Friday, July 6, 2018

Lessons from the Jericho Road

Jesus Christ taught his disciples that all of the scriptures speak of him (Luke 24:27; John 5:39,46).  There are many signs and references to the person and work of Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah. Lessons for gospel work are to be found throughout the lively book of Joshua that figures the Old Testament type of Jesus in the person of Joshua. As Joshua led God's people, so Jesus has come to conquer Satan's kingdom, to establish his own permanent kingdom, and to lead his people in victory.

A striking lesson is found in Joshua 5 where we with the historical Joshua meet the Commander of the Lord's Army (Joshua 5:13-16). He is referenced as a man yet equally God (note the reference to holy ground like that of Exodus 3:5). Joshua's "Moses experience" was meant to encourage him in the arduous task of leading the Lord's people to conquer the land. More than that we are to see the pre-incarnate Christ leading his people as the one who will gain the certain victory. 

The active leadership of Jesus Christ, The Commander of the Lord's Host (see Revelation 19:11ff), is demonstrated in the unconventional overthrow of the city Jericho in Joshua 6. Jericho was a great walled city on the plain of the Jordon River Valley that was essentially the gateway to the mountainous interior of the land of Canaan. There are valuable lessons in the way that the battle for Jericho was waged. 

The first lesson is the LORD's call to Israel to be obedient. They were given specific instructions that must have seemed unrelated to taking a fortified city in battle. Israel was to march its army surrounding the priests blowing trumpets and carrying the ark of the covenant around the city one time for six straight days. On the seventh day they were to march around the city seven times with the people shouting on the seventh march.  The Israelites were to obey God and watch his work.  We need to be obedient and faithful to his word.

The second lesson is that the Lord's power alone gains the victory. We all know the story of the walls of Jericho falling by the mighty hand of the Lord. God was showing that his strength alone would bring the victory. Christ is building his church. We are to point to him and glorify him. The Lord brings the victory in gospel work.

Thirdly, the blowing trumpets and shouts of the people are used by the Lord to point to something other than physical warfare. The use of blowing trumpets are found in Revelation 8:6-11. We see seven trumpets, an interesting repeat of the same number. In both instances of Joshua 6 and Revelation 8:6-11 the trumpets announce the judgment of God. Yet I cannot help wonder that the trumpets don't also refer to the announcement of the gospel which " foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (I Cor. 1:18). It is the gospel that is the power of salvation, not the power of mankind. Christ build his church by his word.

The shouts of people glorying in God and the blasts of trumpets seemed incongruous to the battle of a walled city. Israel was being taught to trust in the Lord and to glory only in him. Today we wage a war against sin and see the spiritually dead raised not by the power of human programs and activism but by the power of Christ leading us in obedience in proclaiming his word. The glory belongs to Christ Jesus alone!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Why Worry?

At our mid-week Prayer & Study group we’ve been working through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We read a section, talk about it, and use its message to help us to pray for one another. Matthew 6:25-34 was our recent text and many felt it to be very applicable to where their lives are. Worry. Do you do that?

It’s important to see Jesus’ comments on worry in relation to the bigger theme he paints of the kingdom citizen begun in Matthew 5. Specifically, Jesus’ warnings about our tendency to worry follow his reminder that we cannot serve two masters; God and money or material possessions (Matthew 6:24). When our lives are focused on material things, treasures on earth (Matthew 6:19) instead of on spiritual things, God himself, we are subject to worry. Which of us can guarantee worldly wealth whether to achieve it or to maintain it?

What struck me about Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 6:25-34 about worry was how we get things backwards. What do you worry about? Did you look at the list Jesus gives in Matthew 6:25-31? Its all stuff. Yep, we worry about material stuff. What is missing? In so many conversations I have with people most hardly ever say they worry about spiritual things. I’ll ask, “What happens at death?” The common response is, “I don’t know.” People seem to be entirely careless about a fact that everyone of us will face, death. We just don’t think about it let alone worry about it. We worry about what might happen regarding our stuff but we don’t worry about what we know will eventually happen to us.

