Seeing Ain’t Necessarily Believing

How could they? How could they have walked out of Egypt after witnessing the mighty arm of God throughout his ten round showdown with Pharaoh, and yet complained so rebelliously about being delivered in order to die in the desert? How could they have walked through the Red Sea, gazed up at the walls of water about them as they were held back by the very hand of God with them, yet doubted that God could provide water during their journey to sustain them? How could they have gathered bread provided freely and faithfully from heaven, day after day after day, yet doubted that the God of heaven was prepared and able to give them the land He had promised?

And how could they, when after possessing the land–the physical, tangible, surrounding evidence of God’s power to provide what God has promised–how could they then turn away from God, forsaking Him in order to serve and worship the non-gods of the nations who had been dispossessed? How could they?

That’s the question that echoes again and again as you read through Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. How could they?

Why weren’t they ready, willing, and able to do what God had asked? What prevented them from following His commandments? What kept them from obeying His word? After all they had experienced, after all they had witnessed, why didn’t it take? Well, based on something that caught my eye as I read this morning, apparently seeing ain’t necessarily believing.

And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.”

(Deuteronomy 29:2-4 ESV)

So, when it comes to encountering God it’s possible to see but not see. To hear yet not hear. To take in all the facts and data and evidence and still have no understanding. I know that. Been there.

So, apart from God’s intervention, there can be no fruit from our perception. The secret sauce for knowing God, and fearing God, and obeying God is something only God can do.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

(Ezekiel 36:25-27 ESV)

Unless God gives us eyes to see, we can see but not see. Unless He gives us ears to hear, we can hear but won’t hear. Unless He gives us a heart to understand, we can do all the math we want and still come up with the wrong answer.

And so I sit hear this morning, with whatever understanding I have, reflecting on whatever I have seen through the eyes of faith and whatever I have heard through the word of God, and I’m grateful.

Reminded that it’s not about me. Not about how bright I may or may not be. Not about whether I’m prone to be a student or not. Not even about how faithful I think I might have tried to be. Instead, it’s only because God, in His abundant goodness and through His Holy Spirit, has given this sinner saved by grace eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to, in some measure, understand.

And seeing that is believing. And believing that is to worship.

By His grace. For His glory.

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First Mention of The Saints

Reading in Matthew this morning and the account of Jesus’ death. And what particularly captured my attention were the events recorded immediately after “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit” (27:50).

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

(Matthew 27:51-53 ESV)

And as I hovered over these verses the term “the saints” caught my eye. My first thought was that it seemed out of place. If you had asked me yesterday where I thought the term “the saints” was first used in the New Testament, I would have said probably in the book of Acts. After the church was born and the gospel was being proclaimed and many were being added to the church. Apparently not. However, of the 61 times “saints” appears in the ESV New Testament, only once does it show up before Acts. This is the only time “saints” is referred to in any of the gospels. And that led to my second thought, “How come?”

I’ve mentioned before in other posts that as a young believer “the law of first mention” was put on my radar. That the first use of a word, or phrase, or concept in Scripture is significant. So I’m asking myself, “Self, what’s the significance of the saints being first mentioned here?”

Here. After Jesus has just endured the wrath of God for sin. After He has yielded His spirit up. After the hand of God reaches down from heaven and tears the thick curtain of the temple in two from top to bottom. After the earth shakes and the rocks split and tombs are opened. And here, when after three days and Jesus rises from the dead, “many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” coming out of their tombs and appearing to many in the holy city.

I take it that these people were recognized by those they appeared to in the city, thus able to attest to the miracle of the dead coming back to life. And so I’m thinking that they were those who came to faith in Jesus during his earthly ministry. The first to receive the good news of the kingdom. And the first to believe that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:16). The first to be given the eyes of faith which recognized Him as Immanuel, God with us (Mt. 1:23), the Word become flesh (Jn. 1:14). The first to trust Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29). The first to have died with hope in Him as Savior. And thus, the first to have followed Him in bodily rising from the dead.

So I’m thinking “saints” is first used in the context of the final outcome. Emphasizing that those who put their faith in Jesus will also, like Jesus, defeat death. That those who follow Jesus spiritually here on earth will follow Him physically beyond earth “that where I am you may be also” (Jn. 14:3). That the hope of eternal life will be found in the eventual reality of a resurrected body. And that those set apart by Him and for Him will, by their resurrection, be witnesses to all creation, declaring through their risen lives, “Truly this was the Son of God” (Mt. 27:54).

