Sunday, February 24, 2013
“The Severity of Sin”
February 24, 2013 Second Reformed Church
“To err is human.”
“It’s ok to tell little white lies.”
As we think about sin, it would seem that most of us would admit to having done it – or at least to have known someone who has done it, but I’m sure that we would say that the sins that we – and our friends – have committed are not severe – they are not big. Few of us have physically murdered anyone – that does seem to be one of the most severe sins in modern Christianity, does it not? We are not like “those” people; we don’t commit big sins – severe sins, do we?
James begins his letter by encouraging the persecuted Christians to be strong, to endure, to be joy-filled if their suffering is on account of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a theme we find throughout the New Testament – that Christians will suffer for their faith, and if they suffer for the faith, they should be joy-filled, because it confirms their faith and shows that they are one with Christ in suffering for the truth of the Gospel – those historical facts about Jesus by which a believer is saved from the Wrath of God and eternal torment.
James continues: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”
James talks about trials of various kinds in verse two and so we should understand it here. The trials the Christian is to remain steadfast under are both trials where there are specific attacks on us for the sake of the Gospel and trials where we are being tempted to sin. Trials include people and institutions which come against the Gospel faith – denying that Jesus existed, denying that Jesus physically rose from the dead, and so forth – we are to stand strong against them, being able to offer a reason for our faith, as Peter writes: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV). Trials also include being tempted to do those things which we are most inclined to do which are sin and to not to those things which we are most inclined not to do which God has commanded. Thus, we are blessed as we give reasons for our faith and follow God’s commands and do not follow the temptations to sin that arise.
What then is “the crown of life” that is received by those who are steadfast under trial?
Look at how the sentence ends, “which God has promised to those who love Him.” Who loves God? Only those God has elected to salvation. God has promised the crown of life to all those God has elected to salvation. So, we may conclude that the crown of life has to do with eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
Some of those Christians to whom James was writing – enough that he knew what they were concluding – had come to the conclusion that if they were blessed by being steadfast under trial, it must be God Who sends the trials – God must be tempting them to sin. They had concluded that God was putting temptations before them that they might be blessed through standing fast – giving reasons for the Gospel and denying sin. James tells them this is faulty logic.
“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”
Since God is good – and, in fact, holy, holy, holy – God cannot be tempted to deny the Gospel or to sin in any way, and God cannot in any way tempt someone to sin – even if the outcome is more blessedness for the Christians who remains steadfast. God cannot do this – for it would mean God’s participation in sin. If these trials came from God, God would be contradicting His Nature – which God cannot do.
Then where does temptation come from?
“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”
Our temptation to sin comes from within us. We have desires within us that lure us and entice us to sin. We all have areas of weakness and temptations that come from within us that tell us, “It’s ok. A little bit won’t hurt. We have the strength to go so far and no further. If so-and-so does it, it can’t be that bad.”
What do we read about David, “the man after God’s own heart,”? “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
“It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king's house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, ‘Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’ So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, ‘I am pregnant’” (2 Samuel 11:1-5, ESV).
David sinned and the temptation to sin came from within him.
David should have been out in battle, but he sinned and stayed home.
David saw a woman bathing, and rather than turn away, he sinned and kept watching and lusting after her.
David found out she was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and rather than stop pursuing her, he committed adultery with her.
David also found out that she was bathing because it was her time of the month and she was purifying herself, but rather than stay away from her as God commands, he sinned and committed adultery with her.
Jeremiah tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV).
Our hearts are inclined towards evil – towards giving in to temptation – towards giving in to lust. Why?
When God created humans in the Garden of Eden, humans had the ability not to sin, but Satan came and stoked the fires of desire – of lust, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.
“He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?’ [No, God said they were not to eat of the one tree – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.] And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”’ [No, God never said they couldn’t touch it.] But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ [That’s true, but the devil didn’t tell them the down side of their sin.] So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
“And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’” (Genesis 3:1-13, ESV).
After the sin in the Garden, God cursed Adam and Eve and their descendants, and all of Creation. David explains it like this; “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5, ESV). And Paul writes, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness” (Romans 6:20, ESV). Every merely human child born is now born unable not to sin – this is what is called “Original Sin” – the nature of every merely human born is inclined towards sin. And so, we all have desires to sin. We all have desires to follow after lusts. And they are not just there, but they are enticing and luring.
When we seem to be walking in all holiness, the desire to lust after something will pop up. When we are strong, when we are weak, when we have been at peace, when we have given in and feel despondent, at any and every time, our desires will tell us now is the right time, and it’s no big deal. After all, you don’t sin like “they” do, right?
But here’s the problem we have already seen with David and Adam and Eve: “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin,” – when we do not fight against our desires to sin – when we do not fight against the lusts we have against God – when we think giving in won’t be so bad, we fall into sin – the sin that was conceived in us through our desires and lusts against God, it is birthed in an act of sin.
