Tuesday, December 16, 2014

An Honored Servant (Isa. 49:1-10)

When studying a book of the Bible, it’s helpful to keep its context and message in view?

What’s Isaiah’s context? The Israelites have given themselves to idolatry, thereby violating their covenant with God. God punishes them by sending foreign invaders: the Assyrians and Babylonians. In accordance with their policy for conquered territories, the invading armies lead the surviving Israelites away into captivity.

What’s Isaiah’s message? Clearly, the captivity is God’s punishment upon the Israelites for their idolatry. But God is going to use Cyrus (king of Persia) to restore a remnant to the land. Couched in this event is something of far greater significance. God is going to use His Servant to deliver His people from spiritual bondage to sin.

The book of Isaiah includes four detailed portraits of the Servant. These are known as “the Servant Songs.” In the first (chapter 42), God describes His relationship with His Servant. In the second (chapter 49), the Servant describes His relationship with His God. In these two texts of Scripture, therefore, we’re listening to a personal conversation between the Father and the incarnate Son.

What does the Servant say in Isaiah 49?

(1)   God called me (v. 1)

“The LORD called me from the womb.” The Servant recognizes that God has set Him apart for a special purpose – a purpose that extends back through human history into God’s eternal counsels.

(2)   God named me (v. 1)

“From the body of my mother he named my name.” The Servant celebrates His special relationship with God. This “naming” points ahead to the time when the angel declares to Joseph: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The name Jesus means Jehovah is salvation. It declares the Servant’s identity and mission.

(3)   God equipped me (v. 2)

“He made my mouth like a sharp sword.” The Servant acknowledges that God has equipped Him to pierce as far as “the division of soul and spirit” (Heb. 4:12). He discerns man’s innermost thoughts and intentions. “All are naked and exposed before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account” (Heb. 4:13).

(4)   God protected me (v. 2)

Apart from one incident in the city of Jerusalem, the Servant’s life (prior to the start of His ministry) is clouded in secret. What was happening? Here’s a glimpse: “In the shadow of his hand he hid me.” There’s only a shadow when the hand is closed. It denotes protection. “He grew up before him like a young plant” (Isa. 53:2). It’s easy to destroy a young plant. It’s tender, delicate, and vulnerable. Therefore, it requires attention and protection. Similarly, God watched over His Servant.

(5)   God cherished me (v. 2)

“He made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me.” A polished arrow receives extra care and attention. It’s hidden away for a special purpose. Similarly, God cherishes His Servant. He keeps Him for just the right moment – the fullness of time. And then, He sets Him in His bow, and releases Him to accomplish His mission.

(6)   God commissioned me (v. 3)

“And he said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” In the first part of the book, Isaiah speaks of Israel as the Servant. God summoned Israel to serve Him – to be a light to the Gentiles. But Israel failed miserably. In the second part of the book, Isaiah speaks of the true Servant – an individual who would be all that Israel was not. Israel proved to be a faithless son; Jesus is a faithful Son. Israel failed to bring light to the Gentiles; Jesus brings light to the Gentiles. Israel failed to glorify God; Jesus glorified God.

(7)   God honored me (vv. 4–8)

The Servant declares, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity” (v. 4). Humanly speaking, the Servant’s ministry was an abysmal failure. By the end of His earthly ministry, how many followed Him? Very few! But He doesn’t despair. He sees things from God’s vantage point: “Yet surely my right is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God” (v. 4). The Servant comforts Himself in the knowledge that He’s engaged in God’s cause. He adds, “I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength” (v. 5). How?

First, God has honored His Servant by making Him a restorer of nations (vv. 5–6). See Acts 13:47. Second, God has honored His Servant by making Him a ruler of kings (v. 7). See Acts 4:26. Third, God has honored His Servant by making Him a redeemer of prisoners (vv. 8–10). See 2 Cor. 6:2.

