Aren’t Justice and Mercy Incompatible by Definition?

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Recently at White Fields we have been studying through the Book of Jonah. Jonah was called by God to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria – a violent and imperialistic nation which posed a clear and present danger to the very existence of Israel. And Jonah was called to take them a message which carried with it the promise of mercy if they would repent of their sins and turn to the Lord.

Archaeologists and historians who have studied the Assyrian Empire report things such as human sacrifice, furniture upholstered with human skin, pyramids of human skulls, how they would put hooks in the faces of captives and leading them around by chains…

So it is not surprising that one of Jonah’s hesitations with going to Nineveh was that he didn’t think it would be fair for God to show mercy to people who did such terrible things. Jonah struggled with the question of how God could still be just if he were to forgive these sins and show them mercy.

This is a question many people struggle with:  If you forgive someone, then what about justice?  Can anyone just do anything they want and then say sorry, and suddenly it’s okay, and there are no repercussions? Where’s the justice in that?

For this reason, some people are hesitant to forgive those who have hurt them: because it kind of feels like in that case, they are getting away with it, or you are saying that it wasn’t a big deal — even though it was. (More on this topic here: Does Forgiving Mean Forgetting?)

One of the great promises of the Bible is that God is just, and even if we don’t see it in our lifetime, there will be justice.  Nothing is hidden from the eyes of God, and He will deal justly with every hurtful action and every wrongdoing. This gives us great comfort in the face of injustice, corruption and unfair and unethical behavior that we see or which touches our lives.

In the Psalms, the Psalmist often bemoans the injustice that he sees in the world: that those who lie, cheat and steal get ahead, at the expense of those who are fair and honest. Nice guys finish last. Good doesn’t always defeat evil. However, the Psalmist then goes on to comfort himself with the knowledge that, in the end, God will bring about justice: there is no wrong deed that will not go unpunished.

There’s only one problem with that:    ALL of us have done wrong things. Without exception…

So the problem with justice is: if God is totally just and judges every wrong deed, then that means that He will have to not only judge those who have sinned against us, but He will have to judge us as well.

But then, the Bible gives us the good news: for those who turn to the Lord, He will give them mercy!

But here’s the thing:   The definition of Justice is:  Giving someone what they deserve. On the other hand, the definition of Mercy is:  NOT giving someone what they deserve.

So, by definition: if you show someone mercy, then you are no longer being just! The two are diametrically opposed. So, if God shows mercy, doesn’t that mean He is no longer being just? Does one of God’s attributes therefore contradict another one of His attributes?

Isn’t mercy therefore a travesty of justice?

One of the great tensions of the Old Testament is the question of how God can be both Just and Merciful at the same time.

In my last post I wrote about another one of these great tensions: the question of whether the covenant with God is conditional or unconditional.

Neither of these tensions are actually resolved in the Old Testament. They only find their resolution in the New Testament – in Jesus.

The way that God can be both just and merciful at the same time, is because Jesus took all of the righteous judgment that we deserved, so that God could show us mercy. In this way, God remains completely just, and yet is able to show mercy without compromising his justice. In this way, He is both just and the justifier of the one who trusts in Jesus by faith. (Romans 3:26)

In Jesus, the Judge of all the Earth came to the Earth and took our judgment HIMSELF, so that we could be saved. It was the ultimate act of grace. 

Whereas justice is giving someone what they deserve, and mercy is not giving someone what they deserve, grace is giving someone something they don’t deserve.

Jesus is the answer to all the riddles.

Is God’s Love Conditional or Unconditional?

As a young Christian, I remember hearing that God’s love is unconditional. And yet, I also heard that it was necessary to believe in Jesus and embrace the gospel in order to become a child of God and receive salvation. Is that a “condition”? Is God’s love really unconditional?

I saw an interesting conversation online yesterday. It was a discussion over what was being taught at a certain church in regard to salvation, the love of God and the work of Jesus on the cross.

Recently William Paul Young, the author of The Shack, released his first non-fiction book: Lies We Believe About God, in which he lays out what he believes. I happened to see this book on the shelf at Walmart recently, alongside a bunch of other books in the religion/spirituality realm which I hope that no-one will ever read because of their aberrant/heterodox theology and claims about God.

