You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2009.

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:9-14).

As Paul writes to the Colossian church, although he didn’t know them all that well, he had heard of their faith and love (Colossians 1:3-8). This compelled him to pray nonstop for them. He desired spiritual maturity for these fellow believers and this is my prayer for all of us for 2010. I beseech God that we:

  • are “filled with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (v. 9). The Greek word for “knowledge” in this passage is epignosis and it signifies practical, personal and experiential understanding and not just academic or intellectual knowledge. I desire that we all become imitators of Jesus (Ephesians 5:1-2) and thus spread the sweet fragrance of His beauty (2 Corinthians 2:14). How do we do this? “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2).
  • live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way (v. 10). The  Lord we serve, and the calling we have received, is certainly a worthy one! In Ephesians 4:1 Paul considers himself to be a slave to the Lord and this worthy calling. In a similar vein, Paul writing to the church at Thessalonica says, “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
  • are bearing fruit in every good work (v. 10). Not just “one” or “some”, but “every” good work.  What sort of good works? Empowered by the Holy Spirit we demonstrate His fruit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-25). These attitudes and attributes should permeate our every effort to please God.
  • are growing in the knowledge of God (v, 10). We need to grow in the knowledge of God Himself, not just His will. Knowing Him is man’s highest pursuit and the essence of seeking after Him as our greatest treasure. Paul said, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death(Philippians 3:10). These are the desires of those so in love with their Lord that they are obsessed with knowing Him (in the most intimate sense) and all about Him. As Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).
  • are being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might (v. 11). It is God’s desire that we demonstrate His strength in our living for Him. There is indescribable supernatural power available to the Christian. By trusting in Him and reliance upon the Holy Spirit Paul says we can “…be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes (Ephesians 6:10).
  • may have great endurance and patience, with joy (v. 11)  Paul captures the essence of joy and patience in enduring for Christ when he says “Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses;  in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love (2 Corinthians 6:45-6). Endurance with patience and joy is the mark of those that are “in Christ”.
  • are joyfully giving thanks to the Father (v.12). The Psalmist captures this so beautifully: “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.  Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.  Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations (Psalm 100:1-5).

And why can we receive all of these marvelous requests? Because God “has qualified [us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” (v. 12). Because our Savior “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (v. 13). And, most importantly, because “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (v. 14).  Furthermore, how can we have the full experience of this New Year’s prayer?  Abiding in Him and His Word – “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7).

“Count off seven sabbaths of years–seven times seven years–so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan.  The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields. In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property” (Leviticus 25:8-13).

This is but a section of the Old Testament passage on God’s plan for His people to celebrate this special year – the Year of Jubilee. It was to take place every fifty years and it was announced with a special trumpet. In the Hebrew language the word translated “jubilee” literally means blowing a ram’s horn.  This horn is called a “shofar” and is still used in Hebrew worship today.  This sabbatical year was to benefit every inhabitant of the land. The Year of Jubilee was like a national holiday that lasted for 365 days! And symbolically it was to commence as the horn blew on the sacred Day of Atonement. Ironically, there is no evidence that the Hebrews ever celebrated the Year of Jubilee. This may have been due to their disobedience or the Babylonian captivity but, from all indications, over 30 possible occurrences of the Jubilee year passed without its observation. That is until the coming of Jesus. And maybe this was God’s sovereign plan. After all, it was Christ’s atonement that ushered in the spiritual reality of the true meaning of this celebration.

Jesus Himself claimed that he was the fulfillment of this Year of Jubilee (called the year of the Lord’s favor):

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18-21).

There are at least four lessons in the Year of Jubilee that foreshadow the ultimate fulfillment of its benefits as found in Christ. These are:

  • A revocation of debt. The Israelites were relieved of their financial debt and through faith in the finished work of Christ we are absolved of our sin-debt (see Romans 6:23) before a righteousness demanding God. As Paul explained, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
  • A release from slavery. On this 50th year all slaves were to be released from their bondage and prisoners set free. We, too, through the power of Jesus and the indwelling of His Holy Spirit are released from the fetters of our sinful nature. “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6). Paul mentions this idea in Romans 7:5 and 8:9 as well.
  • A return home: all land was to return to its original family/owner during the Year of Jubilee. This reminds us of the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-24). The loving arms of his father were extended to his wandering son and their reunion instigated the child’s complete restoration and a great celebration of joy. We, too, through Jesus are, in a sense, spiritually re-united with God the Father.
  • A renewal and rest. During this celebration no one was to plant or harvest crops; the children of Israel were to live off God’s special extra provisions from the previous year; and the land was to rest so it could be renewed. In a similar sense being “in Christ” we experience eternal renewal and rest as we trust in His supernatural provision. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew11:28).

