Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Do Good Works Matter?

Reading: Titus
Some evangelicals are guilty of treating good works like a curse word. By that, I mean if one even mentions good works, the defenses go up and we begin to filter everything said with a “is this legalism?” suspicion. At times, I wonder if people somehow think bad works would be better than good works. The whole reason we call good works good is because they are good! And I sometimes wonder if we like to throw them under the bus of legalism so quickly because it somehow alleviates us of our accountability before God for how we live.
So it is fair to ask what, in another generation, may have been obvious, “Do good works matter?” The obvious answer is, “Yes!” But now we must get to the real point: How do they matter? Or, in what way do they matter? Do they earn our salvation? Absolutely not, that would indeed be legalism. But that doesn't mean they don't matter; that is not the only way they can matter. Paul's letter to Titus certainly reveals a significant reasons why good works matter.
In the greeting, Paul makes an important distinction.
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness—a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time... (Titus 1:1-2)
Faith and knowledge were both important in the mission of Paul. We know from Paul's other writings (such as Romans 3:22-24) that faith, trusting in Christ, secures eternal life. Knowledge of the truth leads to godliness. Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ, bringing a message from Him, for the faith and for the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness. The Gospel message that Christ called Paul to deliver would not only produce saving faith in God's promise of eternal life, it would produce a knowledge of the truth that would change how we live. The Gospel shines light into the dark places of our ignorance showing us how to walk! Godliness, according to Friberg's lexicon, is a particular manner of life characterized by reverence toward God; behavior directed dutifully toward God; godly living. In other words, godliness is living a life of good works.
Paul immediately takes up the topic of elders and their qualifications with Titus, reminding him of the importance for the elder to live a godly life as one “entrusted with God's work...” (Titus 1:7). He must encourage others by sound (healthy) doctrine, and refute those who oppose it. Those who oppose it are “ruining whole households” by their unhealthy teaching; their character is described as, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” (Titus 1:12) Finally, they are described in Titus 1:16 as those who “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” (ESV)
Our lives are either confessing Christ before men in word and deed, or they are professing Christ in word while denying Him in deed. Good works matter! Paul immediately picks up with Titus telling him to teach people how to live consistently with the Gospel. He instructs older men and women; younger women and then young men. He also speaks to slaves. The motivation behind these instructions comes out periodically as, “so that no one will malign the word of God,” and, “so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us,” and, “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (Titus 2:5, 8, 10)
Indeed, because of the Gospel (what Christ has done for us), we are to be eager to do what is good (Titus 2:11-14). It is the Gospel that teaches us how to live godly lives; not the law. Paul doesn't send us to the law for that, but to the Gospel... to Jesus! Certainly the law was a shadow of how we are to live; the reality is found in Christ! The grace of God is what teaches us good works. That grace is most fully and perfectly expressed in Jesus Christ. (Click here for more on the difference between “law” and “Gospel”.)
Then Paul directs instruction to the church in general, that we would be “ready to do whatever is good.” (Titus 3:1) Paul doesn't seem to have an allergy to good works. In the verses that follow, it seems that Paul is arguing that because Christ saved us when we were living lives of evil works, full of hatred and lust—saving us not by any works of righteousness on our part, but purely on the basis of mercy, giving us the hope (confident expectation) of eternal life—we are to be intent on engaging in good works (Titus 3:2-8).
Do good works matter? Absolutely. Not because they earn us salvation, but, at least one reason is that they may help others find the same hope of eternal life, as they make the Gospel attractive. Grace was not our paycheck to do with as we please. Grace is God's investment in us (Matthew 25:14-30), and is to be poured into others. The love of Christ we have received is to bear fruit and grow in us that others may receive it also. Be eager to do good works.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Should Protestants Let Mary Help Them Pray?

Reading: John 11  
Before you run screaming from the question I asked in the title, you may want to read about how another Mary may teach us something about prayer. The account of Jesus raising Lazarus is loaded with much truth about Christ and His purpose in coming. In this brief post, however, I want to focus on the comparison between Mary and Martha. We are all used to hearing about these sisters in contrast from Luke 10:38-42 where Martha is weary from her labors (law), and Mary has found what is needed, not her labors, but Christ (grace)! Here, the comparison is deserves equal attention.
