Sunday, May 29, 2011

I Said, “You are 'gods'”!

Reading: Psalm 82; John 10  
In John 10:31-37,when the Jews have picked up stones to stone Jesus because he claimed to be God (when He said, “I am God's Son”), Jesus quotes from Psalm 82:6. This quotation on the lips of Jesus has produced some confusion amongst those who study the Bible. Some suggest it means that Jesus is God's son in the same sense that any Jewish person would claim to be a son of God, or in the sense that any believer today would. After all, the whole quotation from Psalm 82:6 is, “I said, 'You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.'” Is Jesus saying that He is the son of God only in the same sense that all of the Jewish people were considered to be sons of God? Not at all.
I continually remind our church of the following Bible study advice: When reading an Old Testament quote in the New Testament, go to the place where it is found in the Old Testament, read it in its context, understand it in its context, and then, go back to the New Testament and reread that passage with that understanding in mind. This practice will yield rich fruit in your understanding of Scripture. It will also often reveal that there are many texts which teach us the deity of Christ (the fact that He is God, YHWH), that we may never have realized until we find that Old Testament quotes regarding YHWH (Yahweh), are applied and spoken of Jesus. We must apply this practice here in John 10.
Going to Psalm 82:1-8, we discover that God is rebuking the leaders of the Jewish people. In 82:1, we have the picture of God presiding in the great assembly (the people of God gathered), giving judgment among the gods. This is a reference to the Jewish leaders, the shepherds of God's flock. It picks up on the fact that while the Jewish leaders are presiding over God's people, giving judgment, God is presiding over them, giving judgment among 'the gods'.
In Psalm 82:2-4 the leaders receive a job performance review. They have been defending the unjust; showing partiality to the wicked. Is that what God asked them to do? Is that how God rules over His people? Not at all. The Lord continues to tell them what they should be doing instead: defend the cause of the fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor; rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of wicked oppressors. Psalm 82:5 appears to be speaking of the people at large and their need for understanding or light. It speaks to the need of the shepherds of God's people to proclaim God's word which is light for the people who live in a world that is constantly being shaken. We walk by faith and must therefore be spoken to from the truth of God. The shepherds were not doing this.
That brings us to Psalm 82:6-7. Here, God is essentially firing the shepherds. “I said, 'You are “gods” (i.e. “In verse 1 of this psalm I said I give judgment among the gods, referencing you and how you are to help me shepherd my people”), you are all sons of the Most High,” But, you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler.” That is to say, “You have failed miserably in your task, and you are fired! Psalm 82:8 then calls to God to rise up and judge the earth, for while God's people were called to be a light to the nations, they had fallen into the same corruption as the world. What will God do to rescue His inheritance, His people from false shepherds?
When we go back to John 10, we discover that failed leadership of the Jewish leaders is the subject of the whole chapter. In effect, John 10 is also about God firing the shepherds and replacing them with the Chief Shepherd! (Reference 1 Peter 5:4.) John 9:40-41 concludes the account of the healing of the man born blind with Jesus speaking to the Pharisees about the fact that they are guilt of blindly leading God's people. John 10 picks up with Jesus contrasting false shepherds with Himself, the true Shepherd. What defines the good Shepherd? He lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). The other shepherds were being paid off to oppress the needy, to defend the wicked. Not Christ, He will rule with justice.
This brings us to the the events immediately preceding the attempted stoning of Jesus. In John 10:25-30, in response to the Jews requiring that Christ tell them plainly who He is, Jesus reminds them that He has, but they did not believe, and that the very miracles he does tells them who He is, that Jesus gives eternal life to His sheep, that no one can snatch the sheep out of Jesus' hand, and that no one can snatch them out of the Father's hand; that He and the Father are one! In what sense are they one? In the sense that the sheep belong to both of them; that they both give eternal life to whom they please; that the destiny of men is in their hand. Not in the sense that they have the same goals or the same purpose. They are one in being God! The Jews understand this clearly (John 10:33).
