Monday, June 26, 2017

meant for each other

The Word for today:
Acts 12:25-13:12
Paul becomes the central figure in Acts at Chapter 13, taking over from Peter, who had been the central character up to that point. These two great apostles could not have been more unalike.
Peter was impulsive, spontaneous, and eager to please. He wore his big heart on his sleeve.
Paul thought his way through life. He was cerebral and sometimes calculating. (My guess is that he possessed the highest IQ in history.)
Together, they represent the head and the heart of the church.
Make no mistake that Peter was also a brilliant man. Look no further than the first few verses of 1 Peter, where he handles the great doctrines of election, foreknowledge, sanctification, obedience, the blood of Christ, the Trinity, the grace of God, salvation, revelation, glory, faith, and hope. But his bigger heart ruled his big head.
And make no mistake that Paul had a soft spot for matters of the heart. Look no further than 1 Corinthians 13 and you'll see! But his bigger head ruled his big heart.
There was sometimes contention between them. Peter had a conservative streak, and held on to the old ways longer than Paul, who lived on the theologically innovative edge.
But isn't that often true of heads and hearts? Hearts hold on too long, while heads are too willing to forsake the tried and true.
Whether you are more like Peter or more like Paul, remember that heart and head are made to dance together. One's got to lead, and the other's got to follow, but they were meant for each other.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

the voice behind the Word

The Word for today:
Exodus 19, 20
mark this: Exodus 20:2-3
"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me."
I don't often wonder what God looks like. What I really need to know is what he sounds like.
The Word of God in paper form seldom indicates tone of voice. Other than the surrounding context, we are left to guess whether a word is said matter-of-factly, or ironically, or wistfully, or regretfully, or…
But those who believe in Jesus can discern his actual voice:
And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. (John 10:4)
The Old Testament uses a figure of speech to convey the same principle. Believers, we are told, have a blood-tipped ear (1)--an ear that is tuned in to the wavelength of the Holy Spirit. The blood-tipped ear "hears" the voice behind the words, while the unbeliever only sees the printed text:
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1Corinthians 2:14)
A good example of how the blood-tipped ear hears God's tone of voice is found in the First Commandment. The First Commandment is actually found in various places in your Bible. It is first pronounced in Exodus:
"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:2-3)
Jesus pronounces it in the gospel of John:
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
The Holy Spirit (speaking through Peter) pronounces it in Acts:
"There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)
The natural eye reads the First Commandment as narrow, restrictive, and exclusive. But the blood-tipped ear will come to hear those same words sound like this:
"Follow me, keep your eyes on me. I know the way out of here. But if you lose sight of me, if you lose track of me, you won't get out alive." (2)
It's a miracle! The blood-tipped ear hears love in the law. It's the "audio" equivalent of turning water into wine.
(1) Exodus 29:20: (2) Cf. Genesis 19:17 and 2 Chronicles 20:12.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

