A sermon from December 5, 2010:
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”;Ecclesiastes 12:1 (ESV)
‘Remember now thy Creator.’
Remember to know him,
remember to love him,
remember to desire him,
remember to delight in him,
remember to depend upon him,
remember to get an interest in him,
remember to live to him, and
remember to walk with him.
‘Remember now thy Creator;’ the Hebrew is Creators, Father, Son, and Spirit. To the making of man, a council was called in heaven, in the first of Genesis, and 26th verse. ‘Remember thy Creators:’
Remember the Father,
so as to know him,
so as to be inwardly acquainted with him.
Remember the Son,
so as to believe in him,
so as to rest upon him,
so as to embrace him, and
so as to make a complete resignation of thyself to him.
Remember the Spirit, so as to hear his voice,
so as to obey his voice,
so as to feel his presence, and
so as to experience his influence, &c.
‘Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.’
He doth not say in the time of thy youth, but ‘in the days of thy youth,’ to note,
that our life is but as a few days.
It is but as a vapour,
and therefore Seneca saith well, that ‘though death be before the old man’s face, yet he may be as near the young man’s back,’ &c.
Man’s life is the shadow of smoke, the dream of a shadow.
One doubteth whether to call it a dying life, or a living death. (Aug. Confess. lib.i.)
Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 1, “Apples of Gold”, chapter 1 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 178–179.
Hebrews 1:1–4 (ESV)
1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
If we are going to truly serve others, we must have confidence in the person God has created us to be. Inward focus blurs outward sight. Worry over what others might think, concern over how something might appear, or if someone of our “Station” should be doing it will hinder our ability to serve. Service is the result of our relationship with God. As Chuck Colson has said, “In right relationship with our Creator, knowing we belong to Him, we pour ourselves out in service to others.”
5 Things Anyone Can do to Lead Effectively, Phil Stevenson
Richard Wilbur’s poem, “Praise in Summer” from The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems, 1947 begins with a series of re-readings of nature. Thus, moles do not merely dig holes but they “fly overhead the dead”. Ranging through the things before him, he asks why “this mad instead”. Why are we not content with the wonder of the world as made.
Such forcing one-thing into another “Perverts our praise to uncreation”.
Poetry at its greatest does not unmake the world, but causes us to see the world as wonderfully as it actually is.
But Wilbur is actually doing something else here. He is bringing a Christian understanding to the art. The Christian must see creation as very good –fallen, sadly — but that is only a temporary condition. The eternal, the permanent is the restoration of all things. Uncreation/de-creation is the mark of judgment and sin.
Thus, in viewing the creation with joy and clarity one brings praise for the Creator:
Does sense so stale that it must needs derange
The world to know it? To a praiseful eye
Should it not be enough of fresh and strange
That trees grow green, and moles course in clay
And sparrows sweep the ceiling of our day?
Creation, creator, Hebrews 2:10-15, Henry Wilkinson Williams, incarnation, Isaiah 40:18-26, John 1:14, John 3:16, Philippians 2:5-11, Romans 8:20, Romasn 8:3-4, Sin, Union with Christ, Westminster Shorter Catechism
An infinite chasm of sin and nature stands between the Creator and his creatures:
I am God, and there is none like me
Isaiah 46:9. As the Creator, God cannot rightly be compared to his creation:
18 To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
19 An idol! A craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and casts for it silver chains.
20 He who is too impoverished for an offering
chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
to set up an idol that will not move.
21 Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
23 who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.
24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
25 To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power
not one is missing.
Isaiah 40:18–26 (ESV). The distance is made greater, not merely by division of Creator and creation – but also by the division of rebellion and sin (Genesis 3:24). As the result of sin, the entire creation has been “subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20).
To effect reconciliation with him, God condescended to come to us, in the Incarnation. The work of reconciliation has its ground in God himself. As all decrees of God, God does not look beyond himself, but rather his decrees express “his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 7).
As to us, the sending of demonstrates the love of God:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16. The wonder and majesty of the eternal Son coming to us is a constant theme of the New Covenant expression and explication:
10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying,
“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”
13 And again,
“I will put my trust in him.”
“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”
14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
Hebrews 2:10–15 (ESV).
3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:3–4 (ESV).
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:5–11 (ESV)
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14 (ESV).
The Incarnation becomes a ground of the believer being in union with Christ – and thus becoming reconciled to God. The chasm between God and man was bridged by God in the space of Jesus. The union with Christ takes place upon various grounds. As noted by Henry Wilkinson Williams in Union With Christ (1857), one aspect of the union between the redeemed and Christ lies in the sympathy Christ holds for us in our physical weakness and distress:
The relation between the Saviour and our race is, therefore, most intimate and endearing. Jesus, the Incarnate Son, is our Brother. His heart, while He was here upon earth, beat with the sympathies of humanity. He felt as we feel, excepting only that His spirit was free from the least stain of moral defilement.
