The wrath of God. A variety of images can be conjured up depending on when and where you grew up. My guess would be that the majority in the younger generations have no real framework for the term. They’ve grown up on a steady diet of affirmation and tolerance and thus their image of God, if they think about Him, is that of the kindly old grandfather who smiles and nods and gives you whatever you want. On the other hand, those of us with a bit more mileage, remember preachers and evangelists who spoke regularly about the wrath of God. In fact, they spoke about it so vehemently that you went away thinking that God spends His time storming around Heaven in a constant rage looking for someone to smite and that if you didn’t toe the line, you might get the next smiting. Thus, the idea of God having wrath is repugnant to most everyone in the modern era. Of course, neither of these ideas is accurate and we need an accurate understanding of God and of God’s wrath if the Gospel is going to make any sense.
If my view of God is that of the kindly grandfather, one who loves me and accepts me no matter what and who gives me whatever I ask for, then I can have a certain level of appreciation for Him, but I’ll never come to a place of awe and wonder. My attitude toward Him will be similar to the way I think about a vending machine or a convenience store. When I want a snack, I’m glad they are there, but I am not amazed, or humbled or caught up in worship. Until I begin to understand the wrath of God, my love and appreciation for Him will be shallow and transactional at best. Understanding His wrath helps me understand the price He paid to make me His own. It helps me begin to grasp the depth of His love. Here’s a classic illustration: Suppose you meet me at my house and you tell me you grabbed the mail out of the box and noticed I had a bill that was due, so you paid it. If you paid the bill for postage due or my magazine subscription I might say “Gee, thanks.” If I find out you paid off my mortgage my response would be much more profound. I’d hug your neck or maybe even kiss your feet and wonder how I could possibly repay such kindness. Until I have an accurate understanding of the debt I owe, the depth of my sin, of God’s wrath against my sin and the price that was paid to satisfy His wrath, I cannot begin to understand the depth of His love.
God is perfect in all His ways. His love is a perfect love and He loves perfectly. He is also holy and perfectly just and everything He does is perfectly right and good. Sin stands in opposition and contradiction to God’s perfection. It is a defiance of His perfect will, a rebellion against His perfect plan and denigration of His perfect character. Every sin deserves and will receive its full and just punishment. Wrath is God’s settled disposition against sin and His settled determination to bring about justice and righteousness and to justly punish sin. God’s wrath is a perfect part of His holiness and justice. His wrath is not like any human wrath. It is perfectly balanced with all of His other perfect attributes. So we can rightly say that God hates sin with a holy and perfectly righteous hatred while at the same time loving the sinner with a perfectly holy and righteous love. The obvious question is: How can He do that? How can He put an end to sin without destroying the sinner since every sin must receive its just punishment?
The reason God is not storming around Heaven in a fit of rage is because the issue was settled from the very beginning and predicted the moment after sin had defaced God’s good creation. It never made sense until Jesus came but Genesis 3:15 tells us God the Son would come to earth in the most absurdly normal way possible as “the seed of the woman.” He would be made like us and be subjected to every temptation possible without ever giving in. He would live perfectly in our place. Then He would die. That’s the metaphor of the serpent striking His heel. The only One who never deserved to be punished, who never deserved to die would die in our place. He would take our sin upon Himself, becoming the final atoning sacrifice that all the other sacrifices were pointing to. As He surrendered Himself to the Father’s will, He took the punishment that we deserved.
