"A holy aim in things neither clearly right nor wrong makes the judgments of men, although seemingly contrary, yet not so much blamable. Christ, for the good aims he sees in us, overlooks any ill in them, so far as not to lay it to our charge. Men must not be too curious in prying into the weaknesses of others. We should labour rather to see what they have that is for eternity, to incline our heart to love them, than into that weakness which the Spirit of God will in time consume, to estrange us. Some think it strength of grace to endure nothing in the weaker, whereas the strongest are readiest to bear with the infirmities of the weak. Where most holiness is, there is most moderation, where it may be without prejudice of piety to God and the good of others. We see in Christ a marvelous temper of absolute holiness, with great moderation. What would have become of our salvation, if he had stood upon terms, and not stooped thus low unto us? We need not affect to be more holy than Christ. It is no flattery to do as he does, so long as it is to edification. The Holy Ghost is content to dwell in smoky, offensive souls. Oh, that that Spirit would breathe into our spirits the same merciful disposition! We endure the bitterness of wormwood, and other distasteful plants and herbs, only because we have some experience of some wholesome quality in them; and why should we reject men of useful parts and graces, only for some harshness of disposition, which, as it is offensive to us, so it grieves themselves?"
“God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth”
1 Timothy 2:3-4
An enormous degree of insight about our great God can be gleaned from these verses as regards His gracious and merciful desire. They don’t say that He desires only those whom He has predestined to be saved, although some would insist this to be the case. They, in order to harmonize in their minds their understanding of God’s eternal purposes in predestination, contend that the “all” does not mean all of mankind, but refers to “all” of the elect, or men from “all” the nations, tongues, tribes, and time periods.
Others, simply reject the idea that God, at His pleasure, would only chose some for salvation, and purposely pass over others. They acknowledge “election”, but insist that God only elects someone solely on the basis of what He sees when He looks down the corridor of time to observe how a particular person responds to the gospel. If God sees one believing, then He chooses him. They maintain, therefore, that every man has an equal opportunity, or possibility to be saved, and in this way they harmonize for themselves the “all men” in our verses.
But God’s word makes it very clear that it is God who does the choosing of some for salvation. The Apostle Paul wrote regarding election, “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” (Romans 9:16) We also read, “As many as received Him (Christ), to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)
Charles Spurgeon wrote concerning our verses, “‘All men,’ say they, ‘that is, some men’, as if the Holy Ghost could not have said ‘some men’ if He had meant some men. ‘All men,’ say they, ‘that is, some of all sorts of men’, as if the Lord could not have said ‘All sorts of men’ if He had meant that. The Holy Ghost by the apostle has written ‘all men,’ and unquestionably He means all men… My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture”.
And so we are faced on the one hand with the great truth of God’s merciful and gracious election of some for salvation, and yet on the other hand with the truth of His sincere desire that all men be saved. We see this comprehensive love in Christ Jesus who, “when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) When the rich young ruler mistakenly attempted to justify himself to Jesus by stating that he had kept the law, we read the poignant statement that, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” (Mark 10:21) We further read that he went away from Jesus “sorrowful”, and for all we know, he never believed, and yet there was a sincere compassion in Jesus towards him.
A very dramatic expression of the love of God for fallen man occurred when Jesus came into Jerusalem and, “saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!” (Luke 19:41-42) He knew full well the severe judgment that would be poured out on the people for their rejection of the Messiah, and yet Jesus experienced a sincere pity, compassion, and love for them, desiring them to be spared.
Do we not see something of the mystery of this divine love and compassion mirrored in our human experience? What truly loving parent enjoys disciplining their child? They do it because the child willfully has disobeyed and is deserving of punishment. But their sincere and heartfelt desire is for the child to obey so that they might embrace them in love. Our loving and good Creator is perfectly just in judging all mankind, and yet genuinely desires all mankind to be reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ. Therefore, all who do not respond to this gracious and sincere offer of forgiveness can only ultimately blame themselves with their stubborn willful refusals.
But none would respond if God did not intervene. As such, the mercy and grace of God is magnified in that He mercifully changes some so that they are not only enabled to come to Him in tears, humility, confession, repentance, and faith, but they are made willing. Praise be to God!
