“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
“I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!” — Psalm 119:8
In the first part of this verse, the psalmist expresses both his desire and resolve. “I will keep your statutes.” Because of his love for the Lord, he desires to obey, keep, and follow the Word of the Lord. Like a child desiring to please, honor, and love his father through obedience, so the psalmist desires to please, honor, and love his God by obeying his statutes. And, since this is his expressed desire, he resolves to do it. He pledges and commits himself to keep the Lord’s statutes.
So, if this is the psalmist’s expressed desire and resolve, why, then, does he boldly petition God with “do not utterly forsake me!”? I think it’s because having stated his intentions, he knows his own weakness and failings. In other words, this last phrase is the psalmist’s expression of dependence and reality. He needs the patient presence of God abiding in his life in order to help him fulfill his desire and maintain his resolve to keep the Lord’s statutes. Obedience is by grace!
The psalmist knows his own heart well. He aspires to know the blessedness of walking in the ways of the Lord (Ps 119:1-3), but he knows the reality: past failure and future failure. He is aware of the varying conditions of his heart that quench desire and derail resolve. He knows that at times he may be ignorant, lazy, fearful, discouraged, and susceptible to temptation (Ps 119:7, 9, 18, 25, 28, 29, etc.) So he prays, “Do not utterly forsake me!” “Lord, don’t leave me alone in my coldness and sin. Be patiently present with me to forgive me and to enable me to keep your statutes. I will keep your statutes.”
Of course, there is only one who has actually fulfilled this desire and kept his resolve, the Lord Jesus. He alone perfectly kept the statutes of the Lord. How strange it is then, to hear his cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Until we remember that “he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed…the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:5-6). Christ was forsaken so that we could be forgiven! Thankfully, God did not “utterly forsake” him. Rather, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” God did not abandon Christ in the grave, but raised him up declaring him to be both “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:24-36).
May we be strengthened in the grace of the Lord Jesus to keep the Word of the Lord, knowing that because of Christ, God will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5).
In our day theology seems to have fallen on hard times. It is misunderstood and misrepresented, and therefore, often devalued and unappreciated. But, I would simply like to remind us that theology matters. It matters because of who it is about and who it is for.
Theology is about God. Our word “theology” comes from 2 Greek words, “theos” (God) and “logos” (word). Therefore, it is a word about God, and since everyone says or thinks something about God, then everyone is a theologian. The question begging an answer is, “Are you a good theologian?” What we say and think about God matters.
Theology is about God, and it is for the individual christian and the corporate church. What we confess and believe about God affects the way we live, love, and worship. InThe Pastor As Public Theologian, Kevin Vanhoozer writes, “Theology serves the church to the extent that it helps disciples fulfill their vocation to put on Christ and to grow into ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13.) The real work of theology is indeed public: growing persons, cultivating a people. It is about helping individuals and communities to grow into the fullness of Christ. In sum: the real work of theology is the work of getting real–conforming people’s speech, thoughts, and actions to the mind and heart of Jesus Christ, the source and standard of all truth, goodness, and beauty.”
Does the overall tenor of my “speech, thoughts, and actions” reflect the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Lord Jesus? If not, then at some point my theology or understanding of theology is faulty or deficient.
Theology should always work to make a difference and aid in devotion. To that end, I want to encourage us to be intentional in the coming new year to 1) grow in our Bible reading, and 2) read a good systematic theology book. There are many to choose from. May I suggest 4 for our consideration? (I have listed them from basic to more in-depth.) 1. Christian Beliefs: twenty basics every Christian should know by Wayne Grudem; 2. Everyone’s a Theologian by R. C. Sproul; 3. Know the Truth by Bruce Milne; and 4. Systematic Theology by Louis Berkof.
