Friday, July 24, 2020

The Faith of the Contrite

My present focus is still on, “without faith it is impossible to please God”.[1] It has me very aware that this is far more about maturing in the reality of faith than making me smarter about what faith means.

The thing Father is addressing with my faith is that he wants me to know him like this:

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.[2]

This is Yahweh speaking to his sinful people who prefer Satan’s gods to Yahweh’s presence. No one can escape the reality that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.[3] However, there is something that God wants sinners to understand about him when we are the ones James speaks about,

“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”[4]

God wants us to know that he alone is “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy”, which means that all our adulterous relationships with Satan’s gods is both stupid and sinful as sinful can be.

However, what the One True God wants us to know about ourselves in our sinful adultery and rebellion is this: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and ALSO with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit…”

The key thing here is that Yahweh, the high and exalted God, is talking to SINNERS. The only kind of people in Israel were SINNERS. The only kind of people in the world today is SINNERS.

What is Yahweh’s message to sinners?

First, it is NOT that Yahweh dwells with sinners as much as he dwells in eternity. In fact, Isaiah’s prophecies are full of this message, that Yahweh cannot dwell with sinners, will not dwell with sinners, and will bring divine judgment on his people who are sinners loving sinning. It is the same message today; God cannot condone or dwell with people who love their sin.

Second, there is a condition that any sinner can enter in which Yahweh will dwell with us. That condition is called the “contrite and lowly spirit”. A contrite person is one who feels grief and sorrow over their sin. A lowly spirit is one who knows their low or inferior status because of their sin. Jesus introduced his Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”,[5] because God blesses the contrite and lowly spirit with a return to the divine presence.  

The people Yahweh was addressing through Isaiah were people who felt comfortable in their sinful idolatry. They were puffed up with pride about what they were doing. Yahweh was not going to dwell with such people, and he would not let them continue dwelling in the land he had given to Abraham.

On the other hand, among that proud, idolatrous nation of sinners would be some who would hear Isaiah’s prophecy and come to feel grief about what they were doing. At the very least, this is what Isaiah himself had gone through when he entered the throne room of heaven and saw “the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.”[6] As he heard the seraphim calling out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”,[7] and the way the “foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke”,[8] he cried out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of hosts!”[9] He immediately discovered that the high and holy one was with him to both forgive his sin and commission him for ministry, all in one fell swoop.[10]

How are we to understand what it will be like for Yahweh to dwell with a contrite and lowly-spirited person? That he comes, “to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

To revive means to restore life where it has been lost. Sinners indulging in every kind of sin, delighting in every kind of idolatry, are, “dead in trespasses and sins, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience, living in the passions of their flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and are by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”[11]

Left to ourselves, we would continue in such spiritual deadness in this earthly life and receive the just condemnation of our sin in the next.

However, when the person of contrite and lowly spirit confesses their sins to Yahweh through faith in Jesus Christ, “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”[12]

One of the most well-known examples of a sinful man returning to God with a contrite and lowly spirit is the account of King David after his sin of adultery.[13] When Nathan the prophet confronted him with his sin, he went on to write a song of repentance that we now know as Psalm 51. In that song he makes this declaration, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”[14]

David was not downplaying his sin in the least. He simply knew that God was, “good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.”[15] And so his faith led him like a lamb back to his shepherd in the full confidence that his shepherd wanted to see him as much as if he had never sinned at all.

One more thing about this dual-dwelling of God in both the high and holy place and with those who come to him with a contrite and lowly spirit. Jesus fulfilled this reality in the most real and personal of ways. While Yahweh the Father was dwelling in the high and holy place of eternity, Yahweh the Son came to dwell among us, becoming the “friend of sinners” to the broken and contrite of heart.[16]

In fact, Jesus’ name, Immanuel, is, “God with us,” to fulfill what he told us through Isaiah.[17]

I believe the faith God is working into my heart is that he wants me to feel the joy of a heavenly Father who wants to be with his sinful child and only needs me to let myself feel the poverty-of-spirit that mourns my sin, meekly admit I cannot fix my sin problem, and so hunger and thirst for the righteousness that is by faith.[18]

It is the hunger and thirst of the contrite sinner for the righteousness he does not have that will be satisfied with the righteousness of faith in Jesus Christ. It is this faith that comes to God fresh out of our sin that pleases our Father because we trust him to be so good and forgiving that we know he will receive us just as the parable of the prodigal son reveals.[19]

Growing up as a good kid who was never good enough taught me that faith meant trying my best for God. A successful relationship with God was dependent on my good behavior, while any focus on my sins and transgressions left me feeling an utter failure.

