Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Psalm 37 and Disciples (Devotees, not Curious Crowd or Serious Student) of Jesus

In light of yesterday’s sermon, Psalm 37 is a wonderful reminder of what it is to be a disciple of Jesus. Note in the Psalm the constant tug of the world and the quickly gained, quickly lost prosperity. David is teaching us, “that nothing is better than to practice righteousness by obeying God’s commandments” and “the ultimate goal of the happy life is to be loved by [God]” (Calvin). The fear we face when being called to turn away from the false security of the world, is the fear that God might not keep us. Take some time and meditate on Psalm 37 and the numerous promises that the Lord will not forsake you found therein.

Psalm 37 – Of David.

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.
Trust in the  Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the  Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the  Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.

Be still before the  Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the  Lord shall inherit the land.

In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace.

The wicked plots against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him,
but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that his day is coming.

The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose way is upright;
their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.
Better is the little that the righteous has
than the abundance of many wicked.
For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
but the  Lord upholds the righteous.

The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will remain forever;
they are not put to shame in evil times;
in the days of famine they have abundance.

But the wicked will perish;
the enemies of the  Lord are like the glory of the pastures;
they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.

The wicked borrows but does not pay back,
but the righteous is generous and gives;
for those blessed by the  Lord shall inherit the land,
but those cursed by him shall be cut off.

The steps of a man are established by the  Lord,
when he delights in his way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the  Lord upholds his hand.

I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or his children begging for bread.
He is ever lending generously,
and his children become a blessing.

Turn away from evil and do good;
so shall you dwell forever.
For the  Lord loves justice;
he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
The righteous shall inherit the land
and dwell upon it forever.

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.
The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip.

The wicked watches for the righteous
and seeks to put him to death.
The  Lord will not abandon him to his power
or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.

Wait for the  Lord and keep his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on when the wicked are cut off.

I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,
spreading himself like a green laurel tree.
But he passed away, and behold he was no more;
though I sought him, he could not be found.

Mark the blameless and behold the upright,
for there is a future for the man of peace.
But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
the future of the wicked shall be cut off.

The salvation of the righteous is from the  Lord;
he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
The  Lord helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.

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Joel: Locusts & Spirit (part 6 – 3:17-21)

JoelIn the final verses of his written prophesy, Joel continues to announce Yahweh’s promises of redemption for the people of Israel. 3:17 is an important reminder of God’s desire to be known by his people. The glory of the Lord and knowledge of the Lord are the ultimate goal of his redemptive work. Even going back to Moses’ interaction with Pharaoh, we read, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:5, ESV), a refrain that is repeated throughout the Exodus narrative. Here, in Joel, the people are told, because of the redemption that Yahweh will work, “So you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain” (Joel 3:17, ESV). The sum of the Israel’s problem, and of ours is that we have forgotten God. We have forgotten who God is, and we have forgotten who is God.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (Romans 1:18-23, ESV).

Our unholiness flows from our lack of knowledge of God which, as we see in Romans 1, is a willful lack of knowledge.

With the restoration of the people’s knowledge of God will come the restoration of the blessings of God. Again, Joel announces the restoration of all that was lost in the first chapter, but that is not all that he announces. There is an eschatological force in the announcement of a fountain coming forth from the house of the Lord. In his prophecy of restoration, Ezekiel sees a similar vision of water flowing from the temple of the Lord. As Ezekiel’s river flows from the temple it grows in size and effect until he announces, “so everything will live where the river goes” (Ezekiel 47:9, ESV). Likewise, the apostle John sees this river vision in the New Jerusalem writing,

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1-2, ESV).

Joel is announcing the coming of the eschatological kingdom of God.

In the closing verses of Joel we are reminded of the exclusiveness of the kingdom of God. Within the kingdom is restoration. Outside of the kingdom is desolation. Zion, the place of the Lords dwelling, will be a place of peace for all generations, thus the author of Hebrews writes of those found in Christ by faith,

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24, ESV).

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Joel: Locusts & Spirit (part 5 – 3:1-16)

JoelAfter announcing grand promises of deliverance and restoration to his people, the Lord turns his attention to the nations who have been pictured in the previous metaphor by the swarms of locusts. If God is going to restore what the locusts destroyed (2:25) then he must deal with the locusts. 3:1-3 announces that the Lord will restore what has been lost by way of judging the nations responsible. The Lord reminds the people that despite his discipline of them they are in fact still his people, and he will be their advocate and their protection.

