Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mark 3:1-6, Part 1

Mark 3:1-6




1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3And he said to the man with the withered hand, "Come here." 4And he said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. 5And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.



--------------------------


There are three unusual and dramatic incidents in this passage that teach us much. I will deal with the first unual happening in this first devotional.



The first unusual thing to notice is that religious people want to destroy God incarnate! The Son of God is in their midst. He has just performed a gracious miracle of healing, and they want to kill him! What kind of religion is this that leads its devotees to hate the God revealed in Jesus Christ?



There is much to learn here from this observation:



First, learn the vital importance of loving Jesus. The New Testament teaches us, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed” (1 Cor. 16:22). The Pharisees were the priests and ministers of their day. They were very religious, and that is not a bad thing at all. But it is a bad thing when the substance of religion is taken away, namely, love for Jesus.



Learn the lesson that church attendance, baptism, religious ceremonies, daily devotions, giving to the poor --- all such things are worthless if you don’t love Jesus, who is the exact image of the Father!



Second, learn the difference between the law and the gospel. The Pharisees were the champions of the law. The Pharisees were all about earning their salvation through good works. The Pharisees were out to prove how holy and righteous they were. But when God showed up, it turns out that they hated Him!



The law of God never will work love for God into your heart. The law condemns sinners. The law shows us our sin. The law forces us to run and hide from a God who is too holy for us.



Only the gospel can work a love for the triune God into our hearts. It’s as we see what the triune God has done for us in the gospel that our self-loving hearts are melted into a love for Jesus.



Whereas the law reveals our sin, the gospel reveals a righteousness that is imputed to us by faith. Whereas the law shows us the ugly wounds of our sinful nature, the gospel is a medicine given to us for our comfort. Whereas the law uncovers our sinful nakedness, the gospel covers us with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Whereas the law actually causes us to hate God as we try to work our way to God, the gospel reveals the love of God that gives us a gracious Father, not a condemning judge. Thus, the gospel and the Spirit cause our hearts to love the Father and the Son for what they have done for us.



Third, learn the lesson that religion is worthless if it doesn’t lead us to love Jesus. The Pharisees were in church a lot, but they actually hated God! Their religion did not lead them to love Jesus, and therefore, they were accursed and headed for hell (1 Cor. 16:22). Unless they had a change of heart, hell is where they are today. Their religion led them to hate God and crucify His beloved Son.



But learn the lesson that every religion that does not love Jesus is equally accursed. For example, the Muslims have reduced Jesus to a prophet less than Mohammed and they deny His words. Instead of loving Jesus, they hate Him. Pantheistic religions love the earth more than they love Jesus. By loving the creation more than their Creator, they dishonor Jesus. Instead of loving Jesus, they hate Him. Protestant liberalism loves cultural power and left wing political ideology more than they love Jesus. Jesus' words are cast aside so that they can follow cultural trends. Instead of loving Jesus, they hate Him. We could go on and on.



But the way to avoid false religions is to cling to the true gospel. The way to learn the true gospel is to look to the Apostles’ teaching in the New Testament and summarized in the Reformation catechisms and confessions.



Fourth, learn to hate the Pharisee in you. The truth is that the old sinful nature---the same sinful nature that motivated the Pharisee, is in each of us, even if we are regenerate Christians. Romans 8:7 describes this old nature this way: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”



We have within us a sinful nature that would just as much love to put God to death as those Pharisees who consulted with the Herodians as to how they could destroy Jesus. This is terribly humbling. We live with an enemy within us! It should cause us to mourn over our sin, and the fact that we are part of a race that hates the God revealed in Jesus, rather than loves Him. Every time we see evil in ourselves or others it should cause us to groan and humble ourselves before the Lord and seek His mercy in the gospel. It should cause us to seek the antidote for this poison in our souls, namely, the gospel and Spirit, who mediates the life of Jesus to our souls.



Next time, we will look at the two other unusual and dramatic happenings in this passage. Hope everyone has a great Summer. --Bill









Saturday, May 22, 2010

Luther Quote on the Use of Our Baptism


"Just as the truth of this divine promise [baptism], once pronounced over us, continues until death, so our faith in it ought never to cease, but to be nourished and strengthened until death by the continual remembrance of this promise made to us in baptism.  Therefore, when we rise from our sins or repent, we are merely returning to the power and the faith of baptism from which we fell, and finding our way back to the promise then made to us, which we deserted when we sinned.  For the truth of the promise once made remains steadfast, always ready to receive us back with open arms when we return. . . .

"It will therefore be no small gain to a penitent to remember above all his baptism, and, confidently calling to mind the divine promise which he has forsaken, acknowledge that promise before his Lord, rejoicing that he is still within the fortress of salvation because he has been baptized, and abhorring his wicked ingratitude in falling away from its faith and truth.  His heart will find wonderful comfort and will be encouraged to hope for mercy when he considers that the promise which God made to him, which cannot possibly lie, is still unbroken and unchanged, and indeed, cannot be changed by sins, as Paul says (2 Tim. 2:13): 'If we are faithless, he remains faithful---for he cannot deny himself.'  This truth of God, I say, will sustain him, so that if all else should fail, this truth, if he believes in it, will not fail him.  In it the penitent has a shield against all assaults of the scornful enemy, an answer to the sins that disturb his conscience, an antidote for the dread of death and judgment, and a comfort in every temptation---namely, this one truth---when he says: 'God is faithful in his promises [Heb. 10:23; 11:1], and I received his sign in baptism.  If God is for me, who is against me?" [Rom. 8:1].  --Martin Luther from Treasury of Daily Prayer, 1166-1167.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Joy While Living Under Evil Authorities and Facing God's Judgment? --- Psalm 97

A Devotional by Bill Weber

Psalm 97 (English Standard Version)

The LORD Reigns

1 The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!

2 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
3 Fire goes before him
and burns up his adversaries all around.
4His lightnings light up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
5The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the Lord of all the earth.

