Saturday, November 30, 2013

By a Way You Do Not Know

Moses and the children of Israel were hemmed in. Before them was the Red Sea. Behind them, Pharaoh’s army was closing in. They could see no way out. Only days earlier, they had been filled with hope and rejoicing, but now that had quickly vanished. In Psalm 77, in a direct praise to God, the psalm writer recounts what happened next:
The voice of Your thunder was in the whirlwind;
The lightnings lit up the world;
The earth trembled and shook.
Your way was in the sea,
Your path in the great waters,
And Your footsteps were not known.
You led Your people like a flock
By the hand of Moses and Aaron.
(Psalm 77:18-20)
God did something completely unexpected: He made a path through the great waters of the sea. It was not there before they needed it and it closed in after they passed through it. But just when they needed a way, God made a path for them where they did not even know to look. When they first beheld the sea, all they saw was an impossible situation. But as Jesus said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27). And the children of Israel walked through the sea on dry land.

Think of Abram. He was the son of an idol maker — a trade completely antithetical to the God of the Bible — and he was getting on in years. But one day God came to him anyway and said, “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). Then God made wonderful promises to him: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).

So Abram believed and did as the Lord directed, though he had no idea where all this would take place or even how it would take place. After all, he was already 75 years old, and so was his wife, Sarai, who was well past child-bearing years. So what God promised him was impossible, at least from Abram’s point of view. But it came to pass anyway, and from him came a great nation — and a Redeemer — through whom all the families of the earth can now be blessed.

Finally, in the book of Isaiah, God describes how He will bring His people through, by a way they do not know.
I will bring the blind by a way they did not know;
I will lead them in paths they have not known.
I will make darkness light before them,
And crooked places straight.
These things I will do for them,
And not forsake them.
(Isaiah 42:16)
Our human nature always wants to see the way before us, but God often leads us by ways we do not know, ways we would not recognize or understand even if we could see them. Our part, then, is not to see but to trust. “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). God makes a way for us that we could never have imagined, and leads us through.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Learning Jesus, Finding Rest

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
The yoke Jesus is talking about here is not for plowing the fields or pulling the carts. It is about being with Jesus, side by side, and learning from Him. We can think about it in three ways, each one leading us to the next.
  • Learning of Jesus. This is hearing about Jesus, learning about Jesus, and coming to Him. it begins with His invitation, “Come to Me.”
  • Learning from Jesus. When we come to Jesus, He becomes our teacher and we become His disciple. We begin to learn from Him about many things.
  • Learning Jesus. This goes beyond knowing about Jesus, and knowing the things He has taught us. It is about Jesus Himself, knowing Him more and more.
My wife and I have been married now for 35 years. We know each other. Not just about each other. She knows me and I know her. We have learned each other so that we can even anticipate one another (not that we cannot still surprise each other — the more I know her, the more each day becomes a revelation of her). It happened over time, day after day, year after year. Turning to each other, tuning to each other, deepening with each. There is now an ease that we have with each other. A confidence, a trust, a rest with each other.

That is what Jesus invites us to, to learn Him — and find rest.

Praying through my psalms for the day, Psalm 131 seems particularly appropriate to this:
My heart is not proud, LORD,
My eyes are not haughty,
I do not concern myself with great matters,
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
Like a weaned child I am content.
(Psalm 131:1-2 NIV2011)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Delivering Us to Love

So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24 ESV)
In Galatians 3:24, Paul tells us that the Law of Moses was a paidagogos. The KJV translates this a “schoolmaster,” and the NKJV has it as “tutor,” but I think those give too big a role to the word. Young’s Literal Translation says, “child-conductor,” and the ESV and LEB say “guardian,” which I think gives us a more accurate idea. The Law, in Paul’s mind, was not so much about instruction as it was about keeping the people of Israel out of trouble until the Messiah. “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith,” Paul says.

The Law governed behavior, but God was always looking beyond behavior to the heart. The Law required circumcision of the flesh, but what God desired more than that was “circumcision of the heart.”
Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer. (Deuteronomy 10:16)

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:6)

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your hearts. (Jeremiah 4:4)
However, the Law could never produce that in us. Yet, what the Law could not do, the Lord Jesus has done in us Himself:
In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12)
So, what God has always been looking at is the heart. And what He has always been looking for is love — love for God and love for each other. That is what the Law and the Prophets were always pointing us to. Or as Jesus put it, loving God with everything in us and our neighbor as ourselves — all the Law and the Prophets hang on that (Matthew 22:35-40). So when we love, we fulfill what the Law and the Prophets were always calling us to.

In Ezekiel 36:26-27, God promised Israel, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” I believe that is what God has now done for every believer in Jesus Christ. He has given us the Holy Spirit, who works in us and causes us to walk in His statutes, and to keep His judgments. How does the Spirit do this? By the fruit of the Spirit — love! And as Paul declares, “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10). So the case is not that the Law no longer has significance for us but rather that it is fulfilled in us by the Spirit of God, through the fruit of love.

By the way, I believe that every Gentile believer is “grafted into” the “olive tree” that is Israel (see Romans 11:13-24), so that we receive the Messiah that was promised to Israel, the Spirit that was promised to Israel (for example, in Ezekiel 36:26-27), and the salvation that was promised to Israel. But that is a post for another day.