Thursday, April 16, 2020

If We Had Only Watched in Faith

For a while, I have been looking at the resurrection of Jesus Christ through the eyes of the disciples who went through his suffering, death and burial with no attachment to what the prophets had written. They were not even able to attach to Jesus’ own words explaining to them what was ahead. When he began appearing to them as the resurrected Messiah, they were so settled in their grief that they couldn’t even recognize it was him.

Today my focus changed. I suddenly found myself journeying through the prophetic word from the viewpoint of a disciple who knew what was happening the whole time because of a certain hope and faith in what the prophets and Savior had declared. What would it be like to watch Jesus’ arrest, false trial, torture and execution with eyes that knew it was exactly what had to happen to fulfill all righteousness?

My starting point was what Jesus said to his disciples both before and after his death and resurrection. Prior to the events unfolding, Jesus told his disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.”[1]

After his death and resurrection, Jesus explained, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”[2]

Jesus had no problem telling his disciples that he was now fulfilling EVERYTHING written about him because it was all orchestrated ahead of time. His Father had sovereign rule over the universe. Nothing could go wrong with the divine plan.

The thing we are missing so much in our day is the awareness that our Father is sovereign and he is good. We can endure the arrest of our Savior because he is sovereign over the proceedings and is working it for good. We can weep and rejoice at our Savior’s beating and sorrow because we are so aware that we are witnessing what the prophets had written about him. In his suffering he is a living witness that he had “no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”[3] We see clearly that, “he was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”[4]
If we were watching Jesus being beaten and abused, flogged for no reason, mocked and spit upon, pierced with a crown of thorns, forced to carry the beam of his cross on the shredded muscles of his back, we would say, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted,”[5] and we would grieve, but not as those who have no hope.[6]
When we witnessed the nails driven into Jesus’ wrists and feet, and saw him hanging on the cross with his lungs crushed by the horrendous weight of his own body, we would have known that “he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”[7]
And, as we grieved as we have never grieved before, we would also feel the intense wonder of love that, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”[8] We would let ourselves, “Be wretched and mourn and weep,” and let our, “laughter be turned to mourning and our joy to gloom,”[9] because we would recognize in our Savior’s suffering EXACTLY WHAT SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED TO US!!!! And in that awareness, we would feel the most intense wonder and worship that we had ever felt touch our sinful souls.
We would have cried out in our sorrow and exultation, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent (as strange as that would have been), so he opened not his mouth.”[10] And we would have wept in amazement because we knew that we would have been kicking and screaming against the same injustices if we were put through such suffering we did not deserve.

And yet, here was our Savior, our powerful and mighty Savior who could have appealed to his Father who would have, “at once send me more than twelve legions of angels”, and yet he was willingly enduring the most criminal of abuses because, “how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”[11]
As we watched Jesus’ suffering come to an end with his deliberate cries of, “It is finished!”,[12] and, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”[13] we would have recognized that, “By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?” But we knew. As we saw the religious hypocrites rejoicing in what they had accomplished, believing they had destroyed their arch enemy, we knew the truth, that Jesus our Messiah had just died for our transgressions.
When we then saw that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus came and took Jesus’ body down from the cross and laid it in Joseph’s tomb,[14] we would have again agreed with the prophets that, “they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”[15]

That is as far as I’m able to process these wonderful realities today. I will continue meditating on these things in my time with God tomorrow and share the rest as soon as possible. In the meantime, all the gentle and compassionate and truth-in-love ways Jesus related to his disciples after his resurrection assure all of us that we can come to him with all our doubts, fears and struggles and his Holy Spirit will guide us into the truth by teaching us all things and bringing to our remembrance things he has already taught us (just like the resurrected Jesus kept reminding the disciples what he had already told them about his suffering, death, burial and resurrection).

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Luke 18:31
[2] Luke 24:44
[3] Isaiah 53:2
[4] Isaiah 53:3
[5] Isaiah 53:4
[6] I Thessalonians 4:13. Although this speaks of how we are to view the death of fellow believers, it certainly applies to what we would have felt if we were watching our Savior dying but with the full confidence that everything written about him had to be fulfilled. We could let ourselves grieve the agony he endured, while marvelling in wonder at the great love that was poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
[7] Isaiah 53:5
[8] Isaiah 53:6
[9] James 4:9
[10] Isaiah 53:7
[11] Matthew 26:53-54. “legion (division) n. — a division of a military force comparable in size to a Roman Legion (around 6000 foot-soldiers and 700 cavalrymen).” (Bible Sense Lexicon) That means that Jesus was thinking of approximately 80,000 angels coming to his rescue. This isn’t a focus on a particular number, but on the fact that, if Jesus simply decided he did not want to endure the cross, thousands of angels were ready to come and utterly destroy his enemies and welcome their God back to his rightful place on the throne.
[12] John 19:30
[13] Luke 23:46
[14] Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42
[15] Isaiah 53:

