Friday, May 25, 2012

Preparation for Harvesting

Lately I've interacted with a number of people in great pain or distress, all close friends. As I recently went through one of those dark times, I feel more able to empathize. So I've been thinking about it a lot, the role of pain in the Christian life. And the other day I read Psalm 129:
"Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me. The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows." Let them be like the grass on the housetops, which withers before it grows up, with which the reaper does not fill his hand nor the binder of sheaves his arms. Psalm 129:3, 6-7
The psalmist describes his affliction in terms of plowing, an analogy used sometimes in Scripture for punishment, but only this once for the suffering of the righteous. It interests me. Why plowing? I think the comparison between the righteous and the wicked in this Psalm yields great theological fruit.

Notice, first, that the suffering of the righteous is as plowing- the wicked make "long their furrows" upon the back of the righteous man. The text doesn't explicitly say this here, but Scripture always testifies to the connection between plowing and harvesting. Those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap iniquity and trouble (Job 4:8). The lazy man doesn't plow, and so never collects a harvest (Proverbs 20:4). According to Paul, plowers should plow in hope of the harvest (1 Corinthians 9:10).

Though the Psalmist doesn't speak of harvesting in respect to the righteous, he does in respect to the wicked. In his curse he says "let them be like the grass on the housetops which withers before it grows up, with which the reaper does not fill his hand nor the binder of sheaves his arms" (vv. 6-7). The harvest here is connected with the last verse of the Psalm: people who pass by them will not say, "the blessing of the Lord be upon you!" (v. 8).

Here's my point: harvesting comes after plowing. The plowing here is suffering; the harvest is God's blessing. Listen to the Psalmist in Psalm 119: "This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life" (Psalm 119: 50). His hope of the harvest comforts him during the plowing. "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me" (Psalm 119: 67, 71, 75).

Weary and afflicted believer, listen: God knows your pain, and he does not delight in it for its own sake. But you do not know the full scope of his work in your life, and in the life of his church; he has afflicted that he might raise up. If you are now being sown in weakness, know that you will be raised in power. Know that he who afflicts you is faithful, and faithful are the wounds of a friend. If we suffer with him, we will be glorified together. This is only the planting; soon comes the harvest.

Be still my soul, your Father knows your pain,
The Spirit's groans are mingled with your own.
O troubled soul, Christ underwent the same-
What sorrow have you which he does not know?

"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24).

Sunday, April 8, 2012

"It's The End Of The World As We Know It"

The Lord is risen!
And you, with your victorious death,
Wrested Death's dark keys away.
With your first resurrection breath
You forged a new creation day.
When Jesus died and rose again, there was a new creation. That's why we gather to worship on Sunday, the first day of the week, instead of Saturday, the last day. That's why our days begin at sunrise and not at sunset, like the old Jewish system. That's why Christians write songs in major keys. We're constantly celebrating a new creation.

We're celebrating a new creation, and specifically, it's a new creation that Jesus has purchased with his blood. The reason there will be a new heavens and a new earth is because he died. Creation was a gift to our first parents, and we spoiled it with sin. God is under no obligation to make a new one, but he does, through the blood of Christ. Think about it. Blood-bought stars, oceans, mountain ranges, solar systems, animals- he purchased that future paradise with his blood! "I go to prepare a place for you," Jesus said to his disciples, right before he went to the cross. And he did. But that isn't what amazes me about Jesus' death and resurrection.

The one thing that could go terribly wrong with the new creation is a sort of carry-over from the old, right? I mean, the point of a new one is that you get rid of everything that is bad so you can start over. Everything that's bad- like me.

But Jesus didn't! "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." One of the thousand miracles of Easter is that we get taken into the new creation! We get made new, not obliterated. We are transformed, not replaced. Starting over, that's one thing, but Jesus triumphed over the old order by redeeming his bride out of it! Hallelujah! What a Savior!

The Lord is risen indeed! 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Time Travel

Good Friday. I remember being a kid and asking my mom what "Good Friday" is. She said that it's the day that we remember Christ's death on the cross. Oh. Really? That doesn't sound very good to me. I was so confused as to why perfectly rational people somehow thought that the death of the most important person in history was a cause for celebration.

The thing about Good Friday is that it breaks all the rules. History was doing just fine, plodding along to its intended end, the Day of Judgement. At that point, according to the prophets, God would punish the wicked according to their sins, reward the righteous according to their merit, fight the final battle with Satan, destroy the current world and create a new one.

And then Jesus happened.

