Digging Deeper

iceberg

It is time once again to dive down deeper into last weeks sermon. We started out in 1 Samuel chapter 1. The first 11 verses of 1 Samuel 1 are below:

“There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11 And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

1 Samuel 1 tells us about a man named Elkanah who had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Mark did a great job talking about polygamy in the Bible and he made a short clip about polygamy in the Bible, which you can watch here. Peninnah has multiple children whereas Hannah has no children. This created great tension between the two women. Peninnah would provoke Hannah ‘grievously’ and she did so ‘year by year.’ Matthew Henry commenting on this portion of Scripture says that: “We ought to bear one another’s burdens, not add to them.” However, not only does Peninnah neglect to bear Hannah’s burden, she sought to increase Hannah’s burdens by irritating and provoking her.

What does Hannah do under all of these burdens? She is feeling the weight of not being able to have children. She watches as her rival Peninnah has child after child after child. She has dealt with Peninnah’s cruelty year after year. Under all of these burdens Hannah, being deeply distressed goes to the Lord in prayer. Verse 10 says: “She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.” This is a powerful verse and a great example of someone who took her dirty cup of water and just poured it all out at the throne of grace. We all need to learn from Hannah and take our sorrows and our pain and our tears to the Lord in prayer. We just need to be transparent before the Lord in prayer.

I haven’t suffered that much in my life, but I will share a brief story about a small amount of suffering I went through. It is not really even suffering, just a small scare. Before I got married I was living in a small city south of Atlanta and I came back to Watkinsville to see my parents and discuss wedding plans. My Mom wanted to go for a walk in the neighborhood and she asked me if  wanted to go. My Mom walks 3 miles every day and it is no joke to go walking with her. It is more like jogging. It was a nice day and we were walking rather quickly up a decent size hill in the neighborhood and all of a sudden I started having a hard time breathing. I got shortness of breath and I told my Mom that I had to stop. It was a little scary and my Mom was a little panicked. She told me to go to the doctor ASAP.

So, I rushed over to the Doctor’s office and got right in. They told me that they wanted to do an x-ray right away to make sure I didn’t have an enlarged heart or something serious. So, I went back to this dark room and they took some x-rays and then they left me alone as they went to examine the x-ray. Now in those few minutes that I was left alone in that x-ray room, do you think I was twiddling my thumbs? Do you think I was thinking about my dinner plans, or my favorite sports team? No, I was thinking about death and eternity, and I ran to the throne of grace and just poured out my heart to the Lord. In those few minutes I enjoyed sweet communion with God. I told the Lord in part that if this was the end of my life I was simply clinging to the cross, and trusting in His perfect righteousness to cover all of my sin. It was just a few sweet precious minutes in that x-ray room. The physician’s assistant and nurse came back and said everything looked fine and they prescribed an inhaler for me that I never really needed. The point is that the throne of grace is open and if anything is burdening us, anything at all, let us run quickly to the the throne of grace.

If you just had a dating relationship come to an end and are sorrowful, run with your tears to the throne of grace. Hannah ‘wept bitterly’ before the Lord. If you are single and feeling discouraged in your singleness, take it to the Lord. If you don’t like your job, or if you are unemployed and are struggling to find a job, take your frustrations to the Lord. If you are excited and happy that summer is almost here, go to the throne of grace with thankfulness to the Lord.

Gaze Upon the Beauty of the Lord

I want to go a slightly different direction for the last part of this post. I was listening to a short interview with Paul Tripp this week and he said that one of the first things we should do every day is to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. I thought this was a helpful piece of advice and I thought I would spend a few paragraphs just laying out the beauty of the Lord for us. Just to remind us who God is and who we are going to when we go to the throne of grace.

John Piper wrote a little book called Doctrine Matters and in that book he writes about ten theological trademarks from his 30 years of pastoral ministry. His first trademark “is that God is. Or to say it the way our text says it, God is who he is. Or to say it more philosophically, God absolutely is. This is the most basic fact and the most ultimate fact. Period. Of the billions of facts that there are, this one is at the bottom and at the top. It is the foundation of all others and the consummation of all others. Nothing is more basic and nothing is more ultimate than the fact that God is. Nothing is more foundational than that God is. Nothing is more foundational to your life or your marriage or your job or your health or your mind or your future than that God is. Nothing is more foundational to the world, or the solar system, or the Milky Way or the universe than that God is. And nothing is more foundational to the Bible and the self-revelation of God and the glory of the gospel of Jesus than that God is.”

Piper then asks: “What does it mean for God to be who he is?” He then includes a list of ten things in response to this question. I want to include them all here.

  1. God’s absolute being means he never had a beginning. This staggers the mind. Every child asks, “Who made God?” And every wise parent says, “Nobody made God. God simply is. And always was. No beginning.”
  2. God’s absolute being means God will never end. If he did not come into being, he cannot go out of being because he is being. He is what is. There is no place to go outside of being. There is only he. Before he creates, that’s all that is: God.
  3. God’s absolute being means God is absolute reality. There is no reality before him. There is no reality outside of him unless he wills it and makes it. He is not one of many realities before he creates. He is simply there as absolute reality. He is all that was eternally. No space, no universe, no emptiness. Only God. Absolutely there. Absolutely all.
  4. God’s absolute being means that God is utterly independent. He depends on nothing to bring him into being or support him or counsel him or make him what he is. That is what the words “absolute being” mean.
  5. God’s absolute being means rather that everything that is not God depends totally on God. All that is not God is secondary, and dependent. The entire universe is utterly secondary. Not primary. It came into being by God and stays in being moment by moment on God’s decision to keep it in being.
  6. God’s absolute being means all the universe is by comparison to God as nothing. Contingent, dependent reality is to absolute, independent reality as a shadow to substance. As an echo to a thunderclap. As a bubble to the ocean. All that we see, all that we are amazed by in the world and in the galaxies, is, compared to God, as nothing. “All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isaiah 40:17).
  7. God’s absolute being means that God is constant. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He cannot be improved. He is not becoming anything. He is who he is. There is no development in God. No progress. Absolute perfection cannot be improved.
  8. God’s absolute being means that he is the absolute standard of truth and goodness and beauty. There is no law-book to which he looks to know what is right. No almanac to establish facts. No guild to determine what is excellent or beautiful. He himself is the standard of what is right, what is true, what is beautiful.
  9. God’s absolute being means God does whatever he pleases and it is always right and always beautiful and always in accord with truth. There are no constraints on him from outside him that could hinder him in doing anything he pleases. All reality that is outside of him he created and designed and governs as the absolute reality. So he is utterly free from any constraints that don’t originate from the counsel of his own will.
  10. God’s absolute being means that he is the most important and most valuable reality and the most important and most valuable person in the universe. He is more worthy of interest and attention and admiration and enjoyment than all other realities, including the entire universe.

I think it is good to remember who God is and to gaze upon His beauty and majesty as Paul Tripp says. I think this will encourage us to go to him in prayer. Isaiah 40:28&29 remind us:

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.

Application and Illustration

So, how do we actually start taking our cares, sadness, and grief to the Lord in prayer? I think the answer is simply that the next time anything is bothering us, or causing us to be sorrowful, then we just take it straight to the throne of grace. Something may be bothering us right now, if so, stop reading this blog post and go to the throne of grace right this second. We just need to start actually casting our cares on him because he cares for us. Let us learn to be more like Hannah. Charles Spurgeon said that Hannah’s “sorrow drove her…into much communion with her God.” May our sorrows drive us all into much communion with God.

