Unless the LORD Builds the House | Psalm 127

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

Psalm 127 ESV

 

Being the eighth of fifteen psalms, we are now midway through the Songs of Ascents. Establishing that these psalms can generally be divided into five groups of three, we discussed previously that these center three psalms are concerned with how our pilgrimage to New Jerusalem will shape and transform our ordinary day-to-day lives, and within Psalm 127, Solomon provides us with a thought-provoking song about work and family. The psalm is clearly divided into two main sections (verses 1-2 and 3-5), so we will address each separately before attempting to connect them together at the end.

IN VAIN YOU STRIVE

Work’s vanity without the LORD is the thesis of our first stanza. Verse 1 gives two paralleling images that form one united truth. Building a house is futile labor unless God Himself is its builder, and a watchman’s vigilant guard is worthless unless God is the city’s true protector. Solomon is clearly emphasizing our dire need for God’s support and protection above all else.

But is that really true?

Surely many homes built long ago by someone with no concern for the LORD endured long years or even still stand today. Although not a home, my wife visited a Buddhist temple in East Asia that was 3000 years old. That shrine to idols was built before this psalm was written and is still standing today. Their labor does not seem to be in vain.

Furthermore, how many wickedly corrupt cities and nations have triumphed brutally over lesser ones throughout history. Why did God allow the terroristic warfare of the Assyrians to spread so wide across the globe? Why did He permit the Christian city of Constantinople to fall to the Turks? Why does He today tolerate the beatings and beheadings of His church in lands that were once predominately Christian?

How are we then to understand this verse? We should first note the careful wording. Solomon does not say that without the LORD’s intervention a house cannot be built nor can a city be guarded. Both are certainly possible. Instead, he is claiming that doing so is in vain, which is a fitting word for Solomon to use when he is traditionally held as the author of Ecclesiastes. Building a house and guarding a city without the LORD is vanity because there is no lasting meaning without God. The truth that Ecclesiastes bombards us with is that even the greatest human achievements are a vapor in the air. In the span of eternity, our supreme efforts are worthless and futile. Of the wonders of the ancient world, only the pyramids of Egypt still stand, and even then, of what use are they? Majestic they may be, but ultimately their grandeur is no more than a requiem to fallen kingdom, a mere reminder of the once-great.

Nevertheless, the episode of Babel is stuck on repeat. We build monuments to our excellence, attempting to prove our independence from God, yet in the end He stoops down to each one, asking, “Is that all?” Even the glories of a 3000-year-old stronghold of demons is a blink of eye in the light of eternity, when only God’s glory will remain.

Yet the fleeting nature of a house or city does not mean that we should forsake building and guarding them. Solomon is not calling us to the monastic lifestyle of striving to live without physical comforts and securities. We are dust animated by God’s own breath. We are of the earth by the Creator’s design; therefore, we need shelter, a place to call home. Further, we need the shelter of each other, so we congregate into cities. We gather as communities for friendship and protection. Building a house is good. Guarding our city, likewise, is good. They cannot, however, be ends unto themselves. Life’s vanity is only transcended by living for and according to God’s design.

How is this so?

Only the works of God can endure forever. As C. T. Studd wrote, “Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” His kingdom alone will stand throughout eternity, while every other monument, temple, and edifice will crumple into dirt. 10 billion years from now the 3000-year demonic rule over a stretch of land will seem to have passed by in the blink of an eye. Jesus’ command to seek God’s kingdom first, therefore, is unabashedly practical. Even as we do such mundane tasks like building a house or looking out for the good of our city, we must submit that very labor to the LORD, for the good of His reign, so that He works through us as we work. As He then supplies the strength for the work, He receives the glory for its completion. And because His kingdom is of first importance, our work will never prove unfruitful (even if it may appear so for a length of time).

Verse 2 then describes how this truth should affect our work in the day-to-day. Anxious toil is not befitting of God’s laborers. Work is good. In Eden, God issued jobs to Adam and Eve. They were to be God’s managers over the earth, cultivating the earth to reflect the garden and multiplying to spread God’s image across the planet. The LORD made us for work; sin has simply corrupted it, making it more difficult. We, therefore, must not shirk labor but, rather, meet it head on. To not work, after all, would be to go against God’s created order.

Yet even in working, we have opportunity to sin. Even though our work is meant to imitate God’s creation further into the world, we often use our very reflection of His character to assert ourselves as the creators, as gods who fashion the world as we see fit. Thus, by the very act for echoing God we aim to rid ourselves of Him. In other words, we frequently tend to be come self-reliant as we work.

Such self-reliance is idolatry, a declaration of self as divinity. Solomon describes the symptoms of this disease: getting up early to work, going to bed late from work, anxious toil becoming one’s daily bread. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with waking up early or going to bed late; the crux is in the reasoning. If we are burning the candle at both ends in a desperate bid to earn our own security, our work has become sinful. We are trusting in the steadfastness of our own hands, not in the faithfulness of the LORD.

God’s people are contrasted as receiving sleep as God’s gift. Sleep and rest are necessary components to a proper theology of work precisely because they keep us humble. While ceasing from work, we are forced to face the reality that we are not God. The universe is not upheld by our power, and it will survive our inactivity. Death exemplifies this idea even further. After a loved one passes, we grieve and mourn, but life moves on. For the doctor, it’s another pronouncement. For the funeral home, it’s another client. For the acquaintances, it’s a “he/she will be missed.” Eventually, even for those closest, an altered normal begins. “A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever” (Ecclesiastes 1:4). If the world will survive our final passing, how much more can it bear our rest? As God’s people, we know that we can sleep and rest from our labors because our trust is not upon our own ability but upon God’s. May we, thereby, give glory to God with both our work and our rest.

CHILDREN ARE A REWARD

The blessing of children is the grand theme of verses 3-5. The images are overwhelmingly positive. Children are an inheritance from the LORD. Children are a reward. Children are like arrows for a warrior. Children are a blessing. Children guard us from being shamed by enemies. Why such exuberance over children? They demand your time, energy, and money. You become fully responsible for the life and care of fellow human beings during their most vulnerable stage of life. They drastically cut into your free and alone time. They will defy you, rebel against you, and fight against you, often in the simplest of things. They’re messy and destructive, loud and unpredictable. In less than two weeks, my wife and I will take an anniversary trip without our daughter. A few nights ago, my wife mentioned that we would be able to sleep in during this trip. I almost began to cry. Such is life with children.

Yet despite the difficulties of childrearing, the Scriptures fully regard them as a blessing. To bring children into the world is to fulfill the cultural mandate of God, the First Commission. As a new human is born, God’s image is further seen. Sin, of course, makes it so that “folly is bound up in the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15), but that does not negate the goodness of propagating life. God’s image upon mankind may be marred by sin, but we each still bear it. The growth and spreading of humanity are the good designs of the LORD.

Unfortunately, not many believe such things any longer. The increasingly influential Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently said,

There’s scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult, and it does lead, I think young people, to have a legitimate question: is it okay to still have children? And I mean, not just financially, because people are graduating with $20, $30, $100,000 dollars of student loan debt, so they can’t even afford to have children in the house. But also just a basic moral question, what do we do. And even if you don’t have kids, there are still children here in the world, and we have a moral obligation to them. To leave a better world for them.

From people like Ocasio-Cortez who are entertaining childlessness on the grounds of “morality” to the rise of anti-natalism[1] as a philosophical worldview, western society is becoming increasingly anti-children. As Christians, it can become easy to fixate upon certain elements of this ideology (i.e. abortion), yet they are simply individual heads of the hydra. Granted, some of the beast’s heads are deadlier and more grotesque than others (certainly like abortion or pedophilia), but we must never lose sight of the whole monster. The general negative attitude toward the very idea of children, the denigration of childrearing as a primary calling, and the idolatry of comfort provide the well fertilized ground for seeds like abortion to grow.

Even the change in wording, from childrearing to parenting, reflects our “modern” mentality. The linguistic shift reveals the primacy of the parent. Someone might interject with the opinion that children have never been more carefully raised as they are today. Yet the root of much “helicopter parenting” is, I believe, ultimately parent-centered. The notion of childrearing, however, implicitly sets our focus toward the growth[2] of the child.

For all the value that secular humanism claims to place upon humankind, statistics reflect the reality, and as birth rates continue to plummet, anti-natalism increasingly comes to the forefront. The Bible opposed to such thoughts. Yes, our children will require our time, attention, and patience. Yes, they will experience the pain and suffering of life. No, we are not promised that they will not stray from the LORD. Yet even so, the simple reality that children are a blessing still stands.

If nothing else (although there certainly is much more), raising a child helps us understand the character of God better, while also enabling us to better reflect His nature. Every time I begin to lose patience with Éowyn I quickly remind myself of God’s endless and fatherly grace toward me. How can I not be loving, even in my discipline, toward her when God is so loving to me? Furthermore, how can we claim the moral high ground for not having children because of pain, suffering, or anything else when God chose to create us, even knowing that we would sin against Him and that He would die to save us? Perhaps there is no greater argument for the blessing of children than this: selflessly pouring out our love upon those who can never pay us back is a blessing because in doing so, we reflect and become like our Father. The gospel should be clearly visible to the world around us through our love for our children.

There is plenty more that we could say regarding the blessedness of children, yet for the sake of time, I will simply ask this question: Do you believe it?

BUILDING A HOME IN BABYLON

Before diving into Psalm 126, we spent time reading Jeremiah’s letter to the Babylonian exiles and considering how we too are living as exiles. We then discussed how the Indigenous Principle is at tension with the Pilgrim Principle in the life of Christ’s followers. As we now briefly attempt to view this psalm as whole, I want us to return to that very conversation.

In Jeremiah’s letter, God told the exiles to spend their time in Babylon building houses, planting gardens, and having children. In the midst of these things, He told them to seek the welfare of the city. He commanded them to live their lives and do good to the Babylonians around them. Through these ordinary actions, God would bless them and use them to bless those around them. This is God’s normal mode of operations. Many look for God to work through burning bushes, fire falling from heaven, and treatises nailed to doors, but those are the exceptions, not the rule.

Consider Rome’s view on infanticide. Rome’s founder, Romulus, issued the generous law that no child under three could be killed unless he was deformed. So the practice of leaving unwanted infants to die of exposure in trash heaps became a common fixture of Roman life. The advent of Christianity, however, inserted a wrench into infanticide’s wheels, and within a few centuries, the practice was virtually eliminated in the western world.

How did Christians achieve such a feat, such a dramatic shifting of cultural norms? They did it by regularly visiting garbage dumps to rescue and adopt abandoned babies. Yet that practice cost more than just having another mouth to feed. Tertullian wrote against a pervasive rumor that Christians were “accused of observing a holy rite in which we kill a little child and then eat it” (Apology, 7.1). The spread of this conspiracy theory gave a further degree of credibility to the official waves of persecution.

Yet one baby, one family, one generation at a time, the early Christians methodically created a culture of life that swallowed up the culture of death. For more than a millennium, we have walked in the fruit of their labors, fruit that we now watch being burned. Like our brothers and sisters before us, it is not enough for us to be anti-abortion or even pro-life; we must fundamentally be pro-children. We must not merely defend the abstract concept of life; we must spread it.

As alluded to in both sections, this psalm is in many ways a poetic meditation upon the First Commission. Work and have children. That was the cultural mandate given to Adam and Eve. By doing so, they would act as God’s steward over the earth, cultivating the earth and filling it with His image. As Christians, we’ve been given another commission, to make disciples of all the nations. The Great Commission is the cultural mandate of the new creation, of the God’s kingdom. As we make disciples, we cultivate the earth into the kingdom of heaven by filling the earth with God’s children, followers of Christ.

Even still, the Great Commission does not negate the First Commission. Not everyone will have children for various reasons, and not everyone will be physically able to work. Nevertheless, the cultural mandate still stands. Often, both commissions will be filled together. We win the inhabitants of Babylon for Christ, one child, one family, one generation at a time.

