Tag Archives: servant

Punishment

Meditations on the Psalms

You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” (Psalm 2:9 ESV)

Those who rebel against God face His judgment. Those who teach others to rebel, and lead them in their rebellion, face total annihilation. There is no wiggle-room in God’s courtroom.

Both to break and to dash them in pieces means to shatter to a point of destruction. That which is broken cannot be fixed and becomes useless. This statement is a direct answer to Psalm 2:3. “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” There is no hand strong enough to burst the bond, nor arm great enough to cast away God’s cords. God created people a particular way, giving them a nature and placing them within a universe of laws and boundaries which they cannot breach. Seeking to break the laws of nature has deadly consequences. Breaking the moral laws of God implanted within human nature as the image of God, has eternal, damning consequences.

Jesus is adamant about the effect of sin on people. Knowing temptation to sin comes naturally, because of the rebellion of the Deceiver and the corrupted nature of people, He still singles out special condemnation for those through whom the temptation is delivered.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. (Matthew 18:5-9 ESV)

Jesus’ disciples discussed among themselves who the greatest was in the kingdom. Such a question is arrogant and ignorant. They were speaking to Jesus, the Son of God. They had seen His works and heard His words. He is the King and the greatest in the kingdom. What earthly king would allow one of his counselors to ask such a question without quick and sure discipline and retribution. But Jesus did not come to hold Himself up. He came as a Servant, because that is His nature. Instead of pointing to Himself, He placed a small child in front of His disciples and told them “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4 ESV).

In Psalm 2, Jesus uses a parallel illustration to thrust home His point. Sin is judged harshly. God rains down His wrath upon those who cause sin and teach others, especially children, to sin. It would be better for the person who taught and led a child into sin to commit suicide than to finish instructing their student to the place the student becomes a teacher. It would be better to perform radical, maiming surgery than allow oneself to become enslaved by sin. Cut off your hand or pluck out your eye if either leads you to sin.

The implications of His teaching about sin is startling. Jesus is saying nothing in the world, nothing we do or want or desire is more important than God. To allow something which has no eternal value to control our lives and dictate our relationship with God is to rebel against Him. It is better to live a short life in extreme poverty with no hope of worldly success or continued physical survival, and know God, than to live in abundance and not know God intimately.

Either the person who follows God and His Son discipline themselves or God will discipline them. Either we give up the world and gain eternity or we give up eternity with God and watch the world fade away to non-existence when we face God at judgment.

This statement is a warning for those who teach and lead people to sin. You face total annihilation, your life and works become worthless, and your existence is consigned to a place away from the absolute source of life, which is God. Beware.

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Eternal Success

Meditations on the Psalms

In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:3 ESV)

Who is He? He is the man blessed by God, Jesus Christ. Every motivation, act and word He does or utters brings eternal success because His strength and fruitfulness comes from abiding in God’s will. Prosper means to advance and make progress. He is successful, not as the world suggests success, which comes from sin and ungodliness. But, as God defines success, which is found in His person and will.

In my opinion, there are three elements to the formula for defining success, either in the world or in eternity. First, does the thing done have substance? Can it be counted? “Zero” is nothing. “One” is something. Secondly, does the thing with substance have a quality? Is the quality good or bad, shoddy or exceptional? Everything has a quality. But, substance and quality does not make successful. Finally, how long does the quality thing last? Does it last for time or for eternity? Only that which exists for eternity qualifies as successful.

In our world, only the Word of God, that is Jesus Christ, and people will continue to exist for eternity. Jesus is eternal. People, created in the image of God, have a beginning but are not created to cease to exist. Being separated from God does not mean the person will cease to exist but will be separated from that which sustains existence. Substance existing without sustenance is supreme failure.

Jesus did many things for people. While John the Baptizer was in prison, before he was murdered by Herod, He sent his disciples to ask if Jesus was Messiah.

And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me’” (Matthew 11:4-6 ESV).

Facing the High Priest before His crucifixion, Jesus spoke again about His words and actions.  Nothing He did or said was done in private. Everything He did and said was open to scrutiny and verification by those who heard and saw Him, including of the religious leaders who were condemning Him.

“I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.”

When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”

Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” (John 18:20-23 ESV).

They crucified Jesus, using the weapon of the Romans to brutally murder Him. Then He rose from the dead, resurrected to never again face death. He fulfilled all He was given to do by God for the redemption of people from God’s wrath. Everything Jesus did was eternally successful and advanced the will of God. “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God” (Romans 6:9-10 ESV).

Everything Jesus did, from creating the world and it contains, to the people He made in the image of God, is eternally successful. We may also say that all He did glorified God. Man was created to serve God. Jesus came as fully man the way man was originally intended, with those eternal qualities which make a servant a servant. He who is fully God “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7 ESV). Everything Jesus does prospers eternally.

