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.

Believe in Jesus Because of His Resurrection

Matthew 12:38-40 — 38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Prove it! Have you ever been challenged to prove something to somebody? That kind of challenge can be terribly frustrating. A wife gives her all to love and partner with her husband. He comes home one day, she’s had a rough afternoon, and he foolishly asks if she really cares about how she makes him feel or how the house looks. Parents care for, provide for, feed, entertain, and reshape their lives for their kids. Suddenly, when the kids want something they do not get, they challenge their parents to prove they love them. They are nuts. A pastor prays for the church, visits members, preaches the word, and spends himself for the good of the congregation. Then, when a church member has something happen they do not like, they want the pastor to prove that he is really committed to God, His word, and the people. Prove it can be very hard.

Right here, Jesus is challenged by the religious scholars to prove who he is. The Pharisees and scribes approach Jesus and demand to see from him a sign that will convince them that he really is the Messiah, the promised one from God.

Now, stop and think with me for a moment. What is wrong with the religious leaders’ question? They want Jesus to impress them with a miracle. What are they missing?

How about the fact that Jesus has already performed multiple miracles in public that should be enough. Let’s just consider the miracles that we have seen from chapters 8-12 of Matthew:

  • Healed a leper (8:3)
  • Healed a centurion’s servant (8:13)
  • Healed Peter’s mother-in-law (8:15)
  • Healed and drove out demons from many brought to him (8:16)
  • Calmed a storm (8:26)
  • Drove demons out of the demoniac and into the pigs (8:32)
  • Healed a paralytic carried to him. (9:6)
  • Healed a woman with a discharge of blood (9:22)
  • Brought a girl back from the dead (9:25)
  • Gave sight to 2 blind men (9:29)
  • Drove a demon out of a demon-possessed and mute man. (9:33)
  • Healed a man with a withered hand (12:13)
  • Healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute (12:22)

That, my friends, is a list of 13 miracles if my count is correct. None of those are things that an ordinary person has the power to do. Jesus had already done enough to prove himself. The problem is, the religious leaders just do not want to believe.

So they are still demanding a sign. I wonder what they thought would be enough to really prove who Jesus is. Perhaps they wanted him to make the sun go backward, or make the moon turn red, or write his name in the stars, or cause the walls of Jerusalem to fall down, or cause the city of Rome to collapse. What would have been enough?

Take note, by the way, that people love to say that they would believe in Jesus if he just proved it to them. However, people seldom establish what it would really take to prove it. They never say what kind of proof would suffice. Why? Most people are not failing to believe because of a lack of evidence. Instead, most people who do not believe refuse to believe because they do not want to be required to submit to the Lordship of Christ.

Jesus responds to the demand of the teachers by telling them that their demand for a sign is an evil and adulterous thing. They are evil, sinning against the Lord in their desire to disprove who Jesus is. They are also adulterous, a strange-sounding way to talk about their lack of faith. But, remember, the teachers of the law of God were supposed to be faithful to God. Jesus, God the Son, was fulfilling the prophecies about the Messiah that these teachers should have recognized. But, instead of being faithful to Christ like a bride being faithful to her husband, the religious teachers were turning away from God to give themselves to another lover, their own power and authority in the nation.

Then Jesus told them that their generation would receive only one sign to prove the identity of Jesus. They would receive the sign of the prophet Jonah. AS many of us learned as children in Sunday School, Jonah was swallowed by a giant fish and lived for 3 days in its belly. Jesus says that, in just the same way, he would be 3 days in the heart of the earth. That would be the ultimate sign for this generation.

Can you tell what Jesus was saying to these men? He was actually being very subtle. The Jews at that point had no idea of the cross and resurrection to come. Only after Jesus did his work would those who heard this prophecy about the sign of Jonah be able to realize that Jesus was talking about dying, being buried over 3 days, and then rising from the grave to live both physically and eternally. As Jonah was 3 days in the fish and lived, Jesus would be 3 days in the grave and live. This would be the only sign that Jesus would actually give to that skeptical generation to prove that he is exactly who he claims to be.