As we look to the New Year may we see it as our Year of Jubilee. And how can we do this? By focusing on Jesus and His spiritual provision. For He alone has revoked our sin-debt, released us from the slavery of the law and the power of sin, allowed us to find our home in Him, and causes us to be renewed by the refreshment that comes from resting in Him. As we bid adieu to 2009 and stride boldly into 2010 may we be ever mindful of this word from God: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

When you get to be my age the Christmas gifts you receive aren’t what they used to be. When we were a child we pretended to sleep on Christmas Eve and, much to the chagrin of your parents, dashed to the decorated tree at the earliest possible moment – around 4:30 AM. We danced with glee as we tore into the packages and beheld, with great joy, what delights that awaited us. The toys were our treasures  and the object of our ecstatic desire. (On a side note, isn’t it a shame that many folks still think that their “toys” are their treasure and fail to recognize Jesus, the real gift of Christmas, is what lastingly captivates and fully satisfies).

Later we become adults, sometimes spouses and parents. We then live out this process vicariously through children. We find a measure of gladness in watching them mesmerized by the magic of Christmas (or at least mesmerized by the presents and lore of the holiday). They behave as we did when we were young and we, in a sleep deprived stupor, relive those moments of exhilaration that we once felt. The tree, and its treasure, is the pivotal and central figure in the experience we adoringly call Christmas.

Finally our children grow up and we pray for grandchildren so this delusion can continue. Such is the case with me. My son is a mature 21 year old trying to figure whether to enter a Master’s degree program or go directly into doctoral work (My gracious, he was just born last week!). This year I will get some new tennis shoes (which I desperately need) and I got my son a new Nike golf bag (I can’t, for the life of me, figure out how all of his golf equipment costs three times as much as mine did). My son, Samuel, got his gifts early this year and picked them all out himself. It seems as if he’s lost the childlike magic found in packages and presents way too quickly for me. I never know what he might get me but it usually is a mall gift card. That works for me – I can use it to buy the golf balls I will lose as he totes around his fancy golf bag, clubs, and apparel while beating me by 4 strokes.

But this year I got a surprise gift from my son. After my verbose and mindless driveling on the attributes of social networking he joined Facebook. Is that a great gift, you think? No, not really. The gift came when I “friended” him (I was his second friend and the first to write something , and I literally wrote “SOMETHING”, on his wall) and was able to peruse his profile. In the section labeled “religious views” he simple put “Jesus is the man”.  Wow! “Jesus is the man” – I’ve never heard it put any better.

Talking about joy, glee, delight, treasure, gladness, and satisfaction all rolled into one surreal moment – that was it for me. It was the magic of Christmas in the most profound sense – the holiday spirit of all of my years captured in four very significant words. But of course it wasn’t about physical presents or toys. No toy or present under a holiday tree can compare to the gift that Christ has given Samuel by becoming cursed and hanging on the tree of Calvary for him (Galatians 3:13). This is the best gift I will receive this year – knowing that my only child believes that “Jesus is the man”! And knowing that I do, too!

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”… Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh” (Matthew 2:1-2, 7-11).

According to this passage, the Magi (often referred to as the Wise Men) from the East who visited Jesus shortly after his birth brought three gifts (that doesn’t necessarily meant there were three of them). There were gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. While the symbols of gold and frankincense are usually best understood by those who hear the Christmas story, myrrh is not as familiar. Most of us understand the gift of gold for a King and the sweet fragrance of worship that frankincense typifies. But what about Myrrh? It shows God’s sovereignty in foreshadowing His plans and purposes for His son – Immanuel our Messiah.

