Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Job is just awesome.  It is the Biblical epic in the manner of Milton and Homer, with immense spiritual intensity.  It can be read as a Biblical allegory, or as the account of God and the war in the heavenlies against Satan.  Jewish scholars have always thought of Job as the allegory of Israel.  It has associations of God, Satan, and a man which we might link with Genesis 2 and 3.

  Above all Job is spiritual cinemascope.

  If we begin with the simple arrangement of the book, the first two chapters and the last 5 chapters form a simple drama.  God allows Job to be afflicted by Satan for a time, and when Job will not yield to Satan, God rescues Job to bless him.
  This simple arrangement then suggests what a Jewish epic poet might say would have happened had Adam not succumbed to Satan.  Blessing and protection in Job 1 and Gen. 1 and 2.  Testing in Job 2 as in Gen. 3.  Reward in Job 42, just reward in Gen. 3.8 through to chapter 4.

  What has made the book famous is the poetry.  Job 17.7 says--What is man that Thou does magnify him and that Thou art concerned with him?  We are reminded of David's paraphrase of this in Psalm 8.4.  Solomon also quotes and paraphrases Job in several places.
  In chapters 3-37 the poet of Job has the four counselors advise Job on how to get out from under his suffering.  The advise comes in three waves, three sections in which each of Job's counselors has his say.  What makes Job relevant today is the underlying message.  It is this message which has made Job worth preserving as the oldest section of the OT.

  Job begins by saying he wishes he were never born--why did I not die at birth, Job 3.11.  But Job knows God has allowed this tragedy, in fact Job says God has done this suffering upon him, Job 10.8.  His counselors cannot accept that, they must say God rewards the righteous and punishes the sinners so Job must be a sinner, Job 11.13-14.
  But Job has the intimation there is something beyond this in God, Job 12.13-25.  God makes fools, his priests go barefoot, He loosens and He binds, He pours contempt, He makes rulers wander in a pathless place.  This insight by Job that God rules to His own purposes, out of His holiness, sets the stage for Job's greatest understanding of God.

  Beyond justice, God is holy.

  Job knows God does not treat everyone the same, fairness is not His rule.  So Job demands to speak to God personally--I would speak to the Almighty, Job 13.3.  His suffering and God's holiness forces Job into the dramatic rise in thought--Though He slay me, I will hope in Him, Job 13.15.
  Job has realized that even in death he will hope in God.  Job then contemplates what he just said.  He says in Job 14.14--If a man dies will he live again?  This has become Job's hope.  Not the cessation of pain but life through death. That God is to be trusted in life and death will free every man from sin, death and Satan.

  What this means is beyond fairness is God's holiness.  In order to bring Job through suffering God must make Job realize that if God were merely treating every man the same as the counselors say, no man would ever know God in this life.  Men would only know His rule, not His person.
  In order for Job to go from knowing God's rule to knowing God as a person, Job must be able to stand before Him.  He asks God this, but it can only happen if God allows.  God must give Job the act of standing before Him.

  This is grace.

  It is the risk of life through death, as Job says in 13.15.  Because forgiveness replaces punishment, grace glows over justice.  In order to stand before Him, God must choose Job.  Job begins to realize this in a slender manner, Job 16.6-22.  That choosing comes from God's holiness, the theme of the entire OT from Genesis 12 on.  It is this choosing which is God's love.  In the NT this is stated in John 15.16--You did not choose Me, but I chose you.

  What Job comes to realize is justice bars him from God.  Grace includes him in God, Ephesians 1.7.  Grace is God's choosing Job in order to love him, so that Job's relationship to God is God's love chosen and returned.
  No wonder the manuscript of Job has survived the centuries when so much other ancient writing has not.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

This is one of the rarest passages in the Bible.  It is John being allowed to curl back the invisibility of God so that we might stand in the enclosure of the Trinity.
  This chapter doesn't use sanctification, justification, election, predestination or any of the $10 words we might expect of so holy, so rare a Word of God.  It doesn't use an OT reference.

  Jesus says, 'I come to Thee, I was with them, I kept them, I am no more in the world.'  Simple words without a parable, without stained glass or metaphors of light or water or bread.  There are no specific instructions as we find in the Law.  Here the Spirit of God has inspired John to conceal as much as he reveals in such few words.
  Yet the chapter is rich in Biblical themes of Father and only-begotten Son, belief in God, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, and God's glory. While we are not taken through the OT step by step as in Peter's sermons or the Letter to Hebrews, if we put the details of John 17 down for a moment and step back, we might realize what is being conveyed.

