in God's hands.  This I know, however, that he has commanded me to go, eat, and drink, etc. and that he gives me his body and blood; he will not lie or deceive me.
We do the same in infant baptism.  We bring the child with the purpose and hope that he may believe, and we pray God to grant him faith.  But we do not baptize him on that account, but solely on the command of God.  Why?  Because we know that God does not lie.  My neighbor and I---in short, all men---may err and deceive, but God's Word cannot err.

Therefore only presumptuous and stupid persons draw the conclusion that where there is no true faith, there also can be no true baptism.  Likewise I might argue, "If I am not obedient, then father, mother, and magistrates are nothing."  Is it correct to conclude that when anybody does not do what he should, the thing that he misuses has no existence of value?  My friend, rather invert the argument and conclude, Precisely because baptism has been wrongly received, it has existence and value.  The saying goes, "Misuse does not destroy the substance, but confirms its existence."  Gold remains no less gold if a harlot wears it in sin and shame.

Let the conclusion therefore be that baptism always remains valid and retains its integrity, even if only one person were baptized and he, moreover, did not have true faith.  For God's ordinance and Wprd cannot be changed or altered by man.  But these fanatics are so blinded that they do not discern God's Word and commandment.  They regard baptism only as water in the brook or in the pot, and magistrates only as ordinary people.  And because they see neither faith nor obedience, they conclude that these ordinances are in themselves invalid.  Here lurks a sneaky, seditious devil who would like to snatch the crown from rulers and trample it under foot and would, in addition, pervert and nullify all God's work and ordinances.  We must therefore be watchful and well armed and not allow ourselves to be turned aside from the Word, regarding baptism as an empty sign, as the fanatics dream."  --from Luther's Large Catechism

Monday, April 12, 2010

Luther Quote on Our Greatest Comfort and Joy

"Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  We belong to none other than the Lord.  This is our greatest comfort and joy: that we have as our Lord He to whom the Father has given all power in heaven and on earth and has placed all things in His hands.  Who, then, could possibly do us harm?  The devil may very well attack us with his murderous rage, but he will never snatch us from the Lord's hand.  For we who believe in Jesus Christ and live under His guardianship have also become lords ourselves over the devil, sin, death, etc.  In order that such lordship might be ours, He was made man for our sake.  He appealed to the Father on our behalf and so loves us in this way: He was condemned, offering Himself up for our sakes.  With His precious blood He purchased us and washed us clean from sin.  Still more He has placed in our hearts the Holy Spirit, the pledge of our inheritance and blessedness, making us kings and priests for God and joint heirs with Himself.  This is most certainly true, O Lord, strengthen our faith that we would always remember these things and never doubt these promises."  --Treasure of Daily Prayer, p. 1351

Sunday, April 11, 2010

An Excert that Could Change Your Life and Mine

This is an excerpt from John Oswalt's NIV Application Commentary on Isaiah. It is taken from his introduction, dealing with themes in Isaiah. I found it to be an amazing summary of the two basic worldviews possible for human beings. The one worldview is monistic, and therefore idolatrous, because it never goes outside of the circle for its understanding of reality. The other worldview is determined by the God who is outside the circle, and who communicates to those within the circle as the incarnation of Jesus attests, who acted and spoke to us as the God-man. I hope you will find this succinct excerpt helpful, and adopt a worldview that is biblical, and therefore real and true. --Bill

The Uniqueness of Yahweh

I do not believe there is any question that this concept is the most significant for our day. We live in an age where exclusivism of any sort is close to being the unpardonable sin. Tolerance is the rule of the day, except that intolerance of those who insist on the possibility of absolute truth is not only permitted but encouraged. Syncretism is encouraged so that it is understood that all religions are equally valid as expressions of each worshiper's personal preference. What is masked in all of this is that it represents an adoption, whether conscious or unconscious, of a worldview that has profound consequences for human life.

