Something Greater

Matthew 12:6-8

6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

As a parent, I often have known ahead of time when my kids were about to make a bad decision. I’m not here thinking about a harmful bad decision, but simply a wrong choice. As an example, I have been with my kids at a restaurant specializing in wonderful burgers fresh off the grill only to watch a little one ask for chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese. Don’t get me wrong, chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese are yummy things. Just, in comparison to a place that specializes in better food, these things feel like a wrong choice.

If you know what I’m talking about here, you also know the parental frustration that comes with watching your kids choose something lesser when something better is available. They Pick frozen chicken nuggets when steak is at hand. They choose the weird emo of anime when a solid show is available in its place. When they get older, they choose to eat next to nothing for dinner and then forage for a snack at bedtime. They choose to listen to any modern music over things produced decades earlier—music that is obviously superior since, decades earlier, at least musicians played actual instruments.

In Matthew 12, we see that there is a lesser and greater differentiation happening as Jesus speaks with the Jewish religious leaders. These men are in conflict with our Savior, trying to find ways to accuse him related to allowing his disciples simply to pluck and eat handfuls of grain on the Sabbath. Interestingly, instead of pointing out to them the rules in Scripture related to gleaning, Jesus reminds the religious of the fact that priests in the temple have to work on the Sabbath, and it is completely allowable. He reminds them that David, when his men were hungry, in a time of great need, ate ceremonial bread that was off-limits for them, and God did not condemn them.

Then in verse 6, Jesus says a thing that, had they understood it, would have rocked the world of the religious teachers. Jesus tells them that something greater than the temple had arrived. Stop and consider the incredulity that the religious men must have faced. What could be greater than the temple? The temple was the center of Jewish life. The temple was the place where God lived among his people. The temple was the place where atonement was made for the sins of the nation. What could possibly be greater than the temple.

Then, in the following verses, Jesus reminded the religious that God is big into mercy, including in his Sabbath commands. Perhaps a solid and faithful religious teacher would have remembered that, when God gave the Sabbath command in Exodus, he explained it as a memorial of his acts in creation. However, in Deuteronomy, the Sabbath command includes an explanation of its purpose as an act of kindness for the servants in your household. Either way, Jesus would have knocked their socks off again by telling them that he is in fact Lord over the Sabbath. Jesus is the God who made the Sabbath, not someone subject to it or in need of it.

Tie those two statements together. Something greater than the temple is here. The Lord of the Sabbath is here. These are the Savior talking about himself. What does he mean? Both the temple and the Sabbath are parts of the Jewish religious experience which are signs that point to Jesus. The temple is a shadow of the work that Jesus would come to accomplish. The Sabbath is a shadow of the true rest that Christ will give all who are his.

In the temple, a priest enters a little mini picture of the throne room of God with blood to offer to God as an offering to ask him to forgive the people and not to destroy the nation. That is a little picture, a foreshadowing, of the real plan of God. Jesus, God the Son, would soon enter the true heavenly throne room with his own blood to make real, total, final atonement for the sins of all he forgives. Jesus did not need an earthly model of the mercy seat. Jesus would atone for us on the true, heavenly, mercy seat of God. Jesus did not enter with the blood of an animal, but with the infinitely worthy blood of the Son of God. Jesus is greater than the temple. Jesus is the purpose toward which the temple pointed.

Similarly, Jesus is Lord over the Sabbath. On the one hand, this reminds us that the Sabbath also points toward something greater. If mankind was left to ourselves, we would somehow have to live out true and total perfection to earn our way to God. This, of course, is an impossibility since our representative head already failed on our behalf and we too all have failed in Adam and in our own lives. We cannot work perfection, no matter how hard we try. Sabbath reminds us of a rest to come, a resting from that fruitless effort, as God grants us salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ. Sabbath also foreshadows heaven, the true and final rest we have in the presence of God forever if we have his forgiveness. And, just as amazing, Jesus claims to be Lord of the Sabbath. Only God is Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus claims to be greater than the Sabbath by letting us know he is the God who gave the command—which is far greater than the command itself.