6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory.

7All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast in worthless idols;
worship him, all you gods!
8Zion hears and is glad,
and the daughters of Judah rejoice,
because of your judgments, O LORD.
9For you, O LORD, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods.

10O you who love the LORD, hate evil!
He preserves the lives of his saints;
he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
11 Light is sown for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart.
12 Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!

Comment:

1 The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!

The prominent note in this psalm is joy. Why should we rejoice? Because the Lord reigns. He reigns over heaven and he reigns over earth. Jesus rose and ascended and he now reigns over the earth and all the nations. Verse one calls on all people to recognize that fact and be glad.

But if it is true that Jesus reigns, isn’t it odd that the Lord’s reign is ignored by the powers that be? When have you ever seen a newscaster recognize Jesus as Lord? When was the last time the president acknowledged that the Lord is ruler over all nations? A media person would probably lose his job for suggesting such a thing, and a president would be castigated in the harshest terms.

The fact that the rulers of this world fail to recognize the true King over all the earth is not surprising. Paul writes, “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:7-8). But the failure of our government and media to recognize the reign of the Lord does point to the reality of life on this side of the age to come, which will be developed later in this psalm.




2 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
3 Fire goes before him
and burns up his adversaries all around.
4His lightnings light up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
5The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the Lord of all the earth.
6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory.


Storm imagery is applied to the Lord in order to describe his role in judging the world. Kings in the ancient near east also were to be mighty warriors and judges. In Scripture, kingship is always associated with the roles of judge and warrior.

The Lord, who is the King above all kings is preeminently the judge and warrior. Jesus claimed that the role of judging all the earth had been given to him by his Father. This judgment will be like a devastating storm to “his adversaries” in verse 3. The Lord’s throne is established on “righteousness and justice” so those who stray from the righteousness and justice we find in the Word of the King will be in trouble at the last day. Jesus put it like this in his sermon on the mount:
"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it."
Verse 6 seems to point to the fact that “the very heavens testify to his righteousness, for his (the Lord’s) character is the very basis of all that is.” Right and wrong, good and evil in this world is based on the character of God. The very universe itself, including our own conscience, points to the existence of good and evil, which the Ruler of the world determines, not us.

Recently I was involved in a little back and forth with a guy on facebook. For his facebook icon he had a picture of Che Guevara, the cold blooded killer and communist, whose picture seems to have become a fashion statement. I pointed out to him that Che was an evil man, which apparently ticked this fellow off! I went to his facebook page and it is pretty clear that he himself is a communist. Anyway, this was his response to me about Che:
“Define evil. You can't. Che didn't believe in God, therefore he was not constrained by god. The ends justify the means . . . .”
Needless to say, Christianity is in flat out disagreement with any system that says evil cannot be defined. Evil is quite easy to define. As Mark Futato says, “Evil is that which is contrary to the right order established by the Lord. Evil is that which is out of accord with his ways.”

The sad thing for those who hold to absurd notions such as evil can’t be defined, is that they will face a Judge who doesn’t believe in such nonsense! He has created a universe that testifies to his righteousness, and even more, he has given man very explicit guidance about what constitutes righteousness in His Word. This is why it is such a great mistake to take the Ten Commandments out of schools and courtrooms. By so doing, we fight against the great King to whom all nations and people will be judged.




7All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast in worthless idols;
worship him, all you gods!
8Zion hears and is glad,
and the daughters of Judah rejoice,
because of your judgments, O LORD.
9For you, O LORD, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods.


If verses 1-6 have told us about the judgment to come, verses 7-9 tell us about the two reactions there will be on that day. Verse 7 tells us about the shame there will be for those who have rejected the Lordship of Jesus Christ on the day. Verses 8 and 9 tell us about the joy that the people of God will experience on that day. “Judah and Jerusalem, here are used as figures of those who ‘love the Lord’ (97:10), who are ‘godly’ (97:11-12),” Futato rightly says.

Why will the righteous rejoice at the last judgment? There will be joy that the Lord has put all things back in their right order. Human sin and rebellion will be over. Idolatry and the denial of Christ’s rule will be ended. No longer will the godly have to live in a world that refuses to acknowledge the fact that the Lord reigns. No longer will we have to live in a world where Che is lauded and people wickedly suppress the knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong.




10O you who love the LORD, hate evil!
He preserves the lives of his saints;
he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
11 Light is sown for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart.
12 Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!