“Well, there’s nothing we can do. You already said it’s the way we’re born. If we’re born that way, we can’t stop it – we can’t avoid giving in, we have to sin. Right?”
We have to distinguish between Christians and non-Christians:
For the non-Christian, we hear these words from Paul, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—“ (Romans 5:12, ESV).
Adam was our representative and chose to sin, so now all merely human people are born with Original Sin – with a nature inclined towards sin. So, it is not possible, before God, for the non-Christian not to sin. Everything the non-Christian does, in God’s eyes, is sin.
However, the same cannot be said of Christians. As Paul tells the Corinthian Christians, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV).
Christians have the ability to choose to not sin – to choose not to give into our lusts and desires and the temptations that arise before us. In fact, God promises that we are never tempted beyond our ability to say “no” to the temptation, and God always provides a way of escape from temptation. So it is never necessary that a Christian sin. No Christian has to sin – ever.
Not only that, but God promises, “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27, ESV). The Holy Spirit, Who indwells every Christian, leads us in obedience and towards holiness in all things. Paul writes, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8, ESV). God gives Christians His Grace, so that we have everything sufficient not to follow temptation and sin, but to do the good works that God has set before us.
David could have gone into battle.
David could have turned away and not lusted after the woman.
David could have turned away and not committed adultery.
As Christians, we are lured and enticed to follow after our desires and lusts and commit sin, but we never have to sin. God has indwelled us and is leading us towards holiness and has made it possible for us to take the way of escape – to say “no” every time we are tempted. And still we sin every day.
“and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
And you may be thinking, “Well, I sin all the time, and I’m not dead – I’m even a Christian, which means I have new life.”
It’s true that God does not kill us the moment we sin – or none of us would be here – so God – and James – must mean something else. God has killed some people instantly when they sinned, but, thankfully, that is not His usual procedure, so this must mean something else.
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Genesis 2:15-17, ESV).
As we look at the creation of humans and God’s promise that they would die on the day that they disobeyed Him – and if we remember what happens in Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve are cursed, but they do not physically die, we understand that something else is going on.
What happened is that Adam and Eve went from having the ability to sin to not having the ability not to sin. Adam and Eve went from being sinless to being sinners – to being the representatives of humanity who would pass Original Sin down to every merely human person. They died spiritually “that day.”
Paul described it this way, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3, ESV).
There is eventually physical death for everyone, unless the Lord returns first. And there is eternal death for those who never believe savingly in Jesus. But, immediately, there is spiritual death.
“So, is James saying that those who sin lose their salvation?”
No, he is reminding the Christians he is writing to that temptation comes from within us and lures and entices us to give in to our desires which ends in sin which leads to death. As Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6:23, ESV). If we are tempted and we give in to our lusts and desires, we end up with sin, and then end result – the wages – of sin is death. If we sin, someone has to pay the debt for our sin – someone has to suffer God’s Wrath for our sin and eternal death for our sin.
Are you getting how serious this is? Is the severity of sin beginning to click with you?
“Well, I didn’t kill anyone like David did. I didn’t commit adultery like David did. I mean, maybe I’ve lusted, but not as badly as David did. And sure, everybody takes liberties at work, but I didn’t neglect my post as king like David did.”
We’re told David committed a lot of sins and, yet, when he repented, he said this, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:3-4, ESV).
Is David saying that he didn’t commit sins against any of the people involved in his adultery and murder? No, what he is saying is that, ultimately, all sin is against God, and since God is the Ultimate Being, sin deserves the ultimate punishment. That is why sin is severe.
Consider: all sin is against God because sin is breaking God’s Law or not doing what God has said. So David sinned against Israel, and Bathsheba, and Uriah, and his own body, but, ultimately, he sinned against God. Sinning against Israel, Bathsheba, Uriah, and himself were sins, but they wouldn’t be sins without God’s Law, so, ultimately, they are sins against God.
For example: let’s say you pocketed a cheap pen from work. The pen does not belong to you, so it is a sin, it is stealing. It is a minor offense in human eyes, because the pen is not worth much. However, the only reason we know it is stealing is because God gave us the law against stealing, so, in stealing the pen, you have sinned against God, which is a major offense, because there is no Being greater than God.
Consider your sin: consider the temptation that rises up out of you again and again – the desires and lusts that you find common to yourself. Understand that with one slip, you give in to temptation and sin, which is worthy of death and only forgivable through death.
Consider your sin: that, as Christians, God never gives us more than we can handle and always gives us a way out. We never have to sin. God the Holy Spirit is working in us and will keep us from sin, if we don’t give in to sin. Sin is that deceptive – that slippery – that easy to give in to.