In fact, all of the myriad ways of thinking about reality can be grouped into just two categories: Either ultimate reality is an intrinsic part of the psycho-socio-physical universe, inseparable from it, or ultimate reality is somehow separate from, other than, that universe. All of the religions of the ancient world except one, and all the religions (and philosophies) of the modern world except three,[1] fall into that first category. "God," whatever "god" may be, is the world as we know it; there is nothing else. What are the implications of such a view? They are strikingly similar around the world, because we are explaining ultimate reality by analogy with this world. Some of those implications are these:

  1. There is no ultimate meaning in life. Our existence is an accident. Thus humans are finally without value.
  2. There is no goal in life. We came from nothing, and we go to nothing. The only law is survival for the maximum time possible.
  3. Conflict between destructive forces (evil) and constructive forces (good) is both endless and inevitable.
  4. Ethics are always relative. The only enduring "good" is a maximum of comfort, pleasure, and security.
  5. Self-interest is paramount.
  6. In view of the preceding, the acquisition and use of power is of maximum importance.
  7. Because there is an element of spirit power that is beyond physical manipulation, we must find "spiritual" ways to tap into that power. Since the entire universe is connected, it is possible through use of correct technique to become identified with those spirit powers and have their power at one's disposal.
  8. Human behavior is largely determined by forces outside of human control or understanding. Furthermore, the only reason for recording behavior is self-serving, so careful attention to actual events is insignificant. Therefore, history writing as an attempt to understand human behavior is both fruitless and pointless.

In all the ancient world, there was only one people who systematically and consistently denied all of the above: the Israelites. Sometimes a people might deny one or two for a period of time, but inevitably they fell back into the overall system. But the Israelites did not. They too felt the tug of this way of looking at reality, and again and again they adopted one or another of its implications. Yet they were always called back until, in the postexilitc era, the opposing tenets to every one of these began to become second nature to them. What are these opposing tenets?

  1. We were created in the image of a good and consistent God to be the stewards of his creation under his lordship. Therefore, human life is of ultimate value.
  2. We are called to share the character of God, and yet we can choose not to. Thus it is possible both to progress toward and regress from the ultimate goal of experiencing his life.
  3. The Creator is the Good. There is no conflict in him. Evil is not a cosmic reality but simply the absence of the Good in our lives.
  4. The character of the Creator is the absolute standard of ethics, against which all behavior may be measured.
  5. Surrender of one's self-interest into the care of the Creator is the most personally beneficial thing one can do.
  6. Acquisition of right standing with the Creator is the most important thing one can do.
  7. The attempt to gain spiritual power through the use of technique apart from submissive, obedient relationship is strictly forbidden.
  8. Human behavior can be evaluated according to a consistent standard. Furthermore, it is possible to record that behavior with accuracy and integrity. Therefore, history writing is an important key to understanding human behavior.
Why did the Hebrews alone stubbornly hold to these concepts, which became the foundation of Western culture? It is because they held a different view of reality from all their contemporaries. They alone believed that God is not the world. They alone believed that deity, humanity, and nature are not all parts of one indivisible whole. That view is nowhere better expressed in the Bible than in Isaiah. The technical term for this concept is transcendence. If God is the ultimate reality behind all things, then there is only one such reality. And if there is only one reality who created the world as an expression of his will and purpose, then to give ultimate obedience to anything else is ultimate disaster.

Such a being cannot be manipulated by means of any created thing, to even think of it is laughable. So how do we acquire his power so that we can meet our needs. That is just it: We cannot. We must entrust the satisfaction of our needs into his hands, believing that he really is true and good and that we are precious to him. That has been the sticking point with humans ever since our first mother and father. We are afraid to entrust our fragile selves into our Maker's hands. We believe the lie the first rebel told them and us. God is not for you, he wants to use you to satisfy his own self-interest. Fearing to surrender, we create gods in our image, foolishly believing the lie that somehow we can gain power to use for ourselves and never have to surrender.