This is major strain of Hebrews, we have a high priest who is able “to sympathize with our weakness”:
Here, then, we behold the first great fact which the mediatorial scheme presents to us. The Son of God assumed our nature, so as to become a sharer of our weakness, our sorrows, and our temptations. And in this we perceive, in part,—though only in part,—the ground of our union with Him. He has stooped to become one with us. It was an essential feature of the economy of redemption, that the great Restorer, the second federal Head of humanity, “the last Adam,” should appear among us, not in a state of dazzling glory, but in one of lowliness and suffering, distinguished from that of mankind at large only by His perfect freedom from sin. “God” sent “His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” (Rom. viii. 3.) A bond of union was thus formed between Him and the race that He came to save; and the first great step was taken in that scheme of human recovery which was to bring His believing people into the most intimate fellowship with Himself.
Williams’ caution that such sympathy is only a part of union must be duly noted. The union with Christ does not consist in a bare sympathy, an emotion and thought. If so, we could easily reduce union to the level of a tender hearted reader who looks upon an article and photographs of distressed persons in a foreign land, feels some brief sorrow and perhaps guilt, sends some money and then turns to another topic.
Yet, we must not abstract the believers’ union with Christ from the love and sympathy which gave rise to the Incarnation (John 3:16), nor the love expressed and encouraged in Christ’s incarnation.
A Christian Directory, Anthropology, Brooks, Burroughs, Creation, creator, Evangelism, free will, God, Gospel Revelation, Happiness, Jeremiah Burroughs, joy, Precious Remedies Against Satans Devices, Puritan, Richard Baxter, Self-Examination, Sin, soul, Thomas Brooks, worth
In the first part of Christian Directory, Baxter lays out “Directions” to the unbeliever. Yet, before he begin his directions, he lays a series of 18 propositions or presuppositions as to the state and thinking of an unbeliever. Baxter describes these presuppositions as “nothing … but what I may suppose to be in a heathen”.
The presuppositions are laid out by chain without reference to Scripture. He merely seeks to describe the general sort of belief which could be held by anyone without reference to a particular religion.
He begins with the presupposition that his reader is a rational human being with “reason and natural free will.”
The second step is certainly the most difficult for unbeliever to accept and the most important element in his chain. Baxter will define a human being as a creature made for the Creator, alone:
[I suppose that] you understand that you are made on purpose to love and serve your Maker, to be happy in his love and glory forever. Now, if you don’t know this much, you don’t even know that you are a human being. In fact, you don’t even know what a human being is.
Baxter says, Whether you like it or not, you are of incomprehensible value: You were created for no lesser purpose than to pursue happiness which can be found only in the Creator. You are man for your Maker. Until you understand this basic point, you cannot even begin to think to rightly.
It is a common canard that Puritanism was glum and repressive. However, even the barest reading will demonstrate the constant theme of joy, enjoyment, love, happiness. Consider the first question of Shorter Catechism, which tells us that we were created to “glory God and enjoy him forever.” Now one may deny that enjoyment could be had in God. Yet one cannot fairly claim that the Puritans did not seek joy.
Second, Baxter, like the other Puritans, had an extraordinarily high view of human beings. They believed and taught that God created human beings for no lesser purpose than for constant joyful relationship to God.
Consider when a person comes to the Whitehouse. A common citizen may be permitted to take the tour. But if an “important” purpose comes to the Whitehouse, that person may be permitted greater access – perhaps even access to the President, himself. Select persons are actually invited to be with the President. An inner circle may be friends with the President.
Baxter defines humanity in the highest possible means. A human being is created not for access to mere kings, queens, presidents, celebrities. Human beings exist for God: to be brought into God’s family as dear children.
This makes the sin so crushing, so terribly wrong. It is an act beneath any woman or man. Thomas Brooks, another Puritan, wrote:
Solemnly to consider the dignity of the soul. Oh, the soul of man is more worth than a thousand worlds! It is the greatest abasing of it that can be—to let it dote upon a little shining earth, upon a little painted beauty and fading glory—when it is capable of union with Christ, of communion with God, and of enjoying the eternal vision of God.
Seneca could say, ‘I am too great, and born to greater things, than that I should be a slave to my body.’ Oh! do you say my soul is too great, and born to greater things, than that I should confine it to a heap of perishing earth.
Plutarch tells of Themistocles, that he accounted it not to stand with his state to stoop down to take up the spoils the enemies had scattered in flight; but says to one of his followers, ‘You may have these things—for you are not Themistocles’. Oh what a sad thing it is that a heathen should set his feet upon those very things upon which most professors set their hearts, and for the gain of which, with Balaam, many run the hazard of losing their immortal souls forever!
In the book, Gospel Revelation, there are nine sermon by Jeremiah Burroughs on the excellency of the human soul. The first sermon in that series is entitled, “The Soul is Worth More Than all the World.”
