The Midnight Cry

Part 3 of series “The Second Coming”, by Rosie Moore

“The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:5-613)

Jesus is coming back! We know this is true. If Jesus’s prophesies and parables in Matthew 24 and 25 are accurate pictures, His return will be sudden, swift and spectacular. Jesus’s appearing will be unexpected and unmistakable and His judgment will be final and inescapable. No last minute bargaining will be entertained on that day

Jesus said that His return will be like the flood in Noah’s time; like a thief breaking into a house at night; like a returning house owner; like lightning illuminating the sky. That’s why the Lord instructs his followers to be spiritually prepared for his coming, “Therefore keep watch, for you do not know the day or the hour” (Matt 24:4225:13).

Jesus’s three parables in Matthew 25 clarify what it means to be ready for His return and how to live until He comes: The wise and foolish virgins with their lamps; the landowner who loaned money to his servants according to their abilities; and the separation of the sheep and the Goats are challenging parables. They challenge our beliefs and behaviour as we anticipate and prepare for Christ’s return. Every generation of believers should be spiritually prepared to usher Him in as King.

Although there is debate about the meaning of details, it’s impossible to miss the essence of these eschatological parables: There will come a day when the door to God’s kingdom will shut. No one can buy or borrow spiritual preparation at the last minute, because every person is responsible for his or her own spiritual condition. In this sense, faith in Christ is a matter of individual, not collective, responsibility.

Let’s hone in on the first of these parables today.

The Ten Virgins/ Bridesmaids

This parable sounds strange to our 21st century ears, but when we understand a 1st century Jewish wedding, its meaning becomes clearer and richer. Customary weddings were by no means instant or casual affairs. Don Carson gives us helpful cultural context to the parable:

“Normally the bridegroom with some close friends left his home to go to the bride’s home, where there were various ceremonies, followed by a procession through the streets—after nightfall—to his home. The ten virgins may be bridesmaids who have been assisting the bride; and they expect to meet the groom as he comes from the bride’s house…Everyone in the procession was expected to carry his or her own torch. Those without a torch would be assumed to be party crashers or even brigands. The festivities, which might last several days, would formally get underway at the groom’s house.”

One can just imagine the air bristling with expectation, anticipation and preparation for the Groom’s arrival. The marriage definitely didn’t just start on the wedding day– unlike couples today who waltz off to Home Affairs and find a marriage officer to marry them! The anticipation of a Jewish union began on the day that a father would arrange a bride for his son and then pay a pre-determined “bride price” on her behalf.

The son (the bridegroom) would return to his father’s house to make arrangements and prepare a home for his wife, while the bride prepared and consecrated herself in anticipation for the groom’s return to her house. Then the bride and groom shared a final glass of wine together before parting ways one last time.

Suddenly, at an unexpected moment, even in the middle of the night, the groom would return to take his bride to the wedding feast. The lamps were supposed to be lit and the groom was ushered in. Oil was the means by which they did their job of welcoming the groom and leading the way to the wedding ceremony.

After the wedding feast, the groom would take his bride to the home that he had prepared for her and the marriage would be consummated.

And so, there was a considerable delay between the paying of the bride price and the time of the wedding feast. This explains why Jesus says, “the bridegroom was a long time in coming” (Matt 25:5). The fact that we’re still waiting for Christ two millenia later is no surprise to Jesus, as he told us so.

Here’s the Bridegroom!

I find it beautiful that Jesus chooses to set the stage for his return against the backdrop of this intimate picture of marriage and the joyful signal of his appearance. It gives us a glimpse of the intimate love relationship that God has forged with his people and their anticipation of his return. What a privilege to watch and prepare for the Groom in our own lifetime!

But we need “oil in our lamp” to do our job. In these days of Loadshedding, it might be more apt to charge our LED torch before the darkness of Stage 4 sets in! Once the electricity goes off, it’s futile to plug it into the dead socket.

The metaphor of the bridegroom wasn’t an arbitrary one. On many occasions during his ministry, Jesus pictured himself as the Bridegroom who will return to take his people to the home that He has prepared for them. (John 3:27-30Matt 9:15Mark 2:19-20John 14:2-3).

Of course, people today are encouraged to self- identify as anything they like, but Christ’s self-identification as the Groom was particularly controversial. It riled the Jewish religious leaders, who knew full well that Jesus was identifying as Yahweh.

Throughout the Old Testament, God pictured himself as the Bridegroom of his people Israel (Isaiah 54:4-662:4-5Hosea 2:19), and like any loving husband, God has always jealously guarded the exclusive devotion of his people– his bride (Deut 6:14-15).

In the New Testament, Jesus’s claim to be the Bridegroom is fleshed out by the Apostle Paul, who describes the Church as Christ’s Bride, for whom He laid down his life in order to sanctify her and present her “in splendour, without spot or wrinkle, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-32).

This helps us understand why Christ mentioned ten virgins as the supporting roles in his parable. Most commentators agree that they represent those who profess to be part of God’s kingdom, his Bride. But there are foolish and wise virgins in Christ’s story. The wise ones took oil along with their lamps, while the foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. At the sound of the midnight cry and the returning bridegroom,

“All the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ (Matt 25:7-12)

Once the midnight cry comes, it will be too late to cross over from being a foolish virgin to a wise virgin. In other words, no matter how long the delay seems, there will be a certain day when the door to the kingdom will finally be shut (Matt 25:10-12). The time to be wise is now.

Spot the difference.

The foolish and wise virgins had a lot in common. They all professed to be virgins. They all “took their lamps”. They all professed faith to “meet the bridegroom”. And yet the foolish took lamps but no oil, while the wise did both (Matt 25:3-4). This was the only difference.

The Puritan, Thomas Shepard (1605-1649), preached for four years on this one parable! You can read his sermon notes here. Shepard described the wise as having been born again, filled with the Holy Spirit and the power of grace. In contrast, he described foolish virgins as “refined hypocrites in the visible church” when Christ returns, like the pretenders discussed in Hebrews 6:4-6,

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

The story of the Ten bridesmaids is an exciting and motivating parable, but it’s also meant to be a sober warning.

An incentive to prepare.

This parable is exciting, because it points to the perfect love story that spans from Genesis to Revelation. It reminds us how God the Father has sent his Son to secure his treasured Bride, the Church, for himself. He paid an exorbitant price for his Bride— the life of his own Son (1 Cor 6:20). This is the ultimate dowry or lobola for those who are in relationship with Christ by faith. It gives us a powerful incentive to persevere in faith.

What’s more, this parable reminds believers that our names are on the guest list at the great marriage feast between God and his people. We are called out to meet the Bridegroom one day (Rev 19:7-81 Thess 4:16), to go with Him to the home that He has prepared for those who love him (John 14:2-3). What a privilege to be bound to our Groom in an unbreakable covenant relationship!

This covenant relationship is a powerful motivation. It is because of this ‘marriage’ that Peter urges believers to be holy, watchful and awake as we await Christ’s coming. Being holy and obedient is integral to how the Bride makes herself ready for Christ’s return:

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16).

A sober warning.

But this parable is not only exciting and motivating. It is a sobering snapshot of the return of Christ the King. The midnight cry will elicit a cry of joy in some, but a cry of mourning and anguish in others (Matt 24:30Matt 25:611).

Jesus warns us that when he returns, there will be many participants in a church or Bible study setting, enjoying the fellowship and benefits of God’s people while tasting God’s goodness. They look like they belong to the bridal party, but are in reality, “foolish virgins,” who do not have a relationship with the Bridegroom at all.

Jesus identifies why the foolish will be spiritually unprepared: It is because they do not know him personally (Matt 25:12). They do not have their own relationship with Jesus. No friend, pastor or family member can stand in as a proxy for this relationship with Christ, just as no one can take a spouse’s place in a marriage.

It’s easy to walk and talk like a Christian, but the question that Jesus asks in verse 12 is not if we called Him “Lord, Lord” in our lifetime, but if we know Him and He knows us.

And so, the uncertain date of Christ’s final appearing is not a reason to be complacent or to skeptical. Rather, it’s an urgent incentive to accept Christ’s invitation to the wedding feast now, while the door is still open (Matt 22:1-14).

After all, for over two thousand years, the gospel invitation has been going out into the streets, to both the “good and the bad” (Matt 22:9-10). Until the day the door is shut, God’s wedding hall has infinite capacity for guests.

Waiting is not enough.

But waiting passively is not enough to keep our lamp alight.

Christ’s delayed return is not an excuse for a believer to sit around and speculate, quit our job, or become disillusioned with the world. Rather, it is a powerful incentive to live out each day as if it were our last, whilst also living as if our whole life stretched ahead of us. Our readiness as Christ’s Bride includes preparing the next generation for their service to the King.

We hold tightly to our Bridegroom, who is holding fast to us. We charge our lamps by living holy lives that look different from the world around us. We draw our fuel from the oil of the Holy Spirit and a deep affection for Christ. That’s how we will be wise.

Prayer.

Lord, we know that your delay means we are still living in times of mercy, patience and grace, when many more will enter your kingdom. We long to be part of that work! Make us faithful and wise servants who invite others to your banquet, so that your wedding hall may be filled with guests before the door finally shuts. May affection for Jesus fuel our lamps, so that we will light the path to the Bridegroom. Give us daily grace and light from your Spirit, so that our lamps will always shine brightly with joy, peace, gentleness, faith, hope, love, perseverance and eager expectancy for the return of our Lord Jesus.

Amen.

As In the Days of Noah

Part 2 of Series: The Second Coming, by Rosie Moore

Jesus told us what we need to know about his return. His pictures help us see that it will be sudden and visible; spectacular, triumphant and inescapable. Jesus said that it will be like lightning, like a thief in the night, like the Flood in the days of Noah. These apocalyptic images are not literal, but they give us a hint of what the Second Coming will be like.

For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matt 24:27).

 “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;  and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt 24:37-39).

It’s sometimes useful to look at history to gain perspective of our own times.

The Second Coming (1919)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand…

(The Second Coming, by W.B Yeats- 1865-1939)

These are lines from William Butler Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming” which he wrote in 1919, soon after the end of the First World War. This was known as “The Great War” because it was the biggest war yet, and “The War to End All Wars” because it was so horrific that everyone hoped it would be the last war ever. It resulted in about 20 million deaths.

