The Identity of the Word, Jn 1:1-18

bibleA few years ago I was asked a question. It went something like this, “Do you take Christa to be your lawful wedded wife, and do you solemnly promise before God and these witnesses that you will love, honor, cherish, and support her, and that forsaking all others for her alone you will perform all the duties that a husband owes his wife until God separates you by death?” In my childish hormonal naivety of only 24 years old, I didn’t think that sounded too hard, and besides, I was in love; so I said, “I do.”

But in all seriousness, I think the key idea in the question I was asked that day was in the very beginning. Do I take. Important words that many of us who are married probably barely considered when we heard them in our ceremony; I know I didn’t. The concept of taking or receiving is one that FamilyLife ministries has rightly emphasized in much of their marriage building curriculum because receiving one’s spouse is such an important concept in the success of a marriage. Why is this? It is simply because receiving another person with all of their idiosyncrasies and ideas involves self-denial.

In John 1, John begins his gospel by talking about the Word. In the world in which John was living, the concept of the Word would have brought to mind some widely recognizable ideas. In the Greek world where philosophy ruled the day, the ideas of a 6th century B.C. philosopher named Heraclitus were brought to full bloom in the philosophies of the Stoics. They used the Word to describe “their deep conviction of the rationality of the universe” (Leon Morris).  The Word was not personal, it was merely a principle or force that permeated the world and directed all things (Morris).

The Jews also had their own ideas about the Word tying it so closely to God that one interpreter of the Old Testament used the phrase “Word of God” 320x out of deference for the name of God, which Jews would have been careful in saying to avoid violating the first commandment. Equally important to the Jewish aspect of this discussion is John’s use of Gen 1 language in the first few verses and the Jewish idea of Wisdom personified (see Prov 2, et. al.). So, the concept of the Word was relevant to the minds of John’s Jewish audience as well.

While this helps us understand a bit more clearly of some of the background that John was building on in his use of the Word in John 1. He wasn’t necessarily trying to repackage someone else’s philosophical ideas about life and existence. We will see this later, but John developed a much more full theology of the Word than the Greeks or Jews every dreamed.

But John’s discussion of the Word takes an unexpected turn almost in the middle of the thought, he adds, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, he gave the right to become children of God.” John turns his attention to the idea of receiving of the Word. This is what I was getting to in talking about my “taking” of Christa to be my wife and the receiving of spouses earlier. Thinking like a member of John’s audience, we could ask, “How could the principle force that directed all things (for the Greek) or something so closely tied to Yahweh himself (for the Jew) not be received even by his own people?” What is it that causes someone to refuse receiving someone that they, for all practical and rational purposes, ought to receive?

Well, I believe the problem we have with receiving anyone is our own sinful selfishness. We don’t want to give up our way or our desires to serve someone else, so we refuse to receive anyone by giving them an unconditional right to speak into our life direction.

Yet, John demands of us a different response. In John 1:1-18, John describes the Word in some very specific ways, and John’s description of the character and person of the Word not only leaves us shocked that anyone would not receive this Word, but also reveals that we must receive Him. 

So, look with me and see John detailing nine aspects of the Word’s person and character that demand our receiving of him.   

1. The Word is eternal. 

The eternal nature of the Word is seen in vs 1, 2 & 15. John mentions that the Word was in the beginning with God, and John the Baptist was testifying that the Word was before him and preferred above him. The importance of this point lies in understanding my use of the word eternal. When I speak of eternal in this sense, I am not merely talking about not having an end, but equally important not having a beginning.

John Calvin agrees, “Servetus . . . invents the statement, that this eternal Speech began to exist at that time when he was displayed in the creation of the world, as if he did not exist before his power was made known by external operation. Very differently does the Evangelist teach in this passage; for he does not ascribe to the Speech a beginning of time, but says that he was from the beginning, and thus rises beyond all ages.” He goes on, “If the Speech began to be at some time, [heretics] must find out some succession of time in God; and undoubtedly by this clause John intended to distinguish him from all created things.” This is what John is trying to emphasize in these verses. The Word is worth receiving because he always existed and didn’t need to come into being like everything else we know and observe.

2. The Word is God.

This fact logically follows the first and make the Word equally receivable. This fact is either stated or implied in at least seven of these eighteen verses. Most of these concepts are going to be discussed later, but let’s not miss this big and obvious point. If the Word is eternal, if the Word can create, if the Word is tied to the glory of God, the fullness of God, and the revelation of God perhaps, he is God. Add to this John’s statement in v1 that, “The Word was God,” and the argument seems pretty convincing.

Perhaps a word should be said here in regard to the Jehovah’s Witnesses translation of v1 to read, “The Word was a god.” The argument of the Jehovah’s witness is based on the fact that in the Greek, the word God has no definite article (think the in English) to distinguish what John is saying is that the Word is the one and only true God. However, Andreas Köstenberger points out that there is a Greek rule that teaches, “that the translation ‘a god’ is not required, for lack of an article does not necessarily indicate indefiniteness (’a god’) but rather specifies [the word order for the sentence]. This means that the context must determine the meaning of [God] here, and the context clearly indicates that this ‘God’ that John is talking about (’the Word’) is the one true God who created all things (see also John 1:6, 12, 13, 18 for other examples of [God] without a definite article but clearly meaning ‘God’).”

Also, I would like to make mention of this difficult phrase which appears the same at its most basic meaning in both v1 and v2, “The Word was with God.” This phrase is not so easily translated as it appears in your English Bible. Suffice it to say that many Greek experts and commentators have discussed what exactly this phrase means based on the Greek, and while with God definitely works, we lose something in the translation. Henry Morris summarizes the concept of this phrase in this way, “The whole existence of the Word was oriented towards the Father. Perhaps we should understand from the preposition the two ideas of accompaniment and relationship. That the thought is of importance is and is no casual expression is indicated by the fact that the statement is repeated in v2.” Indeed, C.H. Dodd agrees that the preposition with “implies not merely existence alongside of but personal intercourse. It means more than [with], and is regularly employed in expressing the presence of one person with another.” A.T. Robertson says that the phrase is literally, “face to face with God.”

The point is this. Something more than just that the Word was with God is implied here. John clearly meant that the Word and God shared fellowship together in/before the beginning. Why is this such a big deal? The theological ramifications are astounding when we consider that in this phrase then we have the implication of the Trinity, we have the implication of personality for the Word, and we have the implication of the unity of the Word and God.

This Word sounds worthy to be received if you ask me.

3. The Word is life. 

John’s thought flow is totally logical. If the Word is eternal then he must be God, and if he is God then he must be the source of everything. This idea of the Word being life is stated or implied in v1-4, and 10, and John clearly bases this entire point on the creative work of God in Gen 1. Do you see how John was clearly using Genesis 1 to develop a thought line here? Notice the repetition: “In the beginning”; “the Word”/”and God said”; “life was the light”/”let their be light.” What we see here is the connection between creation and the Word. This is how God created; He spoke. The emphasis is clear that the Word as God is the source of all things. He brought all things made and being made into existence.

v4 introduces an important concept in John’s gospel. Not only is the Word creative with God, but all life is in him. This idea of life being in the Word implies not only that life is sourced in the Word, but that life is sustained in the Word. Calvin makes this point clearest, “[Before this] he has taught us, that by the Speech of God all things were created. He now attributes to him, in the same manner, the preservation of those things which had been created, as if he had said, that in the creation of the world there was not merely displayed a sudden exercise of his power, which soon passed away, but that it is manifested in the steady and regular order of nature, as he is said to uphold all things by the word or will of his power. (Heb 1:3)” The apostle Paul agreed that the Word is the sustaining of life when he says that through him all things hold together (Col 1:17). So, the Word makes everything; he gives life, and he sustains life.

But here also we have a double meaning. John is not only talking about giving life to us here on earth, but even further, eternal life. The word life is used thirty-six times throughout John’s gospel, but it doesn’t just apply to physical life here on earth. Throughout the gospel we see an emphasis on an eternal spiritual life. (John 3:16; 10:10; 6:51-53; 11: 25; 14:6). Now were getting to what we all want aren’t we? Abundant life, life that never ends. But we will never find the life that we see when we fail to recognize that life is in the Word. We get sidetracked thinking that life is in all sorts of different things like money, toys, people, sex, food, etc. but ultimately life is only in the Word. Morris says it this way, “To know God is life eternal. The knowledge of God that the Word brings is not merely information. It is life.”