We often feel as though all is vanity, but the Servant takes us on a journey. It begins with redemption (v. 9), and extends to provision, protection, and direction on our long journey home (vv. 9–10). In a word, He abundantly satisfies our wants as we journey home. See Rev. 7:16–17.


Quotable: “The knowledge of Jesus Christ is the most sweet and comfortable knowledge” (John Flavel).

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Chosen Servant (Isa. 42:1-7)

We find the first of the four Servant Songs in Isaiah 42:1–7. Here, God encourages us to gaze upon the dynamics of His relationship with His servant (Jesus), especially as it relates to our salvation. In particular, He encourages us to consider four truths.

(1)   The Servant is Beloved by God (v. 1)

God “upholds” Jesus. In other words, He empowers Him to accomplish His mission. He protects and preserves Him. That’s the reason Jesus spends so much time in prayer. He prayed at His baptism. He prayed before choosing His disciples. He prayed before revealing His approaching death to His disciples. He prayed at His transfiguration. He prayed before teaching His disciples how to pray. He prayed for Peter’s perseverance. He prayed in Gethsemane. He prayed while on the cross. He prayed continually, because He fulfilled His mission in complete dependence upon God’s strength.

God “delights in” Jesus. What do we hear Him declare at Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration? “This is my beloved Son (my chosen), with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17; 17:5). In this declaration, God ministers to Jesus. (1) He emphasizes His relationship with Him: “You’re my Son.” (2) He emphasizes His affection for Him: “You’re my beloved Son.” (3) He emphasizes His satisfaction in Him: “In whom I am well pleased.”

(2)   The Servant is Anointed by God (v. 1)

God empowers Jesus through a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus preaches in the power of the Spirit, prays in the power of the Spirit, resists temptations in the power of the Spirit, and endures trials in the power of the Spirit.

This anointing occurs at the time of His baptism, when the Spirit descends in the likeness of a dove. Why a dove? I think the answer is found back in Gen. 1:2, where we read that the Spirit hovered (fluttered) over the face of the waters. The Aramaic translation inserts the phrase “like a dove.” And so, God created by the Word through the Spirit. The Spirit’s descent “like a dove”at Jesus’ baptism is designed to make us think of creation. Why? The point is God triune is re-creating; that is to say, Jesus’ ministry ushers in a new creation.

(3)   The Servant is Commissioned by God (vv. 1–4)

God declares that Jesus “will bring forth justice” (vv. 1, 3, 4). How? Jesus produces justice by bearing God’s curse on the cross. And He proclaims justice by preaching the gospel – the justification of believers and condemnation of unbelievers. He does so . . .

Humbly (v. 2): Jesus experiences indifference and belligerence throughout His earthly ministry. (See Matt. 12). How does He respond in the face of such arrogance? He never loses it. He never screams wildly at people. He never attacks them personally. He meekly continues on His appointed mission.

Compassionately (v. 3): Jesus never breaks a bruised reed or extinguishes a smoldering wick. Instead, He invites those who bear the crushing weight of their sin, guilt, and shame to come to Him, assuring them that He’ll receive them: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Faithfully (v. 3): Jesus lays aside self-interest. He proclaims, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (Jn. 6:38). He never veers off course. He remains true to His mission.

Patiently (v. 4): Jesus experiences great distress on account of what people say about Him. They misinterpret, misrepresent, mock, and malign Him. They accuse Him of rejecting the Scriptures, dishonoring the temple, serving the devil, and breaking the Sabbath. They accuse Him of blasphemy. How does He respond? “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return… but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:23–24). He does so because He has a glorious end in view: the cross.

(4)   The Servant is Sustained by God (vv. 5–7)

In vv. 1–4, God speaks about Jesus. In vv. 5–7, He speaks to Jesus. Why? He’s encouraging Him. How?

First, God declares who He is (v. 5). He stresses His work of creation. “The universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Heb. 11:3). God continues to uphold what He created. It’s impossible for any part of creation to exist for a moment apart from Him. He holds all things together. He gives being to all things. His power is infinite.

