Confident Fear

When God first spoke to Israel to give them the initial terms of his covenant, he spoke so that the entire nation could hear. And you may recall that this terrified the people of Israel. The people came to Moses and asked him to be a go-between for them to get the law of God. The people feared that, were they to continue to hear the voice of God, they would die.

What do you think when you hear about that? Do you think that sounds like a good thing? Was Israel, as a people, doing what godly people would do in that setting? Or is asking not to hear the voice of God any longer the sort of thing that showed their lack of devotion to the Lord?

Look at the Lord’s response to the people’s request in Deuteronomy 5.

Deuteronomy 5:28-29 – 28 “And the Lord heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the Lord said to me, “I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. 29 Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!”

God was not put off by the people’s desire that Moses talk to them on their behalf. God was not upset that the nation feared to hear his voice. In fact, the Lord was pleased.

Why was God happy with Israel’s fearful request? The request showed that the people understood that God is holy and they are sinful. They honored the Lord by asking God not to speak directly to them, as they knew themselves to be unworthy to hear the voice of God. They knew that for a sinner to be exposed to God’s perfection is deadly.

We would do well to learn a bit from this. No, I’m not suggesting that we should want to be distanced from our God. All who know Jesus are under his grace, their sin covered by his blood and their lives imputed with his righteousness. We may approach God with joy, confidence, and even boldness (Eph. 3:12). But, we should also understand that our ability to approach God is due solely to his grace. We did nothing to earn it. We are not righteous in our own merits. Were we to stand before God without the protection of his grace in Jesus, we would be utterly consumed in an instant.

Somehow, Christians, we need to learn to have a confidence to approach the Lord even as we have a proper, holy fear of God. We need to rejoice in the grace of Christ. We need to let his perfect love drive out fear. And we need a holy reverence and fear of the Lord, recognizing that apart from his covering we would be destroyed. Why not let this passage in which God affirms the fear of the Israelites remind you to tremble at the holiness of God even as you rejoice in thankful praise of the Lord Jesus and his grace?

God’s Law is Good

Christians, do you believe God’s word? Be careful here. I am not asking if you believe the parts that are easy for you. Do you really believe that, as Paul told us, all Scripture is inspired and profitable?

IF you believe that God is good and God’s word is good, you will have to allow that to impact how you think and feel about the Old Testament. While we are a New Covenant people, and we are grateful not to be under the old sacrificial system, we should nonetheless rejoice in the words that God gave his people.

Look at what God himself says to us about his word, particularly what he is going to tell his people in Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 4:5-8 – 5 See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8 And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?

In that last verse, we see a fascinating question. God says that those who see his people abide by his word will ask, “What great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law?” God is telling us that he is good, that is word is good, and that is law is perfectly just. Either these things are true, or God’s word is not true.

Since we are a people who love the Bible, we must understand that his words are true here as well. His law is good. His principles for justice are right. His orders for Israel, as a nation, were perfect.

While I’m not suggesting that it is the responsibility of the Christian to attempt to establish legal systems that are identical to those of ancient Israel, I am wanting modern Christians to grasp this point if nothing else: God’s law is good. When God told Israel what to eat and what not to eat, for them, at that time, it was absolutely and perfectly good. When God told Israel the penalty for crimes against one another or against God, his justice was good. When God told the people with what particularity they are to address his holiness and his worship, it was good.

Christians, when you begin to think through the law of God, will you be careful to start here? Will you start with the assumption, the word-centered, God-honoring assumption that his law is righteous and good? If you do not start here, you place yourself in a position to say that some of God’s law is good and some is not. You, in that mental move, place yourself in a position to judge the Lord, and that is akin to original sin itself.

Christians, love the word. Love the New Testament. Love the law. Understand that, no, we are not Old Testament Israel. We are not under the same dietary restrictions as was Israel. We are not bound to their ceremonies. But we can look to those ceremonies and find hints of the gospel. We can look to the law to see the glory of being a people set apart for the Lord. WE can look to the law to see our deep sinfulness and need of a Savior. WE can look to the law and see God’s great holiness. We can look to the law and see what justice looks like. We can look to the law and know better what pleases the Lord. God is good, all good, including his perfect and righteous law.

