Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Pastoral Pings ~ A Holy People for Time and Eternity

          This week my theme seems to revolve around God’s plan “that we should be holy and blameless before him.”[1] While bygone centuries may have left people wondering how he would do this, we who live in this last hour between Jesus first and second comings have the advantage of the completed word of God, the Bible.
          Here is a general outline of what God has done, is doing, and will do, to fulfill his timeless plan to have a people who are “holy and blameless” in his sight.
          God’s first step in this plan was to create man in his own image and likeness.[2] Obviously, if we were created like him, we would be as holy and blameless as him. So far, so good.
          However, when Satan lured man into sin, fulfilling God’s warning that if we ate from the forbidden tree we would die, there had to be a solution to the sin-problem in order to have people who were holy and blameless.
          The next step in this process was to create a people that were God’s own covenant nation, and give them a law that was holy and blameless. The law was contained in Ten Commandments. It was written in stone. Do this and you will live; fail to do this and you will die.
          Because man was already sinful, and the laws of God were impossible for sinful men to perform, God surrounded the Ten Commandments with a multitude of sacrifices and offerings that were aimed at teaching reverence for God, and providing forgiveness for sin. The result was that man now had opportunity to demonstrate whether we could be holy and blameless through our own performance. It did not take long to see that this would not accomplish what God had planned. The centuries of living by the Ten Commandments proved people guilty of sin. God needed another plan.         
          Before the beginning of time, God had already accommodated all that sin would do to ruin his initial creation. While he was grieved by Adam’s sin, he was not surprised by it. Neither was he stumped by it. Once man could see that sin had to be dealt with, and once we saw that no perfect “ten” of laws could take away our sin, we were ready to receive the gift of God, that God would do one hundred percent of the work to make us as holy and blameless as he wanted us to be.
          The work of Jesus Christ in salvation is God’s plan. Through this work of the Triune, sin is propitiated, paid for, taken away. The wrath of God against our sin is finished, just as Jesus said on the cross. Now God has the legal means of making people righteous by faith in a way that we could never be righteous by works. Jesus has cleansed us of sin and unrighteousness so that we can now serve the living God without fear, and without punishment.
          At the present time, God is applying the work of his Son to the lives of those he adopts as his sons so that we can become as holy and blameless as his Son. This work continues from “one degree of glory to another”[3] until that day that we are fully restored to the image of God as God intended from before the beginning of creation. As Jesus’ good friend John wrote, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”[4]
          While this is such a brief summary of God’s grand work of making a creature that was like him “in true righteousness and holiness,”[5] it is food for thought and praise as we consider how God will carry on to completion not only what he started in us, but what he planned before time began.[6] He has already done enough that we can be certain of what remains to be fulfilled. And so, I gladly echo these beautiful words of praise to our great God and Savior:
Now to him who 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.[7]
© 2014 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Ephesians 1:4
[2] Genesis 1:26-27
[3] II Corinthians 3:18
[4] I John 3:2
[5] Ephesians 4:24
[6] Ephesians 1 brings this out very clearly.
[7] Jude 1:24,25

Video: A Tale of Two Covenants

Many people wonder what to do with the Ten Commandments. After all, they were written by God in stone. Sounds permanent. However, the Ten Commandments are part of God's covenant given to Moses. Is that covenant still in effect? If the New Covenant fulfills the Old Covenant, does this mean that Jesus has made it possible for us to keep the Ten Commandments? Or does it mean that he has given us a different way of becoming holy and blameless in his sight?

In this home church sermon, we travel through II Corinthians 3 to find out what the New Testament tells us to think about the Old Covenant. What we found is that there is such a glory in the finished work of Jesus Christ that we can gladly testify that "the old has gone, the new has come!"

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Considerations ~ The Art Gallery of Revelation

          From beginning to end of this grand gallery, every picture tells us that the God who has already worked out the whole plan of salvation “according to the counsel of his will” will absolutely complete the work of salvation no matter what beastly enemies we encounter on the way, or whether we recognize all the ways those pictures are fulfilled in real life. Therefore, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

          God’s adopted children have “obtained an inheritance”, and, through our belief in the gospel of our salvation in Jesus Christ, we “were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).

          How do we live as the chosen, predestined, redeemed, adopted sons of God who are now sealed with God’s own Holy Spirit? “Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18); “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16); “live by the Spirit… keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).

          “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). The book of Revelation gives us a beautiful art gallery full of pictures aimed at leading the sons of God by the Spirit of God. “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3).

