[Jan 31]--Forgiveness and Repentance, Part Two

Psalm 51

Yesterday we looked at what we can learn about sin from Psalm 51. Today, we’re going to examine forgiveness and repentance. I promise it’ll be a little more positive than yesterday.

Once you’ve learned to call your sin what it is and recognized how serious it is, then you can move on to dealing with it. First, cast yourself on his mercy. Look at vs. 16: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.” Under the Old Covenant, there was no sacrifice available for adultery or murder; there was no animal you could bring to “make up” for it. The only thing David could expect was the death penalty. All he could plead was God’s mercy, his unfailing love, and his compassion, which he did in the first verse. In the same way, that’s all we can plead when we come to him asking for forgiveness.

Second, know that he’s forgiven you. In Christ, he's promised that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” We can know, even better than David did, that our sins are covered by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and when we ask, he will forgive and restore.

And we can see how good this is by contrasting it with the way some people “forgive.” Have you ever known anyone who keep mentioning how you messed up, never letting it go? They say that they forgave you, but in a heated argument they bring it up again? I promise you, our Savior’s not like that. He's promised that once we’re forgiven, it’s forgotten.

Third, resolve, by his grace and strength, to do better. Take note from the Psalm what was going to occur after forgiveness and restoration. His tongue would sing God’s praises, and he would teach sinners to turn back to the Lord. In other words, the relationship between David and his Lord would be restored, and “righteous” sacrifices would again be offered on the altar. But we can’t offer righteous sacrifices until our hearts are right with him, and part of that is repentance—turning away from sin.

By the way, that term is something we need to grasp if we’re going to understand our Bible. John MacArthur defines “repentance” as “changing our orientation and in so turning to seek a new way of life.” There’s a sense in which it’s once-and-for-all when we make a commitment to Christ at the moment of salvation, and there’s a sense in which it’s a day-by-day, actually moment-by-moment, turning away from the sin that’s cropped up again in our lives.

The good news is that once we we’ve done this, we can know true cleansing. The deeper we let the surgeon’s scalpel of the Holy Spirit cut into our hearts in order to slice away the rot of sin, the deeper we’ll know the freedom of forgiveness.

And for your contemplation, here's "Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)" by Chris Tomlin:

Lord Jesus, thank you so much for your grace and mercy. My sins, my chains, my guilt is gone. In you I know true freedom, for you have washed me and cleansed me.

[Jan 30]--Forgiveness and Repentance, Part One

Psalm 51

What does a good man do when he realizes that he’s done a very bad thing? We spent a long time examining David’s affair with Bathsheba (and the results) last year, so we won’t go into too much detail here. Just a quick summary: Staying behind while sending his soldiers off to war, David committed adultery with a woman who caught his eye. When informed that she was pregnant, he brought in Uriah (her husband) and unsuccessfully tried to have him sleep with his wife so that he (Uriah) would think that the baby was Uriah's. Uriah was too honorable to sleep with his wife while his soldiers were out in the field, and so David arranged for him to be killed in battle. So David was guilty--among other things--of cowardice, adultery, and murder. Nathan the prophet confronted him with his crimes, and to his credit David confessed and repented. This psalm is the result.

By the way, I think that it’s a shame if this episode is the first thing that we think of when we hear his name. He was a good man. God himself called David “a man after [my] own heart.” Like with Job, if I knew that the Lord talked about me like he talked about David, I'd be thrilled. David was a man of extremes: He showed incredible godliness and character throughout most of his life, especially as he was being chased by Saul. But when he fell, he fell really hard. Why do I bring this up? Because most of us reading this are trying to follow God’s direction in our lives. But in a moment of foolishness, we can mess up royally and find ourselves doing things that we would've never imagined doing.

What do we do then? First and foremost, don’t make excuses. When Saul was confronted with his sin, he found everyone to blame except himself. When David was confronted, the next words out of his mouth were “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Second, call the sin what it is. Note the terms David uses here: “transgressions,” “iniquity,” “sin,” “evil,” and my personal favorite—“guilt of bloodshed.” One word you won’t find here is “mistake.” That’s a word we really need to avoid in situations like this. A “mistake” is when you don’t balance your checkbook right. A “mistake” is when you forget to pick up the milk from the store. When you’ve consciously disobeyed God’s instructions, it’s not a mistake.

Third, recognize that your sin has been primarily against God: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” No matter whom else you might have harmed, your first offense was against holy righteous God. David had sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah (among others), but he first and foremost needed forgiveness from his Lord.

We’ll finish this discussion tomorrow, but for now I’d like to leave one main point in your head: We don’t take sin nearly as seriously as God does. We tend to minimize what we do wrong, and as long as we do, we can’t experience the depth of his forgiveness.

And now for your enjoyment and meditation, here's Charlie Peacock's version of verses one to four.

Father God, I want to hate. I want to hate my sin with just a smidgeon of the passion with which you hate it. I want to love you with all my heart, mind, soul and strength, and I can’t do that as long as I hold onto something that hurts you. Please help me.

[Jan 29]--Safety and Stillness

Psalm 46

One of the big movies a few years ago was 2012, an action thriller set in the year--you guessed it--2012. Apparently the ancient Mayan calendar doesn’t go past that year. As a result, we were supposed to take warning that cataclysmic events will occur before the end of that year, and all life on earth would be threatened.

I thought of that movie while reading this psalm, because the author(s) described those types of events here. Maybe they didn’t literally see mountains fall into the sea, but it might have seemed that way at times. The nation of Israel was constantly in danger by virtue of being surrounded by hostile powers which were much larger than they were--sort of like today! But the Sons of Korah started out with a declaration: Even if the earth shifts and the mountains take a dive, God Almighty is still in control, and he’s our “refuge and strength.” He’s the source of our security, and we’ll run to him and trust in him when everything is in an uproar.

One of the common tactics of invading armies back then was the siege. They'd surround a city and block off all support. Eventually the inhabitants would run out of food and water, and the city would be easy pickings. But not Jerusalem, the city of our God: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.” The Lord’s people would be protected and provided for, no matter what their enemies did.

By the way, this is a good point to talk a little bit about the word Selah. We don’t have an exact translation for it, and we can’t be 100% certain what it means. However, the standard understanding is that it was meant to be a pause. Remember, the Psalms were designed to be sung before they were read. So I'd suggest, to get the best meaning out of them, that you pause for a few seconds whenever you see the word. I believe that the author (and the Spirit behind them) put those in for a reason, probably to emphasize the last phrase or verse and have us focus on it.

But the work of God on behalf of his kingdom and people is not merely defensive. At the right time and in the right way, he will act openly to remove the threat. All the armies of the world, all their plans and schemes, all their military might and superiority will come to nothing as he makes wars cease to the ends of the earth.

This phrase “Be still and know that I am God” has been used pretty extensively as a call to quiet meditation. We’re supposed to put everything aside for a few moments and spend some time just listening to his voice. I’m all in favor of that, and I wouldn’t say that this interpretation is completely wrong, but I don’t think that that’s the main point of the verse. In the middle of pure chaos, like in an earthquake or flood, what’s the first instinct for most people? Panic!!! Look for safety anywhere you can get it! But no, instead of screaming your head off, be still. Calm down. Trust in him. In the immediate context, I think a great paraphrase would be "Calm down and know that I'm in charge of all this, even when it looks like chaos and evil reign."

And what’s the end of all this drama? The Lord God will be exalted among the nations. I’ve always imagined the emphasis being on the “will.” “No matter what happens or how hopeless the situation seems, I will be exalted in the end—by everyone.” By both the salvation of his people and by his judgment upon his enemies, he will be exalted.

And why can we be still and not panic? Because “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” And after saying that, we need to pause for a moment and really let that soak in. Why don’t you?

While you let it soak in, for a springboard I'd suggest Shane and Shane's version of the Psalm 46. I've listened multiple times, and I can't think of anything that captures the spirit of the psalm better. Listen, and bask.

Father God, you are my refuge and my shield. I’m sorry for the times when I’ve looked for another one. I praise you, because you will be exalted among the nations. What part can I play in that?

