Monday, December 25, 2023

Is Herod a Part of Your Version of the Christmas Story?

 Is Herod a Part of Your Christmas Story?

Matthew 2:3  "When King Herod heard this [about the birth of Jesus] he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him...."

“Christ is the peace of the righteous, the trouble of the wicked.” (P. Quesnel)

I think it's worth being reminded that you can’t tell ‘the Christmas story’ faithfully without including the story of Herod, and the diabolical role he played in the events surrounding the birth of the “Christ [=King] child.”  Herod reminds that in many ways the story of the human race is the story of the contest and conflict between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15).  And so, Cain rose up and slew Abel.  It is the war between ‘flesh’ and Spirit, between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light.  Herod is what we would all be, were it not for the restraining effects of God’s grace and truth.

The ‘Herodian impulse’ is one of envy, paranoia, resentment and rage, deceit, dishonest, manipulation, maneuvering and the unspeakable murder of innocent children (because one of them was the Rival [Rightful] King).

Herod, of course, was a monster – his ‘sin nature’ was acted out in the extreme.   But the ultimate truth is, every one of us has ‘Herod’ living inside us, and unless we resist and repent, enabled by God’s redeeming grace, every one of us goes deeper into the sinful self-centeredness and hatefulness that makes us more and more monstrous ourselves – less and less loving, and kind, less and less compassionate and caring, and more and more troublesome and toxic to those around us.

We want to be the center of things – we want to reign and rule – in our family relations, in the place where we work, and even in the churches where we ‘worship’ and ‘serve.’

And make no mistake – we are faced with the choice that Herod faced – will we bow the knee to the true and rightful King?   Will repent?  Will we turn from the sinful, self-centeredness that expresses itself in our own envy, resentment, manipulating and, yes, ‘murders’ (see Matt. 5:21-22; 1 John 3:12, 14-15).

In fact, when you trace of the Story through the New Testament, the murderous assaults of the Herods continued throughout the rest of the ‘story of Jesus’, didn’t they?  (Ask John the Baptist.)   It was a Herod who teamed up with Pilate to finally accomplish what his grandfather failed to do.  The murder that mis-fired so  tragically in Bethlehem succeeded brutally just outside of Jerusalem.

Herod was the Serpent’s Agent for carrying out the crushing of the heel of the seed of the Woman – and so on Golgotha it looked like the Herods of the world will win out after all….

…But three days later it didn’t look like that at all anymore.  Jesus accomplished the ultimate defeat  of Satan, our Adversary and Accuser, by His substitutionary work on the cross that crushed the Serpent’s head, dealing him the fatal blow (see Col. 3:13-15)

But one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith is that, while the Lord Jesus did indeed mete out what would be the mortal blow against the Evil One, His victory will not be finally manifested until He comes again.  In fact, the apostle John, even on this side of the Cross, says the whole world (still) lies under the power of the Wicked One (1 John 5:19).

And so we find the conflict between the kingdoms playing out in the Book of Acts.  Yet another Herod arrests and murders James the brother of John.  He also arrests Peter, but an angel of the Lord miraculously delivers Peter from jail.  And in fact, not much later, after a prideful, God-defying speech, “…an angel of the Lord struck [Herod] down, and he was eaten with worms and died.”  Wow.   And what does Luke write next?  “But the word of God continued to increase and spread.”  (Acts 12:23-24).

And so this irreconcilable war continues and will continue until the end of the Age.  “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and will go from bad to worse….” (2 Tim. 3:12-13).

But our “blessed hope is the appearing in glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13), at the end of the age when the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.   And He shall reign forever and ever.  Hallelujah! (Rev. 11:15).  (By the way the action described in the favorite Christmas carol, “Joy to the World”, is actually about his SECOND Coming of Christ.

But the Bible makes it unmistakably clear that the return of Jesus Christ to reign and to rule begins with the awesome/aweful work of final Judgment, when everyone who lived out their allegiance to Christ, the rightful King, in love, kindness, compassion, honesty, righteousness will receive their reward and commendation, entering into the endless joys of the kingdom of God….

