Worship the Image, the Living God

TODAY’S READING: PSALMS 95-103

Psalm 97:7 says, “All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols.”

In the above verse, the word images could also be translated idols while the words worthless idols could be translated pagan gods or “nothingnesses.”

Images and idols are representations of spiritual realities, powers, or forces. But, these spiritual realities, powers, or forces are created things. In other words, they do not have live in and of themselves. Therefore, scripture says that the images and idols that represent these spiritual realities, forces, or powers are dead. Idols cannot speak, hear, or move.

To  worship is to serve. So, to serve images or idols that do not have life in them puts us to shame because we are serving that which is dead. When we serve that which is dead, we become dead too. So, when Paul writes in Ephesians that we were dead in our sins and trespasses, he says this because we have become like the images and idols that we are serving or worshiping.

Centuries and millennia ago, idols were made of stone, wood, and other materials. Today, we simply worship the spiritual power or force behind the idol – e.g. power, money, or sex – without the tangible idol. We think we are more sophisticated because we don’t have the tangible idol, but we are really all the more enslaved because our idol worship doesn’t have the tangible reality to prove its falseness.

So, instead of worshiping or serving images, we are to worship and serve the image – Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:15 says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”

Why do we worship the image – Jesus Christ?

Because unlike the images and idols we create that are dead, Jesus is the life of God and that life is in him. John 1:4 says, “In him was life.” In John 5:26, Jesus said the Father “has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” In John 11:25, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” In Revelation 1:18, Jesus said, “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore.”

In order for us to have life, we must worship or serve life. Therefore, we must worship and serve Jesus to live. For, whatever we worship, we become. This is just what the Thessalonian church did. According to Paul, they were well known for having “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” (1 Thessalonians 1:9)

Transform Enemies, Not Destroy Them

TODAY’S READING: PSALMS 89-94

There are two ways to deal with your enemy. The first way is to destroy them. The second way is to transform them.

We seem to see the method of destroying your enemy in Psalm 94. In verse 1, the psalmist cries out to the Lord, the God of vengeance. In verse 2, the psalmist says that it is time for God to judge the proud and repay them with what they deserve. In verse 3, the psalmist asks how long are the wicked going to exult or triumph.

But, by the end of the psalm, the psalmist declares his confidence that God will destroy his enemies. Verse 23 says, “He will bring back on them their iniquity and wipe them out for their wickedness; the Lord our God will wipe them out.” The Hebrew word translated “wipe out” can also mean destroy or exterminate.

Mankind could only conceive dealing with his enemies the way mankind deals with his enemies. You had to destroy, completely wipe out, your enemy if you never wanted to deal with them again. The more viciously and violently you destroyed with your enemy, the fewer enemies you would have in the future because of the fear you would have instilled them.

So, when God said to Israel that he would deal with their enemies, they understood it to mean that God would destroy them.

But, Jesus changed every notion of how God deals with his enemies. Jesus literally turned our understanding upside down.

1 Corinthians 1:22-25 says, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Jesus showed that God dealt with enemies through the cross. To mankind, the cross is foolishness and weakness. To God, the cross is wisdom and strength. The same two wood beams viewed from two different angles have two completely different meanings.

If God wanted to destroy his enemies, then he would have put his enemies on the cross. But, God’s plan was never to destroy his enemies.

God’s plan was always to transform his enemies. Therefore, instead of putting his enemies on the cross, God put himself on the cross.

Romans 5:10, Ephesians 2:1-2, and Colossians 1:21 say that all men were God’s enemies. But, Romans 12:2 says that we are not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. To be conformed to the world is to destroy your enemies. According to the world, you take vengeance on your enemies, you get even with them, you destroy them. But, through the cross we are transformed. According to Christ, you love your enemies, you repay their evil with good, you transform your enemies.

But, in a way, to transform your enemy is to destroy your enemy for if you transform your enemy then they are no longer your enemy. Because the end goal is the same but the means different, it was, and still is, easy for mankind to not understand that God’s desire is to transform and not destroy.

Therefore, with the cross in view, we can read Psalm 94 and understand what God was really saying. It’s not that the psalmist was wrong. Rather, he didn’t have the proper perspective to truly understand the message that God was giving him.

It Is Finished

TODAY’S READING: PSALMS 81-88

According to John 19:30, the last words of Jesus on the cross were, “It is finished.”

What was finished?