If the Western world is to survive, we must recover our spiritual roots in the Bible, and there is no book in the Bible that makes those roots more clear than Isaiah. Somehow we must remind ourselves that the "inclusive" worldview will not help us to become more human but less. To be sure, there is a sinful "exclusivism" that is nothing more than arogance. That is not biblical faith. Nevertheless, the only basis for human worth is in the biblical understanding that all of us share the image of the one Creator. To embrace some wooly headed syncretism is not to come closer to righting the wrongs of the world. It is to lose the very basis for saying there is a right and wrong. In that world the only right is the will of the person who can shout the loudest and hit the hardest. That is not the way of hope.

But suppose, as some think, the battle for the soul of the West is already lost. If so, it becomes doubly imperative for contemporary believers to know the truths of Isaiah. When we are called "bigots" and "close-minded," we must know in our own souls why that is not the case. And when it becomes expensive and inconvenient to maintain this faith, we need to be able to know why we should maintain it anyway. There are no better resources for this than the ones we find in the book of Isaiah.

[1] The three exceptions Oswalt probably has in mind are the major religions that hold to a transcendent God, namely, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Judaism and Islam are idolatrous, however, because they pervert the Old Testament, not receiving Yahweh-incarnate when he came into the world. --Bill

Saturday, April 10, 2010

How Jesus Transforms Psalm 88 and Human Lives

Psalm 88

I was once at a get together with a few local ministers. As we were eating together, one of the ministers brought up Psalm 88 and how he could find absolutely no hope or value in this psalm. Other ministers chimed in about the bleakness of the psalm, and one wondered aloud about its place in the Psalter and the Word of God.

I was taken aback by the whole discussion, but I didn’t know what to say. At the time I didn’t know the Psalms well enough to remember what Psalm 88 was about off the top of my head. So I just sat and listened to the discussion about the hopelessness and lack of value of this particular psalm.

Were these ministers right about Psalm 88? Is it a hopeless psalm? Does it have any value for the people of God?

I think these ministers were wrong about Psalm 88 because they forgot what Jesus said about the Scriptures. Jesus told us that the Scriptures are about him! (e.g., John 5:39-40; Luke 24:25-27). Therefore, if you read Psalm 88 without seeing Jesus in it, then it is a bleak, dark, and hopeless psalm. After all, a psalm that ends by saying that darkness is my closest companion is pretty dark and bleak! But if you read Psalm 88 with Jesus in it, it is a psalm that leads our hearts to gratitude and worship.

Psalm 88 is a psalm that in some Christian churches is appointed to be read on Good Friday. Unlike my fellow ministers that day, these Christian churches see the suffering of Jesus on our behalf in Psalm 88. We don’t call Good Friday bad Friday, because Jesus’ suffering accomplished salvation for us. When we see the suffering of our Savior for us in Psalm 88, not only is Psalm 88 transformed, but we see how our lives may be transformed as well. Here are some ways Psalm 88 leads to our transformation:
  1. Christ’s sadness and suffering leads to our joy. Note the similarity of these two verses:

    3For my soul is full of troubles,
    and my life draws near to Sheol.

    “Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death’” (Mat. 26:38).

    Our Lord’s suffering which brought him to this point of sorrow and death was not in vain. It was intended to bring to us the joy of fellowship with God.
  2. Christ’s death gives us life. The One who is the fountain of life and immortality, died! Jesus took to himself our nature and our mortal body, so that we might have life and immortality forever. When we read, for example, in verse 6, “You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep,” we should remember that Jesus descended into death so that we might be raised to eternal life. Jesus makes this promise based on his death for us: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
  3. Christ’s death was a baptism that gives us peace with God. In verse 7 and also 16-17, Christ’s suffering on the cross is associated with water and God’s wrath. Verse 7, for example, says, “Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves.” Jesus speaks of his death as a baptism: “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished” (Luke 12:50). Baptism is God’s sign and seal of God’s good will and favor to us. Believers are freed from condemnation and judgment, because Jesus bore it for us. How thankful we should be that Jesus endured the deep waters of God’s judgment so that we can enjoy the still waters of peace with God. Baptism is God’s word of peace and reconciliation to you if you belong to his Son by faith.
  4. Christ’s death and resurrection lead to a new life of praise and worship for his people who belong to him by faith. In verses 10-12 we have a series of questions. The basic idea in these questions is that in order to praise and worship God, we must be alive, and ultimately, this means we must be raised from the grave. Here is how George Horne puts the argument:

