A Big Ask

Talk about praying big prayers! Talking about going for broke on the ask! Then, you’re talking about Ephesians 3:14-21.

Chewing on Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian believers. And Paul swings for the fence.

He prays first that they be “strengthened with power” in their “inner being” through the Spirit of God. Okay, maybe not the biggest ask as the Spirit already indwells them. But here it’s not about being reminded of the Spirit’s placement but a request for practically knowing the Spirit’s power. And to what end? Now it starts getting big.

To the end that Christ would actively and continually inhabit their hearts, pervading and governing their lives through faith. So that, grounded in the love of Christ, they would have the ability to comprehend the incomprehensible dimensions of the love of Christ, laying hold of something beyond what they can get their arms around. And that so they would practically experience the love of Christ.

Did I mention this was big? Yeah? Well, it gets bigger. All this knowing the love of Christ which surpasses knowing is so that they would “be filled with the fullness of God.”

Filled with the fullness of God. Chew on that for a bit. Brings to mind that quote from Aladdin, “Phenomenal cosmic powers … Itty bitty living space.”

Filled with the fullness of God. Really? Yeah, really. That’s the prayer. That’s the ask. How big is that? Pretty big!

I’m okay with the “by faith” part. I believe the Spirit’s is in me, the Bible tells me so. I believe Christ dwells in my heart; the Bible tells me that too. But to comprehend it? To know it, like really know it, as in experientially know it? Ah, that seems like a stretch.

And, for sure it would be . . . if it were left up to me to make happen. But it ain’t.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be . . .

(Ephesians 3:14-16a ESV)

What Paul prays for to be realized in me is furnished by the Father who is so far beyond me, the One who made me and redeemed me. What Paul prays I would know, like really know, is freely given me by the God who has already given me His best — not sparing His own Son but giving Him up for us all — and is now ready to graciously give us all things (Rom. 8:32).

Even being filled to the fullness of God? Yup, even that.

Big prayer because it draws on an unlimited, infinite resource. It’s not about the itty bitty living space. It’s all about the phenomenal cosmic power. Big prayer because we have a big God.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

(Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

Able to do far more abundantly than what we could imagine or articulate. That’s our God. That’s the power granted us. That’s the power at work within us.

Ours is to know it through faith. Ours is to grow into it by faithfulness.

Big ask? Yeah, you bet. But far from an impossible ask. For with God all things are possible (Mk. 10:27).

By His grace. For His glory.

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Partakers of the Promise Together

This morning, I suffered a bit of a rebuke at the hands of my Greek lexicon. Reminded again that what I want to so readily think is about me is more often than not really about we.

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

(Ephesians 3:6 ESV)

Partakers of the promise. That’s the phrase I started noodling on after my readings.

Paul calls it a mystery. Something God always had in mind but was hidden. Hinted at throughout His revelation, but through the gospel revealed in the fullness of its manifestation. The mystery that Gentiles were always intended to be joint heirs with God’s “chosen people” of Israel. Those who were once outsiders now declared insiders through faith in the finished work of Christ. No longer Jew and Gentile, just one body in Christ. All partakers of the promise. The promise made accessible through the gospel. The promise founded in Christ Jesus.

So, where do I go immediately? Well, I’m a Gentile. I’ve believed. Therefore, I am a partaker of the promise. Praise God! Let me bask in the wonder of a being a partaker. That’s what I’ll chew on this morning.

As I’m wont to do then, I look up the word for partakers in the Greek lexicon within the Bible program on my computer. What additional insight can I get from the original word that will remind me of how blessed I am? Did I mention the subtle rebuke part?

The original word is a two-part word. One part meaning sharing or partaking. The other part meaning with or beside. The translations which render it as “sharers together” (NIV), “fellow partakers” (NASB), or “partners” (CSB) provide the fuller sense more clearly. And if I had really paid attention to the context more carefully (i.e., “fellow heirs”, “same body”), the more consistent sense. Yes, I am a partaker of the promise, but I am a partaker with other partakers. Me partaking is designed to be done as we partake together.

How quick am I to make my salvation an individual sport rather than a team sport? Pretty quick!

How much of the world’s ways have crept into my thinking when I see my personal relationship with Jesus as something to first and foremost be personalized? My identity found more readily in who I am rather than in the community I belong to. My faith something to be individualized rather than exercised in the context of other believers.

