Saturday, May 31, 2014

Shadows of the Ascension

Genesis 5:24 "Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him."

Introduction & Review:
We have been exploring these past couple of days the event and explanation of the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. In today's post I thought we would widen our focus to include Old Testament foreshadowings and predictions that give background to what would be the glorious event of Jesus' ascension into heaven. As Jesus Himself taught His disciples in one of His resurrection appearances to them in Luke 24:44, all the Old Testament speaks about Him.  With such a thing being the case, we can include not only the glorious truths of Jesus' life, cross and resurrection, but also His ascension.  

Certain figures that foreshadowed the ascension
Two men in the Old Testament stand out as foreshadowing the ascension of Jesus: Enoch and Elijah.  To define what exactly is entailed in an ascension like event, three words must be kept in mind: up, glory and empowerment. Enoch's catching up by God into Heaven in Genesis 5:25 gives us the first idea.  Quite simply, Enoch was walking with God and then in an unannounced event, was suddenly "wisked away" by God.  This action was so sudden and so dramatic that the Hebrew Text literally could read: "It was as if he had not been there". 

The second man, Elijah, is taken into heaven by God in 2 Kings 2:9-12 "When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.” 10 He said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.” 11 As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven. 12 Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw Elijah no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces."  Now notice the three main ideas we mentioned earlier about what entails an ascension-like event: "I am taken from you" speaks of the idea of going up in verse 9; then the chariots and horsemen of God taking up Elijah, thus the second idea of "glory" along with the third idea of Elisha receiving the anointing of Elijah's or "empowerment". These three ideas then of "up", "glory" and "empowerment" function as seeds of revelatory thought in the Old Testament that can aid us in understanding the fullness of Christ's ascension in the New Testament. 

How The LORD Yahweh in the Old Testament was depicted as "ascending" up before His people as a revelation of His Divine Power and Glory
According to Nave's Topical Bible, two Psalms provide amazing foreshadowings and ways of understanding the meaning and significance of Jesus' ascension into heaven.  Psalm 47:5-8 reads: "God has ascended with a shout,The Lord, with the sound of a trumpet. 6 Sing praises to God, sing praises; Sing praises to our King, sing praises. 7 For God is the King of all the earth; Sing praises with a skillful psalm. 8 God reigns over the nations,
God sits on His holy throne." The great preacher Charles Spurgeon remarks on Psalm 47:5 - "Faith hears the people already shouting. The command of the first verse is here regarded as fact. The fight is over, the conqueror ascends to his triumphal chariot, and rides up to the gates of the city which is made resplendent with the joy of his return. The words are fully applicable to the ascension of the Redeemer. We doubt not that angels and glorified spirits welcomed him with acclamations. He came not without song, shall we imagine that He returned in silence? 'The Lord with the sound of a trumpet.' Jesus is Jehovah."1

Another Psalm, Psalm 68, speaks equally well towards predicting and foreshadowing what would undoubtedly be the ascension of Jesus. Psalm 68:18-19 in particular says - "You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives; You have received gifts among men,
Even among the rebellious also, that the Lord God may dwell there. 19 Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, The God who is our salvation." Ephesians 4:7-10 explicitly states that Psalm 68 is speaking of Jesus' ascension: "
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.” 9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)"

So in considering the Old Testament backdrop, we can see one of the reasons why Jesus concluded His earthly ministry in an ascension: to express His exalted Deity before His disciples. 

Closing thoughts: We should rejoice when God is exalted
Now I find it interesting upon viewing these two Psalms that we find reference to joy over the fact that God is being exalted in the lifting up of His glory before the people. Psalm 47:1 begins by saying: "O clap your hands, all peoples;Shout to God with the voice of joy." Psalm 68:32-35 ends Psalm 68 with these words - "Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth,Sing praises to the Lord, Selah. 33 To Him who rides upon the highest heavens, which are from ancient times; Behold, He speaks forth with His voice, a mighty voice. 34 Ascribe strength to God; His majesty is over Israel And His strength is in the skies. 35 O God, You are awesome from Your sanctuary. The God of Israel Himself gives strength and power to the people. Blessed be God!" 