In Psalm 83, the enemies of God are making an uproar. They are laying crafty plans against the people of God, trying to wipe out Israel as a nation. Therefore, the psalm starts with a cry that God would no longer be silent and that he would no longer hold his peace or be still.

In this we see Jesus as he was the true son of God, the true Israel. All the enemies – the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness, and the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places – were roaring against Jesus, plotting together how to destroy him. These enemies were determined to wipe out Jesus so that he, and God, would be remembered no more.

Psalm 83:6-11 lists 17 enemies that come against Israel:

  1. Edom
  2. Ishmaelites
  3. Moab
  4. Hagrites
  5. Gebal
  6. Ammon
  7. Amalek
  8. Philistia
  9. Tyre
  10. Asshur
  11. Midian
  12. Sisera
  13. Jabin
  14. Oreb
  15. Zeeb
  16. Zebah
  17. Zalmunna

So, these were the enemies that came against Jesus, but he defeated all of them. It’s interesting that there were 17 enemies defeated.

Genesis 7:11 says, “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of heaven of were opened.”

This took place before the Hebrew calendar changed when Israel left Egypt in the exodus at the passover. Therefore, what was the second month in Genesis 7:11 is now the eighth month.

Further, the flood, which was the judgment of man’s evil and wicked heart, which was completely given over to violence, began on the 17th day of the month.

Genesis 8:3-4 says, “At the end of 150 days the waters had abated, and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.”

What day is the seventeenth of the seventh month?

Remember, Genesis 8 was before the Hebrew calendar changed after the exodus. If we do the conversion, then the seventh month becomes the first month, the month Nissan, the month of the passover. And, the seventeenth day becomes the day that Jesus was resurrected and rose from the grace.

That’s why the ark, a picture of Jesus, landed, overcoming the flood, on the seventeenth day of the month. The number 17 then symbolizes Christ’s victory over judgment, condemnation, destruction, over the enemy that comes in like a flood, and the rulers of this world. Seventeen is Christ’s victory of the enemies.

So, we see that the enemies were defeated by Jesus on the cross. Colossians 2:13-15 says, “And you, who were dead in your trespases and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to an open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

The psalmist cries out for God to no longer be silent and no longer hold his peace or be still. Now, we see that God did this through Jesus on the cross. The cross is where the enemies were defeated. Jesus, God, on the cross is what it looks like when God is no longer silter, when God no longer holds his peace and is no longer still.

Why do we see 17 enemies defeated by Jesus on the cross in Psalm 83?

In Daniel 7, the beasts that come to attack the kingdom of God have seven heads and ten horns. In Revelation 13:1, John saw a beast rising out of the sea “with ten horns and seven heads.”

10 + 7 = 17

Jesus overcomes, gets the victory of this beast. Jesus was judged on the cross, but it was the defeat of Satan. Judgment becomes victory.

The day of atonement occurs in the seventh month on the tenth day of the month.

10 + 7 = 17

The day of atonement is a day of affliction, judgment, that ultimately becomes a day of victory.

Finally, look at Romans 8:35, 37-39.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall

  1. tribulation,
  2. or distress,
  3. or persecution,
  4. or famine,
  5. or nakedness,
  6. or danger,
  7. or sword?

No, all these things we are more than conquerors, through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither

  1. death nor
  2. life, nor
  3. angels nor
  4. ruler, nor
  5. things present nor
  6. things to come, nor
  7. powers, nor
  8. height nor
  9. depth, nor
  10. anything else in all creation,

will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

7 + 10 = 17

Nothing of the seven or the ten can separate us from Christ.

And, if you go back to Psalm 83, then you will see that the writer has two groups of enemies. The first is 10 enemies to be defeated and the second is seven enemies that have been defeated.

Why are seven and 10 significant here?

The number seven speaks of perfection or completion. The number 10 speaks to testimony. So, we see in the defeat of the 17 enemies by Jesus on the cross the completion of the testimony. The cross is where Jesus fully revealed the Father to everyone.

“It is finished.”

When Jesus said “It is finished” he meant that the revelation of the Father had been completed. Oh, I know that it also means that the law was fulfilled. But, what was the purpose of the law? Among other things, it was meant to reveal Jesus and God. In Luke 24, Jesus told the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that all the law and the prophets witnessed to him.

It’s very important to note how Psalm 83 ends. For the end of the psalm tells us the purpose, the point, of what Jesus was doing on the cross. He was revealing God. But, why?