Lastly, I want to use an illustration from the life of Charles Spurgeon, who suffered a great deal from depression and gout. Gout is an extremely painful form of arthritis. Spurgeon wrote a letter to one of his friends and said: “Lucian says, ‘I thought a cobra had bitten me, and filled my veins with poison; but it was worse—it was gout.’ That was written from experience, I know.” In 1871 when he was dealing with terrible pain from gout, he takes it to the Lord in prayer. He said:

“When I was racked some months ago with pain, to an extreme degree, so that I could no longer bear it without crying out, I asked all to go from the room, and leave me alone; and then I had nothing I could say to God but this, “Thou are my Father, and I am thy child; and thou, as a Father art tender and full of mercy. I could not bear to see my child suffer as thou makest me suffer, and if I saw him tormented as I am now, I would do what I could to help him, and put my arms under him to sustain him. Wilt thou hide thy face from me, my Father? Wilt thou still lay on a heavy hand, and not give me a smile from thy countenance?” . . . So I pleaded, and I ventured to say, when I was quiet,…“I shall never have such pain again from this moment, for God has heard my prayer.” I bless God that ease came and the racking pain never returned.”

Let us follow the example’s of Spurgeon and Hannah and take our sorrow and pain to the Lord. Matthew Henry says that it is good for us to be at the throne of grace. He says: “In all our approaches to this throne of grace for mercy, we should come with a humble freedom and boldness, with a liberty of spirit and a liberty of speech we should ask in faith, nothing doubting; we should come with a Spirit of adoption, as children to a reconciled God and Father. We are indeed to come with reverence and godly fear, but not with terror…as if we were dragged…, but kindly invited to the mercy-seat, where grace reigns,…We have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. He is our Advocate, and, while he pleads for his people, he pleads with the price in his hand, by which he purchased all that our souls want or can desire.”

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Romans 8:28

Romans 8

It is time once again to dig deeper into last weeks sermon. We had the privilege of hearing from Jerry Ediger this past Sunday. He preached from Romans 8. Jerry started off by reading verses 26-32 of Romans 8. John Stott says this about the last several verses of Romans 8: “In the last…verses of Romans 8 the apostle soars to sublime heights unequalled elsewhere in the New Testament.” Jerry read some of these verses this past Sunday and they are below:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 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?”

Before we dug into these verses Jerry took us back to the first seven chapters of Romans and he did a quick fly over of those chapters. Chapter 1 Paul is addressing those outside of the church, the irreligious. He says in chapter 1 verses 18-23:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 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. 21 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. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

The people inside the church the Jews and the moral Gentiles and us today are reading this and saying: “You get them Paul, preach it brother!” Then in chapter 2 Paul turns the tables on us and says: “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”

Then in chapter 3 Paul makes it clear that all of us are under sin:

“For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”

Then in verse 23 he says: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,..” So, this is bad news. None of us are righteous, no, not one. We have all fallen short of the glory of God, and we are storing up wrath for ourselves on the day of wrath. Life is a serious and solemn thing because death is coming and we are all accountable and guilty before a Holy, holy, holy God. However, there is glorious good news. The greatest news that we could ever hear. We can be “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus..” We don’t do anything to earn salvation, because the only wage that our sins deserve is death, followed by the wrath of God. So, Paul says in Romans 4:

“Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Blessed indeed is the man or woman who has been forgiven and whose sins are covered by the precious blood of Jesus! In chapter 5 Paul gives us more beautiful gospel: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Then in chapter 6 he responds to the question: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” He answers in verse 2: “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Jerry Ediger says another translation says: “A thousand times no!” His favorite translation of this verse says: “What a ghastly thought!” That was my first time hearing that rendering of the verse and I love it. I don’t think I will ever forget that. What a ghastly thought indeed for us to continue willfully in sin, after we have been ransomed, redeemed, restored, and forgiven by the precious blood of Christ!

Chapter 7 Paul tells us there is a real struggle still with sin though: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” He goes on: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Romans 8:28

So, back to Romans 8 and the precious promise of verse 28. Jerry said that when you are reading the first couple of chapters of Romans you would never guess that the gospel and such precious promises would follow. Romans 8:28 is a precious promise indeed, which says: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

John Stott says: “Romans 8:28 is surely one of the best-known texts in the Bible. On it believers of every age and place have stayed their minds. It has been likened to a pillow on which to rest our weary heads.” John Piper says:

“When it comes to the architecture of promises, there are not any bigger buildings than Romans 8:28. This structure is absolutely staggering in its size. It is massive. The infinitely wise, infinitely powerful God pledges to make everything beneficial to his people! Not just nice things, but horrible things, like tribulation and distress and peril and slaughter. What brick would you lay on the top of this skyscraper promise to make it taller? “All things” means all things.

If you live inside this massive promise, your life is as solid as the rock of Gibraltar. Nothing can blow you over inside the walls of Romans 8:28. Outside Romans 8:28 all is confusion and anxiety and fear and uncertainty and straw houses of deadening drugs and tin roofs of retirement plans and cardboard fortifications of anti-ballistic missiles and a thousand other substitutes for Romans 8:28.

Once you walk through the door of love into the massive, unshakable structure of Romans 8:28 everything changes. There comes into your life stability and depth and freedom. You simply can’t be blown over any more. The confidence that a sovereign God governs for your good all the pain and all the pleasure that you will ever experience is an absolutely incomparable refuge and security and hope and power in your life. No promise in all the world surpasses the height and breadth and weight of Romans 8:28.”

So, let us feast on this verse for a little bit. The first thing that Paul says is that we know. There is no uncertainty here, we know that this is true. The second thing we see is that this verse is only true for a select group of people. ‘For those who love God.’ Francis Schaeffer said that Romans 8:28 “is one of the Bible verses that everyone seems to know and everyone seems to misquote. People will often just sort of shrug their shoulders with an attitude of fatalism and say, “Oh well, all things work together for good,” implying that this applies to all people, no matter who they are or what they believe. This is exactly what this verse does not say. What it says is, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” There is a limitation. All things do work together for good, but only for a certain group. The group this principle works for is those who “love God” and who are “called according to his purpose.”

So, we know that this is rock solid Biblical truth, for those who love God. The rock solid Biblical truth for all believers is that ‘all things work together for good.’ The third thing we see about this verse is these two words: ‘all things.’ All things means all things. It is not just some things in the believers life that work together for good, it is all things. Even the smallest seemingly mundane things in our lives are working together for our good. From the beautiful sunshiny day, to the cold and rainy day. From losing your job, to getting a promotion at work. From the week long sickness, to all the other days that you enjoy perfect health, all these things are working together for our good.

Next we see the two words: ‘work together.’ Jerry said that the Greek word for work together is where we get the word synergy. The word synergy means: “the working together of various elements to produce an effect greater than, and often completely different from, the sum of each element acting separately.” Jerry gave us the example of salt, and how it is made up of two poisons, sodium and chlorine. However, when you combine those two poisons you get something that is perfectly fine to eat and it flavors our food. So, God takes the poisonous things in our life and he turns them into our good. Tim Keller says: “The promise is not that if you love God, good things will happen in your life. The promise is not that if you love God, the bad things really aren’t bad;…The promise is that God will take the bad things, and he’ll work them for good in the totality.”

The last two words I want to focus our attention on from this verse are these two words: “for good.” So, we know this is rock solid Biblical truth for all believers that all things in our lives, even the smallest seemingly mundane details of our lives are working together for good. So, what does for good mean? Paul tells us the answer in verse 29 of chapter 8: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” So the good of verse 28 means that we are being conformed to the image of his Son. So, God is using all things in our lives to make us more sanctified. So, the question that Mark asks is do we really want what is good? We tend to think of good as something that is fun, enjoyable, and pleasant. Whereas from God’s perspective He may bring sickness or suffering into our lives to make us more sanctified.