Here’s a word of advice: As a rule, don’t buy books about God / Spirituality / Theology from Walmart.

Basically, in Lies We Believe About God, William Paul Young comes out as a full-fledged universalist; he believes that all people will be saved, that God doesn’t require anything of us, that the idea of Hell is a creation of Medieval Christendom for the purpose of manipulating people into submission, and that no matter someone does or believes, they are a child of God and will therefore be saved and have eternal life.

Of course, these beliefs fly in the face of what the Bible clearly teaches and what Christians have taught and believed for 2000 years. For an explanation of the content of this book and a response to it, check out this great article from the Gospel Coalition.

How this ties into the online discussion that I witnessed yesterday, was that this church which had embraced the views of Wm. Paul Young and had taken a hard turn towards universalist theology. As a result, some people had left the church while others had embraced this teaching.

The crux of both this online conversation and the beliefs of William Paul Young is the question of whether the love of God is conditional or unconditional. The one thing that was assumed as true by all, is that God’s love is unconditional, which then created some issues, questions and difficulties for those on both sides…

Some made the conclusion that if God’s love is unconditional, then even the requirement that one must believe in Jesus constitutes a condition! Therefore, they conclude: ‘believing in Jesus must not be necessary for salvation.’ Furthermore, they conclude: ‘God does not require anything of us in order to accept us as his children, since he loves us unconditionally, and therefore all people are children of God simply by virtue of having been created, and therefore all of the promises of the Bible which pertain to the “children of God” belong to all people universally, no matter what they do or believe.’

Others, who hold orthodox Christian beliefs, disagreed with this, pointing out that Jesus himself clearly taught that unless one believes in Him they will not have salvation (John 3:18), and that the status of “Child of God” is reserved for those who believe (John 1:12). They struggled, however, to explain how these things did not constitute “conditions” – which would then contradict the claim that God’s love is “unconditional.”

So what is the answer? Is God’s love conditional or unconditional?

First of all, I do believe that God loves all people, but the question of whether all people have salvation or are in a covenant relationship with God is another issue.

This question of whether the covenant with God is conditional or unconditional is one of the great tensions of the Old Testament. In some places, it seems to be saying that God will love and bless and be faithful to his people unconditionally, no matter what they do. Yet, in other places it seems to be saying that the covenant is conditional, that certain requirements must be met in order for it to apply.

This tension builds and builds throughout the Old Testament, but is never actually resolved… UNTIL we get to Jesus!

In Jesus, the question is answered and the tension is resolved. The message of the gospel is that Jesus met all of the conditions of the covenant so that IN HIM (and only in Him) God can love us and accept us unconditionally.

The message of the gospel is that Jesus met all of the conditions of the covenant so that IN HIM (and only in Him) God can love us and accept us unconditionally.

Jesus is the answer to all the riddles.

Is God’s love conditional or unconditional? The answer is: Yes.
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus met all the righteous requirements of the Law, he fulfilled all of the conditions of the covenant, once and for all, on our behalf, so that if we are “in Him” by faith, then we are declared righteous, we are justified, and we have become children of God. Apart from Jesus, there is no such promise or hope. This is why the gospel is truly good news!

Much aberrant theology comes from deficient Christology.

May we be those who make much of Jesus and who celebrate the gospel: “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to His saints.” (Colossians 1:26)

What Does it Mean that Jesus is the Son of God?

This week I’m hosting Calvary Live, a call-in radio show on GraceFM. One of the questions I received yesterday from a listener is a very common point of confusion:

If the Bible says Jesus is the Son of God, how is it that Christians say that he is God?

I answered this question on the air yesterday, but then got a follow-up question via email. Here are my responses; hopefully they will help others who have similar questions.

Understanding the Term “Son of God”

The term Son of God is used in reference to Jesus many times in the New Testament. In John 20:31, John says: “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” If believing that Jesus is the Son of God is so important, it is essential that we understand what that means.