Baxter thus begins his evaluation of the unbeliever with the presupposition that the unbeliever is of inestimable worth. Thus, the trouble does not lie in the value of the human being, but in the human being’s inability to realize his own worth.
(A sermon preached in October 2011, at Calvary Bible Church — calvarybiblechurch.org)
Jesus Uphold All Things: Hebrews 1:3
Imagine being Moses, the prince of Egypt: There is the palace near the river. Long gardens cut by cunning walls slope down to the water’s edge. The flowers and trees are in bloom. The warm wind blows the scent into cool your room, where you recline at the table filled with fruit someone else has grown and picked and washed and cut and arranged. You taste an extraordinary melon of which you are especially fond. You take a drink and rest, looking out the window at the people busily working to keep you happy.
You couldn’t know a care in the world. You are a son of the Pharaoh’s daughter. No one can cross you; no one can hinder you. You can do and learn and plan and make and rest as you please. You sit secure behind a massive army, atop a well-run and secure nation. Everything in your world is built to make you safe and happy.
The world exists to bear your every care. Aside from the fact that some day you will die, there is nothing which can thwart you. But even death is secure for you. You have learned from the priests that your soul will be safely escorted to the Western Lands.
Then, you leave Egypt.
You leave for the backside of the wilderness. You tend animals. You find grass for goats and fight off wolves or lions which seek to take your life. You must find water in a land with little water. You sleep on the ground. Your bed is hard. Then later, you return to Egypt and take up the cause of the slaves.
You gave away all that ease. And why? What would be better?
24By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. Hebrews 11:24–27 (ESV)
If you look only to what was seen, it would be best to stay: You can see the palace; you can see the food; you can see the garden; you can see the slaves. Yet, Moses chose life among the slaves over the privilege of being in Pharaoh’s family; he chose the disgrace of the wilderness over the ease of a palace:
26He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt for he was looking to the reward.
And what reward was that? What could Moses see the Pharaoh could not?
He endured as seeing him who is invisible.
Moses chose the disgrace of Christ, the disgrace and pain and conflict one knows for rejecting the world and following Christ alone.
When we begin to look honestly at the cost of being a Christian it will look easier to go back. To go forward into the wilderness, to follow out after Christ may cost everything: It may cost family and friends. Jesus promised as much in Luke 12:49-53. It will cost the rage of the Devil. 1 Pet. 5:8. It will cost the denial of your – self and your flesh. As Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
It would be easier to go back, to quit. Often it seems that every step of the way is littered with traps and snares and weights. We will be tempted to quit. That was just the problem facing the church who received the letter to the Hebrews. They are warned and exhorted and encouraged over and again throughout the letter to not quit, to not grow weak, to not fail:
35Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. Hebrews 10:35–36 (ESV)
God, knowing that we are weak, and that faith is a wavering thing with us, made an unquestionable proclamation of his purpose. God knowing that we were hard of hearing, sent a loud, unquestionable call into the world:
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Hebrews 1:1–4, ESV)
I am going to focus on that the clause in the middle of verse 3, “He upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
This morning I will state one doctrine and make one conclusion. Here is the doctrine: God has spoken in His Son who upholds all things by the word of his power. That doctrine has two parts:
(1) God has spoken.
(2) The Son upholds and sustains all things.
From that doctrine we can make the following conclusion: Since God has spoken in his Son who upholds and sustains all things, we can trust him. We can follow him follow into the wilderness because he is sovereign over all things.
First point of Doctrine: God has spoken. We will not dwell on this long, as it has been covered in prior sermons. This morning I only wish to again settle in your mind that God has spoken. God spoke by the prophets. And now, in these last days – for all days after the coming of Christ are the “last days” – God has spoken again. He did not send an angel or mere prophet. Rather God sent his Son.
By speaking in his Son, God has shown us the gravity and the importance of that which he proclaims. Certainly, God speaking at all is of the greatest importance. But, God speaking in his Son is of greater importance that can be imagined. God the Father has sent God the Son to make a pronouncement. It would be foolish beyond all measure to neglect such a call:
How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? Heb. 2:3.
That warning should send a chill down your spine. Too often God has become tamed, domesticated, and kept on a comfy bed, like a house pet. He may bark at the door and chase the squirrels, but he is of little importance – until we need something big. In that case, we demand that he rush out of doors late in the evening and get some medicine from the store or some money from his special bank. And, if anything goes wrong, he is there to blame.
The God of our imagination is not the God of reality. We often down play the fear of God and make it into some sort of bare reverence – sort of like being quiet in a courtroom or a museum. No my friend, if you were to see a glimmer of the glory of God, your knees would quake and your body would shiver and you would know a kind of fear you can-not-now imagine. Oh, he will not destroy you if you are his own; but he is not tame. Our God is a consuming fire.
