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Psalm 37A

Friday, June 10, 2022

Do not fret at evildoers,
Nor at sinners be dismayed;
Like the grass they wither quickly;
Like the herb they swiftly fade.

Trust in God and long for goodness;
Seek the peace He will impart;
Find your joy in Him forever;
He will satisfy your heart.

Walk in faith upon His pathway,
Trusting in the Holy One;
Like the light will be His justice,
And His judgment, like the sun.

Rest in Him and wait with patience;
Do not fret when sin succeeds;
Cease from wrath; forsake your anger,
Lest you walk in their misdeeds.

Christ, Our Shepherd

Thursday, June 09, 2022

We live in a fearful time. Most other people in most other times would think it strange that Americans today are as afraid as they are. After all, we live in the heart of the territory controlled by the greatest military power of all time. There has not been war here for more than 150 years. Far from being worried about famine, we have so much to eat that we are more concerned about gaining too much weight. We have access to such good medical care that most of us can expect to live to ages far beyond what our brethren in the 1st century would have expected.

Nonetheless, we are afraid. We are afraid of COVID, afraid of politicians that we think are hostile to us, afraid of societal change that we think is for the worst, and probably afraid even of things that we can't put a name to. Optimism about the future is sadly out of fashion.

When we wrestle with fear, we should remember all the reasons that God gives us not to be afraid. It may be that not everything in our earthly lives goes our way, but through His son Jesus, He will take care of what is most important. This morning, then, let's see what we can learn from John 10 about Christ our Shepherd.

The first section of our reading this morning concerns Jesus as the gate of the sheep. Let's look at John 10:1-10. There are a couple of different elements to Jesus’ words here that are well worth our attention. Of course, in this text we are the sheep, and Jesus tells us that we can expect to encounter two categories of people. One is made up of thieves and robbers. The other is only occupied by Jesus. The sheep don't listen to the thieves and robbers; They only listen to Him.

For us, this underscores the importance of listening only to the words of our Lord and identifying all the other religious voices that are not His. In this world, there is an abundance of false teachers. They occupy pulpits all across our country and the world, and every one of them teaches something that according to the Scriptures is not the word of Jesus.

Make no mistake, brethren! These are not good people who have made a mistake but have useful things to say to us. They are thieves and robbers. If we listen to them, they will lead us away from Jesus for their own benefit. Instead, we must be careful to listen only to the word of Christ and reject anything and everything that does not come from it.

So too, notice what Jesus says about Himself as the gate. If we enter by Him, we will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. This language should remind us, as Jesus intended for it to do, of Psalm 23 and its beautiful depiction of what it means to have the Lord as our shepherd. When God takes care of you, He makes sure that you have everything you need.

By contrast, the devil wants us to believe that Jesus will not provide for us if we follow Him. He wants us to think that the grass is better where Jesus does not lead us, that the best life is lived apart from Christ. This is one hundred percent a lie! He intends our harm, not our good. By contrast, if we stick close to Jesus, we will find that we lack for nothing.

Second, Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd. Let's continue our reading with John 10:11-21. Here, our Lord shows us how he is different from a hireling. The hireling flees from the wolf, allowing the wolf to destroy the sheep. By contrast, the good shepherd, even though he is not equipped to defend himself from the wolf, will die in order to keep the sheep safe.

Of course, this is exactly what Jesus did. The wolf that He had to face down was none other than the devil, who came to devour all our souls. Even Jesus could not save us from Satan by living. Instead, He had to die. He willingly laid down his life for our sakes.

We need to remember this anytime we get to feeling down on ourselves. The devil loves to try to convince us that we're worthless, that nobody places any value on us. Jesus did. He loved and still loves you, me, and every Christian enough to suffer, bleed, and die for us. He is good, and His goodness is revealed in the greatness of His love.

