An Eternal Thanksgiving Feast

Have you shopped for your Thanksgiving food yet? Some of us will bring something to share, like a potluck, to make the work easier. Others will single-handedly prepare everything for dinner, from turkey to dessert, which can be a monumental task. In our town, more than a few restaurants offer a carry-out Thanksgiving meal or an elaborate feast that will satisfy even the pickiest eaters. Still, others will serve meals to those who are homeless or unable to afford the prices of goods now, especially as inflation has done its work in our grocery stores. What do you look forward to most, the food, fellowship, or service to others? Thanksgiving unites people in that it is considered a non-religious holiday, to eat and watch football together. But is that how God would have us view and enjoy Thanksgiving? Our passage from Luke’s gospel concerns a parable about feasting. Luke 14 opens this way: “One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully” (Luke 14:1). After Jesus healed a man of dropsy, he used two parables about feasting to teach the Pharisees about the true kingdom of God, to correct their notions about the character of true eternal life. But, “the Jews had entertained very gross notions…concerning feasting in the world to come, in the kingdom of the Messiah…They suppose that God will make a splendid feast, a sumptuous entertainment; in which…there will be great variety of flesh, fish, and fowl, plenty of generous wine, and all sorts of delicious fruit: particularly they speak of a large ox, and old wine kept in the grape from the creation of the world, which will then be drank; and of the rich fruits of the garden of Eden, that will then be served up: such gross and carnal notions have they entertained of the world to come.” (1) But, in God’s kingdom, Christ blesses everyone and anyone who receives him with spiritual feasting. As we prepare for Thanksgiving, let’s also feast on Christ’s gospel, blessed with eternal, spiritual food far superior to any earthly food.

The Believers’ Feast

Jesus used a parable of a great wedding feast to teach humility to the Jewish rulers sitting in places of honor at the ruler’s house. Before he told the next feasting parable, he said, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (Luke 14:15) “‘Blessed is everyone who will eat’ seems to be a common saying, possibly intended here to change the uncomfortable subject—i.e., to shift the focus away from the need to care for the poor and the infirm. ‘In the kingdom of God’ points to the future messianic banquet, to which the people of Jesus’ day would have understood only godly Jews would be invited. Jesus, however, uses the [following] parable to teach his listeners, contrary to their expectations, that the guests invited originally will miss the banquet and will be replaced instead by ‘the poor and crippled and blind and lame’ and the outsiders (the Gentiles) found in the ‘highways and hedges.’” (2) Here’s the parable: “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.'” (Luke 16-24) “Two invitations would have been involved. The first would have concerned reservations for the banquet and would have been given well in advance. The second invitation would have been given on the day of the banquet, announcing that the time for the banquet had come and everything was ready. Although the guests had been invited well in advance, they began to make excuses—failing to see that the kingdom is now here, and that God is inviting people to participate in its great blessings.” (3) Unlike our “save the date” notices for events, the original guests RSVP’ed to the first invitation indicating that they would attend the feast and then changed their minds at the last minute, making other things a priority. “If a person accepted the first invitation, but, when the second invitation was given, then declined, this was considered to be a grave insult. Grave enough to be grounds for waging war…[But] Jesus isn’t just talking about oriental protocol or about invitations to feasts. He is talking to the leaders of the Jewish nation, who have just rejected him. God had been pleading with Israel for centuries. The first invitation had gone out years previously to enter into the feast of heaven. And now the servant of God, God’s Son himself, comes with that second invitation to say that the feast is ready and it is time to attend. But the response of the Pharisees was to make flimsy excuses as to why they could not embrace the kingdom of God.” (4)

Regarding Christ’s Invitation Rightly

Hopefully, we will spend next week’s holiday giving thanks to God for blessings in 2022, along with feasting, fellowship, and football. As believers who will feast with Christ in his kingdom, we should also give thanks for God’s grace rightly, not lightly, with appropriate appreciation and thanksgiving. James Boice points out that “God must be honored…The persons who came to the wedding were more grateful than the first invited might have been if they had come. The richer sort had a good dinner every day. Those farmers could always kill a fat sheep, and those merchants could always buy a calf. ‘Thank you for nothing,’ they would have said to the king if they had accepted his invitation. But these poor beggars picked off the streets…welcomed the fatlings. How glad they were! One of them said to the other, ‘It’s a long time since you and I last sat down to such a joint as this,’ and the other answered, ‘I can hardly believe that I am really in a palace dining with a king. Why, yesterday I begged all the day and only had twopence at night. Long live the king, say I, and blessings on the prince and his bride!’ The joy that day was much more expressed than it would have been had others come. Those ladies and gentlemen who were first invited, if they had come to the wedding, would have seated themselves there in a very stiff and proper manner…But these beggars! They make a merry clatter; they are not muzzled by propriety; they are glad at the sight of every dish…And, the occasion became more famous than it would otherwise have been. If the feast had gone on as usual it would have been only one among many such things; but now this royal banquet was the only one of its kind, unique, unparalleled…Everybody talked of it. There were songs made about it, and these were sung in the King’s honor where none honored kings before…Dear friends, when the Lord saved some of us by his grace, it was no common event. When he brought us great sinners to his feet, and washed us, and clothed us, and fed us, and made us his own, it was a wonder to be talked of for ever and ever. We will never leave off praising his name throughout eternity. That which looked as though it would defame the King turned out to his honor, and ‘the wedding was furnished with guests’…[in] the Book of Revelation…the redeemed people of God engage in holy, hearty, heartfelt praise to him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb forever.” (5) We are among those whom Christ blesses with spiritual feasting, blessed to have eternal, spiritual food far superior to any earthly food. “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Revelation 19:9)

Related Scripture: Proverbs 9:3-6; Isaiah 25:6; Matthew 22:2-14; Luke 13:29-30; 22:28-30.

Notes:

1. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Luke 14:15, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/luke-14.html

2. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Luke 14:15, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

3. ESV Study Bible, Ibid, Luke 14:16-24.

4. Sproul, R. C., A Walk with God—An Exposition of Luke’s Gospel, Luke 14:15-25, Revised Edition, Christian Focus, 2011.

5. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 22:1-10, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

November 10, 2022

Blessed by Christ’s Wisdom, Revelation and Power

We live in a world that encourages impulsiveness, superficiality, speed, and information. We plan, execute our plans, and create strategies for when those plans don’t succeed. We often justify neglecting people, tasks, and worldly events because of our personal needs and interests. We continue in less-than-helpful (or sinful) habits and routines because they are so dear to us and ingrained in our psyche. We know we should pay more attention to God’s Word, but so many things on our schedules distract us, even when we set aside time to read, pray, study, or meditate. And, we don’t think to pray for God’s help to change us. If this sounds like a personal confession, it is. I have abysmal sleeping habits. I use my phone too long in bed or when I awake and think I can’t get back to sleep. Yesterday, after meditating on our passage, I confessed to God that I haven’t really wanted to change. The realization that this was my first time admitting not wishing to change hit me like a brick. I’ve been asking for God’s help for months, but this was the first time I confessed to wanting to use my phone and not give it up, even if it meant waking tired and with a muddled mind. I hadn’t gone deep enough before. If I continue examining myself with God’s help, I’m sure there’s more to it. Is there something you have been struggling with that you’ve been handling superficially? Are there issues or people whom you have sloughed off instead of spending time thinking about or relating to them? Today we’ll see how Christ gives his disciples wisdom, revelation, hope, riches, inheritance, tremendous power, and protection under his rule, authority, and dominion. I hope and pray that we will embrace and grow in our understanding and appreciation of the blessings of Christ’s wisdom, revelation, and power through the Holy Spirit, who is working mightily in us.

We Need the Holy Spirit’s Help

“Though the Scriptures themselves are light for us, there is need for additional illumination so that we may clearly perceive the light. The same Holy Spirit who inspires the Scripture, works to illumine the Scripture for our benefit. He sheds more light on the original light. Illumination is the work of the Holy Spirit. He helps us to hear, receive, and properly understand the message of God’s Word.” (1) “[May] the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory…give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1:17-21) “This was one part of the apostle’s prayers for the saints at Ephesus, that they might increase in divine knowledge…practical and experimental; and which is joined with love of him, faith in him, and obedience to him…and though it is but imperfect, yet is progressive; and for the progression of it, the apostle prays; for it is certain, that these saints had a knowledge of Christ, but this was not perfect; and a larger measure of it was desirable: and in order to this, he prays for the Spirit, as a ‘spirit of wisdom’; who implants spiritual wisdom in the hearts of men, and instructs them in the Gospel, the hidden wisdom of God, leads them into all truths, and opens to them the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, which are hid in Christ, the wisdom of God…The eyes of your understanding being enlightened…to see the exceeding sinfulness of sin; the insufficiency of their own righteousness; the beauty, glory, fulness, and suitableness of Christ, as a Saviour; the excellency, truth, and usefulness of the doctrines of the Gospel; in which their understandings were before dark, but now had light into them.” (2) Being Christ’s disciples, we are blessed by the Spirit’s wisdom, revelation, hope, and riches.