We owe God, the Word, our life. You are here today; therefore God has given you one kind of life, will you receive him and receive eternal life?

4. The Word is light

Now, John goes a direction that we might not expect. How does it follow that if the Word is life, it is also the light of men? Well, not everyone agrees on this point, some (e.g.. Calvin, Kostenberger) think that the light is intelligence to understand things particularly the source of all things and the identity of the Word; however, others (i.e. Morris, MacArthur) see this as bringing to fuller light to the spiritual life that John alludes to in his last statement and develops throughout the gospel.

I lean toward the latter interpretation of John emphasizing the spiritual enlightenment that comes through life in the Word. Of important note with this point is that Scripture ties light and life together in another place besides here and in Gen 1; Psalm 36:9 says, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” So the darkness that cannot overcome the light is not ignorance per se, but the spiritual darkness that we all find ourselves in. When the light of the Word comes into your life providing you with fullness of life, it overcomes the darkness of sin in your life and changes everything.

This idea of light is another concept that John will develop further throughout his gospel. Particularly in chapters 8 & 9 as the Light of the World provides sight to a man who was born blind, but the sight and light that are provided the man are not merely physical, his entire life is changed. This is the idea that is behind the life being the light of men, and you must receive the Word to receive this light.

5. The Word is not John

In these verses John is merely offering clarity to the relationship between John the Baptist and the Word. In case anyone was confused and started thinking they knew where John was going and was thinking that John the Baptist was the Word, John stops them in their tracks. John came only as a witness about the light, that is life, that is the Word, that is God.

Why does it matter that John the Baptist wasn’t the Word. Why is that significant to your receiving of him? Well, if the Word were John the Baptist we would have one major problem to overcome. John is dead. If the Word is life and John is dead, then something is seriously wrong. Who would want to receive life from a dead man? But John was not the Word, he testified about the Word and prepared the way for the Word, but he was not the Word. This tells us that the Word is not dead and that the Word’s life has not been snuffed out. He is worth receiving because he overcame death himself.

6. The Word is flesh

All that John has said about the Word so far focuses on the fact that the Word is God. No flesh is eternal, no flesh is God, no flesh can provide life and light. Well, almost no flesh. No flesh of ours anyway, but John tells us that the Word became flesh and lived among us. Now this is significant; the Word has been described as being eternal God, making everything, being the source of life and light and he is now made flesh and walking among us. So John is saying that God became flesh.

This is no compliment from John, as Calvin references Ps 78:39 and Isaiah 40:6 to note the derogatory nature of the Word taking on flesh. He also notes, “The word Flesh expresses the meaning of the Evangelist more forcibly than if he had said that he was made man. He intended to show to what a mean and despicable condition the Son of God, on our account, descended from the height of his heavenly glory. When Scripture speaks of man contemptuously, it calls him flesh. Now, though there be so wide a distance between the spiritual glory of the Speech of God and the abominable filth of our flesh, yet the Son of God stooped so low as to take upon himself that flesh, subject to so many miseries.” Clearly, John is emphasizing the same humility of the Word in being willing to take on flesh that Paul emphasized Phil 2. The Word gave up the benefits and glory of being God to become like us and to walk among us.

Kostenberger points out Christ’s dwelling among us carries the idea of pitching his tent among us fulfilling the OT symbolism of the tabernacle as God with his people, an idea that other commentators share. A. M. Ramsey adds, “All the ways of tabernacling of God in Israel had been transitory or incomplete: all are fulfilled and superseded by the Word-made-flesh and dwelling among us.” When we consider the tabernacle and the Temple, we see a transience to God’s dwelling that will never leave now that the Word has walked the earth.

And let us not miss the theological significance either. John is here introducing in his gospel the reality of the hypostatic union. That is the dual nature of the Word; 100% divine/100% flesh. What we learn about this union is that both natures are distinct, and yet they are one. John gives no room to the idea of Nestorianism that Jesus had a split personality or the Arianism that denied Christ’s deity. No John makes it precisely clear that the nature of the Word is 100% God, but that the nature of the Word is also 100% flesh.

7. The Word is the glory of God

The words of John are that “we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father.” His words seem to echo the wording of Heb 1 that the Son is the exact imprint of God’s nature. John also seems to qualify the glory that we see. According to Psalm 19:1 people had seen the glory of God before the Word became flesh, and John is not denying that, but in adding “the glory as of the only Son from the Father,” he seems to be adding that the quality of glory displayed in the Son is much better than the quality of glory seen in creation or revealed in any other manner for that matter.

v 18 enhances this idea by adding that no one has seen the Father, but that Jesus makes the invisible Father visible. When John says here that no one has seen the Father, we might think of other passages that say that if anyone were to see God the Father they would surely die (Ex 33:20); however, this might also bring to mind passages where people saw God like Ex 24:9-11; Gen 32:30; and Deut 34:10. So which is it, have people seen God or haven’t they? The fact is that even when God was seen, He was “wrapped up in many folds of figures of ceremonies” (Calvin). Calvin notes, “That vision which Moses obtained on the mountain was remarkable and more excellent than almost all of the rest; and yet God expressly declares, “You shall not be able to see my face, only you shall see my back,” by which metaphor he shows that the time for a full and clear revelation had not yet come.”

Indeed this same idea is emphasized in other places in the New Testament as in 2 Corinthians 3, Paul explains the veil that lay over the revelation of God in the Old Testament. And in Heb, as I already noted, the revelation of God is better through the Son than through the prophets. The point is that New Testament believers have a better revelation of God than Old Testament believers enjoyed because Jesus makes God visible in a way that he has never been visible before. In Christ we see God completely glorified.

8. The Word is grace and truth

The Word is also grace and truth. I believe it is worth noting that throughout the rest of John’s gospel we will see Jesus referring to himself as the life (ch 11), the light (ch 8-9), and the truth (ch 14, 17).

The Word’s being grace and truth embodied the ideas of the OT covenant that God is full of steadfast love and faithfulness (Ex 33:18-19; Ex 34). The steadfast love of God is often tied to his mercy and grace, those referring to his unending kindness to us in patiently overlooking our offenses and offering us gifts of incredible magnitude in the place of the punishment we deserve. Indeed, John Gerstner points out that God’s goodness to us has us often wondering why bad things happen to us, but if we honestly considered our own sinfulness and the character of God, we ought to wonder why good things happen to us. He says the problem is not one of pain, but of joy and good that we experience in spite of how wicked we are.

The truth of God seems to be tied to his unchanging character. The truth is what makes the love, grace, and mercy steadfast because God cannot deny his character and will not because of his faithfulness.

It is of the fullness of these attributes that we receive as John adds in v16 grace upon grace. Morris points out that this literally is grace instead of grace, which I think is captured well in the ESV’s translation grace upon grace because it indicates that we are receiving, as John MacArthur calls it, super-abundant grace. Grace will never run out that continues showering us with favor thought undeserved.

Note also how this contrasts with the Law in v17. The Law came through Moses giving us the veiled understanding of God and as Calvin notes, “a shadowy image of spiritual blessings all of which are actually found in Christ.” He goes on, “If you separate the Law from Christ there remains nothing in it but empty figures.” The point is this and the same as Paul makes in Romans 3:20. If the law leads you anywhere but to the Word you are misusing the law, for the Law’s purpose is fulfilled in the Word, the salvation the Law could never provide is found in the Word, and the holiness that could never be accomplished is available through the grace and truth that are overflowing toward in the Word

9. The Word is Jesus Christ

In the final verse, John finally names the Word as being Jesus, and he never turns back. Never again will John refer to the Word in those words again, and yet, he will refer to the Word over and over again as the living water, the light of the world, the bread of life, the life, the way, and the truth named Jesus. Jesus is the Word and ought to be received as such.