    “A Christian, upon the bed of sickness, may undoubtedly plead with God . . . for a longer continuance of life, to glorify him here upon earth. But every respite of that kind can only be temporary. All men, sooner or later, must die; and then they can never more experience the mercies, or sing the praises of God, unless they rise again. So that if the argument holds in one case, it certainly holds still stronger in the other.”

    Jesus’ suffering on the cross was not in vain. He died to bring us to God so that we might praise and worship him forever. The resurrection is absolutely essential if we are going to fulfill the purpose of our lives, namely, to worship and glorify the Lord forever. When Psalm 88 asks, “Do the departed rise up to praise you?” we answer, Yes! All who belong to Christ are raised so that we might praise the Lord forever.

    As those who have already experienced a spiritual resurrection before our bodily resurrection at Christ’s coming, let the praise begin today. Jesus died so that we might live a life of praise and worship, and our spiritual worship is to remember his mercies to us and offer ourselves in response to those mercies in every area of our lives (Rom. 12:1).
  5. Christ’s death brings us into the presence of God. In verse 18 we read:

    18You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
    my companions have become darkness.

    The exile of Jesus at the cross is something we cannot completely fathom. He went to the cross alone. No human being could help him. Even the Father had to turn his face away as he bore our sin.

    His exile means our return. His forsakenness means our embrace. In order bring us to our home in heaven, Jesus had to leave his home and descend into and bear the hell our sin created.

    But he accomplished it and told us so, when he said, “It is finished.” What a privilege we now have in living all of our life near to God.

Psalm 88 is bleak without the eyes of faith that perceive Jesus in it. But with Jesus, Psalm 88 is the gospel to us. It is like Good Friday to us, for Jesus’ suffering and death was for the eternal good of his people --- for our joy, our life, our peace, our worship, and the blessed presence of our triune God forever.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The City of Your Birth? --- Psalm 87

Psalm 87

Glorious Things of You Are Spoken

A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. A Song.

1On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
2the LORD loves the gates of Zion
more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.
3 Glorious things of you are spoken,
O city of God.

4Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon;
behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush—
"This one was born there," they say.
5And of Zion it shall be said,
"This one and that one were born in her";
for the Most High himself will establish her.
6The LORD records as he registers the peoples,
"This one was born there."

7 Singers and dancers alike say,
"All my springs are in you."


Jerusalem is called the “city of God” in Psalm 87. And yet, when God visited Jerusalem in the person of Jesus, the city of God rejected their God and King! The “glorious” city brought shame upon herself by rejecting her glorious King. Is it any wonder, then, that in the New Testament, the city of Jerusalem is viewed differently than what we read here in Psalm 87? The apostles now speak of “present Jerusalem . . . in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free.”

The locus of God’s presence has now moved from Jerusalem below to Jerusalem above. This is because this is where the city’s King, Jesus Christ, now resides. Jesus is no longer on the earth, but resides in Jerusalem above.

Because of earthly Jerusalem’s rejection of her king, Jerusalem becomes a picture of the world in its rejection of God and his Son. The writer to Hebrews understood this when he said:
So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (Heb. 13:12-14).
Why does the writer ask us to go to Jesus outside the camp and bear Christ’s reproach? Because by its rejection of Jesus, Jerusalem became a picture of the world in its hostility to the true God and his Son, Jesus Christ. The world hates Jesus, and it hates Jesus’ people. This is not a surprise, for our Lord said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).