Believing the gospel of Jesus Christ has implications for our lives. Too many professing Christians try to live without facing up to these implications. Three implications of our reception of Jesus Christ as King are given in verses 10-12. They come in the form of three commands:


  1. We are to hate evil in all of its forms (v. 10). Mark Futato rightly says, “Evil is to be rejected, even when it seems that those who have chosen the evil path have the upper hand in life. Hating evil may bring some fear along with it, for those who reject evil may at times face the prospect of abuse in one form or another at the hands of those with more power. But faith that the Lord ‘protects the lives of his godly people and rescues them from the power of the wicked’ drives away fear. ‘When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. . . . I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me? (Psalm 56:3-4).
  2. We are to rejoice in the Lord (v. 12). Again, I quote Futato: “As Christians, we can choose to be happy because we can look back and know that God has appeared in the Lord Jesus Christ to put everything in right order. And even though we do not yet see everything in right order (Heb. 2:8) we know that the Lord Jesus reigns now and will reign until the very last foe, death itself, is subdued underneath his feet (1 Cor. 15:25-26). This will happen when he appears again at the end of history as we now know it. Since the Lord reigns now, we can be happy now, even as we await the fullness of his reign and our happiness in the future.”
  3. We are to give thanks to the Lord for his holiness (v. 12). How can sinful creatures give thanks to the Lord for his holiness which condemns them? Here is where Luther’s (re)discovery of justification by faith alone is such a blessing! Luther came to see that the righteousness or holiness of God is both a demand and a gift. God’s holy character demands that we also be holy. Thus, the holy law of God (which the heavens proclaim, but law makes even more clear) condemns us.

    But, thankfully, that is not the whole story. In the gospel God graciously gives those who receive his Son the very righteousness of Jesus Christ. This righteousness is imputed to all who believe in Jesus and are united to him. This gift of righteousness in the gospel answers the demand of righteousness in the law. Thus, God’s mercy triumphs over his judgment.

    The last judgment will be terrifying and terrible for those who do not belong to the triune God. But for those of us who make our home above with the Father and the Son, the final judgment will be a day of great joy. For as the Heidelberg Catechism puts it so well, “I . . . confidently await as judge the very One who has already stood trial in my place before God and so has removed the whole curse from me.”




Monday, May 17, 2010

A Short Catechism on Worship from Psalm 96

Psalm 96 (English Standard Version)

Worship in the Splendor of Holiness

1 Oh sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth!
2Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
3Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!
4For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
5For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.
6Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

7Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength!
8Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts!
9Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth!
10Say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity."

11Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13before the LORD, for he comes,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.

-------------------------------------------------------


I have been thinking lately about catechesis, or to put it more plainly, How should the church go about instructing its members in the basics of the faith? And, What is the content of the faith we should teach?

Over the centuries, there have been three areas that the church has focused on in catechesis or instruction, namely, doctrine, communion with God, and ethics. These three areas coalesce in Jesus who is the truth (doctrine), the life (Jesus brings us into communion with God), and the way (Jesus brings us into a new way of life---ethics).

Catechisms, which are summaries of the faith or content we need to know, have focused on three main parts: the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. These three also focus on doctrine (Apostles Creed), life (Lord’s Prayer), and ethics (Ten Commandments).

The fourth component of catechisms has generally been a section that teaches about the sacraments. What maybe we have missed, however, in these four parts of the catechism, is a section on worship or liturgy (order of service). Especially, when you consider the fact that by instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus also instituted the Christian liturgy and our worship together, maybe it would be wise for churches to begin instructing their members about the basics of worship---a kind of worship catechism.

As I read Psalm 96, I noticed some worship principles in this psalm. In this devotional, I would like to try to give a simple catechism of worship based on truths we see in Psalm 96. This is not an attempt at a thorough catechism of worship, but just a few truths about worship we might gather from Psalm 96:


■Q. 1 Who determines the content of worship?

A. The Lord, “For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods” (v. 4).



■Q. 2 But aren’t we free to choose how we would like to worship Him?

A. No. “The Lord reigns” (v. 10) over every area of life, including his own worship.



■Q. 3 How should the liturgy or worship service begin?

A. With a call to worship from the Lord himself. “Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!” (v. 1). “Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength!” (v. 7).



■Q. 4 So we cannot initiate worship?

A. The Lord is always the initiator in our relationship. He calls us by his gospel and he also calls us to worship Him.



■Q. 5 Why is “all the earth” or every person called and commanded to worship the Lord?

A. Because “all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens” (v. 5). Since the Lord made each person, we owe Him our very life and our worship.



■Q. 6 But not all people are saved from their sins, so how can they worship a holy God in their uncleanness?

A. The psalm invites the people to enter into the Lord’s salvation. To sing a “new song” meant to sing of a new deliverance by the Lord.



■Q. 7 What new deliverance did Psalm 96 look forward to?

A. The deliverance of Jesus Christ both in his first coming to save us (v. 1ff.) and his second coming to set all things right (v. 10-13). Jesus now reigns after his victory over sin and death, and he graciously invites and commands all the earth to unite themselves to Him. He saved us from our sins by his death on the cross, and was raised from the dead to show that the Father was pleased with his Son and his atoning work, and all who come to His Son in faith.



■Q. 8 After the call to worship, what should we do in our worship?