How should you respond to these truths? Should not this truth of God’s sincere love, coupled with His gracious election drive you to your knees in awe, humility, and thanksgiving that so great a mercy has been shown to you, if in fact you are a true believer? Should not you who have experienced this absolutely undeserved favor and mercy be one who exhibits the same in your dealings with fallen mankind around you?
Don’t attempt to try and fully resolve what might appear to be conflicting truths, God’s election of some, and yet His sincere free offer of the gospel to all men. Remember, “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?” (Romans 11:34) We are mere creatures, and fallen at that, with puny and corrupted understandings. Instead, be like the Apostle Paul who wrote, “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20)
In ancient Israel, after the conquest of the land under Joshua, but before the days of the kings, God raised up judges to deliver the people from the oppression of their enemies. One such judge, Samuel, led the people in breaking a 40-year domination of Israel by the Philistines at the battle of Mizpah. The Israelite army was victorious in putting the Philistines to flight, and after the victory, “Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer (meaning stone of help), saying ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’” (1 Samuel 7:12) In this way, Samuel was taking opportunity in this remarkable victory to remind the people of God’s great mercy and power in delivering and preserving them. He reinforced in their minds and hearts the truth that ultimately God was their protector and keeper, and just as He had fought for them against the Philistines, so He would continue to deliver and preserve Israel.
As present day Christians, we too need to from time to time raise up an Ebenezer in recognition of God’s great works of preserving and deliverance in our lives, both individually and as a local body of believers. And so it is fitting as we embark together into the year 2016 to take opportunity to echo Samuel’s words, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
First, just think back a little over this past year and consider the many ways God has protected and kept you safe during the past year. Recall times when you felt that you might have given way under great pressures, conflicts or afflictions. Perhaps circumstances even seemed hopeless. In the Bible we read that Jacob once cried out, “Everything is against me!” (Genesis 42:36) after his sons returned from Egypt with the news that his son Simeon had been taken hostage by a strange Egyptian ruler, who now was demanding another son, Benjamin, to be brought to him. Much earlier, Jacob lost his beloved son Joseph, and these latest events were too much for him. Little did he know then that not only would Simeon and Benjamin be safe, but the entire family would be preserved from famine in Egypt by none other than Joseph himself! Jacob could look back and realize that instead of saying everything was against him, he should have said, “Everything is for me!” Indeed, let us all take opportunity to look back over this past year, and see God’s merciful, guiding and protecting hand. Let us say with Samuel, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
Now secondly, since we are able to look back and see God’s footsteps, we can confidently look ahead into the unknown future, unknown only in circumstances, but fully known in God’s mighty provision for His children. As you know, King David was sorely tested by God in his life and sometimes felt that God had completely given him up.
During one such time, he wrote in Psalm 42:7, “All Your waves and billows have gone over me... I will say to God my Rock, why have you forgotten me?” But he also took counsel with himself by saying, “I will remember You from the land of Jordan... The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me.” (v.6) And so, even though his circumstances were oppressive, he could see with eyes of faith how God’s grace had sustained him and would continue to see him through in the future. Thus he wrote, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” (v.11)
We too can look ahead to the coming days with the expectation that God will remain ever faithful. He will complete that which He has begun in our hearts, with a view towards bringing us into perfect conformity to the image of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
The beloved hymn writer Fanny Crosby penned these words over 100 years ago, and they are as true now as when they were first written;
All the way my Savior leads me; what have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt his tender mercy, who through life has been my guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort, here by faith in him to dwell;
for I know, whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.
All the way my Savior leads me - O the fullness of His love!
Perfect rest to me is promised in my Father’s house above:
when my spirit, clothed, immortal, wings its flight to realms of day,
this my song through endless ages: Jesus led me all the way!
Brothers and Sisters, let us joyfully raise our Ebenezer and confidently proclaim, “Thus far the Lord has helped us”!
“The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” 1 Samuel 17:37
Here is young David placing into proper perspective his upcoming battle with the giant Goliath. Think of it! By all outward indications, David would be foolish to go against this huge armed and experienced combat veteran with a mere slingshot and some stones. No one would have blamed him for refusing to face this man. By human standards, David didn’t have a hope of surviving a fight with Goliath.