The Greatness of God’s Power

Paul prays for Christ’s people to understand that they have the same power from God that raised Christ from the dead. “Paul piles up’ power words’ to express the immeasurable greatness of God’s power, working, and great might toward believers. Power over supernatural forces through magic and the occult was a great concern in ancient Ephesus (Acts 19:19), but the power of the living God in Christ trumps all competing authorities (Acts 19:20).” (3) We are also living in a world that is obsessed with the power of people, the “universe,” a “higher” power, or the power of love and faith—but not God’s power. These folks don’t believe in the God of the Bible—the true God who has created everything and continues to sustain and rule over all events, people, and circumstances. “God revealed great power in creating the world out of nothing, but He revealed even greater power in redeeming the world when it was worse than nothing. In the former, He had no opposition; in the latter, the law, devil, and flesh resisted Him. It would have been impossible for our Mediator to endure the power of darkness, the curse of the law, and the fury of His Father without almighty arms underneath Him. ‘Behold my servant, whom I uphold’ (Isa. 42:1). God put forth great power in His work of redemption (Eph. 1:19–20). God is incomparable not only in what He has done, but also in what He can do. He can do whatever He wills, and He can do more than He wills. His arm is as large as His mind, and His hand is equal to His heart. His pleasure is the only boundary of His strength…He ‘is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think’ (Eph. 3:20)…’For with God nothing shall be impossible’ (Luke 1:37).” (4) This is the power that God shares with us through the Holy Spirit to the extent that a human being can employ it.

Our Power in Christ

“And what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe… The objects of the divine power here intended, are believers in Christ…the understanding is enlightened, the will is subdued, the affections are set on other objects, and the mind and conscience are cleansed and purified…this work of faith cannot be ascribed to anything short of the exceeding greatness of divine power” (5) “The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in believers…Jesus’s majestic use of power and authority in the interest of His people is the Christians’ model. Paul reminds his Gentile readers of two specific ways in which Christ’s power has blessed them: He brought them from death to life and from alienation from God’s people to inclusion with them.” (6) “It is amazing that God should so treasure as His inheritance a gathering of people who were once dead in trespasses and objects of His wrath, making His church the venue to display His manifold wisdom. This outcome results only from His grace and redounds only to His glory.” (7)

Christ’s Mediatorial Work Blesses Us

In Ephesians 1:21, Paul addresses the implications of Christ’s ascension after his resurrection, “…far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” “It was prophetic of the ascension of all believers, who are already set with Christ in heavenly places, Eph. 2:6, and are destined to be with Him forever, John 17:24.” (8) Christ not only gives us his wisdom, revelation, hope, riches, inheritance, and power, but protection under his rule, authority, and dominion, being raised with him in heaven. Do we embrace and grow in our understanding and appreciation of the blessings of Christ’s gifts? Do we employ his wisdom, revelation, and power through the Holy Spirit, who is working mightily in us? I confess I don’t. Do you? “He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard…Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.” (John 3:31-34)

Related Scripture: Mark 16:19; Acts 2:23-24; 1 Corinthians 2:9-11; Ephesians 3:7-10; 4:4-6; Colossians 1:9-12, 27; Philippians 2:9; 3:21; 2 Peter 3.

Notes:

1. The Reformation Study Bible, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015.

2. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Ephesians 1:19-21, (digital edition), Crossway, 200.

3. Swinnock, George, The Blessed and Boundless God, Reformation Heritage Books, 2014, Kindle Edition.

4. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Ephesians 1:19-20, https:// www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/Ephesians-1.html

5. Reformation Study Bible, Ibid, Ephesians 1:19, p. 2092.

6. Reformation Study Bible, Ibid, Ephesians 1:18, p. 2092

7. Berkoff, L., Systematic Theology,” p. 351, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, Reprinted 1993.

November 3, 2022

Blessed by Christ’s Success

How do you define success? It probably depends on what you’re trying to achieve and whether you’ve set small objectives to reach your goal. If we want to lose weight, we should probably work first on not gaining any more. Then we can set five-pound increments rather than wait for our entire 20 or 40-pound loss to celebrate. After all, we love to win at our achievements, and that helps motivate us to continue. Sometimes our success depends on how we handle our trials or difficulties. A few days ago, my old MacBook’s display to stopped working. I have two major writing tasks in addition to this one. Fortunately, I have an iPad, so I am working on it instead. Success for me is to use the iPad, letting go entirely of the laptop. I am grateful that this is no surprise to the Lord, as I stopped using all Microsoft apps last year, have already moved all my files to the cloud, printed everything  for the next week while the laptop was working, and all my teaching prep can be from streaming videos or books. For me, success is depending less on my possessions. And, I am blessed to share with my neighbors who ask, “How can you say you’re blessed by your computer breaking?” I am sharing how the Lord has prepared me for my transition so I can concentrate on my work instead of fixing what I don’t actually need. In Psalm 118, the psalmist is blessed as he approaches God’s temple, where he knows he will enter into fellowship with the Lord, and praises God upon entering. But he also admits Israel’s failure to embrace the Lord as she should have. Despite this, Israel’s rejected, covenantal Lord became the cornerstone of true faith, opened the gate of righteousness for her salvation, and blessed her with his Son’s incarnation, light, and steadfast love. We are blessed by and through Christ, the cornerstone of his church, who is rejected by the world. But whose kingdom is victorious in his power and incomprehensible ways.

The Gate of the Lord

“This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us…You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:20-29) This Psalm “is generally thought to be written by David, after he was established in the kingdom, and had brought the ark of the Lord into the city”. (1) The ark represented the presence of God, as did the temple for God’s people before their exile from Jerusalem. We imagine that the ark rested in the Holy of Holies, where God met with the High Priest on the annual Day of Atonement. But “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God…one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16) “Jesus Himself claims to be the fulfillment of Psalm 118 (Matt. 21:33–44), and so we must examine how this hymn anticipates the work of the Messiah…He is Israel, the truest fulfillment of God’s purposes for that nation. Indeed, Jesus is the only faithful Israel, the true Son of God who fulfills His will. This true Israel of God was rejected and crucified, in accordance with Psalm 118:22a. But as v. 22b indicates, this rejection was the path to our Lord’s becoming the ‘cornerstone,’ which in Hebrew can refer to either the cornerstone of a foundation that provides stability for the entire building or a capstone that joins two walls together. In Ephesians 2:20, Paul applies the first meaning of the term to Jesus, but the second meaning can also apply to Christ. In his sermon ‘The Headstone of the Corner,’ C.H. Spurgeon declares: ‘This precious Cornerstone binds God and man together in wondrous amity, for He is both in one! He joins earth and Heaven together, for He participates in each! He joins time and eternity together, for He was a man of few years and yet He is the Ancient of Days!’” He is successful in all he does! (2)

Our Victorious Rejected Cornerstone

“The kingdom of Christ does not depend upon the favour of men, and it does not derive its strength from earthly supports, even as he has not attained it by the suffrages of men….let us not forget that it is unreasonable to expect that the Church must be governed according to our understanding of matters, but that we are ignorant of the government of it, inasmuch as that which is miraculous surpasses our comprehension.” (3) “[Jesus] said,  ‘No one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him’ (John 6:65). He taught that certain people belonged to him because they had been given to him by God and that he had come to save them by dying for them (John 10:14–15)…Frederick Evans says, ‘[The Jewish ‘experts’] were the builders, and they were going to build in their own way, without him. Yes, they would build over his dead body. They would put him to death. If they could not stone him according to Jewish law, they would see to it that he was nailed to a cross according to Roman law.’ That is exactly what they did. Yes, but God made him ‘the capstone’ by raising him from the dead. The psalm says, ‘the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’.” (4) “This is the Lord’s doing…This stone is from the Lord…it is of his choosing, appointing, and laying: the rejection of it by the builders is through his permission and will; they did no other things than what his hand and counsel determined should be done…the stone itself is wonderful to look at, for its beauty, strength, and usefulness; the wisdom, love, care, and power of God, in laying it, are astonishing; the distinguishing grace of God in selecting some stones out of the common quarry, making them lively stones, and building them on this foundation stone, is exceeding marvellous: and so are both the rejection and exaltation of it.” (5) Israel’s rejected, covenantal Lord became the cornerstone of true faith, opened the gate of righteousness for her salvation, and blessed her with his coming, light, and steadfast love. We are blessed by and through Christ, the rejected cornerstone, whose kingdom is victorious in his power and incomprehensible ways.

