It’s that time of year again. You know, the time when we try to assess our lives by reflecting on the past and looking toward the future. The New Year serves as a good opportunity for us to be thankful and thoughtful; expressing gratitude for God’s good care of us and humbly charting a course for the future.
With an eye to a “fresh” year, some of us will be setting some new goals which can certainly be a good thing. But, (maybe because I’m 40 now) I would like to offer an old word for a new year. To a world that values change, updates, and the next big thing, this word may be a little off-putting, but for the follower of Jesus, it is not only desirable, but essential. The word I’m thinking of is: faithful. Whatever else God may call us to in this new year, He is unquestionably calling us to greater faithfulness.
In Proverbs 28:20 Solomon wrote, “A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.” The way of wisdom and the path of abundant blessing is faithfulness.
By showing us a contrast between a faithful man and someone who eagerly desires to be rich, Solomon reminds us of something Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, namely, that one cannot serve both God and money (Matt 6:24). Faithfulness will always be challenged by the empty promises of false idols. Whatever those idols may be (money, sex, power, success, acceptance, etc.) they never deliver on their promises and actually lead to God’s judgement.
The 17th century pastor, Charles Bridges, commenting on Prov. 28:20 wrote, “The faithful man...has only one principle--’unto the Lord’; under his eye; in his presence; ‘to his glory.’...He would rather be poor by Providence, than rich by sin. This is the man of faithfulness.” And according to the Bible, this is the blessed man. Whether the world has eyes to see it or not, the faithful man is blessed of God.
Whatever goals we may set for the new year, let’s prayerfully and joyfully seek to be faithful. Faithful sons and daughters of the faithful God; faithful followers of the faithful Christ. Faithful in our homes; faithful to our church; faithful in our callings; faithful to the Word of God and prayer.
Faithful--an old word for a new year.
“So then, brothers, stand firm...the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.”---2 Thessalonians 2:15(a) and 3:3
A quick glance at a Christian resource catalog or web-site will show that we certainly do not lack for Bibles! They come in all types of versions, colors, formats, and study helps. And we should be grateful for many of these. But the question remains, “Do I regularly read my Bible or do I take this tremendous blessing from God for granted?”
Recently, I read a very stirring description of God’s Word from the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck that reminds us of the blessing of the Bible. I would like to share it with you for your encouragement:
“Scripture….is not a book of times long past, which only links us with persons and events of the past. Holy Scripture is not an arid story or ancient chronicle but the ever-living, eternally youthful Word, which God, now and always, issues to his people. It is the eternally ongoing speech of God to us. It does not just serve to give us historical information;….whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope [Rom. 15:4]. Scripture was written by the Holy Spirit that it might serve him in guiding the church, in the perfecting of the saints, in the building up of the body of Christ. In it God daily comes to his people. In it he speaks to his people, not from afar but from nearby. In it he reveals himself, from day to day, to believers in the fullness of his truth and grace. Through it he works his miracles of compassion and faithfulness. Scripture is the ongoing rapport between heaven and earth, between Christ and his church, between God and his children. It does not just tie us to the past; it binds us to the living Lord in the heavens. It is the living voice of God, the letter of the omnipotent God to his creature. God once created the world by the word, and by that word he also upholds it [Heb. 1:2,3]; but he also re-creates it by the word and prepares it to be his dwelling. Divine inspiration, accordingly, is a permanent attribute of Holy Scripture. It was not only ‘God-breathed’ at the time it was written; it is ‘God-breathing.'” (H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt and trans. John Vriend, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), I, 384-5)
God’s Word is ever-relevant, ever-fresh, ever-living, ever-true. It is an invaluable gift from God to us His people. The Bible is a blessing, so take it up and read!
“I am the LORD your God…Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it…Oh, that my people would listen to me” — Psalm 81:10, 13
To help us consider Christ, I thought I would share a quote from Calvin. I came across this quote while reading Sinclair Ferguson’s new book, The Whole Christ. (Ferguson has translated these words of Calvin from Book 2, chapter 16, section 19 of the Institutes, 1559 Latin edition.)
