How Elijah Points to Jesus: Further Reflections on 1 Kings 18

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching at Park Community Church from 1 Kings 18 on the story of an ancient prophet of Yahweh’s confrontation with the pagan prophets of a false god. It was the latest installment of our “Great Stories” series.

This story, in which the wild man Elijah calls down the fire of the Lord, slaughters the treasonous Baal prophets and launches a revival in the nation of Israel, has always fascinated me. I even adapted it into a short story in my junior-year English class at Glenbard East High School (looking back, there was probably something close to plagiarism going on there, in how closely I followed the biblical narrative).

Over the years, I have become borderline obsessed with the idea that every story in the Tanakh (AKA the Hebrew Scriptures, AKA the Old Testament) points forward to Jesus Christ and the New Covenant in some way. Of course I did not invent this idea; it is as old as the Bible itself. Nevertheless, this Christocentric approach to Scripture study now has me asking about every OT story, in a way that I never did as a high schooler or for years afterward, the question, “How does this point to Jesus?”

Until I wrote this sermon (here’s the transcript), I had never really studied 1 Kings 18 with that question in mind. So it was a real joy to do so. Here’s what I came up with.

  1. Elijah proclaims repentance to Israel – Much like the later “Elijah” (John the Baptist) would do, he prepares the hearts of Israel for an encounter with the Lord. For Elijah, it was the Yahweh who would show His power on Mount Carmel. For John the Baptist, it was Yahweh-in-the-flesh, the man Christ Jesus, who saved His people on Mount Calvary.
  2. Elijah preached that God’s people should follow Him alone – Jesus too warned against trying to serve two masters (Matthew 6:24) and insisted that, “No one who “puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
  3. Elijah offered a sacrifice, and God accepted it – The Lord vindicated His servant Elijah by sending a bolt out of the blue and burning up his sacrifice. Nine centuries later, He accepted a far greater sacrifice for sin and vindicated His Son, by raising Him from the dead.
  4. Elijah’s altar of twelve stones expressed a desire for God’s people to be unified – God’s people (which meant the 12 tribes of Israel in Elijah’s day) were meant to be together, not split up into multiple kingdoms (which they were at that time). In Christ, people from every ethnicity, culture and kingdom are united (Galatians 3:28).
  5. Elijah’s revival was temporary, showing the need for a greater revival – Under the Old Covenant, Israel’s returns to God (as in 1 Kings 18) never involved the whole nation, and they were temporary, because most of their hearts did not change. This story accentuates the need for the New Covenant in Christ’s blood, in which all God’s elect people will know Him, and they will serve Him with new hearts forever.

It is amazing to set back and think about the privileged place in history in which we live. The promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Christ, and we can see in hi-def what OT believers saw only in types and shadows. From Genesis to Malachi, the Hebrew Scriptures are all about the Messiah to come. Starting next month, we will launch our new series, all about what it means to live together as followers of said Messiah, as the church.

What other ways do you see the “great story” of Elijah on Mount Carmel pointing to the greatest story ever, i.e. the Gospel? Feel free to share any insights in the comments.

Some Further Reflections on Joseph’s Story

Over the last several weeks at Park Community Church, we have been hearing the stories from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) that point to the greatest story of all–God’s plan to redeem His people through Jesus Christ. As the most recent “episode” of the “Great Stories” series at the Forest Glen church, we heard a message from Pastor Steve Coble on the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis, chapters 37 – 50.

Here are a few of my takeaways from the message:

1. Every evil and tragic thing that happened in Joseph’s life was not only used by God, but actually intended by God for Joseph’s eventual good. God did not merely “use” the trouble and tragedy in Joseph’s life, as though He was working out a Plan B. Rather, it turns out He actually had a plan from the beginning that superseded all the evil intentions of the “villains” in the story.

Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. The wife of Potiphar, Joseph’s master, falsely accused him of sexual assault. In prison, Joseph was forgotten and left to rot, by someone he had helped. And yet every single one of these seeming misfortunes was a stepping stone toward Joseph’s final promotion (to second in command of the whole kingdom!) and reconciliation with his family.

Even the famine that struck the region worked out for good, as it brought Joseph’s brothers and father to him. God’s sovereign plan often has, worked into it, evil people doing evil things. He does this in order to show that He is in complete, sovereign control. His creatures will freely choose to do wrong, but God is greater than our plans.

He is totally good, and He is in total control. The same is true in your life today. If you love God and have been called according to His purpose, then God is working all things in your life together for good–to make you more like Jesus and unite you to Him as His brother or sister (Romans 8:28-30).

2. Joseph’s story had implications that stretched far beyond his own lifetime. Joseph himself became a pattern of the Messiah who would come–namely Jesus. Jesus was betrayed by his own people into the hands of evil men, falsely accused, and punished as an innocent man. And like Joseph (though infinitely more significantly) Jesus was vindicated–raised from the dead!–and promoted to the most exalted position in the kingdom.

The story of Joseph and his brothers is one chapter in the grand story God wrote in history, leading to the conclusion in which Jesus Christ rescues His people from calamity and establishes his righteous reign. In fact, Jesus is reigning now, and possesses “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Right now you may be on the wrong side of His reign–not yet submitted to Him–but you can be reconciled to God, just as Joseph’s brothers were reconciled to him, by admitting you are a sinner and repenting to God, trusting in Jesus as Savior and King.