So, will you receive him? He is worth receiving and who he is demands receiving. He is eternal, He is God, He is life, He is light, He is not John, He is flesh, He is the glory of God, He is grace and truth, He is Jesus. You must receive, to reject him is to reject God, God’s glory, life and light. To reject him is to embrace death, darkness, and corruptible flesh. Turn from your sin and receive the Word. 

If you would say you have done that, how would anyone now? If the Word is all things we have said this morning, then doesn’t that mean he gets to control you; he gets to change you? Will you allow the Word to rule your life today, how has he made you different; how is he still making you different?

Imprecatory Psalms

Imprecatory Psalms have as a major element a prayer from the Psalmist to afflict and punish his enemies as they deserve.

Four Views dominate the perspective on how imprecatory Psalms should be handled in the church age. 

  1. Imprecatory Psalms express evil emotions that should be suppressed as sin.
  2. Imprecatory Psalms are utterances consonant with old covenant morality but inconsistent with new covenant ethics particularly because of the distinction between Israel and the church.
  3. Imprecatory Psalms amy be appropriately spoken only by Christ in relation to his work on the cross and only by his followers through him.
  4. Imprecatory Psalms should not be distanced from being legitimate prayers of God’s people today.

Considerations and conclusions for how imprecatory Psalms apply to the church. 

I think that perhaps a “middle-way” combination of the last three views is appropriate.

  1. We must remember that not every imprecatory Psalm is as appropriate for God’s people today to be praying because the language is clearly specific to one particular enemy for one particular time under the old covenant (cf. Ps 137).
  2. We must remember that we are incapable of a sinless hatred like God is. Therefore, we should use the language of the imprecatory Psalms very cautiously in the power and name of Christ with submission to Christ (cf. Ps 69; 139).
  3. We can and should pray for justice recognizing that sometimes justice includes the destruction of the wicked because this is what is deserved for sin (cf 7; 35; 58; 59; 69; 83; 109).
  4. We can pray for God to be known in all his glory either through us or others who see God working (cf 7; 35; 58; 59; 69; 83; 109).

The following resources were invaluable in helping my drawing of these conclusions:

A good summary article by Justin Taylor of Peter Leithart’s book Crying for Justice

An excellent article by James Adams

Another excellent article by J. Carl Laney written from a very dispensational perspective

This is an interview transcript that gets off the topic of imprecatory psalms at times, but addresses some of the most important issues related to them.

John Piper’s thoughts on how we can deal with imprecations in the Psalms

David Powlinson’s thoughts on the imprecatory Psalms

The Lord Will Call to Account

In August of 1553 Mary I became queen of England. Within two months of her accession she had imprisoned many Protestant leaders of the Church of England among whom were John Bradford, Hugh Latimer, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cramner. She succeeded in restoring Catholicism in England through a treaty with Pope Julius III, and then she started some of the most brutal persecution in history.

In February of 1555 Mary started putting Protestants to death. During her only five-year reign 283 Protestants were killed mainly by being burned alive at the stake. In the seventeenth century people started referring to her as “Bloody Mary.” Can you imagine living during that time period? Perhaps the Protestants in England thought as the Psalmist did in Psalm 10, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”

You know, Bloody Mary isn’t the only person to have ever oppress people; she wasn’t the first, and she certainly wasn’t the last. We could name the first century A.D. Jews, Nero, the Inquisition, Hitler, Communism, and Islam all as people or ideas that have oppressed people through the years. The depravity that is natural in mankind is always rearing its ugly head in the form of oppression and affliction upon others. Perhaps, in fact, you have even dealt with some sort of oppression in your own life that has you wondering the same thing the Psalmist wonders here, Where is God? Why won’t he do something about this? When we face these kinds of difficult circumstances where we are wondering where God is or if God is hiding, because we focus so much on the temporal and material world (what we can see and feel) we begin to doubt God and his sovereignty, and we begin to fear men. 

However, I believe the message of the Psalmist in Psalm 10 is that we can and, therefore, must rest and fear the deserved judgment of God on the wicked. And I see two facts revealed here in Psalm 10 to explain the surety and deservedness of God’s judgment on the wicked that should motivate us to rest and fear. 


  • The judgment is deserved because of the character of the wicked.

The first fact is that the judgment is deserved because of the character of the wicked. Scroggie calls vs2-11 “a graphic picture of ‘the atheistic self-complacency and pitiless tyranny of the wicked man.’” And who could argue with him? The picture that is painted of the character of the wicked in these verses is shocking in the sheer disregard for God and others that the wicked man has. In describing the character of the wicked, the Psalmists emphasizes three areas where the wicked reveal their despicable nature.

First, they are proud. Notice the repetition of the idea of pride in v2-4, “in arrogance” v2, the wicked “boast” v3, “in pride” v4, “he puffs” v5. In v3 where “he boasts of the desires of his soul,” Calvin says, “in my opinion, desire of soul here denotes rather lust, and the intemperate gratification of passion and appetite; and thus the meaning is, that they indulge themselves with delight in their depraved desires, and, despising the judgment of God, fearlessly absolve themselves from all guilt, maintain their innocence, and justify their impiety.” This fits well with the idea of pursuing the poor in arrogance mentioned in v2. The attitude that marks the wicked is that they seem to think that they can do whatever they want without any fear of the ramifications. So in their pride they completely excuse the thought of God. Calvin sees the idea of v3 reinforced in these words, “David simply means, that the ungodly, without examination, permit themselves to do any thing, or do not distinguish between what is lawful and unlawful, because their own lust is their law, yea, rather, as if superior to all laws, they fancy that it is lawful for them to do whatever they please.” The emphasis here is that they fancy that it is lawful for them to do whatever they please. This is certainly an attitude we see displayed in our culture as people will now get offended by the fact that anyone says any particular action is wrong or a sin. V5-6 then reinforces the idea that they fear no ramifications for their actions. Their attitude is one that cannot be tamed; again I quote Calvin in his explanation, “As they enjoy a continued course of prosperity, they dream that God is bound or plighted to them, and hence they put his judgments far from them; and if any man oppose them, they are confident they can immediately put him down, or dash him to pieces with a puff or breath.” The wicked have no time for thinking of their own demise or the consequences of their sin; they wink at the threat of judgment in spite of the fact that it is merely God’s mercy that allows them to live at all.

Second, not only are the wicked proud, but they are also corrupt of speech. Of V7 Spurgeon says, “There is not only a little evil there, but his mouth is full of it. A three-headed serpent hath stowed away its coils and venom within the den of his black mouth. There is cursing which he spits against both God and men, deceit with which he entraps the unwary, and [oppression] by which, even in his common dealings, he robs his neighbors.” John Morison also sees the idea of a deadly snake in the second phrase as he points out that this “striking allusion of this expression is to certain venomous reptiles, which are said to carry bags of poison under their teeth, and with great subtlety to inflict the most deadly injuries upon those who come within their reach.”  Perhaps the most important point to note here is that this verse is used in Romans where “Paul uses the Greek (lxx) wording of this verse in 3:14 as part of his proof that ‘all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin’ (Rom. 3:9).” The significance of this fact cannot be understated; basically by quoting this passage in the context of Romans 3, Paul has condemned all of us as guilty as the wicked man of Psalm 10. You are the man!

The wicked are proud, they are corrupt of speech, and thirdly, they are oppressive. Perhaps here we see the culmination of their wickedness in the fact that they are willing to pick on the vulnerable and unfortunate. This is certainly a sign of the height of wickedness that would seek out those who would struggle to defend themselves. Defending and helping the poor and unfortunate may not prove you are a Christian, but oppressing and afflicting them will certainly prove you are wicked. Thomas Brooks points out the unnatural nature of this oppression, “Oppression turns princes into roaring lions, and judges in evening wolves. It is an unnatural sin, against the light of nature. No creatures do oppress them of their won kind. Look upon the birds of prey, as upon eagles, vultures, hawks, and you will never find them preying upon their own kind. Look upon the beasts of the forest, as upon the lion, the tiger, the wolf, the bear, and you shall ever find them favourable to their own kind; and yet men unnaturally prey upon one another, like the fish in the sea, the great swallowing up the small.” Indeed, the prevalence of this sin proves the depravity of our nature more than any other perhaps. And it gets worse because it is deceptive. The lay a trap for the helpless before they pounce upon him with their strength. Calvin describes it this way, “These wicked men hide their strength, by feigned humility and crafty courteous demeanour, and yet they will always have in readiness an armed band of satellites, or claws and teeth, as soon as an opportunity of doing mischief is presented to them.” So is the way of the wicked, and their arrogance comes back into play as they think does care, or worse yet doesn’t even see. Clearly, the punishment against these wicked men is deserved, but does God see, does God know, is God sleeping while all this is happening?