[Jan 28]--Panting

Psalm 42-43

As we go through these psalms, one theme seems to appear repeatedly: Abandonment by God. Over and over, the psalmist (David, the sons of Korah, or whoever) was in major difficulty, was seemingly surrounded by foes, and called out to their Lord with a cry of desperation. And worst of all, on top of all their problems, it seemed as if the Lord had abandoned them to their fate.

But here is where good theology is so valuable to us. As we discussed last year at the end of Exodus, God is omnipresent. He’s everywhere at once, and he fills heaven and earth to overflowing. Therefore, he’s no more “here” than anywhere else. On top of that, once we became believers, his Spirit came to dwell within us. This is not a temporary thing, and his presence is not dependent on our performance. He said that he would never leave us or forsake us, and as long as we’re his children (which is forever), his Spirit lives within us to confirm the fact of our adoption.

But while the fact of his presence is always true, we don’t always feel it. He can feel distant, and we feel little to no comfort from him. Our prayers feel like they’re hitting the ceiling and reading the Bible feels like reading names out of the phone book. The worship experience on Sunday morning is nothing more than going through the motions, and it all feels like a waste of time. There’s no joy, no peace. I know about this from personal experience: I’ve been there too at times. You see, while his presence is always with us, sometimes, for one reason or another, he withdraws the sense of his presence.

Why would he do this? Sometimes it’s because of sin. In fact, if you’re going through this type of “dry spell,” that'd be the first place I’d look. Read Psalm 139:23-24 as a prayer, and ask him to point out any hidden sin that you’re been holding on to.

But sometimes there’s nothing particularly wrong with your relationship. This was the case with Job, of course. He wasn’t sinless, but he was trying to follow the Lord as best he could, and the Almighty actually bragged about him to the angels. But for his own mysterious reasons, the Lord handed him over to the Adversary to be pummeled. Job's life became the ultimate Country-Western song: He lost all his wealth, his children, the respect of his wife and community, and his health. He sat in misery, trying to use potsherds to scrape at the sores to get some relief, while he had to listen to his “friends” accuse him of harboring egregious sin in his life. But you know the worst part? It seemed that God had turned his back on him, or that he was even angry with him. Job had no sense of God’s comforting presence, because that had been withdrawn from him as well.

What do we do at times like this? Well, assuming there’s no specific sin problem, then ask him to renew that sense of his presence. Focus on what you know from his word, and—sorry, I have to be blunt here—tell your feelings where they can get off. Look for comfort from your siblings in Christ, because I promise you that they’ve been through the same thing. And at the right time and in the right way, he'll make his presence known again. He’s here. He hasn’t gone anywhere.

Lord Jesus, your presence is my joy, my peace, my life. You're water to my soul, light in my darkness. Please help me to walk even closer, by your grace.

[Jan 27]--Slander

Psalm 41

Have you ever been a victim of a “smear” campaign? It’s got to be one of the most painful, frustrating, and emotionally scarring incidents any of us have ever experienced. I had a couple in high school, and it’s something I’d rather forget. If you’ve never been wounded by the “rumor mill,” then you’ve a very rare case.

In school, in the workplace, or anywhere else you have a gathering of sinners, you’ll find this sort of thing crop up from time to time. I wish I could say that the church is immune from this, but the favorite Sunday lunchtime meal for a lot of Christians is “roasted pastor.” Spreading lies or talking someone down when they’re not present or other verbal assaults can all be lumped under the general heading of “gossip.” All of us have been victims of this phenomenon, and I dare say that most of us have been guilty of it at one time or another.

If you’ve been guilty of this, then I have one word for you: Stop. If you care about your church, your family, or your work experience, then don’t participate in this destructive activity. It’s one of the Enemy’s favorite tools in destroying any godly enterprise, especially the church, and every body of believers must have a “zero-tolerance” policy towards it.

If you’ve been the recent recipient of this, this I have some words of encouragement. The first word: You’re not alone. In fact, you’re in the very best of company—“If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!” During his entire ministry and culminating at his trial, our Master was publicly accused of everything his enemies could think of. If you’re his follower, you can expect more of the same.

Second, you’re under his special care. In fact, some of the first words from Jesus in the Gospels pronounce a blessing on you: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Third, and this brings in the passage from today, you do have a Defender and a Vindicator. David, the great warrior, could slay giants, but he couldn’t pull a sword on a smear campaign. It’s like fighting shadows. So what did he do? Appeal to his Lord! Bring it to the Judge of all mankind! The Omniscient One knew all the facts, and he would--at the right time and in the right way--vindicate his servant. Like David’s greatest Descendant, we need to trust in our Father to set the record straight. And he will.

Lord Jesus, how can I be soooo concerned about my reputation among men, when I think about what they said about you? You know me, and I can trust you to take care of my reputation. Please help me to do that.

[Jan 26]--Envy and Worry

Psalm 37:1-24

For the longest time, I do have to admit that I gave into envy on a regular basis. I knew that it was wrong and sinful, but it’s something that I struggled with for a long time. Was I envious of people with more money or fame or power? No. I was envious of people who had found a spouse. I was single for the first 33 years of my life, and I didn’t want to be. I came into contact with a host of potential girlfriends, thought they might be “the one,” only to be shot down when they made it clear that they just wanted to be “just friends.” I tried to stick to God’s standards for sexual morality, and managed to stay (at least physically) pure. Meanwhile, I saw several guys seemingly go through girlfriends like Kleenexes, then treat them like something you scrape off your shoe. I was doing everything right, while I saw guys who were doing everything wrong (seemingly) get away with it. Even among my brothers in Christ, who also were trying to stick to God’s standards, I had to fight off envy as I watched them get married to beautiful (and godly) ladies.

I guess we all struggle with envy at times, but what about worry? Most of us don’t have mortal enemies (at least on the human level) like David, but we might have someone at work who's trying to stab us in the back, or maybe we have someone in our own family who can’t be trusted. So it’s easy to fall into worry or envy when you see someone getting ahead by bad means. Fortunately, today’s psalm offers the cure to both of these: the proper perspective.

First, we need to see everyone around us in light of eternity. They might be in their prime right now, but the bloom will fall off the rose soon enough. They’ll be here today and gone tomorrow, and then face our Judge. In the meantime, our Father will provide everything we need, and protect us from all real harm. And someday soon, he’ll “make [our] righteous reward shine like the dawn, [our] vindication like the noonday sun.” And our final inheritance--unlike theirs--will be permanent and glorious. As someone once put it, "When you're going through really hard times, remember that this is as close to Hell as you're ever going to get. When you see a lost man, keep in mind that (barring his repentance), this'll be the only Heaven he's ever going to see."

But we can see his handiwork—to some degree—even today. If we’re walking close to him and developing an intimate relationship with him, then when hard times come (and they surely will) we might “stumble” but we won’t “fall.” He’ll keep our steps firm.

Why did I link these two flaws, envy and worry? Well, the Psalm links them, starting with the first verse and going through the rest of the chapter. They both actually start out from the same cause, and they have the same cure. If we fail to trust our Father and take our eyes off him, then we can fall into either of those two traps, or even both. So what’s the cure? Put our focus back on him and on his truth! Delight ourselves in him, commit our way to him, and trust in him. As a teacher of mine once put it, not exactly rocket surgery or brain science, folks.

Lord Jesus, I know what I need to do, but it’s so hard sometimes. You're so good to me, so patient. Please help me to trust you better.

[Jan 25]--A Trouble-free Life?

Psalm 34

Last year when we studied the book of Job, I mentioned how I feel towards the “Health and Wealth Gospel” and its proponents. I would think that Job’s story alone would knock out this heretical teaching, but apparently it’s too appealing for some folks to avoid. The idea, simply put, is that the Lord desires every believer to be perfectly healthy and wonderfully prosperous in this life; indeed he’s promised it to every redeemed child of God. So naturally the logical result is that if you’re a believer and are experiencing problems, then something must be wrong with your faith. Words fail me (at least in a G-rated blog) in describing my reaction to this nonsense, especially since it’s damaged so many people and brought disrepute on the name of Christ in the world.

But is it complete nonsense? Is there any truth to it at all? As we can see when looking at the Fall of our first parents, Satan doesn’t usually use pure lies in order to trap people. He prefers to take some truth and pervert it, so that it sounds credible. So like all heresies, the “Health and Wealth Gospel” has a kernel of truth in it.