Applying Romans 8:28 To Our Lives

So, how do we trust this precious promise more fully in our day to day lives? Let me give an example of someone in Church history who did this well. His name is George Mueller, who was just an amazing man of God. He founded orphanages in England in the 1800’s and was a man of prayer. He was married for 39 years to his wife whose name was Mary. Mueller says this about how happy they were together:

“Were we happy? Verily we were. With every year our happiness increased more and more. I never saw my beloved wife at any time, when I met her unexpectedly anywhere in Bristol, without being delighted so to do. I never met her even in the Orphan Houses, without my heart being delighted so to do. Day by day, as we met in our dressing room, at the Orphan Houses, to wash our hands before dinner and tea, I was delighted to meet her, and she was equally pleased to see me. Thousands of times I told her—“My darling, I never saw you at any time, since you became my wife, without my being delighted to see you.”

His wife became very sick and this is what Mueller said: “When I heard what Mr. Pritchard’s judgment was,…that the malady was rheumatic fever, I naturally expected the worst. . . . My heart was nigh to be broken on account of the depth of my affection.” Mary would die soon after this, and Mueller responds to her death like this: “I fell on my knees and thanked God for her release, and for having taken her to Himself, and asked the Lord to help and support us.” Mueller talks about how he strengthened himself during the hours of his wife’s sickness with the following words: “I am in myself a poor worthless sinner, but I have been saved by the blood of Christ; and I do not live in sin, I walk uprightly before God. Therefore, if it is really good for me, my darling wife will be raised up again; sick as she is. God will restore her again. But if she is not restored again, then it would not be a good thing for me. And so my heart was at rest. I was satisfied with God. And all this springs, as I have often said before, from taking God at his word, believing what he says.”

Mueller preached his wife’s funeral sermon and this is part of what he said: “If he (God) pleases to take my dearest wife, it will be good, like Himself. What I have to do, as His child, is to be satisfied with what my Father does, that I may glorify Him. After this my soul not only aimed, but this, my soul, by God’s grace, attained to. I was satisfied with God.”

So, we can start applying this verse to our lives by simply taking God at his word, and believing what he says. As Jerry said, God has already done the most improbable thing possible by sending His precious Son to die in our place. As Romans 8:32 says: “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?” Surely if God has given us his Son, he can work all things together for good in our lives.

The last thing I will mention here is something that has helped me personally to apply this verse to my life. My brother Mark and I have known Jerry for several years. I think the first time that I met Jerry was during Mark’s senior year of high school, which was 2004. I got to have lunch with Jerry and Mark and some of Mark’s friends multiple times. I think I learned more about Jerry just from Mark telling me about Jerry’s faith. I learned fairly quickly that Jerry is someone who truly lives and believes Romans 8:28 everyday. I remember one afternoon my parents had the power company come out to trim some of their shrubs/small trees that were about 30 feet tall or so that make a nice border between their house and the neighbors house. The power company ended up going crazy and they cut all of the tops of these tree’s to try and keep the squirrels from getting on the power lines. My Mom said that when you cut the tops of these tree’s they will end up dying. So, Mark was telling me this that these tree’s will end up dying and I said that I hated to see those tree’s/bushes die because I love that border. Then Mark said: “You know in a situation like this Jerry Ediger would just believe Romans 8:28, that these tree’s were cut for our good.” I remember that comment just stuck in my heart. I drove home that night just thinking how I want to be more like Jerry and trust the promises of God.

My wife and I were talking last night about how we can better apply Romans 8:28 to our lives. We determined that it starts by simply trusting God with the smallest things, like a rainy day, or tree’s that are dying, or a flat tire, and just trusting in and relying on Romans 8:28. Just clinging to this precious promise each day. The more we cling to this promise, the more precious it will become and by God’s grace, the Lord will be glorified in the process.

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Salvation In The Old Testament

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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.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. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 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!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” 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.”

Romans 3&4

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? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 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.”

Genesis 15

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.”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:

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).”

The Cross

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.”

 

 

 

 

Noah And The Flood

For Blog

This past Sunday Allen read from Matthew 24 during the confession time. The NIV text of Matthew 24:37-39 says:

“As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”

This text is a powerful reminder that Jesus will return and his return will be a complete and utter shock to many, just like the flood was a complete shock to many. Matthew Henry says: “What words can more strongly describe the suddenness of our Saviour’s coming! Men will be at their respective businesses, and suddenly the Lord of glory will appear. Women will be in their house employments, but in that moment every other work will be laid aside, and every heart will turn inward and say, It is the Lord! Am I prepared to meet him? Can I stand before him?” Charles Spurgeon adds: “That Jesus will come, is certain. That his coming may be at any moment, is equally sure; and, therefore, we ought to be always ready for his appearing.”

Mark read a powerful quotation from Francis Shaeffer commenting on Genesis 7:16 when God shut the door of the ark. This is what Francis Shaeffer said: “Genesis 7:16 is a striking verse: “And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the LORD shut him in.” This is a hard verse, and I am thankful that Noah did not have to shut the door. Knowing that men would soon be drowning all around him, I don’t see how Noah could have done it. But he wasn’t asked to. He was asked to be faithful—a preacher of righteousness. He  was asked to believe God and God’s propositional promise. He was asked to build a boat. But after he built the boat, the time came when God shut the door. That was the end of the time of salvation. It was closed because God had closed it at a point in the flow of history.” These words from Francis Shaeffer made me think about Matthew 24 and the return of Jesus. I powerfully felt in my soul that when Jesus returns that will mark the end of the time of salvation. Missionary martyr Jim Elliot wrote in his journals that: “Thoughts of Jesus’ coming flicker and make me tremble.” I tremble as well, and this Sunday at North Avenue as the words of Francis Shaeffer were read I thought of all the people in my life who don’t know Jesus. There are just so many who don’t know Jesus and the end of the time of salvation is coming. Jim Elliot who died trying to reach the unreached with the gospel wrote in his journals: “I know inside that the flesh would like more training—and perhaps I’m fitted to train more—everybody seems to be planning on it around here. But those generations passing away at this moment! They must hear of the Savior! How can we wait? O Lord of Harvest, do send forth laborers! Here am I, Lord. Behold me, send me. How deaf must be the deafness of the ear which has never heard the story; how blind the eye that has not looked on Christ for light; how pressed the soul that has no hope of glory; how hideous the fate of man who knoweth only night! God arouse us to care, to feel as He Himself does for their welfare.” Yes, Father arouse us to care, not only for the unreached but for the lost and unsaved that we rub shoulders with every day!

Walking With God

Mark actually started off his sermon recapping some previous chapters of Genesis. We were reminded how we can read the Bible in a way that doesn’t commune with God at all. For example we can go to the Bible and read it just to gain knowledge and not meet God in our Bible reading. This so often is my own problem. We can easily make an idol out of doctrine. We should be seeking to meet God in our Bible reading. So, we can read the Bible in wrong ways, but we can also avoid reading the Bible altogether. Why do we so often neglect Bible reading? Well, Adrian Rogers says that he has read lots of books, but the Bible is the only book that reads him. As Mark said as you read the Bible it talks to you. James tells us that the Word of God is a mirror. The Bible tells us what we ought to be, and we avoid reading it at times because we know how far short we are falling. We are afraid that we might actually meet God and He may confront us and our sins. The Word of God exposes us and we don’t want to be exposed. So, at times we leave our Bible’s on the shelf to gather dust because we don’t want to be exposed.

We looked at Genesis 5 and Enoch, who stands out in that chapter. Genesis 5:21-24 says:

“When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. 22 Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. 23 Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. 24 Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.”