Second point of doctrine: God has spoken in the Son who has all power: The Son is the Creator, Sustainer and King of the Creation. In prior sermons we have looked at the Son as heir to the Creation, as the Creator of all things, as the radiance of God, as the exact representation of God. This morning we will consider the fact that he is the Sustainer of all things. The precise language is, “He upholds the universe – all things– by the word of his power”. The NIV has that he “sustains all things”. The slight difference in the language comes from trying to convey fully what is in the original.
The Son is said to actually carry or bear all things and so it can also mean to move things along and cause them to happen. Thus, he bears and he sustains all things.
It is the present active work of the Son to cause the universe – indeed all things, the seen and the unseen creation — to cause all things to continue to exist and function. Every angel, every possum, every child, every star, every moment of time and every inch of space exist because of him, “by Him all things consist” (Col. 1:17). Every disease, every wind, every butterfly, every bullet exist because he wills it to be. Both the mere fact of existence – whether physical or spiritual – and the providential control of all things in existence lie with Him.
Consider carefully what this means: The blood which is at this moment pulsing through your body exists and moves because the Son of God at this very moment is consciously and purposefully causing your heart to beat and your body to exist. The thoughts which are at work in your mind as you think about your body and become aware of your heart are upheld and sustained by the Son. As John Brown wrote 150 years ago,
The whole universe hangs on His arm; His unsearchable wisdom and boundless power are manifested in governing and directing the complicated movements of animate and inanimate, rational and irrational beings, to the attainment of His own great power, by His powerful word. All this is done without effort of difficulty. He speaks, and it is done; He commands, and it stands fast (32).
I remember when I was child considering the fact that God could see me. You know the questions: Can he see me here, under the covers? Yes, God sees you always.
But what I am saying this morning is far more intimate and profound. The Son not only sees you, he upholds you – he causes you to exist. The discomfort in your stomach, the tingle in your left hand, the memory of the beach – all those things exist, because he causes them to continue to exist.
Oh, it is very true that your thoughts and memories and desires and will are all the product of your own volition. You are not a mere toy or robot. But those thoughts and memories and desires are all continually upheld by the Son. It is absurd to think that you could avoid or hide from such a God. You are not merely present to his sight. He does not just look at you think, Oh, there’s so-and-so.
He must consciously and continually be aware of you and cause you to exist. He must cause the earth to bear up beneath you. He must cause the air to fill your lungs and your heart to be beat. Without his continual, purposeful, deliberate effort, you would simply cease to exist.
Does that cause you to fear – even for a moment? Do you see how utterly dependent you are? A baby being held by a mother depends completely on that mother for safety. If the mother were to let go, the baby would fall to the ground and could never help himself. You are far more dependent upon the Son for your existence than the smallest baby who sleeps against his mother. If the Son should forget about you, you would cease to be.
But, he does not merely cause all things to exist; he also providentially controls all things. Too often we are deists in function. A deist is one who thinks God made the world and then went out for lunch. Perhaps someday he’ll come back and see how it is doing. The way we pray – and the way that the popular culture considers prayer – has more in common with deism than with the picture of the Bible. When we pray hoping that God will act, we seem to believe that God has somehow failed to act. We think, God must be busy with something else. Perhaps if we make enough noise, he will finally hear. Maybe we can manipulate him into doing something.
No, no, no! God is here right now acting. Do not be so ignorant as to think that God is somehow absent. He is not merely causing things to exist – he is seeing to the relationship between this and that. You are here in the pew because God has ordained it to be so. God has ordained all things which have and all things which will come to pass.
This means God can be trusted:
When Moses left Egypt, he saw what the Pharaoh could not see. The Pharaoh could see his empire, his buildings, his army. Moses could see the God who upheld the empire and buildings and army. Pharaoh could see his gold. Moses could see the God who created the gold. Today, the Pharaoh is gone, his empire is disappeared. Sure, there are a rocks piled into buildings. But the empty buildings merely serve to remind that Pharaoh is gone. But, the God of Moses is as alive forever. Who was the wiser, Pharaoh or Moses?
Life is difficult, because we are constantly trusting in things which cannot save us. People trust in their money or their power or their prestige or their abilities – and all those things fail us. If you hope in anything in this world, you will be disappointed. If you put your trust in any human being, in any angel, in any car or house or job or anything it will fail and you will be disappointed.
This is a problem for everyone.
For a Christian, the problem is more acute. If your goal is to be rich, then money looks like the best bet. But to be a Christian, you are called to a place where money cannot go. To be a Christian you must go someplace that you cannot see.
What is the real problem of life? We have a problem with God. This is apparent, because the world is broken. Why is there crime and misery and poverty and pain? All our troubles flow directly out of sin: our own sin and the sin of others. Sin brought death and every misery. Do you want to know why you are unhappy? It is sin. Because of sin we are subjected to judgment. We are going to die and then we are going to judgment. There is the problem: This life is fraught with danger, and then we must face death directly and go to judgment.
