Thursday, March 28, 2013

Let's Be Careful About What We Blame God For

Mat 25:34 Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

Mat 25:41 Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 

In my last article I looked at something inferred from the passage in Matthew 24 but something that was not the main point.  In this article I want to do the same thing.  The overall context is how to be prepared for the coming of the Lord at the end of this age and necessarily, for those who die before that event, making sure you are prepared to meet the Lord when you die.  But there is a very interesting couple of things said in passing in the verses above that at least get me thinking.

When speaking to the saved he says that the kingdom and in particular eternity in Heaven was prepared for them from before creation.  To the lost, when speaking of Hell and eternal punishment, he doesn’t say that it was prepared for them at all but instead for Satan and his horde.  I doubt this was an accident and while I won’t pretend to be sure of why he says this like he does I think there is a point to be made.

As far as I can determine the Bible never speaks of the damned as being a result of God’s predestination.  When someone sins and dies and is judged for their sin it is always presented as their fault; they are held responsible for their sin and at no time can God and election be blamed for sin.  James makes this point in the first chapter where he says, Jas 1:13  “Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”   The Scriptures are clear that God commands all men everywhere to repent and to obey him.  It is never his will for us to sin.

But this is far different than God allowing us to sin for his greater purposes.  God is under no compulsion to stop us from sinning.  There are many who refuse to accept this but it is clearly taught in the Bible.  For example we read in Act 4:26  The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed'-- Act 4:27  for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel.  The worse sin ever committed was to nail Jesus to the cross and yet it was God’s plan from eternity for this to happen for the salvation of sinners.  But I doubt anyone would seriously suggest that Pilate and the Jewish leaders can blame God for this.

So what has all this to do with Matthew 25?  It was God’s plan to have a people with him in eternity enjoying him forever by redeeming them from their sin.  If anyone is not there it is because they choose not to be.  Adam Clarke says it well when he addresses vs. 41 and Hell being prepared originally for Satan and his angels, “The devil and his angels sinned before the creation of the world, and the place of torment was then prepared for them: it never was designed for human souls; but as the wicked are partakers with the devil and his angels in their iniquities, in their rebellion against God, so it is right that they should be sharers with them in their punishment. We see here, plainly, why sinners are destroyed, not because there was no salvation for them, but because they neglected to receive good, and do good. As they received not the Christ who was offered to them, so they could not do the work of righteousness which was required of them. They are cursed, because they refused to be blessed; and they are damned, because they refused to be saved.” 

Many times the doctrine of election and predestination are attacked by some with the accusation of double predestination.  This is the idea that God looked at the mass of humanity in eternity and decided to send some to Heaven and some to Hell.  I won’t go into all the reasons why this is unbiblical.  But I will say that one reason I believe Jesus words the texts above as he does is because God is never seen as responsible for those in Hell; their sin is.  But God’s gracious election is always presented as the sole reason there are any in Heaven. 

Man’s “free” choice always results in judgment; God’s free choice always results in Heaven.  We will not in this life grasp very well how his sovereignty and our responsibility are worked out in his decrees but we at least must be willing to accept what he says about them and not try to deny biblical truth because it hurts our pride or because we can’t grasp everything that the infinite mind of God has done.  If Jesus can praise the Father for his election in Matthew 11 then I had better be able to do it as well.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Character of Jesus Christ

Mat 24:37  For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Mat 24:38  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, Mat 24:39  and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

Sometimes there are things to learn in a passage that have nothing to do with the original intention of the author.  I don’t mean that it is ok to take a passage out of context but that, as in the case above, we are given incidental information that is very useful.  This section in Matthew 24 is about being prepared for the second return of Christ even though nobody knows when it will be.  I know a lot of people think they do but that is a subject for another time.

But while Jesus makes his case he refers to Genesis 6-9 and the account of the flood and the ark that Noah built.  What this does is immediately let us know that Jesus believes that Genesis is a reliable account and that in fact Noah, the ark and the flood as recorded in Genesis are historical events.  We can add to this what he refers to in chapter 19 where he says that God originally created Adam and Eve, again, just as the book of Genesis relates it.  This lets us know that he believed in the creation account as Genesis records it. 