The New Testament tells us that Enoch and Elijah are the only two people in the Old Testament who avoid death. I just want to spend a little time talking about what it means to walk with God. The great evangelist George Whitefield (1714-1770) says: “Enoch walked with God; that is he kept up and maintained a holy, settled, habitual, though undoubtedly not altogether uninterrupted communion and fellowship with God, in and through Christ Jesus…walking with God consists especially in the fixed habitual bent of the will for God, in a habitual dependence upon his power and promise, in a habitual voluntary dedication of our all to his glory, in a habitual eyeing of his precept in all we do…”

Matthew Henry at the end of his life told a friend of his: “You have heard many men’s dying words, and these are mine: a life spent in communion with God is the pleasantest life in the world.” You may say, but doesn’t the Bible say in 2 Timothy that ‘all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted? How can communion with God be the pleasantest life in the world then? George Whitefield says that it is true that the people of God are frequently afflicted, persecuted, and tormented. “But what of all this? Does this destroy the pleasure of walking with God? No, in no way; for those that walk with God are enabled, through Christ strengthening them, to joy even in tribulation, and to rejoice…I believe I may appeal to the experience of all true and close walkers with God, whether or not their suffering times have not frequently been their sweetest times, and that they enjoyed most of God when most cast out and despised by men?”

Communion With God Through Suffering

I could give hundreds and hundreds of examples of Christians who have enjoyed some of the sweetest times with God while suffering. I will share one from missionary John Paton. John Paton was an amazing man of God. John Piper gives a wonderful biographical sketch of him, that I would encourage you to listen to here.

John Paton went to the New Hebrides Islands which were filled with cannibals. Today these Islands are called the Vanuatu Islands. John Piper says: “To the best of our knowledge, the New Hebrides had no Christian influence before John Williams and James Harris from the London Missionary Society landed in 1839. Both of these missionaries were killed and eaten by cannibals on the island of Erromanga on November 20 of that year, only minutes after going ashore. Forty-eight years later John Paton wrote, “Thus were the New Hebrides baptized with the blood of martyrs; and Christ thereby told the whole Christian world that he claimed these islands as His own” John Paton feels the call of God to go to these same Islands. Many people from his home church protest and try to discourage him from going. One man in particular Mr. Dickson angrily confronts him and exploded: “The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!” ‘The memory of Williams and Harris on Erromanga was only 19 years old. But to this Paton responded:’

“Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”

You have to love John Paton! May it be true of all of us that we will all ‘live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus!’ So, John Paton and his wife go to the New Hebrides Islands in 1858. He deals with much suffering and persecution. Let me just share two of those stories from Paton. Here is one when his house was surrounded by the natives:

“when natives in large numbers were assembled at my house, a man furiously rushed on me with his axe but a Kaserumini Chief snatched a spade with which I had been working, and dexterously defended me from instant death. Life in such circumstances led me to cling very near to the Lord Jesus; I knew not, for one brief hour, when or how attack might be made; and yet, with my trembling hand clasped in the hand once nailed on Calvary, and now swaying the scepter of the universe, calmness and peace and resignation abode in my soul.”

So, in these life and death situations John Paton is walking with God. He is clinging close to the Lord Jesus. Mark said that walking with God means that we walk in repentance and faith. So, Paton takes his trembling hand of faith and clasped it in the hand once nailed on Calvary, and now swaying the scepter of the universe. Then ‘calmness and peace and resignation abode in his soul.’ Let us follow John Paton and walk with God in this way. The throne of grace is wide open, and sweet communion with the Lord Jesus will follow. As Paul says in Philippians 4: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The last story that I will share from John Paton I will let John Piper introduce: “One of the most powerful paragraphs in John Paton’s Autobiography describes his experience of hiding in a tree,…as hundreds of angry natives hunted him for his life. What he experienced there was the deepest source of Paton’s joy and courage.” Paton writes:

“I climbed into the tree and was left there alone in the bush. The hours I spent there live all before me as if it were but of yesterday. I heard the frequent discharging of muskets, and the yells of the Savages. Yet I sat there among the branches, as safe as in the arms of Jesus. Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among those chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship. If thus thrown back upon your own soul, alone, all alone, in the midnight, in the bush, in the very embrace of death itself, have you a Friend that will not fail you then?”

So, Paton’s question is when we are in the very embrace of death itself do we have a Friend that will not fail us then? Well, for the first 23 years of my life I didn’t have this Friend. I was “dead in the trespasses and sins in which I once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” I was “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and a stranger to the covenant of promise, and I didn’t have any hope and was without God in the world.” I didn’t have this Friend that Paton speaks of. However, the door of God’s salvation didn’t close on me as it did in the days of Noah. God pursued me and now in Christ Jesus I who was once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 

Jesus is the true and better Ark. He endured the flood of God’s wrath on the cross. “What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear!” Matthew Henry says: “Christ,…hath by his sufferings already prepared the ark, and kindly invites us by faith to enter in. While the day of his patience continues, let us hear and obey his voice.”

 

 

The Cross And The Empty Tomb

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Last Sunday we celebrated Easter Sunday at North Avenue. Mark started off his Easter sermon from the unlikely text of Genesis 5. The first 11 verses of Genesis 5 are below:

“This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years,and he died. When Seth had lived 105 years, he fathered Enosh. Seth lived after he fathered Enosh 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died. When Enosh had lived 90 years, he fathered Kenan. 10 Enosh lived after he fathered Kenan 815 years and had other sons and daughters.11 Thus all the days of Enosh were 905 years, and he died.”

After each of these people are mentioned you find this same phrase: “and he died.” Death is not a respecter of persons. As Mark said the last time he checked 10 out of 10 people die. My Dad who has been a pastor for 34 years, preached an incredible sermon a few years ago, and he talked briefly about how he has seen a lot of people die. Meaning, he has seen a lot of people go through the dying process. I put a 10 minute clip together of this sermon from my Dad and would encourage you to give it a listen here. Tony Reinke writes: “Sinners run backward toward an open grave, said Martin Luther, unable to face death but inevitably moving straight at it, trying to put it out of sight and out of mind with any diversion, and yet shuffling in reverse until the inevitable meeting occurs. Then the sudden tumble down.” Reinke continues: “How many of us think of death in a given day? The reality is that very rarely do we think about death. We shuffle backwards to avoid the subject altogether.” Death is a somber reality. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said: “life is not a game; it is not a play; it is not just play-acting. Oh, life is serious and solemn; it is real and it is earnest.” Life is serious and solemn because death is coming. As Hebrews 9:27 tells us: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,…” So, death, then face to face with King Jesus, then either everlasting joy or everlasting pain. As John Piper says that this: “brief little life that you and I live and that everybody in our churches lives, will issue very quickly into everlasting joy or everlasting pain. This has got to grip us!”

Next Mark read from Thomas Jefferson’s version of the Bible. The TJV 🙂 Thomas Jefferson was a Deist. So, he didn’t believe in the miraculous or supernatural. His Bible is basically just the words of Jesus from the four gospels without any mention of anything miraculous or supernatural. His Bible ends with the body of Jesus being put into the tomb, and the stone is rolled over to cover the entrance of the tomb. Praise God that our Bible’s don’t end this way. If our Bible’s did end the way that Thomas Jefferson’s does, we would have no hope whatsoever. Our lives would have no ultimate purpose or significance. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” How terrible it would be if Jesus had not been raised from the dead!

1 Corinthians 15

Next, Mark took us to 1 Corinthians 15 and we looked at the first couple of verses:

“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.”

Paul is reminding the Corinthian church once again of the gospel. We so often think that the gospel is only for non Christians. We think that once we become Christians we move on from the gospel to deeper theological truths. Jerry Bridges reminds us that we never outgrow the gospel. Tim Keller says: “We never “get beyond the gospel” in our Christian life to something more “advanced.” The gospel is not the first “step” in a “stairway” of truths, rather, it is more like the “hub” in a “wheel” of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A-Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make progress in the kingdom.”

