Saturday, November 18, 2017

Proverbs 16:17 --- Stay on the Path to Eternal Glory

Proverbs 16:17 
The highway of the upright turns aside from evil;
    whoever guards his way preserves his life.
In Hebrew the word for parable and proverb is the same word, mashal.  Both parables and proverbs make comparisons.  In parables, each main character, thing, or event stands for something else.  Thus, parables are allegories.  So, for example, in the parable of the soils, the seed stands for the Word, the hard path and thorny ground stand for two types of unbelieving hearts, and the good soil stands for the honest and receptive heart that receives the gospel word.  A parable tells, then, a story.

Proverbs, through parallelism, compare words that are also characters, things, or events.  These comparisons may be synonymous or antithetical.  But like a parable, proverbs can also tell us a story, a mini-parable, if you will.

Today's proverb is probably not synonymous, but synthetic.  The second line is expanding the thought of the first line.  Nevertheless, there is a story here like a parable.  The story is about "the upright," who travel along a "highway."  They do not take the exit roads which would lead them to "evil."  Instead, they keep themselves on this highway because in this way the upright person "guards" a great treasure that "preserves" their "life" and ensures they make it to their destination.

While we can certainly understand the meaning of this proverb without background information, I was struck by what I learned about the construction of highways in the time of Solomon.[1]  Highways were built for fast travel.  These raised roadways were built so that they would not be flooded, and they were cleared of obstacles that would impede travel.  But here is what I found fascinating.  These highways bypassed cities.  In order to get to a city, a traveler would have to "turn aside" from the highway.

Here, then, is how I would interpret this proverb or mini-parable.  Every journey has a destination.  In the case of the upright, the destination is heaven.  Believers are headed to the glory of heaven.  As believers, we have been called out of this world, which is often likened to an unfaithful city, like Babylon.  We come out of this unfaithful city when we repent and turn from our evil ways, and turn to Jesus Christ in faith.  From this point on, we are on the highway of Jesus Christ the King of heaven, and our destination is the city of God that will be illuminated by the light of Christ's glory and the glory of the Father (Revelation 21:23).

As we journey we have a treasure within us.  It is Christ within us the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).  We see Christ's glory in his gospel message which is enhanced as we see it against the backdrop of the wrath of God from which we are saved.  But on this journey, we must stay on our Lord's highway of holiness!  We are not to turn aside and turn back to the faithless city we have been called out from.  As Paul wrote, "But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14).  I cannot turn back to this wicked world which crucified my Lord.  No, in Christ I have died to the world, and I can no longer live for the pride of life and the lusts of the flesh and eyes that characterize the city of man (1 John 2:15-17).  For I belong to the city of God, and his highway is a highway of uprightness; a highway of holiness (Isaiah 35:8); a highway of ethical and doctrinal integrity. 

We all must choose a path in our journey through life, and when we choose one path, we necessarily must leave another.  Those greedy for money, strive to turn aside from poverty.  Those greedy for sex, turn aside from purity.  Those greedy for entertainment, drugs,  pleasure, or vanity, turn aside from serious thought about their ways.  Those greedy for power, turn aside from justice and right relationships with others, especially those seen as unimportant.

But as believers we have seen the glory of Jesus Christ in the judgment he bore on the cross to give us the gift of salvation.  We have gained Jesus Christ, the wisdom of God (see Proverbs 4:10-19 and its similarity to Proverbs 16:16-17).  God the Father has chosen to make known to us this exceedingly great treasure, "which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).  And we are not willing to give up this hope that will be finally and fully be realized when we reach our destination.  And so, we stay close to Jesus Christ, for he alone "is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen" (Jude 24-25).

