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The Sinfulness of Sin

June 4, 2013 Leave a comment

In their Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones conclude their chapter, “The Puritans on the Deceitfulness of Sin,” with the following poem by John Bunyan on the sinfulness of sin (which they take from an 1871 edition of The Complete Works of John Bunyan).

Sin is the living worm, the lasting fire;
Hell seen would lose its heat, could sin expire.
Better sinless in hell, than to be where
Heaven is, and to be found a sinner there.
One sinless with infernals might do well,
But sin would make of heaven a very hell.

Look to thyself then, keep it out of door,
Lest it get in and never leave thee more.

Fools make a mock at sin, will not believe
It carries such a dagger in its sleeve;
How can it be, say they, that such a thing,
So full of sweetness, e’er should wear a sting?
They know not that it is the very spell
Of sin, to make them laugh themselves to hell.

Look to thyself, then, deal with sin no more,
Lest He who saves, against thee shuts the door.

Night at Noonday

March 29, 2013 Leave a comment

As I write this, I am sitting in a condo from where I can see sunlight reflecting off the calm ocean. This bright sunlight contributes to the happy atmosphere of a beach vacation, and I wonder how the relaxed mood here in the condo would change if the sky outside went suddenly black. Blacker than a cloudy, moonless night. Blacker than an approaching hurricane. Nearly two thousand years ago, the whole earth, not just the half covered in night, not just the seaboard threatened by a hurricane, was covered in this absolute blackness.

Why?

Nearly two thousand years ago, some Romans crucified a religious rebel in the capital city of a remote region of the empire. To the Roman soldiers executing this rebel with two other criminals, the rebel’s crucifixion was no different from his fellows’ crucifixions, which were no different from the countless crucifixions countless Romans had executed during their reign over the Mediterranean world.

But capital city that witnessed this religious rebel’s execution was a religious city. Jerusalem, the capital city of the subjugated Jews, was also the site that day of the Jews’ most important religious festival: Passover, specifically, the Day of Preparation. Hundreds of thousands of Jews converged for the annual sacrifice. Little did they know that the rebel on the cross–not the year-old male lambs–was to be that year’s unique sacrifice for all time.

The sun stopped shining because the crucified rebel was no rebel at all. In fact, he was the only Person to live who never disobeyed the highest law–God’s law. He was Jesus, the Christ, Son of God and Son of Man. The sun stopped shining because this “rebel to Rome” was dying in the place of rebels to God.

As the Gospel According to Matthew records,

Now from the sixth hour [noon] there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour [3 p.m.]. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. (27:45-50)

For the hottest part of the day, the brightest part of the day, “the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:45). As Matthew related, the sun didn’t shine because Jesus, God the Son, was forsaken in that moment by God the Father. This aspect of Jesus’ death is a mystery, one that our Trinitarian minds find hard to make sense of logically. How can the one Triune God experience abandonment and forsakenness?

Paul begins to answer this question for us: “For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). On the cross, God was forsaken of God, as Martin Luther put it, because God the Son “was made to be sin” although he “knew no sin.” When Habakkuk said that God is “of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong,” (Hab. 1:13), he was not denying God’s omniscience; rather, Habakkuk was pointing out that God cannot sweep sin under the rug. As a perfect Judge, God must judge and condemn sin. As Peter later wrote, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Pet. 3:18). Jesus died not for his own sins–he had none–but for the sins of his people, of all who would ever trust him for salvation.

Jesus’ death on Passover is significant for this very reason. As John explains in his Gospel,

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came outblood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

Because it was the day of Preparation, because it was Passover, the Jews wanted the three crucified men to die before sundown, before Passover proper began. But one of the soldiers struck Jesus with a spear instead of breaking his legs because, practically, “Jesus was already dead” and, prophetically, “Not one of his bones will be broken.” The Scripture John there referenced was Exodus 12:46, in which God instructed the Israelites how to eat the Passover meal. Only by eating the flesh of the sacrificial lamb in their houses would God pass over the Israelites and spare them from the death he was to visit on all the households. Jesus, then, was the final and true Passover lamb, the one who would once for all satisfy God’s wrath on his people’s sins, to be received by faith (Rom. 3:21-26).