What is myrrh?

Myrrh refers to the resinous dried sap of a various number of trees. The most common source of myrrh is trees that grow natively in Arabia and eastern Ethiopia. The word myrrh comes from the Hebrew murr or maror, which means “bitter.” Myrrh was extremely valuable during the Roman Empire, when Jesus was born, and it was used as an incense burned during funerals until the 15th century. The Roman Emperor Nero reportedly burned a year’s supply of myrrh at the funeral of his wife. Myrrh was used chiefly in embalming the dead because it had the property of preserving them from decay and stench. Therefore, in Biblical times, it was a valuable commodity (Genesis 37:25) and was an ingredient of the holy ointment (Exodus 30:23). It was also used as a perfume (Psalms 45:8; Esther 2:12; Proverbs 7:17).  Despite the probable ignorance of the Magi (but in the providence of God), Myrrh was a symbolically appropriate gift for the baby Jesus because of its association with death.

Let us now see the three major instances of myrrh found in the New Testament and the message we discover in these references:

  • Jesus’ birth. While gold and frankincense symbolize, among many other things, the infant’s royalty and divinity myrrh makes reference to His humanity and future death. Myrrh symbolizes bitterness. In fact, the name itself was given to it on account of its great bitterness (the Hebrew word is similar to the name given the waters that were bitter when Moses and the people were coming out of Egypt (Exodus 15:23). Naomi also used this word when she says to her daughters in law – “Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” (Ruth 1:20). So we see that myrrh represents the bitterness that Jesus would experience in the death that he was to die for us. It was a death He, in His humanity, wanted to avoid (Mark 14:36), and a death that would see Him feel forsaken by His father (Mark 15:34). But it was this death He was born for.
  • Jesus’ crucifixion. Myrrh was sometimes mingled with wine to form drink that would sedate. Such a drink was given to Jesus, while being crucified, as a numbing potion (Mark 15:23; Matthew 27:34). But Jesus rejected this concoction. But why? Because, spiritually speaking, He had already drunk it. He had prayed at first that He could be spared this pain, but then He submitted to His father’s will and drank it – the bitter cup of His suffering (Matthew 26:39, 42). Myrrh then was brought as a gift to foreshadow the pain that Jesus experienced as He atoned for our sins.
  • Jesus’ resurrection. The faithful women in Jesus’ ministry wanted Him to be properly buried so they brought myrrh to anoint His body (John 19:39). In following a common custom, little did they know, they were completing the picture that God had begun at His birth. They did not dream that their Master would soon be with them and that there was no need to prepare His body for a grave Jesus was to remain in but a few hours. He was to rise again! And with His resurrection, for those who surrender to His Lordship, our hope is complete and our victory in Him is assured.

Myrrh means bitterness but symbolizes hope and victory. Why? Because Jesus absorbed the bitter judgment of our sin at Calvary and rose to grant us eternal peace and joy. They are truly wise that know that that they have exchanged their bitter, sinful lives for the sweet myrrh of His redemption. It is bittersweet in the most profound sense. Christmas is not complete without knowing the divine fragrance of the healing balm of His death for us that we see pictured at His birth.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:8-14). 

It was common, lowly shepherds that first received the “good news” of the birth of the Savior of the world. Can we imagine their fear and trepidation as the angels spoke the message of God emptying Himself, taking on the tent of humanity, and beginning His mission of salvation? It’s not hard to imagine why they were unable to comprehend it all. The glory of God, that we so often think of in terms of His creation, resurrection, and eventual coming again to ultimately reign, is just as evident in His advent. Yet in the midst of the awe and terror that accosts us when we are confronted with Immanuel (God with us) is the proclamation of “Fear not”. But why? 

Because this is news of great joy! A Savior has come into a world that desperately needs one. Lying in a humble stable He may not look like the King that we seek but He is. This babe of Bethlehem is the Son of David, the Lion of Judah, and the Prince of Peace. He is also the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Yes, He came to us as a child – the same way that we must come to Him. It seems so simple yet it is so profound. He came to us the first time in an animal’s feeding trough but will return to us, again surrounded by the heavenly hosts, with a supernatural trumpet blast and displaying such radiant majesty that all of His creation will be staggered by the might and glory of His appearance. 

