Friday, July 11, 2014

Union with the Intercessor

I’m preaching on confession in a few weeks and have been reading the Scripture’s examples. There’s a pattern that has captivated my attention. Sometimes when interceding for either the Church or Nation we pray as those removed – it’s an “us-and-them” prayer. This is usually because we don’t accept any part in the problems for which we are praying. However, I noticed that the O.T. intercessors don’t have this attitude.

Nehemiah: “I said, ‘I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, Who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses’” (1:5-7).

Isaiah: “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts’” (6:1-5).

Daniel: “So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and said, ‘Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, Who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land. Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day - to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You. Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we have sinned against You. To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him; nor have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophets. Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him. Thus He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us, to bring on us great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what was done to Jerusalem. As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth. Therefore the LORD has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the LORD our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice. And now, O Lord our God, Who have brought Your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and have made a name for Yourself, as it is this day - we have sinned, we have been wicked. O Lord, in accordance with all Your righteous acts, let now Your anger and Your wrath turn away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people have become a reproach to all those around us. So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and for Your sake, O Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary. O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name; for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion. O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name’...I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God...” (Daniel 9:3-20).

The intercessor does not stand apart from those for whom he is interceding. Even if he/she is the only one praying and seeking the face of God, there is no sense of separation from sinners. An intercessor stands both in the presence of God as the sinners for whom he/she is interceding. The intercessor does not pray for them, but for us. The intercessor does not confess their sin, but our sin.

This attitude carried over into the early generations of the Church: “Ye mourned over the transgressions of your neighbors: their deficiencies you deemed your own” (1 Clement 2.6).

Any judgment over this land will begin with the Church (1 Peter 4:17,18; cf. Proverbs 11:31). Peter, quoting the Proverb, speaks of the “difficulty” with which the people of God will be saved. Jesus called it “impossible” (Matthew 19:25,26//Mark 10:26,27//Luke 18:26,27). If the salvation of the Church is such, where is our broken heart for neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, family? Where is our “great sorrow and unceasing grief in...heart” (Romans 9:2)? As long as they’re just categories or ideologies or sins and not people, we don’t make confession to God as one of them. We’ll rail and not weep. They’ll be wicked or ignorant rather than souls on the edge of hell.

Moses said, “forgive their sin - and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written” (Exodus 32:32).

Paul said, “I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3).

Can you pray like this? Are you broken-hearted intercessor before God, or venom-spitting idealogue who speaks to God like the throne room is a FaceBook page, blog, radio program, or letter to the editor?

May we learn to pray for them as them. We are, after all, eternally united with Christ, sealed in Him by the Holy Spirit according to the election of the Father. This same Christ with Whom we are one is the same Who “knew no sin” yet was made “to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). We are united with the One Who “redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). I am not suggesting that we duplicate Christ’s saving work, but that we reflect the heart of the Incarnate One Who became the ones for whom He came to accomplish salvation. If we are united to Him, this attitude/heart ought to be imaged in our intercession for the Church and Nation.

We do not lessen their guilt. They are sinners meriting eternal hell alone and nothing else. Just like us. “Such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Pray as one of them for the salvation that comes only through Jesus Christ.

Lord, make us biblical, Christ-like intercessors. We have fashioned our tongues (physical and digital) into worldly weapons. Our words are the overflow of our hearts (Matthew 12:34//Luke 6:45), but there’s no heartbreak over the damned in our hearts or words! Create in us the Spirit of the Intercessor for Your eternal glory and – should You will it – their eternal joy! May we stand before You as one of them in confession and intercession, for this is what it means to be unified with the Intercessor.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

New Covenant Promises in Our Homes

The promise of the new covenant is one of the most precious of the entire Bible: “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD. ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them [only those who know Him will be in the covenant],’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more’” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

In the new covenant, He writes His Law on the heart of the covenant people (see also Deuteronomy 30:6,8; Proverbs 1:23; Ezekiel 36:26,27)! This promise is fulfilled in Christ (Hebrews 8:6-12; 9:15; 12:24), and proclaimed weekly at the Table of the Lord (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25).

His Law is on the hearts of those who are truly the covenant people. But it doesn’t stay there. Remember this other great promise: “It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28,29//Acts 2:16-18). This promise is for all those who “repent” and are “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).

