Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Promised King

The Promised King
The Climax of the Minor Prophets

Clip from Nativity

This type of oppression is something that the Israelite people faced for much of their history. The people in this day held much in common with the people in the days of the minor prophets. As we look at teach of these minor prophets we see that they too were looking for a King to come rescue them. They each addressed a different situation but all of them hold one thing in common—they are looking to the future for rescue.

Hosea: In Hosea we saw how a loving husband pursues his harlot wife. We see that he bought her and redeemed her, even though she had became a prostitute. We are left wondering as we go through Hosea how can a man love a harlot wife; more so, how can a holy God go after His harlot wife? We are left looking for one like David; but this time a king who will be worthy of worship—one who will bind us up, one who will revive us, one who will restore us.

Joel: In Joel we are confronted with a locust invasion. In this locust invasion Joel sees something even more significant—the coming day of the Lord. We see that if locusts are aiming at destruction barely anyone could stand; but Joel drives this point deeper. If the Almighty is aiming at destruction who can stand? In Joel we see that the “day of the Lord is great and very awesome” and we are left with the prophet to ask the question, “Who can endure it”? We are left looking for one who will be our refuge, our stronghold, on that great and glorious day.

Amos: In Amos we ask with the Israelites, “Does God care”? We wonder if God will ever bring those who oppress us to justice. We wonder if God remembers the evil and atrocity that has been committed. But then we, along with the Israelites, are brought into God’s courtroom. We find that we too are guilty before God. We find that we too have forgotten about justice. We are left in the book of Amos longing for justice to be poured out. But we are also left with a hope that God might not forget His people in the midst of judgment. Who will be the one to execute judgment?

Obadiah: In Obadiah we are confronted with the horrific destruction of Edom. We see that God does indeed have enemies and that He is going to come in judgment against them. But it also causes us to wonder if we ourselves are not God’s enemy. We can strangely see ourselves in the Edomites, for we too are prideful, we too have opposed God. Therefore, we are forced to wonder what will become of those of us who have set ourselves as God’s enemy. When God comes in power against those, like me, who are prideful; I am forced to ask, what will become of me? We know that there will be those in Mt. Zion who escape—but we are left to ask how? Who will redeem us? Who will mediate between us and an angry God?

Jonah: In Jonah we see a reluctant prophet. We see a man who should be obedient to the Lord and yet he runs away from Him. Jonah opens up for us the big vision of God’s love and redemptive purpose. We see that God desires not only to save Israel but to redeem people out of the nations as well. Yet we are confronted with a reluctant prophet. We see that Jonah, and the other Israelites, were to be a light to the nations. Yet, we also see, that Jonah and the Israelites covered up this light. We are left asking in Jonah who will be our messenger? If God’s prophet is not sharing the light, then who will be the light to the nations?

Micah: In Micah we explored what happens whenever we as Christians stumble. We saw from the book of Micah what the Lord requires of us. Yet in doing so we were confronted with the reality that we cannot do these things. We came to the humbling conclusion that our sin is great. Micah leaves us with a hope that as we are bearing the indignation of the Lord to wait upon Him. We are told to wait, “until He pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication.” Micah leaves us longing for someone to come and left us up after we have fallen. We are left asking, “Who will lift us up”? Who will save us from our great sin?

Nahum: Nahum was a scary book. We learn some things about our God that are often overlooked. We saw that God was a jealous God. He is passionate about preserving and protecting His honor. And because of this passion we see that God is also an avenging God. He will come against all those who seek to take the throne and remove from Him glory. We learn that God will not give his glory to another. And because of these two things, coupled with the desire of mankind to dethrone God, we are confronted with a wrathful God. Thankfully for us Nahum does not stop there. We learn that part of God’s character is that he is slow to anger. Not only his he slow to anger but he is also powerful to save and He is good. Nahum leaves us with a problem. We know that we have made ourselves his adversary. Yet we also know that He is slow to anger. Therefore, we are left to wonder, “Who will save us from this powerful God of wrath?” How will God redeem and be a refuge for those whom He loves? We are left in Nahum wondering how can a God that is passionate about preserving his own honor be slow to anger towards those who have betrayed Him. What will save us from the wrath of God?

Habakkuk: Habakkuk asks one of the most common questions; “why”. As we journeyed through Habakkuk we followed the prophet’s argument. He is wondering why God is not bringing sinners to justice. How can a good God allow good things to happen to bad people? It appears that his law is paralyzed. God’s answer is not one that Habakkuk likes. He says that he is going to deal with the sin of Habakkuk’s people by using the sinful Babylonians. Habakkuk wonders how God could use such atrocity to accomplish his holy purposes. God’s answer might seem a little unsatisfying, but if anyone has the right to give this answer it is God. He simply says trust me. Have faith in me. I am going to do something really great. Just trust me. He is going to judge the Babylonians. He is going to deal with sin. We see a great response in Habakkuk. We are left seeing a prophet that trusts God. Yet, we are left wondering how did God come through? How did God deal with sin? How did he deal with injustice? Habakkuk says, “I will take joy in the God of my salvation”. Yet we are forced to wonder—how does God come through for Habakkuk? How does he answer the question of why? How will he make all things right?

Zephaniah: Zephaniah starts out kind of scary and then ends up pretty happy. We looked first at the judgment of the Lord. We told the story of a little girl getting her appendix taken out. We told it without telling of her disease first and it sounded like a really bad thing was happening to her. But once we revealed that her father was rushing her to the hospital, we saw that his act was not cruel but actually extremely loving. As we traveled through Zephaniah we saw that the Lord was exposing their sin, dealing with their sin, and ultimately cleansing them of their sin. Even though God says he is going to do this in Zephaniah we are left wondering how. How is God going to purge our land of sin? Will it be through another exile? How will the Lord make us holy? How is it that God will dance over us poor, vile, sinners? Who will make us holy?

Haggai: In Haggai’s messages we are confronted with really messed up priorities. It cause us to check our priorities. We noticed that the “big” sin that Haggai is addressing is not pornography. It is not gossip. It is not anger. It is not even pride. It is complacency. And we are confronted with the sad tragic fact that people in Haggai’s day wasted their lives and missed out on what God was doing. We are left with a hope that this temple will be more glorious than the first. In fact we are told that in the temple they are building that God will grant peace; but how? What will be the means God uses to bring peace? The people in Haggai’s day are wondering, “is it worth it”. The Lord encourages them by promising to fill it with his glory, more so even than before. But what will be so glorious? We are left wondering in Haggai, how will God’s glory dwell greatly on the earth? How will God bring peace in the temple?

Zechariah: Zechariah is one of the most future-looking prophets of all the Minor Prophets. We are given various visions. Zechariah really leaves us with a taste of something great that is coming. How will God return? How will God strike down the enemies? How will God restore the fortunes to Jerusalem? Yet all of these are not the central question that is the concern of Zechariah. Zechariah is most concerned with how they will be made clean. We see a vision of Joshua being cleansed by the Lord. And we see that on a single day the Lord will remove the iniquity of the land. Is he talking about the Day of Atonement? Can we expect something greater? Not only will the priesthood be restored but also the King. Yet we are left wondering, is Zechariah pointing us to a greater priest? Will there be someone who is such a priest that he can take away all the sin in a single day? Will there be such a King that is led by the Spirit and rebuilds the Lords kingdom? As we leave Zechariah we are awaiting a King.

Malachi: As the Old Testament closes we come to the book of Malachi. In Malachi we see a dispute between God and his people. There are several grounds on which he is against them. It appears that the people have grown indifferent as they are awaiting the promises of the Lord. When we close the book of Malachi, and the last prophetic word in the Old Testament, we receive these words: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” A promise and a curse; then silence for some 400 years.

But then after 400 years of silence there are rumblings throughout Jerusalem. As a very devout man named Simeon is holding a baby in his arms he utters prophetic words. Read Luke 3:22-38. Could he be? Could this baby be the Promised King? Could he really be the one who would rescue His people?

Let’s look back and ask these questions of that baby. More so we will ask these questions of who that baby would be—Jesus. We will look at his life, death, and resurrection and see if he truly is the Promised King.

In Hosea we ask, how will God buy back His harlot wife? Will anyone be able to pay the price to buy her back? Who will pay the ransom?

Read Matthew 20:28

In Joel we ask, how will the Lord be a refuge for His people? How will we be able to stand on the day of the Lord? Will someone save us from the wrath of God?

Read Romans 5:9

In Amos we ask, who will be the one to execute judgment, yet at the same time be the booth of David that restores our fortunes? Will our King judge unrighteousness? Will he bring our oppressors to justice? Will he restore to us our fortunes? Will he sit as Judge?

Read Romans 8:34; Acts 10:42

In Obadiah we ask; who will mediate between God and those of us who oppose Him? Will our king be our mediator as well? We have certainly opposed Him. Will our King mediate for us?

Read 1 Timothy 2:5

In Jonah we ask; who will be the light to the nations? We have failed numerous times to be that light. We ourselves have distorted God’s Word. We are not accurate representations of His glory. Who then will be our messenger? Who will spread the glory of God to the nations?

Read Luke 2:29-32

In Micah we ask; who will lift us up when we have fallen? We have come to realize that our sin is great? Is it possible that we can have a Savior that is greater? Is our King somehow going to be also be our Savior? Is he great enough to save us from our sin?

Read John 1:29; Romans 5:20

In Nahum we ask; how can a God that is passionate to preserve His honor save an unrighteous people, while not trampling His own glory? We know that we have trampled His glory. We know that we are not passionate about seeking His glory. We also know that God is slow to anger. We also know that God has a heart that is abounding with love and mercy and that He longs to redeem. But how can a holy God redeem an unholy people?

Read Romans 3:25-26

In Habakkuk we ask; how will God deal with sin? Not only our sin but also the sin of the nations, how will God deal with it? Sin must be paid for if God is going to be just. Who will pay for sin?

Read 2 Corinthians 5:21

In Zephaniah we ask, how will God make us so holy that we cause Him to dance? What will bring about such a change? We know that our King will be might to save but is He also so powerful that He will change our hearts? Can He also make us holy? Will he be able to sanctify us?

Read Hebrews 10:10

In Haggai we ask, how will God’s glory dwell on the earth and by it make peace? God’s glory has always been inapproachable? How will an outpouring of His glory not utterly destroy us? How will we have peace through this glory being made known?

