Why the Good News is so Good

The gospel teaches us that we can draw near to God confidently because Jesus Christ bore the punishment for our sins. That’s why the good news so good.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 4-6; Hebrews 10:1-23

Selected Verses

Then lie upon your left side, and I will lay the punishment of the house of Israel upon you; for the number of the days that you lie upon it, you shall bear their punishment. Ezekiel 4:4

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19-22

Reflections

Ezekiel portrayed both the heinousness of the sin committed by Israel and Judah and also the means of atonement which God would make for them. Sin is as disgusting to God as eating contaminated food would be to us, bread cooked over a fire of human feces. Ugh! The punishment for sin is as painful and costly as laying for 390 days on one side. But notice that Ezekiel had done nothing to deserve this suffering. He was symbolically bearing the punishment for Israel and Judah, a picture of what Jesus Christ would do in reality several centuries later.

What Jesus did on the cross was to bring an end to the shadow of Old Testament sacrifices for sin. Jesus actually did bear the sins of His people in a way that Ezekiel could only act out. As Peter wrote, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (I Peter 3:18). Those sacrifices pointed to Him and to the need for better sacrifices than those of bulls and goats. Indeed, His single sacrifice was better, so much better that it satisfied for all time the need for a sacrifice for sin.

Think about it

This is why the good news of the gospel is so good. We are forgiven in Him, but it does not end there. We are called to draw near to God, to enter the “holy places” of heaven “by the new and living way which He opened for us” not in fear and trembling but with confidence. That confidence is based on His faithfulness, not on our own.

Draw near, believing friend. Draw near to God with confidence for He is faithful. That gospel news is true and it is good.

The Victory of the Gospel

Will the gospel win the victory? God’s word–though ignored, thwarted, ridiculed, and opposed–will always triumph.  He guarantees it.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 53-55; 1 Thessalonians 2

Selected Verses

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:10-11

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain.  1 Thessalonians 2:1

Reflections

Isaiah gave Israel and the world the greatest message in all of history in chapter 53. The Servant of the Lord would bear the sins of His people and “make many to be accounted righteous” (53:11). This truth, that One who is holy and righteous has taken the just wrath of God for sinners, is at the heart of the gospel message. [See “The Messiah’s Anguish and Satisfaction”].

This is the best news ever told, but would this news get to the world? Would those who desperately need hope for forgiveness and reconciliation with God hear about this? The answer is “yes!”  Nothing can stop God’s word from going forth. Plenty of forces mounted up against it in Paul’s day and in ours. The Apostle suffered in Philippi.  They treated him shamefully (2:1).  Did he give up?  No! He went right on to Thessalonica. There he continued to preach the word and this letter shows that the message bore amazing fruit in the lives of the people. Then, those new believers preached it to the surrounding region.

Think about it

We live in an unprecedented time of global communication.  This is both a blessing and curse, since much of the communication is evil and deceptive.  But technology also effectively proclaims this gospel.  And despite all kinds of opposition, God’s word can never be defeated. Are you confident in the power of the gospel to change lives? Are you certain that God will open doors for His word–that He will use it to accomplish its every purpose? Fear not! God’s word will triumph. Proclaim it with confidence wherever you can.  God guarantees the victory.

Legalism Dies Hard

Eternal salvation is no do-it-yourself project. The gospel tells us that the law was given to point us to Christ, never to save. Why does legalism die hard?

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 1-3; Galatians 2

Selected Verses

 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.  Isaiah 1:11

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.  Galatians 2:19-21

Reflections

Isaiah spoke powerfully against the hypocrisy of the people of Judah.  Their law-keeping was mere window-dressing.  God was not pleased with their offerings and sacrifices.  But wasn’t this what God had commanded in the law given to Moses?  Yes, but they were missing the essential part.  The offerings and sacrifices were not intended to provide a cover-up for their sin.  These should have been an outward expression of their repentance and contrition.  God could see their hearts, and He was not impressed.  He sent Isaiah to call them to act in ways that showed repentance and to seek His cleansing for even the most heinous sin (1:16-20).

In Galatia, a similar thing was occurring.  The believers were abandoning the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and reverting to law-keeping as the basis for their reconciliation with God.  Paul grieved deeply (Galatians 1:6-9).  His letter aims to correct this grave and dangerous error.  To make his point, Paul relates his own experience of receiving the gospel from Christ and, at one point, even having to confront Peter for wavering from that gospel.