The writing of the Law on the heart is parallel to the pouring out of the Spirit. The Word and Spirit cannot be separated. The presence of the Spirit is manifested by the presence of the Word in the heart. The Law, written on the heart of those in the new covenant by the Lord Himself, does not stay in the heart. The Spirit manifests His Word from the heart of the new covenant community members through “prophesy,” “dreams,” and “visions.” These three manifestations will not deviate in the slightest from the Word of God (or they show themselves to be of a different spirit that is not holy).

In the new covenant, the Lord Himself (through His Word/Law and Holy Spirit) works out obedience to His own command: “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). I just read this passage to my children last night (we are considering Q.42 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism this week). The Spirit-spoken “prophecy” is none other than the teaching “diligently to your sons” and the “ your the way.” The “dreams” and “visions” are the “talk of them...when you lie down and when you rise up.” This is the blessed man who delights "in the Law of the LORD," and this delight manifests in his "day and night" meditation (Psalm 1:1,2).

Don’t miss the fact that we are to teach our children not just any “words,” but “these words,” commanded by Moses: the Law of God. They will never know their need for Christ apart from “these words” (Galatians 3:22-24). At the same time, don’t miss the fact that you cannot “teach them diligently,” “talk of them,” “bind them,” or “write them” apart from the Holy Spirit, Who speaks His Word/Law from the hearts of those who are the new covenant community in Christ.

“ filled with the Spirit...fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18; 6:4). The instruction to our children of the Law of God in the power and help of the Holy Spirit in Christ is His great means of grace in our homes.

Monday, June 23, 2014

An Old Lie Trumped by an Eternal Truth

It’s Monday morning, which means that Sunday is coming. I am working on that approaching Day’s sermon from Genesis 3:4,5. In this text the serpent contradicts the Word of God, and worse, slanders the character of God

The serpent implies that God is not good in His character, His plans for His people, and in His Word. The antivenom to this lie is a firm belief that God is good. He is good no matter what. He is good all the time.

The Bible assures us that the covenant relationship-God, “the LORD” (יהוה) is good:
  • “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).
  • “O taste and see that the LORD is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8).
  • “For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:5).
  • “Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; sing praises to His name, for it is lovely” (Psalm 135:3).
  • The LORD is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:9).
  • “Thus says the LORD, ‘Yet again there will be heard in this place, of which you say, “It is a waste, without man and without beast,” that is, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man and without inhabitant and without beast, the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say, “Give thanks to the LORD of hosts, for the LORD is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting”; and of those who bring a thank offering into the house of the LORD. For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were at first,’ says the LORD” (Jeremiah 33:10,11).
  • The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him” (Lamentations 3:25).
  • The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him” (Nahum 1:7).

The Old Testament does affirm that “God is good” (the generic אלהים used by the serpent, who avoids the covenant title יהוה) but only does so one time, and that one time limits this goodness to His covenant relationship with His people: “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart!” (Psalm 73:1).

However, there’s an interesting exchange between Jesus and an inquirer in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 19:16,17//Mark 10:17,18//Luke 18:18,19). In Jesus’ first answer to this man, He seems to deny His own deity. Arians (in their various heretical incarnations) have pointed to these verses from generation to generation as proof that Jesus Himself did not claim to be God. However, in doing some background reading as part of sermon prep, I found Stephen Charnock’s (1628-1680) commentary on this text. The connection between the goodness of God and the deity of Christ becomes beautifully coherent in this Puritan’s observations: “Some think that Christ hereby would draw him to an acknowledgement of Him as God; you acknowledge me ‘good’; how come you to salute me with so great a must own me to be God, since you own me to be ‘good’; goodness being a title only due, and properly belonging, to the Supreme Being. If you take me for a common man, with what conscience can you salute me in a manner proper to God...He doth not here deny His Deity, but reproves him for calling Him good, when he had not yet confessed Him to be more than a man. You behold My flesh, but you consider not the fullness of My Deity; if you account Me ‘good,’ account Me God, and imagine Me not to be a simple and a mere man. He disowns not His own Deity, but allures the young man to a confession of it...why dost thou own Me to be ‘good,’ unless thou own Me to be God...had He said, there is none ‘good’ but the Father, He had excluded Himself; but in saying, there is none ‘good’ but God, He comprehends Himself...if you are serious, why do you call me ‘good,’ and make bold to fix so great a title upon One you have no higher thoughts of than a mere man?” (The Existence and Attributes of God, Vol. 2, Discourse XII).

The serpent implies that God is not good, an all-powerful Denier of goodness to His Creation.