unlikely nourishment -- pt. 2

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Exodus 18
mark this: 1 Corinthians 10:3-4
"They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ."
Life is complicated--we get that. But the Word of God is not. It certainly is at times complex, or even minutely detailed, but never so complicated that we need some sort of secret knowledge or special degree. The rule of thumb is: keep it simple. But that is difficult in this day and age. Never have we as a people had such instantaneous access to information. Ironically, all that info has only served to further confuse us.
British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, concerning our modern times, wrote: "We have educated ourselves into imbecility." You can find plentiful evidence for this in our political and educational systems, but the sad truth is that this effect has carried over to Christians as well. There is no end to all of our books and programs and commentaries and paraphernalia, but our people seem to be growing further from, not closer to, the basic truths of our faith.
That is why I am grateful for this amazing book of Exodus, where we see the Israelites experience, physically, what we as followers of Christ experience spiritually. They are, in many ways, our "guinea pigs," as we learn from their experience and mistakes. In the past four blogs, Franklyn has done a brilliant job of bringing out how fundamental the accounts of the Passover, the Exodus, and the Red Sea are to us some 3,5oo+ years later. All of these events point us to Christ.
Yesterday we focused on the connection between Christ and the manna. Today, we are looking at the water. The Israelites encounter two liquid problems in these chapters- the bitter waters of Marah, and the lack of water in Rephidim.
Both times, God provides--and as he does, he points us again to Jesus. At Marah, Moses is instructed to throw a chunk of wood, of all things, into the waters to take away the bitterness. Years later, God uses a chunk of wood, of all things, to defeat sin (1).
At Rephidim, Moses is instructed, of all things, to strike a rock and out would come water. This was essential for the Israelites, but it only temporarily quenched their thirst. Years later, Jesus said to a woman by a well, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (2) ."
And so Exodus, while indeed the account of how God rescued and redeemed the people of Israel from Egypt, is even more fundamentally about His Son, Jesus. Through it we learn that Jesus is our true food and Jesus is our true drink, because only Christ truly satisfies and only Christ truly lasts forever.
(1) Galatians 3:13
(2) John 4:13-14

Friday, June 23, 2017

unlikely nourishment -- part 1

Gathering Manna -- Exodus 16:14-31
(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Exodus 17
mark this: 1 Corinthians 10:3-4
"They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ."
Like the accounts of Genesis, the importance of the stories in the first half of Exodus cannot be understated. These first 70 chapters are the very building blocks for the entire rest of the Bible. If we don't get them, that is like showing up in Algebra or Calculus class not knowing how to add or subtract. Good luck with that.
In the past few days, we've learned from Franklyn how Passover teaches us the power in the blood, how hyssop teaches us that faith is merely the applicator, how the crossing of the Red Sea, a type of baptism, teaches us about deliverance and redemption.
Today and tomorrow, we are going to take a quick look at another lesson from the simplest of elements: bread and water.
It has been quite a whirlwind for the people of Israel since this fellow Moses showed up, claiming to have met with God. But God has backed up Moses' claims--in the plagues upon Egypt, in the final plague that lead to their exit, in the Pillar of Cloud and Fire, in the miraculous crossing of the Sea. But strangely enough, instead of being forever grateful, we find the Israelites grumbling against God and Moses.
First they whined about the lack of fresh water at Marah (1).
Then they complained about lack of food (2).
In today's passage they're back to bellyaching about water again.
Sadly, this pattern will continue for an entire generation.
But I want to focus not on all the griping, but rather on God's response. He takes these times to point His people, and ultimately us, to His Son. First the bread. God knows that His people have to eat, and so He develops an ingenious method: Manna. There's no better way to feed such a large group of wandering people.
What is it? Well, that's its name. We know what it looked like and even what it tasted like (3), but sadly the jar kept by Aaron is no longer available for a complete analysis. God took care of His people by raining down "bread from heaven (4)."
But this food, even though it was the "bread of angels (5)" could not ultimately satisfy. Instead, it points us to the ultimate Bread of Life, Jesus. He is our sustenance, both day after day, and for all eternity:
"I am the bread of life.
Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 

This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." (John 6:48-51)
(1) Exodus 15:22-24
(2) Exodus 16:1-3
(3) Exodus 16:31
(4) Exodus 16:4
(5) Psalm 78:25