Was Jesus trying to show everyone that this would be their fate – to suffer as he did on the cross – if they did not believe in him? That God would destroy them if they did not believe?

No.

However, on the cross Jesus was revealing the fullness of our wickedness, not God’s, in that we would destroy the perfect, the innocent, son of God. And, when we looked upon the son of God on the cross with all of our wickedness and our evil put upon him – all of our sin – then we would be filled with shame and disgrace (Psalm 83: 16, 17).

But, the shame and disgrace we would feel was “that they may seek your name, O Lord…that they may know that you alone, whose name is the Lord, are the Most High over all the earth.” (Psalm 83:16, 18)

The cross revealed our wrath not God’s so that we would seek God’s name, that is character. Because of the shame of the cross, our shame, we would know that God is nothing like what we did to Jesus on the cross. God’s name and character is completely different than that.

“God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” – 1 John 1:5

“God is love. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” – 1 John 4:8, 18

“If we receive the testimony of mean, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” – 1 John 5:9, 11

Let Your Face Shine, That We May Be Saved

TODAY’S READING: PSALMS 78-80

Three times in Psalm 80 it says, “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” The word for restore literally means turn or turn back. It is the Hebrew word related to repentance. So, the psalmist is crying out to God to turn Israel back by letting his face shine. When Israel sees God’s face shine, then they will be saved.

Around these cries to  be turned back, Psalm 80 uses imagery that Jesus uses for himself.

Verse 1 calls out to the shepherd of Israel. Twice in John 10 Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.”

Verse 8 says that God brought a vine out of Egypt. In John 15, Jesus says, “I am the true vine.” The psalmist says this vine covered everything – mountains, cedars, the sea, and the River. The walls that would have hemmed in the vineyard and the vine were broken down. And, this allowed everyone, not just the owner of the vineyard and his servants, to eat from the vine.

As I read through the psalm, thinking about the imagery of Jesus and the cry to see God’s face so as to be saved, I thought about John 1.

John 1:4-5 says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines.” The life of God was in Jesus. It was like a light shining out. “Let your face shine.”

John 1:9 says, “The true light, which gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” In the psalm, the vine went everywhere and everyone could feed from it. Jesus is the true vine, the true light, the true revelation of God, that everyone can feed from.

John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Eat from the vine. Receive from Jesus. Believe in his name, or the light and life that Jesus was revealing. In others words, receive from his shining face. And, you will become a child of God. You will be saved. “Let your face shine, that we may be saved.”

2 Corinthians 3:16-18 says, “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”

We turn to the Lord. “Restore us, O God.” And the veil is removed. We can see God’s face. “Let your face shine.” We behold the glory of God, being transformed into the image of Jesus. “We may be saved.”

1 Corinthians 13:12 and Revelation 22:4 both say there will come a time when we see God face to face. His face will shine upon us. We will know God for who he truly is. And, then we will be saved.

Preach Love not Fear

TODAY’S READING: PSALMS 73-77

Psalm 73:7 says, “But you, you are to be feared! Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused?”

The you in these verses is God. The psalmist is saying God is to be feared, for who can stand before God when God’s anger is roused. This same mindset – that you must fear God – can be found in other places in the Bible.

This is exactly what many people say today – you should be afraid because if you don’t come to God he is going to pour his anger out on, you are going to get his wrath, and God is going to destroy you in hell. Basically, you need to fear God and come to him or he’s going to kill you and destroy you forever.

All of this fearing God and the preaching of it is justified because the Hebrew words for fear supposedly mean both fear and awe(I’m not a Hebrew scholar so I have no way of truly knowing that).

Take the Lexham Theological Wordbook, for example. Speaking of fear as a broad category of words, it says:

“Fear includes anxiety, dread, and loss of courage in the face of an unpleasant or dangerous situation. The fear of God can refer to either to the awe, reverence, and respect that is the proper deferential attitude toward the divine, or the physical dread and terror evoked by the divine presence or by the experience of divine wrath.”

“The physical dread and terror evoked by the divine wrath?” Please! This is completely counter to what Jesus revealed about the Father and what the Bible actually teaches.

1 John 4:8 says, “God is love.”

And, 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

God is love and there is no fear in him. If there is no fear in God, then he is not instilling fear in anyone. Instead of instilling fear in anyone, God’s perfect love casts out fear.