Today’s passage, on the face of it, actually seems to bolster their case. The main point of the passage seems to be that if you’re faithful to the Lord and call upon him in the time of trouble, he’ll rescue you out of it. Just to take a few obvious examples: “This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles,” “Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing,” “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.” And it is true that he desires to give good things to his children, just like any loving Father. But he has a higher purpose than my comfort level.

In contrast to their interpretation, we have to look at the cases of Job, David, most of the prophets, and all the apostles who all suffered for their faith. All of them had an intimacy with the Lord that I'd love to have.

In fact, did you notice vs. 20, which promised that the righteous man would not even have a bone broken? Did that sound familiar at all? It might, since it’s mentioned in the N. T. The apostle John actually quotes it in regard to Jesus on the cross. The standard procedure by Roman soldiers, when they crucified someone, was to finally put them out of their misery by breaking a leg bone of the criminal, thus denying them the ability to pull themselves up and prevent suffocation. Jesus was already dead by the time the soldiers were ready, so they didn’t do it.

The point I’m making is this: If Psalm 34 is really promising a trouble-free life to believers, then it sure would be odd, since vs. 20 was used by the Holy Spirit to apply to Jesus on the cross. The Passion would seem to be the ultimate refutation of the misinterpretation of the Psalm: Jesus--the only 100% righteous Man who ever lived--unjustly persecuted and tortured and murdered.

So how do we apply this Psalm to ourselves? Yes, God will protect us from any real harm. We’re his children, and he’ll provide everything we need. The problem is that God’s definition of what I need and my definition of what I need can be slightly different. I think I need a trouble-free life, but he knows that what I need is to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus. And yes, he will deliver us from all our troubles. Sometimes he does it in this life, and sometimes he waits until the next one to make things right. In the meantime, I can “Taste and see that the Lord is good” and know that he "is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Aren’t you glad?

Father God, I’m so glad that you listen when I call out to you. I might not understand what you’re doing, but I don’t have to. When I call out to you, you will deliver me, one way or the other.

[Jan 24]--Everywhere You Look

Psalm 33

It’s pretty sad, but some of my brothers in Christ seem pretty pessimistic about the state of the world lately. They’re disillusioned with the political situation, and the church seems to be in pretty sad shape. We can’t seem to find any leaders—spiritual, political, or otherwise—upon which we can depend.

I can understand their frustration and pessimism, but I think we can regain a more balanced view from Scripture. Yes, the Bible takes a very dim view of human nature. The entire O.T. is a history of God's chosen people looking for new ways to disobey their Lord, and it records a lot more failure than success. But he's still good, and he’s still in charge of human affairs, along with everything else.

I remember reading this Psalm years ago, and one little phrase stood out like a beacon in vs. 5: “The earth is full of his unfailing love.” Remember that the Hebrew word translated as “unfailing love” is chesed, which is also rendered as “mercy” or “lovingkindness” (in the old King James Version). I was reading this Psalm, and this image struck me. When something is “full” of something, then that means it can’t take anything more. There’s no more room. The whole earth is filled to the brim with his love and mercy and grace. In it we live and breath and walk.

What are some ways that his chesed is manifested around us? Well, the rest of the Psalm gives us some suggestions. First off, we can know that his word is true, and he’s faithful in all he does. He says that he's forgiven all our sins and adopted us into his family. He says that he’s made us co-heirs with Christ. He says that he is with us always, even to the end of the age.

We can also see his unfailing love in his creation. Yes, we live in a fallen world that’s brutal at times. But we can also see his awe-inspiring wisdom and intimate care for us. We can look at the starry hosts in their dance above us, and know that same Designer knows what he’s doing in our lives.

We can also see it in his sovereign working out of history. It’s hard sometimes to see his hand at work in the present, but we can look back at how he’s “[foiled] the plans of the nations,” despite their awesome military might.

Finally, we can see from our personal testimony how our Father has cared for us. He’s delivered us from death and famine, and he’s caused our hearts to rejoice.

Again, the Bible declares that the earth is full--filled to the brim--of his unfailing love. It’s all around us, and we can see it if we only have eyes to look.

Father, you’ve been so good to me so far, and the best is yet to come. The whole world is full of your unfailing love, but you’ve especially showered me with it. Please help me to trust and obey.

[Jan 23]--Good For The Soul (and Body)

Psalm 32

Over the years, biblical scholars have taken the time to classify the Psalms into different categories. There are hymns of praise, imprecatory (cursing) psalms, wisdom psalms, and prayers for deliverance, among others. Today’s is known as a penitential psalm. The author (presumably David) had sinned, then confessed and repented of his sin, and now celebrates his renewed intimate relationship with his Savior.

Of course, last year we spent a lot of time studying David’s affair with Bathsheba and what resulted of it, so we won’t go into a lot of detail here. It’s important to remember, however, that David sinned against the Lord at other times in his life. It’s just that this was the most egregious, so it got the most attention.

It starts off with a blessing, not on those who are sinless (which would only apply to one Man) but on those whose sins are forgiven. We who are in Christ know this even better than David. Our sins are forgiven, our transgressions are covered by his blood, and the Lord's promised that he will never bring up our sins again. But there's a hint of a condition in the very last phrase, and it’s a clue to our part in all this: “Blessed is the man. . . in whose spirit is no deceit.” 1 John 1:8 says that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” And friend, if you’re claiming to be without sin, that’s the only person you’re really deceiving--yourself. Just like in Alcoholics Anonymous, the solution starts when you admit you have a problem. Forgiveness and cleansing comes when you stop deceiving yourself.

This psalm then goes into a lot of detail over the time between David’s sin and his restoration. Most scholars seem to think that his description is not meant to be seen as just emotional disturbance; instead, it demonstrated physical torment as well. But whatever the sin and whatever the means God used in David’s life, it’s pretty obvious that David was miserable: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” My friend, there's no one in this world who's as miserable as a believer who’s living in disobedience. If you can live in sin with no bad consequences, you should reexamine whether or not you’re really in Christ, because “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

But finally he surrendered to the Lord’s discipline, and found the incredible relief of forgiveness and acceptance. He confessed and acknowledged his sin, and the Lord forgave him. Now, with the relationship restored, he could see his Savior God as a “hiding place” in times of trouble, who would protect him and surround him with songs of deliverance.

Finally, he gives some wonderful advice straight from his experience. He counsels us to avoid imitating animals like the horse or the mule, who have to be controlled by bit and bridle (or even worse). Instead, how about we listen to God’s word instead of ignoring it? Instead of learning from our bad experience, how’s about we learn from other peoples’ bad experience?

And if you are in that “place of discipline” from vss. 3-5, why not come in from the cold? Haven’t you been out there long enough? Your Father is looking for an excuse to forgive, restore, and shower you with grace and mercy. Why not take him up on it?

Lord Jesus, you are the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and quick to forgive. Please give me listening ears and a soft heart, so that I can hear your voice, even in its softest tones.

[Jan 22]--Redeemed from the Grave

Psalm 30; 49:10-15

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite sources on the Jewish perspective is Dennis Prager, a big name in political talk-radio. Although a lot of his show deals with politics, he also talks quite a bit about the Torah and the Hebew Scriptures, which we call the Old Testament. He also is a great apologist (defender) for what he calls ethical monotheism, the concept that there's one God who created everything, and who expects certain things from us, and who'll one day hold us accountable.

One day he was defending the idea of an afterlife, and he made a very interesting point. He proposed that you could not A) Believe in a just God and B) Not believe in an afterlife and a final judgment to come. The reason he cites is pretty compelling: In this world, there's a lot of injustice that never gets addressed at all, at least as far as we can see. A dictator with the blood of millions on his hands dies peacefully in his sleep (like Stalin). For every child abuser who’s caught by our legal system, there are countless others who never get discovered. Most murders, throughout history, never culminate in just punishment. So if you believe in a just God, then you have to believe that there'll come a day in which people get what they deserve.

That brings us to the topic for today. We've discussed this before, but since it’s so important and it relates to some troubling passages in the Psalms, I wanted to examine it a bit further here. If you read passages like 30:9, it almost sounds like it denies an afterlife at all. This one verse almost sounds materialistic, that once you die, you’re “worm food” and your existence ends.