  First, God in us and we in Him.
  This is an uncovering of God.  As the Lord revealed Himself to Moses on the mountain, as Jesus showed Philip the Father, so we are allowed to 'see' the relationship with the Father and Son.  John will say in 1 John 1.3--what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
   Now here in John 17, we see how Jesus is the Son of the Father.  It is a relationship of giving.  Jesus says--Now they have come to know that everything Thou has given Me is from Thee, John 17.7.  What the Father has as creator, He gives to the Son as redeemer.  He says this when He says--the world which Thou gave Me I have given to them and they received, and truly understood that I came forth from Thee and they believed that Thou did send Me, John 17.8.

  If God abides in us and we in Him, chapter 17 is telling us that God is much more in our lives than we might realize.  We often do not 'see' Him, but He is just beyond our invisibility, taking care of us, loving us, being sovereign in the world for us as we are for Him.  God is not the oblong blur of some religions or the philosophical arguer of the ancient Greeks or the dictator of ancient Rome.
  Paul says--all things have been created through Him and for Him.  And He is before all things and in Him all things hold together, Col. 1.16.  He is all in all because all created things have some of His glory.  That glory was given to the Son, who has given it to us as His body, the church, John 17.22.

  When the disciples of John ask Jesus, Are you the expected One in Matthew 11.5, He says--Go and report to John the things which you see and hear...the blind receive sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear and the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.
  All these things the people saw.  As the Father gave to the Son, He now gives to us. The NT does not ask us to go into the church as often as it declares that we would go out into the world.  John says this--As Thou did send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world, John 17.18.

  We might say that the essence of Christianity is that we belong to the Son as He belongs to the Father, that we would glorify Him.

  Second, we can realize from this chapter how much Christianity is a gift from God.  The Father gives authority to the Son, 17.2, the Father gave the disciples to the Son, 17.6, the words which the Father gave to the Son, He has given to men, 17.8, and the glory which the Father gave to the Son, He has given to men, 17.22.  Over and over, it's a gift.

  World religions aren't like this.  Most deities keep accounts over men or the gods cannot be known  Here the Spirit of God is revealing through the words John wrote that the Father gives to the Son and the Son gives to men and women.  It is more like a family relationship than a world religion.  John will say later in his life that God is love.

  This relationship of giving is perfectly expressed in Acts 3.6 where a lame man cries out to Peter and John as they walk by.
  Peter then says--Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do possess I give to you.  In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene--walk!
  It is a gift.  The man was not wealthy, he was not a Pharisee, a reader of the scrolls or a priest or government official.  But he asked Peter and John, and the gift which they were given--that the lame shall walk--they give to this man.

  A gift cannot be repaid, but it can be passed along.  That's our gratitude, our capacity to love God.  Freely we have received, freely give.  No wonder God is love.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

When Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, he wrote about a character who had to make choices without regard to repercussions.  So Hamlet questions his own nature, as to who he is.  He says to his friend Rosencrantz--
  what a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
  infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
  admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
  a god!  the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals--and yet
  to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

  Hamlet's question about himself is that he, like every man, is a mixture.  He would like to clutch one element of his manliness but the other qualities are there, always there.  So the question remains.
  In Acts 17.28 Paul says--in Him we live and move and hae our being.  We are completely His even if we don't believe in God.  Jesus says in Matthew 10.29 that--not one sparrow will fall to the ground apart from your Father. We have our existence because God exists.  And yet, nearly all spiritual writers say we must empty ourselves of ourselves to be holy.  We must pick up our cross daily, deny the world, relinquish our self to God.

  So, we must ask, how do we do that?
  While the Scriptures say man is evil (Gen.6.3), they also say God is good.  We have been made in His image, Gen. 1.27.  This means, among other things, that mankind is a person as God is a person.  Paul said this in the Acts 17 passage when he says we have our being in God.  Being a person means being self-conscious, which in turn means that we make choices.

  This brings us to our freedom to make those choices.  A man dead in his trespasses and sins does not have choices--he is dead.  The one who has choices is the one who is living as the image of God.  Even after Adam's sin, God speaks to him.  Adam has the freedom to confess his sin, to return in humility to God, even if he doesn't.  It is the man and woman living as God's image who has the choices.  The purpose of that freedom to choose is to be transformed into the likeness of God in Christ.