“When we see salvation whole—its every single part is found in Christ, we must beware lest we derive the smallest drop from somewhere else. If we seek salvation, the very name of Jesus teaches us that he possesses it. If other Spirit-given gifts are sought—in his anointing they are found; strength—in his reign; and purity—in his conception; tenderness—expressed in his nativity, in which he was made like us in all respects, that he might feel our pain: Redemption when we seek it, is in his passion found; acquittal—in his condemnation lies; and freedom from the curse—in his cross is known. If satisfaction for our sins we seek—we’ll find it in his sacrifice. There’s cleansing in his blood. And if it’s reconciliation that we need, for it he entered Hades; if mortification of our flesh—then in his tomb it’s laid. And newness of our life—his resurrection brings and immortality as well come also with that gift. And if we long to find that heaven’s kingdom’s our inheritance, His entry there secures it now with our protection, safety too, and blessings that abound—all flowing from his kingly reign. The sum of all for those who seek such treasure-trove of blessings, these blessings of all kinds, is this: from nowhere else than him can they be drawn; For they are ours in Christ alone.”
Look to Christ! Look to Christ alone and live!
“Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him….” Hebrews 12:2, 3(a)
“….be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” — 2 Tim 2:1
Paul knew that Timothy was going to have to endure suffering for Christ, spend his energies preaching, pastoring, and training, and all the while, flee worldly temptations and fleshly desires as he pursues and exemplifies “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” (2 Tim 1:6-14, 2:3; 4:5; 1 Tim 4:11-16; 2 Tim 2:2, 4:1-2; 1 Tim 4:12, 5:11) How in the world could Timothy possibly survive much less succeed?: “Be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
This was good news for Timothy and it is good news for us as we too are called to endure hardship, fulfill our vocations, and live holy lives. We can’t and don’t have to do it in our own strength, but in the strength that comes “by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” The verb that Paul uses for “be strengthened” is in the imperative (command) and is in the present tense (on going action) and passive voice (happens to you) (Gordon Fee). In other words, Timothy is to be obedient by continually allowing God to strengthen him in the grace that is in Jesus. It is God’s to strengthen; it is Timothy’s to submit. It is God’s to empower; it is Timothy’s to yield. It is God’s to equip; it is Timothy’s to obey.
By constantly submitting, yielding, and obeying Timothy would experience the strengthening of God through the grace that is in Jesus. What is this grace of Jesus that brings the power of God to our lives for suffering, service, and sanctification? Well, for Paul, it is not some abstract notion but is something experienced and enjoyed because of the person and work of the Lord Jesus.
In 2 Corinthians 8:9 Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might beome rich.” God strengthens us as we believe and savor such glorious grace! Jesus, the eternal Son of God and high King of Heaven, took our poverty so that we could receive His riches. By his obedience even unto a cross-death, Jesus took our sin, guilt, shame, and punishment that we might receive his righteousness, joy, acceptance, and life. He was stripped that we may be clothed. He was accussed that we may be exonerated. He was condemned that we may be accepted. He was cast out that we may be brought in. He died that we may live. This gospel is surely strength for the soul for it is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).
In Christ we have received grace upon grace. In Him we live in a whole new realm and sphere of grace that gives us standing before our God. “Through [Jesus] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings….because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:2-5). In Ephesians 2 Paul says that believers have been “seated…with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” In Christ we have an unshakebale standing before God and a seat in the heavenly places that nobody else can fill or remove!
God has revealed these things to us that we may know and keep knowing, believe and keep believing, and consider and keep considering them to be true of us as believers in Jesus. And, as we do (which is obedience to 2 Tim 2:1), God will strengthen us by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25
What a joy-inducing, hope-infusing, freedom-bringing verse this is for those who “draw near to God through [Jesus].” There are at least 3 soul-enriching truths here for the believer’s comfort, confidence, and continuation in Christ.
First, we are comforted in that salvation does not rest in our hands. Our salvation is not up to our abilities and power. The inspired text says, “he is able to save.” Our salvation rests in the sovereign Savior. The word of the gospel is not, “Do this and live,” but “Come to me.” He is able to save. We are weak. We are fickle. We are sinners. We would give out, grow weary, change our minds, lose our loyalty, and surrender to the flesh, except for this glorious truth: He is able to save!