A. We should celebrate the Lord’s greatness and goodness in song.

“Oh sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth!
2Sing to the LORD, bless his name” (v. 1-2)

Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength!
8Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name (v. 7-8)



■Q. 9 Can we come into the Lord’s presence by our own merits or good works?

A. No, for we are sinful. God’s greatness and holiness show us our sin. Therefore, early in the service we confess our sins, and hear the Father’s words of pardon based on His Son’s marvelous work on our behalf. This is why the call to worship in verses 1-2 are followed by references to the Lord’s gracious salvation:


“tell of his salvation from day to day.
3Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (v. 2-3)


We see the same pattern after the call to worship in verses 7-8:


bring an offering, and come into his courts!
9Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth! (v. 8-9)


The Old Testament offerings pointed to Christ. Cleansed by his blood and robed in His holiness, we may worship the Lord in reverence, thanks, and joy for his gracious salvation.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gospel Truth and Pagan Lies in Psalm 95, Part 2


It is important to know the difference between pagan spirituality and Christian spirituality. The two differ in terms of the truth (what we belief), the life (where true life is found), and the way (how we should live). The five basic truths are these: pagan spirituality blurs the distinction between the creator and creature, a line biblical Christianity never crosses, even in our knowledge; pagan spirituality denies that there are two kinds of people on earth, namely, those who belong to the Lord by faith and those who do not, but these two groups are taught from Genesis 3 onward through Revelation; pagan spirituality says there are many ways to God, but the Christian gospel insists Jesus alone is the way; pagan spirituality deals with sin and guilt by denying its reality, but sin, guilt and God's anger cannot be dealt with by denial, but only through the deaht and resurrection of Christ; pagan spirituality looks within for answers, but Christianity looks outside of ourselves to the Lord our Creator, Redeemer, and Lover/Provider of our souls.

The last three of Jones' catechetical truths are presented below:


3.  Pagan Lie: “All Religions Are One. No religion knows the only path to God. All roads lead to the top of the mountain, from which we see the same moon. Religions should emphasize their similarities, not their differences, since they share the same mystical experience.”

Gospel Truth: “One Truth. Jesus says we can only approach the Father through him. Christians do not revere Christ as one great prophet among others. He is God in human form, come to rescue us from our sin. To spiritualize him as a christ, present in a variety of religions is to refuse him.”

Old Testament religion was exclusive. The Lord was not one among many gods, but He was the sole Creator, Ruler, and Redeemer of his creation. Psalm 95 points to the Lord as Creator, ruler over all things, and the redeemer of Israel who creates a people for himself.

Some people enter his rest (v. 11) and some do not. Jesus, who is Israel’s Lord incarnate, gives rest to his people. He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mat. 11:28-29). But those who refuse to come to Him as Savior from sin, teacher of truth, and Lord of their lives, cannot enter his rest.



4.  Pagan Lie: “One Problem: Amnesia. Since God is in all of us, is all of us, we should not worry about sin and guilt. If we wake up to the wonderful reality that we are God, we will eliminate the distinctions of sex, role and doctrine that divide us.”

Gospel Truth: “One Problem: Death through Sin. Sin has ruined our peace with God. We dare not approach him because he is so pure that we would be destroyed. Yet sin also destroys us. Without God’s solution, the problem of sin is insurmountable.”

The problem of sin is evident in Psalm 95. Specifically, it is the sin of unbelief which leads to rejecting the Lord’s ways, which keeps people from entering into peace with God. But if we will hear the call of Christ in the gospel, and respond to him as our Lord and Savior, then we can enter into his grace and peace.

Pagan spirituality has no answer to our guilty conscience before God, therefore, the only solution is to deny sin and guilt. Pantheism gets rid of pesky things like morality, but it must sear the conscience to do so.



5.  Pagan Lie: “One Answer: Look Within. If you want to be happy, you need to love yourself, and stop feeling guilty. The more you believe in yourself and your own power---the more you assert that power for your own happiness, the sooner you will have a sense of freedom from constraint. You will enjoy a truly peaceful and fulfilled experience of God.”

Gospel Truth: “One Solution: Look to Him.” God comes to save us. We do not have to find salvation in the dark recesses of our hearts. We can admit the reality of our sin, repent, and receive God’s just forgiveness. Jesus became sin for us and took its guilt and punishment. He then proved his power over sin in his resurrection. He will transform us and receive us as his children to live with him forever.”

In Psalm 95 it is the Lord who is the rock of salvation and the One who gives his people rest. At just the right time Jesus came as the Lord from heaven and descendent of David. He is the rock of our salvation and the One who gives us true rest.

We are not saved by anything we do. Our role is to rest from our own works, and rest in the salvation Jesus accomplished for us. We look, not within to ourselves, but outside of ourselves to the transcendent God who came near to us in Jesus, so that we might be saved from our sin --- our consciences cleansed by his blood which was shed for the forgiveness of sins.

The peace and rest Jesus gives is not an imaginary peace that comes from pretending to be God. It is a real peace that the true God accomplished for us. By faith we rest in his salvation he won for us through his death and resurrection as the God-man.

The Layman Online

The Layman Online

The danger of wolves in sheep's clothing!

Gospel Truth and Pagan Lies from Psalm 95, Part 1


Psalm 95 (English Standard Version)

Let Us Sing Songs of Praise

1Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
4In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.

6Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
7For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, "They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways."
11Therefore I swore in my wrath,
"They shall not enter my rest."

---------------------------------------------------------


Increasingly, Christians in America are surrounded by neighbors who are “spiritual,” but their spirituality is far from Christian. Just as Israel was surrounded by neighbors who were deeply “spiritual” and idolatrous, so Christians today are surrounded by neighbors who are “spiritual,” but idolatrous. Some of these neighbors may still retain membership in the Christian church, but their true beliefs have more to do with paganism than Christianity.

In such a situation we need to be catechized in order to see the difference between Christian and pagan beliefs. Dr. Peter Jones is a former Westminster Seminary professor who is trying to do just that. In this particular devotion I would like to take Dr. Jones’ summary of the two spiritualities, Christian and pagan, and see how they are seen in Psalm 95. Jones comes up with five basic differences between the two spiritualities that he entitles “pagan lies” and “gospel truth.”


1.  Pagan Lie: “All is One and One Is All. God is the Spirit of everything. Man, animals, rocks and trees are all god. There is no major distinction between God and Man.”

Gospel Truth: “One God, the Creator. Everything that is not God was created by him: the earth, animals and man, who alone is in his image. God is distinct from his creation.”

We see the distinction between the Creator and the creature throughout Psalm 95. For example, in verses 3-5, we see the “great King” creating his world:“
3For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
4In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
God is not his creation, but rather, he is distinct from it. He created the sea and the land. Because he created the earth, he also rules over it as King, thus both the depths and heights of the earth belong to him.

What are we to make of the phrase that the Lord is “a great King above all gods?” Does the Bible believe in the existence of “gods” beyond the one, true God?

The answer is both no and yes. On the one hand, the Bible recognizes that there is only one God and that all idols are nothing---that they have no existence. But on the other hand, the Bible recognizes that idols, even though they have no real existence, hold great power over their worshipers. For example, the man who worship the idol of alcohol will find that his idol enslaves him in various ways. Or, the man who worships money, will find that his decisions in life are powerfully influenced by his god of money. Therefore, idols are both nothing and something.

The reality is that people either worship the transcendent God, who exists outside of his own creation, or they worship something within God’s creation. Although all people are not pantheists, all people who do not worship the transcendent God, must worship a god/idol within the creation. This god/idol holds power over them and they must make sacrifices to it. Since the basic choice is between the worship of the Creator or something created, it is natural that idolatry leads to pantheism, the idea that the everything in the world is God.



2.  Pagan Lie: “Humanity Is One. If all people are equal, no group has unique access to the truth. All humans are divine and must live together, accepting a common standard of morality and trying to become as like one another as possible, rather than emphasizing distinctions that can cause friction.”

Gospel Truth: “One in Christ Alone. The only true unity is created by common faith in Jesus Christ. God defines two categories of people: his children and those who are in rebellion against him. True Christian love knows no racial or economic barriers.”

The first temptation was a temptation to “become like God.” By determining good and evil for himself, human beings usurped God’s prerogative as our King to tell us what is wise and best. This attempt to become like God comes naturally to sinners, because we have already taken God’s role in terms of knowledge. When pantheists claim that everything is god or when people claim that all people have sparks of divinity within themselves, they are simply following the trajectory of the fallen human heart’s desire to become like God.

We see the human attempt to become like God in Psalm 95:7-8:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness . . . .”
Human beings were created to live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (see Mat. 4:4), but instead they reject that word in a pride that vaunts themselves rather than the living God.

But there is a way to return to the Lord and become one of his blessed people once again. In verse one we read that the Lord is “the rock of our salvation.” That salvation was won by the Lord himself, who was struck for our salvation at the cross. Jesus, our rock, was struck at the cross so that we might drink the water of eternal life. Just as Moses struck the rock in the wilderness and water flowed for all the people to drink, so Jesus was struck by God’s righteous judgment, so that we might enjoy the Father’s favor forever.

The Father in his grace has made a way for us to return to him through his Son, but we must respond to his gospel word in trust, love, and submission. Psalm 95:6-7 urges such submission to our Creator, Redeemer, and caring Shepherd:
6Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
7For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
The great King will ultimately foil all efforts at unity built around the idols of this world. But there is a unity possible, first with God, and then with others, through gospel of his Son, who died for our sins, and rose so that we might live in perfect unity with the triune God, and with all those He has redeemed for himself.


In part 2, we will look at the three remaining pagan lies and gospel truths illustrated from Psalm 95.






Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Few Gleanings from Psalm 94


Psalm 94

The ESV Study Bible summarizes this psalm very well:
This is a community lament, for a time when the wicked not only exult (v. 3) but also oppress the faithful (many of whom are socially weak, vv. 5–6), doing so with no fear of God. The song asks God to take action to protect the faithful. At the same time, it strengthens the pious to endure this oppression without losing heart or going over to join the wicked; it does this by recounting God's exhaustive knowledge of all that people think, do, and say (vv. 8–11); by remembering God's steadfast love for his own (v. 18); and by rejoicing in God's righteous commitment to bring justice by caring for the weak and putting down the wicked. Thus the godly can view their current circumstances as God's discipline (v. 12), even while they pray for deliverance (v. 16). The “wicked” in this psalm are members of God's people (v. 8) who in their hearts do not believe in the God of the covenant (v. 7). They seem to have political power, or at least influence with the ruling authorities (cf. v. 20, “wicked rulers”), which enables them to crush the faithful. Though such wicked persons are in one sense “members” of the covenant people, they are distinguished from God's true “people” or “heritage” (vv. 5, 14) and will suffer the full force of God's judgment. It puzzles scholars why this psalm is placed here, interrupting the sequence of divine kingship psalms (Psalms 93; 95–99). Perhaps the simplest explanation is that God's powerful kingship guarantees his final victory over all who oppose him, even if they are members of his own people (who ought to have acknowledged his rule!). It is always worth being on God's side.
One simple lesson from this psalm is to learn what “the wicked” are like, and pray to become the opposite! Because of original sin, our natural inclination is toward wickedness. But the promise of the new covenant is the gift of the Spirit and a change of heart. We can ask the Lord to fulfill his new covenant promises made to us in the gospel and our baptism, that we might have the attitude of the righteous and not the wicked.

Let’s take a look at a few characteristics of the wicked, and ask for a different kind of heart:

  1. 1O LORD, God of vengeance,
    O God of vengeance, shine forth!
    2 Rise up, O judge of the earth;
    repay to the proud what they deserve!

    The wicked will not fare well in the judgment of God. God will deal with them at the final judgment in justice, not mercy.

  2. 2 Rise up, O judge of the earth;
    repay to the proud what they deserve!
    3O LORD, how long shall the wicked,
    how long shall the wicked exult?

    The wicked are proud and boast in the wrong thing. The glory of man is his relationship with God. The wicked boast in something less than the Lord.

  3. 4They pour out their arrogant words;
    all the evildoers boast.

    The wicked are proud and seek self, not the Lord and his kingdom. Pride is the exaltation of self, instead of the Lord. The NASB translates verse 4 this way:

    4They pour forth words, they speak arrogantly; All who do wickedness vaunt themselves.

    Sadly, we live in a society that believes that exalting self is a virtue! We speak all the time about our need for self-worth, self-esteem, and the like. The Bible teaches Christ-esteem, not self-esteem. The Bible teaches worth in Christ and a relationship with God through him, not worth in self.

  4. 5They crush your people, O LORD,
    and afflict your heritage.
    6They kill the widow and the sojourner,
    and murder the fatherless;

    The wicked harm the true people of the Lord. The wicked in this psalm are in the congregation---in the church. When they bring their proud, self-vaunting teaching into the church, the flock is ravaged (faithful teachers seek the glory of God). But thankfully, the true people of Christ (not simply church members) have a Shepherd who protects them. The righteous are self-consciously dependent on the grace and protection of the Good Shepherd.


  5. 7 and they say, "The LORD does not see;
    the God of Jacob does not perceive."

    The wicked have unbelieving hearts. Even though the wicked reside in the congregation, in their hearts they do not believe in the Lord. Instead of building their lives around the reality of the Lord, they build their lives around themselves and idols. It is a denial of the very reason we were created, namely, to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
So much more could be said about Psalm 94! But may the Lord cause us to live lives very different from the wicked, who do not know the Father and the Son. Let’s ask the Lord to send forth His Spirit in greater measure that we might know God’s favor at the last day and in our lives right now; that we might lead humble lives that boast only in Jesus Christ and his cross; that we might seek the Lord and his wisdom, which is wiser than the human wisdom that seeks self as its goal; that we might consciously depend on our Shepherd for blessing, strength, and protection; that we might seek to do good, and not harm, to Christ’s people; that we might believe the Lord’s promises of the new covenant concerning the Spirit and a new heart, so that we might build our lives around the reality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.



Thursday, May 6, 2010

How Noah's Ark Was Way Too Wet

How Noah's Ark Was Way Too Wet

This article makes a great point about the relation of Christianity and politics in our current social and political situation.  Here is the key idea of the article:
"The political state in our day is swollen and overgrown, and has gotten into everything. Politics, the great secular idol of modernity, has virtually filled up every public space. This means that it is not possible to go into any public space in order to have a public witness of any kind without it resulting in some kind of political confrontation.

"To this extent, to blame public Christians for being "too political" is like blaming Noah's ark for being "too wet."

"Abortion and sodomy were sins long before they were constitutional rights. If a minister preached against them a thousand years ago, he was preaching against moral failings, and he was not being political. He was being public, but not political. When I do it, I am preaching against moral failings also, but I am also being political. What changed? It wasn't the Decalogue. It wasn't the history of the church, or the history of preaching. It wasn't the nature of the gospel. It wasn't me. Rather, it was the nature of the idol being challenged -- and this idol aspires to omnipresence."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Two Great Talks by Parker Williamson on Protestant Liberalism

Recently I attended a conference on Protestant Liberalism held here in Omaha Nebraska.  Two talks by Parker Williamson were particularly good and worth listening to if you want to get a handle on just exactly what theological liberalism is!  The first talk is 40 minutes and the second is 30 minutes.  I cannot recommend these talks highly enough.

D. G. Hart also spoke at the conference, and he presented some good stuff too, but as a historian, he naturally focused on the history.  It was good stuff, but I would recommend the talks because they get to the heart of the problem with liberalism.  Thanks to the pastors and Covenant Presbyterian Church in Omaha who brought this conference to Omaha.