O saint rejoice! For as a people we are first mentioned in the context of eternal victory. As those set apart we are linked with all that will testify to the promises and power of God. As those declared holy through the finished work of the cross, we will rise to forever worship Him behind the curtain, in the holy of holies, as we declare with all creation, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isa. 6:3).

By His grace. For His glory.

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Our Daily Burden Bearer

Overall, it would seem to be a song of victory. Enemies are scattered. Prisoners are led out to prosperity. The inheritance which once languished is restored. The spoil is divided. And the one who led in victory is ascended on high, “leading a host of captives” in his train and “receiving gifts among men.”

But it is the One who brings victory to the victor who is to be praised. The God who “rides through the deserts.” The God who goes out before His people. The Lord who is among His people with His chariots which are “twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands.” The One who rides in the heavens, whose power is in the skies, and yet is awesome from His sanctuary on earth. “The One who gives power and strength to His people.”

He is the One surrounded by a music-making, song-singing procession. A great congregation, those who are of Israel’s fountain. Those who join in the chorus led by the songwriter singing, “Blessed be God!”

But what grabs me this morning is one verse in this grand song that reminds me that victory only comes out of battles. Enemies encountered. Less than ideal circumstances experienced. Hardships endured. And rarely is the fight won in the first round. Deliverance often coming after extended periods of drought. The promised prize not realized before prolonged pressure.

And I’m reminded that the God who is the God of ultimate victory is also the God who helps us get through the daily battle.

Blessed be the Lord,
  who daily bears us up;
  God is our salvation.    Selah

(Psalm 68:19 ESV)

We’re perhaps more likely to bless the Lord–literally, to bow the knee in adoration–when we perceive the war is won. More likely to praise His name when we think we’ve passed through the storm. Find it more natural to exult Him for His promises when we feel like we’re holding the prize in our hands.

But the songwriter says bless the Lord who daily bears us up. Who day after day carries us along (MSG). Who daily bears our burdens (NIV).

That’s where the fight is fought, day after day. Where the struggle is real, waking in the morning with the same concerns that kept you from falling asleep the night before. Where the suffering seems relentless, the pain of today all too familiar as it feels a lot like the pain of yesterday. Where the weight seems beyond carrying again, the burden before you no less heavy than the one behind you. That’s the battle, day by day.

But in that battle the God who is God of our salvation is in our midst, and that too, day by day. The God who one day will lead us in victorious procession into His glorious throne room, is today present to carry us along, to help shoulder our burdens, to bear us up. The power that raised Christ from the dead, the same power present to sustain us in our dread. His mercies new every morning. His promises just as sure every day. The same yesterday, today, and forever.

And that, my friend, is reason enough to bless the Lord!

All praise be to our Daily Burden Bearer!

By His grace. For His glory.

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Destroy Jesus

There was no legal basis for their accusations. Nor any moral imperative that merited their rage and indignation. And, if the Roman governor had been versed in such things, he would have found that even their theological charges against Him were ridiculous. More than that, if Pilate had known the Hebrew Scriptures, he may very well have concluded that the Man from Nazareth was telling the truth. That the events of the past three years, as it concerned Jesus, were in fact pointing to Him as the prophesied King of the Jews. No, it was less about justice and law–Roman or otherwise–that incited the religious leaders to stir up the crowd against Jesus. Pilate knew that “it was out of envy” that they had delivered Jesus up to him (Matt. 27:18).

Familiar story. Oh, but that it would never become too familiar.

I know how it turns out. Jesus wins! But may I never cease to wonder that Jesus willingly subjected Himself to such shame. Never lose the awe that He disregarded the humiliation and willingly endured the cross and all that led up to it. Never stop being amazed at the love of the Creator that He would so suffer for the sake of His creation.

And this morning it’s two words, highlighted I think by the Spirit, that cause me to pause and consider afresh the insanity that led to my Lord’s crucifixion.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” . . . Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.

(Matthew 27:15-17, 20 ESV)

Destroy Jesus. Two words that have no place being placed side-by-side. A verb and a noun which should never be associated together. And yet, that’s what the religious leaders incited within the crowd–a determination to destroy Jesus.

Blinded by envy, they failed to recognize the King of eternity. Driven by their own self-preservation, they disregarded Christ’s self-proclamation. Having given themselves over to “all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1John 2:16), they refused to hear all that was spoken by the living Word–the delight of the Father, testified to by the Sprit, come to give life and life to the full.