Then, in John 10:34-35, Jesus makes an amazing claim. Quoting from a psalm that condemns their leadership as strongly as Jesus has, he takes the part in which the Jewish leaders were almost sarcastically called 'gods' (recall that in Psalm 82 there is nothing good said about how they were acting as 'gods'), and says (my paraphrase), “If the word of God in Scripture called the shepherds gods, and if the Scripture cannot be broken, then even if God had to send Me into the world to fulfill the Scripture that the leaders would be indeed gods, or God, then don't accuse me of blasphemy for telling you who I am! Especially sense the evidence of my miracles proves it!”
These are not verses which lower Jesus' claim to be God's Son to being in the same sense that God's people are His children. Rather, these verses elevate the claim to Jesus being God incarnate in order to fulfill His promise to His people!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Walking Through Conflict in the Church

Reading: Philippians 4   
Does the Bible provide practical instruction on how to work out conflicts in the church? Given the reality of conflict in the church, it seems essential that we have a guide spelled out for such conflict. More than, “just get over it!” Or, “just forgive.” It is the word, “just,” that seems to be problematic... it is never quite that easy. Often times people leave churches and their primary reason is conflict. Is that the way the Bible would instruct us to deal with it... just leave?
2I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. 3Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:2-7)
Like churches today, New Testament churches had conflict. Even Paul's co-workers had conflict; evidently, serious conflict. It is in Paul's instructions to these very co-workers that we may find an example of how to “live according to the pattern” Paul gave us (Philippians 3:17). Paul begins by pleading with Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Evidently these women had worked with Paul previously in advancing the Gospel, yet were having difficulty getting along. There was conflict and it wasn't resolving quickly or easily. Paul asks for another in the church to get involved in serving them in order to help them reach unity. But I don't think Paul's instruction ends there.
The instructions of Philippians 4:4-7 may well be intended as instruction in how these two conflicting believers were to “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Colossians 3:15) Taken that way we have a very helpful guide in how to overcome the hard-to-get-through conflicts that are bound to arise in church life.
First, Paul reminds Euodia and Syntyche to rejoice in the Lord always—and he doubly emphasizes this (4:4). In the midst of conflict, it is essential to remember our source of joy. Our joy is not contingent upon “being right” or “getting our way.” Our joy is found in the Lord—in the reality of what He has done for us reconciling us with our Creator God. If our enmity with God has been resolved, we have reason for joy while we work through our conflicts with others. If God has done what He has done to redeem us when we were completely unable to resolve our enmity with God, then surely He has provided the grace we need to resolve our conflicts in the church. If we can't rejoice, then we need to go back to understanding who Christ is and what He has done.
Second, Paul reminds them how they should conduct themselves in their conflict and why they should carry themselves that way (4:5). “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” Why? Because, “the Lord is near.” The truth of Christ's presence with us in our conflicts ought to guide how we engage one another.
Gentleness, a forbearing attitude, being considerate of the other person as we interact, ought to be easily seen by those observing. Consider what He has done toward us. He was gentle, he has born our sins and the pain of those sins without hurling them back on us. In fact, he hurled them into the heart of the sea! (Micah 7:19) I don't need to throw the pain of another's sin against me back on them. I am to forgive as Christ forgave; I am to bear it myself... forbearing with them.
In light of what Christ has done, we should have forbearance toward those we conflict with. It should be easy to consider that, first, they could be right, and second, even if they are wrong, so what, we have been so wrong before God and forgiven. The Lord is right there present with us as we work through our conflict and watching.
Thirdly, Paul speaks to the driving force behind so many conflicts: our anxiety. If I examine conflicts I've had, it doesn't take long to see that I wasn't trusting the Lord. I was anxious. Thoughts like, “how can I let you think that about me?” or, “how could you possibly say that,” or, “what are others going to think,” and many others may not be plainly stated in my mind, but they are certainly banging on the door of my thoughts.... hiding behind the curtains of my mind. I probably have more “reasonable” sounding ways of putting them, but these thoughts are nothing other than anxiety and a lack of trusting in the Lord who will bring about justice (1 Peter 2:23). We can't hold onto thoughts like, “If I forgive them, then everyone will think I was wrong.” (Or any other version of that.)