As we consider these Old Testament shadows and predictions of the Ascension, we have cause to rejoice over the fact that now we can read about the substance and fulfillment of those marvelous truths. This idea of joy and God's exaltation is clearly shown in how the disciples respond to Jesus' ascension in Luke 24:51-53 "While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple praising God."

May we pray and ask the Holy Spirit to stir our hearts to rejoice and marvel over the ascended glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1. Charles Spurgeon. Treasure of David, Volume One. Associated Publishers and Authors. 1970. Page 395.

Friday, May 30, 2014

How the ascension gives a window into Jesus' glory

Luke 24:50-51 " And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 51 While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven."

Review from yesterday
In yesterday's post we began considering the event of Jesus' ascension into heaven.  The main point of yesterday's post was to list the key New Testament scriptures that demonstrate the reality of the event.  We saw that Jesus predicted or indicated His anticipation of ascension on several occasions throughout His earthly ministry.  We concluded with a quote from the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, affirming the reality and significance of the ascension of Jesus Christ into Heaven.  Today's post will aim to begin unpacking and explaining the significance of Jesus' ascension. 

How ascension of Jesus into Heaven gives us a grand window into His glory
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 explains not only belief in the physical ascension of Jesus into Heaven, but also how it relates to three other significant truths: His resurrection, His return and His activity in the lives of Christians today.  This is what the BFM 2000 states: "He was raised from the dead with a glorified body and appeared to His disciples as the person who was with them before His crucifixion. He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God where He is the One Mediator, fully God, fully man, in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man. He will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission. He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever present Lord."

That statement summarizes for us the connection we as Christians have to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and all that He is and accomplished.  Each of the major events of our Lord's lives, a window is given through which we can see increasing manifestations of His glory.

For example, in His incarnation and virgin birth, the angels are depicted as singing "glory to God in the highest". Later at His Baptism, the voice of the Father is heard speaking from Heaven: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." In the midst of His earthly ministry Jesus reveals His pre-incarnate Divine glory to his disciples atop the Mount of Transfiguration. Even in His cross, scripture repeatedly states that the glory of His love is demonstrated.

The cross for many Christians represents the epicenter of Christian devotion - and rightly so - being that it is at the cross where humanity and Deity meet, being that the One Person who is humanity and Deity accomplished the necessary redemption. 

The windows of glory continue in what is considered the most important event, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  It is this event which, according to 1 Corinthians 15:1-20, is the article upon which the validity and reality of Christian faith rises or falls.  Without confessing one's trust in Jesus' death and resurrection, salvation cannot be applied.

As scripture marches forwards, especially in the Gospels, Acts 1 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-10, we see the glory of Jesus Christ seen yet through another set of windows - His post-resurrection appearances.  As one writer has noted: "grace is but glory begun and glory is but grace completed." It is in those ten or so resurrection appearances of our Lord, over a period of 40 days, that we see the early  disciples established and solidified in their faith, and getting ready for what will be their message to a lost and dying world: "He is Alive!"

All of these key events: Jesus' incarnation/virgin birth; earthly life, crucifixion, resurrection and appearances give us windows into His glory.

However there is one event that not only gives us a window, but a grand, sweeping bay window into the glory of the God man - the ascension. There is no denying how much is suddenly opened up to us in the ascension of Jesus Christ.  It seems that once He had ascended, the New Testament explodes with scripture after scripture describing and applying the significance of the ascended Jesus to Christian identity and living. A few of these scriptures will serve to prove what we are talking about in this post:

Romans 8:34 "who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us."

Ephesians 1:20  "which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places."

Colossians 3:1  "Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God."

Hebrews 1:3 "And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high."

Hebrews 8:1 "Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens."

1 Peter 3:22 "who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him."

Closing Thoughts for today:

The main point of today's post was to begin moving from the event to explanation of Jesus' ascension into heaven.  The goal was to begin peering through the big bay window of glory that is His ascension. I close today with this quote from theologian Wayne Grudem on the significance of Christ's ascension for Christian living:

"The fact that Jesus has already ascended into heaven and achieved the goal set before him gives great assurance to us that we will eventually go there also. [B]ecause of our union with Christ in his ascension, we are able to share now (in part) in Christ’s authority over the universe, and we will later share in it more fully. This is what Paul points to when he says that God “raised us up with him, and
made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). We are not physically present in heaven, of course, for we remain here on earth at the present time. But if Christ’s session at God’s right hand refers to his reception of authority, then the fact that God has made us sit with Christ means that we share in some
measure in the authority that Christ has, authority to contend against “the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12; cf. vv. 10–18) and to do battle with weapons that “have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4).

1. Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology. Page 541.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Event of Jesus Christ's Ascension

Luke 24:50-53 "And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 51 While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple praising God."

Today's post is featuring an event recorded in scripture that, in the words of Bible teacher R.C Sproul, puts an exclamation point on entirety of Christ's first coming: The ascension. Today many Christians all over the world are celebrating the 40th day following Easter Sunday that is called "Ascension Thursday."

Two scriptures give us the beginning and ending points of the forty day period of time between Jesus' resurrection from the dead and His ascension into Heaven. Matthew 28:1 states: "Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave." According to Acts 1:1-3 "The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. 3 To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God." 

Much of course occurred in that nearly six week period of time. For our interests today, we want to consider the event of the ascension itself.  By beginning to focus upon the scriptures that speak of the event of Christ's ascension, we can begin to see why this event is so crucial to our understanding and worship of our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Event of The Ascension of Jesus Christ
Jesus Himself had predicted during His trials and journey to the cross that He would be ascended and seated at the right hand of God the Father in Luke 22:69 "But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” Such a statement is important and reminds us that Jesus' ascension into heaven was only possible because of His willing "descension" from heaven to earth, in the virgin birth of His incarnation and ultimately into His passion or sufferings on the cross.

The ascension as an event is recorded in the Gospels and in Acts. For now I just want to list the scriptures that record this event. Why? To remind the reader that this was no myth or fictional hallucination in the minds of the New Testament authors. This event really happened, in time and space, in history and among eyewitnesses.

Mark 16:19 "So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. "

Luke 9:51 "When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem."

Luke 24:50-51 "And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 51 While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven."

John 6:62 "What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?"

John 20:17 "Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’”

Acts 1:9 "And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight."

Acts 1:22 "beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”

Thus we see that according to Jesus Himself, the New Testament scriptures and the testimonies of the early Christians, the ascension functioned as a watershed event that would fix the identity of Christ's exaltation forever in the full testimony about Him.  

Closing thoughts:
I thought I would close out this special ascension day post with a statement from the SBC "2000 Baptist Faith and Message". With other Bible-believing Christian bodies throughout the world, Southern Baptists strongly affirms the reality and significance of Christ's ascension.  Consider the following statement: "He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God where He is the One Mediator, fully God, fully man, in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man." To all my readers, I bid you a happy Ascension day.  May we all think on the event of the ascension and why this event is so crucial to our understanding and worship of our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Philippians 2 - Christian Joy's Thought-life

Philippians 2:1-5 "Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is anyfellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus."

Introduction and Review
In yesterday's post we considered the Book of Philippians as the "Book of Joy", citing Philippians 3:1 as the key verse.  We looked specifically at chapter 1 and considered how it is Christian joy supplies confidence in three areas:
1. Living 1:1-6
2. Suffering 1:18-19
3. The Gospel 1:12,127-30

In today's post we get to the heart of the Epistle, being that Paul portrays one of the most significant texts in the entire New Testament on the Person and work of Jesus Christ. As we study Philippians 2 today, we will discover that Christian joy's thought-life is cultivated in the following ways:

1. Formed by Christ's humility 2:1-5
2. Flourishes under Christ centered doctrine 2:6-11
3. Functions to live for Christ 2:12-18

Formed by Christ's humility 2:1-5
The theological significance of Christ's incarnation is brought to bear on the thought-life and attitudes of the Christian as being governed by humility. John MacArthur has said that we are never more Christ-like than when we are humble. In wedding humility to our thought lives, we are exhibiting what the Bible calls the "mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16). 

Certainly surrendering our thought-lives to the scriptures is how we begin and maintain Christian joy in the thought-life. Whatever we think will inevitably lead to the decisions we make and the actions we perform. Far beyond a profound theological lesson on how God the Son came to be a man, Philippians 2 seeks to show us how we can cultivate the Christian though-life through the joy found in Christ-like humility. 