An Example of God’s Goodness to Women in the Old Testament

How were women treated in the Old Testament? I can recall being told by folks with utter confidence that, in the Old Testament, women were nothing but property. But a genuine look at the Old Testament shows us that this is not true. Let me show you a simple example.

Numbers 27:5-8 – 5 Moses brought their case before the Lord. 6 And the Lord said to Moses, 7 “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them. 8 And you shall speak to the people of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter…

In multiple places in the Old Testament, we see a mention of the daughters of Zelophehad. These five daughters were in a difficult situation as the wilderness wandering of Israel came to an end. Their father died, and they had no brothers to inherit his portion. The ladies fear that they could lose their property. So, they bring their case to Moses.

Moses does not know how the Lord will handle this, so he goes to ask. God does something interesting. First, the lord is clear that these women are genuine citizens of Israel with real rights. They are not ignored. God will not take their family property from them.

Second, God does not undo his model for the family by throwing off the concept of male headship in the home. These women have rights, more rights than women in many other cultures of that day. At the same time, these women, and all Israelite women, are to be protected by a system of family that God has intended from the beginning.

God is good. His ways are best. God’s design for the family is right and is the best possible model for human flourishing. More important than flourishing, God has designed the family to reflect his goodness and his glory. And just because God’s standard is not that promoted in our secular society does not mean his standard is not good. Old Testament or New, God has not changed. And God is good to all he has made, male and female, husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter.

Doing Good to the Least of These

The Lord Jesus, in speaking of the judgment to come, speaks of his children, the righteous, the ones to be rewarded, as those who have had an inheritance prepared for them from the foundation of the world. Jesus is also clear that these are people whose lives have been marked by certain identifying behaviors. And among those behaviors, especially important for us at this time, is the simple truth that Christians are marked by their kindness and helpfulness to one another.

Matthew 25:34-40 – 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Jesus points out that the righteous, those who are rewarded, are people who treated him with several particular kindnesses. But the faithful are surprised. They did not remember doing such things for Jesus. Jesus says that, as they did such good things for the least of these my brothers, they did so for Jesus himself.

Do take note here that the saved are receiving an inheritance here, we are not earning our salvation. Note that this inheritance was prepared from the foundation of the world, meaning that God foreordained our salvation. And note that the kindnesses mentioned here are, well, just plain ordinary love. Feeding the hungry and clothing the naked is simple kindness. But this simple kindness is an identifying marker on the lives of those who love Jesus.

Who is the primary focus of our efforts of kindness? The most biblical understanding of this text is that doing kindness to other followers of the Lord Jesus is akin to doing kindness to the Savior himself. This is not to say that we ought not also do kind things for all people in the world. But the best way to understand this text is to see that the Savior equates love for other Christians as love for him.

Who does Jesus refer to as his family?

Matthew 12:46–50 – 46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus says that the one who does his Father’s will is his family.

When Jesus confronted Saul of Tarsus, later the apostle Paul, do you remember what Jesus said about Saul’s persecuting of Christians?

Acts 9:4–5 – 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

Saul was persecuting Christians, yet Jesus equated that with persecuting him. Similarly, Jesus shows us in Matthew 25 that doing kindness for believers is to do kindness to Jesus.

John 13:34–35 – 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Galatians 6:10 – So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that the word of God calls us not to do kindness to all in need. We surely display the glory of God when we do things that help others. After all, all human beings are created in the image of God. But, the first priority of the follower of Jesus is to honor Jesus by doing good, especially to those who are a part of the body of Christ.

Those who are genuinely Christians, then, will have lives that are marked by acts of kindness toward the people of God. Those kind acts will not save us. But a genuine salvation always leads to genuine obedience to the commands of God. And such obedience will come so naturally to the one who loves the Lord and who loves their local church that we will look to the Lord and be surprised that what we did actually mattered. We will think that our kindness to our brothers and sisters in Christ was such a normal thing that it should not earn for us a reward.