The implications are important for those who claim to believe in Jesus and follow his teachings.  Jesus was no naturalist.  He believed that in the beginning God created all that is in six days and on the sixth day he created Adam and Eve.  Man didn’t evolve from lower species; he believes what is recorded in Genesis and uses it as inspired Scripture.  The same must be said of the flood as described in Genesis.  It was universal and only 8 souls survived along with the animals that were in the ark. 

In other words, for those who claim to be Christians these things aren’t debatable.  It is not possible to see such Old Testament books as folklore or symbolic or whatever.  To think so is to say that Jesus is either misleading us or a fool for believing what modern man has passed off as “unscientific”.  Jesus sees history as it is recorded in the Old Testament and so we believe this as well.  If Jesus is wrong about this then what else is he wrong about?  If he can’t be trusted on the subject of history then can we trust him when it comes to our salvation and eternity?  If he is wrong about creation when he was the one who actually did the creating and so was present then how can he be trusted on anything?  He is either a liar or deluded and so all his teachings become suspect as well. 

There are a lot of people who call themselves Christians who need to be careful here.  I have relatives and so know firsthand that they claim to follow Christ then turn around and deny the teachings of the very books that Jesus taught as truth.  I think the Judgment will not go well for those who stand before the Lord someday and say that they acknowledge him as their savior but believe him to be mistaken about a lot of things.

At the end of the day I will trust my Creator and not the university professor who hates and denies God and so comes up with elaborate schemes that can’t be proven as to why the Bible can’t be trusted.  This is not a matter of a difference of opinion.  It is a matter of whether our Lord and Savior is mistaken or not.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Doing Much With Little

Mat 25:15  To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away….Mat 25:20  And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.' Mat 25:21  His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' Mat 25:22  And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.' Mat 25:23  His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' 

Of all the wonderful things to see in this parable, there is one lesson that I think is maybe more needful than the others.  We see that between the two faithful servants the Lord sovereignly gives them different amounts of money to invest.  Yes, the amount had to do with their individual ability but where does our ability come from?  As Paul reminds us, 1Co 4:7  For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?  And while this means that we have no reason to be jealous of the talents and circumstances of others because that is God’s business and we are to serve him faithfully whether with little or much, it is the look at the Day of Judgment in the above verses that gives us the truth that allows us to be content and not jealous. 

The Lord doesn’t expect the servant given two talents to just go about his business even though he has decreed that his brother will be given opportunities to earn reward in eternity that he was never given.  As they both stand before the Lord to answer for their lives, they both receive the exact same “well done” and privileges in eternity.  The reward was not based on how much you are given but how well you served with it.  This levels the playing field, if you will, for all of us.   

The important lesson then is that there is no reason for me to be jealous of the Apostle Paul, or Charles Spurgeon, or some saint who has been given a lot more money than I have or a lot more talent or a bigger church, etc.  What will determine how well I please the Lord is precisely that I don’t compare myself to another but that I serve him with joy according to his will while he gives me life.  Thus the poorest, weakest, least knowledgeable, least talented, most homely, most sickly, you name it, saint can receive the “Well done, good and faithful servant” and then given even more opportunity to serve the Lord in eternity.  What else can any of us ask for?   

Sadly, I wonder how different that day will be for many of us because we hid our talent like the third servant by bitterness, complaining, discontent and feeling sorry for ourselves instead of asking God to bless the “five loaves and two small fishes” that he has graciously given us?  It is a battle many times to keep this before me.  But when I do, my attitude is better and I suspect others would rather be around me when I am full of the joy of the Lord instead of full of myself.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Consistency in Our Living

Mat 25:24  He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, Mat 25:25  so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' Mat 25:26  But his master answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Mat 25:27  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 

In my most recent attempt to teach through Matthew I thought a little more about the words of this wicked servant at his day of judgment.  The main point of this and all three parables in this chapter is to not be caught unprepared for the coming of Christ.  So whether we fully understand what is meant in his words we must at least get that.  To see what is going on here I also think it is important to see that in each of these parables the lost are false professors who think that the Lord should receive them into heaven and are rather surprised when he doesn’t.   