God has been ministering to me tirelessly to show me that he delights in a faith that wants to be with him, period. It wants to be with him in what he is doing. It wants to be with him in wonderful expressions of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the church. But it also wants to be with him when we feel like naughty little children who just admitted to ourselves that we have once again failed to be like Jesus in the way we thought or acted.

God has been telling his people for millennia that Jesus is God with us because God wants to dwell with his people who are of contrite and lowly spirit. Jesus coming into the world as God in the flesh proves that point clearly enough that we can draw near to God in the full confidence that we will find him drawing near to us.[20]

You know, just like the prodigal son.

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] Hebrews 11:6
[2] Isaiah 57:15
[3] Romans 3:23
[4] James 4:4
[5] Matthew 5:3
[6] Isaiah 6:1 (context is Isaiah 6:1-13)
[7] Isaiah 6:3 (replacing “the LORD” with the divine name as per the original Hebrew)
[8] Isaiah 6:4
[9] Isaiah 6:5 (replacing “the LORD” with the more accurate rendering of God’s name, Yahweh)
[10] Isaiah 6:6-7 shows Isaiah’s cleansing and forgiveness, and Isaiah 6:8-13 his calling to ministry.
[11] Paraphrase of Ephesians 2:1-3 to fit the application.
[12] I John 1:9
[13] II Samuel 11:1-12:25
[14] Psalm 51:17
[15] Psalm 86:5
[16] Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34; Psalm 51:17
[17] Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23
[18] Based on the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12
[19] Luke 15:1-32 contains three parables Jesus told to help them appreciate whey Jesus “receives sinners and eats with them” (vss 1-2). The parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, all show the way “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (vs 7). The reason for the joy is that the Triune God is so delighted when we come home.
[20] James 4:7-8 in context of James 4:1-10

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Treasure of Faith That Delights our Souls

“And without faith it is impossible to please him...”
One of the treasures of a daily time with God in his word and prayer is the experience of finding gems of wisdom and knowledge that are exposed simply because of digging where we left off the previous day. When a new jewel is found, and placed in the mosaic of treasures already collected, each gem seems to increase in the depths of its beauty.

And so it is that this treasure, that without faith it is impossible to please our Creator, has become a gift of grace that is bursting my heart with wonder that something could be so gloriously beautiful as that.

What this reveals to me, in the treasure chest of all the surrounding gems, is that our Father in heaven is most pleased in his relationship with us when we want to be with him. That is what faith is, the settled desire to be with God.

That being with God our Creator is even possible is reason enough for joy unspeakable and full of glory. However, that there is the distinctive color of the spectrum in these treasures that he WANTS to be with us is the gift that leads us into his presence where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.

Today, my digging in the quarry unearthed a jewel that became brilliant in its beauty as it shone in the light of the whole gallery of gems. It was the simple realization that the truth of God WANTING to have children began before time was created. Somewhere and somehow in eternity, the Triune God shared their desire to have children. However the eternal God interacted together, they designed and determined the only way it would work.

When I look at the whole beautiful description of creation, and the unfolding plan of redemption, and the victorious work of Jesus our Savior, and the good news of great joy that calls sinners to repentance and faith, and the Spirit of the Triune dwelling in the people of God, all to bring us into a faith that wants to be with them, I cannot deny the evidence that our Father who is in heaven wants to be with his children on earth.

It is amazing how this realization washes away the attachment-pain of people not wanting to be with me (a work in progress). It is amazing how considering this brings such a peaceful desire to be with God as our Father in heaven. He is not an angry God I need to appease by my good behavior, but a desiring God who WANTS me to be with him. It pleases him when I delight myself in him so he can satisfy me with the very thing my heart most desires, to be attached to my Creator.

I share this because I want everyone to know what it is like to spend time in God’s word and prayer like a quarry full of treasures just waiting for those who will ask until they receive, seek until they find, and knock until these doors of delight open to them. The God who created us wants to be with his children. And he wants us to find our greatest joy in wanting to be with him.

God’s promise to us is that, “he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.”[1] If you see in your heart any longing for your Creator at all, open the quarry of his word, the life-giving Book we call the Bible, and let him satisfy your soul as never before.