Part of the problem for us is that we’re reading this with post-resurrection hindsight. The O.T. saints believed that God was just, and they also believed that some sort of judgment awaited them beyond the grave, but the details were somewhat vague. Paul said that Christ “has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” We don’t know everything about our True Home, but we do know a lot more than the O.T. saints did.

And this led to a lot of frustration for them, which you can sense in this and other passages, especially before the prophets came along. This is one of the reasons why Job was so frustrated: Despite his friends’ assertions, he knew quite well that a lot of bad things happen to good people, while a lot of evil people seemingly get away with murder. And that bothered him—a lot. As well it should.

But then you see--as I termed similar passages in Job--“sparks in the dark.” The sons of Korah, the authors of the second passage for today, were confident that, someday and somehow, their Lord would “redeem [their] life from the grave; he will surely take [them] to himself.”

Let's talk just for a moment about these mysterious "sons of Korah." Korah was a leader of a rebellion against Moses. Korah claimed that Moses had usurped leadership for himself, and he (Korah) wanted to lead a mutiny against him. The Lord showed very clearly how he thought of that, namely by opening the ground and swallowing Korah and his followers whole. However, apparently there were some of Korah's children who hadn't joined him in his rebellion, either by being too young or by repudiating him, and they survived. From these men came some great authors of some of our most beloved Psalms, like the 42nd and 46th. According to the superscriptions, there are a total of 11 psalms which are attributed to them.

The reason why I bring up today’s topic--why I think it’s important--is twofold. First, this explains some of the passages you’ll read in the Psalms, like today’s. The other reason is a reiteration of gratitude. I can find comfort, not only that there’s justice for the evil that people have done, but mercy for people like me. I know that I don’t deserve anything from God but judgment, but he’s forgiven me and adopted me through Christ. Unlike the B.C. saints, I don’t have to grope around and hope that everything will turn out alright in the end. I know it. I’ve got his promise on it, signed in his own blood.

Lord Jesus, I am so glad for the blessed hope I have in you. Because you live, I’ll live also. You've conquered the grave once and for all, and I share in that victory. Thank you.

[Jan 21]--Seeking and Finding

Psalm 27

As believers and students of the word, we know that all of us are sinners in need of God’s grace. This means that, apart from Jesus, there’s no one to whom we can point and follow as a perfect example. Having said that, there are a lot of things we can find to emulate in the lives of spiritual giants like David.

Today’s Psalm makes me envious, but in a good way. The intimacy he had with his Lord is something we need to cultivate, and it utilizes some really eloquent poetry in order to express it. Of course, the circumstances behind the Psalm were pretty common in David’s life: He’s surrounded by enemies, the situation looks hopeless, and he’s expressing hope that God will rescue him, and at the same time hopes he does it soon.

But there’s one verse here that really strikes me as especially profound. If a Genie popped out of a bottle and offered you your heart’s greatest desire, what would it be? Most people would say money, fame, sex, popularity, or something else that's here today and gone tomorrow. Christians, especially the more mature ones, would say that they desire to be closer to the Lord in intimate fellowship, or to please him better.

But David asked for something that most of us would never think to request. Look at verse 4 and read it again carefully:

“One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple."

Again, he longs for intimate communion (“dwell in the house of the Lord. . .gaze upon [his] beauty”), but there’s something more. Included in this “one thing” he would ask of the Lord is that he would be able to “seek him in his temple.”

Why would he wish this for himself? For one thing, he knew that if we seek him, we’ll find him eventually. Of course most of us are familiar with Jesus’ promise that those who seek will find, but even Moses promised the same thing: “[if] you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

And we should know that the seeking is a blessing from him in the sense of a gift as well. The Bible's very clear that on our own, we'd never seek him. That bears repeating, since it’s so important: On our own, we'd never seek him. If we are seeking him, it’s because he’s been seeking us first.

But he's so good that even in the process of seeking him there's a blessing to be had.

Now for your enjoyment, here's "The Lord is my Light" by Eden's Bridge.

For today’s prayer, I’d recommend you read one more time through the Psalm and pick out one verse to incorporate into prayer. For example, you might say something like “Father, I’m so glad that I will see your goodness in the land of the living. I’m going to take heart and wait for you.”

[Jan 20]--Shepherd’s Song

Psalm 23

I must admit, this is the Psalm which I’ve been dreading to write about. Not that I don’t love it—I do—but because this is so well-known that it’s hard to delve into it without repeating what others have said before. Most people recognize the 23rd Psalm along with John 3:16 as the most famous Bible passages. Before we get to my notes, I need to acknowledge that much of this material comes from A Shepherd Looks At The 23rd Psalm by W. Phillip Keller.

• The first five words are pretty ironic, since the author was a shepherd and knew sheep. Since he knew sheep, he didn’t sentimentalize them as we city-folk are prone to do. Sheep are--to be brutally frank--stupid, in fact one of the most scatterbrained animals which we’ve domesticated. They tend to wander off (mentioned in Scripture), and they love to get themselves into situations which they can’t get out of. They might wander off cliffs or into brier patches. They've been known to stand out in the rain and drown because they don’t know enough to seek shelter. When David called himself and other believers sheep, he wasn’t paying us a compliment.

• They require constant watch and protection. They have no defenses against predators, and they have to be frequently groomed and examined for wounds or disease, since their wool precludes easy inspections.

• The reason why David mentions “quiet waters” is because sheep refuse to drink from running water like in a stream or river. The shepherd had to constantly be on the move to look for green pastures and water which the sheep could consume.

• They also require constant guidance. The “rod” was used for protection and keeping count, while the “staff” was used for discipline and guiding the sheep back onto the proper path. Both discipline and protection provided comfort.

• Suddenly in vs. 5 the view shifts from the fields to a banquet. David looked at how God had provided for and protected him, and he compared it to a feast of goodness, to the point of overabundance (“cup overflows”). But notice where this banquet is. It isn’t in the midst of a calm, meditative retreat where we can focus on the Lord without hindrance. No, it’s “in the presence of my enemies.” As we mentioned before, David had plenty of cutthroat adversaries, and even with them breathing down his neck, he could see his Shepherd’s goodness, providence, and protection and see life as a banquet set by his beneficent Lord.

• And finally we see David’s proclamation summarizing up his life. As he looked behind him, he could see goodness and love (or “covenant kindness,” remember our study on chesed?) following him. Hindsight is always 20/20, and just like the poem Footprints put it, the older we get, the more we’ll see how our Savior has carried us. And this carrying will only continue as he carries us across the threshold of his House.

Lord Jesus, you are the Great Shepherd, and you laid down your life for me. Please help me to listen and obey. There are so many predators out there, but as long as I trust and obey, I have nothing to worry about.

[Jan 19]--Whom Do You Trust?

Psalm 20

One of the more controversial subjects on which Christians disagree is the validity of war. Christians on both sides who completely believe their Bibles stand off on this issue, and sometimes there’s a lot more heat than light that results. Pacifists dismiss anyone who advocates military action as bloodthirsty warmongers, while those on the other side accuse the first group of cowardice. I don’t plan on resolving that controversy today, but hopefully I can bring some balance from Scripture.

Today’s passage highlights some of the schizophrenia some Christians feel about this. Assuming that the superscription is correct, then the author of this Psalm had nooooo problem with using physical violence to maintain justice and order. David was a soldier, and one of the first times he’s seen in Scripture is the story of how he killed an enemy soldier (remember Goliath?).

But if he is the author of this Psalm, then there’s a verse that should give us pause, namely the seventh: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” In those days, horses and chariots were the pinnacle of military technology. A nation that could train and supply horses and chariots invariably had a huge advantage over an army that lacked them, a situation which you find in the book of Judges. I guess the closest modern equivalent would be “Some trust in guns and bombs and nuclear weapons, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

So how do we resolve this? Should we just disband our armies and police? Should we just “trust in the name of the Lord our God”? I'd say no. Again, David was a warrior, and there’s no indication from Scripture that God somehow disapproved of this. When we turn to the New Testament, neither Jesus nor John the Baptist called upon soldiers to quit their jobs. Romans 13:1-4 is pretty clear that soldiers (and police officers) are God’s servants to keep basic justice and order in a fallen world.