Read John 1:14, Romans 5:1

In Zechariah we ask, who will be the King that is led by the Spirit and rebuilds the Lord’s Kingdom and takes away our sin? Is there such a King that can do all of this?

Read John 12:15; Revelation 17:14

In Malachi we ask, who will be the messenger of the new covenant?

Hebrews 9:15

Now these are only a tiny bit of all that Jesus Christ has fulfilled. He is more than just a baby in the manger. He is the King that would come and rescue His people. He will rescue His people from the dominion of darkness. He will rescue His people from their own hearts. He will rescue us from our sin. He will rescue us from God’s wrath. He is that Promised King.

I want to close with Zechariah 13:1. This is pointing to Jesus Christ, the Promised King. He is that fountain of life. He is the fountain by which we will be cleansed from sin and unrighteousness. I have no idea what burdens you are carrying in here tonight. I know that each one of us carries the burden of sin. Perhaps, God has not yet given you the grace to see that burden but it makes you no less guilty. It makes you no less responsible for your sin. Or maybe you do realize that heavy burden of sin.

The baby in the manger is more than that we have seen. He is the Promised King. And this King is setting up His Kingdom. You will either be a subject of this great loving King that has given his life for you or you will be cast out of His kingdom. Tonight you are not as much given an invitation by this King but a command. He has issued to us an edict. A loving edict. A gracious edict. But an edict none the less. He is urging us to come and drink at the fountain. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come”. And let the one who hears say, “Come”. And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

Is He your King?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Message of Zechariah I

Is Everything Okay?
The Message of Zechariah I
The Gospel Answer to Our Nagging Questions

Do you hate those awkward moments after a disagreement with someone? You know the type that I am talking about. Those arguments were you said some really stupid things or you did something really stupid. Before you parted ways you had made up, said your apologies, and moved on. But then whenever you get together again you can feel a little tension. It leaves you kind of wondering whether or not everything really is resolved.

I wonder how often our relationship with God is like this. Perhaps you live with a constant nagging voice that questions, “Am I really forgiven”? Maybe your little voice is more situational. You’ve messed up in your relationship with God and you know it. You get on your knees and you beg for His forgiveness. But it’s that type of sin that you just cannot seem to conquer. Your history is marred with these types of sins. You feel as if your life is one sick-cycle. You sin, you plea for forgiveness, you promise to never do it again, you actually fulfill that promise for a few days, and then before you know it you’ve done it again. As you get up off your knees this time you begin to wonder, does God really forgive me? So it is with each instance of sin. The question gets deeper and deeper and deeper. Is everything okay between us God?

That is the question that the people are asking in Zechariah’s day. Is everything okay with us God? They have just returned from exile. It is clear that this was their 70 year spanking. They know that they have been booted out of the land because of their disobedience. They know that they have messed up. But now the Lord has graciously begun moving them back into their land. But what do they do? Are they actually forgiven? Do they start rebuilding their city? Do they rebuild the temple? Do they return to the Lord like nothing happened, does God expect some type of sacrifice?

In the first 6 verses we see a clear answer as to whether or not they should return to the Lord. The answer is a resounding yes. “Return to me and I will return to you”, declares the Lord. But the question is still begging to be answered—how? How do we return? What does this restoration process look like? How forgiven are we?

And I believe we too are asking that question still today. Zechariah will answer those questions tonight in 8 prophetic visions to his people. But these answers will serve to point us to their greater fulfillment. We too will ask those questions. We will see what God’s answer is to the people in Zechariah’s day. But we will have the added benefit of going further. We will look to the Cross and see the gospel answer to our questions. And then we will look even further and see how these questions will ultimately be answered when the Lord comes back to reign for good.

Question #1: Is God still angry with us?

Also, I might mention that for the sake of time we will try not to get bogged down in all of the nuances of these visions. We will just paint a really quick picture and then move on to what this is referring to.

The first vision that Zechariah is given is a vision of horsemen. We learn from the text that their function is to patrol the earth. And what they find when they patrol the earth is that all the earth remains at rest. Then we hear the question. “How long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?” Do you hear the question? God, are you still angry with us? I know that you have brought us back into our homeland but are you still mad at me?

God then responds with gracious and comforting words. “Cry out, thus says the Lord of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered their disaster. Therefore, says the Lord, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; my house shall be built in it, declares the Lord of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem. Cry out again, thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity and the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.” Is God still angry with them? He is proclaiming to them my anger towards you is no more. My anger is no kindled towards the nations and my favor is now resting upon you. I am no longer angry with Jerusalem.

What about us? Can you not relate to this, Christian? We seem to know on the surface of our heart that God has forgiven us. But if we dig a little deeper we find that we are asking this same question as the exiled Jews--God, are you angry with me? We probably know in our heads that God is not angry with us. Our hope tonight is that this truth might sink deep and that its roots might go deep into your heart, into the very core of your being.

Let’s ask that question with the Cross as our background. Looking at the Cross of Christ we ask, “Is God still angry with us”? What we are really asking is this, does Psalm 7:11 still apply to me whenever I sin. “Does God feel indignation towards me every day”? I still sin. When I do, does God’s wrath flame up against me? We might know that our past sins are forgiven--all those dumb things we did before coming to know Jesus--but, what about now?

If we thumb over to the New Testament we see that Jesus Christ has indeed made peace with God on our behalf. We see in Romans 5:1 that, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In case you did not get it the first time Paul echoes that truth in 5:9 when he says, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God”. This means that if we are in Christ then our question is answered. Is God still angry with us? No! Why? It is because the blood of Jesus Christ has appeased the wrath of God. We have been reconciled to God. “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself…”

These are only a couple of verses. This is so clear throughout the entire New Testament that we have to be foolish and blind to miss it. In fact I wonder where we get this concept that if we sin as Christians that God becomes angry with us. It certainly is an Old Testament concept. But the Old Testament was written before the Cross. Now that Jesus Christ has taken the wrath of God upon Himself I wonder where this thinking comes from. The clear biblical teaching, both Old and New is that if the sin has been atoned for (paid for, pardoned) then it is no longer held against you and the wrath of God is appeased.

This is not awaiting a further fulfillment but more so a further realization. Ultimately we will experience the full presence of God in the New Heaven and New Earth. And then we will know. We will know for certain that he is not angry with us. We will hide no longer. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” So, we must see that in the future we will fully realize this. Even now when we look to the Cross we can see that all of God’s anger towards us and our sin was poured out upon Jesus. Christian, God is no longer angry with you. Forget your stupidly subjective feelings. The objective truth is that God is no longer angry with us because of the Cross.

Question #2: Do our enemies still have power?

Perhaps you see that God is no longer angry with you. But God was not our only enemy. The Israelites knew that just because God was no longer angry it did not mean that the surrounding nations would be happy with them. The surrounding nations still posed a significant threat. Could the Israelites be certain that the rebuilding process would not be dashed to pieces by surrounding nations? Is God going to stop their enemy?

We learn in 1:18-21 that God is going to punish the nations that had scattered them. He was going to put an end to their rule and dominion. He would deal with their enemies. But, what do we care? How does God telling the Israelites that the Babylonians will be conquered help us? We must look a little deeper and see what it is that God is accomplishing. We must see that our greatest enemy is as nothing to the Lord. Even our great adversary--the devil--that prowls around seeking to devour us has been triumphed over.

But the power of our adversary seems so real. The world system seems to win. It seems as if Satan is having his day. Even in the lives of Christians it seems as if Satan still has control. Brothers and sisters this should not be. The Word of God speaks as if Satan has been cast out of our lives and that we are no longer under his dominion but we are now under the rule and reign of Christ Jesus. Satan has been defeated.

As Jesus was hours away from his arrest and subsequent death he said, “now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” We read in Colossians 2:15 that Jesus, “having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” But even though our ownership has changed the adversary is still trying to win us back over to his side. Daily, he still seeks us out, and attempts to devour us. He has been disarmed, but he is still the ruler of this world and has not yet been chained. Therefore, this particular point is awaiting a much greater fulfillment.

In Revelation 20:10 we see the fate of our adversary. “…And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” That is his fate. He will be defeated. His head will be crushed.

So, does our enemy still have power? Yes, sort of, but he should not. He has no more power than we give him. He is cunning, he is crafty, and he ceases power and control but he has no more power than we give him. He has been disarmed and he only has power when we give him weapons. But ultimately he has no power. Ultimately he has only that which God allows. He will one day be overthrown completely and his subversive activity will be ended.

Question #3: Is there any way to be made whole again?

But in the mean time our sin causes lots of havoc. Sin does have consequences. Just ask the Israelites who had been in captivity for 70 years and come back to a destroyed city. What once was beautiful is now but dust and ashes. The glorious temple is no more. The walls of the city have been torn down. They have nothing left in their city. God is there any way that we can be made whole again?

God answers this underlying question with a vision of a man with a measuring line. He is measuring the width and length of Jerusalem as if he is getting ready to build something great. Then angel says to run and tell Zechariah, “Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock in it”. God is going to rebuild Jerusalem. They then ask, “What of our walls God”? “And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst”.

But we learn that God’s intent for the restoration of Jerusalem is even greater than just bringing back the Jewish people. The Lord then says, “And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. And I dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.” This promise extends to us. The Lord not only intends to restore the Jewish people into Jerusalem but also to bring into the fold many who are far off; like you and I.

How familiar does their question sound? How many times have you wondered whether or not God can make you whole again? Are you going to bear the consequences of your sin forever? When my wife was in a singing group at HLG one of her solo’s was a song called “Strong Enough”. In that song she asks a question that I have asked a million times,

Will my weakness for an hour make me suffer for a lifetime?Is there anyway to be made whole again?If I'm healed,renewed, and find forgiveness find the strength I've never had Will my scars forever ruin all God's plan?

She then gives a very biblical answer, by asking another question:

Is He not strong enough?Is He not pure enough?To break me, pour me out, and start again

We learn from Scripture that if anyone “is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come”. But you ask, what if we screw up the new creation? What if we sin again, and keep sinning after we have been saved? 1 John 1:9 says that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
And we see the greater fulfillment of this in Revelation 21 when it says that God will, “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Question #4: Am I really clean? Can a holy God use an unholy vessel?

The fourth and fifth vision in Zechariah is the climax of the section. It deals with the unholy nature of the servants of God. This vision deals with the dirty high priest. The next vision will deal with an unworthy political leader.