The sun stopped shining at noon nearly two thousand years ago because Jesus was dying his sacrificial death. God was forsaken of God. The Son of God, as the Son of Man, was taking the full punishment for his people’s sins in his body on the cross. And this is why Good Friday is good! The darkest day in history was, in fact, good because on that day Jesus accomplished his people’s redemption by dying in their place. So, everyone, have a good Good Friday. Praise God for the salvation he has given us by Jesus’ death for our sins on the cross!

Denying Christ in a Facebook Status: The New Testament’s Two Meanings of Denial

March 20, 2013 Leave a comment

 

facebook logoHey, everyone! How many friends of mine love Jesus? If you REALLY love Jesus, share this on your Facebook page! As Jesus said, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33).

We’ve all seen Facebook statuses like the above, and how many of us have felt a little awkward after reading a status like that? You know the status is illogical, but you also don’t want to risk denying Jesus because, after all, that statement really is in the Bible! If you’re like me, you usually ignore these things, and sometimes you actually hide the people who post such statuses from your News Feed because you don’t like feeling as if your salvation is being questioned. (Of course, we all know that people who post such statuses aren’t questioning others’ salvation and are just publicly professing their faith in Jesus, which in and of itself is a good thing to do.)

But like I said, the quote from Matthew 10:32-33 in such Facebook statuses really is from Matthew 10:32-33. So there is a serious question that this quote from Jesus raises: Does denying Jesus make a person lose his or her salvation? Complicating matters is Paul’s reference to this verse:

The saying is trustworthy, for:

     If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
     if we endure, we will also reign with him;
     if we deny him, he also will deny us;
     if we are faithless, he remains faithful–

for he cannot deny himself. (2 Tim. 2:11-13)

So if we, Christians, deny Jesus, he also will deny us, but if we are faithless, he remains faithful? Am I the only one who’s confused by this pairing? In order for Paul to make sense in these verses, there must be degrees of denial and faithlessness. As William D. Mounce explains, “Arneisthai, ‘to deny,’ has a range of meanings from a refussal to do something, to a temporary denial such as Peter’s, to full-blown apostasy” (517). Furthermore, “most see line 4 as a promise of assurance to believers who have failed to endure (line 2) but not to the point of apostasy (line 3)” (518).

As Mounce notes, Peter’s denial of Christ is illustrative of the failure to endure that is short of apostasy. After Jesus’ arrest,

Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. (John 18:15-18)

As Annas, the high priest’s father-in-law, was interrogating Jesus,

Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed. (John 18:25-27)

As Ceslas Spicq notes, Peter’s denial of Jesus the night before the crucifixion “seems to fulfill perfectly the prediction recorded in Matt 10:32-33” (203). Why then does Jesus not deny Peter before God the Father? Why does Jesus instead reinstate Peter (John 21:15-19)? “Peter denied Jesus with his lips, but in his heart he remained constantly faithful to his Lord and Master” (ibid.). Thus, there are two kinds of denial. There is denial that can be forgiven, and there is denial that cannot be forgiven. Forgivable denial is a temporary, verbal denial that contradicts abiding inner faith; unforgivable denial, by contrast, “officially renounces Jesus” (ibid.)

The reference [in Matt. 10:32-33] is to a disciple who publicly professes that he knows Jesus as Savior and God, adheres to his teaching, and submits to his Master’s will. If this “Christian” later says no to this Amen, that is, if he officially renounces Jesus, declaring before other people that he is freeing himself from his dependence on the Lord, then the Lord in turn will abandon him and will not exercise his role as advocate and paraclete on his behalf (1 John 2:1). (ibid., 202-203)

So to return to the original question that Matthew 10:32-33 poses: Does denying Jesus make a person lose his or her salvation? No. A Christian who denies Jesus temporarily in word but not in heart has an experience not unlike that which Paul describes in Rom. 7:18, 22-23. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. … For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” A person who denies Christ and goes to hell, however, does not lose his or her salvation because he or she never possessed salvation. As we read in Hebrews 10:35-39,

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,

     “Yet a little while,
          and the coming one will come and will not delay;
     but my righteous one shall live by faith,
          and if he shrinks back,
     my soul has no pleasure in him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

According to the writer of Hebrews, then, true believers have faith and preserve their souls. Humanly speaking, a true believer may apostatize, may shrink back, but divinely speaking, God preserves true believers’ faith and enables them to endure to the end. As Thomas Schreiner explains,