So if this passage isn’t calling for disbanding of the military, then what is it saying? Simply put, we need to put our ultimate trust in the Lord to protect us. Lots of Christians, especially politically conservative ones, are despairing since the last Presidential election. But if you don’t agree with what the President is doing, for example regarding national security, can you at least recognize this? We need to remember that our security and safety are in God’s hands. He’s still on his throne, and he’s still in control. I’m not against missiles, armies, bombs, and bullets, as such, but I don’t trust any of that to keep me safe. My Father will do that, thank you.

Lord Jesus, it’s so easy to trust in anything that I can see or understand, to trust in anything besides you. Help to trust in your name, and in your name alone for everything I need.

[Jan 18]--Seven Benefits of God’s Word

Psalm 19:7-14

Yesterday we looked at General Revelation, but the amazing thing is that the rest of the Psalm deals with Special Revelation. Before we get to that, I’d like to make a point about names. The first part of the Psalm, which is a beautiful poem about the Creator’s work, has a generic name for him: “God.” With just what we get from nature, we'd be groping around in the dark, and would never know that he really and truly loves us. In fact, we wouldn’t even be sure about what his standards are.

But with the second half, the scene changes dramatically. Here, he’s called “Lord," which is the NIV's translation of his special revealed name. This is because through his revealed word, he’s more than just “God,” the Creator who set everything in motion. No, he's Yahweh, “I AM.” This is the covenant name, which he revealed to Moses. This name, as we studied last year, holds within it both his sovereignty and his intimacy. He's both transcendent and imminent. As the prophet Isaiah said, he “[lives] in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit.”

So here are the seven benefits from his “Law,” or “teaching”:

• It revives the soul.

• It makes wise the simple

• It gives joy to the heart

• It gives light to the eyes

• It gives pleasure (“sweeter than honey”)

• It gives warning to his servants

• It offers great rewards

As we discussed last year, I'd submit that the word “Law” is really inadequate as a translation, since that presents an image of a rule or legal requirement (such as a speed limit). It could also be translated as “teaching,” and I really prefer that word, since it's much broader than "law." When we read his word, we’re sitting at his feet for revival, wisdom, joy, light, pleasure, warning, and reward.

Finally, there's a very deep point made in the last three verses here. David starts out by acknowledging that we’re very capable of self-deception. In order to understand how far we’ve fallen and how much we need his grace, we need the Holy Spirit (using his word) to search out our hearts. In the natural order of things, listening to God’s word leads to confession and repentance.

But there's a distinction here he makes between “errors” and “willful sins [ruling] over” him. We all sin, and we all fall short of God’s standards. None of us deserve to go to heaven, and we all deserve hell for eternity. But one of the marks of a redeemed man is that his sin disturbs him. The overall direction of his life is towards God, no matter how many times he stumbles along the way. We won’t be sinless, but we can be “innocent of great transgression.”

And how do we do this? My friends, it’s not rocket science or brain surgery. You go to your Savior on a daily basis (the more often the better) and ask him to seek out the hidden sins in your heart and life. You let his word examine you. And you ask him to help you do better. There’s a part of me that wishes it was harder to understand, right?

Father, your word is so valuable, and I don’t treat it as such. How precious is it to me?

[Jan 17]--Universal Testimony

Psalm 19:1-6

I like to call this one the “revelation” Psalm, because it deals with God’s revealing of himself. The first six verses deal with his general revelation to all humanity, while the remainder talk about his special revelation.

We’ve discussed the concept of General Revelation before, but we’ll examine it in greater detail today. As its name suggests, it’s God’s revelation of himself to all humanity, and to which everyone has access. Romans 1 and 2 divide it into what we might call the inner witness and the outer witness: He’s revealed himself in creation and he’s revealed himself in our consciences.

Whenever you talk with a skeptic who wants to trip you up, one of their favorite objections tends to be “What about the Pygmy in Africa who’s never heard?” They’ve never had access to a Bible or a missionary, so how could they end up in hell? How could God hold them responsible for rejecting a message they’ve never heard?

The Biblical answer to this is found in today’s passage, along with other ones. God has revealed himself in creation, and according to Romans sinful humanity is without excuse. The Psalms unequivocally state that “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Verse 2 says that their testimony is 24-7: “Day after day. . .night after night.” One of the interesting things about verse 3 is the seeming contradiction to verse 2: It says "They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them." In other words, theirs is a silent testimony. The sun, the moon, the stars, all of creation is telling us something, but they're not using human speech. What exactly are they saying?

Very simply, they’re telling us day after day and night after night that “Someone created us. We didn’t make ourselves. Someone has put us into place, has started up our dance in the heavens.”

But if they're wordlessly sending out this message all the time, then why do we need missionaries? There are quite a few reasons for this, but one of them is that general revelation is not enough to save anyone. Now, I know that when Jesus said that if anyone asked or sought or knocked, they would find him. God never turns away anyone who really seeks him, so if that poor African looked at creation and used that as a starting point and really sought the Lord, he'd find him. But the problem is that on our own, no one will ever seek God. As C. S. Lewis so famously put it, to talk about “Man’s search for God” is like talking about a mouse’s search for a cat. So I have to clarify and reiterate: The main problem is not the insufficiency of General Revelation; it’s the sinfulness of the human heart.

For someone to really be saved, they have to be exposed to Special Revelation, which we would never find out on our own. We can know that God is all-powerful, that he’s incredibly wise, and that he provides for us in some fashion. Our conscience can tell us that there’s a right and wrong, and that we’ve committed wrong. But to know that he’s gracious and merciful, and that there’s a way back to him, we have to have something more. And that’s the subject for tomorrow.

Father, I don’t want all this theology to distract me from the incredible creation which you’ve designed. Truly the heavens declare your glory, the skies proclaim the work of your hands. Just from that alone, you are worthy of all praise and thanksgiving.

[Jan 16]--Jesus in the Psalms: King of the World!

Psalm 72

Several years ago, a movie broke all the box-office records, and made its creator, James Cameron, a boatload of money. It won a lot of Oscars, and when he stood in front of millions of viewers and held up his award, he proudly quoted the famous line from his film: “I’m the king of the world!!!”

I remember watching that show and thinking to myself, “That’s got to be one of the most idiotic statements ever made in public.” This guy was a movie director. True, he was very popular and famous and made a lot of money, but none of that made any eternal difference, and none of that was permanent.

But there’s Someone else coming, and he really will be King of the World! As we close out the series Jesus in the Psalms, that’s the phrase that kept coming to my mind as I read this passage.

Now, I have to be completely up front here. All of the other Psalms we've studied in this series are specifically quoted in the N.T. as predicting something about Jesus. There's no room for ambiguity there. However, strictly speaking that's not true for today's passage: Nowhere is today's Psalm quoted or alluded to in the N.T. Nevertheless, as we'll see, there are some good reasons for applying it to our Savior Lord.

First, there are a couple of interesting things to note. According to the superscript, this was composed by Solomon, and that would make it a rarity. Apparently his father was much more prolific when it came to writing Psalms, since the 127th is the only other one which bears his name.

The reason why this is important is because of the breadth of the passage. What I mean by that is the Psalm uses a lot of universal terms to describe the rule of this King. Look in particular at vss. 5, 7-8, 11, and 17. The only earthly king who even came close to fulfilling this passage was Solomon himself. He had a lot of nations bow before him, but never the entire earth, and he certainly didn’t live as long as the sun or moon. This might only be flowery language to describe himself or another Davidic king, but I think the ultimate fulfillment is found in David’s greatest Son, the One who'll reign on David's throne forever.

So what do we see about his reign, besides being eternal and universal? The two words which I think summarize this King’s reign are mercy and justice. In our system of government, we’ve divided up the functions of the legislative, the executive, and judicial functions, but not so under an absolute monarch like this one. He made the laws, he enforced the laws, and he applied the laws in disputes. If you were mistreated by someone else, then he was the one to ask for help.

To those who are “needy” and “afflicted,” he would be like a gentle rain on the earth, bringing refreshment and new life. All of us need this, especially in the spiritual realm, since we’re all beggars who depend completely on his mercy and grace to save us.