The dirty high priest is the central problem that is addressed in this vision of Zechariah. If the high priest is unclean, who can make atonement for sin? If he cannot make the atonement how can the people be forgiven? The high priest was supposed to be above reproach. He was supposed to be undefiled and a holy man. Certainly, we understand that he was unholy in some regard—he was human. This is why the high priest would offer a sacrifice for his sin as well. But in the eyes of his countrymen the high priest was to be undefiled. The thought would be that if the high priest (who is supposed to mediate between God and myself) is unclean, what chance do I stand of being acceptable to a holy God?

Joshua here is symbolic of the people of God. And his problem is our problem. How can I be not only accepted by a holy God, but also used in His service? How can we who, like Joshua, are defiled sinners hope to serve a holy God?

The actual text here is saying that Joshua is standing before God, trying to do his priestly duty but he has dung smeared all about his garments. He defiled in the most disgusting and vile way possible. So what hope do we have of being clean God? If our best man has excrement smeared all upon him, then what chance do we pitiful sinners have? Can we really be clean? Can you really use an unholy vessel like me?

What God does in the life of Joshua is but a foreshadowing of what he does in the life of the believer. We see that the angel of the Lord strips Joshua of his filthy garments. This is symbolic of our removal of sin. This is what we see in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The Lord has removed our filthy garments by the Cross; so that we stand clean before God.

You see, We have the advantage of being able to look backwards, whereas Zechariah had to look forward. The book of Hebrews certainly helps us to see in what way the Day of Atonement was incomplete. It was never meant to take away sin fully—it was pointing to something greater. To a day where there would be a Greater High Priest and where the Lamb of God would take away the sin of the world. We know that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. The brutal acts are not what are incomplete. It would take a much more brutal act and far more precious blood than that of a bull or lamb to take away my sin and yours. The problem lies in the fact that it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins completely. That is why they would have to do it year after year. This is the point that Hebrews 10:11 is making, “And every priest stands daily at his service offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” They are merely pointing to that which can take away sin.

Furthermore, a finite sinful priest cannot offer an enduring sacrifice. The central problem is that they die. That is why Hebrews 7:23 says that “the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office”. The incompleteness of the Old Covenant then is that the blood of bulls and goats can never completely remove human sin. Nor can a finite sinful priest offer an enduring sacrifice. There must be a great sacrifice and a greater priest offering it. And this is precisely who Jesus is and what Jesus does.

Hebrews 7:24-28 lets us know that Jesus not only holds his priesthood permanently but he is able to “save to the uttermost those who draw near to God, since He always lives to make intercession for them”. That means that Jesus Christ is in heaven today making intercession and pleading my case to the Father. But not only is Jesus the greater priest He is also the greater sacrifice. Hebrews 9 helps us to see that He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” And again, “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. And we see the summary of all this in 10:14, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified”. Or to use the language of Zechariah, “I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day”.

This, the atonement and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, where God made Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf is the basis for our forgiveness and all the promises of God. When Romans 8:1 says there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus it is because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ that we can have the promise. When the Psalmist says, “as far as the east is from the west so far does he remove our transgression from us” it is because of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God that we have that promise. And again in Isaiah when God promises to make our sins of scarlet as white as snow it is because of the Cross of Jesus Christ that we have this promise. So we see then what God meant when He told Zechariah that he was going to remove his filthy garments.

We see that God does not only remove his filthy garments and leave him there naked. But He also, “will clothe you with pure vestments”. This is what we call imputed righteousness. This is the act of God whereby he credits the righteousness of Christ to the account of the forgiven sinner. It is where we stand before God not in our own righteousness but the righteousness of Christ

The clean clothes that Joshua is given is the righteousness of Christ. This is what Romans 4 was talking about, that the righteousness of Jesus Christ is credited to our account by faith. This is what 2 Corinthians 5:21 means when it says that “he made Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf (that’s the atonement), so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” That is the positive aspect—in Him (Christ) we are the righteousness of God. This is what we will deal with in Romans 10:3-4 when Paul says that the Jews of his day (and sadly still ours) are “ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” That means that our righteousness is not our own, it is the righteousness of Christ that is given to us. That means that all of my failures, my failings, my sin, everything is covered not because I am righteous, or because I am trying really hard but because Jesus Christ never failed. That means that because His obedience is given to me and He is 100% righteous that means that in Christ I am 100% righteous. This is what Colossians 3 means when it says that we have died and our life is hidden in Christ. We are hidden in Jesus. This is a precious truth. It is comforting to know that God did not save me, give me a clean slate and then I must somehow make myself holy. I can so often struggle with thinking that way. John Bunyan, the man who wrote the classic Pilgrim’s Progress was tormented with uncertainty about his standing with God. And then this doctrine broke into his soul and from that day on he was free. Perhaps some of you feel today as Bunyan did. You look at your filth, you look at your sin, and you wonder how God can accept me. Christian I am speaking to you as well. This is our answer to the question I gave earlier. How can I a filthy sinner serve a pure and holy God? Listen to what Bunyan says:
One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he wants [=lacks] my righteousness, for that was just [in front of] him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, “The same yesterday, today, and forever.” . . .Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God [e.g., Hebrews 12:16-17] left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.

Hebrews 12:16-17 once tortured Bunyan. I will start in 15, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes troubles, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears”. Bunyan was tortured by the thought that he had, like Esau, blown it. He was perhaps like you and I sometimes and struggled with looking at the weight of his sin and realized that in his life he was immoral and unholy. He knew that he was sinful and could not deny that. But when the truth of not only the atonement but also that righteousness of Christ was given to him it freed his soul.

Focus if you will on what Bunyan said about the unchanging nature of this. “I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he lacks my righteousness, for that was in front of him.” Meaning that because he saw Jesus Christ instead of me, (because we are hidden in Christ), God does not see us unrighteous but everything that Christ is in all of his holiness we are.

My hope tonight is to get you to not look at your subjective feelings but at the outward work of Christ. We will begin dealing with the 5th vision and the rest of Zechariah next time. But for now you are urged to think about where the answer to these questions is found. The answer is not found in how you feel.

If you are in Christ and you feel like God is still angry with you then tell your feelings to shut up. You need to believe the gospel. The gospel says that because of Jesus God is no longer angry with you. If you are in Christ and you feel like the enemy has power of you then you need to flee from his lies. He has no power except that which you give him. He has been disarmed by the power of the Cross. If you are wondering if God is able to restore you and make things whole again and you continue to feel as if you have blown every chance of holiness then tell your little voice to shut up. Look to God who restores. Look to the God who calls things that are not as though they are. And lastly if you continue to feel unclean and not forgiven then you must look as John Bunyan did to the righteousness of Christ.

Every sinner in here tonight has the same hope—the righteousness of Jesus Christ being given to us. I close with Mark Dever’s definition of a Christian.

“A Christian, therefore, knows that if he were to die tonight and stand before God, and if God were to say, ‘Why should I let you into my presence?’ the Christian would say, ‘You shouldn’t let me in. I have sinned and owe you a debt that I cannot pay back.’ But he wouldn’t stop there. He would continue, ‘Yet, because of your great promises and mercy, I depend on the blood of Jesus Christ shed as a substitute for me, paying my moral debt, satisfying your holy and righteous requirements, and removing your wrath against sin”.

Thy righteousness is in heaven!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Battling Indifference While We Wait

Battling Indifference While We Wait
The Message of Malachi

What happens when a promise is made and it takes a really long time to fulfill it? If I were to make a promise to you today that our youth group will make a trip to Rome would you believe it? What if I told you of the plans, and hyped it up and told you about all of the stops we were going to make? You would probably start getting really excited—so long as you trusted my reliability. But what would happen if after a year of planning we began seeing the difficulties of making this trip? We would start getting bogged down with all of the finances. People would start to drop out of the trip, others would join. Year after year would come and there would be no trip—only disappointments. You have graduated and there is no trip. You are probably going to give up hope, call me a liar and want your money back. But, then a few years after your graduation you come back to the area and see that we still have this trip planned. It seems to be further progressing so you decide to join up again; maybe I’m not a liar. But again it gets bogged down and another class graduates; still no trip. Year after year the promise is not fulfilled—but I keep proclaiming that we are going to make a trip to Rome. With each year what are you going to think? Sure, Mike, whatever. You know we are not really going to Rome. People are going to be less and less enthusiastic, less and less money will go to the trip. And eventually you will become weary of hearing my promises. In many ways that is what the people of Israel are facing.

God made the promise to Abraham, “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. He promised to give to Abraham and his descendants the Promised Land. But we go through year after year and the promise is not yet fulfilled. They even end up as slaves in Egypt. Talk about a bump in the road. Then they get hope in a guy named Moses. They evidence one of the most miraculous escapes of all history. The Red Sea parts and they go across--certainly now they will see this promise fulfilled. But, as they begin going into the Promised Land they see all the trouble it will be. They lose heart and shrink back. They wander 40 years in the desert, and even Moses is not allowed to go into the Promised Land. At this point we are at least 600 years from the original promise to Abraham. Finally they get into the Promised Land through the leadership of Joshua—but not without a fight. The history of Israel is marked by war, war, and more war. In fact they never quite got all of the Promised Land. God said in Genesis 15 that it would extend to the Nile but the most the nation ever owned was to the border of Egypt. The history of Israel is one of increasing land, losing land, gaining it back, schism’s, exiles, etc. etc. We know in 722 that the Northern Kingdom of Israel was demolished, and that in 586 BC Jerusalem and the Temple where destroyed. So, here we have some 2000 years without a fulfillment of a promise. Can you imagine the frustration? There had been moments of hope in this time. There were great seasons of blessing. But there were also difficult times when it seemed like the fulfillment was an infinite distance from fulfillment. In 586 and after when all the Jewish people were in captivity it would have seemed as if all hope were dashed. But then in the early 500’s the temple was rebuilt. The walls of the city of Jerusalem where rebuilt. It certainly would be a time of great hope. Fast forward again about 100 years and we have the prophecy of Malachi. The people are as we might expect—frustrated and indifferent. This is supposed to be the next golden era but it has not lived up to its potential. There are only 100,000 people in the land and the land it self has been ravaged by drought. This certainly does not seem like the Promised Land. Even though it seems like a time of great hope and a time when God is going to display His greatness the people are indifferent.