The poem was also written shortly after the Easter Rising in Ireland, a rebellion that was brutally suppressed, and the Russian Revolution of 1917 which overthrew the long rule of the Czars and ushered in a period of lingering chaos in Russia. No wonder Yeats expressed his sense that the world he knew was spiralling into chaos and coming to an end.

Sadly, the year that Yeats died marked the beginning of World War 2, which wiped out a further 75 million people in another “blood-dimmed tide”. Josef Stalin’s communist regime killed a further 10.5 million Russians in the Gulag, the Great Purge and the Ukrainian Famine.

Mao Zedang outdid both Hitler and Stalin with his “Great Leap Forward” economic policy, which ironically led to the deaths of 45 million Chinese people, mostly through starvation. When we look at human history, it does seem true that “the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” All of this took place in just the 20th century.

But here we are in 2022, still seeing things falling apart. In every sphere of individual, family, political, moral and social life, “the falcon cannot hear the falconer.”

Things fall apart.

As we look forwards to the technology revolution, we may fear that the “gyre” is widening, as humanity spins further and further away from its source—the Creator God himself. Like Yeats, we may be thinking, “Surely the centre cannot hold and the Second Coming is at hand!”

But Yeats did not write The Second Coming from a biblical worldview. Although his words resonate with us and express the birth pains of a fallen world, his poem describes historical cycles and an apocalypse very different from the Christian vision of the end of the world.

The Bible does not give us a date or time for the Second Coming of Christ, but it does tell us that at an unknown but certain moment in the future, Jesus Christ will appear in full majesty to judge the world, overthrow evil and establish God’s kingdom promised in the Old and New Testament. This Kingdom will never end and will be the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:12-13).

The Bible also teaches that the historical Coming of Jesus between 1BC and AD33 was a preview of the glorious Parousia (appearing or arrival) of the Messiah. The Second Coming is the ultimate climax of history. Thus, human history is linear, not cyclical.

And so, however much things seem to be falling apart now, God has given us four certain promises for the future:

  1. Jesus will return in glory.
  2. Death will be finally conquered.
  3. The entire cosmos will be restored to its rightful condition.
  4. Christ will overthrow evil and establish perfect justice.

When will this happen?

In Matthew 24, Christ gives us a vision of the future through multifocal lenses.

Although He concentrates on events that would soon take place in the disciples’ own lifetimes, like the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70AD, Christ also gives a panorama of the whole era known as the ‘last days’—the era between Christ’s ascension and his return. Then He zooms in on His triumphant return, known in the Old Testament as the great “Day of the Lord”.

Christ was answering his disciples’ questions: “When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” (Matt 24:3)

Like us, the first century disciples wanted signs and certainty, but when we seek certainty, we often become susceptible to being deceived. That is why Jesus starts his prophesies about the future with this warning,

Watch out that no one deceives you!

“Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Matt 24:4-8)

23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.” (Matt 24:23-25).

Like the disciples, we too must hear Jesus’s warning not to be gullible, fearful or speculative about the future. Speculation can be a deceptive diversion from the work that we’ve given to do as Christ’s stewards on earth (Matt 24:45-47).

Frightening world events should not alarm or control us, because Jesus told us “ahead of time” to expect them (Matt 24:25).  What’s more, Christ says that they are the beginning of birth pains, not necessarily the final contractions before the restored creation is birthed.

And did you notice that Jesus specifically didn’t give us a timeline of events leading up to his Second coming? Instead, he spoke in apocalyptic language and focused on the need for Christians to live now in the light of the future reality. He specifically told us,

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Matt 24:36).

Christ’s point throughout chapter 24 is that we must be ready at all times for His return, resisting our cravings for signs and dates that not even He or the angels are privy to.

Many of the events that Jesus foretold in Matthew 24 were indeed fulfilled in AD 68-70, when Jerusalem was besieged and destroyed. More than a million Jews were murdered or died of starvation, and women and children were taken as slaves. It was a devastating judgment on Jerusalem. Emperor Titus put an idol on the site of the burned temple just as Jesus had foretold (Matt 24:15-22).

Moreover, as Jesus prophesied, his followers were persecuted in their lifetimes (Matt 24:9-10). They were killed because they worshipped Jesus and not Caesar, refusing to place the Lord alongside the gods of Rome.

Because many layers of Christ’s prophecies have already been fulfilled, and are being fulfilled in our own lifetimes, we can trust what He said about the future too. Jesus answered his disciples’ questions by giving them some signs to look out for:

Less love, more wickedness.

Leading up to Christ’s return, we can be sure that wickedness will increase and the love of most will grow cold (Matt 24:12).

With false teaching and loose morals comes a particularly destructive disease—the loss of true love for God and others. Therefore, people will increasingly love only themselves and hate what is good.

Consequently, people will become more abusive, boastful, prideful, ungrateful, slanderous, treacherous, hedonistic, conceited, brutal and lacking in self restraint. Paul confirms this increase in wickedness and self-obsession in his letter to Timothy (2 Tim 3:1-4).  Our narcissistic culture is no surprise to the Lord.

More deceit and lies.

False prophets and false saviours will persist, deceiving even believers, “if that were possible” (Matt 24:24). Only a solid foundation in God’s Word will prepare us to discern the distortions of false messages that abound throughout the last days. There will be an intolerance for sound doctrine (2 Tim 4:3).

There will be an increase in knowledge, yet people will be “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (2 Tim 3:7). Our culture is a testimony to this craving for information, but disdain for the truth.

More turmoil and persecution.

Christ says that wars, famines, persecution and natural disasters will continue to rock our world until He returns. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom (Matt 24:6-7). “You will be hated by all nations because of me.” (Matt 24:9).

Luke’s record adds diseases (Luke 21:11), promiscuity (Luke 17:28-29) and prosperity (Luke 17:28) as further signs of creation’s intensifying birth pains.

“Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Matt 24:6).

The triumph of the gospel.

But even while evil persists and increases, we can be absolutely sure that “the gospel of the kingdom will continue to be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt 24:14). “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matt 24:35).

This wonderful promise is also a wonderful mission of mercy, which is still ours today. We are gospel witnesses to the nations until Christ returns in glory! From God’s perspective, there is nothing hopeless or out of control about our world. That is why Christ says to his followers, “See to it that you are not alarmed” (Matt 24:6).

While the Lord is gathering a people for himself, His kingdom will keep growing, like a stubborn plant persistently pushing its way through the hard and thorny earth.

This is the gospel work that all Christ followers are to be busy with, as God’s “faithful and wise servants” (Matt 24:45). We are to “stay awake” because we do not know when our Lord will come” (Matt 24:42).

Jesus paints a beautiful picture of an attentive servant– a joyful believer, alert to opportunities to love and serve people. It’s this kind of service that marks the future kingdom.

As in the days of Noah.

Peter reflects Christ’s picture of people living their normal lives, scoffing at the idea that Christ will ever return in judgment, just as they scoffed at Noah building the Ark when there wasn’t a drop of rain. They insist that, “everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

But as in the days of Noah, there will be no room for bargaining and last-minute pleas when Christ returns. His appearing will be the decisive end of the world as we know it.

“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory (Matt 24:30-31)

Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left (Matt 24:40-41).

If Christ’s return is as unexpected and inescapable as the worldwide Flood, we have an infinitely greater Ark to take refuge in than the ship that Noah built. Our Ark is the Lord Jesus himself (1 Peter 3:20-21Heb 11:7Gen 7:17).

Prayer

Lord, we don’t know exactly when you will return, but we trust that you will come back. We don’t know exactly how you will appear and gather your people from the four winds of the earth, but we trust that you will send your angels to accomplish what is humanly impossible. We trust that the gospel will continue to flourish in people’s lives and fill the earth until you return. Help us not to be alarmed by the rise in evil, but rather to focus on being gospel witnesses and living like the day is already here. Give us strength to be faithful and wise servants of your righteous kingdom, taking care of whatever you have put in front of us. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Listen to this beautiful hymn, “I cannot tell”. It was one of our wedding hymns!

“But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture….

A Watertight Guarantee

Series: The Second Coming.

Part 1: A Watertight Guarantee, by Rosie Moore.

Sometime last year I bought a shiny new iron, but I’m sad to report that it’s already broken! Actually, broken appliances are a recurring theme in our house, as I always go for the cheapest one in the shop. You know the sayings, “You get what you pay for,” and “Penny wise-pound foolish!” That’s me, always looking for a bargain!

But the most irritating thing about a bargain is the small print. When you look closely at the box, you realize that the guarantee is only valid for one year and I’m always a month outside the warranty period. But come to think of it, most securities that the world offers are pretty flimsy and peppered with loopholes—Insurance, medical aid, investments, the weather report, Covid vaccines. They never quite deliver as expected.

In contrast, the real, bodily ascension of Christ in around 33AD, in full sight of credible witnesses, is a guarantee without loopholes. It is a watertight pledge that Christ will return to earth to take his people to our eternal home—a home where He rules as uncontested King, where there will be no sin, no sorrow, no sickness and no death.

Luke describes Christ’s glorious ascension:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:8-11Luke 24:50-53).

Ascension Day.

When we celebrated Ascension day on 26th May 2022, Christians remembered one of Jesus’s crucial works of redemption. The Ascension confirms that Christ’s work on the cross is done and it also anticipates the Second Coming as the pinnacle of redemption. Old Testament believers understood this as the great “Day of the Lord.”

There are no doubts, no time prescriptions, no conditions, no ifs and buts, no limitations and no indemnification clauses in the promise that the angels gave in verse 11! Jesus himself promised to return and take us to the home that He has prepared for us (John 14:1-3). So, if Christ is not a liar nor a lunatic, He is the King who will come back in the same way that He ascended into heaven. He guaranteed it!

We affirm the significance of the Ascension every time we say the Apostles’ Creed, “He ascended into heaven, He is seated at the right hand of the Father, and He will come to judge the living and the dead.”

“But why”, you may ask, “did Jesus not just slip away quietly like he did many other times? Why this spectacular departure?” Let’s look at why the Ascension matters.

  1. Climactic coronation.

Christ’s Ascension into heaven is the climax of everything that Jesus announced about God’s Kingdom coming to earth (Luke 4:17-21438:1). In many ways, the Ascension is Christ’s coronation as King. In full view of his disciples, Jesus literally ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father. The Bible tells us what this means:

The seated Christ indicates that He has finished his work of atonement and is now taking His place as ruler of the Church and the cosmic King of the universe, “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Eph 1:21-22).