Thursday, June 22, 2017

he's got your back -- part 2

The Word for today:
Exodus 15:22-16:36
mark this:
The LORD is a warrior;
Pharaoh's chariots and his army
he has hurled into the sea.
 (Exodus 15:3-4)
Today, we Stand in the Rain, in awe, as we watch the LORD fight for our deliverance.
Yesterday we saw him fight the host of Egypt. Today we will watch as he -- the King of the Jews, pre-figured by David -- single-handedly fights the ruler of this world (pre-figured by Goliath) on Israel's behalf. Then he will shield a single sinner from her accusers. Finally, alone on a cross, he will fight to the death for the salvation of our souls.
They were between the devil and the deep Red Sea. But the Angel of God, the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ, had their backs:
Then the Angel of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to the rear of the camp. (Exodus 14:19)
The Angel physically positioned himself between Israel and their demise, turning their darkest day into their shining hour:
The pillar of cloud also moved from the front and stood behind them. The cloud settled between the Egyptian and Israelite camps. As darkness fell, the cloud turned to fire, lighting up the night. (14:19-20)
When the Angel fought, he fought alone. All of their "help," it seems, would only hinder his efforts:
"Don't be afraid. Just stand where you are and watch the LORD rescue you. The Egyptians that you see today will never be seen again. The LORD himself will fight for you. You won't have to lift a finger in your defense!" (Exodus 14:13-14/NLT)
Later on, surrounded by three armies in the wilderness of Engedi, King Jehoshaphat would be told the same:
"Listen, King Jehoshaphat! Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says: Do not be afraid!
Don't be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God's. Tomorrow, march out against them. You will find them coming up through the ascent of Ziz at the end of the valley that opens into the wilderness of Jeruel.
But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the LORD's victory.
He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out there tomorrow, for the LORD is with you!" (2 Chronicles 20:15-17)
When King David stood alone -- in the Valley of Elah, to fight in Israel's stead -- it was but a picture of the day when the King of Kings would stand for all of us against evil's entire array -- against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
Disdaining the armor of the world, he chose the full armor of God:
the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:14-17; cf. 1 Sam. 17:38-39)
The only visible weapon he carried to the battle was a cross. They laughed him to scorn: Why, you might as well fight a giant with a slingshot!
You might as well, indeed. The principalities and powers could not perceive that his death would be their undoing; that his victory would be ours as well.
So he placed himself in harm's way, between death and the people, just as he had in Egypt, in Engedi, and in Elah.
He'd fought for all the people, against all the forces of evil, in Egypt and Engedi and Elah, at Gethsemane and Golgotha.
But, in his heart, when he fought alone, when he died alone,
he stood as shield (1) for you alone,
between a solitary sinner and her accusers (2), to deflect the rocks meant just for her.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

he's got your back -- part 1

The Word for today:
Exodus 14:1-15:21
mark this: Exodus 14:19
Then the Angel of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to the rear of the camp.
and this: Exodus 15:3-4
The LORD is a warrior;
Pharaoh's chariots and his army
he has hurled into the sea.
Today is the longest day of the year. I never miss it, but Daisy always did.
Two of the great passages in American literature have to do with the brightest and darkest days of the year.
In "The Great Gatsby," Daisy Buchanan notes an unrequited longing:
"Do you ever wait for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always wait for the longest day of the year and then miss it!"
In "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," Robert Frost is drawn to the unfathomable:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year...
June 21 and December 21 are six months apart on the calendar. But for Israel, their darkest day and their brightest day were one and the same…
They were caught between the devil and the deep Red Sea. Pharaoh's matchless forces had pursued them to the edge of doom. Hemmed in, they could not advance or retreat. They were about to be slaughtered. But wait!
Then the Angel of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to the rear of the camp. (Exodus 14:19)
(An angel is a messenger or envoy, bringing God’s message and representing God to others. Jesus is the Angel of God in this sense: God didn’t send just another messenger, he sent the Messenger who is the Message--the Word of God Himself.)
The Angel physically positioned himself between Israel and their demise, turning their darkest day into their shining hour:
The pillar of cloud also moved from the front and stood behind them. The cloud settled between the Egyptian and Israelite camps. As darkness fell, the cloud turned to fire, lighting up the night. (Exodus 14:19-20)
The Angel had their backs:
The LORD is a warrior;
Pharaoh's chariots and his army
he has hurled into the sea. (Exodus 15:3-4)
It would not be the last time. Tomorrow we'll see him standing, alone, to defend the defenseless again and again.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

"When I see the blood, I will pass over." (part 2)