3. I can stop worrying, and so can you. Joseph’s story, and the Gospel to which it points, powerfully conveys that God has a good plan, He is in control of our circumstances in order to bring about that plan, and His plan is good for us. If God can bring His Son back from the dead (and He did), and if God has promised everlasting life to those who trust in Jesus (and He has), and if He will be with us always (and He will), then what is there to worry about?

I tend to worry about my children–that I will fail them as a father. No doubt Joseph’s father, Israel (the name God gave to Jacob and where the nation of Israel gets its name), felt like a failure on that day that his sons reported that Joseph had been killed. But God was in control, working out His plan. Israel saw the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (cf. Psalm 27:13), and he realized the truth: God is able to use the worst tragedies to bring about redemption and rescue.

Joseph’s story is a great story, and it doesn’t end with Him. It continues on to the Messiah and through Messiah to his people. Are you one of His people? Trust in Him!

What Kind of Church Outreach Works?

Since I started in ministry back in 2011, I have been a student of church outreach methods and practices. What is outreach? Outreach is simply the activity of extending one’s attention beyond one’s church community in order to bring the Gospel to outsiders, and to bring outsiders to faith in Christ and into the church.

Outreach is important, because as followers of Jesus, we ought not to keep the good news to ourselves. We want to share it and see others–as many as the Lord will give us–come to saving faith, reconciliation to God and others, and the transformed life that only Jesus can give.

Over the years, I have worked with ministries and staffs to develop strategies ranging from pub theology groups, to backyard barbecues, to evangelistic retreats and lock-ins, to well-known programs like the Alpha Course. I have attended conferences and researched curriculum. I have preached it from the stage, and I have obnoxiously wedged it into conversations. I would by no means call myself an expert in outreach, but I am a student of it. I don’t know everything (far from it), but I have learned a few things. And after years of studying and practicing outreach, I am convinced that there are two methods of outreach that is more effective than everything else.

The two most effective methods for evangelism I have found are these:

  1. Studying the Bible in a small group.
  2. A personal invitation to church.

Studying the Bible in a small group

There is something about opening up God’s word with a group of two-to-12 people, reading it, discussing it, and asking and answering questions about it that is just powerful. In Isaiah 55:11, the Lord says, “My word that comes from my mouth will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do” (CSB). I have written about the benefit of small group Bible study to spiritual growth, so I won’t belabor this point.

If you are looking for something you can do to reach unbelievers with the Gospel, I would just encourage you to pray first, and then recruit one or two other believers to do this with you. Together, pick up a book on one-to-one or small-group Bible study (like this one) and start inviting your non-Christian friends and acquaintances to study the Bible with you. You can say something like, “Would you have any interest in reading the Bible with me and a couple other guys (/gals) for a few weeks?”

An evangelistic, small-group Bible study on a book like Romans or one of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) can be a powerful environment for outreach.

A personal invitation to church

Ideally, there is one place you can count on the Gospel being announced at least once a week. That place, of course, is your local church (if your pastor is not preaching the Good News about Jesus every week, then you need to have a sit-down with him. Come on, Preacher! We’ve got souls to save here! Get on your horse!). Because of this, a church invite can be a great way to get your non-Christian friends, neighbors and family members in front of Jesus. The fact is, most of us are not inviting people to church. Before churches plan to spend money, time and volunteer hours on large-scale outreach initiatives, we should take advantage of the “outreach event” happening every weekend!

The invitation can be something as simple as saying, “Hey, if you don’t have any plans this Sunday morning, I’d love to have you join me at my church this Sunday. We can even grab lunch afterward. Want to come?”

These two outreach methods are simple, but let’s be honest, they are still intimidating. You still have to make the invitation. Sometimes, we may prefer large-scale events, because it allows us to hid behind everyone else in the church. These two methods require personal, face-to-face interaction and taking a risk. But this is exactly what the Lord did for us. Jesus came down and met us face-to-face. And last time I checked, He still invites us, through His word, to come to Him (see here and here).  It’s our privilege, as His followers, to pass that invitation along.

Further reading: 

  • Why Church Members Don’t Invite Others to Church: http://thomrainer.com/2014/07/church-members-dont-invite-others-church/
  • Five Surprising Insights about the Unchurched: http://thomrainer.com/2016/12/five-surprising-insights-unchurched/

Why Does God Allow the Devil to Live? (and a Couple Other Good Questions)

A friend of mine posted these questions, which her children had asked her, on Facebook today.  They were such good questions, and they struck me as the kind of questions people are asking at every age–certainly not just in childhood. I humbly submitted my response (which were written for kids, mind you), and I share that now with you.

The questions:

  • Why did God just not send Satan to death?
  • Why didn’t God just restart the world?
  • God knew that Satan was going to keep doing bad stuff so why didn’t He just put him in a cage or something?
  • Why did God create Satan if He knew he’d do bad things?

My response:

The Bible answers these questions, but not always exactly in the way we would like! There are three perspectives the Bible offers to the question.

First, God is God, and His ways are not our ways. We know He is good, but He is also WAY smarter than we are (obviously! He’s GOD!). Romans 9:20 says “But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God?” In other words, at some point we just have to trust Him, that He knows what He’s doing!

Second, God is so GOOD, that He has a plan to make everything work out for good. He has already planned it out ahead of time. He has even planned it so that, when bad people or spirits (like the devil) choose to do evil things, God makes those bad things work out for good in the end. That’s pretty amazing, right? Romans 8:28 says that, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” In Genesis 50:20, Joseph tells his brothers (who had been super evil to him), “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good!” The worst thing that ever happened was when the Son of God, who had NEVER done ANYTHING wrong, was killed. Satan probably thought he had won–that he had beaten God! But God used that terrible sin to save all His people! The joke’s on the devil, because Jesus wins every time!

