Hope in Eternal Perspective

Christians, sometimes watching the world around us is frustrating. WE see wrong things happening. Often, we see so many wrong things that we feel powerless to make them stop. While we know God is sovereign and most certainly will ultimately accomplish his will, it is hard to have confidence that we will see good done in our day.

In Psalm 39, we see a man’s frustration as he sees the wickedness of others around him.

Psalm 39:1-3

1 I said, “I will guard my ways,
that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will guard my mouth with a muzzle,
so long as the wicked are in my presence.”
2 I was mute and silent;
I held my peace to no avail,
and my distress grew worse.
3 My heart became hot within me.
As I mused, the fire burned;
then I spoke with my tongue:

the frustration of the psalmist as he observes the wicked is clear. There are people around him, nasty folks, and he is not able to speak out against them and make a difference. It is painful. It is frustrating. It is quite similar to many of our own experiences in our world.

What then will the psalmist pray? This is important. If the psalmist faces frustrations like we face, we should look to see how he prays that God will help him deal with his situation. Take a look at the prayer.

Psalm 39:4-5

4 “O Lord, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
5 Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah

Is that what you expected? You might have expected him to go off on the wicked. You might have expected him to demand that God do justice right now. But the psalmist has a different prayer entirely. He prays that God give him a proper wisdom as to the brevity of human life.

This is a call to wisdom. When we see our world looking too big to handle, when we see the wicked looking too strong to vanquish, it is good for us to grasp that our lives last for but a moment with eternity to follow. WE live for a century if we are strong and healthy. But what is that span in the course of history? A century is a drop in a bucket when compared to something like a millennium. And what is a century in the light of ten thousand years? What is a century in light of a million years? What is a century in light of eternity?

Our God lives. Our God reigns. Our God is eternal. Our God has a kingdom that he will build, that he has won and will win, a kingdom that lasts forever. God’s kingdom will have no end. So the wickedness we see in the here and now, it is significant for sure. But it is a moment. It is a passing breeze. It is a blink of an eye.

AS I said, what we experience matters. A society rebelling against the order of creation and which murders its young is truly a significant evil. But it will not last. Throughout history, we have seen empires that looked unbeatable. They have all crumbled to only be remembered in dusty history books. The great centers of power in many an ancient dynasty are now parts of sight-seeing tours that people go on from cruise ships before they return to hit the buffet, the pool, and the evening’s karaoke contest.

The psalmist prays that, in the face of a hard world, God will remind him of how brief life really is. The psalmist is asking God to help him have a greater, eternal, beyond-this-lifetime perspective. And we would be wise to learn the same thing.

Christians, never use a look toward eternity to keep you from seeking to see justice and kindness done in the here and now. Battle evil in your society. But do not let the evil discourage you. All the greatest powers in our world which oppose the Lord will fall. Our Lord will reign forever. Let this give you hope as you serve the Lord.

The Most Logical Question

Blaise Pascal is known for positing a simple, logical formula for thinking about the existence of God. It is known as Pascal’s wager. Simply put, the philosopher and mathematician suggests that, if you believe in God, there is a positive outcome if God is while there is no loss if God is not. Yet, if you deny God, there is no gain if you are correct, but there is a tremendous loss if you are wrong. Thus, belief in God can render a positive while disbelief can only render a negative.

While Pascal’s wager will not bring anyone to genuine faith, it does offer a uniquely logical and pragmatic look at the issue of theism vs. atheism. And Pascal is not the only person in history who has used something simple and logical to try to help people be persuaded to surrender to the Lord.

Even in his ministry, the Lord Jesus offers some gloriously logical reasoning for us to consider as we look at what we value and where we stand before God. Consider this logical pair of questions from the Savior.

Matthew 16:26 – For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Jesus gets right to the heart of our rebellion. What is it worth for us to gain at the cost of our souls? What is worth so much in a temporal existence that one would prefer it over eternity?

The question from Jesus is simple, but powerful. Think about your own life. What might you gain for a short period of time that is worth eternal suffering? What might you gain that is worth giving up eternal joy? The logical answer is that there is nothing that you could gain in the here and now that is worth giving up your soul.

We could illustrate this many ways. Were I to tell you that you have a choice between the following two options, which is better? You can have one dollar today, or one billion dollars tomorrow. Which would you take? You can go the single day without a dollar to gain the fortune.

The problem with sinful humanity is that we so often function on the side of the foolish. An unfaithful spouse will sacrifice his or her family for what amounts to a few minutes of physical pleasure. A foolish employee loses his or her career for the sake of a small financial gain in pilfering from the company.