The Word for today:
Exodus 12:37-13:22
God and first-grade teachers know how human beings learn. You've noticed that books for little kids have lots of pictures in them, while college textbooks don't. In the same way, God placed the illustrations of the Old Testament before the explanations of the New Testament. He put the show before the tell.
The pictures of Passover and hyssop in Exodus 12 are the primary Old Testament illustrations of Jesus' cross and our faith. You and I may have a long way to go before we fully discern doctrinal dissertations, but we can learn "vicarious substitutionary atonement" from a fluffy little lamb; and we can learn to appropriate "providential propitiation" from a leafy little branch.
Yesterday we observed that the death angel passed over if the blood of the lamb had been applied to the door.
Today, we'll look at the applicator--a leafy hyssop branch, which is the Bible's clearest illustration of saving faith.
The classic picture of faith in the Bible is a hyssop branch. The people used it to daub the blood of a lamb on the doorposts:
Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. When I see the blood, I will pass over. (Exodus 12:13)
But it is essential to understand that it is the blood, not faith, that saves.
The problem with faith is that it can apply something other than the blood of Jesus. Let's suppose you took your hyssop branch and daubed whitewash over your door post.
That's what the Pharisees did. Over sinful hearts they painted a whitewash of their works. Jesus called them whitewashed tombs, full of dead men's bones (Matthew 23:27). The death angel saw no blood on their "thresholds," and did not pass over.
There are essentially three "faiths"--
1. Faith in nothing.
Make no mistake--faith in nothing is a faith, and it is held by many.
People who have this faith paint nothing on their doors. The death angel does not pass over.
2. Faith in a false something.
The Egyptians might have taken their hyssop and written the names of their many gods on their doors. The Pharisees, in the example above, thought they could cover up sin with their own good works. In neither case will the death angel pass over.
3. Faith in Jesus Christ.
This is the faith in evidence in Exodus 12. Heeding the word of the LORD, some took their hyssop and marked their doors with the blood of the lamb. The death angel saw the blood of the cross of Christ to come and passed over.
Of the three, only the third is what we call saving faith.
Listen carefully to Charles Spurgeon--a Brit from the 1800's, still known as "the Prince of Preachers":
"It is not thy hold on Christ that saves thee; it is Christ. It is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee; it is Christ. It is not even thy faith in Christ, though that be the instrument; it is Christ’s blood and merit."
Everyone has a hyssop branch. With it, you can paint nothing. Or you can paint something which is false and cannot save. Or you can paint the blood of Jesus.
Everyone has a hyssop branch. But God isn't looking for evidence of faith. He's looking for evidence of Jesus.

Monday, June 19, 2017

"When I see the blood, I will pass over." (part 1)