Salvation’s Success

“Blessed [be] he that cometh in the name of the Lord…These words were used by the multitude that followed Christ, as he went into Jerusalem, in order to eat his last passover, and suffer and die for his people…the King Messiah, who came from heaven to earth, from his Father into this world, to save the chief of sinners…man and Mediator…all blessing, happiness, and honour, are wished for him, and ascribed unto him, as his just due; being Lord and King, Saviour and Redeemer, of his people…by causing the light of his glorious Gospel to shine into their hearts; by making them who were darkness light, the darkness of ignorance and unbelief to pass away, and the true light to shine; by lifting up the light of his countenance upon them, and giving them hopes of the light of glory and happiness, and making them meet to be partakers of the inheritance with the saints in light.” (6) Jesus’s success is ours through the grace of God’s gospel gift. Any other success pales in comparison to his and ours in him. Our earthly successes will disappear like a vapor. (See Ecclesiastes.) I’ve had a small success in completing this on my iPad, instead of dealing with my laptop, as a financial savings. Even better is my focus on God’s Word. In what way might you perfect or redefine success your definition of success? Will we consider ourselves successful when we turn our back on worldly “success” to enter deeper fellowship with Christ? “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)

Related Scripture: Numbers 6:24-26; Psalms 31:14-16; 67:1-2; Isaiah 28:16; Matthew 21:9, 42; Mark 11:9-10; 12:10-11; Luke 13:35; 19:38-39; 20:17; John 10:1-4; 12:13; Acts 4:11-12; Ephesians 2:20-22; 1 Peter 2:4–8; 

Notes:

  1. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Introduction of Psalm 118, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/psalms-118.html
  2. Ligonier, The Cornerstone, PS 118:17-29, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/cornerstone
  3. Calvin, John, Heart Aflame: Daily Readings from Calvin on the Psalms, Psalm 118:20-29, P & R Publishing, 1999
  4. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 118, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  5. Gill, Ibid, Psalm 118:20-22.
  6. Gill, Ibid, Psalm 118:26-29.

October 27, 2022

Too Blessed!

A long time ago, when I sold residential real estate, I enjoyed developing relationships with buyers and showing them beautiful homes according to their needs and wishes. However, I learned that some people feel uncomfortable in elegant, well-decorated homes, which surprised me. I’ve never had that particular issue. As a matter of fact, at one point in my life, I house and dog sat in some spectacular multi-million dollar homes and enjoyed every minute. When I lived in Africa, I never got used to people saying that something was “too” good or that they were “too” blessed. In this context, you and I would probably say something is very good, ridiculously, or extremely good. Saying something is “too” much usually carries a negative connotation, as it did with some of my realty buyers. But many people have commented that my dog is “too” cute, and when we see our friends or family infants, they are just “too” precious. As we continue to study the blessings we have in Christ, from God’s Word to his people in the Old Testament, we can learn how to enjoy God’s blessings more effectively to the point of feeling “too” blessed in the best possible way. Today’s Psalm 84 “is a psalm celebrating pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship at the temple…The purpose of singing this psalm is to cultivate that delight, to open the eyes and hearts of God’s people to the staggering privilege of being a welcome guest in God’s own house, and to write deep into their souls the conviction that wickedness offers no reward that can even remotely compare to the joy and pleasure of God’s house. (1) God blessed his people when they worshiped him; when they relied on his strength, desired to be in his presence, and trusted him. As we meditate on God’s blessings, we increase our delight in worshipping and trusting God, relying on his strength, and enjoying the blessings of his presence.

Blessed in Three Ways

“The Temple in Jerusalem was for the Jew the most sacred spot on earth, for there in the Holy of Holies was the Shekinah glory, the visible manifestation of the presence of God. Of course the pious Israelite knew perfectly well, as Solomon had said, that God does not ‘dwell on earth’ and that ‘the heaven, even the highest heaven cannot contain’ Him (1 Kings 8:27). Nevertheless, He had been pleased to ‘put his name’ in Jerusalem and to cause the symbol of His presence to appear upon the mercy-seat behind the veil of the Temple. As a result, every Israelite loved the Temple and looked forward eagerly to every chance to visit it, especially on the three annual festivals.” (2) “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion…For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!” (Psalms 84) “This is the intense language of love poetry. The psalmist finds the temple to be beautiful, not for its architectural virtues but because God is there. He is fully aware that all of his heart’s deepest longings will be satisfied not by some remote, impersonal divine force but only by a living God—one who is encountered as a personal, living presence.” (3) Now we have the very presence of God’s Spirit in us as a personal living presence. He is “too” close and we are “too” blessed!

The Blessing of the Journey

Have you ever climbed a mountain? I haven’t, but I can imagine moving toward the top, through an arduous climb, possibly in cold weather. The journey itself becomes a blessing because of the preparation, achievement, and companionship with fellow climbers. Every day she gets close to the top, the climber’s heart is encouraged by good planning and reliable equipment. The view from the top becomes the “icing on the cake.” “The longing for nearness to God will not be fulfilled in a stroke. Anyone who wants God must also go on a journey. We go from one degree of strength to another.” (4) “They go from strength to strength…Whose strength is in the Lord, and in whose heart are his ways, and who pass through the valley of Baca, and find a well of supply, and pools of blessings there; they renew their spiritual strength; they grow stronger and stronger every step they take…from victory to victory: first overcoming one enemy, and then another, as sin, Satan, and the world, being more than conquerors through him that has loved them: or ‘from doctrine to doctrine’; being led first into one truth, and then into another…increasing in the knowledge of him…Saints are passengers, travellers, or pilgrims, in this world, and often pass through a valley…a valley of weeping and tears, on account both of outward and inward trials…yet relief is afforded, help is given, refreshment is had…the rain of divine love covers the passengers with spiritual blessings, which flow from it; Christ, whose coming is compared to the rain, brings a train of blessings with him to his people; and the Gospel, which drops as the rain, and distils as the dew, is full of the blessings of Christ.” (5)

A Day With God is Better than a Thousand Elsewhere

“I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!” (vs. 10-12) “For some of us, the ‘one day’ in God’s courses which is better than a thousand, must carry a double meaning. The Eternal may meet us in what is, by our present measurements, a day, or (more likely) a minute or a second; but we have touched what is not in any way commensurable with lengths of time, whether long or short. Hence our hope finally to emerge, if not altogether from time (that might not suit our humanity) at any rate from the tyranny, the unilinear poverty, of time, to ride it not to be ridden by it…For we are so little reconciled to time that we are even astonished at it. ‘How he’s grown!’ we exclaim, ‘How time flies!’ as though the universal form of our experience were again and again a novelty. It is as strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the wetness of water. And that would be strange indeed; unless of course the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal.” (6) We are blessed through time and above time. Christ is timeless and his blessings are timeless, increasing in our journey until we are with him, blessed forever. “For the Lord God is a sun and shield…Christ is ‘the sun of righteousness’…he is like the sun, the great light, the fountain of light, the light of the world, that dispels darkness, makes day, and gives light to all the celestial bodies, moon and stars, church and ministers…no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly; that walk by faith, and on in Christ, as they have received him; who have their conversation according to the Gospel of Christ, and walk in the uprightness and sincerity of their hearts; from such the Lord will not withhold any good thing he has purposed for them, promised to them, or laid up for them in covenant; no spiritual good thing appertaining to life and godliness, and no temporal blessing that is good for them; he will deny them no good thing they ask of him, not anything that is good for them; and he will not draw back any good things he has bestowed on them, his gifts are without repentance.” (7) We are God’s chosen elect, his favored people. Are we not blessed beyond measure? “According to his great mercy, [God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

Related Scripture: 1 Kings 3:11-12; Psalms 27:1, 4; 42:1-2; 63:1; 73:26; 119:81; Proverbs 2:7; Isaiah 45:24; Malachi 4:2-3; Matthew 5:6; 6:33; Mark 10:29-30; Romans 1:17; James 4:13-15.

Notes:

  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Psalm 84, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Stott, John, Favourite Psalms, Psalm 84, Candle Books, 1988, 2003.
  3. Keller, Timothy with Kathy Keller, The Songs of Jesus, Psalm 84, Viking, New York, 2015. 
  4. Keller, Ibid.
  5. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Psalm 84:5-9, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-84.html 
  6. C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, Harper One, 2017.
  7. Gill, Psalm 84:10-12, Ibid.