I’d like to leave you with the stirring words of the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck:
And the essence of the Christian religion consists in the reality that the creation of the Father, ruined by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God and re-created by the grace of the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God. Dogmatics shows us how God, who is all-sufficient in himself, nevertheless glorifies himself in his creation, which, even when it is torn apart by sin, is gathered up again in Christ (Ehp. 1:10). It describes for us God, always God, from beginning to end–God in his being, God in his creation, God against sin, God in Christ, God breaking down all resistance through the Holy Spirit and guiding the whole of creation back to the objective he decreed for it: the glory of his name. Dogmatics, therefore, is not a dull and arid science. It is a theodicy, a doxology to all God’s virtues and perfections, a hymn of adoration and thanksgiving, a “glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14). (H. Bavinck,Reformed Dogmatics, I, 112 (Baker Academic, 2004))
“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” — 1 John 5:20
As Christmas draws ever closer, I would like to offer a little reflection from this verse once again reminding us of the significance of this season we celebrate.
There are at least four great truths found in this verse:
1. The Incarnation–When John writes that “the Son of God has come,” he means that the eternal, divine Son of God has come to our world as a man; flesh and blood. We know this from what John has previously written in chapter 4 and verse 2, “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come in the flesh! Incarnated Majesty lying in a manger, dependent upon the very hands He had fashioned. We read of him “[increasing] in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Lk 2:52) In the gospels we walk with him along dusty Judean roads. We relate with his hunger and weariness. We see him touch and be touched. We witness his brutal beating, bloody death, burial, and bodily resurrection. All because the Son of God has come!
2. Fulfillment–When John says that “the Son of God has come,” he speaks decisively, reminding us that the Person of promise has come. As a Jew, John had been a part of a long line of those eagerly looking for the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies regarding the coming of God’s Messiah. John is saying that Jesus is the fulfillment of those prophecies. The way He came–virgin birth (Is 7:14); the place He was born–Bethlehem (Micah 5:2); the ministry He gave–Spirit-anointed proclamation and miracles (Is 35:5-6, 61:1-2; Matt 11:2-5; Lk 4:18-20); the death He died–substitutionary penal sacrifice on a tree (Dt 21:23; Ps 22; Is 53; Gal 3:13); the resurrection He experienced (Ps 2:7; 16:8-11; Is 55:3; Acts 13:30-37); and the ascension He enjoyed (Ps 110:1; Acts 2:32-35; Ps 68:18; Eph 4:8) are all fulfilments of God’s Word in the Old Testament. In the coming of the Son of God, the promises have been fulfilled, and the plan of redemption accomplished!
3. Revelation–John says that the Son of God “has given us understanding.” Understanding of what? or of whom? Answer: “Him who is true.” Jesus is the revelation of God. Jesus told his disciple Philip, “Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:9) Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature…” The words of Jesus are the words of God. The acts of Jesus are the acts of God. In seeing Jesus, we see God. He is the revelation of God, the Son who “has given us understanding.”
4. Relation–All of this–incarnation, fulfilment, revelation–means something for us. It means that by faith in the Son Jesus Christ, we have been put in right and intimate relation to God. Notice John’s words, “so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ.” We who were strangers and aliens know God. We who were separated have been united to Christ. “[Our] life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3:3) And by the Spirit, the Father and Son “come to [us] and make [their] home with [us].” (Jn 14:23) God in Christ has put us in relation to “the true God and eternal life!”
May these truths of Christmas grant us assurance, joy, and life that issues forth in wonder and worship.
“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” 1 Peter 3:7
The gospel of the Lord Jesus holds forth a high view of marriage and its holy callings as husbands and wives. Christians, having renewed hearts and minds, are given the great privilege of recognizing, experiencing, and reflecting the wisdom, love, and faithfulness of God in holy marriage. But this does not come easily nor automatically; we must consistently grow in it by the sanctifying power of the Spirit and the Word.
The passage quoted above is directed to Christian husbands. Peter instructs us to “live with [our] wives in an understanding way, showing honor….” Men, we are told to get to know our wives and respond accordingly. Therefore, we are to spend significant time with them in order to know them so that we may be understanding of them. In other words, the Lord has assigned us homework: study your wife. Get to know her. Learn her fears and weaknesses, strengths and abilities, likes and dislikes. Grow in understanding her emotionally, intellectually, sexually, and spiritually. We are to become consistent and proficient in communicating love to her the way she needs. We must humble ourselves in this, seeking to show honor to our wives since she is the “weaker vessel.” Simply put, as Christian husbands we are to use our God-given authority to selflessly build up and honor our wives, rather than our own egos.