But David saw it differently. He did “not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.” (2 Corinthians 4:18) He did not evaluate himself and his circumstances relative to this approaching enemy, but saw it all in the context of his relationship with God. As a believer, he knew he was one of God’s people and would later write that God “has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. For this is all my salvation and all my desire.” (2 Samuel 23:5) Thus he was confident that he was an object of God’s undeserved and gracious favor.
For David, this comprehension of his standing with God served as an antidote to any fears that might come when enemies or trials came his way. David wrote, “Blessed be the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle – My lovingkindness and my fortress, my high tower and my deliverer, my shield and the One in whom I take refuge.” (Psalm 144:1-2)
Indeed, how many Christians are robbed of this confidence and peace of mind when they forget that they have a loving and sovereign heavenly Father who oversees, provides, and protects them. Thomas Charles wrote concerning God that, “He is all sufficient. We can never trust too little in man, nor too much in God… Has He given his Son to die for us; and will he not take care of us the few days we are on our journey to our Father’s house? The thought is unworthy of Him… Let us honor Him and testify our good opinion of Him by trusting Him with the care of our souls and bodies – with our temporal and eternal concerns. Though all should forsake us and prove unfaithful, yet faith will say, ‘This God is our God forever and forever; and He will be our guide unto death.’ – what more can we want this side of death?”
But we also see that David bolsters his argument regarding God’s protection by bringing to his mind the memory of God’s intervention in the past while he was shepherding sheep. He remembers how God enabled him to overcome a bear and a lion that tried to attack the flock. This event from the past reminded David that God was not only able, but also willing to protect him. And he also knew that not only was God’s love for him unchanging, but that God himself never changed. As such, his confidence and faith were strengthened by believing that God would continue to preserve and protect him for all of the days God had allotted him for the future.
As Christians, how foolish it is to look at our circumstances only in the light of what we can see or touch! And yet we are so often influenced by such things as how much money is in the bank, or the strength of numbers. When David’s friend Jonathan went up with his servant against the more numerous Philistines, he said “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will work for us. For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6)
Christian, are you facing a Goliath right now? Is some seemingly insurmountable set of circumstances shaking your confidence and causing you to fear? Remember, if you are truly a believer, then you are a child of God and under His care and protection. God says to His people, “I know the thoughts that I think toward you… thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) Counsel yourself like David did with himself by recalling God’s protection and care for you in the past. Know that He does not change, and will never leave you or forsake you because the love He has for His children is an everlasting love. Know that, “The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”
In case you haven’t noticed, this country is going through a major cultural revolution. And it has everything to do with God’s created order regarding gender distinctions and marriage between a man and a woman. God has made this creation order very clear: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them… then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good… a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 1:27,31; 2:24)
And yet we just recently witnessed lawyers, including the Solicitor General of the United States, presenting arguments to the Supreme Court for the purpose of making so-called same sex marriages legal in all 50 states. Man in his pride and in his desire to be autonomous has simply disregarded the purposes in creation of his Creator. Clearly this is a manifestation of those who “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God… professing to be wise, they became fools…” (Romans 1:21-22)
And to place God’s word regarding the institution of marriage on trial in this courtroom scene is to essentially place God on trial!
This isn’t new. When Satan, contrary to God’s warning, told Eve she would not die if she ate the fruit, he was placing God and His word on trial. He was calling God a liar, denying His goodness, and essentially saying that man should be the judge as regards what’s best for him, and what he can do or not do. He would define his own morality and call it good. This found expression prior to the flood when “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) and in the days of the Judges when “everyone did was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)
Many are applauding the progress being made towards what they anticipate will be a positive ruling regarding legalization of same-sex marriages. They see it as moving forward and being on the “right side of history”. Interestingly, Chief Justice Roberts noted, “You’re not seeking to join this institution, but change what the institution is…”
But God is not mocked. What we’re actually witnessing is an expression of God’s wrath on what appears to be a majority in this nation that have progressively ignored Him, and who have stepped up their efforts to silence and suppress those who desire to be obedient to God. The Apostle Paul wrote, “God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie… for this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful…” (Romans 1:24-27)
But there was a time when God put Himself on trial. He, the second Person of the Trinity, entered into our condition by taking on flesh. He then lived a life of perfect obedience. But “He (God the Father) made Him (God the Son, Jesus Christ) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) In this way, Jesus Christ so identified with the sins of His people that He was considered guilty of those sins. He then submitted Himself to a mock trial before men. But in this trial He also was standing in a greater courtroom, His Father’s, where He stood guilty as charged.