3:4-8 announces the reason for Yahweh’s anger, “You have taken my silver and my gold, and you have carried my rich treasures into your temples. You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their own border” (Joel 3:5-6, ESV). The nations have taken what the Lord held as precious and have stood against his promises, so he will vindicate his glory, his people, and all that they need to live and restore them to the land.

When we consider this act of justice on God’s part certain questions are raised regarding the very justice of God. How can he at one time send the nations to stand against his people in judgement for their sin and then turn around and judge those same nations for what they have done to his people? On the one hand, we must recognize the mystery of how God’s sovereignty relates to the responsibility of man. On this topic, I recommend Jerry Bridges’ book, Trusting God. Bridges reminds us, “The sovereignty of God is often questioned because man does not understand what God is doing. Because He does not act as we think He should, we conclude He cannot act as we think He would” (Trusting God, 27). This statement is a helpful reminder that we do not have the whole picture. On the other hand, we can easily recognize that the actions of the nations against Israel were actually sinful, and no sin will go unpunished by a just God. We don’t like it, but we cannot give ourselves the freedom to step beyond our place and sit in judgement on God. Paul teaches us, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this’” (Romans 9:19-20, ESV)?

The next eight verses, 9-16, are God challenging the nations to come with all the might they have that he may sit in judgement on them. The Lord is non-flinching before the powers of this earth as he carries out his just judgments. However, he is a refuge for his people (3:16). These verses are reminiscent of Psalm 2 wherein we are reminded of the sovereign authority of God over the nations and the gracious protection he offers his people.

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him (Psalm 2, ESV).

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Joel: Locusts & Spirit (part 4 – 2:18-32)

JoelGoing back to Joel chapter 1, we remember that Israel had experienced near total devastation via plagues of locusts (1:4), destruction of crops by drought (1:12, 17, &20), and destruction of field and forest by fire (1:19-20). The destruction that had come would have certainly brought with it social, economic, and spiritual devastation. Following the announcement of the day of the Lord and the Lord’s call to repentance, we find the announcement of restoration in 2:18-32 in which each and every layer of devastation is turned back.

Then the Lord became jealous for his land
and had pity on his people (2:18, ESV).

The restoration of the people of God is always and entirely and act of God’s mercy who is jealous for his glory and his people. For his own sake and for the sake of his people, the Lord will keep his promises, even to a sinful people. He restores Israel, and us, only out of pity on us. He does not bring redemption because we have made ourselves worthy. The Lord brings a gracious and merciful redemption to those who are unworthy and incapable, and the redemption he brings is full.

As we read through 2:18-32 we find each layer of devastation restored. Grain, wine, and oil will be restored and reproach removed (vv 19 & 24). Occupying forces will be banished (v 20) (Don’t worry Rob, this is a different kind of northerner. You’re safe). Fields and forest will be restored (vv 21-22). The land will once again produce crops. With the coming rains, the drought will be brought to an end (v 23). What the locusts destroyed will be restored (v 25). The full restoration is staggering and designed to fill Israel with hope. However, God’s merciful words do not stop with restoration, but he promises such shame will never come again because God will be in their midst and they will know him (vv 26-27).

As the Lord has been in the midst of his people before, we are right to take this as a promise of a new presence. He had been there, but the people had not known him. Now he will be there, and the people will know him. This promise of spiritual restoration sets the stage for what comes next. God will pour out his Spirit on all flesh, a hope found as far back as Moses in Numbers 11:29. He will show wonders in heaven and on earth marking the coming of the eschatological day of the Lord. He will bring salvation in his own name. He will provide the way of escape, and he will direct his people in it.

Peter points back to these very verses in his sermon at Pentecost recorded in Acts 2 to explain the fantastic events of the day.

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: (Acts 2:14-16, ESV) .

Peter follows this statement by quoting Joel 2:28-32 before announcing the mighty works and wonders and signs that God had done in their midst, he did to bear witness to the Jesus Christ, the promised One through whom God brought to fruition the promises of Joel. In Christ, the full restoration of the people of God is found. The King has come and he has brought with him the first tastes of the eschatological kingdom of God.