I have been reading about the pagan spirituality that is becoming ever more popular in America, and although pagan spirituality comes in many forms it is amazing how it all coalesces in its hatred toward the name of Jesus (Jesus is always the one thing his enemies can unite about as the friendship of Pilate and Herod attest!). The “world” as it often is used in the New Testament, and especially in the apostle John’s writings, refers to an anti-Christ culture that hates the revealed religion of the Father (patriarchy!) and revels in the pride of life, lust of the eyes, and lust of the flesh (1 John 2:16).

And yet, despite the darkness of this world in its failure to welcome and honor Jesus, Psalm 87 shows us there is great hope. The enemies of God can become citizens of the Jerusalem above. Natural born citizens of the world, can be born from above! (John 3:3, 5). You and I can go to Jesus outside the camp to dwell with him by faith in the Jerusalem above, and endure the reproach that the world in its false philosophies and idolatry heaps upon our dear Savior.

This world is passing away (1 John 2:17). This world is doomed for destruction (1 Cor. 11:31-32). Just as Jerusalem brought judgment upon itself by its rejection of Jesus (in 70 A. D., 37 years after the crucifixion, it was devastated by the Romans), so the world is nearing its judgment. Soon the King, Jesus Christ, will return to judge the world that has rejected him (Acts:10:42-43). But some will be spared that judgment, because Jesus will be able to say, "This one and that one were born in her" (Psalm 87:5).

How wonderful it is to know that you have been born from above! How wonderful it is to be daily refreshed and satisfied with the water of life in Christ (Ps. 87:7). How wonderful it is to be freed from the judgment that is coming upon a world that rejects her true king.

But if you and I have been born from above, and if we are looking for the everlasting city, then we must learn to live right now as citizens of Christ’s city, the Jerusalem above. We must learn the ways of Jesus, and follow Jesus as the way (John 14:6). We must live by his Word. And maybe, most importantly, in a culture that is becoming ever more pagan, we must be willing to suffer reproach unashamedly for the One who suffered and died to bring us to his heavenly home, the glorious city of God.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Meditation on Psalm 86 During Easter Weekend

Psalm 86

Mark Futato and others point to the chiastic structure of this psalm. A chiasm is a literary technique that emphasizes the center element. Here is how Futato outlines this chiastic structure:
A Save your servant 1-4
B God is full of unfailing love 5-6
C Trouble strikes 7
D They will glorify God’s name 8-10
E Teach me to honor your name 11
D’ I will glorify your name 12-13
C’ People rise up against me 14
B’ God is full of unfailing love 15
A’ Save your servant 16-17
 I. Just from this chiastic structure we learn a valuable lesson. When we go through troubles of various kinds, we should look to our Lord for help. But in the midst of our troubles, our heart should desire above all else to glorify the name of God. This why we were created, and this should be our chief concern in the midst of trouble.

There is too much in Psalm 86 to comment on everything, so I will just share a few things that struck me as I read the psalm.
1 Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
2Preserve my life, for I am godly;
save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.
3 Be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all the day.
4Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me;
give your strength to your servant,
and save the son of your maidservant.
17 Show me a sign of your favor,
that those who hate me may see and be put to shame
because you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.
II. We can learn about our self-identity as we see how David viewed himself, and David, of course, reflects the perfect man, Jesus Christ.

Do we see ourselves as poor and needy? David was a king, and yet this is how he viewed himself. Jesus Christ was the eternal Son of God, and yet in his human nature, this is how he viewed himself!

Human beings have been great dignity because we bear the image of God. But we bear this image as dependent creatures who are to depend on the Lord at all times for wisdom and strength and life.

Notice also that David viewed himself as “godly”. David’s entire life was lived in fellowship and with reference to his God.