Of course, this isn’t to say that missions into unreached lands is not important. It absolutely is! Yet still, the goal of these mission endeavors is still to establish local churches made up of believing households that reach other households with the gospel and plant more churches.

If we view ourselves as the protagonist in our walk with Christ, we will easily become disheartened that we cannot do enough for God’s kingdom. If, however, we place ourselves within the scope of God’s unfolding hand in history, we quickly understand that we are standing upon the shoulders of the millions and millions of brothers and sisters who have gone before us, and by God’s grace, we will help prepare the way for those who will follow after us. Collectively, His kingdom advances further than any one of us can do alone, and it advances primarily through the ordinary and daily faithfulness of His followers.

May we, therefore, build houses and do good to the Babylon around us, praying for the LORD to advance His kingdom through our work and rest.

May we have children and not decrease, both physical and spiritual, discipling the nations by first discipling our households.

May the LORD bless the ordinary work of our hands and use it for the extraordinary proclamation of the name of Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father.


[1] Anti-natalism is essentially an extension of hedonism that believes the greatest path to avoiding pain would be to simply stop having children altogether. David Benatar’s book, Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, is an introduction to this philosophy.

[2] Not primarily the protection of and provision for the child. It seems that there also exists a lack of intentionality in modern-day parenting as expressed through a failure to continuously shepherd a child toward adulthood.

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Jesus Rejected in Nazareth | Luke 4:14-30

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

Luke 4:14-30 ESV

 

The Gospel of Luke was written by Paul’s companion, friend, and physician, who sought to compile “an orderly account” of Jesus Christ. Thus far in the book, Luke has been informing us of Jesus’ birth, the ministry of John the Baptist, and Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the wilderness. Within our present text, Luke begins to describe the earthly ministry of Jesus. Particularly he begins by describing how Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth, received His claim of being the long-awaited Messiah.

JESUS BEGINS HIS MINISTRY // VERSES 14-15

Following the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, He returns to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. This power was evident to all who encountered Him since we are told also that a report of Him spread throughout the surrounding country. The ministry of Christ would be relatively brief, only about three years, and yet this man from Nazareth would irrevocably change the world. Significantly, that impact was felt from the very beginning of His ministry. Many leaders claimed to be the Messiah throughout the years, but Jesus alone had the power of God to reinforce His claim.

The focus of Jesus’ ministry is also important to note. We tend to think first of His many miracles and healings, yet Jesus will explicitly state those to be of secondary importance at the end of this chapter (4:43). As an itinerant minister, Jesus would travel from town to town, teaching the Scriptures within their synagogues. Teaching God’s Word was the primary focus of Christ earthly ministry, and as we will continue to see, people were just as amazed by His teaching as they were by His miracles. This is crucial for us to understand. The miracles and healings of Jesus were always intended to affirm His words and message; they were never an end unto themselves. They reinforced the gospel He preached and pointed toward our true healing from the disease of sin.

It is also worth noting, especially given the events that transpire in the following verses, that the working of the Spirit always causes a reaction. The initial reaction to Jesus’ teachings were positive: “being glorified by all.” But this will not always be the case (see verses 22-30 below). When the Spirit empowers the proclamation of the gospel, a reaction, even if a subtle one, is guaranteed. We will either respond in repentance, glorifying Christ, or we will scorn God’s message, rejecting His Son. But a reply must be made. No one can remain neutral to the Spirit’s movement.

SCRIPTURE FULFILLED // VERSES 16-21

I’ll be honest: this is one of my favorite passages in all the Gospels. Picture the scene with me. Jesus, being about thirty now (3:23), returns home from being publicly baptized by John the Baptist (the most divisive religious figure at the time) and from spending forty days fasting in the wilderness alone. Perhaps rumors had already spread about God’s voice breaking through the opened heavens after John immersed Jesus in the Jordan. Maybe the Nazarenes had also heard stories whispered of Jesus’ unusual birth, of shepherds and foreign kings worshiping an infant. But this was Jesus, the son of Joseph the carpenter. And Nazareth was nothing but a blip on the map. With a population of probably around 400 people, who would ever believe that the Messiah could come from Nazareth anyway?

So as Jesus sat in the Nazarene synagogue to teach, He saw faces that both grew up alongside Him and watched Him grow from a boy into a man. They were familiar in the utmost sense of the word. Jesus knew them, and they thought that they knew Him. As He was handed the scroll of Isaiah, maybe they were excited to hear what message this newly revealed prophet would bring to them. What new revelation would He teach them about God?

But Jesus simply reads Isaiah 62:1-2 (while also quoting Isaiah 58:6). Rolling up the scroll, He assumed the authoritative teaching position by sitting down. With glued eyes, they awaited His message, and He speaks: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

It is difficult for us to grasp just how audacious Jesus must have seemed to His fellow Nazarenes.

Joseph’s son, Jesus, is here in the synagogue, saying that He is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words!

How ludicrous!

Sure, Jesus may have possessed an uncanny understanding of the Scriptures, but to think that they prophesied about Him would be ridiculous! Right?

And yet this is what Jesus presents to His hometown, to the people who have known Him all of His life. In no uncertain terms, He claims to be the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, the Son of David, the Prophet like Moses, the Seed of Abraham, the Serpent-Crusher whom God promised Adam and Eve to send into the world. He asserts to be the One at the center of God’s very Word.

Remember, this is the same Jesus who was most likely still doing regular contract jobs just a few months ago. Now, however, He is claiming to be the fulfillment of the ancient and sacred prophesies.

PHYSICIAN, HEAL YOURSELF // VERSES 22-30

What would you think of Jesus if you were one of the Nazarenes?

It is far too easy to stand in judgment upon biblical and historical figures from the high ground of hindsight. The hard reality is that most of us would have reacted exactly the same way as Jesus’ neighbors did in these verses.

Verse 22 is quite interesting because it reveals the internal conflict within the people’s minds. On one hand, they couldn’t keep from marveling at the Jesus’ words, but on the other hand, they simply couldn’t excuse the fact that Jesus was just as ordinary as any of them. After speaking one sentence, the words of Jesus have already created turmoil within His hearers’ hearts.

Jesus responds to their turmoil by addressing the biggest question in their minds: would He perform some miracles in Nazareth like He did in Capernaum? By citing the proverbial statement “physician, heal yourself”, Jesus is exposing what the people are actually hoping for. Already they are scheming about how Jesus’ status might be leveraged to benefit their town.

But Jesus refuses. To lend weight to His refusal, He reminds them of miracles from the ministries of Elijah and Elisha where Gentiles were blessed instead of God’s people, the Israelites. This, of course, only makes them murderously angry with Jesus. But even though they attempted to stone Him, Jesus escapes from their hands, which in verse 30 seems like a miraculous event.

But why did Jesus refuse to perform a miracle in His hometown?

Wouldn’t it have been easier to humor them for a bit in order to prove that He was the Messiah?

Jesus knows the hearts of all men. They did not have a holy fascination and amazement with Jesus as we often find throughout the Gospels. They were not, by faith, eagerly longing to learn by a sign or wonder whether Jesus was truly the Messiah; instead, they were demanding proof from Jesus. The difference may appear subtle, but in reality, it is vast. Countless times, Jesus comforted the brittle faith of those who hoped beyond hope that He was the Savior, but He refused to play the game of those who presumed to have the right to judge His messianic ministry. After all, the scribes and Pharisees likewise asked for a sign, but Jesus rejected their request as well (Matthew 12:38-39).

Perhaps authority is the key. Those of weak faith (like the man who cried, “I believe. Help my unbelief!”) cast their weakness upon the mighty feet of Christ. They received mercy because in their failings, they looked to the One who cannot fail. They acknowledged Jesus’ authority as the Messiah. The Nazarenes here (like the Pharisees elsewhere) presumed to have authority over Jesus. They were prepared to judge the authenticity of His ministry themselves. Jesus refused to indulge such prideful arrogance.

This mentality is still present today as many still view themselves to be the proper judge of Jesus’ credibility and authenticity. They refuse to acknowledge the lordship of Christ, claiming to need more proof in order to believe His assertions. Once again, I’m not talking about humble questioning, broken doubting, or genuine truth-seeking but instead a thinly-veiled refusal to see Jesus as lord until He meets one’s standard. Sadly, many heresies were born in attempt to assuage such lofty hearts. Often these heresies revolve around someone questioning or blatantly rejecting a portion of Scripture, to which the heretic responds by reinterpreting or wholesale dismissing the offending passage. The root heresy is the presumption of being Scripture’s arbiter. Like Jesus, we must always be ready to comfort and answer the doubting, broken, and confused, but, also like Jesus, we must never fall for the lie that Jesus or His Word must be subject to the scrutiny of unbelieving men.

Of course, the irony is that in their anger to stone Jesus to death He appears to miraculously escape by passing through the crowd. Thus, a sign was given to them after all. It was a sign of judgment upon their heads. A sign that they were neglecting the great salvation of God because they simply could not believe that Jesus was actually the Messiah.

All of this should make us marvel anew at Isaiah’s words about Christ: “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (53:2). Such was Jesus’ humanity. Those among whom Jesus was raised could scarcely believe that someone as ordinary as Jesus could actually be the promised Messiah. Obviously, they sensed deeply that something was profoundly different; otherwise, they would not have been spellbound by Jesus’ teaching. Yet His plainness was so evident that it became a stumbling stone for His neighbors.

Living in the Bible Belt can kind of feel like Nazareth sometimes. Jesus is so cultural that it’s almost like living in His hometown. Everyone’s heard His name. Almost everyone thinks that they know Him. But also like the Nazarenes, most think He is a good guy with some wise and godly words to say, but He’s not their Lord. He’s not their Messiah. He’s not their Savior. As back then, so too today Jesus refuses to yield. He refuses to play the game of cultural Christianity. He refuses to be judged by arrogant eyes. He refuses to cure those who obstinately declare themselves to be well.

And He passes onto the next town.

May we face Jesus fully and truthfully, not according to our own terms, but as He presents Himself in the Scriptures. May we elevate Him as the Messiah who has and will fulfill every prophesy foretold. May we hear His words and respond by clinging to His cross for salvation. May we never be like Nazareth.

I Lift Up My Eyes to the Hills | Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

 The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

 The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 121 ESV

 

Last week we began the Songs of Ascents with Psalm 120’s lamentation over living among those who reject God, which was fitting since every pilgrimage must begin with a discontentment for present circumstances. Psalm 121 presents the next steps of fixing our eyes upon our destination and establishing our hope that God will keep us safe through the many dangers that meet us along the way.

LOOKING TO THE HILLS

No one will ever venture away from home and the comfort of normalcy unless a yearning has stirred within them for more. Such is the holy discontentment that we described previously. We cannot live as strangers and exiles in this world until we have become sufficiently disillusioned with the world’s many promises of joy and satisfaction. To use the language of these psalms, we will not take the risk of traveling to Jerusalem without being first convinced that it is more glorious than Meshech and Kedar.

But now that we have experienced this discontentment, what is the next step? We lift our eyes toward our destination, toward God’s holy hill, Jerusalem. Interestingly, even though these first two verses sound much more hopeful than Psalm 120, they are actually expressing the same essential idea. Through his lament, the psalmist of 120 expressed his hope that God would ultimately rescue him from his sojourning in Meshech and dwelling in Kedar. Verses 1-2 of Psalm 121 now provide an explicit declaration of God’s expectant rescue as well.

We should make a note that many commentators view the hills of verse 1 in a negative light. They suggest that the psalmist is declaring that he will not fix his eyes upon the worshiping of idols that often occurred on the high places. While this interpretation is certainly plausible, I believe that the hills are instead representative of Jerusalem, and the psalmist is declaring his intention to look away from the things of this world and upward to God.