Now, perhaps you are wondering what this has to do with you. We are just like the Israelites in Malachi’s day. We are awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promise. Our promise is not so much land. In fact it is a promise that the Jewish people were also looking for--one of, if not the, first promises in the Bible. In Genesis 3:15 we hear God speaking to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” You may not have caught that but this is a reference to the coming Messiah who will crush the head of the enemy. It is this Messiah, this Promised King that we hope for. Now, we as Christians know that this Promised King came some 2,000 years ago. But, he did something unexpected. Rather than set up his kingdom he died. We would not expect the long awaited King to die, but he did. And so we are left waiting. We are waiting on the Messiah to come back and set up his kingdom. So you can see that we are in a historical situation somewhat similar to those in the day which Malachi speaks. And by way of side note we need to mention that it is quite possible that there is no prophet by the name Malachi. Malachi means “my messenger”. It is somewhat possible that the author is Ezra (the same Ezra who has a book that bears his name). Regardless of whom it is it is a messenger of God. And this messenger has a message for us, even today, concerning our indifference. That is why tonight we are going to look at six disputes throughout this prophecy—they are 6 things that happen whenever God delays. And then we are going to try to answer the question, what can we do to battle indifference while wait.

Indifference is really the thing that will link all six of these things together. Throughout this book’s 55 verses 47 of them are God speaking. The other verses are Israel disagreeing with God’s assessment. He says I love you; they say how. He says you are robbing me; they say how. He says you are making me weary; they say why. It is like the stubborn kid to his parent’s cries of discontent. You ask the child how everything is going he says, “Everything is just great”. You ask the parents they say, “He needs lots of prayer”. So it is often in our relationship with God. We become indifferent and this indifference takes on many forms.

The marks of indifference and how to fight them

When you are questioning God’s love for you focus on His electing love in redemption. (1:2-5)

This is the problem in the first dispute in Malachi. God tells the people, “I have loved you”. If we want to use the original language God tells the people, “I have loved you in the past and I continue to love you”. What would you expect as the response? I mean don’t we all want to hear God say, “I love you”. Their response might sound familiar. “How”, they ask. Have you ever felt that way? You’ve heard it a million times. You sang it in children’s church; “Jesus loves me this I know…” But then life hits you hard. You notice the suffering around you. You go through a bout of suffering yourself, and you wonder—do you really love me God? How can God say that he loves me and let all of this happen to me? Would not a loving God want to shield me from harm?

And this is when God reminds us, as Christians, of His electing love in redemption. “I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated”. This is a very loaded statement. In fact it is something that has been debated for centuries. What I am referring to is God’s special electing (electing means choosing) love. One side of the issue says that God has elected the nations and not the individuals. And that this is not so much an election unto salvation but of blessing and favor. Others say that the reason why God hated Esau is that he hated him because of what he had done. He hated his sin. But this is inconsistent. This very verse in Malachi was quoted by Paul in Romans 9 when he says that God’s chose Jacob over Esau “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call.” Some even try to say it is because God foresaw Esau’s lack of faith/works and hated him and saw Jacob’s faith/works and chose him. But this too is inconsistent. With this text but especially with the entire history of what God means by election. It is never a foreseen work. It is just as it says in Romans 9, “not because of works but because of his call”.

We can really see this in Deuteronomy 7:6-11 that the reason why God chose Israel is not because of anything in them that was great but because he was keeping His covenant; a covenant which He initiated. What we are saying is what the Lord said in Ephesians 1:5 that God, “predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…” The text is simply stating this--that if you are saved the reason you are saved is because before the foundation of the world for no reason other than the Lord’s good pleasure he said, you are mine, I am going to redeem you.

So, whenever you are questioning whether or not God loves you focus on that. Focus on what God has done in saving you. It’s not that God loves you because you are so amazing. It’s that God loves you unconditionally. There is one sense in which the love of God is conditional. His love is conditioned upon our acceptance, our sin being atoned for, our being made righteous, our lives being filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit. But what is so amazing about God’s love is that what he requires he fulfills in Jesus Christ. That is what we are talking about. That God note only chose you before the foundation of the world but he at a specific time and place sent His Son to fulfill all those righteous requirements of the Law. And then at a specific time He brought His Holy Spirit into your life and preached the Word of God to you. He did what it says in 2 Corinthians 4; “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” He caused your heart to come alive and gave you new life. And at one point after He had regenerated your heart you repented and believed in the Gospel. And He causes the Holy Spirit to continue to live in your heart and bring about righteousness. And He will bring about your everlasting joy for all of eternity. So, Christian, do you really question God’s love for you?

When you are engaging in half-hearted worship focus on God’s awesome character

The second dispute that God has with Israel is that they are engaged in half-hearted worship. According to the Lord they had despised His name and polluted their worship. The Israelites, of course, respond with a resounding, “How so”. The Lord then points them to their sacrifice and asks them how that matches up with His character. The Israelites--actually more so the priests--had been bringing pathetic sacrifices to the altar. You can find numerous verses in the Old Testament that resemble Deuteronomy 17:1, “You shall not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or a sheep in which is a blemish, any defect whatever, for that is an abomination to the LORD your God.” What then are the people in Malachi’s day doing? God says that they “bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick and this you bring as your offering”. Or again, “When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil?”

How ridiculous is this of the priests to bring such pathetic offerings to the living God. He is calling for a sacrifice to show the brutality of sin and the greatness of God. By their sacrifice they are communicating that their sin is not that bad and that God is not that great. Their worship is so unbelievably half-hearted that they do not see anything wrong with what they are doing. In fact after God shows them the ridiculousness of this they say, “What a weariness this”. Their worship has not become vibrant and overflowing from a heart in love with a Great King. Their worship has become half-hearted (if even that) ritualistic garbage.

Are we not sometimes worse? The Israelites brought blind and sick animals we bring to God our leftovers as well. Does God get the first-fruits of your time, your resources, your energy, etc.? I think God really gets to the point when he says, “Present that (your crappy sacrifices) to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor?” Of course not! If you gave to your school work, your friendship, your job, your face, your room, your hobbies, your talents as much as you give to God it would not be pretty. If you came to your coach and told him that practice was wearing you out and that you only wanted to put in 15 minutes this week but you would promise to be at the football game and play really hard he would make you run laps. But we throughout the week do not even give God 15 minutes of thought or devotional time and then come to church as if that’s a sacrifice. We give God our leftovers all the time.

Why then is this so bad? It is bad because it goes against God’s character. Do you think God really needs sacrifices? Do you think He is not going to be able to put food on His heavenly table and all His holy angels will starve if these priests do not give God a sacrifice? Do you think God really is disappointed because He is getting a blind animal? No. God is not upset because they are not filling in something He is lacking. God is not upset with me when I give Him my leftovers because He is lacking something and I let Him down. God is upset because whenever we give Him our leftovers we are communicating to Him and to the nations that leftovers are all that God is worth.

This is why God says, “Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations”. So, whenever you are tempted to give half-hearted worship to God remember who it is that you are worshipping. Focus on His great character. Remember that He is a great King; greater than any governor, or prince, or ruler, or pleasure, or anything in the universe. If you want your worship to be vibrant then it must stem from having a really big view of God and melting before His character. That is what we see in Isaiah 6 when Isaiah worshipped before the throne. He was confronted with God’s holiness and He was undone. Oh, see that He is a great King. How then, Christians, can we worship our God as if He is nothing more than one who deserves leftovers?

When you are struggling with infidelity guard yourselves and do not be faithless

This third dispute could probably be an entire sermon. It is especially fitting for people your age but would also be relevant for married couples. It has to do with our faithfulness to the marriage covenant that God has designed. Perhaps you are wondering what this has to do with you but there is a very clear bridge between the Israelites struggle and ours today. They were breaking two of God’s commands. 1) They were seeking to marry unbelievers. 2) They were plagued by divorce.

Does that sound familiar? God had told the Israelite people not to intermarry with unbelieving nations. And let me be clear. God is not racist. He is not against a black man marrying a white woman or vice versa. God did not disapprove of the Israelites marrying within cultures because of the color of their skin. God disapproved because of their worship of foreign gods. If you marry a woman that bows her knee to some foreign God you are not going to be faithful to your God. Christian young people, listen to what God is telling you. This is a command this is not optional. Do not date (I could leave that sentence there and it still be accurate) an unbeliever. Do not court an unbeliever. Do not try to date them and convert them, to just help them out. And do not pull that well “I think she’s a Christian, or well I’m pretty sure He believes in God junk”. If you cannot tell young lady then this man is not at a spot to spiritually lead you—do not waste your time. If you cannot tell young man then this lady is not at a spot to follow you—do not waste your time, she will bog you down and distract you from worship. Scripture clearly says do not be yoked together with an unbeliever. I could give you 50 million reasons why this is a bad idea but one will suffice—God considers it an abomination. It’s not small thing.

Furthermore, the Israelites are plagued with divorce. They are “covering the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand”. “Why won’t God accept me” they are wondering. It is because they are plagued by divorce. It is very interesting what type of divorce this is. It is the same type in our culture. “For the man who hates and divorces…” They were “getting sick of” or putting it in Oprah terms, “falling out of love, no longer happy” with their wives so they were ditching them. God hated it. There are two ways in which God permits divorce but it is never required. 1) For adultery 2) For neglect and abandonment (which abuse problems falls in this category). But falling out of love is never a valid reason to get a divorce. This is it. These two.

We are actually going to deal with this one a little more fully in the coming weeks when we talk about biblical manhood and womanhood. But for now let me make this application. For those of you who are dating unbelievers if you care about your relationship with God you need to break up—and keep it that way. Do not date unbelievers! And let me extend that as far as Scripture does. Ladies do not date a young man that is not able to spiritually lead you. Men do not date a young woman that is not willing to spiritually follow you.