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Joel: Locusts & Spirit (part 3 – 2:12-17)

JoelIn the first few verses of Joel 2, Joel announces the great and terrible day of the Lord drawing on imagery found in the threefold disaster that had come upon Israel (recorded in Joel 1). Joel’s announcement was very bleak, ending with the question, “For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it” (Joel 2:11, ESV)? However, in the Minor Prophets, these wild announcements of impending doom are almost always followed by an announcement of hope if those for whom the warning was intended would repent. Therefore, it is no surprise that Joel 2:12 begins,

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“Return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster (Joel 2:12-13, ESV).

Of course, this call to repentance and announcement of the possibility of God relenting raises all kinds of questions for folks. Indeed, many take such verses as the basis for justifying their denial of God’s absolute sovereignty. However, before we run too far down that road, we must remember two points:

First, God condescends to communicate with us in ways that we can understand. The condescension of God in no way renders his revelation untrustworthy, but it does direct how we read, interpret, and apply God’s Word.

Second, Scripture is replete with examples of second causes. We do not have to deny God’s sovereignty in order to affirm meaningful actions by his creatures. God has ordained the means as well as the end.

R.C. Sproul addresses these issues in a devotional note he wrote on Jonah 3:10,

God is free to alter His announced judgments when we repent (Jer. 18:1–10). Despite His knowing whether we will trust Him before we do so, He still condescends to respond to our trust, and thus our actions are significant. Though we must not take this truth for granted, our Father will always freely forgive those who turn to Him. His lordship does not abolish the real impact of our choices; instead, it establishes them as part of His overall decree (WCF 3.1). (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/god-relented/).

In addition to offering hope if the people repent, Joel’s prophetic call to repentance offers a helpful picture of what repentance looks like. Repentance is often defined as turning from sin to righteousness. The common application of this definition of repentance is, “Stop doing bad stuff, and start doing good stuff.” Joel offers a slightly, but importantly, different picture of repentance. Joel’s call to repentance is essentially a call to stop doing whatever it is you are doing and call out to God for mercy. All the congregation of Israel from the elders to nursing infants are to stop and call out to the Lord for mercy. Even the priests are to stop and weep and call out to the Lord,

Spare your people, O Lord,
and make not your heritage a reproach,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
“Where is their God” (Joel 2:17, ESV)?

Repentance is not turning from bad works done in the flesh to good works done in the flesh. Repentance is turning from any work done in the flesh to the Lord, that he might show mercy.

Further, the repentance that is pictured in Joel 2 is communal. This communal repentance offers something very different from the common just-me-and-Jesus view of Christianity that leaves us each operating as our own little church with no real connection to or accountability from anyone else. Undoubtedly, individual repentance was necessary, but the people of God were called into solemn assembly to lift up one voice of repentance to God. In the New Testament, we see such public confession of sin in Acts 19:18 and James calls us to confess our sins to one another. The individualistic version of Christianity that results in our detaching ourselves from the body of Christ (yes, expressed in the local church) or repeatedly detaching ourselves from particular local bodies because “they don’t get it,” or “they’re doctrine isn’t pure enough,” or “they’re practice is what I think it should” be runs afoul to the picture of a covenant community found throughout the Bible. Paul doesn’t even call faithful Christians to leave the Corinthian church; rather he calls them all to repent and be unified before their God.

Finally, we see in these verses the proper motivation for repentance. Read the final lines of verse 17 again. “Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God’” (Joel 2: 17, ESV). Notice that it is God’s glory among the nations that is offered as the motivation for repentance. This is not to say escaping judgment offers no motivation whatsoever. Rather, it is simply reminding us that the ultimate motivation for repentance is God’s glory, that his name may be great among the nations. Even in repentance the glory of God is the chief and highest end of man.

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Joel: Locusts & Spirit (part 2 – 2:1-11)

JoelAfter calling the Israelites’ attention to the total devastation that had come in the form of multiplied natural disasters, Joel uses these events as his source for imagery to describe the future day of the Lord. Joel 2:1-11 is bookended by references to the day of the Lord. On the front end there is a call to warn the inhabitants, and on the back end there is a call to sober judgement.

Blow a trumpet in Zion;
sound and alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness (Joel 2:1-2a, ESV)!