Having waited to go to Bethany until Lazarus had died (intentionally), Jesus arrives to discover that Lazarus has been dead four days. Mourners had arrived and were with Martha and Mary. The first encounter we read of involves Martha (John 11:20-27).
  • Martha hears that the Lord has come and goes out to meet Him. (It does not indicate that Mary heard; it will become evident that she was not yet aware that Jesus had arrived.)
  • Martha says to Jesus, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
  • Jesus response to Martha describes the truth: “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  27Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
In effect, Jesus is saying the last day is found in Him. All the judgment anyone has coming is dealt with through faith in Christ. The one who believes in Christ has, effectively, already been raised. Why? Because his judgment has been dealt with (see John 11:50-52); he will never die. Like Lazarus he may sleep; but it will not end in death. Like Lazarus it may appear that he dies, but the story is not over! Like Lazarus he may even decompose and stink, but Jesus is the resurrection and the life—the last day has come in Him and all who are in Him will live, even though they die.
Now, keeping Martha's encounter in mind, let's examine Mary's from John 11:28-35.
  • Jesus called Mary to come to Him.
  • When Mary heard his call, “she got up quickly and went to him.” This response is repeated for emphasis (vs. 31). Note the contrast with Martha's response. Mary is responding to the call of Christ with faith.
  • When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet! This is no mere theological statement, this is worship! Martha speaks to Jesus; Mary prays! Martha's response is appropriate, but ineffective. Mary's response is over the top, but effectual! It is not the outward form that makes the difference; it is clearly the heart that drives is... much like the Luke 10 account I referred to above.
  • Mary says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” This is the exact same thing Martha said without the additional part about, “but even now....”.
  • Jesus responds to Mary by answering her prayer (virtually unspoken, but implied): When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34'Where have you laid him?' he asked. 'Come and see, Lord,' they replied. 35Jesus wept.” Then Jesus proceeds to raise Lazarus from even a decomposing state.
There are a few things we can learn from this about prayer. While secondary to the truth about Christ being the resurrection and the life, it is certainly not unimportant. First, prayer is a response to the call of Christ! Mary responded to the request of Christ which Martha brought her. Here I am reminded of Revelation 3:20. Prayer is a response to Jesus standing at the door of our heart and knocking. We merely open the door. He comes in. We don't even bring Him in! As Ole Hallesby commented on that verse, “To pray is nothing more involved than to lift the eye of prayer unto the Savior who stands and knocks, yea knocks through our very need, in order to gain access to our distress, sup with us and glorify His name.”
Second, prayer is more about the groaning within our hearts for Christ to work and deliver us from the bondage of decay (Romans 8:23-27), than it is about how we express it. Mary barely expressed her need; mostly it was expressed in her weeping. Prayer is not answered according to how well we describe the need to God, or how accurately we ask. It is about our helplessness coming in desperation to the Savior. It is like another Mary who had no idea how He would answer, but merely expressed the problem in trust to her Son, “They have no more wine.” (John 2:3) That's it. We don't need to tell God how to deal with the need; we need to entrust the need to Him!
Mary had no idea (though Martha appears to have some notion that Jesus could raise Lazarus even still—John 11:22) that Jesus would raise a decaying body. She just knew that He was what she needed. Like everyone else, Martha and Mary thought that Jesus should have come sooner, that that would have been a better idea (John 11:21, 32, 37). Like them, we usually prefer different plans than those that appear to be working themselves out in our lives. We must fall before the Savior in worship, trusting our need to Him, knowing He hears our weeping, and knowing that in Jesus our finality, the last day, has been determined and that every other outcome is temporary!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Monday, July 18, 2011

How Might Bible Reading and Prayer Work Together?