Destroy Jesus. It is still the cry of the spirit of our age, the spirit of antichrist. The demand of those who refuse to acknowledge the Creator. Those who will have no king over themselves but themselves. Those so blinded by self, sin, and Satan that absurdly they demand the death of the Author of Life (Acts 3:15). Those, however, for whom Jesus died. Those for whom Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

But death has no power over the Author of Life. Far from death destroying Jesus, Jesus through death destroyed “the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,” and delivered “all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14). And that, through “the power of an indestructible life” (Heb. 7:16). The empty tomb bearing witness that there is no destroying Jesus.

“Fear not, I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”

(Revelation 1:17-18 ESV)

He is the Living One.

The death He died not because of some mob’s insanity, but because God so loved the world that He sent His Son. Not destroyed by men, but delivered up by God. Not to satisfy their sinful jealousy, but to atone for it. And then, raised in power on the third day that all who have died with Him might also live with Him (2Tim. 2:11).

O what a Savior!

Such amazing grace! To Him be all the glory!

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Such A Heart As This

Before they went forward, they needed to look back. Before they were to proceed, God told Moses they needed to be prepared.

Entering the land of promise would come with challenges. Foreign people would come with foreign gods. Pagan people would showcase pagan practices. And these gods would be intriguing, these practices enticing. The allure to follow other gods, to bow down before carved images, and to worship the creation rather than the Creator would be real and strong. So they would need to keep their souls diligently (Deut. 4:9).

A land of plenty would come with plenty of temptations. First, the temptation to forget where they had come from. The relative ease of working their own land in their own country for their own welfare would have a way of causing them to forget that they were once slaves in another land serving a cruel ruler.

And then, temptation to think more of themselves than they should. To forget that the cities and fields they possessed were not of their own building but were a gift that came with the promise. And this would lead to forgetting the Giver, and to increasingly behaving as a self-made people who could live self-directed lives. Thus, they would need to watch themselves very carefully (4:15).

And so, before entering the land God promised, they first needed to rehearse the word God had spoken. Before experiencing the milk and honey of Canaan, they needed to be reminded of God’s glory and greatness experienced at Sinai. Before they were ready for their new homeland they needed to have the right heart.

“And the LORD said to me, ‘ . . . Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear Me and to keep all My commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!'”

(Deuteronomy 5:28-29 ESV)

That’s the heart that sets up for success in the promised land. A heart that fears God and keeps His commandments. That’s the posture which rightly prepares for the promise. A humility of soul before the Almighty which causes it to thirst for His precepts. That’s the attitude ready to appropriate life to the full. Always looking beyond the gift and seeing the Giver. Ever thankful to possess what could never be purchased. Always wanting to respond to such great grace with submissive obedience.

Such a heart as this. Oh, says the LORD, that’s the heart I want my people to have.

Me too. A heart that fears His name and keeps His commandments. A heart constantly refreshed with the awe of who God is and thus a desire to do what God wills. A heart that I could never manufacture on my own, but a heart that He has provided in preparation for entering the promise. A new heart.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules.

(Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV)

God has provided such a heart as this.

Still learning to follow it. Still figuring out how to do battle with the old man and the flesh which constantly rises up in opposition to it. But, by the Spirit within me, increasingly learning what it is to fear the LORD with healthy, life-giving awe and wonder. And, by His enabling, figuring out how to walk in the way He wants. Longing for, dependent upon, such a heart as this.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Maintaining Our Equilibrium

His enemies pounded on him like a relentless battering ram. The songwriter felt like a leaning wall. With unceasing determination, their only goal was to “thrust him down from his high position”–and so, they hammered at him, again and again. And, with each blow, he felt like a tottering fence. Such is the picture painted of the songwriter’s situation in Psalm 62.

There are some common analogies we use to describe times of trouble. We’ll talk of being tossed about in stormy seas. Or we’ll describe difficult times in terms of going through the fire with the heat increasingly turned up. But I don’t know that I’ve heard of trials or suffering likened to being a “leaning wall” or a “tottering fence” (62:3). But how accurate a description is that?

Times when you’re knocked back on your heals. Not enough to be taken off your feet, but certainly more than enough to cause you to feel like you’ve lost your balance. Situations pounding you, over and over, with just enough force to cause you to stagger and then reel, feeling like you’re on the verge of losing control and about to fall flat on your face. Still upright, but the weight of the burden you’re carrying is what seems to be chaotically propelling you and you’re not quite sure what direction you’re headed in. Times when you’ve lost your equilibrium.