Servant

Studies in Genesis 2

I will make him a helper fit for him.” … But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. (Genesis 2:18, 20 ESV)

There is an implication in the word “help” or “helper” often ignored but for which we must give an account. Man, both male and female, when created by God were given the task of dominion over the earth and all its creatures.  Neither the earth nor the creatures belonged to Man. All belonged to God. It was Man’s task to take care for the earth and its creatures for God. Now, God is fully capable of taking care of everything Himself. He does not need Man to do anything for Him. Yet, God created Man for the express purpose to grow in knowledge of Him. Man grows to know God by serving Him in the fullest capacity of the image of God given Man by doing that for which he was designed.

By taking care of the earth, having “dominion” over it, Man learns about his Creator. Man was not created to demand the earth and its creatures serve him. Man is not designed as a malevolent dictator. That is not what “dominion” means. Some have suggested “dominion” means to rule by treading upon. It is true the word for “dominion” means to tread upon or tread down, as in to dominate. These are all legitimate uses of the word in Scripture. Yet, in Genesis 1, in the context of the creation story, Man, given the image of God, acts and works toward blessing creation, especially all the creatures. To “bless” means to kneel before, as a father kneels before his child, to give a gift even when the child does not know the value of the gift.

Man was created to serve God by serving the earth and all its creatures. No where do we see Man created to be subjugated by other people. Nor do we see the earth and its creatures existing solely to serve Man. The earth and its creatures do serve Man just as Man serves God, but not by force or under compulsion. It is the inherent characteristic of Man, all men, to serve God, and to serve each other. Man was created to serve and to grow in the intimate andc complete knowledge of God.

Our ultimate example must be Christ, not Adam, the first man. When Jesus Christ came He had the morphe of both God and a Servant coming in the likeness of a man.

Though he was in the form (morphe) of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form (morphe) of a servant, being born in the likeness (homoiōma) of men. And being found in human form (schēma), he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-9 ESV)

Jesus had those essential characteristics and qualities which make God God and a servant a servant. He is Man as Adam was before the fall, the perfect servant while completely God.

When God creates a helper for the man it is so the man can serve the helper as the helper serves him, and so both can serve God by serving the creation for which they are responsible. To be and do anything less or other than what they were designed to do and be is inconceivable.

Blessed

Studies in Genesis 1

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28 ESV)

God blessed those He created in His image. This is the second of three times the word “blessed” is used in the Creation story. God blessed the sea creatures and the birds of the air in Genesis 1:22, telling them to be fruitful and multiply. God blessed the seventh day “and made it holy because on it God rested from all the work He had done in creation” in Genesis 2:3.

God blesses Man, who is created in His image. Man is male and female.

To bless means to kneel before, but not as one subservient to another. There are two images which may help us understand the use of the word. First, think of a father kneeling before a child to give the child a gift. Secondly, imagine one serving another by kneeling before them to deliver a service. In both instances, the one kneeling is not subservient but greater. With the father and child analogy, the father is greater than the child and is giving a gift the child needs but may not understand. In the second illustration the servant, or better, the one serving, is offering an act of mercy and compassion. In both instances the idea of blessing by kneeling strongly implies the greatest love of one for the other.

Part of the image of God is the desire to serve God and people and in doing so love them. Jesus tells us the greatest commandment is twofold.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40 ESV)

God declares His eternal love for people when He kneels before them as a Father giving the greatest gift needed through the greatest act of service imaginable. He gave His image. Then, He gave His Son.

God Defines Us

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. [Matthew 5:17-18 ESV]

We are not defined by our environment. People will try to control our thinking and our emotions. Yet, our families do not define who we are any more than those with whom we associate. All of these people and circumstances may influence our character and mold our personality but they do not define who we are. God defines who we are. He is the One who places value. He is the One who created us in His image for relationship with Him. Sin corrupts but does not redefine.

At the final meal Jesus ate with His disciples before His passion He clearly told them what was going to happen. He would suffer. One of His disciples would betray Him to the religious authorities. Peter would deny Him three times though he adamantly declared beforehand he would never deny Him, that he would go to prison or death with Jesus. He tells them to gather their belongings, their money and things. He tells them to get a sword.

“But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment” [Luke 22:36-37 ESV].

These words remind us of His statement in Matthew “until all is accomplished.” Before sunset the coming day His life would be taken from Him, the sacrifice for which the Passover lamb they were eating was as symbol.

From eternity God knew what would happen in the space-time universe He created. He knew and controlled the outcome of the entrance of sin and the consequences of rebellion upon those who are His. He knew sin would completely sever the relationship He wanted with those created in His image. He knew in order to heal this relationship all those who are His would have to die. He decided His Son, His Son decided, He would die in our place, taking upon Himself the sentence of sin for all. In exchange those who are His are covered by His shed blood which is His righteousness. This is not a debatable truth but reality firmly established by God from eternity without beginning to eternity without end.