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 107:9

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Jesus: The Christ, The Messiah, The Anointed One

During my morning time with God in his word and prayer I am often delighted to look up the meaning of words from the original languages of God’s Book. Sometimes this includes looking up parallel words from the Old Testament and the New Testament to see how certain themes are woven through the Scriptures to show us the constancy of God’s nature and his work.

This morning it struck me that, when we speak of Jesus using the Hebrew word “Messiah”, or the Greek word “Christ”, both words have the same meaning but sound quite different. That is because the Greek word “Christ” is a translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah”.

In English, we are more familiar with a transliteration of these words rather than a translation. This simply means that we are using in English what sounds like a reasonable facsimile of pronouncing the Hebrew and Greek words. Nothing wrong with that at all.

However, when we transliterate instead of translate, we are not as easily drawn to the meaning that would be in a Jewish person’s mind when they hear “Messiah”, or a Greek person’s mind when they hear “Christ”. That is because the meaning of both words is “Anointed One”, something that is not only an unfamiliar translation to most North American church folk, but also an unfamiliar concept.

What’s the point?

That when we see Jesus as “anointed” by God the Father, we see one who was deliberately set apart for a task in relation to a sinful human race. As a king was anointed to set him apart for his leadership, the Savior was someone anointed to do a particular work. Jesus is the set-apart-one, the one-and-only, the Savior commissioned by God to bring about his will in a sinful world.

As we watch our world deteriorating from bad to worse (just as God describes in his Book), whenever we refer to Jesus the Christ, we are speaking of the one person commissioned by God to seek and to save the lost.[1] He is set apart to this work, and no one else can do it.

This is why the early preachers of the good news declared about Jesus,

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”[2]

It is also why the apostles taught the church,

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[3]

Jesus was sent into the world as the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, to lay down his life for sinners.[4] Through his death and resurrection, Jesus has accomplished our salvation forever. Sins are now forgiven, debts are now cancelled, wrongs are now erased, and adoption as the sons of God absolutely secured.[5]

I love the mind-exercise of considering what Peter was like as shown in the gospel records, and what he was like when he wrote his two letters to the churches. We see some of Peter’s struggles, mistakes and failures in the gospels; we see him filled with the Spirit and commissioned to preach the gospel in Acts, and we discover the depths of his love-relationship with God and the church in his letters.

This is what Peter would have us know today as we consider who Jesus is to us now:

He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.[6]

Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, was “foreknown” by the Father as the Savior of his people before God even began the work of creation. The triune God went into creation knowing what Satan and sin would try to do to destroy their plans, and how the sacrifice of the Son of God was not only necessary, but also fully satisfactory, to bring about what God had in mind.

Whether you refer to the Son of God as Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Christ, or Jesus the Anointed One, or even any or all the above in the original words, or in whatever words correspond to these in other languages, let your heart fully attach to the person of Jesus, Immanuel, the name above every name, King of kings and Lord of lords, by whom we are saved into the household of God forever.

And live by faith in him no matter how your language would honor him as Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God.[7]

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 19:10
[2] Acts 4:12
[3] Philippians 2:9-11
[4] John 10:11, 15, 17; 15:13; I John 3:16
[5] Ephesians 1:1-14 shows the beauty and glory of the redemptive plan of God.
[6] I Peter 1:20-21
[7] Matthew 16:16 is where Peter gives his declaration, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” See also Luke 4:41; John 11:27, and John 20:30-31.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Monte’s Faith is For the Birds

Yesterday was a very rainy day, so I was quite intrigued with how busily the little birds were eating at our backyard feeders, not seeming to care about the weather. Perhaps the cool and wet day increased their demand for energy and so feeding was a bit more urgent.

As I went out to refill the feeders, I suddenly noticed that one little female Cassin Finch was not flying away with all the rest. In fact, it wasn’t moving at all, just standing on top of a birdhouse with its eyes closed and face raised to the light rain.

View from window

At first, I wondered whether birds just enjoy the feel of rain. It almost seemed lost in sensation of something that made it oblivious to me being only a few feet away. I was able to sneak back into the house to get my camera, take a shot through the window just so I had something in case it was gone when I returned, and then snapped some more pics as I again snuck closer to its resting place. I was overwhelmed with the wonder that a bird may actually enjoy something like the soft rain falling on its head.