But to those who oppressed others and who rebelled against his rule, he would display his justice. No one would be able to hide from his piercing gaze or be able to stand before his wrath. The “meek and mild” Jesus you might've seen in paintings is not the one we see here.

I know that there are a lot of debates among Christians about his Return, and I'd really hesitate to be dogmatic about the details. However, there are some things which every Bible-believing Christian should know about it. Among these: One day he'll return in power and glory, and he will be either the best Friend or the worst Enemy you could ever have. The choice is yours, and you have to make it before the clock runs out.

Lord Jesus, I'm so glad that I’m covered by your precious blood. I belong to you, but I don’t show it all the time, or even most of the time. Please change that, as only you can.

[Jan 15]--Jesus in the Psalms: A New Type of Priest

Psalm 110

Have you noticed a pattern here? All of the major features and events of our Lord’s ministry were predicted and described in the Psalms: His incarnation (2 and 8), his Passion (22 and 69), his final words on the cross (31), his resurrection (16), and his claiming of his bride(45). There are just two major aspects of his ministry which haven’t been covered: the Ascension and his return. And guess what?! They’re in there too!

When the Lord Jesus returned to his Father’s side, it was not a reversal of the Incarnation. He's been united with human flesh forever. When he walked the earth, he was just as much man as he was God, and that didn’t change at the Ascension.

Why is this important? Well, there are at least two reasons why it affects you and me, and they’re both in this passage. Since it’s one of the most frequently quoted Psalms in the New Testament, I would nominate it as one of the most underappreciated.

The first verse was quoted by Jesus himself in the last week of his ministry. His enemies came to him and asked him a series of questions, designed to stump (and thus discredit) him, or maybe even provide a pretext for arresting him. Of course he knocked all of them out of the park, and left his questioners/accusers humiliated. Then finally it was his turn. He quoted vs.1 and confirmed with them that the verse referred to the Messiah. But then he asked them to think it through: How could David call the Messiah his “Lord”? You never called your descendants “Lord”; it's always the other way around. How could the Messiah be both David’s descendant and his “Lord”? Well, for us Christians, the answer’s obvious: Jesus was/is the physical descendant of David but also God in the flesh.

But what does this have to do with the Ascension? This verse is quoting the Father, who's saying this to his Son. Jesus, when he returned to the Father, sat down at his right hand, and he’s waiting for the completion of his Father’s plan to “make [his] enemies a footstool for [his] feet.” In other words, Jesus is sovereign God, and his plan is unfolding, and one day all his enemies will be made to submit to him. We don’t see it now, but we will.

The other reason why this Psalm is so important to us is found in vs. 4. The author of Hebrews spends an entire chapter expanding on the meaning of that one verse, and here’s the upshot. None of the priests in the line of Aaron could ever really take away sin, so a priest in another line was needed. Melchizedek, one of the most mysterious people in the O.T., was the prototype of this new priesthood, and our Lord Jesus was the Priest in his "line." He was greater than all the Aaronic priests for two reasons: He will live forever (and thus needs no replacement) and actually can take away our sins.

And what is he doing for us right now, this very minute? Hebrews 7:25 tells us plainly: “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” He’s interceding for you and me, pleading our case before the Father.

So those are the two main aspects of the Ascension: His sovereign outworking of the Father's plan, and his intercession for believers.

Lord Jesus, I both praise and thank you. I praise you because you ARE in charge. Your enemies will be placed under your feet, one way or another. I thank you, because at this very moment, you’re pleading my case before the Father.

[Jan 14]--Jesus in the Psalms: Wedding Song

Psalm 45

I guess it’s a little weird of me, but I love to find “hidden treasures” in God’s word. What I mean is that I specifically look for passages in Scripture that most people aren’t familiar with. Everyone loves the 23rd Psalm, and lots of folks at least recognize such Psalms as the 46th, or the 139th, or maybe the 150th. But today’s is not on most “favorite” lists, and I think it should be.

It’s obviously a wedding song, from both the title and the text, but whose? Its authors are the “Sons of Korah,” (which we’ll discuss at a later time, it’s an interesting story). Are they referring to any certain king, or is there something more here?

Just on the surface, it seems to be only referring to a human king, a beautiful song meant to be sung on his wedding day. But there’s more here than meets the eye. Again, we need to be careful about attaching O.T. passages to the Lord Jesus, but in this case we have some pretty strong reason. The writer of Hebrews expressly applies it to Christ, so at least some of this is pertains to him.

The first part of the Psalm describes the king, and what a picture it presents! He’s amazing to look at and amazing to listen to. His words are touched by God himself, and grace is on his lips. He’s majestic in his splendor, and his enemies’ days are numbered. All the nations themselves will fall at his feet.

Here’s where it gets a little mysterious, at least if you think this Psalm only refers to a human king. The Psalmist suddenly switches to talking about the king to addressing God in vss. 6-7: “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

So who is the author addressing in those verses? God or the king? Well, if you believe in the divinity of Christ, then the answer is “both.” "Your throne, O God [referring to Jesus], will last for ever and ever. . . therefore God, your God [referring to the Father], has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy."

After this the Psalmist speaks to the Bride, but in accord with Middle Eastern tradition, the Bridegroom is still the center of attention. Having said that, I think that this is the most beautiful description of the Church I can find in Scripture. How does the King see his bride? He’s “enthralled by [her] beauty.” She’s “glorious” to him, and he eagerly awaits their union. The wedding procession is filled with “joy and gladness” as “they enter the palace of the king.” She only has eyes for her Groom (which is expected and appropriate for us as believers), but the Groom only has eyes for his Bride. The Church we see is far less than perfect: backbiting, worldly, materialistic, easily divided against itself, etc., But that's not how he sees her. He looks at her and sees her as she one day will be.

By the way, there’s a good application for us as believers now. What’s the counsel that the Psalmist gives the Bride? “Forget your people and your (original) father's house.” Don’t pine away for your old life. Your loyalty and your love belong to your new Lord and Divine Husband, and no one else.

And that’s not the end of the story. Their “children” will be multiplied, and his Name will be perpetuated throughout eternity. All the “nations” (or “Gentiles,” that’s you and me) will praise his name for ever and ever.

Now do you see why I love this Psalm?

Lord Jesus, I am overwhelmed by the love that you’ve shown me. I was lost, but you’ve claimed me as your own. I deserved nothing from you but judgment, but you’ve cleansed me and clothed me in your righteousness. I will praise your name forever and ever.

[Jan 13]--Jesus in the Psalms: Last Words

Psalm 31:1-16

Here’s a trivia question for you: What precisely were Jesus’ last words on the Cross? We discussed his cry of anguish to the Father (My God, my God. . . !”), and we also mentioned his prayer for his enemies yesterday. According to Luke, his very last words before he breathed his last were also a quotation from a Psalm: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”** So not once but twice he uttered Psalms as an expression of his emotions and thoughts.

Unlike the first quotation (a cry of despair and abandonment), the second quotation actually summarized Jesus’ entire life. From the moment of earliest childhood he was trusting his Father. When John the Baptist questioned Jesus’ baptism, the only response was that it was necessary to “fulfill all righteousness.” In other words, it’s the Father’s plan to do this, and that's all the reason we need. One of his first temptations was to show less than complete trust in the Father’s provision: Satan tried to persuade him to turn stones into bread, but our Lord was willing to wait for the Father’s timing to end the fast. Every moment of every day he consciously decided to follow the Father’s plan, and steadfastly ignored the advice of everyone else.

And this continued into his arrest, trial, torture, and execution. Peter put it this way: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” From the moment of his arrest up to his last breath, he could've ended it all with a word. When one of his disciples foolishly sought to defend his Master with a sword, what was his response? “Put your sword back in its place. . . Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” Considering that one angel killed over 185,000 men in one night, I think that twelve legions (a legion was 6,000 soldiers), would be enough to do the job, if that was what Jesus wanted. But no. He was going to trust the Father.

And why is this so important to us as believers? Once again, we're saved not just by the sinlessness of Christ (as Peter mentioned above) but the positive righteousness of Christ. He is our righteousness, and we'd be fools to claim any other, especially our own. When we receive him as Savior and Lord, this perfect righteousness is "credited" to our "account."