When Jesus died for the sins of all who would believe, God punished him for all their sins on the cross. Which means that he doesn't punish them for their sins on Judgment day. Not only that, but on the cross we were given access to all the benefits of Christ's righteousness. It's as though the final day of judgment at the end of time broke in upon history 2000 years ago when Christ died. Can you imagine if it hadn't?

When Jesus died, he "disarmed the rulers and authories, and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him" (Colossians 2:15). He crushed Satan's head and brought the powers of the age to nothing, almost as if Jesus was impatient and eager to start Armageddon early. Aren't you glad he did?

When Jesus died, he destroyed the whole old order. With his death he inaugurated a new age, a new creation. Not only are believers made new in Christ, but everything is being made new. Once again, that far-off day standing at the close of time burst in on the day of the cross, gloriously out of place. Praise God for that divine advance on the new heavens and the new earth!

It's called Good Friday for a reason, believers. On this day nearly two millenia ago, Jesus took our final judgment upon himself so that God could legally grant us Christ's blessing! He died to make all things new, and to put to death the old! He triumphed over Satan, death, and sin, freeing us from the flesh to present us to God without blemish! Praise God for Good Friday!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Drinking Grape Juice and Tasting Blood

Maundy Thursday. Even with the strange name, this is one of those great commemorative days on the Christian calendar, as is most every day in Passion week. On this day particularly our minds should be drawn back two thousand years to the upper room where Jesus established the church and gave the new covenant, along with a covenant command:
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:26
In Communion, we proclaim the Lord's death- that is, we remember what it accomplished for us, and what his death means for us every day. We announce that we partake of the merits of his blood every day. When we hold that little cup of grape juice in our hands, we remember that Jesus drank the cup of God's wrath to the dregs for us, and gave us the cup of the new covenant- the cup of his shed blood- instead.

We aren't the only ones doing the remembering, however.

Jesus "is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25), which is why Paul says that we shall be "saved through his life." Jesus is standing at the right hand of God, pleading the merits of his blood on the behalf of his people (Romans 8:34). When Satan accuses the brethren, Jesus doesn't come back with, "but they're not all that bad." Rather, he  points to Exhibit A: his bloodstained cross. As we remember Jesus' death and all that it accomplished for us, we remember that it means nothing unless he remembers his death and all that it accomplished for us. Truly in Jesus we have a "better hope... through which we draw near to God" Hebrews 7:19).

This is the New Covenant: God now supplies that which he demands! Jesus Christ is our faithful high priest who offered himself up once for all as a sacrifice and now remembers his work for his people before the throne of God!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Conversations: Postmodernism

I recently had a talk with one of my co-workers that yielded some very interesting insights. Here's how the conversation went:

Bri: I think it's good that people believe different things. I mean, what's true for you doesn't have to be what's true for me.
Me: Is that statement true for both of us?
Bri: It may not be true for you...
Me: What about right and wrong? Is there one standard?
Bri: I don't think so. I mean, I can't judge what you should and shouldn't do by calling it right or wrong.
Me: Are you telling me that if I walked in here with an AK and wasted everyone in this room, it wouldn't be wrong?
Bri: Well, it might be wrong for me, but not necessarily for you.
Me: Katie, answer me this one- are you speaking to me, or are you speaking to a projection of me in your psyche?
Bri: Probably a little of both. In the end though, it doesn't really matter, does it?

Does it? I think it does. As Chesterton says, "the madman's explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable." Bri's world-view is just as internally coherent as mine is, though insane (who else but a madman denies that the man standing in front of him is really there?). I reason in a circle and so does she. The difference is, I stand on my circlular reasoning of God's self-revelation to look up into the heavens and see God; she can only perch on her dime-sized relativistic world-view and look inward. Which is more beautiful? It is simply true that "the Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty...Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting" (Psalm 93:1,2). To deny it is to make every man a god, and then construct a universe for each in which he may reign supreme.

There really is a throne in heaven, and there really is one seated on it.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Like a Bug

I like typology. I think every Christian should. Typology is largely what ties the Old and New Testaments together so seamlessly, producing a grand and detailed picture of the person and work of Jesus Christ. It consists of a promise, a symbol, a picture, an office, a person, or an event repeated again and again, echoed through the pages of Scripture growing louder until Jesus breaks on the scene and we realize he was the One making all the noise in the first place.

One typological expression that has caught my eye recently is that of head-crushing, or just crushing (boys will be boys, after all). I've mentioned it before, I believe. God promised the serpent that the woman's offspring would crush his head (Genesis 3:15). Balaam prophesied that a scepter would rise out of Jacob to crush the head of Moab (Numbers 24:17). David chucked a stone and nailed Goliath right in the head (1 Samuel 17:49), and then the idea of crushing played heavily into his poetry (Psalm 47:3, 68:21, 23, 30).