1 John 4:18 also says, “For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

We fear because we are afraid of being punished. We fear because we are afraid of being punished with death. But, if you fear, if you fear God punishing you or anyone with death, then God’s love has not been perfected, or completed, in you. In other words, then you fully don’t know who God is.

But, there is one who does deal in fear, punishment and death.

Hebrews 2:14-15 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

Who has the power of death?

The devil. Satan.

What does Satan do with this power?

He keeps you in fear of being punished with death. By keeping you in fear of death, Satan puts you into lifelong slavery to him.

But, notice that Jesus came to destroy Satan and his death power and our fear to it. However, Jesus doesn’t and can’t destroy Satan’s power of death and our fear of it by replacing it with the fear of God and the fear that God will punish us with death. If so, then nothing would have changed for us.

The reason the Jews saw God as both to feared and awed is because they didn’t distinguish clearly between God and Satan. Satan was simply doing the will of God. Jesus came to show that this wasn’t true. Jesus showed that Satan and God were entirely and completely separate.

This is why the words “do not fear” appear 37 times in the Bible. Most of those are God or Jesus telling us directly to not fear.

This is why 2 Timothy 1:6-7 says, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Fear does not into flame the gift of God. Fear does not stir us up to serve and worship God. But, the spirit that God gave us – a spirit of power, love, and self-control – does. It’s that spirit that stirs our hearts to live and die for the cause of Christ.

This is why Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who is every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.” As our high priest, Jesus showed that God sympathizes with our weaknesses. He understands us and why we fail. Because Jesus showed us that the Father loves us and cares for us, we can come before God in confidence, some translations say with boldness, to receive mercy and grace. We are not to come to God with fear but confidence and boldness. God loves you.

This is why Romans 2:4 says, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” The word kindness could also be translated goodness or benevolence. God does not bring you to repentance through fear. Rather, he brings everyone to repentance through his goodness, his kindness, his benevolence, his love.

There is no thought in scripture of God bringing people to repentance through a fear of death, wrath, eternal torment, hell, or any other such thing. Those ideas are all false gospels, if we can even call them that. Those ideas are doctrines of demons.

There is not single positive, healthy relationship that anyone could ever think of that is based on fear.So, we need stop preaching anything and everything that has to do with fearing God.

And, we need to start preaching, and living, God’s love.

Call and He Delivers

TODAY’S READING: PSALMS 69-72

“For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.” – Psalm 72:12-14

In 1 Timothy 2:4, Paul said of Jesus, “God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Jesus delivers, and he desires to deliver all men.

But, in this psalm we see that something must happen in order for Jesus to be able to deliver. We must call.

Why must we call?

Because God is love. And, God’s love does not force anything. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, love does not seek its own, including Jesus’ desire that all people will be saved. But, his love is patient and longsuffering, bearing all things. And, I believe it will be so until all men have called.

What do we call on?

Genesis 4:26 says, “At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.” We are to call upon the name of the Lord. We are to call upon God’s character, God’s nature. This means we are to call on God who is light and not darkness, love and not fear, life and not death.

If we call on some other name, some other god, then we have not called on Jesus and the Father. And, if we have not called upon Jesus and the Father, then they cannot deliver.

The one who calls on the name of the Lord has recognized he is needy. The needy knows that he is poor and has no helper. This doesn’t mean that he has no money, as if Jesus only answers those who have no money. Notice that the verse also says the needy has no helper. This is talking about the Spirit.

The needy knows that he is poor in spirit. Of course, this calls to mind Jesus’ first words in the sermon on the mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The very first step in truly calling on the name of the Lord for deliverance is recognizing that we are poor in spirit.

We truly know we are calling on the name of the Lord when we acknowledge that we are weak. If we are trying to overcome through power or seeking power, then we have not reached the place of true need to call on the name of the Lord and receive deliverance. In 2 Corinthians 12:10, Paul said, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

It’s from oppression and violence that the needy are saved. Obviously, the needy are saved from being on the receiving end of oppression and violence. But, when we call on the name of the Lord, recognizing we are poor in spirit and weak, we are also delivered from doing oppression and violence. We are only ready to be delivered from doing oppression and violence when we see we are poor in spirit and weak, for until then we believe we are rich and with power, having it all together as it were.

Precious is the blood in the eyes of Jesus of the one who calls on his name. The life is in the blood. So, the life of the one who calls on the name of the Lord is precious in the eyes of Jesus.