“Son of Man” / “Son of God” / God the Son

Three different titles are often used of Jesus. Here’s what each of them refers to:

  1. Son of Man: This title is used 88 times in the New Testament, often by Jesus in reference to himself. It is a Messianic title which comes from the Old Testament book of Daniel: Daniel 7:13-14.
    By calling himself the “Son of Man,” Jesus is saying two things about himself: 1) He is the Messiah, 2) He is fully human. This is important, because there are those who are called monophysiteswho believe that Jesus only had one (mono) nature (physis), i.e. that he was either fully human or fully deity, but not both. This position is held by the Coptic (Egyptian) church, but is generally considered heterodox.
  2. Son of God: Refers to Jesus’ authority and deity. Thus by saying that Jesus is the Son of Man and the Son of God, the Bible is teaching that Jesus was at the same time: fully human, the Messiah, and fully God. More on this below.
  3. God the Son: Refers to Jesus as the second person of the Trinity. For great resources on the Trinity and the deity of Christ, click here.

“Son of God” refers to nature and authority, not to origin

Jesus is not the Son of God in the sense that he is God’s “offspring,” rather this term must be understood in light of how the term “Son of ______” was used in ancient, and specifically Hebrew, thinking/language.

One writer puts it this way:

The word “son” was employed among the Semites to signify not only filiation, but other close connexion or intimate relationship. Thus, “a son of strength” was a hero, a warrior, “son of wickedness” a wicked man, “sons of pride” wild beasts, “son of possession” a possessor, “son of pledging” a hostage, “son of lightning” a swift bird, “son of death” one doomed to death, “son of a bow” an arrow, “son of Belial” a wicked man, “sons of prophets” disciples of prophets etc. The title “son of God” was applied in the Old Testament to persons having any special relationship with God.
But the Messiah, the Chosen One, the Elect of God, was par excellence called the Son of God (Psalm 2:7)

So, to be THE Son of God was a title reserved for the Messiah (or Christ in Greek). This is very clear from several verses which equate the term “Son of God” with the Christ/Messiah.
For example: John 20:31 – …so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God…  or Matthew 26:63 – the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

However, when Jesus answers that question, affirming that he is the Son of God – he is accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death. Why would claiming to be the Son of God be considered blasphemy and worthy of a death sentence? It’s because the Jewish leaders understand exactly what the phrase “Son of God” meant: to be the Son of God meant to be of the same nature as God, in other words: to be God. That claim was considered blasphemy and according to Leviticus 24:15-16, a blasphemer was to be put to death.

We see this very clearly in an interaction between Jesus and a crowd in Jerusalem:

Jesus said… “I and the Father are one.”

Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

“We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (John 10:30-33)

Hebrews 1:3 expresses this concept that the term “Son of God” refers to Jesus being of the exact nature as God, i.e. Jesus is God:

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.” (Hebrews 1:3)

Not only did Jesus directly claim to be God – which was the very reason why the Jewish authorities demanded that he be executed, but Jesus made several other claims to the fact of his deity:

  1. Jesus invoked the ancient and sacred name of God (I am) in speaking of himself. For this reason, the Jewish people tried to stone him on more than one occasion, for example: John 8:58-59 – Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
  2. Jesus claimed to do things that only God could do, such as forgive sins (Matthew 9:1-8) and resurrect the dead (John 11:25)

So Son of God refers to Jesus nature and authority, not to his origin.

The opening verses of the Gospel of John makes it clear that Jesus did not come into being when he was born as a baby in Bethlehem, but that he had existed from eternity past, as he is indeed God made manifest in human flesh.

The understanding that the Messiah is in fact God himself, come to the world in human flesh, is found in the Old Testament

Perhaps the best, but certainly not the only example of this is found in Isaiah 9, where speaking of the Messiah, it says:

For to us a child is born, (a human child who will be born)
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end, (eternal).   (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Does Isaiah 53:10 say that Jesus is God’s “offspring”?

The question I got from another listener in response to this answer was asking if Isaiah 53:10 doesn’t actually refer to Jesus as the “offspring” of God.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

The answer is very simple: the “offspring” referred to here is the offspring not of “the Lord,” but of the “suffering servant” (the one whose soul is made an offering for guilt).

What this is referring to is how, through Jesus’ death, many others would come to (spiritual) life.

This is actually referenced to by Jesus in John 12:24, but in order to see this, we have to understand that the word translated into English as “offspring” is literally the word “seed”.

