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Psalm 15 - Living With God

Sunday, February 18, 2018

If God lived in a house, who would be allowed inside? This is the question posed at the beginning of Psalm 15. One might expect the answer to be a list of ritual requirements like washing one’s garments (Ex. 19:10-15). Surprisingly, the LORD’s reply searches the conscience. There are certain inner qualities that one must possess to access the divine presence. The psalmist’s words are not far off from Jesus’: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8). Let’s take a look at Psalm 15.

 

GOD AS MAN’S HOST (v.1)

O LORD, who may abide in Your tent?

Who may dwell on Your holy hill?

 

The word “tent” may conjure up two pictures in your mind. You may recall the tent of meeting where God was formally worshiped by Israel with sacrifices offered by priests. This was the very place where God met His people, the nexus between heaven and earth (Ex. 29:42). Later, a temple was constructed by Solomon on the “holy hill” of Zion (1 Kgs. 8:1ff).

 

The other image you may picture is one of simple hospitality expressed in the words “abide” and “dwell.” Combining these two ideas, this “tent” is a meeting place where God and His people can live together. The worshiper is God’s eager guest, his sojourning (same word as “abide” v.1) to God’s house, a homecoming of sorts (23:6; 27:4-5). But the question remains, “who” is allowed this great privilege of meeting with God in His home?

 

MAN AS GOD’S GUEST (vv.2-5)

His Character: True (v.2)

He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness,

And speaks truth in his heart.

 

The man whose life is characterized by “integrity,” meaning wholeness or completeness, is welcomed into God’s house. His outward behavior and profession is consistent with his inner comportment. He is true, that is, he is not a phony. He loves what is right and does what is right consistently. He speaks from his heart and is what he says, because he knows “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Mt. 12:34).

 

His Speech: Restrained (v.3)

He does not slander with his tongue,

Nor does evil to his neighbor,

Nor takes up a reproach against his friend;

 

The man who values his “neighbor” enough to do him no harm is welcomed into God’s house. His speech is not slanderous (Lev. 19:16), that is, he refuses to spy things out and spread things around. He doesn’t pick up a “reproach” against his neighbor only to drag him through the mud. The Psalmist’s words are a commentary on the proverb, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.” (Prov. 10:12)

 

His Allegiance: Total (v.4ab)

In whose eyes a reprobate is despised,

But who honors those who fear the Lord;

 

Verse 4a looks at first like a Pharisaic attitude of self-righteousness but by v.4b is seen in truth to be loyalty. The idea isn’t that he measures himself by others to find his justification (2 Cor. 10:12) but rather that he casts his vote for God and those who “fear” Him. He reveres the LORD and admires those who do the same. Abraham’s treatment of the king of Salem compared to the king of Sodom reflects this (Gen. 14:17-24).

 

His Dealings: Honorable (vv.4c-5ab)

He swears to his own hurt and does not change;

He does not put out his money at interest,

Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

 

This man makes a vow and, even though keeping it may result in “his own hurt,” he “does not change” his mind. The oath made here is not to someone else’s hurt (see Jephthah [Jdg. 11:35] or Herod [Mk. 6:26]) but to “his own.” If he makes a promise to his neighbor but later realizes his error, he could beg for release (Prov. 6:1-5). Instead, because he is a man of his word, he keeps his vow so no one else has to pay the cost.

 

An Israelite was allowed to lend out “money at interest” to foreigners (Deut. 23:20) but was not permitted to profit from a fellow Israelite, especially the poor (Lev. 25:35-38). Extortion was forbidden and generosity was encouraged (Ex. 23:9; Lev. 19:33-34). Remarkably, no distinction is made in this psalm between a brother or a stranger in need. He treats everyone the same. You might say the man who is welcome in God’s house truly loves his neighbor (Lk. 10:25-29ff).

 

His Place: Certain (v.5c)

He who does these things will never be shaken.