That’s what was going on in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Father was holding out the cup of His wrath to His Son. This cup, which the prophets spoke about time and again, was the just and righteous punishment that all sin deserves. The just punishment for every lie, slander, gossip and careless word, every murder, act of violence or hatred, every act of defiance, rebellion or treason, every adultery, fornication, lust and immorality, every act of greed, envy and coveting, every transgression of God’s perfect law and will, every sin, the punishment for it was in that cup. The just punishment that I deserve and you deserve, that all of us deserve, was in that cup. This is why Jesus cried in anguish in the garden. This is why He sweat drops of blood. In order for the Father to be able to justly punish sin without destroying us, Jesus had to drink the cup. Because He had lived His life perfectly, loving the Father with all of His being and loving His neighbor perfectly, He was the only One qualified and capable. That is what it meant for Him to be our redeemer, our sin bearer. Isaiah 53:5 says, “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him and by His wounds we are healed.” By allowing Himself to be crushed, He crushed the head of the serpent, defeating sin and death with him. By faith in Jesus and what He has done the wrath of God is satisfied and we can be set free from the death sentence that we rightly deserved. That is Good News! Halleluiah, what a Savior!
Multiple times in the Gospels we see people asking Jesus the question that all religions seek to answer: What must I do to have eternal life? The question is phrased in different ways. The rich young ruler states it directly, but others put it in terms of “What must we do to do the works of God?” or “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Everyone is born into this world with the same question hardwired into them. It finds expression in many different forms. How can I find inner peace? What is the meaning of life? It seems like there’s something missing. I wish I could just be happy. Where can I find truth? Many people wrestle with the question and many others stuff it down or try to bury it under one activity or another.
Every religion in the world will point you to something you must do. Practice the Five Pillars, keep to the Eight Fold path, obey the Law, keep the Sacraments, follow the teachings, or just be a good person. But notice that it’s always something you must do because every religion believes God’s favor must be earned or merited in some form or fashion. So we come to believe that as long as we make a good effort to keep the rules or stay on the path, then God is obligated to give us a good life. But like the rich young ruler, that nagging feeling of something being out of sync won’t go away. He was one of the most put together people of his day. He had status, wealth, looks, drive and he was moral! Still, he came to Jesus saying, “Something’s missing, I’m not at peace. I don’t sense God’s favor.”
Mark tells us Jesus looked at the young man and loved him. Yet, He would not lower the bar for him. In essence Jesus was saying to the young man and all the others who came to Him with similar questions, “You want to earn your way into eternal life, then the standard is perfection, perfect obedience to the Law. You must love the Lord your God with every thought, motive and action at all times (heart, soul, mind and strength) and you must do for your neighbor everything that you would do for yourself with the same enthusiasm and determination that you would do it for yourself” (and, as He told the Pharisee your neighbor includes those who are not part of your family, friends or tribe.) Jesus put his finger on the thing that stood between the young man and eternal life. “Sell all you have and follow me” and the he walked away heartbroken. Jesus shook His head and commented how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. The disciples were appalled and said “If that guy can’t make it then who can?!!!”
Jesus’ answer is very instructive. “With man this is impossible.” Listen carefully to the words of Jesus. Do you notice how He always raises the bar? “Your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees!” “You’ve heard it said ‘don’t murder, don’t commit adultery’ but I say don’t hate, don’t lust.” He said all the Law and the prophets can be summed up in two statements: Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as you love yourself. If we’re honest we would have to say “Impossible!” No one can do that perfectly!” And that is what Jesus is driving at. You might as well try to push a camel through a needle’s eye as to earn eternal life. Ah! “But with God, all things are possible!” This is why He came and why He lived as He did. We confess that Jesus was perfect and lived perfectly so that He could be the perfect sacrifice for sin, but He also loved God and His neighbor perfectly and completely, fulfilling all the Law and the prophets, so that He could give us the righteousness that we need and that we could never earn. He did, as a human being, what was humanly impossible so that you and I, by faith, might stand before the Father with His righteous, perfect record of obedience. Jesus told the crowd in John 6:29 that there is only one thing you can do to gain eternal life. “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” Trust and confidence in His work, and that alone, is the only way into eternal life.
I was watching an episode of The Chosen the other night. In that particular episode the disciples were talking to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and asking about His birth. She described her surprise that He came forth from the womb covered in blood and amniotic fluid, that He was crying and cold and desperately needed her.