Second, God promises to sustain His Servant (v. 6). He calls Him “in righteousness” – rather, for a righteous purpose. His purpose is to display Him publicly as a propitiation in His blood (Rom. 3:25–26). The horror of the cross! Yet God sustains Jesus in His fulfillment of His mission. He takes Him by the hand and keeps Him.

Third, God promises to bless His Servant (vv. 6–7). He give Jesus as a covenant for the people, and a light for the nations – to open eyes and release prisoners. The sword of infinite justice pierces the heart of God’s Son. In so doing, it opens a fountain of cleansing blood, which cleanses God’s people from the guilt and filth of their sin. We’re no longer enslaved but redeemed; no longer estranged but reconciled; no longer condemned but justified; no longer alienated but adopted.

A Pleasurable and Comfortable Truth:

Are you like a bruised reed or burning wick – humbled and bruised by the weight of sin? Here’s what you must know: (1) Jesus won’t break a bruised reed – “The Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (Jas. 5:11); and (2) Jesus won’t extinguish a smoldering wick – “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3). What an incentive to repent and believe!


Quotable: “The knowledge of Jesus Christ is the most sweet and comfortable knowledge” (John Flavel).

Friday, November 7, 2014

Peace With God

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).

We have peace with God. Paul isn’t describing a feeling, but a status or condition. The term “peace” means binding together what was separated. And so, Paul’s point is that those who believe in Christ are bound together with God.

How? Six times in verses 1-11, Paul uses the preposition dia - through. In so doing, he makes it clear that the reason we have peace with God is Christ. Christ reconciles God to us and us to God by bearing the penalty for our sin.

In Christ, God is our Friend and Father. In Christ, God’s throne isn’t a judgment seat but a mercy seat. In Christ, God isn’t a terrifying Judge but a loving Father. In Christ, God isn’t a condemning God but a pardoning God. In Christ, God isn’t a threatening God but an accepting God. In Christ, we no longer have any reason to fear the sting of death, the terror of judgment, the torment of hell, or the wrath of God. Christ has swallowed it all. He has left nothing for us. Our peace with God is such that He loves us as if we had never been the object of His wrath.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Beauty and Glory of Christian Living

 
 
This review was first published at Books at a Glance: www.booksataglance.com
 
The Beauty & Glory of Christian Living consists of the twelve addresses delivered at the 2013 Puritan Reformed Conference, an annual conference hosted by the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In this book, Joel Beeke (the president of the seminary) has edited the twelve addresses, and arranged them according to three sections.

“Christian Living in Its Divine Roots”


The first section contains four chapters, considering the source of Christian living. Together, the chapters demonstrate that Christian living is rooted in Christ and cultivated by the Holy Spirit, who produces spiritual-mindedness in God’s people through the ordinary means of grace. Ian Hamilton comments, “It is the Word preached, made visible in the sacraments, applied to the life of the church, and voiced in Spirit-inspired prayer that the Holy Spirit uses to make us more like our Lord Jesus Christ” (p. 45).

When it comes to Christian living, the relationship between grace and obedience is extremely significant. If we fail to maintain the balance between the two, we create all sorts of confusion and inflict all sorts of damage. The two most common mistakes people make are as follows. Some think they can obey God without knowing His grace (which leads to moralism), while others think they can know God’s grace without obeying Him (which leads to libertinism).

This first section strikes the balance between grace and obedience, stressing the fact that we must begin with the “hidden life” (who we are) before moving to the “seen life” (how we live). As Michael Barrett remarks, “It is always the case that right thinking about the gospel produces right living in the gospel” (p. 3).

“Christian Living in Its Human Branches”


The second section contains three chapters, explaining how growth in Christ-likeness is made evident in the principal spheres of life. Chapter 5 deals with the family, specifically God’s purpose and principles for marriage, the spirit of parenting, and the tasks of parenting. Chapter 6 deals with the workplace, highlighting God’s design and desire for our particular vocations. Chapter 7 focuses on what it means to live evangelistically in a fallen world.