In the New Testament this image finds it's fulfillment in Christ, the Seed of the woman who crushed the serpent, triumphing over the rulers and authorities and putting them to open shame in him (Colossians 2:15). 2 Corinthians 15:25 says "He must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet." He's doing it. He has done it. He has crushed Satan like a bug in his death and resurrection.

So that's awesome, but that isn't all of it. See, ripples go both ways when the Rock of ages is dropped into the stream of time, and typology doesn't stop because Jesus came. It continues in the lives of his people. Romans 16:20 says "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." Whose feet? Ours. The feet of the church (which, by the way, are fitted with the shoes of the readiness of the gospel of peace- now there's an image to ponder). But Jesus already triumphed over Satan, yes? Yes- and part of his triumph consists in using his people to crush him, as John writes in Revelation, "The accuser of our brothers has been thrown down... and they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death." God uses us to crush Satan in the same way that Jesus did- by dying. How's that for a purpose-driven life?
I said at the start of all this that head-crushing has caught my eye recently. Let me explain. When I read the Old Testament and hear all this talk of enemies (especially with David), I'm not sure what to do with it. I know Satan is the enemy of the church, but David usually seems to be talking in a more immediate sense. When I pray the Psalms, can I pray against my enemies? Who are they? I don't have any human enemies, and so it's always seemed a little out of place for me to pray the imprecatory Psalms. And then I read Micah 7:18-19:
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
Did you catch it? He will tread our iniquities underfoot! I have an enemy in my soul- my indwelling sin- and the Lord who conquered it on the cross will continue to tread it underfoot until the day I stand before him pure and spotless! Think of that when you are tempted to sin- this is not just the allurement of the flesh, it is warfare from the enemy of your soul! You have an enemy who would like nothing more than to see you fail, and you have an Advocate, who stands at the right hand of the Father interceding for you and upholding you with his righteous right hand. So do not yield your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but submit yourselves to God, and squash sin like a bug!

Friday, March 16, 2012


See if you can identify with this one: here you are, struggling with your particular besetting sin. Maybe it's a sin of speech, maybe cruel or unloving interactions, sexual immorality, some form of greed or gluttony, or a hidden sin of the heart- it's your Achilles Heel, whatever else it may be. You hate it. You feel dirty and unclean because of its presence in your heart and life. You want it gone. And by God's grace, because he has given strength and self-control and perseverence, you begin to experience victory over that particular sin. And so you, in your joy at experiencing this victory, begin to feel clean! You feel as though that stain has been wiped off of your heart. You feel like a new person. Sound familiar?

I've experienced this frequently in my walk, and Peter always seems helpful.

"Lord, do you wash my feet?"
"What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand."
"You will never wash my feet."

I get Peter at this point. Foot-washing is unworthy of the Lord. I'd feel the same way, I think.

"If I do not wash you, you have no share with me."
"Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"

Now I really get Peter. Lord, if being washed by you means entrance into your kingdom, then wash me! Wash me Savior or I die! I also think the Lord set Peter up so he could say what he was about to say next (in a good way).

"The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not all of you."

Peter, you're already clean. You're already clean. Sinful believer, you're already clean, because of the washing of water with the word (Ephesians 5:26), the same implanted word which is able to save your soul (James 1:21). Your filthy rags have been taken away and you've been clothed in Christ's perfect righteousness (Zechariah 3).

When I come to those times of victory over sin and begin to feel clean because of my self-control and living in the Spirit, that's wrong. Don't misunderstand me- the victory is not wrong, but good, and God-given, and commanded. The wrong lies in believing that what I do makes me clean or unclean before God. I've been made clean! I don't need to wash, except my feet. This is the kind of cleanliness that doesn't go away, either- it's the "new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:24).

So what instead? First, whether you're experiencing victory or being buffeted by sin, realize that all who are in Christ Jesus share in Christ's perfect righteousness. You wear it; you don't make it. Praise God for that! Second, grow into your clothes- don't let sin reign in your mortal body, and don't present yourself to sin as an instrument for unrighteousness, but submit yourself to God, as one brought from death to life, and submit yourself to God as an instrument for righteouesness. And when that happens, praise God again! His saving work doesn't stop at the legal level, but he is able to save to the uttermost all who believe in him, and he saves from the inside all the way out!

"For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified" (Hebrews 10:14).

Believer- you are already clean.