Saturday, April 28, 2012

Our Good and Gracious God --- meditation and hymn based on Luke 18:31-34

And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

(Luke 18:31-34 ESV)

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Jesus makes his third and final passion prediction in Luke’s Gospel as he nears the end of his journey to Jerusalem to accomplish the mission for which he came into the world. It is the most detailed of his predictions. It details his mistreatment as Arthur Just says, in almost a liturgical way with the repeated use of the word and (kai in the Greek):

“For he will be delivered to the Gentiles
and [kai] he will be mocked
and [kai] mistreated
and [kai] spit on,
and [kai] after scourging, they will kill him,
and [kai] on the third day he will rise.”

All of this he did for us in His love. It was the only way that a holy and just God could bring blessing to the world, and this is what this hymn below tries to emphasize with its repeated line that tells us of his love.

Verses one and two emphasizes the truth that Jesus came to fulfill not only the prophetic predictions of the Messiah’s suffering that would bring about our blessing, but also the prophetic pattern of suffering in the lives of all the prophets of the Old Testament.

Some people do not see the goodness and love of God displayed on the cross. Like the disciples in the passage above, their eyes are still hidden as to the meaning of the cross. The Spirit must open our eyes to see God’s goodness and glory in the gospel. What prevents so many people from seeing is the false assumption that human beings are good. While they may be good in the sense that aspects of the image of God may still be seen in our nature, that does not change the fact that the unregenerate heart is at enmity with God, and like Adam and Eve we are on the run from him. The gospel of grace is meant to turn us around and back to the Father through the Son. This is the emphasis in verses three and four.

The hymn concludes with an appeal to hold this good and gracious God close to us by cords of love and faith.


Jesus Came Just As Was Written

To the tune: CORONAE (http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/PsH/464). Based on Luke 18:31-34. Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
Jesus came just as was written
by the prophets long before.
Came fulfilling type and shadow,
came to bless us evermore.
For He loved us,
He has opened heaven’s door.

v. 2
Jesus came to die and suffer
as the prophets said He would.
Only this could bring salvation,
dying on a tree of wood.
For He loved us,
see, believe our God is good!
v. 3
Why did Jesus have to suffer,
He was sinless through and through?
We rebelled against our Maker,
sin corrupted me and you.
But He loved us,
bore the death that we were due.

v. 4
See your sin in all the mocking,
spitting, flogging, crucified.
See your Lord for you enduring,
shameful treatment full of spite.
For He loved us,
this is why He came to die.

v. 5
Do you see the love of Jesus
at the cross on full display?
Now He’s risen in His glory,
but His nature has not changed.
For He loves us,
Hold Him close by love and faith.





Monday, April 23, 2012

The Sins that Keep from Heaven --- devotion and hymn based on Luke 18:18-30

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:18-30 ESV)

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More than likely this rich ruler was a Pharisee, for the word ruler in Luke’s Gospel (see Luke 24:20) generally refers to members of the Sanhedrin, who were in the Pharisaic party. This rich ruler is a perfect representative of the two characteristic sins that prevent the Pharisees, and their modern day counterparts, from entering God’s kingdom, namely, hypocrisy (pride), because the rich ruler thinks he has perfectly obeyed God’s law and does not need a savior, and idolatry (greed), because he is gripped and obsessed by possessions. This “ideal” Pharisee, in his self-sufficiency, is just the opposite of the little infants of the previous passage, who are the perfect representatives of those who enter God’s kingdom.

But it doesn’t take much introspection to see that we struggle with these two sins of pride and greed are as well. Who among us does not struggle with pride, thinking too highly of ourselves, even though the reality is we have nothing to contribute to our salvation except our sin and willfulness? Who among us does not have a life and death struggle with idolatry as we give possessions or pleasures a higher place in our lives than Jesus?

It’s for this reason that the hymn below petitions the Lord in three of its four stanzas. Our souls hang in the balance as we struggle with these sins of pride and greed. The word of the gospel only finds a saving reception in good and honest hearts that receive Christ. But other hearts are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life (Luke 8:14-15).

In verse one, we confess the needy condition of our souls. Our souls are darkened and saddened by sin. Pride and greed darken our souls and hide from us the beauty and glory of Christ. Our souls could live in his brightness, beauty and joy, but instead we choose the pleasures of sin and, thus, His light fades in our hearts.