  God relates to us spiritually as men and women who are nothing without Him--apart from Me you can do nothing, John 15.5.  We relate to God as a person who responds to Him in repentance and belief, Matt. 3.2, Acts 17.30.  We are vessels in His hands, yet we are also impressed by His image to be like Him.

  The disciples were called to be followers of Jesus, brothers of Him, friends of Him.

  The disciples were called to be His followers, that is, those who would learn of Him, Matt. 11.29, John 6.45.  They did follow Him and He revealed special things to them.  But when He ascended, He gave the gift of the Holy Spirit for His disciples to go into the world.  They became brothers, that is, fellow workers in the work of evangelism.  In Matt. 12.49 Jesus calls His disciples His own brothers as--whoever shall do the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is my brother.
  We see this when Paul calls Epaphroditus his brother in Philippians 2.25.  Both Peter and Paul humble themselves in the work of the Lord.  Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1.24--we are workers with you for your joy...  And in 1 Peter 5.1 Peter calls himself--your fellow-elder and witness.  One among many, brothers in the Lord.

  But that is not all.  In John 15.23-17 Jesus says--no longer do I call you slaves..but I have called you friends.  What is a friend according to Jesus?  It is--for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.  Why has Jesus done this?  He has, in order that--you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should remain that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give it to you.
  And then there's more.  According to Paul's word to Timothy in 2 Tim. 2.12, we will reign in heaven with Christ.  In the eternal state, we will reign upon the new earth, Revelation 5.10, 20.6.

  What this means is that as the living image of God we are given the freedom to choose God,  to be his brothers and friends to ultimately reign in heaven with Christ. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

In Psalm 77 Asaph is lamenting that the great closeness he had with God has vanished.  He says--
  Will the Lord reject forever?
  And will He neer be favorable again?
  Has His lovingkindness ceased forever?
  Has His promise come to an end forever?
This is the experience of many of us, from Job to our own day.  Once we were aware of God's presence, close to us.  But now that presence seems to have gone.  We are tempted to say or feel God has changed, or that He has abandoned us in our trouble.

  How can we respond to times like these?

  In Revelation 2.4 the Lord says the church at Ephesus has--left your first love.
  Do you remember your first experience with God?  It might have been coming to God as a child through baptism or a Sunday School class.  It might have been praying for the first time knowing who you prayed to; it might have been reading your first Bible or the first time you entered a church.

  The apostle Paul once said the church is His body--the fulness of Him who fills all in all, Ephesians 1.23.  This means that if God is all in all, He does not leave us.  We can't use our hand to brush away air; so God, like the air, has not left us.  As He is always present, we can return to our first love, Jesus Christ.  John says--our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, 1 John 1.3.

  Now that we know that, what is it like to have fellowship with God?

  The innermost being of God is love.  And just as a man would propose marriage--his undying love--to a young girl, so God in the beginning of our life with Him proposed love to us.  Now as it is the desire and opportunity of the girl to express back her love for the young man, God then gives us the opportunity to express our love for Him.  He appears to recede for us to give Him the love He has given us.

  We return to our first love by taking the times in which we feel abandoned by God to love Him back.

  We might remember Jesus said--Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you, not as the world gives do I give to you, John 14.27.  If we have HIs peace in us and we have the Spirit of God all around us, we have the consolation of His presence even if we don't feel it at the moment.
  We can speak to our soul.  David said--
  Why are you downcast, O my soul?
  And why have you become disturbed within me?
  Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
  For the help of His presence, Psalm 42.5

  We can learn to trust Him, as trust is loving God.  The Puritan Joseph Sibbes wrote--This trusting in God is the way to quiet our souls and to stay the same in every estate.  The reason is because God has sanctified this holy grace to this end.  
  The Bible mentions several times in which God came to someone, gave them a blessing and then provided them with the opportunity to love God back through trust or faith.  The first time is the most famous.  Our whole world knows the story of Adam and Eve.  God came to Adam, blessed him with Eve and blessed them both with the garden.  Then God steps back.  Adam and Eve now have the opportunity to trust in what God said about the two trees.  They fail to give God love through trust in His word, so paradise is lost.