Today, Christians, we are in a world that is full of need and fear. We need to be people whose lives are marked by ordinary kindness. Hording and hiding will not look like the people who are the children of God. And that is especially true of we are not caring for those we call brothers and sisters in Christ. So, stop and think. Reach out to your church members. Reach out to younger and older believers. Find out if those in your fellowship have what they need in this time.

Yes, be kind as well in how you behave. Do not needlessly put others at risk. Do not spread a disease that may not threaten your life, but which could threaten those more vulnerable. Love others well. Love others simply. Love others and see that the Lord Jesus will say to you that loving his brothers is loving him.

Hope and Broken Creation

We live in a broken world. This is not at all hard to see. As I write, our nation is being dramatically impacted by the spread of the COVID-19 virus and the accompanying panic. This week I have heard from dear friends and family members of great loss and dramatic medical problems. And a look at the news shows us ugly crimes and great human sinfulness. Yes, the world is broken.

God’s word has never once pretended that our world and our human nature is not fallen. Nor has the Bible ever pretended that this condition is not painful. The creation and humanity both long for a day when what is wrong will be put right.

Romans 8:18-25 – 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

When Paul wrote here to the church in Rome, he pointed out the fact that all around us is imperfect. Creation groans. The natural order around us shows the signs of the curse of God that came upon the world because of the rebellion of mankind. When Adam sinned, he broke the universe. Do not misunderstand me. Adam did not override the plan of God or somehow make it so that God is not in control of the universe now. But Adam brought all the natural hardships we now face into existence because of his refusal to follow the Lord. And, before you blame Adam, also remember that he is our perfect representative, and you and I sinned in Adam as our representative.

Paul also says that our very bodies groan along with creation. Death is part of the human experience. Disease is part of the human experience. Confusion as to how our bodies are to function is now part of the human experience. Sinful desires are now a part of the human experience. And all this is directly traceable to the fall of man in the garden.

If God left creation like this, we would be helpless and hopeless. And, if God left things without hope, he would be treating us all as we deserve. But, thanks be to God, he has chosen to give us hope. Creation groans, longing for restoration. Humanity cries out, looking toward a future when God will fix what is broken. And all this is based, not on wishful thinking, but on the promise of God to grant us resurrection bodies, a new heavens, and a new earth.

Hope, in biblical understanding, is not a wish that may or may not come true. Hope is a certainty which we cannot see yet. We have hope in the resurrection. Jesus is alive. He promises that all who die under his grace will rise to eternal life. This is a sure thing. Nothing can ever stop it. But it is a thing we await with hope, because we cannot physically see it right now. And we also hope in the renewal of creation in just the same way.

A Scheme for Destruction

When Balaam could not curse the people of Israel because the blessing of God was upon them, he gave King Balak an idea. Balaam helped Balak understand how to bring the people of Israel into sin that would dishonor God and bring his judgment upon them.

Numbers 25:1-3 – 1 While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.

What was the plan? An evil government opposed the people of God, but that government was unable to harm the nation. So, the evil government used two strategies to weaken and attempt to destroy God’s people.

One strategy is the strategy of false religion. The Moabite women invited the Israelite men to join them in worship of their false deity. The trick was to call the people of Israel to be a little more open-minded. The trick was to get them to accept as worthy of worship someone other than the Lord, Yahweh, the God of the Bible.

The second tactic, tied closely to the first, was to get the people of Israel to compromise themselves morally by participating in sexual immorality. This, of course, was a part of the Moabite worship. God designed humanity with clear standards of right and wrong as regards our sexuality. God made those standards clear to Israel. Israel three times agreed to follow God’s standards. And Balaam knew that, if Israel were to compromise here, they would face God’s wrath.

Christians, the strategies of Satan have seldom changed. The three points we see in the verses above are the same three points of attack we have always seen oppose the church. Even in our world today, they are active.