…But this will also be the time when every Herod gets what’s coming to him.  For everyone who was self-seeking and self-serving, following the way of evil, there will be wrath and anger, trouble and distress (Rom. 2:8-9).  And the judgment will be specific – repayment for specific acts of sinning.  In fact the Lord Jesus himself said, “I tell you that people will have to give account on the day of judgment for every useless word they have spoken [or typed, or posted, or tweeted, etc.]”  (Matt. 12:36).   The Lord will be the avenger on that day for every person abused, even when the abusive person thought they had gotten away with it (cp. 1 Thess. 4:6; 2 Tim. 4:14).  Ironically, even warnings like this will make a Herod even madder and meaner, but that will only mean a sterner recompense on the say Christ comes to judge.

So, strange as it may seem, we really do need to included Herod in our telling of the Christmas story, for that is the way to include the essential reality of our sin and evil, guilt and slavery to sin (which the classic Christmas carols include as well).   Only those who are honest about the darkness are going to pay attention to talk of a kingdom of light.  The urgent message, summons and invitation of the full Story of Christ includes the call to sincere repentance and faith, so that we may be “transferred from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of the Son [the Father] loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”  (Col. 1:13-14).

Real repentance includes turning from all our Herod-like tendencies and twistedness  and entering into the life of the Spirit of Christ – the real and rightful King who will rule the world in truth and grace and make the nations prove [by experience] the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love!

Monday, July 10, 2023

Complete Submission and Unqualified Allegiance

 “Any offer of the Gospel that does not make plain the need for complete submission and unqualified allegiance to Jesus Christ is not biblical….” 

– David Wells, “Turning to God” p. 123

Calvin on Conversion (Wholly in Subjection to God)

 "Only the man who has learned to put himself wholly in subjection to God is truly converted to Him." 

-- John Calvin, (on 1 Thess. 1:9)

Spurgeon on True Conversion (That Jesus Should Be King Over You)

 'Note the business on hand—it is that Jesus should be King over you. ...Jesus must be King or He cannot be your Savior. Thousands of people are quite willing to be saved by Christ, but when it comes to the first step, namely, that Jesus must be accepted as Ruler, Lawgiver, Master, King, and Lord, then they start back and reject eternal life—

“Yet know (nor of the terms complain),
Where Jesus comes, He comes to reign;
To reign, and with no partial sway;
Thoughts must be slain that disobey.”

 'The whole question of your being saved or lost will turn on this—if Jesus is not your King, then the devil will remain enthroned in your heart and you will remain a lost soul. But if your heart will yield itself up to the supreme authority of King Jesus, then the work of salvation has already commenced and Jesus will take care to purge your nature of all His enemies until you shall be an empire in which He alone shall reign in holiness and peace. Jesus must be king! What do you say, sir, shall it be so? Do you hesitate about it? He must be your Lord and Master. His will must be your will. His commands must be law to you and His example must henceforth be the model of your life. Do you disagree or will you yield at once?...

'...And here is the point, if Jesus is to reign, the old king must go down. It is of no use trying to have [Sin and Christ] on the throne at the same time. It is impossible to serve sin and to serve Christ. Favorite and constitutional sins must be relinquished. I know many persons who say that they are under concern of soul whose sincerity I more than question, because they continue in known sin and yet they complain that they cannot find peace. How can they?...

'...The main point, however, is to do it—really and at once make Christ Jesus your King. And to this end we must believe in Him or trust Him. It is this trusting Jesus Christ which is the essential point, for out of it grows the repentance which renounces every false way. When a man fully and honestly trusts Christ with his soul, he is enabled from that time forward to hate the sin which he once loved and so he wins the mastery over it. He finds a joy in submitting to the holy reign of Jesus because he has already trusted Him and believes that he is saved. But alas! many of you do not believe..."

-- from his sermon entitled, "Now Then Do It"

Billy Graham on Necessity and Nature of Repentance

“If repentance could be described in one word, I would use the word renounce. ‘Renounce what?’ you ask. The answer can also be given in one word – ‘sin.’…

“Not only are we told that we must renounce the principle of sin but we are also to renounce sins – plural. We are to renounce the world, the flesh and the Devil. There can be no bargaining, compromise or hesitation. Christ demands absolute renunciation…..