Sunday, April 12, 2020

To Follow and Be an Example

  Paul begins the amazing book of Romans with this simple expression, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus”.[1]
  Yesterday, I had a very negative reaction to this. My initial thought to wondering what it would be like for Paul to write me a personal letter was scary. Nothing got passed him. How could I feel anything but lower than a snake’s belly if he started dissecting how I was doing at following Jesus.
  But then it settled into my soul that, because Paul was “a servant of Christ Jesus,” he would relate to me with the same “truth in love” quality I have come to expect of my Savior.[2] Paul’s writings are an expression of God’s own words directing me into his lovingkindness through a real-life servant who knew Jesus as well as he can be known this side of heaven.
  As everything in Romans now sits before me awaiting my exploration, the thing that settled in as a guide for the whole journey was the fact that Paul is an example to be followed. As a servant of Christ Jesus, he teaches us how to live as servants of Christ Jesus.
    Here are some ways this is expressed in other letters.
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.[3]
  First, there is no doubt that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.[4]
  Second, there is no doubt that Paul was imitating Christ the Lord.
  Third, there is no doubt that Paul should be imitated in his imitating of Christ.
  And, fourth, there is an expectation that our imitating of Paul’s example would be to the same quality as Paul’s direct imitating of Christ.
  Conclusion: we are called to join God’s work of imitating Paul. Simple!

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.[5]
  First, any of us who have salvation in Jesus Christ are one of the brothers, so this applies to us.
  Second, “join” means that imitating Paul is a church activity, something we do together.
  Third, Paul is worthy to be imitated by churches all over the world through all the rest of time because the legacy he left us is of one who imitated Christ throughout his whole ministry and in a very exemplary way.
  Fourth, Paul showed that he was not interested in being the sole example of imitating Christ, so he called the church to keep our eyes together on others who were walking according to the example the believers had in “us”, meaning those with Paul who were setting an example together.
  Fifth, the generations of discipleship are seen in that the “us” is clearly referring to Paul and Timothy. Timothy was Paul’s son in the faith,[6] so that is two generations. There were others Paul recognized as walking according to the example that both he and Timothy were showing, which makes them a third generation of the discipleship. And, the brothers at Philippi joining together to imitate Paul as these others were doing was the fourth generation that would now continue reproducing itself indefinitely.
  Conclusion: imitating Paul’s example is a group experience and we must join with other believers to grow up in these things.
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.[7]
  First, everyone who reads the New Testament has learned, received, heard and seen things in Paul’s life that we can and ought to put into practice.
  Second, when we are putting into practice what we have learned, received, heard and seen in Paul’s ministry, the “God of peace” will be with us just as he was with Paul.
  Conclusion: the peace of God so many church folks are looking for comes from the God of peace who will be with us in our imitating Paul just as he was with Paul in setting us an example.
Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.[8]
  First, Paul taught Timothy “sound words”.
  Second, Timothy “heard” the sound words directly from Paul.
  Third, the sound words were in a recognizable “pattern” that could be repeated from one believer to another.
  Fourth, the pattern that was seen and heard in Paul’s life could be followed in Timothy’s life.
  Fifth, the only way we can follow Paul’s pattern of sound words is in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. After all, that’s where Paul found them!
  Conclusion: Paul is not the scary leader who operates under law and condemnation, but the shepherd who operates in the faith and love that are in our Savior and teaches other shepherds to do the same.
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.[9]
  First, “you then,” means, us then. There is no doubt that every page of Scripture has some variation of “you then,” that requires us specific people to do something to let the words of Christ dwell in us richly.[10] No exceptions.
  Second, “my child,” indicates a very personal relationship with Paul in which Paul was the father and Timothy was the son. This is the relationship Scripture holds out to us, that Paul is a father to us all, guiding all us children into the fullness of walking with God as he has already experienced it.[11]
  Third, “be” signifies something that should happen to us. Before we even know what it is, we already know it is something that should be real in our lives.
  Fourth, “strengthened” is a universal quality of growing up. While our earthly bodies go through a few decades of being strengthened before plateauing and then declining, our spiritual life can continually be strengthened day by day. As we know there are things we can do to strengthen ourselves physically, there are greater things we can do to keep strengthening ourselves spiritually. Paul is showing us how!
  Fifth, we are “strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus”. This is encouraging. Physical strengthening requires significant participation on our part. The older I get, the harder I must work to maintain my strength. On the other hand, spiritual strength comes from God’s grace expressed in Christ Jesus. Grace is the activity of God doing good things for his children that have nothing to do with our efforts to experience them. We “be” strengthened by receiving that grace by faith.
  Sixth, we now have a clear picture of the four levels of discipleship in the kingdom of God. First, there is Paul teaching things “in the presence of many witnesses” as the grace of God led him to do so. Second, there is Timothy who heard and saw the things Paul taught these many witnesses. Third, Timothy was to take these same things and “entrust” them “to faithful men”. And, fourth, the faithful men needed to “be able to teach others also.” This pattern can be repeated throughout all the rest of time in every place that people gather in Jesus’ name.
  Conclusion: every one of us is in this pattern. For me, I am in the “faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” level. I need to grow in being faithful, and grow in teaching others. Some of you may be there as well. However, all of us are in the “others” level who can receive teaching from men who are over us in the Lord.
  Why is it so significant to begin Paul’s letters with the awareness that he is, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus,” who sets such an honorable example of following Christ that we will all benefit greatly from following in his steps?
  Because, at least in part, when we read anything Paul expects us to do in our relationship with Jesus Christ our Savior, we can be sure that he was already following Jesus in those same ways. He not only taught us what to do, but showed us what to do.
  Two things immediately stand out very glaringly.
  First, Paul received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ”.[12] The characteristic of obedient faith in my life has a model in the obedient faith of our older brother Paul.
  Second, one thing stood out as the reason Paul was willing to suffer in so many ways to bring us into that obedience of faith.
  For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”[13]
  Paul’s example tells us that, a genuine experience of the “good news of great joy”[14] will bring us into “the power of God for salvation” that we will not be “ashamed of the gospel.” He continues to invite us to know what he knew, and he continues to lead the way in how to experience just that.
  It was said of Abel that, “through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”[15] The same is clearly true of “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus.” He served faithfully to the end, and following his example will help us do the same.
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Romans 1:1 (that one sentence continues through Romans 1:1-7).
[2] Paul talks about the church “speaking the truth in love,” in Ephesians 4:15 because Jesus was the truth speaking to us in love and we are to be like him. Read the whole context of Ephesians 4:1-16 to see how this truth-and-love fellowship helps the body of Christ grow.
[3] I Corinthians 11:1
[4] Philippians 2:11 (in the context of Philippians 2:1-11)
[5] Philippians 3:17
[6] Philippians 2:22
[7] Philippians 4:9
[8] II Timothy 1:13
[9] II Timothy 2:1-2
[10] Colossians 3:16
[11] I Corinthians 4:14
[12] Romans 1:5-6 (repeated at the end of the letter in the Doxology of Romans 16:25-27)
[13] Romans 1:16-17
[14] The way the gospel is announced in Luke 2:10-11.
[15] Hebrews 11:4