The answer for most people will be: First, I will try to manipulate this world as well as possible to avoid misery and gain pleasure. If you are powerful, you can live like the Pharaoh. If you have less, you will do your best to make your way in this world. Second, you will try to rely upon your good works to fix things with God.
This strategy makes sense: You can see my pain and pleasure right now. You can see the connection between your job and your income and your income and your ease. You can see the car in the garage: You can’t see some eternal reward in the sweet by and by. As for God, all he can expect is that someone does their best. Right? That is what you have been taught all your life: It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. You think, I have always been taught that if I do my personal best, that is all that can be expected of me. How could God expect anything else? Interesting that such a God sounds more like the coach in a TV movie than the God of the Bible.
What does the Christian say? The Christian must say, I am going to risk losing my family and car and life so that I can gain God in Jesus Christ.
Someone might say to him, Christian, that is a good idea. Gaining God in eternity is probably a very good idea. How do you plan to get God on your side? You know that human beings and God haven’t been getting along so well of late?
Christian answers, I will trust completely and only upon the work of Jesus Christ. I will trust that God will accept the obedience of Jesus Christ as my obedience. I trust that God will accept the punishment inflicted upon Jesus as sufficient for my sin.
At this point, I am going to recount the Gospel, the story of what God has done for sinful, rebellious human beings. I am going to do this not merely for the good of those who have never before heard. I am doing this primarily for those who been here for months and years. I’m doing this, because you don’t understand the Gospel – not well enough.
If you truly understood how gravely God hates sin, if you had a thimble full of knowledge of what it means that God sent his Son – his own Son – to bear the weight of sin; if you could catch the faintest glimpse of the hell poured upon the Son as he hanged upon the Cross – it would chill your bones with horror. You could never again take a lustful glance or raise your voice in anger or lie or cheat. Don’t you see the eternal hatred of God against your sin?
If you understood the wonderful the Son bearing your shame and sin, you would never again be crushed under the shame and memory of your past sins, your immorality, your viciousness, your drug abuse. You would never again feel the shame of your abortion, or your drunkenness or the sexual abuse you suffered when you were nine and you were hiding under covers hoping it would never happen again. Oh, be rid of your disgrace it was borne by your Savior: it is a lie of Satan that you must bear that for a moment again.
If you understood the beauty of Christ, the grace of God the fellowship of the Spirit, you would at this moment break in tears and forgive that one who wronged you so, the love that one who is so unlovely. If you knew these things, you would never again daydream while reading that romance novel or watching that television show and think if only.
If you knew the Gospel, there would be no need to tell you to meditate: You would think of nothing but God’s glory in the Jesus Christ. If you knew the Gospel, you would never fail to pray – you could think of nothing more. If you knew the Gospel, there would never again be a call to serve – the shut-ins would be visibly loved, the good news would be proclaimed, the work would be done. If you knew the Gospel, we would never remind you to give; we would have to tell you stop.
If you knew the Gospel, you would be changed.
And yet, since I knew that you – that I – are sinful, unforgiving, ungiving, unloving, uncaring beasts – that we are selfish idolaters – I will tell you the Gospel again. Listen. Listen carefully.
The King of all – the very Son of God – became a man. The Son of God subjected himself to the limitations of humanity; he was born under the law. God became man in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus fulfilled all the demands of the law. Jesus did this as the representative of mankind. Jesus stood in as a champion for the many. Remember the story of David and Goliath? Goliath came out as a champion for the Philistines. David came out of as a champion for the Israelites. When David fought Goliath, David – although one man – fought for the entire nation of Israel. David’s battle was on behalf of all the Israelites. In the same way, Jesus is the champion for all those who will be redeemed.
Jesus did not merely obey – he did more. Jesus bore the punishment for sin.
Let me explain why that is important: You have two problems with God. First, you have the problem that you owe love and obedience to God your Creator. You must fulfill that duty perfectly, but you will and cannot do so. Therefore, Jesus obeyed in your place.
However, you have a second problem with sin. Since you have rebelled against your King, you are guilty of treason. Some people ask, Why would God send me to Hell for a lie or a covetous thought? God does not send people to Hell for lying or anger or sexual immorality. God sends people to Hell for treason – for rank rebellion of the Creature against the Creator. No one disputes that traitors are the worse of rebels. When the king captures the traitor, he will judge him for his treason. But the King will not stop there: he will also judge them for all their crimes: for their murder and robbery and every other wrong against the throne.
You are a traitor – but you are more. You are also a murderer and liar and an adulterer and whatnot. Your rap sheet is so great that an eternity of Hell can never satisfy the demands of justice. But Jesus – the King – did something that no man could ever do. He bore the full weight of that wrath. He was punished in your place.