In verse two, hypocrisy is the target. We fool ourselves if we think we can merit the kingdom by anything we do or are. Like little children we must depend on what Jesus did for us and in our place. By his perfect life, death, and resurrection he won the kingdom for us, and he bestows that kingdom and imputes his righteousness to his little children as a sheer gift.

And yet, we cannot receive the gift of his kingdom if we are gripping this world’s riches! So in verse three we ask that the Lord would help us let go of our self-made idols, so that we would be free to take hold of Jesus Christ, who is our true treasure. Sadly, the richest man in the world is living in spiritual poverty if he does not know Jesus as Lord. But we are rich with spiritual blessings if we belong to Jesus by faith. Our souls will thrive and be satisfied if we are in him.

Finally, in verse four, we come to Jesus as dependent, infant children, which is the only way we can come to him. How blessed we are to be in his kingdom, and to even now eat at his table! We enjoy his presence now through word and meal by faith, but one day we will know his presence in a new way with resurrected bodies in his kingdom as we see him face to face.

O Jesus, We Are Needy

To the tune: PASSION CHORALE O Sacred Head Now Wounded (http://www.hymnary.org/tune/passion_chorale_hassler). Based on Luke 18:18-30. Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
O Jesus, we are needy,
we need Your tender care.
Our souls by sin are clouded,
though You are bright and fair.
Our pride and greed deceive us,
and You our sun forget,
our light, our source of blessing,
in this life and the next.

v. 2
By works we cannot merit;
the kingdom is a gift.
For Jesus came to earn it,
our souls to heaven lift.
In Christ we’re blessed forever,
He paid the ransom price.
His righteousness our treasure,
our righteousness is Christ.

v. 3
O make us poor in spirit,
and give us wealth that’s true.
O loose our hands from riches,
that we may hold to You.
O Jesus, be our treasure,
our Lord who satisfies,
for souls are much impov’rished,
who know not Your supply.

v. 4
We come as little children,
dependent on Your grace.
Our sin makes us unworthy
to see Your gracious face.
O Jesus, please accept us,
and grant to us a place,
around Your kingdom table
to be with You always.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Satan's Lie: "You shall not die!"

I pass by the Christian Science church building almost every day, and they change their sign about once a month, and it is amazing how their church sign gets it wrong every time. This month's lie is "Life is eternal." But the truth is the exact opposite. Physical death, which is God's judgment on our sin, is the sad reality of human life. And, though, our culture has swallowed the serpent's lie, "you shall not die," the truth is we will die, and when we do we are separated from those we love for good. Death is real and deeply grievous, despite sinful attempts to deny it.



The only solution to this situation is that Jesus Christ came to bring us eternal life. In order to bring us this life, he himself had to bear our judgment of death on the cross even though he himself was completely sinless. On the third day, Jesus bodily rose from the tomb and ushered in a new age that will never end, i.e., eternal life. Those who receive him as Lord enter into this eternal life both now and at Jesus' return. But the sad reality is that apart from Jesus, there is no such thing as eternal life, and the sentence of death remains on all people apart from him, for the words of the Lord in Genesis 2:17 are still sure: "in the day you eat of it, you shall surely die."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Little Chidren and Jesus --- devotion and hymn based on Luke 18:15-17

Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
(Luke 18:15-17 ESV)

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In the Old Testament tabernacle and temple, the innermost place was the holy of holies, where the glory and presence of the Lord dwelt. When the Son of God came to earth, the holy of holies, the very presence of God and his glory now made his dwelling in human flesh. The temple of Jesus’ body (see John 2:19ff.) now was the sanctuary of the divine nature. From now on, even until the present time, the life of God would be communicated through the flesh of Jesus Christ, which was given for the life of the world (see John 6:33, 51).

When Jesus touched others, his touch was powerful. His life and blessing were transmitted through his human body. In Luke 5, Jesus heals a leper through his touch. In Luke 7, Jesus raises a young man from the dead through his touch. In Luke 8, a hemorrhaging woman is healed by touching the hem of Jesus’ garment. In Luke 22, a servant’s ear is restored by the touch of our Lord. As Arthur Just says, “Clearly for Luke, to touch Jesus or be touched by him brings one into contact with God’s power to restore and bring the new creation.”