Sight is a crucial symbol within the Bible because we will walk toward what we are looking at. Only foolishness would claim that we can continue to move forward while setting our gaze upon what is beside or behind us. The high speed of automobiles helps to solidify this point. Far too many accidents occur because the driver is distracted with something in the backseat. Likewise, no hiker would ever attempt to navigate a rocky trail with his eyes fixated on something behind him. In the same manner, the hard and narrow path that leads to life is easy to stray from if our eyes are not set upon our destination. Our goal of eternal life, the Celestial City, is like the hill of Jerusalem, and we must have our eyes lifted toward it. The danger of veering off the path is too great to do otherwise.

Jesus gives this very warning to a potential follower in Luke 9. In verse 61, the man declares to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Seems reasonable, right? Who knew when the man would see his family again since Jesus had an itinerary ministry? Furthermore, many who became disciples of previous “messiahs” met their end via the sword of Rome. Why should he not want to say farewell to his family? Yet Jesus answers the man, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62).

Does this seem harsh?

In The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan portrays a similar scene. The main character, Christian, becomes convinced that his city (the City of Destruction) is doomed to meet the fiery wrath of God and that he must journey to the Celestial City in order to be saved. Upon learning this knowledge, Christian becomes incredibly distraught, and his wife, children, and neighbors all attempt to calm his fears. Eventually, he is told by Evangelist to flee this destruction by going to the Wicket Gate and beginning his journey down the Narrow Way. Christian’s response is immediate:

Now he had not run far from his own door, but his Wife and Children perceiving it, began to cry after him to return; but the Man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on crying, Life! Life! Eternal life! So he looked not behind him, but fled towards the middle of the Plain. (4)

Such an extreme response is necessary for following Christ. He has also demanded, after all, that we must love Him more than our own family (Matthew 10:37). The choice to follow Christ, therefore, cannot be made flippantly. To be a disciple of Jesus is to bear a cross (Matthew 10:38), being marked by death even as we yet live. If we seek to be like our master and teacher, how can we expect anything more pleasant than the humiliating rejection that He was given via the cross (Matthew 10:24-25). Becoming Christ’s disciple means choosing the path of greatest resistance, the way of rejecting the comforts and promises of this life. It means lifting our eyes toward the hills and the God who dwells in them. It means becoming an enemy to those who hate God and His Word. It means becoming a foreigner in the very place we once called home. It means considering our life lost for the hope of finding true life in Christ.

Such an action is exclusively individualistic.

Don’t hear what I’m not saying.

Far too often we forget the essential component of community in the life of the believer. The Bible knows nothing of a Christian who is outside of a local church. The assurance of our salvation is given to us through the affirmation of our brothers and sisters around us. We need each other far more than we can truly comprehend.

Yet salvation itself is not a communal event. The blood of Christ does not redeem entire families by simple proximity to a Christian. The journey of faith is one that each of us must walk, and in the end, we must each stand before God alone, naked and bare before His judgment. No one will simply wander into the gates of heaven. Many will enter stumbling and crawling, but no one will just happen to find the entrance. Few will find the narrow gate that leads to life. Find implies the necessity of searching.

Are you searching?

Have you lifted your eyes to the hills of the LORD?

Like Christian, have you placed your fingers in your ears and fled from sin and onto the path of life?

The journey can only begin with eyes lifted toward Jerusalem, toward our eternal home with the LORD.

THE LORD IS YOUR KEEPER

The main theme from verse 2 onward is God’s preserving power upon His people. Keep (or keeper) is used six times within the final six verses, making the point of these verses far from obscure. Like a resounding gong, this psalm seeks to drive the promise of God’s providential protection of His people into our minds and hearts. The LORD, our God, will keep us “from this time forth and forevermore.”

But why do we need this promise?

From what dangers do we need to be kept?

While I am not frightened of flying, few can deny how unnerving the idea of speeding hundreds of miles per hour tens of thousands of feet in the air for several hours at a time is. Consider that the first commercial airline flight took place on January 1, 1914, which means that the airline industry is only 105 years old. Something should be slightly unsettling about that knowledge. And yet before June, I plan to spend approximately 56 hours in the air.

Why take such risks?

For the sake of reaching the destination.

Journeys are dangerous, but some destinations are worth the danger. A pilgrimage is not for the fainthearted because staying home is always safer than traveling. By foot, car, boat, or plan, traveling is risky business. To quote Bilbo’s wise words to his nephew: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Fittingly, the first danger that the psalmist acknowledges is that our feet might slip. In a society where walking was the primary mode of travel, a sprained or broken ankle is a far greater inconvenience than a flat tire. But there is also the danger of our feet being swept off the path. This may come through carelessness, a failure to diligently follow directions. Or it could occur through dangers that force a detour. Whether our feet become injured, we wander from the path, or we are pushed off the road, each poses a serious threat to reaching our destination.

The elements are the second danger of which the psalmist warns. Being struck by the sun and moon in verse 6 may not sound like great threats today, but let’s consider their meaning. The sun is certainly easier to understand. Living in the southern Oklahoma, news stories can be read each summer of individuals who passed away due to having a heatstroke.

The moon is a bit different. The word lunacy derives from the belief that the moon could have direct effects upon one’s mental health. Perhaps this thought could be easily dismissed as a worldly superstition, since the moon’s varying gravitational pull does not seem to impact cognitive behavior. Or perhaps being moonstruck was caused by the comparatively great light of a full moon in a world without electricity. Maybe this “lunacy” was the result of a disrupted circadian rhythm, which we now know can have serious ramifications upon a person’s mental health.

Regardless, the psalmist’s point in using the sun and moon is to illustrate the unavoidable dangers of the natural world. Due to the sin of Adam and Eve, all of creation was plunged into the darkness and brokenness of sin. The earth, which was once meant to be cultivated into a gigantic Eden, now frequently harms we who were placed in dominion over it. Without proper protection, the sun and moon that give us light can also strike us down.

For the third danger, the psalmist simply states all evil. Unfortunately, the risk of traveling is greater than simply losing our way or meeting an unavoidable natural disaster; there is also the threat of wicked men. The heartbreaking reality is that there are people who earn profit for themselves through inflicting harm on others. White-collar conmen, drug dealers, or sex traffickers, the world has a greater number of truly malevolent individuals than we ever dare to think about. Especially when people design attacks purely to cause terror, the natural response is to shrink back in fear, to hide ourselves away from the rest of society, to retreat from the world.

It truly is dangerous business to walk out your door. Possibly more so than we understand. In fact, given that a pilgrimage to Jerusalem is symbolic for the life of a Christian, we should not be surprised to discover that these dangers can also be symbolic for our spiritual journey. It is often said that the three enemies of our walk with Christ are our own flesh, the influence of the world, and the wiles of the devil. The dangers within this psalm seem to parallel those enemies.

Psalm 73 uses the imagery of feet slipping to describe the psalmist almost falling into his envy of the foolish and prosperous. Therefore, our wandering feet could easily be counted as our flesh’s tendency to wander away from the LORD.

The sun and moon, which are ever-present in this life, parallel with the influence of the world upon believers. Like the sun and moon, we cannot exist apart from the world, yet we must always be wary of their dangers, which are all the more intensified by their ubiquitous presence.

Finally, the maliciousness of men is readily compared to the evil one, from whom we pray to God for deliverance. If these symbolic interpretations seem like a stretch, I would argue that the poetic nature of the Psalms absolutely warrants these types of application.

To be honest, with all these dangers in mind, life will probably go much smoother if you do not follow Christ, just as staying home is less risky than traveling abroad.

Walking out your door will always have greater risk than staying behind it.

Picking up a cross will always be harder than leaving it on the ground.

Dying to self will never be immediately more appealing than living for self.

Following Christ is a call to come and die. It means acknowledging that our very bodies are not our own but were bought with the price of Jesus’ blood, making us His bondservants, slaves to His grace.

His yoke is easy.

His burden is light.

But the way is narrow and hard.

Few will find the gate to life at the path’s end.

Following Christ is a one-way flight, a journey from which there is no return.

Only those who endure to the end will be saved. The call for endurance, of course, implicates difficulty.

With so many “dangers, toils, and snares,” how can we ever hope to arrive safely at Jerusalem, the Celestial City?

The psalmist answers by admitting that we have no such endurance within ourselves. God alone can keep us secure until the end. He expresses this confidence in God for three reasons.

First, God does not slumber. By God’s design, we are never more vulnerable than when we sleep. Of course, we can certainly wake ourselves quickly when danger may be near, but sleep itself remains a state of helplessness. I believe this is meant to be a divine limitation upon our pride. We can never escape the necessity of sleep; thereby, we are daily reminded of our creatureliness, that will never be gods. Repeatedly the New Testament writers urge us to be watchful and to stay awake, yet we are only capable of so much vigilance. Our own attentiveness can never fully protect. We are limited, finite, and dependent upon rest. Our God, however, is not. His rest upon the seventh day of creation was, much like Jesus’ baptism, intended to model our behavior. The LORD has no limitations nor does anything lie outside His watchful gaze. Even among the dangers around us, we can pray with David: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

Second, as God kept Israel, so He will keep us individually. Here the psalmist is calling us to reflect upon God’s steadfast love toward His people in general in order to find confidence in Him personally. The account that is repeatedly remembered in the Scriptures is the Exodus. But as Christians, we are now able to also recount the greater exodus, how God freed us from our slavery to sin. If God was willing to rescue us from our sins by the blood of His Son, how much more will He be faithful to deliver us from other dangers as well!

Third, God made the heavens and the earth. It is glorious news that God desires to be our helper and keeper, but that fact remains nothing more than a pleasant sentiment unless God can actually do it. Joyously, the LORD’s hand is not to short to save (Isaiah 59:1)! Because He is the all-mighty and sovereign Creator, God is entirely able to keep us “from this time forth and forevermore.” What a magnificent truth! God absolutely can preserve us to the very end of our journey, and, in fact, this is our only hope of reaching our destination. Just as we are justified by God’s grace, so are we also preserved by His grace. Without the strength and guide of the Spirit within us, we could never endure to the end and be saved.

Of course, this promise of perseverance does not guarantee ease. God does not promise to make the journey smooth for His people; He promises to see them safely to the end. Often it is through the challenges and hardships that God both teaches and shapes us. By His providence, the dangers around us become the instruments of our growth and progress. Our great hope, therefore, is not that we will be spared from all tragedy, sorrow, and pain; it is that in the midst of those things God will ultimately work each of them out for His glory and our good.

Brothers and sisters, lift your eyes up to the hills. Set your sights upon Jerusalem, our heavenly home with the God. The journey is perilous indeed with dangers always at hand. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22), yet by the LORD’s strength and provision, those who seek it will find it (Matthew 7:7-8). Follow Christ and look to Him as your keeper both now and forevermore.

Where We End And He Begins | Luke 3:15-22

The following guest post is by Andy Whitley.

It is the manuscript of his sermon that was preached last Sunday evening. I trust that you will also be blessed by his exposition and proclamation of God’s Word as you read it. 


I remember the first few times I saw the human iris behind a microscope. As light hit the eye the pupil would shrink and move as the colorful magnified tissue contracted. I was captivated at this living miraculous eye that God had woven together to see light and experience life in vivid colors and motions. It took a special type of lens to magnify this beauty. It took light going through the lens. It took much skill to hold it all perfectly to view it and behold. For many centuries, it was not even known that this ability was possible.

In a similar way, watching micro-organisms moving under a microscope was once not a thing, and then it became a thing. People just did not know microbes even existed. All of this wasn’t even known about by humans until they were first seen in the 1600’s. With advancing technology in optics and microscopes we began to discover a hidden microscopic world within our world that has revolutionized the way we thrive as a species and understand the world around us. God made this stuff and then gave us insight to view it and see his handiwork within it. His invisible attributes and divine power were  being shown off by it, look at Romans 1. We just had to figure out how to magnify the seemingly infinite miniature world.

