Home » Short Devotionals

Category Archives: Short Devotionals

Why Should Christians Gather?

 

In my prior post (Jesus Don’t You Care?) I related how Scripture declares the intimate relationship each Christian can have with God directly through faith in Christ and the Holy Spirit God sends into every believer’s heart. In this post, I want to explain briefly what we all seem to know instinctively–we need each other!

So, why should Christians gather with each other? Isn’t a direct relationship with God enough?

John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

Hebrews 10:24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near.

I. We have physical bodies and God does not.

  • Our physical bodies with all their material and emotional needs are often best served by others like us.
  •  We have arms and legs to carry and provide, which God does not.
  •  Seeing God’s love in others helps us to see beyond the physical to see God himself.

II. We are family.

  •  Although the three-in-one being of God is impossible for our limited minds to grasp, we can grasp that God is a God of communication. He communicates among himself, and we are modeled to be like him. Communication is basic to the life God created in us.
  •  Families meet often to share each other–to  be family together. Family by definition means more than one.
  • God created us to be family–both with him and with each other.

III. We encourage each other in Christ when we meet together.

  •  Together, we balance out and correct false or incomplete doctrine.
  •  Alone, we are easy targets for our spiritual enemies, Satan and his demons.
  •  Speaking for myself, we forget. I sometimes forget to pray, I forget God loves me, I forget my Christian duties, I forget how to worship. My sisters and brothers in Christ remind me of these things.
  •  Again, speaking for myself, I am not always in close fellowship with God. I go off track, I might get strange ideas, I am tempted in various ways and may fall prey. Hearing the testimonies of others and witnessing the movement of God in their lives encourages me to keep on keeping on. My family in Christ animates me to worship and adore the Lord.

IV. It’s often lots of fun!

V. We live out the love of Christ for us by loving others. When I lay down my life in love for another, I understand experientially what it cost Christ to lay down his life for me. No amount of words can give me such an understanding. The result is worship.

CONCLUSION:

I. As a Christian, I have a direct and intimate relationship through the Holy Spirit by faith in Christ with God the Father. I must do what I can to nurture this relationship.

  •  give priority to making time to be alone and quiet with God
  •  learn to hear and recognize his voice when he speaks
  •  cry out to him regularly and truthfully in prayer
  •  obey when he acts the parent and gives me a task to do
  •  fellowship with him through his word
  •  love, adore, worship, and submit to him in private time alone and together with him
  •  remember and take advantage of the fact that he is always present

II. As a Christian, I have a direct and spiritually intimate relationship with other Christians through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit with those who share my faith in Christ.

  •  Christians are all spiritually one

John 17:20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,  21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,  23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 

Ephesians 4:11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,  12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

  •  God’s purpose for each of us and for Christ’s body as a single whole is fulfilled as we meet and serve one another in love. This love and service becomes visible to the world as a testimony to the truth of the Gospel message of life in Jesus Christ.

III. Christ is the source of all, the center of all, and the purpose of all, whether we fellowship alone with God through the Holy Spirit or in groups together. As Christians, we need both. As we individually drink from the source, may we share our living water with others, so that all may grow to maturity in one body and in love.

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus Don’t You Care?

Although I looked, I could not find a copyright for this picture.

One day Jesus called his disciples into a boat, and they headed out across a large lake. But Jesus fell asleep. While he slept, a violent windstorm came down on the lake. The waves became huge and started swamping the boat. They were in danger of drowning. At this point, the disciples could bear it no longer. They shouted at Jesus and woke him up, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” Well, that woke him up. He rebuked the wind and the raging waters. The storm subsided, all was calm. (Adapted from Luke 8:22-24)

In this narrative, who was asleep? The text says that Jesus, God in the flesh, slept, unaware that a monstrous storm had arisen, threatening to capsize and sink the boat that carried the disciples. But was Jesus the only one in the boat who was sleeping? Weren’t the disciples also asleep? Verse 25 displays what I mean.

“Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

At this point in their walk, the disciples really had no clue who Jesus was. They were asleep to the real identity of their Rabbi. But that’s not what I want to talk about. Notice, in the whole story there’s only one place where the disciples talked to Jesus directly. That was in verse 24, where they awakened him and shouted at him, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” Then, verse 25 tells us that in “fear and amazement” the disciples talked about Jesus to one another. “Who is this?” No one turned to Jesus, looked him straight in the face and asked, “Who are you?”

There’s an enormous difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. Why is the Bible divided into two very distinct sections, the Old Testament and the New? It hinges on this very point. It’s about how God communicates with people. The Old Testament begins with face to face communication between God and individual people having been cut off. Genesis 3 records how Adam and Eve were cut off from intimate, in-person communication with God. From that time forward, God communicated with people only through specifically chosen spokespersons called prophets and through historical events, concrete objects, and ceremonies. Most people didn’t know God personally. They knew  about  him through the historical record of their nation, their religious ceremonies, and the words of specifically chosen individuals.

Then comes the New Testament. The Gospel of John repeats over and over throughout its chapters the imminent reopening of direct communication with people and God the Father through the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ very name means, “God with us,” (Matthew 1:23). It is true that Christ died on the cross as a sacrifice for sins and rose from the dead in victory over sin, but what was the purpose of the cleansing of the human heart for those who by faith receive from Christ that victory over sin and death? Was it that we should be able to live happy and peaceful lives forever? Or is there something more?

Please listen carefully, because this is so important.

  1.  Matthew 1:18 tells that Mary “was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”
  2.  Matthew 3:11 quotes John the Baptist, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me … will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
  3.  In John 3:5-6, Jesus told Nicodemus, “… no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”
  4.  He told the woman at the well in John 4:14, “… the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” And in verse 23, “… the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit …”
  5.  In John 14:26 Jesus tells his disciples, “But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things …”
  6.  Jesus’s great commission to his disciples in Matthew 28:19 includes the third Person of God, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”
  7.  Acts 2:4 records this great, historical event, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit …”
  8.  In Acts 2:33, Peter explained to the crowd that the arrival of the Holy Spirit fulfilled the Old Testament promise of the Father, “[Jesus] Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”
  9.  Peter in Acts 2:38 claims that the Holy Spirit is for all believers in Jesus, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
  10.  Acts 8:17 supports Peter’s words, “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they [the Samaritans] received the Holy Spirit.
  11.  In Acts 10:44-45, the Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit, “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word … The circumcised believers … were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.”
  12.  Paul describes one benefit of having the Holy Spirit in Romans 5:5, “and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
  13.  In Romans 8:14-15 Paul continues speaking about the importance of the Holy Spirit in our lives, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.'”
  14.  Romans 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
  15.  Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
  16.  1 Corinthians 12:3, “… no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
  17.  Fellowship with God and with each other is made possible by the Holy Spirit who lives inside every believer: 2 Corinthians 13:14, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
  18.  When Paul speaks of PROMISE anywhere at all in the New Testament (I’m making a huge claim here) he ALWAYS means the Holy Spirit, never physical property–land. Here is one example in Ephesians 1:13, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”
  19.  The Holy Spirit lets us know God himself, not merely to know  about him, Ephesians 1:17, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”
  20.  1 Thessalonians 1:6, “… you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.”
  21.  What more could a believer possibly want than the very presence of God himself living within her heart, 1 Thessalonians 4:8, “… the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.”
  22.  2 Timothy 1:14, “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you–guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”
  23.  Titus 3:5-7, “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously trhough Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
  24.  Hebrews 3:7-8 and 12 records how God cries out every day to a lost and lonely people, “So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, … See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.”

Jesus died and rose again in order to open the pathway back to God–remember Genesis 3–by means of faith through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the difference between knowing about God–hearing about him, reading this blog written about him, listening to sermons about him–and knowing God yourself. Knowing God himself means that occasionally you will feel his presence in you, touching you, wrapping his arms around you, and at times speaking directly to you, so that you know unmistakably that he knows you, sees you, loves you, sometimes corrects you, and is with you.