In Luke 18:15-17, we see parents who desire a good thing. They want their little children, even infants, to receive the powerful, holy, life-giving touch of Jesus. But sadly, the disciples start to act like the Pharisees in Luke 11:52, misusing the keys of the kingdom to keep little infants and children away from Jesus: “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” Jesus rebukes his disciples for this misuse and abuse of the keys of the kingdom. Children are not to be excluded from our Lord’s kingdom, but rather welcomed!

In the hymn below, verses 1-3 sing of the powerful touch of Jesus. All of the Lord’s blessings come to us through his body. Apart from Christ’s bodily death on our behalf, the kingdom and its blessings would be completely closed to us. Verse two argues that since the touch of Jesus is powerful to heal a leper and raise from the dead, why should we consider it strange if Jesus raises a little child spiritually, and causes that child to be born again in his kingdom (consider the Spirit’s work in the infant John in Luke 1:39-44). While the infant baptism position does not argue that every child that is baptized is regenerated, yet given the power of Jesus, we acknowledge that such regeneration of an infant is possible and desirable!

What we do say, for sure, is that in receiving the sign of the gospel and its blessings, the children of believers receive a promise of Christ and his blessings made to them by name. This promise must be claimed by faith. The timing of this gift of spiritual birth and the faith that eventually ensues from the heavenly birth is completely up to the Lord, but no matter when it happens, it is always and completely the work of the Lord. We are as helpless to bring about spiritual resurrection and new birth as little infants, no matter what our age! Though we are helpless like little infants, may the Spirit cause us to cry out to Jesus for his powerful touch.

In verse five, both paedo-baptists (infant baptism) and credo-baptists (believer’s baptism) should be able to agree for the need to catechize or instruct their children. We bring our children to Jesus through teaching them about Jesus, through reading the Scriptures, through walking in love for God and neighbor, and through prayer. This is what is meant by catechizing/discipleship.

Verse six concludes the hymn by echoing our Lord’s teaching about children as a model for receiving the kingdom. We all stand before the Lord as helpless sinners. The tax collector in the previous parable modeled for us what it means to “receive the kingdom of God like a child.” Just as a little infant comes into the world completely dependent on his parents for food, clothing, and cleansing, so also are we dependent sinners before the Lord. He must bring about our spiritual birth, feed us, clothe us, and cleanse us in His Son. May He in grace, and by His Spirit, make us like little children and so members of his blessed kingdom!


The Holy Touch of Jesus

To the tune: CHRISTUS DER IST MEIN (http://www.hymnary.org/tune/christus_der_ist_mein_leben_vulpius). Based on Luke 18:15-17. Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
The holy touch of Jesus,
our Lord and risen King,
imparts the pow’r to heal us,
and new creation brings.

v. 2
The touch that healed a leper,
and raised a widow’s son,
what touch for children better,
than His the risen One?

v. 3
All blessings through our Savior
come through His holy flesh,
for bodily He suffered,
to grant eternal rest.

v. 4
Believers, bring your infants,
O let them be baptized,
for those whom Jesus touches
receive the gift of life.

v. 5
Believers, raise your children,
as those who are baptized,
keep bringing them to Jesus,
let them be catechized.

v. 6
The helplessness of children,
it shows our true estate,
we cannot earn the kingdom,
we must receive by faith.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Great Reversal! --- devotion and hymn for Luke 18:9-14

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

(Luke 18:9-14 ESV)

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Once again, Luke teaches about the great reversal that will take place when Jesus consummates his kingdom: those who exalt themselves will be humbled, while those who humble themselves will be exalted. But the person who experienced this great reversal in a preeminent way was our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus came and humbled himself to take the lowest place, namely, our place at the cross. Though the world condemned him as a criminal worthy of death, yet God reversed the world’s verdict and raised him from the dead to the highest place in heaven at his right hand where he has been given all authority over heaven and earth.

More than any other, Jesus has experienced this great reversal. But if we belong to him by faith, we too will experience this reversal. For coming to Christ entails humbling ourselves by confessing our utter unworthiness before God because of our sin. God the Father exalts us already in this life by justifying us and giving us spiritual blessings in his Son. But the world in its unbelief is blind to spiritual realities, thus devoted Christians become objects of the world’s pity and scorn. But when Christ returns to judge all people and consummate his kingdom, the world will see that believers were right and wise to trust in Jesus and commit themselves to him.