The Lord utters his voice
before his army
for his camp is exceedingly great;
he who executes his word is powerful.
For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome;
who can endure it (Joel 2:11, ESV)?

Joel is moving from the lesser to the greater to help the people of Israel see, as bad as the natural disasters were, “the plague of locusts is not the worst thing that could happen” (Witmer, ESV Gospel Transformation Bible). As we acknowledge Joel’s literary move, we must also be clear that he is in no way asserting or even implying that the plague of locusts, the drought, the fire, and the devastation they brought were not real and were not actually economically, emotionally, physically, socially, and spiritually devastating. Joel is not denying the realities and significance of the material world. Joel is not saying, “Y’all should get over the physical devastation because something bigger is coming.” Rather, it is precisely because Joel recognizes the pain of the devastation they are experiencing from the natural disasters that he draws on that situation as his source of imagery. Scripture does not force us into viewing life through some material/spiritual dichotomy; rather, it draws us into viewing every aspect of life and creation as connected and serving a larger purpose of glorifying God. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen” (Romans 11:36, ESV).

The day of the Lord of which Joel is warning the people is a day of judgement from which no one will escape. Matthew 24:29-31 records Jesus’ foretelling of the same event using much of the same imagery. This great day of judgement is neither to be ignored or scoffed at; rather, the announcement of such a fearsome day should drive us to repent and call out to the Lord of this day for mercy on this day. Joel’s words put to rest any notion that we will escape in our sin and announces the truth found throughout Scripture,

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:5-6, ESV).

We must not be foolish. If we continue in our sin, a devastation that outstrips the total devastation brought on Israel through the locust/drought/fire plagues, awaits us, but in his grace, God has sent his prophets to warn us of the coming judgement that we might repent.

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Joel: Locusts & Spirit (part 1 – 1:1-20)

JoelThe prophetic writing of Joel is a fascinating work pointing to a series of natural disasters as a foreshadowing of the coming eschatological day of the Lord in order to call the people of God to repentance. Joel opens with the standard prophetic formula, “The word of the Lord that came to Joel,” signaling that the words of Joel are to be received as the very words of Yahweh. While we know very little about either the historic man or his father, Pethuel, our lack of definitive knowledge provides no reason to question the validity or gravity of his message as some may attempt to do. Further, we find support for accepting the message of Joel in the New Testament book of Acts which records Peter’s proclamation concerning the events taking place on the day of Pentecost, “For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:15-16, ESV). In addition to bolstering the authority of Joel, Peter’s declaration helps direct our interpretation of the prophetic work by authoritatively identifying its fulfillment with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the people of God.

Joel’s prophecy opens with a call to the elders and “all inhabitants of the land” to pay attention to what has happened.

Hear this, you elders;
give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
or in the days of your fathers?
Tell your children of it,
and let your children tell their children,
and their children to another generation (Joel 1:2-3, ESV).

In Joel 1:4-20 we read of a threefold disaster: 1) a plague of locusts has destroyed the crops (1:4); 2) crops have withered due to drought (1:12, 17, 20); and 3) fields and forests have been destroyed by fires (1:19-20). It is hard to overestimate the compounding impact these locust, drought, and fire disasters would have brought on a pre-industrial, agricultural society. Social devastation came as people struggled to provide for their families or even eat (1:5, 11, 16). Spiritual devastation came as the animals, grains, and wines needed for offerings died, withered, and dried up (1:9, 13, 18). Economic devastation came as trade goods ran out (1:11-12). The devastation was near total.

As Joel recounts the devastation that has come to the people of God, he calls the people to recognize both their immediate and eschatological need for the Lord. It is perverse to ignore the brokenness that surrounds us and continue living as if all were as it should be, so Joel calls even the drunkards to wake up and weep over their lack of wine. He calls the people to weep as a widowed virgin would. He calls the priests to mourn, the workers to be ashamed, and the elders to call a fast, pointing people to God that he might help them and connecting the current situation to the coming day of the Lord in which God will judge all creation with equity and save only those who have come to him for mercy.