Second, we can deal with our remaining sins, even frustratingly stubborn and besetting sins, with confident hope because “he is able to save to the uttermost.” The Lord Jesus saves completely. His work of salvation is a thoroughgoing and complete work of salvation. He won’t leave anything undone. To be sure, it is a progressive work of sanctification that will be brought “to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6), but it is also a present work that confidently leads us to share in our Lord’s victory over sin. There is no stain so dark that the blood of Jesus can’t cleanse it away. There is no habit so strong that the immeasurably great power of the resurrected Christ can’t overcome it. He is able to save to the uttermost!
Third, no matter how discouraging, dark, or desperate our present conditions are (whether due to sin or suffering, temptation or trial) we will continue in Christ “since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Before Peter denied Jesus, Jesus told him, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31-32). Jesus knew that Peter would fall hard, so he interceded for Peter that he would be able to get back up and keep on going. Peter’s faith did not fail because Jesus had prayed for him. Jesus, our great High Priest, is praying for us, too. He “always lives to make intercession.” As true believers we will fall, even fall hard, but we will get back up and continue on in Christ for he is praying for us.
Beloved, fix your gaze not on yourself, your sin, or your circumstances but on your Christ–crucified, risen, and interceding. He is able!
The love of Christ is the love of omnipotence.
The love of Christ for his own had the power to hold back the angelic hosts from rescuing their King. “Then Jesus said to [Peter], ‘Put your sword back into its place….Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?'” (Matt 26:52-53). The angels stood ready for rescue as they watched in wonder the Lord of Glory being delivered over to sinful men. The love of Christ held up under the burden of sin’s guilt as he bore the sins of his people. As our representative, sin’s crushing weight cast down our Lord to the ground squeezing out sweat as drops of blood as he prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me…” But love held up! For, we hear the end of the prayer, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 24:39). And, on the cross we see Christ’s love was held out to undeserving sinners. Of his executioners and mockers Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34), and to the dying, believing thief beside him he promised, “Truly….today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).
The love of Christ–strong enough to hold back 12 legions of angels; strong enough to hold up under sin’s crushing weight; and strong enough to hold out salvation to undeserving sinners who will look away from themselves and their sin and look only to the Savior.
Be encouraged believer, for it is the strong love of Christ that has laid hold of our lives and will carry us all the way home.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom 8:37-39
“…that you….may have the strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ….” Eph 3:17-19
I hope you can take a moment to consider the immeasurable, multi-dimensional love of Christ for his people; how long and high and deep and wide is his great love!
Long–How long is the love of Christ? Eternally long! It stretches back to eternity past when in the marvelous mystery of God’s counsel, the Son willingly agreed to come into history as the God-Man and lay down his life as an atoning sacrifice for sin. It stretches forward to eternity future, so that the life he won and gives to his own is “eternal” life. Those who believe in his name will not perish (Jn 3:16); though they die, yet they will live (Jn 11:25). It is inextinguishable life for it’s essence is in knowing the eternal Triune God (Jn 17:3).
High–How high is the love of Christ? So high that in the words of the hymn writer, “it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!” Christ’s love for the individual and for his Church takes us all the way into glory. It lifts us all the way to the Father. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:18a)
Deep–How deep is the love of Christ? So deep that he descended from heaven to dwell on earth. He descended to become what he was not (man) without ceasing to be what he eternally is (God). He descended from the heights of glory to live in the depths of humility.
How deep is the love of Christ? So deep that it plunged him into the unfathomable depths of hell, for on the cross Jesus experienced the darkness of sin’s curse and the forsakenness of Divine wrath as the willing, sin-bearing substitute for his people. He poured out his soul unto death (Is 53:12) and descended into the grave in order to save and reconcile his enemies. What amazing, unsearchable love is this!
Wide–How wide is the love of Christ? Well, so wide that it stretches north and south, east and west to whosever will repent and believe on the Lord Jesus alone. The sweep of the love of Christ takes in every class and ethnicity of humanity; male and female, young and old, rich and poor, healthy and sick, beautiful and ugly, athletic and clumsy, etc. In Christ “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:11). So that, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21).
Do you know this love which passes knowledge? Has your heart been invaded by this immeasurable, multi-dimensional love of Christ? If not, please trust him and turn to him even now. And Child of God, Jesus wants us to know his great love; to savor it. He wants our hearts and minds marinating in it. He has even given us his Spirit so that we can have “strength to comprehend” it. So, dive into the wonders of his love. How long! How high! How deep! How wide! is the love of Christ.