In order to resolve conflict we must be a people who presents our requests, our demands, not to the other party, but to God! We have to trust God with our requests; we can't keep holding out for the other party to meet our demands. To walk as Christ did we are going to have to pray and commit our way to God as Christ did to the Father. There we can find the ground for conflict resolution. I wonder if Paul also had in mind that as we brought our requests to God, we might be reminded of Christ's instruction regarding prayer and forgiveness (Matthew 6:12; Mark 11:25; Luke 11:4).
Finally, we are given a promise: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (4:7) The three instructions of verses 4-6 tell us how “to agree with each other in the Lord,” and they are a practical outline of what it means to “let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts.” When we obey these instructions we have a promise that God's peace, which may well supersede all our expectations, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ. Doing these things may tempt us to think things will get worse. But the promise says otherwise.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Is the Human Heart Beyond Cure?

Reading: Jeremiah 16 – 18   
Jeremiah has no delusions about the inherent goodness of the human heart (Jeremiah 4:14; 5:1, 31; 6:14; 7:24; 9:14; 11:8; 12:2; 16:12). Of course, Jeremiah is speaking to a particular people at a particular time, so we can't automatically assume it applies to all of us at all times. Jeremiah was speaking to the people of Judah. Does it apply to Americans, or Germans, or Russians, Arabs, or Libyans?
Jeremiah prophesied after the northern kingdom of Israel (the nation that much more rapidly went into apostasy and rebellion against God). He is speaking to the Jews, the remnant that remained. Judah had been much more faithful, and had more faithful kings. Yet still, they eventually became as involved in spiritual whoredom as her northern sister. These are the chosen people, those who have received the covenant from God, had been delivered and had knowledge of God and how He would work. If their hearts were stubborn and followed wicked ways, does it not mean that we also are in this condition? Paul answered this question quite clearly in Romans 3:9-18 – There is no difference.
Why are we so prone to sin? Why is there no risk of the evening news becoming nothing but human interest stories and nothing bad to report?
Judah's sin is engraved with an iron tool, inscribed with a flint point, on the tablets of their hearts and on the horns of their altars. (17:1)
Sin is written on the human heart... engraved with an iron tool, inscribed with a flint point, on the tablets of our hearts, and on the places of our idol worship. Jeremiah would not encourage us to follow our hearts. Indeed the reason He repeatedly gives for God's painful (Jeremiah 14:17) decision to send his people into captivity, to throw them out of the land as Adam and Eve had been thrown out of the garden, is because they followed their hearts (Jeremiah 16:10-13; 18:11-12). Not only do we have sin engraved on our hearts, we train our children in it as well... assisting them to write sin on their hearts before they learn how to write! (Jeremiah 17:2).
All of this leads Jeremiah to the astonishing conclusion:
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (17:9)
Does Jeremiah leave us with no cure? I don't believe He does; in fact, Jeremiah points us toward great hope for the human race. Just before this conclusion of 17:9, he hints that it exists (Jeremiah 17:5-8). He speaks of the curse on the one who trusts in man, depends on flesh for his strength, and turns away from trusting the Lord. He also speaks of the one who is blessed as he trusts in the Lord and who places his confidence fully in Him. How will it ever happen that people with hearts as described would trust in the Lord? We find the answer to that question a little later in Jeremiah.
31“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. 33“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
God was on a mission, a redemptive mission, that would culminate in a new covenant. This new covenant would be one where God's people who did not know Him would know Him because their sins would be forgiven. God would relate to them, not according to their sin, but would no longer remember them. This was accomplished in Christ. And now, God will do something for this redeemed and forgiven people: He will write a new script on their hearts by His Spirit whom He would place in them. The new script will not be the story of sin which was engraved in their hearts with an iron tool, but would be God's law and way.