Tim Keller explains that the Ascension is like an outline of what is happening in the spiritual realm, “It is a new enthronement for Jesus, ushering in a new relationship with us and with the whole world… Jesus was tracing out physically what was happening cosmically and spiritually.”

Notice the impact of this final miracle on the disciples who witnessed it. Instantly they worshipped Jesus, not as a man or a friend, but as their King, praising God as they waited for the promised Holy Spirit (Luke 24:52-53).

As doubtful, blind and fearful as the disciples had been, the Ascension marked a turning point. It triggered the unleashing of the Holy Spirit and convinced the disciples to align themselves with the true King of the universe, above the Jewish authorities and the Emperor of Rome. The Lord Jesus, who had burst out of the tomb just 40 days beforehand, had given them a sure guarantee of his return as King.

Hearing the angels’ promise and seeing their glorified Saviour’s body rise into the sky gave the disciples confidence to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth, even though it cost them their lives. No wonder they gazed into the heavens in amazement! Clearly, this was no hallucination or out-of-body experience. Luke the physician records it as historical fact.

The impact on the eyewitnesses was revolutionary and transformational. A short while later we see Peter (the cowardly denier of Christ) proclaiming the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ as inseparable chapters in the gospel story (Acts 2:22-36). Peter does not leave out the ascension, but views it as proof that Christ is God’s long awaited King, in David’s line!

This is Peter’s bold conclusion on the Day of Pentecost:

For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
35 
    until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:34-36).

Moreover, in his letters, the down-to-earth fisherman is utterly convinced that the ascended Christ is God’s promised King who will wind up human history and restore the new heavens and new earth:

 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  (2 Peter 1:16).

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:10-13)

Everything that Peter believed about the Second Coming and the new creation was firmly rooted in, and guaranteed by, the Ascension of Christ, which he personally witnessed.

If it weren’t for the Ascension of Christ, the wheels of Christianity would have surely fallen off shortly after 33AD. Jesus would have been just another wannabe messiah who was taken down by the power of Rome. But because the momentous event witnessed by the disciples was true, nothing could stop the the gospel spreading like wildfire.

  1. Unleashing the Holy Spirit.

Here’s what I love most in Luke’s account: “Why do you stand here looking up into the sky?!” (Acts 1:11). It’s such a common sense question for such a surreal setting! The two angels order the disciples to get their heads out the clouds and back to earth, “Now’s no time for standing around and staring into space. It’s time to get on with your King’s mission!”

As soon as Christ leaves earth and ascends to heaven, the Holy Spirit launches the Gospel into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and all the earth, just as Jesus promised. Jesus’s departure ushers in the age of the Spirit (Acts 1:8). And when the Holy Spirit is unleashed, Jesus is no longer limited by time and place as He was in his earthly body. That’s exactly what we see on the day of Pentecost and throughout the book of Acts.

Jesus promised that the gospel will continue to be preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, “throughout the world, as a testimony to all nations” (Matt 24:14). And so, because of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will be with every generation of the church until the harvest is gathered in and the great commission is complete (Matt 28:20).

After the Ascension, the Holy Spirit transformed these disciples from cowards into courageous men. Faith overcame their fear, as they grounded their entire lives on the fact that Christ was the cosmic king who would return. If we are believers, we too are Spirit-filled witnesses, “to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations”, until our King returns (Luke 24:47-48). What a blessing to have a mission beyond ourselves!

Actually, without Christ’s Ascension, Christians would have no purpose beyond ourselves in this world. We would be aimless wanderers on this planet. But because Jesus has ascended to his heavenly throne, his followers are part of a Kingdom much bigger than ourselves or our nation states (Acts 1:9). That is what the disciples saw as they looked up into the sky. Christ has given every believer a mission. We are the royal priesthood of believers.

  1. Our great guarantee.

No matter how much death and disease, turbulence, hatred and division we are experiencing in our world right now, Christ’s Ascension is a watertight guarantee. Not only has Christ pledged that He will return in glory to take his people home, but even now, his Ascension secures us a heavenly High Priest who always has the ear of God.

And because Christ ascended to heaven, we have the Holy Spirit as a pledge of our Saviour’s presence that defies all barriers of space and time. It was Christ the ascended King that Stephen glimpsed when he, filled with the Holy Spirit, faced his executioners:

“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56).”

Stephen saw Jesus standing, not sitting!

So too, for every believer, the ascended Jesus is an active Mediator who pleads our case before God and prays for us when we face troubles in this world (John 17:202426). He defends us against Satan’s accusations when we sin and He reassures us of God’s unfailing love for us (1 John 2:1Rom 8:34).

“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them (Heb 7:25).

That is the watertight guarantee of Christ’s ascension.

Prayer

Lord, make your ascension real for us, so we may see you as our King and active Advocate in heaven. Thank you that you have pledged to return to gather your people from the four corners of the earth and take us to our eternal home. We long eagerly and expectantly for that wonderful day of redemption! Thank you that our enemies are also your enemies, and that you will put all those enemies under your feet before you return. May your Spirit assure us of your strength, love and presence at all times, especially when our hearts are troubled. Amen.

Join us for the next few weeks as we look at “The Second Coming of Christ.” The devotions will be rooted in Matthew 24-25 and Luke 12.

Part 1: A Watertight Guarantee.

Part 2: As in the days of Noah (Matt 24:36-44)

Part 3: The Midnight Cry (Matt 25:1-24)

Part 4: The Sheep and the Goats (Matt 25:31-46)

Part 5: Prepared for the Second Coming (Luke 12)

Seeing the goodness of God.

Series: Contentment. Part

In the last three devotions, we’ve been looking at the value of cultivating contentment in our lives. In the first devotion, “Godliness with contentment is great gain”, I wrote:

As hard as it is to see, we are often frustrated and dissatisfied with life because fundamentally we don’t trust how God is taking care of us. We depend too much on outward things for our joy and peace.

 But at the core of a discontented heart is unbelief and rebellion against God’s rule in my life, which includes what I have, who I am, and the high and low points of my life. We will only be contented people if we recognize and confess the sin of discontentment, replacing it with a deep trust in God’s goodness and sufficiency.”

In this final devotion on contentment, I will be focusing on how to replace discontentment with a deep trust in God’s goodness and sufficiency.

Training our eyes.

I’ve often noticed that my heart grows discontented when I become too accustomed to the goodness of God and start taking it for granted:

I no longer notice the bright moon above the front door greeting me when I arrive home at night.

I ignore the little birds chirping on my window sill in the morning.

I don’t see God’s provision in the delicious food in front of me or his kindness in the smile on our Golden Retriever’s face.

I’m distracted when I hear another story of God’s redemptive work in someone’s life.

Discontent creeps in quietly when our spiritual eyes are dull to the goodness of God all around us. It’s as though we are wearing blinders. Sometimes our eyes are unable to see and appreciate the goodness of God, because we are too distracted to see the powerful evidence of Him right in front of us.

Today we will use Psalm 145 to train our eyes to see five demonstrations of God’s goodness. It is a wonderful Psalm of praise that David sung to remind himself of a time when all people will join together in recognizing and worshipping the Lord of Lords.

Psalm 145

I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.

The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.
10 All your works praise you, Lord;
your faithful people extol you.
11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might,
12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures through all generations.

The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
and faithful in all he does.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
Let every creature praise his holy name
for ever and ever.

  1. Seeing the creativity of God.

This Psalm is an acrostic poem, the verses of which begin with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This in itself is a wonderful testimony to the creativity and order of God, who has created human beings in his own image to create beautiful art, music and poetry. As God speaks to us through language, so too David creates a God-honouring poem with words, ink and papyrus. Three thousand years later, we are still praising God through David’s poem.

  1. Seeing the majesty of the King! (Ps 145:1-2; 13)

A foolproof way to cure spiritual myopia is to lift our eyes to the exalted King in heaven. David piled praises on God, declaring His greatness and worthiness. It is ungrateful and dishonouring to withhold our praise from the legitimate King of the universe.

Jesus Christ is God’s installed King! The nations are his inheritance and the very ends of the earth are his possession (Ps 2:68). It is only the Lord Jesus who is worthy to be praised and worshipped in this way, not ourselves or any other power on this earth. Yet paradoxically, Jesus is also the King who is near to his people, the gentle and lowly King who rode through Jerusalem on a donkey (Matt 21:5).

Do we see Christ as the Warrior King who must reign in heaven until he has put all his enemies under his feet?(1 Cor 15:25) Do we see Him as the righteous King who will soon ride out of heaven with his army of angels? His return to earth will signal the end of all false powers and He will be recognized by all as “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS! (Rev 19:16)

Lest we get blinded by the power plays of politicians and the Prince of this world, we’d better train our eyes on the everlasting King that Daniel foretold:

“And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom,

That all the peoples, nations and men of every language

Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion

Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one

Which will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:14)

  1. Seeing God’s generational acts of redemption! (Ps 145:4)

David looked to God’s great redemption acts which spanned generations: “One generation shall praise your works to another.”

To see God’s wonderful saving works more clearly, why not ask an older person to inspire you with memories of how Christ redeemed them and to recall the victories that Christ has given them over sin, Satan and the world?

Let’s ask our children and grandchildren, or the teens and children in our church to tell us of the fresh and new acts of grace that God is doing in their lives. Let’s never become insular, bored or stale about declaring God’s redemptive works to one another!

Spurgeon directs our eyes to see each generation as an essential chapter in God’s book of redemptive history:

The generations shall herein unite: together they shall make up an extraordinary history. Each generation shall contribute its chapter, and all the generations together shall compose a volume of matchless character.”

  1. Seeing His wonderful provision! (Ps 145:6-7; 15-16)

If we don’t want to become blind to the goodness of God, we must talk to one another often about His mighty works of redemption!

Do we see God as the Creator who opens his hand to satisfy the desires of every living thing? (Ps 145:16) Do we see Him as the source of all our daily needs? (Ps 145:15-16) Do we see God’s abundant goodness on earth?

David had eyes to see the beautiful care and tender mercies that God pours into all that He does and makes. All of creation is in David’s view, not just his own life. As Jesus would later say, “God also cares for the birds and the grass of the field” (Matt 6:26-30). He cares for all His creation.