Let's pay attention also to His words in verse 16. Here, we learn that one of Jesus’ great goals as the Good Shepherd is to bring all of His sheep from different pens together into one. Since the beginning, His church has had a sad history of division, but His desire is for all of us to be united.

We can't do anything about the contentiousness and pride of other people in other places, but we can make sure that in this congregation we stay united. Indeed, one of the things that I most love about this church is the willingness of so many not to press their views and judgments on others, rather choosing to maintain the unity of the Spirit.

We can't compromise on the truth, of course, but it is vital for us to be able to tell the difference between what the Bible says and what we think. Believe me; I know just how tempting it is to get on one of my hobby horses and take a lap around the auditorium! However, such self-righteous behavior does not glorify God. When we instead humbly, patiently pursue the things that make for peace while remaining focused on the Scriptures, He is pleased.

Finally, let's ponder Jesus’ words about the safety of the sheep. We'll conclude our reading with John 10:22-30. Here, we find a verse that Calvinists love to take out of context. They love to seize on verse 28 and insist that it teaches that it is impossible for a Christian to fall away.

This is a strange thing to believe, especially given that in Matthew 24, Jesus prophesies about a time in which He says many will fall away. Of course, there is no contradiction between His teaching in Matthew 24 and His teaching in John 10. Instead, we need to look at the way that Jesus describes His sheep just a verse earlier, in verse 27.

According to him, His sheep are those who hear His voice, present tense, and who follow Him, again present tense. This promise isn't about those who followed Jesus at some point in the past and aren't following Him anymore. Instead, it is about those who are following Him right now.

If we are striving to follow Him, His promise does apply to us, and it should give us great assurance and hope. Our salvation is not dependent on how good we are. Instead, it depends on how strong He is. No matter how hard the devil pulls, he will not be able to pull us out of the hands of Jesus, and if that's not enough, the Father Himself will exert his strength to keep us safe.

Here too, the devil loves to prey on our minds and try to make us afraid. Fear is one of his favorite tools. Because of Jesus, though, we don't have to be afraid. We can be confident of our salvation, but our confidence is not in ourselves. It is in Him.

The Blood of Abel

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

The more we learn about the Bible, the better we will understand it. Because God's word is a unity, even books that were written thousands of years apart are interconnected. Many parts of the New Testament are so closely related to Old-Testament stories that trying to understand the former without the latter is nearly impossible.

One such reference appears in Hebrews 12:24. There, the Hebrews writer tells us that the sprinkled blood of Jesus says better things than the blood of Abel. If all we've got is a New Testament, we are sunk. There is no way for us to understand this!

However, with the help of the story of Cain and Abel, which is recorded in Genesis 4, we can see that the Hebrews writer is making a powerful point. There, we learn that these two brothers offered different sacrifices to God. Abel’s was pleasing; Cain’s wasn't. Out of jealousy, Cain killed his brother, committing the first murder.

Cain soon learned, though, that even though Abel was dead, the consequences of his crime continued. In Genesis 4:10-11, God points out the evidence for Cain’s sin and its implications. He tells the murderer that his brother's blood cries out against him from the ground. Because of this, Cain was now under a curse, alienated from the ground that had drunk that blood.

That's what the blood of Abel says. It announces that great sin has been committed and condemns the sinner with a curse. The blood of Christ, however, speaks better than that blood.

In order to appreciate this, we must recognize the ways in which the blood of Abel and the blood of Christ are alike. Both Abel and Christ were innocent and did not deserve death, so when the blood of each was shed, it was a shedding of innocent blood.

Nonetheless, the consequences of these two murders are very different. The blood of Abel cried out against Cain and proved that he was guilty. By contrast, when we are sprinkled with the blood of Christ as we obey the gospel, that blood announces our forgiveness, not our guilt. It washes us clean rather than staining us.

Additionally, although the blood of Abel on Cain brought a curse, the blood of Jesus removes a curse from us. Because all of us have sinned, all of us are cursed with death and eternal death. On the cross, Jesus became a curse for us. He died in our place so that we could inherit eternal life instead.