 

This psalm is not just about being welcome and gaining admission into God’s house, but dwelling there (v.1). The instability of being moved (“shaken”) is only remedied by trusting in God (16:8; 46:5). When we have steadfast faith in God’s word, God creates these very qualities (vv.2-5b) within us (we will do “these things”). The result of such faith? We will not only be welcome into God’s house but we “will never be [moved]”.

 

-Jerome (adapted from Kidner Classic Commentaries: Psalms 1-72)

Psalm 3 - The Dark Hour

Sunday, February 11, 2018

 

King David wrote Psalm 3 “when he fled from Absalom his son” (title), the events of which are recounted in 2 Sam. 15:13ff. The personal grief of a rebellious son (2 Sam. 18:33) was the knife-twist amid a larger aching pain of national disloyalty. Mixed with the popular sentiment that God had withdrawn from David, this time of exile made for torturous mental agony. He had been on the run before from the previous king, Saul, but that time he had been innocent. This flight from Jerusalem, however, was partially due to his own moral failings (2 Sam. 12:11).

 

Human Enmity (vv.1-2)

O Lord, how my adversaries have increased!

Many are rising up against me.

Many are saying of my soul,

“There is no deliverance for him in God.”

 

David was part of a shrinking minority, which is itself a test of nerve. His opponents, pictured as multiplying, were active in their search for him and accusatory – it looked as though God had abandoned him. David had already acknowledged his sin and thrown himself at the mercy of God (2 Sam. 16:11-12). He was facing “increasing” human enmity. Hunted, alone and weak, to whom could he turn to now?

 

Divine Protection (vv.3-4)

But You, O LORD, are a shield about me,

My glory, and the One who lifts my head.

I was crying to the LORD with my voice,

And He answered me from His holy mountain.

 

Where else can anyone go in the pain of fear but to the LORD? Each phrase in v.3 grows in confidence. It’s as if David begins by reminding himself of who the LORD is and increases with each fresh remembrance. He considered the LORD his “shield” encompassing him in divine protection.

 

David, a king to whom much “glory” had been bestowed in the form of power, privilege and possessions, had been stripped of that glory hiding as a wanted man. He had squandered those gifts, using them for his own gain and to his own ruin. But now, broken in the wilderness, David finally realized the LORD was his only true claim to “glory” (Gal. 6:14).

 

Though he had been weeping “with his head covered” as he “walked barefoot” in miserable dejection (2 Sam. 15:30), the LORD “lifts” his head. Despite his failures as a husband, a father and a king, and despite all the favor he had lost with his subjects, the merciful God gave him grace.

 

God’s “holy mountain” was the place where David was installed as king and where the ark, the symbol of God’s earthly throne (2 Sam. 6:2) and covenant, was kept. Though Absalom was the sitting king, there was another King reigning in Jerusalem (Psa. 2) whose decrees issued from Zion. David had cried to Him and was “answered.”

 

Peace of Mind (vv.5-6)

I lay down and slept;

I awoke, for the LORD sustains me.

I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people

Who have set themselves against me round about.

 

Such was David’s certainty that his “crying” prayer had been heard (1 Jn. 5:14-15), he “lay down and slept.” His security in answered prayer was well founded for he “awoke” by the sustaining power of the LORD.

 

Awake, alive, refreshed and encouraged, David was ready to face any threat. No matter how “many” (vv.1-2) enemies encircled him, even “ten thousands,” he had the peace of mind that the LORD’s protection brings.

 

Victory & Blessing (vv.7-8)

Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God!

For You smite all my enemies on the cheek;

You shatter the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the LORD;

Your blessing be upon Your people!

 

For David, called to kingship, refuge from his enemies is not enough. Anything less than victory and being reinstated as king was tantamount to defeat. So David called upon the LORD his God for “salvation” from his “enemies,” confident God would provide deliverance.

 

David trusted in God’s power to save because he realized that “salvation belongs” to Him. Without the LORD there is no salvation to be had. He was not asking anything from the LORD that the LORD had not already promised. God has always exalted the lowly and humbled the proud.

 

So the psalm ends looking beyond David to God’s “people” and beyond David’s rescue to God’s “blessing.” God’s people will not only survive but be delivered; we will not only be delivered but be victorious; we will not only be victorious but be eternally blessed.