For sure, I get to partake in the promises. But my release from the bondage of sin was designed so that I could partake in freedom with other partakers. My rescue from the tyranny of the flesh was so that I could be part of a spiritual body. My redemption from the empty offerings of this world was so that I could look forward to a heavenly inheritance with fellow heirs.

While heavens rejoices over one soul saved (Lk. 15:10), it is through the church–the collective community of born again believers–that the multi-faceted wisdom of God is made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places (Eph. 3:10).

We are partakers of the promise together.

By God’s grace. For God’s glory.

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The One Unfailing Constant

Two despondent soul conditions. Seven urgent asks. One unfailing constant. That’s what I’m hovering over this morning as I chew on Psalm 119:25-32.

Love the way Peterson gets to the heart of the songwriter’s desperate soul condition.

I’m feeling terrible—I couldn’t feel worse! . . . My sad life’s dilapidated, a falling-down barn . . .

(Psalm 119:25a, 28a MSG)

That morning when he got up, the psalmist’s soul was down. Though there had been weeping for the night, there was still no joy in the morning.

My soul clings to the dust . . . My soul melts away for sorrow . . .

(Psalm 119:25a, 28a MSG)

But far from wallowing in the dust, he turns his eyes to the heavens. He fights the darkness as he cries to the Light.

When I told of my ways, You answered me . . .

(Psalm 119:26a ESV)

And in telling God of what God already knew was his condition, the soul weary songwriter of Israel makes seven asks:

Give me life. Revive me (NKJV).
Teach me.
Make me understand.
Strengthen me.
Put false ways far from me.
Graciously teach me.
Enlarge my heart.

He needed a reviving. The cloud lifted, the invisible hand that was pressing on his chest removed. And so he asks the Author of life to infuse him with life. To strengthen the weakness within from a source without.

He didn’t need a pep talk. Platitudes weren’t going to cut it. He needed to learn afresh the things he had come to know. And so, he asks God to teach him. To graciously teach him as he beseeches the Creator to impart something of omniscience to His creation. To give new depths of perception and discernment. To provide an accurate lens through which to process an oppressive situation. Clear the way, he says, by helping me to discern the lies spoken not only by the enemy, but by myself — “barricade the road that goes Nowhere” (MSG).

And so, the songwriter concludes, “Enlarge my heart.” Minister to my soul, by setting free my heart. Prepare it to be taught. Make broad the way for it to receive Your instruction.

And that brings me to the one unfailing constant to which a twice failing soul makes a seven-fold ask. The word of God. The book before me.

. . . give me life according to Your word!
. . . teach me Your statutes!
Make me understand the way of Your precepts . . .
. . . strengthen me according to Your word!
. . . graciously teach me Your law!
I will run in the way of Your commandments when You enlarge my heart!

The Bible is a balm. The Scriptures the salve that can raise the soul from the dust. God’s word the difference between being perpetually haggard and promise-based hopeful.

I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set Your rules before me.
I cling to Your testimonies, O LORD; let me not be put to shame!

(Psalm 119:30-31 ESV)

His word, His statutes, His precepts. His law, His commandments, His rules and testimonies. The one unfailing constant. And therein is found the answer for those who seek the LORD with dust covered souls.

Ours is to open the word, read the word, and meditate on the word. His is to illuminate the word and to apply the word.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Trophies of Grace

Chewing on Ephesians 2:1-10 this morning.

But God, being rich in mercy . . .

Therein lies the force behind the great reversal we call salvation. The reversal from being “dead in trespasses and sins” in which we once walked according to this world, to being “made alive together with Christ” and “seated with Him in the heavenly places.” From being “by nature children of wrath,” to being God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” From living “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind,” to walking in “good works, which God prepared beforehand.” From boasting in our works, to depending only on His grace. All because of a God who is rich in mercy.

And at the heart of this passage is the great why of the great reversal. The answer to “how come?”

. . . so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

(Ephesians 2:7 ESV)

It’s all about His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. The riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. But wait there’s more . . . It’s about the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

And what about it? The God of eternity wants to show it. He wants to point it out. He wants to manifest it and put it on display.

And that, for the coming ages. On display for as long as there’s an earth. Pointing it out, I think, beyond earth and for as long as there’s an endless age after these ages.

And if the display is going to run for eternity, then who’s the audience? I’m thinking it’s those “in heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10).

We are on display. Noodle on that for a bit.