  • The judgment is sure because of the character of God. 

No, God does see and that fact brings us to the second fact, the judgment is sure because of the character of God.

Similar to the first eleven verses of the Psalm I see the Psalmist emphasizing four aspects of God’s character to show the surety of the judgment.

First, God is omniscient. I see this in v14, where the Psalmist notes that God does see and note mischief and vexation. One author notes, “This should be a terror to the wicked, to think that whatsoever they do, they do it in the sight of him that shall judge them, and call them to a strict account for every thought conceived against his majesty; and therefore it should make them afraid to sin; because that when they burn with lust, and toil with hatred, when they scorn the just and wrong the innocent, they do all this not only . . . within the compass of God’s sight, but also . . . in the bosom of that Deity, who though he suffered them for a time to run on, . . . yet he will find them out at the last, and then cut them off and destroy them.” Perhaps, we can identify just slightly with this in our world today with the prevalence of security cameras capturing our every move. It may have easy for the Boston Marathon bombers to ignore the fact that their every move was being recorded as they prepared for their heinous crime, but when the remaining bomber stands before the judge, the evidence against them will be displayed. However, the knowledge of our God is so much greater than even the greatest security camera because it sees the content of our hearts. God sees your motives and your attitudes even when you can dress yourself up for Sunday morning, and whether or any of the rest of knows is irrelevant when the judge of all the world sees and takes note.

In addition to being omniscient, God is a omnipotent. God will one day flex his omnipotent muscles against the wicked in defiance of their pride and oppression. When he does things will not go well for the wicked as God will break their power (their arms) and call their wickedness to account. Calvin notes this not “simply a prayer; it may also be regarded as a prophecy.” He summarizes what David is saying this way, “Lord, as soon as it shall seem good to thee to break the arm of the wicked, thou wilt destroy him in a moment, and bring to nought his powerful and violent efforts in the work of doing mischief. . . God can promptly and effectually remedy this evil whenever he pleases.” God will win in the end even when it seems he is ignoring the present. Which brings us to the next characteristic of God.

Thirdly, God is sovereign. We see this in v16 where the Psalmist notes that Yahweh is king forever and ever. Not just king yesterday, or today, or tomorrow, but forever ever, Calvin says, “this shows how absurd it is to think to shut him up within the narrow limits of time. . . . But we ought to entertain more exalted and honorable conceptions of our heavenly King; for although he does not immediately execute his judgments, yet he has always the full and the perfect power of doing so. In short, he reigns, not for himself in particular; it is for us that he reigns for ever and ever. As this, then, is the duration of his reign, it follows that a long delay cannot hinder him from stretching forth his hand in due season to succor his people, even when they are, as it were, dead, or in a condition which, to the eye of sense and reason, is hopeless.” God is king forever and ever; therefore, God is judge forever and ever. Therefore, the wicked will never completely get away with their wickedness. Remember God sees, God breaks their power, and God will judge them in the end. They will get what they deserve.

God is omniscient, God is omnipotent, God is sovereign, and finally, God is good. I think that this point is basically a summary of all of the points about God, but it shows them in a loving context. Perhaps our only response to an omniscient, omnipotent, sovereign God would be fear, but a God who is all this and good means he cares about the helpless. So this means that in his omniscience, he not only sees, but he takes what he knows into his hands (v14); in his omnipotence he not only breaks the arm of the wicked, but is a helper to the fatherless (v14); and in his sovereignty, he not only judges the wicked, but he also does justice to the oppressed. Stephen Charnock talks of God’s goodness in these verses in this way, “Now what greater comfort is there than this, that there is one presides in the world who is so wise he cannot be mistaken, so faithful he cannot deceive, so pitiful he cannot neglect his people, and so powerful that he can make stones even to be turned into break if he please! . . . God doth not govern then world only by his will as an absolute monarch, but by his wisdom and goodness as a tender father. It is not his greatest pleasure to show his sovereign power, or his inconceivable wisdom, but his immense goodness, to which he makes the other attributes subservient.

There are two possible responses to all of this that I have already referenced, fear and rest, and there are two possible recipients of this message, the wicked and the righteous. Let me address both of you. 

First, if you are wicked your only option as a response is fear. You must fear God. Fear for you life and your eternity. Here are the facts of the matter, no matter who you are in this room, you are the wicked (Paul already through you all under the bus when he quoted this Psalm in Rom 3). You know it too; I am not giving you any news. You know the pride of your heart, the wickedness of your speech, the oppression of your actions. You know that you are guilty, and God has all his omniscience recording your actions and motives like a security camera as evidence against you on the day of judgment. You haven’t got a chance. So why are you still alive? Don’t you know that this is the mercy of God? God has allowed you to live up until this very moment to give you the chance to repent of the wickedness that you are and have done and turn to him for help. You have no where else to turn, you can’t do enough right to fix all this. Conrad Mbewe gave the example of someone who runs a red light. He notes that you cannot only go through green lights often enough to make up for that one red light. If the police pull you over, you are guilty, dead to rights, and to make things worse, as sovereign God must judge and your sin must be punished.

But there is good news. Jesus was punished for you. God made him to be wickedness for you so that if you will turn from your sinful condition, there is Jesus’ righteousness to replace your wickedness. Then you will never fear the condemnation of the omniscient, omnipotent, righteous judge who reigns forever and ever. You can be right with God.

But perhaps many of you have already accepted this righteousness for yourselves and stand right with God. What should be your response? I believe you should both fear and rest. First, you must fear, not your own condemnation, but the condemnation of those around you. Paul writes in 2 Cor 5:11, “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” Recognize that sin will be punished and beg people to be reconciled to God. Also fear for your own spiritual well-being. While you can never be condemned, you must still fear the judge of the universe who declared you righteous before him and if you will live in the sinful motivations of your flesh, fear the consequences of that sin.

Second, you must rest. Rest in the omniscient, omnipotent, sovereign, goodness of God. When you want to ask where God is, or why he doesn’t see, rest! When you see the wickedness of the wicked compounding, rest! When you wonder at the oppression you and other face, rest! God sees, God is more powerful, God is the forever judge. He can be trusted because of his eternal goodness. Rest in him!

God vs Nations

Life gave David many opportunities to trust God. Perhaps you think back to his times in the field with the sheep when he was called upon to defend them against a lion and a bear. Later, he faced the 9+ foot Goliath, was chased by Saul throughout the Judean wilderness, and was forced to deal with the death of his best friend. Later yet, he became the king of God’s people,  dealt with immorality in his own life and the lives of his kids, and faced a rebellion led by his own son. Certainly, David (who is called a man after God’s own heart by Stephen in Acts 7 by the way) faced many difficulties and circumstances that would require him to trust God. And David voices in this Psalm his recognition of his need for God. Even when the enemies turn their backs and stumble as is mentioned in v3, David “acted wisely . . . when he lifted up the eyes of his mind to God, in order to perceive that victory flowed to him from no other source than from the secret and incomprehensible aid of God.” (John Calvin)

Whether you realize it or not, you also face many circumstances that require you to trust God. I can’t speak to your personal situations, but I can give many examples from my own life where I have struggled to trust God and that I continue to see the need for complete reliance on him.

For me, sports always creates a need to trust God because I am messed-up enough to think that my worth or identity is determined by whether or not my sports teams win. Just recently the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team was down three games to one in their best of seven series against the Detroit Red Wings, and I was constantly fighting the thoughts that crept into my head about how embarrassing this would be if they lost since they had the best record in the regular season, or how they needed to prove how much better they are than the Red Wings. I know; it’s messed up, but it’s what I fight.