Reading: Daniel 9   
Daniel read the scriptures and those scriptures moved him to pray. For him, scripture reading was a part of his communion with God. Here we see that Daniel was studying Jeremiah and came to understand that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. Daniel realizes that seventy years is nearing completion and so this decree of God in Jeremiah moves Daniel to pray, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes (Daniel 9:2-3). This is no casual prayer; this is earnest prayer.
Daniel didn't think, “God has already told us through the prophet Jeremiah that He is going to do such and such; so it doesn't matter what I do; it really doesn't matter if I pray.” Rather, it seems that Daniel saw the promise of God as a source of confidence in God's mercy—a source of knowing His willingness—and therefore sensed the urgency of the moment in understanding the will of God, and sought the Lord all the more earnestly. Maybe it is this kind of thinking that lay behind the apostle John's statement, This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14).
Secondly, we can notice something about how Daniel prayed: He did not go to God telling Him what He would do, or demanding that He keep His promise. God's promises were never intended to embolden our arrogance. Rather they were intended to comfort us, draw us near to the throne of grace to find mercy to help in our time of need. Daniel goes the the Lord confessing his sin and that of the people, declaring how they have deserved the judgment they received (Daniel 9:4-8).
Daniel goes completely dependent upon and confident in God's mercy and forgiveness (Daniel 9:9, 18-19). He does not even appeal to how much they've changed or learned from this experience... quite the contrary (Daniel 9:13-14).
All too often I hear the New Testament call to come boldly to the throne of grace to receive mercy in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16; 10:19-23), twisted into a kind of boldness that comes telling God what He will do because somehow we found a promise. God knows His promises, and He intends to keep them. However, nobody likes having their words thrown in their face as some sort of trap that they now must follow through on. The invitation to come boldly is a call to come without fear of being rejected when we come looking for mercy. Daniel went to God looking for mercy.
Thirdly, Daniel appealed to God's justice.
O Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our fathers have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us. (Daniel 9:16)
The words “righteous acts” or “righteousness” can be translated justice. Even when translated righteousness, or righteous acts, in that sentence it carries the meaning of justice. “In keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and wrath...” is another way of saying, “Lord I am calling on you to continue to do what is right, or be just! Now that may seem a little odd. If they were deserving of this judgment because of their sin, why would he appeal to God's justice?
Apparently, Daniel's sense of God's justice not only included the truth that His holiness would burn against sin, but it also contained the truth that God understood our frame, and that He has compassion on His people—holy compassion. His holy justice is most greatly revealed in His holy love! Therefore this call to God to turn from his anger (which was just) is rooted in understanding that God's justice will ultimately reveal itself in love. What Daniel could not yet understand fully, was how at the cross of Christ God's just wrath and just love would meet together (Romans 3:25-26).
Fourthly, and finally, Daniel appealed to God's reputation, His glory. “For your sake, O your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name....For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name." (Daniel 9:17, 18, 19) God being known is more important than anything else in the universe. Therefore Daniel's appeal to God's reputation—God's name being held in esteem rather than mocked and ridiculed—is a valid motivation for praying according to God's will! Indeed, Jesus taught us to pray, 'Father, hallowed be your name...”.
Is your scripture reading part of your communion with God? When you read about how the church is called to live in the New Testament, does it motivate you to pray according to God's will for your brother's and sister's in Christ? When you read of how we are called to flee temptation and walk in holiness do you call on God to empower you by His Spirit to walk in righteousness, bearing the likeness of Jesus Christ? … to guide you in paths of righteousness for His name's sake? Let's learn from Daniel how to make our scripture reading part of our communion with God!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Friday, July 15, 2011

Humility in Daily Life, by Andrew Murray

The following are excerpts from chapter six in Andrew Murray's book, Humility.  This chapter is titled, Humility in Daily Life.  I read it yesterday morning and have read many of these excerpts to my wife and friends since. His text for this chapters is 1 John 4:20. Here they are:
What a solemn thought, that our love to God will be measured by our everyday intercourse with men and the love it displays; and that our love to God will be found to be a delusion, except as its truth is proved in standing the test of daily life with our fellowmen. It is even so with our humility. It is easy to think we humble ourselves before God: humility towards men will be the only sufficient proof that our humility before God is real; that humility has taken up its abode in us; and become our very nature; that we actually, like Christ, have made ourselves of no reputation. When in the presence of God lowliness of heart has become, not a posture we pray to Him, but the very spirit of our life, it will manifest itself in all our bearing towards our brethren. The lesson is one of deep import: the only humility that is really ours is not that which we try to show before God in prayer, but that which we carry with us, and carry out, in our ordinary conduct; the insignficances of daily life are the importances and the tests of eternity, because they prove what really is the spirit that possesses us. It is in our most unguarded moments that we really show and see what we are. To know the humble man, to know how the humble man behaves, you must follow him in the common course of daily life....