The admonitions [such as in Heb. 10:35-39] are the means God uses to keep believers on the path of faith. Believers are even more assured of their salvation as they heed the warnings, because their response to the warnings demonstrates that they truly belong to God. And the argument of this book is that the elect and those in the new covenant always heed the warnings. God loses none of those who belong to them. (113)

Jesus’ parable of the sower demonstrates this well (Mark 4:14-20). There are three varieties of unbelievers: those who never believe, those who seem to believe but fall away quickly, and those who seem to believe but fall away eventually. There is but one course of action for the believer, however: all true believers believe and never finally fall away, even though they may, at times, like Peter, verbally deny Jesus.

But a vital caveat is needed. Who are you to know if your denial is temporary or final? Who are you to know if your denial is the kind that can be forgiven, or the kind that cannot be forgiven because it is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31-32)? Don’t risk denying Jesus with your mouth: you may, in fact, be denying him in your heart. Don’t presume upon the Lord’s mercies.

I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God … for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began. (2 Tim. 1:6-9)

If you trust Jesus for salvation, keep trusting him, and serve him boldly! Not posting a Facebook status about Jesus won’t make you lose your salvation (nothing will), but if you deny Jesus consistently in your words and actions, you probably were never saved to begin with, and you need to trust him now to be saved.

Works Cited

Mounce, William D. Pastoral Epistles. Word Biblical Commentary 46. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2000.

Schreiner, Thomas. Run to Win the Prize: Perseverance in the New Testament. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.

Spicq, Ceslas. Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, vol. 1, trans. and ed. James D. Ernest. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, 1994.

Do We Live Like We’re Moving?

July 30, 2012 Leave a comment

This past week, my wife, Abi, and I moved from our old one-bedroom apartment to our new two-bedroom apartment. And I do mean that we moved all last week! Last Monday, my dad and grandfather helped us move the heavy furniture (bed, dresser, couch, washer/dryer, etc.), and I’m thankful we got all that moved in just one (full) day! But just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, Abi and I didn’t move apartments in a day. All the rest of the week Abi and I were moving box after box of kitchen supplies, clothes, and other miscellaneous items from Tuscaloosa to Northport (about a fifteen minute drive one-way). I couldn’t tell you how many times I drove the Honda Pilot from one end of Highway 69 to the other! Each day was long and hard because we both worked really hard to move into our new apartment.

Thanks to my dad and his dad, Abi and I were able to sleep at our new apartment Monday night. But we didn’t get our last load from the old apartment until Saturday morning. (And to be honest, I haven’t unloaded that load from the Pilot yet!) As it was, we were living half in one apartment and half in another. We were already living in the new apartment, but we were not yet fully settled in. And that’s how the Christian life is: we Christians are already saved, but we have not yet experienced the consummation of our salvation. My question for all of us today, then, is this: are we living like we’re moving to heaven? Every one of us are physically dying right now. Our time is limited; our days are numbered. We Christians are in the process of moving to heaven. But are we working hard to get there? In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus puts it this way:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Yes, we Christians are still sleeping in our old apartment, so to speak: we’re still living on this earth. But are we laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven, as Jesus says, or are we spending most of our time and effort in our lives on this earth?

Living life as if this present world is all that matters is like accumulating more junk in a one bedroom apartment that you’re moving out of in less than a week. So let’s not live like that, because if “we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). When Paul wrote that, he was combating false teachers who claimed that the resurrection from the dead, the consummation of our salvation, had already happened. We Christians know and believe that this hasn’t happened yet, but do we live like it? Do we live like Jesus could come back at any moment to “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21)? We should because the salvation he has saved us to is not just for this present age but even more fully for the age to come! May we honestly say with Paul: “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). May we live like we’re in the process of moving to heaven, not like this present life is all we have to hope for.

“Set your minds on things that are above” because one day, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will come down from heaven just as he went up, in order to bring us into the new heavens and the new earth to be with him in glory forever. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The Prophet Who Feeds Us

July 18, 2012 1 comment

I’m excited to teach John 6:1-15 tonight to Calvary’s youth group. We’re working our way through The Gospel According to John, and tonight’s text is the account of Jesus feeding five thousand men (not including women and children). It is amazing to see how John depicts Jesus as a prophet greater than Elisha (see 2 Kings 4:42-44); indeed, Jesus is the Prophet, the Prophet to come after Moses (Deut. 18:15-19), the Prophet who says and does all that the Father tells him to do, perfectly (John 5:30; 12:49).