Verses one and two of the hymn below speak of the great reversal of our Lord, the Son of God. Verse three is trying to teach us to take the lowest place because of our sinful condition. The Pharisee thought that he was unlike other men: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men.” But the truth is that all men are cut from the same cloth. All of us have been cut from the same quarry. That cloth and quarry is our share in Adam’s sinful nature. Therefore, Christians should be just the opposite of the Pharisee in this parable and acknowledge that we are just like other men in that we share Adam’s sinful nature, and sadly that sinful nature is not removed by regeneration. Therefore, we have great reason to take the lowest place before God.

Once we lose faith in our own inherent goodness there is only one thing to do, and that is to look away from self and look to Christ for salvation. Christ’s death was a propitiation meaning that it removed God’s righteous wrath and gave us his favor instead. Literally translated, the tax collector in verse 13 cries out, “O God, be propitiated toward me, the sinner.”

Verse 6 emphasizes the wonderful truth of justification by faith alone. When God justifies a sinner, he declares the sinner righteous. Justification is a legal term. It is the declaration of a verdict. Amazingly, God is able to declare sinners righteous! The reason he can do this is that his Son lived a perfect life and died a substitutionary death. Christ’s life and death is imputed or credited to the sinner who puts his faith in God’s Son. Like the tax collector, a wonderful reversal takes place in the life of every believer. Though we are sinners who deserve a guilty verdict and condemnation, in Christ we receive a righteous verdict and eternal life! Therefore, we should be unlike the Pharisee who thanked God for himself! Instead, all our thanks and praise should be to the Father for the Son, who has reversed our situation through his perfect life and death, which are credited to us by faith!


The Lord in Grace Came to this Earth

To the tune: GERMANY (http://www.hymnary.org/tune/germany_beethoven_gardiner). Based on Luke 18:9-14. Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
The Lord in grace came to this earth,
the Son of God of greatest worth.
He humbly came to take our place,
to bear our sin and deep disgrace.

v. 2
But God His Father lifted Him,
who humbled self and bore our sin.
The highest place He occupies,
and humble sinners justifies.

v. 3
O sinner take the lowest place,
for you belong to Adam’s race.
All sinners share orig’nal sin,
no sinner yet is right within.

v. 4
Look not to self or what you do,
but look to Him who died for you.
Christ’s death alone propitiates,
and gives a Father full of grace.

v. 5
For wrath is what our sin deserves,
the wages that transgressions earned.
So mercy seek and sin confess,
in Christ alone are sinners blessed.

v. 6
We thank You, Father, for Your Son,
who in our flesh His coarse has run.
Our victor perfect, lived and died,
and we in Him are justified.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Obstacles and Help for Sharing Christ's Future Glory

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
(Luke 18:1-8 ESV)

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In the interim period between Jesus’ resurrection and his return, his people will suffer in the pattern of their Lord: first, suffering, and then glory. In this parable, Christians are likened to a poor and helpless widow in a dark world that like the unrighteous judge, neither fears God nor respects man. In such a world the believer’s sole source of protection and only hope for the future is God himself.

Four times in this passage the word vindicate (the Greek word is ekdikeo)occursThe widow is asking for vindication in the same way that Jesus’ elect people long and pray for vindication. They live in a world that hated their Lord and put him to death, and now they too are hated by the enemy and his kingdom. Jesus said to his disciples, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). Despite the opposition of the world, the Lord will bring his elect people to glory. He will vindicate his people publicly and the unbelieving world will then see that believers were right to trust in Jesus.

But Christ’s disciples face another form of suffering besides the disdain of the world. This other form of suffering comes from the sinful nature that remains within believers even after their regeneration. Arthur Just rightly translates verse 7 this way: “But will not God make vindication of his elect who are crying to him day and night and be long-suffering to them.” The key word is the Greek verb makrothumeowhich overwhelmingly in Scripture refers to long-suffering and patience. The idea here is that although God has every right to deal with his people in wrath on account of their sins as believers, he is rich in mercy and patience toward his people. Thus, our gracious Father will overcome this obstacle as well and bring us to glory.

But what do these words mean in verse 8: “I tell you, he will give justice to (he will vindicate) them speedily?” Arthur Just points to the vindication that occurred through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Although the world judged Jesus to be a criminal, the Father vindicated Jesus as the perfectly righteous sufferer by raising him from the dead. The good news for all who belong to Christ is that this vindication---this verdict---this justification is already ours by faith. Though we will have to wait until Christ’s return for our final public vindication before the world, by faith we already have been justified/vindicated in Christ. The verdict of the end times is already ours by faith. And so, the world may hate us for our loyalty to Christ, but we have the joy of the approval of the only One who really counts! Joined by faith to His Son, we have the Father’s favor.