The Word for today:
Exodus 12: 1-36
I've learned more about the cross from Old Testament pictures than from New Testament explanations. That's why I don't know of a more important chapter in the Bible than Exodus 12.
The same goes for faith. What I know about faith I first learned from Old Testament portraits and illustrations.
I've subsequently added to my understanding by wrestling with New Testament explanations, but I remain convinced that until we understand Passover and hyssop, we won't understand how much grace and faith depend upon each other.
God and first-grade teachers know how human beings learn. You've noticed that books for little kids have lots of pictures in them, while college textbooks don't. In the same way, God placed the illustrations of the Old Testament before the explanations of the New Testament. He put the show before the tell.
That's why he placed pictures of Passover in Exodus 12, before we ever get to Romans and Galatians. And that's why he put hyssop ahead of Hebrews.
Over the next few days, we are going to look at Passover and hyssop. They are the primary Old Testament pictures of Jesus' cross and our faith. You and I may have a long way to go before we fully discern doctrinal dissertations, but we can learn "vicarious substitutionary atonement" from a fluffy little lamb; and we can learn to appropriate "providential propitiation" from a leafy little branch.
When I see the blood, I will pass over you. (Exodus 12:13)
The sacrificial lamb lived in the household for four days. It was observed over that time, inspected. There could be no flaw, no spot or blemish. The kids, no doubt, considered it their pet -- little Fluffy or Tuffy or Snowball. They were about to find out the cost of sin.
After four days their Father took the lamb, slit its throat, and the blood poured out into a basin on the floor at the door. Then a hyssop branch was taken and the blood was daubed on the posts and on the lintel--above the doorway.
The points of blood if connected form perpendicular lines--a cross. So when the death angel came through, he did not enter the threshold where the blood was applied:
When I see the blood, I will pass over.
They were not saved because they were the seed of Abraham (Matthew 3:9). God did not ask, 'Are you a child of Israel or a child of Egypt?' The Egyptians could have been saved. God is not going to ask what church we belonged to; He is going to see the blood--or not.
They were not saved because they were doing the best they could. God says, "When I see the blood."
They were not saved by their thoughts or feelings. When feelings go up and down, when fears and doubts pester us, they do not matter. All that matters is whether the blood is on the door.
Jesus shed his blood for every sinner:
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son...
But the blood isn't effective--it isn't received--unless it is personally applied:
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son....that whosoever believes in him would not perish. (John 3:16)
Jesus shed his blood for every sinner:
By grace you have been saved...
But the blood isn't effective--it isn't received--unless it is personally applied:
By grace you have been saved....through faith. (Ephesians 2:8)
All might have been saved. But all were not, for this house applied the blood, while that house did not.
Tomorrow, we'll look at the applicator--a leafy hyssop branch, which is the Bible's clearest illustration of saving faith.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

the plagues of Egypt

(by Professor Dave)

The Word for today: Exodus 10, 11

There are some people who question God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, as if somehow God was preventing him from believing in God. This, however, stems from a misunderstanding of what the word “hardening” really means. The Hebrew word for hardening is להתקשחות which carries the idea of “strengthening in resolve.” In other words, God was not causing Pharaoh to reject God. He was, in fact, strengthening Pharaoh’s own resolve to reject the God of the Hebrews. Remember that Pharaoh believed that he, himself, was the most powerful god in Egypt.
If we look back in Exodus 8:15, we see that Pharaoh hardened his own heart after the plague of frogs was removed. By the time we come to Exodus 10:1, Pharaoh and his servants had seen enough to be convinced of the power of the God of the Hebrews, and if God hadn’t strengthened his resolve in preventing the people from leaving, Pharaoh likely would have let the people go simply because of all of the destruction which had already taken place in Egypt. But God wasn’t finished with the work which He intended to accomplished, and Pharaoh and his servants’ hearts were hardened. God’s intent was that all of Israel and the generations to come would be able to look back on what was done in Egypt and know for a certainty that He is the LORD. Through the plagues which God performed in Egypt, God not only showed that He was more powerful than Pharaoh, but He also demonstrated that He was more powerful than any of the gods of Egypt.
John J. Davis, an author of Old Testament Studies, has written a book entitled Moses and the Gods of Egypt: Studies in Exodus, in which he gives details of the plagues of Egypt and how they were directed against the many gods of Egypt. (1) For example, the Nile River was considered sacred, as the source of life for all of Egypt, and had many gods associated with it. Some of those gods included KhnumHapi, and Osiris.(2) When God used Moses and Aaron to change the water into blood, He demonstrated that the true source of life is in the blood, and at the same time defiled the Nile as a source of life. The Bible teaches that the fish died and the river stank (Exodus 7:15-21). That which had been looked upon and worshipped by the Egyptians had suddenly become death and a source of loathing. There were somewhere in the neighborhood of eighty different gods worshipped in Egypt during the time of Moses. (3) God dealt with them severely through the plagues upon Egypt. The gods of Egypt had no power, but the God of the Hebrews was and is all powerful.
Pharaoh himself is the last god of Egypt with whom God dealt. The people of Egypt believed in divine rule, and that Pharaoh was the god who ruled over them. The divine succession was to be passed down through the first born of Pharaoh household. That succession was ended with the death of Pharaoh’s first born, and Pharaoh and all the gods of Egypt could do nothing against the hand of the God of the Hebrews. God not only proved that he rules in the lives of those who trust in him, but He has control over the lives of those who reject Him as well. We indeed serve an Awesome God.
(1) Davis, John J., Moses and the Gods of Egypt: Studies in Exodus (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1971, 4th printing 1976).
(2) Ibid: page 94.
(3) Ibid: page 86.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

"That they may know that I am the LORD."