Interestingly, Joel does not take the natural disasters as a judgement per se; rather, Joel sees the present brokenness devastating the lives of the people of God as a sign of future judgement and a reminder of their dependence on God. Certainly, when we consider the condition of Israel reported in Joel against the backdrop of the Mosaic Law there is room to see the current situation in terms of judgement; however, Joel simply takes the current devastation as a sign of what is yet to come in order to call the people to repentance and faith. Joel’s view of brokenness in the world, including natural disasters, serves to inform how we should view brokenness in our lives. It is not the case that God does not discipline his children as any loving father does (see Hebrews 12). Nor is it the case that God does not have the prerogative to act according to his will. It is the case that we do not have perfect knowledge and therefore are limited in our ability to offer such definitive interpretation of such events. However, with Joel, we can and should acknowledge present brokenness and be reminded of both our present and eschatological need for the grace and mercy of God that comes to us through Jesus Christ.

 

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Notes on 1 John – 5:18-21

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning,

John has made this point multiple times throughout his letter. “Everyone who has been born of God,” is a reference to Christians and to the transformative, live giving power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Based on verses such as 1 John 2:1 we know that John is not saying Christians never ever sin again. Rather, as we have pointed out before, “keep on sinning” is pointing to ongoing, willful sin. John is making the point that the gospel is powerful to transform those who believe in Christ.

but he who was born of God protects him,

“He who was born of God” is a reference to Jesus Christ, reminding us that he is the Son of God. Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, which is also to say that Jesus is God. John is clear in his gospel that Jesus is to be understood to be the creator of all things. Here John is telling us that the One who created all things, the one who has such power also protects those who have been born of God. This is why Paul can so confidently ask in Romans 8,

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39, ESV).

and the evil one does not touch him.

“Though Satan should buffet,
though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and has shed his own blood for my soul” (“It Is Will with My Soul”, Horatio G. Spafford, Trinity Hymnal).

If we have been purchased by the very blood of Christ, Satan may attack and accuse, but he is threatening only as one already defeated by the very One who hold us in his hand, the One to whom the Father has given us. He accuses with vain truths, for Jesus has satisfied God’s wrath toward our sin. He threatens with empty words, for in Christ we are more than conquerors.

We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

John tells us in his gospel that we have been born of God. We are not born of the flesh, that is, we are not of this world. While the whole world, for the time, lies in the power of the evil one, we are not of this world, but of God. It is for this reason that the evil one cannot touch us. Satan may have all kinds of influence in the world via full frontal attacks that wreak havoc or via convincing people to call that which is a lie the truth, but the people of God will be preserved.

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true;

This is why Jesus has come, that we may know God. John has made this argument from the beginning of his letter. What we have lacked in know God, Jesus has given to us.

and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ.

By faith we have been united to Christ in such an intimate way that his victory is our victory. His righteousness has been credited to our account. And, his status as son has been shared with us.

He is the true God and eternal life.

There is nothing else and no one else that we need. God himself has secured life itself for us through the work of Jesus Christ who is eternal life. John wrote the same thing in his gospel when he recorded Jesus’ words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6, ESV).

Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

To worship anyone other that the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is idolatry. To worship Jesus as something other than who and what he is, is idolatry. To look to anyone or anything other than Jesus for that which is freely promised in Jesus is idolatry. John closes his letter reminding his readers to keep themselves from any and all from of idolatry.

 

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Matthew 7:15-20 – Sermon Manuscript

“Fruit Trees and False Prophets”

15Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus you will recognize them by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20, ESV).

After instructing his disciples in gate selection, Jesus gives them a warning against false prophets. We find such warnings throughout the Bible. Moses wrote in Deuteronomy,

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, ESV).

The Biblical prophets regularly call out the false prophets in Israel with words similar to those used by Jeremiah,

Then I said: “Ah, Lord GOD, behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’” And the LORD said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come upon this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed” (Jeremiah 14:13-15, ESV).

 We learn from the Lord’s words to Ezekiel what a prophet was to do.

So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul (Ezekiel 33:7-9, ESV).

A prophet was to faithfully communicate the Word of God to the people of God for the glory of God and the good of the people. Prophets could go wrong by message or by motive. They could preach something false, such as calling the people of Yahweh to follow other gods, or promising peace and blessing when there was no peace and blessing. They could preach for their own gain and not for the people’s salvation and good. Often the false prophets did both, they preached false messages that they knew would please the people, and they did so for their own gain.