Today's verse, according to the Masoretic text,[2] is the exact center of the book of Proverbs.  This verse is a central truth in the teaching of Proverbs.  This verse is telling us not only to get Christ (cf. Proverbs 16:16), but to cling to him all our lives.  Stay near to him, for he is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).  He is our great treasure (Matthew 13:44-46).  Let his infinite glory capture you, and live in light of the hope, that having left a world and city that was condemned at the cross, you now have Christ in you by his Spirit, and you are on a path that leads to eternal glory.

[1] Waltke, Proverbs, vol. 2, 25.
[2] The Masoretic text is "the vocalized text of the Hebrew Bible, prepared by a group of Jewish scholars around A.D. 700 to preserve the oral pronunciation of the Hebrew words." F. B. Huey, Jr. and Bruce Corley.  A Student's Dictionary for Biblical and Theological Studies, 123.  

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Proverbs 16:16 --- Astonishingly Rich!

Proverbs 16:16 
How much better to get wisdom than gold!
    To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.
How much better! These are the key words in today's verse.  The comparison between earthly wealth and heavenly wisdom is not even close.  Wisdom exceeds material wealth the way heaven is higher than the earth, and eternity is greater than a moment in time.  Wisdom alone is excluded from the biblical verdict that all is vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
Because Jesus is Wisdom incarnate, the Word made flesh, our verse is pointing to the infinite worth of Jesus Christ --- to knowing him and his favor.   Taken together with yesterday's verse, I am reminded of the apostle's declaration of the incomparable worth of knowing Christ and his favor in Philippians 3:7-10:
"But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith . . . ."
The word "get" in line one of today's proverb comes from the same Hebrew word also used in Proverbs 8:22, which is translated as "possessed."  Proverbs 8 contains a speech by Woman Wisdom, who is a type or foreshadowing of our Lord Jesus Christ, Wisdom incarnate, the second person of the trinity:

22 “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work,
    the first of his acts of old.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
    at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped,
    before the hills, I was brought forth,
26 before he had made the earth with its fields,
    or the first of the dust of the world.

27 When he established the heavens, I was there;
    when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above,
    when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit,
    so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30     then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
    rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the children of man.

This passage points to the truth of the eternally begotten nature of Jesus Christ.  The Father has always been united to the Son.  The Father has always "possessed" the Son from the beginning.  As the Nicene Creed puts it, "We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made."

Wisdom, now revealed to be the Son, was also the Creator along with the Father.  As verse 30 above says, "Then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight."  The Father both possessed the Son, but also delighted in him.  The Son basked in the Father's favor, in a mutual delight.

But here is the amazing thing.  Today's proverb is saying that we too can possess Christ.  We too can "get" Christ.  We too can gain him and know him.  Not only that, but we also can have the favor that has flowed from eternity from the Father to the Son!  We too can know the grace of Jesus Christ.  For grace is not so much a substance as it is first of all a favorable attitude of God toward us.  Grace is God's gracious forgiveness and favorable disposition that we now enjoy united to his Son.

Did you also notice that the Son of God delighted in the human race when he created us (v. 31)?  Before man's rebellion, we had the gracious favor of the Son.  But, sadly, the situation has now changed.  Now we must choose to return to the Word and Wisdom incarnate:

32 “And now, O sons, listen to me:
    blessed are those who keep my ways.
33 Hear instruction and be wise,
    and do not neglect it.
34 Blessed is the one who listens to me,
    watching daily at my gates,
    waiting beside my doors.
35 For whoever finds me finds life
    and obtains favor from the Lord,
36 but he who fails to find me injures himself;
    all who hate me love death.”

Verses 34-35 are key.  We only find life and favor when we find the Wisdom of God, Jesus Christ.  After our rebellion, there is only one way back into the favor of God, and that is through his Son.  Jesus Christ is the sole mediator between God and man, who died on the cross as a propitiation to remove the wrath we deserve, so that we might have his favor.  If we fail to find Jesus Christ, we will injure ourselves for eternity, and bear the consequences of our sin, which is death, the eternal separation from God forever.