Flip that around to the glorious beauties that telescopes and other tech has revealed. A world of enormous beautiful creation endlessly floats on forever and ever for infinity so far as we know. The huge-ness of it all steals your breath when you get the right moment, everybody here has had those moments. Once again, a world unknown, now magnified has become more known. Infinitely more to discover yet we know more of it now than we once did.

This seems to be much of this thing we know called life. A process of knowing more and more of things. The soul of every human has a mouth watering desire to fully and intensely know and grasp the thing their heart desires most. The soul thirstiness of the Christian minister is for the magnification of the highest unknown mystery, the one true God. This is a summary statement of the Christian life, to magnify the name of the one we bow down to. He has revealed much to us and will reveal all we need in time, but He can never be fully known.

The outside world sits and laughs because they don’t see what we see. They don’t believe in our germs because they have no scope, they don’t believe in our radio waves, because they have no radio to hear the sound, they scoff because they cannot see or feel what we devote our entire life to.

Our joyous dutiful privilege as Christians is to use every moment we get and every intention to increase or magnify or glorify or beautify the name of Jesus in our hearts and those around us. There is no greater joy in life than to drink deeply in awe at God. It gives people a momentary thrill to pursue creation wonders such as discovery of planets, but it is just a shadow of the true Beauty. Everybody wants to stare at something beautiful and then reach for it with all their might, we are just wired that way.

As we look at the end of John the Baptists’ ministry today in Luke 3:15-22, we see a man who is gazing at this true joy and screaming and pointing at it for everyone to join him. John 3:30 says that Jesus must increase as John decreases. Jesus must be magnified as John is minified. John’s pursuit takes him to his persecution, imprisonment, and death.

THE CONTEXT

Dustin preached to us the first half of chapter 3, verses 1-14. John is at the height of his ministry. He’s calling people to repent and be baptized to be cleansed of their sins. Many are coming out to him in droves and he rebukes the religious people because they are stirred up against him like snakes coming out of a brush pile that just got lit on fire. He says in vs. 7, “who warned you to flee the wrath to come?” He’s saying “don’t come out here to act like you’re part of this if you think you’re good to go, because of your religious heritage.”

It was a lot like that viral video called “the shocking youth message” when Paul Washer stares down a crowd who’s clapping for him and tells them “I don’t know what you’re clapping for, I’m talking about you.” The crowd was there for the spectacle yet their hearts could not care less, because they had “religion” in the bag, good to go.

The Jews were used to baptizing Gentiles into the Jewish religion, also known as proselytizing….John’s preaching a baptism at the Jews and Gentiles to repent into the True Kingdom. The people then get to taking him seriously, and they show signs of this message hitting home with them. They ask “what should we do?”, and he lays it out for them.

Be different.

Tax collectors, act this way and soldiers stop doing evil stuff with money, be content, share your stuff, and so on.

Stop being who you are and be different.

It’s reminds me of the counseling you see in Bob Newhart’s comedy video where a lady is struggling and asking for help for various fears and he says “just stop it!” John is saying, quit being like you are and be different. Just stop it!

But stopping is only half the battle. Repentance always involves a negative and positive. It always is a movement away from one thing and a movement toward something else. It is a turning away from sin and turning towards God. Nothing else will do. Nothing else can change a person.

Now don’t confuse what I’m saying. This power of repentance can only happen by the Holy Spirit through Faith. Up until the moment of repentance, the person has had nothing but self or something in the world to turn to. There is no real lasting power within ourselves to repent because we can only turn to objects or people without power.

In comes faith in Jesus. With faith, we an turn away from sin and let go as we cling to the object of faith, which can only be Christ. Faith is the stimulant or cause to repent. Without faith it is impossible to turn to God and let go of sin.

So here we are on the scene with John the baptizer in verse 15. He just preached hard for them to repent; they said: “What’s that look like?” His response is for them to be different and He gives examples of how that looks.

How do you feel when you see your faults and your sins? When someone comes along and tells you to stop being you and to start living different and you know they are right, what’s your first thought or feeling? When someone says you shouldn’t be addicted to your phone or food and you know they are right and want to change, what do you do? When someone tells you that you aren’t compassionate and you know it’s true, what do you think and do?

I’ll tell you what I think: I have no way to change myself. I just can’t be different. How? How God? How? No matter what I do, I keep doing the things I don’t want to do, I don’t give a flip about the things I should. Test me on this…Usually, when rebuked, we get angry or we turn to the person who rebuked us and who sees through us and sees the lies that we are living and then we try to be like them. We think that they can fix us.

This is what the people do in verse 15. They are so intrigued and convicted by what John says that they begin to think that He is the Savior. We usually go to man before we go to God for fixing us. Likewise, how does your google search history compare to your Bible search history for tough questions in your life?

These people want to know if John is the Christ. How does John respond? He magnifies Jesus and minifies himself. He does this by pointing to Jesus the Gracious and Jesus the Powerful, as he does this he calls himself a grace recipient and weak. The way he does this is by comparing his ministry to Jesus’s ministry, in other words he shows the power of Jesus’s baptism of people compared to the lack of real power of his own baptism of people. Lets look at that…

I BAPTIZE YOU WITH WATER

Verse 16 says “I baptize you with water.” John was quick to give credit to Jesus and not take any for himself. He does this by teaching that his baptism was something of significantly lesser value than what Jesus was going to do.

What was this water baptism performed by John? John doesn’t say. Most commentators say that this is not John’s point to discuss the differences in baptism, but that his only point is to show that Jesus’s baptism has power and that all that John can do is dunk in water. I think, however, that it is worth the time to sidestep and explain the basics differences between what John was doing and what Jesus would do.

Various Views:

  • One view is that the baptism of John is a continuation of washing Laws from Leviticus.
  • Another view is that this baptism of John is Proselyte baptism, which was Gentiles converting to become Jews. But in argument against that, we here have Jews being baptized which makes this argument incomplete.

I believe that there are elements of truth to the above views. John was calling the Jews to something that usually the Jews just saw the Gentiles doing. So, this was kind of like proselyte baptism, except where the Jews usually saw Gentiles repenting and taking up the Jews life now we see Jews being told that they need to repent and become “proselytized” into the Kingdom of God, which they thought they were. This brings up remembrance of Romans where Paul continually talks about God’s people not really being His people. Not all in Israel are Israel, Romans 9:6. A modern-day way of saying that would be that not all Christians are true Christians.

Most importantly in this passage is the contrast that John is giving his audience. He’s less concerned with explaining water baptism doctrine and is and more concerned with showing them the great difference between his own ministry and Jesus. At best, John baptizes with water, at best. This is like 1 Peter 3:21, which talks about the true meaning of Jesus’s baptism, it’s not about the water and the external, it’s about the inner spiritual reality of the person. It’s about the person and their conscience making an appeal to God. That’s what baptism represents, and we should agree with John that we cannot cause change in people by ministry efforts or baptism. Our role is to point them to one who can. By our life and our word, living and preaching the gospel, that’s all we can do.

NOT WORTHY TO UNTIE HIS SANDALS

Verse 16 John also calls Jesus “Mightier”

John has no desire to let the people trust in him. He says He is mightier than I. Doesn’t that sound flippant to us. Obviously Jesus is mightier. No brainer. But lost people don’t know that. They see the powerful preaching of John and He is quick to not let their hearts be carried away into John idolatry. He will take no glory or credit in this. Our American christian culture proves that this is our default: the preacher to seek his own glory, the listeners to give the preacher glory. John wants none of it. He wants Jesus to have it all.

John says he is “not even worthy to untie Jesus’s sandals.” This was the job of the lowest servant. John places himself below that. It’s easy to say such a thing, but for me a near impossibility to actually believe it. This reminds me of Peter, who didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet, because He knew his position. John is saying that he’s not even important enough to take off Jesus’ sandals which is not even to the foot washing part yet.

This reminds me of the parable that Jesus gave in Luke 18:13 of the tax collector who would not even lift his head to heaven because he was a sinner and knew he didn’t deserve mercy. What are you worthy of? Before God? Before men?

Regarding God, literally nothing do you deserve. You don’t even have the honor of the lowest amount of service. You’re not even free labor. That’s what John is saying regarding the honor that Jesus deserves. Why not? Because He’s God and you are a not. Because you have sin and He doesn’t. Infinitely below Him.

Yet if you’ve been saved you are now His and you’ve been made worthy. But here’s the thing, you are a brother who was given grace, a grace-recipient. You are not indebted to Him because you could never pay Him, yet you live in a way that is better than indebtedness. It is greater to live out of gratitude for grace than servitude from debt. You are the former. So you throw yourself low, humble yourself in the sight of the Lord. What about position toward other people?

This is that great theme of Jesus. The self denying service of your life should be evident. It should come from a heart that thinks of yourself not more highly than you ought to , but with sober judgement. It should be a heart that considers the interests of others above your own. YOU ARE AT BEST, A LOWLY SERVANT, AND NOT EVEN THAT WITHOUT GOD’S GRACE. YOU ARE PRIVILEGED TO SERVE OTHERS. PRIVILEGED. IT IS A GREAT HONOR TO SERVE.

People will strike you, serve them. When people hate or slander you or gossip about you, bless them. When you overhear someone cursing you, remember that you have cursed others. Regarding people, because of your sin, you don’t have the right to put yourself above others. Because you are a sinner and both you and others are made in God’s image, the right heart posture of your life is one of eagerness to lift other people up and serve them in each passing moment. When you wake up and go out and lay down to bed.

All of this needs to be brought into subjection to the passage point, back to a God-ward orientation. He’s talking about his unworthiness to the Creator-man Jesus. When you consider your own evil heart, His kindness toward you despite that, and you respond in Gratitude, your heart will reproduce His mercy to others. Getting Grace produces Grace. Getting Mercy multiplies mercy to others. Water droplets that are close run together to form eventually form a pool that is pleasing to dip in and cleanse. John’s humility comes because he was very near to Jesus. We must try to be near to Jesus. All by submitting to Him. Submit to Him. Submit. Submit to listen to Him.

This starts with whatever way you can take His Word in, audio Bible, reading, listening to others who are acquainted with Him. Drink His word in. Submit and drink. You must have intake or you will fall and bleed and hemorrhage and ache and sin and on and on. We must drink to be healthy. Submit by listening. Submit by responding to Him. You must speak to Him to have a relationship. If you do not speak to Him, you are not showing Him affection. You praise the thing you love. You pursue with your eyes and your mouth what your heart desires. If you are not speaking to Him, you may be like Zechariah who doubted the Lord and was shut up for 9 months unable to speak at all. Maybe you have closed your own mouth. Praise Him! If you have no praise for Him then you must repent. If you cannot speak one kind word to your Lord then you are in the midst of uncaring sin, you are not dwelling and basking in gratitude of His graces that fall all around your life sparkling like gemstones. The stones are shining, are you observing.? Listen to Him, Speak to Him. This is the way with all relationships grow. If you are worthy [in and of your own self] to untie His sandals, you will not listen; you will not praise. Be very careful.

The most humble are the grace-recipients, not the indebted servants. The servant says “I will serve this person because of my debt to them” The grace-recipient says “I don’t deserve to be near this person.”

So that is where John places his ministry, in complete dependence on God’s power to change people’s hearts. He knows he himself is a grace-recipient, and that unless the Lord builds the house the people strive in vain.