Jerry Bridges says: “The Gospel is not only the most important message in all of history; it is the only essential message in all of history. Yet we allow thousands of professing Christians to live their entire lives without clearly understanding it and experiencing the joy of living by it.” As Mark said this past Sunday we want North Avenue Church to be a gospel saturated church. We should be constantly talking about the glories of the gospel. We should be texting each other Bible passages filled with the gospel. Why do we need to be reminded of the gospel so often? One of the reasons is that we have the tendency to assume the gospel and then we forget the gospel. C.J. Mahaney says: “I want to meditate each day on Christ and him crucified. Each day I need to remind myself of the gospel. I cannot live on yesterdays recollection of the gospel. I need to review and rehearse the gospel each day or I will assume the gospel, forget the gospel, and prove vulnerable to all manner of temptation and sin.”

Let me go back to Jerry Bridges again who has been so helpful in my own life. He says: “We need to continue to hear the gospel every day of our Christian lives. Only a continuous reminder of the gospel of God’s grace through Christ will keep us from falling into good-day-bad-day thinking, wherein we think our daily relationship with God is based on how good we’ve been. It is only the joy of hearing the gospel and being reminded that our sins are forgiven in Christ that will keep the demands of discipleship from becoming drudgery.” He goes on: “The gospel, applied to our hearts every day, frees us to be brutally honest with ourselves and with God. The assurance of His total forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Christ means we don’t have to play defensive games anymore. We don’t have to rationalize and excuse our sins. We can say we told a lie instead of saying we exaggerated a bit. We can admit an unforgiving spirit instead of continuing to blame our parents for our emotional distress. We can call sin exactly what it is, regardless of how ugly and shameful it may be, because we know that Jesus bore that sin in His body on the cross.”

I will give an example from this morning how I was reminded of the gospel and how my heart and affections were stirred up. I am not a morning person by any means. I typically read my Bible first thing out of bed then take a quick shower, give my wife a kiss and drive about 10 minutes to work. I have been listening to Mark’s sermons the last several weeks during my 10 minute drives to and from work. So, this morning I jumped into 2nd Peter for a bit, then took my shower, kissed my wife, then jumped in the car and turned Mark’s sermon on which had about 18 minutes left in it. My heart was somewhat cold, I was feeling tired and somewhat sluggish. As I drove the familiar roads to work, Mark began to unpack the sufferings of Jesus. I am sitting at a traffic light with the sun rising off in the distance. Simultaneously, the sun of the gospel was rising from Mark and I found my heart and affections being stirred. Tears filled my eyes and rolled down my cheek as I was once again stunned by the love of Jesus and the depth of my sin. We need the gospel every day. We need to continually rediscover the gospel each day as Tim Keller says. As John Stott says: “The Cross is the blazing fire at which the flame of our love is kindled, but we have to get near enough for its sparks to fall on us.” So, let’s run near to the Cross of Jesus each day and have our love freshly kindled.

Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 15:3&4:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,”

C.J. Mahaney starts out his fantastic little book like this:

“Each of our lives is centered on something. What’s at the center of yours? Think about it for a moment. What’s really the main thing in your life? Only one thing can truly be first in priority; so what’s at the top of your list, second to none? Or let me put it this way: What are you most passionate about? What do you love to talk about? What do you think about most when your mind is free? Or try this: What is it that defines you? Is it your career? A relationship? Maybe it’s your family, or your ministry. It could be some cause or movement, or some political affiliation. Or perhaps your main thing is a hobby or a talent you have, or even your house and possessions. It could be any number of good things—but when it comes to centering our life, what really qualifies as the one thing God says should be the most important?…”

“Here’s how Paul answers that question: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you….For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins.” First importance. Paul is pointing us to the one transcendent truth that should define our lives. In the midst of our various responsibilities and many possible areas of service in the kingdom of God, one overarching truth should motivate all our work and affect every part of who we are: Christ died for our sins.” May this be true in all of our lives, that the one overarching truth that would motivate all our work and affect every part of who we are would be that Christ died for our sins.

Paul ends 1 Corinthians 15 with these powerful verses (50-58):

“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

So often we in the church tend to view verses like these as a fairy tale. We don’t actually believe deeply within our souls that this is going to happen. However, we are one day closer to the last trumpet sounding! Matthew Harmon says: “Jesus’s resurrection ensures us that we too will one day have resurrection bodies. Now, what those resurrection bodies are like is something of a mystery. In 1 Corinthians 15:35–49 it tells us that there will be some continuity and some discontinuity between our current bodies and those resurrection bodies. But Philippians 3:20–21 tells us that when Christ returns, he will transform our bodies to match his glorious resurrection body. And that is a remarkable promise as well — living in a fallen world where our bodies decay and are subject to sickness and to aging — that there is coming a day when, because of Jesus’s resurrection, our bodies will be transformed to match his perfect, glorious resurrection body.” Matt Chandler powerfully writes: “Is it a stretch to think that we should live for that day? When history as the world knows it no longer exists, and there are no longer any great kings or great wars or great political machinations; when there are no histories of countries left to cherish, no more dollars; when it’s no longer the strong versus the weak, and all that’s left is the story of the great God and King, and all has been righted, and the heroes are now the missionaries and the ministers of grace—of which every believer can be—and our eyes behold Him as He truly is…words fail. That is where our heart ought to be…Let us wait for that day, expectantly and eagerly. Let us fix our eyes on heaven, where our citizenship is held securely, where we are presently united to Christ in spirit.”

The Sufferings Of Jesus

Mark ended his sermon very powerfully last Sunday describing in detail the sufferings of our Savior. I can’t improve on what he said here. I would just encourage you to listen to the entire sermon again, but if you can’t do that I would strongly encourage you to listen to the last 15 minutes. You can listen to the sermon here.

Picture from here

 

Crouching Sin & Crying Blood

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This past Sunday Mark spent the first several minutes discussing how we are figuratively covering ourselves in fig leaves. We want to cover our flaws and we don’t want to draw attention to them. We use social media to build our resumes. He powerfully reminded us that we are entertaining ourselves to death. We are almost afraid of being alone in silence, so we have constant distractions from iPhones, to iPads, to iPods, to movies, television and sports. We numb ourselves and distract ourselves with these things. Several years ago I listened to a series of sermons by John Piper on Romans chapter 2 and I went back and was reading through one of those and was convicted by these words from Pastor John Piper:

“I feel such a burden for us as a church to swim against the tide of almost every current in our culture. More and more and more, America is a nation given over to play. The industries of play are huge! Houses are built today with entertainment centers. Computers and videos and television and stereo all coordinate to give us ever more stimulating and captivating distractions from the realities of the world. When we need to be dreaming, for the glory of Christ, about how to spend our lives alleviating ignorance and sickness and misery and lostness, we are becoming more and more addicted to amusement.

Make a little test of evangelical vocabulary, and calculate, for example, the increasing frequency with which we use the world “fun” to describe almost everything we like. But when do we describe our good experiences as “meaningful” or “significant” or “enriching” or “ennobling” or “worthwhile” or “edifying” or “helpful” or “strengthening” or “encouraging” or “deepening” or “transforming” or “valuable” or “eye-opening” or “God-exalting”?

Examine yourself with this text (Romans 2): Whatever else it teaches, this is clear, it teaches that after death there is eternal life and glory and honor and peace, and there is eternal wrath and indignation and tribulation and distress. And in the twinkling of an eye, even before this service is over, you could be irreversibly in the one or the other. I am a watchman on the wall. And I have warned you as clearly as I know how. Get ready and stay ready.