Jesus Christ implies that to confess Him to be good is necessarily to confess Him to be God, Him Who is both eternal God and - at the same time - the boundlessly good Provision of God for His people.

May we in every moment of every day walk away from the lie of the serpent and run toward our good God in His Son Jesus Christ. “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Draw near. He is good.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

His Truth Is Marching On

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted this week at its General Assembly to allow its ministers to bless same-sex marriages in states where such unions are legal. I have seen a lot of gloating about this on the internet ("even the Calvinists have come around!") from people who don’t care one thing about the denomination, would never join one of its churches, and don’t have the slightest understanding about biblical or historical Christianity. Still, they’re happy. The “tolerant” rejoice that another dissenting voice has agreed to change its tune to their own. It is one more institution of the counter-cultural resistance that has fallen.

In Matthew 19:3-6//Mark 10:2-9 Jesus endorses the Creation Ordinance concerning marriage (Genesis 2:24). In other words, Jesus agrees with one of the foundational laws of God in the Bible and defines “traditional” marriage. It takes precedence, in fact, over Moses’ limitations on divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4), given because of the “hard hearts” among God’s people.

Once a Church decides it will no longer follow the Word of God (and specifically the Word of Christ), it is no longer a Church. It has forfeited that privilege. The Church is created by the Word, and if the Church leaves the Word, it has cut itself off from the root and is no longer a living organism. This reality is not governed by human beings, human law, or human confessions/creeds/directories of worship. It has been proclaimed by God in His Word.

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20).

“And His mother and brothers came to Him, and they were unable to get to Him because of the crowd. And it was reported to Him, ‘Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wishing to see You.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it’” (Luke 8:19-21).

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments...he who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him...if anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s Who sent Me. These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you...if you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love” (John 14:15,21,23-26; 15:10).

“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:1-5).

“So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (Revelation 12:17; 14:12).

There are still denominations that still hold to the truth of the Word of God in the United States of America.* The P.C.U.S.A. has been dying for some time before this, and this capitulation to the culture will not change that. It is unsurprising to see the culture do what it does, but is grievous when an institution proclaiming itself to be a church of the Lord Jesus Christ reject His Word and the Word of Him Who sent Christ.

With the original apostles we confess “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). This is what it means to be the Church. What of those who vote to ignore the Word? It doesn’t change one thing about the truthfulness of the Word. This has been argued and addressed before: “...they were entrusted with the oracles of God. What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That you may be justified in Your words, and prevail when you are judged’” (Romans 3:2-4).

The true Church has persevered in its faithfulness to the Word of God since the beginning, and will continue. One-voice “tolerance” and “diversity” aside, “the Word of God is not imprisoned” (2 Timothy 2:9). The Kingdom of God is eternal, unstoppable, and has the promised victory.

*Including the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I have people I greatly admire in both denominations and am sorry that some will confuse the P.C.U.S.A. for these two denominations in their ignorance.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Making the Mystery Clear

“Devote yourselves to prayer...praying...that God will open up to us a door for the Word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it [the mystery] clear in the way I ought to speak (Colossians 4:2-4).

What was this “mystery” that Paul desired to communicate clearly from the Word? “The mystery of Christ” that the apostle desired to speak was that “which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints” (1:26). It is God’s plan to save a people for Himself “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9) through the saving work of Jesus Christ His Son.

This was God’s plan from eternity past and His purpose behind all He did in the Old Testament leading up to the coming of Christ and the establishment of the new covenant in Christ’s blood. Paul’s prayer was that the mystery, woven through the entirety of the Old Testament Scripture, would be clearly shown by his preaching:
  • “Now to Him Who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 16:25-27).
  • “Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written [Isaiah 64:4], ‘Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.’ For to us God revealed them through the Spirit...” (1 Corinthians 2:6-10).
  • “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles - if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power” (Ephesians 3:1-7).

May we have such a passion to see Christ in the Old Testament and proclaim Him from those pages, and may that passion begin with Paul’s prayer request becoming our own: that God’s purpose in Christ be made clear from our reading and teaching of the entire Bible – even the Old Testament. It is not a technique or hermeneutic alone, but the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer. As we study and learn together, the Author of the Book (the Holy Spirit) unveils the purpose of the Father through the Son in every page. This is why it is a matter of prayer.

All glory be to Jesus as we read, study, pray, and clearly tell of Him from the entirety of the Book of books.