I may be mistaken here, but it seems to me that when it comes to the work that God does today, we pay even less attention to the work of the Son than we do to the work of the Father or the work of the Spirit. We tend to credit the Father with all of those generic God functions, and the continuing controversies about the Spirit at least make us consider what He is doing now.
Jesus, however, doesn’t get any of that attention. From somewhere, we seem to have gotten the idea that now that He has ascended, He’s just kind of hanging out at the right hand of the Father, waiting until His reappearance on the day of judgment.
If that’s what we think, we could not be more mistaken. As with the Father, the Son is continually active, and we depend on His activities in any number of areas. Let’s consider some of these as we study the work of the Son today.
First, the Scriptures tell us that Jesus UPHOLDS. Here, let’s look at Hebrews 1:3. This text is a fascinating glimpse into the nature of reality, and it tells us just how mistaken Christian deism is. God did not make the universe like a watch and then sit back and let it run. The universe does not have an independent existence. Instead, it depends on a constant infusion of power from Jesus. If He were to cease upholding it even for a moment, all the visible creation would be obliterated.
Believe it or not, even science gives us reason to believe that Jesus is working in this way. The best model that we have for understanding reality is the general theory of relativity. However, according to the general theory of relativity, the universe should not be holding together. Stars should disintegrate. Galaxies should fly apart. Scientists generally agree, then, that there is some force that we cannot define or measure that is sustaining the universe. Typically, they say that dark matter, which, again, no one ever has seen or measured, is responsible for this. Personally, I tend to suspect that this incredible force is nothing other than the word of the power of Jesus.
This should awe us. It’s impressive that God created the heavens and the earth, but that happened a long time ago. By contrast, at this very moment, Jesus is wielding power on a scale that is cosmic, incomprehensible. I can’t even wrap my mind around the vastness of the universe to begin with, much less the incredible might required to hold it all together, atom by atom. Next to a being like Jesus, all of us are nothing.
Second, in a related idea, Jesus REIGNS. Let’s flip the page in our Bibles to Hebrews 2:7-8. Here, the Hebrews writer is quoting Psalm 8, which originally applied generically to mankind. However, as He explains, it especially applies to Jesus and to His rulership of creation until everything will be brought into subjection under His feet. For the past 2000 years, it fundamentally hasn’t mattered who rules on earth, because Jesus reigns in heaven.
Among other things, this exposes some of the problems with the false doctrine of premillennialism. Premillennialists claim that God always intended for Jesus to reign as an earthly king in Jerusalem, but His plan was defeated by Jesus’ crucifixion. The church, then, is basically a Plan B until Jesus returns to earth to take up the kingship that He was denied 2000 years ago, at which point He will rule for 1000 years.
Brethren, this doesn’t make sense. When Jesus is the King of the universe right now, why would it even be important for Him to be king in Jerusalem? That would be like the President of the United States finishing out His term and going to work as a convenience store clerk! Who would do that?
Instead, Jesus has authority over everything, Jerusalem included, right now, and His reign will continue until the defeat of His final enemy, death. At that point, He will return the kingdom to the Father. For now, though, no absolute monarchy the world has ever seen can compare to the reign of King Jesus. Let’s make sure we honor Him accordingly.
Third, Jesus MEDIATES. Consider 1 Timothy 2:5. Here, we learn not only that Jesus is a mediator between man and God. He is the only possible mediator.
There’s some confusion about this point. I’ve heard it said that Jesus is the only intercessor between man and God. The problem is, though, that intercession and mediation aren’t the same thing. Intercession is approaching someone else on a third party’s behalf. Mediation is helping two other parties to resolve their differences.
Jesus certainly is both intercessor and mediator. However, when it comes to intercession, Jesus is not unique. Every Christian has the right to intercede with God in prayer on behalf of another. In fact, every time we pray in the assembly for someone’s health or well-being, that is an intercessory prayer.