Consider you sin: ultimately, every sin we commit is a sin against God, so the debt we owe and the punishment that must be endured to be right with God again is incomprehensible. The only Person able to endure it and survive is Jesus, the God-Man, and we are forgiven of every sin. Still, we are to work hard not to ever sin, because there is nothing compelling us to sin. We sin because we are lazy and prefer a moment’s thrill to Jesus’ enduring eternal hell on behalf of us for that sin.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, help us to understand that there are no small sins, but all sins are severe and bring forth Your Righteous Wrath against them. Help us to believe that we never have to sin and You have given us the grace and made the way that we can always turn down temptation and not slip into our lusts and desires which lead to sin. Help us to be examples of Your Holy Name. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Monday, February 18, 2013
“The Majesty of God”
February 17, 2013 Second Reformed Church
If the Lord is willing, for the next six weeks and Maundy Thursday, we will be considering the seven themes which the Puritans saw as the basic themes of Scripture to meditate on. You may remember that last Lent we looked at the five principles of church growth – the first of which was, if we want to grow as Christians and the church, the Word of God must be central to our life and worship. In our Tuesday evening class, we looked at the idea of Christian meditation.
As we considered Christian meditation, we saw that it is different from other Eastern forms of meditation. Other forms of Eastern meditation recommend that a person empty his or her mind to find truth or peace, whereas Christian mediation asks a person to consider a theme or text of Scripture – to investigate it as deeply as possible. As one studies God’s Word and finds the doctrine in it, one’s heart becomes enlivened, and one will seek to live differently based on the doctrine one has learned. As we look at these seven themes, hopefully, we will have our knowledge of them lead us through our hearts to living in a way that is more pleasing to God.
Today, we begin with the first theme, the majesty of God, and we look at the eighth Psalm:
“O LORD, our Lord,”
David begins by using two different words for “lord” – the first being that most personal name that God gave to Moses – YHWH – and the second, being the more common word for “lord.” “O YHWH, our Lord.”
And we notice that David is not just talking about YHWH, the Lord, but YHWH, “our” Lord. God, Who is personally involved with His people – the God Who chose to make a way for His people to be saved, He is our Lord – our prophet, our king, our master, our father, our husband, our governor, our prince. We are subject to this personal God as our Sovereign and in an intensely intimately way.
“how majestic is your name”
This God Who is our Sovereign and with Whom we have an intimate relationship as His people – His Name – His Being – everything that makes God Who He is – is majestic, lofty, excellent. He is the greatest of all in every circumstance and in all places and in every possible way. There is none greater than God, our God.
“in all the earth!”
And God – His Nature – is revealed to everything that is. There is nothing and no one that does not know that God is and that He is majestic. The majesty of our God is ubiquitous – it is everywhere and everywhere know and seen and experienced.
Is this your God? Do you know Him to be the King of Majesty? Have you experienced a relationship with this Sovereign and Excellent God? Does knowing that He is your God affect the way that you live? Have you considered if and how He affects the rest of Creation?
“You have set your glory above the heavens.”
God’s Glory is majestic. It cannot be contained on earth or in the Creation or in the heavens themselves, but God’s Majesty transcends all principalities and powers. Everything that exists is too small to contain the majesty of God, and so it is everywhere and it is beyond everywhere.
What else is there that is so great that it extends beyond all of Creation? Are we not humbled to think of how great this God – our God – must be – that His Glory is beyond everything that can be known by us?
“Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes,”
And, yet, the greatness of God – the majesty of God is seen in the smallest and weakest things in the Creation, even babies, that God would make Himself known in every possible way. Babies, who have not yet learned all of the proper things to say, may often open their mouths and speak out the majesty of God.
Jesus, speaking of the hell that was coming upon those who did not believe in Him and that fact that it is not possible to know God the Father except through faith alone in the Son, Jesus, said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;” (Matthew 11:25b, ESV).
“But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it’” (Luke 18:16-17, ESV).
Little children trust their Father. They believe what He tells them and come to Him in faith and speak His Word as Gospel. This is what Jesus is saying: the strength of the Christian is in childlike trust and faith – not in ignorance, but in knowing God – the Majestic God – as Father.
“to still the enemy and the avenger.”
God uses the weak and the small to defeat the powers and principalities that work against the Gospel. Paul wrote, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31, ESV).
The Lord, our Lord, has chosen many from the world that the world has labeled as unworthy, so that when the world looks at us, they see the majesty and the glory of God. If our weakness is not due to our sin, God may be using it to overthrow the powers of this world in His Name. If our only boast is in the Lord, let us boast all the more, until the walls of sin and death and the devil fall around us as they hear the Name of Jesus.
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,”
David confesses that the Creation does not exist by chance – it did not just happen into being, but God created it. And David looked with eyes of faith at the moon and the stars in the night sky. Have you ever looked at the night sky and wondered at the stars?
