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“Christ died for the ungodly”

These words pierced through my heart this past week, especially when it is connected with the metaphor Paul used in II Corinthians 4:7-18 of treasure being placed in jars of clay.  Let me explain this connection.  Paul writes in verse 7,

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

The metaphor reminds me that I am a mere pot, a jar that is used to contain just about anything.  A pot could contain oil, garbage, the remains of a person, or something worse.  God instead chose to fill the vessel with treasure.  For those that are in Christ, Paul gives us the assurance that God placed treasure inside of an individual, and that is reason enough to be happy.  Indeed all those who call upon the name of the Lord and put their faith in Christ will obtain this treasure.

Paul told us about the treasure earlier in the chapter.  He found that the treasure is…

…the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

2 Cor 4:4-6

This treasure should not cause anyone to boast in their own worth, for again those who are in Christ are a jar of clay.  These jars have been redeemed out of mire for service to the King.  As I wrote above, Christ died for the ungodly.  He took the punishment that I rightly deserved.  He took it for me that I might be justified before God.  This is reason enough to be excited, but He doesn’t stop there!  He then gives us every spiritual blessing and draws us into what it means to be human again.  Those who are in Christ are given new life with a promise.  We are given the promise that,

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.

(2 Cor 4:13-14)

Being united with God again and transformed into the image of Christ.  Indeed, He who raised Jesus from the grave will also raise us up through the power of the Spirit.  How can these incredible things be?  We are assured that we will not be put to shame, for the resurrection of Christ is the firstfruits of new life.  He will be faithful to His word, for that is His very character.  Indeed how fortunate are those who can call themselves the ungodly and jars of clay?  And the great thing is, is that you can call upon Christ and He will make you a jar of clay—an ordinary pot that contains the treasure of God!  How great is that?

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The importance of remembering is mentioned quite a bit in the Bible.  One of the great portions of Scripture though is Deuteronomy.  In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses needed to give the new generations of Israelites the history of their people, why they were in the suburbs of the Promised Land.  While the original generation that left Egypt died off during the wilderness period as a punishment, the children did not fully understand the miraculous act that happened decades before their time.  They were raised in the desert and the wandering nomad life was all that they knew.

The Lord of Israel was made to known to the new generations of Israel as Moses recounted their story again in Deuteronomy.  He told them that the LORD alone is God and that there is no other.  Why?  Because He brought them out of Egypt.  That is the basis of the claim, because God brought them out of a strong land with powerful acts.  Throughout the OT this is the basis of so many claims to being and remaining faithful to God.  Israel ought to love God alone because He brought them out. Therefore, the people should “keep his statutes and commandments.” (Deut 4:40)

The people were also told to bind them on their heart and make it a sign in their house (6:7-9)  It was important to do this because they (and indeed we) are so quick to forget.  We must always be mindful of the fact that it is God who provided.  He provided bounty for Israel and a cultivated land for their heritage.  It is in this faithfulness He made with His people (a covenantal faithfulness) that they were called to hold onto every day.

So we should give God honor and praise for his magnanimous nature.  In this praise, we should also remember what He has done, namely redeeming us through Jesus. He was faithful, even when we were faithless.

The writer of Ecclesiastes deduced that the entire world was nothing but filled with vanity.  Sadly, when we are not in Christ, life is indeed full of vanity.  Life is meaningless when we attempt to do it our own, making plans and enjoying the fruit of our labor when our days are numbered.  For those who are in Christ, we can rest with remarkable assurance that our lives are not meaningless.  We live in the light of God’s beautiful face, and He works through our actions.  If there is no transcendent God, then all we do is wander in this land before we are placed in the grave.

Living life with the perspective of Coram Deo (Before the face of God) in mind allows to walk with ease.  The transcendent (and immanent!) God provides a context of meaning for each one of us, if we place ourselves within His ongoing story of redemption.  A Tabletalk devotional once wrote that “life lived with reference to Him—under heaven—is never an exercise in futility.”  Life lived in Christ is a non-negotiable.

Those who are in Christ are called to live in the reality of knowing that they are “under heaven.”  This reality ought to stiffen the spine of the Christian, prompting them to become more serious about not only learning the will of the Father but then also performing that will.  According to God’s abundant grace, we do not have to grow fearful of missing the mark.  We do not have to fear being wrathfully tossed aside when we fail, instead we can rest assured that God embraces us when we fall.  His Spirit is there to help us to walk and be conformed into the image of Christ.  We must not take this grace for granted, instead we must live our lives in devoted service to our King.

The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.  Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.’

(Gen 4:6-7 ESV)

As I have begun my quest to read through the Bible, I was struck by this passage.  It came right after Cain and Abel presented their sacrifices to God and He favored Abel’s over Cain.  However, when God saw the dejected spirit of Cain He offered Him a chance of stepping off of his dangerous path.  He told Cain to do well like Abel (offering even when it is difficult) and receive acceptance.  Cain simply did not like this advice.

The picture of sin crouching at the door is particularly vivid to me.  While Abel offered a more acceptable gift and received faith (Heb 11:4), Cain was about to receive punishment for where his mind was leading him.  He did not stop and consider that the valley he was descending on was deadly.

Cain did not comprehend that sin desired his very life.  He did realize that it wanted to master him.  While we are all enslaved to our passions, it is important to root ourselves in Christ where the passions are altered.  James reminds us that we are lured away, enticed by our own desires and ultimately give birth to the very death of us.  That is why we are told about the necessity to take every thought into captivity and bring it to God.  He must fundamentally change our way of seeing and being.

Take heed, for sin’s desire is to enslave and destroy us.

“Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.”