He was wrongly sentenced to death by men, but was justly sentenced to death by His Father. And so on the cross He died, obediently and willingly suffering eternal wrath and damnation. But this death was not for His sins, but for the sins of His people.
Now, the good news is that those who put their faith in Him will never have to stand trial in God’s courtroom. For them, the debt due for their sin has been paid in full and they are now justified, dressed in the pure righteousness of Christ. Such mercy… such grace… such love! “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.” (1 John 3:16)
“Our days on earth are as a shadow”
1 Chronicles 29:15
Indeed how contrary these words are to the mindset of the man of the world. He believes this life to be the ultimate reality. As such, all his energies are devoted chiefly to being fulfilled and contented in this life, even hoping to extend his existence here on earth as long as possible. Any existence beyond this life is unknown to him, or of little concern. Oh, he may express some interest in some heaven yet to come of his own imagination, but his devotion is directed to what he can now touch and see on this earth.
But in our verse, we are firstly reminded that, like a shadow, this life on earth is fleeting. In Psalm 103 David wrote, “As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (verses 15-16). Similarly in a prayer of Moses we read, “The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10).
How strange that in our youth we naively think we have many long years ahead with plenty of time to do all that we want to do. Very little serious consideration is applied to “redeeming the time”. But in our later years we look back and say, “Where did it all go?”, realizing how much valuable time was frittered away in empty pursuits. Time marches on relentlessly and as someone has said, it waits for no one.
We also see in our verse that, like a shadow, our life on earth, if considered only by itself, is vanity. King Solomon was given the means to indulge himself in every imaginable worldly pursuit including money, power, position, knowledge, and partying, to name a few. And yet, when he looked back on all these quests for happiness and meaning, all he could say was, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). They were all empty and meaningless because riches vanished, power dissipated, position disappeared, knowledge could only be partial, and partying didn’t last.
Finally, we know that a shadow either dispels when all is light, or it blends in with utter darkness when all light is removed. And so like a shadow, we learn from our verse that our life on earth will either end in perfect light, or perfect darkness. And that’s the ultimate reality! You see, a shadow is just that, a shadow. It has no true substance in and of itself. It only has meaning when it is related to that for which it is a shadow. And so too life on this earth is merely a shadow, and only makes sense when it’s understood relative to that for which it is a shadow, namely eternity. This shadow of life is quickly coming to an end, and whether your eternity results in perfect light, or perfect darkness has everything to do with how you use this life to prepare for that time.
Isaiah prophesied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2). This prophecy was fulfilled in the coming of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, into the world, “the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1:9). And in the Light of Christ, we are exposed for the sinners that we are. The Bible makes it very clear that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And God is a holy God who hates sin and is determined to punish it.
There are many, however, who refuse to come into the Light, who refuse to repent of their sins, and by faith embrace Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. To them Jesus says, “This is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). For them, the shadow of life on earth will become an eternity of dreadful and utter darkness. They will never see the light again!
But there are others for whom it can be said, “It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in (their) hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). And in response, they have gone to Christ Jesus in repentance and by faith, looking to Him alone as the One who lived perfectly in their place, and who died in their place for their sins. Their treasure is now in eternity and this passing shadow life is lived in a holy anticipation of the reality of the life to come, which will be a life lived in the perfect light of Jesus Christ.
What are you doing with your days on earth? Are you investing them in seeking out the Light of Christ, or are you foolishly moving further into utter darkness? The Apostle Paul wrote, “If then you are raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3). Can that be said of you?
Once again we stand on the threshold of a New Year. What lies ahead for you? Happiness? Sorrow? Prosperity? Poverty? Health? Sickness? Perhaps God will call you home in this next year, or take one of your loved ones.