Do you know how many there are? I googled it, and I found out that scientists estimate that there are one hundred thousand million stars in the Milky Way Galaxy – one hundred thousand million stars in our galaxy alone. And I read on to find that they estimate that there are one hundred thousand million galaxies in the universe. So there are – in total – one hundred thousand million times one hundred thousand million stars – and God put each one in place.
David lifted up his eyes and was humbled to see something of the one hundred thousand million times one hundred thousand million stars above him. We don’t see as many with all of the lights around us – yet we can see many – do they humble you to think about how many there are? If you get a chance to go to a planetarium or out west to Wyoming or St. Louis or some other place with less lights, you’ll see even more of the stars in the heaves. Have you ever considered that we are just one planet in one hundred thousand million times one hundred thousand million?
What could be more amazing than that?
“what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”
The Sovereign God, Creator of all of those stars, knows you, and He loves His people.
How big is the space that contains all of those stars? And God knows you? And God loves His people?
Job similarly wondered: “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment?” (Job 7:17-18, ESV).
Do you ever feel unworthy? “But the centurion replied, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, “Go,” and he goes, and to another, “Come,” and he comes, and to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith’” (Matthew 8:8-10, ESV).
Jesus commended the centurion for understanding that he was unworthy. When we consider all that God has created – and then consider how we have sinned against God – how can we feel anything more than being unworthy – and we are unworthy. God did not choose us to be His because we are worthy – which makes God all the more Majestic – and should cause us to be all the more humble and boasting of nothing more than Jesus and His Gospel.
Faith and humility is found in the prodigal son when he told his father, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:19, ESV). Sinful arrogance is found in his brother who “answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’” (Luke 15:29-30, ESV).
David looked at the stars and was humbled and understood that he was unworthy of the care and the love that God gave him. Do you think you deserve the care and love that God has given you? Do you think that God owes you at least that?
“Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.”
What a mystery it is that God gave the only earth-bound creation that could sin against God the glory and the honor that we have above all of the rest of the earth-bound creation.
“You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”
God has given us dominion over all of the animals. That is: God has given us the responsibility to care for and nurture all of the animals in all of Creation – to care for them as a steward for God – to care for them as God would care for them.
How many animals are we to care for? How many species of animal are we to care for? I googled that, too. Scientists say there are about thirty million species of animals on this planet. Are you amazed that God would tell us to care for them on His behalf? What do you do to care for the planet and the animals on it as God would? When God calls us to account for the way we have cared for the animals for Him, what will you say?
May we rightly include each other in the wide care of the Creation? Jesus, answering what the greatest law is, said, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself”
(Matthew 22:39, ESV). We are to do everything we can to promote the health, well-being, and salvation of everybody else. We ought to do at least as much to provide food, clothing, shelter, and a hearing of the Gospel to others as we do for ourselves. Have you?
Consider what we are dealing with: David described his creation by God and how it made him respond: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you” (Psalm 139:13-18, ESV).
I googled one more number – considering that we are fearfully and wonderfully made – I wondered how many cells are in the human body – between ten and one hundred trillion – depending on your body.
Are you amazed? Are you humbled? Do you see the majesty of our God – our Sovereign God – and Father?
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (1 John 3:1, ESV).
“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8, ESV).
Let us pray:
Sovereign God, Majestic God, our God, our Father, when we consider Your Creation, it is beyond our comprehension. When we look at the stars and consider their number, when we look at the animals and consider their variety, when we look at ourselves and see the amazing complexity of our bodies, when we hear that You have made us stewards of all that You have created, and that You have chosen us to be Your sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, what can we do but fall before You, lost in wonder and amazement. Then, as Your Fatherly Hand touches us and calls us to stand for Your Gospel amidst the sin and evil in the world, may we still be amazed, looking to Your Majesty which exceeds the highest heights. Open our mouths and cause us to boast in Jesus Christ, the Only Savior, until the entire world give thanks to Your Name. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
Friday, February 15, 2013
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
[II Corinthians 5:20b-6:10]
February 13, 2013 Second Reformed Church
Christians need to be reconciled to God. Does that sound strange? Christians need to be reconciled to God.
You may remember that the church at Corinth was a mess: they were a port city through which not only goods, but every idea and practice in the known world flowed. The church – Christians – found themselves engaging in many different kinds of sins – especially sexual ones – and some had been persuaded by the “super apostles” – people who came claiming to have a greater authority than Paul and the apostles and having secret knowledge that Christians must embrace. Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthians to get them to hold on to the pure Gospel and to turn from sin and reject false teaching and false teachers.
Paul begins Second Corinthians by following up on a problem that had occurred which he addressed in First Corinthians – a man was having sexual relations with his step mother. Paul instructed the Corinthians to tell him to stop, and if he would not, to hold back the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper from him until he repented and stopped the relationship. The man did so, but the Corinthians had not received him back as their brother, so Paul had to instruct them to receive him, as they would receive any repentant sinner.