October 20, 2022

God’s Blessed Forgiveness and Covering

Do you share your answers to prayers with your friends, family, or neighbors? Praying for others and hearing how God has answered my prayers is a relational bridge, especially with unbelievers. This morning my neighbor and her dog met me and GG when walking. She recently moved into a single-family home from her apartment. Training her little rescue dog to do her business in the backyard has been difficult. But this morning, she told me, Lindy, her dog, finally did everything in the yard. I responded, “Praise God, that’s an answer to my prayer,” since I had been praying for this. Years ago, I learned to pray specifically and observe the evidence that God has done something on my behalf, whether it’s what I requested or another answer. But the best answers to prayers are those of my confessions when I see evidence of my changed heart, mind, attitude, or choices. I want to be a chief repenter among those in my community, church, and family. But, to repent, I first need to confess sincerely. King David also knew himself to be a sinner who transgressed against God but was blessed by God’s forgiveness, righteous covering, and mercy. David vacillates, as we do, between crying out to the Lord for help and praising him for his steadfast love and compassion. We can learn much about God’s blessings of forgiveness from him. God’s Holy Spirit inspired David to write about the covering of sin over a thousand years before Christ’s incarnation—and counted it a blessing. And what a blessing it is!

The Blessedness of Forgiveness

In Psalm 32, David writes, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (verses. 1-2). David certainly knew himself to be a sinner who transgressed against God, which was especially evident after his foolish and destructive conduct with Bathsheba and Uriah. He also knew what it was to be forgiven. Covered by the blood of Christ, we have even more incentive to stop deceiving ourselves and approach God quickly to receive his blessed forgiveness. David names three ways he and others violate God: transgression, sin, and iniquity. He also implies that some have a deceitful spirit, which God transforms. How does the Lord deal with these? He has three ways: forgiveness, covering, and forgetting our iniquity (not counting it). He also transforms our deceitful hearts and minds through our sanctification. ”Psalm 32 seems to have been written later than Psalm 51, after some reflection, and may therefore, as Leupold suggests, be ‘the fulfillment of the vow contained in Psalm 51:13: ‘Then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee.’…The psalm certainly functioned as instruction, because Paul later quoted its first two verses in Romans 4 to add David’s testimony to his own proof that justification is by grace through faith alone…Augustine had it inscribed on the wall next to his bed before he died in order to meditate on it better. He liked it because, as he said…’the beginning of knowledge is to know oneself to be a sinner.'” (1) “The psalm begins with two Old Testament beatitudes, affirming the blessedness…of the person whose sins are forgiven. First, the facts of sin and forgiveness are described, in each case by three expressions. Wrong-doing is transgression…sin, a negative missing of the mark, an omission…and ‘iniquity’ is that inward moral perversity or corruption of nature which we call ‘original sin.’ Forgiveness is threefold too. The Hebrew word translated forgiven in verse 1 apparently means to remove or to lift. Sin is also covered, put out of sight and therefore the Lord refuses to reckon it against the sinner. Forgiveness is thus regarded as the lifting of a burden, the covering of an ugly sight, and the cancelling of a debt. It these verses which the apostle Paul quoted in Romans 4:6-8 as an Old Testament example of God’s justification of the sinner by His grace through faith, altogether apart from works.” (2) Isn’t it a delight to know that we are those to whom God has given his covenantal blessing described by David? 

Sin is Lifted and Covered by Christ’s Blood

“Before the sin is confessed we bear it like some great burden, but when we confess it to God he lifts it from our shoulders. John Bunyan captured this well in Pilgrim’s Progress where he describes Pilgrim coming to the cross, at which point ‘his burden loosed from off his shoulders and fell from off his back and began to tumble, and so continued to do so, till it came to the mouth of the sepulcher, where it fell in and was seen no more.’ This is what happens to all Christians. When we confess our sin God removes it ‘as far as the east is from the west’ (Ps. 103:12) and no longer ‘remembers’ it against us (Isa. 43:25).” (3) “There is a contrast in the kind of covering: when God’  covers’ sin, he graciously blots it out; when man ‘covers’ his sin, he is sinfully hiding it.” (4) We think of Adam and Eve in the garden, trying to cover their shame with fig leaves. They couldn’t hide the shame of their sin from God, and neither can we. “The liberation of forgiveness starts with honesty. It is only when we uncover and admit our sin that God is willing to cover it. That is, he removes our objective guilt so it can’t bring us into punishment, and he removes our subjective shame so we don’t remain in inner anguish. The happiest (most ‘blessed’) people in the world are those who not only know they need to be deeply forgiven but also have experienced it.” (5) “Two thoughts must have gone through Adam’s and Eve’s minds. First, an instinctive horror of death. ‘So this is what death is,’ they must have exclaimed as they looked down in horror at the bodies of the slain animals. ‘How horrible!’… sin is far worse than they could possibly have imagined it to be…The second thought…must have been a deep and growing wonder at the mercy of God who, though he had every right to take their lives in forfeit of his broken commandment and had said that death must follow sin, was nevertheless showing that it was possible for an innocent victim to die instead. We know as we look back on this event from the perspective of later revelation that it was not the blood of the slain animals that actually took away the sin of Eve and Adam. It was not the death of animals that permitted God to forgive sin and proclaim sinners just. The only death that could possibly do that was the death of Jesus, and the only blood that could cleanse was his blood.” (6)

Sinners Without Deceit

David continues,” Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity.” David, who knew himself to be a great sinner who transgressed against God, somehow understood that God would not hold his sin against him. Only the Holy Spirit could give him these words long before Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. God had transformed David’s heart, at least for a time, to be one “in whose spirit there is no deceit.” Although he was a sinner, like us, David truly wanted to have a heart for God without corruption. His confession after Nathan’s confrontation proved that he did not want to continue deceiving himself. (See 2 Samuel 12.) We are reminded of Nathanael, Philip’s brother. When Philip told him about Jesus, “Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!'” (John 1:46-47) How could Nathanael have “no deceit?” “Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him…notwithstanding his prejudices, he was a man of so much uprightness and honesty…not that he was without sin; nor is this said of him; nor was he in such sense without guile, as Christ himself was; but guile was not a governing sin in him: the course of his life, and conversation, was with great integrity, and uprightness, and without any prevailing hypocrisy and deceit, either to God, or men.” (7) Being covered by the blood of Christ, Christians have every reason to stop deceiving ourselves and approach God quickly to receive his blessed forgiveness and mercy. “There is no greater blessedness than to know that our sin has been forgiven and covered over by the blood of Christ and it is no longer counted against us…The forgiveness of God is for all and for all sins, and the blessing that follows forgiveness is the greatest of all joys.” (8) How has God shown his forgiveness and covering lately? How has he blessed you? “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalms 32:11)

Related Scripture: Genesis 1:21; Exodus 24:15-16; 40:34; Psalms 25:6-7; 85:2; 103:13; Proverbs 28:13b; Ezekiel 16:8-14; John 1:29; Romans 2:28-29; 4:7-8; 2 Corinthians 5:19.

Notes:

  1. Stott, John, Favourite Psalms, Psalm 32, pp. 44-46, Candle Books, 1988, 2003.
  2. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 32, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  3. Boice, Ibid.
  4. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Psalm 32:1–2, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  5. Keller, Timothy with Kathy Keller, The Songs of Jesus, p. 59, Viking, New York, 2015.
  6. Boice, Ibid, Genesis 3.
  7. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, John 1:46, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/john-1.html
  8. Boice, Ibid, Psalm 32.

October 13,2022

Blessed Beyond the Kings

Around the time there is a transition in the monarchs of Britain we seem to be more interested in the royalty, don’t we? William and Kate’s wedding and the births of their children, Harry and Megan’s wedding and births of their kids, or the Queen Elizabeth’s  passing and King Charles’s ascension to the throne all seem to be compelling. Nancy Guthrie writes, “My theory is that we can thrill at the pageantry and pomp of the British royals only because they have no real authority…When we think about most kings who have ruled over history, we get less excited about the ways of royals, because the truth is, when humans have unchecked authority, that power is most often abused. No one can genuinely celebrate life under a corrupt or cruel king. But what if we could live under a good king, a king who is not corrupt but compassionate, a king who does not take the lives of those he reigns over but gave his life to save those who are citizens of his kingdom? The Bible is the story of this good king and his kingdom. We were made to live under the gracious rule of this king…When God set David on his royal throne over Israel, he made a covenant promise to him—that his throne would last forever and his descendants would eventually rule the whole world…But in a sense, [they] were only the warm-up act for the king God intended to put on this throne one day. It is as if they were only keeping the seat warm for the greater king whom God intended to set on his holy hill.” (1) King Jesus is on his throne, ruling with supreme and sovereign authority over his kingdom. As his subjects, we are not only under his rule, but to be like him in character and blessed as his family members. All the blessings that God bestowed on King David and his descendants are ours in Christ. We have more than all God promises to the kings of Israel, since Christ is ours and we are his. 