Peter, then gives husbands two reasons for loving their wives this way. Firstly, our wives are co-heirs of “the grace of life.” Though we have differing roles in marriage, we have the same standing in Christ. Men, we should love our wives well because she is a daughter of the Father, a sister of the Lord Jesus, a temple of the Holy Spirit, and a member of the church. Together, we confess one faith, one baptism, one hope, one Lord, and one God and Father of us all. Our wives are co-heirs of the grace of life.
Secondly, we are to understand and honor our wives so that our prayers are not hindered. Men, selfishness, carelessness, laziness, and neglect in marriage negatively affects our communion with God and effectiveness for Him. Our prayers will be hindered by not loving our wives well. The Lord is not pleased when we disgrace the very ones He has graced.
Who is adequate for these things? The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak. The calling of a Christian husband is impossible in our own strength. Thankfully, God has not left us to our own strength. The power to be Christian husbands is found in the previous chapter: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” (1 Pet 2:24) Like every other responsibility we have as Christians, the power for obedience and faithfulness is found in the life-giving gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ!
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippines 2:5-8
Let’s reflect just a moment on the humility of Christ:
1. He was equal with the Father and Spirit, but, for a time, willing to live below that equality. “He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” The author of Hebrews writes, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus….” (Heb 2:9)
2. Possessing the full rights and privileges of divine Sonship, He willing chose not to excercise them.
3. Being fully God, He was willing to also be fully man, taking to himself something that He wasn’t in order to identify with what we are.
4. As a man, He came as a servant. He didn’t take the highest position but the lowest. Though a King, yet He took the form of a servant.
5. Though He was the Word of Life (Jn 1:1-4), He submitted to the sentence of death. And not just any death, but death by crucifixion. To the Greek, a criminal’s death; to the Jew, a God-cursed death. But to us who believe, it was a sin-forgiving, wrath-absorbing, soul-saving death!
Such is the amazing humility of Christ, and this is the type of humility we are called to reflect. A humility that seeks to serve the purposes of God. A humility that is self-effacing, looking “not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Now, since we are called to have and reflect Christ’s humility, we ought to expect the Lord to give us opportunities to show His humility. These opportunities present themselves in the home, in the church, in the work place, and in our daily dealings in the public.
In these various spheres of life, we will be given the opportunity to humbly:
1. Refuse to exercise our rights when wronged.
2. Resist the desire to always be seen as right, prove ourselves, and insist on our own way.
3. Identify with others in their weakness and suffering, even though their condition is not our fault.
4. Receive moments of unfairness, betrayal, scorn, and hatred in order to let the glory of Christ shine through.
5. Die to ourselves daily, so that the life and power of Christ may be seen.
This type of humility is not natural nor easy. In fact, it had to be manifested in Christ so that it could be reflected by us. He is the Source of our ability to live a life of humility. And there really is no better way to live, for in Christ, a life lived in humility ends in glory.
“If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him…” 2 Tim 2:11,12
In 2 Kings 14 we read the account of Judah’s King Amaziah. The chronicler tells us that “he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD.” (v. 3) He seems to have started well. When “the royal power was firmly in his hand” (v. 5) he dealt with the enemies of his assassinated father (2 Kings 12:19-21) according to the Law of the Lord. He justly executed the conspirators, but unlike a common practice of the day, he did not punish their children. Honorably, the king obeyed the Lord’s command (vv. 5,6). As D.A. Carson noted, King Amaziah was “a good man.”
But he was still a man, and therefore, capable of a hard fall. And that’s exactly what happened. In verses 8-14 we read the tragic account of Amaziah’s foolish decision to declare war with Israel. Though Israel’s own king tried to warn him, King Amaziah wouldn’t listen, and he led Judah into defeat and shame.
How do good men come to make such rash and horrible decisions? Pride! Though the Bible doesn’t come right out and state that pride was the cause of Amaziah’s fall, it does hint at it. Verse 7 tells of a victory that King Amaziah experienced over the Edomites and verse 8 begins with, “Then Amaziah….” It seems, then, that the success of verse 7 went to the king’s head. He was ailing from a “fat head.” Pride had sprung up and spread through his soul. And the result was disastrous! It always is.