This is where Jesus’ answer in Matthew 6:33 comes into play. When we seek God first, when we think about our spiritual need to be right with God, his righteousness and our lack of it, we realize the other stuff gets taken care of. In fact, it has little importance. Putting God first, seeking his righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22), and loving God for who he is changes everything about life. If you are known by God in Christ Jesus, why worry?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Reading Psalm 119 as a Picture of Jesus Christ

I've been reading through and meditating on Psalm 119 as part of my daily Bible reading. Older Old Testament scholars viewed the author of the Psalm as David or that David was a compiler of the many parts that make it up. In many ways we can see and hear David in it. The subject of this large Psalm is obvious to all by its use of synonyms for the word of God in each section; e.g. word, commandments, judgments, law, precepts, statutes, testimonies.  The Psalm is also known for its alphabetical arrangement according to the Hebrew alphabet. The leading word in each line of each section begins with the letter of the alphabet the defines that section. Modern English versions often give the Hebrew letters in the heading of each section. 

The Psalm often seems repetitious to the casual reader. Keeping in mind the meanings and nuances of the several words used to refer to the word of God  helps the reader to contemplate the fullness and breadth of the doctrine of the word of God and its application to life. This takes discipline. You can't read the Psalm quickly not only because of its length but because of its style. Its written to be meditated upon. I've always found CH Spurgeon's Treasury of David a help because he adds so many of other commentators' comments. 

Here is another hint. This is something that I've not seen elsewhere as a main theme. This is something I am finding very productive and helpful. Consider the Psalm as a description of Jesus Christ. Think of David's greater son. We know that Christ, the God-man, is the subject of all the scriptures (Luke 24:27). You  can hear the "beatitudes" in the first section (Aleph). Then as you contemplate Christ living out all of God's commands and word for believers in the rest of the psalm you see the beauty, the devotion, and the love of God's word that he has (Look at Ps. 119:73-80 as an example). This understanding gives me great comfort that while I fail Christ has done all. This unfailing example of Jesus Christ my savior encourages me to seek the same beauty, devotion, and love of God's word too. May the Holy Spirit help you to see Christ in all of scripture!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Christian Sabbath; A Day of Mercy

How did you spend your Sunday? Did you go to church or not? Were you thankful for a "day off?" Did you think whether you "got something" out of church or worship today? Maybe you didn't even think about church, worship, or religion. How often we think only in terms of whether a particular day fulfilled our needs, wants, and desires.

Today's sermon was about "Sanctifying the Sabbath." It came out my series on the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. You may remember that Nehemiah became governor of the people of Israel after they returned from the 70 years of captivity. Nehemiah led the people in the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and the re-establishment of the Jewish state. After the people celebrated the completion of the work they, like us, struggled to keep faithful and to keep their faith practice alive. The necessities of life crowded in. 

My text was from Nehemiah 13:15-22. In that text we see that the people "profaned" the Sabbath day by engaging in work, buying, and selling. They were trying make a living. They made the Sabbath day like any other day, and so "profaned" the day that God had set aside as holy and they made it common. The Jewish leaders that permitted it and the people risked bringing the return of God's judgment on them as he had recently by sending them to exile. Nehemiah confronted the leaders and then enforced the Sabbath law as governor.

This all sounds very Old Testament and strange to our New Testament ears. You may wonder what this has to do with us who are free from the bondage of the law. We must remember that when God created all things he established for us three basic "creation ordinances" that framed human existence. God established marriage, the intimate completing union between one man and one woman. He established work as a good thing for humans to do to the glory of God. He established the weekly cycle of life, six days of work and one day of rest by God's own example (Genesis 2:3). God set in motion the parameters of our existence in physical and moral/ethical life.

All this was codified in the Mosaic law and summarized in the 10 commandments. Israel's civil, religious, and moral laws were unified. They all pointed to the Christ to come. Exodus 20:11 reminds us the Sabbath command is a creation ordinance and looks back. Deuteronomy 5:15 reminds us that the Sabbath has a redemptive purpose and looks forward. Jesus Christ fulfilled all this and claimed the Sabbath as his own(Matthew 12:8). Hebrews 4:8-11 teaches us that our real Sabbath rest awaits us in the future of Jesus Christ's fulfilled kingdom.

What is my point? The moral law, the ten commandments, applies to all of us (Romans 1:18-32; 2:14-16). Christ has fulfilled the law for us and we are to be a holy people (I Peter 1:9-12). The weekly Sabbath, now the first day of the week because of Christ's resurrection (John 20:1,19,26, Revelation 1:10), is a great reminder of the mercy of God to us in Christ, a promise of our eternal rest, and a day of rest in Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. We should rejoice and sanctify the day as a day for God and rest from the world. It isn't legalism but freedom in Christ to step back from the world, to rest in Christ, and to be renewed in our Christ focused faith. The day isn't about us but it is about Jesus Christ and his work. Do you see the Sabbath as a day of delight? (Isaiah 58:13,14). The Sabbath is a witness to a dying world of the life to come, of Christ's redeeming work, and of our eternal hope!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

After Death Then What?