How can we calculate the infinite worth of the Son, who has saved us from the horror of hell by bearing it himself?  Gold can only help the body, but our Lord raises both body and soul to the glories of heaven!  Gold can at best only help us for a few brief years, but Jesus Christ will be our salvation and health now and for all eternity!  Get Jesus Christ!  He is the treasure of the Father from all eternity!  Find Him! love Him! and you will be astonishingly rich!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Acceptance and Provision for the Journey --- Proverbs 16:15

Acceptance and Provision for the Journey

Proverbs 16:15
In the light of a king's face there is life,
    and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain.

While I was in seminary I was privileged to go on a month long study tour of Israel with an Old Testament professor and an American doctoral student at Hebrew University in Israel.  While we were in Jerusalem, Gabriel Barkay, the famous Jewish archaeologist came to speak with our group at a site he had excavated just outside of Jerusalem.  Barkay told us about a little pest of a boy named Tad, who was constantly tagging along and pestering the great archaeologist on this particular dig at a burial site.  Finally fed up with the boy, and just to get him out of his hair, he told Tad to dig in a spot where he could do no harm.  Soon the boy came back with two silver amulets inscribed with oldest biblical inscription ever found.  The text was the priestly benediction from Numbers 6:24-26:

            The Lord bless you and keep you;
            the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
            the Lord lift up his face upon you and give you peace.

In today's proverb, two of the words from this priestly benediction are used: light and face and a third, shine, is certainly implied.  Once again the close connection between the Lord and his anointed King is reinforced, a connection that finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, who has bridged the gap between heaven and earth, God and man, by taking to himself our nature while not ceasing to be fully God.  As a result, as the Heidelberg Catechism says, we now "have our own flesh in heaven---a guarantee that Christ our head will take us, his members to himself in heaven."[1]

Do we exult in the glory of Jesus Christ our King?  Do we realize how absolutely vital he is to our well being?  Do we realize that in him alone is life, and that apart from his favor and peace we will be eternally restless?  For as John 1:3-4 says of him, "All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men."  His life is the light of men!  Without his favor, then, how can we not live in eternal restlessness like our spiritual father? (Job 1:7, 2:2).  Thus, Isaiah 57:20-21 describes our souls apart from the One for whom we were made:

            But the wicked are like the tossing sea;
                for it cannot be quiet,
                and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
            "There is no peace," says my God, "for the wicked."

How do we escape this restless evil that is the torment of our souls?  How do we change spiritual fathers?  How do we move from the category of the wicked to the righteous?

Remember yesterday's devotion spoke of the sad state of fallen humanity in Ephesians 2:3, that before coming to Christ "we were by nature children of wrath."  But verses 4-6 tell us how we move from children of God's wrath to children of God's favor and blessing forever:

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus . . . ."

God the Father is "rich in mercy."  He has mercy enough for you and for me.  Verse 5 tells us that he saves us by joining us to his Son, his anointed King, Jesus Christ.  He saves us not by any good works that we have done, for even our good works are as filthy rags in his sight (Isaiah 64:6).  His holiness is such that all of our good deeds, even as believers, cannot save us.  We need the perfect righteousness of our King, and this is what he gives us to save us and make us acceptable in his sight.  His perfect righteousness is given to us freely, a gracious gift that we accept by the empty hand of faith.  And when we accept it, then we are joined to Christ, and already by faith, but later in our resurrected bodies, we are now united with Christ in the heavenly realms and alive in him through the favor he gives.  For his favor is life (cf. Psalm 63:3).

On top of his gift of righteousness that gives us acceptance and frees us from his wrath, Jesus also gives us the life of his Spirit.  I believe the second line of our proverb is pointing in this direction when it points to the spring rain.  Jesus likens his Spirit to life giving water in numerous places.  And we need this water desperately, because we live in a desert wilderness, a world that is in opposition to Christ.  Thus, while we are on pilgrimage through a spiritually dry and desert land, Christ our King sends us his Spirit for our difficult journey, where our enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil, assault us.