Humility before God is nothing if not proved in humility before men....
It is in our relation to one another, in our treatment of one another, that the true lowliness of mind and the heart of humility are to be seen. Our humility before God has no value, but as it prepares us to reveal the humility of Jesus to our fellow-men....
In striving after the higher experiences of the Christian life, the believer is often in danger of aiming at and rejoicing in what one might call the more human, the manly, virtues, such as boldness, joy, contempt of the world, zeal, self-sacrifice,-even the old Stoics taught and practised these,-while the deeper and gentler, the diviner and more heavenly graces, those which Jesus first taught upon earth, because He brought them from heaven; those which are more distinctly connected with His cross and the death of self,-poverty of spirit, meekness, humility, lowliness,-are scarcely thought of or valued....
And let each failure and shortcoming simply urge us to turn humbly and meekly to the meek and lowly Lamb of God, in the assurance that where He is enthroned in the heart, His humility and gentleness will be one of the streams of living water that flow from within us....
Once again I repeat what I have said before. I feel deeply that we have very little conception of what the Church suffers from the lack of this divine humility,-the nothingness that makes room for God to prove His power. It is not long since a Christian, of an humble, loving spirit, acquainted with not a few mission stations of various societies, expressed his deep sorrow that in some cases the spirit of love and forbearance was sadly lacking. Men and women, who in Europe could each choose their own circle of friends, brought close together with others of uncongenial minds, find it hard to bear, and to love, and to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. And those who should have been fellow-helpers of each other's joy, became a hindrance and a weariness. And all for the one reason, the lack of the humility which counts itself nothing, which rejoices in becoming and being counted the least, and only seeks, like Jesus, to be the servant, the helper and comforter of others, even the lowest and unworthiest....
Let us look upon every brother who tries or vexes us, as God's means of grace, God's instrument for our purification, for our exercise of the humility Jesus our Life breathes within us. And let us have such faith in the All of God, and the nothing of self, that, as nothing in our own eyes, we may, in God's power, only seek to serve one another in love....
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What's Up with All the Water?

Reading: John 9   
Ever wonder why Jesus spit on the ground and put mud in a man's eye to heal him? I think there is an explanation pointed to in the pool of water that Jesus sent Him to for washing.
Water seems to be everywhere in John's Gospel. The first scene is John baptizing with water (1:26). Jesus' first miracle is a vast amount of water being turned into wine (John 2:6-10). Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order to enter the Kingdom of God (the Messianic Kingdom) he must be born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5). John 4 centers around a well of water, and Jesus offering Living Water to those who ask of Him (John 4:10, 14). And even the follow up story about the royal official whose son lay sick, though it has nothing to do with water, is prefaced by mentioning it occurred where Jesus turned water into wine (John 4:46).
Then, Jesus goes to Jerusalem, to a pool of water (Bethesda), where a man had no one to help him get into the water when it was stirred. Jesus heals him without a man to help him into the water, and without the water (John 5:2-9). Jesus was all the man needed to walk. He is the Water—the whole pool and the One who brings us into the pool!