Those that truly know they are needy, truly know they are weak, those that truly call on the name of the Lord, have reached the place of losing their life. Having lost their, Jesus can save it.

In Mark 8:34-35, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

Power Is Steadfast Love Is Dying

TODAY’S READING: PSALMS 62-68

Psalm 62:11-12 says, “Power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.”

Power belongs to God.

Steadfast love belongs to God.

For God, power is steadfast love.

1 Corinthians 1:23-24 says, “But we preach Christ crucified..Christ the power of God.”

God’s power was revealed through Christ on the cross. God’s power was not revealed in causing someone to die for the power of death belonged to Satan (Hebrews 2:14-15). No, God’s power was revealed in Jesus’ willingness to die for the poorest of the poor, the weakest of the weak, the sickest of the sick, and even the most wicked of the wicked. God’s power was revealed in Jesus dying for sinners, for his enemies, for those worshiped idols and false gods instead of the true and living God.

1 John 4 says that love is from God. Indeed, God is love.

God’s love was made manifest, that is made visible to all, when he gave his only Son for the world that we might through Jesus. In other words, God is love. And, we know God’s love because Jesus willingly suffered and died on the cross to set us free from the slavery to death brought about by idolatry, thereby giving us life.

So, we see in the passage from Paul that Jesus crucified is the power of God. And, we see in the passage from John that Jesus crucified is the love of God.

Power is not ruling. Power is not violence. Power is not war. Power is not killing.

Power is steadfast love.

Service is love. Gentleness is love. Peace is love. Life is love.

For God, power is steadfast love.

And, for God, power is steadfast love is dying so that another might live.

Therefore, Jesus said in Mark 8:34-35, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

Die to your self so that you can have the steadfast love that brings the power of life.

Jesus and Vengeance

TODAY’S READING: PSALMS 56-61

Psalm 58:10 says, “The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.”

Since David was a man of war and bloodshed, it is not too hard to believe that he thought the righteous would rejoice at the sight of vengeance. As a king, David would have lived a life of vengeance, punishing the enemies of Israel in retaliation for inflicting harm upon Israel.

But, do the righteous really rejoice at vengeance?

Not if we are to believe Jesus.

Isaiah 61:1-2 says, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God.”

Jesus quotes this passage of scripture at the start of his ministry in Luke 4. But, Jesus did something interesting when he quoted this scripture.

Verses 17-21 say, “And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Did you see what Jesus did?

He stopped quoting Isaiah right when it says “and the day of vengeance of our God.” To a Jewish audience under Roman persecution, a Jewish audience who’s promised land, God’s land, was occupied by a foreign invader, Jesus was just getting to the good part. Jesus was just about to say that Israel was going to be vindicated, that God was going to take vengeance on Rome and set Israel free.

But, instead of saying that the vengeance of God was here, Jesus stopped, closed the scroll, and sat down.

The vengeance of God wasn’t coming.

Okay, so maybe vengeance wasn’t coming now but later.

Surely when Jesus, the son of God, king of Israel, the Messiah was crucified by the Roman empire, the foreign invader, that would be the time for God’s vengeance. If anything deserved vengeance, then it was the execution of Jesus, the son of God, “the righteous.” Surely, Jesus would rejoice at seeing the vengeance of God upon those that wrongfully executed him.

But, instead of crying out for vengeance from God, Jesus said from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Instead of rejoicing at vengeance, “the righteous” asked his Father to forgive those who were doing evil against him.

Okay, so maybe vengeance wasn’t coming now but later.

Don’t you know that Paul in Romans 12:19 and the writer of Hebrews in 10:30 quoted the Old Testament, which recorded God saying, “Vengeance is mine. I will repay.”

Yes, God will repay.

But, the question is how?

When we think of vengeance by our natural minds, we think of repaying someone in kind for what they did to us. We will get back at them equally, or worse. We take vengeance.

But, Jesus addressed how we “get back” at someone in Matthew 5:38-44.

“You have heard that is was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”

Jesus tells us to repay, to take vengeance against, those that are evil entirely different than we would naturally. Instead of returning evil with evil, Jesus says that we should return evil with good.

In the same passage that Paul quoted the Old Testament with God saying, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” he also summarized Jesus by saying, “Repay no evil for evil…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17, 21)

So, when God takes “vengeance,” he does it with good, not evil.

So, how is that vengeance?