Spring seemed like it was coming and then suddenly winter made another stand. We probably should have known better given the gentle winter we have had. Nonetheless winter's relapse surprised us.

Death in the midst of life, while expected in one sense, always seems to surprise us. Last time I wrote about the reality that we all face, facing death. I'd like to continue that thought process using the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 32. So what happens after death? The chapter continues, "...but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them:..."

This clause is in contrast to the first part which reminds us that our bodies which are made from the "dust" or the elements of this material world die and decay back to their constituent elemental properties. Is that all we are? This clause reminds us that no, there is another part of us that we are all aware. The "inner" man, the conscious part, that part that really animates our body and experiences the world we live in through its senses. It's that part that never really seems to age though it grows in understanding, knowledge, and experience. We all know this intuitively. Materialists attempt to deny it but we know there is something more to life. We want meaning. We believe in immaterial things like good & evil, truth & falsehood, love & hatred, justice & injustice. We yearn for eternity because we were made for it. All of us want meaning. We want our lives to mean something to someone and to ourselves.

The point of this section is that our spiritual part returns to God at death. He is the one in control. He renders some decision about our eternal state. This is the meaning of Ecclesiastes 12:7, "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was and the spirit shall return to God who gave it." Our actions in the body, our thoughts, our loves fit into this. God considers all these things and renders a verdict. Death teaches us that we are accountable. We are not just "here" for a while as an accident or chance occurrence. We know we are not self created. We didn't pick our parents, our family, our nationality, our time of existence. Life teaches us that we are not really in full control. Things happen to us. Death reminds us that God is in control and we will give an account.

After death then what? That is the concern of the gospel in Jesus Christ. The question is whether you are alone in death before God or whether you are "in" Christ by faith in his atoning work. Will God see your soul by yourself with all your sins or will he see you in Christ Jesus in his righteousness. The point is at death, God will render a verdict. You and I will return to God who gave us life. Has He given you eternal life?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Facing Death

A death of a family member recently occurred in our church's fellowship. This prompted me to write about something we all experience. Most people if indeed not all believe something happens at death even if they say that nothing happens, that the person ceases to exist. That statement is a statement about something, and that "something" is a statement about existence. All this opinion making is a faith or belief statement. No one has ever come back to tell us what to expect except one, the Lord of life, the one who has conquered death. He didn't give us a lot of specifics about the experience but more importantly he gave us promises because, well, we know death is pretty final. But the Christian has hope in Jesus Christ. The non-Christian has just pure speculation and fear.

The Bible, as the very word of God and of Christ Jesus as the Holy Spirit directed the human authors to write it, gives a broad understanding about death in many places. This is where confessions and creeds help us because they summarize the Bible's teachings found in many places about particular subjects. Creeds and confessions aren't the word of God but they are helps. In that vein I want to look at the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 32 as a helpful guide to what the Bible teaches and what the Christian believes. Here is help for you when you face this inevitable experience in your life. 

The chapter begins, "The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption:..." The Christian believes what the Bible teaches in Genesis 3:19 that God promised Adam and his posterity that he/they would die and their bodies return to the dust of ground from which they were taken because of Adam's sin. "The wages of sin is death..." (Romans 6:23). This is the first point about death. Death isn't natural in the sense that is a necessary part of God's creation. It is the common experience and is the natural affect of sin but death didn't have to be a part of our experience. In fact, before there was sin there was no death. The presence of death reveals the presence of sin (Romans 5:12).

Secondly, death is not just physical. There is a spiritual death. In fact we are born physically alive but spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-3). It is by the gospel promise, faith in Jesus Christ alone, that God makes us spiritually alive (Ephesians 2:4,5)

Physical death results in the separation of the two component parts of a human being. At conception a union of a soul or spirit and a body is formed and person has being. Death is the violent separation of these two parts as a judgment for sin against a holy God. Because the sin of Adam is imputed to all human beings descending from Adam by ordinary means (Romans 5:12-14) that sin has corrupting effects on the physical bodies of all human beings and makes them subject to suffering, disease, and death. This is the third point we need to understand about death.

Even Christian believers die. Flesh and blood, these corrupted bodies, cannot inherit the kingdom of God (John 3:5,6: I Corinthians 15:42). Yet for the Christian believer, his death is not a judgment but an entrance into the holy presence of the risen Jesus Christ. Because of Christ's victory over death, God uses death as an act of his love to finally free believers perfectly from sin and misery experienced in this life in the union of their corrupted bodies (Isaiah 57:1,2; Revelation 14:13). This is the fourth point about death we need to understand. God uses an "evil," death, by his love for the good of his people. Christian believers being united to Christ are freed from sin and misery at death.

Here we see God's grace in the face of the terminal condition we all face. We all know and experience the corruption at work in us due to sin. The amazing grace is that God turns the death sentence of sin into a blessing in Christ by his love for us in Jesus Christ. We can chose to ignore death but it will come. We can pretend to have no fear of death but death will take your life, your loved ones, and all that you hold dear. It is relentless. The Christian has hope despite all this because Jesus has conquered death for him.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Challenge of Leadership

It was the weekend of "The Game" again. The century plus long football rivalry between Ohio State and  the University of Michigan was played out with guts, grit, and disagreements. There is always disappointment and often contention. This year "The Game" featured a nail biting double overtime. Not only was this the first overtime game in the history of the rivalry but Michigan forced a double overtime true to the highly competitive history of these annual meetings. I think anybody who watched these two teams play sensed the energy and pressure on the field and got caught up in it. It was a good game. It was so good that many got caught up in the emotion that boiled over after "The Game" finally came to an improbable end or what others might say, an unfair end because of a disputed call by the officials.
I have no problem with the disagreement of those on the Michigan side that about that call. I understand their emotion. Michigan played to win the whole game. In many ways they out played Ohio State. To its credit, the Ohio State team never gave up and tied up the game in regular time in a stunning if not struggling fashion. In overtime, Michigan went toe to toe with Ohio State and nearly denied them the needed yardage to keep the winning touchdown drive alive. If it just weren't for the disputed call. I really understand.

What I don't understand is the post game behavior of coach Jim Harbaugh. I think he got caught up in the emotion of "The Game." He made it personal. He failed to lead. That is tough language I know. We all make mistakes. Yep, I've made them too. This isn't irredeemable but I think a coach needs to be a coach to his players all the time, especially in the situation of hard loss. Life is tough. "The Game" is still only a game. Leadership lasts for a lifetime in bigger things. So, I think the Big Ten Conference was right to punish Michigan for the coach's behavior. But wouldn't the lesson had been better learned by the players on both sides if the coach would have led this team through the defeat rather than rail about it?

Michigan's coach, Jim Harbaugh, had every right to challenge the call at the time. It was reviewed by the officials, and they decided to stand by the original call. That hurt. It kept the Buckeyes' drive alive and they got the winning touchdown. I don't blame coach Harbaugh for stating at the end of the game that he disagreed with the officials. It happens. Officials aren't perfect, they are human too. It is the coach's job to defend his players and be sure they get a fair shake. It's the officials' job to enforce the rules. In the end their ruling counts. If not, the game can't be played, it can't be enjoyed, and the lessons it is supposed to teach can't be learned. But here is where coach Harbaugh failed when he said he was bitter about the loss. He didn't remember that there is a lot to be learned in accepting a loss even what appears to be an unjust one. Life is like that. It isn't fair.

Leaders lead when it's tough, when it's unfair, when it seems that life is stacked against you, etc. Leadership doesn't devolve into bitterness and complaint about the rules. Coach Harbaugh's example is another poor example of the behavior being exhibited in our society and on our college campuses. We think winning is all that matters. If we don't win, we think the rules aren't fair. We complain or worse. Sports, like other aspects of education, should prepare students to "play by the rules" in the bigger venues of life. Sometimes when you do, you don't win. Failure is more often the result in real life. Those failures, graciously accepted and learned from, build a character of integrity that ultimately prepares you for success. This is why Christian morality (Biblically informed morals) is so important to life (Romans 13:1,2; I Peter 2:13-20; I Peter 3:8-17). And of course, such suffering leads us to depend on God and not ourselves (I Peter 2:21-25)

You would think a coach had learned that. I think coach Harbaugh has learned it. He just forgot for a moment. He can still lead and do the right thing by his players. So can we.