Am I making much to do about nothing? In John 6:19 we find Jesus walking on water, in John 7:37-39, He invites all who are thirsty to come to Him and drink, to believe in Him and partake of the streams of Living Water that flow from within Him. (We partake of this water by the Spirit Whom He sent.) While John 8 doesn't mention water, it certainly sets up John 9 by setting up the discussion on where Jesus came from, and even making statements like, “Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58) Jesus continues his declaration that He is “sent by the Father,” (John 8:16, 18, 26, 29, 42) a theme which has dominated since the fifth chapter.
So in John 9, we arrive at the story of the man born blind. There is the initial discussion over whether the cause of this blindness was his own or his parents' sin. Jesus denied either as the cause but indicated that the purpose was for Him to do the work of God in his life, “the work of the Him who sent me (John 9:3-4). There is that “sent me” theme again. Then Jesus takes some water from his mouth and puts it on the ground (he spits on the ground!), and told the guy to go wash in a whole pool full of water, the Pool of Siloam (John 9:6-7). The man does so, and “came home seeing.”
Right in the middle of that is a seeming throw-away-clause, “this word means Sent”. I would suggest that there is nothing throw-away about that clause. Jesus being sent has been a constant theme in John, and while there are two words used for “sent” in the Greek text in John, they are used interchangeably and at times in parallel. It is no mere coincidence that Jesus tells this man to wash in this particular pool, and John is not merely adding color to an otherwise black and white picture here, he is interpreting the sign.
This phrase is a clue to the reader or hearer, that they should pay attention to the meaning of the name of the pool! Siloam would not have immediately stood out as meaning “sent” to the average hearer. (Most of us don't think about the etymology of words we commonly use. I don't think about the meaning of checkers when I pull through to get a burger at Checkers.) John is explaining the sign. Jesus being sent from the Father is one of the primary themes of John’s Gospel. What does it mean to be sent? Follow the water.
Where did the pool of Siloam come from? In 2 Kings 18 & 2 Chronicles 32 we read of a time when Hezekiah was under threat of imminent attack from the Assyrians. Jerusalem was a well defensed city: it was on a high hill, or mountain, and had great walls. The only problem? The only water source was outside the city. So if an army laid siege to them, it was just a matter of time until the city ran out of water. So Hezekiah, being humble and therefore possessing wisdom, accomplished an amazing feat.
It was Hezekiah who blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channeled the water down to the west side of the City of David. He succeeded in everything he undertook. (2 Chronicles 32:30)
Hezekiah covered the spring Gihon, creating an underground aqueduct, cutting right through stone, to carry the water about 6 football fields in length to a man-made pool inside the city: the Pool of Siloam. This would look like any other spring in that you wouldn't be able to tell the water was from outside the city. However, it was actually a spring that was sent from another spring. You couldn’t see the first spring, it was covered; and one might not realize that it came from the other. The water was the same! One you could see; one you could not.
Jesus is the Living Water (John 4:10), indeed streams of Living water flow from within Him (John 7:338-39), because it is the same life that is in the Father. No one has seen the Father, but the One and Only Son of the Father has made Him known (John 1:18; 6:46). How so? Same water, same life giving Spirit, same essence, but now, having become flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), we can see this one. He is sent. That is why, just like God took mud in the garden and gave it life, Jesus could take mud and give a man born blind sight. And that is why by washing our feet He can cleanse us entirely, and why from His side flowed blood and water... a stream of living water from His life poured out for us (John 13:5-10; 19:34).
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Most Important Task a Minister Has

Reading: 1 Timothy 4 – 6   
What makes a “good minister of Christ Jesus”? (1 Timothy 4:6) Paul seems concerned for what lays ahead in Timothy's life and work, and Paul has a sober message for Timothy, for it seems a lot is at stake. At this letters conclusion Paul writes, “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care.” (1 Timothy 6:20) What had been entrusted to Timothy? What was he to guard? There are two possible answers.
Guard the Gospel
If we look ahead in to Paul's second letter to Timothy we see right off that he is exhorted to guard the good deposit that was entrusted to him (2 Timothy 1:13-14). There is seems clear in context that Timothy is to guard the Gospel, what he had learned from Paul. No doubt the Gospel was under attack. There was danger then, as now, of mixing it with false notions of the Gospel, and thereby changing the Gospel. We must guard or protect the faith—the Gospel. Is that what is being spoken of in 1 Timothy 6:20?