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds (offspring).”  (John 12:24)

Isaiah 53:10 therefore, is not referring to Jesus as God’s offspring, but referring to those who will come to new life as a result of Jesus’ sacrificial death.

I hope this helps make sense of these things! Thanks for reading; if you have any comments or further questions, please write them below.

Was Jesus in the Grave Three Days and Three Nights? Here’s How It Adds Up

In Matthew 12:38-41, we read about how some of the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign that he really was who he said he was: the Messiah. Jesus responded that only one sign would be given to them: the “sign of the prophet Jonah.”

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the Earth.

Here’s the problem: If Jesus died on Good Friday and rose on Easter Sunday, that doesn’t add up to 3 days and 3 nights. At most it adds up to 2.5 days and 2 nights.

So… does that mean that Jesus didn’t stay in the grave long enough to fulfill his own prophecy?

Nope. Jesus really was in the grave three days and three nights, which is why the early Christians also taught that he was raised on the third day (Acts 10:40, 1 Corinthians 15:4). Let me explain how it adds up, but be prepared: it’s going to change the way you think about “Good Friday.”

Some Basics to Start With

  1. The Jewish calendar is lunar (based on the cycles of the moon), whereas the Roman calendar (which we use) is solar (based on the rotation of the Earth around the Sun). As a result, they don’t always correspond, hence the reason why the date of Easter changes every year. Today in Western Christianity, Easter is celebrated on the Sunday following the Paschal Full Moon. For more on why the date of Easter changes each year, click here.
  2. We tend to think of the new day beginning when we wake up, but in the Jewish mindset, the new day begins at sunset. So, when the sun sets on Monday, it is not considered Monday evening, it is considered the beginning of Tuesday.
  3. We know that Jesus resurrected on a Sunday, “the first day of the week” (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2,9; Luke 24:1)

What is a “Sabbath”?

The word sabbath means “rest,” and it refers to a holy day when no work is to be done.

Every Saturday is a sabbath, but there are other sabbaths as well – also known as “special Sabbaths.” Some of these “special Sabbaths” are celebrated on a specific calendar date, no matter what day of the week that date falls on – kind of like how we in the USA celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July, and we observe that holiday no matter what day of the week it falls on.

In John 19:31, we read this about the day when Jesus was crucified:

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.

The special Sabbath referred to here was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a holiday which is always observed on the 15th day of Nisan according to the Jewish calendar.

According to Leviticus 24:4-14, there are three special holidays in the month of Nisan: Passover (the 14th of Nisan), the Feast of Unleavened Bread (15-22 of Nisan) and the Feast of First Fruits which was held on the Sunday following the Passover.

Let’s Sum This Up

Jesus actually died on a Thursday. Friday and Saturday were both sabbaths: Friday was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and Saturday was the weekly sabbath.

Jewish Month of Nisan

How can we be sure that this is what happened?

Several decades ago, the London Royal Observatory took on the challenge that since they could theoretically identify the position of the planets and start on any date in history, to figure out if around the time of Jesus there was such a time when Passover fell on a Thursday. Since the Jewish calendar is lunar, there is always a full moon on Passover, so this is pretty easy to figure out. Not surprisingly, there were several years around the time of Jesus when this took place. It’s really not that uncommon – just like how Christmas falls on a Tuesday every few years.

Even More Interesting…”Coincidences”?

According to Exodus 12:1-13, God told the Israelites that they were to select the Passover Lamb on the 10th day of Nisan. They were to examine it from the 11th to the 13th to make sure it was without blemish, and they were to sacrifice it on the 14th.

If the 14th was Thursday – and Jesus was crucified on “the day of Preparation” (Matthew 27:62, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, John 19:31) which was the day when Passover began and the celebration began with the eating of the Passover meal (Jesus and his disciples then would have eaten the last supper Passover meal on Wednesday evening). Then what this means is that when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, that was on the 10th of Nisan – the day when the Passover lambs were to be selected!

Furthermore, remember that the Sunday after Passover was the Feast of First Fruits (Leviticus 23:9-11) – which means that Jesus resurrected on the Feast of First Fruits. This is what Paul the Apostle is making direct reference to in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, where he says:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

So there you have it:

Jesus was indeed in the grave for three days and three nights. It really wasn’t that much of an anomaly, but it resulted in two sabbaths back to back – something which regularly happens every few years.