HOLY SPIRIT AND FIRE

So John is now at the heart of His message. Now he proclaims a truth that makes all people stagger. Look at the end of 16 and verse 17. This truth is that Jesus will gather some and the rest he will burn eternally. That’s hard. There’s nothing harder. It’s good news and bad news. It’s fire for some and glory for others. Don’t get too caught up in the baptism terminology here. Baptism means immerse. He’s talking about how some will be immersed into the person of the Holy Spirit and others will be cast out into eternal torment. This makes my palms sweat a little bit. After wheat would be brought into the barn, they would take a big fork and throw the wheat up in the air with the other pieces that were not wheat, but were just waste pieces. The wheat is heavier and so it would fall to the ground into a pile and the waste pieces or chaff would fly up into the air. The wheat and the chaff would be gathered into separate piles and the wheat would be useful and the chaff would be burned in the fire as waste.

The good news, some will be gathered as wheat.

The bad news, some will be burned with eternal fire.

The real good news always comes after knowing the real bad news. Light always is contrasted with dark. Being embraced after long absences of touch. Listen closely to this, some people will be sent to burn forever in Hell and some will be embraced by Jesus forever. To know that I was once chaff and would have been burned forever in hell if God had not set His love on me is overwhelming. Was I really so bad? Yes, if I took each of my sinful thoughts and let them run full course and held them up next to the Holiness of God and His Law. Should they be Punished? For how long? For eternity? A thousand years? What is the measure of my sin? Isn’t it measured only next to the righteousness of God? How else can I measure evil? How would I know evil if I did not know good? If I wrote down my every thought about Courtnie and handed it to her, would she say “come stay with me my good and faithful husband?” Would she divorce me on the spot? What would she be justified to do? She is not God, but He is.

So what if I took all my thoughts about Jesus Christ in a video file on my computer and titled it : “Andy’s complete thought file about Jesus.” Where would I be left? Ok, so I still believe that I’m pretty good.

Ok, change the title of the file to “ a complete list of all the uncaring thoughts Andy has had toward the graces that Jesus Christ has given him.” How does that make you feel? Better or worse? Apathy, well of course it’s ok right because everyone else is doing it? All are apathetic. Nobody gives a flip about Jesus and what He created us for.

Title the file “all the good thoughts and deeds done by Andy of his own merit, apart from any source file relating to Jesus.” Unfortunately that File is completely empty. Really? Is it really? Now for sure I own some good deeds. Some credit? As evil as the murderer? Me? No, I never went that far. Why not? Why did I not become a killer or adulterer or drunkard? THE LIMITS OF MY EVIL ARE ONLY THERE BECAUSE GOD PLACED UNMEASURABLE FAVOR ON MY LIFE. THE LIMITS OF YOUR EVIL ARE ONLY THERE BECAUSE GOD PLACED UNMEASURABLE FAVOR ON YOUR LIFE. Much of your moral goodness is circumstantial, grace-circumstantial. Had He given you worse circumstances you might be in prison for some terrible crime.

You may still not believe me. Not really. Until you do, you cannot believe this verse applies to you. You cannot believe that this passage is relevant to your life until you believe that you deserved to be burned and tormented in Hell forever and that God would be just and fair and good and right to tell you to go to Hell and then make it happen, forever. You still don’t believe me. I mean I know some of you have said you believe it when you were saved. But do you believe it still that you once deserved it?

Many have left the Christian Faith because they cannot believe this teaching. They are embarrassed of it and cannot see how God can be good and send people to Hell. Rob Bell is the most popular heretic I know in this camp. His book called “Love Wins” is completely against this passage. He teaches that God’s love will eventually win out and all will be saved from Hell. This is nowhere in the Bible and it diminishes the goodness of God and abolishes the need for the Cross. How so? Bell cannot fathom a completely holy and good God that a sin against would be worthy of eternal punishment. So he doesn’t know God. It destroys the need for faith and you have to throw away most of the Bible. Hell exists because God is good and it is the place for those who are not.

There are 2 things that we are freed from when we are saved. The binding and condemning power of the Law and the paralyzing power of Hell (see the book of Romans). Christians can still benefit greatly by remembering law and hell, don’t just forget about it. The law of God is protective to the Christian in this way. When you hold yourself to it, like a mirror, if you are honest, it should cast you into eternal hell. What does this do for the saved person to think hard on this and weep over this? For the saved person, remembering how you were enslaved to sin and condemned, should again draw you to God, because you know that what you ought to get you won’t get. There is no condemnation for you (Romans 8). None, it’s impossible for you to be punished according to the law.

Don’t miss the benefit of the law as it draws us to Jesus. When was the last time you wept over your sin? When was that? Take your sin to the Law, follow it’s course, and it walks you to Jesus’s feet. Ask for righteous tears from God. For the unsaved person, the law is good in that it casts you at the mercy and grace of God and if you refuse that, then you are solidifying your death penalty in hell. If you find yourself unprotected and hanging an inch above hell, not a grace recipient, today is the day for you to repent and quit resisting. Jesus took your beating, He’s got scars all over His back to prove it. Don’t reject Him any longer.

THE BAPTISM OF JESUS

I’m going to skip over John’s imprisonment and down to Jesus’s baptism for a moment in vs. 21. I would encourage you to personally study this section, it is worthy of it’s own sermon series.

Jesus asks John to baptize Him, we see this in the other gospels. We also know from other gospel accounts that Jesus said the reason that He was to be baptized is “to fulfill all righteousness.” What this means is this: Jesus not only died the death that we deserved, but every aspect of His life He lived in the exact way that He intends for us to live. So, he was baptized for us, not because of anything that He lacked. It was another way that Jesus shows us how “He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf.” He was baptized in order to identify with us, to please the Father, and to show the trinitarian nature of God as all three are seen in this passage. We have Jesus being baptized, the Holy Spirit descending, and the Father speaking. This is one of the great texts that reveal that God is 3 persons and one God.

JOHN’S IMPRISONMENT

Lastly, John gets locked up in prison because he is preaching hard at everyone he sees. When you preach the good news and rebuke people’s sin, you will get strong opposition. You will decrease as He increases. This can be from inside your own home or at work or all the way to rulers of the land. You will find yourself standing on peaceful solid truth as the world bends in chaos to destroy you. You may find yourself resolved to walk into Africa to unknown tribes and get speared to death. You may find your spouse telling you to curse God as Job’s wife did. You will know the truth and it will set you free no matter who comes against you.

Yet you may still fall in great seasons of doubt. We know John later in prison sent his followers to ask Jesus if He was the one to come or should he wait for another. Wait what? John was the man! Jesus called him the greatest man who ever lived and now he doesn’t even know if Jesus is the Messiah?

But John continued to be faithful even in prison. Eventually, Herod got deep into a lustful situation with his daughter in law and offered her anything on earth. You see how his drunken desires consumed him. She asked for John’s head to be cut off and put on a silver plate. Her greatest desire was His head. He must increase as we decrease. What a man, what a servant, what a grace recipient John was! What a preacher. What a beautiful example God has shown us of a man who was faithful even to death. He was set with the course of his life to take up his cross, deny himself, and follow Christ. One commentator [MacArthur] says: “It’s better to have a head like John’s that gets cut off than an ordinary head and keep it.”

And this is where it gets tough for you and me. We hop in our cars and go home and start a new workweek with all our usual habits and schedules and joys and pains. John’s life somewhat makes us feel like we are blowing it because he’s getting his head cut off and we can barely figure out a good plan to make sure we fit God into our work week. He’s dying for Jesus, and we usually are ticked because we ran out of milk and Wal-Mart is 2 miles away and it’s cold and almost bed time. That can ruin my evening. Do you feel that weight of having an Americanized life compared to what you read in the Bible?

Now to be fair, comparing getting milk at night to John’s persecution is kind of extreme. You aren’t John the Baptist, but what are you willing to set aside to magnify Jesus and His desires for your life rather than your own? Or would you like to just keep being a good person and going to Church and that’s it? Is that really it? Have you on a whole-life scale, let go of yourself to have Him?

You must decrease, repent to be saved. You must decrease, are you denying yourself to really live? You must decrease, are you living like a grace recipient? You must decrease, do you realize the same one who stands between you and the fires of Hell is the same one who calls you beloved and wants to be with you, to embrace you with his scarred up arms and hands?

He will never leave you or cast you out. Do you realize that? Is He increasing in your mind and in your desires? Is He increasing in your ministering to your spouse, your kids, your work, your churchy activities? In whatever grand-scale way or miniature way, ask God what all this means for you when you start your car up and drive home in a little bit.

The Greatest Commandment | Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV

 

The mission and purpose of God’s people, the church, is clearly given by Jesus in His Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Of the four commands given, making disciples is the primary. We go into the world for the purpose of making disciples. We baptize believers into the church in order to make disciples. We teach one another every command of Jesus so that disciples are made. Making disciples of Jesus, therefore, must be at the heart of everything we do as a church.

The book of Acts gives us a further glimpse at how the New Testament church sought to make disciples: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). They devoted themselves to the Scriptures, to prayer, and to community. It is my belief that a life molded by these values cannot help but obey the Great Commission. In our present text, we will observe particularly how a life saturated in God’s Word is essential to obeying the Great Commission.

Deuteronomy literally means “second law,” which is fitting because it is composed of the final sermons of Moses given to the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land, and much of their content is reiterating the laws and commandments that God gave them forty years earlier. In the sixth chapter, we find our present text, which is one of the most important portions of Scripture. Called the Shema (the Hebrew word for hear), they essentially formed the doctrinal thesis of the Jewish religion, the central belief of their faith. Because of this, these verses were regularly prayed in both the morning and the evening and were often the final words upon the lips of dying Jews. Jesus, of course, affirms their importance by citing verse 5 as being the greatest commandment within the Bible. This text, therefore, is certainly worthy of our study and careful attention.

The general outline of the passage is: the central doctrine is presented in verse 4, the central command is given in verse 5, and proper application is given in verses 6-9.

THE LORD IS ONE // VERSE 4

Hear.

I am tempted to spend all our time with this one word, but alas, we shall not (today…). The importance of our text beginning with this word is multitude.

First, by being command to hear we must conclude that something is about to be said that is worth listening to. Something important is about to be communicated, so we would be wise to give our attention.

Second, we must remember who is commanding us to hear: Moses, the prophet of God, the vessel through whom God provided His holy law. Moses is such a dominating figure within the Old Testament that Jesus was prophesied to be a prophet like him (Deut. 18:18). This prophesy is the confirmed to apply to Jesus by how frequently their lives are paralleled. Both survived mass infanticide by an evil king, from which both found refuge in Egypt. Both were sent to rescue God’s people from slavery. Both issued the commands of God. And Moses is issuing those very commands here. He is speaking on God’s behalf, commanding us to pay careful attention to his words.

Third, because Moses is speaking the words given to him by God, we know that God not only communicates to us but actively entices us to listen to Him.

Fourth, God speaks this command to Israel, His people. God’s people should, of course, listen to their God.

This, then, begs the question: are you listening?

The reality of life is that we are hearing messages constantly. The entire field of business marketing is devoted to getting you to listen to a company’s message. People and devices are constantly vying for our attention, and we are largely influenced by the voices we are hearing. The Creator knows this, so He steps forward and demands our listening. As we will see, this God wants nothing less than to have our full attention. He requires it of His people. Why?

He is God. Two names are given here for the Creator of everything: the LORD and God. The LORD, in Hebrew, is God’s holy name, His personal name, while God is His divine title. Although we know that there is only one true God who formed the cosmos, people constantly worship other beings that they call gods. The LORD, therefore, is God’s proper name for clearly identifying the God of the Bible, which is why He specifies to Israel that He is their God.

This is intriguing because we might expect God to declare Israel as His people, as He often did. We would expect the Creator to brand them with His mark of ownership; however, He reverses the order. He calls Himself their God. He attaches Himself to them, not the other way around. I don’t think this observation is merely semantics for the sake of semantics; rather, this displays the kind of condescension that God shows repeatedly throughout the Scriptures. God does not treat us as nothing more than a pet or property. He doesn’t merely claim us as His own (even though that thought is no small wonder either!); He ties Himself onto us. Jesus is the most obvious example of this glorious condescension by literally becoming a human as we are human.