Something greater is here. Something greater than the temple and greater than the Sabbath is here. Do not miss it. Do not make a wrong choice. This is way worse than picking frozen chicken nuggets at a steakhouse. To turn away from Jesus to try to embrace anything less is an eternal, soul-destroying error. But to hear Jesus, to understand that he is the substance toward which the shadows point, to realize that he, in his mercy, invites you to be under his atonement and to receive his eternal rest, this is glorious. He is the greatest greater there is. To turn from him is infinite folly. To receive him is infinite joy.

Gospel in Books and Trees and Adam and Christ

Revelation 20:11–15

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

As we draw near the end of the book of Revelation, we see the great white throne judgment. There all people who have not already been raised to life experience their resurrection and the confirmation of their eternal destination.* When the people are brought before the throne of Christ, we see a dichotomy. There are two ways a person can be judged. There are books and there is a book.

The passage above shows us that a person judged by the “books” is judged based on his own deeds. What did you do in your life? A person judged by the “book of life” is given life simply based on whether or not his name is present there. The bottom line is that, if God judges you based on what you do, your works, you die forever. If, however, you are under the grace of Jesus, the Lamb, you live eternally in glorious joy.

Think of some other popular pairs in Scripture, and this scene develops some greater clarity. In the garden, God pointed out two trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam was forbidden the tree of knowledge. If he chose to eat of that tree, he would die. God, in the garden, had a very simple test for Adam. If the man would obey God’s command, he would live. If he rebelled against that command, he would die.

Of course, the two trees also remind us of the two choices for humanity’s representative leadership, our federal head. Adam is the original representative of mankind before god. All who remain under Adam’s representation die. Adam sinned and brought guilt on all humanity as we see in Romans 5:12-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22. Under Adam, the command to live perfectly before God still applies, any failure still brings death, but there is no way to live well enough to earn life.

God sent Jesus into the world to be the second Adam, the better Adam, the true and perfect representative for mankind. If a person is found in Christ, even if that person has not lived up to God’s standard of perfection, he will live because of the perfection of Christ. Jesus, God in flesh, lived the perfection Adam never did. Jesus died a perfect sacrificial death. Jesus rose from the grave, defeated death, and proved that all who come to him are forgiven. Jesus is now the representative of all who come to him in faith. God actually grants to the saved the legal record of Jesus’ perfection.

Put the books, the trees, Adam, and Jesus all in one scene now and see how clearly the Bible has been telling one single story. You have a choice of trees. Will you have the tree of life or the tree of death? You have a choice; will you be represented by Adam or by Jesus? You have a choice; will you be judged by your own actions in the books, or will you be found forgiven by Jesus with your name in the book of life? There is no third option. Either you try to live as your own master and die, or you surrender to Jesus and receive all the grace he offers. Choose life. Choose the Christ. Choose the book of life.

* I view Revelation 20 from a historic pre-millennial position (not dispensationalism). Thus, I believe that two resurrections are being promised, the resurrection of the forgiven and the later resurrection of the lost.

Anthropology 101

Psalm 143:2

Enter not into judgment with your servant,

for no one living is righteous before you.

In Psalm 143, the psalmist pleads with the Lord for mercy. In his plea, he confesses a truth about himself and about all humanity that we would do well to understand. No one is righteous before the Lord.

Since the fall of Adam, excepting Jesus, there has not been a truly righteous man or woman walking the earth. I am not here suggesting that there have not been people who are significantly more righteous than others. Nor am I suggesting that there have not been good deeds done by quite loveable people. What I am saying, what Scripture is saying, is that there is not been, apart from Jesus, a single person who can stand as righteous before the Lord.

Why does this matter?? Consider the complaints that some wish to raise against things in the doctrine of salvation. Why did Jesus have to come and die? Why would God judge the poor man on the island who has never heard the gospel? Why would God elect some to salvation? All these questions have an answer in the fact that no human being, on his own, is righteous. All people fall short of the infinite righteousness of God. All fall infinitely short. The only way for unrighteous men to be redeemed is through the death of Jesus. The reason the man on the island is judged, hearing the gospel or not, is because he is unrighteous. The reason God elects some to salvation is that, had he not done so, none would be saved.