-Jeremiah 22:3

God spoke these words to Jeremiah as a message to the king.  It was a request and command that the king execute justice in the land.  His reward would be peace and his punishment would be destruction.  What I found interesting in this particular verse (within the broader passage) was that the phrase “resident alien” came up in the message.  It made me wonder what this meant.

Without looking further into the Old Testament, I wish to hazard a guess.  Perhaps these aliens were drawn in and they should have been compelled to worship Yahweh because of His people.  Israel should have been a bastion of light to the surrounding land, shining brightly in the dark world.  Instead they oppressed them and defamed God’s name.

I wonder how often Christians defame the name of God when they oppress other people.  I can only think about the awful things done in the name of Jesus in the past history that have broken his heart.  The very people that God wanted his chosen nation to care for were those who were instead crushed.  Instead of acting as a taste of heaven, a colony for the King of kings, I wonder how often the Church has destroyed the poor and powerless in the name of riches and power.  My guess would be too often. Instead of being salt and light unto the broader world, Christians act as corrosive agents and radiation to others.

How it must break the heart of God to have His Name used in the oppression.  Instead of the spirit of Christ being spread out in the culture, the spirit of anti-Christ is twisted into its place.

They defamed the name of the LORD, and destroyed people under God’s banner.  Maybe that is why it was such a big deal!

(Part 2/2 of Psalm 1 and Torah)

Psalms 1 is a fantastic psalm, filled with many treasures.  One other thing that I wanted to emphasis is about the characteristics of a person.  As mentioned previously, J. Clinton McCann, Jr. also talks about the righteous person in A Theological Introduction to the Books of Psalms.  The blessed person is not happy according to riches, prestige or power.  Indeed, many people who rejected God will live in prosperity.  The prosperity and peace that is talked about is not according to worldly standards, for the peace of the righteous is not as the world gives (see: John 14:27).  The happiness that is hinted at in Psalms 1 is that the individual’s life is wholly oriented towards the instruction of God.  It is a constant yielding to Him. 

Peace is neither a naive optimism of wealth or self-righteous legalism, as written about last week.  No, it is far greater than that.  It is about an abandonment of our convictions of living fine by ourselves and clinging to torah.  Righteousness is not about purity of heart or a maintenance of puritanical-standards.  Instead, righteousness is being open to God’s instruction and being willing to grow towards the full measure of the stature of Christ.  As John Calvin would say that it is a "teachable spirit", someone who is open to instruction from God.  And this spirit brings honor and praise to God, for that is where humanity finds life.

I am currently enrolled in a course on the Psalms at a seminary.  Psalms has been a very interesting book to read but honestly I have not delved into it with the same passion as other books.  One book that I am reading gives a very interesting perspective on the first psalm.  J. Clinton McCann, Jr. argues in the first chapter of A Theological Introduction to the Books of Psalms that Psalm 1 lays the foundation for the entire psalter.  It paints a picture of what a righteous person looks like and describes what a wicked person acts like.  A righteous person delights in the law of the Lord day and night.

“Wait!”, you might say.  “We are supposed to delight in the law?  I thought that grace was the big operating word of Christianity, especially the Protestant wing of it.  Besides we are not under the law anymore, isn’t that what Paul said in Galatians?”

McCann would reply that the psalm is not discussing the characteristics of the self-righteous individual.  This is not a “holier-than-thou” person who parade their prayers in the street and drives around with Christian bumper stickers.  We can translate the Hebrew word torah and say that it means instruction in this context, not law.  The righteous person delights in the instruction of the Lord.  To be blameless in the eyes of God is not to be sinless, but instead to open up to the torah of the Lord, clinging to it daily.  The psalmists words will only be acceptable by God if they opened up to the “all-encompassing, life-giving instruction of the Lord.”  There is no other option from the psalmist, for the torah is it.  There is nothing worthy to be called life apart from God’s instruction.

Peter would echo these words when he was asked by Jesus if they (the disciples) would abandon them.  Peter replied, “where else would we go, for you alone offer life?”  There is no other place that life can be found, except in God’s instruction.

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(Part 1/2 of Psalm 1 and Torah)

Philemon is an epistle of Paul’s that is not often read.  It is stuck there within the canon of the New Testament, wedged in between better known works.  Yet, within this book lies a remarkable story.  A story that flips the social order of Rome and rightly gets to the heart of the gospel of freedom and equity.  Martin Luther frames the story within a larger context of salvation and redemption.  Luther writes in his preface to The Epistle of St Paul to Philemon,

This epistle gives us a masterful and tender illustration of Christian love.  For here we see how St. Paul takes the part of poor Onesimus and, to the best of his ability, advocates his cause with his master.  He acts exactly as if he were himself Onesimus, who had done wrong.  Yet he does this not with force or compulsion, as lay within his rights; but he empties himself of his rights in order to compel Philemon also to waive his rights.  What Christ has done for us with God the Father, that St Paul does also for Onesimus with Philemon.   For Christ emptied himself of his rights (Philippians 2:7) and overcame the Father with love and humility, so that the Father had to put away his wrath and rights, and receive us into favor for the sake of Christ, who so earnestly advocates our cause and heartily takes our part.  For we are all his Onesimus’s if we believe.

This is what Paul’s ministry was all about, being conformed into the image of the crucified Christ.  How remarkable it is to rest in the knowledge that the God of the universe emptied Himself and took on flesh, becoming obedient even to the point of death by humiliation.  That death then was followed by the resurrection and subsequent restoration of humanity’s relationship with God.

It really is a wonderful book.  I encourage you to read and reflect upon the glories of restoration through a selfless act.

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