Let’s look at the definition of vengeance. It means punishment inflicted in retaliation for injury or offense 1) with great force of vehemence or 2) to an extreme or excessive degree.

God’s “punishment” is to do good to you for the injury and offense you caused his son. Having someone do good to you in return for your evil can be quite maddening, even punishing to your evil and wicked ideas for and intentions toward God.

And, not only is God “punishing” you with good, God does good to you with great force and vehemence to an extreme and excessive degree. God repays your evil with so much good that you will not be able to tolerate it. And, all that good will burn up all your evil thoughts and intentions.

So, yes Jesus takes vengeance. But, his vengeance is repaying evil with good with great force to an extreme and excessive degree. “The righteous” rejoices at that kind of vengeance.

Create in Me a Clean Heart

TODAY’S READING: PSALMS 50-55

Create.

It’s the first action, the first verb, in the Bible. And, that first action is taken by God.

In the Old Testament, there are four Hebrew words that can be translated to create, make, or form. But one of these words, bara, which means to create, is used only of God. God is the only being who “bara’s.”

Interestingly, in the New Testament, there are two words that can be translated to create. But, once again, one of them, the Greek word ktizo, only has God as the subject.

We often think all of God’s creating happened in Genesis 1. But, that is not so.

Like Genesis, the Psalms state that God created all living beings, especially man. But, the Psalms begins to expand on the use of bara, revealing that creating was not something that God did only in the beginning.

In Psalm 104, the writer recounts the many works of God’s creative power, loosely parallel to the days of creation in Genesis 1. The psalm states that all of the beings God created wait on Him for their food, which also could be read as the creatures having an expectation that God will provide for them. Whatever God gives, they gather.

However, if God hides His face, that is if He doesn’t provide, then the creatures are troubled. The psalmist says the result is that God takes away their breath, they die, and they return to dust, which is reminiscent of God’s account of forming man in Genesis 2.

But, in verse 30, God sends His Spirit to create new living beings to renew the earth. In essence, God is continually creating anew to replace that which has died. God is continually creating to bring life where Satan has brought death.

Psalm 102 brings the idea of recreation closer to home though. Here we see God will create a people as opposed to creating afresh all manner of living beings to fill the face of the earth.

The psalm, written by an afflicted individual, starts with a pleading cry, begging the Lord to hear the psalmist’s prayer. Then, in great detail, the psalmist describes his affliction, his reproach by his enemies, and God’s wrath upon him.

But, the writer turns his heart to the eternal nature of God. At the set time, God will arise and have mercy on Zion so that all will see God’s glory. In verse 18, the psalmist writes that the Lord’s mercy upon Zion will be written for a future generation so “that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord.”

Indeed, in 1 Peter 2:9-10, we see the fulfillment of the psalmist’s prayer. Peter says that Christians, followers of Jesus, are “a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

But, David writes about God creating even more personally in Psalm 51. The background to this psalm is a familiar story that is found 2 Samuel 11 and 12. During the time when kings went to war, David stayed back in Jerusalem. One night he awoke, went to the roof of his house, and saw Bathsheba bathing. David sent for her and committed adultery with her.

When Bathsheba became pregnant, David tried to cover up his actions. He called Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, back from the battle in an attempt to get Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba so that the child would appear to be his and not David’s.

When that plan failed, David sent Uriah to the hottest part of the battle and had the rest of his army retreat from Uriah so that he would be killed. Eventually, the prophet Nathan confronted David regarding his numerous sins. In the end, David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Speaking about all men, God said in Genesis 6:5 “that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

In Psalm 51, David acknowledges this fact about his own heart and pleads with God for mercy according to God’s loving kindness and the multitude of His tender mercies. In verse 10, David writes, “Create [bara] in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” David links God creating a new heart in him with renewal, just as God creating new living beings was linked with renewal, or recreation, in Psalm 104.

 

Where does this new heart come from? How is this heart created in you and me?

2 Corinthians 5:17-18 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself.”

The Greek word for creation here is ktisis, which is the noun form of ktizo. Remember, ktizo, to create, is something that only God and Jesus do.

The new heart David cried out for is created by Jesus when we are in Christ. He gives us a new heart when see him as the son of God who laid down his life for us on the cross.

Sheep to Be Slaughtered

TODAY’S READING: PSALMS 43-49

Psalm 44:22 says, “Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

Many are likely more familiar with this scripture because Paul quoted it in Romans 8:36.