King David Was Blessed

We will continue to meditate on the blessings in the psalms through King David’s glorious words in Psalm 21. “O Lord, in your strength the king rejoices, and in your salvation how greatly he exults! You have given him his heart’s desire and have not withheld the request of his lips. For you meet him with rich blessings; you set a crown of fine gold upon his head. He asked life of you; you gave it to him, length of days forever and ever. His glory is great through your salvation; splendor and majesty you bestow on him. For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence. For the king trusts in the Lord, and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.” (Psalm 21:1-7) Why was King David rejoicing, exulting, and glad with joy? God blessed David, giving him God’s strength, salvation, answers to his prayers, steadfast love, a crown of fine gold, long life, glory, splendor and majesty, trust in the Lord, and His steadfast love. He also gave David a firmness and certainty in God’s character and plan so that he “shall not be moved.” “There is something to be learned by the mere existence of this psalm, even before we begin to study it in detail, and that is the importance for us of giving thanks…the Jews of this far-off day realized the importance and necessity of being thankful always. Jesus did too. He also recognized how we easily neglect thanking God after he intervenes for us. We remember that on one occasion, when Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem along the border between Samaria and Galilee, he was met by ten lepers. They asked him to have pity on them, which he did….But only one was thankful…He returned to Jesus, fell at his feet, and thanked him profusely.” (2) In Israel’s days, King David rejoiced in God’s salvation, answers to prayer, rich blessings, long life, glory, splendor, majesty, joy in His presence, God’s steadfast love—all of which led him to his trust and faith in God. How much more we, who are in Christ, should rejoice in God’s blessings of salvation, answers to our prayers, and eternal life, sharing in our Savior’s glory, spender, and majesty with unshakable faith.

Blessings for David and Us

“What are the specific blessings for which the people (or king) give thanks in this section?[They include] victory through God’s strength…and answered prayer. In addition to thanking God for the victory itself, Psalm 21:2 also thanks God simply for answering prayer…[David recognized and thanked God for] glory, splendor, and majesty…that have come to David as a result of his victories…[and] it is hard not to think of this in terms of the superlative glory given to Jesus Christ because of his victories over sin on the cross and over death by his resurrection. David is blessed with the joy of God’s presence, [and] rich blessings associated with the crown.” (3) Our spiritual blessings in Christ are even greater, including his Spirit in us, and the crown promised to us at the culmination of this life (James 1:12). But this psalm is not about us! It’s about the only one who deserves The Crown of Royalty. John Gill writes, “Thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head is expressive of [Christ’s] victory over all enemies, sin, Satan, and the world, death and hell; and of his being possessed of his throne and kingdom; and has respect to his exaltation at the right hand of God, where he is crowned with glory and honour: and this crown being of ‘pure gold’ denotes the purity, glory, solidity, and perpetuity of his kingdom; this is a crown, not which believers put upon him by believing in him…but which his Father put upon him, who has set him King over his holy hill of Zion.” (4) King David rejoiced in God’s salvation, answers to prayer, rich blessings, long life, glory, splendor, majesty, joy in His presence, and God’s steadfast love—all of which led him to his trust and faith in God. We rejoice in Christ’s unveiled blessings of salvation, answers to our prayers, and eternal life, sharing in our Savior’s glory, spender, and majesty with unshakable faith.

David’s Greater Son’s Victory

“Like many of the psalms containing strong statements about the character or future victories of Israel’s king, this one contains statements that can only have their true fulfillment in the Messiah…Verse 7 is rich with covenant language, particularly the two words hesed (translated ‘unfailing love’ or, in other versions, ‘lovingkindness’) and botah, meaning ‘trust.’ The first describes God’s part in the covenant. It is eternal and unchangeable…We cannot read these words without again being made to think of Jesus Christ. He alone can be said utterly to have trusted God and thus never to have been shaken. Alexander Maclaren summarizes this well: ‘[Christ] endured the cross—and wears the crown of pure gold because he did not refuse the crown of thorns; who liveth for evermore, having been given by the Father to have life in himself; who is the outshining of the Father’s glory, and has all power granted unto him; who is the source of all blessing to all, who dwells in the joy to which he will welcome his servants; and who himself lived and conquered by the life of faith, and so became the first leader of the long line of those who have trusted and have therefore stood fast.’” (5)

Blessed with Trust in God’s Providence

King David rejoiced in God’s blessings, all of which led him to his trust and faith in God. When we trust in God’s providential plans through Christ, we are spiritually joyful, sharing in our Savior’s glory, splendor, and majesty with unshakable faith. We don’t need kings and queens today because we have The King who will never die and will continue to adopt children until the end of this world. “Happy the people whose king makes God’s strength his confidence, and God’s salvation his joy; who are pleased with all the advancements of God kingdom, and trusts God to support him in all he does for the service of it. All our blessings are blessings of goodness, and are owing, not to any merit of ours, but only to God’s goodness. But when God’s blessings come sooner, and prove richer than we imagine; when they are given before we prayed for them, before we were ready for them, nay, when we feared the contrary; then it may be truly said that he went before us  with them.”(6) “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalms 16:6-11)

Related Scripture: 2 Samuel 7:18-21; Psalms 16:8-9; 20:4-5; 21:6-7; 22:8; 36:8-9; Matthew 7:14; Romans 6:9.

Notes:

  1. Guthrie, Nancy, The Wisdom of God, Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Books, pp. 121-124, Crossway, 2012.
  2. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 21:1-7, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  3. Boice, Ibid.
  4. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Psalm 21:3, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-21.html
  5. Boice, Ibid.
  6. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Psalm 21:1-6, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/psalms-21.html

October 6, 2022

The Blessing of God’s Renewal

Are you enjoying pleasant fall weather where you live? It’s been so hot for so long here in South Texas that the first two mornings in the mid-50s felt incredibly cold. As I walked GG in the brisk air, I remind myself that I begged the Lord for cooler weather all summer. GG is much better than me as he runs circles around me on his 16′ leash, clearly enjoying the fresh air and celebrating it as I should. Sometimes we ask the Lord to change our circumstances or to change us. But we don’t appreciate his loving response to our prayers when he does. It’s even worse if we don’t even recognize his special grace and benefits for us as Christians that go far beyond a change in the weather. As I worked through the Beatitudes over the last two months, I encountered Psalm 103 several times. I believe we will benefit from the psalmist’s appeal to worship the Lord and praise him for the specific blessings he bestows on believers in Christ, as they are expressed through his grace to his people in the Old Testament. We are renewed, so we worship God and bless him for his character, faithfulness, and existence. It’s good to thank God frequently for his specific works that renew our confidence in him.

Why We Should Praise God

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:2-5) “This is a hymn of praise, celebrating the abundant goodness and love of the Lord for his people…The crowning benefit is God’s enduring love to the descendants of the faithful, which leads the worshipers to exhort all the angelic hosts and all the material creation to join in blessing the Lord. “(1) The Lord renews the souls of his people with forgiveness, healing, redemption, love, mercy, and goodness. But, do we remember and praise God for the blessings of Christ’s specific forgiveness, healing, redemption, love, mercy, and righteousness? “‘Here [the psalmist] instructs us that God is not deficient on his part in furnishing us with abundant matter for praising him. It is our own ingratitude which hinders us from engaging in this exercise…How is it that we are so listless and drowsy in the performance of this the chief exercise of true religion, if it is not because our shameful and wicked forgetfulness buries in our hearts the innumerable benefits of God, which are openly manifest to heaven and earth? Did we only retain the remembrance of them, the prophet assures us that we would be sufficiently inclined to perform our duty, since the sole prohibition which he lays upon us is not to forget them.” (2)

The Blessing of God’s Steadfast Love

“We have here the authentic utterance of a redeemed child of God , who piles up words to express his gratitude to the God of grace…The first five verses of the psalm are very personal, as the author confronts himself with his duty and exhorts his own sluggish soul to worship. He desires not only to praise God’s holy name, acknowledging the holiness or unique ‘otherness’ of His being, but to remember all his benefits. Indeed, he is determined that his worship of God shall be as total as are God’s blessings to him: all my inmost being in response to all his benefits. These benefits have been given to both body and soul, for God both forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. Further, He redeems my life from the pit, that is the grave or Sheol. Not content with saving the psalmist from sin, disease and death, God lavishes positive blessings upon him as well. He crowns him, that is, He makes His child a king.” (3) “[David expresses] all the spiritual blessings with which the saints are blessed in Christ, the grace given them in him, and the mercy kept with him for evermore; all things pertaining to life and godliness given in regeneration; the fruits of great love and abundant mercy, with all the other supplies of grace between that and eternal glory: ‘crowning’ with these denotes an application and enjoyment of them, the great plenty and abundance of them, of being surrounded and loaded with them.” (4)