The Word for today:
Exodus 9
Yesterday, Pastor Joe wrote about the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. It was a clear and forceful explanation of "the classic conundrum between God's sovereignty and man's free will."
Today, I'm going to talk about the hardening of different hearts. We'll leave Pharaoh in Egypt, while we talk about the hardening (and softening) of hearts that are nearer and dearer -- my heart and yours…
Throughout his life, Pharaoh had been told he was a god. So God set out to re-educate him:
Then I will harden Pharaoh's heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD.  (Exodus 14:1-4)
Today's culture suggests that we are gods -- that we can take it upon ourselves to define right and wrong; that we can take issues of life and death into our own hands. God is no respecter of persons, so the lessons he taught Pharaoh will be taught to us. Stay tuned.
In order to reveal what was in Pharaoh's heart, God forced Pharaoh's hand. Pharaoh wanted to appear benevolent, but God made Pharaoh's heart firm enough to reveal what was in it. God solidified the decision that Pharaoh had already made.
We are experts at fooling ourselves, but God hardens our hearts so we can't fool ourselves any more. Every person will be forced to reveal -- at judgment -- what is really in his heart. When we come into His presence there will be no camouflage and no double dealing.
A close reading reveals that Pharaoh started out with a hard heart (Exodus 5:2), so the plagues "hardened" the heart of Pharaoh like the sun hardens clay, while at the same time the plagues caused multitudes to soften their attitudes towards God, like the sun melts wax.
God hardened the heart of Jesus Christ, who set his face like flint for Jerusalem (1). In the same way, those of us who have decided to follow Jesus are undergoing solidification -- hearts hardening into the heart of the Lion of Judah.
The Word of God is continuously hardening hearts, for better or for worse. Those who will not be saved are getting 'dead-er' each day (from death to death--2 Cor. 2:16). Those who are being saved are becoming more steadfast in the faith, day by day, as the Word of God hardens their resolve to live like Christ.
The Christian should desire, even pray, that his heart is increasingly "hardened" in the same sense that Daniel purposed in his heart (Dan. 1:8) to live a life which pleased God.
(1) see Isaiah 50:7 and Luke 9:5