And so, though by faith we are already seated with Christ in the heavenly places, we are given this wondrous gift of the Spirit from Christ our King.  Our ascended King gives us the Spirit to drink for the refreshment of our thirsty souls.  In the words of the Heidelberg once more, we read that "he [Christ] sends his Spirit to us on earth as a further guarantee.  By the Spirit's power we make the goal of our lives, not earthly things, but the things above where Christ is, sitting at God's right hand."[2]

[1] Q&A 49
[2] Ibid.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Baptized into Christ our King --- Proverbs 16:12

Proverbs 16:12
It is an abomination to kings to do evil,
    for the throne is established by righteousness.

Yesterday we saw that Christ established his throne by loving righteousness and hating wickedness.  His devotion to the Father and fulfilling righteousness was such that he not only pleased the Father in his life, but also in his death.  This was foreshadowed in his baptism:

"Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?' 15 But Jesus answered him, 'Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness'" (Matthew 3:13-15). 

No wonder, then, Hebrews 1:3-9 speaks of Christ's exaltation to the throne after our King fulfilled all righteousness for us:

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. 
For to which of the angels did God ever say,             

“You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? 

Or again,            

“I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”? 

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,            

“Let all God's angels worship him.”            
Of the angels he says,            
“He makes his angels winds,                 
and his ministers a flame of fire.” 

But of the Son he says,            

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,                 
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.            
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;

Thus, Christ our King, established his throne by righteousness, just as the second line of our proverb teaches.  But the good news for us as Christ's people is that baptized into Christ by faith and the Spirit, this righteousness of Christ is now given freely to us as a gift.  We are now accepted by the Father, not by our own righteousness or good works, but by the gift of Christ's righteousness freely given to all who are united to him by faith.

The righteousness that makes us acceptable to God the Father is the righteousness that Luther rightly said, comes to us extra nos, from outside of us.  It is the righteousness that Jesus earned for us by his perfect life, and sacrificial death.  It this gift of righteousness imputed to us by faith that justifies us and makes us right with God.  Therefore, salvation is a free gift, as Ephesians 2:8-9 teach:
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

Isaiah prophesied of this salvation that would come to us.  Are not these words remarkable written 750 years before the coming of Jesus:

            You will say in that day:
            “I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
                for though you were angry with me,
            your anger turned away,
                that you might comfort me

            “Behold, God is my salvation;
                I will trust, and will not be afraid;
            for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
              and he has become my salvation.”  (Isaiah 12:1-2)

As we saw yesterday, Christ's death was a propitiation that turned God's just anger away from us, so that we might receive the comfort of his favor forever.  Everyone who believes will forever praise the Lord, because though he was "angry with me," now he has comforted me with his wondrous gift of salvation!  Christ's righteousness is the gift that will bring forth praise from our lips for all eternity.

The second line of today's proverb is gospel, because the throne of Christ's kingdom has been established by righteousness, a righteousness he freely grants and imputes to us.  But let us also realize that if righteousness is the delight of our King, so it should be our delight as well!  For "to do evil" is "an abomination" to Jesus our King, according to line one of our proverb.  Therefore, Christ's people must also seek to live lives of righteousness that please our King.

Thus, our King urges us to hunger and thirst for righteousness in our personal lives:

            Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
                for they shall be satisfied.  (Matthew 5:6)

When we hunger for righteousness the way we hunger for food, what satisfaction this will bring us!  When we thirst to please our King the way we thirst for delightful beverages, what joy this will bring us!  When we "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33), trusting our Father's promise of blessing and satisfaction, how joyful and happy we will be!

May Christ's imputed righteousness, freely given to us in our Beloved, cause us to hunger and thirst for his imparted righteousness as well!  May our great goal in life be to please our King who has justified us freely by his righteousness.  May "Christ, by his Holy Spirit . . . make me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him."[1]  May he who justifies us and freely forgives our sins every day, also be our strength to cause us to live in him and near him all the days of our lives.  Baptized by faith into Christ, let us remember our baptism into him every day, so that we might live in him, through him, and for his glory and our good now and forever.  Amen.