Trophies of grace. Eternal trophies of grace! That’s what we are. Saved for our good, to be sure. But saved more so to show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Worthy to be on display? Nope. But that’s the point. Nothing we merit. Nothing we can boast of. On display solely because of the finished work of the cross. Gazed upon in wonder by “powers and authorities in heavenly places” only because we are cloaked in a gifted robe of Christ’s own righteousness. Forever on display because our God saves “to the uttermost” (Heb. 7:25).

Trophies displaying the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Yup, that’s what we are.

Sinners saved by God’s grace alone. Sinners saved for God’s glory alone.

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Don’t Give Up

The passage I’m hovering over this morning is well known and well understood. It contains a familiar law of the harvest — “whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:7b). True when it comes to gardening in the spring, true as well when it comes to growing in our salvation. If we sow to the flesh, from the flesh we’ll reap corruption. But if we sow to the Spirit, from the Spirit we’ll reap eternal life (Gal. 6:8). Pretty simple, really. Not too hard to grasp. A good principle to be aware of.

But this morning I’m chewing on the other law of the harvest in this passage, the one in the shadow, perhaps the lesser remembered one.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

(Galatians 6:9 ESV)

Weary. If I had a dollar for every time I have used that word, or heard someone else use that word over the past few months, it would sure help with paying to fuel up my vehicle. At least in my circles, many of us emerging from the last couple of years are feeling weary.

Faint. Exhausted. Utterly spiritless, says my Greek lexicon. True of those shepherding the flock — a recent Barna survey indicates a sharp rise in pastor’s who have given serious consideration to quitting full-time ministry (42%) — true of those in the flock who just wanna be faithful.

But this law of the harvest says, don’t give up. For in due season we will reap. That, my friends, is a promise to claim!

We will reap. We will reap eternal life. This season will give way to a due season, and then we’ll have no doubt that it’s been worth it all.

It’s not a promise that things will get easier or less confusing. Not a promise that we’re through the worst. But a promise that, regardless of what the next season brings, the best season is yet to come. So don’t give up.

As with any of God’s promises, “the righteous shall live by faith” (Gal. 3:11). We believe the promise and so we combat the weariness. But not alone. Our weariness compels us to RSVP, “Yes,” to the Savior’s invitation to “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. To take His yoke, to learn from the One who tells us He is “gentle and lowly in heart.” To find that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light (Matt. 11:28). And in doing so, we’ll find we really can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Php. 4:13), His power made perfect in our weariness (2Cor. 12:9). Aware of, and motivated by this law of the harvest, in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

So, we’ll keep on keepin’ on.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Another Day on the Battlefield

It’s a battle. Dare I even say, a daily battle. Sometimes a low-level skirmish in the background, sometimes an all-out assault front and center. I know this not just theoretically, but in reality. ‘Cause I am the battlefield.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

(Galatians 5:16-17 ESV)

Paul has just twice reminded these Galatians it was “for freedom” that Christ had called them and set them free (5:1, 13). And yet that freedom isn’t a gimme. “Stand firm therefore,” says Paul, “and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” It’s gonna be a battle.

Why the Father didn’t remove entirely the old nature — with both its legalistic (5:2) and licentious (5:13) cravings — upon conversion, I don’t know. But if Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” is any clue, it was to keep us dependent on the Lord and His all-sufficient grace, and to experience His divine presence and power made perfect in our weakness (2Cor. 12:7-9). The power of God sourced in the Spirit of God which the Son of God sent to dwell in us. The Spirit who is opposed to the flesh, just as the ways of our old nature are opposed to Him.

It’s a two-way battle. When the Spirit prevails, it keeps us from doing the things we want to do which are marked by fleshly desire, fleshly effort, and fleshly satisfaction. But when the old nature gets the upper hand, it prevents us from doing the good things we want to do — walking in freedom, imitating Christ, investing in the kingdom, wanting only to please the Savior for the glory of God. And so, we battle. Every day. Did I mention, we’re the battleground?

Paul says, “walk by the Spirit” (5:16), be “led by the Spirit” (5:18), “keep in step with the Spirit” (5:25) and you will bear “the fruit of the Spirit” (5:22-23). That’s how we do our part in waging war against the old nature.

We recognize the reality of the battle. We engage with holy determination in the battle. We look to the Spirit within us to win the battle.

And it seems to me, the Spirit is not only active in our victories, but also in our defeats. He convicts of sin. Prompts us towards confession and repentance. Reminds us of the work of the cross, and the power of the blood, to “to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn. 1:9). And leads us again into battle against the flesh.