Guard the Church
Another way this word guard is used is found on the lips of Jesus. He prays, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.” The same Greek word is used where the NIV says, “kept them safe”. Jesus protected and guarded the disciples, the church in seed form, lest they be lost and doomed to destruction. Is there some sense in which Timothy is called to protect and guard the church from danger and destruction as the pastor of the church?
Though it is likely that 1 Timothy 6:20 refers to one or the other of these choices, it might not really matter which one we arrive at. Let me explain. In 1 Timothy 4:16, Paul writes,
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Watch, though not the same word as guard, carries the same idea. Watch it closely so that it doesn't get away. Here Paul is telling Timothy, “Guard the Gospel (doctrine) and your life (how you apply the Gospel) in order to guard your church (save yourself and your hearers). In fact, much of this epistle from Paul to Timothy seems concerned with protecting the church from danger. Even how widows would be dealt with was done in order that the church would not be open to blame in the community (1 Timothy 5:7), and that the church would not be burdened unduly (1 Timothy 5:16). When instructing slaves, the chief concern was not how they could go about obtaining justice, but bringing about a bad report concerning the church of God (1 Timothy 6:1-2). One translation says, “This will prevent the name of God and Christian teaching from being discredited.”
Guarding the church is vital. Why? Because it is the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). It is a lighthouse in the world providing the only truth about where danger is and isn't. Timothy, and every minister of Christ Jesus, has a vital task: guarding the Gospel, and guarding the church lest they be led astray from the Gospel. There is no task greater than this!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Monday, July 4, 2011

Get Out of My Face!

Reading: 2 Kings 24   
The Messiah, the Christ, was to come and restore God's people and regather them. He was to reassign the desolate inheritances of the people (Isaiah 49:5, 8 for example; click here for a sermon on Isaiah 49). In order to understand the restoration which the Messiah will bring about, we must first understand the exile from which they are being restored.
The exile is one of the most significant events in the Old Testament. It stands in contradistinction to the exodus. In the exodus, God rescued His people from slavery in Egypt and brought them to the land of promise, the garden-like land of His presence. In the exile God threw His people out of the land of promise, the garden-like land of His presence and they went into captivity, a slavery of sorts, in Babylon. Is that what the exile is all about? Is there a deeper meaning?
The book of Kings comes to its sad conclusion essentially with the exile. In 2 Kings 24, we read of it and discover the deeper meaning.
It was because of the LORD's anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence. (2 Kings 24:20)
The exile is ultimately about being thrust from God's presence. One way to translate that is they were trust from God's face—i.e. from before His face. This exile began in the garden of Eden after Adam and Eve ate from the tree. There God banished Adam from the Garden of Eden and drove him out, there man was kept from partaking of the tree of life (Genesis 3:23-34). Adam and Eve were exiles.
The Exodus out of Egypt, bringing Israel to the land of promise, was a picture of God returning His people from the exile. They were brought back to a garden-like land, and when they arrived to the land they entered from the east side of the garden-like land (Joshua 3:16) just like they left the garden. And there was a angelic, cherubim like creature guarding the way into the land (Joshua 5:13-16) (for more on this angelic swordsman, click here). Even the tabernacle was designed with a candlestick in the shape of a tree, likely representing the tree of life.
So the exodus from Egypt and being brought to the land is a picture of salvation from the first exile—the exile from God's presence in the Garden. But this salvation from slavery to Egypt was not sufficient. It was merely a shadow of the salvation to come. It was not sufficient for it did not deliver from sin, and that ultimately resulted in the exile of God's people from the land of promise. So the deliverance to come, the salvation from the second exile which the Christ, the Messiah, would bring about must ultimately deal with our deepest exile—the exile from God's presence.