Paul goes on to explain that our salvation is through Christ Alone and believers now have the Holy Spirit living within them, and the Gospel which shines brightly from our “jars of clay.” Paul emphasizes that the reconciliation that we believers have is through faith alone through Jesus Christ Alone, and we ought to be about preaching that message of reconciliation, not holding the sins of the repentant against them, but leading them into reconciliation with God.
Here we see there are two reconciliations: the reconciliation by which one receives salvation, and the reconciliation saved Christians receive through repentance because every Christian sins and needs to repent of his or her sin every time he or she commits sin – not because we lose our salvation by sinning and need to be saved again and not because Christ has to be sacrificed again, but because the forgiveness for sin which Christ merited is applied to us each time we repent of our sin.
Some teach that we can lose our salvation, but that is not what the Scripture teaches: we cannot lose what we never earned. The Scripture is clear that salvation is a gift of God, as He wills. Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV). And John concurs: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13, ESV).
And some teach that Jesus’ Sacrifice on the cross was not enough, but must be repeated. But the author of Hebrews states this is not the case: “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:24-26, ESV).
Jesus died once for the sins of all those who would ever believe in Him. And that gift of salvation is God’s Gift as He wills, and we cannot and do not choose it.
With that in mind, we turn to our text:
“We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
Based on what we have just observed, Paul is not calling non-believers to believe, nor is he calling Christians who have lost their salvation to be saved again. Rather, Paul is telling the Corinthians that Christians, being yet sinners, need daily forgiveness. We need daily reconciliation. We daily sin and daily need to repent of our sin and receive the promise of remission – that Jesus has already paid the debt for the sin that we commit today, tomorrow, and all the sins of everyone who will ever believe. We still must come repentantly to Jesus for our sins, even though He has already paid the debt for them.
So, Paul was calling on the Corinthians – and giving us the example – to turn from their sins and repent and find the reconciliation – the forgiveness – that is ours in Jesus through His One Sacrifice.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
The historical facts of the Gospel tell us that Jesus lived a perfect life under God’s Law, died for the sin of everyone who would ever believe, and rose from the dead – victorious over sin and death and hell, and credited us – in our account before God – with His Righteousness, so we are now seen through Jesus as being righteous – as having kept the Law.
Is there anything greater that God could have done than to come to earth in the Person of Jesus to be our Substitute before the Tribunal of God? That the One Man Who never sinned would willingly take upon Himself all of our sin and suffer eternal Hell on the cross for each of us who believes in Him, that we would be forgiven for our sin, and not only that, but for the sake of His Sacrifice as our Substitute, we would be made righteous in the sight of God – and one day righteous in all reality?
This is the Work of our Savior. Isaiah prophesied of Him: “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5, ESV). And Paul wrote, “ For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4, ESV).
“Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”
Paul tells the Corinthians that they – the apostles – and other ministers of the Gospel – were working together with God, not just to teach doctrine – as important as that is, but to continually proclaim and preach the Gospel – to exhort their hearers – to push their hearers – that the facts of the Gospel would move beyond mere orthodox doctrine to a right heart reaction.
When the Gospel is preached – by the Power of God applying the Word read and preached – the hearts of the hearers ought to be turned to repentance for sin and to action, both to become more like Jesus and to live holy lives. As Paul wrote, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13, ESV).
Paul is not saying that we work for our salvation, but once God has saved us, and by the Power of God Who dwells in us, we ought to work – to strive – to fight – to live sinless lives, to become holy. Something is wrong if what we believe does not change how we live.
“For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
Paul quotes Isaiah speaking the Word of God to His people as they were still in captivity in Babylon, and God told them that He would deliver them from captivity, just as Paul applies this and says that now is the day that God will deliver His people from their sin.
Salvation was accomplished for all those who will ever believe on the cross, yet, we are saved daily from our sin as well, either through taking the way of escape that God always provides so we do not have to sin, or through repentance – receiving the reconciliation with God that is ours through the One Sacrifice of Jesus.
And so Jesus has opened the Door, Which is Himself. The Way leads all those and whoever will believe to salvation, Who is Jesus. We have been saved through Jesus’ Work and we are being saved each day as we progress in holiness. So we are reconciled with God – and our salvation – our reconciliation cannot be lost – yet we are reconciled each day as we repent of our sin, through the Work that Jesus already accomplished on our behalf.
“We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry,”
Christians – and ministers in particular – are then called not to put any offense, any sin, any blockage, any stumbling block before anyone who is seeking reconciliation with God. What does the Scripture say? “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Romans 10:8-13, ESV).