The Greatest Benefit and Blessing

“The first thing David is thankful for is the forgiveness of his sins. Rightly so! For this is the greatest of all gifts that we can receive from God, and the first we need…and we can receive it only because God gave his Son over to death on the cross to procure it for us. Some of the statements that occur in the first part of the psalm appear later too, including this matter of the forgiveness of sins…in verse 12 the psalmist elaborates on that by bringing in the scope of the deliverance. To what extent does God forgive sins? He answers, ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.’ Since east and west are directions and not points on the compass there is an infinite, unmeasurable distance between them. This may be what David is thinking. Or it may be, as Roy Clements suggests, that the psalmist is trying to point out that, ‘however many miles you think lie between west and east, you cannot look two ways at once.’ You have to turn your back on one in order to look in the direction of the other. When God forgives us, he puts our sin and us on two different horizons. So when he looks at our sin, he is no longer looking at us, and when he looks at us, he is no longer looking at our sin. To use the vocabulary of Paul, he has justified us.” (5) In Christ’s righteous covering, we have God’s awesome blessings of forgiveness, healing, redemption, love, and mercy.

Renewed Like an Eagle

“The psalmist next adds, that God was constantly infusing into him new vigour, so that his strength continued unimpaired… [‘who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s’], even as the prophet Isaiah…says that a man of a hundred years old shall be like a child (Isaiah 65:20). By this mode of expression, he intimates that God, along with a very abundant supply of all good things, communicates to him also inward vigour, that he may enjoy them; and thus his strength was as it were continually renewed.” (6) “One of the highest-flying and biggest birds in the world, the eagle, is a symbol of power, victory, bravery, and royalty…Eagles become excited during storms and rain; they spread their giant wings and allow the storm to lift them above the cloud. When other birds hide in branches of trees, the eagle flies above the clouds. While the storm rages below, the eagle is soaring above it…There are significantly fewer birds that can fly at such heights…[And], when eagles reach the age of 40 years, they turn weak, and survival becomes difficult. To regain strength, they have to go through a painful process of rebirth. For that, they retire to a lonely place where they pluck out every feather on their body until they are completely bare and knock their beak against a rock so that the new one develops. This rebirth extends their life for 30 more years.” (7) The Lord renews the souls of his people with forgiveness, healing, redemption, love, mercy, and goodness—much more than for the eagle! We do well to will remember and praise God for the blessings of Christ’s forgiveness, healing, redemption, love, mercy, and righteousness.

“The final stanza is a happy one in which the concerns of the psalmist broaden to include all the righteous. He encourages them to ‘take refuge’ in God and ‘be glad,’ to ‘sing for joy.’ He also asks God to ‘spread [his] protection over them’—which he is certain God will do…When Martin Luther was making his way to Augsburg to appear before Cardinal Cajetan, who had summoned him to answer for his heretical opinions, one of the Cardinal’s servants taunted him, asking, ‘Where will you find shelter if your patron, the Elector of Saxony, should desert you?’ ‘Under the shelter of heaven,’ Luther answered. That was the psalmist’s shelter. It should be yours also.” (8) “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield.” (Psalms 5:11-12)

Related Scripture: DEUTERONOMY 6:10-3; 8:11-20; Exodus 34:6-9; Psalms 86:15; 103: 8, 11, 17; 104; 107:9; 147:3; Isaiah 53:4; Matthew 8:17; Mark 2:5; Luke 7:47-50.

Notes:

  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Ps. 103 Introduction, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 103, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  3. Stott, Favourite Psalms, Psalm 103 (pages 95-97), Angus Hudson Ltd, London, 1988.
  4. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Psalm 103:4-5, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalm-103.html
  5. Boice, Ibid.
  6. Boice, Ibid.
  7. Expords, 9 Amazing Life Lessons From the Eagle, https://www.expords.com/amazing-life-lessons-from-the-eagle/
  8. Boice Ibid, Psalm 5:11-12.

September 29, 2022

Blessed Through Persecution For Jesus’s Sake

Have you misunderstood someone or something lately? We misunderstand more than we realize. “Perhaps the biggest reason for miscommunication and misunderstanding is a disparity of viewpoints…We largely make sense of reality by using cultures or subcultures. They influence the way we see the world and are usually difficult to change. [It is] our natural tendency to accept and focus on what fits our current beliefs while ignoring and avoiding anything that challenges them…As long as we have our own opinions, miscommunication and misunderstanding will always be a part of human interaction.” (1) The author of the article quoted understands that we are creatures with significant weaknesses but doesn’t go far enough to address our corrupt natures, which affect everything we read, see, hear, and experience. It should be no surprise that we are misunderstood, misunderstand others, and even misinterpret God’s Word. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39). Christians are persecuted in this evil world, but we have reasons to rejoice in God’s heavenly blessings that come through that persecution.

Biblical Persecution

As the last Beatitude, Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12). “At no point in the entire list of beatitudes is it more necessary to be careful to indicate exactly what is meant by Christ’s statement, for there is no beatitude which has been more often misunderstood and misapplied than this one. For what is the Christian persecuted? That is the heart of the teaching. The answer lies in the phrase ‘because of righteousness,’ and in the parallel phrase in the following verse, ‘because of me’…[meaning] ’Blessed are they who are persecuted because, by God’s grace, they are determined to live as I live.’ This means that there is no promise of happiness for those who are persecuted for being a nuisance…objectionable, difficult, foolish, and insulting to their non-Christian friends…[or] for pushing tracts onto people who do not want them, insulting them in the midst of a religious argument, poking into their affairs when they are not invited, and so on. Christ was speaking of the persecution of those who are abused for the sake of his righteousness…Well, then, if the verse does not mean being persecuted for being objectionable, or doing wrong, or being fanatical, or endorsing a cause, what does it mean?…Simply put, it means to be persecuted for being like the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Jesus said that those who are persecuted for being like him will be happy. And what is more, those who are like him will always be persecuted. When Jesus came into the world in his righteousness he exposed the evil of the world, and men hated him for it…Men hated the exposure of their inner hearts and natures, and they killed Christ for exposing them. In a similar way, they will hate any exposure of their evil nature that comes from the evidences of the righteousness of Christ in his followers.” (2) Christians, like Christ, should expect to be persecuted but can rejoice in God’s heavenly blessings. The more we live for Christ, the more we will be persecuted and blessed, rejoicing in our union with Christ and the prophets before him.

Satan’s Influence to Avoid Persecution

“Says Satan…you are better to walk in ways that are less troublesome, and less afflicted, though they be more sinful; for who but a madman would spend his days in sorrow, vexation, and affliction, when it may be prevented by walking in the ways that I set before him?…The first remedy against this device of Satan is, solemnly to consider, that all the afflictions that attend the people of God, are such as shall turn to their profit and glorious advantage…All the stones that came about Stephen’s ears did but knock him closer to Christ, the corner-stone…God makes afflictions to be but inlets to the soul’s more sweet and full enjoyment of his blessed self. When was it that Stephen saw the heavens open, and Christ standing at the right hand of God—but when the stones were about his ears, and there was but a short step between him and eternity?…The honey of prosperity kills our graces—but the vinegar of adversity quickens our graces…The more saints are beaten with the hammer of afflictions, the more they are made the trumpets of God’s praises, and the more are their graces revived and quickened. Adversity abases the loveliness of the world which strives to entice us; it abates the lustiness of the flesh within, which strives to incite us to folly and vanity…Now, suppose afflictions and troubles attend the ways of holiness, yet seeing that they all work for the great profit and singular advantage of the saints, let no soul be so mad as to leave an afflicted way of holiness, to walk in a smooth path of wickedness.” (3) The truth is that the more we witness for Christ, the more we will be persecuted but blessed; we can rejoice in our union with him and the prophets before him.