[1] Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Proverbs 16:4 --- Hard, but Needed Medicine

Proverbs 16:4 
The Lord has made everything for its purpose,
    even the wicked for the day of trouble.
This verse is the center point of Solomon's Second Collection (Proverbs 10:1-22:16).  187 verses come before it, and 187 verses come after it.  And so at the center of Solomon's Second Collection, which has his signature on it in terms of the number of verses (375 is the numerical value of Solomon's name in Hebrew), we have "the most absolute statement of God's sovereignty . . . . It sets God forth as the beginning and end of everything.  He began all things . . . [and] when he made them he had a purpose or end in view, which was that everything should bring glory to him."[1]  "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Romans 11:36).

Revelation 4:11 states the purpose of all of God's creation:

            Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
                to receive glory and honor and power,
            for you created all things,
                and by your will they existed and were created.

"God made the universe so that it would show forth the excellence of his character, that is, that it would show forth his glory."[2]  Isaiah 6:3 teaches us that "the whole earth is full of his glory."  If our eyes were not clouded by sin, we would see the glory, beauty, and character of God everywhere we turned, for everything from the smallest molecule to the greatest galaxy shows us something of the glory of God.  But, sadly, our eyes are blinded by our sin and rebellion against the Lord, and so we no longer see the glory of God all around us.  Nor, do we fulfill our purpose to reflect the glorious character and beauty of God as his image bearers, the highest of his creatures on earth.

Let me remind you who the "wicked" are in the book of Proverbs and Scripture.  The wicked are not the criminals in our prisons.  The wicked are not the people in the opposing political party.  The wicked are not the notorious tyrants of world history, people like Nero, Hitler or Mao.  No, in Proverbs and Scripture the wicked are simply the people who have not embraced their purpose to glorify the true God revealed in creation and history.  To put it in faith terms, the wicked are those who will not believe in the true God, but suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18).  To put it in everyday terms, the wicked are those who refuse to walk in fellowship with the Father, through the Son, and in the power of the Spirit.  To put it in baptismal terms, the wicked are those who have not died and risen with Christ, dying to self so that they might live unto God.

There is a "perverse normality"[3] about unbelief and wickedness in the human race.  Jesus saved some of his harshest words of judgment for the cities in which he did much of his ministry---cities whose major sin was the failure to repent and believe in Jesus:

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the    mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to  heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had  been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”  (Matthew 11:20-24)

Douglas Sean O'Donnell writes of these towns that incurred the Lord's oracle of judgment: 

"Here we find no abnormal atrocities---genocide, ethnic cleansing, or the sodomy of the       Sodomites.  Here we simply have the normal perversity of disbelief in Jesus."[4]

O'Donnell goes on:
"Disbelief?  Is that the worst sin in the world?  Everyone ranks sin differently---murder,   adultery, stealing, parking in a handicap space without a sticker eating trans fats.  But disbelief---failure to trust in Jesus?  That's not even on people's lists.  Well, it's on Jesus' list, at the very top!"[5]

Today's proverb is simply telling us that God will be glorified one way or another.  We can glorify him by living a life of repentance and belief in his Son, living with the purpose of glorifying him in all that we do.  But if we refuse that option, then we will still glorify him at "the day of trouble," i.e., the day of judgment.  For on that day of judgment the Lord will be glorified in the wicked through the display of his justice.