The people of God were to be looking for and listening to God’s prophets. The people needed God’s Word. They needed to hear from God through his prophets. They had promises in their Torah of a prophet like Moses who would come, as we see in Deuteronomy 18.

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him (Deuteronomy 18:15-22, ESV).

While the people of Israel were to be waiting for and looking forward to a prophet who would come and speak a better word than Moses, God had instructed them to pay attention because he knew false prophets also would come. There were natural checks and balances built in to the system of God revealing himself to his people through his prophets. On the one hand the prophets were to be faithful to proclaim what Yahweh revealed. On the other hand the people of God were to listen with discernment and reject those prophets who lead the people of God away from Yahweh no matter how enticing their message of present blessing may have been.

But I want us to notice something about this passage in Deuteronomy 18. The people of Israel were not just waiting for any prophet, there were waiting for a prophet like Moses who would intercede for them with God. Notice that the Lord says, in response to their wanting someone to go before God for them, “They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” God had promised a prophet who would reveal God’s will for salvation, the way of life, to his people, and he says they were right to not try to come before God on their own. The people needed this ultimate mediator prophet, and they needed to not be fooled by false prophets claiming to be him. Hebrews chapter 3 tells us explicitly that Jesus is the One who is better than Moses. The whole book of Hebrews shows us over and over again how Jesus is a better Mediator of a better covenant. Jesus told his followers, in John chapter 5 that he acts and speaks as commanded by and with the authority of his Father, God. Notice the blatant fulfilment we have of Deuteronomy 18 in the New Testament. The promised prophet who would reveal God’s life giving Word is Jesus.

Now, let’s go back to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says to the congregation gathered there with him, “Beware of false prophets.” Why is he saying this? Because he knows, he is the one they have been waiting on, and if they lack discernment and follow a false prophet they will miss the One they have been waiting on. Jesus knows that if his followers listen to false prophets they will miss him. Jesus is warning his disciples not to get led astray by false prophets and miss the true prophet standing right before them. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2, ESV). Don’t miss Jesus.

And so with Jesus standing right before them, we have to ask, How could they miss him? How could they be so foolish as to follow a false prophet? They’re literally listening to Jesus preach. Well, look at Jesus’ description of these false prophets. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15, ESV). False prophets don’t come with horns growing out of their head and a tattoo across their forehead that says “False Prophet.” False prophets don’t come spewing hatred of God and daring people on the internet to take the blasphemy challenge. False prophets don’t come with any of that. They come in sheep’s clothing.

False prophets come in white dress shirts and black ties knocking on your door asking if you’re prepared for Jehovah’s return or talking a big game about family values leaving literature full of pictures of happy, smiling people to infect our minds and hearts over time.

False prophets come with great hair and a disarming Texas draw and a never-ending smile promising you your best life now and questioning your faith if you’re not blessed with what you believe God for.

False prophets come with stellar reputations of piety and an inability to live long with other believers because no one else ever quite measures up.

False prophets come with an inspiring gospel message but can’t cope with any call to holiness because their gospel isn’t actually transformative.

 False prophets come to town with profound personality and gifts of communication on private jets they crowd funded.

False prophets come with a message of love that excludes any possibility of ever telling anyone they are in sin if they are acting in sincerity with how they feel they were created.

False prophets come picketing funerals with signs that say “God hates fags” as if they are taking some grand stand for the glory of the triune of God.

False prophets come, not rejecting the Bible but reinterpreting it to fit contemporary demands.

False prophets come with a thousand demands for great social causes that you dare not question unless you desire to have your own faith questioned and be buried in an avalanche of proof texts for their cause.

False prophets come with values but no hope.

False prophets come questioning your salvation based on how you dress and vote and educate and eat and drink and pray and study and save and spend and work and sleep and breathe,

but Jesus, Jesus comes and looks you right in the eye and says, Oh, you sinner. You great and terrible sinner. You doubting and struggling sinner. Oh, you tired and pathetic sinner. Look. Here are the holes in my hands and feet. Here are the scars on my back and head. Here is the gaping wound in my side where water and blood flowed out. Here is the cross where I breathed my last as I suffered the awesome wrath of God poured out on me for your sin. Here is the grave where my body lay for three days, kept by the power of death, before I rose in victory. Here I am. Come with me, and I will give you rest.