“The LORD, the LORD, a God… gracious….” — Exodus 34:6
What a faith-creating, love-begetting, pride-slaying, soul-singing truth: Our God is a God of grace! Peter declares that He is “the God of all grace” (1 Pt 5:10). Being gracious is part of who God is. Giving grace does not go against His Person, rather, He delights to show grace. According to Paul, God is a lavish grace Giver (Eph 1:7(b)-8(a)).
I hope you can take a few moments to rejoice in these biblical truths of the God of grace:
He is the God of common grace–Jesus said, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:45). God greets His friends and His enemies with the same morning light! He feeds both friend and foe!
He is the God of sacrificial grace–“For you know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9)
He is the God of saving grace–“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 2:8,9)
He is the God of sufficient grace–“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor 9:8). “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me… when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10)
He is the God of sanctifying grace–“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” (Titus 2:11-12)
He is the God of super-abounding grace–“…but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).
He is the God of sustaining grace–“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)
The God who saves us by grace through the super-abounding gracious sacrifice of the Lord Jesus is the God who sufficiently graces us to daily battle sin, work for Him, endure through trial, and persevere to the end. Brother and sister, the God of all grace is enough!
God of grace, amazing wonder, so immeasurable and free; Oh, the miracle of mercy, Jesus reaches down to me. God of grace, I stand in wonder, as my God restores my soul. His own blood has paid my ransom, awesome cost to make me whole.
God of grace, who loved and knew me long before the world began, sent my Savior down from Heaven, perfect God and perfect man. God of grace, I trust in Jesus; I’m accepted as His own. Ev’ry day His grace sustains me, as I lean on Him alone.
God of grace, I stand astounded, cleansed, forgiven and secure; All my fears are now confounded, and my hope is ever sure. God of grace, now crowned in glory, where one day I’ll see Your face; And forever I’ll adore You in Your everlasting grace. — Keith Getty & Jonathan Rea
“Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Ps 119:36
The psalmist knows the dangers within his own heart. He knows that if his eyes aren’t fixed on his God, then he will drift toward selfish gain. And, he knows that for his eyes to be fixed on God, he must look to the Word of God, for it contains the “testimonies” of God. In other words, “selfish gain” (or self-interest and self-advance) is always a threat to the priority of the Word in our pursuit of God.
With that in mind, let’s consider 3 ways that we remove the priority of the Word for self advance.
1. We outright reject it. Maybe we don’t like something it reveals about God. Maybe, we feel uncomfortable with what it says about us. Or, maybe, we just feel that the Bible is a little behind the times and overbearing. Whatever the case may be, our self feels threatened, so we opt to simply reject God’s Word. We choose “selfish gain” over “his testimonies.”
2. We neglect it. Our hearts may be so overrun with “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” (Mk 4:19) that we no longer have time, energy, or interest for the testimonies of God. We no longer see the need for it; we are too busy advancing our selves, so we neglect the Bible to the detriment of our souls.
3. We use it. Sadly, not only are we capable of using people, but we can even use the Bible out of a motivation for selfish gain. Pastors and preachers must especially be on guard against this temptation. Peter exhorted the elders to shepherd the flock “not for shameful gain.” Paul was aware of “peddlers of God’s word” (2 Cor 2:17) and that “some preach Christ from envy and rivalry” (Phil. 1:15). But preachers aren’t the only ones who can use the Bible for self-interest. All of us need to guard against a mere utilitarian approach to the Bible that sees God’s word as a stepping stone to a better………(you fill in the blank). Selfish gain stands behind this approach to God’s testimonies.
The Psalmist knew the dangers of selfish gain, so he prayed that God would incline his heart to the testimonies of the Lord. He desired to know his God and in that knowledge to walk in His ways and before His face.
What about you and your Bible? Are you guilty of rejecting it, neglecting it, or using it for the advance of your self? If so, repent and look again to the Lord Jesus who perfectly understood, kept, and fulfilled the Word of God not for self advance but for the salvation of selfish sinners. In His name we can find forgiveness and pray with the psalmist, “Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to selfish gain.”