I’d like to point out something back in Peter’s passage. Read it in context, and you’ll see that the apostle’s main concern is not teaching us doctrine about Christ. Yes, it teaches us wonderful things about Christ, but it has a practical point: We’re supposed to emulate him. In his submission to the Father’s will, he was trusting the Father to vindicate him. If he was willing to submit himself to such injustice, such evil, such malice, then where’s my right to complain about unfair treatment? Um, nowhere.

Father, I’m so quick to complain and slow to trust. I’m not very much like Jesus most of the time, am I? Please change that, as only you can.

**To be completely fair, there are some interpreters who, based on John 19:30, say that his last words were "It is finished." That's possible, but the preponderance of the interpreters I examined said that Luke's quotation is probably his actual last words just before he died.

[Jan 12]--Jesus in the Psalms: Vinegar and Gall

Psalm 69

As I mentioned yesterday, if you want to see a physical description of the Passion, then you have to turn to the Psalms more than the Gospels. In particular, scholars point to 22 and 69 for Messianic prophecies. It’s the second of these that we turn to today.

Can I be brutally candid here? I like the 22nd much more than the 69th. There is not one verse that I can find in the former that couldn’t be applied to Christ, and I honestly believe that it’s an open window into his thoughts as he fulfilled the Father’s plan. Not so the one here today. There’s a lot that can be applied to our Savior: Today’s title refers to one of the multiple prophecies found here which were fulfilled on Good Friday. But there is a lot that can’t.

The author of the Psalm is not perfect, for one thing. He openly acknowledges his sin: “You know my folly, O God; my guilt is not hidden from you.” As we know from multiple testimonies, our Lord was not only without sin, but he perfectly obeyed and pleased his Father.

Second, and even more disturbing to me, the Psalmist cries out for vengeance on his foes. We’re going to discuss the place for Psalms like this in the light of the New Testament in a couple of weeks, but leave that aside for now. Whether or not calling curses on one’s foes is sinful, it certainly isn't Christ-like. Our Lord Jesus, after going through all he went through, never evidenced one iota of bitterness or anger towards his persecutors and executioners. On the contrary, he prayed the exact opposite of David here: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

But there is much here that points directly towards the Passion. The Psalmist was completely abandoned not only by his closest friends but by his own family. He looked around, but didn’t find a single person to provide comfort or support. In common with the description of Ps. 22, he was mocked, falsely accused, and completely surrounded by foes.

What about the “gall and vinegar” prophecy? What exactly is “gall,” anyway? It was a poison in Old Testament times, but by the time of the Gospels it was used to describe anything bitter. Mark 15:23 describes it as “myrrh,” a narcotic mercifully given to dying prisoners to lessen their pain. They offered a foul-tasting pain-killer to Christ, and he refused it, probably because he wanted full use of his mental faculties, and apparently he considered any pain-killers to be refusing a bit of the bitter cup his Father had handed to him. The point here is that the verse was fulfilled word-for-word.

Another fulfillment which actually was during his ministry, not his Passion, was vs. 9: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” This was applied in John’s Gospel to Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple at the beginning of his ministry.

The point I’m trying to make here is that we need to be careful when applying O.T. prophecy to Christ. If a Gospel or Epistle writer (under the inspiration of the Spirit) applies it, then we’re on solid ground. Once we step outside the boundaries of what the Spirit has explicitly indicated, caution is warranted.

Just as the 22nd, this one ends in hope that the Lord would ultimately vindicate him (there’s that word again). He knew that the Lord would bring about his justice and pull his Servant out of the pit, and the Servant would glorify him with song and thanksgiving in the end.

So how can we apply this to ourselves right now? Number one, I’m again in awe of what my Savior went through FOR ME. It was MY sin that nailed him to the tree. He was abandoned so that God would never forsake me. He was unjustly condemned so that I (the guilty party) could be forgiven and justified. Second, I’m, again humbled by my Lord’s example. Can I honestly say that “zeal” for God “consumes” me? Really? How about you?

Lord Jesus, I am so grateful for your mercy and grace. If it weren’t for that, I would have no hope. I can’t say that zeal for the Father’s honor consumes me, but I would like for it to be true. Please.

[Jan 11]--Jesus in the Psalms: Suffering Servant

Psalm 22

I apologize that today’s passage is a bit longer than most of the ones we examine, but it’s really important to read this in its entirety.

How important is this Psalm? Well, considering that the first verse here was on Jesus’ lips as he died, I would think it’s pretty consequential. I remember a strong point made by Michael Card on his album The Way of Wisdom: If you want a thorough description of the Crucifixion, then you have to go to the Psalms, not the Gospels. The Gospel writers, for reasons we’ve discussed before, decided not to include a clear description of what Jesus physically endured during the actual crucifixion. If you read the Psalms, especially 22 and 69 (which we’ll examine tomorrow), then you can see some details which we can’t find elsewhere.

Remember, the first verse was quoted by Christ on the cross. Of course, I could be wrong, but I really believe that this Psalm describes what was actually going through our Lord’s mind as he was undergoing the “punishment that brought us peace.” For brevity’s sake I just want to point out a few things about what this Psalm predicts about him.

• Let’s list just a few of the physical details which were fulfilled to the letter, shall we? His bones were out of joint, and extreme thirst overcame him. His hands and feet were pierced, and his enemies gambled for his clothing. Sound familiar? When you consider that crucifixion was invented by the Romans, hundreds of years after this Psalm was written, it’s pretty amazing.

• Utter, complete abandonment and rejection by his own people. If you ever need more proof of the total depravity of sinful humanity, look at the Passion. He was scorned, despised, mocked, and insulted, which only added to his physical agony. What did they say about him? In short, that God had abandoned him.

• But in a sense his enemies were exactly right. Jesus was forsaken by the Father. Don’t expect me to explain this, but in some sense Jesus became sin for us on the cross. When he did this, all the Father’s wrath for our sin was placed upon him. They thought he was being punished for his own sins, but he was being punished for ours.

• But thank the Lord, the story doesn’t end there. The suffering of this innocent Servant was for a purpose. God would eventually vindicate him, and because of this the world would be turned upside down. Read vss. 27-31 and count how many times you see the word “all.” Because of what the Servant endured, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him.”

This is why he endured what he did. All the nations of the world will one day bow before him. I don’t think it’s only talking about his Return. I think it’s being fulfilled right now. The Good News of Christ is spreading to every corner of the globe, leading people to bow before him in trust, submission, and worship. So what part are you playing in this?

Lord Jesus, what part do you want me to play in all this? How can I participate in your redemption of the nations? What do you want ME to do?

[Jan 10]--Jesus in the Psalms: Decaying Bodies and New Life

Psalm 16

Is envy always a bad thing? Most of the time, definitely, but not always. If I see someone else’s car or house or spouse and desire them, then that’s a violation of the tenth commandment. But what if I see someone who has a real, vital intimate relationship with the Lord, and I want what they have? I don’t think it’s wrong, since that should spur me on to follow their example.

Read verse 2 again. Can I really say that? Is it true that apart from the Lord I have no good thing in my life? Can you say that? What about all the little conveniences of life, like air conditioning or (as I write this) central heating? Or a vehicle that takes me where I need to go? Or better yet, a wonderful wife who loves me and puts up with me? Are those not “good things,” blessings which the Lord has given me?

Of course they are, and I don’t think the Psalmist intends for us to discount everything good in our lives in some sort of pseudo-spirituality. Remember asceticism from our study of Genesis? God said that his creation was good.

So what does David mean? It’s called hyperbole, exaggeration to get someone’s attention. He didn’t mean that he didn’t have anything good in his life apart from God, but that his relationship with God was so wonderful that nothing else could really compare. I think that Jesus meant the same thing when he told us to “hate” our parents. It's not that we're supposed to "hate" them in the sense of wishing them ill, but our love for the Lord is supposed to be so great that our love for our parents should look like hate in comparison. In the same way our gratefulness for the Lord's presence in our lives should completely overshadow our appreciation of any other pleasure in life.

This intimate relationship he had with his Lord contrasted with the “relationship” his enemies had with their false gods. He would have nothing to do with them, and he would continually “keep [his] eyes continually on the Lord,” meaning that he would constantly meditate on--and commune with--his Savior, and focus his mind on the incredible blessings which God had brought into his life.