God is utterly and absolutely perfect. To please him—as if this were possible—one would have to live up to the standard of absolute perfection. None can. Besides, all of us have already entered the category of unrighteousness by being descendants of Adam who plunged our race into unrighteousness. No, we are in desperate need of a Savior. WE must have an alien righteousness applied to our account, or we die.

Once we understand the fallenness of mankind, we also can think more properly about the world in which we live. Why do we need political systems with checks and balances? Why do we need fences, guards, and armies? Why do we not assume that all people will simply do the right thing? None is righteous.

This would be a bleak worldview were it not for the grace of Almighty God. God has sent his Son. Jesus has lived the righteousness we could not. Jesus fulfilled God’s demand of perfection. Jesus died to pay our penalty for failure. Jesus rose to bring us life. Jesus grants to all who trust in him his record of absolute perfection. God views us with the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. The glory of the gospel is that God makes the unrighteous righteous through the gracious work of Jesus.

How Do We Know Who is Chosen?

1 Thessalonians 1:4-5a, 9 – 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction… 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,

Every once-in-a-while, I will find myself having a discussion with folks about the doctrine of election. Obviously, for many, this doctrine brings with it a great deal of baggage. But, for those who grasp it, there is wonderful hope. It is a good thing to know that God will save his elect without fail. It is wonderful to know that the salvation of the elect is not dependent on my skill, my cleverness, my goodness, my intellect, or anything else in me. And it is wonderful that, though the salvation of the elect is not dependent upon me, I have the joyful honor of being used by God as a tool in his hand to accomplish his sovereign will.

Sometimes when people ask about this doctrine, they will ask how we know who is elect. They assume that somehow those who believe what the Bible says about election are out there trying to identify the elect before ever engaging them with the gospel. But nothing can be further from the truth. A person who has a true grasp of election will boldly and honestly share the gospel with everyone we can. But how then do we know who is chosen by God?

Note what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in verses 4 and 5 above. He knew that they were chosen, because the gospel came to them, not only in word, but also in power, Spirit, and conviction. I fear that, when we read this, we assume charismatic miracles here. And perhaps that was the case in Paul’s ministry. But I think something simpler is at hand here. Paul brought the gospel in honest words to the people. That preached word was met with the power of God. That power of God changes lives. That power of God opens hearts. And people who believe are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God when they become new in Christ. There is conviction that comes with the gospel as sinners see their sin, feel the pain of their sin, sense the fear of the judgment of God, turn, cry out to Jesus, and are saved.

In verse 9, Paul continues to say that he knows the Thessalonians are among the elect because they responded to the preached word of god by turning from idols to serve the Lord. In a word, they repented. The people saw their sin, turned from their sin, turned to the Lord, and committed themselves to God’s service. Let me be clear that no person is saved who does not desire to serve the Lord. While salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, no salvation occurs without a change of heart that includes a letting go of sinful self-determination for humble submission to God. Lordship is included in faith that repents.

So, two quick questions. First, are you saved? You answer that question by looking at the verses above and asking if this is any part of your life. Have you heard the word of God calling you to Jesus? Have you been convicted of your sin? Have you believed? Have you turned from your sin and surrendered your life to follow the Lord? Do you have the Holy Spirit indwelling you? If not, I urge you to run to Jesus before it is too late.

The second question is where we began. How do we know who is chosen? The answer is this: Do they respond to the gospel with saving faith? You know who is chosen by sharing the gospel with them and seeing the Spirit of God move them to salvation. If they come to Christ, you know they are chosen. If they do not come to Christ, you know to keep sharing, because today might not be the day when God has planned to bring them to himself. If they do not come, you keep sharing as God opens the door for you to do so until either they come to faith or die without Christ. Your job is not to know who is elect. Your job is to share Jesus faithfully.