The first two servants call him master and admit that the talents given to them are his to give and that therefore it is their duty as servants to use the money and produce more for their master.  But there are significant differences in the thinking of the third servant.  He calls him master and admits that he has been given a talent but there the similarities end.   

He calls him hard and not gracious.  Immediately he accuses his master of assuming more rights over him than he should.  He demands service that is not his to demand and so is seen as hard, mean and uncaring.  The idea behind this is that God is unfair and has no right to hold him accountable.  This is clear from the next phrase that claims God takes what is not his by right; that he steals someone else’s crop.  What he is saying is that you have no right to my life and my affections and to judge me for living life the way I want to live.  My life is my own and you have no right to reap from me; I am a self-made man.  

Of course this is just not true.  Our lives are the Lord’s by creative right and to live as if he has no rights over us and that we should be free to do what we want is exactly what being unprepared to meet God is all about in chapters 24 and 25.  This was the problem with those living during the days of the flood when, because they ignored God by ignoring Noah’s message, they could not withstand the judgment of God.  The message of these chapters is that being prepared for the second coming is not by being presumptuous and assuming we are saved merely because we acknowledge him as God, but by living a life of faithful obedience.  That is the Lord’s will for us until he comes.  Obedience doesn’t earn admittance into heaven but all those who are going to get in will live obedient and faithful lives. 

Now you might say, “Wait just a minute.  The Lord seems to be agreeing with him about what kind of God he is; so what is going on here?”  First of all, I think that 26 is said with sarcasm.  No way is the Lord hard or ungracious and one who takes what is not his.  I think what the Lord is doing is telling him that his own view of God still condemns him.  I think we can connect this to Romans 1.  The mere fact that you believe there to be a God (this servant calls him Lord and understands that there is a God who has given him talents) means you owe him something and as our creator we must owe him everything.  In Romans 1 the lost are seen as those who suppress what they know of God by natural revelation.  This applies even if they are suppressing what they know of God from reading the Bible. 

This goes back to seeing all these lost as those who claim to be servants of God or believers.  To claim to believe in Christ and believe the Bible and yet live as if none of it matters and that we are free to ignore God is to live contradictory to our profession and such are not ready to stand before the just God of the universe. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Two Words

Heb 12:24  (We are come to…) and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.  Heb 12:25  See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 

Verse 24 is one of the many passages in the book of Hebrews in which the commentators offer various interpretations.  Before I look at two of them let’s remind ourselves of the context.  The writer is contrasting two mountains, Sinai and Zion.  They represent two systems of attaining salvation which we can boil down to works and grace, do or done.  One attempts to get to God on Mt. Sinai by walking to the top yourself.  The other option, and the only one that works, is letting Jesus carry you to the top of Mt. Zion by his work on the cross. 

It is here that we read of two types of blood that speak a word to us; Jesus’s and Abel’s.  What are we to make of this?  One view is that Abel’s blood is the blood of the sacrifice that he offered the Lord and was accepted.  Thus it is assumed that the writer’s point is that the blood of the New Covenant forgives sin while the blood of animals cannot.  It is the point that has been made especially in chapters 7 through 10 of Hebrews.  So we might say that the writer restates it here, although I wonder why he didn’t just say the blood of bulls and goats like he has done before.   

Now obviously this view is a truism and to see this passage as saying that will get you to his overall point, but I think there is a little more here.  For one thing, the author doesn’t just say that Jesus’ blood is better than Abel’s but that it speaks a better word than Abel’s.  So to understand his point we need to know what words he is referring to. 

Admittedly in Hebrews 11:4 Abel’s faith is said to speak and there it is referring to the testimony that his sacrifice was better than Cain’s.  But I don’t think this is the word that the writer is referring to in ch. 12.  I think he is referring to Gen. 4:10, “And the LORD said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground.”   This would mean it is Abel’s spilt blood being murdered by Cain that he is referring to.  And it seems pretty clear that in that case his blood was saying one thing, vengeance and justice!   