Reacting to Persecution

“How did Jesus expect his disciples to react under persecution?…We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever, nor to sulk like a child, nor to lick our wounds in self-pity like a dog, not just to grin and bear it like a Stoic, still less to pretend we enjoy it like a masochist. Instead we are to ‘Rejoice and be glad!’…Why? Partly because ‘great is your reward in heaven.’ We may lose everything on earth, but we shall inherit everything in heaven, not as a reward for merit, but freely. We also rejoice partly because persecution is a token of genuine Christian authenticity, since the prophets before us were persecuted. But the major reason why we should rejoice is because we are suffering ‘because of me,’ on account of our loyalty to Jesus and to his standards of truth and righteousness…The Christian can’t expect to be thanked for being merciful or sincere or a peacemaker; instead we are opposed, slandered, insulted and persecuted on account of the righteousness for which we stand and the Christ with whom we are identified. Such is a man or woman who is ‘blessed,’ that is, who has the approval of God and finds self-fulfillment as a human being.” (4) “Persecution is evidence that the believer is united to Jesus Christ…If we are persecuted for Christ’s sake, we can be happy in this proof that we are his and are united to him forever. If we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, we can be certain that the Holy Spirit has been at work in our hearts, turning us from our sin and our sinful ways to Christ’s way, and is making progress in molding us into his sinless image.” (5) Do you embrace the truth that the more you are like Christ, the more you will be persecuted and blessed to rejoice in your union with him?

Attending Queen Elizabeth’s funeral service were religious leaders of the Jewish, Baha’i, Jain, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Shia, and Muslim faiths. I wonder what thoughts went through their minds as the Bishop quoted Christ’s words from Scripture that apply strictly to believers. It’s impossible to think that there weren’t some who were present or watching and who were prepared to persecute those of us like Queen Elizabeth, who held her faith firmly—and many who misunderstood the words of Scripture. But “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (Psalm 1:1). I would want to have these blessed words spoken of me after my passing, as they were for her—wouldn’t you? “O God, from whom cometh everything that is upright and true: accept our thanks for the gifts of heart and mind that thou didst bestow upon thy daughter Elizabeth, and which she showed forth among us in her words and deeds; and grant that we may have grace to live our lives in accordance with thy will, to seek the good of others, and to remain faithful servants unto our lives’ end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (6)

Related Scripture: Genesis 6:11-22; John 15:19–23; Acts 5:17-42; Romans 5:3-5; 2 Corinthians 12:10; Philippians 1:29; 2 Timothy 3:12; Hebrews 11; James 1:2-3; 5:11; 1 Peter 4:12–13; 1 John 3:13.

Notes:

  1. Costi, 8 Causes of Miscommunication and Misunderstanding, https://blog.intelligentbee.com/2020/07/20/8-causes-of-miscommunication-and-misunderstanding/
  2. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 5:10-12, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  3. Brooks, Thomas, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (p. 54), Kindle Edition.
  4. Stott, John, The Beatitudes—Developing Spiritual Character, pp. 51-56, InterVarsity Press, 1998.
  5. Boice, Ibid
  6. One Prayer at Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral— https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-62948934

September 22, 2022

Blessed Children of God, His Peacemakers

One of my most vivid memories about Africa is the time in 2011 when I was substituting in the first-grade classroom of the Rafiki Foundation classical Christian school in Ghana. The Ghanaian Civics course for young children wasn’t available, so I decided to use some Christian material very close to my heart. I had studied biblical peacemaking through Ken Sande’s books and seminars for a decade. (1) I had already purchased the children’s curriculum on leave, intending to use it somewhere. This was the perfect place and time, having led the teachers through the material the prior semester. Working on teams of missionaries, with staff teams of African teachers, or those in other roles, I was all too familiar with the conflicts that can cause chasms and alienation. The children’s Peacemaking materials were inviting and thorough. One day, as I was teaching a civic’s lesson, a Ghanaian Ministry of Education representative came to inspect our schools for accreditation renewal. But I wasn’t using the approved syllabus. After answering her questions and her observation, she said that all Ghanaian schools should have such instruction. Then she inquired if she could send her child to our school. What a relief! But that relief doesn’t compare with the comfort of having an interpersonal conflict reach complete or partial resolution. Let’s face it, Christians have conflicts. Those conflicts often lead to significant disappointment or resentment because Christians believe we shouldn’t have them, being followers of Jesus Christ. Denying that we have disagreements, Christian or otherwise, is contradicting the Bible’s consistent teaching about the sin nature of all people, which unfortunately colors every aspect of our relationships. If we weren’t sinners, God wouldn’t have taught us about the sacrificial system for the confession of sin or conflict in passages such as Matthew 18:15-20. But as God’s children, redeemed by the blood of Christ, we have Christ’s desire to be at peace with others—or at least we should. Christians are blessed to be peacemakers as Christ is, in his resurrection power, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Do we actively make peace with others?


Inheriting God’s Blessings

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught his disciples, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9) “Those who bring about peace will be called children of God. Could anything be better than for God to acknowledge and recognize us as his children, and for us to call upon him as Father?…We can have no true taste of prosperity or blessing unless we experience God’s favour and fatherly love toward us. That, then, is what we must truly aim at—knowing God as Father and having the privilege of calling ourselves his children. Moreover we cannot attain this blessing, as Jesus Christ reminds us here, unless we are peace-makers. For God is rightly called the God of peace, and we must be like him, or else we do not belong to him, whatever we profess with our lips.” (2) “Now of such persons it is said, that they shall be called the children of God; that is, they are the children of God by adopting grace, which is made manifest in their regeneration; and that is evidenced by the fruits of it, of which this is one; they not only shall be, and more manifestly appear to be, the sons of God hereafter; but they are, and are known to be so now, by their peaceable disposition, which is wrought in them by the Spirit of God; whereby they become like to the God of peace, and to Christ, the great and only peacemaker, and so are truly sons of peace.” (3) Since we are believers—blessed to be peacemakers as Christ is, God’s children—it is reasonable for us to make peace with others actively.


The Source of All True Peace

At another time in his ministry, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) Jesus’s disciples were anxious and afraid about his upcoming departure. So Jesus instructed them to fix their hope on the peace that he gave them and that he would continue to give them through the Holy Spirit. As  temporary residents in this conflicted world, we also need these instructions. Consider John Stott’s comments on Matthew 5:9: “It is clear beyond question throughout the teaching of Jesus and his apostles…that we are to actively ‘seek peace and pursue it’ (1 Peter 3:11), we are to ‘make every effort to live in peace with all men’ (Hebrews 12:14), and so far as it depends on us, we are to ‘live at peace with everyone’ (Romans 12:18). Peacemaking is a divine work. For peace means reconciliation and God is the author of peace and of reconciliation. Sure peace and true forgiveness are costly treasures. The same verb which is used in this beatitude of us is applied by the apostle Paul to what God has done through Christ. Through Christ God was pleased ‘to reconcile to himself all things…making peace though his blood, shed on the cross’ (Colossians 1:20)…All Christians, no matter what their ethnic background, have ‘access to the Father by one Spirit’ (v. 18). This truth promotes peace among Christians who have natural differences, and even antagonism.” (4)

Our Understanding of Peace is Too Small

“The expression peace (Hb. shalom) had a much richer connotation than the English word does since it conveyed not merely the absence of conflict and turmoil but also the notion of positive blessing, especially in terms of a right relationship with God.” (5) “When Jesus meets his disciples after the resurrection, he continually says to them, ‘Peace’ ( John 20:19, 21, 26 ). Under these circumstances it is obvious that the term ‘peace’ is extraordinarily full of meaning. What is this peace Jesus gives us? In order to understand Jesus’ words, we must reflect on the many facets of the crucial Hebrew term shalom, which lies behind the English word ‘peace.’ Shalom is one of the key words and images for salvation in the Bible. The Hebrew word refers most commonly to a person being uninjured and safe, whole and sound…Most fundamentally, Shalom mean reconciliation with God.…Shalom also means peace with others, peace between parties…[and] refers to socially just relationships between individuals and classes. Shalom consists of not only outward peacefulness—peace between parties—but also peace within…God gives ‘perfect peace’ (or shalom-shalom )—i.e., profound psychological and emotional peace—to those who steadfastly set their minds on him. The result of righteousness before God is ‘peace’; its effect will be ‘quietness and confidence forever’…God is reconciling all things to himself through Christ, and although he has not yet put everything right, those who believe the gospel enter into and experience this reconciliation.” (6)