Now here is where it becomes even more wonderful: First, Jesus, the King is the one against whom you have sinned. He is not merely the judge – although he is the judge. No, he is not just the judge, he is the one who was wronged. He is the King whom I offended who took my place.
But it is even more wonderful than that. Remember that we learned that this Son is the one who upholds and sustains the entire universe – including all of the people. The Son also controls by means of his providence all that occurs in the entire world. No one, not the priests, not Pilate, not the mob could have lifted a finger against Jesus unless Jesus made it possible. Remember when Pilate comes to Jesus and says that he has the authority to release Jesus? What does Jesus say,
You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.
John 19:11a. Who gave Pilate that authority? Jesus. The king not only bore the punishment for your sins, he made it possible.
No one made Jesus go to the cross. No one took his life. No one else freed the legions of hell to assault him. No one else unleashed the torrent of trial and temptation which dragged and threatened him every step of the way as he moved to the cross. Jesus upheld the arm of the soldiers who beat him. Jesus caused the nails to be as they cut through his wrist and severed the nerves. The men who mocked Jesus as he hung upon the Cross, could mock only because the Son himself sustained their breath and life.
It has been said that nothing will focus your mind like knowing that you will be hanged in the morning. Here is a moment more full of fear than a thousand necks hanging upon a thousand ropes. God himself has spoken in his Son who holds your throat and your soul by the word of his power:
I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him, who after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Luke 9:4-5.
Yes, fear him. Now, that he has our attention, what is that he wants to say? What has he said that we must know and believe?
“Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.” (Hebrews 8:1–2, ESV)
Here is the remarkable thing: God has spoken in such a fearsome and wonderful way to bring us to a pleasant and good land. God has thundered to shake us from our sin, but not so as to kill us, but to save us.
Let us get back to what Moses saw that the Pharaoh could not see? Moses could see by faith – not by sight – but by faith that the God who called him would do everything that he promised. Why did Moses leave Egypt? Because he, “looked to the reward.” There in the place between Egypt and the wilderness, Moses could see on one hand the treasures and towers of Egypt. On the other, Moses could see the reproach of Christ – that is all the pain which will follow should we leave off of this world and follow Jesus. But Moses could see more than mere pain. Moses could see the reward which lay at the other end of the wilderness. Moses could see the peace and rest of the promise land.
Moses knew that Egypt would be destroyed. Indeed, God brought judgment upon Egypt – and there will be more judgment for all the world. The whole planet is a City of Destruction. To stay in Egypt is not to be safe. To stay in Egypt is like booking a room on a sinking ship.
So in seeking to leave, Moses was not leaving one good place for a better place. Moses was leaving one damned place for only the safe place – with God.
Use of this Doctrine:
First Use: For those who do not know Christ there is an encouragement and a warning.
Encouragement: Let us be honest, because no one knows what you are thinking other than you and God. Picture yourself this moment before God who stands as judge. Don’t say, I don’t believe in God, or I don’t believe that God will judge anyone. You know that’s a dodge. You know that you don’t really believe that. Remember no one is listening except for you and God, so be honest.
What will you say to the judge?
You know that your good works, you best behavior is not worth a hill of beans. Do you seriously believe that the God of the universe is going to be impressed with the fact that you tried to be kind to some people most of the time? Stop treating heaven like some sort of participation trophy. Sure, if you do your best every week in T-Ball, you’ll get a participation trophy. But this is not T-Ball – this is eternal judgment.
This business is so serious for God that God the Father sent God the Son to live and die in the place of sinful men and women. This is as serious as death.
Why did the Son become a man and obey and suffer? So that he could glorify God by saving you from sin and death. God became a man, and suffered as a man in the place of men so that we could come to God:
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 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 5:18–21, ESV)
Yet, his work did not stop when Jesus went to the Cross – it continued on. Jesus did not merely die and leave it at that. The Son did not merely become incarnate, obey and suffer and then go back to being God and not man. No. He is man today, at this moment. He is now the High Priest, interceding before God on behalf of men and women. Jesus now stands between God and man, the God man himself. He brings together that which could not be reconciled. The King – God and Man — the rebel – have met together in the person Jesus the Christ.
This is the point of what we have been saying: You have a high priest who intercedes for you with the Father. The Father sent his Son to redeem you from this present evil age. God has sent the Spirit to communicate Christ unto our souls, to wash away our sin – not merely to wash over our sin, not merely to cover our sin – no, the Spirit applies the virtue of Christ to us, and our sin is gone completely now and forever. If you are in Christ, you are “a new creation; The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Do you see now why you can trust God to keep his promise that he will bring a reward? God has spoken in his Son: the Son who willing “bore [our] sins in his body on the tree, [so] that we might become the righteousness of God” (1 Pet. 2:24). God will bring his reward, because God has already bought that which we need.
