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Posts Tagged ‘work of christ’

The Lie that was promulgated in the garden is persistent and pernicious. The enemy knows it is the most subtle way to destroy us, and it is persistent because it is part of our nature. “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5) is a Lie with many iterations. It is the basis of all works salvation whether it be the religions of the world, the self-assured atheist, or the nominal, legalist Christian. Such an ominous enemy to our soul must be regularly and rigorously opposed. The remedy for me is focusing on the grace of God brought to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

To that end, I asked my pastor recently if he had a book that would refresh my focus on grace. He loaned me the little book, “All of Grace” by C. H. Spurgeon. He leaves no stone unturned in his pursuit of convincing the reader that God “justifieth the ungodly” (Romans 4:5).

The persistence of the Lie most frequently resides here: “We stubbornly believe that there must be something in us in order to win the notice of God” (p.14) But “God, who sees through all deceptions, knows that there is no goodness whatsoever in us.” (p.14) Our pride rises up against this thought, but salvation is for those who realize “He makes those just who are unjust. He forgives those who deserve no favor.” (p.14) Those who are closest by training to what is right and good can sometimes be the fartherest from salvation because they have become self-deceived into thinking that the rightness and goodness resides, even if only partially, in them. On the other hand, some who reject the very existence of God are equally self-deceived about their own goodness. For this reason, what Spurgeon says is profoundly true: “The law is for the self-righteous, to humble their pride. The Gospel is for the lost, to remove their despair.” (p.21) To those already broken by their sin, we preach the good news of God’s grace. To those self-assured of their own goodness, we convey the law so that they will come to a point of despair over their sin and grow in desire for a solution only found in the Gospel. Though the witness is a messenger of these things, the Holy Spirit through the Word of God is the means of this grace. “When He [the Holy Spirit] comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8) and ” the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Galations 3:24).

So why must I, who have long been in the grace of God, refocus on that grace? As I have already said, the Lie is persistent and pernicious. My old nature would have me believe that afterall there is some measure of works I must provide to be satisfactory to God. No, I must continue in “simple reliance upon Jesus” (p.89), cling to Him, turn constantly for a view of His goodness, love, and power, all given to me by His grace. Herein is joy and peace; hence is purpose and hope. The quicker and more deeply I can become totally convinced of the grace of God, the more readily I can love others and point them to that all sufficient grace.

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We had such a blessing around the table and advent wreath last evening with three of our sons and future daughter-in-law. My personality hardly even knows how to do unhurried time, but it was so good, good conversation, good food, good consideration of both advents, good singing, and good gifts.

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Let us remember that among the other blessings that Christ brought was His rescue of us from under the Law as slaves to sin so that we might become sons of God. He accomplished all of this through His incarnation, sacrificial death, and resurrection. The penalty of sin is gone because He eliminated the legal problem by satisfying it. Now His Spirit indwells us so that the power of sin is retreating from our lives. And we have hope of His second advent that will bring judgement so that we might live in His holy presence apart from the presence of sin. May your New Year be prosperous in health, relationships, finances, and most of all, your knowledge and service of our Savior.

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When two different objects or ideas are placed near to one another, so that their nearness emphasizes their differences, this is called juxtaposition. [Raise up an off white, slightly stained rag and ask, “Is it clean?” When there is doubt, say, “Let me help you.” Raise up a very white, clean rag and point to the first rag, saying, “Is it clean?”] The hymn writer highlights the juxtaposition well, a contrast of seemingly incompatible facts, when he writes: “’Tis myst’ry all: th’ Immortal dies: Who can explore His strange design?” (Charles Wesley) Indeed, how can this be, that the infinite, immortal, all powerful, all knowing, everywhere present, eternal God sovereignly limits Himself to finite, mortal, frail, limited in knowledge and location and time, human flesh?

We do not merely speak of incarnation. You and I are incarnate, that is, housed in flesh. No, we speak of Divine Incarnation, God in flesh. As the Scripture says, “Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself” (Philippians 2:6-8) But another Scripture says, “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.” (Hebrews 1:3)

We have stated the fact of God the Son taking on human flesh. But what was the means? How did it happen? The Scripture says, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:20-24)

Through the conception by the Holy Spirit within the Virgin Mary, Jesus retained His sinless, divine nature enabling Him to live a perfect life and overcome death, which had the power to save. By being developed in Mary’s womb, Jesus gained a body of flesh and human nature and capacities by which He could be a substitutionary sacrifice for “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.” (Hebrews 9:22)

Therefore, we should celebrate the Incarnation of Christ, because by it we are both saved and taught about God. We should also resolve to serve the Incarnate Christ, because we owe Him our life now and for eternity. As the songwriter says:

“From heaven you came helpless babe
Entered our world, your glory veiled
Not to be served but to serve
And give Your life that we might live

This is our God, The Servant King
He calls us now to follow Him
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to The Servant King”                (by Graham Kendrick)

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In Isaiah 11:1-10 the rule of the Messiah is gloriously summarized. The first and tenth verses suggest the lineage of this ruler by a plant metaphor. But at first glance it appears to be a mixed metaphor. Verse one reads,Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit”, and verse ten in part reads, “Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse…” So which is he, a shoot and therefore a branch or a root? Is it a poorly played metaphor or a profound mystery?