Jesus, the morphe of God and the morphe of a servant, lived His human life as God intended all live. Though surrounded and assaulted by sin He did not succumb to its temptation. Though we sin we were not recreated for sin, to be controlled and enslaved by it. We were created, and recreated, as servants of God, free to devote ourselves to Him, in full relationship with Him. Our place and purpose in eternity will be exactly as God intends, nor more and no less. We can never have the morphe of God but we will be His servants, the perfect and complete citizen of the kingdom of heaven. We will be like His Son.

Here is a mystery. We are separate from Him yet intimately a part of Him. We live our lives now assaulted by, even enslaved by sin, but belong completely and wholly to Him who recreated us. We gain nothing from our obedience though we have gained everything from His obedience. We carry nothing with us from this world into eternity but what He gives which is already eternal. We do not define who we are. We are defined by Him. What God is making us is at war with our temporary, rebellious self. While in the world our old self is being killed and changed and formed and conformed and separated from the world. Our world is temporary. We are eternal.

Jesus accomplished in space-time that which God determined and finished in eternity.

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. [1 Peter 1:17-21 ESV]

 

Peaceful Garden

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. [Matthew 18:2-3 ESV]

In the beginning there was peace in the Garden of Eden. It is never explicitly stated the garden was filled with peace. Gardens carry the assumption of peace, tranquility and order. Even now one goes to a garden, not to fight or hunt, but to contemplate and enjoy the work of the gardener and the handiwork of God. We assume there was peace in the Garden of Eden.

Originally, the word “garden” meant “protected” or “fenced in,” not that the rest of the world created by God was wild and untamed (another assumption). Adam was given the world, control over it, the goal of filling it with people and the task of working it, or bringing it under his control. He was at peace with the world, with the animals, with the weather, with his wife, and with God.

Enter sin, lose peace. With the corruption of sin Adam lost peace within the Garden, expelled from it so he could not reach out and eat from the tree of life and live forever corrupted by sin. He lost dominion over the world, fighting and struggling to make the ground grow food. He lost peace with those around him, those who came after him, replaced with contention, anger and hatred. He lost peace with God, separated from Him, the source of his very life.

Neither he, nor we, have lost the desire for peace. Instead, we try to manufacture peace according to our corrupted view and expectations. Yet, what gives us peace may force disturbance on others. In our selfish and self-centered posture we cease to care about others and especially we cease to take into account God. We now build our own gardens, our own refuges, fenced in to keep out the violence and discontent of the world. We grasp for control not realizing the more we fight for control the less control we have. God did not create us to be isolated from Him. Our high fences and dense the walls containing our self made gardens exclude God, sacrificing a peace only He supplies.

When the disciples argued over whom was the greatest in God’s kingdom, they did the very thing Satan had done before falling from grace, losing his position before God. He lied to himself, thinking himself as great as, even greater than, God. So, the disciples were lying to themselves, vying for a position only Jesus could rightfully occupy. But Jesus does not rebuke them, put them in their proper place or expel them from His presence. He did not come to lord it over the world, or even take what is rightfully His. He came, with the eternal image of the perfect servant, to offer Himself and to call to Himself those who are His.

He gave them an example in a child. Unless you turn away from your twisted, sinful attitudes, reverse yourselves and stop growing like the world wants you to grow, and be like a child, you will never even enter His kingdom. You cannot be a part of an eternal kingdom and carry in anything belonging to the world. Our sinful world and all in which it contains, cannot be reconciled with God’s kingdom. Growing and learning  according to the dictates of sin cause inability to do what a citizen of God’s kingdom does, or be how God wishes.

Children are naturally selfish, as corrupted by sin as all others. They must learn, or be taught, to sin in a sophisticated manner. Conversely, they are the most emotionally trusting individuals, recognizing the authority of big people, especially their parents. Children do not know, intellectually or intimately, the desire to displace those in authority. They will love, huddle against, find comfort in the presence of even an abusive parent. Until they learn differently.

Jesus tells us to be like a child in the only relationship which brings peace. Relinquish control of ourselves to Him. Stop trying to be the authority, the king of our own garden. We will never have complete peace while in this world. We do hope for peace in eternity. We glimpse peace, never quite comprehending the peacefulness of peace. Only when we arrive in eternity will we truly have peace. Until then, we must recognize our peace with God is more important than any felt peace offered by the world. For, where God is there is real, eternal peace.

God’s Mercy to David

(Posted 1-14-14 and revised 1-15-14)

So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba 70,000 men. [2 Samuel 24:15 ESV]

Of all of the Kings of Israel David carries the most renown. He was a truly sinful yet devoted servant of God, knowing God both intellectually and intimately. His arrogance and sinfulness are unabashedly displayed in Scripture. So, too, was His deep worship of God whom he served. His poetry in the Psalms reveal the depth of worship from his heart. He would sin boldly and repent openly. God used David and his family, and through his genealogical line gave us His Son while preparing Israel and the world to receive Messiah.