But, it seems to me that Paul is using this scripture in a different way than the writer of Psalm 44. In fact, it seems to me that Paul is using it in almost the exact opposite way.

Psalm 44 starts with the writer saying that they have heard all that their fathers told them about what God did in the days of old. What deeds of God is the writer referring to? Specifically, the writer is referencing God driving out the nations from the promised land so that he could plant Israel there. The psalmist says that it was not by their own sword or arm that they took the land, but that it was God’s right hand and arm that took the land for Israel.

Then, the psalmist acknowledges God as king. God defeats their foes and treads down those who rise up against them. God saves them from their enemies. He even puts to shame those that hate them. So, they will boast in God and give thanks to him continually.

Then, there is a pause.

And a change in though.

Now, the psalmist says that God has rejected and disgrace them. They have been turned back from their enemy, and their enemy has spoiled them through war.  Indeed it has gotten so bad that the psalmist says, “You have made us like sheep for slaughter and have scattered us among the nations.” (verse 11).

Clearly, the psalmist does not see being sheep for the slaughter as a good thing. God has made them the taunt of their neighbors, a byword among the nations, and laughingstock among the peoples. They are disgraced and ashamed.

The writer says that all this has happened to them even though they have not forgotten God. The psalmist claims they have not been false to the covenant, have not turned back from God, and have not departed from his ways.

Wait! What?

From the moment that God delivered Israel out of Egypt they grumbled and complained in the wilderness, desiring to return to their slavery. And, from the moment God took them into the promised land they forsook the ways of God and did what was right in their own eyes. Over and over, the prophets record God calling Israel back to him. Yet, they refuse to give up their idolatry and go into exile.

The psalmist sums all this up by saying, “If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart. Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered?” (verses 20-22)

The psalmist is saying that God knows the secrets of their hearts. He knows they have not forgotten his name nor have they worshiped foreign gods and idols. But, since God seems to be sleeping and hiding his face (verses 23-24), for your sake we will die all day long and be regarded as sheep for the slaughter. The psalmist seems to be saying to God that we have kept the covenant with you yet you don’t seem to be keeping it along with us so we will die for your sake.

So, being killed all the day long and regarded as sheep for the slaughter is anything but an encouragement. In fact, it seems much more to be lament, a resignation to how God is going to treat them.

But, this is not at all how Paul uses Psalm 44:22 in Romans 8.

In Romans, Paul shows that it was all mankind that had worshiped the creature instead of the Creator. All men were guilty of idolatry. Even Israel, who has to show the world what God was like, gave in to idolatry, desiring to be like every other nation.

But, Paul shows that despite Israel’s unfaithfulness to the covenant and all of mankind’s idolatry God was faithful. Indeed, God is going to be so faithful that he is going to restore all of creation. This is exactly the opposite of what the psalmist was saying.

Paul says that this will come about provided that we suffer with Christ, who was the lamb of God. But, these sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us by God.

For those that love God all things work together for good, which is to be conformed to the image of Jesus. What image is that? A lamb that laid his life down for the world in the ultimate act of self-giving love.

So, Paul says what can we say about all these things?

Well, if God is for us, then who or what can be against us.

The psalmist thought God was against them, allowing them to be shamed and disgraced before their enemies. But even though God was against them, they would be as sheep for the slaughter for God’s sake.

But, Paul says that God did not even spare his own son. But, if he gave us Jesus, then how will God not give us all things?

So, nothing can come against us. Nothing can condemn us. And, no one can bring a charge against us. Absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

Therefore, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Romans 8:36)

To Paul, this is a glorious thing because it is how we are conformed to the image of Jesus, the lamb of God, and we participate in the restoring of all creation. Indeed, it is “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

To the psalmist being regarded as sheep to be slaughtered was a defeat. Dying at the hand of your enemy was not a victory.

But, to Paul being regarded as sheep to be slaughtered was a victory. Since this was the manner of Christ’s victory over the powers of darkness and wickedness, this too would be the way for us to be more than conquerors.

According to our natural man, to be like Jesus, to lay down our lives, to die, is a defeat.

But, according to the Spirit in us, to be like Jesus, to lay down our lives, to be regarded as sheep to be slaughtered, is to be glorified as he was glorified. This is how the glory that God gave to Jesus, Jesus gives to us so that we can be even as God and Jesus are one (John 17:22).

So, let us all be regarded as sheep to be slaughtered, killed all day long for the sake of God.