There are evil governments in the world that are opposed to the faith. In some places, we see governments attempt to outlaw the faith and forbid freedom of religion—think China and North Korea. In other places, we see governments attempt to make faithful followers of the Lord unwelcome in the local economy—think right here in the United States and cases of bakeries and florists being harassed by those who hate that they will not applaud events they religiously oppose. The devil is still using politics and political leaders, the state and the force it can bring to bear, to try to push people away from the faith.

The devil surely still uses false religion. This includes religions that worship a God other than the God of the Bible. But it is also present in the community that calls itself Christian. Churches are becoming more and more unclear about the gospel, about significant issues in the word, and about what is right and wrong in society. Doctrinal compromise had led many a church to barely resemble biblical Christianity.

And, of course the destruction of souls through sexual immorality is prominent in our world. Whether it be the obvious evil of pornography, the social confusion on issues relating to gender, or the more hidden evil of compromise in the mind, the devil loves to lead people away from the Lord and his standards regarding our sexuality. Even in the church, there is a present-day move to minimize the significance of sexual sin. But, Christians, you must understand that God is clear that rebellion against him and his standards in the area of sexual immorality is devastating.

What then do we do when the world is full of evil governments, false religion, and sexual immorality? We cling to the gospel. WE cling to the word of God. We seek to avoid compromise. We confess our sin and repent when there has been compromise in our past. God is gracious. The blood of the Lord Jesus cleanses us from all sin.

And, we keep our guard up. Satan’s tricks have not changed. His schemes to use government, false religion, and sexual immorality have not changed. Take the attack seriously. Trust in the Lord. And fight, with the word, in the Spirit, for the glory of God.

How Big is Your God?

This is a bit inspired by a session from Shepherds’ Conference 2020, but I wanted to take a moment to look at the verse itself for myself.

In Job 25-26, we see a short speech from Bildad and Job’s final response to him before the book transitions. Interestingly, much of what Bildad says has a hint of rightness. Bildad sees that God is high above mankind. He understands that mankind is sinful before God and deserving his judgment. But Bildad seems to have no grasp of the grace of God at all.

IN chapter 26, Job speaks. For the first 4 verses, Job tells Bildad just how unhelpful he has been. Then, from verses 5-13, Job points out the great works of God.

IN that section, Job points out that God makes the dead tremble (5), that the grave and hell have no place to hide (6), that God hung the earth in space (7), that God moves rainwater in clouds (8), that God moves clouds to cover the moon (9), that he hung the sky over the ocean (10), that he shakes the mountains (11), stills the sea (12), and catches the monsters of the sea (13). Can we see that all those are huge, God-sized acts? If we can, that will get us to what Job wants us to see.

Job 26:14

Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways,
and how small a whisper do we hear of him!
But the thunder of his power who can understand?
Job looks at some of the most powerful things that human beings can imagine, thinks about God, and realizes that we only have the smallest hint of God’s power and greatness. Holding the ocean in one hand is not a stretch for the power of God. Holding the ocean in a hand, catching the sea monsters, and shaking the mountains is merely a tiny hint of the mighty God who made the universe.

Bildad and his friends accused Job of suffering because of his sin. They could not imagine that there is anything about God that could have a purpose beyond punishing Job for wrongs Job had committed. But these men had too small a view of God. No, Job was not perfect. Job had made offerings of sacrifices for himself and for his children in the past. Job knew he was not a sinless man. But Job understood that God also is merciful to those who come to him in faith. And Job’s friends had such a small view of God, they could not imagine how that could be.

How big or small is our view of God? Can we imagine a God who can create and subdue creation without breaking a sweat? Can we imagine a God who can scoop up the sea and pour it out with one hand? Can we imagine a God who can forgive sinners like us? Can we imagine a God who could love people who deserve his wrath?

God is holy. God never compromises his holiness. God never pretends that to violate his word is OK. But God does love sinners made in his image. God sent Jesus to die for our sins. God can forgive us by grace through faith. God can use our hardships, even the ones we cannot understand, for our good and his glory. God is just that big and then some. The biggest picture of God you think you have is merely a hint at the true greatness of the Lord.