  But now look at Abraham.  He failed like Adam but God came to him again.  In Genesis God tells Abraham he will have a son, even though Sarah is barren and old.  She tells Abraham to provide a son through Hagar rather than through God's blessing, Gen. 16.2.
  Later, God gives Abraham the opportunity to trust in God through Isaac., Gen. 22.  He had to trust in God entirely concerning not just Isaac but God's promise that Abraham would be the father of many nations.  If Abraham slays Isaac, this could not happen.  However, this time Abraham believes and trusts the Lord to provide the lamb.

  In the NT we read the same thing; Jesus approaches with blessing, then He gives someone the opportunity to love Him back.  Luke says that 10 lepers come to Jesus for healing.  He provides that healing.  Nine walk away without expressing any love for Jesus, but one comes back.  Although he is not a Jew, Jesus rewards him with--Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well, Luke 17.19. 

  God has blessed us, so we speak love to God through our trust in what He has said.

  In all of this, we see the dynamic of love with our God.  He loves us in order that we should love Him in return.  As the Gershwin song says--our love is here to stay.
  Instead of thinking that God has abandoned us or that we are depressed or downcast, we should think of these times as the opportunity to give back to God the love He has given us.
  For He has visited us, Luke 1.68.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

When we read Matthew 5.48--you are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect--we might not even believe that is possible.  We might want to let that verse pour off of us like water off a rock.  But if Jesus said it, what He said must be true.

  How can we be perfect as God the Father, in heaven?  We are here, we are in our human life with the twisting strain of disappointments.  But Jesus must have meant something.
  We read in Acts that the Holy Spirit is given to men and women--we hear them in our own tongues speaking the mighty deeds of God, Acts 2.10.  It is by the power of this Spirit that the holiness of the Father is given to men and women.  But that is not all.  Having been given the gift to fulfill Matt. 5.48, God asks that we live out in that gift, that Spirit.

  We might say God gives a command for which He gives the gift, and then as we receive the gift God asks we live in it.

  Can we find an episode in the gospels which makes that plain?  I think we can look at John 8, the woman caught in adultery.  She is caught, throw down to dust in a corner of the temple courtyard.  The Pharisees and scribes surround her, to stone her as the Law proscribed, Leviticus 20.10.  Then they turn from her to Jesus, demanding of Him--what then do you say, John 8.5.  Jesus knows the Law.  And yet He knows she is a soul made in the image of God.  He knows the commandment against killing, Exodus 20.13.

  Here with this woman the Law is a rope unraveled in two directions, now so weakened so that it cannot be used.  One direction is to stone her, the other is to prevent killing her through forgiveness.  So Jesus must wrap the Law back together so that it glorifies God in heaven.  If the men stone her, they are taking the place of God in her death, without the hope of the resurrection since she will die without repentance.  If Jesus prevents the stoning of her, He must answer to the Law. 

  So He says the Pharisees and scribes cannot take the place of God to end her life.  He says they are not so perfect that they can cast the first stone--he who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her, John 8.7. 
  Jesus has made the demand of perfection mentioned in Matt. 5.48.  The Pharisees and scribes do not have such a gift, only Jesus does.  So He takes the gift from them to give it to her when He says--Woman, where are they?  Did no one condemn you, John 8.10.

  Having forgiven her, now Jesus tells her to live in the gift He has given her.  He tells her--Neither do I condemn you; go your way, from now on sin no more, John 8.13.  She has the gift of forgiveness so she must now live a new life in the holiness of Matt. 5.48.

  Most of the NT is about living out the gift we have been given, to be holy before the Lord.  All of the Sermon on the Mount is God's instructions on how to--sin no more.  This was always God's intention and will.  If we turn back to Exodus 20 (just 7 verses after the commandment against murder) Moses tells the people--do not be afraid for the Lord God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin, Exodus 20.20.

  Our heavenly Father always desired holiness for us.  He gives what He requests in order to ask of us what He has given.  When He declares the request that we be holy, that is our justification.  When He gives the Spirit by which we can be holy, that is our sanctification.  It is majestic and it is for us, every one of us.

  Now having said that, how can it be?

  1 John 1.3 says--our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  That we are complete in Him is stated in 1 John 1.7--If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin...If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins nd to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

 So we confess our sins, not because we are holy but to be holy.  John goes on to say--whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.  This is being holy by being cleansed of the sins we commit.  Confession of sins, keeping His word, loving God.
  Be holy as your Father in heaven is holy.