So, what is the proof of Jesus’ identity? The Savior tells us that the ultimate proof is his resurrection from the dead. The Son of god went to a cross to die as a perfect sacrifice for every sin that God would ever forgive. The Son of God was buried on Friday, day 1, through Saturday, day 2, and rose on Sunday, day 3 as the Jews would have counted it in their culture. And then the Son of God would live again, defeating death and offering the ultimate proof of every one of his claims about himself. Jesus claimed to be God. He claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath. He claimed the authority to forgive sins. He claimed that he would one day return to earth as king. And his resurrection is the proof of it all.

Throughout the New Testament, it is always the resurrection of Jesus that stands as the perfect and final proof to every claim of the Lord. It is the resurrection of Jesus that proves he is God in flesh. It is the resurrection that proves that his sacrifice was enough to cover our sins. It is his resurrection that proves that those who trust in him and surrender to his lordship will have life everlasting. It is his resurrection that proves to us that we will live again after we die. It is his resurrection that proves that Jesus is not just another religious teacher like the prophets of the Old Testament or the false prophets of later years. It is the resurrection upon which all our confidence in Christianity rests.

The point that the Savior is making in his words to the teachers in this passage is simple: Believe in Jesus because of his resurrection. He will not bow to the wishes of the skeptics by giving them extra signs to suit their fancy. He will not dance whenever they play a tune. He will not offer them a circus performance to see if he might win their approval. No, all Jesus will do is the work that he came to do. But, when he rises from the dead, he will have done enough to prove it all.

A Problem with Modern Church Strategy

WE want our churches to grow. We want to se people saved. We want to see the world around us love our Savior too. We want our communities better to reflect the character of the Lord.

Few people would disagree with those thoughts. But many would find themselves at odds as to how to make it happen. In many a case, the theory for how a church can impact its world follows the lines of just being extra nice. It seems that many a pastor believes that, if the local church is just super-nice to the community, the people of the community will embrace the church and lots of people will be saved.

Of course, I have no opposition to Christian kindness. Nor do I have any problem with the church living peacefully with their neighbors and looking for the opportunity to share the gospel. But I wonder if we realize how the world reacts to Jesus. I wonder if we remember that, when Jesus was doing the greatest kindness, and when some believed, the world around him reacted with hate when the Savior challenged their sovereignty.

Matthew 12:22-24 – 22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”

A man needed healing. Jesus, by his mighty power, cast out a demon and restored a man. Some people thought this was great. But others who saw blasphemed the Savior, accusing him of doing the very work of the devil.

Christians, I want us to understand that this is not an uncommon pattern in the world. The church can do wonderfully loving things for people. And people in fact will appreciate it. The Lord may use that opportunity, when the world is paying attention to us, when people are happy about what we have done, to make the people open to hearing the gospel. And so we should not neglect kindness and honest witness.

At the same time, the watching world that was challenged by Jesus had a different reaction. Those who felt their political position threatened by Jesus were not at all thrilled with the kindness of the Savior. They spoke out against Jesus. They accused him of being the hand of the devil. And with every step of influence the Savior gained, they plotted more and more against him.

Dear Christian friends, the church will not win the world by being extra nice. Now, as we live as Christians, we will naturally be kind and helpful, even in our communities. And it may be that the Lord uses that kindness to give us the opportunity to share the gospel with the lost. The kindness is worth it for two reasons: first, because it is honoring to the Lord, and second, because we do love those to whom we are kind and who we hope to have hear and respond to the gospel. So do not hear me suggesting that the church not live out kindness.

But, and this is what I think challenges the thinking of many churches today, the expressed kindness of God and the increasing influence of the church will also bring the church greater persecution and greater hatred from those who oppose the Lord. Many out there will accept our kindness quite well when we give them free food or throw a nice block party. But, the moment the church’s preaching challenges their freedom to live in rebellion against the Lord, the world will denounce that kindness as if it were a demonic attack.