Now in this cynical age we might be tempted to think, “Well, what did you expect Mary?” But let’s be honest. If we weren’t so familiar with the story (and the process of birth) and someone told us the Son of the Living God was going to be born to the virgin teenager next door, we would conjure up some very different images from what actually took place. We would likely imagine Mary reclined on a velvet couch, surrounded by a choir of angels singing “Aaaaahhhhh” in perfect pitch with beams of light pouring from Mary’s body as Jesus painlessly entered the world, clean and shiny and walking out to greet the world. You think that’s a stretch? Consider how clean and tidy all those pictures from the Renaissance look. Consider how much we’ve sanitized the story to fit in with our Christmas celebrations. If you were starting a new religion in the first century or even today, you certainly wouldn’t have the Son of God being born in the most ordinary of ways and totally dependent on a servant girl and her carpenter husband.
The theologians used to speak of the condescension of God in the incarnation of Christ. In our day, we view condescension as negative, thinking that someone who is condescending has a superiority complex and thus looks down on others with contempt or indifference. Originally, it referred to the kindness of a king to one of his subjects so it is a beautiful term in regard to what God has done for us. The God who is infinitely superior to us in every possible way looked down upon us, the ones He created and the ones who rebelled against Him and had compassion on us. He didn’t have to do it and we didn’t deserve it, but out of love for the Father and love for us, the Son of God set aside all the benefits of deity and came to live among us. If He had come in pristine fashion into a royal palace with angels singing backup it would have been an infinite step down and yet, He came farther. He entered into the lowest possible station in life and was born in the most absurdly normal way possible. He was born into poverty, grew up in poverty, lived as a homeless wanderer and died with nothing to His name, not even the clothes on His back. In all our imaginations about how God might save the world, this one never crossed our minds.
Ever since the Garden, we have believed that we have to climb our way up to God. Every religion of the world, in some sense, thinks of God as sitting at the top of a high mountain and we must make our way up to Him, that we must somehow prove our worthiness to be near Him by keeping some set of rules, stipulations or guidelines. Christianity is the only faith that says that God has come down to us and He says to us, “I’ve come to rescue you, because you’ll never make it on your own.” It’s grace and love and kindness and mercy that the infinite God would even deem to notice us, but that He would come to us and be made like us so that one day we might be made like Him, that’s amazing! May we never lose the wonder of it all!
Have you ever heard of the condition “déjà vu amnesia”? Shai Linn, a speaker at the recent T4G conference, coined the phrase. It’s an especially common malady that affects Christians. We find ourselves saying time and again, “I know I’ve forgotten that before!” When it comes to God’s word and the truths of the Gospel we find we must often confess, “Oh yeah, I’ve been here before. I guess I forgot.” We’ve done that lesson, studied that passage, heard that sermon and even personally experienced the truth of God’s word on a particular subject and yet it seems we have to cover the same territory over and over again. We forget, even when we’ve known it before.
Part of the reason that the Lord calls us His sheep is that we are so easily distracted, preoccupied and prone to wander away. We forget the lessons we’ve learned and the truths we’ve been told; thus we have to learn them and hear them again. Have you ever noticed how often the Scripture calls us to remember? If you do a survey of the Old Testament, you’ll see in virtually every book a call for the people to remember the Lord and to remember the mighty work He did in bringing them out of Egypt and into the promised land. Of course the New Testament is replete with calls to remember Jesus Christ and the Good News of all that He has done. In 2 Tim. 2:8 Paul even goes so far as to tell Timothy to “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead….” Timothy was a preacher of the Gospel, a herald of the Good News and yet Paul tells him to remember Jesus Christ!