And, of course, the lost person gives up his or her eternal soul for the pleasures of a few years, perhaps a lifetime. But, consider, even a hundred years of pleasure are not worth a thousand of torment. A lifetime of rebellion is not worth the personal loss of eternity apart from God. And, looking from another angle, a lifetime of the greatest hardship that could come upon a person, if followed by an eternity of joy, is no real sacrifice.

Remember the logical question from the Savior as you consider your faith and your decisions. What temporary pleasure and success in this life is worth giving up your forever? What hardship in the here and now is so great that you would rather be freed from it today than have an eternity of joy?

The promise of the Savior is that, if we repent and believe, we will be saved. Our salvation may prevent us from doing things, often painful and self-destructive things, that the world enjoys. And, yes, following the Savior can bring us persecution in this world. But the reward is worth it. In this life, we gain the Spirit of Almighty God. Many gain the joy of Christian fellowship. WE gain the joy of doing that which honors the Lord, finding our purpose in his glory. And we gain an eternity of infinite reward in the presence of our Creator. No earthly gain is worth giving up our eternity.

Seek Jesus Honestly

In the Gospel According to Matthew, the Lord Jesus performed some magnificent miracles to help people know his identity and power. As you likely know, the grace that Jesus was bringing was offensive to the religious leadership of his day. Jesus’ authority and his power threatened the comfortable positions that many in the religious establishment had made for themselves. And in this instance, leaders from two very different groups seek Jesus out to confront him.

Matthew 16:1-3 – 1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

Matthew tells us that the Pharisees and the Sadducees came to demand a sign from Jesus as a test. This would be like saying that President Trump and Nancy Pelosi came together to stop you from doing something. Those two do not agree on almost anything. They do not like each other. And for them to do anything together would be a major news event. Similarly, the Pharisees and Sadducees were the opposing factions of Jesus’ day, and they could not stand each other.

But the one thing that the Pharisees and Sadducees could agree on was their dislike of and disbelief in Jesus. They hated him. Jesus threatened their power and influence. So these two opposing factions could agree on their desire to get rid of Jesus.

The religious leadership comes to Jesus and demands that he give them a sign from heaven. We saw them do something very similar to this in Matthew 12:38-ff. And, like back then, this demand for a supernatural sign comes just after Jesus has done a whole set of miracles. Jesus has healed. He has miraculously fed crowds. He has shown all the power they could ever want to see.

But this group seems to be saying to Jesus, “Yes, we know about those miracles, but we want something convincing.”

Jesus, for his part, responds with a rebuke. He says that the religious folks can read some obvious signs quite well. They understand that looking at the sky can forecast a pleasant or unpleasant day. But when it comes to Jesus, the religious leaders simply are not willing to see. They demand evidence. But, in truth, they had already seen more than enough evidence. The simple truth is not that they lack enough evidence to prove that Jesus is who he claims to be, they just refuse to believe it.

That faulty motivation of the religious teachers reminds us to call people to seek Jesus honestly. There is no good to be gained from pretending to want proof from Jesus if you are not at all willing to believe in him or follow him. As a friend of mine has said to me, it is good to ask a skeptic, “What kind of proof would it actually take for you to believe in Jesus and surrender to his Lordship?” If the person says to you that no proof would make them follow Jesus, you know that they are not at all open-minded about their inquiry. They are trying to oppose Jesus. They are trying to oppose you as Jesus’ witness. But they are not being honest with any questions they ask about Jesus. When you discover this in a person’s attitude, perhaps you can help them to see it.

Will We Fashion Golden Calves?

What happens when people use their best judgment as opposed to the word of God? What happens when they rely on the evidence they have rather than on divine revelation? Disaster happens.

Exodus 32:1 – When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

Moses took a long time up on the mountain. That is true. But it still has been less than a month-and-a-half since the people heard the very voice of God speaking his commandments to Moses. They still saw the fire on the mountain. They still knew that God had commanded them not to fashion idols of any kind.

But Moses had been gone for a while. They did not know for sure what had happened to him. So the people go to Aaron, determining that the whole Moses as leader thing did not work out. They demand that Aaron fashion for them gods they can follow. They like following what they can see and understand.

You know the rest. Aaron gives in. The people give their jewelry, some of the very jewelry that the Lord prompted the Egyptians to give them at the exodus from Egypt just a short time ago. And they use that gold to make images of golden calves to worship. And in an even odder practice, they declare the calves to be the Lord, the one who led them out of Egypt.

What happened? The people stopped being led by the word of God and relied on their own best understanding. They stopped obeying the clear command of God—do not make an image to worship—and determined that their particular situation required them to go against that command.