This is why the apostle Paul would write, “So to keep me from becoming conceited….a thorn was given me in the flesh… to keep me from becoming conceited… For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:7, 10) Unlike King Amaziah, Paul knew his own propensity for pride. He learned that strength can actually be our weakness and that weakness can actually be our strength, for Christ’s power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor 12:9)
Don’t get me wrong, we should rejoice in the successes the Lord grants us. But we dare not take them as our own. And, just as we can humbly rejoice in success, we ought also to humbly rejoice in our weaknesses, recognizing the sanctifying grace of Christ that keeps us from pride’s destruction.
“Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” 1 Cor 10:12
“[Elisha] went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead?’ And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.” 2 Kings 2:23-24
Despite the fact that I can now relate to being hair-follicaly challenged, I have never really enjoyed this account in the life of the prophet Elisha. It appears to be unduly harsh and, the prophet seems to have a short fuse and a vindictive spirit. (Maybe, it hits too close to home for all the times as a boy that I teased the “baldheads!”)
But this time as I have read and thought on this account again, I have been helped by reflecting on a couple of truths.
The first truth is a hard truth: scoffers of God’s Word always deserve God’s judgement. See, the real issue with the boys was not the orneriness of making fun of a baldheaded man (as wrong as that may be), but the rebellion of scoffing at God’s Word represented by God’s prophet Elisha. By jeering at Elisha, they were jeering at God’s chosen voice of that day. They were in a very real sense mocking God’s word. And, that always deserves God’s judgement. The curse that Elisha called down in the name of the Lord was not personal vengeance but Divine retribution. Justice was not lacking on that day. They got what their sins deserved.
The second truth is a glorious truth: scoffers of God’s Word can receive God’s grace. Where is the gospel in this account? Well, it’s there by contrast. Part of why this story seems so harsh is because it is uncommon. Though scoffers deserve God’s swift judgement like these boys received, because of grace He does not normally give it like that. Rather, He mercifully withholds it, patiently showing His kindness so that we might repent and turn to Him.
Consider Jesus, the Word made flesh. The gospels clearly portray that He was mocked, scorned, despised, and rejected (Matt 26:57-27:44; Luke 22:63-23:43). Yet, the Word did not respond with cursing, rather He became the curse so that scoffers could believe the Word of grace, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) With wide-eyed wonder, Peter wrote, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return… He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” (1 Pet 2:23-24)
The silent Word speaks loudly, “Scoffers of God’s Word deserve His judgement, but because of Christ we can receive His grace!”
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:18
I don’t know any sane and sensible person who likes to suffer. Suffering hurts. Suffering is a result of living as sinners in a post-fall world. However, as Christians we can come to appreciate that God redeems suffering in order to accomplish His good purposes for His beloved. In fact, Scripture informs us that it is through suffering that God works endurance, character, and unabashed hope in the lives of His children:
“…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame…” Romans 5:3-5
How will we have a joyful faith that endures to the end? Through the trials of suffering.
How will we be sculpted into the image of Christ? By the hammer and chisel.
Why will we look and long for our certain future and final redemption? Because of the groanings of affliction.
The Psalmist writes, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word… It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” (Ps 119:67, 71). Christopher Ash helpfully comments, “[God] does not willingly afflict; he afflicts because it is the only way to achieve his promise and to keep me walking in his way. He has promised that the saints will persevere; but no saint will ever persevere unless the Lord afflicts him on the way. The affliction is not the failure of God’s faithfulness, but precisely the expression of it.”
By faith let us rest in the biblical truth that infinite Wisdom and faithful Love has designed our good through our sufferings.
“God is too wise to be mistaken. God is too good to be unkind. So, when you don’t understand; when you don’t see His plan; when you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.” (Eddie Carswell & Babbie Mason)
Recently, while praying with my two youngest children, I heard my 5 year old quietly, in agreement say, “yes,” and then repeat it again, “yes.” Since she had never done this before during a prayer, it took me by surprise. However, once the prayer was over, she quickly informed me that that is what Pop (my dad) did while I led in prayer at church.
