Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: May, 2020

THE JUSTICE OF GOD

 

Psalm 11

            The great paradox of human existence is the conflict between good and evil.  We can see that we live in a rationally ordered universe.  Moreover, we have within ourselves a moral consciousness – an awareness that there is an essential difference between right and wrong.  And yet all around us we see violence, cruelty and oppression – not to mention disease, poverty and natural disasters.

This, in turn, raises a question about God Himself.  Is this all a reflection of His own character?  The pagan deities of the ancient world shared the same faults as their human devotees.  The prophets of Israel, however, asserted that there is only one God, the Maker of heaven and earth.  Does He, then, share these contradictory traits?

Psalm 11 addresses the issue.  It is attributed to David, and it describes a crisis in his life in which his physical life was threatened by his enemies.  David describes the situation this way:

“For, behold, the wicked bend the bow,

They make ready their arrow upon the string

To shoot in darkness at the upright in heart.”

(v. 2: NASV)

Here it will be noted that we have persons who are “wicked” threatening the life of someone who is “upright in heart” – a scene all too familiar in human history.

David’s response was to look to God Himself:

“The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne

is in heaven;

His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.”

(v. 4)

The Hebrew word translated “test” (bachan) means “to examine to determine essential qualities” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament).  God, as the Supreme Judge of all mankind, carefully scrutinizes all of our behavior, and is aware of everything we do.  He does not look the other way.

But what will God do about what He sees?

“The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,

And the one who loves violence His soul hates.”

(v. 5)

God hates “the one who loves violence.”  God is a God of love and compassion; but that means that cruelty, injustice and oppression are utterly repulsive to Him.  Hatred of evil is the logical corollary of love for what is good.

What we have, then, is a God who is perfectly just and holy, examining the behavior of human beings who are often cruel and unjust.  What will He do about it?

“Upon the wicked He will rain snares;

Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion

of their cup.”

(v.6).
“The portion of their cup” is the destiny that God has allotted someone in life, as if He handed you a cup and told you to drink whatever was in it.  In the case of the wicked, as described here, it is “snares, fire and brimstone and burning wind.”  What David may very well have had in mind was the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah: “Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven” (Gen. 19:24).  David would also have known that there were penalties for violating the Mosaic Covenant, curses that included physical disasters such as severe drought (Deut. 28:21-24).  And there are also a number of passages throughout Scripture foretelling a future “Day of the Lord” which will be accompanied by celestial portents and physical calamities (e.g., Matt. 24:29; Rev. 16:1-11).

The “bottom line” is that evil will not prevail forever.  The day is coming when God will punish the wicked for their evil deeds.  What that says about God, then, is this:

“For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness;

The upright will behold His face.”

(v. 7).

God is righteous in His own character.  As the Supreme Ruler of heaven and earth He is just, fair and equitable.  Moreover, He “loves righteousness” – He wants to see the same qualities in us.

David bend the psalm by saying, “In the Lord I take refuge” (v. 1a).  With his life being threatened by his enemies, he refused to cave in or resort to expediency.  Instead he put his trust in the Lord, his “refuge.”  God would know what was going on, and could take care of him.

The practical application for us is obvious.  We do not live in an impersonal, irrational and amoral universe.  God is the Supreme Being.  He is the final Judge.  He is absolutely just in His own character, and He requires that be just in ours as well.  And in the end He is coming to judge the world.  We need to live lives that are in accordance with His will no matter what we see going on in human society at any given moment in time.  May God grant us the grace to live lives that are pleasing to Him!

THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD

 

Psalm 47

 

In what kind of world do we live?  One popular writer today, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, suggests that life is an ongoing struggle between order and chaos, and says that the experience of hunger, loneliness, thirst, sexual desire, aggression, fear and pain, “are elements of Being – primordial, axiomatic elements of Being” (12 Rules for Life, p. 101).  He says that everyone must be willing “to shoulder the burden of Being and take the heroic path” (p. xxxiii).

The Bible, however, paints a different picture of reality.  We live in a world that was created by an intelligent Supreme Being, but has fallen from its original condition and is ruined by human sin.  Our goal in life should be to bring everything back into conformity with the will of the Creator.

But is God in control?  According to the Bible, the answer is “yes.”  He is Lord and King over all the earth.  This is brought out beautifully in Psalm 47, a psalm that was evidently composed during the reign of King David and used in the worship at the tabernacle in Jerusalem.

The psalm begins, as many of the m do, with a call to worship: “O clap your hands, all peoples; / Shout to God with the voice of joy” (v. 1; NASV).  Significantly “all peoples” are exhorted to worship – worship is not just the prerogative of the children of Israel, as we shall see as the psalm progresses.  Moreover, they are to “Shout to God with the voice of .”  The word translated “joy” might better be rendered “a ringing cry” (marg.).  Worship should not be a dull, dry formality, but our expression of genuine, heartfelt love and adoration; and in this case of exuberant joy.

But why should we shout for joy?  Because “the Lord Most High is to be feared, / A great King over all the earth” (v. 2).  God is “to be feared,” in the positive sense of standing in reverential awe of the Almighty.  And the reason why we should be thus overawed is that He is “a great King over all the earth,” which brings us to the central thought of the passage.  We are to conceive of God as a powerful monarch whose dominion extends over the entire earth; and as such all human beings owe Him their obedience and respect.

The psalm then goes on to reflect on the immediate experience of the nation of Israel.   David was king, and God had given him military victory over the surrounding nations.  And so the psalm says, “He subdues the peoples under us / And nations under our feet” (v. 3).  The psalmist was conscious that David’s military victories were possible only through divine providence.  It was God, in effect, who subdued the surrounding nations and gave Israel the military victory.

The psalm also reflects on the fact that “He chooses our inheritance for us, / The glory of Jacob whom He loves” (v. 4).  The “inheritance” was most likely the land of Canaan (cf. Ex. 15:17; Dt. 4:21,28) which God had promised Abraham, and the promised land was the “glory” of Israel, God’s chosen people, whom He loved.  The psalmist was conscious of the fact that Israel occupied a privileged position.  They were God’s own chosen people, and He had blessed them with a land flowing with milk and honey.  But all of this was only possible because God was sovereignly in control of human events.

The psalm says that “God has ascended with a shout, / The Lord with the sound of a trumpet” (v. 5).  The “trumpet” was the shofar, the curved ram’s horn trumpet, which was sounded on special occasions, included the coronation of a king.  When the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem it was done “with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet” (II Sam. 6:15; cf. I Chron. 15:28), echoing the very language of the psalm.  By giving Israel victory over its enemies God had asserted His sovereignty, and this is seen as a cause of rejoicing for Israel.  God’s promises were being fulfilled and His righteousness was being established.

The next several verses then focus on the basic underlying principle, the sovereignty of God over all the nations.  He is a “King” (v. 6) who “reigns over the nations” and “sits on His holy throne” (v. 8).  God occupies the position of supreme authority in the universe.  As His creatures who owe our very existence to Him we are duty bound to obey Him.  He is our Lord and King.

Significantly the psalm says that “God is King of all the earth” (v. 7), and that He “reigns over the nations” (v. 8).  In other words, God’s sovereignty is universal – He is rightfully the Lord and Master of every human being.  The entire human race owes Him its allegiance and submission.  To refuse to acknowledge that, as in the case of modern secularism, is pure rebelliousness on our part.

The psalm concludes by saying,

“The princes of the people have assembled themselves,

as the people of the God of Abraham.

For the shields of the earth belong to God;

He is highly exalted.”    (v. 9).

Today, of course, we live in very different circumstances.  We are not a part of a nation that can claim to be God’s chosen people; and in fact, as we look at the world around us, what we see is a steadily increasing godlessness.  How is God’s sovereignty manifested today?

First of all, God providentially controls all that goes on in the world today.  Men are wicked and in revolt against Him.  But God is omnipotent and ultimately in control.  He is working out His own purposes in history, and will allow the wicked to go only so far.

Secondly, the Bible reveals to us how history will end.  Christ will return, defeat His enemies, and institute a reign of peace and justice.