And so, we rise another day to walk by the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, even as we seek to keep in step with the Spirit. Another day on the battlefield.

By His grace. For His glory.

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A Child of Promise

Stop it! That’s essentially what Paul is saying to the Galatians, “Stop it!” Stop turning to a “different gospel” (1:6). Stop trying to be justified by works (2:16). Stop trying to perfect in the flesh through works what was begun by receiving the Spirit through faith (3:2-3). Stop turning back to “the weak and worthless elementary principles [of righteousness] of the world” (4:3). Just stop it!

But actualizing what to do would only happen through personalizing who they were. And so, Paul tells them a story. A real-life store concerning their past which, according to the Spirit who moved Paul to write, should be allegorized to impact their present.

The story of Abraham who had two sons, “one by a slave woman and one by a free woman.” The son of the slave, Ishmael, was born according to the flesh — conceived by human wisdom and delivered in human ways (Gen. 16:1-2). But the other son, Isaac, was “born through promise” (Gal. 4:23). The promise of God, according to the wisdom and ways of God, made to a man and woman who were too old to bear children apart from God (Gen. 17:17-19).

And this morning, I’m hovering over the point of the story which, if internalized, might compel these grace nullifying (Gal. 2:21) Galatians to “stop it.”

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.

(Galatians 4:28 ESV)

Children of promise. Children not of a slave woman but of a free woman (4:31). Children born “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:13). Children “born according to the Spirit” (Gal. 4:29). That’s who they were. And that’s why they should stop it!

And that’s who I am. A child of promise.

No longer a slave to my best efforts, but emancipated through the Savior’s finished work. Unencumbered by trying to earn God’s favor, but released to walk in God’s freedom. The law no longer my task master, but obedience now the fruit of my unmerited sonship.

Knowing who I am, key to being who I’m called to be.

A child of promise. Resting in the promise. Responding to the promise. Realizing the promise. Soon to reap the full inheritance of the promise (Gal. 4:30b).

Only by the grace of God. Only for the glory of God.

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The A,B,C’s and Slavery

Continuing to work my way through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. He’s frustrated with his children in the faith (4:19). Having been saved by grace they are being persuaded to now rely on their good works. Having known redemption from the bondage of the weakness of their flesh, they are being convinced that external religion is the way to freedom. Instead says Paul, by going back to their religious A,B,C’s they ran the risk of being trapped again in slavery.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?

(Galatians 4:8-9 ESV)

The weak and worthless elementary principles of the world. That’s what I’m chewing on.

For the Jew in the congregation, the world was the world of the Mosaic law. The elementary principles were practices distinguishing them from the rest of the nations. Yet practices which, though they set them apart as holy, could never produce holiness in them. Practices which, while looking like righteous living, could never justify them through their own righteousness. Practices which, even with their best efforts, showed only that they needed more than practices to walk in freedom. They needed the good news of a Savior come through whom, and in whom, they could be justified by faith.

For the Gentile, their A,B,C’s of spirituality had always been about what they could do to appease their gods and so, they were happy to tack on legalistic lessons from those who preached a gospel of Jesus+. Jesus + circumcision. Jesus + adherence to dietary laws. Jesus + observance of various “days and months and seasons and years” (4:10).

Paul makes clear that resting on the A,B,C’s of religion is no way to grow in your redemption. To settle for pious practices is to settle for a phony freedom.

Instead, freedom is found in the pursuit of growing into our adoption (4:4-7). No longer is it about doing the basics right in order to feel righteous. Instead, it’s about growing in righteousness because we have been made right with God. Adopted as children of God. Deemed coheirs with Christ. Indwelt by the Spirit of Christ so that we could know the practical reality of “Christ formed in you” (4:19).

To settle for the basics, the bare minimum, the A,B,C’s of pious, go-through-the-motions practices is to settle for nothing. Worse yet, it is to surrender to a form of bondage that also blinds us. Thinking we are growing in Christ we are actually atrophying. And that to the point where we are back to where we began. Slaves once more.

Oh, beware the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world.

We have been saved to be saved. Set apart to be sanctified. Deemed holy to be holy. Credited with righteousness to grow in righteousness. Begun by the Spirit, to be completed by the Spirit. Received by faith, finished by faith. And that, a faith which pursues the things of God in the power of God according to the will of God.

All by the grace of God.

All for the glory of God.