If our Creator’s generous provision no longer thrills us, is it possible that we’ve been spending too much time distracted by screens and devices? Spending more time in nature will open our eyes to see how awesomely God has created all things out of nothing and how He upholds all things by his power.

This BBC video of a little puffer fish reminded me this week of God’s wonderful works of creation, most of which we will never see with our own eyes.

  1. Seeing God’s kindness and justice (Ps 145:8-9; 13; 17-21)

David looked to YHWH’s own description of Himself in Exodus to describe God’s character:

“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Ex 34:6).

David saw God’s kindness and justice (or righteousness) as the basis for his assurance that “the Lord is near to all those who call on Him in truth” (Ps 145:18). Because of God’s kindness and justice, David could be confident that His God always watches over those who love him and that He will judge the wicked (Ps 145:20). God’s kindness and his justice are two facets of his goodness.

There is no greater demonstration of God’s kindness and justice than Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for sinners like you and me (Rom 3:26). “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

But do we always see that the Lord is good to “all that He has made?” David saw that God is not partial or stingy in handing out his compassion and kindness. He is a gracious, promise-keeping God (Ps 145:13). He is the same God whom Peter describes a thousand years later: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

David saw that God’s kindness is especially evident to those who fall and fail, yet keep looking up and putting their trust in Him (Ps 145:14).

Prayer

Father, give us eyes to see your goodness. Take off the blinders of our sinful desires, discontent and grumbling. Show us your creativity. Show us your majesty as King and the beauty of your everlasting Kingdom. Show us your mighty acts of redemption that span across generations. Give us eyes to see your wonderful provision, compassion and kindness to all that you have made. Train our eyes not to doubt or be distracted from your goodness. Give us eyes to see our struggles, sins and sorrows in the light of your goodness, grace and glory. Give us an enduring vision of your goodness so that we will rest in contentment in any and every situation. Amen.

My youngest daughter sent me this song about the goodness of God in all of creation.

I know that my Redeemer lives!

Series: Contentment, part 3. by Rosie moore.

“The wisdom of God moves us from demanding from God what we think we deserve to thanking God for all that we’ve received that we do not deserve” (Nancy Guthrie, on Job). I think this is the believer’s key to contentment, especially in the eye of the storm.

How easy it must have been for Job to curse God and blame Him for all his calamities! Yet, through all his pain and confusion, Job continued to struggle with his God for thirty-seven chapters until the Lord revealed himself to Job in the final five. The more Job understood about who God is in his basic character, the more he could accept what God gave or took away—even though he didn’t understand it.

In the eye of the storm.

Job is the story about a real man who probably lived between the time of Abraham and Moses. But Job is much more than the story of an individual who suffered unjustly and triumphed over adversity. Job gives believers in every century a blueprint for trust and contentment in the eye of the worst storm imaginable. His testimony of hope in his Redeemer lives on forever.

The book of Job encapsulates all our deepest dreads. Are you at all familiar with those negative thoughts that grow into a worst-case scenario in your imagination? Psychologists call it ‘catastrophizing’. For instance, your child’s nosebleed must mean leukemia. Or news of a pandemic turns into the death of you and your whole family. Or a blue tick on Whatsapp means lifelong rejection! The difference is that Job actually experienced several worst-case-catastrophes all at once.

But in the middle of Job’s desperate anguish, as he struggled to find the Lord in his pain, and while responding to his ignorant friends’ simplistic accusations, Job was able to speak assuredly of restoration and resurrection life. Come hell or high water, Job knew what he knew about God’s redemption.

When I was chronically ill a few years ago, Job gave me the words of hope I needed to persevere and remain steadfast in my struggle, even though I didn’t know I would ever recover. Job’s words were,

“I know that my Redeemer lives!”

When his anguish was greatest, Job declared, almost defiantly,

“I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth
26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27)

Job continued to put his hope in God’s redemption even if he died in the process: “Though he slay me, yet I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15).

We know that Satan had a destructive purpose in Job’s suffering, namely to destroy Job’s trust in the Lord he loved so much. But God also had a purpose in allowing Satan to harm Job—to grow Job’s trust in the Lord he loved so much. It was God’s good purpose that triumphed in Job’s life.

But if anyone had cause to complain against God; to abandon his faith and call himself an atheist; to grumble and be discontent with his lot, it was Job.

Cause for complaint.

Job was afflicted with terrible sores from head to foot and his skin had blackened with decay (Job 7:530:30). Stripped bare of his family, possessions, honour and health, Job had almost given up hope of God answering his cries for vindication (Job 19:1-24). He even felt that God had turned on him and was punishing him.

Don’t we often think that we are to blame and that God is angry with us when we are in great pain?

Job wasn’t stoical about his suffering. In fact, it’s difficult to be unmoved by the chapters in which he expresses his pain to God. He feels truly God-forsaken:

“And now my life ebbs away;
days of suffering grip me.
17 Night pierces my bones;
my gnawing pains never rest.
18 In his great power God becomes like clothing to me;
he binds me like the neck of my garment.
19 He throws me into the mud,
and I am reduced to dust and ashes.

20 “I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer;
I stand up, but you merely look at me.
(Job 30:16-23).

Moreover, Job’s misery was amplified by windbag friends, who falsely condemned him, offering simplistic and callous explanations of how Job had brought calamity upon himself. These “miserable comforters” built their arguments on false assumptions and half truths about why people experience troubles. Their bad theology led to dangerous conclusions which hurt more than helped Job.

Miserable comforters.

Eliphaz asks Job: “What innocent person ever perished? (Job 4:7). Is not your wickedness great and are not your sins endless?” (Job 22:5)

Bildad asks him: “Does God pervert justice?” (Job 8:3) “The lamp of the wicked is snuffed out… disaster is ready for him when he falls (Job 18:512).

Zophar asks: “Surely God recognizes deceitful men, and when he sees evil, does he not take note? (Job 11:11) The mirth of the wicked is brief, the joy of the godless lasts but a moment” (Job 20:5).

The accusations came thick and fast. By the time they’d finished gaslighting Job, they’d almost snuffed out whatever glimmer of hope was left in him.

A righteous man.

But although Job never claimed to be sinless, he knew in his heart of hearts that his sin hadn’t caused his present trouble (Job 27:5-6). It’s gratifying when God Himself vindicates Job and rebukes his friends, “You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:8). Job was not being punished by God for his sin.

In fact, Job had been a righteous judge, helping widows, the blind, the lame and the needy. All his life he’d protected the vulnerable and been compassionate (Job 29:25). Not only did the community respect Job, but the Lord himself judged him as “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1Job 2:3).

Despite groundless speculation about Job’s pride or unconscious sin, I have scoured the book and found no hint of hidden sin in his life. Scripture consistently portrays Job as a faithful and righteous man in the same category as Noah and Daniel (Ezek 14:14). Moreover, his integrity held up even when he suffered without cause.

In the New Testament, James praises Job as a steadfast man who persevered throughout his ordeal: As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about” (James 5:11).

And so, without any apparent reason, Job lost everything. To make matters worse, he was totally oblivious to what was happening in the spiritual realm (Job 1:12). Even as he sat in the ashes with a bitter wife pouring salt on his wounds and goading him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” Job responded with trust, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:9-10). Even under pressure, Job refused to “sin with his lips.”

Through the entire book, Job didn’t understand the cause of his suffering. He longed to stand up in court and prove his innocence to God (Job 31:35-37). He wanted answers, just as we want answers and reassurances when we are in the eye of the storm.

Questions, questions, questions.

Like Job, we often operate on the assumption that what we need most from God is relief from suffering and answers to our questions… NOW! We feel that we can’t be content until all the loose ends are resolved and we have been restored. Our contentment is conditional.

Job is restored in his lifetime, but through most of the book, Job is waiting for God’s answers and explanations which never come. However, we know that his confusion, struggles and longings were ultimately answered thousands of years later in the Lord Jesus:

  1. Job asks, “How can I bring my case before God and ask Him why?” (Job 9:32-3)

Today, we know the answer: For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). Because we trust in Jesus, we can approach God confidently and are invited to cast all our cares on Him, because He loves us.

  1. As Job’s life is ebbing away, he asks about the worst-case scenario, “What happens when I die?” (Job 14:14)

Today, we have the words of Christ to stand on, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

  1. After Job’s friends accuse him of sin and wickedness, Job asks, “Who can defend me? Who will argue my case with God?” (Job 16:19-21)

Today, we have the perfect Advocate to save us completely, not only from human accusations, or from Satan’s fiery darts, or the accusations of our emotions, but also from God’s final judgment against our real rebellion and sin. If we are in Christ, we know that God is not punishing us when we suffer, because Christ has taken all the punishment that we deserve.

“For Christ entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence… Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.(Heb 9:247:24-25).

  1. Job asks, “Why even try to be good if the wicked seem to prosper?” (Job 21:7-15).

Today, we have Christ’s eternal perspective: What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Matt 16:26).

Ultimately, the reason why a Christian can be content today is not because we are always protected from harm. It’s because we know that we will live beyond dust and ashes and God’s love will never leave us.

Because of Christ, we will never be God-forsaken, no matter how loudly our emotions are screaming that we are (Matt 2:46). Jesus says that our greatest reason to rejoice today is because our names are written in heaven, for all eternity (Luke 10:20). Our souls are safe with him.

Clarity in the eye of the storm.

When we are forced to face our worst fears head-on, and we struggle with God like Job did, we come to see the glory and character of the Lord in the eye of the storm. It’s at this point that our own ideas of what He should be doing in the world and in our lives seem oddly out of place.

Job’s moment of clarity comes when God answers him out of the storm, and Job responds in awe, trust and repentance. It took 42 chapters to get there!

“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:26)

Of course, Job isn’t an easy book to read. Who doesn’t prefer the calm days to the raging storms of life? But I’m glad that God chose to record Job’s life story before any other book in His Word, because Job reminds us that the same God who has lovingly ordered Creation, has also ordered our seasons and circumstances. He is the same Lord that provides for our contentment in any and every situation.

If our contentment always depends on desperately fleeing storms in search of sanctuary, we will never be content in either place, because we have no control over the beginning or ending of the seasons that God has appointed for us.

Contentment comes when we stop fighting to escape the storm, stop yearning for the good old days or a future of ease. Contentment is learned by those who struggle with God and know that their Redeemer lives, now and always.