Live in the light of eternity. And I do mean light, not shadow. When you have come to know your God, and love his Son so much that you can say, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” then living in the light of eternity will replace your “fun” with deeper, higher, wider, longer, more unshakable, more varied, more satisfying, more durable, more solid pleasures than all the fun that entertainment could ever give. O come, and let us be a different breed of people for the few short years we have to live upon this earth! Dream some dream of making your life count for Christ and his Kingdom. “Only one life, ’twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Enmity Between You And The Woman

We spent some time discussing Genesis 3:15 before getting to Genesis 4. Genesis 3:15 says:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

So, there is going to be enmity and friction between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. What does this mean? In John chapter 8 Jesus is talking to the Pharisee’s and this conversation helps us to answer what this text in Genesis means. John 8: 41-44 says:

“You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Mark told us that to be a son or daughter of means to reflect the character traits and habits of your father. In Matthew 5:43-45 Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Jesus says: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” John Piper helps us understand this passage when he says: “That is, show you are a child of God by acting the way your Father acts. If you are his, then his character is in you, and you will be inclined to do what he does. God loves his enemies—the evil and the unrighteous—in sending rain and sunshine on them instead of instant judgment.” He later says: “Jesus does not mean that loving our enemies earns us the right to be a child of God. You can’t earn the status of a child. You can be born into it. You can be adopted into it. You can’t work your way into it. Jesus means that loving our enemies shows that God has already become our Father, and that the only reason we are able to love our enemies is because he loves us and has met our needs first.”

What Genesis 3:15 is telling us is that for the rest of human history there is going to be conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of Satan. So, the conflict and enmity will be between the people who reflect the character of Satan and those who reflect the character of the seed of the woman, who ultimately is Jesus. There will be friction between these two groups. We don’t have to wait very long before we see an example of this friction and enmity. Genesis 4 gives us an example of this.

Crouching Sin

The first seven verses of Genesis 4 are as follows:

“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

Mark told us that we should put our name’s here in place of Cain’s because sin is crouching at all of our doors. Tim Keller is helpful here on the crouching nature of sin. Keller says: “It’s a remarkable image. It’s the image of a leopard or a tiger, a predatory animal, crouching in the shadows, coiled and ready to spring and kill.

God says that’s sin. Sin is predatory. Sin has a deadly life of its own. How is that? Here right away we’re going to see why there is no other set of vocabulary words that we have that deal with the reality of what sin is. How so? First of all, when God uses this image, it’s telling us that sin has an abiding, growing presence in your life. If you commit sin, sin is not over. Sin is not simply an action. It’s a force. It’s a power.

When you do sin, it’s not now over, but it actually becomes a presence in your life. It takes shape, a shadow shape, and stays with you and begins to affect you. Eventually, it can just take you out. You say, “Well, how could that be?” Well, you can start with the psychological concept of habit. You can start there, but you can’t end there. You can start by noticing the things we do become easier to do again and easier to do again and easier to do again and harder to stop doing…Here’s the point. When you sin, the sin doesn’t just go away. The sin becomes a presence in your life. You start by doing sin, but then sin does you.

You can decide, “I’m not going to forgive my mother, I’m not going to forgive my father, for what he or she has done.” Okay, you’ve done it, but then it will do you, because that will poison your relationships with other people, certain people in all kinds of ways you don’t even see. It will harden you.”

I have to keep quoting Keller here because this is good stuff:

“When you sin, that sin becomes a presence in your life. It takes shape in and around you, and it will take you out. Therefore, you should avoid sin like the plague, because it is a plague. Somebody says to you, “You know, you have a cancerous tumor growing in this part of your body.” You say, “Well, one of these years I’ll get to it.” You don’t do that. For somebody to come along and say, “You have an abrasive spirit,” or, “You can’t control yourself in this area,” or, “You have this,” or, “You have that character flaw,” you don’t say, “Well, yeah.”

Don’t you dare, because that’s the second aspect of potency we see in this image. The idea of sin crouching at the door not only tells us it’s coiled to spring (it’s a presence in your life that when you sin, you create a presence in your life that then can take you out), but also the image gets across the fact that sin hides.

See, the lion, the tiger, the leopard is crouching. That means down away out of your sight. Why? Because if you see a crouching tiger, you have a chance. You can get a couple of steps on it, but if you don’t see a crouching tiger, you’re dead. If you don’t see it well or you don’t know quite where it’s located … The less aware you are of the location or the reality of the crouching animal, the more vulnerable you are, and the more likely you are to die.

What that means is the worst things in your life, the character flaws and the sins in your life that are most going to ruin you or are ruining you or are going to make the people around you miserable are the things, the character flaws, you least will admit. They’re the ones you’re in denial about, you rationalize, and you minimize. Whatever the consequences happen to you, when somebody brings them up, you rationalize them.

By definition, those are the crouching sins in your life (the ones that are going to take you out). As long as you look at workaholism as conscientiousness, as long as you look at your grudge as moral outrage, as long as you look at materialism as ambition or arrogance as healthy self-assertion, as long as you look at your obsession with looks as good grooming, you’re vulnerable. You’re in denial.

Do you know what your sins are? Do you know what your besetting sins are? Do you know what your crouching sins are? If you don’t even have a list, then you’ve been mastered. So see the potency of sin. See how deadly it is. See why it’s nothing to take lightly. It’s nothing to be trifled with.”

Respectable Sins 

As Mark said this past Sunday that we in the church have the tendency to point our fingers at people outside the church and say they are the real sinners and they commit truly heinous sin. Whereas, we in the church don’t really struggle with sin. Jerry Bridges wrote a fantastic book called Respectable Sins. In this book he says: “Sin is sin. Even those sins that I call “the acceptable sins of the saints”―those sins that we tolerate in our lives―are serious in God’s eyes. Our religious pride, our critical attitudes, our unkind speech about others, our impatience and anger, even our anxiety (see Philippians 4:6); all of these are serious in the sight of God.”

He goes on: “the fact still remains that the seemingly minor sins we tolerate in our lives do indeed deserve the curse of God. Yes, the whole idea of sin may have disappeared from our culture. It may have been softened in many of our churches so as not to make the audiences uncomfortable. And, sad to say, the concept of sin among many conservative Christians has been essentially redefined to cover only the obviously gross sins of our society. The result, then, is that for many morally upright believers, the awareness of personal sin has effectively disappeared from their consciences. But it has not disappeared from the sight of God…the point is, all of our sin, wherever we may be on the spectrum of personal awareness of it in our lives, is reprehensible in the sight of God and deserving of His judgment.” He gives us two examples of the acceptable sins of the saints when he says: “So when I gossip, I am rebelling against God. When I harbor resentful thoughts toward someone instead of forgiving him or her in my heart, I am rebelling against God.”

Re-listening to Mark’s sermon and reading through what Jerry Bridges wrote and what Tim Keller said, I am once again convicted of my own sin, and I am once again reminded that I don’t want to be cavalier towards my own sin. I don’t want to entertain myself to death. I want to be like John Piper and hate all sin especially my own sin. I want to put to death the sins in my life like the Apostle Paul says: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” I want to encourage others and I hope we as a church will excel at what Hebrews 3:13 calls us to do: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

Crying Blood

Genesis 4:8-16 tell us:

“Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”

This is a prime example of the enmity and friction that is going on between Cain the seed of the serpent and Abel the seed of the woman. We spent a lot of time looking at the blood of Abel, and the fact that his blood cry’s out to God. Charles Spurgeon tells us what this blood spoke to God:

“Now what did Abel’s blood say to God? Standing by the place where Abel fell, and marking the ground all crimson with clotted gore, what would the blood seem to you to say? What would you conceive that the blood said to God? It said just this, “God, your creature has been destroyed without cause. No just reason of provocation has been given, no offence has been committed which could deserve so terrible a stroke; but one of your feeble creatures who has a claim upon your kind protection has been needlessly slain: his blood appeals to you! The first thing the blood said was, “I am an innocent victim won’t you do something? I’m made in your image, and you have promised to protect that which is made in your image and I have been needlessly and unjustly slain. Won’t you here?”