 

David’s situation in Psalm 3 mirrors ours in so many ways. We were created to reign on God’s earth (Gen. 1:28) but abdicated our throne and exchanged our authority for slavery to sin and Satan (Gen. 3). But thank God, Jesus has come to dethrone the enemy and reinstall us to our rightful position! (Jn. 1:12; Rev. 22:5) “Salvation belongs to the LORD”!

 

-Jerome (adapted from Kidner Classic Commentaries: Psalms 1-72)

The Real Light

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

(Genesis 1:3-4)

 

In the beginning, God created a chaotic and lifeless universe, then spent 6 days fixing, ordering and vitalizing it. He could have created the universe teeming with life at the snap of His fingers, but the Genesis account teaches us about the character and nature of God. God’s word brings order to the chaos, light to the darkness and life to the lifeless.

There are many intersections between the language of creation and the language of John’s gospel. He opens His gospel with a poem: “In the beginning was the Word” (Jn. 1:1), an obvious allusion to the Genesis account when God created everything with His word. In another work of John, he describes God’s essence as “Light” (1 Jn. 1:5). So, “in the beginning” when God said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3), He was injecting something of Himself into this world. Lo and behold, Jesus, God’s Son and God’s Word who was in the beginning, came into this sin-cursed and darkened world in the same manner: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it,” or “overpower” it (Jn. 1:5). As life and order followed the light in the beginning, so Jesus brought spiritual life and order into a spiritually dead and chaotic world (Jn. 1:4).

Jesus’ entrance into the world as “Light” marked a new beginning and a cosmic shift for the universe. What’s more, John calls Jesus “the true Light” (1 Jn. 2:8). He is “true” not in the sense in which truth differs from error, but in the sense in which the real differs from the unreal. Jesus is the substance, the ultimate reality of light. Physical light photons enter our eye and send a cascade of signals through various connections before getting to our brain. We perceive this as ‘real,’ but John says what we are perceiving is just the shadow or type of the real thing!

 

When God was forming reality and how human beings would perceive the universe through the five senses, He was up to something even greater. “The lights in the expanse in the heavens,” the sun and moon and stars, are described as “signs” (Gen. 1:14). They signify the seasons and marked time. But they also signify something else. The physical light that emanates from these luminous heavenly bodies and enters our retina represents something altogether more real. They are pointing to the real thing, the real Light, which is God (1 Jn. 1:5) and Jesus (1 Jn. 2:8).

 

When God, who is Light, sent His Son as Light into this dark world, the reign and control of the chaotic forces of sin and darkness were “passing away and the true Light is already shining” (1 Jn. 2:8,17; 2 Pet. 1:19). All those who choose to walk in this light (1 Jn. 1:6-7) have “passed out of” a realm of hatred, darkness and “death into life” and love (1 Jn. 3:14).

God’s children become human satellites, reflections of the true Light. The Light shines in God’s children through their love for one another. As the essence of God is described as “Light” (1  Jn. 1:5), He is also “love” (1 Jn. 4:8). And Jesus is the human incarnation, the physical manifestation of the true reality of “Light” and “love.” We know He lives within us when we shine our light of love and “good works” to our neighbors (Mt. 5:14-16; 1 Jn. 4:16). When others witness this light they are getting a glimpse of God, a theophany, in God’s children. Only by living in the light of love revealed in Jesus can we ever be the true reflections and images of the “true God” (Gen. 1:27; 1 Jn. 5:20). The invisible God in seen His children!

Are you still with me? This is wild stuff and we’re coming up to the very edges of human experience and vocabulary in explaining these things. But if we can bend our mind a little further we can begin to grasp the reality of heaven, which is the “true” reality indeed (Heb. 8:5).

 

Go back to the beginning. Darkness came into the world through the devil’s agent of sin (Gen. 3). A great schism between creation and God occurred and death came as a result. Jesus came as God’s agent “to destroy the works of the devil,” expel the darkness and put an end to its reign of death (1 Jn. 3:8; 2:8,17; Rom. 5:21). The “enmity” between God’s children and the devil’s children will finally end (Gen. 3:16).