But beloved, in the midst of the uncertainty and fears of the future, there couldn’t be any greater words of comfort to the Christian than these words from Jesus Christ our Savior; “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Here’s our strength, our joy and our peace in this life.
Notice first that Jesus said, “I am with you.” Our Lord didn’t assign this task to an angel, or to a man, but He Himself would be with His people. Jesus earlier told His disciples, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you… He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and reveal Myself to him” (John 14:18, 21).
Oh it’s true, He’s not with us physically. But the Holy Spirit has come to dwell with God’s people, and He is the One who makes Christ known in the hearts and minds of true believers. The Apostle Paul referred to Him as “the Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9). He helps us to see Christ in His Word and His sacraments. He gives us a felt sense of Christ’s Presence “because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5). This promise that Jesus Himself would be with us is without equal and should quiet our hearts in any circumstance in this world.
Look further and see that Jesus would be with us “always”. What dearly loved parent, husband, wife, or friend could ever make this promise? Sooner or later they’re taken from us and even while they are with us in this life, they can not be everywhere. And yet Jesus said, “I am with you always”. This means that Christ is with you anywhere on this planet, or the universe. David wrote, “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:9-10).
Christ is with His people every minute of every day to lead and guide, to pardon and forgive. He is with us to sanctify and strengthen, to comfort and protect. Christ is with us when we’re joyful, when we’re in sorrow, when we’re healthy, when we’re sick, when we’re prosperous, when we’re poor, when we’re on our death-beds. When you feel most alone, Christ is with you believer, always!
Finally, let us rejoice that Jesus added, “even to the end of the age”. Jesus Christ is not constrained by time; He brought it into existence! It doesn’t matter if this world continues for another year, a millennium, or 10,000 millenniums, Jesus will be with His people “even to the end of the age”. The Apostle Peter wrote, “Beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9).
The unbelieving world can only look into the future and hope for the best. They depend solely upon their wits and good fortune. But believers can confidently say, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me” (Psalm 23:4). They know that even after this age “we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17) because “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). What a blessing that Christ has been and ever shall be with His people to the end of the age
Take heart in this New Year Christian. You can claim Christ’s promise, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age”. Put off worries, fears and uncertainties, Jesus is ever with you. The hymn writer put it this way;
Children of the heav’nly Father
Safely in His bosom gather;
Nestling bird nor star in heaven
Such a refuge e’er was given.
Though He giveth or He taketh,
God His children ne’er forsaketh;
His the loving purpose solely
To preserve them pure and holy.
“Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” John 11:21
Somehow Martha, in the midst of grief and confusion over the death of her brother Lazarus, assumed that this terrible tragedy would not have occurred if Jesus had only been there to prevent it. Even her sister Mary would echo this same lament (v. 32). They had genuine faith in Jesus, but it became obscured by their feelings and preconceived notions of what Jesus should have done. Their understanding and trust were weak because of a vague understanding and knowledge of Jesus and His purposes.
First see in Martha’s lament that she acknowledged Jesus to be absolutely powerful and good, but she allowed her own desires to rule her feelings rather than yield to Christ and His purposes. At no time did Jesus promise that He would prevent the death of Lazarus by His Presence. As such, she had faith, but it was not mixed with revealed truth.
Earlier, she and her sister had sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was dying, no doubt intending for Jesus to come immediately. But instead of responding as they might have wished, He remained exactly where He was for two more days. He then revealed His purposes by saying, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of Man might be glorified through it” (v. 4). He also later told His disciples, “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe” (v.14). Jesus had very specific purposes in mind that would come as a result of the death of His dear friend. Completely counter to Martha’s wishes, He would not be there. In fact, He intended for Lazarus to die! His death would be a means of glory for God and Himself, and it would also be a means of strengthening the faith of Martha, Mary and the disciples.
Is it not true that we too have preconceived notions of how God should act in the events of our lives and the world around us? When this happens, we’re driven by our feelings, not truth. We have definite ideas of what God should do and not do. This becomes evident when we’re quick to attribute those things we consider good to God, but if something contrary to our desire happens, we often say, “Well God allowed it”. As if to imply that somehow God stepped out of the way and was not there. Isn’t that the same as saying, “Lord, if You had been here, this wouldn’t have happened”? But has God never promised us a life immune from grief, or difficulties? Has He ever said this world would be free of terrible tragedies?