Your problem is not with your husband or wife. Your problem is not with your neighbor or child. Your problem is not with rent or work. Your trouble is not the government or taxes. Your problem is that you lack God in Jesus Christ. Moses looked at the world and saw that the world – the very best of the world – was nothing, was less than nothing, was a trap and a pit and darkness and doom when compared against the surpassing riches of God in Jesus Christ.
Here is your choice – you will have the King and Creator who upholds all things; the one who gave himself to save you from your sin – or you will have that country which is in rebellion against him. The rebels will lose – remember they exist only because the Son causes them to exist. Remember, he has promised to judge those rebels. Remember, he has promised to destroy this current order of things and to bring a new heaven and a new earth.
The king sees your rebellion and knows your heart. The King has been patient with you these many years. The King whose eyes sees through all pretense, the King whose will upholds your very existence, that King will bring judgment from which there is no escape. But that King desires that none should perish. That King takes no delight in the destruction of his enemies. That King has purchased your pardon at the cost of his own blood.
Here is how it works: Repent, believe, follow: Turn to God, confess your sin, trust fully and solely upon the work of Jesus Christ, then love God with all your heart soul mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself – no longer live for yourself but for him who died for you. 2 Cor. 5:15.
I want you to consider carefully the implications of your existence being utterly and solely in the hands of God. A preacher many years ago put it like this:
Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock. Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you; the creature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the sun does not willingly shine upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth does not willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts; nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon; the air does not willingly serve you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals, while you spend your life in the service of God’s enemies. God’s creatures are good, and were made for men to serve God with, and do not willingly subserve to any other purpose, and groan when they are abused to purposes so directly contrary to their nature and end. And the world would spew you out, were it not for the sovereign hand of him who hath subjected it in hope. There are black clouds of God’s wrath now hanging directly over your heads, full of the dreadful storm, and big with thunder; and were it not for the restraining hand of God, it would immediately burst forth upon you. The sovereign pleasure of God, for the present, stays his rough wind; otherwise it would come with fury, and your destruction would come like a whirlwind, and you would be like the chaff of the summer threshing floor.
Use 2: For Those Who Know the Lord
The Son upholds all things.
There are two things which may cause us to falter as we follow after Christ: those things which have happened and those things which will happen.
The things which have happened: To be alive long is to be injured, to be sinned against, to be hurt and shamed. Some shame and hurt has been brought upon us; some we have brought upon ourselves. Sin is grimy, filthy, oily business. It sticks to our clothes and skin and nothing can wash us clean but the blood of Christ. And even after we have been forgiven, we still live as if the filth and oil of sin were closer than our own skin. What suffering such belief brings.
I want to give a great secret for understanding the pain and suffering brought about by sin. God was and is sovereign over the cause and the fact of your suffering. The Son in whom God spoke, is the Son who upholds all things – even the cause of your misery. That may seem strange, but it is true. Hold that fact tight, it is the rope which ties you to the ship of hope so that you will not drown.
Let me quickly give you some reasons that this is a hopeful fact: If this suffering comes about by the determination of God, then it must work for God. What does that mean?
1) God has promised that all things work together for good for those that love God and called according to his purpose. Rom. 8:38. That does not mean ease – God has never promised ease or a pain free life. The Son himself entered into this world to drink a cup of sin and shame and suffering that none of us can imagine. We are not promised ease – but we are promised good.
2) This suffering is light and momentary, but it will be working an eternal weight of glory. 2 Cor. 4:17.
3) This suffering will only be for a “little while”: “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10.
4) This suffering will prove your faith. 1 Peter 1:6.
5) Proven faith will “be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Pet. 1:7. Your shame will be turned to glory. Someday Jesus himself will wipe every tear from your eyes and will clothe you in glory which no sin will ever be able to foul.
6) This trial will produce endurance. James 1:3
7) This trial will produce hope. Rom. 5:4.
8) That God uses trials to cause us to no longer trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. 2 Cor. 1:9.
There are so many more things which I could say, but I have so little time – and so we will stop here.
You may think, but what of the sin I have committed? What of the shame which I have poured upon my own head? That sin and that shame were born by the Son in your place. The Son was the sacrifice for your sin, “We have been sanctified through the offering of Jesus Christ, once for all” (Heb. 10:10).
That also means that all the sins which were committed against you by other believers have been fully punished in the person and body of Jesus Christ. There is no reason for you to withhold love or forgiveness when you have been wronged. The sin was sin against God – not against you. God is the true offended party. You are not God. It is not your place to bring vengeance – Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. Don’t be fooled by the Devil and try to parcel your own sinful punishment.
Let no root of bitterness spring up, cause trouble and defile many. Heb. 12:14. Strive for peace with everyone. Heb. 12:14. Let brotherly love continue. Heb. 13:1.
Let me put it like this: All of your natural reactions: Do fret about the future, to be bitter those who have wronged you, to despair over your trials, to refuse to love and forgive and all the rest – all of those reactions are the reactions of Egypt. God is going to judge Egypt. Is that really where you want to live?