Christ assures us of his glorious return to earth, which Job had the eyes of faith to foresee. Job imagined his Redeemer-God in glorious flesh standing in victory on a renewed earth! (Job 19:25-27)

Praise God that Christ our Redeemer will stand upon this earth one day, when “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command” (1 Thess 4:16). Ultimately, it is the Second Coming which gives us the perspective to be content now, even in the eye of the storm.

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power” (1 Cor 15:42-43).

Prayer

Lord, thank you for opening Job’s eyes to see a day when his Saviour would resurrect his dead body into a new body fit for the new heaven and new earth. He longed to gaze upon his Redeemer standing on this earth and making his home with his redeemed people. Just as you did with Job, reveal your character and love to us. Turn our eyes to this same reality so that we will keep trusting and wrestling with you, even in the eye of the storm. Amen.

Sing along to this beautiful song about Job.

Sources on Contentment and Job.

Nancy Guthrie, The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom books. Crossway, 2012.

Ash, Christopher, Out of the Storm: Grappling with God in the book of Job. IVP, 2004.

Lydia Brownback, Contentment—A Godly Woman’s Adornment. Crossway, 2008.

Jones, Robert, Contentment—Joy that Lasts. P&R Publishing, 2019.

Hill, Megan, Contentment—Seeing God’s Goodness. P&R Publishing, 2018.

Burroughs, Jeremiah, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (1648). Banner of Truth Trust, reprinted, 2000 .

Ash, Christopher, Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience. Intervarsity Press, 2012.

Kruger, Melissa, The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World. Christian Focus Publications, 2012.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me

Series: Contentment.

By Rosie Moore.

How often have you given yourself a pep talk ending with Paul’s words, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength?” I know I have, especially when I’m running on a steep incline, with a rasping sound in my throat and my legs wobbling like jelly!

Surprisingly, Paul pens these words of victory as an old, battle-worn apostle languishing in a Roman prison cell. He is talking about a lasting kind of contentment that doesn’t disappear in the face of deprivation, loss, suffering, persecution and insecurity. Paul is not saying that he can do anything that he sets his mind to. He is saying that by Christ’s strength, he can be peaceful in adversity and humble in prosperity. Surely this is one of the greatest challenges of the Christian life!

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Phil 4:11-13 ESV).

I have learned the secret of contentment.

What I love about Scripture is its real life biographies. Paul, like all of us, wasn’t born contented. He had to learn to be content.

Many years ago, out of sheer desperation, I bought a cute sounding book called The Contented Little Baby. Written by a know-it-all expert on childrearing, its pages were stuffed with a host of feeding, sleeping, bathing and playing routines that I was supposed to be teaching my four babies, but quite obviously wasn’t.

Far from being contented, my brood spent a high percentage of their days yelling their heads off and grabbing each other’s toys, and to this day I still can’t be sure what restored the peace and what triggered World War 3. Mysteriously, they are now very contented little adults, but that’s only by the grace of God, not my parenting skills!

By the end of reading that book, the only secret I learned was that I was incapable of raising a single contented baby. The author’s advice felt more like boot camp than baby care! But in some respects the book was dead accurate— We are not born content! We learn contentment through training, which is sometimes painful and counter-intuitive. Likewise, I learned the secret of being a mother under pressure, through hands-on experience, not by following a formula.

Paul’s contentment was independent of his personality type and didn’t descend upon him like a dove on the Damascus road. He learned contentment by having a relationship with Christ through the pressures of life. This is good news for us, because it means that we too can learn the secret of true contentment if we stick close to Jesus in any and every situation.

Paul affirms confidently, “I can do all this through Christ who strengthens me.” It’s not as if God wants us to grope about in the winter of our discontent. He wants us to learn to be content by Christ’s strength. On our own, contentment will always remain elusive.

Can you think of any good reason why you and I should not also grasp the truth of contentment and live it out practically, in both abundance and adversity? (Phil 4:12)

The key to contentment.

Knowing Christ is the key to contentment, because it is Jesus who shed his blood to rescue us from the helpless condition of sin, which includes our habitual discontentment.

If we follow Christ, it is He who gives meaning to every step of our life journey. We can be content with what we have, because Christ will never leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5-6). His grace is always sufficient. That is why Paul’s heart cry in Philippians 3:10 comes first: “I want to know Christ!”

Paul learned to be content in abundance and adversity, finding lasting joy in knowing Christ and pouring out his energy to serve and obey him (Phil 3:12-13). That’s where our true contentment will come from, regardless of our circumstances.

Learning contentment.

It’s interesting that Paul uses two words for ‘learn’ in this text:

The first ‘learn’ implies learning by practice, as opposed to intellectual knowledge. It’s the same word used in Hebrews to describe Christ’s experiential learning: “Jesus learned obedience from what he suffered” (Heb 5:8).

We too can learn to withstand Satan and trials, but only if we trust and obey our heavenly Father moment-by-moment, like Jesus did. Contentment requires deliberate commitment, especially when we find ourselves in the furnace of suffering.

The second ‘learn’ is a more unusual verb which refers to an initiation into a mystery society in first century Greco-Roman culture. There is something mysteriously contradictory about learning to be content when trouble opposes our happiness. Lasting contentment is only possible when we have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus and realize what He suffered on our behalf, when our minds are re-calibrated by gospel truths instead of our circumstances.

And so, we may know every verse and formula about contentment in our heads, but it’s only when we practice our knowledge of Christ and prioritize his kingdom that we learn the secret of contentment.

Well fed or hungry, in plenty or in want.

Paul’s expansive claim of contentment is extraordinary, given his life story.

Some people like to think of contentment as a Buddha, sitting smug and stoical, detached from life, his chubby face empty of ambition and drive. Or perhaps ‘contentment’ is the happy stare of a retiree or millionaire, absorbing an endless stream of little pleasures and treasures from the comfort of their deckchair!

But these images are far removed from Paul’s contented life. He was the proverbial “Man in the Arena” of Theodore Roosevelt’s poem.

Man in the Arena.

Paul’s contentment wasn’t theoretical because he didn’t sit on the sidelines of the Christian life. He knew that even God’s faithful children are not exempt from the common distresses of life and he learned to lean on the Lord Jesus in any and every situation:

Financially, Paul had been well off and needy in his life (Phil 4:11-12), experiencing real hunger, thirst, cold and nakedness (2 Tim 4:13212 Cor 11:27), as well as abundant wealth.

Yet he encouraged other believers with full assurance, “My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19).

Physically, Paul bore on his body the marks of Christ (Gal 6:17). Five times the Apostle was beaten with whips and three times with rods. He was shipwrecked, mobbed and stoned so badly that he was left for dead (Acts 14:192 Cor 11:23-29). Severe physical illness often thwarted his ministry plans and he described his body as a fragile clay jar, wasting away (Gal 4:13-142 Cor 4:7-8.). One can hardly imagine Paul’s physical state by the time he wrote this letter in 61AD.

But through all of this, Paul spurred on the Macedonian believers, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Phil 4:4-5).

Emotionally, Paul was haunted by regrets of a past as a murderer and persecutor of Christians (1 Tim 1:12-17). Numerous times he was neglected, deserted and undermined by fellow believers (Phil 4:15Acts 15:382 Tim 1:154:10).

Yet, in his distress, Paul trained himself to press on towards the goal of Christ: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” In the midst of his anxieties, Paul learned to dwell on the good rather than his troubles: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil 3:13-144:5).

Spiritually, Paul was stripped of the benefits of being a respected Pharisee, expelled from his place of worship and treated as an outcast by his own people, who plotted to take his life (Acts 13:4550Acts 17:5-7Acts 18:6Acts 20:3).

But through all this rejection and humiliation, Paul didn’t avoid preaching the gospel to his fellow Jews. He continued to pray with a thankful heart, allowing the peace of God which transcends understanding, to guard his heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:7). Although he lost much for the sake of Christ, he remained grateful and gracious to others (Phil 4:10-18).

None of these hardships robbed Paul of his contentment, as he rested in Christ as his refuge and provider. Even when he was severely flogged and thrown in prison, he spent the night “praying and singing hymns to God” (Acts 16:25).

I’m sure this wasn’t the Apostle’s instinctive response to pain and exhaustion, but he had developed a habit of praying with thanksgiving and rejoicing when he felt like complaining (Phil 4:46). Over years, Paul had learned the secret of contentment in any and every situation.

The paradox of contentment.

True contentment is learned in the arena of life, not in Bible college or in the pages of a book. Paul’s secret was that he found meaning in his adversity and considered it a privilege to share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings (Phil 3:8-10). Paul’s response is a mysterious paradox if ever there was one!

In his own words, Paul describes the incongruous joy of knowing Christ in and through his suffering: “dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed;  sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:9-10).

Likewise, in the life of every Christian, the secret to lasting contentment lies in our deep union with the Lord Jesus who ultimately works all things for our good and turns every tragedy into triumph, every grief into growth and every offense into an opportunity for the gospel. True contentment is learned by trusting and obeying Christ in the arena of life.

And so, we can say confidently, with Paul: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Prayer.

Father, shift our perspective to see everything as a loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus as our Lord. Help us to trust you rather than avoiding hard things which we know you want us to do. Show us if we are hoarding our resources of time, money and love. Keep our lives free from the love of money and help us to be content with whatever you have given us, because you have said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6) Amen.

Listen prayerfully to Horatio Spafford’s hymn, “When peace like a river…”. It directs our hearts to the gospel and how God teaches us contentment in any and every circumstance. Spafford’s words are the authentic cries of his own heart, since he’d recently lost his entire fortune in a fire and his four daughters in a storm at sea. Only his wife survived.

Godliness with contentment is great gain

Series: Contentment

By Rosie Moore

“Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Tim 6:5)

Why do we only rest in peace? Why don’t we live in peace too?

I don’t know who said this, but it’s a good observation. It’s easy to blame our circumstances and other people for the lack of peace in our lives, but sometimes the underlying cause is the undiagnosed sin of discontentment.

This is what Elizabeth Elliot, the widow of murdered missionary Jim Elliot, wrote on the subject of a peaceful heart. I have pasted this quote above my desk so I can read it often.

“Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on him who has all things safely in His hands.”

As hard as it is to admit, I am often frustrated and dissatisfied with life because fundamentally I don’t trust how God is taking care of me. I depend too much on outward things for my joy and peace.

At the core of a discontented heart is unbelief and rebellion against God’s rule in my life, which includes what I have, who I am, and the high and low points of my life.