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses…” Eph. 1:7
“What can wash away my sin? Nothing. What can make me whole again? Nothing. For my pardon, this I see: Nothing. For my cleansing, this my plea: Nothing. Nothing can for sin atone, nothing. Naught of good that I have done, nothing. This is all my hope and peace, nothing. This is all my righteousness, nothing.”
Have you seen the hopelesness of your guilt? Have you been made to feel the despair of helplessness that your sin has wrought? Do you realize that there is nothing you can do, nothing you can offer, nothing you can change, nothing you can feel, nothing you can suffer that will remove the imbedded stain of sin and its corruption from your soul and from before your God? If not, then beg God to make you see, for only when we are brought to the end of ourselves, then, will we be able to see the hope-filled, life-giving, heart-transforming answer.
“What can wash away my sin? Nothing, but the blood of Jesus; What can make me whole again? Nothing, but the blood of Jesus. For my pardon, this I see, Nothing, but the blood of Jesus; For my cleansing, this my plea, Nothing, but the blood of Jesus. Nothing can for sin atone, Nothing, but the blood of Jesus; Naught of good that I have done, Nothing, but the blood of Jesus. This is all my hope and peace, Nothing, but the blood of Jesus; This is all my righteousness, Nothing, but the blood of Jesus.” (Words taken from Robert Lowry’s hymn, “Nothing but the Blood”; bold-type mine)
The answer to our sinful condition and guilt lies completely outside of us. The forgiveness and cleansing we need, the hope and peace we desire, and the sufficient plea and righteousness we must have are found only in Christ. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.” The answer has been given; the work has been done; the fountain of cleansing has been opened; and peace with God has been established by nothing, but the blood of Jesus.
Dear unbeliever, won’t you look away from yourself and look only to Christ crucified and risen? Fellow believer, what more do we need for our standing in grace and peace with God? What other provisions do we need than all that has been given to us because of the blood of Jesus (i.e. Eph. 1:1-14)? Nothing.
“Oh! precious is the flow that makes me white as snow; No other fount I know, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” (Lowry)
A.W. Pink, an influential writer and Bible teacher of the 20th century, once said, “We have two eyes and two ears but only one tongue as if to show we should see and hear twice as much as we say!”
As challenging as his words may be, they do serve as a needed reminder of the biblical warnings regarding the use of our tongues. Here are just 8 verses for our consideration:
“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” Ps 34:13
“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” Prov. 10:19
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Prov. 12:18
“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” Prov. 13:3
“Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.” Prov. 20:19
“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matt 12:36-37
“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” Eph 5:4
“…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” James 1:19
When we consider these Scriptures we cry out, “Who among us has not fallen prey to the sins of the tongue?” Certainly, we recognize the truth of James 3:2 that it would take a perfect man to not stumble in the use of the tongue! Thankfully, the perfect Man has come, and He has fulfilled all righteousness even regarding the tongue. The Servant of the Lord prophesied through the mouth of Isaiah, “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward” (Is. 50:4,5). The Lord Jesus faithfully heard and spoke the word of His Father and endured life unto death with a sinless tongue. Through his blood our sins of speech can be forgiven, by his life-giving tongue our weary souls may be sustained, and through his presence by the indwelling Spirit we too may learn to have a well-taught tongue.
“O be careful little tongue what you say!”
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” Ps 20:14
“If one person sins unintentionally, he shall offer…..a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the person…..when he sins unintentionally, to make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven….But the person who does anything with a high hand….reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.” Numbers 15:27-28, 30-31
I don’t know about you but passages like this scare me. Why? Because I know that I am not only guilty of unintentional sins, but intentional, high handed sins. Yes, there are sins I commit without even realizing it: a wandering heart, an anxious, untrusting nervousness, mindless and careless words, etc. And, I am so thankful that God’s forgiveness is sufficient for these. But, what about the sins I willfully determined to commit? What about when I have clearly seen the choice of holiness or sinful pleasure and have opted for sinful pleasure? Have I then become cut off from the covenant community? Is there any atonement for my iniquity? Can I be forgiven?