Yet the blood of Abel said more than this; it said, “Oh God, the blood shed here was shed for you.” “If it were not for love for you this blood would not have been shed! If these drops had not been consecrated by devotion, if this blood had not flowed in the veins of this man who loved God it would not have been poured out upon the ground. Oh God,” cries every drop, “I fell upon the ground for you—will you endure this? What force there is in such a voice!”

“…for the stroke which came from Cain’s hand was not aimed merely at Abel, it was in spirit aimed at God, for if Cain could have done the same to God as he did to his brother, Abel, he doubtlessly would have done it. Cain defies you. He has struck the first blow at yourself,… Will you look on in quiet? Will you take no vengeance? Oh God, will you not interpose?” Surely this is a heaven piercing cry,”

God then does respond in judgement as he curses the ground on which Cain walks. We all deserve the judgement of God to fall on us. We all deserve the wrath of God. We need to understand the weight of our sin and what it deserves. Our sin ultimately and primarily is against God Almighty! He is the most offended party when we sin.

The last passage that we looked at was found in Hebrews 12 which says we: “have come…to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

So, the blood of Abel spoke to God, but the blood of Jesus also speaks to God and it speaks a far better word than the blood of Abel. Here is Charles Spurgeon once again on this blood:

“Can you stand at Calvary now and view the flowing of the Saviour’s blood from hands, and feet, and side? What are your own reflections concerning what that blood says to God? Think now at the foot of the cross. That blood cries with a loud voice to God, and what does it say? Does it not say this? “Oh God, this time it is not merely a creature which bleeds, but though the body that hangs upon the cross is…your own Son who now pours out his soul to death.

Observe that the blood of Abel spoke to God long before Cain spoke. Cain was deaf to the voice of his brother’s blood, but God heard it. Sinner, long before you hear the blood of Jesus, God hears it, and spares your guilty soul. Long before that blood comes into your soul to melt you to repentance, it pleads for you with God. It was not the voice of Cain that brought down vengeance, but the voice of Abel’s blood; and it is not the cry of the sinner seeking mercy that is the cause of mercy, it is the cry of that blood of Jesus. The blood does not need your voice to increase its power with God; he will hear your voice, but it is because he hears the blood of Jesus first of all. It is a mercy for us that…Jesus’ blood does not plead for the innocent, if such there are,…Jesus’ blood pleads for the rebellious that the Lord God may dwell among them; for you who have broken his laws, and despised his love, and fought against his power; the blood of Jesus pleads for such as you, for he came into the world to save sinners. “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save those who were lost.”

I know your sins speak very loudly—ah! well they may; I hope you will hear their voice and hate them in the future—but they cannot speak as loudly as the blood of Jesus does.”

God said to Cain, “What have you done?” Now that is what Christ’s blood says to you: “What have you done?” My dear hearer, do you not know that your sins killed the Saviour? If we have been playing with sin, and imagined it to be a very little thing, a trifle to play with and laugh at, let us correct the mistake. Our Saviour hangs on the cross, and was nailed there by those sins of ours; shall we think little of them?…Let me speak personally to everyone. Make an inventory now of your sins. Go over the black list from your childhood until now. What have you done? Ah! Lord, I have done enough to make me weep for ever if it were not that you have wept for me. Drops of grief can never repay the debt which is due to your blood. Alas! I have done evil, Lord, but you have been good to me. “What have you done? What have you done?” was a dreadful accusation to Cain, it might have gone through him like a dart; but to you and to me it is the soft enquiring voice of a Father’s love bringing us to repentance. May it bring us now!

I ask you, dear Christian friends, to come nearer to the blood of Jesus this morning…Think over the great truth of substitution. Portray to yourselves the sufferings of the Saviour. Dwell in his sight, sit at the foot of Calvary, abide in the presence of his cross, and never turn away from that great spectacle of mercy and of misery. Come to it; do not be afraid…you sinner, who have never trusted Jesus, look here and live! May you come to him now!

Indeed, do not run away from the wounds which you have made, but find shelter in them; do not forget the sufferings of Christ, but rest in them! Your only hope lies in trusting in Jesus, resting wholly upon him.”

Picture from here

 

Genesis 3: The Fall Followed By A Promise

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At the end of Genesis 1 it says: “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” As John Piper says: “God did not create anything evil. It was all very good.” Then chapter 3 of Genesis starts and we find this serpent who is calling God’s word into question. This serpent is clearly evil. So, who is this serpent and how did he fall? Revelation 12:9 tells us that: “The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” So, clearly the ‘ancient serpent’ referenced here is the serpent in Genesis 3. So, this is the devil in Genesis 3. Ezekiel 28 tells us a little bit more about Satan before he fell:

“You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. 14 You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you. 16 In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. 17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground;”

So, Satan was a high ranking angel. He was a ‘guardian cherub.’ What was his sin? Verse 17 tells us that the first sin, was the sin of pride: “Your heart was proud because of your beauty;” God created millions and millions of angels. Perhaps billions. Satan sins against God and he takes 1/3 of the angels with him. As Revelation 12 says: “Now the dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth.”

We come then to Genesis 3 which starts out saying: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” The word that the ESV translates as crafty is often translated with the word prudent or wise. So, the devil is very wise, but wisdom alone does not guarantee positive results. Many people today think that a lack of education is what is wrong with the world. If we could just get everyone educated we would not have the problems that we do now. However as Ravi Zacharias says: “If a man is stealing nuts and bolts from a railway track, and, in order to change him, you send him to college, at the end of his education, he will steal the whole railway track.” 

Mark said that pain and suffering as well as wealth and power only ever magnify who we really are. Satan’s wisdom and power magnify the evil within him. The same is true for the man stealing the nuts and bolts then he gains wisdom and steals the whole track. The evil in this man is magnified. I thought I would include a more positive example of this. In this example pain and suffering magnify true Christian character. John and Betty Stam were missionaries with China Inland Mission during the 1930’s. They were serving in a small town in China called Tsingteh (today called Jingde). They were both in their late 20’s and they had a 3 month old daughter named Helen. In December 1934 Communist soldiers come to the town of Tsingteh where the Stam’s are and they take them captive. They demand $20,000 in ransom money for their release. John Stam writes the following letter to his mission board:

“Dear Brethren,

My wife, baby, and myself are today in the hands of the Communists, in the city of Tsingteh. Their demand is twenty thousand dollars for our release.

All our possessions and stores are in their hands, but we praise God for peace in our hearts and a meal tonight. God grant you wisdom in what you do, and us fortitude, courage, and peace of heart. He is able and a wonderful Friend in such a time.

Things happened so quickly this a.m. They were in the city just a few hours after the ever-present rumors really became alarming, so that we could not prepare to leave in time. We were just too late.

The Lord bless and guide you, and as for us, may God be glorified whether by life or by death.”

So, this suffering that has come upon John, Betty, and Helen Stam has only magnified who they really are. Tim Challies says this referring to John Stam’s letter: “Here is a man captured by ruthless bandits, in prison with his wife and baby daughter. And his concern is not for life or for death, but only for the glory of God.” A couple of days after being taken captive by the Communist soldiers the following happens:

“It was the next day, a Saturday morning, that the soldiers came into John and Betty’s room and told them to take off their clothes, to walk out of the house in just their long underwear. They tightly tied their hands behind their backs and led them out. John walked barefoot, having given his socks to his wife to protect her feet. They left the baby behind; Betty had tucked her into her little sleeping bag and then nestled her into a big pile of bedding. The soldiers forgot all about little Helen.

The soldiers marched John and Betty through the town and told all the people to come out and to watch them die. They would witness what China thought of foreigners, people who would come to their nation to teach people about God. There was only one man in the entire town who was brave enough to object. A man named Chang spoke up for the couple. He fell on his knees before the soldiers and begged them to let the missionaries go. The soldiers grabbed him and tied him up, too, accusing him of being in league with the foreigners. They searched his home and there they found a Bible and a hymn book—now they knew that he was a Christian too.