Mediation, on the other hand, is a role that belongs uniquely to the Son. For all of us who are of age, our sin has set us at odds with God, and we need someone to reconcile us to Him. Literally the only one who can do that is Jesus. Either we come to the Father through the Son, or we do not come to Him at all.
This means that we have to come to God on Jesus’ terms. We don’t get to decide that the sinner’s prayer, for instance, is adequate to cleanse us of our sins. Instead, we have to call upon the name of the Lord. We have to appeal to His authority in the way that He prescribed. If we want Jesus to mediate for us, there’s only one way to get Him to fulfill that role, and that is through baptism.
Finally, Jesus PREPARES. Here, let’s read from John 14:1-3. To me, this is one of the most beautiful passages in the entire Bible. However, I think it becomes even more beautiful when we take a moment to consider the Greek grammar. Unlike formal English, koiné Greek has a second-person plural pronoun, and that’s what Jesus is using here. To put things in Tennessean, all the way through this passage, rather than saying “you”, Jesus is saying “y’all”. In context, that means all of the people who still were present at the Last Supper, but by extension, it means all of us.
The implications for every single Christian in this room are profound. No matter how unworthy or insignificant you feel, Jesus loves you, right now. He is working to prepare a place for you in heaven, right now. Right now, He is planning to come again and receive you to Himself, so that forever, wherever He is, there you will be.
That, brethren, is what makes Christianity worthwhile. For that matter, it is what makes life on earth worthwhile. Discipleship isn’t always fun. Often, we are called upon to do difficult things that we don’t enjoy. We’re called to carry a cross, not a pillow. However, at the end of all of that, Jesus will be ready and waiting for us. Our amazing and wonderful Savior, who was willing even to die for us, is eager to fill our eternity with joy, and nothing could be better than that!
Psalm 71 is an appeal to God for protection in a time of trouble. In the opening segment of the psalm, the psalmist says that only God in His righteousness can save him. As usual, the problem is wicked people who are oppressing him. He observes that he has trusted in God since he was young and that he always has praised God for His deliverance. Now that he is old, he wants God to continue to deliver him.
The problem is that his strength has declined with age, so that now his enemies think they can exploit him. Instead, the psalmist hopes that they will fail and be humiliated, and that he will be able to continue to praise God.
In fact, the psalmist always has been interested in glorifying Him, and he wants Him to spare him so that he can continue to do so. He is confident that God will do exactly that, so he anticipates the rejoicing that he will offer Him as a result.
Psalm 72 is the last psalm that David ever wrote, and it asks God to bless the reign of the king (presumably Solomon). First, David wants God to help the king be a righteous judge and a protector of the poor. Next, he asks for the king to be respected and have peace as a result. Similarly, he hopes that the dominion of the king will extend across the known world because God will bless his goodness and righteousness. The psalm also expresses the wish that the king will prosper along with Israel. All of this will lead to God being blessed and glorified.
Psalm 73 contains the psalmist’s reflections when confronted with evil people who appear to prosper. He begins by acknowledging that his envy of such people almost led him into sin. He reflects on how prosperous and carefree such people appear—they’ve literally gotten fat on evildoing. What’s worse, their freedom from judgment leads others to question the justice of God.
Next to them, the psalmist finds himself wondering why he has bothered being faithful. However, he recognizes that giving expression to these concerns would have undermined the faith of others. Besides, after meditation in the temple, he found himself reassured. The time would come when God would destroy them.
He concludes by reflecting on his relationship with God. He treated God badly in his ignorance, but he sees that God always has been with him. People who reject God will be destroyed, but those who seek Him will prosper.
Psalm 74 is a lament after the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians. The psalmist asks God why He has apparently abandoned His people and invites Him to consider the ruin of the sanctuary. The enemies of the Jews have gone through and destroyed everything. They feel abandoned by God and wonder how long this intolerable state will continue.