So, what am I suggesting here? Churches need to be first and foremost faithful to the Lord. Yes, we also live as good neighbors and kind citizens in our communities. Perhaps some will do events that gain them a greater hearing in their towns and help the community realize that Christians are present. But do not think that you win the world with such events. God wins people’s souls when a genuine gospel is proclaimed. And when that happens, some are drawn by God to salvation. Others will respond in hatred, because they oppose Jesus and his ways.

Could They Accuse You Like This?

When we see the way that the lost in the book of Acts accused the Christians, we see some true things about believers. I wonder if we could be thought guilty of the same things today.

Take a look at the words of the people of Thessalonica against the Christians there.

Acts 17:6-86 when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”

The people of Thessalonica wanted to capture Paul, but they could not. So they took some of his friends in and accused them. And there are two things that grab my attention.

First, the accusers suggest that the Christians have turned the world upside down. The Christians have been so clear in their evangelism and in their changed lives that lost people say that they have changed the world. There is no doubt that, through history, the church has changed the world. But I wonder how much changing of the world we are doing today. So many churches are so worried about making their communities feel a liking for them that they begin to behave like the world around them. One wonders if the lost world even sees that these groups are actually different from them. Or, would the lost world today look at most of our churches and assume that we are just like them with the exception that we do a religious thing on Sunday mornings when our schedules permit?

The second thing that I see here is that the lost accuse the Christians of being bad citizens of the empire because they have a different king, Jesus. Again, I wonder if this is an accusation that would catch many Christians today. Do we live in such a way that the world around us, our neighbors, our bosses, our friends, see that we have a loyalty to our King so that the Lord and no other authority is indeed our master? Would people look at the average person claiming Christ and recognize that they are devoted to someone who is beyond any temporal authority?

Christians, take this to heart. Look at the two accusations against the Christians in Thessalonica. Would people say those things of you? Do you change your world? Are you so loyal to the Lord and his word that people would think you live under a fully different government? If not, what is missing?

Teach Me

Do you ever get demanding? Be honest. Sometimes, when you and I are at our weakest, we will tell God how things ought to be. We will let him know what he must do if he is going to meet our approval. And when we do this, we are clearly missing biblical truth.

In Psalm 25, we see the psalmist pray that God will help him to know his ways better. And in doing so, I think we are reminded of the perfection of God’s plan.

Psalm 25:4-5

4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.

It is the line in verse 5 that got my attention as I read through this psalm. “You are the God of my salvation.” What a glorious truth. God, the only God, the one true God, is the God of my salvation. There is only one God. We have no other way of salvation.

O, I know, this is elementary stuff, but it really matters. When we think about the word of God and the truth of eternity, we need to remember that there is only one God. So often, the person put off by the claim of exclusive salvation in Christ has allowed himself or herself to reason as if there really are other ways out there. They assume that there are other gods we could follow. They assume that there are other ways that Christians just do not acknowledge. But, and this is vital, there are not.

Before David declared God to be the God of his salvation, he prayed that God would teach him. He wants God to show him his ways. HE wants God to teach him his truth. David knows that, apart from God’s teaching, he will miss it. If God does not reveal himself to us, we will assume that we know everything and can reason out how the world should run. We are wrong.

The big problem that many of us face is that, in our sinfulness, we think that we can tell God what God’s ways should be. We stop praying that God would teach us his ways. Instead, we tell God that we have concluded that this or that ought to be his ways. WE tell God how we think we would have done things were we the ones in charge.

But to tell God what God ought to do is foolish. You do not have all the knowledge God has. You are warped in your sin and cannot measure morality as God does in his holiness. And, the simple fact is, you are not the God who created the universe. You did not create the stars and planets, the people and the animals, to display your glory. You did not shape people for your purposes. So how in the world could you think that you have the ability to tell the Creator how things should be? This is hubris.

What is right is what we see the psalmist do. He prays, asking God to teach him his ways. He declares God to be the God of his salvation. And he waits on the Lord. The psalmist knows that he is not God. He knows that he does not know everything or understand everything. He instead relies on God for salvation, and he waits for God to take action and reveal truth in God’s own perfect timing.