A call to godliness and contentment.

And so, in convincing Timothy of the value of godliness and contentment, Paul rests his case on the basic assumption that we are utterly dependent on God for everything we receive:

“Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 

 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. (1 Timothy 6:6-12)

Paul warns the young pastor to stay away from greedy people who want to make money from preaching and end up wandering far from the faith, “pierced with many griefs.” He describes the dangers and snares of a love for money. But it’s interesting that Paul identifies godliness with contentment as the antidote to all these things (1 Tim 6:6). Why does Paul choose to couple these two characteristics together?

Paul Mathole explains the link between godliness and contentment:

“A heart oriented towards God is one that rests in Him. With a view of our place in God’s eternity, it rests content in our present circumstances, even when they are tough.”

This made me think of Job, the first man who embodied godliness with contentment. Job had children, wealth, servants and livestock in abundance. Then, in a single day all these good things vanished. But despite all the calamities that befell him, Job’s first response to his situation was God-oriented:

Job fell to the ground in worship, saying,

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; May the name of the Lord be praised.”

 God clearly approved of Job’s godly response: “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job1:20-22).  Job kept a clear conscience in all his suffering, because he worked out his struggles with God.

1 Timothy 6:6 expresses the simple but profound truth that God-oriented contentment is the key to spiritual growth and lasting joy. We should honour the LORD and centre our desires on Him, content with whatever He is doing in our lives.

Contentment is no small matter for a Christian, but we will only be contented people if we recognize and confess the sin of discontentment in our hearts, replacing it with a deep trust in God’s goodness and sufficiency. Sadly, discontent is often our default position.

Fruit of a poisoned tree.

Although Paul focuses on money in this text, discontent usually manifests in four areas: Money, work, our bodies and relationships. Once it takes hold, a discontented spirit poisons our lives and relationships from the inside out:

Because of a discontented heart, we become intoxicated by abundance and depressed by lack. Forever hurtling on a rollercoaster of fluctuating emotions, our joy and peace are triggered by comparisons and circumstances beyond our control. It’s not long before we break God’s tenth commandment—Do not covet.

And so, out of nowhere, a discontented spirit can lead us to feel bitter, jealous, greedy, anxious, frustrated, despondent, insecure, indignant, distracted, offended, sulky, disappointed, impatient or moody. Out of discontent we may feel we deserve more money, a better job, a healthier body and more supportive relatives.

When our hearts are discontented, we behave like puppets, controlled by the strings of prosperity and poverty; praise and criticism; success and failure; strength and weakness. No wonder a discontented heart breeds the many sins listed in the text, including conceit, envy, strife, malicious talk and evil suspicions (1 Tim 6:4-5).

Fuelled by discontent, we may begin to feel restless with our own life, coveting the accomplishments of old school friends and strangers on the internet. When we walk into a beautiful home that isn’t ours or notice the accolades earned by another, we feel no joy. Instead, we feel empty and inferior, wanting what other people have. We enter the dangerous territory of grumbling, grasping and ingratitude.

What I’ve sometimes discovered lurking beneath my own insecurities is a fundamental belief that I need something different from what God has given me. I think, “If only … then I would be content.” But if I probe deeper, I see that I’m just doubtful about how God is ordering my life.

The problem with discontentment is that it’s not just a neutral emotion. Because it’s invisible and encouraged by our culture, we often don’t recognize it as a poisoned tree that bears rotten fruit. Discontentment needs to be regularly identified and uprooted if we hope to live a joyful life of perseverance in the faith.

Solomon used a striking image when he wrote: “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.” (Prov 14:30).

Envy is the fruit of a poisoned tree. The tree is discontentment.

The lasting rewards of contentment.

Conversely, Paul says that the discipline of contentment will bring us “great gain” in the Christian life. Contentment is an enduring happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens. Its rewards are lasting rather than fluctuating.

In The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (1648), Jeremiah Burroughs identifies the benefits of nurturing contentment in the Christian life. Here are just three of the lasting fruits of contentment that Borroughs describes:

  1. Contentment prepares us to worship God, publicly and privately. It is only a contented heart that can honestly acknowledge God alone as sovereign, and us as his humble creatures who owe Him our very selves. A contented heart will see that the LORD is God who does all things well. He is our Father who never leaves or forsakes his children.
  2. Contentment opens our eyes to God’s grace and allows others to see God’s glory in us. Grumbling, complaining, worrying and demanding come naturally to human beings, so contentment is a great testimony of God’s supernatural work in our lives. A calm, secure and cheerful Christian is a great witness, especially in adverse circumstances.
  3. Contentment frees us from many sins, including envy, greed and bitterness, replacing them with peace, gratitude and a willingness to serve others. Contentment safeguards us against an array of grievances and grumblings. Those who are focused on their circumstances will always obsess about what’s wrong; the things we lack; the things others have, and the things we wish were different. But a contented heart focuses on Christ and is confident in the Lord’s goodness.

The secret of contentment

But contentment doesn’t descend on us automatically like a dove when we become Christians. Paul says that contentment is a secret to be learned through the ups and downs of life (Phil 4:11-13). As Christians, we are engaged in a constant struggle against the sin of discontentment. That’s why, directly after Paul instructs Timothy to pursue godliness with contentment, he concludes, “Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim 6:12).

If we do not fight the good fight, our hearts will default to discontent. As sinners, we are bent on ingratitude and idolatry, because by nature we neither glorify the LORD as God nor give thanks to him (Rom 1:21-23). We also live in a covetous culture which invites us to crave what God has not given us to enjoy.

So unless we learn the secret of contentment, we will live as functional atheists, wondering where God is and why we are not seeing Him perform in the ways we see fit.

Contentment is a secret that every Christ follower must learn through the school of life and God’s Word, which directs our hearts and minds back to full trust in the LORD. We also have Christ’s example and His strength to help us nurture godliness with contentment. Best of all, we’ve been given the Holy Spirit to enable us to expose and uproot the poisoned tree of discontentment. That is why Paul can conclude one of the greatest texts on God-centred contentment with these words of victory: “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13).

Join us for the next few weeks as we ask God’s Word to train our hearts and minds in the secret of contentment.

Prayer

Father, give us eyes to see the seeds of discontentment in our own hearts. Show us the sinful source of our grumbling and worrying, while giving us the will to submit our desires to you. Help us to trust afresh in your finished work on the cross and ongoing work in our lives, so we will be filled with peace, joy and gratitude in every circumstance. Help us to humbly receive all things from your loving hand, not just the comfortable things. Teach us to wait trustfully and quietly on you, because you have all things safely in your hands. Amen.

Good reads.

I have found the following books useful in helping to nurture contentment in my own heart and to prepare to write these devotions. You can get most of them on Kindle, Takealot or Loot.

Lydia Brownback, Contentment—A Godly Woman’s Adornment. Crossway, 2008.

Jones, Robert, Contentment—Joy that Lasts. P&R Publishing, 2019.

Hill, Megan, Contentment—Seeing God’s Goodness. P&R Publishing, 2018.

Burroughs, Jeremiah, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (1648). Banner of Truth Trust, reprinted, 2000 .

Ash, Christopher, Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience. Intervarsity Press, 2012.

Kruger, Melissa, The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World. Christian Focus Publications, 2012.

Six ingredients of repentance

By Rosie Moore.

As a born and bred sinner, I know that my natural inclination is always to please myself rather than God. I’ve realised that my sin hurts myself and others, but ultimately it offends God, because it is rebellion against His way of living. But as much as I know these things in my head, my heart is still discovering that sin is like an onion that must be peeled away layer by layer, over many years. The Holy Spirit does the peeling, but I need to do the repenting.

Streams of mercy.

Whenever we peel an onion, we cry. Paradoxically, the tears of repentance are like a stream of mercy that cleanses our soul. Like the sinful woman who stood at Christ’s feet, weeping, we go in peace when we have repented of our sins (Luke 7:384850). Great joy and blessing follow in the wake of repentance.

Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
 
 (Psalm 32:2)

And so, understanding what repentance means is essential to true Christianity and saving faith in Christ. Repentance was the crux of the first sermon in Church history and it is the only way that we will be added to God’s kingdom, as were the three thousand congregants who accepted Peter’s message (Acts 2:38-41). They were cut to the heart by the Holy Spirit and wept for their sin. That is the reason why they turned to Christ for forgiveness.

Today we will be looking at King David’s confession in the light of Thomas Watson’s six essential ingredients of repentance:

  1. Sight of sin.
  2. Sorrow for sin.
  3. Confession of sin.
  4. Shame for sin.
  5. Hatred for sin.
  6. Turning from sin.

All six ingredients are evident in King David’s prayer of confession after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and conspired to murder her husband, Uriah. Psalm 51 gives us a useful model to follow in our own repentance.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is
 a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise (Psalm 51)

Moment of clarity.

In this Psalm of confession, David has seen his sinful heart for what it is (Ps 51:3-5). The scales have fallen from his eyes. He is no longer blind, desensitized or under any illusions as to the evil he has done. He doesn’t use euphemistic language like ‘weakness’, ‘passion’, ‘indiscretion’ or ‘mistake’ to describe his actions.

Moreover, David no longer passes the buck or glamorizes the affair. He doesn’t argue that the culture permitted a king to sleep with any woman or that Uriah the Hittite was somehow killed in a tragic war.

Instead, he offers God his “broken and contrite heart” (Ps 51:17).  The word ‘contrite’ is an old-fashioned but pregnant word that means sorrowful, penitent, conscience-stricken, mortified, chastened, humbled and ashamed. True confession doesn’t minimize sin or plead extenuating circumstances.

David uses graphic words like ‘iniquity’, ‘transgressions’ ‘guilt’, ‘bloodshed’, ‘evil’ and ‘sins’ to describe the wicked things he has done. His choice of unequivocal language shows that he hates his sin and knows that even he, a powerful king, is accountable to his Creator. He has no excuse.

But David didn’t always have sight of his sin. Prior to writing Psalm 51, he lived for many months, perhaps years, totally blinded to his sin, thinking that God was blind too (2 Sam 11:1-27). But this chapter concludes with God’s verdict:

“When the mourning was over, David sent and brought Bathsheba to his household, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing which David had done was evil in the eyes of Yahweh” (2 Samuel 11:27).