In closing, I want to talk about my second granddaughter when she was two, and even now, when she is three. Sometimes her parents would have me babysit after school and stretch it out through the dinner hour and even past bedtime. Bedtime was difficult. This little girl wanted to be tucked in for the night by mommy or daddy. She would cry and cry. I would sit on her bed and tell her that mommy and daddy would return, that they loved her, that when she awakened they would be with her, and that she would never be alone. She would never be alone because I myself would not leave the house until her mommy and daddy returned. Sometimes she would fall asleep crying softly with these reassurances. This part of the story represents hearing and knowing about Jesus.

Often, however, the little girl refused to be comforted by my words about her parents’ love for her and the promise that they would return. Often she just refused to fall asleep. Occasionally, the parents would come back while I was still in the room. Then mommy or daddy would enter and hold her in their arms hugging her and whispering softly to her that they were home, that they loved her, and that it was time for her to take a rest and sleep. That part of the story represents knowing Jesus directly through the Holy Spirit.

So, what are we to do in times of stormy trial when we are close to death? We are supposed to do as the psalmist did again and again, and as the disciples did in the boat when the wind and waves threatened to capsize their little boat and cause them to drown. We are to awaken Jesus by giving it all we are worth, shouting even, Savior, don’t you know that I am about to drown? Help me!

Why does God allow turbulent times to happen in our lives? Jesus said in Luke 5:31, “… It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Our sickness is that we are cut off from God. Jesus came to change that. I opened by saying that in a sense the disciples were asleep to the real identity of the Rabbi/teacher who rode in the boat with them. If the storm had not come, would they have become frightened enough to call out to him for help? Would they have known that they were sleeping in the sickness of death? Would they ever have seen his power over nature?

From time to time there are storms in our lives and all around us. Factual, historical events cause our hearts to fear and tremble. We lose control, we lose our peace, we lose our joy, and often we lose hope. That is when we need to turn to Jesus and cry out to him, “Jesus, Jesus, I’m going to drown. Help me!” His promise to us is that he will.

It’s the death of the soul within us that is the greatest danger of all. Peter, quoting the prophet Joel (2:32), spoke these words of promise and assurance in Acts 2:21, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” I love Pa in the Little House on the Prairie book series. The family faced one catastrophe after another, and as narrated through the eyes of his little daughter Laura, he always would say, “There is no great loss without some small gain.” The world and our nation are currently passing through a time of tremendous loss. May there be not a small gain, but a huge gain–eternal life for the many who turn to the Lord, cry out to him, and are saved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weeping May Last for the Night, But…Joy!

 

 

There is so much

to weep about in our world recently. Bad things happen as surely as night follows day. (John 16:33) It seems as though our country–along with most other parts of the world–has been experiencing one very long night. Will the violence and human pain never end? Yet for those who find their eternal hope in our great God and Savior (Titus 2:13), Scripture carries the promise of a bright day to follow each and every dark night: “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” — (Psalm 30:5).”

Christians know this biblical promise of God is true, because Christ has already deposited within them the fountain of life and joy–his Holy Spirit (John 7:38; Ephesians 1:13). And this fountain of joy and life is eternal; it can never be quenched no matter how much external circumstances say otherwise. And so we sing–

” “Spring up, O well! — Sing to it!”

Numbers 21:17

Christians know and experience that God’s love and mercy arrive fresh and new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23), and therefore unquenchable joy is their strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

 

 

No Virtue Will Get You In! No Defect Will Keep You Out!

This is a reprint from 2016.

 

No Virtue Will Get You In--No Defect Will Keep You Out

No Virtue Will Get You In!  No Defect Will Keep You Out!

 

Link: The New Birth–Its Necessity and Its Joy

Link: Concrete to Spiritual: How Jesus Changes the Old Testament to the New

Psalm 18: Original Paraphrase–Papa Roars and Rescues

Drama from the Past

* God the Son endangered, the ropes of death ensnared him, squeezed his breath away. A tsunami of destruction crashed upon his head. He couldn’t breathe. Hell’s net pulled him tighter, under. Death held its vise-like grip. There was no way for him to escape. In gasping anguish he cried out loud; he called to his Father for help.