Thus, when the Hebrews writer tells us that the blood of Christ speaks better than the blood of Abel, he is making a massive understatement! The blood of Abel condemned Cain with its testimony; the blood of Christ justifies us with its testimony. The whole course of Cain’s life was blighted by the blood that stained his hands, but our eternal destiny is transformed for good by the sprinkled blood that cleanses us.

Worth Dying For

Thursday, June 02, 2022

Among my many friends in Texas is a brother named Jerry Strode. We've known and worshiped with each other for years, but recently, a shared experience has drawn us much closer. Both of us have had to accept the fact of our own deaths.

Jerry's realization came a few years back when he developed a horrendous case of pulmonary fibrosis. In the space of about a month, he went from normal lung function to being unable to breathe on his own. He spent 22 weeks on oxygen, and part of that time, he was on a vent. His life was only saved by a last-minute double lung transplant.

To this day, Jerry’s health remains fragile. He is on immunosuppressive drugs so that his body does not reject his new lungs, but he knows that someday, that rejection will happen. When it does, it will be the end for him.

The first Wednesday of my Texas odyssey, Jerry and I spent a couple of very meaningful hours talking with one another. Both of us see the world very differently now, and it was fascinating to explore together the lessons that we have learned.

The next day, I tested positive for COVID. Just about my first thought was, “Oh, no! I've killed Jerry!” After all, COVID does a number on immunocompromised people. When I was laid up, I prayed more about his health than about anything else.

Thankfully, he never developed symptoms, and when I was able to come back to church, he was one of the first people I saw. I greeted him and told him how glad I was that I hadn't killed him.

In response, he waved his hand dismissively. “Don't worry about it,” he said. “I'm going to die anyway, and I can't think of a better reason to die than because I spent time with another Christian.” He told me next that in his estimation, a life of isolation wasn't worth living.

The era of COVID has been an era of fear. From the beginning, various authorities have done their best to make us afraid so that we would follow the precautions that they thought were appropriate: masking, social distancing, vaccinating, isolating, and so forth. As a result, many have spent the past couple of years terrified of getting COVID. They think that getting COVID and dying is the worst fate, unimaginably bad, and they will do anything to avoid it.

Jerry knows death better than just about anybody who’s still alive. He knows just how bad it is, and he knows that it’s not the worst. Loneliness is worse. Cutting yourself off from the people you love is worse. Above all, not having a rock-solid relationship with Jesus is worse. In fact, says Jerry, that’s the real worst.

None of the above means that we should not take precautions. Jerry had a mask on when I saw him that Sunday. Precautions aren’t the problem. The problem is when we allow fear, whether of COVID or anything else, to separate us from the things that really are worth dying for.

God's Creations

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

As those of you who have been following our Bible-reading program know, as of this Sunday, we have run out of New Testament. If you have made it from the beginning to the end, I congratulate you! However, even though the reading plan has ended, the year has not. For the rest of 2022, we are going to be looking at some of the great themes of the Bible, events and stories from the Old Testament that have significant implications in the New Testament.

Our theme for this week is the creation. The significance of Genesis 1:1 can hardly be overstated. It defines the nature of existence, and the fundamental truth that we are the creations of a divine Creator appears throughout the rest of Scripture.

Though there are dozens of passages I could use to explore this concept, it probably will surprise none of you that I have chosen a psalm. Even though it is familiar to us, taken as a whole, it makes an argument from the creation that is easy to overlook. This evening, then, let's see what Psalm 19 has to say about God's creations.

The first section of this psalm is about the heavens. Let's read here from Psalm 19:1-6. These words contain one of the most powerful arguments for the existence of God. When we look up at the skies, whether by day or by night, they proclaim they are the handiwork of a Being so awesome in power that we can only describe Him as God. None of the celestial bodies make any noise as they hurtle through space, but their message is plain anyway.