God, therefore, identifies Himself as being the God of Israel, but He also identifies Himself as being one. This means that God alone is God. Christianity is a monotheistic religion because we live in a monotheistic reality. There is only one Creator, and His name is the LORD. And He is our God. Other spiritual beings (i.e. demons) might establish false religions in which they are called gods, but they are not divine. The LORD is God, and there is no other.

Jews have rightfully identified this as being a cornerstone doctrinal statement, which specifies which God we serve. To affirm this declaration is to reject other views of God. For instance, we cannot properly believe that Allah, the god of Islam is the same as the God of the Bible because Allah is not the LORD. We serve the God whose name is the LORD, who attached Himself to the people of Israel, and who is uniquely God.

THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT // VERSE 5

Following such a necessary declaration of doctrine, Moses then provides us with what Jesus calls the Greatest Commandment: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all you might. Each command is contained within this one. Even the second command, love your neighbor as yourself, will naturally be accomplished if we truly love God as we ought. Therefore, if the aim of our life is to obey God, the process has been simplified tremendously. Obey this one command, and everything else will be naturally obeyed. How then should we obey it?

Moses explicates three realms of obedience.

First, we must love God with all our heart. In Hebrew, this refers not only to feelings and emotions (as we think of the heart today) but also to the mind alongside its thoughts, desires, and will. When Jesus added the mind onto this list, He was not adding a new concept but making the idea more explicit.

Second, we must love God with all our soul. Again, the Hebrew’s conception of soul differentiates from what is common to today. We tend to imagine the soul as metaphysical, akin or even conjoined to consciousness. While the Hebrews did conceive of the soul as being alive (perhaps even the lifeforce of a person), they also viewed the physical body as part of being a soul.

Finally, we must love with all our might. The word used here is often translated as very or much. For instance, it is used when God declared creation very good in Genesis 1. When used as a noun, the word implies might, strength (as it is said in the Gospels), force, or we might add, fervor or zeal.

Together these categories encompass the entirety of a person.

So how then do we obey the command?

Here’s an idea. Grab a piece of paper and write those three realms of life side-by-side. At the end of each day, think back over how much you loved God within those categories and assign a percentage value to your effort. Now strive each day to increase those percentages until you are living each at 100%.

If the previous paragraph didn’t raise a few red flags, your heresy alarm system might need some maintenance. Such a goal-setting mindset misses the entire point of this command. After all, what is the command again? To love God. While true love often requires us to act without emotional backing, love itself is an affection. Love is not simply an action that can be accomplished; it is the prime motivator behind our actions. We spend time with our spouse because we love them. We watch television because we love it. Even actions we dislike, we do out of love. We work a job we hate because we love what it provides for us (at least more than the alternative of not having an income). Because love is a motivation, while it is easy enough to do loving things, it nearly impossible to force ourselves to love something or someone. Yes, we can certainly stir up the flames of love, but can we actually create love? Can I force myself to love something that I am truly apathetic towards? Without outside intervention, I don’t think we can. Our loves proceed from our being, and so what we love is a reflection of who we are.

This command, therefore, is not so much about what to do as it about what to be. In order to properly obey this command, your love of God must become your identity. You love God with your whole person. Every thought, emotion, desire, intent, word, action, breath, and heartbeat come from your love of God. That is what the word all means, after all. Nothing lies outside of your love for God. Loving God is woven into each fabric of your existence.

Of course this means that we can never hope of obeying. Even if, by some miracle, we managed to love God with our entire being for one whole day, we’ve still fundamentally disobeyed. Not loving God entirely yesterday ruins an entire lifetime. The command says all, and everything less than that is disobedience.

But, you interject, God will judge me by my effort, not the result; He knows that I tried. But have your really? Might could also be translated as effort, so did you actually make every effort every moment of every day to love God? I don’t think so.

But, you offer again, won’t God show me His mercy by relaxing such an unattainable standard? For God not to demand obedience as the command is written would be for Him to lie. To command one standard but accept a lower one is dishonesty, and God never lies (Titus 1:2).

All of this means that you can never do enough to obey this command. More than that. You, as a person, are not enough to obey this command. The problem is not just your actions; it is you as a person. You are utterly incapable of loving God as He commands and deserves.

And I’m in the same boat.

We all are.

No effort will ever be enough because we ourselves are not enough. We each stand before God, disobedient to His commandments and deserving His just judgment.

Yet for all the insufficiency that mars our love for God, His love for us is more than sufficient. The glorious news of the gospel is that God extended His boundless love toward us, even when we willfully refused to love Him. Although we could never fully obey this command, Jesus did. He lived a life of total love for God, never once failing to glorify the Father in all things. Such obedience is a battle to even comprehend for us. Yet He obeyed perfectly, and then He willingly submitted Himself to die in our place. His undeserved death then became the payment of the penalty for disobedience for all who believe in Christ. For those who are united with Christ, we are now presented before God as if we have completely obeyed this command. Our status before the Father by the blood of Christ is as if we truly have loved God with all our heart, soul, and might for every single moment of our lives. Jesus Christ is our only hope. Without His righteous being imputed onto us, we are each guilty of blatant and continual disobedience, earning us the fury of God’s wrath, but in Christ, we are now children of God.

SCRIPTURE AND DISCIPLESHIP // VERSES 6-9

Verse 4 gave us the key doctrine, and verse 5 was the key command. These final verses show us how to apply them into our lives. Verse 6 is the backbone for the remainder of the passage, while verses 7-9 explain what that verse looks like when lived out.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. What words is Moses referring to? Of course, the immediate context is in reference to verse 5, but they also apply to the words of all of Deuteronomy and, then, to the rest of Scripture. But even if Moses only meant verse 5, we could not properly love God without keeping His entire Word upon our heart.

What then does it mean to keep the Greatest Commandment specifically and all of Scripture generally on your heart? As we said earlier, the heart in Hebrew entailed much more than just feelings and emotions; for them, the heart was always the center of thought and reason. Therefore, keeping God’s commandments on your heart is the same practice as meditating on God’s law, which the Psalms urge us to do. Because God is revealed through His Word, we must treasure the Word in order to properly love Him.

Verses 7-9 describe how to do this. First, Moses gives the command of discipling our children in the Word of the LORD. Notice how Moses describes the manner in which such teaching ought to be done: diligently. Just as the early church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, so Moses commanded the Israel’s to diligently teach their children God’s commands. Discipleship has always been God’s idea of expanding His kingdom in both Testaments.

While peer-to-peer or mentorship forms of discipleship are thankfully resurging today, we must never forget this ancient truth that, for parents, our children are our primary disciples. They must not be recipients of our secondhand efforts. They must be our first and most important ministries, second only to our spouse. While the community of the church can be lifesaving in childrearing, the God-given responsibility is upon the parents’ shoulders and no one else.

If that sounds intimidating, Moses continues in verse 7 to show how this is to be done. By stating two pairs of opposites (sitting-walking and lying down-rising), the prophet is emphasizing that all of life should be filled with discussion of the Scriptures. Tremendous benefit can be found in having a daily time of family prayer and Bible reading, but that is not enough. The goal is not simply to read the Bible at least once a day; the goal is the saturate life with it. That is how to disciple our children.

The great difficulty of saturating life with Scripture is that we tend to be very biblically illiterate. Living in the Bible Belt, this is especially tragic. Many people spend their entire lives attending church faithfully who still do not know the basic storyline of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. They may know the Sunday School stories (Noah, Jonah, Daniel, etc.), but they do not know which books of the Bible focus on the period of the Babylonian Exile. They do not know the basic purpose behind Paul’s letter to the Galatians or why Revelation isn’t as scary as it seems (for Christians, of course).

By God’s providence, the tide is changing, but much progress remains to be made. In order to discuss the Scriptures with our children and the people around us, we must first know them, and we can only know them by first consuming them. This is why Moses tells the Israelites to bind these words to their hands, place them on their forehead, and write them on their doorposts. While many Jews have (and still do) take these commands literally, the prophet is simply commanding them to be remembered. He essentially saying: do whatever you need to do to keep God’s Word in your mind and heart.

Of course, the added depth of meaning to having them on your hand, forehead, and doorposts is that they are visible to others. The significance here is that as we saturate ourselves in the Scriptures, we will be marked by them. They will brand us in such an obvious way that we might as well have them glued to our forehead. The Bible-saturated life is easy to recognize and impossible to hide.

If we don’t have to literally bind Deuteronomy 6:5 on our hands, how then do we dive deeper into Scripture? How can we place it constantly before our eyes?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Read it for the story. One of the best ways to become more familiar with the Bible to read it, and particularly read it with the goal of first becoming familiar with the overall narrative. While the Old Testament can be quite intimidating, it’s story can be fully grasped by reading eleven books (Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Ezra, and Nehemiah), and the other twenty-eight books take place within the timeline of those. The New Testament typically isn’t as frightening, but if the complexities of the letters are an issue, try reading them an entire letter in one sitting (as their recipients would have read them), focusing on understanding the main idea. Reader’s Bibles can be a great asset in the endeavor to enjoy the story and message of the Bible. They remove chapters and verses so that it is easier to focus on the actual words. This also makes them ideal for a self-paced reading plan.
  2. Listen to it. I think audio Bibles are awesome. They might not be for everyone (I certainly go through seasons of use), but I’ve found them to be of great aid. While visibly reading the Bible is still ideal, listening is a valuable supplement (especially when remembering that most Christians throughout history only heard the Bible read on Sundays). Most Bible apps and websites have free audio to use, but my two favorite apps are Bible.is and Streetlights. Bible.is contains dramatized Bibles, which I’m a fan of, and Streetlights throws really great background music behind them.
  3. Pray it back to God. Reading the Bible is often be boring because we fail to properly interact with the Scriptures. Praying God’s Word back to Him is the easiest (and probably best) way of developing such an interaction. Plus, if the Bible is how God speaks to us and prayer is how we speak to God, this truly turns our reading time into a dialogue with God.
  4. Meditate on it. Meditation is hard because there are, at once, so many ideas of what it might look like as well as no ideas at all. So how should you meditate on Scripture? Having a time of silence to think through a portion of Scripture is one form; however, if you are like me, our distracted age has made maintaining internal trains of thought quite difficult. Journaling can remedy this problem. Follow a formula of questions (like from 2 Timothy 3:16) or simply ask a question about the text and attempt to answer it. Regardless of how it is done, think deeply about the text and keep thinking about it throughout the day.
  5. Choose a book to study in-depth. I know this is the polar opposite of the first suggestion but hear me out. First of all, I would not suggest this approach until you have at least read the entire Bible and have a basic understanding its whole. That said, every Christian should remember that Bible commentaries are not pastoral exclusives. Anyone can, and should, grab a biblically faithful commentary and have it aid you in a deeper study of God’s Word. Tim Challies (at Challies.com) and Keith Mathison (at Ligonier) both have lists of the best commentaries on each book of the Bible, which are invaluable resources. The Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary Series is easy to read and contain questions for reflection at the end of each chapter. Also listening to a sermon series or reading a book of sermons can be use in the same way.

The point of these suggestions is not a heap a new burden upon you but to give ideas for how to begin swimming in the sea of God’s Word. The more we see God in His Scriptures, the more we will love Him. And the more we love the LORD, the more we will saturate our lives with His Word. And the more our lives are saturated with His Word, the more naturally we will disciple those around us.

Brothers and sisters, it is a new year; take this season to renew your hunger for God’s Word.

Read the Scriptures.

Meditate on them.

Study them.

Pray them.

God is speaking.

Are you going to hear Him?

Are you listening?