We read of this new script in the New Testament epistles too. Ephesians 4:17-24 speaks of how we used to live according to the script of sinful ignorance, living in darkness. But calls us to begin living in the script of Christ, the new man created to be like Him in true righteousness and holiness. This new script is the Gospel, Jesus Christ. And it begins with how He laid down His life for us to forgive our sins and free us from the captivity of sin. (See also Paul's Definition of Spiritual Maturity.) This alone is the cure for the human heart!
Tomorrow morning the message from Isaiah 43 – 44 will show us how God will free us form the captivity of sin and then lead us out of the prison cell by His Spirit. This is really speaking of the same truths that Jeremiah pointed to as he envisioned a day when that which is written in our hearts would no longer be sin and rebellion but Christ!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Is Paul's Pursuit Your Pursuit?

Reading: Philippians 1 – 2
10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:10-12)
What did it mean for Paul to know Christ? What does “becoming like him in his death” look like? Are we quite literally to get beaten, and crucified? Or is Paul speaking of something else? What was Paul pressing on to take hold of? For what purpose had Christ taken hold of Paul? While there are many ways one could answer these questions accurately, as I read the first two chapters of this letter this morning, I was struck by how Paul had already described this in detail before we arrive at Philippians 3. Here are some examples:
filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christto the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:11)
To know Christ, to become like Christ, is to be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. Paul had known a righteousness that came through the law. And as far as that goes, he was faultless. But Paul gladly gave that up in pursuit of the fruit that can only come through Jesus Christ! Fruit that comes only after we have received a righteousness that is not our own! Another example:
for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. (Philippians 1:19-20)
Gaining Christ includes gaining the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ; help that brings courage to Paul in the midst of sobering persecution; help that will enable Paul to live a life that exalts Christ in life or death.
But it is in the second chapter where we discover more completely how knowing Christ is our transforming pursuit. It begins...
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then... (Philippians 2:1, 2)
Paul is about to launch into describing what this fruit of righteousness is, that is described 1:11, with great detail. Before he does, he begins by connecting to the fact that is will come through Jesus Christ. The transformed life Paul is about to describe will come as a result of being united with Christ, because we have ourselves been comforted by His love, through the fellowship we have with His Spirit who lives in us, and because we have the tenderness and compassion of Christ shed abroad in our hearts by that same Spirit (see also Romans 5:5). What fruit does this life united with Christ produce?
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
Humility is some of the fruit of righteousness that comes through Christ. This humility is the foundation for the love and unity described in verse 2. When we know Christ we will consider others better than ourselves. We will consider the interests of others and not just our own. Where does this come from? From having the a new kind of thinking that comes from Christ (Philippians 2:5). To become like Christ in His death is to not hold onto our rights, to make ourselves nothing as he did, and to take the nature of a servant (Philippians 2:6-8).
Christ took hold of Paul to transform Paul into the image of Christ. Paul's pursuit was to become like Christ, to take hold of the purpose of Christ in saving Paul. Christ took hold of you, Christian, to transform you into His image! This is the pursuit we are to have as Christians. This is the pursuit we are to have as Christians. And it can only happen as we are united with Him and live in fellowship with Him growing out of His tenderness and compassion in us.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Monday, May 9, 2011

Paul's Definition of Spiritual Maturity?

Reading: Ephesians 4—6   
How could Paul possibly expect Christians to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? (Ephesians 4:3) He is telling us, “Spare no effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.” The “bond of peace” is that which connects us together. It can be a chain or cord that connects us; it can also mean the ligaments which connect the bones in a body. That might be a fit here. The peace of Christ, peace between fellow believers in Christ who are having difficulty getting along, should be our earnest pursuit.
How does Paul expect us to do that? Doesn't he understand that some people just don't treat us right? Or that some people simply misunderstand us so it won't help to pursue unity with them. Others don't understand what we are called to do and therefore we need to go off and do our own thing? Paul, however, had a clear grasp on what unites us and what makes us different.