Does Your Gospel Sound Like This?

Luke 24:45-47 – 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 for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

What is the gospel? How do we proclaim it? What is the Great Commission? How do we obey it?

Here at the end of Luke’s telling of the gospel, we see Jesus present the Lukan version of the Great Commission. It does not contain everything that we see in Matthew, but it still shows us something important.

Boiling this passage down, Jesus, in commissioning his disciples, tells them that they should understand his death and resurrection and they should proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That is all Luke was led by the Spirit of God to include in his expression of the Great Commission. And I think we should learn from it.

The first part is easy. We know that anybody who gets the gospel must grasp the death and resurrection of Jesus. After all, there is no gospel without the Son of God dying to pay the price for the sins of others. There is no gospel if Jesus stays in his grave. We must see that the price was fully paid and that all who are saved by Jesus will live with him eternally just as he lives after death in a glorious, resurrection body.

But how about that other part? When you think about the gospel, when you share it, would you describe your gospel presentation as the proclamation of repentance for the forgiveness of sins? Is that the message of your church? Or have other things snuck in there?

What is present in this gospel? Those who repent are saved. What is repentance? To repent is to change how you think, how you feel, and what you do. To repent in a gospel context is to stop thinking you are OK on your own. It is to stop trusting in yourself and your own goodness. It is to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and your only hope of salvation through is life, death, and resurrection. It is to genuinely sorrow over your sin and to understand that you have earned the judgment of God. It is to throw yourself on the mercy of Jesus, asking for salvation based solely on Jesus and his finished work. And it is a salvation that, once you receive it, leads to a new life of repentance where you continue to turn from sin and continue to trust in and obey the Lord.

What is not in this message? Look at the text. It’s not anything gimmicky. It’s not a sappy, emotion-only appeal. There is nothing here that should lead a church to try to bribe someone into the gospel with giveaways, false promises of prosperity, or capitulation to modern political whims. There is no message that says that you can have salvation while continuing to be and believe all that you were and thought before salvation. There is a demand for faith that will change your very life even as that demand tells you that you are saved by Jesus and not by your change.

I would never want us to proclaim a loveless message of a harsh Jesus. Nor would I suggest that there is not beauty in the promise of grace. But I do believe that many a church has mistaken the call to make disciples for a call to make converts by any means necessary. I believe that many seek to draw people to pray a prayer without actually calling them to repentance. I believe that many people are fooled into thinking they have checked the box to gain a free pass to heaven without ever being called to change a single thing about who they are. And that kind of presentation is not a call to repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Is the message about God’s love? O yes! God is wonderfully, gloriously loving toward his people. All of us have sinned. All of us deserve judgment. God has provided one and only one way of salvation. None of us can work to earn it. The way of salvation is Jesus, his perfect life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection. The way of salvation is by God’s grace through faith alone, trusting Jesus alone. And God’s way of salvation can be summarized by this call, “Repent!” All who wish to be saved let go of everything to take hold of Jesus. All who wish to be saved stop thinking they can define morality in their own way, and they surrender to the lordship of Jesus. All who wish to be saved turn from sin to follow Jesus. All who wish to be saved trust only in Jesus. And when they are saved, all who are saved are saved, not by their actions, but by the person and the finished work of Jesus.

A gloriously God-Focused Testimony

Galatians 1:15-17 – 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

How do you speak of your salvation? What words do you use? When you speak of being saved, are you the prime mover? Does your doctrine of salvation focus more attention on yourself or on the Lord?

Just recently, we had a new members class at our church. Eight folks sat with me through an afternoon of looking at our church’s beliefs, structures, values, strategies, and all the rest. In the beginning of that class, we took time simply to get to know one another. The stories of how couples met, how people found their way to Vegas, and past church experiences were fascinating.

Of course, in our discussion, we talked with each other about how each person came to faith. Some had particular moments they could point to. Some had only a season of life that blossomed over time into true trust in Christ. And many in the group included in their story a time when they grew in greater understanding of the gospel they had already received. For many, as they grew, a greater grasp of the powerful working of God that drew them to salvation gave them great hope, peace, and joy.