Whenever our thought-life is being formed by Christ-like humility, we experience a "sameness" and "soundness" not only individually, but when we are with other Christians.  Notice where we see the idea of "sameness" in Philippians 2:1-5: "same mind" (2:2); "same love" (2:2); "united in spirit" (2:2); "one purpose" (2:2) and then in eseence, having "this attitude (or mindset" in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus. Quite literally, we can exhibit the soundness and sameness that Christ had in full measure in His life. Joy will be the natural by-product of all this, since it is after-all a fruit borne by the Spirit of God. (Galatians 5:22) Notice how else Christian joy's thought-life is cultivated, namely it.....

Flourishes under Christ centered doctrine. 2:6-11
This section of scripture, perhaps like no other, gives us the summary of Christ's entire life from eternity, to earth, back up to eternity. Meditating on the key points is like exposing the mind to the warm sun of Christ's presence and the soft gentle rains of His grace:

1. Pre-existence. 2:6a
Jesus as the Son, sharing in full Deity with the Father and Spirit, reminds us of how lofty of heights He came. Compare John 1:13, 8:58, 17:5; Colossians 1:16-17; Ephesians 1:13-15. 

2. Incarnation. 2:6b
Jesus as the Son, the Word, has planned already to come to earth to take upon Himself a human nature - literally becoming God in human flesh. Compare John 1:1-18

3. Humiliation. 2:7-8a
The descent of Christ from heaven to earth is what theologians call His "humiliation". Remarkably humility is not a trait the Son began having once taking upon Himself human flesh, but a trait He possessed along with the Father and Spirit from all eternity. 

4. Passion. 2:8b
Christ's passion speaks of His sufferings.  How low would Holy Christ go to accomplish the Father's plan.  The cross represents all at once the low point and high point of eternity and history. The penduluum of redemption swung to the cross and from thence on would swing up from the resurrection to His ascension.

5. Resurrection, Ascension, Exaltation. 2:9
These three events function as the mirror opposites of His incarnation, humiliation and passion. The cross is at the center of the passage, and it is there where the joy of the Christian mind finds its source and end.

6. His session (current activity as Prophet, Priest and King)
What happened after Jesus dissappeared into the sky in Acts 1:9-11. Numerous scriptures tell us that He went into Heaven to sit down at the Father's right hand.  It is from there He began to reign over His church as King. From His thrown as King He speaks to His church through the scriptures - thus in the role as Prophet. (Hebrews 1:1-4) It is there He intercedes as our Eternal High Priest. (Hebrews 7:24-25). All three offices are occupied by Jesus Christ as he presides, sits in session, over His church, awating the time to return to earth in His second coming. 

Just meditating on the awesomeness of Jesus Christ ought to set your mind at ease and the joy of knowing Him.  Humbling ourselves under such doctrinal truths gains us access to a limitless fountain of joy.  Doctrine's function is not just to fill our heads with knowledge, but also our hearts with joy in being known by this Jesus of Whom it points. So Christian joy's thought-life is formed by Christ's humility and flourishes on Christ-centered doctrine but notice lastly....

Functions to live for Christ. 2:12-30
Truly if humility and joy are ever to be brought home to roost in our hearts, we need examples.  Paul first of all states in summary what a thought-life, cultivated in Christian joy, ought to look-like by commanding us to it in 2:12-18. Philippians 2:12-14 states for instance - "12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing."

Next Paul offers up two examples of men living out the reality of Christ-like humility in a joyful mindset: Timothy (2:19-24) and Epaphroditus (2:25-30). Both men represent the full spectrum of the Christian life - with Timothy being the young upstart and Epaphroditus being the seasoned saint.  Both exhibit joy, both have Christ-like humility and both are being put forward by Paul as proof that what He is challenging this church and us to be - i.e Christ-like - is not some abstract ideal, but a true reality. 

Closing thoughts
Christian joy's thought-life finds its joy in Jesus Christ. We discovered that Christian joy's thought-life is cultivated in the following ways:

1. Formed by Christ's humility 2:1-5
2. Flourishes under Christ centered doctrine 2:6-11
3. Functions to live for Christ 2:12-18

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Philippians 1: Christian Joy's Confidence

Philippians 3:1 "Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you."

