Christ Or Caesar? Theonomy or Autonomy? Liberty or Tyranny?

Christ Or Caesar? Theonomy or Autonomy? Liberty or Tyranny?

These stark choices confront us like a brick in the face as they haven’t for a long time in Western history. They offer us a moral clarity that comes from the blessing of leftist, woke cultural Marxist overreach that began when Barack Obama assumed the presidency in January 2009. That’s not exactly true because the seeds of our current discontents go back to the fall with Satan’s temptation that if we just disobey God we can ourselves become God being able to call the shots about the nature of reality (“knowing good and evil”). That is man, we, could be a law unto ourselves, autonomy, sovereign self-rulers who get to sit on our own little thrones in our own little kingdoms. How’s that working out for us? The more proximate origins of the radical leftism of Obama that began to infect government in America and dominant the culture goes back to the Enlightenment out of which inevitably was to come the current secular Utopia of the modern West. Ain’t it grand!

I say blessing because the constant overreach of the left (they can’t help themselves) is opening eyes to the truth (and I would argue the Truth as well) like no mere words ever could. Events have a persuasive power all their own. When America and the West was nominally Christian as it was since World War II, it was easy for people to live in the mushy middle where the above questions were invisible, as if they were not the ultimate choices that confront us every day. Every person and society must choose Christ or Caesar (the state), God’s law or self-law, and those choices will determine whether we get liberty or tyranny. Christ and God’s law (theonomy) is the only true source of liberty as developed in the West through English common law and the “rights of man” eventually brought to fruition in America. The state ruled by man’s law apart from God can only lead to slavery and tyranny as we see all around us.

Christian Western civilization and the liberty it brought should have never happened. Of course, I’m speaking from a merely human perspective, but it’s a compelling one. The odds of a ragtag crew of manual laborers in a small corner of the Roman Empire eventually turning the world upside down, or should we say right side up, were as close to zero as it is possible to get. From God’s perspective, it was inevitable, baked into the salvific cake. The entire life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God was the inflection point in human history. Literally everything changed, only it didn’t look like it, at all. On a societal level we witness a specific moment in Jesus’ ministry with mustard seed significance (Matt. 13:31-32).

Jesus is confronted by his enemies (Mark 12, Matt. 22) with what they thought was a question that would land him in hot water with the Jews and Romans; there should have been no third option. Jesus’ reply was completely unexpected, as was normal with Jesus. They asked if the Jews should pay tax to Caesar knowing if he said yes, he would be condemned by Jews, and if no, by Roman authorities. It was one or the other, they thought. But Jesus surprised them by asking whose likeness and inscription was on the coin, which he obviously knew. When they told him Caesar’s, he replied: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Thus political reality changed forever in the Western world. Yes, it took the slow outworking of this principle for almost 1,800 years to finally see what the full fruition of this principle would look like, but it started that day.

Jesus was saying the state (the ruler, the king, the Caesar) could no longer be the ultimate source of authority because the state is accountable to God and whose role is to dispense justice based on God’s law. Prior to that moment everything belonged to Caesar. The entire messy history of Western civilization is the story of the triumph of Christianity and God’s law over paganism and man’s law, and justice based on the rule of law or the will to power, might makes right. We’ve come full circle in the twenty first century where the modern form of paganism, secularism, makes the same claims as Caesar did: everything belongs to the state. There are some Christians who think the Christian faith is not or doesn’t have to be “political,” that somehow it can exist apart from the political, how we are governed and by what standard. That is impossible.

We see an example of why it is when Christians of the early church refused to say, “Caesar is Lord,” and many paid with their blood. To say, “Jesus is Lord” is ultimately political because he is the Lord over all of reality, as Paul tells us in Ephesians 1, “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” All means kings and presidents and prime ministers and governors, you name it, all. This was accepted and not in the least controversial in all of Western Christendom until the twentieth century when the Pac Man of secularism gobbled everything up and declared, thou shalt have no other gods before me! I wrote about Joe Boot’s response to the CBC hit piece against the Ezra Institute in my last post, and so loved his conclusion I wanted to share it here. Few Christians, let alone non-Christians, understand what Christ’s Lordship looks like over all of life, including the state and its laws and how we are governed. Boot does a great of distilling this in two paragraphs, and it applies not just to Canada or America or the West, but to the nations, all of them, as the Bible consistently declares.