What do you do in the meantime as you struggle to find a spouse, or maybe even later on when you struggle to keep one? “Guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of his youth”. That means simply this—stop flirting with this stuff. Do not be stupid and date. Do not be ignorant and flirt with a bunch of guys or girls. Guard yourselves from this stuff. It is serious. What you do now will have a bearing on your future marriage. Be careful. More on this in January and February…

When you are questioning God’s justice focus on His past fulfillments and future promises

For the sake of time we will not go in depth on this point either. We have dealt in detail in the past with God and His justice. For now I want to turn your attention to 2:17-3:5. Here the Israelites are complaining that God is not bringing evil doers to justice so why not do evil. It seems like God delights in evil more than good so why not just be evil you will get more blessings. And God points to the messenger that He will send. This is certainly a reference to Jesus. As we have talked about in the past if you begin to question God’s justice then turn your eyes no further than the Cross. It is where we see that justice has been poured out. It is what causes us to be pure and it is what brings sinners to judgment. But we also know that there will be a future day when those who trust in Jesus will be restored and those who do not will be judged ultimately.

When you are selfishly giving half-hearted devotion focus on the storehouse of God’s pleasures.

We have somewhat dealt with half-hearted devotion when we dealt with half-hearted worship. It’s much the same. Here it manifests itself in a different form. It is not their sacrifices that are tarnished it is their tithes and offerings—their giving. Apparently the people were not only giving blind animals but they were at times totally withholding their tithes. What is a tithe? It is actually a required wage in the Old Testament. It means tenth. The Jewish people would give a tenth of what they had. Does it carry over to the New Testament? I would actually say that it does, but I think 10% is setting the bar too low. The New Testament seems to challenge us to give as high of a percentage as we can. So, because of my uncertainty I would encourage you to at least give 10% of your wages to your local church but challenge you to see how much of your income you can actually give. Can you give 20%? Can you give 40%? What can you give?

This is talking about struggling with giving devotion to God and if you desire to withhold something from God. Maybe it is part of your heart. Perhaps it is your time. It could even be a sin you are holding on to. Look at this way: In Mark 9:34-36 Jesus says this, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” When Jesus says things like that, and calls for such a radical commitment what do you want to cling to? What comes to your mind of, “you’re going to have to give this up”. What does “deny himself” mean in your own life?

When you are struggling with a half-hearted devotion (or putting that another way—giving up everything to God) then the key is to focus on the storehouse of God’s pleasures. In Malachi 3:10 God says, “Bring in the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” Now, health and wealth prosperity preachers love this verse. They like to say, plant your seed give your tithe (aka all your money to me) and see if God won’t bless ya’ back with all kinds of money and a yacht and a car and a really nice shiny watch like me. And you know what, maybe God will bless you with that. But that’s not what I want. When I hear God say he’s going to open up heaven and lavish upon us blessing I’m not thinking of gold. I’m thinking of Jesus. Jesus is more precious than gold. He is finer than diamonds. He is the treasure that was hidden in the field that the man sold everything just to have Him. So, whenever you are struggling with half-hearted devotion fix your eyes upon the wonders and majesty of Jesus Christ. Fix you’re thought upon the blessing that is going to be given you; namely God Himself.

And by way of warning, if that does not stir you. If you would rather have money, or fame; and if your love and passion for God is not enough to sustain you then you really need to ask yourself if you know Him. The picture of the Bible is that God is the greatest treasure and that those who know Him want little else and is continually growing in their satisfaction with Him alone. If Christ is not your treasure it is quite possible that He is not your Christ.

When you lose hope and feel like giving up look to your future redemption or judgment

The last thing that we see is that the Israelites were giving up hope. They have gone so far as to say, “It is vain to serve God. What profit of our keeping charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?” In other words, this is not working. I’m giving up on this God-stuff. It’s profiting us nothing. God responds by pointing them again to future redemption or judgment. Certainly he is pointing us to Jesus when he says, “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.” Christ has bought us, the Church, with his own blood. And God is pointing to that great day when He will make everything right. Either you will be redeemed because you are part of those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ or you will be as Malachi 4:1 says, “…stubble”. “The day that is coming shall set them ablaze.

When you are struggling with indifference and wanting to give up hope then look backwards at the Cross and look forward to the Day of Judgment and what will happen to you in light of the Cross.

I understand that you have been bombarded with many points and quite a bit to chew on. But let me sum it up quickly. Malachi is the last word spoken to the people of Israel for 400 years. There is not a prophet on the scene until a man by the name of John the Baptist comes. He is the Elijah spoken of in 4:5-6. He is the one who is going to prepare the way for the great messenger. The messenger spoken of in Malachi 3:1-4, the one who will purify and refine like fire; the one who will make us righteous. He is the one that we know by the name of Jesus.

We have looked at some of the fruits of indifference. It can be difficult sometimes to keep the faith. It can be challenging to fight the fight of faith. It is this fight that we must labor with all of our might. Following Christ is not easy. But it is worth it. All of these points have one thing as their anchor to hold them together.

Whether you are questioning God’s love, engaging in half-hearted worship, struggling with infidelity, questioning God’s justice, selfishly giving half-hearted devotion, or losing hope and feeling like giving up—the rock on which each of these are answered is the person and work of Jesus Christ. Focusing on God’s electing redeeming love is merely another way of saying look to the Cross of Jesus Christ and what He has done. If you are an unbeliever the Cross is where you need to look. Telling you to focus on God’s awesome character is merely another way of saying look to Jesus—for it is He who has revealed to us God’s character. He has made Him known. Look at the beauty and loveliness of Christ. Telling you to guard yourselves and not to be faithless is a meaningless exhortation if it is not married to the Cross; because no man can conquer the desires of lusts without a superior pleasure. No young lady can squelch her desire to be loved and cared for by a man unless she has a greater shepherd. That superior pleasure and greater shepherd is Jesus. So, you too are exhorted to look to Jesus. When we speak of focusing on God’s past fulfillments and future promises, they reach their climax in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Exodus means nothing if not for the Cross. All of the Old Testament promises are naught until we see them in light of the Cross. So what we are really telling you to do is to look to Jesus. If you want to see justice, look to Jesus. Encouraging you to focus on the storehouse of God’s pleasures is simply another way of saying focus on the excellence of Christ. He is the treasure. When you want to stop being selfish and want something greater then look to the great King who is the fountain and source of all pleasure and joy. And finally when we tell you to look to your future redemption or judgment the answer to which of those you will face is found in the Cross.

If you are to face future redemption it will not be because of your works or even because of your faith or repentance. If you are to have future redemption it is to be because of the great and awesome work of Jesus Christ and because the life and righteousness of Christ Jesus has been given to your account. It will be because He has taken the punishment for your unrighteousness. It is true that repentance and faith is what linked you to Him but you cannot take credit for that. Faith itself was a gift of God. So, your future redemption is owed completely to the Lord. Therefore, if you are to look to future redemption then you are looking at the great and mighty blessing of God. If you are to face redemption it is because by your stubborn heart you have decided to not honor and treasure the Cross. You have decided to give your life for that which is perishable and because of that you too shall perish. You do not see Jesus Christ as the great treasure that He is. You are not trusting in the Cross but trusting in yourself. Therefore, you are not honoring that which God has most honored and you are not trusting in the only name under heaven by which men might be saved—the name of Jesus Christ! That is what tonight is about. That is what Malachi is about. It is about Jesus. Can you really be indifferent in the face of this Great King!?!?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Nahum--The Character of God and the Reason for our Salvation

The Character of God and the Reason for Salvation
The Cross of Christ in the Book of Nahum

On January 7, 1855 a young man of 20 years old stepped into a pulpit in England and said the following words:

It has been said by someone that “the proper study of mankind is man”. I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.
There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in [thinking about God]. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, “Behold I am wise”. But when we come to this master science, finding that we [cannot reach to its depth], and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought that vain main would be wise… [To say] with solemn exclamation, “I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.” No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God…
But while the subject humbles the mind it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe…The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of [God].
And [while this subject is humbling and expanding it is also soothing]. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy [Spirit], there is [healing] for every sore. [Do you want] to lose your sorrow? [Do you desire] to drown your cares? Then go, plunged yourself in God’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as form a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout [meditation] upon the subject of [God].[1]

Tonight we are going to look at the book of Nahum. It is about Nineveh; and it about God’s wrath against it. You remember Nineveh from last week when we covered Jonah. Last week Nineveh repented and God spared the calamity that He was going to bring upon them. Then we have Nahum; written about 150 years after Jonah. This is a message of the all out distribution of God’s wrath upon the nation of Nineveh. The change that we read about in Jonah was only a generational thing. The next generations after Jonah had apparently turned away and began again to embrace their foreign gods and became wicked in their ways of warfare. Therefore God is going to pour His wrath out upon them. But Nahum is also about Judah. Surprisingly Nahum does not deal with Judah’s guilt only her restoration and God’s protection and blessing of her. These two things will serve as our points for this evening. 1) God judges all sin with His holy wrath and 2) He restores and protects His people. But before we do that I think there is something that Nahum does here that is very important: notice where Nahum starts. He is going to level charges against Nineveh and give terrifying descriptions of their judgment--but notice where he starts. He starts with God. He starts with the character of God. That is where that young man—Charles Spurgeon—began. It is where Nahum began. And it is where we will begin tonight and actually spend most of our time here.

Read Nahum 1:2:8

Nahum begins by telling us that God is a jealous God. That simply means that God “continually seeks to protect his own honor.”[2] Does this strike anyone as weird? When we say that God is a jealous God does it sound like an undesirable trait? Does the image of a jealous person come to mind? Nobody like a Jealous Judy. Does it make God sound a little pathetic to hear things like, “The Lord is jealous in the sense that he demands an exclusive relationship, zealously protects that relationship, and desires the worship that belongs to him alone. He cannot be worshipped alongside any other.” Does this sound a little like the husband that will not let his wife have any friends because he is jealous? Does it sound like the wife that will not let her husband have any hobbies?

But I think that we should look at this in another way. Imagine that a man decided to start hitting on my wife. He wants to take her out to supper. He wants to ask for her hand in marriage. Me, being a good husband, am going to do what? Pop him in the teeth! I am going to fight for my wife. If I felt no jealousy, and it is jealousy, at the intrusion of a lover or adulterer in my home then surely something is wrong with me.[3]

Now if we think of jealousy this way we can get a little better understanding of God’s jealousy, but it is still not complete. We must look at it in respect of covenant love but where my jealousy is different than the jealousy of God is that God has every right to be jealous—I do not. Or to put that another way the jealousy of God is the most loving things that he can do for us. For God to be jealous and passionate to protect His own honor is a beautiful thing and it benefits us. For me to be jealous and passionate to protect my own honor is a disgusting thing. We saw last week that we were created for God’s glory. We know that God does all things for His glory and for His name’s sake.