Believe in your heart and confess that belief with your mouth – that is what we find in the Scripture. There is nothing more for us to do to be saved. Salvation is God’s Gift, and we recognize it and confess it – our belief in the historical facts of the Gospel. Then, there is a lifetime of work to do, but we sin in placing any impediment before someone who desires to be saved. God says, believe in your heart and confess with your mouth. If you truly do that, you will be saved, and you will produce fruit that proves your salvation – including the confession of your sins to God.
“but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way:”
And we ought to do everything we can to keep people from falling into sin and, rather, encourage them to repent and be reconciled to God. Paul gives the example of meat offered to idols, which was no problem for him to eat, but he knew it would be a problem for others to eat, so he put aside his liberty to eat meat offered to idols when he was with them. As he wrote, “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Corinthians 8:13, ESV). It is more important that people hear the Gospel clearly and repent, and our brothers and sisters recognize and repent of their sin, than for any of us to do something which might cause them to stumble and not believe and repent and be reconciled.
Paul writes that we, Christians, ought to be willing to be put out in any way – and to be patient – if it will cause another to repent of sin, and we ought to humbly seek to pursue holiness before God and others, by the Power of the Holy Spirit, that the non-Christian and the Christian would see Jesus in us and hear the Gospel from us. As Paul wrote, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13, ESV).
Paul says that for the sake of the Gospel and Jesus, we ought to find ourselves willing to go to any lengths: “by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”
Notice, Paul is not saying that the Corinthians – or we – are to be doormats – we are to use the weapons of our warfare as we seek to preach the Gospel and lead all people to repentance, both outside and inside the Church. God has given Christians a set of weapons to fight against the devil and sin, because we are in a war – though it is already won through Jesus. Until His Return, we continue to fight. We continue to fight to preach the Gospel clearly and to present reasons why it is true, and we fight against our own urge to follow our sinful nature and sin against God, despite the fact that we have believed and received forgiveness through Jesus.
Paul explains that we have weapons – armor – which we are to use: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:11-20, ESV).
We don’t have time tonight to discuss all that is involved in this, but notice two things: first, this is the armor of Christians – those who have received faith and salvation as gifts from God. Second, the armor is centered and based on the Word of God and, in particular, the preaching of the Gospel. And so Paul tells the Corinthians – and us – to use these to be content in whatever situation we find ourselves, and to preach the Gospel and call all people to repentance.
And so we see that Christians need to be reconciled to God. We do not need to be saved again – we are saved once through the Work of Jesus Alone. Yet, we continue to sin until Jesus returns. So, when we sin, we need to repent of our sin, affirming and receiving the Work that Christ has already done to forgive us for all of our sins and to make us righteous before God and to lead us, by the Power of the Holy Spirit, to complete holiness when Jesus returns.
In the meantime, we are to strive towards holiness and do everything we can to let others know the Gospel that – by the Grace of God – they might believe. And we ought to help our brothers and sisters to see their sin and repent of it and be reconciled with God.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that salvation is completely Your Work. We thank You for the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit and for how He is leading us towards holiness. We ask that You would help us to see our sin and to repent of it – not fearing You, but resting in the reconciliation that Jesus made for us through the events of the Gospel. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Monday, February 11, 2013
“Do Not Fear”
February 10, 2013 Second Reformed Church
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. In chapter sixteen of Matthew, we find that Jesus and the disciples had arrived at Caesarea Philippi, which was just north of the Sea of Galilee in north central Israel. It was here that Jesus asked the disciples who the people believed Him to be, and Peter made his profession that “[Jesus] is the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16b, ESV). Peter affirmed that – whomever anyone else believed Jesus to be – God had revealed to them that Jesus is the Savior – and not a mere man, but God Himself.
After Peter made this confession and Jesus praised him and told him that he was right in asserting that Jesus is the Savior and God – that it was God Who revealed this truth to them and caused them to believe it in their hearts and confess it with their mouths, Jesus explained to them that to complete His Work – to save the people that God sent Him to save, Jesus had to be turned over to those who hated Him, be put to death, and then rise from the dead.
Despite Peter’s profession of Who Jesus is, neither he nor the other disciples understood how it could be that the Savior needed to be put to death, and Jesus had to rebuke Peter and explain that this was the plan from the beginning, and anyone who wanted to follow Jesus would also have to be willing to lay down their lives for His Sake. And then He made them the promise, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28, ESV). This promise, as we see in this morning’s Scripture was fulfilled six days later.
“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.”
Jesus brought three of the disciples: Peter and the brothers, James and John, up on a high mountain, and when they had reached a certain spot, Jesus was transfigured before them. What does that mean? We are told that Jesus shone brightly like the sun, so much so that His clothes even looked as white as light. Jesus was “metamorphethon” – like our word metamorphosis – He was changed – not in His Being, but in what they saw of Him.