 

Death itself will be “thrown into a lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14) along with all the darkness of this world, all mourning, crying, and pain. These “first things” will “pass away” when God makes “all things new” (Rev. 21:4-5). And this process of new creation has already begun (1 Jn. 2:8; 2 Cor. 5:17) but will not be completed until God sends Jesus to this world again.

 

When Jesus comes back there will be a great judgment (1 Jn. 2:28; 4:17) and all those who truly love God will be with Him in a city which “has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.” (Rev. 21:23-24).

 

In that great day, all of God’s children, will have made it back to the “tree of life” that they were cut off from so long ago (Gen. 3:22; Rev. 22:2). The lights of the heavens that were “signs” (Gen. 1:14) will be exchanged for the real thing. “There will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5).

 

So the next time you watch the sunrise, think on God’s glory and our heavenly home!

Psalm 1 - The Two Ways

Sunday, January 28, 2018

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the 
Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,
But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the 
Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.

 

The first Psalm presents two approaches life. Using imagery from nature, the Psalmist contrasts these two divergent pathways and their end.

 

The Way of Life (vv.1-3)

 

(v.1) Here is described one who not only lives a happy life but is truly living, in every sense of the word. This person is “blessed” which could be translated, “happy.” Jesus would expound upon this concept of living a happy and full life in His sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:3-12).

 

Counsel,” “path” & “seat” are all ways of talking about the realms of thinking, behaving & belonging. By using the words “walk,” “stand” and “sit,” the Psalmist shows three degrees of departure from God. When a person walks by the advice of the world, lives in accordance with it to the extent that he identifies with it, he will live wickedly, sinfully and will mock those who don’t. The “scoffer” describes the person farthest from repentance. The man is “happy” who avoids this path!

 

(v.2) The journey of life begins in the mind with a choice, so the mind is the key to the “blessed” life. The happy man rejects the world’s counsel in favor of “the law of the LORD.” Whatever shapes a man’s thinking will shape his life. The happy man spends his time meditating on Scripture.

 

(v.3) What effect will this man’s meditation have? He will steadily grow and be fruitful. Like a “tree” drinking “water,” the happy man absorbs the Lord’s instruction which takes root within him to produce something new and delightful. In a word, he “prospers.” He will never be crippled by drought because of his consistent healthy intake of God’s word.

 

The Way of Doom (vv.4-5)

 

(v.4) The wicked man is a desert shrub compared to the happy man (Jer. 17:6). He is rootless, weightless “chaff” driven by the wind. His life yields nothing useful. The image is one of winnowing the threshing floor in harvest, where the grain is tossed into the air and the bits of straw and empty husks are blown away: dark undertones of judgment (Lk. 3:17).

 

(v.5) The wicked may seem to be people of substance (Psa. 37:35-36) but when the day of “judgment” comes, the men of straw will be seen to be straw indeed, blown away and burned up (cf. 1 Cor. 3:12-13). They chose to “stand” in the path of sinners (v.1) but when their end comes, they will not have a leg to stand on. In fact, the only people who will be able to stand in the “judgment” are those who lived in the “assembly of the righteous” (Rom. 14:4, 10-11).

 

The Parting of the Ways (v.6)

 

To know is more than just being informed. The LORD recognizes and acknowledges, even guards (NET), “the way of the righteous.” The LORD recognizes the course of life of the “righteous” and rewards his choice to live in this direction with security and prosperity.

 

The “way of the wicked” comes to nothing. Their wicked behavior has set them on a course of life that ends in ruin (“perish”). His hopes are frustrated (Psa. 112:10), he wanders without direction (Psa. 119:76) and comes to grief (Psa. 9:6). Why? Because this man chose to fill his mind (and by extension, his life) with emptiness, the “counsel of the wicked” (v.1), instead of finding his “delight” “in the law of the LORD” (v.2).

 

Here, the two ways part for eternity. There is no third option. The first bastion to defend is the mind, what the Bible calls the “heart,” “for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). We must be careful what we choose to influence our heart with because it will alter the course of our lives and ultimately decide our destiny.