So, this morning as I was reading Galatians, I found myself drawn to Paul’s words of personal testimony beginning in verse 15 of chapter 1 and the four parts of that testimony that give all the glory to the Lord. Paul, speaking of his salvation and his later calling to ministry, says that God had set him apart before he was born. Like Jeremiah, Paul is clear that God knew him before he was formed in the womb. God not only was aware of Paul’s person, but God chose a path and purpose for Paul before Paul was conceived and before Paul had ever chosen to do anything either good or bad. God predestined Paul.

Next, in his testimony, Paul declares that god called him by his grace. Think here of what you do and do not hear in that. Paul does not give you a big list of the ways in which he investigated the faith before coming to a conclusion. Nor does Paul talk about his willingness to give God a try in order to fix his struggling marriage or to give his waning career a boost. Paul simply says that, by his grace, God called Paul. The picture is not one of Paul set on neutral ground, given two options, and picking the one he liked better. The picture is of a firm, authoritative, commanding, calling voice of God moving Paul from death to life, from lostness into salvation.

Then Paul points out that God revealed his Son. Paul did not know Jesus. If you know Paul’s story, you know that Paul had many of the facts about Jesus. Paul just hated Jesus and the church that followed Jesus. But one day, one single moment, took place that changed Paul forever. Jesus came to Paul. Jesus powerfully took Paul by the soul and changed him. Jesus changed Paul, by grace, out of love, for God’s glory.

Then, Paul says that this also included his life-change and mission. God had set Paul apart, called him, and revealed Christ to him. Once Paul was drawn to Christ, Paul had a new life mission, to preach Christ. Paul was no longer to be a man living for advancement in the Jewish religious ranks. Paul was to suffer for the sake of the gospel that saves souls and truly honors the Lord. Paul was to take the message of Jesus to Jew and gentile alike. Paul was to proclaim that salvation is not to be found in obedience to Jewish laws or participation in ceremonies but only in repentant faith in Christ. And Paul would find joy and eternal reward in doing what God had planned for him since before he was born.

When Paul told his story, he was clear that all glory for his salvation belongs to the Lord. God set Paul apart before birth. Paul can take no credit for that. God called Paul to himself. Again, Paul cannot claim that he did something to make that happen. God revealed Jesus to Paul. That was not the future apostle’s doing. And God changed the newly believing Paul into a powerful preacher, missionary, and author of Scripture. No way would Paul say that he had earned that job.

What about you? Are you saved? How do you speak of your salvation? Does your testimony as you present it include God’s plan for you from before the dawn of time? Do you tell of God grabbing you and drawing you, calling you, supernaturally changing you and pulling you to himself? Do you tell of God showing you the truth of Christ by God’s revelatory power and not by your intellectual wranglings? Do you tell of how God changed you and set you on mission for Christ?

The interesting thing is you do not have to have a dramatic testimony like that of Paul to have this story. Even if you were converted as a young child, this story is still yours. God predestined you to salvation. God called you to want him, moving you by his power. God revealed to you your need for Jesus. And God gave you a mission, to live for him and his glory for the rest of your life.

Think about your testimony. Think about your doctrine of salvation. Be sure that as you tell your story, you know that it is far more about the God who saved you than the you he saved. Give God the glory he so richly deserves. And continue to yield yourself to the mission that God saved you and gave you to accomplish.

Pentecost and the Anti-Babel

Acts 2:5-6 – 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.

Genesis 11:7-9 – 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

The scene on the Day of Pentecost when the disciples spoke in many languages is one of those well-known passages of Scripture. Many a strange doctrine has been built from it. Many a fascinated Christian has wondered what that day must have looked and felt like.

What grabs my attention as I read Acts 2 in my daily reading plan is the reversal taking place here. This is sort of the anti-Babel. In Genesis 11, God confused human speech. In Acts 2, God grants unity in speech now that Christ has come.