With this in mind, I think we can see this statement in its context.  Jesus’ blood is a sacrifice which speaks mercy and forgiveness while Abel’s blood was the result of murder which demands justice.  And that is precisely the difference in these two mountains and these two systems.  The Law demands justice and gives no mercy when one fails and everyone who lives by the law fails to obey it.  But those who come to Christ by faith in his work find the Law satisfied and forgiveness to those to whom it is applied.   

Notice he refers to Jesus’ blood as sprinkled.  When blood is sprinkled on something it means its value is applied.  Christ’s shed blood saves when it is appropriated by faith.  These Hebrews who were thinking about going back to Sinai were in danger of not having the blood of Christ applied to them and so die in their sins.  Everyone is born with the Law crying for vengeance and justice against them as sinners.  But the blood of Christ can give the grace of God in forgiveness when one will trust in him.  In verse 25 we see that God speaks to us in the gospel warning us that the only option is Zion.  To live trying to earn your way to heaven will only leave you unprepared to meet our God who is a consuming fire.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Are We Prepared

Mat 24:44  Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Mat 24:45  "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Mat 24:46  Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 

Let me give you my synopsis of Matthew 24-25.  Jesus is not telling us what is going to happen just before he comes back so that we will know that his return is near and be ready.  It seems he makes that clear when he says that no one knows the day or the hour.  I believe he is describing the church age beginning with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple so that we won’t be surprised at the great upheavals of the age; neither should we be surprised that many are not ready to see Jesus.  But his main point is that his people should be ready and he gives us some idea of how to be prepared.   

The parable of the five virgins teaches us that a large number of religious people that call him Lord and are expecting his return will nevertheless not be ready when he does return.  The above verses come immediately before this parable and I think help us see one way the five wise virgins were prepared while the five foolish weren’t.  Much is made of the oil that each girl had and that it represents the Holy Spirit.  Certainly a biblical tenet is that Christians alone have the indwelling and sealing presence of the Holy Spirit and if you don’t have this you are not ready to meet the Lord either at death or at his 2nd Advent.  But I am not sure that this is necessarily what we are to take away from this parable. 

If you read the next two parables you find that in both cases the ones who are prepared to meet the Lord and are accepted by him are those that are living in such a way that demonstrates they are Christians.  With this in mind the above verses set up the stories of chapter 25.  Who is the one ready for the coming of the Lord?  It is the one who is serving faithfully in his master’s household. 

In this way we understand that the one who is biblically waiting for and ready for the Lord’s return is not necessarily the one who is praying for it real fervently.  It certainly isn’t the one who has sold everything and is standing on the hill top, hands uplift, just waiting for him and even less is it the one who is trying to spot signs of his return so he can pinpoint the general time.  (No such signs exist in my opinion)  Those ready for his return while they are praying for it, yearning for it and looking for it, are those who are busy with the Great Commission and being faithful over whatever the Lord has given them to do.  The great distinction between these ten virgins had already taken place before the bridegroom appeared.  And as you read the three parables in chapter 25 it become more and more clear that it is the new nature that is given to each believer.   

While none but those whose sins are forgiven through faith will gain glory, the New Testament when it refers to the judgment of those who stand before him always makes the distinction whether they lived a life in obedience to Christ.  We know that it isn’t those works that gain heaven but they are proof that you have been redeemed by the blood of Christ because the Holy Spirit has given you a new heart. 

James Boice offers another aspect of all this in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.  He says that just as the coming of the Lord revealed a difference between the true saint and the mere professor, so each time the Lord visits us in chastening, trials and tribulation we either show ourselves one of the Lord’s or not.  We either bow to his will and providence or we buck up at it in complaints and bitterness.  Andrew Fuller put it like this, “A man has only as much religion as he can command in trial”. 

Are you ready for his return?  You answer that question every day of your life not so much by how you anticipate his return but how much your life reveals your love for the One your heart longs for.