However, the psalmist also acknowledges God’s power. He always has defeated His enemies and provided for His people. The psalm concludes with an appeal to Him. First, the psalmist wants God to remember the Jews’ enemies and punish them for their crimes. Second, he asks God to remember His covenant. Finally, He appeals to God to respond powerfully to the scoffing of those enemies.
Tonight is our annual gospel singing! For the past several weeks, Gary and Tim have worked extremely hard on putting this hymn list together, and I thought everyone would be interested in seeing it. This is a great opportunity to glorify God. Everybody in the Columbia area, make sure that you take advantage of it!
Hallelujah Praise Jehovah
Let Me Live Close to Thee
Father God, Just for Today
The Love of God
Father Bless Us
Living Water, Bread of Life
Surround Us Lord
He Will Pilot Me
His Grace Reaches Me
I Love My Savior Too
Jesus Lover of My Soul
A Wonderful Savior
How Deep the Father’s Love
Is it Well With Your Soul?
And Can It Be
I’ll Be List’ning
A Beautiful Prayer
We Saw Thee Not
I Close My Eyes
Break My Heart
Wonderful Merciful Savior
With Jesus By My Side
Where No One Stands Alone
A Beautiful Life
Hilltops of Glory
This World is Not My Home
Don’t You Want to Go to That Land?
Among churches of Christ today, the most studied chapter in Proverbs, and possibly the most studied chapter in the Old Testament, is Proverbs 31. Countless women’s classes have explored the topic of the virtuous woman, as determined sisters strive to emulate her fictitious excellence. One might almost say that she has achieved celebrity status among Christians. After all, she does have her own line of handbags!
There’s certainly nothing wrong with studying Proverbs 31, but for the next few Sunday evenings, I want to examine a lesser-known paragon we’ll reach in this week’s Bible reading. In Job 31, Job launches into a point-by-point defense of his character, explaining why it is that he hasn’t earned God’s wrath. Even though Job lived under a different dispensation than we do, everything that he lists is something that men of God ought to strive for today. Indeed, as we’ll see, some of the topics that he explores have a very modern ring to them. Without further ado, then, let’s see what we can learn this evening from the first part of our study of the virtuous man.
According to Job, the first attribute that the virtuous man possesses is PURITY OF HEART. Let’s read about it in Job 31:1-4. To me, this is fascinating. Normally, we think of lust as a New-Testament kind of sin. After all, didn’t Jesus warn us that lust was as bad as adultery in the Sermon on the Mount? It’s obvious from this text, though, that thousands of years before the Sermon on the Mount, Job recognized the spiritual dangers of looking lustfully on a young woman. Indeed, he foresaw such problems that he made a covenant with his eyes to keep them looking where they should.
There are two important lessons here for us. The first is that if we want to keep our hearts free from lust, we are going to have to be determined about it. Back in the day, a covenant was a solemn legal obligation. Abraham’s covenant with God and the Sinai covenant were sealed with the blood of sacrifices. You did not make a covenant lightly, and you did not break it once you made it.
If we don’t have this solemn resolution, we inevitably will find our eyes looking on someone else with lust. Our society makes lust incredibly easy. When I go to Wal-Mart in the summer, half the women in the store are wearing things that reveal more than I ever wanted to know. Online, things are no better and often worse. It is more work to not find someone to gaze on than it is to find them. If we don’t live with determination and resolve, our eyes will lead us into sin.
Second, when we are considering whether we should watch someone we don’t have a right to watch, we should remember who is watching us. As Job points out in v. 5, God sees all our ways. He knows when our eyes are looking where they shouldn’t, and when our hearts are thinking things they shouldn’t. Lust is subtle enough that we can hide it from others if we are careful, but we never should think that we can hide it from Him.
Next, Job examines the value of HONESTY. Consider Job 31:5-8. This is a text that is about Job’s business dealings. It considers the question of whether he has been deceitful and used his position to exploit others.