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Father’s Law is Perfect

The law of Yahweh is perfect, reviving the soul;[1]

Right now, over exactly what is going on inside you, God wants you to know that HIS law is perfect and complete.

We know that the laws of our land or imperfect at best, and corrupt at worst.

We know that the laws our parents ruled by were lacking at best, and abusive and traumatizing at worst.

We know that the laws our abusers operated by were sinful and wicked and corrupt in every way and that is why they have caused us so much damage.

We know that the laws of our sarks (flesh) are always wrong at best, and utterly self-destroying at worst, and so we absolutely need what is better.

In comes “the law of Yahweh”. Yahweh, our God and Father, operates by law. This is not a burden to us as though it is something we cannot keep because this isn’t about US keeping his law, but about HIM keeping his law.

In other words, what we read in his word is the truth, and that is exactly the way we will find him caring for us as his children.

The law of Yahweh our Father “is perfect”.

To keep this short, I want you to simply consider this: YOUR law is faulty, broken, filled with ignorance, blind to truth, consumed and ruled by fear and unbelief. It cannot rule you well.

What your soul is looking for is a Father whose law over us is not only filled with goodness of the highest kind, but is absolutely guaranteed to be what he says it will be. If he says he loves us with an everlasting love, that is law. It cannot change. It cannot be broken. I could go on, but let this truth feed your soul.

What effect does the perfect and complete law of Yahweh our Father have on us? The effect of Father’s perfect law is “reviving the soul”.

Your soul is where the deadness and emptiness and worthlessness and hopelessness are living. It is the condition of the real you.

The “reviving” of the soul means the bringing back to life of our realness. Much of the deadness, emptiness, and hopelessness within is because something died. Our real selves died. We know that we have been trying to role-play that we are someone different on the outside than we are on the inside. Now God tells us how the real self on the inside can come back to life.

Conclusion: find some way to meditate on the law of Yahweh your Father. Even if you begin with a response to the verse I am sharing, it is already a facet of the diamond of God’s word that is a perfect radiance of the glory of our God that it can revive our souls simply to say, the God who spoke into the darkness, “Let there be light, and there was light,” has come with his perfect law to speak my soul back to life.

