Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Respecting a Holy God

This is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven …’ ” (Matthew 6:9).

Over the past few days, we have seen how God’s revelation of His glory is also a revelation of His holiness. The godly person knows a real fear when he is face to face with God, and asks pardon and forgiveness for his sins. Such a fear of God is the first step in knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). We have also seen that we can increase our exposure to God by studying His holy law.

Today we will consider how we are to respect this holy God by trusting Him and obeying His commands. There is a specific aspect of this, however, that the New Testament highlights—in the Lord’s Prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer opens with an address to God, and then goes into several petitions. Do you recall what the first petition is? “Hallowed be Your name.” Jesus is saying this: “When you get down on your knees to pray, the first thing I want you to pray for is that the name of God be treated as sacred.”

Repeatedly the Bible says of God, “Holy is his name.” We see this in the Ten Commandments, where God says, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Exodus 20:7). This is one of God’s top 10 laws, and it is part of the constitution God wrote for a national government. It was one of the 10 central social laws in Israel. Once public blasphemy was a civil offense in America. Today, however, we hear the Lord’s name taken in vain continually on television and in movies.

I’m convinced that there is a logical progression in the Lord’s Prayer: “Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” If we have a casual attitude toward the name of God, that reveals more deeply than anything our attitude toward the God of the name.

If you have been guilty of using God’s name in a casual fashion, take hold of yourself now and break that habit. If you have grown accustomed to hearing the Lord’s name used lightly in conversation or on television, ask God to restore your sensitivity to such blasphemy. Cultivate a holy revulsion against the abuse of God’s name.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Is God Cruel?

"Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit …” When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened" (Acts 5:3, 5).

When godly men encounter the holiness of God, they become aware of their sinfulness and cry out for salvation. The primary way we come to see God’s holiness is in His law. Today we want to consider the punishments for sin that are included in God’s law.

In the Mosaic law, which God gave to Israel, we find over 30 offenses for which God commanded the death penalty. Capital punishment could be measured out not only for murder, but also for homosexual acts, adultery, or consulting a fortune teller. Liberal theologians regard these laws as cruel and bloodthirsty, unworthy of the “merciful God” revealed (they say) in the New Testament. 

According to the Bible, though, the God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New. It was the “God of the New Testament” who slew Ananias and Sapphira for lying to Him. You see, the problem is not that a holy and righteous God punishes willfully disobedient sinners. The mystery is that such a God can tolerate such cosmic treason on the part of His creatures for generation after generation.

Even though there are some 30 capital punishments in the Old Testament, this is not a sign of God’s severity. Actually, it represents a massive reduction in the number of capital crimes. Remember the rules set forth at the beginning. All sin was viewed as a capital offense, even taking a single bite of the forbidden fruit!

And notice, it was not a threat of eventual death, but God said, “The very day you eat of it you shall die.” This does not mean just spiritual death. It means that you shall die physically the day you sin. It is only of the forbearance and mercy of God that He did not kill Adam and Eve immediately.

Far from being cruel, God is most merciful, acting with a measure of grace even unto those who scorn Him. In Romans 2:4, Paul asks. “Do you show contempt [for God], not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” God has not exacted from us what His justice would demand. In your prayer time today, thank God for His lovingkindness toward you.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Living Coram Deo

"Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. “O Lord, if I have found favor in your eyes,” he said, “then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance” (Exodus 34:8–9).

Last week we considered the revelation of God’s holy glory to Moses and to Isaiah. Today we need to consider their responses. Notice that when Moses caught a tiny glimpse of God’s glory, he was immediately struck with a sense of his sinfulness and that of the people. He fell to the ground, admitted that he needed God’s favor, and begged God to forgive the sins of the people.

Just so, when God revealed His holy glory to Isaiah, the prophet cried out, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). What stands out here is that the first prophetic oracle pronounced by the prophet is an oracle of woe against himself. When Isaiah saw God in His glory, he saw himself as he really was.

The revelation of God’s holiness, powerfully communicated through His glory, caused these righteous men to feel their utter depravity by comparison. This is the first step in reformation. Almost anyone we meet will readily admit that he does wrong sometimes, that occasionally he sins. Sadly, that does not seem to bother people at all.

There is not one person in a thousand who will claim to be perfect, but there is not one person in a thousand who understands the seriousness of not being perfect. You see, God does not judge us on the curve; rather, the standard is that of God’s perfection. But we are comfortable with our imperfection. We judge ourselves by each other. No matter how ashamed I may be at the sins in my own life, I can always look around and find somebody who is more depraved than I am.

What we need is a vision of God’s holiness and glory, a vision that will bring us back to reality, and start us on the road to true reformation. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7), and if we would be wise, we must start by saying, “Woe to me!”

Coram Deo means “before the face of God.” When you are before God’s face in prayer, do you perceive His awesome holiness as you should? As your inflated view of self is diminished in His presence, be moved like Isaiah, first to repentance and then to praise.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Pentecost: "What Does This Mean?"

"In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:1-5)

"And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12)

Today, as the body of Christ, we gather for worship. It is, as congregations, our greatest privilege and highest responsibility. And on this Lord’s Day, we mark another once for all event in salvation history. On the first Pentecost Sunday (10 days after Christ’s Ascension; 50 days following His Resurrection), now almost two thousand years ago, there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, divided tongues as of fire resting on the apostles’ heads and the speaking of languages/tongues which were spoken in all parts of the eastern Mediterranean region, from Rome to Persia. All of this astounded those who witnessed these three signs and, humanly speaking, no wonder they were filled with wonder. What can this mean?

The wind testifies to the power and presence of the Spirit; fire speaks to the Spirit’s cleansing and judging power and the languages of the gospel to be proclaimed to all nations – every tribe and every tongue.

These signs confirmed what Jesus had earlier promised. In the gospel of John, Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come to be their Advocate, their Helper and Comforter (14:16-17), their Teacher (14:26), testifying/bearing witness to Jesus, guiding them into all truth (16:13). On Pentecost Sunday, Christ’s promise was confirmed and the sheep of the sheepfold live out of the fruit of that promise day by day. The Church of all ages, scattered across the face of the globe, takes strength and joy in the working of the Holy Spirit.

Suggestions for prayer: Give thanks for the work of the Holy Spirit. Pray that you might grow in the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5).

Saturday, May 19, 2018

God in the Hands of Angry Sinners

Perhaps the most famous sermon ever preached in America was the one Jonathan Edwards delivered called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edwards preached another famous sermon that can be viewed as a sequel to his most famous. He titled the sermon, “Men Naturally God’s Enemies.” If I can presume to improve Edwards’ title, I would suggest “God in the Hands of Angry Sinners.”

If we are unconverted, one thing is absolutely certain: We hate God. The Bible is unambiguous about this point. We are God’s enemies.

Romans 5 teaches: “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son.…” The central motif of the New Testament is reconciliation. Reconciliation is not necessary for those who love each other. God’s love for us is not in doubt. The shadow of doubt hangs over us. By nature, our attitude toward God is not one of indifference. It is a posture of malice. Our natural hearts are devoid of affection for Him; they are frozen to His holiness. By nature, the love of God is not in us.

If God were to expose His life to our hands, He would not be safe for a second. We would not ignore Him; we would destroy Him. This charge may seem extravagant and irresponsible until we examine once more the record of what happened when God did appear in Christ. Christ was not simply killed. He was murdered by the hands of malicious men.

His divine nature did not perish on the cross. It was His humanity that was put to death. Had God made His divine essence vulnerable to the executioner’s nails, then Christ would still be dead and God would be absent from heaven. Had the sword pierced the soul of God, the ultimate revolution would have been successful and man would now be king.

When we understand the character of God, when we grasp something of His holiness, then we begin to understand the radical character of our sin and helplessness. Helpless sinners can only survive by grace.

How can we love a holy God? The simplest answer I can give to this vital question is that we can’t. Loving a holy God is beyond our moral power.

Unless we are born of the Spirit of God, unless He stoops in His grace to change our hearts, we will not love Him. He is the One who takes the initiative to restore our souls.