Third, we can have peace about these questions, the more we get to know Jesus. In Philippians 4:7, God tells us that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The more we live with God, trusting in Jesus, following the Holy Spirit who lives inside God’s children, the better we feel about life, and God’s control over the world. The Bible says (in Romans 1:17) that the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel (the good news about Jesus) “from faith for faith.” In other words, when we trust in Jesus, God gives us His Holy Spirit who helps us trust in Jesus more and more and more.

So to summarize it…

  1. God knows what He’s doing… even though we don’t!
  2. God’s plan is not just to make a good world, but to bring about a good world in which good completely wins the victory over evil. God will bring every bad thing that the evil devil does around for good. Take that, Devil!
  3. God will help you understand and trust Him more and more–even when you don’t totally get it, because He’s always with you!

One Sure-Fire Way to Grow in Spiritual Health this Summer

Before we begin, join me, for the sake of argument, in assuming two things:

  1. You have a spirit.
  2. Your spirit could be healthier.

Your spirit is the deepest core of who you are.  It’s the truest essence of “self” that you have. It’s your very life. When your spirit departs your body (i.e. when you die), your body dies. Ever since our Creator breathed the first human spirit into the first human body (creating the first human being), all people ever since have been both physical and spiritual (or “psychosomatic”).  While it is relatively easy to find reliable data on how to pursue physical health, when it comes to spiritual health, things get a littler more murky. There are countless traditions, techniques, and writings out there on how to grow in spiritual health, but I want to suggest one simple, repeatable, and enormously beneficial practice that is guaranteed to grow you in spiritual health.

That practice is: study the Bible with followers of Jesus.

Now, you might object that you aren’t a Christian. That’s fine, you don’t have to be one, to study the Bible with some. If you live close to a Bible-believing church, call them up and see if your local pastor or church leader can recommend any Bible-study groups meeting in your neighborhood. But the goal must be to get into a group where followers of Jesus–Christians–are studying the Bible together.

Why do I say that this practice is guaranteed to grow you spiritually? There are three reasons:

It’s God’s own recommendation for spiritual growth.

In the ancient book of Deuteronomy, it’s recorded that God told His people, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Later, in another book (Hebrews, chapter 10), it is written, “…let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” So the Bible is like food for the soul, and we’re instructed to gather together for encouragement. Together, we see a strong recommendation for studying the Bible together. 

It will give you access to supernatural insight.

Jesus famously told His disciples, “…I tell you truly that if two of you on the earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three gather together in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:19-20). Jesus does not physically show up at every gathering of His followers; rather He shows up by God’s Spirit–the Holy Spirit, who indwells every true Christian. When Christians gather together around God’s word, they should expect the Holy Spirit to give them insights together that transcend anything they could come up with on their own. This insight is relevant to life changes, to one’s relationships to God and others, and to simply understanding life’s important questions.

It works.

Studying the Bible with Christians has been one of the top three practices that have grown me spiritually. In other words, I know from experience. In case you’re wondering, the other two practices have been prayer and teaching (what you prepare for, you learn!). When I think back on the periods of my life in which I grew the most spiritually–when I grew in peace, humility and confidence, when my heart grew larger toward my fellowmen, I immediately think of early morning and late night conversations with followers of Jesus, had while studying Scripture together.

Where to find a group:

Many churches (and probably one in your area) offer small group ministries or so-called Sunday School classes. If you happen to find yourself in Chicago, click here to get connected through Park Community Church. Again, whether you have faith or not, whether you consider yourself a strong believer or are just looking into spirituality for the first time, my recommendation is: get in a group and study the Bible with followers of Jesus. It’s God’s own recommendation, it will give you access to supernatural insight, and it works.

What About Those Who Don’t Believe in God?

As I prepare for tomorrow’s message on the book of Jonah–the man who was plunged into the abyss, into the belly of a giant fish, and returned after three days–one concept has really shocked me. In this incredible (though not un-credible) story, there are two groups of people who become worshipers of the Lord, namely the polytheist sailors and the wicked citizens of Nineveh, who had previously been the furthest thing from believers. And yet, it is clear from the story that God actually expected their worship. He deserved it. They owed Him worship.

There is no sense, from Scripture, that worship of the Lord is something optional, or that God only certain people to worship Him, or that He only wants to be known, glorified and enjoyed by people who currently adhere to a particular religion.

God is the God of everyone He has created. And He has created everyone. He is even the God of those who don’t believe in Him. (Or at least, they claim to believe in Him. Whether anyone can truly be an atheist is an issue for another time. Spoiler alert: they can’t.)

These theme of the universality of God’s worship-worthiness continues on into the New Testament, in which Jesus is said to be the Savior, not only of certain people, but of the whole world (see 1 John 2:2 and 4:14). That is to say, there is only one God, and One who goes between God and man, to make peace between us.

Like the pagan sailors and the Ninevites in the book of Jonah, you, me, and everyone we know owe our allegiance to the one true God.

This is difficult, because there are many religious systems out there claiming to be true, and insofar as they deny the Gospel, they are therefore all wrong (see the recent controversy with Senator Bernie Sanders and presidential appointee).

However, it is also wonderful news (the word Gospel means “good news”), because there is a sure way to God. There aren’t multiple ways, but that’s okay, because there aren’t multiple gods. There is only one. And He has given us a way. That way is through faith in Jesus (John 1:12).