Christians, we have a parallel situation in many ways. WE have the word of God. But, our Lord Jesus, the One who leads us, the One who saves us, he has been physically gone from this world for a long time. Now people say that they do not know about him any longer, as they do not see him with their eyes. And we will have to choose. The world around us says to ignore the command of God and the words of Jesus. The world around us says that the Savior is no longer relevant to our modern thinking and morality. The world around us says that history has moved on to a new standard of right and wrong.

As we see in 2 Peter 3, there are mockers who mock the idea of the return of Jesus and his importance in our day-to-day. But we are not to lose heart. He is not slow in keeping his promises. The Savior will return. So may we not be like the people standing around the mountain. May we not turn our backs on the word of God. May we instead trust the Lord and remain faithful as we await his return.

You of Little Faith

I think many believers are familiar with the account of Jesus calling Peter to walk on water with him. It is found in Matthew 14. Jesus had walked on the sea to cross the lake and catch up with his disciples whom he had sent on ahead. The disciples were at first terrified when they saw Jesus, but then Jesus assured them all was fine.

Peter, when he heard Jesus’ words, calls out to Jesus, and Jesus tells Peter to come out onto the water to join him. Peter gets out of the boat, walks on the water, but then is frightened and begins to sink.

Matthew 14:30-31 — 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Peter walked. Peter doubted, Peter began to sink. Peter cried out to Jesus. Jesus saved Peter. Jesus rebuked Peter for his doubt. That is the story.

The funny thing is, if you listen to people teach this passage, so much weight is placed on Peter’s faith or lack thereof that an important key is missed. Some of our more charismatic friends will make this passage out to say that the solidity of one’s faith is directly connected to whether or not God can perform a particular kind of miracle in your life. So, they will use this text to say to you that Peter’s doubt led to his sinking, and your doubt will lead to your inability to experience the miraculous.

But, look more closely at the story. Yes, Peter’s doubt led to his sinking. That is true. But, Peter’s desperate cry to Jesus led to his being saved. Jesus was plenty powerful to reach out, catch Peter, and pull him back to the surface of the lake. Peter’s doubt did not limit Jesus.

Friends, in our Christian lives, we may have seasons of stronger faith and seasons of greater doubt. Without question, doubting God and his goodness and power is sinful. But such doubt is also a normal part of the human condition. It is a thing for us to confess to God and ask him to help us overcome. It is a thing for us to battle with time in the word, with worship, with fellowship, and with prayer.

What I want us to recognize from this story is that Peter’s doubt did not prevent Jesus from accomplishing his will. Jesus showed himself to be glorious. Jesus was easily able to rescue Peter and put him back on the surface of the lake. And Jesus was able to walk Peter back to the boat. Jesus did not say to Peter, “I wish I could help you, but your doubt prevents me.” Jesus just told Peter that his doubt showed how much more is faith needed to grow.

Is doubt natural? You bet. Is doubt a problem. Yes. Is doubt a thing that will keep God from accomplishing his will. No. Your imperfect faith is not tying the hands of God. Doubt is a thing for us to battle, to confess and repent of. And, God may choose to let us experience some sinking as Peter did because of our doubt. But God is God, and I do not add to his abilities with my faith or take from his abilities in my doubt.

Exactly as I Show You

AT Mount Sinai, the Lord spoke to his people and gave them his commands. After God gave an initial summary of the law—more would come—the Lord also instructed Moses on the building of the tabernacle. This structure would be a portable place of worship, a traveling temple, where the Lord would allow his presence to dwell in the midst of the people.

When God gave this instruction, he was clear that the people were to build in exact accord with his specification.

Exodus 25:9 – Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.

There is nothing confusing here. God said to the people that they are to fashion and erect the tabernacle exactly as he said. This is no surprise to us. If we have read Exodus before, we expect it and we keep on reading.

But wait a moment. Let’s use this to challenge a modern kind of thinking. How do you feel about God telling the people exactly how to build the tabernacle? Are you OK with that? Do you feel like God has the right to tell the people what to build? How dare he do so?

Why does God not just say to Moses to build a tabernacle, if he wants, to whatever specifications he wants and to offer worship however he wants? I think we know. God is the one who tells the people how to worship him. God is the one who tells the people how they may approach him. God is the one who makes provision so that the people’s sin may be covered and their lives spared from his fiery judgment. God is God, and he will deliver his standards. HE will not be told by sinful man how he must be followed or worshipped.

The funny thing is, when it comes to the Old Testament, when it comes to the tabernacle, I do not hear people saying that this is unfair of God. I do not hear people demanding that God explain himself. People, in general, are not accusing God of wronging people by demanding that the tabernacle be built to a particular design. We tend to suggest that God has every right to tell the people of Israel what pleases him instead of him shifting his pleasure to match their creative whim.