First shot before getting too close

As I saw the same bird come back a couple more times during the day, just sitting with its eyes closed like that, I suddenly wondered if it could be the mate of one of the dead birds we have found in the yard. I was immediately overwhelmed with grief. What happens to these little creatures when something happens to one of their family? I know that God sees every sparrow that falls. Does he see the ones that live?

Lost in something

And then I wondered if the tears that betrayed me saw this as a picture of me? Could the heartaches of one child of God look like this, that the Father in heaven sees a heart lifted up to him in the rain and cares very deeply for what I feel? Could my experience of loss look like this, an overwhelmed creature stopping everything, even in the midst of the continued flurry of activity all around it, and looking heavenward because looking anywhere else was simply too painful?

This morning, these thoughts and feelings seemed just as fresh as the day before, so I had to look up the passages where Jesus talks about our worth in contrast to that of a few small birds. Luke’s version quotes Jesus as saying,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.[1]

For anyone who thinks that “worth issues” are a contemporary creation, Jesus was dealing with such things as he shared the good news and encouraged his disciples in the cost of following him. No matter what happens to us because of our faith in Jesus Christ, we are to see ourselves as having the greatest worth of all God’s creatures.

This means that, when Jesus said, “not one of them is forgotten before God,” and, “you are of more value than many sparrows,” we cannot ever think that we would be forgotten by God our heavenly Father in our suffering for Jesus’ sake.

Matthew records Jesus as saying, “And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.”[2] When we also add this to the, “you are of more value than many sparrows,” we are urged to think of our potential “falling to the ground” in persecution as far more significant to God than when we find a dead bird in our yard and wonder which neighborhood cat is the culprit.[3]

When Jesus said, “Fear not,” he meant even in relation to the threat of death.[4] In other words, the worst thing we could face as followers of Christ is persecution. Persecution brings with it the possibility of martyrdom. Death is scary. Jesus knows that. So he picks a little creature that was treated as almost without value, tells us how God even has concern for the smallest of his creatures, clarifies that we are of “more value” than even the least of his animals, so we should never question our worth when facing persecution and the threat of death.

This brought to mind what Paul said about such things, For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”[5] I realized that we have so little sense of “the glory that is to be revealed to us,” and what it means to our heavenly Father to complete his work of making us like his Son, that we don’t feel the contrast Jesus is making between us and a few sparrows. What God will one day complete in bringing to himself a people in the image and likeness of his Son is so glorious in every way that even the worst suffering and death experienced by the children of God is almost not worth comparing to the coming glory. We are simply of too much worth to God for him to fail to do what he has promised.

This whole emotional encounter with a little bird in the rain is a most surprising picture of God seeing me in everything I go through. It is getting quite easy for him to number the hairs of my head as I age,[6] but the point is still there. If he concerns himself with the number of hairs on our heads, and a few sparrows in the marketplace, or a tiny bird falling to its death, how much more will he be with us in intimate concern as we suffer for his sake.

Tears immediately come to my eyes as I replay how I found that little Cassin Finch standing in the rain in such stark contrast to all the other pairs of finches flying around our feeders fighting to get a turn to eat. I now realize that, as Father made sure I would see this, and multiple times through the rest of the afternoon, even this would affirm that I am of greater value than I know, and what is going on with me matters more to him than I could possibly feel about what was going on with that little finch.

Head tucked in and all alone

And that means that, even the underlying reasons that this little wet bird would impact me so profoundly are known to him, and one day he will wipe away all such tears and their reasons for being there.


© 2020 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8


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 12:6-7

[2] Matthew 10:29 (note: I think the difference in phrasing in the different gospel-writers could be because the human authors are summarizing longer teaching sessions, highlighting whichever wording stood out to them, or compiling into one account what they may have heard multiple times as Jesus taught the same things to different groups of people, phrasing things slightly differently on each occasion)

[3] We have asked our little mutt Finnian if he thinks he is supposed to protect our yard from birds but he looks at us like he doesn’t know what we are talking about.

[4] This is in the context of both Matthew 10:26-33 and Luke 12:1-12.

[5] Romans 8:18

[6] Matthew 10:30 and Luke 12:7 speak of God even knowing the number of hears on our heads in order to affirm that, if he cares to know such things as that, how could he ever relate to our suffering and potential martyrdom with no interest at all.