This Gospel is the message that Christians must take to our family, friends and neighbors: there is one true God. He made us, and we owe Him everything. We’ve been refusing Him the worship He deserves, and we’ve earned His punishment (that’s why God sent Jonah to Nineveh in the first place!). Rescue from that punishment comes through faith in the one who was plunged into the abyss of death and returned to the land of the living after three days. Not Jonah, but Jesus. Do you know Him? Whom will you tell?

Spread the News! New Resources Posted!

FYI, I’ve just posted two new resources that I hope will be useful. The first is for Spanish-speaking parents: a Spanish translation of the New Covenant Catechism for Little Ones (thanks to Antonio Salgado).

And the second is for churches to use in equipping their people to share their faith. You can find them both at the top of this page in the Resources & Media tab.

New Men’s Group Forming

I spent a few hours this afternoon contacting some of the men of Park Church (Edgebrook). I did this because I was recently tasked with overseeing the men’s ministry of our local church, and I wanted to invite them to be a part of a new initiative we are soon starting.

The good thing is this: I will not need to start things from scratch. Park Edgebrook already has a solid men’s ministry, which has been meeting semi-sometimely for breakfasts, book and Bible studies, as well as other initiatives. The men of Park Edgebrook are committed and involved in various ministries at the church. This is a solid church, with a solid contingent of men. Some of these guys have been attending the church for decades–since back when it was Edgebrook Church. But just about every week, there are new faces and new families that join our ranks.

A New Tribe

So my mission, as I see it, is to build on the momentum  happening here and to help provide opportunities for men who are already involved, as well as those who are newer or still unsure about the church, “to learn from God’s word and to challenge each other to live as men of wisdom and purpose.”

To do this, we are starting a new men’s small group, a tribe of friends and brothers to meet every week in community and on mission. 

The Biblical Pattern

In his letter to the church in ancient Galatia, the Apostle Paul writes,

Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.  Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else.  For each person will have to carry his own load.

The Bible’s instructions for how we are supposed to live together involve all sorts of truly manly themes: restoring our fallen brothers, self-discipline, carrying one another’s burdens, fulfilling the law of our King, pursuing humility, self-examination, working hard, and learning to carry out our own God-given responsibilities.

It all adds up to the makings of a solid men’s group, am I right?

The Church’s Vision

On the back wall of our church’s auditorium this statement is posted in words made of metal: “We exist to be a biblical community where the Gospel of Jesus Christ transforms lives, renews the city, and impacts the world.”

The new men’s group will be the laboratory where we will strive to put the Apostle’s instructions and our church’s vision into practice.

Monthly Schedule

Following the guidance of Kevin Howells (Pastor of Small Group) and Park’s S. G. Ministry team, we will meet according to the following format:

  • Week 1: Group Study and Discussion
    An authentic, open and challenging discussion of a passage of Scripture and/or a chapter of a book, with a heavy emphasis on skills-building and practical application. 
  • Week 2: Meal
    Food, conversation, prayer and camaraderie.
    (Mmm… wings….*)


  • Week 3: Group Study and Discussion
    Same as Week 1.

  • Week 4: Third Place
    Time to unwind and hang out at a natural, neutral space in the community. Think: bowling alley, pub, restaurant, cigar shop, or coffee shop. I wrote an article about “Third Places,” which you can read here

Along with these regular gatherings, we will be open to getting together casually at other times, to watch a game, grab a bite to eat, get the families together, check out a neighborhood fest, serve the community, etc.

Next Steps

This new group will be open to all men of the church, single, married or divorced. Guys who are already committed to small groups should talk to their group leaders and wives (if applicable) before joining–but you are welcome too. Let’s form a tribe and get to work.

Do you want more information? Ready to sign up? Shoot me an email: jsettecase@parkcommunitychurch.org.

*Or maybe you’re a vegetarian, in which case just imagine I said, “Mmm… carrot sticks….”

 

Sermon Notes – Psalm 19

This Sunday I had the honor of preaching at Park Community Church, Edgebrook, on the 19th Psalm. In case you missed it or are curious to see what a pastor’s preaching notes might look like, here are the notes I used (very slightly edited–N. B. these are the notes I wrote before I preached and not a transcript of the actual sermon, which means what I actually preached may have been slightly (though not substantially) different than what you read here).

Further reading & watching recommendations can be found at the bottom.

*****

Psalm 19 – God has revealed Himself.

  1. INTRO
    1. Intro–scuba diving man and drowing man.*
    2. One day a diver was enjoying the aquatic world 20 feet below sea level. He noticed a guy at the same depth he was, but he had on no scuba gear whatsoever.
      This made the diver, who was proud of his skills, a little annoyed.

      The diver went below another 20 ft, but the guy joined him a few moments later. The diver, now downright aggravated, went down another 25 feet more, but soon , the same guy joined him.

      Alright, at this point the diver was straight-up confused, so he took out a waterproof chalkboard set, and wrote, “How on earth are you able to stay under this deep without equipment?”

      The guy took the board and chalk, erased what the diver had written, and wrote, “I’m DROWNING, YOU GOOBER!!!”