Finally, the question Jesus asks in verse 8 might be better translated with the words, "Will he find the faith on earth," for the Greek text contains the article before the word faith. In the fifth verse of the hymn below it is this objective faith "once delivered for all" which receives the emphasis (see Jude 1:3). Obviously this objective faith must be grasped by the subjective faith of our hearts if it is to do us spiritual good!

In Christ we have a Father, strong, merciful, and resolved to bringing his people to glory. So let us pray always and not lose heart.  The final verse of the hymn looks away from self to God our Father for help.  Our confidence is not in ourselves but in Christ our Victor!


 
We Pray Your Kingdom Come, Our Gracious God and Father

To the tune: WAS FRAG ICH NACH DER WELT (http://www.hymnary.org/tune/o_gott_du_frommer_gott_fritsch). Based on Luke 18:1-8. Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
We pray Your kingdom come,
our gracious God and Father;
and we await Your Son,
while in this world we suffer.
For sin and death now reign
in this dark world below,
the devil still enslaves,
and men Your Son oppose.

v. 2
O Father, like Your Son,
we ask for vindication.
For men reject Your Word,
and spurn Your free salvation.
But Jesus has been raised,
the sign that You are just,
You crowned Him Lord of all,
rewarding all His trust.

v. 3
O Father, we confess,
this sin in us remaining,
deprives us of Your rest,
how often we are failing!
O patient, Lord, and kind,
be merciful to us,
and keep us close to Christ,
in Him alone we trust.

v. 4
O Father, we are blessed
to have Your gracious favor.
For Jesus died our death,
a sweet and pleasing savor.
But though the world despise,
and though some men will hate,
in Christ we’re justified,
one day He’ll vindicate.

v. 5
When Jesus Christ returns,
will churches be confessing
the faith from Scripture learned,
for people’s joy and blessing?
The faith that Jesus taught,
the faith the twelve proclaimed,
brings glory as it ought
to Jesus’ holy name.

v. 6
Our Father, we are weak,
O be our strong Protector;
and helpless though we be,
O be our Benefactor.
We look away from self,
and look to Christ Your Son,
for Jesus is our health,
the vict'ry He has won.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Living in Two Worlds Simultaneously

"Scripture teaches that we live in two worlds simultaneously. First, we live in the physical world, with the tangible things around us that we can touch, , see, hear, smell, and taste. Yet simultaneously there's another world---the spiritual---which is all around us in a different realm. It is not visible, but invisible; not temporal, but eternal. Yet, it is not only equally real, it is more lasting than the physical world. Isaiah revealed this truth from God, saying, 'Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever' (Isa. 51:6-7)." --from A Father's Gift: Lessons from Proverbs by Kenneth B. Wingate

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Are You Living in Light of God's Reality?

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

(Luke 17:20-37 ESV)

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In this passage Jesus teaches us that his kingdom is both already and not yet. Verses 20-21 teach the already aspect of his kingdom. Although the Pharisees missed it through unbelief, the kingdom was already present in the person of Jesus. The King was standing in their midst, yet they missed him!

Before we wonder at the blindness of the Pharisees, we should acknowledge that something identical is taking place in our own time and throughout the time between Pentecost and Christ’s return. The kingdom has arrived through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ kingdom continues to come each Lord’s Day through Word and sacrament that bring us the life and power of the age to come. Men and women are being born into the kingdom through a spiritual resurrection throughout the earth. Yet, despite these signs of the kingdom’s arrival, people continue to live in unbelief as though this present age is all that matters. How sad is this state of the world!

Verse 22-37 speak of the not yet aspect of Jesus’ kingdom. Christ’s second coming will bring his believing people comfort, but it will bring unbelievers sudden judgment. Jesus’ coming will be quick and sudden and it will be too late to repent once he returns. Those who have died with him in baptism and a faith union will be ready to be taken up to heaven to see his glory, for they have learned to die to themselves and this present age. But those who live in unbelief and for this world only will suffer the judgment Jesus will bring upon the earth. The sheep and the goats will be separated when our Lord returns.