Godliness annoys the crap out of those who are ungodly! The ungodly want nothing to do with God, especially the true God who is revealed in the pages of the Old and New Testaments. Certainly, there is a place for wisdom and discretion in how we live before other people. But sometimes, by our silence, we end up as ungodly as the people around us who want no mention of God or his Son, Jesus Christ.

David also sees himself as God’s servant. Servants are people who put their master’s needs and desires ahead of their own. At least four times in these verses, David sees himself as God’s servant. Is that how we see ourselves?
5For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
6 Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer;
listen to my plea for grace.

15But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
III. The only reason we can have a relationship with God is because of his grace to us. Grace is the unmerited favor of God to sinners who deserve just the opposite. If God dealt with us based on our actions, words, thoughts, and desires, all of us would be toast. How thankful we should be that our heavenly Father found a way to forgive us! Jesus died in our place and bore our sins. This is the only reason we can now enjoy God’s unfailing love.

As you consider what Jesus saved you from during this Easter season, give him thanks. We are saved from eternal death and misery because Jesus endured the penalty of our sins on the cross. We have a God who became one of us, and even more, was willing to be the sin bearer for his own creatures’ sin!
7In the day of my trouble I call upon you,
for you answer me.

14O God, insolent men have risen up against me;
a band of ruthless men seeks my life,
and they do not set you before them.
IV. Our troubles and trials as believers can be of various kinds. But one of our great difficulties in this life is that we live in a world filled with people who ignore, deny, and hate the triune God. As Christians, to use my own inglorious phrase, we annoy the crap out of others. This world is hostile to true Christianity and true biblical religion.

We need to come to grip with the truth that there is a spiritual war going on in this world, with only two sides. The seed of serpent and the seed of the woman continue their ancient conflict and this conflict is seen on the earth. There can be no doubt as to which side will win. Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension are proof of victory. But Christ’s death is also proof of the world’s hostility toward Jesus and his people. Suffering in this world and being hated by the world is one of the things his people must bear, even as Jesus himself bore.
8There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
9 All the nations you have made shall come
and worship before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
10For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.

12I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your steadfast love toward me;
you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
V. One of the things we learn from verse 8 as we compare it to verse 10 is that idols are both something and nothing! Idols in verse 8 have a certain kind of power, because of the hold they have on the human heart. But in verse 10 we learn that there is only one true God, who has all power, and all the idols are nothing, but merely the inventions of weak human beings.

Idols will always fail their makers eventually. Their power will give out. Their cruelty will be manifested. But the triune God never fails his worshipers. He protects and watches over his people. The path of the wicked gets darker and darker, while the path of the righteous gets brighter and brighter until we reach the brightness of life with the Father and Sun in heaven.

Notice also how wonderful it is that all the nations will glorify the name of the Lord. This is what is happening even now as the gospel reaches people from every nation.

Finally, notice David’s resolve in verse 12: “I will glorify your name forever.” Is that the goal of your life? Is that the goal of my life? There is a holy resolve we should have as believers. I want my life to count, and it will count only as I live it to glorify God’s name. Today, my goal is to glorify his name. Tomorrow, my goal is to glorify your name, O Lord. All of my days, and forever, Lord, I will glorify your name.
11 Teach me your way, O LORD,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.
VI. These two lines are insolubly connected: “teach me your way . . . that I may walk in your truth.” If you want to know the truth, then you must be willing to walk in the truth. The Lord will not let us trifle with his truth. If we are unwilling to walk in his truth, then the Lord will not reveal his truth to us!

In 2 Thessalonians 2, people who are unwilling to walk in God’s truth are described. Since they are unwilling to receive and walk in the truth, God gives them over to lies:
“because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness."
Every time we read or hear the Word of God, we are involved in serious business. To have a self-satisfied heart that is unwilling to receive God’s Word and change in response to that Word is terribly dangerous. As you read Psalm 86 and these devotions, please keep that in mind, and adopt the prayer of David as your own: “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth.” For the goal of our lives is not our own pleasure or satisfaction, but that his name would be glorified through us.

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