Where do people find themselves offended when God makes his standards known? I’ll offer two examples. One is in modern worship. Another is in salvation itself.

Today, Christians are often taken aback when people dare suggest that what mankind may do in a service of worship is in any way limited. How dare we say that only a man can preach the sermon? Why would we assume that things like sermons, sacraments, prayer, giving, Scripture reading, and song are what worship should include? How can we be so old-fashioned and limiting? The answer should be that we look to the command of God and attempt to build our services of worship in accord with the design shown us in Scripture. Yes, some churches will feel more ceremonial and formal than others. Some churches will use different instrumentation and musical style. But, if we are to honor the Lord in accord with his word, we need to do the things that he commands. And we would be wise to be very careful about bringing into the services things that are not commanded in his word.

How about the issue of salvation? Some folks are deeply offended that God is so restrictive about how people approach him for life and forgiveness. Many of these same people are not offended in the least that God commanded the tabernacle look a particular way. Ask yourself why this is. I would suggest that the reason they are offended by the exclusivity of Christ but are not offended by the exclusivity of the tabernacle design is because they think that human salvation is far more important than the tabernacle.

For sure, the salvation of our souls is important. But we would be incorrect if we assumed that our souls are more important than God’s glory. God is the Almighty. He is the Creator. HE is the Lord over all the universe. Everything that exists in the universe exists for the honor of the Lord. Our salvation, if we are saved, is to the glory of God as it depicts God’s wonderful love and mercy. The judgment of God poured out on those who reject him is to the glory of God as it depicts his perfect and holy justice.

If we say that it is fine for God to tell people how to shape the tabernacle, but it is not fine for God to tell people that there is one way and only one way of salvation, we have very much missed who God is in comparison to who we are. God is the Lord. HE will do all that he pleases. He has every right to tell us how he must be approached. HE has every right to tell us what is acceptable worship. He had every right to tell Israel what the tabernacle should look like. He has every right to tell you, no matter who you think you are, what your life should look like. Like the people of old, approach God in accord with his commands. If you seek to worship, do so in accord with the commands of holy Scripture. IF you seek salvation, come seeking God’s grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone for the glory of God alone.

God is Different Than People Think

You know why Scripture is such a gift? You could never know God without his revealing himself in his word. If God does not tell us what he is like, if we do not pay attention, we will totally have the wrong image in our minds as to who god is, what he does, and what he requires.

I Thought of this in a read through Exodus 19-20. In that passage, the text around the original giving of the Ten Commandments, God makes some restrictions on the people that do not sound like what many around you think God is like.

Why do I say this? In our world, most people think that God is open to any sincere attempt to worship him. People assume that God is open to all expressions of human religion so long as those expressions do not attack other humans. But look at God’s words and God’s standards for the people near the mountain. In two places, we will see something important.

Exodus 19:21-22 – 21 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish. 22 Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.”

As God prepared to speak to Moses from the Mountain, he gave two significant restrictions. The people could not approach or touch the mountain while God’s presence was upon it. And the priests could not experience this day without a holy consecration. Either group who disobeyed the commands of God here would die. God himself would kill people for disobedience.

But that does not sound like the modern understanding of God put forth by so many people. And at this point we have to ask, is our picture of god from God’s revelation or from our own minds? God is holy. God may not be approached by sinful man. And God will destroy those who violate his holy standards and remain without his forgiveness.

Exodus 20:25 – If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it.

Here God points out that the people of Israel were not free to make just any kind of altar for worship. If they were to fashion a stone altar with their tools, their touching of the altar would defile it. God was clear that his worship was to be holy. God is clear that he sets the standards as to what is acceptable and unacceptable worship.

The simple thought that I want us to take away from these passages is that God is holy. God is not what the modern American believes. God will judge people. God will judge based on his own standards. God will not bend to our will and our standards. God is not OK with just any old action we want to take. God will tell us how he is to be worshipped.

And in both passages, we see that God is clear that sinful mankind cannot approach him. If we wish to avoid God’s judgment, we must find ourselves under his grace. We are sinners who need to be forgiven. We need to have God apply to us the perfect righteousness of Christ. If we do not have God’s forgiving grace and the imputed righteousness of Jesus, anything we would do that could be considered worship will only serve to bring us under God’s judgment.

So, what do we take away? First, you need Jesus. Ask him to forgive you and cleanse you before the Lord. Surrender to him and be saved by his grace through faith. Then, realize that God has a high and holy standard that is far more dangerous than anything you have ever imagined. Submit to his holy word in order to live and worship in a way that pleases the Lord.