Peacemaking is the Fruit of Peacefulness

In Africa, the teachers and children needed to understand that being peaceful is not the same as making peace with others. Matthew 5:9 “has been commonly misunderstood. It has been interpreted as meaning the ‘peaceful’, whereas a much strong sense is implied. A [person] might indeed be peaceful without being a peacemaker…To avoid ambiguity, we should stick to the text’s natural sense, which is that we should cultivate peace wherever we are. That means that we should begin first with ourselves. After all, how could any of us make peace and calm troubles and disputes when they occur, unless we lead by example? To be peacemakers, we must first and foremost be peaceable ourselves. We must learn to cultivate patience, and so to lay aside self-interest and reputation that we readily forgive the wrongs done to us. That, I believe, is how we can be peaceable. It is not enough for us to avoid giving people cause to injure or trouble us. We must do whatever we can to keep the peace among ourselves…even if it means suffering loss as a result tor surrendering some of our rights.” (7) “There is a difference between being a peacemaker and being conciliatory or appeasing. The words peace and appeasement are not synonymous. For the peace of God is not peace at any price. He made peace with us at immense cost, even at the price of the life-blood of his only Son. We too-though in lesser ways—will find peacemaking a costly enterprise…When we ourselves are involved in a quarrel, there will be either the pain of apologizing to the person we have injured or the pain of rebuking the person who has injured us.” (8) But oh, how we’ll be blessed! “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3) “Trust in the Lord for that peace, that portion, which will be for ever…those who trust in God shall not only find in him, but shall receive from him strength that will carry them to that blessedness which is for ever. Let us then acknowledge him in all our ways, and rely on him in all trials.” (9)

Related Scripture: Numbers 6:24–26; 25:12; Judges 21:13; Psalms 72:7; 85:8; Isaiah 32:17-18; Haggai 2:4-9; Romans 8:15; 14:19; Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 2:11-22; Colossians 1:21-23; James 3:18; 1 John 3:1.

Notes:

  1. See https://rw360.org/biblical-peacemaking/
  2. Calvin, John, Sermons on the Beatitudes, pp. 53-56, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006.
  3. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Matthew 5:9, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/matthew-5.html
  4. Stott, John, The Beatitudes—Developing Spiritual Character, pp. 46-50, InterVarsity Press, 1998.
  5. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, John 14:27, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  6. NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, eBook, Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
  7. Calvin, Ibid.
  8. Stott, Ibid.
  9. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Isaiah 26:3, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/Isaiah-26.html

September 15, 2022

The Blessing of Seeing God

How’s your eyesight? Have you ever had an eye trauma that required retina detachment, cornea abrasion, or cataract surgery? I’ve had two of the three, one requiring some extensive surgery. If you’ve also required surgical intervention, and if it was successful, you, like me, know the radical improvement after surgery. Colors are more vivid, lines are sharper, and everything is brighter. However, even with corrected vision, we still don’t focus on things around us. How often do we go about our day and never look up at a brilliant blue sky or the ground where little insects are busily running around? And then looking does not equal seeing. It’s possible to look at a person and not recognize them because you’re not where you usually see each other. It’s also possible to stare at a map or an address and misread it because we’re not seeing what’s there but what we think should be there. I made that mistake yesterday when I parked near the address I thought I saw on my phone, only to realize that I had inverted two of the five numbers. We go through life seeing only a portion of what’s visible, because of our weak nature. So how can we “see” God, who is invisible? We see him through Scripture because that is his means of revealing himself to us. God reveals himself to believers because they have blessed heart-purity from Jesus.

Who Are The Pure in Heart?

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). To know what Jesus meant, we first have to understand who the pure in heart might be. It’s important to remember that he was preaching to his disciples, who had the faith to be with him and sit at his feet. So who are the “pure in heart?” Was Jesus referring to those who knew him and merely restrained themselves from sins and impurity? John Stott writes, “The popular interpretation of this beatitude is to regard purity of heart as an expression of inward purity, the quality of those who have been cleansed from moral—as opposed to ceremonial defilement…This emphasis on the inward and moral, whether contrasted with the outward and ceremonial or with the outward and physical, is certainly consistent with the whole Sermon on the Mount which requires heart-righteousness rather than mere rule-righteousness. Nevertheless, in the context of the other beatitudes, ‘purity of heart’ seems to refer in some sense to our relationships. It is single-mindedness, having a single heart. More precisely, the primary reference is to sincerity. The pure in heart have their whole lives, public and private, transparent before others. Their very heart—including their thoughts and motives—is pure, unmixed with anything devious, ulterior or base…[but] Only Jesus was absolutely pure in heart…Thank the Lord for being [our] perfect example of purity of heart. Ask him to show you areas where you have mixed motives or any hypocrisy.” (1) God reveals himself to believers because they have blessed heart-purity from Jesus. Do we rejoice in our blessing of knowing God, relying on his revelation of himself in Scripture through Christ’s incarnation and the Spirit’s illumination of the Word?

Why Is Purity of Heart So Important?

Heart purity can’t be found in the “wisdom” of the world, our gut instincts or reactions, philosophies, mindfulness, or restraint alone. Purity of heart is certainly more than what we don’t do, think, or feel. “In the Bible, the heart is the center of the personality; it involves the mind, the will, and the emotions…In Romans 5:5 he writes, ‘And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.’ In this verse the heart is the seat of the emotions. A reference to the heart of man is therefore a reference to the center of man’s personality, and it is this that is the source of man’s problems. Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jer. 17:9)…And if that is the case, we may well ask, ‘How can a man be pure in heart?’ The answer is that only God can make him pure. You can begin by trying to cleanse your own heart; but whether you turn to ethics, religion, asceticism, fetishes, or whatever it may be, you will find that your heart is as corrupt at the end as at the beginning. Only God can cleanse your heart from its impurities. David knew this and prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10)…As we do, we come increasingly to see him as he fills our being and makes himself known to us. We take our place with those countless others who endured “as seeing him who is invisible.” (2)

How Do We See God?

“To debate at length how we may see God is the mark of idle curiosity. Since God’s essence is spiritual, we cannot behold him with our physical eyes. Nor, strictly speaking, do we attribute sight to spirit-beings…The joy of seeing God which our text speaks of here cannot be ours before theist day, when we will conformed to God’s glory…Let us resolve simply to press on, knowing that, once our course is finished, God will show us how it is in his kingdom. We…are already on our way. So let us continue on, always on, as long as we are in this world, and when we have reached our inheritance, then we will know what heaven is like…Is there not ample reward in the fact that God declares that he is ours, that he desires to be our inheritance and to make us his? Where else is true happiness and blessing to be found if not here? Christ thus applies the metaphor of sight, according to normal scriptural usage, because he is speaking here of a heart which is pure. The more our heart is cleansed of evil, the more honest and upright it is, and the less prone we are to sinful dealing…So here our Lord uses this metaphor to teach that, if we fail to ‘see’ what men naturally covet, God will indeed reveal himself to us; as we lay hold of him, he will give us rest.” (3) In the prolong to his gospel, the Apostle John wrote, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:14-18) We see God in Jesus Christ, in his gospel grace and mercy, promises, and teaching. 

The Blessing of Seeing God

“Everyone readily agrees that the best quality anyone can possess is purity of heart and complete honesty. Without these things, every other virtue, however highly regarded, is but stuff and nonsense in God’s sight. If the world mocks our innocence and if by our innocence we seem to lose more than we gain, we should rejoice in a greater reward—seeing God. Our eyes many never be sharp enough to show us where worldly advantage, comfort, convenience, pleasure, and prestige lie, nor how we might reach for them. When we fix our gaze on other things instead, we will be given that clearer vision which is promised to us here; we will rejoice in the presence of God, in whom are found all our blessedness, joy, and glory.” (4) “Happy they are, [who enjoy] communion with him, both in private and public, in the several duties of religion, in the house and ordinances of God; where they often behold his beauty, see his power and his glory, and taste, and know, that he is good and gracious: and in the other world, where they shall see God in Christ, with the eyes of their understanding; and God incarnate, with the eyes of their bodies, after the resurrection; which sight of Christ, and God in Christ, will be unspeakably glorious, desirable, delightful, and satisfying; it will be free from all darkness and error, and from all interruption; it will be an appropriating and transforming one, and will last for ever.” (5) Where is our focus? Do we have singleness of heart, relying on his revelation of himself in Scripture through Christ’s incarnation and the Spirit’s illumination of the Word? “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” (Psalms 24:3-5)

Related Scripture: Genesis 22:17-19; Job 22:30; Psalms 51:10; 73:1; Isaiah 56:1-2; Ezekiel 18:5-9; Matthew 5:27-30; John 6:46; 14:6-9; 2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Peter 1:22-23; 1 John 3:1-3.

Notes

  1. Stott, John, The Beatitudes—Developing Spiritual Character, pp. 40-45, InterVarsity Press, 1998.
  2. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 5:8, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  3. Calvin, John, Sermons on the Beatitudes, pp. 49-53, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006.
  4. Calvin, Ibid.
  5. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Matthew 5:8, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/matthew-5.html 

September 8, 2022