Think of the Genesis context. In Genesis, God promised one to come who would rescue his people. But humanity became so rebellious that God destroyed the world with the flood. In Genesis 9, God promised he would preserve the world, never flooding it again because of human sin. But, by chapter 11, humanity is sinning to such a degree that we once again deserve destruction.

God, instead of destroying the world, in keeping with his covenant, chose to scatter the people at Babel. God confused the language of the people so that there would not be a unified rebellion against him as at the tower. God mercifully made it so that one evil idea would not so easily spread through all people that something like the flood would be the only possible ending.

All through the rest of the Old Testament, God continues to promise the coming one who will rescue. Many nations, people groups, are formed and separated at Babel, and God selects one man, Abram, to be the father of one nation, Israel. And God says that the Rescuer will come through that singular nation. And all the Old Testament keeps making that promise and shows God keeping that promise.

Then, once Jesus comes, God’s promise is fulfilled. Once Jesus died, rose, and ascended, connecting to God no longer has anything to do with any particular nation. Now the good news of Jesus needs to go to all nations. And here, at the moment of the arrival of the indwelling Holy Spirit, God gifts the apostles with a sign of his fulfilled promise. God gives the disciples a gift of being able to speak the message of Jesus in languages they did not previously know. Where God jumbled and confused the languages at Babel, at Pentecost, God united languages so that we might see that people from any nation can be saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus.

Pointing to Jesus in Judah

In the latter chapters of Genesis, we watch the unfolding tale of Joseph in Egypt, the famine, and the move of the people of Israel into that foreign land. While Joseph is the man used of God to prepare the way for the family’s move, Judah begins to emerge as the leader among the brothers. Though he is the fourth-born, Judah will be the son of Jacob who will carry forward the promise of God’s blessing.

Interestingly, Judah is not at all a good man as the story opens. In chapter 37, Judah is the one who suggested selling Joseph to slavers (Gen. 37: 26-27). In chapter 38, Judah is a scoundrel from the beginning. In that scene, Judah moves among the Canaanites, is dishonest with his daughter-in-law, and even unknowingly commits sexual immorality with her. Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute hoping to get pregnant by Judah, and her scheme works.

At his lowest point, Judah attempts to have Tamar condemned to death for her sexual sin (Gen. 38:24). But then Tamar makes Judah aware that he is the father of the children she is carrying. Tamar brings forth some personal items of Judah’s that he had given to the woman he believed was a prostitute. When he sees them, he is changed.

Genesis 38:26 – Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again.

Judah confesses. He knows that, though Tamar behaved badly, she was still more righteous than him. From that point forward, Judah would not misuse Tamar. And, from that point forward, when we follow the story of the brothers, Judah begins to play a prominent role. His changed life makes a difference.

During the years of famine, Jacob sends his older sons to Egypt to buy grain, Joseph, recognizing his brothers and testing them to see if they have changed, sends them all home, but keeps Simeon as a prisoner. Joseph’s demand was that they must return to Egypt with all the brothers including the youngest, Benjamin, Joseph’s only full brother.

Jacob is hesitant to send the men down to Egypt. He believes that joseph is dead. He fears losing Benjamin as well. And it is Judah who steps in.

Here is where I found myself contemplating a pointer to Christ in Judah. Obviously, Judah is not perfect like Jesus. In Judah’s story, we see what looks like a conversion. And once God has changed Judah, the Lord will use Judah. In that changed man, God shows us a hint of the self-sacrificial love of Jesus.

Genesis 43:9 – I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever.

Before, Judah had been the one to sell Joseph for profit to slavers. Now, Judah is the one who says that he will offer himself as a payment. If the young men cannot return with Benjamin to their father, Judah says that he will personally bear the blame.

Then, when the encounter happens with Joseph just before Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers, we see a hint of what Jesus, the Messiah descended from Judah’s line, would do. Joseph threatened to force Benjamin to remain in Egypt. Judah stepped in.

Genesis 44:32-34 – 32 For your servant became a pledge of safety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.’ 33 Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. 34 For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.”