The best place from which to better understand Scripture is Scripture. Isaiah 53:1-2 introduces the the chapter on the Suffering Servant: Who has believed our message And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground”. Here we see again that He is both shoot and root, and seemingly fragile and stressed. In this chapter the horrors of his demise are chronicled with such detail as to cause even the casual observer to think it must refer to Jesus on the cross. Jeremiah 23:5 states, “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord“When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.” On trees trunks (or stems) shoots become branches. Now Jesse was the father of King David, so both passages imply the promises given to David in 2 Samuel 7 concerning “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (verse 13) In context the “his” of this verse is the descendant (branch) of David who will rule. Messiah will also be a priest: “Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you—indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch.” (Zechariah 3:8) Priests symbolizing the Priest who will come, the Branch. In Revelation 5:1-5 His authority is shown: I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it.  Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” God, the Father, sits in majesty upon His throne holding a sealed scroll. John weeps because it seems that no one may open it. But the Root of David, Jesus, has that authority and power because He has overcome sin and death and hell according to the command of His Father. But why is He characterized as a Root here? The final verse I would like to share clears up this dichotomy: “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” Jesus declares He is the root and shoot (descendant). I believe that the meaning of Him being declared both Root and Branch is as follows: As God He is the Root or origin of David’s line and all things; as Man He is the Branch or descendant of David who would save His people and rule righteously forever. Messiah Jesus is the perfect God-Man, both Root and Branch.

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“But In these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.” (Hebrews 1:2) When one spoke for God in times past He was considered a prophet. Jesus taught about God. Jesus revealed hidden things about God. Jesus spoke miracles into existence. For the people who observed these things “Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and, ‘God has visited His people!’” (Luke 7:16) By late in His ministry they were convinced: “And the crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.’” (Matthew 21:11) It was certainly true that they were anticipating a prophet. Messianic fever had been rife for many years. When a Roman commander and his cohort seized Paul the Apostle he wanted to know the cause of the riot forming. Knowing the tendency of Jewish people to look for prophets and messiahs he responds to Paul’s request to speak in Greek: “Then you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” (Acts 21:38) This question also suggests that the people were perhaps looking for a revolutionary, political savior rather than a spiritual one. The spiritual leaders participated in this anticipation and probably incited it, even if not intentionally. When they asked John the Baptizer about who he was, “They asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ And he said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, No.’” (John 1:21) (underline mine) This phrase, ‘the’ Prophet, arises again: “Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.’” (John 6:14) They were most definitely looking for one certain prophet who would come for a specific purpose. The crowds were evidently weighing the evidence for this being the one: “Some of the people therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, ‘This certainly is the Prophet.’” (John 7:40)

But what specific prophet were they anticipating and for what reason would he be special? Moses was a one of kind prophet, as the Scripture says: Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land, and for all the mighty power and for all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.” (Deuteronomy 34:10-12) But Moses looked forward to an even greater prophet than himself when he said: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. This is according to all that you asked of the Lord your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.’ The Lord said to me, ‘They have spoken well. I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19) The Prophet would be similar to Moses but superior in that refusal on the part of anyone to listen to him would be fatal. The people of Jesus’ time were anticipating The Prophet, the great Prophet, who Moses said would come.

Jesus fit the description. He claimed to be the one: The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us. Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’” (John 4:25-26) Jesus did miracles of provision and healing and raising from the dead. He revealed the mystery that He was in fact God and had authority to explain who God is. He had the authority to condemn though He says that He was not the one who would do it: And Jesus cried out and said, ‘He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me. I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.’” (John 12:44-50) God said that the one who refused this prophet He would require it of him. Jesus says that the result will be judgment at the last day for not receiving words He pronounced from God the Father. The Prophet has come about 2020 years ago. A mere 30+ years later He died so that we may live and rose so we might rise. This Christmas season receive His words from the Father so that God may require your disobedience in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross rather require it of you for eternity.