So “Good Friday” was actually on Thursday, “Maundy Thursday” was actually on Wednesday, and “Holy Saturday” was actually two days long.

However, it is incredible to see how God orchestrated and prepared for this to happen as it did for thousands of years before it happened. In reality, the Bible tells us that God had planned this whole thing out from eternity past (see Revelation 13:8) – and all of it so that you may have life in His name by believing! (John 20:31)

 

What to Do at New Year

Happy New Year!

This past Sunday at White Fields we continued our series Be Set Free, in the Book of Exodus, seeing the people of Israel now on the other side of the Red Sea after having been set free by God.

Their situation there on the far shore of the Red Sea parallels what it means to be a Christian today: they had been set free from bondage, but that wasn’t the end of their journey, it was only the beginning! God was taking them to the Promised Land. 

As the people of Israel stood on the bank of the Red Sea, they sang a song of thanksgiving and praise, which had 2 aspects:

  1. They sang in response:  They looked back and remembered what God had brought them through and gave thanks for God had done for them.
  2. They sang in faith:  They looked forward to lay ahead and what God had in store for them in the time to come.

This is a great model for us as we come into this new year.

I encourage you to look back and give thanks to God for His faithfulness and mercy that you experienced in 2016 — for the answered prayers, for the abundant grace and for salvation in Jesus. Be like the one former leper in Luke 17:11-19, who returned to Jesus to give thanks, rather than the nine who didn’t.

Once you’ve done that, I encourage you to look forward to this coming year and seek God about what He might want this next year of your life to be like — and then make plans and take steps accordingly, so that those good intentions actually become reality.

What does God want this next year to look like for you?

Start with what you already know is His will and His desire for you: 

  • Walk with Him and serve Him. Seek Him in His Word, in corporate worship and study and in community with other believers.
  • Honor Him in your work and with your finances.
  • Honor Him in your relationships, particularly in your marriages.
  • If you have kids, lead them to Him and in His ways.

Determining to do things which are in line with God’s heart and His desires, then planning and working toward those things is an act of faith and obedience. So let this new year be filled with godly goals and pursuits.

I pray that this coming year would be one in which you experience His work in you and through you in a greater way than ever before!

Carried by a Donkey

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On Sunday mornings at White Fields, I am currently teaching through the Book of Exodus. This past Sunday, we studied Exodus 13 in our study titled “A Cloud by Day and Fire by Night” (audio here).

After bringing the people of Israel out of Egypt, God established 2 annual feasts that they were to observe so they would never forget the deliverance He had worked on their behalf: the Feast of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Here the people of Israel were told that when they come into the Land of Canaan (the Promised Land) they were to sacrifice to God the first-born of both man and beast.

But wait! There are a couple problems with that…  First of all, human sacrifice was forbidden and considered an abomination. Secondly, some animals were considered “unclean” and therefore they could not be sacrificed either.

The solution?  The first-born of the humans and the first-born of the unclean animals both had to be “redeemed,” through an act of substitution. Specifically, it is mentioned that unclean animals were to be redeemed by substituting a clean animal in their place. In the text, an example is given: a donkey, as an unclean animal, could be redeemed by substituting a lamb in its place.

The donkey is a picture of me: pretty stubborn, not very cute, but worst of all: unclean by nature and condemned to death, but I have been redeemed, I have been saved by the substitutionary sacrifice on my behalf of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

But there’s one more part to the story of the donkey:

Hundreds of years after the Passover, Zechariah the Prophet prophesied about the coming King of Zion – AKA the Messiah, that when he entered into Jerusalem, he would come on the back of donkey.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

Why a donkey? Many people believe that in contrast to conquering warrior kings who would enter a city on the back of a horse, an animal of war, by entering Jerusalem on a donkey, the message would be that the Messiah came in peace. Indeed one of the names he is given by the Prophet Isaiah is “Prince of Peace”.

Several hundred years later, Jesus of Nazareth came to Jerusalem, and he entered the city on the back of a donkey, declaring Himself to be the Messiah – and he was received as the Messiah by the people.

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me.
Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:1-2,8-9)

Now here’s the thing: Just as Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, an unclean but redeemed creature – he still enters into the cities of this world in the same way: carried by those who are unclean, but redeemed.