“Papa! Help me! Save me! Death must not win forever!”

God in his holy temple heard his Son’s voice; the pleading cry of desperation reached the Father’s ear. Though his Son lay buried, three days in the grave, Almighty Papa roared and pierced the sky to save.

The earth reeled and rocked; foundations of mountains trembled. The royal Papa’s anger shook, an earth-quaking gush of love. Smoke rose from his nostrils; devouring fire consumed, glowing coals of flame no dragon ever produced.

God bowed the heavens descending, thick darkness under his feet. He rode a cherub and flew swiftly on wings of wind. Almighty Papa in darkness cloaked, a canopy surrounds him. Thick clouds dark with water cover his form from view. Bursting through this darkness, his brightness once concealed, with flashes of fire and brimstone, his golden light breaks through. He thunders in the heavens, blasting out his voice, hailstones and coals announcing–Papa on the move.

Scattering forth his arrows, flashing out his lightnings, God routed the enemy, death…(and here the Son breaks in…)

“The channels of the sea you exposed, the foundations of the world laid bare. You rebuked them, O Lord, my Father, when your nostrils blasted your breath.”

“Did you see all this, my people? Were you watching? Did you see? When he came from on high and took me and pulled me from the waves? He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hated and surrounded. They were too mighty for me, confronting, that one single day. But he, the LORD my Papa came through. To this broad place he brought me. He heard my cry and rescued, because he delights in me.”

*This poem draws heavily from the English Standard Version of Psalm 18:4-19

 

 

Link to next post in this series

Link to prior post in this series 

Link to Contents for this series

Psalm 89: Short Devotional

Psalm 89 tells an interesting story of God’s promises to Israel concerning Messiah. The exalted expectations are then contrasted with the harsh realities of the Messiah’s life during his incarnation. The psalmist/Messiah points out the contradictions to the Lord, reminding him of his promises. He asks the Lord why his life compares so unfavorably with the promises. Nevertheless, he closes by blessing the Lord.

The reader needs to bear in mind that the psalm is prophecy, and this is Scripture’s way of announcing that the Messiah’s life would be one of suffering. The facts of his future incarnation of suffering do not seem to resemble the facts of God’s promises. No one understood this in the days when Jesus walked on earth, not even his own disciples. It was left to the Lord to explain the prophetic Scriptures concerning himself to his disciples after his resurrection. We, as readers today, have the great advantage of hindsight, although even today, many believers, if not most, do not perceive the messianic prophecies in this psalm. Psalm 89 is not listed as being messianic in most study Bibles.

In the first section concerning creation, verses 2 and 5-18, we see that God created all things, and his power is supreme. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before him. (v 14)

The second section describes God’s promises to Israel through Messiah from verses 3-4 and 19-37. God’s righteous, just, loving, and faithful nature, as established, manifested, and proven throughout all of creation, form the basis of his covenant with Israel, as represented by David his servant, and by the Greater David, Messiah. God’s people know and understand God’s nature and are blessed because they walk in it. In the long speech block from verse 19 thr0ugh 37, God describes in his own words the future messianic kingdom, Messiah’s loving response to him (verse 26), and the nature of his disciplinary yet covenantal interactions with Messiah’s progeny. Just as God proves himself to be righteous, just, loving, and faithful in all his created works, so the Israelites and Messiah can count on him to be the same in all his covenantal dealings with them.

Section three, verses 38-51, describes Messiah’s actual incarnated experience with statements such as:

38 But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed.
39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.
… … … … … 
42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice.
… … … … …
45 You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with shame. Selah

Using our reader’s hindsight and what we know of the gospel message about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, we can recognize that the words of prophecy in Psalm 89 describe well Messiah’s actual life during his incarnation.