But as amazing as all this is, even more striking to me is Jesus’ mercy on an abandoning crowd. He is the Prophet, but he is the Prophet who feeds. Here in this miracle is a picture of God’s grace to all people, both believers and unbelievers. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:45, the Father “makes his sun shine on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” In John 6:1-15, Jesus is doing this loving work of his Father’s: he is abundantly feeding a crowd that will later abandon him. The next day, many of these people “turned back and no longer walked” with Jesus (John 6:66) because, as Jesus points out to them, they were seeking him “not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (v. 26).

And yet Jesus fed them anyway. Jesus knows people’s hearts perfectly (John 2:25), and he knows the crowd’s materialistic treachery (6:15). But he feeds them. As Matthew elaborates in his account of this miracle, Jesus “had compassion on them” (Matt. 14:14). He knew they were unbelieving (or, to put it another way, had demonic faith; cf. James 2:19), but he had mercy on them and fed them in their hunger. He later goes further and gives them truth, the ultimate truth that he is the bread of life, and in him alone is salvation (John 6:32-58). They reject it, and Jesus knew that they would, but he was merciful and fed them both physical and spiritual food anyway.

What a glorious picture of the gospel in our lives today. As Jesus himself says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). Nevertheless, he proclaims the gospel offer of life in him for those who trust him for salvation to even these unbelievers: “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (v. 37). Our salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Were it not for God’s grace in pursuing us when we were yet his unbelieving enemies, none of us would have come to saving faith in Christ and be in this filial relationship with him now.

Praise God that he pursues us even in our unbelief! Praise God that Jesus, the Prophet-King, died for us while we were yet sinners! Praise God that his Holy Spirit awakens us from our death in sin to new life in Christ! Praise God! Praise God!

Hotter than the Sun

July 13, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s my last day at the beach this year, so why am I blogging and not out on the beach? As always, I sunburn BAD at the beach. I was fine until yesterday, when the sun decided all of a sudden to shine just bright enough to get past my SPF 45 broad-spectrum sunscreen. My back is redder than the sweet and sour chicken I ate on my date with Abi last night, so I’m inside the condo this afternoon while the sun is at its hottest.

I’ve gone from reading Isaiah to reading Deuteronomy, so the hotness of the beach sun and its blistering effect on my skin makes me wonder at something that came up repeatedly in Deuteronomy 4-11: How hot and intimidating must God’s fire have been to the Israelites when they received the law at Mt. Sinai, or Horeb as it’s referred to in Deuteronomy?

In these chapters of Deuteronomy Moses recaps the events at Mt. Sinai and reiterates the ten commandments and the command to fear, love, and serve the Lord. He addresses these commands to a second generation of Israelites who had wandered in the wilderness, those who had been under the age of twenty when the Israelites refused to enter the Promised Land because of the negative report of ten of the twelve spies (see Num. 13-14).

Although this is a new generation of Israelites, Moses insists that they were present at the giving of the law at Sinai (Deut. 4:9-11). Some of these undoubtedly were present, as children, but many had not been. Nevertheless, Moses says that they were there, in effect, because upon the giving of the law the Israelites as a people pledged, “we will hear and do” all that God commands them through Moses (Deut. 5:27). Because this new generation of Israelites are God’s people, they are just as obligated to obey God’s law as though they had been present at its giving, even if they had not been born yet.

And as Moses reiterates the law to these Israelites, he emphasizes the consuming fire of God. Indeed, “the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God,” Moses tells the people (Deut. 4:24). And because “God is a consuming fire,” Mt. Sinai “burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and doom” when God gave the law to Moses (v. 11). Because the Lord spoke “out of the midst of the fire,” the Israelites are to

  • watch themselves “very carefully” (v. 15),
  • “beware” of making idols (vv. 16-19), and
  • “take care” to not “forget the covenant” that God has made with them (v. 23).

If they commit idolatry, however, they consequently “provoke him [God] to anger” and “will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed” (vv. 25, 26). God will scatter them to other nations, where they will be forced to serve idols in “tribulation” (vv. 27-29). But God is merciful; when they “return to the LORD [their] God and obey his voice,” God “will not leave [them] or destroy [them] or forget the covenant” because he “is a merciful God” (vv. 30, 31). And the Israelites know God’s mercy: “Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live?” Moses asks (v. 33). “Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?” (v. 34).