Christian, you are that donkey!

The way that Jesus has chosen to enter into the cities, the homes, the workplaces of this world, is by being carried on the backs of us “donkeys”: creatures who are unclean by nature, who have been redeemed by the sacrifice of the lamb on our behalf.

Paul the Apostle reminds us that God loves to use the foolishing things of this world (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-30), and that includes us: “redeemed donkeys”.

The Problem with Facades

In Exodus 34, we read an interesting story: when Moses went to meet with God on the mountain to receive the tablets of the 10 Commandments, it caused Moses’ face to glow.

It says that when he came down from the mountain, the people were frightened to see his face glowing. In another place we are told that they couldn’t look upon it, because the glow was so bright.

behind-the-veilBut then an interesting thing happens; if you read the text it says that Moses would first let the people look at his face (or at least see that his face was glowing), then he would cover his face with a veil (supposedly for their sake), and then whenever he would go in before the Lord, he would remove the veil, get “charged up,” then come back, let the people see that his face was glowing again, and then put the veil back over his face.

Now, think about it: If the reason Moses covered his face was for the sake of the people, so as not to blind them by the glow on his face, then why let them look at his face first, and only then cover it up until the next time he went in before the Lord?

There is something implied there which is made explicit in another place in the Bible: in 2 Corinthians 3, Paul tells us that the reason Moses covered his face was because he didn’t want the people to know that the glow was fading away…

In other words, Moses hid behind the veil in order to keep up an appearance before the people, that wasn’t really true. Moses didn’t want people to know that he was just like them. He liked having people look up to him and be in awe of him, so he hid his face, lest everyone see that the glory was fading.

It was a facade.

That’s what a veil is: it’s something you hide behind. It’s a kind of mask that you use to cover up your blemishes, lest people see the real things about you that might change their image of you.

As a pastor, I see this a lot.

There are many examples of this today, in our own culture. Oftentimes people are willing to help other people deal with their “messiness,” but they don’t want anyone to know about the messy things in their lives. People tend to be quick to offer help, but reticent to admitting that they need help, or accepting help when it’s offered. They’d rather keep up a facade that they’ve got their stuff together, that their face glows with the glory of the Lord, even when that’s not the case.

In other words: “Life is messy, and that’s okay – as long as it’s not my mess.” “Community is about serving each other, and that’s great, as long as it’s me serving others and not me being served.”

Veils hinder true fellowship and community. Facades can hinder people from getting help when they need it. If your curtains are on fire, but you don’t want to call the fire department, lest your neighbors see that there was a problem at your house, then the fire will spread until the entire house burns down. All too often, that’s exactly what happens.

If your curtains are on fire, but you don’t want to call the fire department, lest your neighbors see that there was a problem at your house, then the fire will spread until the entire house burns down.

Furthermore, when leaders put up a facade, like Moses did, that things are better than they actually are, or that they are more spiritual than they actually are, it creates a culture which encourages people to not be honest about where they are really at. I believe that people deserve to have leaders they can look up to, and that they should expect more from leaders: to be a leader means to be out in front; after all, how can you follow someone, unless they are a few steps ahead of you? However, it should be authentic and not contrived. What Moses did was contrived.

In Genesis 3, we read about the first time people tried to cover up their shame: Adam and Eve had been naked and unashamed until they rebelled against God, but when sin came into the world, they were overcome with a sense of shame, and they tried to hide it by covering themselves with leaves. Leaves are good for a lot of things, but they made terrible coverings. They’re itchy. They’re drafty.

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Here’s what God did: he said, “I will make a covering for you,” and he made them coverings of animal skins. Do you know how you get animal skins? By killing an animal. In other words: because of their sin, an innocent creature had to die, in order to cover their shame.

Are you picking up what the story is putting down? The only way for us to be covered, is by the death of another. That other, the ultimate covering for our sin and shame, was Jesus – the “lamb of God.”

Any of your attempts to cover yourself will be not only uncomfortable and drafty, they will be insufficient and unhelpful. Facades create unnecessary barriers which hinder fellowship and growth. Embrace the covering of Jesus, and pursue authenticity rather than facades in your relationships and in your spirituality!