Judah stands before Joseph, the second most powerful man in Egypt, and pleads for Benjamin’s life. Judah asks that Joseph punish him in Benjamin’s stead. Judah does not ask that Joseph’s justice not be served. Instead, Judah asks that he take that penalty so that Benjamin might be free.

Was Judah a good man? Again, from the beginning, we know that he was not. But the Lord changed him. More importantly, the Lord used him to point to exactly what Jesus would do. We have sinned before God. We deserve God’s wrath. Unlike Benjamin’s story, there is no set up here. We are truly guilty. And our sin would earn us hell.

What did Jesus do? Jesus carried out God’s design. God the Father sent God the Son to accomplish redemption. Jesus stood in the stead of all those God will forgive. Jesus took upon himself the full punishment of God for the guilt that God would forgive. Jesus sacrificed his life, suffering the equivalent punishment to our forever in hell, in order to prevent us from facing that judgment. Jesus then rose from the grave, proving the judgment fulfilled and offering life to all who will come to him in faith and repentance.

It is beautiful to see hints of the gospel scattered all throughout the Old Testament. Judah is changed, and it reminds us of our conversion. Judah stands up and offers himself as a substitute for Benjamin, and it reminds us of Jesus.

A Fact Upon Which the Faith Rises or Falls

With Resurrection Sunday on the horizon, many Christians are thinking about the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. We are moved by the scenes of the love of Christ laying down his life to save us from our sins. We grieve with the disciples as we think of their loss at the sight of the sealed tomb. And we rejoice in wonder as we think of our mighty Savior walking out of the grave to physically live eternally.

As we think about these glorious truths, may we also remember that God, in his holy word, tells us that this truth, the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, is a truth upon which our faith either stands or falls. If Jesus is alive, Christianity is true. If Jesus is not physically alive right now, our faith is empty and meaningless.

1 Corinthians 15:17-19 – 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

In this chapter, Paul is clearly responding against some in Corinth who are denying the physical resurrection of the dead. Part of Paul’s logic here is that, if indeed the dead are never raised, then Jesus was not raised. If Jesus is not raised, then we have lied about God and we have no eternal hope. If Jesus is not raised, Christianity is a farce.

Again, see the power of that language. If Jesus is dead, there is not a shred of hope. If, as some would claim, the resurrection of Jesus must be a figurative truth, a metaphorical truth, an in-your-heart truth, then there is no truth in the faith. If the body of Jesus lies in a grave, then claims of life in Christ are lies.

Christians, our faith stands or falls on the objective reality of the resurrection of Jesus. This is not an opinion question. This is not a morality question. This question is a factual and historical question of eternal significance.

So, let me proclaim truth to you today: Jesus is alive! He is not in the grave. His resurrection is not an imaginary wish or a figurative claim. The Son of God stood up, walked out of the tomb, and lives right now. Were Jesus still dead, a body would have been produced in the first century when claims of the resurrection began to spread. Were Jesus dead, his disciples would not have willingly gone to their own martyrdom to continue to proclaim Christ. The claim of resurrection would have fallen away nearly two millennia ago but for one thing: it is true.

What one believes about the resurrection of Jesus is a thing that impacts one’s eternity. If you believe in the resurrection of Jesus so as to run to him for grace, you have eternal life. If you reject the resurrection of Jesus or turn your back on the resurrected Jesus, you have no hope before God. Look at how Paul closes his letter to the Corinthians in the next chapter.

1 Corinthians 16:21–24 – 21 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. 22 If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Love Jesus, and you have life. Do not love Jesus, and you are accursed by God. All this begins with a genuine belief in the fact that Jesus walked out of the tomb. Without a living Jesus, our faith is worthless. With a living Jesus, with love of the living Jesus, with grace from the living Jesus, we have eternal hope and eternal life.

No Other Way

Have you ever stopped to think about the difficulty of our forgiveness? God is holy. God is good. God is just. God is merciful. God agreed within the trinity to save a people for himself before time began. What are his options when dealing with our sin?