Section 4 records Messiah’s prayerful protest to God. As we read these words, there can be no doubt that Messiah was fully man. These words are spoken from a human vantage, and a suffering human at that. Well may Paul have had Psalm 89 in mind when he wrote of Christ to the Philippians:

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phi 2:5-8 ESV)

Finally, the last verse concludes the psalm with a word of blessing for the Lord. In this, the psalmist/Messiah reminds us that even when the path is difficult and strewn with trials of all kinds, God is faithful to perform what he promises, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, and in that we worship and adore him.

Psalm 89 does not solve the mystery of a suffering Messiah–it simply announces the mystery. Nevertheless, by the time Jesus walked the earth, his entire people had lost sight of the full scope of this psalm’s message. They grasped well enough the exalted promises of God to Israel through a glorified Messiah, but they apparently had never connected or had forgotten the last portions of the psalm, which paint a portrait of a suffering Messiah. How like ourselves–don’t we so often want the glory without the pain?

 

 

Link to next post in this series

Link to prior post in this series

Link to Contents for this series

 

 

 

Bless the Lord, O my soul…!

P1010049_1 Ps 103_1

Psalms 25 and 26: Guilty or Innocent?

 

In Psalm 25, the psalmist admits his guilt; in Psalm 26, he maintains innocence. How can both be true? Both Psalm 25 and Psalm 26 are ascribed to David. Psalm 25:7-11 and verse 18 confess and deal with the sin issue, while Psalm 26 in its entirety is a statement of the psalmist’s righteousness. Surely this anomaly needs an explanation?

Oddly, many commentators skip over the superscription attributing these psalms to David. It does not appear to be an item of interest, perhaps for the reason often stated that no specific incident in David’s life can be connected to either of them. Be that as it may, whenever a reader ascribes a psalm to a human person as its subject, certain difficulties may be encountered. For example, while Scripture attests fully to David’s sin with Bathsheba, it proves more difficult to justify David as the author of Psalm 26, since according to Scripture, he was not innocent, but a shameful adulterer and murderer (2 Samuel 11-12:15). Several commentators face this difficulty by modifying the meaning of “innocent” to refer to one’s attitude of loyalty to God when attempting to enter his temple, rather than to a meaning of moral purity and sinlessness. They claim that the speaker in Psalm 26 does not claim moral perfection, but a relative righteousness in comparison with his enemies, who hate God outright. But are these weasel words? [1]

Fortunately for the reader, consistently applying a few basic premises to the Psalter as a whole serves to clear up such difficulties. These premises are 1) that the Psalter is poetic prophecy of the Christ, and 2) that Christ is the speaker in the first-person singular psalms, especially those ascribed to David. Let’s apply these premises to Psalms 25 and 26.

First, consider these statements from the New Testament.

God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:21 NET) 

He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. (1 Peter 2:22 NET)

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, (Romans 8:3 ESV)

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us– for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”– (Galatians 3:13 ESV)

…25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:25 ESV)

 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10 ESV)

As we read these New Testament quotations in the light each one sheds upon the other, it becomes clear that Christ himself was without sin of any kind. He was morally perfect. Yet, he was the sacrificial lamb who not only took upon himself the sins of people, but even more than that, became sin for us.

Next, consider the question, how would you reveal this information to a people who were only being taught for the very first time a multi-person God? One of the purposes of the Psalter was to reveal that  the one God has a Son (see Psalm 2:7).

Finally, to comprehend from poetry that God’s Son suffered and died as a sacrifice for sin would be no easy matter for Old Testament worshipers. God is holy, eternal, and sovereign–how then can he confess sin and die as a sacrifice? People in that era basically thought in concrete terms rather than spiritual. God designed the sacrificial system in order to teach about sin and atonement in a concrete way. The Psalter is a poetic application and spiritual extension of that concrete symbolism–not necessarily easy in that era for people to grasp.

Consider, even for many of us, who possess the facts of Jesus’ life as presented in the Gospels, it may be difficult to envision how one person could be innocent and guilty at the same time (see 2 Corinthian 5:21 above). When the Psalter was being written, I believe it fair to say that the vision of God’s people was far more limited than our vision today.