3 Ways to Identify Idols in Your Life & What to Do About Them

Recently at White Fields Church, we have been studying through the Book of Exodus in a series called Be Set Free.

This past Sunday we began to study the 10 plagues, and we saw how each of the plagues was a direct confrontation of the various deities of Egypt. For example: the Egyptians worshiped 3 deities associated with the Nile river, so, the first plague, which defiled the water of the river, struck at the heart of the confidence the Egyptians had in these deities who protected the Nile.

The purpose of the plagues was to erode the confidence of the Egyptians in their false gods, and cause them to trust in the Lord God – and just in case you’re wondering: it worked! Exodus 12:38 tells us that when the Hebrews left Egypt in the Exodus, many of the Egyptians joined them.

Primitive vs. Sophisticated Religion

Modern people tend to look down on old pagan cultures as “primitive” because they worshiped many different gods. They had a god or goddess for nearly everything you can imagine: from wealth to beauty, success and money, sex and fertility, weather and security, etc.

On the other hand, we tend to think of ourselves as being much more sophisticated, because we don’t worship a pantheon of deities like the ancients did.

But are we really as sophisticated as we like to think?   Were they really as primitive as we tend to assume? The answer to both questions is simply: NO.

Each of the pagan gods represented something. They worshiped things which they felt were good and desired to have: such as sex, prosperity, power, family, money, beauty and success.

Do we not worship the same things? Pick up a copy of People Magazine. Turn on E! Entertainment network. Browse the trending topics or the Moments section of Twitter. Listen to popular songs and music. If you’re honest, you have to admit that we idolize, i.e. worship, the same basic things that they did then. We’re not more sophisticated than they were – and they weren’t as primitive as we tend to paint them.

The only difference between us and them in this regard is that at least they had the self-awareness and the honesty to call a spade a spade, and admit that they worshiped those things! In that sense, they are actually perhaps more sophisticated than we are.

The Bible actually speaks of “idolatry of the heart” (cf. Ezekiel 14:1-3) – meaning that idols are just statues, but they are things that you worship. John Calvin famously said that “human nature is a perpetual factory of idols;” meaning that we have a propensity to worshiping things, and we will make an idol out of nearly anything.

However, one of the central themes of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is the devastating effects of idolatry on people’s lives. “Idols,” author Timothy Keller says, “are spiritual addictions that lead to terrible evil.”

Idols are spiritual addictions that lead to terrible evil. – Timothy Keller

Here are 3 ways we can we identify or recognize the idols in our lives:

1. The feeling of: If I have ______, then my life is worth living. If I don’t have ______, then my life is not worth living.

When the meaning of your life is tied to a particular thing and it has become the central thing in your life, it is the thing which justifies your existence. You believe that as long as you have it, you will be “okay” – and to not have it would mean that your entire reason for being has been lost.

When this describes a relationship, we call it a co-dependant relationship. A better word for this is: idolatry. When something is the central focus of your life, the underlying motivation behind all of your decisions, the best word to describe that relationship is: worship.

2. You are willing to compromise your own long-held values for it

A litmus test of idolatry in your life is when you are willing to compromise your own long-held values for the sake of that thing.

What causes a person who sincerely believes that something is wrong – to do that exact thing?

Take the family man who cheats on his spouse, or the pastor who steals from his church. These are terrible things, and we rightly call this hypocrisy. But what causes a person who on any given day would have told you that it is wrong to cheat on your spouse, or a person who not only preaches, but sincerely believes that stealing is wrong – to do that exact thing?

The answer is: there is something that they want so much more in that given moment, that they are willing to compromise their own values, and hurt other people and themselves in order to get it.

We have sayings in our culture, like: “I would kill for that.” Of course it’s hyperbole, but the message is: there are certain things out there that I want so badly that I would be willing to break my own rules, compromise what I believe is right, and hurt people in order to get them. That is certainly not just hyperbole – that kind of thing happens all the time, and always with devastating consequences.

You may not be there yet, but if you’ve had thoughts about doing something that goes against the very principles that you yourself sincerely believe in – that is a major red flag, that that thing is an idol in your life.

3. You’re looking to it to give you things which only God can give you

Identity. Security. Love. Rest. Hope.