We often forget that the reality of our Christian profession shows itself primarily in the mundane of daily living. Many of us give the impression (consciously or not) that the heart-beat of the Christian faith is found in solving theological puzzles, pursuing grandiose experiences, enduring great hardships, mastering spiritual disciplines, or engaging in cutting-edge ministries. While not disparaging any of those things, we need to remember that they don’t represent the heart-beat of the Christian faith. This place of distinction belongs to our most familiar relationships.

This second section places the emphasis in the right place. Joel Beeke stresses the fact that “the Christian’s relationship with his family is inseparable from personal sanctification” (p. 68). William VanDoodewaard demonstrates that God’s kingdom is expressed by “a beautiful, honorable integrity in respectful submission toward those in workplace authority” (p. 81). For their part, Brian Najapfour and Josh Dear make it clear that evangelism is a “vital part” of our life in Christ (p. 91).


“Christian Living in Its Earthly Storms”


The third section contains five chapters, demonstrating how Christians are to live during seasons of affliction. Chapter 8 explains why we should be prepared for suffering. Chapters 9–11 address three specific cases of affliction: living in an immoral world; living in a hostile culture; and living through sickness and death. Chapter 12 provides a brief look at the Book of Judges, emphasizing the “tenacity of God’s grace over the trauma of our sin” (p. 159).

Probably far more often than we care to admit, we murmur under God’s yoke. We tend to allow affliction to disrupt our marriages, ministries, relationships, and a host of other things. This often leads to murmuring, which is really an ungrateful sin because it means we’ve lost sight of God’s abounding grace in our lives. Moreover, it renders us vulnerable to rashness and bitterness, opening the door of our heart to all sorts of sins.

This third section orients our thinking heavenward. In particular, Gerald Bilkes reminds us that “every furnace the Christian endures comes from the sovereign and all-sufficient God” (p. 116). God is sovereign; thus his control is absolute. He’s immutable; thus his will is certain. He’s mighty; thus his power is limitless. He’s wise; thus his plan is perfect. He’s incomprehensible; thus his providence is inscrutable. While not always understanding God’s ways with us, we’re absolutely certain he’s in control.

Recommendation

The Beauty & Glory of Christian Living will assist Christians in living out the faith. It features excellent expositions of God’s Word. It also includes many helpful insights from the Puritans. The writing style makes the book accessible to all, while its subject matter makes it profitable to all.
 
J. Stephen Yuille

Friday, October 24, 2014

Muck-rake


In the second book of The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan tells the story of Christiana (Christian’s wife). At some point in her journey to the celestial city, she enters the house of Interpreter. He leads her into a room, where she sees two men. The first is holding a muck-rake in his hand. He’s raking the dust for anything he can use – straw and sticks. The second man is above the man with the muck-rake. He’s offering to trade the crown for the muck-rake. But the man with the muck-rake won’t look in any direction but down. He’s absorbed with raking the muck. Interpreter says, “It is to let you know that earthly things, when they occupy people’s minds, carry their hearts away from God.”

How many people live just like that? How many live as though the things of this earth are all that matter?

God offers us membership in His family. He offers us heavenly treasures and eternal pleasures (Ps. 16:11; Lk. 12:33). He offers us the crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Pet. 5:4). He offers us a renewed universe in which righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13). He offers us eternity without pain, sorrow, or death (Rev. 21:4). He offers us the beatific vision, whereby we will behold His glory in Christ Jesus (Matt. 5:8). But most people never even look up. They’re too absorbed with their muck-rake. They’re too busy collecting straw and sticks (all that is earthly) that they never consider what God offers them.

Christiana weeps, and cries out, “Oh, deliver me from this muck-rake!”