The solution? Two prophetic poems rather than one. Nevertheless, difficulties of comprehension still remained.

The Psalter reveals that the Christ was coming, that he was God’s holy King, that he would have enemies who falsely accuse and kill him, and that he would be raised from the dead to occupy God’s throne. Did God’s people understand all this? Scripture tells us that very few understood.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,
11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. (1Peter 1:10-11 ESV)

7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.
8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1Corinthians 2:7-8 ESV, Read also to the end of the chapter.)

25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27 ESV)

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,
46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,
47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47 ESV)

Application and Exhortation to Faith: We today do not need to be “foolish” and “slow of heart” to believe. We have Christ’s own word that the Psalms were written about him. It behooves us to search out what they say and to stand upon the assurance of biblical faith that we who live in New Testament times most certainly do not need to limit our understanding of the Psalter to what a listener of that era may or may not have understood about the coming Christ. The Psalter is an amazing book, and we cheat ourselves if we do not see Christ predominantly in it.

For more on Christ in his mediatorial role, see Penitential Psalms: Psalm 51–A Personal God of Love and Psalm 25: Change of Person and Multiple Speakers.

_______________

1 See, for example, each of the following in its discussion of Psalm 26: 1) Bonar, Andrew A. Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms: 150 Inspirational Studies. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1978. 2) Reardon, Patrick Henry. Christ in the Psalms, 2nd edition. Chesterton: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2011. 3) Belcher, Richard P. Jr. The Messiah and the Psalms: Preaching Christ from All the Psalms. Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., 2006.

 

Psalm 24: Formal and Boring or Dramatic and Exciting?

clipart-library.com

A Bit of a Meandering Approach…

I remember the third stanza of Psalm 24 (verses 7-10) from my Sunday School childhood. Our teacher had selected this psalm for her class to memorize and present in a little program to the church. What did it mean? Who knows? We were never taught. My young mind created an image of large and heavy, wood and iron gates, fairytale style, cranking themselves up all by themselves, so that a King on a horse could enter over a stone road paved in large, boulder-like slabs to whatever it was that lay beyond. Did I know that the King was the Lord Almighty Jesus Christ at his ascension? No, not at all. The words held no concrete meaning for me at that point in my life. Actually, that the words came from “the Bible” meant nothing to me either. Nevertheless, I always remembered those few lines of this little poem. Our teacher had us perform the psalm chorus style. Although I enjoyed following her stage directions to deliver these final verses in a loud, strong voice, no internal emotion accompanied my recitation. No wonder, since the words held no meaning for my tiny life.

I reread this poem in January, and in the margin I wrote, “Awesome.” Then I forgot about it. This morning, when I read it again, my first reaction was one of confusion. What does Stanza 1 have to do with Stanza 2? And how do we get from there to Stanza 3? Nevertheless, I knew that something amazing was happening in the third stanza, and I wrote the one word response, “Wow.”

Finding the psalm to be beyond me, I went straight to my most spiritual commentator, John Barclay. In light of what I’ve written here, you my reader may understand why I burst out laughing, as in “LOL!”, when I read what Barclay had written. He wrote bunches, far more than normal.

Although it seems perfectly true, as all the commentators say, that this Psalm (and perhaps all the rest) was used to be sung in parts, by the different bands of sacred music which David (no doubt by the direction of the Holy Ghost) had appointed for the service of the Sanctuary; yet, if we attend any further than that, to the dull, dry, bare, and beggarly disquisitions of the carnally-minded … [academics] …, concerning the procession of the ark, its being received into the temple, and set upon its own place, with such like childish ideas, and nugatory [worthless, trivial] observations, retailed and enumerated every day, and almost in every place of worship, in the most stale and tedious manner imaginable; now do we find our whole spirit, fervor, and devotion, in the most amazing manner, all at once, as if it were by enchantment, damped, destroyed, and shrunk to nothing, after the manner, if we may so say, of the plump kine [cows], and full ears of corn, which were devoured and swallowed up by the lean, thin, blasted and shriveled!–But if, ceasing from the… [academicians], we take the spirit of the Psalm from the Spirit who inspired it, and read it in its own light, the light of its parallels, and especially the light of the New Testament, we will find, instead of the darkness of the Mosaic veil, the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus, filling our whole hearts… (Barclay, 147).