See the false prophets about whom Jesus warned his disciples and us come looking like us. They come with the smiles we wish we had, doing the things we wish we could do, saying the things we wish we could say, and we so desperately want to prove to God and everybody else who we have convinced ourselves are watching that God made a good choice when he chose us that we listen to these false prophets and try to mimic them instead of listening to Jesus and following him. These false prophets come looking just enough like us that they’re able to coax us away from the flock, away from the Shepherd, before we realize they’re actually a wolf.

Paul was aware of these folks and their deceptive ways. He wrote to the Galatians, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9, ESV).

And he wrote to Timothy,

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:1-5, ESV).

So how can we recognize the false prophets before they have our necks in their jaws? Jesus says, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” Then Jesus explains this analogy in two ways. In the first explanation, in verse 16, Jesus simply points out that a tree bears fruit according to its kind. You don’t get grapes from thorn bushes. In the second explanation, in verses 17-18, Jesus points out that a tree bears fruit according to its quality. Healthy tree? Healthy fruit. Sick tree? Sick fruit. The analogy is simple enough, but what is the fruit? There is one line of thinking that says the fruit is good works, but there are a number of problems with this line of thinking.

The first problem with thinking the fruit is good works is Matthew 7:21-23.

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21-23, ESV).

If the  was good works, surely prophesying in Jesus’ name, and casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and doing many mighty works in Jesus’ name qualifies. But, Jesus explicitly says it doesn’t. What then is the will of his Father in heaven that they are supposed to do? John records Jesus’ answer to that very question for us.

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:38-40, ESV).

Doing the Father’s will begins with believing in Jesus whereby we are made a new creation in Christ Jesus, in whom we were created for good works. We can’t circumvent that first crucial step as the false prophets attempt to do. Apparent good works not carried out by faith, even apparent good works done in Jesus’ name but not by faith, are not good works at all and merit nothing and at the end of the day prove nothing.

The second problem with seeing the fruits of Matthew 7:16-20 is that to which the analogy refers. The analogy is referring to prophets. If this analogy were on a standardized test it would say something like, “Trees are to fruit as prophets are to ______.” And there would be the answers: A) Words; B) Priests; C) Works; and D) Miracles. And we would all be tempted to pick C because when in doubt choose C and we’ve been told that is what this analogy is about anyway. But let’s think about this for a second. Trees were called by God to give fruit, so what were prophets called by God to give? Words. That’s the prophet’s job. The tree’s job is to give the fruit. The prophet’s job is to give the Word.

So how do you test a prophet to see if he is a true prophet or a false prophet? By his words. Are his words God’s Word. Or are his words God’s words distorted. That was the issue with the false prophets in the Old Testament that the Lord warned Israel of, their words would lead you away from Yahweh. That is the issue in the New Testament when we are warned against false teachers, their words lead us away from Jesus. That is the issue we have already said was at the heart of Jesus’ warning. Jesus was warning his disciples against false prophets because the false prophets would lead them away from him. Recall the words from Deuteronomy 18:20-22 we read earlier.

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him (Deuteronomy 18:20-22, ESV).

What is the test the Lord gives his people? Are the prophet’s words true? If they are? Listen to him. If not? “You need not be afraid of him.” Don’t sweat him. Jesus is the One whose words came true. He said he would die, he died. He said he would rise, he rose. Any prophet, no matter how compelling his or her words may be, who leads you to rest in anything other than Christ for standing, security, hope, identity, forgiveness, mercy, grace, justification, or anything else promised freely in Jesus Christ is a false prophet. Period. Don’t be fooled. And just like the prophets of the Old Testament would be put to death, so too these false prophets of whom Jesus warns us will be cut down and thrown into the fire in their time.

Now, when we come to the book of Acts, we find this brief story of some believers from a town called Berea who I believe had taken the many biblical warnings to watch out for false prophets to heart. Listen to what they did when the apostles came to town.

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men (Acts 17:10-12, ESV).

Note two things.

First, they checked Paul and Silas’ words against God’s word.

Second, the result was that they believed.