He makes it clear that there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father; but there are different measures of grace gifting given (Ephesians 4:4-7). Sometimes it seems to me that many would be more easily persuaded that there are many bodies, many hopes... but we all have all the grace gifting we need, as if we don't need others. We must pursue unity; one reason is that we need each other!
Right after this declaration that we have different measures of grace gifting that he informs us that some were given as apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers. Then we are told what the goal of their work is (Ephesians 4:11-13). It is the last phrase that defines the goal: Christian maturity. And what is Paul's definition of Christian maturity? “... and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” What is Christian maturity? Becoming like Christ. Christ is the measure of Christian maturity! It is on this foundation that the latter half of Ephesians is built. If Christ is the measure of maturity, then Christ is the basis from which Paul calls us to live.
17So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.… 20You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)
When Paul tells the Ephesians they must change how they live, he doesn't tell them that they must now learn what Moses taught. He doesn't send them to the law to learn what righteousness looks like, or to mature them as believers. He sends them to Jesus Christ. He speaks of how they know Christ, heard of Him, were taught in Him, and about the truth that is in Jesus. He tells them to put on the new self. Who is this new self? In Colossians 3:10-11, Paul also speaks of the new self, and seems to be saying that the new self is Christ. In Romans 13:14 we are told to put on Jesus Christ. Paul himself gave up his ranking in the law in order to know Christ (Philippians 3:4-10).
In the rest of Ephesians, Paul begins to apply this measure of Christian maturity to the Ephesian church. It is as if he is saying, “Christ is like this,” or, “Christ did this for you,” follow with a, “so now you do this.”
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:2)
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light. (Ephesians 5:8)
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Paul doesn't mention this with every line or every statement, but since he prefaces the rest of the book with the call to maturity that is measured by Christ, with the call to live as we learn Christ and came to know Christ, it is right to read it all that way.
How can Paul expect us to pursue unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? Because he is calling us to live as Christ, to forgive as Christ, to give up ourselves like Christ did, to humble ourselves as Christ. He is not talking about something easy, but something supernatural. Paul expects us to be God-dependent in order to actually succeed in it.
In fact, this whole section is prefaced by Paul's prayer for the church to to be empowered to have Christ living in them, filled to the measure of the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19). Paul knew God answering prayer was absolutely essential to Christian maturity. There is good news in that: God does answer prayer, and will give His Spirit generously to those who ask! Paul expected it because Paul was praying. We can expect it in our churches when we call on God to form Christ in us the church.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Is God Repeating Himself?

Reading: Exodus 37 – 40   
In reading the end of Exodus have you ever thought, “Didn't I just read this?” But that is the point. You are supposed to think, “Didn't I just read this?” and then you are supposed to compare what you read before with what you are reading now. There is a lesson to be learned in the way it is repeated.
In Exodus 25 we begin reading, “The Lord said to Moses...,” followed by instructions of what and how they are to make it. For example we read:
"Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.
"Have them make a chest of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.
"Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide.
"Make a table of acacia wood—two cubits long, a cubit wide and a cubit and a half high.
"Make a lampstand of pure gold and hammer it out, base and shaft; its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms shall be of one piece with it.
"Make the tabernacle with ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, with cherubim worked into them by a skilled craftsman.
"Make curtains of goat hair for the tent over the tabernacle—eleven altogether.
"Make upright frames of acacia wood for the tabernacle.
(Exodus 25:8, 10, 17, 23, 31; 26:1, 7, 15)
And that continues through about chapter 31 (which ends with a description of how they are to keep the sabbath). Then beginning in Chapter 36 we the following as a sample of what goes through chapter 39.
All the skilled men among the workmen made the tabernacle with ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, with cherubim worked into them by a skilled craftsman.
They made curtains of goat hair for the tent over the tabernacle—eleven altogether.
They made upright frames of acacia wood for the tabernacle.
They made the curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman.
Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.
They made the table of acacia wood—two cubits long, a cubit wide, and a cubit and a half high.
They made the lampstand of pure gold and hammered it out, base and shaft; its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms were of one piece with it.