 

Jesus sheds light on the eternal implications of what we choose to believe and trust in: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). So, we are left with a choice to live or perish.

 

Let the gospel be your meditation, night and day. Soak it up like the living water it is (Jn. 4:14). Be firmly planted at the foot of the throne of the God near the banks of the river of life so that you are fruitful and your leaves never whither (Rev. 22:1-2).

Jesus - Divine by Inference

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.”

(Malachi 4:5)

 

We learn God’s will for us in three ways: (1) by direct command, when He tells us something; (2) by example, when He shows us something; or (3) by necessary inference, when He says or does something by which we are meant to draw a conclusion. By far the most controversial of these and most difficult to apply is understanding God’s will by the inferences He makes. Let’s pause here for a second.

I remember first reading the New Testament when I wasn’t yet a Christian and finding Jesus infuriating. There was always so much controversy surrounding His identity I thought, “Why don’t you just come right out and tell them who you are! Tell them you’re God’s Son and the Messiah they have been waiting for!” It bothered me that He always seemed to beat around the bush when it came to His identity as God’s Son. All the cryptic speech (and don’t get me started on those parables!) really tripped me up (1 Pet. 2:8). Also, He and other New Testament writers were always quoting from the Old Testament (which I knew even less about, if that were possible) when the topic of conversation turned to who He was and what He was about. To someone new to the Bible, this was challenging. Well, as it turned out, there were good reasons Jesus spoke that way.

In explaining who Jesus was by tying Him to a string of Old Testament Scriptures that dealt with God’s promises the writer is making some heavy implications. The audience is being challenged to infer and draw conclusions about Jesus’ identity by putting two-and-two together.

 

Consider the time Jesus was transfigured on top of a mountain where God once again declared, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Mt. 17:1-8). In the conversation afterward, Jesus helps them understand the significance of John the Baptist (vv.9-13).

 

The disciples knew and accepted what was taught about the kingdom – Elijah will come first and then God will finally arrive. But, properly understood, there were staggering implications to what Jesus was saying.

 

As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.” And His disciples asked Him, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist. (Mt. 17:9-13)

 

Here is the logic:

 

Elijah comes first, then God will come down (drawn from Mal 4:5).

  1. You know that John has already come first, and then Jesus came.
  2. So if John was Elijah, who is Jesus?
  3. Get it? Jesus is the LORD of Malachi 4:5!

 

By using Scripture Jews like Peter, James and John would have been familiar with (Mal. 4:5), Jesus was subtly pointing to Himself and identifying Himself. He didn’t stand up on a table in the temple in Jerusalem and wave a banner shouting, “Hey everybody! I am God!” because He didn’t need to. The people around Him knew the Scriptures. All Jesus had to do was point to those texts, point to Himself and allow people to draw their own conclusions.

 

But these subtle references would be lost if (1) you don’t know the Old Testament Scriptures or (2) if your heart was not seeking the truth, as was the case with many of Jesus contemporaries. This is why He spoke so often in parabolic form, so that the truth would remain hidden to those with a stubborn mindset (Mt. 13:10-17). He wasn’t trying to deliberately hide the truth but rather to expose the condition of their heart.

 

But to those truly seeking righteousness and the kingdom, Jesus says, Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Mt. 7:7-8)

 

Jesus taught with such wisdom! He didn’t have to shout to be heard. He was a smooth operator, subtle as a serpent, innocent as a dove (Mt. 10:16).

 

He will not cry out or raise His voice,

Nor make His voice heard in the street.

(Isa. 42:2)

 

He is the epitome of “the gentleness of wisdom”, “the wisdom from above” (Jas. 3:13, 17). We should all desire to be more like Jesus in this respect. Our faith should be seen as well as heard. And when it is heard it should be spoken with the “wisdom from above.”

 

But also, let’s not forget the importance of learning God’s will by drawing our own conclusions. Jesus and all the Biblical authors taught by implication and expected us to draw the logical conclusion.

 

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