Think about it

Why this tendency, of those who should know better, to revert to law-keeping for salvation?  Perhaps, as justified people (but still not fully sanctified), we are prone to a prideful desire to merit our salvation, if just a little. Perhaps this error grows from a desire to cover-up our sin by appearing holy, instead of confessing our sin and trusting God’s forgiveness.  Beware of straying from the basis of our justification, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and not our faulty lawkeeping.  Never rob God of His glory by reverting to trust in good works for your forgiveness.  Legalism dies hard in Judah, in Galatia, and, I’m afraid, in our hearts today.

The Man of Dust; the Man of Heaven

Thoughts of life and death are never far from our mortal minds. We have death through the man of dust but life through the man of heaven.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 11-12; First Corinthians 15:33-58

Selected Verses

In the path of righteousness is life,
and in its pathway there is no death.  Proverbs 12:28

The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.  As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.  Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.  First Corinthians 15:47-49

Reflections

Proverbs talks about life–but life in this world, for the most part. There are numerous keys to a joyful, peaceful, prosperous life. All things being equal, these maxims hold true, but all things are not equal. So the Proverbs will not “work” 100% of the time. There are exceptions. Sometimes good, industrious people suffer setbacks despite their best efforts. Righteousness leads to life rather than death, yet the only perfectly righteous Man who ever lived died a horrible death.

So Proverbs tell us how we ought to seek to live, being diligent in our work, kind toward others, speaking well of our neighbor, etc. These are good and right ways to live whether we get all the benefits promised or not. But in the gospel we learn that our good deeds are not sufficient to save us from eternal death. Jesus taught that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Jesus shed His blood for the forgiveness of the sins of many, because there was no other way (Matthew 26:26-28).

Paul emphasizes the role of Jesus Christ, the second man, the One who, unlike the first man, did not come from the dust, but came down from heaven. He died and rose again. Now we, by faith, are promised a future in which we will bear the image of the Man of heaven. His resurrection gives us assurance that we too will be raised to have new spiritual bodies.

Think about it

Christ’s disciples certainly seek to be righteous in this world, but they do so knowing they are not earning life but demonstrating that they already have it by the grace of the Lord and faith in Him. If you know this hope of life, live righteously, but trust in the only Righteous One, Jesus. He will see us home and give us new spiritual bodies that cannot sin nor die. We will lose the image of the man of dust and bear the image of the Man of heaven.

Two Ways to Live–Your Choice

Mankind is divided into two lifestyle groups according to a basic issue of world view. Both are vividly contrasted in today’s readings. Which one is you?

Today’s Reading

Psalms 62-64; Romans 1

Selected Verses

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.  Psalm 63:5-7

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Romans 1:21

Reflections

David opens his heart again and again showing us how much he longs for God. His attitude is like someone desperate for air and water–he simply cannot live without God.  He finds his satisfaction in Him.  The psalmist finds shelter and protection in Him.  He praises God with joy as he sings of Him.  To him, the worship of God is not a necessary and unpleasant chore for he finds delight in God.

By contrast, Paul describes people who take no interest in God.  They have no time to praise Him nor give Him thanks.  They presumptuously go on their merry way in foolishness. Their negligence is inexcusable because God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature are clearly perceived in creation (vs. 19-20).  Rather than worship and thank God, they grow even more foolish and exchange the glory of God for images of animals.  They worship creatures, not the Creator.

Think about it

We humans are united by the characteristic of being worshipful beings, but we are differentiated by the object of worship which we choose.  Mankind was made to worship the true and living God and if he will not worship God he will worship something less than God for anything that is not God is less than Him. We must have an object of worship.  It is common to call our celebrities “idols”.  Why not?  We worship them and they encourage it.  But they are fallen creatures, like us, not worthy of worship.  God will  call them and us to answer for our idolatry.

Find your satisfaction and joy in the eternal triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He is magnificent.  He is worthy of all our praise and worship.  There is only one true object of worship and there are only two ways to live. The choice is clear. [1]

 

[1] For further information go to: http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/2wtl/

The Lessons of Mount Moriah

Do you know the lessons of Mt. Moriah?  What happened there shows us the gospel.  Your response to those lessons is a matter of life and death.