They made the altar of incense out of acacia wood. It was square, a cubit long and a cubit wide, and two cubits high—its horns of one piece with it.
(Exodus 36:8, 14, 20, 35; 37:1, 10, 17, 25)
As you read through these chapters, underline all the times the Lord says to make, and all the times they make. You may recognize this pattern from Genesis 1. “The Lord said...and it was so!” “The Lord said...and it was so!” Not only is the pattern in the building of the tabernacle in the wilderness similar to the creation of the world, notice the description of the completion of each.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. (Genesis 2:1)
So all the work on the tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, was completed. The Israelites did everything just as the LORD commanded Moses. (Exodus 39:32)
Again notice that just as the Lord blessed His people (Adam and Eve, male and female) when the work of creation was completed (Genesis 1:22, 28; 2:3), so now He has Moses bless His people when the work of the tabernacle was completed (Exodus 39:42-43).
The most significant thing of all may be what comes in between “the Lord said,” and “they made”. In Exodus 35:30-35 we read that the Lord would fill those carrying out the commands to make the tabernacle “with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge...” Just as the Spirit of God was the agent in Genesis 1 that carried out the creation orders, so now the Spirit is actively at work in this symbolic “recreation”.
When God made the heavens and the earth it was formless and void (even worse than a dessert!). There the Spirit went to work creating a garden by the Word of God. Now, in a dessert, with a people of God who are formless, but being formed, we have the tabernacle guarded by cherubim (just like Eden—Genesis 3:24); we have a tree of life represented by the candlestick shaped like a tree with almond flowers and buds; and, ultimately, we have fellowship with God made possible again because there God would dwell among His people.
As we move forward toward the New Testament we find that this pattern of God, by His Spirit recreating a people and placing them in a fruitful garden, though they walk through a dessert will be repeated (See Isaiah 32:15-19; 35:1-10). These verses in Isaiah are pointing forward to the era of the Gospel when Christ would be the true vine in the garden of God (John 15:1-8), and we would, by His Spirit dwelling in us, once again become the people of God through the proclamation of the Gospel (Galatians 5:22-23). This is the New Creation: The Gospel declaring the work of God; the Spirit making it so as He forms us into the people of God—the church of our Lord Jesus.
Is God repeating Himself? Yes, he is making a garden again... through Jesus Christ the True Vine, by the proclamation of the Gospel and the Spirit's work to make it so.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Monday, May 2, 2011

Which Voice are You Listening To?

Reading: Proverbs 1   
Most people believe that if we just know enough—know the right stuff—we will attain happiness and long-life. Wisdom has been at the center of man's quest for the tree of life from the beginning (Genesis 1:6), and from the beginning there have been competing voices of wisdom (Genesis 2:17; 3:4). The book of Proverbs is also about the quest for wisdom, the pursuit of the tree-of-life (Proverbs 3:18). Proverbs begins by describing the competing voices of wisdom and telling us where to find true wisdom.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge1, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Proverbs 1:7)
Folly is the belief that we can be wise apart from God's truth. The folly and sin of Adam and Eve began with a lack of the fear of the Lord and a pursuit of wisdom in the absence of God's truth. Paul Tripp writes in Instruments in the Hands of the Redeemer,
Satan was not just selling Eve the best fruit in the garden, but something more fundamentally appealing. He was telling Eve that if she ate the fruit, she would be independently wise. The promise was autonomous personal wisdom, without any need for God or his revelation!... Satan was offering a different path to wisdom, holding out the promise that people can discern life on their own....The serpent is selling Eve the most attractive and cruelest of lies, the lie of autonomy and self-sufficiency. He offers her wisdom that does not need to bow the knee to God.(emphasis mine)
Wisdom is all about which voice we listen to. Just as in the garden the serpent's voice was persuading Adam and Eve, it still attempts to persuade. Yet, just as in the garden God's voice was also speaking, so now God's voice speaks today in order to persuade us. God's voice was clear: “in the day you eat you will die.” Adam and Eve didn't have the fear of God.