Yes, like Martha, we have faith in God’s ability and His goodness, but faith must rest on truth, God’s revealed truth. He never said He would spare you this illness, or this death of a loved one, or this depression, or any other affliction you may be experiencing. But God did say, “I am the Lord and there is no other; I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:6-7). He said, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways” (Isaiah 55:8) and “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Away with our feeble faith cry of “If only…” and let us submit ourselves to God’s holy and infinite wisdom and purposes for His children.
Secondly, we can observe that Martha and Mary had very limited views of the Person of Jesus Christ. They knew Him as sent from God and the Son of God, but they still did not fully see Him as God Himself in the flesh. They somewhat superstitiously reasoned that Jesus must be bodily present in order to heal their brother, not fully knowing and believing that His divine powers reached beyond His physical Presence. They didn’t fully understand that His divine purposes went beyond their limited view and desires. Perhaps, because of His absence, they even thought of Him as cold and uncaring.
But when Jesus finally did arrive at their home and was told of the death of Lazarus, we read these very poignant words; “Jesus wept” (v.35). Now they could see in Jesus the supremely compassionate and caring character of God Himself in His tears. Now they could see that God in the Person of Jesus is a “merciful and faithful High Priest… for in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:17-18). They would witness the life giving power of God Himself as Jesus spoke “Lazarus, come forth!” They would come to know that Jesus used the death of Lazarus to strengthen their faith in Him as the One in whom “dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9).
Whenever we have distressed and distorted understandings of God’s purposes in our lives, the cause can rightly be attributed to our weak views and understandings of the Person and the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (14:9). And so, when we believers say with the Apostle Paul that, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 3:20) in His dying for our sins, let us not separate this love and purpose from the love and purpose of God the Father Himself. Indeed, they are the same! And this is because “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (II Corinthians 5:19).
Jesus said this of believers, “My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). Therefore, as believers, we need never say, “If only you had been here…”. Jesus is God and is always with us in the Person of the Holy Spirit. We can be assured that all of God’s workings in our lives and the world around us are for His glory and for the strengthening of our faith. We can know these things because God “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6).
“Come, Lord Jesus” Revelation 22:20
When Israel’s promised Messiah finally came in the person of Jesus Christ, many of the Jews, especially the religious leaders, rejected Him. They refused to believe that this poor carpenter from Nazareth was their long anticipated Savior.
But there were some among them who did believe, and these very last of the Old Testament saints themselves bore witness of their anticipation of God fulfilling His promise of grace through Christ. Clearly, ones like Simeon who was, “waiting for the Consolation of Israel”, to whom, “it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ”, Anna who, “gave thanks to the Lord and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:25-26, 38), Zacharias who praised God for having, “raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David” (1:69), and John the Baptist who leaped for joy in his mother’s womb upon coming into the presence of pregnant Mary, all bear testimony to their living in joyful hope of the coming of Christ, the Messiah.
Indeed Christ has come, and accomplished His great work of redemption on the cross. As such, we don’t live in anticipation of the cross, but are able to look back and see God’s glorious fulfillment of His promise to send the One, Jesus Christ, who would save His people from their sins.
However, just as the Old Testament saints lived in anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s promise, so too we, the saints in the New Testament age, look ahead to the fulfillment of the promise that Jesus will come again, “in that Day, to be admired among all those who believe” (2 Thessalonians 1:10), when “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). As the Old Testament saints lives were lifted up by the promise of the coming Messiah, shouldn’t the promise of Christ coming again lift us up so that we joyfully anticipate Christ’s coming again? Shouldn’t this also affect the way we live?
To start with, we have strong incentive to truly believe this promise because God is a God of truth, and He is not only willing to keep His promises, but He is able to keep them. He is also faithful in keeping His promises. Indeed, He fulfilled His promise to send a Savior, will He not also keep His promise to send Him again? Jesus Himself promised, “I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3).