Another area where I need to trust God is my finances. Now you might be thinking it’s because I am struggling to get my on a meager associate pastor’s salary, but that is not the case. I have far more than I need, and sometimes I think I still need more. I have to fight the nagging notion that I will be satisfied if I just had a bigger house, a nicer car, or just more stuff in general. I struggle to live in the contentment that Paul voiced in Phil 4:11-13.

Yet another area where I often fail to trust God is in my thoughts about all of you. I stand up here in front of you all, wondering what all of you are thinking, wondering if you are judging me or looking for a way to magnify my trip-ups. I wonder if people like to listen to me preach or are learning anything. I need to trust God and his Word, preach as accurately as I possibly can, and leave the rest to God.

I could spend all day rehearsing my lack of trust, but you didn’t come to hear about all that . . . I don’t think. The truth is that I don’t mention these things to get pity from you or to have you reaffirm me in any way. I am just voicing my struggles; this is who I am. I don’t trust God enough.

Whether or not you can identify with my individual struggles does not really matter, because I know you struggle with the same basic thing. This is a human nature problem. We don’t trust God like we know we should, and when we don’t trust God like we should (which is a sin in itself), we become susceptible to further sin and despair.   

I feel like I also need to make one more point on this. Perhaps this is an issue that you will try to excuse as a problem everyone has so it isn’t that bad. Let me take a moment and address this common and sad problem with Christianity, maybe particularly American Christianity. If you are willing to say that any particular sin you struggle with or are living in is not a big deal, you have a drastically misshapen view of the gospel and sin. Let me remind you that Jesus had to die for all of your sin. Paul reminds us in 2 Cor 5:21 that God made Jesus to be sin for you. If I understand that correctly, that means that Jesus was made to be pride, selfishness, lying, lust, and failure to trust God for you. For you to diminish any sin in your life as unimportant is to diminish the sacrifice and propitiation of Christ, and I question the salvation of anyone who fails to repent of any sin in their lives no matter how small.

That said, I borrow the words of W. Graham Scroggie to emphasize my point, “The people of God must firmly believe what this Psalm teaches, namely, that God is Sovereign and will vindicate [that] fact in the world by the defeat of his enemies.”

Psalm 9 draws a contrast for us. A contrast between God and the nations or peoples (they are also called David’s enemies at one point). I believe all these of terms are synonymous in this Psalm as representative of an anti-God worldview that has pervaded nearly every society since the dawn of Creation, what Scroggie calls “a conflict between good and evil that is being waged all the time.” From this we can understand that God is always against those who make themselves to be enemies of him and his people; that is he considers them his enemies.

Specifically, Psalm 9 draws out three contrasts between God and the nations that vindicate God’s sovereignty in this world and drive us to trust him regardless of the circumstances. 

  • God’s eternal throne contrasts with the utter destruction of the nations – God is sovereign.

The first contrast is that of God’s eternal throne contrasting with the utter destruction of the nations. This emphasizes that God is sovereign. This concept of the throne of God and God’s being enthroned is a concept repeated several times in this Psalm. In v4 God sits on the throne, in v7 he is enthroned with an established throne, in v8 God judges (related to his throne), in v11 he sits enthroned, in v16 again we see the judgment as well as in v19. But I think the contrast is seen most pointedly in v5-7, where David says, “You [God] have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever”; then “But the Lord sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice.” V6 creates some slight problems as the ESV and NIV (at least) interpret the verse with the idea that God is doing the destroying and rooting out of the cities and memory of the enemies, while the KJV and NKJV see the idea that the enemy is doing that destroying and rooting out of cities and memories. I have very little in the way of Hebrew knowledge so I am in no position to make a judgment other than I like the flow of the ESV/NIV translation. Although even having said so, perhaps the KJV/NKJV reading draws the sharper contrast. However, neither interpretation does anything to diminish the point especially with the verse sandwiched between v5-7, the contrast is great between the unsureness of the enemies’ ultimate existence and the established forever throne of God.

Speaking of forever, we must consider this length of time that God sits enthroned. Calvin notes that this means “however high the violence of men may be carried, and although their fury may burst forth without measure, the can never drag God from his seat.” Also, “it is impossible for God to abdicate the office and authority of judge” because that throne has been prepared or established for judgment. So there is nothing that mere men can do in relation to the sovereign rulership of God’s throne other than submit; this concept makes us aware that God is in charge, and it emphasizes also that we can/should trust him.

  • God’s righteous judgment contrasts with oppression of the nations – God is just.

I think that it is important to note how these contrasts build on each other. When we see God’s eternal throne emphasizing his sovereignty first, it naturally flows in to the idea of judgment. As you will notice in the Psalm itself, the transition between eternal throne and just judgment is seamless in v7-8, and we naturally think of those who are enthroned to have the authority to judge matters leading us to our second contrast that God’s righteous judgment contrasts with the oppression of the nations. This emphasizes that God is just.

This Psalm talks much of the oppressed, needy, and afflicted. We see them mentioned in v9, v12, v13 (speaking of David himself), and v18. Based on the message of the Psalm, C John Collins believes we can blame the oppression, neediness, and affliction on the nations and enemies of God’s people when he says, “This psalm grew out of an occasion in which the Gentile rulers sought to oppress them.” And several commentators pointed out the fact that the oppressed in this Psalm have a close connection to God himself as the people of God. So we see the contrast/conflict between God and the nations further emphasized here not only in the language of the Psalm but the concept of oppression vs justice.

Now we need to consider this idea of justice as it applies to life in general because we might read a passage like this one and consider the realities of life and determine that things don’t match up. Does this justice of God mean that God’s people will live lives free of injustice from the enemies of God? That was a rhetorical question of course, because reality tells us that justice isn’t always served and often the recipients of injustice are God’s own people. Just this week I read the story of Stephen in Acts 7; consider the way the Jewish religious leaders treated Stephen and not because of anything he had done but only because their consciences were confronted with the truth of their sinful condition. Stephen isn’t the only example of injustice suffered at the hands of those seeking to thwart God’s plan in this world. So what do we do with these facts?

I believe that to understand this concept of justice we must establish two facts. First, justice isn’t always what we think it is. For example in v4 David mentions that God maintained my just cause. According to C. John Collins, “When an Israelite sings of his just cause (v. 4), he should think beyond the simple right to live unmolested by foreigners, to the very purpose of the call of Israel, namely, to be a light to the Gentiles through living faithfully in the covenant (cf. v. 11).” So this isn’t just about having life without interference from those who have an opposing world view, but rather, it is also tied to what God wants me to do in this world. Collins points out the telling of God’s deeds in v11, but even Paul echoes this concept in 1 Tim 2, when we pray for those in authority so that we might live a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. But this peaceful and quiet life isn’t merely for our enjoyment; Paul goes on to say, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Our peaceful and quiet life ought to give us opportunity to share the gospel unmolested from those who oppose our worldview.

But what about when even that isn’t the case; what if the enemy is so against us that they are able to eliminate the peaceful and quiet life as well? What do we do when it seems our just cause is not being maintained? This brings us to the second fact, justice doesn’t always occur when and how we want it to. I believe John Calvin provides us with some sound insight in this regard. He says this, “The true doctrine on this subject is . . . to place [God] on the throne of power and equity, so that we may be fully persuaded, that although he does not immediately [help] those who are unrighteously oppressed, yet there is not a moment in which he ceases to take a deep interest in them. And when he seems for a time to take no notice of things, the conclusion to which we should come most assuredly is, not that he deserts his office, but that he wishes hereby to exercise the patience of his people, and that, therefore, we should wait the issue in patience, and with tranquility of mind.”

With this in mind, we can trust God. If God’s Word is true (and it is) and if God is on the throne (and he is), then he must be a just judge and he must see the oppression and affliction that we bear. He sees our need and he will help us (according to Calvin, “in order at length to [help us] at a more convenient season, according to the greatness of [our] necessity and affliction.”

  • God’s delivering refuge contrasts with the self-destruction of the nations – God is a stronghold.