Verse 37 is a bit cryptic. What does Jesus mean when he says that the kingdom will be where the corpse is? Two suggestions related by the theme of judgment make sense to me. First, is the idea that an unbelieving life invites judgment. The world is ripe for judgment because of its unbelief in the risen Christ. Second, is the thought that Jesus’ death will be the sign of the kingdom. Jesus was judged on the cross for the sins of the world, even though he himself had no sin. But he who was crucified was also raised, and where he is bodily, there also is his kingdom.

The hymn below emphasizes the already/not yet aspect of Christ’s kingdom. It issues a challenge to wake up and recognize the reality of Jesus’ kingdom. If Jesus truly died, rose, and is now crowned as king, then we must live differently! We cannot live for this present age with all its distractions of possessions, pleasure, and pride. Through our union with Christ we have died to ourselves and this passing world. We belong to a new age and our loyalties and affections must be to Jesus’ kingdom, not to this passing evil age.


The Kingdom Comes through Jesus Christ

To the tune: ST. ANNE (Croft) O God, Our Help in Ages Past (http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/UMH/117). Based on Luke 17:20-37. Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
The kingdom comes through Jesus Christ,
though dead He’s now alive.
Enthroned He sits exalted high,
His kingdom has arrived.

v. 2
The kingdom has already come,
though lost men fail to see
that Jesus is the risen One,
with all authority.

v. 3
One day the King will come again,
O sleepers now awake!
The King will come to judge all men,
repent and sin forsake.

v. 4
The King in grace came to this earth,
and suffered for our sake.
The Lamb of God of matchless worth,
through faith you may partake.

v. 5
So many love this present age,
with no regard for Christ.
But is it good this world to gain,
yet lose eternal life?

v. 6
In Christ his saints have been baptized,
in Him we all have died.
So live not for this present time,
but for the Lord of life.

v. 7
When Jesus comes to take us home,
what rapture will be ours!
We’ll see on high our Lord enthroned,
his glory and his pow’r.

v. 8
The Father sent and Jesus came,
the kingdom Christ has won.
So by the Spirit praise His name,
His kingdom has begun.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Worship at the True Temple --- devotion and hymn based on Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

(Luke 17:11-19 ESV)

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

The Old Testament temple was a place where people found forgiveness and mercy. It was a place of worship. It was a place where people met with God. But Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem (v. 11), and on his way to his imminent death to become the new place of forgiveness, the new place of worship, and the new place to meet with God.

Just one of these lepers seemed to realize this (at the very least his actions anticipated this imminent change in worship). Interestingly, he was not a Jew, but a Samaritan. He alone of the ten came to the true priest, whom all the Old Testament priests had merely foreshadowed. He alone of the ten came to the true sacrifice, who would win forgiveness and mercy for sinners. He alone of the ten came to Jesus---the true temple and place of worship. Just as Jesus brought a Samaritan woman salvation and taught about true worship, so in this passage Jesus brings a Samaritan man salvation and teaches him about true worship in this new covenant era.

Verse one of the hymn below urges us, like the Samaritan, to find the place of mercy, forgiveness, and worship. Verse two tries to show that we are just like the Samaritan in spiritual terms, for the law that forbid a leper from the worship of the temple, also forbids us to worship, who are born with the spiritual leprosy of sin. The phrase “rise and journey” in verse two comes from Luke 17:19, and possibly it is an invitation for the Samaritan to journey with Jesus to Jerusalem to see the true place of forgiveness found at his cross.

Verse four teaches an important truth about worship, namely, that worship cannot be separated from our mediator Jesus Christ. The true place of worship is in heaven around the body of Jesus Christ. Yes, we are located here on earth, nevertheless, true worship takes place in heaven around the throne of Jesus Christ in heaven by faith. Verse five explains the Spirit’s role in lifting our hearts to heaven, and verse six goes further and explains that we already dwell with Christ in heaven if we belong to him, reiterating the teaching of Jesus in John 12:26: “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also.” Finally, verse seven contrasts our present walk of faith to our glorious future when we will see our Lord face to face.