Look to him who is invisible. Live upon God who is invisible.
Now, see with your faith – God is behind your trials. God has brought even extraordinary trials for your good – as hard as that may be to see at this moment. Yes, there is a wilderness, but there is a God who is invisible. There are sins and trials and temptations; but there is a faithful high priest seated at the right hand of the throne of the majesty on high. Forgive. Love. Live in peace. Strive for peace. Hope in God. Be free from a love of this world, which is passing away.
“Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:11–14, ESV)
“But a man will say, If all things are vain and vanity, wherefore were they made? If they are God’s works, how are they vain? But it is not the works of God which he calls vain. God forbid! The heaven is not vain; the earth is not vain: God forbid! Nor the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, nor our own body. No; all these are very good. But what is vain? Man’s works, pomp, and vain-glory. These came not from the hand of God, but are of our own creating. And they are vain because they have no useful end.… That is called vain which is expected indeed to possess value, yet possesses it not; that which men call empty, as when they speak of ‘empty hopes,’ and that which is fruitless. And generally that is called vain which is of no use. Let us see, then, whether all human things are not of this sort” (St. Chrysostom, ‘Hom. xii in Ephesians
In The Christian’s Reasonable Service, a Brakel begins with this observation:
First, the foundation of religion is the character of God. The works of His omnipotence and benevolence are indeed reasons to stimulate man to serve God; however, they are not the basis for such service. This foundation is the very character of God. God possesses within Himself all glory and worthiness to be served, even if there were no creature. No creature could have its existence, except it be of Him and through Him. By its very existence the creature is obligated to God’s majesty to exist for the purpose of serving God, having its origin in Him and existing by virtue of His influence. If this creature is rational, then God, because He is God, obligates him who has been placed directly under his Creator to honor and serve God and devote his entire existence to Him. The character of God eternally obligates the creature, and therefore also man, to this. “Who would not fear Thee, O King of nations? For to Thee doth it appertain” (Jer 10:7); “Thou hast established the earth, and it abideth. They continue this day according to Thine ordinances: for all are Thy servants” (Ps 119:90-9).
God existing obligates the creature to worship. This may easily sound as if God were lacking and somehow needs our worship. However, such a consideration fades upon careful consideration.
First, we must admit that any creature demanding worship and servile subjection is a positive evil. All human beings were created in the image of God. Granted that image has been defaced by introduction of sin. But God himself vouches that we still bear this image (Gen. 9:6). Thus, no human being has the right of abuse or oppression of another. While there is a need for order (we can’t all go through the intersection at once; someone eventually needs to make a final decision), order does not necessitate subjection and oppression. The Father sends the Son, but the Son is not oppressed by this decision (John 3:16).
Second, any creature demanding such worship (such as Satan demands of Jesus – Luke 4:7-8) is the depth of wickedness – it is idolatry.
Third, God is not a creature but rather is Creator. Thus, any criticism of such worship based upon an analogy to the creature fails.
Fourth, as Creator, God is worthy of worship by the creature – he created us and we should be thankful to him for this gift (those who labor under the oppression of sin may complain and argue that nonexistence would be better – but that is a matter for another time):
11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Revelation 4:11 (ESV)
The sheer power and wisdom to create and sustain the universe alone demands recognition. We honor men and women for far less. We honor them when they imitate God’s work of creation and sustaining. Should not God be honored to an even greater degree.
Fourth, God is glorious and splendid above all things. The sheer frightful beauty of God should fill our hearts and lives with wonder. It is the work of the Devil, it is the weight of sin which starves beauty and wonder and awe and joy. The ugliness and boredom of this world are an evil – just as viciousness and violence and oppression are wicked.
There is a rainbow arcing through the heavy dark clouds as I write. The sun is shining in rivers from the West and the rain is falling. There is translucent color in the sky and the trees are coming into their leaves. A wind which began thousands of miles away is blowing through my yard and the sparrows are winging and singing. God is a master artist.
How much greater the artist than his art.
Fifth, God has promised us good. Yes, yes there is evil – but a rainbow is a hint of what was and will be. God has not left us without a witness of what will come. The rainbow in the clouds is a hint of the rainbow above his throne. The coming Spring is a hint of the new heavens and the new earth.
Sixth, God has done us good. There is great wickedness, but God did not leave us to our vicious stupidity. God sent his Son into this world to make a cleansing for sin. The Son became like you and me that we might reconciled to God and rescued from this present evil age. That God would so love his enemies as to give them his Son for their salvation is a joy and love which I cannot comprehend.
Seventh, until the end comes and our salvation is no longer hope but is present, God has appointed a high priest who is like us who can deal gently with us, who will bear our sorrows and give us rest:
Hebrews 2:16–18 (ESV)
16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Hebrews 4:14–16 (ESV)
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Matthew 11:27–30 (ESV)
27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”