But recall that this mercifulness is to any generation who repents of its wickedness: wicked, unrepentant generations are burned by the fire of God’s judgment. As Moses reiterates his statement from Deuteronomy 4:24 in Deuteronomy 6:15: since “the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God,” sin causes God’s anger to “be kindled” like a fire that will “destroy [sinning Israelites] from off the face of the earth.” Idolatry, particularly, causes God’s destructive, fiery anger to “be kindled” (Deut. 7:4). One specific consequence of Israelite idolatry would be that “the anger of the LORD will be kindled against [them], and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the LORD is giving you” (11:17).

So the question for each generation of Israelites is this: will they love the Lord their God, serve him, and obey him; or will they forsake the Lord their God and follow idols? Will God be “a consuming fire” to their enemies, “destroy[ing] them and subdu[ing] them” (Deut. 9:3), or will God be “a consuming fire, a jealous God” toward them (4:24)?

But what does all this have to do with us Christians? The Israel of the Old Testament and the Church of the New Testament are not exactly the same. However, there are some striking correlations between the two. God’s people in the Old Testament were not all God’s people (e.g., Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6). Similarly, everyone who is a church member is not necessarily a member of the Church (e.g., Matt. 7:21-23; 18:15-17). This is how the author of Hebrews applies these warnings from Deuteronomy throughout his book. He quotes Deuteronomy 4:24 in Hebrews 12:29 as he warns his readers: “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. … for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:25, 29). The author of Hebrews elsewhere puts it this way:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. … For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? … And to whom did he [God] swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. …

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (Heb. 3:12, 16, 18; 4:1, 11)

This is the author of Hebrews’s Holy Spirit-inspired argument: just as the first generation of Israelites failed to enter the promised land because of their disobedient unbelief, so also Christians must persevere in the faith because true faith is persevering faith, without which one will not enter God’s eternal rest. This is the stark picture the author of Hebrews paints later in his book:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay. And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (10:23-31)

Here the author of Hebrews quotes Deuteronomy 32:35 and 36 to determine that even people who claim Christ, if they sin deliberately (that is, habitually and as a pattern of life; cf. 1 John 3:4-10), prove that they are not saved, and consequently incur the fire of God’s judgment. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 13:5 are applicable here: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?–unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” Every person who claims Christ as Savior and Lord must ask themselves if he really is their Lord, or if they are really serving the devil.

Is God’s consuming fire going to consume your enemies (those unsaved people who persecute or afflict you) at the Day of Judgment, or will God’s consuming fire consume you because you are not truly trusting Jesus Christ for salvation from sin? My prayer is Paul’s: “I hope you will find out that we [both you and I!] have not failed the test” (2 Cor. 13:6).

Isaiah’s Bookends of Judgment

July 12, 2012 1 comment

Isaiah is the longest prophetic book of the Bible and has as many chapters as there are books in the Bible. John’s words concerning Jesus’ works in John 21:25 are applicable to this book of the Bible: “the world itself could not contain the books that could be written” about the book of Isaiah. So since there’s no way I could write everything I’ve seen in Isaiah after reading it this time, I’ll focus on how judgment bookends the beginning and end of Isaiah and thus highlights God’s grace that also pervades the book. (God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment helped me better piece together how judgment and grace interrelate not only in Isaiah but in the whole Bible also.)

The First Bookend of Judgment

Consider how Isaiah begins. God indicts Israel:

“The ox knows its owner,
_____and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
_____my people do not understand.” (1:3)

Through Isaiah God describes his people as “a whore,” although they once were “full of justice”; his once righteous people have become “murderers” (1:21).

Everyone loves a bribe
_____and runs after gifts.
They do not bring justice to the fatherless,
_____and the widow’s cause does not come to them.

Therefore the Lord declares,
_____the LORD of hosts,
_____the Mighty One of Israel:
“Ah, I will get relief from my enemies
_____and avenge myself on my foes.
I will turn my and against you
_____and will smelt away your dross as with lye
_____and remove all your alloy.” (1:23-25)

God begins this oracle to his people by announcing judgment. Of course, with judgment, there is also the promise of salvation:

“And I will restore your judges as at the first,
_____and your counselors as at the beginning.
Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,
_____the faithful city.” (1:26).