There is no doubt as to what Yahweh thought of David’s behaviour, but the truth only dawned on David when Nathan the prophet confronted him with a parable. As the prophet peeled back layer after layer of David’s deceitful heart, the penny finally dropped.

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7)

You are the man!

David was cut to the heart by Nathan’s words. Exposure is a great gift when prompted by the Holy Spirit, whom God sends to convict us of sin, of righteousness and judgement (John 16:8-15). It is nothing like the false accusations and false shame of Satan.

When David’s eyes were opened, he saw his deep ingratitude to God who had blessed him and installed him as king (2 Sam 12:7-8). He saw that he had despised the Lord’s word, murdered Uriah the Hittite and stolen his precious wife (2 Sam 12:9). He had believed that what he did in the dark was invisible and that the rules didn’t apply to him as king.

There was no euphemistic spin for the evil that David had done. There was no neutral, non- judgmental way to admit his sin. There was no way to suppress the truth. David realized that there was no place to hide when he heard God say to him:

“You did it in secret, but I will do this very thing in broad daylight before all Israel.”

“Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam 12:12-13).

I have sinned against the Lord.

David’s simple admission of guilt was like the great moment noted in the prodigal son’s repentance: “He came to himself… Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:1721).

David’s confession was voluntary, sincere and went to the heart of the problem, which is the human heart (Ps 51:5). David accused himself and justified God (Ps 51:4). When he compared his own faithlessness to the compassion and unfailing love of God, it only heightened his sorrow and awareness of sin (Ps 51:1). He saw a true picture of himself beside the one true and faithful God.

David’s repentance was far deeper than mere remorse for the messy consequences of his sins, which Nathan laid out for him (2 Sam 12:11-12.) He realized that he had offended a holy and just God who had lovingly cared for him from the womb and taught him what was right (Ps 51:46).

There was no doubt in David’s mind that he deserved to be judged and cast out from God’s presence (Ps 51:411). He knew that there was no sacrifice or bribe that he could offer to buy atonement for his sins (Ps 51:16).

It was a terrifying, shameful, sorrowful moment of clarity for David. All he could offer the Lord was a “broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart” (Ps 51:17). And all he could ask for in return was God’s mercy, compassion, cleansing and deliverance from guilt (Ps 51:1-27914). It was a most unequal trade-off, and David knew it.

Five of the six essential ingredients for repentance are well illustrated in Psalm 51. But how do we know that David turned away from his sins? Psalm 51:10-13 gives us a hint of this final trademark of repentance.

Create in me a pure heart.

David knew that he needed God’s Holy Spirit to create in him a pure heart and willing spirit to change. Knowing that his heart would always lead him astray, the king pleaded for a steadfast spirit to sustain him in living a holy life. He asked to be able to lead other sinners back to God and teach them His ways.

Isn’t it amazing that a thousand years before the Holy Spirit convicted a congregation of three thousand on the day of Pentecost, David knew that he needed the Holy Spirit to reform him from the inside? (Ps 51:11) He knew that he needed a soft heart on which God’s laws would be engraved and new desires formed (Ezek 36:25-27Jer 31:33-34).

What a privilege to have the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us obey God’s word and turn from our sin (Gal 5:16)! True sorrow for sin always results in turning from sin, which is so visible that others will see it (Acts 16:33Eph 5:8).

The joy of forgiveness.

When I was a child, I had an uncle who suffered from chronic kidney disease and lived in constant pain. He didn’t know the Lord, and from my perspective he was a harsh and grumpy man who didn’t like children at all! I asked my mom what I should say in my prayers for him and she said, “Ask the Lord to open uncle Billy’s eyes to see who he is and who God is.”

So that’s exactly what I prayed every day for the next twenty years. The miracle of sight occurred when my uncle was sixty years old. One day, he came to the end of himself and turned to the Lord Jesus in repentance and faith, with my older sister holding his hand.

I always remember this event as the beginning of the most stark change I’ve seen in a human being, because my uncle’s whole demeanour and purpose changed. He became a kind and cheerful man who quite obviously knew the joy of forgiveness. Five years later, Uncle Billy died, a free and blessed man.

If Psalm 51 expresses David’s depths of sorrow over sin, Psalm 32 expresses the height of his joy at being forgiven. There’s nothing worse than unconfessed sin because it drives a wedge between us and God, but there’s nothing more blessed than the cleansing, liberating, healing power of repentance.

Prayer.

Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord does not count against them
    and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
    while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
    will not reach them.
You are my hiding place;
    you will protect me from trouble
    and surround me with songs of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
    which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
    or they will not come to you.
10 Many are the woes of the wicked,
    but the Lord’s unfailing love
    surrounds the one who trusts in him.

11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
    sing, all you who are upright in heart!

Amen.

Cut to the heart.

By Rosie Moore.

The first sermon in church history ends with a congregation cut to the heart over their sin. After the Holy Spirit showed them the beauty of Christ and their own rebellious hearts, about three thousand people grieved over their sin and accepted the healing message of the gospel. The book of Acts describes the amazing Spirit-filled interaction between Peter the convicted preacher and a congregation of convicted Jews from all nations on earth, who had gathered together in Jerusalem for Pentecost. It’s a live illustration of what evangelism and genuine repentance looks like:

Acts 2:36-41

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

A convicted preacher.

“Men of Israel, hear these words!” (Acts 2:22)

This was the sermon of a convicted preacher if ever there was one! Peter was not repeating hearsay or going through the motions of a man of the cloth. He pleaded passionately with the crowd and convinced them, as he was fully convinced, that only Jesus can save.

Without a doubt, Peter knew in his own heart that Jesus was both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). He also personally knew Jesus of Nazareth, the man who had done great miracles and wonders (Acts 2:22-24). He didn’t hesitate to use passages from the Old Testament Scripture which identified Jesus as Yahweh himself, nor was he concerned about how his words would be received by his hearers.

There was a remarkable change in Peter on the day of Pentecost. It’s hard to reconcile this bold, fearless preacher with the cowardly man who, six weeks earlier, had denied even knowing Jesus (Matt 26:69-75). But Peter had seen the resurrected and ascended Jesus in the interim! (Acts 2:32-33). He was an eyewitness to the contents of his own sermon, with no secondary research required. Going straight for the bull’s eye, Peter focused on the resurrected Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 2:22-24).

Moreover, Peter wan’t just a passionate and zealous preacher. Unlike the professional teachers of his day, Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and raised his voice to proclaim the gospel like a herald. He wasted no time on pleasantries, but told his audience the truth that they were sinners and Jesus had borne the full wrath of God on the cross (Acts 2:20-21). He appealed to what his congregation already knew about Jesus (Acts 2:22) and the promises of the Old Testament.

Peter’s sermon carried conviction because it was smothered in his own conviction of sin and his own hope. This preacher knew his twisted, faithless heart that had abandoned Christ in his hour of greatest need. And Peter’s sermon was convincing to the crowd, because the preacher himself was convinced that Jesus had risen and was now ruling as the everlasting King in David’s line.

For Peter, Jesus was the “Holy One” that King David had foreseen, the only Saviour who could make known to men “the paths of life” and lead them to “live in hope.” There was nothing tragic or arbitrary about Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension. It was all planned by God and penned by David a thousand years beforehand (Acts 2:23-31; Ps 110).

A convicted congregation.

But Peter also shone the spotlight on his hearers’ own corrupt hearts. He showed them that they also crucified Christ, even if they were not physically present on the day He died (Act 2:36). They too had resisted and rejected Christ’s Lordship over their lives, and rebelled against God. I’m sure Peter may have braced himself to be stoned at this point!

But supernaturally, the Spirit performed a miracle of new birth in the hearts of 3000 congregants. He brought them to a place of insight, sorrow, shame, confession and hatred for their sin. Luke vividly identifies the trigger: The Holy Spirit convicted and called the hearers. They were ‘cut to the heart’ and distressed about their sin. They were led into the light, just as Jesus said would happen when the Holy Spirit did his work (John 3:6-721).

Their response to the sermon was not an outward act, but an inward grace. The layers of concealing skin and tissue were peeled back to expose the cancer of their hearts. The prophecy of Zechariah 12:10 comes to mind: “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn.”

Instead of using a sword to cut off the ear of a soldier as Peter had done weeks earlier (John 18:10), Peter was now wielding the Sword of the Spirit to cut people’s hearts and open them to Jesus’s supernatural healing. Deeply convicted by the Holy Spirit, the congregation asked the right question:

“Brothers, what shall we do?” There is genuine anguish and sorrow in their question as they realize the myriad ways in which they’ve rejected God’s love and despised his King.

Peter wastes no time in inviting the multitude to come to Jesus for forgiveness. This is exactly what every convicted sinner must do: “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”.

That day, a massive congregation turned from their sin and publicly confessed their new allegiance—an allegiance to Christ, a new way of life and a new community. That’s what their baptism signified (Acts 2:41).

Repent

The first thing Peter told them to do is “repent”. To repent is not just to feel sorry, but to change one’s whole mind and trajectory. Repentance describes what coming to God is. We can’t turn towards God without turning away from the things that God is against. Repentance is a word of great hope, because we do not have to continue in the way that we’ve been going. We can turn towards God in surrender.

So, what does true repentance look like and what does it achieve?

Thomas Watson, a Puritan preacher and author from the 17th century, wrote a timeless book titled “The Doctrine of Repentance”. He starts with these words:

“Christian reader, the two great graces essential to a saint in this life are faith and repentance. These are the two wings by which he flies to heaven. Faith and repentance preserve the spiritual life as heat and moisture do the natural.”

“Repentance is a grace of God’s Spirit whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed… Repentance breaks the abscess of sin, and then the soul is at ease” (Thomas Watson).

Isn’t that a beautiful picture of the healing and purging power of repentance?

Nothing has changed since Watson wrote in 1668. Repentance and faith in Jesus Christ is still the only way that our restless souls will be at peace, as it’s the timeless medicine that God has prescribed for the forgiveness of our sins. There is no other way to be saved.

Counterfeit repentance.

But repentance is one of those words that many people reject today, because they will not tolerate the mention of sin or guilt. Sin is seen as an archaic form of oppression that we must shake off if we are to be truly free. And so, we resort to many counterfeit forms of repentance, like those desperate new resolutions or promises we make when we are buffeted by the trouble that sin has caused in our lives. Sometimes we believe that these efforts at self help will buy us atonement.