If the exile is being booted out of the land, then the restoration from the exile is being returned to the land. But if the exile is being booted out of the presence of God, then the restoration from the exile is being returned to the presence of God. This is the work of the Servant Messiah to come. The Old Testament promises didn't end with the return from Babylonian captivity; they only end with the return to the presence of God led by the Messiah. Hence, in Isaiah 49:5, the work of the Servant is “to gather Israel to Himself.”
Through Christ we have access to the face of God, the presence of God, freely! God no longer says, "Get out of my face!"  Rather, He bids us come boldly before His face.  We come by a new and living way (Hebrews 10:19-22). And in Christ we return to the Garden of God, bearing fruit in His presence (John 15:1, 4-5). The real exodus, the ultimate salvation from captivity has truly occurred through the work of Jesus Christ.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Are You Still Carrying Your Water Jar?

Reading: John 4   
I was reading John 4, yesterday morning in my devotions, the encounter of Jesus with the woman at the well, and for the first time the phrase, “Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town...” (John 4:28), stood out to me.  Leaving her water jar... is there anything significant in that detail? Is it merely narrative detail, making the story more interesting? Certainly it is the kind of thing that the disciple John would have noticed upon returning to Jesus. When they left Him there was no water jar with Him. “Why is this here?” the disciples might wonder. Is there more to this little detail? If so, does it have anything to do with me?
I suggest it is connected to the larger conversation Jesus is having with this woman. What is John 4 about? It is about Jesus the source and giver of living water... eternal life. Jesus' encounter begins in earnest the moment the disciples leave to buy food. A Samaritan woman arrives at the well to draw water and Jesus immediately engages her in conversation, asking for a drink. The woman's response is was something along the order of, “Did you fall off the cabbage truck yesterday? Don't you know better than to ask me for a drink?” (John 4:7-9) Then Jesus makes a most amazing statement.
If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)
Did you see that? If she asks, He will give. What I find most amazing about that is that this woman was living with a man, had been married 5 times previous, and has done no repenting. Yet Jesus plainly tells her, If you knew Me, and if you asked Me, I would have given you living water, i.e. eternal life!” What in the world? Doesn't Jesus know there is a lot more to it than this? Doesn't He need to explain something to her? Doesn't she at least need to acknowledge her sinfulness and turn from them and then ask Him?

Furthermore, Jesus tells her that if she drinks this living water, she will never thirst. So she asks for it, desiring not to have to keep coming to draw water (John 4:14-15). Jesus had already promised that if she asked, He would give her living water. Now she asks! We know Christ will give it to her. Wait up, though, she does not yet know, “who it is that asks you for a drink”. Don't fear, Jesus will take care of that momentarily.  
In order to reveal Himself to her, He now asks her to go call her husband, knowing that she has none, but had five and was presently living with a man out of wedlock. This leads into a conversation which no doubt needed further explanation for the woman (John 4:19-24), so the woman responds:
I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  26Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:25-26)
Now, she knows who He is, as He just made it plain, and she has asked him for living water. It seems that the only conclusion the text leaves us to draw is that she now has Living Water, even eternal life! Indeed she can now see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3), indeed she is staring at the King. That brings us back to where we started.
Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, "What do you want?" or "Why are you talking with her?"  28Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town...” (John 4:27-28)
One translation says, “at that very moment his disciples came back” and so the woman departs, “leaving her water jar.” It seems that she will no longer need to keep coming back... or more significantly, that she has now received this Living Water and knows she will never thirst. Of course, I realize that this woman won't stop drinking water, and she may have picked up the water jar later on when she brought people back. But John wants us to see that this woman suddenly became unconcerned about her water jar, unconcerned about her ability to keep drawing water, for she was suddenly satisfied in a way that she thirsted no more!
The question I must ask myself as I consider this is, “What water jars am I still holding onto in pursuit of what will satisfy me?” I know Christ, the gift that He is and Messiah, the Christ, that He is, and I have asked for living water. But all too often, I wonder if I am too concerned about my water jar. I know Christ has satisfied me and satisfies me with living water. But do I know that He will satisfy me always? Do I understand that I will never thirst? Do you? If so, have you left your water jar(s)—those things you use to quench your thirst apart from Christ? This woman did.
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