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Theological Primer for the Home

This article first appeared at The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, www.cbmw.org

Theology is neither a mere theoretical exercise nor a mere academic pursuit; rather, it’s the means by which we grow in acquaintance with God and consequently in godliness. The goal of theology, therefore, is to engage the mind with the ultimate purpose of embracing the heart’s innermost affections, so that we worship God. That’s why, as a pastor, I want to see good theology in my church, and, as a father, I want to see good theology in my home.

But what does good theology look like? For an answer, I’m going to turn to William Perkins (1558–1602), fellow of Christ’s College and lecturer of Great St. Andrew’s Church in Cambridge. Perkins was a prolific author, composing almost fifty treatises on a wide range of biblical, theological, polemical, and practical subjects—all before his death at age forty-four. From all that he wrote, I want to highlight three marks of good theology.

First, Scripture is the basis of good theology.

Perkins celebrated Scripture’s “infallible certainty,” meaning he believed “the testimony of Scripture is the testimony of God himself.” Because Scripture is the very Word of God, Perkins viewed it as the means by which God reveals himself to us, as the means by which God imparts his grace to us, and as the means by which the Holy Spirit effects our union with Christ. Owing to his concept of Scripture’s “infallible certainty,” Perkins adopted the Bible as the axiom of all his thinking and the focus of all his teaching.

That’s what I want for my family. I want my home to be a place where Scripture is cherished. Scripture reveals a glorious God. It reveals a great Savior and a great salvation. It sustains in times of dark affliction, comforts in times of deep sorrow, strengthens in times of danger, and guides in times of confusion. It promises the greatest blessings. It entitles us to the best inheritance. It has God for its author, Christ for its subject, and eternal life for its end. I want my family to handle Scripture as a special treasure, which God has entrusted into the hands of his people.

Second, blessedness is the aim of good theology.

Perkins defined theology as “the science of living blessedly forever.” What did he mean? He affirmed that God is perfect being; therefore, he’s sufficient and satisfied in himself. That being the case, he’s the source of all good. Since he’s the source of all good, he’s the only source of our blessedness; that is to say, we find our greatest good in communion with him. According to Perkins, the blessed person is the one who’s in “a state or condition whereby he is in God’s favor.”

That’s what I want for my family. I want my home to be a place where God is esteemed. We live in a society in which people are desperately trying to find happiness. For the most part, they equate it with externals: possessions, experiences, achievements, relationships, etc. Yet none of these things can satisfy the soul. This place of distinction is reserved for God alone. We find in him all we could ever want. He’s the dearest love, surest friend, highest honor, greatest beauty, and fullest joy. He’s omnipotent in his power, unsearchable in his wisdom, and inconceivable in his grace. His power is ours to protect us, his wisdom to direct us, his mercy to assist us, his grace to pardon us, his love to delight us, and his joy to satisfy us. Our knowledge of this God diffuses into our soul a satisfying peace in this life and a tantalizing taste of what awaits us in glory. I want my family to embrace this wonderful truth: “Blessed are the people whose God is the LORD” (Ps. 144:15).

Third, Christ is the center of good theology.

Perkins affirmed that “our salvation must be built on Christ.” Why? Simply put, our works of righteousness can’t provide any protection against God’s judgment. We’re born under bondage to sin, and we’re unable to free ourselves from its power or penalty. For this reason, we must look to Christ. “True faith,” says Perkins, “makes us one with Christ.” By means of this union, “Christ, with all his benefits, is made ours.” That means we enjoy a new legal status in him. Moreover, we enjoy communion with him in his names, titles, righteousness, holiness, death, and resurrection.

That’s what I want for my family. I want my home to be a place where Christ is savored. He was condemned, so that we might be justified; punished, so that we might be pardoned; cursed, so that we might be blessed; wounded, so that we might be healed; and forsaken, so that we might be accepted. God receives us in Christ—his Beloved. Now, when we think of our sin, we remember Christ’s forgiveness. When we think of our guilt, we remember his merit. When we think of our weakness, we remember his strength. When we think of our pride, we remember his humility. When we think of our vileness, we remember his righteousness. I want my family to know that there’s nothing more soul-satisfying than contemplating Christ and our interest in him.