But does that mean that all will experience the peace of His first coming and the rewards of His second? No, sadly not. The angels said that there is peace among only those “on whom His favor rests”. And who are these? They are the ones that see His beauty and glory. They recognize that the same child in the manger is the very son of God. They understand and embrace his “good news of great joy”. They hear and surrender to Him as the Word (Logos) of John 1. They see Him as the only possible Savior for the curse of their sinfulness. They know Him to be the Messiah and, just as profoundly, their Messiah! 

Do you want to know the peace that the birth of Christ was meant to provide? It comes to those who have found His favor. It comes to those who find Him as their highest treasure and joy. He came to make peace between sinful man and holy God (Colossians 1:19-22). And there is no real and lasting peace or joy of any kind without the intimate, personal knowledge of and subservience to His work in, for, and through us. No matter if we are common and lowly we can have the peace of His coming by knowing that He came for us…knowing that He condescended to this earth to live for us in a way that we are incapable of. And that this baby boy came to die to take the wrath that we justly deserve. Jesus said of Himself, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). 

In other words, the peace –which manifests itself in grace, joy and fearlessness – that the first Christmas heralded is fully and eternally experienced only by knowing that this infant is the Lord – the Lord of your life. And that He is the Savior of the World and the King of all creation. That is why He deserves all honor, glory, and the praise of men and angels. May we bow at His birthplace, worship at his cross, and rejoice in His resurrection. For that is where peace rests – now and forevermore. For we are His children by grace and we will shout for all of eternity the chorus of His messengers – “Glory to God in the highest”! This is why Christmas is merry (joyful) indeed for those “on whom His favor rests”. So, just as the shepherds did immediately following the angel’s revelation of the Christ, let us do as the author of the carol writes – “Oh come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord”.

“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’” (Matthew 25:40-45).

On a recent Saturday I served with a mobile homeless ministry (Layman’s Lessons) in downtown Nashville. According to Louis, the ministry’s founder, there are approximately 6,000 homeless is this average size city. On any given day only about 10% of those receive a decent meal from a Christian ministry (i.e. Rescue Mission) or from some other government or philanthropic organization. The statistics tell us that over 50 of those will perish during the coming winter months – from November through March. They will expire from alcohol and weather induced hypothermia, untreated illness, and overdoses. No matter what the cause – and Christians should be overwhelmingly convicted – they will be dead and facing their eternal destiny.

Although I have worked with the homeless and poor before and have often seen the street corner beggars as I have trekked into downtown for business or pleasure I, generally speaking, remain isolated (or at least insulated) from them. Such is the case for most of modern Christians in America. Believers in other parts of the world deal with the scenario of homelessness and poverty much more often than we do here in the States. Yet, even in the riches of countries, we have all around us those who are cold, hungry, and in need of physical and emotional treatment. Why are we so detached from them? Is it fear, laziness, selfishness? Or is it a lack of faithfulness to Jesus’ teachings?

John Parnell was the first homeless person that I ever really knew. He was born in one the most impoverished parts of northern Mississippi. He worked as a temporary for the staffing company that I managed. I caught him sleeping in his car early one morning on payday. He had intended to wake before we arrived but I went into the office quite early that day and found his car in the parking lot and him in the back seat. He sheepishly and embarrassingly admitted his circumstance but declared that “he was about to get everything squared away”. And he was. He acknowledged that many personal mistakes had contributed to his circumstances but believed that “God is in the life changing business”.

Later John, due to his excellent performance on various assignments, was named “Temp of the Year” and celebrated a Thanksgiving luncheon with my entire staff. He appreciatively accepted the leftovers calling them “a week’s worth of hearty and healthy eating”. John left our company when he was hired on to a full-time position by the last client that we had assigned him to. But we saw John a few more times.

Over the next few months John made several appearances at our office. First he stopped by to say that he had been promoted to management. He showed us the key to his new office. Later he displayed a different key – one that granted him entrance into his rented apartment. When he finally got a reliable vehicle he sported yet another key and he glowed as he showed it off to the staff. Finally he stopped by to proudly show off the door key to his house – the first home he had ever owned. “All I needed was a chance…I thank you guys for believing in me” he humbly confessed. All he needed was a chance…that thought resonates with me to this very day.