I hope you were able to wade through that–he did, after all, write those words in the early 1800’s, before texting, Twitter, and bit-speech were ever invented. I laughed when I read his impassioned description of dry, dead academia because of the confidence and unabashed moxy he displays in his vigorous attack of the “letter” that kills (2 Corinthians 3:6). I laughed because he sums up my thought exactly and bludgeons where I barely dare to hint.

So, what did Barclay (and others in my bibliography) find in Psalm 24? In short–a summation of the entire Bible and gospel.

Stanza 1, which is verses 1 and 2, represents Christ before time in his sovereignty and great creative act, as God and with God.

1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, 2 for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. (ESV)

His parallel verses are John 1:1 and Colossians 1:17. I would add a phrase from Hebrews 1:3, “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
(John 1:1-3 ESV)

16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things were created through him and for him.
17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Col 1:16-17 ESV)

Stanza 2 extends from verse 3 through 6 and displays Christ in his sinless human nature making atonement as mediator between those sinners who nonetheless desire God, and God in his holiness. It is by the obedience of belief in this one man Christ that God declares every willing human righteous, who is “found in him… not having a righteousness of [their] own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”  (Philippians 3:9 ESV) This verse from Philippians is almost a restatement of Psalm 24:3-6 and presents the gospel message in a nutshell. In Psalm 24, verses 3-5 refer to Christ, and verse 6 to his followers.

3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. 5 He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah (ESV)

Stanza 3, verses 7 through 10, closes this short psalm with a dramatized declaration of Christ’s victory in battle over sin and death and his ascension to kingly reign alongside his Father in heaven–Christ is both Savior and Lord, both human and God, the point of connection between earth and heaven. Verse 8 makes reference to the battles Christ fought in his incarnation as human, and verse 10 displays him as the LORD of hosts, the King of glory, coequal with God.

7 Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle! 9 Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory! Selah (ESV)

A Bit of Editorial Meditation

There is no doubt that it is difficult for us as readers today to comprehend the life and vitality of these 10 verses. We are inundated by media that proclaim a worldview in staunch contrast and opposition to the faith-view presented in Psalm 24. Further, we are limited by a contemporary language that has descended to near illiteracy. Finally, we experience noise all around us constantly, noise which distracts us and robs us of contemplative moments when we can simply ask God by his Spirit to open the understanding of our spirit made in his image.

Yet these are not insurmountable obstacles. I believe a deeper issue lies at the heart of our inability to appreciate God’s biblical treasure map to us, our love letter-in-a-bottle, that is, Holy Scripture. The issue is pinpointed when we answer the question, Who do I worship? Negotiating daily life in today’s age has taught me to place myself at the center of everything. How am I doing? How do I rate? Are my needs being met? Am I performing adequately? Even our church worship services tend toward the me, me, me. Have I met God today? Have I been fulfilled by this service? Rather than, Have I presented God with a sacrifice of worship that pleases him?

Yes, the church is included in Psalm 24:6, but it’s not a psalm about the church, it’s a psalm about Jesus Christ. In order to fully appreciate Psalm 24 I need to accept that it’s a psalm not about me–it’s not about my successes and failures, my needs, my wants, my poverty, my riches–it’s a psalm about the person and fantastic success of Jesus Christ in his eternality and temporal mission. In all honesty, I find that most of my waking thoughts are about myself. Most of the living I do is an attempt to make my self happy, to fulfill my needs as I perceive them, and yes, even when I go to church. To let all that go and to find contentment in extolling an outsider–not myself–that is today’s challenge. To let someone else’s success be my own–that is rest. I do it for my favorite football team–why can’t I do it for Jesus Christ?

Am I making sense?