We are not dealing, then, with a weak and powerless Deity who stands by helplessly in the sky, but with the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth.  Certainly such a God commands our reverence and respect.  He is to be “feared,” as we saw in verse 2 of the psalm.  But we are also to praise Him, to shout joyfully to Him.  He is merciful, compassionate and just, all at the same time; and He loves us, his chosen people.  His sovereignty means that evil will not prevail in the long run.  Good will eventually triumph.  We can have peace and joy even in the midst of sorrow and difficulty.  Our God reigns!

JESUS SUMMARIZES HIS MISSION

 

As Jesus comes to the end of His intercessory prayer He summarizes His requests, and in a way summarizes His whole mission here on earth.  That mission was about to end.  But what did He accomplish?

He begins by describing he condition of the world into which He had come.  “O righteous Father!  The world has not known You . . .” (John 17:25; NKJV).  The Greek word used here for “known” means to know something by observation and experience, as opposed to mere theoretical, abstract knowledge.  The world is estranged from God.  It may (or may not) acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being in some formal, abstract way, but it has no personal dealings with Him as the living God.  The average person rarely thinks about God at all, let alone prays to Him.  People go about their daily lives as though God simply did not exist.

And then Jesus reflects on His own relationship with the Father: “. . .but I have known You . . .”  In contrast with the world’s darkness and ignorance, its estrangement from God, Jesus was God’ the Father’s eternal Son.  He had coexisted with God the Father from all eternity, and enjoyed a warm, loving relationship with Him.

And then Jesus turns His attention to His disciples: “and these have known that You sent Me.”  Among the unconverted mass of humanity this small band of disciples had come to know that Jesus was no ordinary human being, but that He was, in fact, the Son of God who had come into the world.

But why had Jesus come into the world?  Jesus goes on to explain: “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it . . .” (v. 26).  The world translated “declared” could be rendered more literally “made known” (NASV).  But how did He “make known” God’s name?  In biblical times a person’s name was much more than a mere verbal marker.   It was meant to be a description of the thing itself.  Thus God’s name refers to the character and being of God Himself.  When Jesus made known the Father’s name He was revealing to mankind God’s essential character in a way that it had never been know before.  Granted, God had previously made a revelation of Himself through Moses and the Old Testament prophets.  But by coming into the world, by teaching and personal example, and ultimately by laying down His very life, Jesus made a clearer manifestation of the character of God – a God who is just and holy, but also loving and merciful.  It was a clearer revelation of God’s character than the human race had ever seen before.

But what was the ultimate aim of it all?  What did Jesus intend to accomplish by this?  He goes on to say: “. . . that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”  There is a broad, general sense in which “God so loved the world,” but as Jesus uses the term here He is referring to what theologians call God’s “love of complacency” or His “complacent love” – the kind of love in which God is genuinely pleased with someone.  Jesus notes that this is the kind of love that the Father has for Him as the Son.  And so now He prays that this same kind of love might also be “in them,” in His disciples as well.  This would be, first of all, that they too would become the objects of God’s complacent love – that they would be brought into such a relationship with God that they would experience God’s love personally.  But it may also mean that their own hearts would become filled with Christian love so that they would love others the way that God loved them – that God’s love would not just be towards them, but “in them.”

But Jesus goes further and adds, “and I in them.”  This points to the mystical union that genuine believers have with Christ – that Christ actually dwells inside their hearts through the Holy Spirit.  It is not so much a matter of our own trying harder, in our own strength, to meet God’s standards.  Rather it is Christ living inside of us, transforming us inwardly, so that we live lives that are pleasing to Him.  As the apostle Paul would put it, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).  What an amazing thing, to have the infinite, eternal and holy Son of God living inside of us!

That, then, is what Jesus accomplished by coming here to earth.  As human beings we were lost, rebellious, and deserving of God’s wrath.  Jesus came into the world as a light shining into the darkness, bringing salvation and eternal life to mankind.  As a result of what He did individual men and women can come to Him in repentance and faith, receive the forgiveness of their sins, and have eternal life in Him.  What a remarkable demonstration of God’s love and mercy!

“I stand amazed in the presence

Of Jesus the Nazarene,

And wonder how He could love me,

A sinner condemned unclean.

 

“How marvelous!  How wonderful!

And my song shall ever be:

How marvelous!  How wonderful

Is my Savior’s love for me!”

 

Charles H. Gabriel