Paul tells us that Jesus did not come to earth in the Incarnation, showing the fullness of His Glory, “but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7, ESV). Although Jesus did not become less than God through the Incarnation, He divested Himself of His outward Glory – He did not allow His outward Glory – His Divine Nature to be viewed – even as mediated through His human body – until now.
John explained, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2, ESV). Although we have the promise that we will be like Jesus – in the sense that we shall be glorified in our humanity – we have not seen what glorified humanity looks like, but when Jesus returns, He will come in glory, and we will see Him as He is and know what we will be like in our resurrected bodies.
The three on the mountain were allowed a glimpse of what the glorified Jesus looks like – with a light brighter than the sun – and we, then, have the hope and the assurance that we, also, will be like Him on the day of resurrection. The imperfections and faults of our bodies – our sinful nature – will be utterly done away with, and our bodies will be glorious, like Jesus’.
John was visited by Jesus on the island of Patmos, and John saw Jesus, and described Him like this: “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘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. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches’” (Revelation 1:12-20, ESV).
It’s difficult to imagine just what they saw – what the Glory of Jesus – the Divinity of Jesus mediated through His Glorified body looked like – even with these descriptions, but we can understand that it was awesome – blinding – frightening in its holiness and glory. But this is what they saw.
Peter, one of the eyewitnesses of these events, looking to assure the early church and comfort them amidst their persecution wrote, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:16-21, ESV).
“And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.”
Why did Moses and Elijah appear? Moses and Elijah – who really did appear – do we doubt that God can raise the dead? – were symbolic figureheads of the Law and the Prophets, respectively. Moses was the chief lawgiver and Elijah was the head prophet of the Old Testament, and they appeared with Jesus in this pivotal moment as He readied to be tortured and killed – and by their presence, they affirmed that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.
But how did Peter, James, and John know that these two men were Moses and Elijah? We can only assume that God revealed who they were to them.
Why did they come? Matthew only tells us that they talked with Jesus. Luke says more—Luke tells us that “[they] appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31, ESV). Moses and Elijah came to affirm that Jesus was fulfilling the Law and Prophets through His death – and they came to affirm both Jesus and the disciples that everything was happening according to God’s Plan.
“And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’”
Peter – never one to think twice or to listen before he leapt – didn’t want the moment to end – he wanted to put Jesus, Moses, and Elijah in tents – perhaps to stay with them longer. Mark tells us that one reason that Peter wanted to build the tents for them was that he was afraid and didn’t know what to do but to do something! (cf. Mark 9:6).
“He [Peter] was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’”
Peter was so afraid that he kept talking and God the Father had to stop him by causing a cloud to envelope them – which was an act of mercy – God came to them and spoke through the cloud – God did not show His Face to them, for that would have killed them. And God told them that Jesus is the beloved Son of the Father – One Member of the Triune God. He told them that Jesus was doing what God wanted – God was pleased with Jesus’ intention to submit to the Will of the Father and be betrayed and crucified, so He could rise on the third day to the Glory of the Father and for the salvation of everyone who would ever believe in Him. So God told Peter to stop trying to out-think God – to stop trying to box Him in – to save Him for another time – to make Him safe – because God cannot be boxed in – and He is not safe.
Some of you will remember the wonderful line in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when Lucy asks the Beavers if Aslan (Lewis’ Kingdom Lion who symbolized Jesus) was safe. And the Beavers replied, “Safe? No. But he is very good.” That is our God – safe? No! But very good. Our God is the Almighty Whose Presence, even mediated, causes men to tremble.
And God told Peter – and James and John – to listen to Him – listen to Jesus. Stop jumping to conclusions and trying to make Jesus into what He is not and to say what He did not say. Rather, listen. And today – read. Read the Word of God – see what God has said – and listen – hear – obey.
Christians are a curious people who say they believe in Jesus and in the Word of God, but don’t read it. How can we know what God has said if we don’t read His Word? Going to church is not enough. Listen to TV preachers and other recordings is not enough. We can all very easily read through the Bible in a year – a couple of pages a day. God blesses the reading of His Word.
If you or I were madly in love with someone and he or she sent us letters, would we not read the letters – or just assume what was in them or think there was nothing to be learned through reading them? God loved us so much that He sent His Only Begotten Son to live and die and rise for the salvation of everyone who will ever believe. Don’t we want to know what He said? Do we need God to envelope us with a cloud and tell us to stop talking and start listening?
“When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.”
The very Majesty of God – even mediated through the cloud – as well as the Voice of the Almighty commanding His people to listen caused them to fall on their faces in fear and in terror. They knew the power and the awesomeness of God – they knew God’s intolerance of sin – they knew they were sinners – and when they heard God speak, they did the only thing that made sense – they fell down before Him – as low to the ground as they could – with their faces to the ground – and they shook with fear because they knew that God could kill them with a word.