 

Penitential Psalms: Psalm 143–Knowing Who We Are in Christ

 

 

Psalm 143 is the final psalm in the grouping historically know as the Penitential Psalms. The other six psalms are: Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143. Psalm 143 clearly states where the Christian’s focus should abide: God. 

  • When reading through Psalm 143, the repetition of certain words pop out. Repetition is a strong clue when deciphering any passage of Scripture. In general, according to the way language functions, the more often a word or concept gets repeated, the more important it becomes. Repetition of variants of the word “you” or “your” are striking in Psalm 143. These occur in 10 of the 12 verses, or 83.3% of the time. By comparison, variants of “you” occur in 54.5% of the verses in Psalm 32, and the least percentage, 21.7%, occurs in Psalm 38.
  • Additionally there are five verses in which the word “Lord” occurs in direct address to God.
  • Repetitions of “you” and “Lord” demonstrate to the reader where the psalmist’s focus lies.

Interestingly, in the only two verses in which the psalmist does not address God directly (as displayed in the words “you,” “your,” and “Lord”), his focus shifts first, to the enemy (vs 3), and second, to himself (vs 4) in an introspective examination of how his spirit is doing.

The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in the darkness
like those long dead.
So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.
(NIV)

Were the psalmist’s focus to remain on the enemy and the landscape within his own spirit, Psalm 143 would be depressing, rather than uplifting to faith. As it is, Psalm 143 encourages both the psalmist who prays this prayer and the reader, whose heart can join in, as she applies the prayer to Christ in his suffering and to her own circumstances.

In Psalm 143, the reader encounters words and phrases such as: mercy, faithfulness, righteousness, relief, what your hands have done, morning, unfailing love, my trust in you, the way I should go, to you I lift up my soul, I hide myself in you, your will, you are my God, your good Spirit, level ground, your name’s sake, your unfailing love, I am your servant. Psalm 143 teaches us to focus our thoughts and prayers upon the Lord, and our hearts will be lifted up.

What about Penitence? 

As this study has shown, several of the so-called Penitential Psalms have little or nothing to do with traditional concepts of penitence, such as confession and remorse for sins committed. Verse 2 is the only verse out of the 12 that approaches the topic of sin. And it appears to do so only in order to dismiss it quickly.

2 Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you.

Within the context of the psalm itself, this is as much as to say, “I am not interested in confession of my sins right now, for the enemy is pursuing me hotly and I shall soon be crushed to death (vs 7) if you do not help me quickly right now.” Why should God help him? The psalmist answers, “For I am your servant” (closing words of vs 12). Either the psalmist is arrogant in his deft brushing aside of the sin question, or he is confident of a special relationship between himself and his God. Rather than displaying arrogance, the psalmist appeals to God’s grace, which has been established in long relationship with him.

The question for each of us as readers is, Do I have this confidence before the Lord in my hour of greatest need? Am I certain of my relationship with him? Or, do I feel a need to be punished for my sins before I can ask and expect God to help me? Fortunately for the psalmist, the firm ground of his relationship with God had been established long before he cried out to the Lord in this psalm. He was secure in his overall position of obedient servant to an all-powerful, loving God. Therefore, he was able to apply himself whole heartedly to his most pressing need of asking God to save and rescue him from immediate trouble and danger.

Now is the time for each one of us to examine our relationship with God, so that when we need his help the most, we will be free to ask quickly, just as God is free to give. The ground has already been laid by the saving work of Jesus Christ upon the cross. Reader, have you laid hold of Christ’s blessing? I encourage you to enter into prayer with Jesus Christ right now, in order to make sure that you are his servant. The moment when you need his help the most is not the time to begin to debate with yourself on all kinds of issues and paroxysms of guilt and repentance. Get all that settled in advance, now, so that when you face an emergency, you, the Lord’s servant, will be able to immediately claim your birthright in Christ and quickly ask for the help you need.

Is all this contained in Psalm 143? Ask the playwright and set designer, and he will tell you, yes, it is. Read it for yourself, and see.

__________

This concludes the series on the Penitential Psalms. Link to the first chapter of the series

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: