My Soul is Satisfied

Text: Psalm 63

The psalms are the Manna of the Church. As Manna tasted to every man like that that he liked best, so do the Psalms minister Instruction and satisfaction, to every man, in ever emergency and occasion. David was not only a clear Prophet of Christ himself, but a Prophet of every particular Christian; He foretells what I, what any shall do, and suffer, and say. And as the whole book of Psalms is… A Balm that searches all wounds; so are there some certain Psalms, that are Imperial Psalms, that command over all affections, and spread themselves over all occasions, Catholic, universal Psalms, that apply themselves to all necessities. This is one of those. (John Donne, sermon on Ps. 63.7)

The wilderness of Judah

The context for writing this sermon is most likely 2 Samuel 15, when David had to flee Jerusalem from the forces of his own son Absalom. We know that the psalm is written by David when he was in the wilderness. When we look through his life, we see that he was in the wilderness on two occasions. The first was when he lived as a political exile from Saul in 1 Samuel 23-26. But he was not yet king then, and this psalm seems to indicate that David is already king when he is writing it. Thus the the occasion is David’s war against his own son, Absalom, who has temporarily taken possession of Jerusalem. This is a time where David is in danger of losing both his throne and his life. Yet he doesn’t seem to be concerned with these matters as much as he is concerned with something higher. Indeed he is most concerned about being separated from God’s sanctuary, and he writes this psalm to express his desire to be reunited with God’s holy place. Continue reading

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Mary, Martha, and Enjoying God Forever

Text: Luke 10:38-42

You all know the famous 1st question and answer to the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” It’s such a great answer, mostly because of that unexpected verb “enjoy.” But I’d like to put the focus on the question for a moment. What is a chief end? The word “end” there means goal or purpose, and so the “chief end” is the ultimate or final purpose. A chief end is the most important goal, and so man’s chief end ought to be the thing that he pursues above all else. Everything else in his life should work to support that goal and bring him closer to it. Anything which distracts him from it or pulls him further away from it is working against that goal. The religious term for something like that would be sin. Everything that we do should cause us to glorify God and enjoy Him more and more. And that is what our text is about this morning. Continue reading

And Who Is Your Neighbor?

Text: Luke 10:25-37

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one the most famous passages of Scripture in the whole bible. It gives us the immortal illustration of what it means to be a “good neighbor” and has provided the name for countless charities and mercy ministries. But there is more to this story than only the call to take care of those in need. Jesus is here pointing out the futility of all attempts at self-justification through works while also highlighting what it truly means to keep the law of God.

This portion of scripture is organized around two exchanges between Jesus and the lawyer. There is the initial question and Jesus’ answer, followed by a second question and a second answer. The “lawyer,” meaning an expert in torah, asks Jesus this question, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This sets up the whole conversation. It shows us the main issue. The question is actually a sincere question. He is not necessarily trying to trick Jesus, but he is a legalist. He believes, as did most of the Jews of his day, that eternal life is something obtained by law-keeping. Surely the Jews would say that it was “inherited” because of God’s gracious covenant, but still, within those parameters, the keeping of the law was what decided one’s eternal outcome. The precise wording makes this clear, “What shall I do?” Continue reading

Hope Deferred

The_Fall_of_Man_by_Lukas_CranachProverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

There’s a certain lyrical quality to this proverb which makes it beautiful, but there’s also an intriguing ambiguity about its meaning that makes you read it over and over again.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” When your dreams do not come true, it is easy to become depressed. But notice, the hope is not necessarily failed. It is only deferred. The Hebrew word in this place means “to drag.” And so the Proverb is saying that when your hope takes a long time to come to fruition, when it drags, the time of waiting can be very sad and disappointing.

You can imagine how it feels to wait for something, something that you believe to be very important, even the realization of your dreams. You start to wonder if God is ever going to give it to you. You start to wonder why He’s taking so long. Does He really love you after all?

And this is where the second half of the Proverb comes in, and it seems to cut both ways. “But a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” A tree of life– that’s an interesting metaphor. A fulfilled desire is like one of the trees in the Garden of Eden, the one that granted immortality. What could this mean?

There’s a simple contrast at work. The fulfilled desire is very good, whereas the deferred hope was sad. I think there’s something else going on, though, and I think the Eden imagery is an important clue. You see, Adam and Eve’s sin was a sin of false hope. Instead of trusting in God’s timing and being patient and content with His plan, they decided to take the object of their desire, the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Genesis 3:6 says that this fruit was “desirable,” and so we can see that the original sin was a false desire fulfilled.

Thus while the fulfillment of our desires can be a very good thing, the pursuit of this fulfillment can always also be a temptation to sin. Are we allowing our heart to become sick because of our desires and our expectations about when and how they should be fulfilled? Are we, like Adam and Eve, trying to grasp now what might be given to us at a later time, on our own terms rather than on God’s?

“Heart sickness” is a very complicated thing, but it always takes us to an encounter with God. What do we think about Him and what He is doing in our lives at this moment? Do we place our hope, as well as our faith, in Him or are we still hoping for something else?

We must make sure that our desire for the Tree of Life does not become a desire for something more, for something that is not ours to take on our own terms. We must learn to wait on the Lord, to trust that He knows best. And as we trust Him, we will find that He is the true fulfillment of our desires.

All of this should drive us to the Cross. Jesus Christ must finally be our Tree of Life.

Do Not Grow Weary

The Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 6:9-10, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

Why do you think he felt this advice was necessary? Do not grow weary while doing good…  Continue reading

Mastering the Flesh Apart from the Law

The Apostle Paul writes in the Epistle to the Colossians:

Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,”  which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?  These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body,but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

~Col. 2:20-23

The way in which Christians are “not under the law” is one of those famous disputes in New Testament studies, but this passage seems to make at least one thing clear, you do not gain mastery over the flesh by adherence to regulations and restrictions concerning temporal things. Neither eating, nor not eating in itself has any bearing on your spirit.

Continue reading

Have Your Views Changed?

I’ve been getting asked this question a good bit recently. Due to some of my public writings, my views are typically not hard to find, and I have criticized certain ideas and positions which I once held. In fact, I’ve done this a few times in my short life, and so from time to time, I suppose, explanation is in order.  Continue reading

Following Christ Often Makes Life More Difficult

In Peter we have a striking mirror of our ordinary condition. Many have an easy and agreeable life before Christ calls them; but as soon as they have made profession of his name, and have been received as his disciples, or, at least, some time afterwards, they are led to distressing struggles, to a troublesome life, to great dangers, and sometimes to death itself. This condition, though hard, must be patiently endured. Yet the Lord moderates the cross by which he is pleased to try his servants, so that he spares them a little while, until their strength has come to maturity; for he knows well their weakness, and beyond the measure of it he does not press them. Thus he forbore with Peter, so long as he saw him to be as yet tender and weak. Let us therefore learn to devote ourselves to him to the latest breath, provided that he supply us with strength.

In this respect, we behold in many persons base ingratitude; for the more gently the Lord deals with us, the more thoroughly do we habituate ourselves to softness and effeminacy. Thus we scarcely find one person in a hundred who does not murmur if, after having experienced long forbearance, he be treated with some measure of severity. But we ought rather to consider the goodness of God in sparing us for a time. Thus Christ says that, so long as he dwelt on earth, he conversed cheerfully with his disciples, as if he had been present at a marriage, but that fasting and tears afterwards awaited them, (Matthew 9:15.).

~John Calvin, comment. on John 21:18

He is not here but is risen

320px-Matthias_Grünewald_-_The_Resurrection_(detail)_-_WGA10756Luke’s account of the resurrection is unique in several ways. He emphasizes the role of the women at the empty tomb more than any of the other gospels. He also tells us that there were a great many women, more than just a few. Luke’s gospel is the only gospel that doesn’t mention Jesus appearing to the women before they relayed the story to the disciples. In fact, Luke’s gospel seems to emphasize doubt, on the part of the disciples but even on the part of the women.

And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. (Luke 24:55-56)

Who were these women? Continue reading

And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment

It is well known that Jesus’ empty tomb was first discovered by women. We know that these women were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and Salome. But Luke’s gospel, unique among the canonical gospels, tells us that there was a large group of women at the tomb, and it also tells us that this group of women had been following Jesus for some while. “And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him” (Luke 23:27). After Jesus died, Luke says, “all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things” (Luke 23:49). These women– the ones who had followed Jesus to the cross, the ones who watched to see where he was buried, and the ones who rushed to his tomb on Easter– did one other thing as well. They waited.

And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. (Luke 23:55-56)

Can you imagine having to keep this Sabbath? After seeing Jesus die, after mourning him throughout the day, and after watching him be taken away to be buried, these women had to go back to their homes, and they had to rest. They could not mourn properly. They could not stay at the grave (which we know they would have liked to have done). They could not even complete the burial preparations, since we see them bringing extra spices on the Easter morning. Their funeral was cut short for the Sabbath. This is Holy Saturday.

Holy Saturday is about waiting. It is the final Old Covenant Sabbath. From the human point of view, nothing is happening. It is a test of faith. Did it work? Is Jesus victorious? What will happen? Can we keep the faith?

But invisibly, something else is going on. Jesus is in Hades proclaiming His victory. He is preaching to the spirits below, binding the Strong Man, and taking captivity captive. Jesus is standing on the neck of Death even now.

This is Holy Saturday.

And yet here, lonely and sorrowful, we wait. We pray. We keep the Sabbath.

We look for tomorrow.