So if God is sovereign and therefore judge, he must be a stronghold, a refuge to run to when we facing the difficulty of our own lives, which brings us to the third contrast, that God’s delivering refuge contrasts with the self-destruction of the nations. This emphasizes that God is a stronghold.

This idea of stronghold (it’s the same word twice in v9, by the way) points to a high refuge. Spurgeon used this colorful language to describe it for us, “He is a high tower so impregnable that the hosts of hell cannot carry it by storm, and from its lofty heights faith looks down with scorn upon her enemies.” Scroggie adds, “He is your protection from the precipice [in the extremity of trouble in which all hope of deliverance is cut off].” This greatly contrasts with the self-destruction that the nations bring upon themselves talked about in v15-16.

Can we not attest to many instances in history when these facts that David relates here have come to pass? The wonder in all of it is seen in the phrase that fits between the repetition of the idea that they are caught in their own trap; that is that the Lord has made himself known in this execution of judgment. To this fact Calvin observes, “Whenever God turns back upon themselves whatever schemes of mischief they devise, David declares that in this case the divine judgment is so evident, that what happens can be ascribed neither to nature nor to fortune.” So it is God who brings these things back upon the heads of those who have contrived them, and this to Calvin is sure evidence of divine intervention.

So if we can remember stories like those of Haman in the book of Esther, or, as pointed out by Barton Bouchier the use of the guillotine on those who murdered Marie Antoinette, we can see the hand of justice from an incensed God against the work of oppression. Should this not drive us to trust him? Every time we see these evidences our faith should be affirmed and strengthened.

So what does this faith look, is there anything a bit more practical I can do that “merely” trust, or will this trust become evident in some way? Let us remember that in Scripture faith always results in action, and in Psalm 9 the action that results is obvious to us. 

First, we will praise him both individually and corporately. That is how David starts off this Psalm with words of praise from his “whole heart” in contrast with those who offer mere lip service. When we are trusting God in ever circumstance of our lives we will be glad and exult in God for the work he has done and the confidence we can have that he will continue to work because he is the eternally enthroned sovereign of the universe.

Secondly, we will seek him. V10 reminds us that those who know him will trust him because he doesn’t forsake the ones who seek him. So seek him to know him and you will know why you trust him. As you get to know God more, you will see how trustworthy he is and this will serve to strengthen your faith in the future.

Third, we will ask for his help. Those who trust God never forget that they need him. David prays for grace for himself and judgment for his foes. God must help me by lifting me up from the gates of death so I can stand in Zion’s gates. God must judge my enemies so they are reminded that they are mere men and must fear God.

This is a transcript of a sermon preached June 2, 2013 at Trinity Baptist Church, Fond du Lac, WI. You can listen to the audio here

God’s Majesty, Man’s Glory

Have you ever heard someone praise another person, but the praise was completely over the top? If you ever want to here over the top anything, just listen to political or sports pundits. Nearly every one of these people make so many hyperbolic statements, it will make you sick. Trust me, things are never as bad or as good as these media pundits make it out to be.

That said, one particular political pundit has made a name for himself in the past few years concerning over the top praise, and that is Chris Matthews of MSNBC in his over the top praise of President Obama. Whether or not you share Matthews’s positive take on President Obama does not diminish the over the top nature of his praise. Examples of this abound, like when he compared President Obama’s second inaugural address to Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address and Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. “Matthews [also] praised [President] Obama for ‘rescuing’ the auto industry with the auto bailouts. . . . [and] The MSNBC host said [President] Obama did an ‘exemplary’ job in his response to Hurricane Sandy. In fact, Matthews said he ‘perfectly displayed bipartisan cooperation’ in the wake of Sandy.”

Now, I am not in the place to judge or publicly denigrate the President’s job in these areas, but when a pundit is making comparisons to one of our nation’s most famous speeches or using words like “rescue,” “exemplary,” and “perfectly,” I believe it is safe to say that Matthew’s praise is over the top.

Some may read the first part of Psalm 8 where God’s name is described as magnificent, illustrious, or glorious and think that this praise is a bit over the top. They may think of David as no more than a media personality over-hyping some story or personality. The truth, however, is that rather than being an overstatement of God’s majesty, this passage is an understatement. John Calvin says it this way, “David, by this exclamation, acknowledges himself unequal to the task of recounting [God’s wonderful works]. David, therefore, when reflecting on the incomprehensible goodness which God has been graciously pleased to bestow on the human race, and feeling all his thoughts and senses swallowed up, and overwhelmed in the contemplation, exclaims that it is a subject worthy of admiration, because it cannot be set forth in words.” In other words, David is only responding to all that he could say that is true of God.

God is deserving of praise, but that is not all. He is also worthy of our submission. Notice how David begins this exclamation of God’s goodness, he address “Lord, our Lord.” You may think that this is David being repetitive, but these are two different words that are both translated Lord. Pastor Leeds has pointed out to you before that English Bible translators have adopted the policy of using all caps when translating the name for God, Yahweh, while they will use lowercase to translate the word Adonai, or master. So David is saying, “Yahweh, our master, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”

There is significance in this statement. These two identifications of God are important because the first tells us God’s name. While the word general word for god could be used to refer to any god in the Old Testament (it is used to refer to Yahweh), when the Old Testament authors want to clarify who exactly the only God is they use His name, Yahweh. This is what the children of Israel called out at Carmel when God sent fire to burn up Elijah’s sacrifice in 1 Kings 18. Most of our English translations quote them as saying, “The Lord, He is God,” but they are saying, “Yahweh, He is God,” in contrast to Baal being god.

The title of master is also significant because it recognizes the required submission that must be displayed by humanity because Yahweh is Creator. Our proper response to this realization is to recognize his lordship over our lives. But there is one problem with both of these significances. In our fallen state we often make ourselves out to be god of our lives rather than worshipping and submitting to Yahweh as the only deserving master of our lives/agendas. However, I believe that David is calling us to and aiding us in seeing that we ought to worship and recognize Yahweh as only God and our Master. Psalm 8 reveals two realities that should move us to worship and recognition of Yahweh as only God and our Master.

1. The greatness of God’s majesty is seen in His creative power. 

The first reality that should move us to worship and recognition of Yahweh as only God and our Master is the greatness of God’s majesty seen in His creative power. David focuses in the beginning of this Psalm on what God has done in creation, and he does so by emphasizing two particular aspects.

    • shown in the arrangement of the heavens

First, he recognizes that God’s creative power is shown in God’s arrangement of the heavens. That is, on the astronomical wonders of our universe. David mentions the majesty of God displayed in the heavens twice in the first three verses of the Psalm. In v1 God has set his glory above the heavens illustrating his transcendence, and in v3 David considers the heavens, in particular, the moon and starts that God has set in place.

Isn’t this is appropriate? Alexander Van Humboldt says it best I think when he says, “The mere thought that [the stars] are so far beyond and above everything terrestrial–the feeling, that before them everything earthly so utterly vanishes to nothing–that the single man is so infinitely insignificant in comparison with these worlds strewn over all space–that his destinies, his enjoyments, and sacrifices, to which he attaches such a minute importance–how all these fade like nothing before such immense objects; then that the constellations bind together all the races of man, and the eras of the earth, that they have beheld all that has passed since the beginning of time, and will see all that passes until its end; in thoughts like these I can always lose myself with a silent delight in the view of the starry firmament.” Truly, the vastness of the universe presents to us a small glimpse of the greatness of the majesty of God because all of this, as David mentions, is the work of his fingers, which one commentator points out is a “most elaborate and accurate . . . metaphor from embroiderers, or from them that makes tapestry.” Something that would require great order and arrangement which David also emphasizes in the phrase “set in place.” One author notes that here “the Psalmist seems to have a reference to the very beautiful order by which God has so appropriately distinguished the position of the stars, and daily regulates their course.”

So, look up at the sky and see first and foremost the majestic creative power of our God, who has arrange the heavens in their beauty and regularity as a show of the artistic nature of his embroidery.