When we read the Law of God and passages like this one in Numbers, we must remember Paul’s warning in Romans 9:31-32, that “Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone…”
Unlike Israel, we must approach the Law of God from faith not works. So, when the ear of faith hears the Law of God it responds in humble pleas for mercy not self-resolve. It cries out in repentance not self-defense. And, God delights to show mercy to the broken and contrite (Ps. 51:17, Lk. 18:9-14). King David is a wonderful illustration of God’s forgiving mercy to a high handed sinner. He willfully committed adultery and planned a good man’s death. 2 Samuel 11 & 12 reveal that David was guilty of Numbers 15:31: despising the word of the LORD and breaking His commandment. Yet, David was not “cut off,” rather, the prophet declared, “The LORD….has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam 12:13). Why? Because David responded in humble, repentant faith and God granted him mercy.
This is good news for intentional sinners like me and you! God does extend His forgiving mercies to us. We can be forgiven. Yet, the question remains: How can God forgive high handed sinners when His Law clearly says that they should be cut off? The answer is Christ. One of the deficiencies of animal sacrifice is that it wasn’t a voluntary or intentional sacrifice on the part of the animal. It had no say in the matter, but was brought by the will of the offerer. Christ, however, willingly laid down his life (Jn 10:11, 18), freely offering it as a “fragrant….sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:2). In our place, He intentionally suffered outside the camp, cut off from the presence and people of God, so that we may be sanctified “through his blood” (Heb 13:12). The gospel declares that intentional sinners deserving to be cut off may be forgiven through the intentional sacrifice of the once cut off, now risen Christ. He was cut off, so that we may be brought near! (Eph 2:12-13; Col 2:11-12)
Thanks be to God: In Christ mercy triumphs over judgement!
Ah, Leviticus. A book that has proven to be a place of departure for many of us in our endeavor to read the Bible straight through! And no wonder, for Leviticus is a bloody book full of detailed rules for life and specific regulations for worship as God’s covenant community. But, Leviticus is God’s Word, and though, many of its prescriptions and prefigurements have been fulfilled by Christ and thus no longer binding and practiced, it is still a relevant, weighty Word for today. It still reveals the glory of our God and truth about His people.
I simply want to draw our attention to four big picture truths revealed in Leviticus.
1. Leviticus reveals who our God is: specifically, our God is holy. The holiness of God is central to this book (Lev. 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7, 26). All of the warnings, rules, rites, regulations, and boundaries are meant to instill in the minds of God’s people that He is holy. He is other, separate, pure, and transcendent. He is not like the gods of the nations: fickle, immoral, rivaled, capricious, cruel, or frustrated. He is not like us: weak, sinful, corruptible, selfish, or dependent. Our God is clothed in the splendor of His holiness! Majestic Purity; shadowless Brilliance; holy, holy, holy!
2. Leviticus reveals what our God has done: namely, He has redeemed His people. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt…I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:34). This holy God is a God of redemption! In great compassion and mighty power, He rescued and freed Israel from her Egyptian oppression. There was no compulsion other than divine mercy that moved God to redeem Israel. They had no beauty to attract Him, no merit to demand Him, and no resources to offer Him. This was free love, spontaneous mercy, and extravagant grace (Dt. 7:6-8). Leviticus show us the redeeming heart of God which points us forward to the redeeming Christ!
3. Leviticus reveals who God’s people are: those who have been redeemed and therefore are holy and His (Lev. 19:36; 20:24, 26), and this is true of all God’s people whether in the Old or New Covenant. For all of God’s redeeming acts are centered upon and made effectual by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (John 1:29; Rom. 3:21-26). So, here is a great truth that is to be believed not achieved: Because of God’s redeeming action in Christ, His people are holy (set apart to Him) and are His own treasured possession. God’s people are holy because He has sanctified and consecrated them. God’s people are His because He has redeemed them and laid claim to them. As the Apostle Paul would write, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:19-20). Christ Jesus, the true Lamb of God, has redeemed us to God and therefore, we are holy and His.
4. Leviticus reveals what God’s people are to do: they are to live out what they are. Because Holy God has made them holy, they are to live in holiness (Lev. 19:2). Because God has made them His own, they are to live as His people. Because God has separated them from the other nations, they are to live differently than those nations. Because of who God is, what He has done, and who they now are, God’s people are to live in holiness and undivided worship.