 

Let Your Words Be Few | Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

In almost every book or sermon to be found on Ecclesiastes, the emphasis of these verses is placed upon how we worship God, and while worship does form the bulk of the discourse here, the point of this passage is more interested in why we worship than how we worship. The Preacher is diving at the heart behind our worship of the LORD, and the result is rather like a piece of classical music. Two movements are at play here describing how to properly worship God, and each movement ends with a refrain that muses over the vanity of dreams and many words. The piece then closes with a thunderous crescendo that is meant to cast a new light upon everything that came before. Like any complex work of art, the goal is for us to meditate deeply upon what lies before us. Here, specifically, we should consider what the repeated refrain is teaching us about how to worship God and how the Preacher’s conclusion changes how we worship by reminding us why we worship.

Over the course of studying this passage, I’ve toss around various ideas about how to present it. Like many do with Ecclesiastes as a whole, I considered the wisdom of beginning with the ending, so that we might have the proper perspective over the whole text. Yet I cannot bring myself to do it. Such an approach may be more systematic in leaving no stone unturned, but it also loses some of the potency of the poetry. I’ve heard it said that art is like a frog: you can dissect it into its individual parts, but doing so will kill the frog. I pray then that God will guide our discourse as I endeavor to present the text in its poetic structure.

GUARDING YOUR STEPS // VERSES 1-7

We begin with the matter of how to worship God properly. Let us break the commands issued within these verses down to five imperatives: 1) guard your steps, 2) draw near to listen, 3) avoid the sacrifice of fools, 4) avoid rash and hasty words, and 5) pay your vow.

Guarding Your Steps (v. 1)

The first imperative is a warning for us to guard our steps when approaching God’s house. What does he mean by this? Throughout the Bible, walking is a metaphor for living. And it’s a fitting comparison. As the feet move so does the body. The Scriptures, therefore, repeatedly encourage us to walk down the path of righteousness and wisdom, while avoiding the way of wickedness and folly. Of course, Jesus capitalizes on this metaphor in the Sermon on the Mount by describing a narrow road and gate that lead to life and a broad road and gate that lead to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). The point then is that the steps you take (and where you take them) have much to say about the condition of your heart.

Solomon’s call for guarding your steps whenever you approach God is really a plea for you to consider the condition of your heart. Where have your feet been lately? What does that say about your walk with God and the condition of your heart? These are important questions to ask before approaching God. After all, God is mysteriously awe-striking and deserving of reverential fear. He is so much greater than us that we must always approach Him with the utmost reverence.

However, what does this mean for us under the New Covenant? Hebrews 4:16 tells us that we are to boldly approach God’s throne. Does that not contradict with this verse in Ecclesiastes? I believe that one of the greatest errors of modern Christianity is that we place little value on Old Testament thought. We tend to think that God used to be vengeful and angry, but now because of Jesus, He is loving and kind. We treat God as if He has changed personalities. But that is not the case! The God that we serve today is the same God that Solomon wrote about here. Instead of treating God like He is bipolar, we must understand that God is still worthy our highest reverence. He is still infinitely greater and more majestic than we can ever imagine. The only difference between us and Solomon is that because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice we can now come before God, as His children, without fear that He will reject us. We should still approach in reverence, but we also know now that we come before Him in the perfect righteousness of Christ.

Draw Near to Listen (v. 1)

Next, Solomon tells us that it is better to come to God for listening “than to offer the sacrifice of fools.” These two form a contrasting couplet, but let us focus first on the positive command. Listening is crucial whenever we draw near to God because listening involves yielding. As I listen to someone, I am surrendering over a portion of myself and my time in order to know them more. In this way, listening validates worth. By listening, I declare that you are worth my time and attention. My focus shifts off of myself and onto you. This explains then why speaking to someone who listens is truly life-giving.

But if humans who are made in God’s image are worth listening to, how much more God Himself? The point here is not that God does not care what you have to say to Him. Scripture repeatedly makes clear that the opposite is true. But we should deeply care about listening to what God is saying and make every effort to listen to Him.

Unfortunately, we often fail to listen to God’s voice. We are like the people to whom God sent Isaiah, who “keep on hearing, but do not understand” (Isaiah 6:9). God’s Word often goes in one ear and out the other without us having truly listened to any of it. Because of this propensity, God often prefaces His declarations with the word “hear.” By default, we are fools who like the sound of our own voices and who don’t care what God has to say. John Piper describes this heart well: “Many people are willing to be God-centered as long as they feel that God is man-centered” (6). We will delight in meeting with God so long as the meeting is centered around us.

But God is God, not us. We desperately need to hear His voice far more than He needs to hear ours. His ways are higher than our ways, and His plans are greater than our plans. Why would we not take advantage of listening to Him?

Of course, this listening is done primarily through God’s Word. As we read the Scriptures, God Himself speaks. Sadly, the rigidness of our private devotions can often hinder this joy. Too often, we can lock ourselves into a pattern of spending so many minutes reading Scripture and so many minutes in prayer. We do this in order to have a dialogue with God. But how many conversations actually work like that? That pattern is more like a debate than a dialogue. Real conversations have more natural flows in them. And we can interact with Scripture in the same way. Instead of rigidly dividing a time for reading Scripture and for prayer, why not mingle prayer into Bible reading? First, this makes our prayers naturally more biblical. Second, it provides a better environment for conversation to flow. Perhaps one day you have much on your heart, so two or three verses lead you into fifteen minutes of pouring your heart out to God. But the next day a different sort of heaviness is upon you, so you simply open the Word, praying, “God speak, and I will listen.” Both are beautiful forms of communion with God.

Avoid the Sacrifice of Fools (v. 1)

Next Solomon encourages us to avoid offering the sacrifice of fools, which are evil in the sight of God. What exactly is the sacrifice of a fool? I believe they are the kind of sacrifices described in Isaiah 1:12-17:

When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.

Unlike the person who humbly comes before God to listen, the fool’s sacrifices to God are all about himself. He is trying to buy God’s favor with his sacrifices, which in the end becomes a form of self-improvement rather than worship. Mike Cosper captures this idea well:

Likewise, any approach to the Christian life that seeks self-improvement as the end goal will fail too. A life of prayer, fasting, and spiritual disciplines can easily be a life of empty religious effort if the goal isn’t communion with God. We don’t need self-improvement; we need to come home. (45)

Furthermore, I think that this kind of selfish sacrifice typically comes in one of two forms. First, fools can offer the sacrifice of good works with a wrong heart. The Christian is called to do everything to the glory of God, but often we can do good works for our own benefit. Sometimes we want to look good before others, while other times we just want to feel better about ourselves. Both are sinful motives. Second, fools can offer the sacrifice of right belief without good works. Such was the case with the recipients of the passage of Isaiah above. They knew all the religious actions to take, but they failed to do good to those around them. Their theology didn’t lead them in compassion for the world around them.

If you notice, both of these sacrifices fail to account for the whole of a person. One has the actions without the head and heart, while the other has the head without actions or the heart. Fools think that they can separate out our lives. They think that they can give God their lives without giving Him their heart. Or that they can give Him their head without giving Him their hands. But we are holistic creatures, who are called to love God with all our heart, soul, and might (Deuteronomy 6:5). Everything we have is from God and must be for Him. This is why overeating doesn’t just bloat our stomachs it dulls our spirit. This is why few things are more spiritually healing than good food and good drink shared with good friends. Fools think that they can compartmentalize God, while the wise know that even our daily food and drink are for His glory and our good.

Religious devotion is a meaningless vanity without communion with God.

Avoid Rash and Hasty Words (v. 2)

This verse builds upon the concluding thought of verse 1. In our relationship with God, are we the ones that do all of the talking? Do we ever give God the opportunity to say anything to us? Solomon’s thought is very straightforward: God is bigger, smarter, wiser, and all around more awesome than you, so you should probably listen to what He has to say more than you tell Him what you think. It is my personal belief that we should all memorize these two verses because they are so counter to our nature. We want to be the ones doing all the talking. We want to be the ones that set the grounds in our relationship. But that’s all foolish. It’s foolish to come before God with many words. James 1:19 echoes this thought: Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” When you approach God, make it about God, not yourself. Be quick to listen to Him, and slow to share your opinion.

Of course, this does not mean that our prayers should be dishonest towards God. Praying dishonest prayers that we think God wants to hear is another sacrifice of fools. In doing so, we attempt to deceive God. But He is in heaven, and we are on earth. The cosmos is held together by His might, and He knows all things. Why then would we try to bring anything to Him other than our honesty? Indeed, letting our words be few is not permitting dishonesty; rather, it is calling us to slow down and understand the weight of speaking to God.

Refrain: The Business of Dreams and Many Words (vv. 3)

Obviously, these refrains are quite important since they are repeated twice, but they are quite difficult to interpret. What exactly does Solomon mean when by dreams? How are the vanity of dreams and many words connected to the rest of this passage? Barrick suggests that as vanities they are meaningless distractions in our life that keep us from true worship. Akin offers that since dreams during sleep after a hard day’s work, these are the works and words that we use to impress God. Moore thinks that words and dreams are cheap; God wants our hearts.

I think, similarly, that the dreams and words of a fool are centered upon himself. Chasing after the dreams in his head provides much business to attend to, but they are mere fantasies with no substance. Likewise, his many words might sound impressive at first, but they too are vanities. With the business of dreams and the fluff of many words, a fool becomes wise in his own eyes (Proverbs 12:15). He becomes fixated upon himself.

Pay Your Vow (vv. 4-6)

Have you ever attempted to barter with God? We say things like, “God, if you just let me find the one, I promise I will be happy and serve you with my whole heart” or “if you give me a million dollars, I promise to give half to my church!” These appear to be facetious examples, but are they not true to our character? We often have an “if you… then I will…” mentality. We make rash vows to God all the time. Our three-thousand-year-old philosopher tells us that this is not such a good idea. We make promises to God in haste, and should God actually give us what we want, we flake out in fulfilling our vows. Solomon says that this is foolish, and God “has no pleasure in fools.” We just discussed that God is far greater than ourselves and we should approach Him with fear, so it would make sense that we should keep any promises that we make to Him. He says plainly, “pay what you vow.” If there is anyone that you should avoid lying to, it’s God. In fact, Solomon says that it would be much better to just, like the previous verses say, keep your mouth shut before God than to make promises that you won’t keep. Jesus gives us this same message in the Sermon on the Mount. He tells us not to make any vows because we don’t know if we will be able to fulfill them. Instead, let our ‘yes’ be yes and our ‘no’ be no (Matthew 5:37). We are to be a people that fulfill our word.

We must be careful with the words that we say because an unfulfilled vow to God is sin. How true is this that our mouth tends to lead us into sin! The king of Israel also warns that God will not accept the excuse that we made the vow as a mistake and that there will be consequences for us lying to God. Next, Solomon issues the same warning as in verse 3. If there is one lesson to learn quickly when studying the Scripture, it is that God does not repeat Himself needlessly. Since this repetition is here, we must assume that we definitely need to take its words to heart. Here is the thought: words become meaningless when they don’t have actions to back them up. Stop presenting verbal fluff. Fear God. Worship Him with a lifestyle of reverence and intentional actions.

Refrain: The Vanity of Dreams and Many Words (v. 7)

Dreams and many words are vanity because we are terrible at judging what we truly need. We have all sorts of dreams and desires that we long to see fulfilled, but we rarely pause to consider how beneficial or damaging they might be. God, of course, does not yield to our desires, which causes many to question His goodness. How can a God who is all powerful and completely good withhold pleasure from me? Surely His goodness or omnipotence is lacking, right? Wrong. God is our Father who sees things far clearer than we can. Consider my one-year-old daughter, who just today saw her mom painting some shelves outside and decided that she also wanted to play with some paint. For most one-year-olds tasting forms a significant component of playing and our daughter is no different. In that moment, being a loving father meant withholding a desire from her. Forbidding her from eating the toxins in paint is an act of love that she doesn’t yet understand; therefore, she perceives that I am limiting her freedom.

