It has been a few weeks since I have done a digging deeper post, but it is time this week to get back to it. Jerry read from Isaiah 6 last week and I will start there for this post. The first 8 verses of Isaiah 6 are below:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” 8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
Isaiah gets a vision of the Holy, holy, holy God and then he pronounces a judgment upon himself and says: “Woe is me! For I am lost, or I am undone;…” R.C. Sproul says that Isaiah was: “a whole man, a together type of a fellow. He was considered by his contemporaries as the most righteous man in the nation. He was respected as a paragon of virtue. Then he caught one sudden glimpse of a Holy God. In that single moment all of his self-esteem was shattered. In a brief second he was exposed, made naked beneath the gaze of the absolute standard of holiness. As long as Isaiah could compare himself to other mortals, he was able to sustain a lofty opinion of his own character. The instant he measured himself by the ultimate standard, he was destroyed―morally and spiritually annihilated. He was undone. He came apart.”
Sproul continues: “Isaiah saw the holiness of God. For the first time in his life Isaiah really understood who God was. At the same instant, for the first time Isaiah really understood who Isaiah was…Every nerve fiber in Isaiah’s body was trembling. He was looking for a place to hide…He was naked and alone before God. He had no fig leaves to conceal him…Guilt, guilt, guilt. Relentless guilt screamed from his every pore.”
A.W. Tozer reminds us that we: “have learned to live with unholiness and have come to look upon it as the natural and expected thing.” Then when we do see the holiness of God for the first time we also say: “Woe is me, I am undone.” We see our sinfulness in the light of God’s holiness. We know that we can never earn our salvation. Isaiah himself said: “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Jerry Bridges said: “the whole of our résumé is either sin or filthy rags.”
So, ‘the whole of our résumé is either sin or filthy rags.’ Even though this is true, so many people today believe that if we obey the ten commandments we will gain access to heaven. Romans 3:19&20 tells us a different story: “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
When we go to the perfect law of God we see how far short we come. We know ourselves to be sinners in the light of the law. Our mouths are then stopped. Paul presses his point home in verse 20: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified (declared righteous) in God’s sight,…” So, we know that people in the Old Testament weren’t saved by works, because this verse says: ‘by works of the law no human being will be justified in God’s sight.’ So, how were people in the Old Testament saved?
Romans 4 gives us the answer. Romans 4:1-5 tell us: “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,”
If Abraham was justified by works, he would have something to boast about. As John Stott says: “Paul rejects any possibility of human beings boasting before God…” Stott continues: “to suppose that the unrighteous can establish their own righteousness before God is to think the unthinkable.” So, Abraham was not justified by his works, and there was no way that he could establish his own righteousness before God since he was unrighteous just like we are. So, how was he saved? He was saved by faith just like we are. We do not work, and we have no right to payment, but we like Abraham ‘put our trust in God who justifies the ungodly, our faith is credited to us as righteousness, that is we are given righteousness as a free and unearned gift of grace by faith.’ John Stott goes on: “If anything is clear (in verses 4&5 of Romans 4), it is that the crediting of faith as righteousness is a free gift, not an earned wage, and that it happens not to those who work but to those who trust, and indeed who trust the God who, far from justifying people because they are godly, actually justifies them when they are ungodly.”
In Galatians Paul tells us that ‘all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them’” (Galatians 3:10). Jerry Bridges says: “All” is absolute. It means exactly what it says; not most, but all. If we applied this same standard in the academic world, scoring 99 percent on a final exam would mean failing the course. A term paper with a single misspelled word would earn an F. No school has a standard of grading this rigorous; if it did, no one would graduate. In fact, professors often grade “on a curve,” meaning all grades are relative to the best score in the class, even if that score isn’t perfect. We’re so accustomed to this approach we tend to think God also grades on a curve. We look at the scandalous sins of society around us, and because we don’t engage in them, we assume God is pleased with us. After all, we’re better than “they” are.
But God doesn’t grade on a curve. The effect of Galatians 3:10 is to put us all under God’s curse. And while it’s one thing to fail a course at the university, it’s altogether something else to be eternally damned under the curse of God. The good news of the gospel, of course, is that those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior will not experience that curse. As Paul wrote just a few sentences later, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). Let this truth sink deeply into your heart and mind: apart from the saving work of Christ, every one of us still deserves God’s curse every day of our lives.”
I think it would be beneficial to all of us to spend some time dwelling on that last sentence from Jerry Bridges: “Let this truth sink deeply into your heart and mind: apart from the saving work of Christ, every one of us still deserves God’s curse every day of our lives.”