A Reminder of Eternity before a Short-Term Mission Trip

In Matthew 10, Jesus is preparing his disciples to go out on their first mission trip. The 12 will head to the towns of Israel to proclaim the kingdom of God just as Christ had been doing from chapters 5-9. And as Jesus gives his disciples their instructions, he has some things to say to them that are vital for our lives.

As Jesus sent his disciples out, it is unlikely that he was expecting they would face major persecution. At that time, people were primarily fascinated by Jesus and his ministry, and his followers were not yet being arrested, flogged, or executed. But, as Jesus taught his disciples here, he also taught them for the further future, when such would be the result of Christian witness.

As Jesus warned the disciples that men would hate them on his account, Jesus also told the disciples where to properly place their fear.

Matthew 10:28 – And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Jesus warns that the disciples ought not allow themselves to fear the one who can kill the body alone. All sorts of people can do that. Soldiers can do that. Angry townspeople can do that. Wild animals can do that. But this is not where our proper fear lies.

Jesus tells the disciples that they should fear the one who has the power over their eternal souls. Of course, this is Jesus telling the disciples to fear God and not man. The fear of man can cause us to hide from telling the truth. The fear of man can keep us from going and proclaiming God’s kingdom as he has commanded. The fear of man eats at our souls and leads us deeply into sin.

Jesus wants his disciples to fear God. I do not think that Jesus is telling the disciples to have a terror of God, to fear that he will be cruel to them. God is always just and good. But the disciples are to have a proper respect for God. They are to grasp that God is holy where they are not. And that understanding should lead the disciples to tremble before God with awe and respect. And, for sure, the disciples should fear to oppose God.

Jesus is calling his disciples, as they launch out on their first mission trip, that they must be thinking in terms of God instead of man, of eternity instead of the temporary. These men are to remember that the work they do is not about their popularity or their physical safety. The work they do is not about their present-day success. The work they do is for the honor of the God who created them. And the work they do is about forever.

Christians, we need this reminder. WE live in a world that seems so solid, so stable, so unchanging. But if we stop to think for just a moment, we know that all that we see in our lives—the computers, the phones, the cars, the buildings—will pass away. No political movement has been eternal. No nation’s borders have stayed the same forever. No army is undefeatable. No human being lives beyond our allotted life span. We live in a very fragile world. WE live in a world that is passing away. To live for the present alone is to live as a fool. To live with a mind set on eternity is wise and honoring to the Lord.

Christian, think eternally. Live for forever. Fear God instead of man. Live to honor God more than you live to have comfort and safety. This life is passing. God is eternal and his holy judgment is eternal.

God is Concerned with Good works

Christians who love the word are a grace alone people. We affirm that we are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We do not believe that our good works in any way contribute to our being saved. We do not believe that religious ceremonies or religious artifacts contribute to our salvation. Our standing before God as redeemed is entirely of God’s grace through faith.

We are saved through faith alone. But, saving faith does not remain alone. As James pointed out so clearly, faith without works is dead. Saving faith will be accompanied by a changed life, a life of good works. And we see a very similar reminder in the letter of Paul to Titus.

Titus 2:11-14 – 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

A student of Paul will know that he is very clear about the fact that we are saved through faith apart from works. Yet, as we see here, the salvation of our souls has an aim and a result that includes our change. In verse 11, we see that we have grace. In verse 12, we see that the grace of God trains us to renounce evil passions and to live different, new, godly lives. In verse 13, we await the return of Christ with anticipation. And then, in verse 14, we again see gospel followed by life change.

Look at the purposes of Jesus in verse 14: “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” He gave himself to redeem us. That is salvation by grace alone through faith alone. He gave himself to redeem us and purify for himself a people zealous for good works. That is the result of a new, righteous, lawful, God-honoring body of believers. Christ did not save us to make us rebels against the good. Christ did not save us so that we will throw off the word and ways of God. Christ saved us apart from any works on our behalf. But Christ changes us so that we will long to put away evil and become a pure people for the Lord’s glory.

So, Christian, do not think that God is unconcerned with your purity or obedience. Yes, salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. But your faith must not remain alone. A goal of God’s in your salvation is that you become a person who honors him through your obedience and a new purity that stands out as different in a darkened world.