© 2014 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Pastoral Ponderings ~ God’s A-Pauling Choice of Ambassador

God’s A-Pauling Choice of Ambassador
          Question: Why did Jesus call the most Jewish, religious, indoctrinated student of good works, the Champion of the religion of Judaism, to be his distinctive ambassador of hope to the Gentile world?[1] The Jewish people had been given the most glorious covenant the world had ever known, with Ten Commandments etched into stone by the finger of God himself.[2] The Gentiles were all the poor suckers who didn’t know that the Jews had already got the prize and the game was over. So, why would God use someone who appeared to be the best of the best to reach those that man had thought were the worst of the worst?
          After all, weren’t there other disciples who were more Gentilish in their ancestry? Weren’t there maybe some Jewish disciples who had kind of a tarnished record of living up to the law of God that the Gentiles could relate to more easily? Wouldn’t the infidel Gentiles relate better to the failures of Peter, or the hot-headedness of James and John? Isn’t the best testimony of the gospel to show some extreme transformation from sin-to-sanctification so that sinners had some hope that they could be saved?
          Paul certainly doesn’t fit the description of someone who was living a bad life and was suddenly overcome with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul was living as good a life as a good man could live. He had the highest and best covenant God had ever made with man (prior to Jesus’ coming and giving us something magnificently better, that is), and he excelled at putting it into practice, or so he thought.
          What Paul did fit was the profile of someone who could prove to the world that being a good man, by a standard of goodness written in stone by the finger of God, was hopeless at ever attaining the in-the-image-of-God righteousness the human soul longs for. Instead of the stereotypical message of, “God saved a bad man like me, so you can be sure he can save you as well”, God used a very good man, the best of the best, to announce to all sinners that there isn’t even such a thing as a good man whatsoever. Fact is, anyone who sins in even one point of the law is guilty of sinning against the whole law.[3] Paul was as guilty as me.  
          And so, Paul could go to the Gentile world with his gospel of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, and tell them that though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent… I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”[4] This good man, who had tried to win God’s approval through keeping the Ten Commandments, was really a blasphemer of God because he had denounced God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He was really a persecutor, rather than a protector, because he had persecuted the church that Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, was building in the world. And, he was an insolent opponent because he was rude and mean and obnoxious in opposing the work God was doing to establish his kingdom in the hearts of people who were receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
          From that vantage point as a blaspheming, persecuting, insolent opponent of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul could speak of the amazing mercy and grace he had received from God, and how this mercy and grace overflowed into his life along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus, the very person Paul was opposing and persecuting.
          Paul now had every right and experience to declare to the Gentile world, The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”[5] While Paul had left his life of sin when Jesus called him into the kingdom of God, he still saw himself as the foremost example of a sinner. Whereas he had once thought of himself as the foremost of the righteous, he had really been the foremost of the unrighteous. He once thought the Messiah would come and pat him on the back for his good behavior, but now praised God that he had both sent his Son into the world to save sinners, and sent his Son to open his eyes so he could see his sin and receive this great salvation.
          From there, Paul explains why he is such a great witness to Gentiles. He writes, “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”[6] His explanation is simple: he was the foremost of sinners, and God’s mercy to him displayed the perfect patience of Jesus Christ towards sinners, so that all the rest of time had this amazing example of God delivering a man from sin by believing in Jesus Christ and inheriting eternal life.
          What is Paul’s message to us Gentiles? How would Paul’s testimony of almost two millennia speak to a German/Hungarian/Canadian Gentile of the twenty-first century (or any other variation of Gentile)? Paul’s testimony says that, the same grace, mercy, love, and perfect patience demonstrated to an arrogant, blind, ignorant, mouthy, rebellious, religious hypocrite is there for every sinner who is drawn to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
          Of course, we have plenty of examples of prostitutes, drunks, tax collectors, and sinners of all kinds coming to Jesus so that every other kind of sin is covered as well. In fact, it is to the glory of God’s grace and mercy that Paul himself could list the kinds of sins that keep people out of the kingdom of God, while still seeing himself as the foremost kind of sinner. He wrote,
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.[7]
          Paul could declare that this was true of all those kinds of sinners, knowing that he would never have inherited the kingdom of God because of his extreme sins against the Lord Jesus Christ. But, while he could speak of God’s wonderful grace, mercy, love and patience towards him, he could then write the church with this wonderful reminder: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”[8]
          This past-tense expression is the wonderful hope of every sinner who is drawn to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We could list every sin, from worst to least (if there is such a thing), and put Paul at the top of the list as the foremost kind of sinner, and then tell anyone who matches any description of sin or sinner that this could be their “such WERE some of you”.
          It is as though Paul, who once thought he stood at the top of the list among the righteous, and then realized he was really at the top of the list among sinners, had the greatest opportunity to tell us Gentiles that there is a way to be washed clean as he was washed clean. There was a way to be set apart unto God as holy (sanctified) that no commandments written in stone could ever accomplish. There was a way to be justified from sin that the Ten Commandments could never do, and it was all “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” just as much for Paul as it was for any Gentile who ever received the gospel.
          The message is clear: the foremost of sinners was found by the one and only Savior, and commissioned to tell every other sinner that salvation is for them, whether they be Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, rich or poor, creationist or evolutionist, deist or atheist.[9] Anyone who hears the gospel of Jesus Christ can repent of their own sin, receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and live a life of freedom that will constantly give glory to the grace, mercy, love, and perfect patience of our Lord Jesus Christ.