The West has long been in revolution against God’s law, repealing it from the statute books for about seventy years i.e., divorce law, family law, sabbath law, blasphemy law, marriage law, abortion law, laws about euthanasia, murder, rape, taxation etc. Faithful Christians prophetically propose, not impose, a return to the Ten Commandments and the guidance of God in all Scripture for civil governments, which takes us right back to the first codification of English law and beginnings of the English Common law tradition under Alfred the Great. We do not believe that biblical truth and law can be imposed on a secular non-Christian culture unwilling to hear or obey. We believe in the need to evangelize, teach, engage and reshape socio-cultural and political life in faithfulness to Christ so that, over time, civil law will return to its biblical foundations as a Christian people insist on righteous laws.

Theocracy simply means ‘God’s rule,’ and the living God has always dealt with humanity in terms of a true or false theocracy – the worship of God or idols – in terms of the standards of His Word. As the Scripture says, “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34). Today’s Canada is the theocracy of a false god where ‘man enlarged’ in the state is the ‘divine voice’ and pretended source of all law and authority, redefining life, marriage, family, identity and sexuality by political fiat. If to oppose that pagan religious ideal makes us dangerous fundamentalists, so be it. Take your stand with Christ or Caesar.

 

Heart of Stone and Flesh, and a Valley of Dry Bones

Heart of Stone and Flesh, and a Valley of Dry Bones

I can’t be reading through the Bible and just pass Ezekiel 36 and 37 without comment. It has to be among my favorite passages in Scripture because it so wonderfully captures the monergistic nature of God’s working in us as I understand our salvation from sin. The word comes from a Greek compound meaning “one” and “energy.” Applied to our salvation it simply means it is God’s work alone from beginning to end (1 Cor. 1:30, Jesus is our righteousness and our sanctification). It’s contrast is synergism which means combined or together energy, and it indicates salvation is a cooperative work between man and God. It’s hard to argue for synergism when you read these passages. I know most Christians are synergists, but that doesn’t make it true. Deep down all Christians are monergists because they know they didn’t and can’t save themselves. It is obvious that somehow our decision making and will are involved, but the degree to which those determine what ultimately happens is the issue.

These are deep and ultimately mysterious questions, so being too dogmatic gets us into trouble. I Corinthians 8:2 is a good verse to commit to memory when discussing or thinking about these things. None of us can come close to understanding the being or ways of an infinite God. It’s unwise to think we can. How does God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom work so God can decree and cause or allow something to happen (a distinction without a difference because he’s responsible for it either way)? Nobody has the faintest idea. We just know from the plain witness of Scripture both are true. People will often bring up the concept of “free will,” but such a thing doesn’t exist. I was once explaining Calvinist soteriology (the nature of salvation from sin) to someone who didn’t accept it, and she said, what about free will? I responded, there is nothing in the Bible about free will, not a single thing. It’s not a biblical concept. She was taken aback at first, but eventually had to agree with me. As I was thinking about this I decided I would write a separate post about that, so I won’t explain my thinking about it here.

The reason the Calvinist position is so powerful in these passages is because of the images God uses to reveal the nature of salvation through Ezekiel. The context is historical Israel and God’s judgement against their wickedness driving them out of the promised land, then bringing them back and transforming them in the process. It is important to understand in reading the prophetic testimony of Scripture that God is always weaving historical and eschatological realities into the text, and it’s often a challenge deciphering which is which. Much of the time it’s both, as in these passages. To say something only applies to historical Israel or only to those saved from their Sin by the risen Jesus leads to distorting the meaning of the text.

The first image from chapter 36 is one most Christians are familiar with, and the words and phrases God uses speak powerfully to the Isaiah 53 nature of our salvation from sin.