We should be encouraged by this promise in knowing that the best is yet to come, “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us”, “for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17). “We know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). We also know that our sufferings, afflictions, crosses, and chastenings are in fact preparing us for that great Day of Christ’s return. That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote; “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
We should have a sense of urgency for the lost, knowing that a time is coming when the gospel will no longer be proclaimed and the “Day of Salvation” will come to a close. Let’s continue to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to Adam’s dying race, and labor in prayer for not only our loved ones, but for the nations, confident in the Father’s promise to the Son when He said, “I will give you the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession” (Psalm 2:8).
We should be diligent in the practice of holiness and righteousness. We are exhorted to, “pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14), “knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Romans 13:11-14).
But what of you who do not believe, who are not trusting in Christ alone for you salvation? What will become of you when Christ returns? You who are ignoring His pleas from His ministers to be reconciled to God, to humbly confess your sins, to repent of them, to look to Christ as the One who paid the penalty for your sins, as the One who lived the perfect life you didn’t, wouldn’t, and couldn’t live. If you would only believe, then your sins would be blotted out, and Christ’s righteousness would be credited as if it were your righteousness. But perhaps you can’t because as Jesus said, “no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father” (John 6:44). Should you therefore just throw up your hands and blame God for your unbelief, or should you humbly go to Him and ask that He change your heart and give you faith? Don’t wait; remember, Christ is coming!
Can you by faith say joyfully today, “Come, Lord Jesus”? By God’s grace, may it be so!
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” Proverbs 13:12
In this proverb of Solomon, the world can take no comfort, for it is the curse of darkness and worldliness to be forever lusting and never finally satisfied. The worldly person thinks that “if only” he had this or that then he would be happy, only to find out that what he longed for most is tainted and small. “The hopes of the wicked come to nothing” (Proverbs 10:28b), because hope for the unregenerate man is only a dream, a never to be fulfilled desire for that which will not last.
But for the righteous, God’s chosen people, hope is a surety, a certainty of what they do not yet see. Thus, “the prospect of the righteous is joy” (Proverbs 10:28b), and the happiness of the eternal worship and enjoyment of God in the new heavens and earth will be all the more welcome to the saints who have earnestly longed for it as the crown of their hope. Paul wrote, “I desire to depart and be with Christ” and reminded us that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Philippians 1:23b; 3:20) And again in Romans, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it patiently.” (8:22-25)
The believer’s hope, therefore, is not based on fleeting temporal comforts, but is rooted in the firm knowledge of his future glorification and consummated sanctification, as accomplished in and through Jesus Christ, and as applied by the Holy Spirit through faith. It is to that hope that the apostle Paul directs the expectation of all believers.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians is filled with his greatest exclamations of praise, joy and contentment, and yet was written while imprisoned in a Roman cell. For a child of God to place lasting hope in anything less that the promised fruit of redemption is to hope as the world hopes, in futility. Jesus spoke to His disciples, “Blessed are you who are poor… who hunger now… who weep now…when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven… but woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” (Luke 6:20-24)
Jesus was telling His disciples and all believers that our hope and comfort is not in this world. The present sufferings and disappointments are in fact hallmarks of discipleship and will result in great future rewards. The desire and longing of the wicked for temporal recognition, riches, ease and comfort, however, will at best be temporary and shallow.
Indeed, it is a measure of our sanctification and maturity to see if our desires are progressively finding their fulfillment in that which is eternal over that which is temporal. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Since then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life, appears, then you will also appear with Him in glory.” (3:1-4)
For the Christian, this great, but delayed hope of eternal glory makes the “heart sick”. But one day, the sure “longing fulfilled” will be our eternal partaking of the “tree of life” which will stand on each side of the river, where, “…the water of life, as clear as crystal flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb…” (Revelation 22:1b)
The great reformer John Calvin wrote, “Eternal life is promised to us, but it is when we are dead; we are told of a blessed resurrection, but meanwhile we molder in the dust; we are declared to be justified, and sin dwells in us; we hear that we are blessed, meanwhile we are overwhelmed in endless miseries; we are promised abundance of goods, but we will endure hunger and thirst; God declares He will immediately come to our help, but He seems deaf to our cries. What should we do if we had not faith and hope to lean on, and if our mind did not emerge amidst the darkness above the world by the shining of the Word and the Spirit of God.”