Coming into the Presence of God is not a “ho-hum” experience. R. C. Sproul has commented that in the Scripture we find that people who come into the Presence of God shake and cry and fall on their faces, but never once do we fine their response to be bored. Coming into the Presence of God ought to be an experience of fear – either the fear of awestruck respect and humility, or the fear of one who is confronted by the fact that he or she stands before the God he or she has unrepentantly offended. We tend to have an imbalanced picture of God in the United States – we talk of God being our Friend – and He is a Friend of those who believe savingly in His Son, but He is still the Almighty God. Just because Lewis’ Aslan (the Lion) was good did not mean that he was safe.
If you do not believe in Jesus savingly – fear on! It is a good thing to be afraid of the Almighty God if you have sinned against Him and don’t care – if you have offended God and have no interest in repenting and believing in the Only Way to be right with God. But there is another side to this coin, is there not?
“But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”
Jesus came to His disciples – He touched them to comfort them and encourage them – to lift them up in spirit, if not physically as well – and He told them to have no fear. Notice, Jesus did not tell them not to be in awe of God. He did not tell them not to respect the Power and Majesty of God. He did not tell them to treat their relationship with God flippantly. Yet, He told them to have no fear. Why?
Because they believed in Jesus savingly. They – and we – do not need to fear the Wrath of God, because Jesus took that Wrath upon Himself for our sins on the cross. That is what He was heading for. That was why Moses and Elijah came to talk with Him and confirm His Mission – and to do so before these witnesses. Jesus frees us from the condemnation of God. Though God does not become any less God – God remains God, because God’s Justice was satisfied in pouring out His Wrath on Jesus for our sakes.
Paul reminds us, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4, ESV).
And the author of Hebrews reminds all those who believe, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, ESV).
We do not have to fear God because Jesus – Who proved Himself to be God and Man through His Life, Transfiguration, Death, and Resurrection – has taken the condemnation on Himself and freed us that we who believe can now enter the throne room of God as co-heirs with Jesus of the Kingdom – His brothers and sisters – confidently, but seriously – and God will give us the grace that we need to be His people.
There are plenty of real and imaginary things to fear in this life. Some we bring on ourselves; some are thrust upon us. But, ultimately, we have no reason to fear, because in life or in death, we are the Lord’s – we are Jesus’ – He has saved us for Himself – the people His Father gave to Him – and we are eternally safe. That should be no small relief to us – and it ought to be a great reason to give thanks to God over and over and over in praise and worship.
Jesus has done all the work and made us right with God, so let us not fear, but listen to what Jesus said and obey Him in faith, showing that we truly do believe and love Him.
“And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.’”
Elijah and Moses were gone. Jesus had comforted the disciples and assured them of their status through Him before the Father. The Transfiguration had ended, and they were witnesses to it. If you and I had seen something so awesome, our reaction would likely to be to tell others, but Jesus tells them not to tell anyone until His had risen from the dead. Why?
Over and over in the Gospels we see the words, “because His time had not yet come.” It was not God’s intention for Jesus to display His Divinity openly – except to these three – prior to the Resurrection. God came in the Person of Jesus to fulfill prophecy – prophecy that would have been understood by all those who would believe in Jesus for salvation. They were chosen to be witnesses after the fact – to the Glory of God.
“And the disciples asked him, ‘Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?’”
The disciples had their thinking caps on – and they remembered that the scribes taught that Elijah had to return before the Savior came – so they were puzzled and asked Jesus about this. Indeed, the scribes were correct – in the book of the prophet Malachi, God said, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” (Malachi 4:5-6, ESV). The problem that some of the scribes had was they were looking for a resurrected Elijah – despite popular theology, the Jews believed in eternal life and resurrection. But that is not what God meant.
“He [Jesus] answered, ‘Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.”
When God spoke through Malachi, He was saying that a prophet would come in the spirit of Elijah – and the final prophet of the Old Testament, John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, was the fulfillment of the prophecy – which the disciples understood when Jesus spoke these words. John the Baptist came to prepare the way of the Savior – just as Malachi said Elijah would do. John the Baptist called the people to repentance – both Jews and Gentiles – and point them to the Savior Who had come. He prepared and set the work in motion that Jesus – and only Jesus – could fulfill – that through Him, all those who believe would be saved from the Wrath of God for sin and have no need to be afraid.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for showing Your Divinity to the three on the mountain through the Transfiguration. We thank You that through the Work of Jesus, we can be saved and not fear the judgment, for our sins are forgiven, and we have been made righteous through Jesus. Help us to balance this confidence and this lack of fear of Your Wrath with the knowledge that You are still the Almighty God Who is worthy of all respect and honor and worship. Help us to be Your people – give us the grace we need to be more like Jesus. For it is in His Name we pray, Amen.