We’re prone to forget. That’s why we must open our Bibles daily and actually aim to engage with the Lord through His word. We’re prone to forget. Which is why we need to regularly gather with other believers to study God’s word and worship Him together. We’re prone to forget. So we need to be intentional to set aside time to seek the Lord in prayer. We’re prone to forget. So it’s good to reflect on our salvation experience and remember our lives before Jesus saved us. We’re prone to forget. Which is why we need to daily rehearse the Gospel story and be reminded that the Son of God gave up Heaven for us, lived the life that we failed to live, died as our substitute, bearing the wrath of God that we deserved. We must remind ourselves that He is raised from the dead, securing our eternal life and imparting to us His Holy Spirit. We should also remember that He is seated at the Father’s right hand, interceding for us even now and that the day will come when He returns to gather us home and make everything right. I know you know all that. If you read these articles then you’ve read it all before and you may have skimmed over that last section thinking “there he goes again, spelling it all out like we’re little kids.” Nope. We’re sheep. We’re prone to forget.
You see, if we don’t intentionally remind ourselves of these things, we’ll find ourselves in the middle of our day being fretful, angry, envious, lustful, jealous, greedy, complacent or any number of other things we know we shouldn’t be. That’s when we’re tempted to kick ourselves and light the candle for our personal pity party, wondering why we never seem to get it right. Then we’ll get a note or read a post or hear a word from a friend that will remind us of the Lord’s faithfulness and His goodness to His children and we’ll find ourselves saying “I know I’ve forgotten that before.” To paraphrase Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu amnesia all over again.”
“But be sure to fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart; consider (remember) what great things He has done for you.” 1 Samuel 12:24
So this Jesus of Nazareth is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” But someone might ask, “How can I know that for sure? I wasn’t there when He did all the miracles. I didn’t get to hear Him teach. I have no experience of Him interacting with me so how can I be sure that He is who Peter says He is? How can I have that same kind of confidence?”
The answer to that question will be celebrated this month. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is God’s stamp of authenticity that Jesus is who the New Testament declares Him to be, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Now there are plenty of folks who question Jesus’ resurrection, but they do so in spite of the evidence. If you were starting a new religion in the first century you would not write that women were the first witnesses to the event on which everything hinges. You would not portray the founding members of the religion as unbelieving cowards at the onset of that crucial event nor would you make a note that even after Jesus had made multiple appearances, there were still some who doubted that He was really raised from the dead. All of this on top to the dramatic change in the Apostles two months later is strong evidence that Jesus truly is raised from the dead. Paul said there were 500 people who witnessed His resurrection and he wrote that when most of them were still alive, essentially saying, “Go ask them if you don’t believe me.”
The question for us is, do we really believe that Jesus is raised from the dead? As Paul implied in 1 Cor. 15, are we standing in the truth of the Gospel? Do we believe, as he says in v. 3, that Jesus died for our sins and was raised to life on the third day according to the Scriptures? Because if I believe that then Jesus can’t simply be a good teacher or someone pointing us to God. If He is raised from the dead then He truly is the Christ, the Son of the Living God! If that is true, then it has vast implications for my life. I think one of the reasons that the church in these United States is in decline is due to a lack of confidence in the true identity of Jesus. We may confess on Sunday that He is Lord of all, our Savior and King but come Monday we start living in the default mode of the age. We substitute Son of God and Savior for good teacher and guide. When we relate to Him in that way, as teacher and guide, then everything is optional. We seek His advice rather than bow to His commands. We set up His teaching as an ideal to be admired rather than as truth that brings life. We pick and choose the things that we’re comfortable with, that help us fit in with our group and lay aside the things that call us into a brand new way of living.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, calls us to a life of compassion, graciousness and generosity towards all people in contrast to the moralism that religion breeds. At the same time, it calls us to a life of purity, holiness and faithfulness in contrast to the hedonism of a godless society. The only way we’ll ever get there is by working the Good News of Jesus, all that He is and all that He has done, deep into our soul. It means that we must be continually asking “If it is true that Jesus is the promised Redeemer (Savior) and that He really is the Son of the Living God who died for our sins and is raised from the dead, then what am I to do?” That’s what the Bible is talking about when it calls us to believe. It’s not easy but it is necessary if we are ever going to be the kind of people He calls us to be. Maybe you’re like me. I want to cry out with the father of the boy who had a demon, “I believe; Lord help my unbelief!” The Lord is Risen; He is Risen indeed! (Now what are we going to do with that?)
“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” This is the foundational statement upon which the church of Jesus Christ is built. At least that’s the way Jesus put it and since He is the One who is building His church, I think He would know.
When Peter made this declaration, Jesus said that he was blessed by the Father to have had this revealed to him. Last month we looked at the importance of Jesus being the Christ, the anointed Redeemer sent from the Father to rescue us from the curse of sin. Notice the revelation doesn’t end there. It could be imagined that the promised Messiah/Redeemer could have been another human being. Likely, that is what most of the people of Israel were actually looking for. A man could have fulfilled the role of “the seed of Abraham”, “another prophet like Moses” or “the root of Jesse, the son of David.” Like Moses or David a man could have led them to freedom and to victory over their enemies. Peter is given the unexpected piece of the puzzle; Son of the Living God.
Through the miracles, the teaching and the profound love of this man Jesus, Peter saw something more, something almost unimaginable for a monotheistic Jew. He was shown that the Living God- the God who formed the universe out of nothing, the God who created with just a word, who breathed life into mankind and who displayed His greatness and glory to the people of Israel-has a Son, a co-eternal, co-equal Son. One, who as Paul says, is the exact representation of God’s being. Standing there in the presence of Jesus and the other disciples, he blurts out words that must have sounded like blasphemy as they spilled out. Yet, Jesus does not deny them or rebuke them or dismiss them. He owns them and affirms them by implying that it is this understanding of who He is upon which He will build a new nation, a new people through whom the glory of God would be displayed. Peter would later write to the church, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God…”
So we learn from Peter’s confession and the words of Jesus elsewhere that the one true God, the Living God is a Trinity, One God in three Persons. The best way that I know how to explain that is everything that God the Father is, the Son and Spirit are. Everything that the Son is, the Father and Spirit are and everything that the Spirit is, the Father and Son are. As the Son of the Living God, Jesus is the all wise, all knowing ruler and sustainer of all things. He is the rightful Judge of all the earth and all humanity will one day bow to Him. When He says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through me” He means it. This means He’s more than just another religious leader pointing the way to God, illuminating the path so to speak. If He is the Son of the Living God, then what He says is life and truth and all other options are off the table. It means His words are not simply suggestions or good ideas for us to incorporate into our lives when we get the chance.
I know this is an uncomfortable thought, but one day each and every one of us who claim the name of Christ are going to stand before the Son of the Living God and we will give an account to Him in regard to what we did with the things He said. In that moment, all of our excuses, rationalizations and justifications will be exposed for what they are: unbelief. It’s important that we put away our faulty notions of who Jesus is. Peter said He is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” and that has some pretty serious implications for who we are and how we live as part of the Church that He is building.
“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” It was upon this declaration of truth that Jesus said He would build His church. When you read this passage in Mt. 16 you should take notice of something very important: Jesus acknowledged the statement as true. He didn’t blush and scuff His feet in the dirt and “Aw shucks” His way out of it. He didn’t laugh it off and tell Peter not to get carried away nor did He ponder the statement as if it had never occurred to Him. None of that. Instead He proclaims, “Blessed are you Simon…because my Father has revealed this to you and this is the foundation of what it means to be joined to me!” (not the exact quote) Peter’s confession sums up the reality of who Jesus is and what He came to do. If we fail to grasp these truths, then we will come up short in our understanding of what it means to belong to Him.