And the remedy for lost equilibrium? The songwriter finds it in a silent soul.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.    Selah

(Psalm 62:5-8 ESV)

The songwriter would maintain his equilibrium by calling out to the only One who could set his teetering world upright. The only One who could source hope in the midst of despair. The only One big enough, present enough, and powerful enough to provide solid ground in any shaky situation.

Maintaining equilibrium is possible when we still our souls and focus on God alone. Perhaps easier said than done, but true nonetheless.

Waiting quietly before Him. Meditating on Him. Praying to Him. Trusting in Him. It all serves to calm the ground shaking beneath us. To protect from the battering rams of circumstance that are pounding relentlessly against us. To stabilize our heart, mind, and soul as we try to deal with the seemingly unceasing uncertainty ever before us.

God is our refuge. He is our mighty rock. He is our unfailing fortress.

And He is our salvation. Not just salvation from our past sin, but salvation in our present situation.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him.

Trust in Him at all times, O people.

By His grace. For His glory.

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A Gimme Prayer

How often have we prayed a pray pleading with God but not presuming on God? Shared the desires of our heart but know that we cannot make demands of our God? Or, how many times have we sought direction when we don’t really know which path to take? Asked for a door to be open because we’re not sure which way to go?

A lot of our prayers we pray not knowing how God will answer either because we don’t know what we want or what He wants. We pray holding loosely any particular desired outcome because we don’t want to usurp our determination above His. Thus, we pray as Jesus did to the Father, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done” (Lu. 22:42).

Bottom line? There’s a lot of stuff we pray about and we don’t really know what the Father’s will is.

But what if we prayed for something that we know to be the Father’s will? What if asked for an outcome we’ve been told the Father has promised to provide? With the crazy way I think, wouldn’t that be a “gimme prayer.”

Gimme, not as in, “Give me!” because I’m demanding something. But gimme, as in a gimme shot in golf. A short putt that no one requires you to actually take because it’s a sure thing. Gimme as in “it’s a done deal.” And so, a gimme prayer is a pray that we know the outcome before we pray it. We’re certain as to God’s will before we ask it.

And as I hover over a couple of verses this morning in Psalm 61 this morning, I’m thinking the songwriter might be praying a gimme prayer and I’m moved to pray it too.

Prolong the life of the King; may His years endure to all generations! May He be enthroned forever before God; appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over Him!

(Psalm 61:6-7 ESV)

Strictly speaking, Psalm 61 is song by David about David. A cry to God in a time of trouble. A call for help when his heart is faint and he has reached the end of his rope. “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I,” sings the royal songwriter, knowing that God is that rock, a well tested refuge in the past and a sure hope against the enemy for the future (vv. 2-3). The ask is for a safe place to dwell. For shelter under the wings of the place where God’s glory dwells (v. 4).

But in verse six, David switches from first person to third person. From praying about “me” to petitioning on behalf of “the king.” And I can’t help, as David makes the switch, to think that it might not also have reference to “the King.” The promised King through the line of David. The eternal King who will reign forever and ever. The glorious King who sits enthroned in the heavens and will one day return to earth. The King spoken of by Jesus in my reading this morning in Matthew 25.

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. . . . Then the King will say . . . ”

(Matthew 25:31, 34a ESV)

And so if David’s prayer, directed by the Spirit of God, is for King Jesus, God’s Anointed, isn’t it a gimme prayer?

The King’s life will be a prolonged life, for He is the Author of life (Acts 3:15)–resurrected life that endures to all generations, generations past and generations to come.

What’s more, He will be enthroned forever for He is the King of kings (Rev. 17:14). And His throne will be a throne before God. The Lamb in the midst (Rev. 5:6). The Son at the Father’s right hand (Heb. 12:2). Father and Son, along with the Spirit, of one being, bearing the same glory.

And His reign has been and will always be marked by steadfast love and faithfulness. The love with which the Father has loved Him since eternity past having been infused in those of His kingdom as He reigns over them and in them (Jn. 17:26).

No need for “nevertheless not my will but Yours be done” when praying this prayer of David. For we know it is God’s will and His will WILL BE done. It’s a gimme prayer.

Even so, Lord Jesus, reign.

Even so, Lord Jesus, come.

In Your grace. For Your glory.

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