Today's post features what will be a periodic series on the Book of Philippians.  In the above opening verse we find the key verse and key theme of this wonderful short letter, written by Paul to the church at Philippi. In a past post I had written on the background, key themes and overall message of this wonderful book of the Bible, and simply refer the reader to that post at:

Philippians 1 will be the main chapter in today's study. The question to ask is: "what is joy"? In studying the more than 200 passages in the entire Bible that discuss this idea of "Godly Joy" or "Christian Joy", it appears that to be joyful = having confidence in God no matter what.  

Point of Application: 
We will list today's main anchoring point or point of application, followed by a brief outline that will aid us in walking through Phlippians 1: Wherever there is joy, there is confidence.  As we shall see, Christian joy supplies confidence in:

a. Living 1:1-6; 21-26
b. Suffering 1:18-19
c. The Gospel 1:12, 27-30

Christian joy supplies confidence for living Philippians 1:4-6 and 1:20-26
Philippians 1:4-6 is where we discover the linkage between joy and confidence in the daily Christian life: "always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all,5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." The joy of which Paul speaks is a delight that is produced by God's grace.  Paul sees how much the Philippians are persisting in their pursuit of Jesus Christ in the Gospel.  The term translated "persuaded" in verse 6 speaks of "having been persuaded".  Having a "firm persuasion" about a matter is very close to the Biblical definition of faith, thus we could say that the reason why Christian joy is so necessary for daily living is because it results in an overflow of faith.  

After writing to the Philippians about all that he has to endure for the sake of Christ, and how He sees great benefit in either dying for Jesus or living to encourage the saints, Paul writes these words in Philippians 1:25-26 "Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again."  Christian joy is not only meant for every day of the Christian life, but is also necessary for growth and progress in the Christian life until the very end.  So Christian joy's confidence is needed for daily living, but notice secondly...

Christian joy's confidence supplies joy in suffering. Philippians 1:18-19
As we back up through Philippians 1 we come to these words in verses 18-19: "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ." In an unexpected way, Christian joy thrives when pressure and suffering are present and advancing.  Why is that? Because God's provision of grace is the endless fountain of supply for the believer who is in the "pressure cooker" of circumstances. 

Consider 1 Peter 4:12-14 "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you." Or consider James 1:2-4 "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."  Other great passages spell out this same unexpected truth of Christian joy supplying confidence in times of suffering (2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 1 Peter 1:6-7).

So in having seen how Christian joy supplies confidence for living and in times of suffering, let us look at the third reason we need the confidence of Christian joy.

Christian joy supplies confidence in the Gospel. Philippians 1:12, 27-30
You and I as Christians need to hear or read about the Gospel everyday.  The event of Christ's death, burial and resurrection according to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-6) and the experience of that event by faith and repentance (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:24-26) includes with it an immediate appreciation for the Gospel.  At salvation God's grace brings the preciousness of the Gospel to roost in the human heart.  However following saving faith, the Christian's appreciation for the Gospel ought to heighten, being that its depths and richness are made increasingly clear.  Note what Paul writes in Philippians 1:12 "Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel". 

Christian joy and the appreciation for the Gospel go hand-in-hand. We read in Philippians 1:27 "Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel." Joy in the Gospel is supposed to spread like wild-fire among Christians.  There is hardly no more beautiful thing than to see an entire church-full of God's people express the same joy and confidence in the Gospel.  When that occurs, the people of God will look beyond themselves and see what is needed to accomplish God's Kingdom work. 

In today's post we aimed to see the necessity of Christian joy for confidence in three crucial areas:

a. Living 1:1-6; 21-26
b. Suffering 1:18-19
c. The Gospel 1:12, 27-30

In future posts we aim to look at Philippians, chapter by chapter, to discover more practical, life-changing truths about the necessity of Christian joy. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

P4 - Providence, Evil, The Cross and Glory - A Christian understanding of evil and suffering

Habakkuk 3:2 "Lord, I have heard the report about You and I fear.O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years, In the midst of the years make it known; In wrath remember mercy."

Introduction and Review:
These past few posts have been dedicated to offering a Christian understanding of evil and suffering in the world.  We have proposed four key Biblical themes to aid in our exploration:

1. Providence
2. Evil
3. The Cross
4. Glory

Thus far we have explored the first three, with "the cross" shedding light on how there is no conflict between the understanding of a world governed by the Sovereign God of Providence and the presence and persistence of evil in this world.  Today's post is going to conclude this series by showing the purpose for which evil and suffering are included in God's Sovereign purposes: God's glory.  As we consider this theme of God's glory, we will once more consider the prophet who faced the problem of evil head-on - Habakkuk.