So what is this blessed revelation that Peter received from the Father? First, that this guy Jesus is the Christ. This is not His last name, it’s a title, an incredibly significant title. Christ is the Greek term for the Jewish term, Messiah, both meaning “the Anointed One.” The story of all of the Bible is wrapped up in this one title. You’ll recall that in the beginning God created everything, concluding with the pinnacle of His creation, mankind. Mankind is the only thing in all of creation made in the image of God, created to have a personal relationship with Him and to share in His likeness. But that wasn’t enough for them. Adam and Eve believed the lie of the serpent and rebelled against their Creator and in so doing brought death and destruction to God’s good creation. As God is explaining the consequences of their rebellion He inserts a promise. In speaking to the serpent He says, “The seed of the woman is going to crush your head.” This “seed of the woman” is the Anointed One, the One set apart to redeem mankind and restore the creation. All of the Bible is focused on this unfolding story. As you read the Old Testament there are hints and glimpses and types, moments when you might ask, “Is this the One God promised?” Could it be Noah, the one who built the ark? Maybe Isaac, the son of the promise? Moses, the one to lead his people out of bondage? Or David, the king whose throne would last forever? These and all the others failed. They could not defeat our ultimate enemies, sin and death. Yet each one is like a piece of a puzzle, giving us a portion of the overall picture. Then Isaiah proclaims, “Behold, the virgin will conceive and bear a son and she will call His name Immanuel” (which means “God with us.”)
So Peter was given a revelation, a moment when all the pieces came together. He realized that standing before Him was the Anointed One, the Promised One who would set His people free. Unfortunately, in that moment, Peter could only interpret that revelation through his cultural moment. He knew the Messiah was with Him but he thought He came to set them free from the Romans. He couldn’t fathom the cross that was coming for Jesus or the depth of the sacrifice that Jesus would make for him and for all of us. He could not envision the resurrection. He could not see, in that moment, that Jesus the Messiah, the Christ would soon defeat the power of sin and death through His own death and resurrection! He didn’t understand that Jesus came to redeem us, to buy us back from our old master, to crush the head of the serpent and make for Himself a new nation, a new race of people and to set into motion the restoration of all creation.
So here is a question for you and me. Do we believe, in the depth of our being, that Jesus is the Christ? Do we believe that He is the One sent from God to redeem and restore all things? To answer that we need to look and see where our functional trust is located. What is my ultimate hope for my family? Is it their safety, prosperity and personal happiness? Is my primary concern for my kids and grandkids to get a good education and a good job and to marry the right kind of person or am I aware that my family and I are part of the greater story of what God is doing through Jesus to restore creation to Himself? Am I caught up in the American dream or caught up in His plan and purpose for the redemption of every tribe, nation and language? Am I mentally dividing my community into people like “us” and people like “them” or am I able to see each person as someone created in the image of God and in need of His restoring grace (especially me)? Am I looking to an election to fix what is broken in our country or am I working to introduce broken people to the only true King, the One to whom ultimately every knee will bow? My answers will let me know if I truly believe Jesus is The Christ or if I just think that’s His last name.
P.S. We’ll look at what it means that Jesus is “the Son of the Living God” next time. You can also view a somewhat expanded version of this article on our website “colquittbaptist.org”
Forty years ago this month, I took a challenge that radically changed my life. In December of 1981 our pastor issued a challenge to the members of First Baptist Church of Boynton Beach. He challenged us to read the Bible through in the year to come, 1982. He made arrangements with a local Christian book store so that we could purchase a new NIV Bible at a discount and he provided everyone with a daily devotional guide produced by the Walk Thru the Bible organization. He knew that we would need some help in order to stick with it through the whole year.
By the grace of God, I stuck with it and it changed me. Contrary to the experience of many, reading the Old Testament changed my thinking and the way I related to God as much as reading the New Testament. Many people try reading the Old Testament and all they see is lists of genealogies, rules and regulations, nations at war or a God who seems angry all the time. It’s led many Christians to ignore the Old Testament and some to declare it irrelevant. That breaks my heart, because I saw something else and still see it today.