The fact that every one of us are not in hell this moment can be attributed to God’s passion for His glory. As he says in Isaiah 48:9-11, “for my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off…for my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.”

Every action of God in the Old and New Testament flows from this truth. If you ever have a question of God you can answer it with this. Why did God…? Because of His glory. God does everything for His glory. EVERYTHING springs from this! Even the Cross is not about us. It’s a display of the glory of God. We reap the benefits, oh, do we reap the benefits!! But everything that God does is to “preserve and display His infinite and awesome greatness and wroth, that is, His glory.”[4]

But does this make God a selfish ego-maniac? John Piper helps us to see 2 reasons why this is not so. First of all, “God’s zeal to seek His own glory and to be praised by men cannot be owing to His need to shore up some weakness or compensate for some deficiency”[5]. That means that in being passionate for His glory and bringing forth His justice upon us whenever we are not as similarly passionate is not because God is insecure and His feelings are hurt. Secondly, “Because God is unique as an all-glorious, totally sufficient Being, He must be for Himself if He is to be for us. The rules of humility that belong to a creature cannot apply in the same way to its Creator. If God should turn away from Himself as the Source of infinite joy, He would cease to be God. He would deny the infinite worth of His own glory. He would imply that there is something more valuable outside Himself. He would commit idolatry”.[6] Therefore it is a necessity that God might glorify Himself. And finally Piper culminates all of this by saying, “For Him, self-exaltation is the highest virtue. When He does all things, “for the praise of His glory,” He preserves for us and offers to us the only thing in the entire world that can satisfy our longings. God for us! And the foundation of this love is that God has been, is now, and always will be for Himself.”[7]

Therefore, when Nahum begins by stating that God is jealous he is saying much. It is this jealousy of God from which all else will spring. God is passionate about preserving and protecting His own honor. And because of this we see Nahum’s second thing about God.

God is an avenging God. Again to think of our God as vengeful might seem inappropriate. Do we not disapprove of those who seek vengeance? Did not Jesus teach us to turn the other cheek? How then can we say that God is avenging?

But avenging we mean the “[disciplinary retribution of God, who as the sovereign King—faithful to his covenant—stands up for the vindication of his glorious name in a judging and fighting mode, while watching over the maintenance of his justice and acting to save his people.”

What that means is simply this. God is so passionate and so jealous about His glory that He will not give it to another. In fact He will rise up and fight any who try to usurp Him. Again we must see this as the most loving thing He could do. When we decide to worship the creature instead of the Creator is a pitiful exchange. We see this is the problem in Romans 1:18-32.

This is why sin becomes so terrible. We see in Romans 1 that God has revealed Himself in nature. But men decided to, “not honor Him as God or give thanks to him”. So what is the result of that? What happens when we trample the glory of God and decide upon this foolish exchange? We, “become futile in [our] thinking, and [our] foolish hearts [become] darkened.” As Paul continues, while claiming to be wise we became fools. And in the stupidest thing that man has ever done we, “exchanged the glory of the immortal God (that which never fades, never perishes, that which is our joy and our crown) for that which is mortal and fades.” If you really want to get at the meat of what Paul is saying it is this: we trade the glory of God for a copy of a copy. We become like Esau who traded the glory of God for a bowl of soup.

Then Paul levels the charge. Because of this God “gives them up”. From this foolish exchange comes all impurity. Homosexuality. Covetousness. Malice. Envy. Murder. Strife. Deceit. Gossiping. Hateful, Proud. Inventors of Evil. Foolishness. Faithfulness. We become heartless. And worse of all we continue in our idolatry and try to get others to join us. We exchange the glory of God for bowls of soup and try to convince other people that this is the way to go.

So what do you think a holy God is going to do whenever men communicate with their lives and lips that bowls of soup (sin) is more precious than Him? What do you expect a jealous God to do? He avenges them. Perhaps that seems unfair. Or perhaps fear rises up within you. But note this about the God of vengeance it is a “threatening picture only to those who want to be their own gods and rule the earth in their own ways, but to those who trust God it is a comfort and an affirmation that he is truly sovereign”. [8]
How then does God avenge His holy name? How does He avenge His honor? He does so by Nahum’s third description.

God is wrathful. Again this is not a pretty picture. But the Bible does not allow us to escape this aspect of God. It speaks unashamedly of the passion of God. The word here for wrathful is one of “inner emotion, the inner fire of anger”.[9] It is a deep, passionate word. In fact this is so inescapable that if you were to do a word study you would find more references to God’s anger, fury and wrath than you would His love and tenderness.[10]

This wrath is not some mere temper-tantrum. It is a settled disposition toward both sin and the sinner. God is going to punish sin. But where does He find that sin? In the sinner. Therefore, God’s wrath is not going to be merely poured out upon sin as if it is some outward virus that has taken us over. Sin is an inward condition. Sin is who we are. Therefore, his wrath is going to be poured out upon sinful humanity—upon sinners.

I cannot spend much time here on wrath because it is a concept of which I am unfamiliar. None of us have felt the fierce wrath of God that we should. You can read Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. But Edwards cannot paint a picture dreadful enough. You can read Joel and his locusts plague and just imagine the horrors of a dreaded hell, where the wrath of God will be fully kindled. You can listen to what God is going to do to Nineveh as you read through Nahum but that too cannot give a full picture of the awfulness of God’s wrath. You can think of Sodom and Gomorrah being utterly destroyed but that picture is but a drop in the bucket of the outpouring of God’s unmitigated wrath when it is fully poured out.

Oh, what a horrible picture it is of those who are without God. What a horrible thing awaits those of you who are not in Jesus Christ. Every day that your heart grows harder you are, “storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed”. But this is not all that Nahum has to say about God; thankfully for us sinners.

God is also slow to anger. That phrase there, “slow to anger” is actually quite a funny expression it means “long of nose”. So those of you who struggle with insecurity because you think God has given you a big nose—take heart; He has one too. It means that God is patient. This can be both a sweet truth and an unwelcome one. It is sweet whenever we would be on the receiving end of His wrath. It is unwelcome when God is patient with our enemies.

Because He is slow to anger do not think that He will not plead your cause. God might seem slow as we would define it. But His timing is always perfect. Do not worry; He will by no means clear the guilty. We have discussed this in a prior sermon on Amos. We noted that God’s justice and God’s patience is both a comforting and discomforting fact.

Oh, the greatness of God in being slow to anger. If it were not for his grace we would all be consumed! But we must know that God’s kindness (his slowness to anger) is not meant to give us more time to keep sinning and keep storing up wrath for ourselves. God’s slowness to anger is meant to lead us to repentance. Do not misinterpret God’s slowness to avenge his holiness in wrath as a sign that He is not powerful enough to do it? Do not even think it is a sign that He is not going to do it. God is powerful enough to stop every heart in here tonight. And that is the next truth Nahum wants us to see.

God is great in power. Because God is great in power we need not worry that it is because of his inability that we do not see His justice prevail. It is not because God is lacking in power that we are not before His throne tonight. It is because of His grace. Nahum is simply stating what all biblical writers state in one way or another. God is all-powerful. He is sovereign. He is in control. His power is infinite. That means He can do what He wants, when He wants and how He wants. There is one last thing that we must see about God’s character.

The Lord is good a stronghold in the day of trouble

God is a good God. Wrapped up in this definition of the idea of God’s goodness is not only all that we have already said but also that He is perfect, but He is also merciful and gracious; and loving. God is also generous.

This in many ways is the climax of the story of Nahum. It will move us forward. We have considered a few of God’s infinite perfections and it would take an eternity for us to exhaust Him, we cannot—obviously—do that here tonight. But we can see how the character of God meets with two truths.

I. Because of the character of God He will judge all adversaries with His holy wrath

We have already seen this earlier and need not spend a long time on this here. We see that because God is jealous and because God is avenging and because God is wrathful He is going to judge all sin. He is slow to anger that is true—and because of that we are not all being judged today. But he is also great in power. His slowness to bring us to justice is not a display of His weakness.

The statement is that God is going to judge all of His adversaries with His holy wrath. Who then are His adversaries? It is me. In my pride and in my self sufficiency I have exchanged the glory of God for images of images. I have been just like Esau and have traded the glory of God for a bowl of soup. I stand guilty before a holy God. Oh, we must feel this. I know it seems like we preach this every week—and I will continue to preach this every week. But we must understand that because God is so passionate about His name He is going to judge all sin. We will not and cannot get away with trampling God’s glory under our feet. We will not. We have but one hope. And that is that we might become His people

II. Because of the character of God He will restore and protect His people

We see that the book of Nahum is sweet to all those who live in Judah. Their great adversary the Assyrians are about to be destroyed; they will be brought to justice. This means restoration and blessing for the people of God. We see form this text that God knows all those who take refuge in Him. That means that if we are to take refuge in God then we will not be overcome by His wrath. It will not be poured out upon us.

Oh, if we could grasp this. If we could understand more of the character of God. As Spurgeon said some 150 years ago if we would “plunge ourselves in this deepest sea” then we could understand the Cross better. Because at the Cross these two truths meet.

We see in the Cross that the wrath of God is poured out. The wrath that should be mine and should be yours was poured out upon Jesus Christ. For every sin we commit is against an infinite King. Therefore our sin is infinite. It requires an infinite sacrifice. It must be atoned for. God’s wrath will come flooding against it. Oh, this is serious. We must not miss the seriousness and the extent of God’s wrath. We can catch a glimpse in Nahum. We read in Nahum 3:2-7 what the Lord will do. We see in 2:13 that He is utterly against them. All of us stand before God with that same judgment. All of us have whored after other lovers. We have not treasured God as He ought. And for His name’s sake He is going to punish sin.

If we can see that this is what happened on the Cross. It is a display of the ugliness of sin and the awesome might, power, and wrath of God. He poured out His wrath upon Jesus. His wrath to the full!

Can you see what that means for those of us who are in Christ? There is NO more of God’s wrath to be poured out! It has been poured out upon Jesus Christ. That means that His wrath will not come against your sin. Every ounce of sin you have committed and ever will commit is covered by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Oh, what precious blood it is. It covers it. That is what the word atone me. Covers. And because the sacrifice of Christ is infinite and infinitely precious it covers it completely—forever.