And other times, we desperately want to escape the web of sin in our lives, but we’re not truly repulsed, saddened and ashamed of the sin itself. In fact, we have no clue how seriously we’ve offended God, nor do we intend to name our sin or confess it out loud to the only person who can forgive us. Instead, we are still looking for loopholes while calculating how near the line we dare walk before we are zapped by God or sin’s consequences. Counterfeit repentance is a fool’s paradise.

But God is not fooled by our counterfeit repentance, which achieves nothing but a false sense of security. The difference between counterfeit and real repentance is illustrated well by Christ’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to pray:

“The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’…

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:11-14)

The tax collector called himself a sinner and called upon God for mercy. But the Pharisee saw only the faults of others.

The crux of salvation.

Knowing what repentance means is essential to Christianity and saving faith. It was the crux of Peter’s sermon and the only way that we will be added to God’s kingdom, alongside the 3000 who accepted Peter’s message (Acts 2:38-41). Repentance is the only way that Jesus saves us “from this perverse generation” and justifies us before God. It’s the only channel by which we and our children can receive the promises of God (Acts 2:38-3940).

“Repent and be baptized” is a warning as well as a promise of hope. Jesus himself said that if we do not repent, we will perish. It is the most important word in the gospel, used in John the Baptist’s ministry and Jesus’s ministry (Matt 3:24:17). ‘Repent’ is not a dirty word, but a word of hope and healing, because it is the condition by which we are reformed into God’s creatures.

Spurgeon said, “The old fashioned grace of repentance is not to be dispensed with; there must be sorrow for sin; there must be a ‘broken and contrite heart’. This, God will not despise. But a ‘conversion’ which does not produce this result, God will not accept as genuine.”

To be sure that we know the difference between counterfeit and genuine repentance in our own lives, join me next week as we explore Thomas Watson’s six essential ingredients which make up the spiritual medicine of repentance:

  1. Sight of sin.
  2. Sorrow for sin.
  3. Confession of sin.
  4. Shame for sin.
  5. Hatred for sin.
  6. Turning from sin.

Prayer

Lord, you have reminded us today of our sinful hearts that so often deceive us into thinking we are good. We are utterly crooked, and it is only our pride, self-love and ignorance that blind us to our bankruptcy before you. Lord, we don’t want to harp on other people’s faults and cloak our sins. We ask you to cut open the abscess of our own hearts and expose whatever offends you in our thoughts, words and deeds. Help us to confess our sins to you speedily, specifically and without excuse. Holy Spirit, give us hearts of humble surrender, like the tax collector who prayed for mercy and like the 3000 converts on the day of Pentecost. Cut us to the heart, Lord, that we may be healed. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

“Above all” is a song that reminds me of Peter’s first sermon about Jesus Christ. “You lived to die, rejected and alone. Like a rose trampled on the ground, you took the fall and thought of me above all.” The conviction of our own great sin and Christ’s beautiful sacrifice must cut our hearts and lead us to repentance again and again.

So Esau despised his birthright

By Rosie Moore.

“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

So Esau despised his birthright” (Gen 25:34).

I’ve never seen anyone come close to starvation after a day stalking animals in the bush! All afternoon Esau had been imagining dinner, but he exaggerated his hunger as though it was a matter of life and death. His mind fixated on momentary pleasure and the object of his desire, nothing else.

“GIVE ME WHAT I WANT, AND GIVE IT TO ME RIGHT NOW, OR I’LL DIE!!” It so happened that his brother made an exquisitely delicious lentil stew and Esau was particularly hungry and tired.

Like all addictions and cravings, they don’t just happen out of the blue and they come with a high price tag attached. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you are willing to give up anything to give you what you feel you need right now?

I think Paul’s words to the Philippian believers provide an apt description of Esau’s sin:

“Their destiny is their destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” (Phil 3).

Esau’s trade-off was the culmination of a series of trade-offs, which included marrying Canaanite wives in opposition to his parents’ wishes. These wives worshipped foreign gods that demanded detestable sexual acts and even child sacrifice (Gen 26:3428:8). As a son in the covenant family of Abraham, Esau would have known that Yahweh and Baal had nothing in common (Deut 7:3-4Gen 28:1). But Esau was master of his own destiny and he took whatever his heart desired.

Instant gratification

Trading his birthright for a bowl of stew was the clearest example of Esau’s priorities. He valued his own wants above God’s will, and worshipped his cravings instead of Yahweh. He grabbed instant gratification instead of treasuring God’s covenantal blessing.

Verse 34 leaves us in no doubt about how God regarded Esau’s choice to put his temporary hunger pains above his eternal birthright. Moses concludes this story with the loaded statement: “So Esau despised his birthright.”

He sought the blessing with tears.

Because Esau sold his birthright and treated the blessings and privileges of God as worthless, this sin had lasting consequences that could not be undone. In the ancient world, a person’s word was binding, especially a formal oath. No amount of tears, regret, remorse or blame could change the outcome.

But Esau only realized the weight of this choice years later when his dying father blessed Jacob instead of himself (Genesis 27):

“When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!”

 But Isaac said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”

Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” 

Now it’s true that while the twins were still in Rebekah’s womb, God had promised that his plan would be worked out through Jacob, not Esau (Gen 25:23). And there’s no doubt that Jacob was a lying, deceiving trickster who didn’t deserve the family birthright either.

But it’s also clear from the text that Esau never takes responsibility for his own sin of selling his birthright. Instead, he rants and rages, implores and begs, blames his treacherous brother and swears to kill him when he realizes that he’s been passed over for his father’s blessing.

Instead of acknowledging his sin, Esau sees himself as the innocent victim of everything that has happened to him. It’s as if a bandit came and stole the birthright right out of his hands! Never once does Esau admit that he chose to satisfy the desire of the moment, while giving up the greatest prize of all—a part of God’s great plan of redemption. He forgets his careless words to his brother, “What good is the birthright to me?”

What good is the birthright to me?

To understand the magnitude of Esau’s sin, let’s consider the significance of this birthright:

Firstly, in the ancient world, a birthright was the special honour given to the firstborn son, which included a double portion of the family inheritance and the leadership of the family.

Secondly, in Abraham’s family, Esau’s birthright meant far more than property rights and status. To be God’s chosen seed was the greatest blessing anyone could hope for. It came with all the promises of God’s everlasting covenant with Abraham and Isaac (Gen 12; 13; 15; 17; 25).

So, by selling his birthright for a pot of stew, Esau was rejecting this covenant and the privilege of fathering many nations; being a channel of blessing to other nations and inheriting the Promised land of Canaan– a land flowing with milk and honey. Esau was treating this treasure as if it were worthless and unimportant.

Moreover, on a personal level, Esau was giving up the extraordinary benefit of God’s faithful presence in his life: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you.” (Gen 28:15). This was the promise that God made to his brother Jacob instead.

A warning for the privileged.

Esau’s dismissive words are a great warning to all of us who have had the privilege of hearing the gospel, belonging to a church or a Christian family. For this reason, the writer to the Hebrews highlights Esau’s life as a warning to the first century church not to forfeit their spiritual birthright by living a sexually immoral, bitter or godless life:

14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done (Heb 12:14-17).

There is something irrevocable about Esau’s choice in Genesis 25, and the Bible makes no bones about its spiritual implications (Mal 1:2-3Rom 9:13).

How is Esau’s life a warning to us today? Ultimately, we despise the spiritual birthright that God freely offers us when we are unwilling to repent and trust in Jesus, the “mediator of the new covenant, whose sprinkled blood speaks louder than the blood of Abel” (Heb 12:24). If we stubbornly reject the gospel invitation in our lifetime, we can never expect to receive God’s blessings in the afterlife. This is the stark warning of Esau’s life for all those who delay or reject Christ’s call to turn to Him in faith and repentance.

But even as Christians, we are apt to take for granted Christ’s great love and sacrifice on the cross. Over many years, familiarity can breed contempt and complacency. The writer of Hebrews urges us to be thankful people, “and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28). Thankful, reverent worship is the only antidote to the sin of contempt.

The big trade-off.

There is something very sobering about Esau’s lost birthright and blessing, as well as the warning in Hebrews 12. I don’t know about you, but I can relate to Esau and his poor choice. I remember many times in my life when I’ve chosen cheap fast food instead of the wonderful banquet that God offers me (Isaiah 55:1-2).

Who of us hasn’t surrendered to cravings to help us forget, to prove our worth, to express anger or just to feel better for a moment? I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to quench some deep thirst with salty water that only makes me thirstier.

Who of us hasn’t preferred, at some point in our lives, that God should leave us alone to live our own lives and be our own God? Who of us hasn’t blamed and nursed bitter thoughts when we’ve been careless with our life? This is the struggle against sin that every believer must fight until the day we die (Heb 12:4-5).

But the gospel is truly wonderful news for those of us who identify with Esau’s sin and turn to Jesus for restoration. Jesus did what we cannot do!

Just consider Christ’s trade-off: Jesus gave up his birthright as the only begotten Son of God, to secure our birthright as God’s adopted children and heirs. This is an irrevocable birthright with extraordinary blessings and privileges attached.

Unlike Esau, Jesus did not take the path of instant gratification when tested in the wilderness. He didn’t grab the instant food, the instant power, approval and protection that Satan offered him. Instead, Jesus did battle with sin and took an aggressive, take-no-prisoners stand against Satan’s deceptive schemes (Luke 4:1-13).

Jesus stayed on course and set his face to Jerusalem. He submitted to the cross and endured the dreadful darkness when his Father abandoned him. “He scorned the shame of the cross and then sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” If Jesus had been like us, he would have chosen instant gratification, instead of the “joy set before him” (Heb 12:2-3).

In our battle against constant craving, let’s keep our eyes on Jesus one day at a time. Let’s give up whatever sin endangers our relationship with God and run patiently in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s never refuse God’s grace or put our confidence in short term gains. Instead, let’s build our lives on Christ and his unshakeable kingdom. What’s a pot of lentil stew compared to a land overflowing with milk and honey?

Prayer

Lord, it’s sobering to read of how Esau rejected your blessings by trading his birthright for a pot of stew. We too struggle against this same sin and we so often forget that you are good and you offer us joy that’s better than anything on earth. When we are struggling with sin, help us to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who “endured such opposition from sinful men so that we will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb 12:2-3). Give us thankful, worshipful hearts that fully appreciate your great gift of salvation. “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees, make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled but rather healed (Heb 12:12).

Amen