There are many true prophets who teach us God’s Word faithfully. There will be false prophets who seek to lead us astray. When we take the words of those claiming to be from God back to the text, they will either be confirmed by the text, causing our faith to be strengthened, or they will be revealed for what they truly are and we will be spared the bite of their ravenous wolf jaws. We should heed our Lord’s warning to beware false prophets and rejoice at those he gives us whose words drive us to Jesus and to spur us on to love and good deeds prepared for us in Christ. And we should boldly reject those who lead us anywhere else, no matter how well groomed that hellish destination appears to be. Let us pray.

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Notes on 1 John – 5:16-17 (part 3)

Today we will continue our study of 1 John 5:16-17 looking at the next few layers of context, trying to answer the three pertinent questions.

1. Who is John saying is sinning?

2. How are they sinning?

3. What is the life that God is giving?

 

We are still in the first category, Biblical Context. Yesterday we considered the first four layers of context. Today we will look at layers 5-8 as we have defined them.

Category 1 – Biblical Context

Layer 5 – Other books in the same section of Scripture:

1. Who is John saying is sinning? We saw consistently in John’s writing that he recognized that any given group of believers on earth could have in it those who were not true believers but appeared so in some ways. As we look at other authors we can ask, is this a category of people they dealt with or is this something unique to John. If it is unique to John, that might be a reason to step back and take another look at what we saw in John to make sure we are understanding things correctly. However, we find that it is not at all unique to John. Paul instructs Timothy with the following words,

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth (1 Timothy 4:1-3, ESV).

Here Paul has an understanding of the church having people in it that will leave, rejecting the simple gospel, having had their consciences seared by deceitful teaching. We see similar statements in other letters as well.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV).

Notice that Paul’s understanding is not that they lost their salvation but that their faith was never true faith, it was vain.

2. How are they sinning? As we saw with John, we see with the two verses above that the issue is not a particular sin necessarily, but the manner of sinning seems to be the issue – ongoing, willful sin seems to be the issue, in particular it is a false faith leading to ongoing, willful sin.

3. What is the life that God is giving? Ideally, we would look at each use of divinely given life and note what they were referring to. We do not have the space to consider every text that deals with the life that God gives, but 1 Peter 1.3-5 is a good example of how such life is discussed.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5, ESV).

Layer 6 – other biblical writings of the same genre:

In this case the section of the canon and the genre of the writing overlap so extensively that this would needless repetition.

Layer 7 – The New Testament as a whole:

1. Who is John saying is sinning? Just as we sought confirming information of what John seems to be teaching in Epistles, so now we seek confirming (or contradictory) information in the rest of the New Testament. Having consider the Johanine literature and the Epistles previously we are left with the three synoptic gospels, and Acts. Do we find the category of people appearing to be “in” who are not actually. We need only look to the Sermon on the Mount to answer this question.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:15-23, ESV).

2. How are they sinning? As we have seen before it is their ongoing, willful sin. Particularly, in the verses considered above, it is their failure to teach the true gospel or believe the true gospel.

3. What is the life that God is giving? Again, we do not have the space to consider every passage, so we will consider a typical passage. In Matthew 19, we have the record of Jesus interaction with the rich young man. The pertinent part of this story for our purposes is that the rich young man comes asking Jesus, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life” (Matthew 19:16, ESV)? This young man comes to Jesus seeking eternal life because that is precisely what Jesus was clearly offering throughout his ministry.

Layer 8 – The Bible as a whole:

1. Who is John saying is sinning? Are there categories in the rest of the Bible, the Old Testament in this case, for people who seem to be included in the people of God but are not because of their ongoing sin? Yes, this is the message of the prophets to Israel over and over again. We read statements such as,

And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden” (Isaiah 29:13-14, ESV).

2. How are they sinning? As we have seen repeatedly at this point, we see again in this passage and many others like it that the issue is their false faith shown by their ongoing, willful sin.

3. What is the life that God is giving? Going back to the very beginning of the story we read in Genesis 3,

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24, ESV).

In this passage, as a result of their sin, eternal life and the freedom to eat of the tree of life is exactly what was lost in the fall. It is this reality that sets up the rest of the story of the Bible. A story that records how God, through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus, made a way back to the tree of life for his people that we might have eternal life yet again. This is the life that God offers his people by faith from the beginning to the end of the story.

Our study of this broader context affirms precisely what we found in the more immediate layers of context. We could very confidently give our conclusions and our interpretation of the passage at this point; however, for the sake of the exercise we will push deeper into the context, considering the cultural context next.

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