And now God has restored us in such a way and will continue to restore us in such a way that we might forever enjoy Him and treasure Him and rejoice before Him as we ought. Oh, He has given us the greatest gift of all—the gift of Himself. Oh what grace. The Cross is a display of the wrath of God and it is also a display of His love. I close by reading you the lyrics of a hymn—or a worship song.
How deep the Father’s love for usHow vast beyond all measureThat He would give His only SonTo make a wretch His treasureHow great the pain of searing lossThe Father turns His face awayAs wounds which mar the chosen OneBring many sons to glory
Behold the Man upon a crossMy guilt upon His shouldersAshamed, I hear my mocking voiceCall out among the scoffersIt was my sin that held Him thereUntil it was accomplishedHis dying breath has brought me lifeI know that it is finished
I will not boast in anythingNo gifts, no powr’s, no wisdomBut I will boast in Jesus ChristHis death and resurrectionWhy should I gain from His reward?I cannot give an answerBut this I know with all my heartHis wounds have paid my ransom[11]

Have they paid yours? Does the blood of Jesus Christ cover you? Can you say that His wounds have ransomed you? Are you His?

[1] Packer. J.I. Knowing God. p17-18
[2] Grudem, Wayne. Bible Doctrine. p
[3] Packer, J.I. Knowing God. p170
[4] Piper, John. Desiring God. p42
[5] Ibid, p46
[6] Ibid, 47
[7] Ibid, 47
[8] Baker, Kenneth. NAC Commentary. Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah. p168.
[9] Ibid, 170
[10] Packer, 149
[11] Stuart Townsend. “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us”.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Gospel According to Jonah

The Gospel According to Jonah
The Message of the Prophet Jonah
How do I have more joy than Jonah?

Scripture Introduction:

If you could be as happy and joyous as possible would you want it? Some of you are probably wondering where I am going with this. Perhaps, you feel a little guilty for saying yes. Maybe it feels a little dirty to say that you desire as much joy as possible. Does that not sound a little unholy? The other day I was listening to the sermon of a very prominent preacher, he said I do not like to use the word enjoy whenever I am talking about the holiness of God. That really struck a chord with me. It goes so contrary to my understanding of God and Scripture. Even though it might sound like a biblical statement or it might sound holy to say “we do not pursue holiness because it is fun but because we are told to”. It is profoundly unbiblical. What I am saying to you is that our greatest joy is found in holiness. Our greatest enjoyment, fun, pleasure, etc. is found in Jesus Christ and in Him alone. My passion tonight is that our joy might increase. And that is not an unholy desire. It is the same desire that the Apostle John had whenever he said I am writing these things “so that our joy may be complete”. He was writing the letter and preaching Jesus for his joy and for the joy of his hearers. It is not wrong to seek pleasure and to seek joy. In fact it is ignorant not to. So, tonight we are going to look at what might seem a strange place to learn about joy. We are going to look at one of the most bitter, cynical, reluctant, grouchy, selfish, rebellious people in all of Scripture. We are going to look at the story of Jonah.

You remember the story of Jonah. The story of the reluctant prophet. God tells him to go to Nineveh. Jonah goes as far the other way as possible. But God catches up to him. God causes a large storm it about breaks the boat. Pagan sailors reluctantly throw Jonah overboard. The pagan sailors are reluctant to not show mercy while the preacher boy Jonah is reluctant to show mercy. It’s a fitting picture of the whole story. God is merciful in this story as well. One of his great mercies is causing Jonah to get swallowed by a big fish. Finally after becoming fish vomit Jonah decides to be obedient. But he is not going to be happy about it. He marches into Nineveh gives his short message. He then witnesses one of the greatest national awakenings in the history of mankind. Some 120,000 people turn and repent! What is Jonah’s response? Anger, frustration, upset with God. So, Jonah sits outside the city for 40 days and bellyaches. God decides to preach a sermon to Jonah through nature. He causes a plant to rise up in which Jonah rejoices, good shade for his bald head. Then God causes a scorching wind to burn up the plant. So for the fourth time in the story Jonah wants to die. God then tests Jonah’s priorities and asks him if he does well to be so angry. God makes the point that Jonah is crying over a plant that dies while he is waiting to see a nation full of people and animals (higher than plant life even) get destroyed! And the story ends.

Sermon Introduction:

In July and August we went through the story of Jonah in our Sunday school. I preached an overview sermon of Jonah on a Sunday evening. Hopefully you know the story of Jonah. My concern here tonight is to take a behind the scenes look at the story of Jonah. I want to ask the question: Why does Jonah tell God “no”? Or perhaps more importantly for us, why do we tell God “no”? I think if we look at the story of Jonah we can see two big reasons why he tells God “no”. If we look further I think these are also the underlying reason why we as Christians will be disobedient. The first reason is that we really do not get the gospel. We do not understand it. It has not gone deeply into our hearts. If we really believed the gospel then disobedience would not be a problem. The second reason really springs out of the first. Because we do not believe the gospel we treasure idols more than we treasure Jesus.

Tonight we will make 4 gospel statements. I will show you from the story of Jonah how he blew it. We will see how in Jonah’s life the gospel did not go deeply. We will then look at each of these 4 statements and how we blow it like Jonah. We might not run away from God to Tarshish and end up getting swallowed by a fish but I painfully see myself in the story of Jonah. After we have done this we will look at our treasuring of idols more than we treasure Jesus. In doing this we will lead to our conclusion which will be tips for treasuring Christ and we will try to figure out, what can I do to make the gospel go deep?

I. If we want our joy to be fullest then the gospel must go deep

In on sense of the word we cannot fault Jonah for not understanding the gospel. Jonah lived some 800 years prior to God becoming flesh. He had little to know knowledge of Jesus and even the revelation that there would be a Messiah was a new development. So in one sense we cannot fault Jonah. But Jonah would have known some of the basic elements of the gospel. Jonah would have known God and His character. He would have known God’s righteous requirements. He would have known of God’s love and mercy and willingness to save. But I submit to you that these truths did not go deep in the life of Jonah. And they do not go deep in our life as well. As stated earlier we will make a gospel statement, show how Jonah missed it, and then try to discern some areas in our life were the gospel is not deep enough.

Gospel Statement:

God created us; God created us for His glory. (Isaiah 43:1-7)

Jonah Misses It

Jonah understood this in theory but he missed it in heart and practice. You do not understand that God is your Creator and that He has done so for His glory if whenever He calls you to act upon that truth you decide to go as far away as possible. When God called Jonah to live for His glory and to spread that glory to the nations (as he was supposed to) Jonah ran. These truths did not go deep. But Jonah was confronted with the truth that cripples every rebel trying to run from God. You cannot. “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” The psalmist lets us know that you cannot flee. You can go to heaven and God is there. You can ascend to the grave and he is there also. You can flee to the depths of the sea and God will find you. You could go to the highest mountain. He will find you. You can hide in the darkest of dark and it will be as light to Him. Because God is our Creator and Lord over all things we cannot escape the presence of God. Jonah found that out the hard way: as his boat came crashing down by the waves, as he is swallowed up in the sea, as he is eaten by an obedient fish. You cannot escape the presence of God. He has created us, and He has done so for His glory. Jonah missed it; Jonah thought he could successfully flee from this truth. He thought he might escape his duty to live for the glory of God.

We miss it too

Jonah is not alone in his defiance. We too do not understand how passionate God is for His glory. We miss the truth that God has created us and He has done so for His glory. There are a few indicators that let us know that we (even as Christians) do not always live for His glory as we ought. The number one indicator that we do not “get it” is the level of our pride. Whenever our lives are about pursuing our own glory instead of His we do not understand the reason for our being created. It was not so that we could be made much of. We were created so that we could enjoy and make much of God. Not the other way around. Few people in the world have grasped this like Robert Murray McCheyne the eminent Scottish pastor who died at the age of 29. McCheyne once remarked, “I see a man cannot be a faithful minister, until he preaches Christ for Christ’s sake—until he gives up striving to attract people to himself, and seeks only to attract them to Christ.” Again when he was leaving a place of preaching with much applause and praise McCheyne says this, “Some tears; yet I fear some like the messenger, not the message; and I fear I am so vain as to love that love. Lord, let it not be so. Perish my honor, but let thine be exalted for ever”. McCheyne understood his own pride and understood that God would not share his glory with another. How foolish and vain of us to rebel against the Lord of glory and to seek our own honor over his. Would you rather have your name be great or the name of Jesus?
We can also tell that this gospel truth has not gone deep into our hearts whenever our lives are concerned with seeking our lives are filled with complacency and a desire to seek our comfort over His glory. You cannot say that you are concerned with the glory of God whenever you do not labor with all of your might to make that glory known. While our lives are busied with other things we cannot in truth claim that we do all for the glory of God. Does your life reflect that you have been created by God and sent on a mission to bring Him glory?

On to the second Gospel Truth

Gospel Truth:

Life comes from living for God’s glory and in perfect obedience to Him. For our joy to be full we must treasure God supremely and love other perfectly.

Jonah Misses It

Jonah misses this in at least two ways. One, Jonah thinks that there is more pleasure and safety in running from God to Tarshish than in following Him in obedience. Even when Jonah obeys he does so reluctantly. Jonah’s heart does not treasure God as it ought. If Jonah really grasped that life comes from obedience then he would have gladly went to Nineveh and would not have had such disdain for the Lord’s mission. Secondly, we know that the reason for Jonah’s strong disobedience is because he does not love others perfectly. You do not understand that loving others perfectly is a means to life if you are a racist like Jonah. If you have such nationalistic pride that you want God to bring his wrath upon Nineveh you do not understand what it means to love others perfectly. Jonah wanted God’s electing love to be only for the Israelites. Not the pagan Ninevites. Therefore, because Jonah cares not that others find their satisfaction in God alone it reveals that He does not love them.
If you want to really understand Jonah’s heart here think of a beggar in a community of beggars. Every night they search for bread to sustain their life. They go dumpster diving. They wait outside restaurants hoping for scraps. One day one of the beggars stumbles upon a bread company. They always produce too much bread and have to give it away each night. There is more than one beggar could eat on his own. In fact there is more than enough bread for the entire community and there will be more there tomorrow. But this beggar decides not to tell the other beggars. He wants to enjoy the bread alone. That is what Jonah is doing. He has found the bread of life and wants to keep it for himself and perhaps for a select group of his friends. He is not one beggar telling another where to get bread and therefore he does not love others perfectly.