© 2014 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] The term Gentile refers to anyone who is not Jewish
[2] Deuteronomy 4:13; 9:10
[3] James 2:10
[4] I Timothy 1:13-14
[5] I Timothy 1:15
[6] I Timothy 1:16
[7] I Corinthians 6:9-10
[8] I Corinthians 6:11
[9] Galatians 3:23-29

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Video: The Love That Fills an Empty Tomb

This past Easter weekend I was drawn to consider how the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a wonderful expression of the love of God. Before the foundation of the world, God had already expressed love to the children he had not yet created. He had already worked out the salvation that would bring us out of our sin and into the adoption of sons of God. The empty tomb is full of that love, and that love is still working according to plan.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Pastoral Pings (Plus) ~ No Spirit-Stone in God’s Kingdom

          The two greatest covenants the world has ever known are differentiated by a contrast between “stone” and “Spirit”. While the world calls us to believe that there are spirits in stones, God’s word tells us that the covenant in stone has no place in the covenant that is by the Spirit. Stone and Spirit do not mix after all. Here are some wonderful ways the new covenant in Jesus’ blood is supreme over all covenants, including the one written in stone.

          When God introduced his people to the first covenant, Moses described it like this, “And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone.”[1] The first covenant involved Ten central Commandments, they were written on the two stone tablets, and they required performance by the people in order to bring about God’s blessing.

          When Jesus introduced the second covenant, Paul described it like this, “In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”[2] In this case, the new covenant involved Jesus doing all the work for our redemption, requiring him to lay down his life for his sheep.[3] The covenant was in his own blood, not on stone tablets, and it was to be received as a gift, expressed by the Church’s drinking from the cup that was given to them.  

          The early church was hit with a particular strain of false teaching where people claimed that believers required the salvation that came through the new covenant in Jesus’ blood, but still needed to keep the laws that were given under the old covenant.[4] However, the two covenants are so different that, just as stone and Spirit, they cannot be combined.

          So, Paul teaches us that the covenant “carved in letters on stone,” which we know to mean the Ten Commandments, was called “the ministry of death,” and “the ministry of condemnation.”[5] The reason was that the first covenant declared what man would have to do to earn right standing with God, and all the years of Israel living under that covenant proved that it could never be done. Hence, everyone remained condemned under the sentence of death.

          On the other hand, the new covenant is described as “the ministry of the Spirit,” and “the ministry of righteousness.”[6] When Jesus shed his blood for our sins, the law was perfectly satisfied, all just demands against us were met, the price for us breaking the covenant carved in letters on stone was paid by one whose body was nailed to a tree.

          This contrast between two covenants is presented in beautiful expression when Paul wrote,

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8)

          The law of sin and death gave us condemnation. The law of the Spirit of life has set us free from sin and condemnation to live in fellowship with God. The law, which was weakened by our sinful flesh, could never do what it set out to do, which was to make people in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, God presented a new covenant in which he sent his Son in the image of man, condemned him for our sins, satisfied the righteous requirements of the law on our behalf, and set us free in Christ Jesus to walk according to the Spirit.

          Now we have a covenant that is written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.[7] Now we have a covenant in Jesus’ blood, “not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.[8] That is why Paul would write, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.[9] Freedom from the “law of sin and death,”[10]and into the “right to become children of God.”[11]By faith in Jesus Christ, those who were once under a ministry of death and condemnation have this promise that, all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”[12]

          When Paul was dealing with the false teachers trying to squeeze the Spirit into the stone tablets, he wrote:

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.[13]

          Those who have faith in Jesus Christ are no longer under the guardian that could only give us death and condemnation. Now we are in a new covenant, in the blood of our Savior, written on our hearts, securing our return to the image and likeness of our Savior. This is why Paul could conclude II Corinthians 3 with that beautiful verse I wrote about in my last post: And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.[14]

          Fact is, deliverance from sin had to come from the Lord who is the Spirit, because letters of law, written in tablets of stone, weakened by sinful flesh, could never bring it about. Jesus wanted a creature in his own image and likeness,[15] and through the new covenant, that is what he has accomplished.