Today’s Reading

Second Chronicles 1-3; John 12:1-19

Selected Verses

Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.   2 Chronicles 3:1

The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.  John 12:17-18

Reflections

Mount Moriah is significant in biblical history. We hear about it first when Abraham went to that location to offer his son, Isaac, in response to God’s command (Genesis 22:2). A thousand years later, David buys property from a Jebusite named Araunah in order to make an offering there to avert the plague, he had brought upon the nation by taking a census. The location of that property is none other than Mt. Moriah.  It would become the location of the temple which Solomon built.

Long before Jesus’ time, the first temple (Solomon’s) had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in the Babylonian invasion. After the captivity the temple was rebuilt. That second temple is the one which is mentioned in the gospels and which Jesus cleansed (John 2:13-17), but it was in the same location, Mt. Moriah. That temple would later be destroyed by the Roman general Titus in 70 AD.

After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He rode into Jerusalem as the crowds hailed Him as King of Israel (John 12:13). John points out that it was because of the resurrection of Lazarus that the crowds came to see and welcome Jesus.  All this is occurring in the vicinity of Mt. Moriah and the second temple which would soon to be destroyed.

Think about it

On Mt. Moriah Abraham learned that God would provide His own sacrifice for sin.  There David learned that the punishment for his sin demanded an offering. Near Mt. Moriah Jesus offered Himself as the ultimate offering. He referred to it when He cleansed the temple of money changers and sellers of sheep, oxen, and pigeons. “Destroy this temple,” He told the Jews, “and in three days, I will raise it up.” He was, of course, referring to His body, His crucifixion, and His resurrection. (John 2:18-22)

Don’t miss the important lessons of Mt. Moriah where God’s mercy met mankind’s desperate need and our Lord Jesus Christ reconciled His people to God forever.

Paradise: Who Gets In?

The way to paradise is not through our own good works.  Rather, it comes by grace through faith to the repentant sinner even one dying naked on a cross.

Today’s Reading

1 Kings 8-9; Luke 23:39-56

Selected Verses

And this house will become a heap of ruins. Everyone passing by it will be astonished and will hiss, and they will say, “Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?” Then they will say, “Because they abandoned the Lord their God who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore the Lord has brought all this disaster on them.”  1 Kings 9:8-9

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:42

Reflections

Above the euphoria of celebrating the completion of the Temple and the installation of the Ark of the Covenant, there was a certain ominous cloud, the possibility that the people of Israel might not be faithful to their God.  There still existed the allurement of other gods.  There was no guarantee that the nation would not abandon the God who had delivered their fathers from the land of Egypt and thus incur judgment.  That beautiful temple could end up a heap of ruins.

In fact, it did.

The kingdom would be divided; the kings and the people would incorporate pagan worship either in place of or alongside their worship of the Lord.  God would turn them over to foreign powers.  We will come to that later in our reading.  You see where this story is going.  We may as well rain on the parade.

Then we turn to Luke.  Jesus the Messiah has been officially rejected by the rulers, tried before them and the Roman governor, and crucified beside two criminals.  One of them calls out for mercy.  Jesus assures him, in those famous words, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Indeed, the initial excitement of the temple dedication would not last.  Israel made a mess of their worship and executed their Savior.  But God is able to do far above what we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20-21) and He made their greatest evil the ground for their salvation beginning with the repentant criminal.

Think about it

Who gets into paradise? Not one who puts hope and confidence in his own ability to be perfectly faithful to God.  The one who will enter paradise trusts in the only One who was perfectly faithful, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He ushered a guilty criminal into Paradise, and He can usher you in, too, by grace alone through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8,9).

Law and Grace: a contrast

For the guilty there was no mercy in Moses’ law, but Jesus came bringing grace and giving His life as a ransom.  What a great contrast between law and grace!

Today’s reading

Numbers 34-36; Mark 10:32-52

Selected Verses

Moreover, you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death. Numbers 35:31

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.  Mark 10:45

Reflections

Under the Mosaic Law, a manslayer had protection and a right to a trial to determine whether he murdered intentionally or killed unintentionally.  Life was precious, both the life of the one who died and the life of the one who killed him.  Under Moses, the Israelites applied capital punishment very carefully after due process of law.

The guilty murderer, duly convicted, could not be ransomed.  There could be no deal-making.  No plea bargaining.  No offering of an animal sacrifice to take the place of the convict.  He must die under the law.

What a contrast with the grace of God in Jesus Christ!  Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for guilty people, many, very guilty people.  I suspect that some of those guilty people had already died under the Mosaic Law, guilty of murder, but repentant and believing and saved by the grace of God and for the glory of God.