If I have this much money… then I would really be somebody. Then I would be secure. Then I could rest…
If my family looks like this… then I will be secure. Then I will be happy with who I am. Then I can rest. Then I will be loved.

If your looking to any relationship or material thing to give you what only God can give you, that thing is an idol in your life.

An idol is almost always a good thing, but it becomes an idol when you elevate it from a good thing to an ultimate thing.

Idols can be things that you have, but are afraid of losing – or perhaps even more often, they can be things which you’ve never had at all, but desperately want.

What Is the Solution?

The cure for idolatry is to get a vision of God as He truly is.

When you see God for the greatness of who He is, when you understand what He has done for you in Jesus Christ, you realize that everything you ultimately desire and need is found in and through Him.

To see God in this way is to see Him as more desirable and more satisfying than anything else in the world – and when that happens, you will no longer turn to idols, which will always disappoint and the pursuit of which have devastating consequences.

 

Is God’s Covenant Conditional or Unconditional?

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According to the late Ray Dillard, professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, one of the great themes of the Bible is the question of whether the covenant with God is conditional or unconditional.

It is this question and this tension which drives the Old Testament.

There are places where it seems that God says to his people: “It’s conditional. You have to obey me.  I’m a holy God. I can have nothing to do with sin. If you want to be accepted by me, or have a relationship with me, then you have to obey me.”

There are other places where it seems that God is saying: “No matter what you do, I am going to be faithful to you. I will be there, I won’t give up on you, I will save you.”

So which is it?

In a way, you could say that the entire Old Testament is one big plot thickening, in which the big question is: Can we have a relationship with God? And if so: is our relationship with him conditional or unconditional? Is it that we have to fulfill something, or is it that he loves us no matter what?

So what’s the answer?

The answer is actually not found in the Old Testament. It it when we get to the cross of Calvary that the answer is revealed.

The answer is… YES.

It’s not one or the other, it’s both.

The covenant with God is BOTH conditional and unconditional.

In the death of Jesus on the cross you find that you have to take both the conditions of the covenant and the unconditional nature of God’s love seriously at the same time.

Jesus satisfied the conditions of the covenant on our behalf so that God could accept us and love us unconditionally.

 

Advent Meditations: 7 – Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

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When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. – Matthew 2:10-11

The wise men, the Magi from the east, came to visit the newborn King of the Jews, because they saw his star in the sky and came “to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

They brought him 3 gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. We all know what gold is, but what are frankincense and myrrh, and what was their significance as gifts for a newborn king?

Both frankincense and myrrh are resins made from dried tree sap – certainly lacking the glamour of gold – but both were rare and expensive in their own right, as the trees which they are made from are found in the Horn of Africa and the coast of the Arabian Peninsula.

Frankincense was an aromatic incense that was burned by the priests in the temple, and is still used in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox mass.

Myrrh was used as an ointment for treating wounds and one of its main uses was in the burial process – it was a kind of ancient embalming fluid. 

Kind of a weird thing to give to a baby though, don’t you think?  It’s not something you can pick up at Babies R’ Us!   It’s not something you normally bring to a baby shower!  “Oh, look: onesies and a baby bumper for the crib – and oh, a prepaid funeral and embalming.  A casket…    That is practical – and kind of inappropriate…  Thanks…I guess.”

Somehow these Wise Men understood that the reason this King, Jesus, had come, was to be wounded and to lay down his life – that his life would be a sacrifice.

He was born to die, so that we might live.

And just as they brought their gifts to the newborn king to recognize his rule and authority over them – the same is done today. The ways we express that Jesus is king over us is by bringing gifts similar to those which the Magi brought to Jesus.

They brought him Gold — we also express that Jesus is Lord over us by giving to Him of our financial resources.

They brought him Frankincense. In the Old Testament temple, frankincense was a symbol of the prayers and worship offered up to God, which rise up to the Lord and are a sweet-smelling aroma to Him. Another way we recognize the Lordship of Jesus is by praying and singing songs of praise.

And Myrrh: the symbol of death.  We recognize and declare Jesus to be King over us as we take communion and acknowledge what He did for us on the Cross, by dying in our place for our sins.

Be a wise man – or woman – and honor Jesus as your king by giving these gifts yourself this Advent season, and beyond.