It seems Leviticus was on the apostle Peter’s mind when he penned, “But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’….You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.” (1 Pet. 1:15, 16; 2:9, 10)
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlastiong God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearhable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:28-31
Have you ever been in that “deer in the headlights” moment when your spouse somewhat frustratedly says, “Don’t you know?! Didn’t you listen to me?!” And, we regrettably acknowledge our failure to remember or pay attention to what our beloved has said.
Well, that is kind of the tone and intent of the two questions that the prophet Isaiah poses to God’s people. They had forgotten or failed to pay attention to the vital truth of God that they desperately needed for sanctification, sanity, stability, and strength.
In this passage there are at least three great truths of God that we ought to know:
1. Don’t you know that the covenant keeping God (“LORD”/”Yahweh”) does not give out or give up? “He does not faint, or grow weary.” When someone faints they succumb to some circumstance outside of their control that causes them to give out. For whatever reason (fright, poor blood circulation, pain, etc.) their body can take no more, and it gives out. The everlasting God is not subject to the pressures and surprises of persons or circumstances. He will never be forced to faint. He will never give out in a moment of our need. Nor, will he “grow weary.” Which is to say that he will never give up out of frustration or discouragement due to an inability to accomplish what he wants. For he is the “Creator of the ends of the earth.” Nothing stands in the way of the Almighty! He does all that he pleases. This is good news for us as God’s children. He won’t give up on us, nor will he give out on us when we need him most.
2. Don’t you know that our God knows? “His understanding is unsearchable.” The Lord knows! He knows you and me. He knows us personally and intimately (Ps. 139:1-6). He knows our families, churches, communities, countries. He knows what we need; when we need it; and how to make it happen. He knows the end from the beginning (Is. 46:10). He possess all knowledge and all wisdom. Just look at the world with all of its intricate details, multiple varieties, purposeful systems, and immeasurable vastness! The Lord created and sustains it all by the word of his power (Gen. 1:1-3; Ps. 33:6,9; Heb. 1:3). Our God’s understanding is unsearchable! We do not face a problem that he can not solve. We do not have a need that he cannot meet. We do not have a lack that he cannot supply.
3. Don’t you know that the Lord is a willing Giver? “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.” Our God is a generous Giver! He willingly gives power, ability, and strength to his children who would otherwise give up and give out. Unlike God we do faint and grow weary. Thankfully, our Lord generously gives us the power to achieve and to persevere. The apostle Paul wrote, “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it,” and, “…the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (1 Thess. 5:24; 2 Thess. 3:3).
In our stubborn independence, even the strong weaken and grow weary, and yield to exhaustion and frustration. But, for those who know the Lord and therefore actively (prayer, faith, worship) wait for him, we will experience the benefits of our all-sufficient God; our strength will be renewed. We will soar in faith and faithfulness. We will run and walk without wearying and fainting.
Don’t you know?
I would like to share a quote from Puritan John Owen that I read recently. It comes from Ray Ortlund’s book, “The Gospel: How The Church Portrays The Beauty Of Christ.”
“A man may love another as his own soul, yet his love may not be able to help him. He may pity him in prison, but not relieve him, bemoan him in misery, but not help him, suffer with him in trouble, but not ease him. We cannot love grace into a child, nor mercy into a friend; we cannot love them into heaven, though it may be the greatest desire of our soul… But the love of Christ, being the love of God, is effective and fruitful in producing all the good things which he wills for his beloved. He loves life, grace and holiness into us; he loves us into covenant, loves us into heaven.” (pp.47-48)
Owen captures well the mighty love of Jesus! It is a powerful love that accomplishes all that it desires for its beloved. The love of Christ cannot fail. It cannot come up short, for it is omnipotent, everlasting love which has been supremely displayed at the cross!
Brothers and sisters, no matter our life’s circumstances or heart’s condition, let us not shrink from drawing near to this mighty Lover. Rather, may we find ourselves continually coming to him over and over again. He will not despise nor disappoint his beloved. And wonder of wonders, the more we come to him, the more we become like him (2 Cor. 3:18).
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” Jer. 31:3
“Oh, the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free! Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me! Underneath me, all around me, is the current of thy love – leading onward, leading homeward, to that glorious rest above!” — S. Trevor Francis
Chuck Cook is the pastor of Grace Bible Church - Rolla.