“…repentance and faith go hand in hand. You cannot have genuine repentance without saving faith and you cannot have saving faith without repentance….

“…[To repent] means a great deal more than just regretting and feeling sorry about sin. The Biblical word repent means ‘to change, to turn.’ It is a word of power and action. It is a word that signifies a complete revolution in the individual. 

“When the Bible calls upon us to repent of sin, it means that we should turn away from sin, that we should do an about-face and walk in the opposite direction from sin and all that it implies….

“….True repentance means ‘to change, to turn away from, to go in a new direction.’ To be sorry is not enough in repentance….

“….repentance cannot take place unless first there is a movement of the Holy Spirit in the heart and mind….”

“….There must be a determination to forsake sin – to change one’s attitudes toward self, toward sin, and God; to change one’s feelings; to change one’s will, disposition and purpose.

“Only the Spirit of God can give you the determination necessary for true repentance….

“There is not one verse of Scripture that indicates you can be a Christian and live any kind of a life you want to. When Christ enters into the human heart, He demands that He be Lord and Master. He demands complete surrender….

“…He must have first place in everything you do or think or say, for when you truly repent you turn toward God in everything.

“We have the warning of Christ that He will not receive us into His kingdom until we are ready to give up all, until we are ready to turn from all sin in our lives. Don’t try to do it part way. Don’t say, ‘I’ll give up some of my sins and hang on to some others. I’ll live part of my life for Jesus and part for my own desires.’”

“God demands a total change, a total surrender.”

[cp. Matt. 12:41 --> Jonah 3:5f.; Matt. 4:17/Mk. 1:15; Lk. 24:46; Acts 2:38; 5:31; 11:18; 17:30-31; 20:21; 26:20; cp. Rom. 2:5

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Adopted by God for Fellowship with Him

 James Stewart:

"Paul perceived that a Gospel which broke the bondage of legalism, and ended the tyrant sway of principalities and powers, and remitted sin's fearsome penalties, and brought up reinforcements for cowed and beaten human wills, and then stopped there, was no Gospel worthy of the name.  Great and marvelous achievements these all might be; but over and above them all, one thing was needful, one thing without which all the other glories of redemption must remain sterile and unavailing--the restoration of the lost fellowship with God.  Man wants more than the remission of his sins, more than an escape from inward accusations...more than a ransom from the wrath to come.  He wants to be right with God.  He wants to be back in the family again.  He wants, in a word, reconciliation.  Any Gospel that offers itself to a sinning, suffering world must stand and be tested here.  This is the real test.  It is, quite literally, the 'crucial' test:  for at the heart of it lies a cross." – "A Man in Christ"

J. I. Packer:

Paul teaches that the gift of justification (i.e., present acceptance by God as the world’s Judge) brings with it the status of sonship by adoption (i.e., permanent intimacy with God as one’s heavenly Father, Gal. 3:26; 4:4-7). In Paul’s world, adoption was ordinarily of young adult males of good character to become heirs and maintain the family name of the childless rich. Paul, however, proclaims God’s gracious adoption of persons of bad character to become “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).

Justification is the basic blessing, on which adoption is founded; adoption is the crowning blessing, to which justification clears the way. Adopted status belongs to all who receive Christ (John 1:12). The adopted status of believers means that in and through Christ God loves them as he loves his only-begotten Son and will share with them all the glory that is Christ’s now (Rom. 8:17, 38-39). Here and now, believers are under God’s fatherly care and discipline (Matt. 6:26; Heb. 12:5-11) and are directed, especially by Jesus, to live their whole lives in light of the knowledge that God is their Father in heaven. They are to pray to him as such (Matt. 6:5-13), imitate him as such (Matt. 5:44-48; 6:12, 14-15; 18:21-35; Eph. 4:32-5:2), and trust him as such (Matt. 6:25-34), thus expressing the filial instinct that the Holy Spirit has implanted in them (Rom. 8:15-17; Gal. 4:6).

Adoption and regeneration accompany each other as two aspects of the salvation that Christ brings (John 1:12-13), but they are to be distinguished. Adoption is the bestowal of a relationship, while regeneration is the transformation of our moral nature. Yet the link is evident; God wants his children, whom he loves, to bear his character, and takes action accordingly.