We looked at Genesis 15 last Sunday. The first few verses are below:
“After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:“Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”
Mark reminded us this past Sunday that we should be like Abraham and pour out our hearts to God. Abraham is fearful and God tells him to ‘Fear not.’ Abraham pours out his heart and says that he continues childless. We as believers should not be afraid to just pour out all the gunk that is in our hearts before God at the throne of grace. Every day our hearts produce gunk. We have anxieties, fears, sadness, and worry that creep into our lives very quickly. We should not be afraid to just go to God in prayer and just pour out our hearts to Him. Charles Spurgeon said that we should take even the smallest burden that we are carrying and just roll those burdens upon the Lord. “Those cares which we ought not to have may well cease, for God cares for us.” We must not forget to pour back into our hearts the crystal clear water of the gospel and the promises of God. In Genesis 15 God does this for Abraham in verse 5: “And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
In verse 6 as we discussed earlier Abraham: “believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Abraham then asked God: “how am I to know that I shall possess it?” Then you get a somewhat strange answer to this question in the next several verses:
9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.”
I will just let R.C. Sproul expound these verses. Sproul says:
“When covenants were made in the ancient Near East, certain rites would accompany the agreement in order to signify what would happen if one or both parties failed to live up to their end of the pact. One common ritual involved dismembering animals and then laying the pieces in two rows side-by-side with a path in between. The individuals making the covenant would then pass between the animals and invoke a curse upon themselves if they broke the agreement. In performing this rite both parties were in effect saying, “If I do not fulfill the terms of this covenant, may the destruction that befell these animals also be upon my head.”
As if His word of promise were not enough, the Lord finishes His encounter with Abram in Genesis 15 with this very same rite. In a theophany — a visible revelation of the divine — God appears as a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch (v. 17), a form similar to the pillar of fire He will use to guide the Israelites toward Canaan centuries later (Ex. 13:21–22). Fire symbolizes the Lord’s glory (Pss. 29:1–7; 50:1–3), further displaying the Almighty’s character.
Notice that it is God alone who passes between the animals; Abram is not invited to participate. He has already shown his trust and faithfulness. Here we have the Lord alone swearing by Himself that He will see to it that His promises will come to pass. This sworn oath is promissory and self-maledictory (invoking death to Himself if it is not fulfilled), giving His people confidence that He will accomplish all that He pledges (Heb. 6:13–18). It is an unparalleled manifestation of the Lord’s grace, for He promises to care for His loyal servant and his descendents forever.
This grace does not abolish Abram’s responsibility to continue his loyalty, as the patriarch is later given conditions to uphold (Gen. 17:1–14). What this display shows, however, is that though His people may at times be disloyal, God will still keep His end of the bargain; He will give His people the promised land. He finally fulfills this by sending the Messiah, who fully obeyed His Father, thus securing for them His blessings (Isa. 53; Matt. 3:13–17; 1 Peter 2:21–22).”
In Genesis 15 a dreadful and great darkness fell upon Abraham, and God manifested Himself in the form of a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch. Mark reminded us that this dreadful darkness and God’s manifestation appear at other places in the Bible. One was at Mt. Sinai. Another time it happens is when Jesus was suffering for us on the cross. Matthew 27 tells us: “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 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?”
As I am considering what to write next and just spending a few minutes dwelling on these verses from Matthew, the affections of my heart are stirring and my eyes are watering as I consider the holiness of God, my sinfulness, and the sacrificial love of Jesus in our place. Mark Dever said: “Through his death and resurrection, all the guilt of sin that is yours becomes his, and all the righteousness that is his becomes yours.”
As Jerry Ediger says let us race to the cross often. Charles Spurgeon says: “I see nothing that can give to my heart a fair exchange for the rest, peace, and unutterable joy which the old fashioned doctrine of the Cross now yields me. I cannot go beyond my simple faith that Jesus stood in my stead, and bore my sin, and put my sin away. This I must preach; I know nothing else. God helping me I will never go an inch beyond the Cross, for to me all else is vanity and vexation of spirit…The preaching of the Cross is the great weapon…against evil…something lies within the truth of the Cross which sets the soul aglow;…”
“We can on this gospel live, and for this gospel die. Atonement by blood, full deliverance from sin, perfect safety in Christ given to the believer, call a man to joy, to gratitude, to consecration, to decision, to patience, to holy living, to all consuming zeal. Therefore in the doctrine of the Cross we glory, neither will we be slow to speak it out with all our might.”