Friday, June 16, 2017

heart petrification

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Exodus 8
Petrified hearts are very difficult to cure.
If I have hardening of the arteries, I can exercise more or take Lipitor. But a hardened heart is much more difficult to treat and, ultimately, much more deadly. Just ask Pharaoh.
Throughout this entire encounter concerning Pharaoh and the children of Israel (basically Exodus ch. 5-14), there is a great battle of wills going on: good versus evil, the underdog versus the favorite, slaves versus their oppressors. And in this great melee of threats and consequences, of offensives and counter attacks, one phrase is used over and over: "hardened heart."
Nineteen times with in this account,Pharaoh's heart--in some way, by some means--becomes petrified. Three times Pharaoh actively hardens his own heart. Ten times its God who does the hardening. Twice we read about Pharaoh's heart being passively hardened (without mention of any direct agent). And four times we just have a description of the fact that Pharaoh's heart is stone-like. Confused yet?
The problem lies in the classic conundrum between God's sovereignty and man's free will. (Basically, if God is in absolute control over everything, how can I be held responsible for choices I never really made? Or its opposite: "If God is not totally and completely sovereign over everything, how can He really be God?") Thus, if we lean too much on the sovereignty side, we end up with no such thing as choice or freedom. But, if we lean too much on the free will side, then we are very much in danger of watering down God into a lesser being. Good luck trying to reconcile these positions on your own--we could easily spend the rest of the next decade arguing.
And so we need to turn, not to philosophy, but to the Word for our answers. In just one chapter--chapter 9--we have all four categories:
v. 7 "Yet [Pharaoh's] heart was unyielding..." (Passive)
v. 12 "The LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart..." (Active- God)
v. 34 "[Pharaoh] and his officials hardened their hearts..." (Active- Pharaoh)
v. 35 "So Pharaoh's heart was hard..." (Descriptive)
So which way is it? All of the above.
Was God responsible? Yes.
Was Pharaoh responsible? Yes.
Is God in total control of everything in this universe? Yes.
Does mankind have any kind of real choice in the matter? Yes.
The Word of God affirms both God's sovereignty and man's responsibility.
To deny either is to go against what has been given to us. We affirm what Job said concerning God: "I know that You can do all things; no plan of Yours can be thwarted (1)."
God is fully in control. Nothing occurs that He didn't already know about. Yet at the same time, we recognize that each of us faces the same choice that Joshua gave to the Israelites: "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve (2)." We human beings, unique among the rest of earth's creatures, have been given the dignity of freedom and choice. We are not robots, our decisions are not predetermined by our genes, the devil did not make us do it, and we cannot blame God or anyone else for our choices.
In our current situation, God clearly knew the outcome, and how Pharaoh would respond when Moses demanded, "Let my people go!" At the same time, Pharaoh cannot blame God at all, because he freely chose to oppose Moses; he is responsible for the condition of his own heart.
God used even the disobedience of Pharaoh to bring glory to his Name. All of Pharaoh's best attempts could not keep God's people in bondage. This whole account just gives us a glimpse of the pure genius of God, who incorporates our free decisions into His totally sovereign plan.
(1) Job 42:2

(2) Joshua 24:15

Thursday, June 15, 2017

ever Savior, ever saving

The Word for today:
Exodus 6:10-7:25
One of the most misleading phrases in our Christian lingo is this one: "I was saved in 1988." The phrase confines salvation to the past tense and leaves it there.
But salvation is always on the move. It is going places, taking us somewhere. Salvation never stops.
The great sweep of scripture which lies before us illustrates that we are saved from something to something else:
We are saved from Egypt to the Promised Land; from sinfulness to Christ-likeness.
Back there in '88 we were saved by the blood of Jesus from the penalty of sin, which is death. In Exodus, this is illustrated at Passover: when God sees the blood, the death angel passes over.
At Passover/Cross we passed/crossed from death to life, but we were as powerless as infants. God doesn't want us to stay babies, so along with the blood he provided power--the power of the Holy Spirit. The power of the Spirit transforms us from spiritual infants to full Christ-likeness. This ongoing salvation is illustrated by Israel's further deliverance--from Pharaoh's army at the Red Sea.
But the process still has miles to go. Up ahead is the wilderness, with its testing. Then we must cross the Jordan and pass Jericho before we enter the Promised Land. Even in the Promised Land our enemies will continue to assail us. But by the power of the Spirit we make our way all the way into Jerusalem, into the Temple and into the "Holy of Holies"--the very Presence of the Father.
So does salvation end there?
I repeat a borrowed phrase at the end of each of my classes. It's a way to signal that the class has ended, and a way to say goodbye until next time:
"We love you to pieces, to infinity and beyond!"
Salvation begins at the cross of Jesus, where he himself was broken to pieces. It is forever based there, but it doesn't stay there. All who are saved by his blood from the death penalty then embark on a saving process, guided and empowered by His Spirit:
And we are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
As this shaping process proceeds, it often looks like anything but salvation! God pulverizes our pride and self-centeredness. He cuts out harmful habits and assumptions that have permeated, over time, to the very marrow of our bones. He's loving you to pieces, all the way home.
And even when you "get there," you will find him saving still; he died to save you, now he lives to keep you saved:
You are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:5)
For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:10)
There will always be more salvation ahead than behind:
He delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us. (2 Corinthians 1:10)