Journey to the Place of Mercy

To the tune: STUTTGART. Based on Luke 17:11-19. Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
Journey to the place of mercy,
find the place of worship true,
find the place of free forgiveness,
find the place of gratitude.

v. 2
We deserve no grace or mercy,
for the law condemns us all.
But our Lord says, “Rise and journey,”
let us heed His upward call.

v. 3
Jesus is the place of mercy,
He’s the place of worship true.
Find in Him the place of pardon,
and be filled with gratitude.

v. 4
Worship not in man-made temples,
nor in buildings on this earth.
Worship now is found in heaven,
’round the Lamb of matchless worth.

v. 5
Spirit, raise our hearts to heaven,
joined by faith to Christ our Lord.
Where He is, is where we worship,
risen Lord whom we adore.

v. 6
We have died and we have risen
with our Lord who died and rose.
Where He is there we are also,
priv’lege of the ones He knows.

v. 7
Now we walk by faith, not seeing
Jesus Christ in glory bright.
But a day will soon be coming
when our faith is turned to sight.

The Connection Between Faith in the Lord and Faith in the Bible

I was reading from 2 Chronicles 20 and found these words illuminating:
"And when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.”
Notice the parallel statements: "Believe in the Lord" and "believe in the prophets." The two ideas are connected. The prophets brought the people the word of God. Therefore, in order to truly believe in the Lord, one has to believe in his Word. Today that Word is found in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

It is a shame that people doubt the Word of God. This is the stratagem of the enemy of our souls. His first temptation began by casting doubt on the word of God: "Did God really say?" (Gen. 3:1) But our crucified and risen Lord had complete confidence in the Scriptures, so why shouldn't we? Jesus said, "For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished" (Mat. 5:18).

Many people doubt the Bible because it makes no sense to them. They fail to see that the only way the Bible makes sense is if it is seen in terms of promise and fulfillment. Jesus came to "accomplish" (see the verse above) or fulfill everything that was promised in the Old Testament. Even institutions, persons, events, and things foreshadowed and pointed to Jesus' coming. Once we learn how to read the Bible as Jesus taught us to read it, doubts will begin to melt away. It takes some work, but trying to understand the precious Word of God is well worth it. As Psalm 19 says of the Word:

10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Word about the Ministerial Nature of Music in Worship

Music in worship needs to be ministerial.  Music needs to serve the dialogue that takes place between the Lord and his people.  Too often in worship the lyrics of our songs do not serve this dialogue.  By stringing together three or four songs that we sing consecutively, the dialogue is lost.  The covenantal pattern of God's speech followed by our response is lost.  Music itself sometimes becomes a sacrament---a means of creating an atmosphere that supposedly brings about the Lord's presence. 

But the Lord meets with his people through his Word to which we respond.  Songs need to be chosen according to their function.  Is this song teaching us God's Word or is this song our response to His Word?  In other words, is the direction of the song from God to us or from us to God? (1)

It is interesting that Q&A 103 of the Heidelberg Catechism does not mention singing in its description of the gathering of God's people on the Lord's Day:
103 Q. What is God's will for you in the fourth commandment?

A. First, that the gospel ministry and education for it be maintained, and that, especially on the festive day of rest, I regularly attend the assembly of God's people

  • to learn what God's Word teaches,
  • to participate in the sacraments,
  • to pray to God publicly
and to bring Christian offerings for the poor.
It is not the Heidelberg is against singing, but it recognizes that our singing must fit into the conversational and covenantal pattern of Word/response.

It would be good if worship leaders would analyze each song chosen and determine the kind of song it is.  Is this song primarily a song of teaching, a song of faith, a song of petition, a song of praise, a song of confession of sins, a song of confession of faith, a song of commitment, etc.  Even labeling the type of song in the worship bulletin can be a help to the worshipping congregation.

Another thing that enhances the worship dialogue are good transitions made by the worship leader.  Sometimes a good leader can alert us to what we are about to sing with a brief sentence or two.  Or, the leader can read a verse of the song to help us to sing with understanding, which is a biblical command (1 Cor. 14:15).  This is especially helpful if we are going to be making a commitment to the Lord.  Unless, we understand what we sing, there is a great danger that our singing will be an empty ritual, for we will be saying words to the Lord that we do not understand or really mean.

Finally, worship leaders need to give some thought to the tune chosen.  Is the tune singable?  Does the tune match the tone of the words we will be singing?  While there is a subjective element to the choice of tunes, aesthetics are not completely subjective and good worship leaders can make choices that are fitting and appropriate for the worship of our triune God.

(1) A song can also be sung to one another as an encouragement or exhortation so that the direction of the song is horizontal.

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