The reality is that we need limits. We need boundaries. We need a heavenly Father who loves us enough slap our hand when we reach for things that can harm us or, more accurately, things that we use to hurt ourselves. Paint itself is not harmful when used properly, but the toxins within can kill if ingested. Likewise, wealth itself is not sinful, but when clutched by immature hands, it often is. Sex was designed by God to foster intimacy between a husband and a wife, but many use it to drag the decaying carcass of intimacy across the floor of self-gratification. Because of this, there are times when God giving us what we want is like handing a toddler a steak knife. In short, God’s refusal to fulfill your dreams may, in fact, be one of His greatest graces upon you.

FEARING GOD // VERSE 7

Thus far, we have addressed five commands regarding how we ought to worship, but now the Preacher will address why we should worship God in those ways. He does this by summarizing the commands above and pointing us to the fear of the LORD.

The Preacher concludes these verses with a marvelous conclusion, which ties together the whole of the text. In many ways, this is final phrase is foreshadowing how Ecclesiastes’ epilogue will enlighten the entire book as well.

If the root problem with in our worship is that we are too focused upon our own dreams and words, then fearing God is the alternative. In fact, the fear of God is the reasoning behind the five imperatives in verses 1-6. Because God is worth fearing, we guard our steps when we approach Him, we draw near to listen to Him, we avoid the sacrifices of fools, we avoid uttering rash and hasty words, and we pay whatever we vow to Him. Each of these can only be properly motivated by first possessing a fear of the LORD.

But why is the fear of the LORD necessary? Fearing God simply comes from understanding that God is God. To know God is to fear Him. He is holy. He is unique and in a class all unto Himself. It is only right and proper to have a healthy fear of Him, and only utter foolishness fails to do so. We fear God by simply acknowledging that He is God, and seeing God as God can only result in living a God-centered, not self-centered, life. The knowing and fearing God smashes self-aggrandizement into bits by pointing us to the magnitude of His glorious worth. All of our pretty words and lavish dreams are particles of dust compared to snow-capped mountains of His sovereign decrees.

But fearing God is not just proper; it is also practical. As humans, we were created to fear the awesome might of the LORD, so when we fail to fear God, other fears take root within the heart. Consider the rise of fear, anxiety, and depression within our society which coincides with the decline of those holding to the Christian faith. Fear of terrorism. Fear of disease. Fear of collapsed economies. Fear of isolation. Fear of people. The list can (and does) go on without end. We fear these things because we fail to fear God. After all, the fear of God is exclusive. We cannot have a proper view of God, while continuing to fear other things. Understanding God’s greatness and His love for us must cast all other fears aside. Why fear the uncertain future when the One who stands sovereign over time is our Father? Why fear death when it ushers us into eternal life with our Savior? Why fear the temporal opinion of others when God’s evaluation of us is eternal? There is an exclusivity to fearing God. By properly revering Him, we realize that all else pales in comparison.

The fear of God is as good as it is exclusive. The fear of Him “who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28) is the same fear that enables us to say as in Psalm 118:6, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” The Christian’s cry against the fears and anxieties of the world is “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31)? Our heavenly Father desires our good, so we are most benefitted by shifting our focus from self and onto God. Our greatest happiness is only found through our trembling pursuit of God. He is the supreme Treasure but not all desire to look upon Him, as Owen warns:

Not all who desire to go to heaven are fit and ready for it. Some are not only unworthy of it and excluded from it because of unforgiven sin; they are not prepared for it. Should they be admitted, they would never enjoy it. All of us naturally regard ourselves as fit for eternal glory. But few of us have any idea of how unfit we really are, because we have had no experience of that glory of Christ which is in heaven. Men shall not be clothed with glory, as it were, whether they want to be or not. It is to be received only by faith. But fallen man is incapable of believing. Music cannot please a deaf man, nor can colours impress a blind man. A fish would not thank you for taking it out of the sea and putting it on dry land under the blazing sun! Neither would an unregenerate sinner welcome the thought of living for ever in the blazing glory of Christ. (p. 7-8)

Indeed, everyone will one day fear God, but there will be two distinct kinds of fear. Those who have not beheld the glory of Christ by faith will be cower before Him, while those who by faith have tasted and seen that the LORD is good will rejoice in awestruck wonder. Because God is God, He will be feared. Let us earnestly seek the second kind of fear. Let us tremble that the One who authored quantum mechanics, photosynthesis, and platypuses is the same God who died in humiliation on the cross to rescue us from our sin. Let us quake that Holy of Holies has become our Father by adopting us as sons and daughters.

Let There Be Light! | Genesis 1:1-5

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Genesis 1:1-5 ESV

 

We begin this season of Advent by going back to the very beginning, the creation of all things. In Genesis 1, we meet the Author of all existence, God the Creator. Because the miracle of the incarnation (the first advent of Jesus) is all about God becoming man, we must spend time gazing upon the holiness of God in order to grasp even a fraction of the significance of Christ’s birth.

Let’s be honest right from the start: these verses can be taught from an infinite number of angles. In fact, I’ve already preached through them once before. Our focus, therefore, will be far from exhaustive; instead, I desire to structure our study around three questions, from which we will derive points of application as well.

WHO IS GOD?

This question is easy to ignore, to bypass on our way to deeper discussions. However, God is not merely our subject; He is the very context of our discussion.

What exactly does this mean?

First, we see that God is the subject of this text. He is the only person performing actions here, and, as the rest of the Bible makes clear, He is the ultimate and primary protagonist of Scripture. People like Moses, Abraham, and David play crucial roles in the storyline of the Bible, but they remain secondary characters. God Himself is the hero of the Bible, no one else.

This, of course, should impact how we are meant to read the Bible. Scripture is not a self-help manual, a history book, nor many of the other ways people often think of it (although it does contain elements of those things). God’s Word is, rather, the revelation of Himself to us. The Bible primarily shows us God, which includes for what purpose He made us, how we rejected Him, and how He rescued us from our rebellion. Reading the Bible will certainly always apply to you, but it is not about you. It’s about God.

But God is not only the Bible’s main subject; He is also its context. Notice that in Genesis 1:1 God creates everything. The phrase the heavens and the earth is a merism (much like searching high and low for something) that means everything that exists. So if something exists, God made it. This means that God began the beginning but was never begun Himself. Side note: meditating in your bed on truths like this will probably give you that slightly dizzying sensation that kind of feels like looking out over the edge of a cliff. Existence itself is dependent upon God for its being. As people who exist, we are dependent upon God for continuing to be. The Apostle Paul rightly applies these words of a pagan poet to our relationship to the one true God: “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). God is the context for both our study and the Bible’s story because we can only read these words from Him, by Him, and through Him.

Of course, all of this is just a more complicated way of saying that God is the Creator. He is the Author, not only of the Bible, but of soft-shelled crabs, trees, the color spectrum, and everything else. He stands outside of time as the One who eternally is, without both beginning and end. Beside Him stand no equals. He alone is supreme, holy. He is God, and there are no others. As Creator, He began creation, and He will ultimately judge all His creatures.

Consider the reality of what this means. You are not a god. You are a creature created by God. You, therefore, do not know what is best for your life or how to be fulfilled; God does. He designed you, so He knows how you are meant to live and function. And particularly if you are inclined to reject the claims of the Bible, consider what even the possibility of this God existing would mean. If there were even the slightest chance that this Creator is real, would it not be advantageous to investigate these matters further?

WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS?

On the first day of creation, God brings light into creation establishing day and night. Like almost everything else in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, these two concepts are a reoccurring theme throughout the Bible. The light and darkness here are literal, yet as they continue to be used, we begin to understand their symbolic significance. Allen Ross clarifies this point:

It is natural light, physical light; but its much more. The Bible shows again and again that light and darkness signify mutually exclusive realms, especially spiritual matters of good and evil. Through Scripture light is the realm of God and the righteous; darkness is the domain of the Evil One and death. Light represents that which is holy, pure, true, life-giving, and gladdening. (108)

It is no small thing that we are more at ease in the light. By light, we are able to see whatever is around us, surveying and understanding our environment. Because of this, light is also often symbolic for knowledge, while ignorance is represented by darkness.

Yet this first act of creation also provides a further glimpse at answering our first question. In 1 John 1:5, we learn that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” God brings light into the creation because He is light. His very presence chases away darkness, so it is only natural for Him to begin creation by forming light. As if to emphasize that light flows from Him, the creation of the sun, moon, and stars (objects that give light) does not occur until day four.

WHY WAS THERE DARKNESS IN GENESIS 1:2?

Our final question is certainly one of the most intriguing from the creation account. If God, who is light, makes light on the first day, why was there already darkness in verse 2? The attempted answers for what exactly is happening in verse 2 are multitude.

The gap theory is particularly popular, which posits that a large gap of time exists between verses 1 and 2. Satan’s rebellion in heaven occurred during this time period, and the ensuing heavenly battle left creation in the condition of verse 2.

Although the gap theory quite possibly might be the correct answer, I lean towards the idea that verse 2 describes the raw state of the world from when God began to create in verse 1. Indeed, verse 2 has a chaotic undertone, while the remainder of the chapter centers around God bringing order from chaos.

But why would God create the cosmos in a state of disorder and chaos just to put it into order over the span of one week? Of course, we know that God could have created everything in working order in an instant, no days of creation required. But He didn’t. He chose to create through a process, which can only mean that it is significant. It is not a stretch, therefore, to view God as creating the world disordered and primordial, so that He could shape it properly. In fact, this is God’s mode of operations throughout the rest of the Bible too (even from chapter one, He is revealing to us His character). Consider God’s promise to give Abraham the Promised Land, which was only fulfilled more than four hundred years later by his descendants under the leadership of Joshua. Or think of David’s long road to being king after being anointed by Samuel as a boy. Our own salvation is quite another process, as we struggle through the already-not-yet of both wrestling with and being freed from sin. We see this in nature as well (i.e. photosynthesis and the water cycle). The examples are endless because God works through processes.

This also explains why our obsession with instant gratification, deep down, feels so wrong. Sin corrupts our desires, making our wants prone to contradict God’s perfect design. We long to escape the systems that God designed, which is just a repackaging of the first sin.

But back to the original question: why was darkness present in verse 2? I believe it is to show that God is the dispeller of darkness. Here He forms light and establishes the division between darkness and light, but in our final sermon, we will see God dispel darkness completely. Creation begins with no light but ends with no darkness. This is the Creator’s plan. This is the good news.

Unfortunately, God’s dispelling of darkness is also a problem for us since Adam and Eve plunge the world into deeper chaos in Genesis 3. That chapter tells how our ancestors rejected God’s glorious design for creation. While God made them His stewards, exercising dominion over the earth, they wanted to be like God Himself. They attempted to usurp God’s throne, and because of that sin, we and all of creation have become corrupt and broken. We now follow the same pattern. We sin. We reject God’s design, choosing instead our own wants and desires. We elevate ourselves above the God who formed us from the dust and breathed life into our bones. This is folly defined, the rejecting of light in favor of the dark.

Fortunately, God would not leave us to grope about in the dark. He would come to rescue His people. During Advent, we celebrate the glorious coming of God in the person of Jesus Christ. By becoming human (while still retaining His divinity), Jesus walked the earth as the second Adam, the perfect human who (unlike Adam) rejected each opportunity to sin. He walked the earth, drawing some into His light, while others shrank away further into the dark. Then, at the end of His life, He willing submitted Himself over to death, suffering the righteous wrath of God in our place, and after rising from the dead, He freely grants us His righteousness.

This is the gospel, the good news and grand message of the Bible. This is the story that God has been telling from the beginning. Like the primordial chaos of creation’s beginning, God made us knowing that we would sin. Even before He said, “Let there be light”, the advent of Jesus was planned. This is His story, His process of creation and redemption, the revealing to His people His glory and splendor, His justice and wrath, His grace and mercy, His love and His compassion.