24 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

The contrast between stone and flesh could not be any greater, one inert, hard, lifeless, the other the center of beating life itself. God replaces the former with the latter, and does not ask our permission to do it. Once it’s done, we choose him, not before. Stone does not choose. A comparable image is death. As Paul says, “the wages of is death” (Rom. 6:23), a la God’s declaration to Adam if he eats of the tree he “will surely die.” Also, prior to Christ, we were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), and he “made us alive even when we were dead in transgressions” (Eph. 2:5). Dead people, hearts of stone, don’t make choices to raise themselves, hearts of flesh. Verse 31 confirms the nature of this change:

31 Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices.

It is only the Holy Spirit transforming the heart with the conviction of sin and the need of a Savior that confirms the transformation is real. God changes our affections from self and sin to Him and holiness, thus we loathe because we now know, and accept, how infinitely we fall short of the holiness of God required for a relationship to him. Because Jesus fully absorbed God’s wrath for our sins we are clean from all our impurities (I John 1:9).

The second image from chapter 37 is of a valley of dry, very dry bones God brings back to life. It’s a thrilling passage as you contemplate the almighty power of God, a God who raises the dead, including our dead spiritual selves, a God who does the impossible. As the Lord is leading Ezekiel back and forth in this valley he sees massive numbers of these very dry bones. He asks him a question with a seemingly obvious answer: “Son of man, can these bones live?” Of course not, they’re dead! Ezekiel gives the right answer, “O you Lord God know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Lord God says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

Notice the power of our God who can simply decree what to us is an impossible thing, I will, I will, I will, and it happens! Notice also the echo of the you will the same perfectly biblical three times—when God wills, we will! Our Almighty God never tries. We see this same almighty power in Genesis 1 where our Creator God is revealed to us as the one who simply says, and it is.

Then Ezekiel describes how this bringing life out of death happens, watching as the bones make a rattling sound and come together, bone to bone, tendons and flesh magically appearing as skin covers them. He watches as the Lord sends a wind that breathes life into them “that they may live.” That is our God! He makes the dead alive, in his first advent spiritually, and when he returns he will raise all His people physically and bodily at the resurrection of the dead (I Cor. 15).

The Lord tells Ezekiel, “these bones are the people of Israel,” God’s people, us! I reference Matthew 1:21 here all the time because our God is a God who actually saves, not a God who tries to save or makes salvation possible. Jesus is given his name “because he will save his people from their sins.” There it is again, he will! Then to Ezekiel, the Lord says twice the exact same words, a promise to His People, that he will “open your graves and bring you up from them.” His will to raise us physically, bodily, as he raised Jesus from the dead is our forever hope. We can take that to the eternal bank!

 

 

 

Uninvented: Jeremiah Doesn’t Make Up the New Covenant

Uninvented: Jeremiah Doesn’t Make Up the New Covenant

There are so many angles to the uninvented argument, and one of the most important is theological, something I don’t get into much in the book. The Bible looked at in 20/20 Jesus Hindsight is theological genius (see Luke 24), and I would argue impossible to be made up by human beings and mere human imagination. It is stunning when you consider the consistency of Genesis to Revelation written over approximately a 1500-year timespan by 40 or so different authors. Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with a bit of Aramaic thrown in (the language of the Babylonians similar to Hebrew that became the language of the Jews by Jesus’ time), and the New Testament in Greek. Yet through all that time and with all those differences, the coherence of the message is astonishing. It’s almost as if there was a “conspiracy” of an Almighty all-knowing God who decided to reveal himself and his plans to his creatures this way through the words of men. In fact, it is the only logical and plausible explanation for the Bible. Mere human invention doesn’t read this way, and it’s not even close.

Which brings me to Jeremiah 31. In my reading through this time I was struck by how impossible it would have been for these words to have been made up by Jeremiah or anyone else:

31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“     and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

To understand how impossible it would be for a human being to make this up you have to be familiar with redemptive history. It is critical for Christians to know their redemptive history because it is only that context that gives all the details their psychological, emotional, and transforming power in our lives. The main subject of the Old Testament is Israel, or God’s covenant people. Their entire 1500-year history would point forward to the true Israel, Jesus (Matt. 2:13–15). Jesus was also the second or the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45-49). What these two, Adam and Israel, had in common was that they failed the test, which points to why a Jeremiah 31 type of salvation was necessary, one that would be inner, spiritual, and transformational verses one based on external obedience to the law.