Here is the link:  http://www.cpcomaha.org/CLC/CLConference.html

Catechizing Through Singing

A couple weeks ago in the adult Sunday School at our church, one of our elders taught on the subject of using hymns in our devotional time. He explained something I did not know, namely, that the numbers near the tune name are the meter of the hymn's lyrics. This made me realize it would not be that hard to write one's own lyrics to various hymn tunes. Below is my first attempt at this.

One of my concerns for the contemporary Christian church, and I think it is a concern that was shared by the apostles and 16th century reformers, is that we learn the basic doctrines of our faith. In many churches we are singing choruses with little content or content sometimes focused on the worshiper's experience more than the triune God whom we experience and know through His Word by faith. It seems to me that the contemporary church is in desperate need of learning the basics of the faith that we find in the New Testament, but which are also summarized for us in the catechisms and confessions of our churches.

One of the ways we learn our faith is through singing. The Scriptures urge us to sing the Word of God back to the Lord and to one another. Since we are in such a sad situation in terms of a basic catechetical knowledge of our faith, hymns that focus on the basic doctrines of the Word of God could be particularly helpful at the present time. The early church had a saying, lex orandi, lex credenda, meaning, as the church worships, so it believes. If this early church proverb is true, as I believe it is, then it is dangerous for us to sing songs with little content. Instead we should sing songs that will catechize and teach the people of God the basics of the faith, so that they might live that faith out for his glory.

There are lots of website where you can hear the tunes of hymns. I often go to http://www.hymnary.org/ or http://www.lutheran-hymnal.com/# The song below can be sung to the tune CORONAE at this page: http://www.hymnary.org/files/hymnary/score/PsH_464.sib In order to make this page work you need to download sibelius scorch, which is free.

I hope you find this song helpful to sing on your own. If you think it is good enough, you have my permission to use it in your church. If any of you out there know anything about copyright stuff that maybe I need to know, please let me know, as I would like to try to write some similar hymns based on the basic catechetical truths of our faith. --Bill

Jesus, Prophet, Priest, and King

To the tune CORONAE. These words are based on the Mark 1:40-45 passage and Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 31 (related Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&As 23-26.

v. 1
Jesus Christ is our great prophet,
He reveals God's saving will.
Once a leper knelt before Him,
"Make me clean, please if you will!"
Jesus answered
"Be clean for it is my will."

v. 2
Jesus Christ is our great high priest,
cleanses sinners by His blood.
Jesus touched the unclean leper,
touches sinners for their good.
Moved with pity
pleads our cause before our God.

v. 3
Jesus is both priest and victim,
laid down on the cruel cross.
Took the place of guilty sinners,
gave to them his righteousness.
God so loved us
that He gave His only Son.

v. 4
We are sinners like that leper,
sep'rate from the holy God.
Sin will make us sad and lonely,
take us far away from God.
But our Savior
died to bring us near to God.

v. 5
Jesus, prophet, priest and victim,
highest praise to you we bring.
Raised up after bearing suff'ring,
lifted up as ruling King.
Your own people
owe to you our everything.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The King's Place and Ours --- Psalm 93


Psalm 93 (English Standard Version)

The LORD Reigns

1 The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty;
the LORD is robed; he has put on strength as his belt.
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. 2 Your throne is established from of old;
you are from everlasting.

3 The floods have lifted up, O LORD,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring.
4Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
mightier than the waves of the sea,
the LORD on high is mighty!

5Your decrees are very trustworthy;
holiness befits your house,
O LORD, forevermore.

----------------------------------------------------------------


Psalms 93 and 95-99 are a series of psalms that deal with maybe the central theme of the book of Psalms, namely, that the Lord is King. I want to look at Psalm 93 under three headings: 1) because the Lord is King, the world is a reliable and secure place to live (v. 1-2); 2) because the Lord is King, rebellion against his reign cannot succeed (v. 3-4); 3) because the Lord is King, we should obey his Word (v. 5).


1.  Because the Lord is King, the world is a reliable and secure place to live (v. 1-2).
1 The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty;
the LORD is robed; he has put on strength as his belt.
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. 2 Your throne is established from of old;
you are from everlasting.
The phrase the Lord reigns can also be translated, the Lord has become King. Although the Lord has always existed as King, there is a sense in which the Lord becomes King through his mighty works of creation and redemption.

In Genesis 1:2 we see the waters covering the earth. It is a chaotic situation. But, then, we see the Spirit of the Lord hovering over the waters like a bird. In verse 3, the Lord speaks his word, and through Word and Spirit a new creation results. Through his work of creation, the Lord is manifested as King.

It is because the Lord is the Creator and King, robed in majesty and power just as ancient, earthly kings robed themselves in garments of beauty and power, the earth is a stable and reliable place to live. The regularity of the sun’s rising and setting, seasonable weather, and the boundaries for the oceans are things we tend to take for granted, but all this stem from the fact that the Lord is King. He is Creator, Sustainer, and the almighty Ruler of his world. The power that it takes to keep the earth hurtling through space at incredible speed while spinning on its access in to-the-second regularity, while maintaining just the right amount of the elements that make up our atmosphere is something that should command our awe and thanksgiving.