—J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), 167-168.

Monday, March 27, 2023

God will make us into a dazzling, radiant creature

"The command 'Be ye perfect' is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command.

"He said (in the Bible) that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—

"He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness.

"The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said."


Monday, March 20, 2023

Faith Credited as Righteousness

 “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). Abram’s faith is simple and profound: he believed God’s promises, taking God at his word. And that faith, in God’s eyes, was credited as righteousness. This does not mean that Abram earned brownie points for deploying such a righteous faith.  

"Rather, the idea is that what God demands of his image-bearers, what he has always demanded, is righteousness—but in this sinful race what he accepts, crediting it as righteousness, is faith, faith that acknowledges our dependence upon God and takes God at his word. This faith of Abram is what makes him the 'father' of those who believe (Rom. 4; Gal.3)."

– D.A. Carson, “For the Love of God” devotional book

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Complete Submission...Unqualified Allegiance

 "Any offer of the Gospel that does not make plain the need for complete submission and unqualified allegiance to Jesus Christ is not biblical." 

-- David Wells, "Turning to God"

Take up the cross and follow Him

 "The image of the cross signifies a total claim on the disciple's allegiance and the total relinquishment of his resources to Jesus....

"When confronted by the call to discipleship, disciples do not have a 'both...and' choice -- both Christ and their own lives.  They stand before an 'either...or' choice.  The claim of Jesus is a total and exclusive one.   It does not allow a convenient compartmentalization of natural life and religious life, of secular and sacred.

"The whole person stands under Christ's claim."

-- James R. Edwards, on Mark 8:34-35 (Pillar New Testament Commentary)

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

John Murray on Faith

 " in Christ is not a momentary and fleeting act of will.  Faith is an act of commitment to Christ and it results in permanent attachment to him.  It knows not divided allegiance.  

"It is total commitment in love and devotion because we discover in him that which demands our whole being.  

"Faith means Christ’s  absolute Lordship and it is significant that it is the title Lord that is employed and thrust into the foreground – ‘if  anyone does not love the Lord’….”  

-- John Murray, sermon on 1 Cor. 16:22:  “Love to Christ Indispensable”

Trusting God When Life Hurts

 "In order to trust God [in the midst of hardship], we must always view our adverse circumstances through the eyes of faith, not of sense. And just as the faith of salvation comes through hearing the message of the gospel (see Romans 10:17), so the faith to trust God in adversity comes through the Word of God alone. It is only in the Scriptures that we find an adequate view of God's relationship to and involvement in our painful circumstances. It is only from the Scriptures, applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit, that we receive the grace to trust God in adversity."

-- Jerry Bridges. "Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts"

Friday, February 17, 2023

What if we really found Him?

 “There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (‘ Man’s search for God’!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? … Worse still, supposing He had found us?” 

-- C.S. Lewis

"Soon I will see the lines on His face."

 "I am early in my story, but I believe I will stretch out into eternity, and in heaven I will reflect upon these early days, these days when it seemed God was down a dirt road walking toward me. Years ago he was a swinging speck in the distance; now He is close enough I can hear His singing. Soon I will see the lines on His face." 

-- Donald Miller

Thursday, February 16, 2023

John Owen on True Christian Experience

 "...They know nothing of the life and power of the gospel, nothing of the reality of the grace of God, nor do they believe aright one article of the Christian faith, whose hearts are not sensible of the love of Christ herein. Nor is he sensible of the love of Christ, whose affections are not therein drawn out unto him. 

"I say, they make a pageant of religion . . . whose hearts are not really affected with the love of Christ, in the susception [taking to oneself] and discharge of the work of mediation, so as to have real and spiritually sensible affections for him. 

"Men . . . have no real acquaintance with Christianity, who imagine that the placing of the most intense affections of our souls on the person of Christ, the loving him with all our hearts because of his love, our being overcome thereby, until we are sick [from] love, the constant motions of our souls towards him with delight and adherence, are but fancies and imaginations."

-- John Owen, quoted by J.I. Packer in "A Quest for Godliness", p. 196