    • established in the mouths of infants

David also recognizes that God’s creative power is shown in God’s use of the mouths of infants to silence his enemies. This is amazing to consider. The remarkable nature of such a statement has led many commentators to search for alternate figurative meanings for this text, but John Calvin would have none of it. He stands adamant that, “the meaning . . . is, that God, in order to commend his providence, has no need of the powerful eloquence of rhetoricians, nor even of distinct and formed language, because the tongues of infants, although they do not as yet speak, are ready and eloquent enough to celebrate it. . . . David, therefore, has the best reason for declaring, that although the tongues of all, who have arrived at the age of manhood, should become silent, the speechless mouth of infants is sufficiently able to celebrate the praise of God. . . . To express the whole in a few words: so early as the generation or birth of man the splendor of Divine Providence is so apparent, that even infants, who hang upon their mothers’ breasts, can bring down to the ground the fury of the enemies of God. Although his enemies may do their utmost, and may even burst with rage a hundred times, it is in vain for them to endeavor to overthrow the strength which manifests itself in the weakness of infancy.”

Wow! Might I just add that we see the enemies of God “[doing] their utmost” and “bursting with rage . . . to overthrow the strength which manifests itself in the weakness of infancy” in abortion? What better illustration is there of the enemies of God raging against the strength of the infant and their own desire to have no God or Master than their destroying of human life before it is even born and can display “the splendor of Divine Providence.” But although they have succeeded in silencing some of those infant tongues which do not yet speak, with each new birth the enemies of God are reminded again of the praise of God.

May we who have arrived at the age of manhood ever join the tongues of those who do not yet speak to celebrate the majestic creative power of God.

2. The kindness of God’s mercy is seen in man’s image-bearing glory.

David doesn’t stop with the creative majesty of God’s power, as he goes on to show a second reality that drives us to worship and recognition of Yahweh as only God and our Master, the kindness of God’s mercy seen in man’s image-bearing glory. When David mentions the arrangement of the heavens in v3 he is moved to question why God would show such mercy to give man glory. Let’s look at both that mercy and that glory

    • the mercy of remembering frail children of dust

First, God shows his kindness in the mercy of remembering frail children of dust. When David questions why God would think or care for man the terms he uses are not flattering. The first term he uses emphasizes the frailty of man; this emphasizes how relatively weak and slow we are in comparison to the rest of creation. Even the fastest man cannot outrun a cheetah; the strongest man is no match for an elephant, and our most powerful bomb has no comparison to a category EF-5 tornado like the one that swept through Moore, OK earlier this week. The second term, son of man, seems to be a reference to our origin out of dust, not something that makes us particularly worth loving or caring for. Again Calvin notes the reality of how far short of worthiness we fall, “God, with very good reason, might despise them and reckon them of no account if he were to stand upon the consideration of his own greatness or dignity.”

In this we see God’s mercy. While we may think pretty highly of ourselves, we would do better to think in terms that Isaac Watts referred to himself in his hymn “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed,”  wondering why God would devote Jesus’ sacred head for such a worm. We have nothing to bring to God that makes us desirable or worthy of his love and affection; rather, we have done much to deserve his wrath and fury, but he has chosen to look in favor upon us in granting that we might bear his image in creation, which is the second illustration of God’s kindness to men, the glory of granting dominion over creation.

    • the glory of granting dominion over creation

In spite of our frailty and origins from dust, God cared for us in such a way as to create us in his image and be his representative here on earth. Here John Calvin notes, “The Psalmist confirms what he has just now said concerning the infinite goodness of God towards men, in showing himself near to them, and mindful of them. In the first place, he represents them as adorned with so many honors as to render their condition not far inferior to divine and celestial glory. In the second place, he mentions the external dominion and power which they possess over all creatures, from which it appears how high the degree of dignity is to which God hath exalted them.”

Lets consider first how God has adorned us with so many honors as to render our condition not far inferior to divine glory. He does this by making us a little lower than the heavenly beings, and crowning us with glory and honor. I believe this entire section is a direct reference to Gen 1:26-28; here we see the image of God being gracious granted to man. God made man the very pinnacle of creation in granting him to take part in his image. This is what separates us from the beasts and gives us the ability to experience the second benefit that Calvin mentioned,

The external dominion and power which we possess over all creatures. This is where the passage gets particularly interesting because this passage is quoted in two New Testament passages to emphasize the fact that all things are not actually in subjection under the feet, not of man in general, but of Christ in particular. First, in 1 Cor 15:25-28, we are told of Christ that “he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Then Paul goes on to quote Psalm 8 as having said God put all things under his feet. So clearly the reference is to Christ and all his enemies have not been put under his feet, as death has not yet been defeated completely.

The second passage of consequence Heb 2:5-9. In this passage the author references Christ as being made a little lower than the angels to illustrate the humility that Christ pursued in becoming human, and he mentions that at present we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. What are we to make of these Christological references?

These passages bring to light a very important truth that is revealed in these verses. We must understand that this passage must be referring to man’s pre-fall condition in the Garden of Eden. There, man was given all authority and dominion over all the works of God’s hands; all things were put under his feet. But as Rolland McCune reminds us, “Sadly . . . the original dominion mandate was ruined by the fall. This is seen, for instance, when the author of Hebrews says that the eschatological kingdom will be ruled not by angels but by men, supporting this assertion by noting man’s original place in God’s universe. There was nothing created that was not put in subjection to him, the author asserts. However, to this the author adds, “But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.” The fall into sin ruined this original dominion and man awaits the eschaton for the resumption of complete dominion.”

And this resumption of complete dominion is fulfilled ultimately in the rule and reign of Christ in the last days when he will take back the dominion that man has lost, but lest we lose this important point that the author of Hebrews seems to be making throughout his epistle, that dominion still belongs to man. It was lost by the first Adam, but redeemed by the last Adam. Although we do not see the full dominion restored, we see it partially in Christ’s work on the cross and will see it in its finality restored when we rule and reign with him in his kingdom.

In this truth we see the grand magnificence of this passage which not only preaches the greatness and majesty of God, but also the need and provision of the gospel. As one author notes, “Divine design [that is in making man to be crowned with glory and honor and having all things in subjection under his feet] is not frustrated for God himself has become man, and by the incarnation and sacrifice on Calvary that is restored which by the first Adam was lost . . .  and some day, in millennial glory, the groaning creation shall sing under the rule of Christ.”

So what difference does all this make to us? Well, first of all let’s remember that the focus of this passage is on God and what he has done (notice the repetition of you focusing on what God has done), and we can’t overstate our praise of God. Our first response ought to be one of praise of God as we have provided opportunity even this morning in the service. Be in awe of God, be in awe of his love, be in awe of his care, and praise him. 

Also, let’s remember that because we were made by him, we ought to submit to him. He is the Master and God, so he makes the rules. We have no right to our lives and to decide what to do. We aren’t in charge; God is. So instead of submitting to what you want to submit to, things like money, sports, pleasure, or your cell phone, submit to God and experience his freedom.

Finally, remember that the plan of God is not thwarted. If he can still the enemy and avenger with the mouth of infants and restore the wreckage of sin-cursed humanity, then he is worthy to be trusted and depended on. He is worthy of us to declare as Yahweh, our Master, the one whose name is majestic in all the earth!

This is a transcript of a sermon preached May 26, 2013 at Trinity Baptist Church, Fond du Lac, WI. You can listen to the audio here

The Reason for OT Sacrifices

sacrificial lamb
Sorry for the long delay in getting a post up. At one point I was at a loss for words, then I was just lazy. This is the content that I used for our Good Friday service on Sunday morning at church:

God set the precedent. Adam and Eve had tried to sew fig leaves together for clothes, but God did one better. He made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. He killed an animal to cover their shame and nakedness. The animal didn’t do anything, but it died for Adam’s benefit. What followed were generations of animal sacrifices, usually from the flock. From Adam and Eve’s second son Abel to Noah after the flood. Abraham seemed to understand the gist of Heb 10 for he was prepared to willingly offer a human sacrifice, but God stopped him and again substituted an animal. Abraham passed the tradition on to Isaac, and Isaac to Jacob, then Jacob to all his children.