Understand, by the way, that when I speak of God’s “options” for dealing with our sin that I am not at all suggesting that any external force or morality imposes upon God restrictions. I am simply suggesting that God, because of exactly who he is, will only do that which is perfectly in keeping with his holy nature. God is not forced to be just by some external principle of justice that restricts him. Rather, God does justice because God is just. Justice is just because of the nature of God who is perfect justice. Understand the same thing if you apply love, goodness, mercy, kindness, or even wrathfulness to the character of God. These things are true of God because they are who God is, not because they impose themselves upon him or measure him from outside of himself.

Keep some other thoughts in mind. It is good and right for God to have wrath for sin. We all know that good people are rightly angry when evil is perpetrated. You have certainly watched the news, perceived a wrong, and been angry. And you have likely known a person who has been hurt by another person and felt genuinely and rightly furious. But even the best of people is sinful; our anger tainted. We have no idea of the intensity of the white-hot burning fury of totally righteous anger.

It is also good and right for God to have a heart of compassion. God loves to show mercy. God is kind and gracious. We know a little of what that feels like. WE know what it is like to have compassion on the ones we love. But our compassion is tainted by our sin too. We only have a tiny glimpse of the depths of the love and compassion of the Lord for us.

These issues come together in the glorious plan of the Lord. God chose to save a people for himself. At the same time, God would appropriately punish with infinite fury every sin that has ever been committed. For those who persist in hating and rejecting God, the wrath of God in hell will be just and perfect.

But what about the forgiven? We deserve infinite wrath too. How can God forgive us and still be just? He cannot simply overlook our sin and still be a God perfect in justice. If he fails to punish our sin, something is wrong in his love. Something is wrong in his treasuring of all that is good if the wrong against the good can simply be ignored.

Hence the perfect and eternal plan of God. God would take upon himself the just penalty for our sin so that it is properly punished while he simultaneously grants us mercy. Jesus would die in our place, a sacrificial lamb, to carry out the justice of God. Jesus would take to himself the infinite fury of God for the sins of the forgiven even as he, in his infinite worth, covers our sin and satisfies the anger of God for the evil we have done. This is precisely what Paul was pointing us to in Romans 3 when he spoke of the death of Jesus as something done so that God could be just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Christ (Romans 3:25-26).

Now, here is the question that got my attention to cause me to write this down: Was there any other way? Could God have chosen some other plan? Could God have forgiven us in any way that would not require the death of his Son and the outpouring of wrath on Jesus to perfectly do justice for our sin?

The answer to the question is unequivocally no. God could not have saved our souls in any other way.

How do I know? Consider Jesus in the garden the night of his arrest. Jesus prayed to his Father with a very simple request.

Matthew 26:42 – Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

Jesus asked his Father to remove the cup of wrath from him if there was any other way (c.f. Matthew 26:39). Jesus asked if there might be any other way for the cup of wrath to be properly handled without him drinking it. Could God still rescue the chosen without Jesus having to take their sins upon himself and suffer in their place? And the rest of the book shows us that the answer from the Father is that this in fact cannot be done. The only way that our souls can be saved is if Jesus is directly punished by the Father for every last one of our sins.

Analytically this is not super difficult to understand. God, in his perfection, will properly punish every sin. If he does not do so, his love and his perfection and his justice and his holiness are all called into question. God lays upon Jesus the proper punishment for every person he will forgive, and Jesus bears their sins in his body on the cross. For those who will not be forgiven, their sins are properly punished as they spend eternity in hell under the wrath of the Almighty.

Stepping back from the analytical, this is emotionally stunning. God wants to save a people for himself. God rejoices in showing mercy. God rejoices in, as the holy trinity, gifting a people from the Father to the Son. We receive the infinite mercy of God because that fits perfectly who God is. And there was no other way for this plan to be accomplished than through the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Friends, the gospel is glorious. Never lose that wonder. God is just. God is merciful. Jesus proves both. And we who know him receive that glorious benefit. Praise be to our Lord!