As God had said earlier:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
_____they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
_____they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
_____you shall eat the good of the land,
but if you refuse and rebel,
_____you shall be eaten by the sword,
_____for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (1:18-20)

Though God judges his people, his is gracious to them and offers them salvation. Judgment is the consequence of disobedience and rebellion, of refusing God’s salvation and lordship. This is where the people of Israel were in their history. They had rebelled consistently against God, and God allows them to be conquered by foreigners (1:7-8). But just as rebellion brings promised judgment (1:20, 24-25), repentance brings promised salvation (1:18-19, 26). The judgment announced at Isaiah’s beginning is the first bookend to this book.

Pervasive Grace

Grace pervades the book of Isaiah. Isaiah 4:2-6 features God’s promise that in his Day of judgment, his righteous Branch shall reign, which means that God will dwell among his people. In Isaiah 6, God commissions Isaiah to be his prophet to Judah, although Isaiah is “a man of unclean lips” who “dwell[s] in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (v. 5). Isaiah 7:14 is a promise of redemption not only for Isaiah’s contemporary Judah (Isaiah 8) but to the whole world, as well (9:1-7), in the person of Jesus Christ.

In Isaiah 40, God comforts future exiles. In Isaiah 52:13-53:12, God announces the coming of a Servant, Jesus Christ, who will bear the griefs of God’s people, be crushed for their iniquities, and bring us peace by being chastised on the cross by God Most High. In Isaiah 54-56, God calls the barren to sing, (54:1-3), promises to protect the afflicted (54:11-17), calls all people to come to him for salvation (55:1-3), and promises to bless eunuchs with “a name better than sons and daughters” (56:4-5). God’s grace thus pervades Isaiah even as do promises of judgment, which bookend the prophecy and set the context for his grace.

The Second Bookend of Judgment

Like the first chapter of Isaiah, the last chapter of Isaiah is itself begun and ended with promises of judgment, and thus Isaiah as a whole begins and ends with proclamations of judgment. Isaiah 66:1-6 pronounces judgment on God’s proud enemies, specifically the legalistic (v. 3) and those who think they are serving him by persecuting his people (v. 5). But there is grace for the humble (v. 2). Those who love God’s people will find refuge in the New Jerusalem (vv. 10-14).

And this grace is followed by a renewed pronouncement of judgment. Indeed, God saves the humble lovers of his people because he judges their oppressors (vv. 15-17). God again renews his promise to save people from all the world over (vv. 18-23), but Isaiah ends with a grim depiction of eternal judgment:

And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh. (v. 24)

The Gospel and Isaiah: Grace or Judgment

To many Christians, this last verse of Isaiah brings to mind the Lord’s quotation of this verse (Mark 9:48). And the clear picture not only of Isaiah but fully clear by the gospel is that there are two eternal options for any person: either grace or judgment. Jesus makes clear that the way to enter into God’s grace is by faith and repentance (Mark 1:15). Apart from faith in Jesus Christ, the only end result is eternal punishment (Romans 6:23). Paul puts it well in 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 when he writes,

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Paul is quoting Isaiah 49:8, which in its larger context reveals that God is bringing salvation to his imprisoned and oppressed people (Isa. 49:9-12). This eternal salvation will result in the singing and exultation of the new heavens and new earth (v. 13). God does not forget his people; he will save them, but this means judgment for their enemies (who are ultimately God’s enemies):

Can the prey be taken from the mighty,
_____or the captives of a tyrant be rescued?
For thus says the LORD:
“Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken,
_____and the prey of the tyrant be rescued,
for I will contend with those who contend with you,
_____and I will save your children.
I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,
_____and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine.
Then all flesh shall know
_____that I am the LORD your Savior,
_____and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” (vv. 24-26)

It would be well for us to remember that throughout Isaiah, from beginning to end, judgment bookends grace. Grace is given in the context of judgment. Jesus bore our judgment, and those who trust in him receive grace. Those who don’t trust in him remain under judgment and will experience it for eternity. Oh, trust Christ for salvation! Trust that he has endured the judgment you deserve, and experience the eternal life found in trusting him for salvation!

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