2.  Because the Lord is King, rebellion against his reign cannot succeed (v. 3-4).
3 The floods have lifted up, O LORD,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring.
4Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
mightier than the waves of the sea,
the LORD on high is mighty!
We can think of a number of times in Scripture when the waters threatened the earth. The first, of course, was creation. But the Spirit of God, together with the Word, overcame the waters to bring about a new creation.

A second threatening situation was the ancient flood of Noah. But the waters receded, the Lord saved Noah and his family, and a new creation was again indicated by word and Spirit --- the word in a promise from God and the Spirit indicated by the dove Noah sent forth.

A third threatening situation was the waters of the reed sea that threatened to engulf the people of Israel, but instead engulfed Pharaoh and his army. Through the cloud that hovered over the people and led them, Israel was to be a new creation and the Lord was declared to be King (Exodus 15:18)

A fourth threatening situation occurred at the baptism/cross of Jesus Christ. In the same wilderness where Israel failed to live as God’s new creation, Jesus proved himself to be the true Israel and new creation. At his baptism, he was declared to be God’s King by both the word of the Father and Spirit in the form of a hovering dove. The baptism pointed to the cross and the great flood of human and divine wrath that Jesus endured for our salvation.

The sea in Scripture is a symbol of the wrath and rage of the Lord’s enemies. This is why in the vision of heaven in Revelation it says that there will be no more sea. But the point here in Psalm 93 is that the Lord is mightier than his enemies. Just as the Lord rules over the physical oceans of this world, so he also rules over the rebellion and rage of an unbelieving world.

Throughout history there have been threats to God’s rule. Human beings, like the proud waves, exalt themselves against the true God. But the Lord has a way of humbling the proud and exalting the humble. His rule is not threatened by human pride and sin.

A few years back there was a tsunami that caused the waves of the ocean to transgress their boundaries. But soon they returned to the place set for them by the Lord. The same thing happens in human history again and again, and eventually, the pride and rebellion of sinners will be put down forever.

The wise course of action is for us is to side with the Lord as our King, who is intent on bringing about a new creation. This new creation was accomplished by Jesus Christ in his death, resurrection, and ascension, where he rules, even over his enemies. We are wise when we join ourselves to him by faith, even if it appears that sinners and nations are succeeding in their unbelieving pride.

As a side note, it seems to me that this psalm speaks to the issue of global warming with its attendant fear that ocean levels will rise to the detriment of civilization. Psalm 93 alleviates our fears by teaching us that the Lord is in control over his world. He rules over his domain, and we rule over ours in dependence upon his faithfulness. It is a mistake to blur the line between the Creator and the creature --- between his domain and ours. It seems to me that ocean levels and the stability of the earth are his domain, not ours. When the Lord does send “natural” disasters, such disasters come with an implicit message to repent and believe (Luke 13:1-5).



3.  Because the Lord is King, we should obey his Word (v. 5).
5Your decrees are very trustworthy;
holiness befits your house,
O LORD, forevermore.
As our King, the Lord has the right to command our lives. Our unbelieving culture dislikes external authority. We would rather look within than look to the decrees or word of God to guide our lives. But this disdain for external authority is merely symptomatic of our fallen condition.

God’s ways are holy. God’s ways are trustworthy in showing us the right way to live. We must listen to Jesus Christ. This is what the Father taught us at the baptism and transfiguration of his Son: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him"

We don’t know the secret will of God. We cannot predict or prevent earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, or the weather except in the most limited way. But we can know the revealed will of God for our salvation, which we hear in the promises and commands of Scripture.

These promises and commands call us to live a holy life. A holy life is a humble life that reverences, trusts, and submits to God’s will as we find it in his Word. The first way to do the will of our King is to repent of our pride that usurps his role in terms of authority. Instead of looking within, we must look outside of ourselves to the Lord and his Word.

The first thing the Word teaches us is to humbly come to Jesus for salvation. Jesus Christ is God’s new creation. Only united to him by faith can we come to share in the new creation and Spirit Jesus gives us. Let us come to Jesus, asking the Father for a greater supply of the Spirit so that we might live holy and humble lives that please our resurrected King, who reigns over this world and all of its proud waves.

Play to the Glory of God

From Tim Chester in his book The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness:
"In Proverbs 8, Wisdom is personified and her role in creation is described.  The New Testament identifies Wisdom as Jesus Christ, through whom God created the world.  The passage in Proverbs 8 ends: 'Then I was the craftsman at his side.  I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind' (Proverbs 8:30-31).  The word translated 'rejoice' means laughter or play. . . . God was being playful in creation.  He was having fun.  Through play we participate in this divine creative joy.  We share in God's delight in the world he has made.  Play will be part of life in the new creation (Jeremiah 30:18-19; 31:4, 13-14; Zechariah 8:5).  Sometimes playfulness is part of work, like the pleasure of a well-crafted peice of wood, a well-constructed sentence or a flourishing garden.  Sometimes it takes place in the context of work, like workplace banter or jokes.  Sometimes it is its own independent activity, like throwing a ball around the park.  In any context, when consecrated by faith in the Creator and prayerful thankfulness, it brings glory to God (1 Timothy 4:4-5).

Soli Deo Gloria in Work and Rest

Share This