The Heidelberg Catechism puts it like this:

"God is certainly merciful, but he is also just.  His justice demands that sin, committed against his supreme majesty, be punished with the supreme penalty---eternal punishment of body and soul."[6]

Though the wicked refuse to glorify God by refusing to come to his Son in their hardness of heart, and refusing the witness of both testaments that prophesied about him (cf. Luke 16:19-31, especially 27-31), in the end they will still glorify him against their wills.  For they will exhibit in their punishment the supreme and infinite worth of the triune God for committing the supreme sin of refusing to glorify and believe in him.  They will fulfill Lord's purpose and will be an everlasting display of the richness of the Lord's mercy to us who deserve the same punishment, but were saved by his grace that chose us for salvation in his gracious purpose toward us (cf. Romans 9:22-23).

[1] Lane, Proverbs, 166.
[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 159.
[3] Douglas Sean O'Donnell, Matthew, 296.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Q&A 11.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Proverbs 16:1 --- Pride and Delusions; Humility, Sovereignty, and Joy

Proverbs 16:1 
The plans of the heart belong to man,
    but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.
We live in an era of self-esteem and self-sufficiency, an era that promotes the sovereign self.  The only cure to this delusion is to understand and see ourselves in relation to the true Sovereign, who alone is glorious, independent, self-existent, and who alone gives life and breath to all creatures, "[working] all things according to the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11). 

Part of the pathology of sin is the desire to be in control, and idolatry enables this apparent control.  Departing from the true Lord, we replace him with idols that cannot speak, see, or hear (cf. Psalm 115:3-8; 135:15-18), so that it appears we are now in control.  We become as delusional as the idols we make, for in the real world, the Lord is sovereign.

Our heavenly Father's instruction disabuses us of such absurd fictions as the sovereign self.  Today's proverb teaches us the truth that the Lord is sovereign over the course of all events.  Man is free to make his plans, but the Lord will always have the final word.  "The outcome is decided by His 'tongue' not our considerations."[1]  Or, as Roland Murphy puts it, "Human beings are totally dependent upon him, even though they are at the same time morally responsible agents."[2]  Like fish in the sea, human beings live in the dominion of the Lord, and we cannot escape it.

The attempt to escape divine dominion is a good description of man's sin.  This was the temptation the enemy used in the garden: "you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5).  And so we make our plans apart from God's will, determining for ourselves what is good and evil.  But this is the essence of sin, for man was meant to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).

Our proverb is not teaching us that making plans is necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, our ability to think, reason, and make plans is part of what it means to be made in God's image.  What is wrong is when we fail to recognize our dependence on the Lord and his divine sovereignty over all things.  There is an arrogance that has infiltrated fallen man's consciousness that is hateful to the Lord.  James writes about it when he says:

"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'---yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'  As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil." (James 4:13-16)

Humility comes when we see the Lord as he is---as he is revealed to us in his Word.  If our misery came because we rebelled against his dominion, then our blessing will come when we return to live humbly and meekly in his kingdom, revering his Word.  Fish die when they leave their true environment, and so do men.  We were created to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God.  We were created to live in union and communion with God our Father.  We were created to live joyfully as his image bearers, with the high privilege of being his children.

He has restored us to our high privilege as his children, through the call of the gospel of his Son.  Let us live, then, as his obedient children, who are saved by the grace that comes to us through the redemption our Lord accomplished through his death on the cross and resurrection to the Father's right hand.  Let us realize that Christ's acceptance at the Father's right hand is our acceptance as well.  And, let us realize it is a good thing that our triune God is sovereign over all that happens in this sad and rebellious world.  And though the world continues in its rebellion, attempting the impossible in their attempt to dethrone the Sovereign Lord and his will, may that same Lord give us a different spirit, "the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious" (1 Peter 3:4).  The same spirit the psalmist spoke of in Psalm 131:

            O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
                my eyes are not raised too high;
            I do not occupy myself with things
                too great and too marvelous for me.
            But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
                like a weaned child with its mother;
                like a weaned child is my soul within me.
            O Israel, hope in the Lord
                from this time forth and forevermore.