They dragged John and Betty to the end of the main street, a little place called Eagle Hill. They ordered John to kneel, but before he did so, he said just a few words to the soldiers nearby. No witnesses were close enough to hear the words, but I think we know what he told them, don’t we? What would he have said to them except to speak the gospel to them? He knelt on the ground, a big knife flashed, and John fell to the ground. Then they pushed Betty down beside him and she, too, was killed. Neither one showed any great fear; neither one cried out; both were praying to the Lord at the moment they went to meet the Lord. They went from being on their knees on the cold, hard ground, to being on their knees before their Savior.”

John and Betty are both martyred for their faith. Their little girl Helen miraculously survives. If you want to read more I would encourage you to read this wonderful little biography on them. The last thing I want to include is the letters that John and Betty’s parents wrote after hearing about their deaths. This again is a great example of suffering magnifying who they really are. Peter Stam, John’s father wrote:

“Deeply appreciate your consolation. Sacrifice seems great, but not too great for Him Who gave Himself for us. Experiencing God’s grace. Believe wholeheartedly (Romans 8:28)…Our dear children, John C. Stam and Elisabeth Scott Stam, have gone to be with the Lord. They loved Him, they served Him, and now they are with Him. What could be more glorious? It is true, the manner in which they were sent out of this world was a shock to us all, but whatever of suffering they may have endured is now past, and they are both infinitely blessed with the joys of Heaven.”

Betty’s mother wrote this:

“When the telegram came Thursday evening saying that Betty and John were with the Lord we did not mourn as those who have no hope, but could not but feel that a great blessing might come to the cause of Christ here in China and also wherever their martyrdom might be known. We cannot but rejoice that they have been counted worthy to suffer for His sake, and we cannot be sorry for them that thus early they have been released from all earthly trials and have entered into the glory provided for those who belong wholly to Him.”

John and Betty’s picture is below:

John-Betty-Stam

The Accuser

In Revelation 12 it says that Satan is the accuser. “For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth–the one who accuses them before our God day and night.” Matthew Henry says: “Satan, as he is the accuser of the brethren before God, so he accuses God before the brethren thus he sows discord, and is the father of those that do so.” As Mark powerfully reminded us this past Sunday, when we partake in gossip we are actually taking part in something that is Satanic. We are sowing discord among the brethren. Jerry Bridges says: “If I gossip, I both tear down another person and corrupt the mind of my listener…In this way, my sin “metastasizes” into the heart of another person.”

The first words that the devil speaks to Eve are: “Did God actually say,…” Four words that are quite possibly his four favorite words. Satan wants to undermine the word of God. Charles Spurgeon says that Satan “said to Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” He whispered and insinuated a doubt, “Did God really say?” as much as to say, “Are you quite sure he said that?” It was by means of unbelief–that thin part of the wedge–that the other sin entered; curiosity and the rest followed;” If Satan can gets us to doubt God’s word, and to begin to question God’s word then he has us. Matthew Henry says: “See here, that it is the subtlety of Satan to blemish the reputation of the divine law as uncertain or unreasonable, and so to draw people to sin and that it is therefore our wisdom to keep up a firm belief of, and a high respect for, the command of God.” He goes on to say that the devil will say: “Has God said, “You shall not lie, nor take his name in vain, nor be drunk,” The devil will ask us if God has said that Jesus is really the only way and on and on. Matthew Henry says when these questions come we can answer: “Yes, I am sure he has, and it is well said, and by his grace I will abide by it, whatever the tempter suggests to the contrary.”

Eve answers Satan in verses 2&3: “And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” R.C. Sproul points out how Eve is the first person who defends God’s word. She does add to God’s word when she says that God said not to touch the tree, lest you die. God never said that. Then Satan boldly lies straight to Eve when he says: “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Matthew Henry says: “This was a lie, a downright lie for, [1.] It was contrary to the word of God, which we are sure is true…It was such a lie as gave the lie to God himself.” Of course Jesus tells us about Satan in John 8 that: “there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” This first lie from Satan in Genesis 3 is that God will not punish sin. This is one of the first things that people attack about the Bible in our day. They attack the wrath of God. 

The Fall Followed By The Promise

In verses 6&7 Adam and Eve fall into sin. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” The first thing that happens after they partake of the fruit, is that they both feel shame. The end of Genesis 2 says: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Now after they sin they are ashamed and cover their nakedness. 

Charles Spurgeon gives this warning: “You may go and pluck the fruit that He forbids you to touch and then you may go and hide yourself among the thick trees in the forest and think that you have concealed yourself—but you will have to come face to face with your Maker at some time or other! It may not be today, or tomorrow. It may not be until “the cool of the day” of time. No, it may not be till time, itself, shall be no more—but, at last, you will have to confront your Maker!”

Then the saddest verse of this 3rd chapter of Genesis: “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” Charles Spurgeon says: “They heard His voice speaking as He walked in the garden in the cool of the day. And when He called to Adam, albeit that there was righteous anger in the tone of His voice, yet His words were very calm and dignified and, as far as they could be, even tender, for, while you may read the words thus, “Adam, where are you?” You may also read them thus, “Where are you, poor Adam, where are you?” You may put a tone of pity into the words and yet not misread them. So the Lord comes thus in gentleness in the cool of the day and calls them to account. He patiently listens to their wicked excuses and then pronounces upon them a sentence, which, heavy though it is towards the serpent and heavy though it is towards all who are not saved by the woman’s wondrous Seed, yet has much mercy mingled with it in the promise that the Seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent—a promise which must have shone in their sad and sinful souls as some bright particular star shines in the darkness of the night!”

In Genesis 3:15 with get the first glimpse of the gospel in the Bible, in acorn form: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Matthew Henry says: “Here was the dawning of the gospel day. No sooner was the wound given than the remedy was provided and revealed. Here, in the head of the book, as the word is (Hebrews 10:7), in the beginning of the Bible, it is written of Christ, that he should do the will of God…Satan had now trampled upon the woman, and insulted over her but the seed of the woman should be raised up in the fulness of time to avenge her quarrel, and to trample upon him, to spoil him, to lead him captive, and to triumph over him, Colossians 2:15. He shall bruise his headthat is, he shall destroy all his politics and all his powers, and give a total overthrow to his kingdom and interest. Christ baffled Satan’s temptations, rescued souls out of his hands, cast him out of the bodies of people, dispossessed the strong man armed, and divided his spoil: by his death, he gave a fatal and incurable blow to the devil’s kingdom, a wound to the head of this beast, that can never be healed.”

Thankfully, gloriously, Jesus came and fulfilled this promise in Genesis 3:15. Jesus crushed Satan’s head and took our sin and shame. Hebrews 12 says that Jesus despised the shame of the cross. Charles Spurgeon reminds us again of the beauty of the gospel: “Jesus wore my dress, nay, rather, he wore my nakedness when he died upon the cross; I wear his robes, the royal robes of the King of kings.”

Spurgeon powerfully writes:

“I remember well when the Lord brought me to my knees…and emptied out all my self-righteousness and self-trust until I felt that the hottest place in Hell was my due desert—and that if He saved everybody else, but did not save me—yet He would still be just and righteous, for I had no right to be saved!…There was the Lord coming to me, laying bare my sin, revealing to me my lost condition and making me shiver and tremble while I feared that the next thing He would say to me would be, “Depart from Me, accursed one, into everlasting fire in Hell!” Instead, He said to me in tones of wondrous love and graciousness, “I have put you among My children. ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore with loving kindness have I drawn you.’” Blessed be the name of the Lord, forever and ever, for such amazing treatment as this meted out to the guilty and the lost!”

Pictures from here and here.