God's ultimate will is to demonstrate His glory
So what is the highest good? How one answers that question determines how one will approach the problem of evil and suffering in this world. According to Habakkuk, and so many other Biblical authors, the highest good, and thus the chief purpose as to why God would will to permit evil in the world is His glory.  Habakkuk's book is about a discouraged and disgruntled prophet complaining to God about the sinfulness of his nation. God's answer surprises, initially confounds and even a times causes great fear in the prophet.  However we see Habakkuk not holding bitterness against God. Why? Because He sees that though we may not understand all of God's ways, the character of God and the purposes for which He does thing are never in conflict.  God's glory is found thoughout Habakkuk's book:

1. Habakkuk 1:12 "Are You not from everlasting,O Lord, my God, my Holy One?
We will not die. You, O Lord, have appointed them to judge; And You, O Rock, have established them to correct."

2. Habakkuk 2:14 “For the earth will be filledWith the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, As the waters cover the sea."

3. Habakkuk 3:18-19 "Yet I will exult in the Lord,I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
19 The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places."

God's glory, through the cross, is the greatest way we can get through pain and suffering
Just as we saw how the cross enables us to make sense as to why God in His Providence would will to allow evil and suffering in this world, the cross also enables us to find great comfort in the glory of God.  Chuck Swindoll notes: "The Sovereignty of God may not answer all of my questions, but it does relieve me of all my fears."  Saints of God in the pages of holy scripture found such comfort in knowing that all of the suffering we go through and the injustice that pervades our world will ultimately be dealt with and that God as a purpose. 

Perhaps no book outside the Bible has made the strong case for God's glory being the grand purpose for creation, salvation and thus answering the question: "why evil" as Jonathan Edwards' book: "A dissertation concerning the end for which God created the world." Note this excerpt from what he writes: "The glory of God is spoken of in Holy Scripture as the last end for which those parts of the moral world that are good were made."1

Whenever you consider the fact that there is no greater good than God's glory, then you realize how it could be God would choose to use evil and suffering to somehow accomplish such a purpose.  Again the glory of His love shown through the cross is the clearest evidence for this hard to understand truth.  Habakkuk was able to cope and navigate through his struggle over God's usage of the Babylonians to punish Judah and Jerusalem. 

Again consider what he writes in Habakkuk 3:16-19 "I heard and my inward parts trembled, At the sound my lips quivered.
Decay enters my bones, And in my place I tremble.  Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, For the people to arise who will invade us.  17 Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls,
18 Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. 19 The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places. For the choir director, on my stringed instruments."

Closing thoughts and summary
Habakkuk saw the Providence of God at work in the life of his nation, and God's choice to use the ruthless Babylonian empire certain caused Habakkuk to struggle.  Yet he saw what we would know to be a prophetic glimpse of the cross, as seen in Habakkuk 2:4.  In understanding through God's redemptive purposes could bring about a better understanding of how God's providence and evil could be at work in the same world without cancelling out God's existence or evil's reality, what was needed was the purpose for it all.  Habakkuk concludes by rejoicing over the glory of God. 

Thus in Isa. 43. 6,7. “I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Keep not back; bring my sons from afar; and my daughters from the ends of the earth, even every one that is called by my name; for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him, yea I have made him.” Again, Isa. 60. 21. “Thy people also shall be all righteous. They shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting hand, that I may be glorified.” Later he adds: "In these places we see, that the glory of God is spoken of as the end of God’s saints, the end or which he makes them, i. e. either gives them being, or gives them a being as saints, or both. It is said, that God has made and formed them to be his sons and daughters, for his own glory: That they are trees of his planting, the work of his hands, as trees of righteousness, that he might be glorified."

Sunday, May 25, 2014

P3 - Providence, Evil, The Cross and Glory - A Christian understanding of evil and suffering

Habakkuk 2:4 “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.