"Tis a joy to be simple, tis a joy to be free, tis a joy to come down where we ought to be."[3]

[1] Hubbard, Proverbs, 239.
[2] Murphy,  Word Biblical Commentary: Proverbs, 119-120.
[3] From the Shaker folk song, Simple Gifts.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Proverbs 15:29 --- Distance from God

Proverbs 15:29 
The Lord is far from the wicked,
    but he hears the prayer of the righteous.

The problem of the fallen human heart is that it wants nothing to do with the heavenly Father.  The parable of the prodigal son perfectly illustrates our rebellious heart's desire to distance ourselves from God.  In Luke 15 we read about the prodigal son's desire to live far away from his father:
"And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.  Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he hadand took a journey into a far country . . . ."

But, sadly, the religious older brother also had this same desire to distance himself from the father.  When the younger brother repents and returns to live near the father, instead of being happy for his younger brother, the older brother is angry with the father:

"But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he   answered his father, 'Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!'"

The key words in the older brother's speech are these:  "that I might celebrate with my friends."  He doesn't want to celebrate with his father, but apart from his father, and that is the nature of our sin and rebellion.  We want to live far away from God.

The father's words to the older brother show us true life.  True life is found in living in the delight of the heavenly Father's presence:

"And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"

In the parable of the prodigal, of course, the father stands for God.  The two sons stand for lost, rebellious humanity.  The younger son resembles the sinners in Israel who were repenting and coming back to the heavenly Father by coming to his Son, Jesus Christ.  The older son resembled the Jewish religious leaders who were outwardly religious, but whose hearts were far from God (cf.  Matthew 15:8-9; Mark 7:6-7;  Luke 16:14).

The distance between the Lord and sinful, rebellious humanity is not geographical.  No, the distance has to do with intimacy, favor, and delight.  When our proverb today says that "the Lord is far from the wicked," this is because the wicked want it so.  Humanity in its rebellion does not want to live in the delight of God's intimate favor.  They prefer God's gifts, created things, to God himself.

The problem for man in his rebellion, however, is that he can never truly escape from God his Maker.  This is because God is omnipresent.  As Psalm 139 says:

            Where shall I go from your Spirit?
                Or where shall I flee from your presence?
            If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
                If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

Or, as the apostle Paul put it, "In him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).  Augustine once said of God, he is closer to us than we are to ourselves:

"When you wish to do something evil, you retire from the public into your house where no enemy may see you; from those places of your house which are open and visible to the eyes of men you remove yourself into your room; even in your room you fear some witness from another quarter; you retire into your heart, there you meditate: he is more inward than your heart.  Wherever, therefore, you shall have fled, there is he."[1]

The truth is, there is no way to distance ourselves from God.  God will either be present with his blessing or present with his displeasure; present with his favor or present with his wrath; present with us in intimacy or present with us in alienation.  God the Father gives to us what we want, and if what we want is distance, distance is what we shall receive.

The only answer for the wicked is repentance.  Augustine agrees and tells us that the answer for sinners is repentance and faith in God's Son, through whom we can return to our Father, for whom we were made:

"No Matter where you flee, he is there.  You would flee from yourself, would you?  Will you not follow yourself wherever you flee?  But since there is one even more deeply inward than yourself, there is no place where you may flee from an angered God except to a God who is pacified.  There is absolutely no place for you to flee to.  Do you want to flee from him?  Rather flee to him."[2]

God was pacified through the death of his Son.  It is his cross that gives us peace with God.  Jesus is theRighteous One, who has enabled his people to move from the category of the wicked to the righteous.  We pray in his name, because he is the One to whom the Father always listens (cf. John 9:31).  Through his cross, sinners like us are enabled to have our prayers heard and answered by the Father in accordance with his will.  His Father is now our Father, and true delight is found in learning to live life in the triune presence.  But for the wicked who refuse to repent and prefer to live far away from God, they will receive the only distance an omnipresent God can give them --- the distance of alienation and wrath.



[1] Quoted in Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God.
[2] Quoted in Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, 170.

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