Oh, I know, it’s so easy to think that all homeless people are that way due to poor choices, mental illness, addiction, and willful rebellion. Though that might sometimes be the case we do need to be careful about being so judgmental. Lest we be so presumptuous, Louis (the ministry founder I was working with that cold Saturday) reminded the volunteers that significant Old Testament character David was homeless (see 1 Samuel 18-31). The Bible says that he even ate ashes for bread in order to sustain himself (Psalm 102:9). But later David was given a chance by God and eventually became the greatest king in Israel’s history.

Even more important in David’s legacy is that he was a forefather (Jesus was of the house of David – Luke 2:4) and type or picture of the coming Messiah (Jesus was called the son of David – Matthew 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30,31; 21:9,15; 22:42). That’s quite an accomplishment for a homeless person. Maybe we should see Jesus in all of those that are without. For in ministering to them we are doing it to the Savior Himself. And who but God knows how those given another chance can be used to glorify our Savior. Maybe a little love, caring provision, and one more opportunity will be the key that unlocks the door to a life that points men to the greatest homeless person that ever lived – Jesus (see Matthew 8:20).

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:21-27).

With Jesus’ message on false teachers fresh in our minds He now talks about the radical transformation required to be a part of His Kingdom. These words are heart-piercing and warn of a dangerous and utterly destructive self-deception. Our King calls us to unconditional surrender of our total life, will, and mind. He confronts us with two truths in this passage: mere verbal profession (verses 21-23) nor intellectual only understanding (verses 24-27) of the gospel are sufficient for entry into the Kingdom or acceptable substitutes for deep-seated obedience.

First, Jesus debunks the myth that our faith can be based solely upon what we say about Him or to Him. No matter how accurate, no creed, formulaic “sinner’s prayer”, or verbal affirmation alone can save us. Although confession is a real and necessary part of our conversion (see Romans 10:9-10) it is for naught unless prompted by the Holy Spirit and is a true reflection of a life that is “born again by the Spirit” and renewed. And this also is the catalyst for a life of obedience and capitulation to Him as Lord (Ruler). Interestingly the verbal profession “Lord, Lord” of those who Jesus rejects is quite orthodox. It is accurate, respectful, enthusiastic, and public. But Jesus stunning response is “I never knew you. Depart from me”! But why?

Jesus rejects these professors, I believe, because their confession was verbal but not transformational. In other words, their cry was with their lips but not their hearts. Although they called him Lord these “evildoers” did not fully submit in servitude to His Lordship. Luke’s account states it this way, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). Essentially the vital difference in an acceptable profession as opposed to an unacceptable one is the critical distinction between just uttering words and doing deeds and the professing and demonstrating the reality of a heart that has been changed and enlivened to do good works by the very power of God. Although they claimed to be doers of mighty deeds Jesus recognized them as doers of evil thus suggesting these “works” were of man and not of God. No matter what we profess Jesus still expects evidence of our sincerity through Holy Spirit inspired obedience and good works.

Although understanding the gospel of the King and His Kingdom is essential, Jesus also says that mere intellectual assent or knowledge is insufficient in becoming one of His adopted royal children. In verses 24-27 we see that hearing (understanding) without doing shows that there is no “foundation” to validate true belief. Jesus uses the analogy of a house and it’s foundation to show that the substance of one’s belief is rooted deep within. Foundations are usually not visible but they are essential to the building’s security. The message here is that mere knowledge of His truth that hasn’t taken root in our souls does not lead to transformational obedience. Such a “knowledge only” type of faith ends in devastation and eventually destruction. Why? Because, because it goes no further than the shallow surface of the mind and fails to take spiritual root in the entire being of the individual. Hence there are no Holy Spirit driven deeds to evidence life-transforming faith.