Because of his ministerial duties, my dad has only been able to worship with us one time in the last couple of years; but, that one time was all that was needed to get the attention of and make a small impact in my daughter’s young life.
This little anecdote reminded me that we all are influencing others in one way or another. For good or bad, in big or small ways, we have somebody’s attention. By intentionality or in the incidentals, our lives are impacting those around us. Parents, how often have we been rebuked by the actions or words of our children once we realized that they were simply reflecting what they had seen or heard from us?!
Like it or not we all are influencers. As Christians then, let us be careful not to put stumbling blocks in each other’s way; let us be humble to admit and correct our wrong; and let us keep our eyes on Jesus so that our lives can say with the Apostle Paul, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1)
“…through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead…” Gal 1:1
Despite the voice of the critics, Christianity is not like all the other religions of the past or present. Christianity is gloriously unique. So unique that when honestly considered, one must recognize Divine revelation and activity rather than human imagination and creativity.
Unlike any other religion Christianity proclaims the glory of the Trinity. We worship one God in three Persons; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We confess faith in God the Father, Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Spirit of truth. We do not believe in three gods. We do not believe in one God who sometimes acts as father and sometimes as son and sometimes as spirit. No, we believe that the Father, Son, and Spirit have been, are, and forever will be One glorious Triunity! Mysterious and marvellous, unique but not unreasonable. Exactly what we might expect of the Divine!
And, unlike any other religion we boast in a once crucified, now risen Lord. We proclaim the gospel of Jesus’ vicarious death and burial and his victorious resurrection. Our Savior is the living Lord. No other religion dares to boast of the resurrection of its leader or founder. It would be foolish, for the proof of deception would be in the grave. But not the case with Christianity! The tomb is empty and Jesus is alive! His ways are still seen and His Word is still heard through the Church.
So, unlike any other religion Christianity is the only hope for sinful humanity. Only Christianity offers the believing sinner true wisdom for this life and certain hope for the next. Because He lives so do and will we! So let us bow in humility, believe in sincerity, worship His majesty, and live for His glory!
Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian, lift up your voice and sing / Eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the King! / The hope of all who seek Him, the Help of all who find, / None other is so loving, so good and kind. / He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!–Alfred Ackley
“And it was told David, ‘Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.’ And David said, ‘O LORD, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.’ While David was coming to the summit…behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet him…” 2 Samuel 15:31-32
This was a tragic day in the life of King David. His own son Absalom was committing betrayal and treason by attempting to take over the throne from his father. King David and company were forced out of Jerusalem, put on the run, and covered in shame.
When the King hears of his own counsellor Ahithophel being among the conspirators, he is moved to prayer. Let’s note a few things from David and his prayer.
1. Ready–David was ready to pray. If we know anything about David it is that he was a man after God’s own heart. He was a man who lived in communion with God. Prayer was a way of life for him. So, when confronted by desperate and urgent need, he was ready to pray. It was second nature to him.
2. Short and to the point–In English, David’s prayer is only 10 words long! God does not require long prayers for them to be legitimate prayers. He doesn’t command a certain form (i.e., an introduction, body, and conclusion) or formula (“use these words”) for our prayers to reach His ears. Remember what Jesus taught the disciples regarding prayer? “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matt 6:7,8) King David’s prayer was brief and to the point.
3. Earnest–Though short it was not without sincerity and faith. David prayed what he meant, and believed God for what he prayed.
4. Answered–“While David was coming to the summit…behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet him…” As the story progresses, we discover that Hushai is God’s answer to David’s prayer. As one commentator said, “No sooner does David pray that Ahithophel’s counsel be confounded than he is presented, in the person of Hushai, with the means of accomplishing his objective.” Though there were still to be long days and dark nights, God’s kind and quick response would be enough to give hope and confidence.
Much more could be said, but maybe the Lord will be pleased to use this little reminder to keep us confidently seeking Him in all things.
Chuck Cook is the pastor of Grace Bible Church - Rolla.