And, if you are a child of Yahweh through faith in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Triune God will not fail to revive your soul back to life in a work that will be complete in due time.

Today, you are invited to gaze on the beauty of this, that our Father’s law has come to our empty, dead, hopeless hearts with a perfection greater than we can know or understand with the promise to start where we are and take us all the way to a real self that is fully alive in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Psalm 19:7

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Father Whose Word is Law

Today’s fascinating thread from God’s word was, The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul”.[1] It weaves together with Jesus’ words to his disciples as they grappled with his resurrection, “‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’”[2]

When we read in our English translation, The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul,” the fact that LORD is in All-Caps means that it is referring to the personal name of God. That personal name is Yahweh.

What David really said was, “The law of Yahweh is perfect, reviving the soul”. He was not thinking of a title given to Yahweh as, “the Lord”, but of the personal name of the distinctive and particular God of the Israelites, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the God who appeared to Abraham and established a covenant that would one day give us the Messiah. This God has a word that is law, and how we understand this law and the one from whom this law proceeds, makes all the difference to how we feel when we speak of such things.

“The law of Yahweh is perfect, reviving the soul”.

Let’s begin, then, with this wonderful fact: there is a God whose name is Yahweh. He is the “High King of Heaven”, as an old hymn describes.[3] He is distinct from gods that have other names. We are repeatedly told to relate to him according to his name because that name distinguishes him as unique in the most supreme of ways.

This is our Father.

We now know that Yahweh has given his Son Jesus, “the name that is above every name,”[4] which we find in Revelation is, “King of kings and Lord of lords.”[5]  

This is our Brother.

The point for us is profound: our heavenly Father is the particular God named Yahweh, and his Son has been given the name that is above every name on heaven and earth, King of kings and Lord of lords, and by his name we call on Yahweh as our Father. The name is the person; the person is our security.

The law of Yahweh is perfect, reviving the soul”.

This person, our Father, has “the law”. Do not think of the Ten Commandments with all its rules and restrictions that prove us guilty as sinners. The New Testament does that quite well all on its own, by the way.

Instead, think of the whole of Scripture. What joyful rest and peace does it give the children of Yahweh to know that it is our Father who owns “the law”. Our Father’s word is law. No one can change that. What Father says will be is what will be. No one can make it otherwise.

“The law of Yahweh is perfect, reviving the soul”.

Our Father’s word is “perfect”. He is not like an earthly judge who cannot know for absolute certainty that every fact in a case has been presented. He is not like an earthly law-giver who is swayed by lobbyists and special interest groups that actually promote lawlessness with their laws against Christians. His law, the whole of what he has revealed in his word as what was, what is, and what will be, is perfect and will not be out-ruled by something better.

Again, since there is no one better than Father Yahweh, there is no rule of law greater than our Father’s word.

This is our security.

“The law of Yahweh is perfect, reviving the soul”.

With our Father’s full word of law, our lives are restored. It is by our Father’s words that we are revived to the life we were given. Life is about becoming our real selves because “real” means the way God made us, and our Father’s law has declared that we WILL be restored to the image and likeness of Jesus the King of kings and Lord of lords.[6]

“The law of Yahweh is perfect, reviving the soul”.

This reality applies to the “soul”, the “inner self” that is governed by the thoughts of the mind flowing through our inner beings by the activity of our hearts. The heart will always pump what our mind gives it, so even this declaration of wonder that “the law of Yahweh is perfect, reviving the soul,” is a reality to feed our minds so our hearts can make it do its work on our souls.

Consider that, for David, even without a great deal of what we call the Old Testament yet written, he knew that the law of Yahweh was so vastly superior in perfection than the babbling of the gods of the nations that he had to look at this diamond of truth as though turning from one facet to another. And each facet revealed something distinctive and complementary so that the whole consideration of the law of our Father made everything stand out so brilliantly that he simply had to write a song and sing about it!

Three thousand years later, David’s song still speaks because our Father Yahweh’s law is perfect, and when it is received as such, it continues to restore our souls to who we really are. And we need the restoring of our souls today as much as ever.

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Psalm 19:7
[2] Luke 24:44
[3] The Hymn is, “Be Thou My Vision”.
[4] Philippians 2:10-11 in context of Philippians 2:1-11.
[5] Revelation 17:14; 19:16
[6] Genesis 1:26-27 shows that this was our design in creation. The New Testaments shows Gods’ work to restore us to this (Ephesians 4:20-24). And the work God promises to carry on to completion (Philippians 1:6) is fulfilled at the return of Christ (I John 3:1-2).