© 2014 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)      

[1] Deuteronomy 4:13
[2] I Corinthians 11:25
[3] John 10:11, 15
[4] The whole book of Galatians is Paul’s strong focus on ridding the church of such heresy.
[5] II Corinthians 3:7-9
[6] II Corinthians 3:7-9
[7] II Corinthians 3:3
[8] II Corinthians 3:6
[9] II Corinthians 3:17
[10] Romans 8:2
[11] John 1:12
[12] Romans 8:14
[13] Galatians 3:23-26
[14] II Corinthians 3:18
[15] Genesis 1:26-27

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pastoral Pings ~ The Transforming Power of Beholding Jesus’ Glory

The Transforming Power of Beholding Jesus’ Glory

          A verse of God’s word that seems to return to my mind very often lately is this: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”[1]While I have received much encouragement from the thought of God changing his children to be more and more like Jesus Christ, today the context drove home the wonderful realities of how this contrasts with any attempt to please God by keeping the law.

          When Paul writes, “And we all,” he means all believers in Jesus Christ. If you have received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through the gospel of the kingdom, this applies to you. If you have not yet come to this experience, the invitation stands open. However, this is also a contrast with the fact that Moses alone went up the mountain to behold the glory of God as he received the Ten Commandments,[2] while the new covenant enables every believer to approach God through Jesus Christ.[3]

          The expression, “with unveiled face,” is in contrast to that which came with the “veiled face” of Moses. Only Moses saw the presence of God on Mount Sinai, and then he veiled his face so that the people would not be overwhelmed with the glory that was fading from his face when he came down from the mountain. All believers in Jesus Christ are to see themselves as having an “unveiled face”, meaning that there is no obstruction between us and the presence of God.

          “Beholding the glory of the Lord,” means that, through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are able to see the glory of the Lord by faith.[4] Our eyes are no longer veiled to the realities of God. We are not bound to the kind of veil that keeps us from seeing the glory of God.[5]

          While I have much to learn about beholding the glory of the Lord by faith, it strikes me that, if spending time with God in his word each morning is understood as, “beholding the glory of the Lord,” I don’t think there is any further advertising required!

          The remarkable thing is that, in this faith-and-love relationship with Jesus Christ, we who are his brothers, “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another”. God initially made man in his own image and likeness,[6] and through the gospel returns us to that image, one degree at a time. In contrast to this, when Moses came down from the mountain, the glory on his face was fading. He gave the people the covenant of the Ten Commandments that were written on tablets of stone,[7] and no one was returned to God-likeness by the experience.

          To make this contrast very clear, Paul had just called the covenant of the Ten Commandments “the ministry of death”[8] and, “the ministry of condemnation”.[9] He was working to clarify that there is now “a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit,” meaning, not the commandments written in letters on tablets of stone, but the personal relationship with Jesus Christ through his Holy Spirit.

          And, if that is not enough contrast, Paul raises the symphonic crescendo to such heights of clarity by declaring, “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” That which was written by God’s own finger on tablets of stone were the letters of death, so to speak. They never did transform Israel into a people after God’s own heart. By the time Jesus came in the flesh, Israel was so far gone that most of the nation did not receive him.[10]

          However, this new covenant,[11] the one Paul says, “For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit,” this covenant in Jesus’ blood transforms all of God’s children into the same image as Jesus Christ from one degree of glory to another. This will continue until that glorious day when God completes what he started,[12] and we become just like Jesus when we see him as he is.[13]

          Today’s morning lesson on contrasts lifted my heart up into the light of the gospel so that my heart was truly filled with Jesus’ joy, and my joy was made full, just as Jesus promised would happen if I would feast on his words.[14] People like me can become like Jesus. That is the most remarkable thing in the world. Make a list of man’s sins, and you will find me in there somewhere, looking just as guilty as everybody else.

          However, somehow, the infinite, eternal God, looking into the bounds of space, time, and matter, is personally transforming me in degrees that he calls “glory”. It is his word. I would not have chosen it. Sluggard, yes. Disappointment, yes. Immature behind my years, yes. But “one degree of glory to another”? God had to tell me that! And this morning he did, loud and clear.

© 2014 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] II Corinthians 3:18
[2] Exodus 19ff
[3] Hebrews 4:16; 6:19-20
[4] John 1:14
[5] Cf II Corinthians 3:14-15
[6] Genesis 1:26-27
[7] Deuteronomy 4:13
[8] II Corinthians 3:7
[9] II Corinthians 3:9
[10] John 1:11
[11] I Corinthians 11:25
[12] Philippians 1:6
[13] I John 3:2
[14] John 15:11