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Hebrews 1:3 is a deeply insightful verse about our God: “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” I have long been fascinated by the phrase “radiance of His glory” and have written about it once upon a time here (Radiance Check out the poem, too.). “Radiance” is translated “brightness” in several versions but seems to fall short of conveying what Jesus accomplishes by revelation to us of His Father. He shines forth His glory, that is, we could not know of God without seeing His glory in Jesus’ representation of Him. You only see the sun because of the light radiating from it. Analogies can be taken too far, in this case to make Jesus out to be something or someone separate from the Father. That is heresy and not at all my intention in explaining radiance. Rather, hear what Jesus said, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9) That verse, of course, bears on the phrase “exact representation” also. In the ESV it reads, “exact imprint”. As an illustration I pressed my truck key into Play-Doh. I pointed out that plastic could be poured into the imprint, harden and used to open my truck door. Again, you could get into positive/negative imprint or representation being a facsimile rather than the original but that is not what the Scripture is saying. These analogies fall short because of the mystery of the Trinity, meaning our inability to understand the essential nature of God, but He gives us insight to extend our understanding even though we fall short of full understanding.

The next phrase is the one that has caught my attention most recently. I am now going to indulge in some manifest musing (or “thinking out loud” as we usually say if I were talking to you). Heupholds all things by the word of His power.” “Word of His power” is an odd construction in English. NASB, KJV, NKJV, and ESV use this phrase. NIV, HCSB, and NRSV say, “His powerful word”, and the RSV says, “his word of power”, both phrases which seem to me to have a different meaning from “word of His power”.  I suspect the three newer translations (NIV, HCSB, and NRSV) made interpretative decisions for the purpose of clarity. Is this change justified? The Greek Interlinear Bible (http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/NTpdf/heb1.pdf) has the literal English word order as “declaration [word] of the ability (power) of Him” (“[]” being my addition and “()” being theirs). Not claiming to know more than the slightest inkling of Greek grammar, I can at least say that the majority translations are going with the more literal wording. The interlinear translation and Strong’s help us with what the particular words mean. “Word” here is not logos, the expression of God, but rhema, a declaration. And “power” is dynamis, which means ability or potential for power or action.

The “of” is important. It denotes possession. If I say, “son of mine” I mean the same thing as “my son”. The shade of difference is the emphasis on son in the first phrase. So the reason I don’t think “word of His power” and “His powerful word” mean the same thing is that “powerful” is not possessive, but a descriptive modifier. It says His word is powerful. “Word of His power” says His power’s word. The power is expressed in a declaration (word). Rather than saying His word has power, it seems to be saying that His power has word. His power proceeds forth as that which communicates what will be (be that static (“upholds”) or dynamic (“created” Isaiah 40:26)). Word modifies power rather than power modifying word. If we had the word it could read, ‘His wordful power’. The emphasis is on declaration (word) that upholds all things but the source of that word is His power. From His power proceeds forth a word which upholds. The way his power is being exhibited is through efficacious declaration.

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All the political hubbub with no real solutions. All the anxiety ridden news reports without real hope. All the suggested intrusions on freedom with no real security. We are not going to make progress and are going to regress rapidly without turning to the one and only solution. 

This poem actually began as two conflicting thoughts and considering the circumstances under which they came about. It seems to me now the first verse does not even go with the rest of the poem so I will separate it with extra space. See what you think:

I write poetry to keep from being bored
Focus mind when feet are nailed to a floorboard
Teasing out thoughts that are both far flung and near
Sorting through the hurtful and that which is dear

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When I think of all the wrong that’s in the world
Murders and abuse and war banners unfurled
My mind grabs for solutions to bring to bear
All beyond reach in a world cruel and unfair

There’s the pain to loved ones from me and others
Scarred relationships start with father, mothers
Friends and neighbors had words and are offended
Words out, actions done, cannot be rescinded

Is there no hope for mankind, is it all gloom?
Tearing down self and others, is this our doom?
No, there is hope, but it’s not in self-help plans
Nor is it in the police state or gun bans

Our hope is in God’s Son through His sacrifice
His death on the cross for sin paid the full price
By trusting in His work we have peace with God
Relationship growing in place of the rod

Repentance and forgiveness we have in Him
We may pass to others as a precious gem
When seeking to forgive and be forgiven
We have with sin and disharmony striven

This makes possible reconciliation
Moving past hurt beginning restoration
Extending peace to strangers and enemies
Doing right by neighbors knowing that God sees

Hope for the future and for the present too
Pointing people to purpose both real and true
Spending time and resources to relieve pain
Pointing to the Savior in Whom is real gain

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