      See, that diver missed something the truth that was right in front of him.
      Today we’re going to talk about those times in life when it seems like God is silent. Like he’s not speaking. Like he’s nowhere to be found. And we’re going to see from our text this morning that, during those times, we have to realize that God has already

      1. You can miss something that is right in front of your face.
      2. You can even miss God.
      3. Although God is everywhere, it is possible to be out of sync with Him, and out of line for His declared will for your life.
      4. This Psalm is crucial because it teaches us what it takes for us to get back in line with God. And it turns out it’s nothign like what we would expect.
    3. Pray
    4. Read Psalm 19.
    5. The Big Idea this morning is this: God Has Revealed Himself
      1. We’re going to look at the ways in which God reveals Himself
      2. And we’re going to look at our proper response to that revelation.
  • Explain: in this Psalm, David describes reality in terms of three perspectives.
    1. These are
      1. The natural world
      2. The written Scriptures
      3. The human self.
    2. Two of these are in perfect harmony with one another. They declare the glory of God, and they reveal Who He is. He has spoken through these media, and He has done it clearly.
    3. One of these things is not like the other. The Self.
  1. God’s revelation
    1. God has revealed Himself in the world (especially the heavens and the skies), for my awareness
      1. The heavens are telling.” He is looking on the freshness fate morning, and all he sees is telling of God, bringing God before him. –Ellicott
    2. (2-3) The progression of the days reveal information
      1. Day to day “pours out speech” –is a blabbermouth! Think of walking through a forest during the day, and everything you discover there–it all SHOUTS unendingly–all the noise of the forest is incessantly repeating, “The glory of God!”
        • SLIDE: RAINFOREST LIFE
        • The idea is, that the successive days thus impart instruction, or convey lessons about God. The day does this by the returning light, and by the steady and sublime movement of the sun in the heavens, and by all the disclosures which are made by the light of the sun in his journeyings. –Barnes

      2. Night to night reveals knowledge. Nights are quieter. It’s harder to learn. And yet, have you ever walked outside on a clear night and looked up at the stars? They reveal knowledge about who God is. SLIDE: MILKY WAY

        • The heavens and the sky are like our instructors. They never stop lecturing. There is a certain glory in the day, and another one in the night, when the stars come out.

        • Picture two choirs, alternating their verses.

        • no wonder, Paul’s condemnation in Roman 1. we have evidence enough!

      3. The information is not in human language, but it is discernible.
        • “The communication of the sky is “eloquent, but mute; its voice is for the heart and emotion, not the ear.”
        • What is science, but the discovery and translation of what the world reveals about God into human language? QUOTE a SCIENTIST HERE.
      4. (4b-6) The sun displays God’s love
        1. (5a) God’s committed love shown in that the sun is like a bridegroom–triumphant and full of love for his beloved.
          • Tent – “chupah,” originally the bridal suite (chambers).
          • Eventually held over the couple during the vows (as in our wedding). represents the heavens, as well as the protection of the groom for his bride.
          • The sun even becomes a metaphor for Christ, the Bridegroom of the church. Mark 2:19 – Jesus calls himself the bridegroom
        2. (5b) God’s joyful love shown in that the sun is like an athlete who loves the joy of competition
        3. (6) God’s providing love shown in that the sun warms all the earth
          • Like Christ illuminating men (John 1)
        4. God has revealed Himself in His Word, for my good
          1. (7-9) Types of Scripture and their effect
            1. (7a) Law
              • Perfect
              • Revives the soul
                • Henry: The word translated law, may be rendered doctrine, and be understood as meaning all that teaches us true religion.
                • “Converts” the soul. Brings it to life.
                • “The one who does this things shall live by them.” was the mission statement of the Old Testament Law. LEv. 18:5; Romans 10:5
  1. (7b) Testimony
    • Sure
    • Makes wise the simple
      • Those who are ignorant of God, upon hearing the Gospel, become wise.
      • but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Cor. 1:24.
  1. (8a) Precepts
    • Right
    • Rejoice the heart
  2. (8b) Commandment
    • Pure
    • Enlightening the eyes
      • Show us our sin. if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
        • (i) Romans 7:7
      • Things are starting to turn here.
  1. (9a) Fear (right religion described in Scripture)
    • Clean
    • Enduring forever
      • Right religion, when carried out, will cleanse a sinner. Yet… who completes this? This sets up David’s plea later.
      • PErfection!
      • God’s standard of true worship hasn’t changed. It will endure forever. So there’s no getting around it.
      • So even Jesus says God must be worshiped in Spirit and in truth. John 4:24.
  1. (9b) Rules
    • True
    • Righteous altogether
      • More properly, “judgments.” Benson – “declarations of his righteous will; and, as it were, his judicial sentence, by which he expects that men should govern themselves, and by which he will judge them at the last day….”
      • The Bible says that God, “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness…” by what standard? The answer is in Acts 17:31, “by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Jesus is the perfect standard, and it’s by Him we’ll be judged.
  1. (10-11) Desirability and usefulness of all of Scripture
    1. (10) Objective and subjective value
      • These are all more precious than gold
        • Gold=the most valuable commodity in the ancient world
      • These are more enjoyable than honey
        • honey=the sweetest substance imaginable in the ancient world.
  1. (11) Sanctions
    • They warn God’s servants against disobedience.
    • They promise reward to God’s servants for obedience.
      • The perspective changes. God becomes the One being addressed after this point.
      • They warn and they promise blessing. So now–the Psalmist pauses, and he examines himself. And it is as though he invites you to examine yourself as well. As you consider God’s righteous decrees, do you deserve blessing or curse?
    • My response

