Monday, November 7, 2016

Christ in the Proverbs: Proverbs 11:4 --- Our Need of the Cross

Proverbs 11:4
Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,
    but righteousness delivers from death.

The contrast in Proverbs 11:4 is between riches and righteousness, and what both can do in the face of the Lord's coming judgment.  Riches will be of no value to save us from the just wrath of the Lord.  Not only can we not take our money with us when we die, ("Shrouds have no pockets"[1]), but our money may testify against us if we have used it selfishly for ourselves, instead of using it to advance the Lord's kingdom and bless others.

It is righteousness, not money or possessions, which is the great treasure to be sought in life, especially in light of the future judgment that is coming.  Raymond Van Leeuwen points to the eschatological orientation of this proverb: "Language and thought from the prophetic tradition of the 'day of the Lord,' when Yahweh judges nations on a cosmic scale are used here."[2]  Van Leeuwen cites a number of Old Testament passages, but Ezekiel 7:19 and Zephanaiah 1:18, in particular, make a point similar to Proverbs 11:4:
"They cast their silver into the streets, and their gold is like an unclean thing. Their silver and gold are not able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord. . . . For it was the stumbling block of their iniquity."

"Neither their silver nor their gold     shall be able to deliver them     on the day of the wrath of the Lord."

While riches can impress other human beings, it has no such effect on the Lord!  Riches are worthless to save us from the wrath of the Lord, which the crookedness of fallen hearts, i.e., our inward rebellion and dishonesty, deserve.

We saw our need of the new birth in yesterday's devotion, as Proverbs 11:3 described the crookedness of the fallen, unregenerate heart.  This is the kind of heart we are all born with.  Our Lord's apostle taught us this when he wrote:
"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind" (Ephesians 2:1-3).

The apostle, like our Lord in John 3, goes on to speak of the new birth (see Ephesians 2:4-9).  We need the Lord to be merciful to us and bring about a new birth.  But how can the Lord, who is just, forgive sinners and give them eternal life?  Can the Lord violate his own righteousness to give us his mercy?

It is not a coincidence that our Lord, after speaking to Nicodemus about the new birth in John 3, moves from the new birth to the cross.  For it was at the cross that righteousness and mercy, justice and grace, kissed (see Psalm 85:10).  In order to be merciful to us, the Lord could not let sin go unpunished.  The debt had to be paid.  The triune God could not violate his justice and righteousness in order to be merciful.  He could not give us his righteous life within, i.e., the new birth, by violating his own holy, unchanging nature.  Therefore, Jesus, after speaking to Nicodemus about the new birth, then speaks to Nicodemus about his impending cross:
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15).

The sons of Adam have been bitten by the serpent, and their souls are sick and headed for the Lord's wrath and judgment.  But by the cross of Christ we are healed.  When our Lord was lifted on the cross, he was made sin for us, so that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God.  The Judge himself took to himself our human nature, and went in our nature to the cross, to bear the wrath we deserve.  In God's wisdom he found a way to be both righteous and merciful.  In God's wisdom, whoever looks in faith to the Son lifted on the cross, has eternal life. "He made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

This life, then, is not about possessing wealth and material riches.  This life is about possessing Christ and his righteousness, learning to abide and walk with him as we prepare our souls for the age to come.  Don't be fooled by the deceitfulness of riches.  True riches are found only in Jesus Christ.

[1] A Rabbinic saying cited by Alden, Proverbs, 92.
[2] Van Leeuwen, Proverbs, 117.

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