Introduction and Review:
These past couple of days have been dedicated to developing a Christian response to evil and suffering.  We have proposed four key ideas that aid us in navigating this very difficult issue: Providence, Evil, The Cross and Glory.  So far we have looked at the first two of those ideas.  Normally when one reads a typical treatment on this subject of offering a response to evil and suffering, very few spend a whole lot of time on the cross.  Yet without the cross, not only can't a Christian view be developed, but making any sense of why there is evil and suffering in a world ruled by a Sovereign, Good and All-powerful God cannot be achieved. 

Why God's Providence and the existence of evil can only make sense when we consider the cross of Jesus
Tim Keller in his book: "Walking with God through Pain and Suffering", page 119-120, notes: "The book of Job rightly points to human unworthiness and finitude, and calls for complete surrender to the Sovereignty of God. But taken by itself the call might seem more than the sufferer could bear.  Then the New Testament comes filled with an unimaginable comfort for those who are trusting in God's Sovereignty. The sovereign God himself has come down into this world and has experienced its darkness. He has personally drunk the cup of its suffering down to the dregs. And he did it not to justify himself but to justify us, to bear the suffering, death and curse for sin that we have earned."

As you study the pages of scripture, you discover that before the creation of the world, God had already planned the cross.  It is this author's contention that if we are to truly make any sense of the presence of evil and suffering, we must begin and end with the cross.  The cross all at once was the most unimaginable demonstration of the evil of men and the most magnificent demonstration of the love of God.  Further thought would contend that the whole of creation revolves around the revelation of God in human flesh and the particular events of the cross and resurrection. 

Mapping out God's plan for redemption, then creation, and ultimately recreation.
Where do we find evidence in the Bible that the cross was planned before creation? Consider the following verses:

1). John 1:29 "The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

2). Luke 22:22 "For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”

3). Acts 2:23 "this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death."

4). Acts 3:18 "But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled."

5). Acts 4:28 "to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur."

6). 1 Peter 1:20 "For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you."

7). Revelation 13:8 "All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."

From surveying other scripture, we understand that the cross was an agreed upon plan or covenant of redemption between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Passages such as Ephesians 1:1-14; 1 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 1:2 indicate that the Father planned redemption, the Son agreed to purchase it by becoming a man and shedding blood and the Holy Spirit agreed to apply it to all Whom He calls according to the Father purposes of grace, repents and believes.

The cross shaped what particular kind of history was going to come forth once God said: "let there be light" in Genesis 1.  With creation underway, God made beings who could choose.  Those beings chose against Him.  Despite willing to permit the fall, God already had in mind to graciously redeem our fallen parents and thus begin the process of redeeming fallen human beings who by His grace trust in Jesus.

The goal of creation, and its subsequent fall, includes there being a point when God will restore the creation that was lost.  All who have by grace through faith believed on Christ will be included in the glorious recreation - called in Revelation 21-22 the "New Heavens and the New Earth."

The black cloth that is evil and suffering is used by God to show forth His glorious redemptive purposes.  Two passages in Romans bear out this marvelous truth of how the cross gives us clarity to navigate through this difficult issue of evil and suffering.
Romans 3:24-26 "being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."

Then we see Romans 8:20-21 "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." Personally I think this passage brings us the closest we will ever get to answering the big "why question" (i.e. "why evil"). The cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the redemptive purposes of God are at the heart of this answer. 

Again Tim Keller in his book: "Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering", page 121, notes: See what this means? Yes, we do not know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, or why it is so random, but now at least we know what reason it is not. It cannot be that he does not love us. It cannot be that he does not care. He is so committed to our ultimate happiness that he was willing to plunge into the greatest depths  of suffering. He understands us, he has been there, and he assures us that he has a plan to eventually wipe away every tear. Someone might say, "but that's only half an answer to the question why? Yes, but it is the half we need."

Closing out with the prophet Habakkuk's central statement of "The Just shall live by faith"
The verse we quoted at the beginning of this post shows us how Habakkuk began coping with all that God was revealing to Him.  Habakkuk 2:4 is among the most frequently quoted passages in the New Testament.  When that verse is quoted, it is quoted in the context of the unfolding of saving faith in the gospel. Consider two examples: Romans 1:17 "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” Galatians 3:11 "But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” In the Gospel we find the only solution to our sin and the only solution we can offer to a hurting world that is suffering.  The very God Whom unbelieving man rails against and accuses is the very One who sent His Son to suffer and provide the only grounds upon which the believing sinner can be declared innocent of all accusation.