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A Pop Quiz

Took the pop quiz in Galatians 3 this morning. Here are my answers:

  1. By hearing with faith
  2. No
  3. No
  4. No
  5. By hearing with faith

Here are the questions:

Let me ask you only this:
(1) Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
(2) Are you so foolish?
(3) Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
(4) Did you suffer so many things in vain —  if indeed it was in vain?
(5) Does He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith — just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

(Galatians 3:2-6 ESV)

Okay, I know that Paul meant these as rhetorical questions and wasn’t looking for explicit answers. But this morning, as I’m hovering over this passage, I whisper out loud the answer to each of them. And I’m pretty sure I got them all right.

But the prize isn’t getting 100% on the quiz. Instead, it’s realized in being reminded that not only are those who are justified and declared righteous saved by faith, but that the righteous shall also live by faith (Gal. 3:11).

Full disclosure — I may have aced the test in theory, but my work in the lab classes of life so often results in a less than perfect score. Too often I look to the flesh for what only the Spirit can do. Too often I find my identity tied to how much I can muster up living like a son of God rather than resting in the truth that, because of Christ’s finished work on the cross and Christ’s on-going work inside of me, my “authentic self” is already a done deal. I am a child of God before I ever tried to live like one. I have already been given the Spirit of adoption and that’s why I want to cry, “Abba Father” (Rom. 8:15). And that, see question 1, by faith.

. . . for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

(Galatians 3:26 ESV)

One more question. Two more answers.

Why me?

By God’s grace alone. For God’s glory alone.

Aced it, again!

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Not sure that what I’m starting will end up being cohesive as there’s a number of thoughts running around in my head as a I chew on the aftermath of David’s sin with Bathsheba in 2Samuel 12.

First, Solomon had an older brother. An innocent baby conceived out of lust, by an abuse of power, followed by a treacherous, murderous cover up. A baby who had been allotted but seven days of life on earth as a consequence of David’s sin. Though literally “brought forth in iniquity” and conceived in sin (Ps. 51:5), while born a sinner by nature as are we all, too young to have done anything himself which deserved the consequence of sin. A reminder that the effects of sin are often felt beyond just the sinner. That in the wake of sin there is often untold damage and destruction.

And yet even in the darkness of sin’s collateral damage, a transcendent reminder of hope.

“While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” ~ David

(2Samuel 12:22-23 ESV)

I shall go to him. David aware that while his son preceded him in death, he would follow. Follow to the grave where his body was. Yet follow also to heaven and eternal happiness, where his son’s soul was. For to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2Cor. 5:8).

But why should a despicable sinner like David have such hope? How could it be right? How could it be just? While the consequence and death destruction were painfully present, so was the promise that David’s sin had been permanently dealt with.

David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.

(2Samuel 12:13 ESV)

The all-knowing, holy, holy, holy God of all mankind didn’t overlook the sin. He didn’t ignore the sin or brush the sin under the carpet. He didn’t arbitrarily decide it wasn’t that big a sin. But neither did God, who in Himself is steadfast love, deem it too big a sin. And that because He had determined to put away the sin.

Literally, He passed over the sin. Just as the angel of death passed over the Israelites on that fateful night when they covered their homes with the blood of an innocent and pure sacrifice, so too God passed over David’s sin as He looked beyond David’s time and place to a time and place yet to come. A time when His Son would come to earth as the once for all eternal sacrifice for sin. A place on a hill outside of Jerusalem where a Roman cross would become heaven’s altar to receive the payment for the debt of David’s sin. And so, a righteous God could declare David justified. Justified by grace as a gift “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” The Father in His “divine forbearance” having “passed over former sins” because of the atoning blood of the Son (Rom. 3:24-25).

One other thing that grabs me. Their’s could have been a forever cursed union. In my world of justice, I can imagine a divine decree that any additional children conceived by David and Bathsheba would continue to suffer the consequences of their illicit union. If not the consequence of death, then at the very least, the consequences of just being inconsequential. But where sin did abound, grace did more abound (Rom. 5:20).

Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the LORD loved him and sent a message by Nathan the prophet. So he called his name Jedidiah, because of the LORD.

(2Samuel 12:234-25 ESV)

Jedidiah. Literally, Beloved of the Lord. Same sinning father. Same victimized mother. Yet the second son was by God’s sovereign determination a favored son. A son like no other son. A son who would flourish (though, in his latter days, he would fade).

Brothers. Both caught up in the wake of sin. Both today in the presence of God. Both loved by God.

Because of God’s grace. For God’s glory.

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