In the story found in the last chapter if 2 Samuel God is open about His determination to teach and discipline His people. “Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah'” [2 Samuel 24:1 ESV].

First Chronicles 22 tells us a slightly different story. It is one of the supposed contradictions in Scripture. Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel” [1 Chronicles 21:1 ESV]. Satan stood against Israel before God just as he stood against Job before God. Listen to what God says to Satan after his first round of tormenting Job. And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” [Job 2:3 ESV] In all three verse, 2 Samuel, 1 Chronicles and Job, the word “incite” means to seduce or to persuade. God incited David to count the fighting men. Satan incited David to count the fighting men. Satan incited God to torment Job. We are faced with a conundrum.

How can God be manipulated by Satan? Why would God manufacture a reason to be angry with Israel by persuading David to sin? He didn’t need to manufacture a reason because Israel continually rebelled against Him. Before we question God’s motives, assigning Him a place as Tempter, let us remember He is God and not the author of sin or temptation. He is not manipulated by Satan but uses Satan’s lies to further His kingdom. How often in Isaiah 45 does He declare He is God and there is no other (see Isaiah 45: 5, 14, 18, 21, 22).

David knew Scripture and knew he was not allowed to count the fighting men. God instructed Moses and Aaron to count the fighting men, once after they left Egypt and again after their wandering in the desert when all the fighting men from the first census had died, except Joshua and Caleb. David’s reason for counting the fighting men was to feed his vanity not out of trust and obedience to God.

Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. “Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from righteousness: I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.” [Isaiah 46:8-13 ESV]

We are His servants just as David was His servant. He is not our servant. So, when David decides to sin by numbering the people it is David’s sin, not God’s. The word “incite” means to move or provoke. God takes complete control placing David’s sin within His divine decree from eternity to eternity and says it will happen. But, it is still David’s sin, not God’s.

Even if we are tempted by Satan our sin is still our sin.

David ordered his Commander, Joab, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people” [2 Samuel 24:2 ESV]. David had been thinking, feeling, musing or pondering, perhaps in his old age, how strong he really was not how strong is his God. Joab, a strong and powerful man in his own right, saw quickly the folly of his king’s request. “May the LORD your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” [2 Samuel 24:3 ESV]. David insisted, Joab obeyed and the fighting men were counted. And God’s wrath was kindled against Israel because of His anger against David’s lack of faith.

David, after the fighting men were numbered, knew exactly what he had done. “But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the LORD, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly'” [2 Samuel 24:10 ESV]. God gives David a choice of disciplines. This is unusual in Scripture, for God being God does not normally give choices nor ask what we want. Through the prophet Gad God delivers David’s options.

So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.” [2 Samuel 24:13 ESV]

Shall everyone in the land be subjected to severe, lingering famine?

Shall everyone in the land be uprooted, their property destroyed, by an enemy?

Shall God inflict on those He has chosen a severe disease?

David’s choice reveals his heart. “Then David said to Gad, ‘I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man’” [2 Samuel 24:14 ESV]. God’s mercy is great. Let Him choose those who will suffer and die, and live. Let God’s active love toward His people, those who love Him because He first loved them, be shown and seen. Let Him chose to discipline or punish, to use His servants and perhaps differentiate between those who willingly serve Him and those who willfully hate Him. Let us fall into the mercy of God, for those who do not know God, and have not received His mercy will not, cannot fully, show mercy to other.

And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, “Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father’s house.” [2 Samuel 24:16-17 ESV]

We do not know if those who died because of the plague were people who hated God. We do know that all people are sinful and deserve death. We can also see David’s heart in begging for mercy for those facing God’s judgment.

David saw God, the angel of the Lord, a theophany of Jesus. God’s Son does not judge but does execute judgment. He comes to testify to the truth. Jesus responded to Pilate’s sarcastic statements of who He is at His illegal trial. “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world–to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” [John 18:37 ESV].

David, though he sinned grievously recognized his sin and realized the consequences of hi sin and repent quickly and completely. He never shirked accepting the responsibility for his actions though at times he had to be confronted by God using a prophet. God’s showed mercy to Israel and to David and his family and stopped the plague.

God showed mercy to all through His Son Jesus by placing upon His shoulders the sin of all. He received the punishment for our sin. The plague inflicted upon Israel because of David’ sin still killed 70,000 men. So too, are those who will die, be separated from God because of sin, even though Jesus died for their sin. There is more at work here than simple discipline and redemption. For, God has determined what He will do from eternity to eternity, for He is eternally God. God’s mercy is both  immediate and eternal.