I think we see clearly what Job is talking about when we consider the penalty of v. 6. There, he invites God to weigh him in a just balance, implying that wrongdoing would be using an unjust balance. We don’t do things that way today, so let me explain. Thousands of years ago, when goods were sold by weight, merchants used a balance, like we see in those pictures of the scales of justice. If you wanted to sell, say, a pound of olives, you would put your one-pound weight in one pan and olives in the other until the scales balanced.
Unscrupulous merchants, though, would keep two sets of weights: a heavy set for when they were buying, and a light set for when they were selling. That way, they could buy 1.5 pounds of olives for the price of one pound and sell .5 pounds of olives for the price of one pound. That might be a good way to enrich yourself, but it sure is slimy!
Today, we see unscrupulous merchants pull the same trick when they take advantage of their superior knowledge to put one over on an unsuspecting customer. This is like the auto mechanic who tells you you need half your engine replaced when you actually don’t. He knows he’s lying, but you don’t, so he skins you.
Christians have to be above that. We have to love fair dealing more than we love money. If we’re selling a used car, and we know the car has problems, we have to tell potential sellers about those problems. If we’re selling a house, and we know it’s got mold in the attic, we can’t ignore the situation and hope the home inspector doesn’t notice. We have to be forthright. Being straightforward will cost us some money, but being deceitful will cost us our souls.
Finally, Job informs us that the virtuous man is SELF-CONTROLLED. Look at the text of Job 31:9-12. Here, Job expresses the wish that if he has sneaked around and committed adultery with his neighbor’s wife, that his own wife will betray him with his neighbor. That’s pretty strong stuff!
Today, of course, adultery is no less a temptation. If you talk to the elders here, they can give you decade after decade of stories about Christian men who have been unfaithful to their wives, and all the disasters that followed from that. First, as Job observes, it’s the sort of thing that can get you brought before a judge. Sneaking around is a great way to end up in divorce court, and as anybody who has had anything to do with a divorce can tell you, that’s not where you want to be!
Second, Job points out the destructiveness of adultery. He says that it would produce a fire that would destroy his whole life. Brethren, we need to think seriously about this. There’s no better way to ruin everything we hold dear than to cheat on our wives. That will place tremendous stress on our marriage if not destroy it altogether. Financially speaking, the single worst financial mistake people can make is to get divorced. It will have horrific effects on our kids. I’ve seen more than one girl whose father was unfaithful to her mother grow up and marry a man who betrayed her in just the same way. That was the kind of man her father’s example taught her to look for. Finally, of course, it will ruin our relationship with God and cause us to lose our souls unless we repent. If there is any sin that we should fear to the depths of our being, it is adultery.
As I said last week, based on a suggestion, I’m currently preaching a series on the work of God today. This week’s lesson, then, is going to be about the Father and the work that He does today.
If I were willing to reach back to the Old Testament especially, I could probably preach for the rest of the year on this subject. There is so, so much material to cover, and I only have 25 minutes to cover it, so necessarily, a lot gets left on the cutting-room floor!
For instance, I’m not going to discuss the Father’s work in controlling the course of human history. I believe that just as He did thousands of years ago, He continues to guide the rise and fall of nations today, and that He will bless righteous nations and humble wicked ones. Nonetheless, that’s another sermon for another time.
Instead, I’m going to focus this morning on what the Father does for each one of us personally. None of us are beneath His notice; indeed, He is every bit as concerned with us as we are. In this regard, then, let’s consider the work of the Father today.
First, the Scripture teaches us that the Father PROVIDES FOR US. This is pretty plain in James 1:16-17. In context, James is attacking the idea that the Father might tempt us to sin. Instead, everything that the Father sends us is good, and everything in our lives that is good comes from Him.
This should call us first of all to be thankful. Every morning when we get out of bed and take that first deep breath, it’s a gift from the Father. Every meal we eat, we receive from His hand.