I saw grace. I saw how people rebelled against God time and time again, how they snubbed Him and turned away and did what they wanted over and over again. Yet, over and over again God was patient. He didn’t give people what they deserved. He forgave and provided and called people back to Himself. I saw this most emphatically in regard to the nation of Israel. God made them a nation and declared them to be His chosen people. He rescued them from Egypt, delivering them through the Passover and through the Red Sea and to Mt. Sinai. Through all of it they went kicking and screaming, complaining at every turn. They panicked at the Red Sea, grumbled at Meriba, turned their backs on Him at Mt. Sinai and refused Him as they stood on the border of the promised land. After they finally got to the promised land it only took one generation before they went chasing after other gods. Still, God was patient with them. Time and again He sent invaders, plagues and drought to get their attention. Over and over and over again He sent judges and kings and prophets to call His people back to Himself.
In all of that, God showed me myself. I came to realize that I was no different. I saw where I had turned my back on Him, complained against Him and had done my will rather than His. I saw that I was just as stubborn, unbelieving and rebellious as they were. But, there was something else that also jumped out at me in my reading. Every time the people turned back to God, every time they repented and cried out to Him, He received them, He forgave their sin and He welcomed them back. I figured if He responded to the people of Israel that way, then I could trust Him to respond to me in that way as well. And He did, over and over again!
In the book of Exodus Moses asks to see God’s glory. The Lord then hides Moses in a cleft and passes by. This is what He says as He passes by, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” Is He the God of justice? Absolutely. But notice what He leads with: compassion, grace, patience, forgiveness and love. Giving us what we deserve is not His first inclination. His heart is to show mercy and grace. We know this of course, because the Old Testament is not the end of God’s revelation of Himself. He proved that He is abounding in love because He sent His Son to atone for our sin and satisfy His justice once and for all. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s declaration to Moses. He is the One who physically and visibly displayed the compassion, grace, patience and mercy declared on Mt. Sinai and extended to the Israelites time and again. This is, in large part, what the letter to the Hebrews is getting at when it says that Jesus is “the exact representation of (God’s) being….”
So how do you read the Old Testament? Full of fire and brimstone? Does it leave you with an image of God as angry and brooding, just looking for us to mess up so that He can smite us down? Did Jesus have to come to rescue us from the God who is out to get us? If that’s the case, may I encourage you try again? 2022 would be a great year to read it all again believing that God is who He says He is. It could change your life. Then you could say with the Psalmist, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.”
On August 30 I celebrated my 61st birthday (if you forgot to send a card it’s okay.) On August 31 I got on a plane and flew to Boston, MA for the purpose of meeting some church planters and exploring the possibility of partnering with them in the work of the Gospel in the greater Boston area. It was my first trip to Boston and to the New England area in general and I found it to be much nicer than I expected. It’s quite a fascinating old city. There is so much history, being in many ways the birthplace of our nation. At the same time, it is a very modern, diverse and influential city with an abundance of stark reminders as to how easy it is to slip away from our foundation in the Gospel.
Boston is home to 39 different universities, Harvard being the premier university not only of New England but of our nation. Did you know Harvard was founded as a Christian university to primarily train men for Gospel ministry and missions? Have you heard that for this academic year they have appointed an avowed atheist to be their new chaplain? Granted, it took them a couple of hundred years to get there, but get there they did. Harvard is simply a reflection of the greater Boston area which, according to the most generous estimates is only 2% evangelical Christian. What was once the epicenter of Gospel ministry and mission in the United States now has fewer Bible believing Christians than many Muslim nations.
In the picture I’m standing in front of the building that at one time housed the First Baptist Church of Watertown. If you could enlarge the picture you would see 1899 inscribed on the memorial stone on the front of the building. That was the year the church built that beautiful building. Unfortunately, there is no longer a church meeting in that building. As far as I know there is no congregation known as First Baptist Church in Watertown. The building you see was converted several years ago into luxury condominiums. In fact, there is an entire industry in New England dedicated to finding old church properties and converting them into condos or assisted living facilities or office space.