And this relationship gave him hope for the future, and he believed that it would extend into eternity. Of course, he knew that the Lord would save him from the tender mercies of his enemies, and in this sense God would not--and did not--abandon him to “the realm of the dead” (or "the grave," as it's been traditionally translated). But the Holy Spirit meant more than that when he inspired David to write this.

Both Peter and Paul cited this Psalm, and they both applied it to Christ. Their argument was pretty simple: If David was applying this Psalm only to himself, then it'd be pretty odd, since his body decayed in his grave a long time ago. The ultimate fulfillment of this Psalm was when God didn’t abandon Jesus to the grave, and didn’t let his “Holy One” see decay (since he was only in the grave for a short time). So according to both apostles, this Psalm is a prediction of Christ’s resurrection.

And in a sense it applies to us as modern believers as well. Unless the Lord returns in our lifetime, the grave is waiting for each of us. But every believer can say, along with David, that in the end our Redeemer will not abandon us to the "grave" either. No matter how long our physical bodies lie in that state, there will come a day when he returns and will call us out of that grave, reunite us with our spirits, and have us join him in the air with every other believer.

I love the description of our Final Home in the last verse: Full, complete, unhindered communion and fellowship with our Lord. What’s the only problem, the only reason why we can’t enjoy that intimate relationship with him now? You should know the answer to that already: Sin. But then, when he returns, then that ugly barrier will be removed once and for all. He will fill us with joy in his presence, with eternal pleasures at his right hand. As John put it, “[We] know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

Lord Jesus, I can’t wait to see what you have in store. Please make me ready for it, no matter what it takes.

[Jan 09]--Jesus in the Psalms: Prototype

Psalm 8

We spent quite a bit of time last year in the first three chapters of Genesis, so I won’t belabor that story too much. However, one of the interesting aspects of our pre-Fall condition--that I barely mentioned before--was mankind’s dominion over the earth. Before our first parents sinned, they had complete control over all creation on the planet, and over their own bodies. They weren’t subject to disease, injury, or death, and all animal and plant life was under their feet. Of course, this was based on their subjection to the Lord: As long as they were submitting to his authority, creation would submit to theirs. But then they sinned against him and rebelled against his authority, and therefore lost this control, at least in part. We’re still the dominant species on earth, but our control of it is mostly based on force and fear. There are some domesticated animals (such as dogs), but most of creation only submits because it has to.

So that brings us to today’s passage. David stood in awe of God’s creation and God’s plan. He looked at the work of his Creator’s fingers: the sun, the moon, the stars, etc. and then looked in wonder at man’s place in the world. He was amazed that the Lord would place all things under his (man’s) feet and honor him with glory and majesty. All the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish that swim in the sea (except for Leviathan) are subject to us. We have lions and tigers in our zoos and circuses, beasts against which we’re no match physically. But most of it is not subject willingly, which we’re reminded of when a tiger snaps and mauls his trainer, or when we fall victim to cancer or old age. There’s that nasty Adamic curse again. . .

But the meaning for this Psalm runs much deeper than the surface. Were you aware that this passage is commented upon by the author of Hebrews? Read Heb. 2:5-9, and notice: the author is not talking about humanity in general (which the Psalmist was doing)—he’s talking about the Lord Jesus. Jesus was (and is) all human. He’s just as much man as he is God, and in him the curse of Adam has started its reversal. That’s because he’s the new Adam. The first Adam was the head of a new race of people, but he failed miserably. But then Jesus came forward and became the Second Adam, the prototype of the new humanity. Where the first failed, he succeeded. He submitted perfectly to the Father’s will, and won back the right to reverse the curse. Now all things are under his feet: From the smallest microbe to the greatest constellation of stars and planets, it’s all his. What humanity was supposed to be, he is.

So how does this affect us? In two major ways. First, all praise, honor, thanks, awe, and worship belong to him. He owns everything, and we owe him everything we have and everything we are. But there’s another aspect which I want you to note: Everything Christ is as a man (a very important phrase—we’re NOT Mormons) we will be (for more on this, see here). He’s the head of the new race of humanity, the prototype, and all believers are in him and are his co-heirs. All of creation is subject to him and when he returns, we’ll share in that. I don’t know all the details, but I’m really excited about it. Aren’t you?

Lord Jesus, all praise, all honor, all worship, all obedience belongs to you. I'm so excited to see what you have in store. Please make me ready for it.

[Jan 08]--Jesus in the Psalms: The Laughing God

Psalm 2

Have you ever wanted to be a “fly on the wall,” a secret observer in a famous conversation? I know I have, and I have one specifically in mind. Read Luke 24:36-49. Jesus appeared to his disciples, suddenly in the midst of them behind locked doors. Notice what he said to them after eating the fish? “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." Then he proceeded to explain to them what he meant. Like I said, wouldn’t you like to hear that little Bible lesson!

But the point I’d like to make is this: When you read the book of Psalms, Jesus is there. Every word of Scripture is there to point us to Christ, one way or another. Yes, there are other lessons to find in the Psalms, but if you’ve missed Christ, you’ve missed the main purpose. So for the next few days, we’re going to examine some Psalms which clearly teach us some things about our Savior.

Today’s Psalm is one of the most quoted in the New Testament, so I think it’s pretty important. It starts out with the nations of the world, all the forces which are opposed to the Lord and his purposes. They're conspiring, they're plotting, and they're about ready to put their foul plans into motion. Notice that the nations, which tend to be at each other’s throats, are perfectly happy to work together in the common purpose of thwarting and overthrowing the Almighty. And if you don't immediately see the sad and funny irony of puny nations planning together to overthrow the Lord of the Universe, please look at it again.

And notice their ultimate purpose. They hate the Lord, and this hatred is expressed in their reaction to his “Anointed One,” his representative on earth. The Hebrew word is Messiah, and it’s a pretty rich term. Anointing was an official way of appointing someone to office. The closest rough equivalent would be having a politician take an oath of office by swearing on a Bible. Both kings and priests were anointed when God called them into his service. But of course the ultimate fulfillment of this was when our Savior came, Jesus the Anointed One (“Christ”).

And what’s God’s response to their schemes? Is he up on his throne, wringing his hands, muttering to himself “Oh no! What’ll I do now? I guess I’ll have to come up with Plan B!!!”? Um, no. He’s laughing. Why? For two reasons. The first is the most obvious one—He’s Almighty God. He’s all-powerful and all-knowing. So it’s pretty much a deal-breaker right off the bat. But there’s another reason, which I think actually is a little funny when you examine it. They were planning to wreck the Lord's plan for bringing his Anointed One into power. And what’s his response? “Hahahahaha! Too late! I’ve already done it! He’s already installed! On his throne!

And then we have the words of the Anointed One. He proclaims that His Father has publicly exhibited him as his Son, and as his Son he’s coming into an inheritance. What’s the inheritance? Everything. My friend, there is not a single spot of dirt, not a single molecule in this universe that's not claimed by the Lord Jesus Christ. As Abraham Kuyper put it, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” 

And that includes you and me. We're the “nations” which the Father has given to his Son. Jesus proclaimed his Kingdom for three years, then inaugurated it through his death and resurrection, and then returned to his Father’s side to a hero’s welcome. Now he reigns from heaven, but he’ll return one day to make his Kingdom visible to all. All the opposition to him will be smashed once and for all, like a clay pot thrown to the ground. And he’ll reign over everything and everyone. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

So what should our reaction be? One word neatly sums it up: Surrender. Raise the white flag. Throw yourself on his mercy. Now. Not when he returns in power and glory. Now. “Kiss his Son” in submission and pledge your loyalty to him, while there’s still time.

And for us who've surrendered to him already, there’s a wonderful blessing. We who've placed our faith in him and have turned from our sin and rebellion have taken refuge in him, and we’ll never be disappointed, not in the end.

So how have you responded to the Gospel according to David? Have you submitted to the Son? Have you placed your faith and trust in him? Have you taken refuge in him? If you haven't, or aren't sure if you have, please read this. And if you have, are you acting like it?

Lord Jesus, words are so inadequate to describe you. Whatever I am and whatever I have belongs to you. Whatever remains in me of rebellion and resistance, please smash it like a clay pot. Whatever it takes.