      1. I’m out of step with the God who has revealed Himself.
        1. I see myself sinking down.
        2. The more I see of God’s glorious standard, the more I realize the truth of Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the GLORY of GOD.
          1. Alexander MacLaren envisions, “going down into the abyss, a ladder with three rungs on it.”
        3. (12) Forgiveness for unknown sins
          1. “The contemplation of the ‘perfect law, enlightening the eyes,’ sends the Psalmist to his knees. He is appalled by his own shortcomings, and feels that, beside all those of which he is aware, there is a region, as yet unilluminated by that law, where evil things nestle and breed.”
        4. (13a) Protection from known sins
          1. Help me avoid them
            • MacLaren: “The Psalmist is like a man standing on the edge of some precipice, and peeping over the brink to the profound beneath, and feeling his head beginning to swim. He clutches at the strong, steady hand of his guide, knowing that unless he is restrained, over he will go. ‘Keep thou back Thy servant from presumptuous sins.'”
            • The Hebrew tradition maintained a division between unintentional sins and flagrant (“high-handed” in Numbers 15) sins. Flagrant sins could not be atoned for.
            • There was no sacrifice in the OT law for high handed sins. David in asking for forgiveness is asking for a greater sacrifice than anything the law has to offer.
          2. Keep me from becoming enslaved to them
            • Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, who himself has said, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” John 8:34.
          3. I want to be in step with God the God who has revealed Himself.
            1. (13b) Desire to be blameless, innocent of great sin
              1. The third and bottom rung of the ladder: “the great transgression.” Falling away. David knows the progression of sin.
            2. (14a) Desire for acceptability to God
              1. Outward (words)
                • Mt. 12:37- For by your words will you be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
              2. Inward (thoughts)
                • 5:22 – “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment….”
              3. BOOTSTRAPS! The lie we tell ourselves here is that, all this is going to take is learning some principles and starting to live by them.

              4. But we have to see what’s happening here.
                1. DAVID IS EXAMINING THE LAW AND WHAT’S HE REALIZING?
                2. HE’s realizing his own inadequacy.
                3. He’s realizing that there is no way for him to get himself in line with who God is and what God wants. He’s a sinner.
              5. David longs to trust in the God who reveals Himself.
                1. (14b) God is my rock of shelter
                2. (14b) God redeems me (buys me back)
                  1. Henry: “No prayer can be acceptable before God which is not offered in the strength of our Redeemer or Divine Kinsman, through Him who took our nature upon him, that he might redeem us unto God, and restore the long-lost inheritance.”

 

  1. There is only one way to realign your self with what God has revealed.
    1. That is to run to Christ Jesus
    2. The Rock of your shelter
    3. The redeemer who purchases you out of your slavery to sin.
  2. Conclusion
    1. God has revealed Himself, and we are accountable to know him.
    2. Because of our sin and rebellion, we are out of sync with God’s will
    3. The more we focus on God’s law, the more we realize how short we fall of His glorious standard.
      1. As a matter of fact, the Bible says in Romans 1 that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the wickedness and ungodliness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
      2. Go on a little further in the book of Romans and we see that
        1. ALL KNOW GOD
        2. no one seeks God. No one is righteous, not even one.
      3. Our situation is hopeless, until we realize that Jesus Christ is the answer.
      4. Jesus is the perfect unification of the three perspectives.
        1. He is the creator of the natural world
          1. John 1:3 says that, “Through Him all things were made, and without him nothing was made that has been made.”
          2. Colossians 1:17 says, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
          3. Jesus is the one who imprinted the creation with the glory of God.
        2. He (Jesus) is the Word of God.
          1. He is the ultimate revelation from God (Hebrews 1:2)
          2. He is the one the Scriptures are about (Luke 24)
        3. He (Jesus) is the perfect representation of the human perspective
          1. He is the one man whose existence and experience are perfectly aligned with the will of God the Father. John 8:28 says “I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught me.”
          2. He is the representative of all God’s people.
            • All people are either in Adam or in Christ Jesus.
            • For if by the one man’s trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift overflowed to the many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ. Romans 5:15
          3. As our representative,
            • He perfectly fulfilled the Law and the testimonies and the judgments of God–everything David is talking about in this Psalm.
            • He alone was qualified to serve as the atoning sacrifice to wipe away our sins
              • The greater sacrifice David was asking for.
            • God made Him, who knew no sin, to become sin on our behalf, in order that we might become the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 5:21)
          4. Jesus died, and was buried.
            • He DIED–He was completely cut off from the land of the living.
            • But He CAME BACK. He rose from teh grave So now we can cry out with Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57: “Death is swallowed up in victory! O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
          5. Jesus unites the physical world–the heavens–with the word of God, with the human self.
            1. When we want to hear from God–we Have to Go to HIM!
          6. So, if you’re waiting to hear from God, understand that He has spoken.
            1. He has revealed Himself in creation, which pours forth endless praise of His glory
            2. He has given His word
            3. And best of all, He has manifested His nature, character, love and grace in the person of Jesus Christ.
            4. The only way for us to have full communion with God–full mindfulness of the three perspectives in perfect harmony–is to focus on Christ. To live with Christ. To follow Christ.
  • Do you know JEsus Christ here this morning?
    1. Is He your ROCK and your REDEEMER?
    2. Do you turn to him when your life is out of whack?
    3. Has He forgiven you of your hidden faults and your presumptuous sins?
    4. Real understanding in life–hearing from GOd–comes when we fix our eyes on the things above, where our life is hidden with God in Christ Jesus.
  1. NEXT STEPS:
    1. Jesus is revealed in Scripture.
    2. I cannot stress this enough. You need to be in this book. [HOLD UP THE BIBLE]
    3. You not only don’t have to figure this life out on your own. You cannot do it.
    4. Get into the BIble and get into community of people who will help you understand it, whom you can lean on, to minister GOd’s grace to you.
    5. This is where we hear from God.
    6. This is where we learn of Jesus and how to follow Him more closely.
    7. May God’s word be the first–and last–place we go to hear from God. The God who has revealed Himself.

*****

Further reading & watching: 

A Christian Perspective on Morality

Last Wednesday I had a fun time moderating a lively discussion on the subject of morality as part of my monthly MeetUp series, “Ask A Pastor (Far Northwest Side Spiritual Discussions).”

Before we opened up the floor to questions and discussion, I gave a brief talk on the topic. Here are the notes I taught from, unedited (which means my sources aren’t cited, and it’s really formatted better for speaking than reading. Please don’t tell Larry Mroczek, my junior year Honors English teacher).

Morality Talk – Let’s discuss right and wrong!

Biblically, morality comes from God.

God’s moral proclamation is not an arbitrary decree, nor is it a higher standard. Rather, the Bible teaches, “Be Holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

At creation, God gave Adam one command: “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Notice that God did not have to command the man not to murder, not to steal, or even how to practice religion correctly. There was one command, and it was a simple one. Really, the command amounted to this: “Respect God and obey what God says.” This is what is summarized as the “whole duty of man” in Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Fear God and keep his commandments.”

If you know the story, you know Adam did not keep God’s commandment. He was tempted by his wife, Eve, who had been tempted by the devil. Adam sinned, and his sin we now refer to as “The Fall.” Immediately after Adam sinned, God brought the earth under a curse, but the worst curse was for the devil. In Genesis 3:15, God promised that one of Eve’s offspring would destroy the devil, even though in the process the offspring would himself be fatally wounded. So God promised a self-sacrificing Savior at the dawn of human history. It is significant that this promise comes even before any of the moral codes God would soon give humanity.

The next moral code the Lord gave was to Noah, in Genesis 9, allowed the eating of meat, forbade eating meat with blood, prohibited murder, and gave a mandate for human reproduction.

After this, God began to establish a special relationship with a certain genealogical line of people, who were descended from Noah, through the biblical patriarch Abraham. It was with Abraham’s descendants, through his son Isaac and grandson Israel, that God established what we now refer to as the “Old Covenant.”

The Old Covenant was a legal-theological system based on conditional promises God gave to the nation of Israel, through the prophet Moses. If Israel kept their end of the bargain, they would receive life and blessings (Deuteronomy 30:19), but if they disobeyed God’s law, they would receive curse and exile from the Promised Land (Leviticus 26:33).

At the heart of the Old Covenant were the Ten Commandments.

During the period in which the Old Covenant was still in effect, God began to make more promises to humanity, building on the original promise of salvation, that he had given to Adam and Eve back in the beginning. He promised that an era would come in which every member of the people of God would know God and live morally—because from a biblical perspective, morality and relationship with God are bound up together. So in Jeremiah 31:33-34, the Lord describes the coming “New Covenant” era, saying, “’I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’”

Now in the meantime, developments in moral philosophy were being made outside of Israel. Every society has always had some kind of moral code of laws—many of which paralleled the kind of morality God gave to Israel. This is explained in that God gave all human beings a conscience; in Romans 2:14-15 the Bible says that “…when Gentiles, who do not have the Law [of Moses], do by nature what the Law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the Law, since they show that the work of the Law is written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts either accusing or defending them.”

What is also interesting is that two things take place: first, Israel does disobey God and break the Old Covenant, and they are exiled and dispersed. Yet, during that period, in which the Babylon Empire reigned supreme, we find that many non-Jewish societies made radical advancements in their moral philosophy.

According to Christian Scripture, the Hebrew Scriptures (“the Law and the Prophets”) hang on the two commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That second principle, loving one’s neighbor as one loves one’s self, spread to non-Jewish societies during the time of the Jewish exile.

A form of it reached Egypt between 2040 – 1650 B.C.—roughly corresponding the time when Israel were slaves in Egypt. But it was really primitive “Do to the doer to make him do.” It was just what we call the “law of reciprocity.”

Moses received it in around 1500 B.C.

But around the time of the Jewish Exile in Babylon, between ~597 B.C. and 538 B.C., we see nations under Babylonian rule adopting this Jewish morality. China, India, Greece, Persia and Rome all picked it up.

It was during that period that the Medo-Persian Empire conquered Babylon, and Darius (b. 550 B.C.) issued the decree that, “…all the peoples, nations and men of every language who were living in all the land…in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel.

The western end of the empire was Greece. The eastern end was India.

Buddhism was founded in India in the low 500s, B.C.

Confucius wrote around 500 B.C.

Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics was written in 350 B.C.

So it has been proposed that these moral advancements owe their development in part to the influence of Jewish morality on the Babylonian/Medo-Persian empire (which later became the Greek, and eventually the Roman Empire.*

So in the non-Jewish world, you have approximations of biblical morality—though never, or rarely, the heartfelt conviction over sin that is seen in the Psalms, for example—but the revealed morality from God is limited to the Hebrew Scriptures, that is, the Old Testament.

After a period of four centuries of silence, Jesus is born in the town of Bethlehem to a virgin girl, fulfilling further prophecies (Micah 5:2; Isaiah 7:14) about the coming Savior, that God had previously promised back in Genesis.

Jesus completely transcends and transforms morality in a way that is analogous to the great moral shift that took place around the Sixth Century B.C., but far greater than that shift.

The highest moral principle of Jesus is not, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself,” but rather He says, “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

Well, if you follow the rest of the story of Jesus’ life, you discover exactly what “as I have loved you” really means. Jesus lay down his life for his people. That model of self-sacrificing love becomes the new norm for the morality of the people of God. So when the Apostle John summarizes how to live in a loving way, He says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Indeed, there can be no higher moral principle than this one—a fact that Jesus points out in John 15:13, when he teaches, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

Of course, Christian morality does not limit itself to love only for fellow Christians. Rather, believers are commanded to, “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Along with the command to love, Jesus gives many other moral imperatives—which echo some of the same morality of the Ten Commandments—recall, they had been at the heart of the Old Covenant—but which reflect the higher love to which Jesus’ followers (in the New Covenant era) are called. Rather than simply prohibiting adultery, Jesus prohibits lust. Rather than just murder, Jesus prohibits hatred and insult. In Matthew 5-7, Jesus lays out a moral code for his followers that is far beyond anything developed prior to that time, whether Jewish or Gentile.

So Christian morality is inseparable from Jesus—and it is only through unity with him that a person can actually live a truly moral life, according to God’s standard.

If you continue to follow the development of moral progress in the world after the time of Christ, what do you see? You see followers of Jesus fighting disease and plague while Roman pagans flee the cities. You see women gaining previously-unheard-of rights. You see Christians fighting against and ending slavery, which had been enshrined in human civilizations for all of history. You see the Church inventing the concept of hospitals and colleges, making huge advancements in art and music and education. Even the concept of childhood owes its existence to Christianity. That’s right, an article came out last year called, “How Christianity invented Children,”[1] explaining how Jesus’ attitude toward children revolutionized the ancient world, leading up to the modern time.

Christian morality is bound up with the person of Jesus. He is the best revelation of God’s moral character (Hebrews 1:1-2). He is the Creator of our world, and has the best understanding of how moral agents are to interact within it (John 1:1-3). He is also the ultimate human representative (Romans 5).

The moral bar he raises is actually an impossible standard to keep. But the Bible provides a solution for this. When Jesus died on the cross, he took all the moral failure of his people on Himself (2 Corinthians 5:21). In place of our moral failure (Romans 3:23), God attributes to followers of Jesus the moral perfection of Jesus Himself, and God gives the Holy Spirit to those same people, to empower them to live according to Jesus’ standard. Perfectly? No. But joyfully. Is it a struggle sometimes? Yes! But it is a struggle the follower of Jesus will ultimately win, by God’s grace.

So what about people who do not follow Jesus?

Can an atheist or non-Christian act in a moral way? Yes and no.

True morality, according to the Bible, is grounded in knowing God and loving him. Non-believers can approximate morality by doing moral things, yet if, in doing so, they are rejecting God, that cannot truly be moral.

Moreover, when a non-believer acts morally, he is actually being inconsistent. This is because, without God and the Bible, there is no way to ground morality in any kind of objective way.

So you have to ask yourself: Has God spoken about morality?

If not, then someone has to decide what is right and what is wrong. Who’s going to do that? It would have to be someone with comprehensive knowledge of the moral universe, in order to lay down any kind of absolutes. None of us possess that quality!

But then, maybe morality is subjective—varying from person to person or from culture to culture? This boils down to there being no morality at all. At least, it becomes impossible to differentiate between moral systems that are correct and ones that are incorrect.

John Frame, a theologian, asks this question, “How do you adjudicate between two different moral frameworks that sit before you, that each believe its morality is superior to the other person’s?”

James White, a Christian apologist, has pointed out, that the reality of the world is such that not every worldview actually desires peace and getting along. Ravi Zacharias, a Christian philosopher, has said this too: some people believe that they would “get along” much better without you in the picture!

How do we differentiate between these various worldviews? The Bible is the morally-infallible norm by which we do this.

So let’s say you answer, “Yes, God has spoken.” And there are moral standards that apply across the board.

Well then, are those moral standards found in the God of the Bible, as revealed in the Bible? If not, then how do we decide?

It boils down to something we have talked about a lot: presuppositions. When you presuppose the Bible to be true—that is, when you start with that assumption—you can make sense of the moral universe in which we live. When you start with anything else, you run into contradictions and self-referential incoherence.

To conclude: there are many moral systems out there in the world, but they ultimately boil down to two options: morality based on the perfect nature of God, or morality based finally on my ever-changing self and my own best judgments. With the radical, self-sacrificial love that Jesus calls us to live out, it ought to be plain to us which one is based on God’s character. Christian morality is not something any mere human could come up with, but it is something God calls each of us to.

The Bible says that, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the Man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

In other words, one day God will judge each of us by his perfect standard, which is his Son Jesus. Those who are his followers will have our sins forgiven and His moral perfection credited to us. Those who reject God’s offer will be judged according to the Standard. Will your life demonstrate that you loved God or hated Him? Your eternal destiny will reflect that!

So that is my best attempt to (somewhat) briefly explain Christian morality to you. Now, what questions do you have for me?

[1] http://theweek.com/articles/551027/how-christianity-invented-children

*I first heard of this theory from Derek Webster, lead pastor of Grace Pointe Church in Naperville, Illinois, while I worked there between 2013 and 2016.