We Miss It Too

We like Jonah rob ourselves of life and joy in God. One way we do this is by finding sin more pleasurable than God. Our lives are saturated by what John Piper calls the “suicidal exchange of the glory of God for the broken cisterns of created things”. You can really discern whether or not your heart finds sin pleasurable by asking a simple question: If you could sin wholeheartedly without any consequence of punishment would you? Forgetting the consequence of punishment would you rather have all sorts of sex now or be confined to one person only in a marital relationship? Would you enjoy being free to party, drink, do drugs, etc.? Or do those things seem deplorable to you? With no consequence of punishment for a wasted life would you rather spend your time watching television and eating Cheetos or spent with God and sharing His glory to the nations? Before you answer all holier than thou to these questions look at your life. We can say that we want to live for the glory of God until we are blue in the face but until our lives reflect that we are full of it. Do we have a passion for knowing God? Do we have a passion for reading His Word? Are we concerned about total obedience to God no matter the cost? No matter if obedience means making yourself or others uncomfortable? No matter if obedience means losing friends or gaining ones you do not want to? No matter if obedience means doing things that stretch you outside your comfort zone? No matter if obedience means sacrifice of your time or money? Every sin whether a sin of omission (what we do not do) or a sin of commission (what we do) reflects that we do not understand this gospel truth. There is more pleasure in God than in anything or anywhere else.
We also reflect that this gospel truth has not gone deep whenever we do not labor with all of our might to bring about others finding their joy in God. If we are not passionate about spreading the gospel to others we do not love them perfectly nor do we realize that God is the source of all joy. The most loving thing you can do for another person is point them to the source of all love, beauty, joy, peace, etc.—namely Jesus Christ. When our lives do not reflect this by laboring with all of our might to bring others into the fold of God so that they too can enjoy Him then we either are not experiencing this joy ourselves or we do not love others: thus revealing that we, like Jonah, do not get it.

Gospel Truth

Every human has failed to glorify God as we ought. We hate what we should treasure and treasure what we should hate. Our hearts are deceitfully wicked and we can do nothing to atone for our wrong doing and make ourselves right with God. There is no end to the depth of our depravity. We are spiritually helpless.

Jonah Missed It

We can tell that Jonah does not get the depth and extent of depravity by his nationalistic pride. If you really understand that a man drowning in 10 feet of sin is no better shape than a man drowning in 100 feet of sin then you do not have Jonah’s attitude. You do not say Nineveh can go to hell. Jonah made the same mistake that Simon the Pharisee made in Luke 7. He did not see himself as a desperate sinner in need of unmerited grace. He saw the prostitute before her in all of her sin and saw that she deserved God’s wrath and judgment. And indeed he was correct. Just like Nineveh. They deserved God’s wrath. But what Simon and Jonah before him failed to realize is that they too deserved God’s wrath. They, like the prostitute, had only one hope: the forgiving grace of God. More than likely Simon and Jonah are reflecting their cultures attitude. The Jewish people believed that because they were Jewish they deserved God’s grace. Deserving God’s grace is an oxymoron. It is not grace if you deserve it. Jonah missed this and because of it he hated the Ninevites and missed out on having more joy in God.

We Miss it too

Certainly we live in a culture that knows their depravity. Many Christians have dropped the use of such terms as sin, damnation, wrath, judgment, etc. Their reasoning is that we already feel bad enough about ourselves why should we add to it in our churches? What people need is a message of grace and a message that God loves them. Let me submit to you that while people do need a message of grace that message will not go deep enough unless they know the depth and weight of their depravity. The reason we so often do not “get grace” is because we do not “get depravity”. Do you feel the weight of your depravity? One way you can discern is to look at your battle with sin. Is there a battle? If you are not doing battle with sin then you do not accurately see its seriousness. Even if you are doing battle with sin you can still not understand depravity. Most Christians realize God desires our holiness. Since Christians have the Holy Spirit in them they desire holiness. But many Christians struggle in their battle with sin because they rely on their own strength in this fight. That is a reflection of a misunderstanding of the extent of our depravity. If you realize that your heart is deceitful and that your flesh cannot do battle with sin then you will not fight in your strength.
Another telling sign is if you have judgmental pride. If you are able to look down your nose at other believers or people who are not Christians then you do not understand depravity. You figure you must have done something to deserve it. As Paul asked, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” You cannot understand your own depravity and look down on others.

Gospel Truth

Jesus Christ restores forever our relationship with God by providing us with the great exchange; taking our sin upon Himself on the Cross and giving us His perfect righteousness. Our righteousness is found in Christ alone.

How Jonah Missed It

Again we cannot fault Jonah for not trusting in the person of Jesus. Jesus came some 800 years after Jonah. But we can see that Jonah knew God’s character. He knew that God was gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Jonah blew it in that he thought God’s mercy only extended to the Israelites. He forgot that God can have mercy on whomever He will have mercy! As we learned in the last point Jonah probably felt that God owed Him mercy. But let us leave Jonah for a moment and look at ourselves. We blow it here worse than Jonah.

How we miss it

This is really the crux of the issue. This is the part of the gospel that determines if you get all the others. If you do not get the Cross then you will not get depravity. You will not get the climax of God’s revealed glory. The Cross is where we see everything clearly. If we do not understand this gospel truth then we do not understand the gospel. The question is not do we understand it but how deep has it penetrated. Do we believe the gospel enough to live it? Are we living the gospel? Jonathan McIntosh an elder at The Journey in St. Louis gives us 8 signs that help us see if the gospel has gone deeply. How can you tell if your identity is based on your performance or based upon Jesus—the gospel? You can tell that the gospel is not deep and you are living in the flesh whenever you:

1. are worried, anxious, or fearful
2. are insecure or paranoid (protect your identity)
3. cannot take criticism (your performance is attacked)
4. constantly explain or defend yourself (protect your reputation)
5. are consumed by thoughts of yourself and how others perceive you in conversations
6. fish for compliments
7. need to advance yourself—make your name great
8. are struggling with pleasure-related sins (escape when attacked)

How does this change? If we have established that we do not get. If we understand that we are like Jonah. If we do not want to be an angry reluctant prophet like Jonah, then how do we move from there to where we need to be?

II. If we want our joy to be fullest then we must treasure God over idols

The first thing that we must do is be intentional about treasuring God over idols. In Jonah 2:8 while he is trapped in the belly of the great fish Jonah cries out to God. In the midst of his pray Jonah says this, “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love”. That is another way of saying if you are stubbornly clinging to yourself (a.k.a. do not believe the gospel) then you are forsaking the hope of covenant love. Or again Jonah is saying that you cannot treasure an idol and treasure Jesus at the same time—if you try that you will forsake your hope of enjoying God. Therefore we must be very passionate about ripping all competitors out of our life. Does your PlayStation 2 keep you from enjoying God then unplug it. Does television please for your thoughts and time then shut it off. Does music distract you from enjoying the glory of God? Then shut it off. Does that boyfriend or girlfriend keep you from moving closer to God? Are you unable to grow spiritually with him/her? Either redeem it or break up. Does your devotion to friends weaken your devotion to God? Does your pride and self-centeredness consume you? Do everything you can to rip these things out of your life and to treasure God over idols.

But this merely begs the question. What can we do to rip these things out of our life? What can we do to treasure God more? In closing let me suggest that four things that we can do. But again these things can get you further from God. These are not the goal; they are a means to that goal. Your goal is Jesus. You want to meet with God. Some will work better at different times. But do not make these the goal. If you do they can just as easily kill you. Do not treasure the pipes that bring you the life giving and sustaining water—treasure the water.

III. If we want our joy to be fullest then we will fight the battle with these weapons

These are the weapons in our fight. They will be used by God to drown out the voice of pride and to kill the flesh and replace them with the voice of God and a happy heart that treasures God alone.

1) Bible Meditation

This is not merely studying scripture or reading it. This is the weapon that Joshua needed when leading the Israelites; to meditate on the word of God day and night. Biblical meditation is not a clearing of your mind like yoga or some Eastern practice. Bible meditation is taking the word of God and feasting on it: pouring over the Scriptures, reading them slowly, crying out to God over them, and pleading with him to show you Himself. That is Bible Meditation. And it is a required weapon. When pride rises up before you will you be able to have a solid biblical foundation to fight? When the porn is one click away, when everything in you is desiring a relationship you know God disapproves of, when the voice of your friend is deafening your resolve to live for the glory of God will you in those moments be able to follow God? Will you be able to find your joy in God or in those things? When everything in you wants to become a vegetable and do nothing but play video games and watch television will you have a passion for God that overcomes that? Will you be able to not waste your life? When the battle becomes so fierce and the voice of Satan sounds like the voice of God, when you hear condemnation, when you want to give up and quit, when you feel so guilty, so helpless, so worthless will you be able to fight? If you do not make it a consistent habit to meditate on the Scriptures you will not. Bible meditation is important because it shuts up all those voices. It is objective truth. It is truth outside of us and how we feel. Romans 8:1 is true whether you feel it or not; even if you feel condemned Romans 8:1 is still true. You are not condemned. We need Bible meditation to remind us of this.

2) Scripture Memorization.

Scripture Memorization is an important part in our battle. You will not always have a Bible handy. Can you quote Scripture? Do you have it as a ready weapon? Jesus used Scripture memorization in his battle with Satan. Someone once said that the only Bible we really have is the one we have memorized. If that is true then many of us do not own a Bible; many not more than a couple of verses.

3) Journaling and Prayer

Despite what some might think journaling is not something for only girls. It is a discipline that traces our spiritual journey. We can look back and see where we have been. Get a journal. Write out your prayers. Write what you are feeling. Tell the story of what God is showing you. Furthermore pray. You cannot pray enough. I am constantly struck by what John Owen said, “A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more.” You can replace those activities with your desires. And replace minister with your name. What we are on our knees in secret that we are and no more.

4) Silence and Solitude

I hate this one. I do not thrive in silence and solitude. But we need it. God said, “Be still and know that I am God”. Sometimes we need to get away. We need silence. We need to hear the voice of God. We need to get away from music, television, the internet, books, everything and just get alone with God.

These are a few weapons that we can use. But ultimately we need the grace of God. Let us pray that God might give us the grace of ripping out everything in our life that is not Him and filling us with His Spirit and putting us in a place to enjoy Him further.