Think about it

The guilty in this world still have to serve their sentences even on Death Row.  But they may be saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone to know God as Father in the eternal state to come.

How many, who could not be ransomed from their guilt under the Law of Moses, found redemption through faith in the coming Messiah who would give His life a ransom for many?  Only eternity will reveal this.

But Jesus Christ, God’s Son, purchased life for all who come to Him in faith.  That is the contrast between law and grace.  May He be praised for serving and saving all of us who believe in Him. And all who are still to believe in Him.

 

 

The Anguish of Guilt

What do we do with our guilt?  It torments sensitive souls, but Jesus Christ died that whoever believes in Him should be forgiven and cleansed of all guilt.

Today’s reading

Leviticus 15-17; Matthew 27:1-31

Selected Verses

Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house.  Leviticus 16:6

And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.  Matthew 27:5

Reflections

If any single theme runs through these two readings today it is guilt, human guilt for sin.  That theme runs through history since the first sin committed by the first created couple in the garden (Genesis 3).

In Leviticus the high priest must offer a sacrifice for his own sin before he can offer a sacrifice for the sin of the people.  He is high priest, but he is as sinful and guilty as the rest of the rank and file.  As we have been seeing, the Aaronic priesthood was imperfect and temporary. It pointed to a need for a better priesthood, one that would later be established by the Lord Jesus Christ.  All of this will be even clearer when we get to the Epistle to the Hebrews.

The circumstances surrounding Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ arrest and trial also reveal how the various parties showed the ravages of their guilt.   Judas was tormented by the realization that he had betrayed an innocent man.  He sought to rid himself of this guilt by returning the money he received.  The chief priests and elders rejected his effort.  He then hung himself.

Pilate and his wife agonized over the case before him and the phony accusations against Jesus.  Pilate looked in vain for a way out.  He seemed to finally be moved by the eager willingness of the crowd to accept any blame for this execution.

Think about it

Guilt tears apart the human soul, but if God is gracious to us His Spirit moves us beyond guilt to repentance and faith in the true High Priest who offered Himself for the sin of His people.  In Him we find forgiveness (not through a diluting of our guilt but) through an offering that is so infinitely worthy it purchased redemption for every single one of God’s elect people (Ephesians 1:7-10).

Praise Him, my believing friend, for deliverance through Christ from not only the anguish of our guilt but the due consequences of all our sin.

 

Do Jesus’ Parables Teach Salvation by Works?

In light of Jesus’ parables, we might wonder if He is teaching that we are saved by our own merits. Did Jesus teach salvation by works?

Today’s reading

Leviticus 4-6; Matthew 25:1-30

Selected Verses

And the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. Leviticus 4:20b

And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Matthew 25:30

Reflections

In today’s reading in Leviticus the phrase oft-repeated is “he (or they) shall be forgiven.” In yesterday’s reading the emphasis was on “a pleasing aroma to the LORD.” The sacrifices described in Leviticus resulted in God being pleased and the worshipers being forgiven. God does not merely show restraint in not punishing the sin of true believers, He forgives them and He is pleased with the offering they make.

Of course we know from the New Testament that these offerings all pointed toward Jesus Christ, the final and complete offering for the sins of His people. In Him, God is pleased and we who believe in Him are forgiven.

So what does the parable of the talents in Matthew have to do with this? Here we see God’s judgment portrayed on one who failed to invest his talent for the master’s benefit. He is not forgiven. In fact, he loses the one talent he had and is cast out of his master’s presence. A similar judgment falls upon the unprepared virgins.

In light of these parables, we might wonder if Jesus is teaching that we are acceptable before God based on our works or personal preparedness. In fact acceptance before God depends on faith in the offering for sin made by Christ. On the other hand the reality of our faith is demonstrated in fully employing the talent or gift God has given us and in having an expectant attitude about the Lord’s coming in power and judgment.

Think about it

Many trust in their own good works for salvation, only to be lost in the end. Others believe that their trust in Christ only needs to be demonstrated once through repeating a prayer, being baptized, or some other outward profession. These self-deceived people fail to show the fruits of faith in their lives.  According to the Bible they will also be lost in the end.  Jesus never taught salvation by works.  Rather He taught that faith bears observable fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). Ground your faith in Jesus Christ’s offering for sin. But be sure your faith shows itself  in your life by diligent use of the means of grace (God’s word and prayer and the sacraments) both personally in your home and corporately in your local church.