These three points of divinity are a pretty good theological primer—a necessary foundation for any home.

J. Stephen Yuille

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Loving Life in a World of Broken Relationships



This review was first published at Books at a Glance: www.booksataglance.com
 
What is love? For many in our day, love is strictly the stuff of Hallmark cards and movies. It’s a warm, fuzzy feeling that defies explanation. It’s an overwhelming emotion that people helplessly follow because the heart has reasons the mind never understands.

But what happens when this notion of love collides with the equally entrenched notion that the supreme goal of life is to feel happy? In other words, what happens to this kind of love when it encounters negative feelings such as pain and sorrow, or negative experiences such as denial and sacrifice? For many people, the answer is obvious: they must not be in love anymore, and they must uproot in order to remain true to themselves.

Could anything be more antithetical to biblical love?

In A Loving Life in a World of Broken Relationships, Paul Miller takes us on a journey of hesed (steadfast) love. He does so by leading us through the Book of Ruth, peeling back the layers of this ancient story to provide a beautiful picture of Christ’s love for His people.

A Compelling Story
Miller does a masterful job of expounding the text, unpacking the historical and cultural context, and highlighting the literary nuances, while at the same time conveying Naomi’s heartbreaking loss and Ruth’s heartwarming devotion. He reveals the nature of hesed love in Ruth’s unwavering commitment to Naomi. Ruth loves Naomi in such a way that she limits and restricts her own life. She loves Naomi in such a way that she sacrifices her own dreams and interests. She loves Naomi in such a way that she suffers insecurity and uncertainty. She loves Naomi in such a way that she persists even in the face of Naomi’s casual indifference. In short, Ruth demonstrates that “hesed love is one way love […] a love without an exit strategy” (p. 24).

A Challenging Story
Miller makes it clear that this kind of love is antithetical to “the spirit of our age” (p. 25). Most of us assume that we must act on our feelings. Therefore, when love becomes costly, we usually respond by pursuing an exit strategy or creating a false reality. But the story of Ruth shows us that, when love becomes costly, we must act on our commitments. This mindset is impossible unless we embrace the fact that, when we love, we disappear (p. 135). That is to say, when we’re captivated with the object of our love, we don’t want to be seen. This necessarily means that love and pride are antithetical. Miller states that the great barrier to love is ego – the life of the self (p. 19). In order to love, therefore, we must die to self.

A Comforting Story
Miller demonstrates how Ruth’s selfless love ultimately points us to Christ, thereby making her “the Christ figure, the one who dies so others may live” (p. 152, italics mine). In my opinion, Miller overstates his case ever so slightly. Surely, Boaz is a Christ figure. Like Boaz, Christ pays the ultimate price to purchase us – outsiders, who stand in need of a kinsman-redeemer. Personally, I would rather Miller had referred to Ruth as a Christ figure instead of the Christ figure. That being said, his point is well made; namely, Ruth’s “complete absence of self reflects the mind of Christ” (p. 155). Because of hesed love, Christ left a glorious crown, walked in our flesh, and took our infirmities; He gave sight to the blind, speech to the mute, and life to the dead. Because of hesed love, He was hungry, thirsty, and weary; He was betrayed, arrested, and condemned; He was sorrowful unto death. Because of hesed love, He climbed a shameful cross to bear our guilt and shame. Christ’s love for His people is steadfast.

Recommendation
Miller upholds this hesed love as the necessary alternative to the many false views of love so prevalent in our day. He includes numerous stories and anecdotes in his exposition, drawing from the deep well of personal and pastoral experience. His insights will prove beneficial to all, particularly those who are struggling with the difficult reality of broken and burdensome relationships. I highly recommend A Loving Life to you.
 
J. Stephen Yuille