The people who do surveys and track numbers, statistics and trends are telling us that in the South, the Bible Belt, we will be in the same place as New England or our western states in less than 30 years. Imagine a Colquitt County where only two out of every 100 people believed the Gospel and sought to live according to God’s word. We’re tempted to believe it couldn’t happen here but we need to keep in mind that New England was once the Bible Belt of our nation. Sad to say but there are plenty of indicators that the experts will be proven right. Think about your kids or your grandkids for a moment. How often do they participate in the life of the church? How many friends do they have who are actively involved in a church? How active is our own involvement in the life of the church? How often do we pray for our neighbors specifically? Invite them to church? Have a gospel conversation with them? How much time do we spend in personal devotion verses reinforcing our political viewpoint or tracking our favorite team? How generous are we with our time and our resources? Are we more concerned about the condition of the church building or the health of the body of Christ that meets there? Do our personal preferences take priority over Gospel proclamation? Here’s the main question to be asked. Does Jesus Christ and His kingdom get priority over everything else in my life? Our answers will determine whether or not the experts are right. May we hold fast the foundation we have in the Gospel of Christ!
On Saturday, July 10, I was standing on the edge of the Klutina River looking across at the place where it merges with the Copper River. Both rivers were running about 30 mph over rocky riverbeds on their way to the sea. During the course of the day I watched a bald eagle pull a scrap of fish out of the river and get chased into the woods by two golden eagles. Later, that same bald eagle flew about 20-30 feet over my head and landed on the bank about fifty yards away. My son had taken me to this remote spot in the backwoods of Alaska to go salmon fishing. We didn’t catch a thing. It wasn’t for lack of trying. The fish just weren’t there that day.
After we got back to the truck Stephen apologized for the fact that we didn’t catch a salmon. He had apologized several times during the day and I knew he was disappointed. I looked out the window and then at him. I said, “You know, I got to stand in a place and see things today that 99.9% of the world will never see. I got to see that eagle flying about and view this incredible creation. On the way here I’ve seen glaciers and mountains and rivers and wildlife that is just amazing and I got to do all of this with my son. I’m a blessed man.”
We have a tendency as human beings to focus on the thing that didn’t happen or the thing that we didn’t get and miss the blessing that’s starring us in the face. We might look around at Colquitt County and think that it’s a pretty mundane and ordinary place and that our lives are much the same. Yet, if you’ll take a moment to look just a little closer there are things here that we are blessed to enjoy that the majority of the world will never experience. Our mundane and ordinary lives are chock full of blessing if we’ll only pause for a moment to take stock. There are little snatches and glimpses of beauty and glory, majesty and wonder all around. We don’t have to travel half way around the world to see it.
Some might say that the ability to appreciate the little things comes with age and maybe growing older does help the process, but I don’t think that’s the main factor. I think this ability is the by-product of the ability to appreciate the One who created it all in the first place. More than once the psalmist said that the creation displays the glory of God. It shouts and sings His praise to anyone who will listen. When we come to the place of not simply acknowledging but really believing in the core of our being that God is both great and good, that changes our perspective about our lives and the world around us. When we stop approaching Him with the mindset of “what can God do for me today?” and begin to consider all that He has already done for us it will melt our hearts and open our eyes to wonder, beauty and grace that’s been there all along.
I’m a blessed man. If you know Jesus Christ as Lord then you are blessed as well. The favor, love and mercy of the God of all creation rests upon you. It doesn’t mean that the day will be a cake walk. You could be going through something very difficult. You may face some incredible disappointments but there will be glimpses of glory even in the midst of them. You may only see them in hindsight, but they are there and they are reminders of the love and compassion that the Father has for you in Christ. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow….”