So, is Jesus teaching salvation by works? Not at all! What He is saying is if all we have are empty words, deeds of the flesh, and head knowledge of Him it is not enough. Relationship with Jesus is so radical that it revolutionizes us. While continually struggling with our sin nature (indwelling sin) we are still compelled by a heart saturated with love and gratitude for our Redeemer King to live out His Kingdom. This is why Paul says that we are saved by grace through the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) but grace and faith changes us from the inside out: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). In other words, we are to be continually transformed (Romans 12:2) because “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead’ (James 2:17).

Therefore, yes, we must cry out ‘Lord’! But only from a genuine heart that goes beyond shallow words, fleshly deeds, and mere intellectual assent. We also must live out his Lordship with the heart-righteousness that comes only from Holy Spirit wrought conversion and life-transfiguring empowerment. This is the radical nature of Kingdom citizenship as our King and Judge describes it.

“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.  He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26).

God’s Word admits that sin has its pleasure. If we are honest we agree with this assessment. But Hebrews 11:25 reminds us that the pleasure sin produces is short-lived. If we are candid we will admit this, too. We all have a deep-rooted desire for fleshly pleasure but, in the end, the temporary thrill has serious consequences. Listen to Jesus’ half-brother:

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:12-15).

Although described as a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22) David fell victim to the deadly combination of the pleasure of sin and carnal desire when he succumbed to the temptation of Bathsheba and the events that followed. I so understand the gut-wrenching admission of David as He lamented his weakness and sinfulness – “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:3-5).

I have, more that I would like to admit, been confronted by my own “demons” and inability to live in a way that honors my great God and loving Savior. Our sins may differ somewhat but all of us fall short of the glory of God  (Romans 3:23). Since true Christ-followers are burdened when they fail to live up to God’s holy standard many of us can identify with David’s pain. Those who authentically desire to serve God in a way that exalts and glorifies Him surely understand his distress.  Let’s look at some of the ideas and concepts that he expresses in Psalm 51 to describe his anguish as he humbles himself before his Lord.

  • Our sin exposes the uncleanness that characterizes our sinful state (v. 2)
  • We must recognize our depravity (v. 3, 5)
  • A holy God has every right to judge us and allow  the consequences of our transgressions(v.4)
  • The Lord desires heart-righteousness (v. 6)
  • Sin hurts us physically (v.8)
  • Our transgressions cause us to feel removed from God’s presence (v. 11)
  • Our failings cause a loss of joy (v.12)
  • Our wickedness impedes our ability to praise and speak for Him (v. 15)

When we come, however, as David did, with a broken and contrite heart that longs for forgiveness and pulses with repentance we see these amazing things about the forgiveness found only in our infinitely gracious Lord.

  • God is merciful (v. 1)
  • His great compassion never fails (v. 1)
  • The Lord blots out our transgressions (v.1, 9)
  • He makes us clean – whiter than snow (v. 7)
  • God is willing to restore our joy, renew in us the desire for holy living, and sustain us in that pursuit (v. 12)
  • Being forgiven compels us to proclaim His truth and praises (v. 13-15)
  • God alone can save us from our sins (v. 14)
  • Being broken before our Lord, not religious exercise, is what He desires (v. 16-17)
  • Spiritual prosperity comes from understanding and believing God’s justification for our sin (v. 18)
  • Right standing before our Savior prompts a life of sacrifice (v. 19)

Our sin creates temporary pleasure but also long-lasting pain. The good news is that we do not have to be mired in the spiritual carnage of our failings. Yes, we will experience the distress of dishonoring our Lord. Yes, there will be consequences for our actions but we can still receive restoration from our eternally gracious Savior. If you are distraught over your sins or the mistakes of your past I encourage you, as I have done, to linger on Psalm 51. Saturating yourself in the psalmist’s transparent words is no quick fix or panacea for the ramifications of our sin. But it will help us all realize that our God desires to heal a contrite and repentant heart. For in Him and Him alone is our hope for restoration. And He longs to mend the brokenness of a heart that is devestated and repentant over its sin.

Therefore, I pray that we all look to the cross. When we look to Calvary we see most clearly His payment for our sin and our redemption in Him comes more into focus. It is only His atoning work that yields true forgiveness and pleasures evermore. So, find hope in the declaration of Paul, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 57 other followers

Faithful Blogger

%d bloggers like this: