Tag Archives: cross

Vocabulary of War

If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; 
he has bent and readied his bow;
he has prepared for him his deadly weapons,
making his arrows fiery shafts. (Psalm 7:12-13 ESV)

Why would anyone want to invite the wrath of God upon themselves? Why would anyone willfully rebel against Him? This is exactly what both angels and people have done. God commands people to repent of their sin and rebellion against Him. God will establish the righteous after He tests their minds and hearts (Psalm 7:9 ESV). God commands people turn away from that which tempts and trains them to rebel, and turn toward Him. 

God demands repentance. God never asks people to repent. To repent is to turn, to come or go back, to lead away from one thing and toward another, to be restored. God makes repentance possible when He delivers over Jesus’ life as a means of righteously fulfilling the requirements of His law for those created in His image. God’s eternal compassion is on full display on the cross. “Turn,

O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love” (Psalm 6:4 ESV). His enemies turn away from Him, ashamed by what they have done. “All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment” (Psalm 6:10 ESV). Either they turn to God at His command, or they turn away from God at His judgment.

God will not simply turn rebellious people away from His presence. He will fight and war against them. David uses words of war to describe God’s assault on those who actively rebel against Him and His authority. He will sharpen His sword, bend and make ready His bow, using arrows that are fiery shafts. God creates and implements new instruments of death, designed to kill, not maim. Those who are steadfast in their assaults and attacks will feel God’s full wrath.

Joshua faced the pre-incarnate Christ as he surveyed Jericho before the fall of the city. Joshua encountered a man standing with a drawn sword.

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” 

And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” 

And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” (Joshua 5:13-14 ESV)

Jesus, the Commander of the Lord’s Army, does not take sides between two warring factions of people. He stands for God against all sin. His mission, while living as a man, was to command people repent of their sin and turn toward God. Speaking about people who died by accident or by the hand of a despotic leader, Jesus tells those who are following Him, they must repent or they will also die a spiritual death. In Luke 13 He uses the same phrase twice. “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5 ESV). Repentance is not an option. Repentance is commanded and obedience is expected.

The world carries superstitious opinions about God, believing the God of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, is a God of wrath, while Jesus, the God of the New Testament, is a God of love, peace and forgiveness. Scripture is filled with God’s compassion toward His people and wrath toward His enemies. Jesus did not come to bring peace to everyone. He came to separate those who are His from those who hate Him and rebel against Him. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34 ESV). Those who follow Jesus must pick up their cross, which is His cross, and be willing to die to this world to live for God. Those who hate Jesus will persecute those who walk with Him. Since they cannot persecute and murder God they will do what they can to those who are God’s. Even members of a family will fight against each other. “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39 ESV). Those who follow Christ must completely abandon themselves to Him. Obedience is expected and carries no merit before God. Disobedience brings God’s wrath.

War terminology is used in this Psalm because we are engaged in war. Those who hate God, His enemies, want to destroy all God has created and subvert all God’s purposes for His creation. The Deceiver does not care about winning, knowing he has already lost the war. Those people who fight against God think they can win. Their view of God is superstitious and unreasonable. God fights for Himself, not for us. Yet, we receive the benefit of His compassion and mercy, freely given though our time in this world.

Mercy

O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. (Psalm 6:1 ESV)

Scripture is filled with mystery. Perhaps the greatest spiritual mystery given us in Scripture is the eternal fact that God judicially covered the sins committed by His people against Him with the righteousness of His Son. How does God do this? Everything we do is bent by sin, the desire to control and be over God. We cannot know how He does what He does. We can know that He has covered us with Jesus’ righteousness because He tells us He has. Still, it does not make sense to our finite minds and corrupted logic.

This mystery captures the essence of God and of His Son. God reveals to us what He has done throughout Scripture. Isaiah tells us “he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed”  (Isaiah 53:5 ESV). Paul continues Isaiah’s prophecy by declaring, “for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). Jesus is the eternal Servant and ultimate Authority. The mystery of following Him encompasses our whole lives, our motivations, our words, our thinking and feelings. Jesus came in the likeness of human flesh (see Philippians 2:7-8) to ransom, which means to redeem and to liberate from a criminal sentence for crimes committed against God.

But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28 ESV; see Mark 10:43-45)

In return for His righteousness we are made new and set apart for service and to have an intimate relationship with God.

This mystery is not cheap. God covering us with Jesus’ righteousness means God laid upon Him our sin. There are many illustrations of this truth but no one can know the depth of the cost and agony experienced by Jesus. We can imagine but must be careful in our imaginations. For we, as long as we are in this world, in this flesh, assaulted by the Deceiver, must rely upon the work of the Holy Spirit to know truth.

In the first verse of Psalm 6 we see a man begging for mercy. Our assumption is God’s wrath is justly exercised against the speaker because of their transgressions against His law and person. The writer of the Psalm was a sinful man. Yet, the writer of the Psalm is speaking for Jesus, who did not sin and lives in God’s eternal blessing. How then can Jesus beg for mercy? When God laid upon Him our sin He felt the full wrath of God. 

Throughout His life and ministry, Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem, knowing His executioners awaited Him. He did not deviate from His course or linger in places to avoid facing His responsibility. He ministered for many years before His final journey to Jerusalem. His intent was purposeful, drawing people to Himself and teaching them the meaning of citizenship in God’s eternal kingdom. Then, when the time was right, according to the eternal will of God, He faced His death, offering to God His body, the sacrifice for our sin.

Read the words of Psalm 6:1 as coming from a righteous Man bearing the unrighteousness of all men. Rebuke means to decide, reason, chide and reprove, to judge, convince and convict. Discipline means to chasten, admonish and correct, to teach. Anger means nose or nostril, or face, and wrath means fever, heat, burning rage. God’s face reflects His anger and judgment toward sin, which He hates. “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.”  (Psalm 5:4-5 ESV). Those who sin, who cannot stand before Him, are driven from His presence. God’s anger toward sin is characterized as a snorting, burning rage, justly executed against those who rebel against Him.

Jesus did not rebel against God but felt and experienced God rage against sin. Jesus is the only righteous person who has ever lived, refusing to walk in the way of the world, accept the lies of the Deceiver, or allow His own flesh to tempt Him and move Him to rebellion. Hanging on the cross, He endured the just wrath of God against sin. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46 ESV; see Mark 15:34). Jesus was for a brief time, forsaken by God. This does not mean Jesus sinned, for He could not sin. Jesus is God in the flesh.

Jesus’ purpose for coming as a man was to take upon Himself the sins of man to bring people back into relationship with God. Peter also declares his understanding of why Messiah came as a man. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed”  (1 Peter 2:24 ESV). 

When Jesus took upon Himself our sin, He was, is and will always remain, sinless. He is eternally righteous. God, when He saw Jesus on the cross, saw His Son covered with our sin. Jesus bore the burden of the sentence for sin. Conversely, when God looks at the Christian, those who are in Christ, He sees the blood of Christ covering them, hiding the obvious sin they carry in their whole being. We are no more righteous than He is a sinner. What God declares He sees, because of the sacrifice of His Son, is Christ’s righteousness covering us as a cloak, a shield, surrounding us as a hedge and impenetrable wall, a refuge. He leaves us in this world to prepare us for eternity. While in the world, those who are His are safely held for eternity.

The Narrow and Straight

Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me.(Psalm 5:8 ESV)

There is a spiritual pathway that leads to God’s Kingdom. It is narrow, sometimes meandering, straight in other places, steep in some, and impossible to traverse without the leading and direction of the Holy Spirit. People start their journey along this route carrying everything they deem valuable. As they walk, they lose stuff that has no eternal value. At the end of the path is a gate, small and narrow which allows only the traveller called by God to enter. They may carry nothing through that gate which belongs in the world. Their old self cannot enter, either. 

“Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24 ESV; see Mark 10:24-25, Luke 18:24-25)

In the world is a highway leading away from God. It is fast and wide, and accommodating to all. As people move along this freeway they pickup stuff, adding to their burden, refusing to abandon anything they deem valuable and necessary to their life. Surrounded by many, who jostle and fight for position, they move en mass toward anything that is not God. At the end of the road is a gate, wide and inviting, going to a place where God cannot be known by any who enter. 

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”(Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)

Jesus cleared the Temple at the beginning of His ministry and then again just before His crucifixion and resurrection. He made Himself known, angering the Jewish religious leaders because of His brazen actions and outrageous claims. They were His enemies, foes and rivals, opponents and antagonists. They were against Him in everything He did. It was common knowledge among the people of Jerusalem that the religious leaders wanted to murder Jesus. “Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, ‘Is not this the man whom they seek to kill?’”  (John 7:25 ESV). Everything Jesus did rankled and irritated those who hated Him. Even when Jesus healed sick and maimed people, they became enraged.

Surrounded by such malevolence, Jesus sought God’s will. He prayed for God’s righteousness. This Psalm speaks to Jesus’ desire to know God under the harshest circumstance. “Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me” (Psalm 5:8 ESV). To lead, or to be led, means to be guided, to bring to a place with purposeful intent. Righteousness is the rule of law of the King and Sovereign, God’s decrees founded on God’s eternally pure character. Straight means level and smooth, to be perfectly right according to law, directed without mistake or purposeful deceit. Before me means face, presence, person, in front of, as in leading by the hand someone who cannot lead themselves. Jesus is praying that God prepare the way, clear the obstacles which would trip or hinder, and direct His words, actions and motivations, to ultimately bring Him before God, the destination of every spiritual journey.

One of the major themes of the Psalms is the confrontation of those who are righteous against those who are unrighteous. God blesses the man, Jesus Christ, and all who take refuge in Him, because He, and they, do not walk “in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers”   (Psalm 1:1 ESV). His enemies conspire against Him, teaching and training those under their authority to actively rebel against God. They surround Him. But He is not afraid, even when the intent of His enemies is His murder. “I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around” (Psalm 3:6 ESV). He challenges them in the thinking of their hearts. “O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?” (Psalm 4:2 ESV). His resurrection is the ultimate victory over their rebellion. “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled” (Psalm 2:11-12 ESV).

Jesus does not just pray this for Himself but for all who are identified with Him. “Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:12 ESV). Those who trust Him, that He will deliver what He has promised, are hidden in Him. What happens to Him happens to them. Where He goes they are. God’s house is in eternity. As Jesus walks toward God’s house, a spiritual path, those who are in Him go with Him into God’s presence. God gave Jesus the purpose and task of drawing those who love Him into His life-giving presence. We carry nothing with us but, for a short time, His cross, which is our cross.

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?  (Luke 9:23-25 ESV)

I Cried Aloud

Meditations on the Psalms

I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. (Psalm 3:4 ESV)

Trust is an emotional response to a promise given by One fully capable of delivering upon that promise. In a world filled with people corrupted by sin, only God is trustworthy. It is to the only trustworthy God Jesus cries out, fully expecting an eternal, righteous, good and true answer.

To cryis to call out, to utter a loud sound, to proclaim, summon and invite. Thus, He cries out to God because He is surrounded by those who are trying to murder Him. All His adversaries consider Him incapable of ruling them and refuse to obey His commands. Instead, they conspire to kill Him, removing Him from authority over them, so they might rule themselves. His cry is for help from the One who has given Him dominion and ownership over the world and all it contains.

He who cries out expects an answer, knowing God hears and responds. Jesus is the only righteous One who lives, the blessed Man (Psalm 1:1). He acts and speaks with God’s full authority, being King over His kingdom. Jesus is God in the flesh and knows God will respond. God does answer, and His answer is eternal, fixed and finished.

Yet, the circumstances under which Jesus cries out to God look hopeless, final, showing a conclusion which seems to defeat the purposes of God. Even in the darkness, God is in control, working all things out according to His purpose and for His glory.

Jesus is on the cross, reviled and mocked by everyone. Then, darkness covers the face of the world as it appears God turns His back on His Son.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Matthew 27:45-46 ESV; see Mark 15:34).

Jesus hangs helplessly on the cross, appearing to all as forsaken by God. Upon His bleeding, hyperextended shoulders, with arms stretched out, the weight of His body borne on the nails in his arms and feet, God places the sentence of death due to all because all people sinned.

Jesus became the propitiation for sin. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2 ESV). Paul uses the same word. “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith”(Romans 3:22-25 ESV). The word translated propitiationin the New Testament means mercy seatin the Hebrew Scriptures (see Exodus 25:17-22, Hebrews 9:5). It was upon the mercy seat, the covering of the Ark of the Covenant, the priest poured out blood once a year to atone for the sins of the people. The blood poured out would cover the broken Law, the Ten Commandments, from God’s sight. Jesus, the Mercy Seat, poured out His own blood for the sins of the people. His blood covers those who are His. For those who are God’s, He no longer sees their sin but the blood of His Son.

Jesus knew why God turned His back on Him. There was no other way to bring sinful, rebellious people back into His eternal presence other than someone fulfilling His demand for justice. Because of sin, someone had to die both a physical and a spiritual death, as demanded by God in the Garden.

God answers Jesus from eternity, His dwelling place. When Jesus died He “cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit”(Matthew 27:50 ESV; see Mark 15:37). Luke tells us His cry. “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last”(Luke 23:46 ESV). He intimately knew God, trusting Him to fulfill the purpose for which He was sent into the world. Jesus died, knowing death could not keep Him.

Jesus told His disciple beforehand all that would happen, including His death and resurrection. Nothing happened which was not ordained and decreed by God from eternity. Nothing can hinder the will of God.

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.(Hebrews 5:7 ESV)

We cannot ignore the anguish and suffering Jesus endured, both physically and emotionally, while in this world. His crucifixion and death is His passion, a Latin word, passionem, which means a short period of suffering and enduring. Jesus endured intense suffering. During His ministry, His suffering was emotional. During His passion, His suffering was physical, compounded by the emotional. He suffered for us. God answered His prayer given for us.