As you might expect, at this point in my life I am interested in testing the evidence for my faith, and this is one of the most significant reasons why I am not an atheist. We may not realize it, but when scientists concluded that the universe had a beginning, that was a tremendous blow to unbelievers. Before that time, most skeptics had believed in a steady-state universe that had no beginning and therefore did not imply a Creator.

We're so used to hearing physicists talk about the Big Bang that we don't realize what a problem it is for a naturalistic explanation of the universe. Naturalists believe that everything can be explained by the operation of physical laws. However, something that created the universe with all of its natural laws must necessarily be outside of those laws.

In recent years, I have heard some doubters hypothesize that somewhere out there, there is a mother universe that goes along spawning daughter universes, and we happen to reside in one of those. The flaws with these claims are obvious. There is and can be no evidence for other universes. In making such assertions, scientists show that they are as much believers in the supernatural as we are. The only difference between us is that they are bending over backwards to refuse to acknowledge the existence of God.

After this, the psalmist turns his attention to another one of God's great creations, His word. This discussion appears in Psalm 19:7-10. In the previous section, the psalmist showed that there is a God. Now, he is proving that the Scriptures come from God. This proof consists of their perfect nature. The Bible in its wisdom, truth, and beauty shows that it is the product of an intellect that is more than human.

Let's start with beauty. This is an argument that is particularly important to me. I am a writer. It is one of the most precious of my gifts from God, and I have rejoiced in words and language all of my life.

I have read widely, everything from fantasy novels to medieval Chinese poetry. However, nowhere have I found anything as magnificent as the Bible. Many of the greatest wordsmiths of history learned their craft from studying it. Truly, it is more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey!

The Bible's divine origin also is evident in its timeless wisdom. The world today loves to dismiss the Scriptures as outmoded. Nonetheless, when we test them, they prove to be as valid a guide to right living as they were thousands of years ago. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun! When I have done what the word of God told me to do, I have never found cause for regret. I only have regretted the times when I failed to follow it.

The Scriptures also are true. Certainly, we can bring in outside evidence that confirms their validity, but mostly, they authenticate themselves. The stories of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus offer us compelling reason to believe that He is the Son of God. Additionally, the Bible's web of fulfilled prophecy, which stretches for thousands of years, shows that it is the product of a mind that knows the end from the beginning. In every respect, the Bible is perfect, just as we would expect from a creation of God.

The final section of the psalm contemplates another of God's creations, we ourselves. Let's wrap up our reading with Psalm 19:11-14. The psalmist’s words, though, point out a significant difference between us and the creations discussed in the first two sections. Both the heavens and the Bible are perfect as they are, and they cannot be improved.

The same is not true of us. Instead, if we are to be perfect, we must be perfected. The first source of perfection that the psalmist mentions is God's word. When we are devoted to the Scriptures, they warn us of possible trouble ahead and set our feet on the path to eternal glory.

However, the Bible by itself is not enough to ensure that we will inherit eternal life. It is perfect, but our obedience to it is not. Thus, the psalmist must call on God directly. The first problem that he identifies is unintentional sin. As he notes, we don't even know what our unintentional sins are! Nonetheless, we can appeal to God to cleanse us from the sins that we didn't even notice, and His mercy is so great that He will.

Second, we need God's help in keeping us from rebellion. We know that if we go on sinning willfully, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins. Thus, if we allow willful sin to rule us, we are doomed.

Here too, the solution is God. Only with His aid can we fight off the devil who wants to lead us astray. However, the good news is that if we are cleansed of unintentional sin and free from rebellion, we are blameless in His sight.

Indeed, the psalmist concludes the psalm by expressing his desire to be blameless in everything, utterly perfect just as the heavens and the Scriptures are. Like him, we should seek holiness not only in what we do but even in what we say and think. We will never achieve this goal on our own, but with the help of our rock and Redeemer, we can be acceptable to Him.

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