The only way back to the tree of life is wisdom. The only way to wisdom is to listen to the right voice. The only way to listen to the right voice is through the fear of God. Wisdom begins with the fear of God. Proverbs 1:7 outlines the two points of the rest of the chapter which are given in two parables. Proverbs 1:8-19 describes how we find the fear of God; Proverbs 1:20-33 describes the outcome of the one who despises wisdom and discipline.
The first of these parables, describes two voices—two voices that everyone encounters in life. The father's instruction and the mother's teaching represent the first voice. Their voice holds out a promise—no flashy marketing department—a clear promise (Proverbs 1:5). The garland represents victory over enemies. The chain adorning the neck most likely represents protection and guidance. They are saying, “Listen to me and you will have through life.” Each of these speak of a delayed reward. Victory comes at the end of the race. Protection is for a time when enemies attack.
The second voice, the gang, is a virtual marketing department. It promises vast, immediate reward (Proverbs 1:13). The father warns, “their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood.” (Proverbs 1:16). Honestly, the promise of the gang seems a lot more alluring than the father's. One is future; the other immediate. So what motivation could dad possibly have?
17How useless to spread a net in full view of all the birds! 18These men lie in wait for their own blood; they waylay only themselves! 19Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the lives of those who get it. (Proverbs 1:17-19)
Until now, the whole scene has been horizontal. Now, the father introduces a vertical dimension. The gang has been carrying out their plans down here, looking left and looking right. But they have failed to look up. Birds fly around up there... above us, in the sky, seeing everything below. They have a “bird's-eye-view” of all they are doing. It is as if the father is saying to his son, “You can make your own decision, but you need to be aware that someone above sees all that is going on. And He is tinkering with the outcomes. The traps the wicked man sets will, in the end, trap only himself.”
The father has planted a seed in the son's worldview. A seed of the fear of God. Wisdom begins when we consider God and how He will interact with our lives. Wisdom starts when we look up; when we realize there is One to whom we will give an account; that our lives are in full view! Wisdom begins when we understand the truth of Hebrews 4:13.
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
The second parable of this chapter describes what life will be like if we despise wisdom and discipline. The fool will not remain a fool for lack of opportunity (Proverbs 1:20-25). Wisdom is calling out! The fool remains in his foolery because he hates and rejects wisdom. “They love their simple ways... they delight in mockery (thinking wisdom is a joke)... they hate knowledge.”
What happens to those who reject God's wisdom? There is day coming when calamity will overtake you, disaster will sweep over you like an unexpected tornado, like a rushing tsunami, and when it does you are going to remember my appeals (Proverbs 1:26-31). It will be as if you hear wisdom echoing in your head, laughing at you, mocking you. “Wisdom” here is a personification of this body of knowledge. Wisdom won't really be laughing and mocking at the disaster; this is poetic. What happens when disaster comes? We play the reel back of all the times we could have done it differently. “What if only I had... or only I hadn't...” We replay it a 1000 times. We will replay wisdom's warning forever and it will be mocking us in our heads.
What is the point of this warning? To rescue you now, before you get there! God offers discernment, the ability to see clearly the difference between good and evil, and it begins with the fear of God. 1 Corinthians 1:30 tells us that Jesus Christ has become for us Wisdom from God. How so? When we “look up” and recognize the dilemma we are in (for we have all been fools), we must understand the whole story of God's wisdom. Instead of mocking us in our folly, God sent His Son to die for us. There is One who has made a way for fools to become wise and it begins when they come to Him in repentance for their folly, their rejection of God's truth and ways, and rejoice in the free provision of righteousness He gives. Now they gladly rejoice in His ways and follow Him. They have found the tree of life!
(For more on Proverbs 1, consider listening to the message, The Quest.)
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1 “Knowledge” is used here as a summary of all the forms of wisdom and knowledge described in Proverbs 1:1-6 – wisdom, discipline, understanding, a disciplined and prudent life, prudence, knowledge and discretion.