Then God set the standard. He regulated the sacrifices. For every sin or reminder of sin there was a sacrifice. It was always an animal. There were morning and evening sacrifices; there were holidays with annual sacrifices. There seemed to be no end, especially when God got a permanent building and the scale and ceremony of everything was amped up. Day after day, year after year. At one point the temple was destroyed, but they rebuilt it and it all started again; day after day, year after year. Why?

Why would God first exemplify then mandate the sacrifice of animals for humans? Wasn’t enough, enough? Think of all the animals (probably millions); think of all the blood. Why couldn’t God be appeased? Heb 10 tells us. The sacrifices were a reminder of the fact that sin had not been taken care of yet. The animal sacrifices just weren’t cutting it. So what would? The writer of Hebrews gives us a hint when he says that when Jesus came God prepared for him a body. You see the sacrifice had to be human. It couldn’t be an animal because animals hadn’t sinned. It was man’s sin that had brought death (Rom 5:12); therefore, it would have to be a man who paid the price, but a problem still existed though, because it couldn’t be just any man who would die. No, it had to be a perfect man. That is why neither Isaac nor anyone else who preceded or followed him wasn’t good enough. Now where to find a perfect man. Again the author of Hebrews assists us. It would have to be someone who could sit down at the right hand of God; in other words, it would have to be God himself. So if the sacrifice had to be a man, and had to be God, it would appear that we need a God-man. God had this under control too.

God’s spirit entered the womb of Mary a virgin and conceived in her a son. Because he was conceived of God’s Spirit he would be 100% God, and because he was conceived in Mary, he would be 100% man. Because he was not conceived by a man, he would not have the sin nature passed on to him; therefore, God had created the perfect God-man to take the penalty and end the animal slaughter of centuries. His name was Jesus. He grew just like everyone else, but when he became a man he preached and taught for three years before he irritated the religious status quo badly enough to move them to want to kill him. They had him illegally tried; they had him illegally judged. They beat him and then asked the Romans to kill him for them. He suffered more and worse than any animal had before and than all the animals combined. He carried the weight of our sin upon himself receiving our whipping, thorns, and mocking; carrying our cross and receiving our nails through his hands and feet. He suffered for the better part of a day and when he was good and ready, he died.

And then the writer of Hebrews tells us the best part of it all; you see after he died, he sat down. That’s right, while on the cross he said, It is finished, and then he sat down. The sacrifices were over. His was once and for all. No one would ever need to sacrifice anything ever again, for the work of this lamb had taken care of it all. You couldn’t do enough to pay for your own sin, and you don’t need to. Jesus took it all for you on that cross, and not just the sins you committed before, but the sins to come as well. He took it all. For you.

Leonard Bernstein’s The Joy of Music

I have made it my goal to update this blog every Monday, so, in order to give myself something to write about, I will periodically write my thoughts about books that I have recently finished reading.

When our church recently had Dr. Kevin Bauder in to speak at our Bible conference, I had the opportunity to ask him to recommend some books that might teach me how to think about and listen to music. One of the books he recommended to me was The Joy of Music by Leonard Bernstein. In looking for the book, I was able to find an excerpt on google books, which, after I began reading, made me want to continue. In order to continue reading I obtained the book from my local public library and finished it fairly quickly.

I found the way that Bernstein wrote to be rather entertaining as he displays his sense of humor and clever thinking throughout several imaginary conversations in the first few chapters. These conversations cover Bernstein’s thoughts on music and music appreciation as a whole. While I did find these conversations entertaining, I am not sure that I completely understood the nuances of everything Bernstein wrote seeing as how I am not musically adept. From there Bernstein includes seven television scripts that featured his giving “lectures” on music on a show called Omnibus. I read through two of them, but I have also found them available free to watch online. I must confess that I haven’t finished watching them all, but the episodes I have watched, I have found interesting and compelling. I commend them to you.

Regarding Bernstein’s point in the book, I believe that perhaps his most important statement was that “Beethoven, more than any other composer before or after him, I think, had the ability to find exactly the right notes that had to follow his themes.” This seemed to be Bernstein’s goal in composing his own music and the standard by which he judged other music. The finding of the exact right note that had to follow another note. He says in another place that Beethoven’s ability to do this gave him “the real goods, the stuff from Heaven, the power to make you feel at the finish: something is right in the world. There is something that checks throughout, that follows its own law consistently: something we can trust, that will never let us down.” He then states that he meant that statement to sound like a definition of God. In other words, Bernstein felt that music that was right not only pictured God, but in a sense made us more acutely aware of His presence.

Bernstein’s point is definitely an interesting one, but it creates another problem for me: How do I know what notes are the right ones to follow another? I believe that the answer to this question will come as I continue to listen to music and read widely on the subject. That said, I have come to this conclusion: I don’t think that even if I am able some day to “know” in my mind what Bernstein means by this statement, I probably won’t be able to articulate it very well for anyone to agree with me completely. Music is a complicated and difficult art, but if you have any desire to think deeply about music, I commend to you The Joy of Music by Leonard Bernstein.

A Great Bible Reading Resource

I was talking to a few of my students in class today about reading the Bible, which led me to think of sharing a tremendous plan for reading through the entirety of Scripture that I have found. The plan is Professor Grant Horner’s Bible Reading System. If the plan is followed meticulously, it can be completed in 250 days, but it took me closer to a year (I finished my first read through in August and am well on my through my second time through).

The beauty of the system is the reading of ten chapters per day. At first, that might sound like a daunting task to read ten chapters in the Bible per day, but Horner’s system makes this much easier to accomplish by splitting the Scriptures up into ten groups: the Gospels, the Pentateuch, the first seven Pauline Epistles and Hebrews, the rest of the New Testament Epistles, the Poetic Books (except Psalms and Proverbs), the Psalms, the Proverbs, the Historical Books, the Prophets, and Acts. Of course, some of the groups are shorter than others (the only group that takes the entire 250 days is the Prophets, although the Historical Books take 249 days), but when one group is finished it is read again from the beginning. This means the reader moves through Acts and Proverbs about eight times, the gospels-almost three times, and rest of the New Testament and poetic books-around four times. This variety has other advantages, as well. First, reading only one chapter in every section per day prevents the stagnation that occurs in other reading plans when the Law or genealogies make up a large portion of a book (think Leviticus, Numbers, and the beginning of 2 Chronicles). Also, the variety brings Scripture to bear on Scripture, so that the reader begins to see how the different portions of Scripture are inter-related. I cannot speak highly enough of this reading plan and how much it has helped me through the past year-and-a-half. I feel more comfortable with Scripture as a whole; I feel I can more easily identify where things are found in Scripture, and I am growing in my Christian walk.

With the New Year around the corner (a time when people make resolutions and begin Bible reading plans), let me encourage you to consider strongly the Grant Horner Reading System. I believe it will change your quiet time.

Might I also offer one other resource that has greatly aided my completion of this system, I am sure most are familiar with this site and its app, but since offers the ability to subscribe and track the progress of reading plans, it has been invaluable to my consistency of reading. I have done most of the reading on my phone (using the app) or kindle (using the mobile site). I still found the reading plan very useful for the probably four or five months before I started reading it electronically, but I have found the electronic tracking of youversion to be a indispensable.

Check it out; you won’t regret it!

next week: look for my “review” of The Joy of Music by Leonard Bernstein

Welcome to Compelled by Love

Thanks for visiting my new blog! I am excited about starting to blog more regularly and hope that this becomes something that I can develop the discipline to maintain. Basically, discipline is something that is really lacking in many areas of my life, but I will aim to make this a priority. This blog will basically focus on the things that I like to talk about, and will hopefully be beneficial for you to read. I will mainly discuss theological musings, life circumstances, or other areas of interest to me (mainly sports, technology, and books). That said I hope you will visit often or subscribe; I am aiming to put a post up here every Monday, but I have many other responsibilities and will at times be limited by those other responsibilities. Also, this site is almost constantly under construction; please, excuse my ongoing development and the fact that part of the purpose of this site as a whole is a sort of sandbox for my web development business. Again, thanks for stopping by, and I hope that you will plan on joining me for this journey and even participating in the discussion at times.