This is true not only for His faithful people, but also for the ones who reject Him. God provides for the hard-hearted sinner. He provides for the atheist. Their lack of gratitude hurts Him, but it does not diminish His goodness nor His willingness to provide. We know better than those people do, so we ought to do better. Let’s make sure that we pause continually throughout the day to thank our Father for His good gifts.
Additionally, we should remember the Father’s provision when times aren’t so good. Much of the time, when life isn’t going their way, people are quick to blame God for it. Really, this is reverse blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. It is attributing the works of the devil to God. Besides, no matter how awful our lives might be right now, the good that God has done us far outweighs our current suffering. None of us have any reason to complain about our treatment at His hands!
Second, the Father PROTECTS US. Let’s reflect for a moment on a familiar passage, 1 Corinthians 10:13. This is one I can remember from childhood, along with the idea that, when tempted, I should look for the way of escape that God provides.
Before we get that far, though, let’s think about what it means that the Father (I think “God” in 1 Corinthians 10 is the Father) does not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability. That is certainly not a goal of the devil, who is not a sporting old chap. I am quite confident that if he were allowed to have his own way, Satan would happily crush us with temptation far beyond our ability.
In fact, I think Satan often does exactly that. Notice that the protection of God only extends to “us”. Contextually, Paul isn’t talking about human beings generally. He’s talking about himself and the brethren of the church in Corinth. He’s talking about Christians. I do not think this promise extends to people who are not Christians. They have chosen to live in the dominion of darkness, and they are fair game for the roaring lion.
However, for those of us who are in the kingdom of the beloved Son instead, this means that God is constantly intervening in our lives, constantly interposing Himself between us and the devil in ways that we can neither perceive nor understand, so that Satan’s desires to ruin us are constantly frustrated. Sadly, I too often stumble even when I am not tempted beyond my ability, but I am thankful that God is constantly watching out for me and protecting me from the worst.
Third, the Father ANSWERS PRAYER. Look at the words of the Lord in Matthew 6:6. Here, Jesus urges us not to pray like the hypocrites, who prayed not because they were concerned about God, but because they wanted to impress other people. Instead, we are to seek the Father in prayer, and He will reward us.
Obviously, in real life, things are more complicated than that. All of us have had the experience of asking the Father for things that we did not receive. Sometimes, this is because free will intervenes. We might pray for God to soften the heart of an unrepentant loved one, and yet they go on being unrepentant. Well, that’s how free will works.
Sometimes, though, it seems like our prayers are not answered the way we want simply because God doesn’t want to. At times, this can be frustrating or even crushing. However, once we take a step back and think about it, we have to acknowledge that that’s how we want things. We want God to protect us from the limitations of our own wisdom.
For instance, I got married fairly late and dated a lot before I got married. There were several times when I prayed that I might get to marry a particular woman. Obviously, God only granted one of those prayers. At the time, I was not happy when things didn’t work out, but in retrospect, I should not have married any of the others.
I didn’t know what was best, but God did. More generally, all of us need to accept that we usually don’t know what is best, but God always does. We have to trust Him.
Finally, the Father FORGIVES. Ephesians 4:32 tells the story. Here, we see Paul urging the Ephesians to forgive one another as God in Christ forgave them. That doesn’t mean grudgingly and incompletely. It means totally, entirely, and forever.
What a precious thought this is! Sometimes, I hear folks complaining that the Bible has too many rules in it. The implication is that the God of the Bible is unfair. You know what? I think that’s exactly right. God is incredibly unfair in His treatment of me.
If God treated me fairly, if He gave me what I deserved, I still would be dead in my sins and headed for eternal death in hell. Instead, God gives me what is not fair and what I do not deserve. He has poured out so much of His mercy on me that I am completely clean. God be praised for that!
It’s incredible to me that God wanted to forgive me so much that He sent His Son to die in my place. Arguably, it’s equally incredible that after so much mercy and forgiveness, people still complain about His expectations. Let’s not make that mistake. Let’s seek to do God’s will, but above all, let’s glory in His forgiveness!