Wear Out Like a Garment

June 27, 2011

Believing in God and Jesus Christ, also means not believing in some other things. Faith makes exclusive claims on the believer. It also means that others may not like our choice.

Jesus faced the same problem. The Jews expected a victorious Messiah. He would be that, but he first had to be the Suffering Servant (see the servant songs in Isaiah 42:1-9, 49:1-13, 50:4-9, and 54:13-53:12). This servant would be a covenant for the people and a light to the nations. He would have God’s revelation and be completely obedient, but he would also be rejected and die as a guilt offering. Amid these themes of rejection and suffering, there is also a theme of vindication:

He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up. Isaiah 50:8-9 ESV

The servant would be vindicated by God. The servant would outlast his adversaries.

In the next chapter of Isaiah, people who know righteousness and have the law on their hearts are addressed.

Listen to me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear not the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings. For the moth will eat them up like a garment, and the worm will eat them like wool; but my righteousness will be forever, and my salvation to all generations. Isaiah 51:7-8 ESV

Believers too will face reproach. But just as Jesus the Servant was vindicated, the person with the law written on the heart can outlast the adversaries. Note the similar metaphor in 50:9 and 51:8. The adversaries are like a garment that will wear out. What is true for the Servant is also true for the believer. Adversaries and reproach are temporary, but God’s righteousness and salvation are forever.

Jesus warned, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matthew 10:24, ESV). If Jesus was called names, we shouldn’t be surprised at the same treatment, but Jesus’ vindication should give us courage. The prize of the upward call is worth it all. It is certain and eternal, but the adversaries’ opposition is temporary – they will wear out like a garment.

A Father’s Legacy

June 17, 2011

Fathers, what is your legacy? The word means more than the money and gifts that you will leave behind bequeathed in your will. It also means anything “transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor” (Merriam-Webster 11th Collegiate Dictionary). For many of us with the monthly pressure of paying bills, we are probably not expecting to leave our kids a great monetary inheritance anyway. But the truth is every father has a legacy.

Let me tell you the legacy of three fathers. The first is Jonathan Edwards, the famous Puritan minister. Edwards and his wife, Sarah, had eleven children. Besides the religious influence from his studies and work, he made it a point to spend an hour a day with his children. A sociology study charted the 1,394 known descendants of Edwards. It found that from his known descendants there were 13 college presidents, 65 college professors, 30 judges, 100 lawyers, 60 physicians, 75 army and navy officers, 100 ministers, 60 prominent authors, 3 United States senators, 80 public servants (from state governors to foreign diplomats), and one vice-president of the United States.1

A contemporary of Jonathan Edwards was also studied. His name was Max Jukes. Jukes had a drinking problem and had a hard time holding down a job. He disappeared for days at a time on a drinking binge. He showed little concern for his wife and children and spent little time with them. The study was able to trace 540 of Juke’s ancestors. From Juke’s known descendants 310 died as paupers, at least 150 were criminals (including 7 murderers), more than 100 were alcoholics, and half of his female descendants ended up as prostitutes.

This is not to say that our character is predetermined by our parents and grandparents. It is not to suggest that positive or negative character traits are inherited. Individuals can overcome bad environments, and good environments do not necessarily guarantee good moral choices. However, it does argue that environment plays a vital role. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, ESV). Proverbs 22:6 may not be a guarantee, but it is a general rule about how things usually work. Fathers, we can have a profound influence for good or ill on our children and descendants.

Finally, consider the spiritual legacy of one more father—Joshua. The book of Judges reports, “And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the LORD had done for Israel” (Judges 2:7, ESV). Doesn’t this say something about Joshua as a man and as a father? Could the faithfulness of the following generations have something to do with Joshua’s spiritual legacy? Isn’t there a connection between this passage and Joshua’s great challenge and choice, “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15, ESV).

Fathers, what is your legacy?

1Mark Merrill, “A Father’s Legacy.” http://www.familyfirst.net/pressroom/fatherslegacy.htm

If You Confess…

June 12, 2011

Confess means to disclose, acknowledge, or admit something. Both our English word, confess, and the Greek word behind it are used for confessing sin and also professing faith. Some English translations have adopted “acknowledge” for the confessing faith passages.

One of the great passages dealing with confessing faith is Romans 10:9: “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (ESV). Some might ask us, “Doesn’t that exclude baptism?”

Many who might ask that question believe in unconditional election. Yet what is a sentence that states “if you confess and believe, you will be saved” but a condition. Further, Paul’s emphasis in this verse is on the resurrection, yet we know from all of Romans that the basis of salvation also included the atoning death of Christ. Paul mentions a part for the whole. Maybe the same is true for the conditions of salvation. We need to consider all that is said about salvation in the New Testament.

Paul is dealing with the problem of Jewish unbelief in Romans 9-11. Paul underscores that salvation is available to all with his use of the quotation from Joel 2:32, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Romans 10:13, ESV). The quote also explains Paul’s discussion of confession.

Interestingly, Joel 2:32, confession, and baptism intersect in a number of passages. Peter quotes Joel in his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:21) but commands his listeners to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38). When Paul recounts his own conversion in Acts 22, he quotes Ananias as saying, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (22:16, ESV), which obviously alludes to Joel 2:32. Peter writes, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21, ESV). Confession and baptism are not at odds with one another, but seem to go together in the New Testament.

Confessing our faith in Jesus brings us out into the open. It makes our faith public. Jesus does not want secret disciples (see also Matthew 10:32-33). Clearly Jesus and Paul link confession to salvation.

Who’s in Control?

June 3, 2011

The news of the day can be disturbing — natural disasters, wars, brutality, and human deceit. Our world careens along, and we may wonder: who’s in control?

Early Christians had an answer for that question even when it seemed the forces of the world were against them. They were encouraged by a psalm of David , Psalm 2 (see Acts 4:25). So influential was this psalm that it has 18 allusions or citations in the New Testament.

The first stanza of the psalm speaks of the nation’s conspiracy and rebellion (2:2-3). In the ancient world, kings were often vassals (subordinates) to a greater king. In the ancient near east, when a new king assumed the throne, vassal nations often used the circumstances to revolt. But this revolt is against the sovereign God and his Anointed One (Messiah).

The second stanza (2:4-6) emphasizes God’s power and ends with the line: “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Psalm 2:6, ESV). The third stanza (2:7-9) affirms the sonship of the Anointed One, the King. We must recall the promise made to David. God speaks of the kings in David’s dynasty and assures David, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son” (2 Samuel 7:14a). Jesus is the Son of God in an even greater sense than the other kings of David’s dynasty. The third stanza affirms the ability of the Son. He will conquer.

The final stanza (2:10-12) makes an appeal and ends with a beatitude. The appeal is to “serve the LORD” and “kiss the Son.” The concluding beatitude is: “Blessed are all who take refuge in him (i.e., the Son).”

This psalm finds its way into a prayer of the early church when faced with persecution. After citing from the first stanza of Psalm 2, they pray:

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. (Acts 4:27–30, ESV)

The early Christians took comfort from Psalm 2 that God and his Anointed One are in control despite outward appearances. They knew that “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess” (see Isaiah 45:23 and Philippians 2:10-11). “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”