 Man, created as man and woman, was given a dominion mandate to rule over God’s abundant, and good, created order (Gen. 1:26-28). This is also called the cultural mandate, and the purpose whichever term is used, is to bring God’s kingdom rule (thy kingdom come thy will be done (Matt. 6:9-13), to earth. Adam failed miserably in his assignment (it was his fault the serpent was in the garden and able to tempt the woman in the first place), as we read about the fall in Genesis 3. The seed that would crush the serpent’s head was God’s promise of the good news to come in his Son, who would be God himself come to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). First, there would be a period of time leading eventually to God calling Abram from Ur of the Chaldeans, and founding the people of Israel through his offspring.

 After the little blip of 430 years in Egypt (God is never in a hurry), most of that time in slavery, God in the Exodus rescued his people from slavery to bring them into a land of their own and introduce them to His law. They were also introduced to the blessings of obedience and curses of disobedience (Deut. 11) to God’s law. That didn’t turn out well. Starting with the book of Judges, it’s all downhill. But what’s the point of the miserable failings of the Israelites? To show us just what horrible sinners they were? No! They are us! That is the message of Israel, that our own obedience to God’s perfect law is impossible for fallen sinners alienated from God. But God wants to bless His people, so He in the person of Christ obeyed God’s law perfectly in our place, so that we by mere faith, by trust in Jesus, can have Christ’s righteousness, God’s very own righteousness as our righteousness! (Rom. 3)

 Which brings us to Jeremiah 31. The two covenants are fundamentally different, but the same. They are the progressive outworking of one eternal covenant in the Triune God, one promise to Adam and Eve, eventually leading to one legal, covenant agreement between God with Abram in Genesis 12. Since Abram was childless, he asked the Lord God how he could know His promises would come true. He, like all of us, needed some sign, some evidence. So the Lord told him to get some animals and He performed a ceremony with Abram showing He would accomplish both sides of the covenant promise since no human being or group of human beings could attain what was required, which was the perfect righteousness of God. That would require, as we see here in Jeremiah 31, the forgiveness of sins, the reconciliation of a holy God and sinful man. That was accomplished in Christ’s body given for us on a tree. We are told through Isaiah (53) 700 years before it happened how this would be accomplished:

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.

 And some 600 years before anyone would have a clue what this meant, God through Jeremiah tells us. God himself in and because of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit (given to the church, His people at Pentecost, Acts 2) would transform their the hearts and minds, completely changing their inner being from one of hostility to God to love for Him and His law (I John 4:19, we love because he first loved us). The only way this inner transformation could take place is if our sin was paid for, and God’s wrath fully satisfied (propitiation). God would now no longer be hostile toward us because our sin, our offense against him, was wiped away, Christ become our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:31).

 None of this could have been known or predicted until Jesus rose from the dead. He rebuked the disciples on the road to Emmaus on the first Easter Sunday because they didn’t understand that the entire Old Testament was about Him, and told the rest of the disciples the same thing later as he ate with them (Luke 24). Now we know from Jeremiah that our affections have been completely changed from self to God, from our desires to His law, and we now know Him in Christ our Savior and Lord. And we all want to now go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and far away!

 

Isaiah 61: A Planting of the Lord

Isaiah 61: A Planting of the Lord

In a recent post I made the case that the Lord is our salvation because He is our righteousness, that we can’t save ourselves. Isaiah 61 makes that same point beautifully, that our salvation is wholly the work of God. This Christian theological fact is what separates Christianity from every other religion on earth because they are man-made religions. When human beings invent a religion, man works his way to God and acceptance with God (or the gods), and thus puts God in his debt. God then owes man acceptance because of what he’s done. Because we are born sinners, we are all born “religious,” meaning we think we can earn God’s favor with our works. Christianity, however, declares we are born dead in our sin, alienated and hostile to God and can do absolutely nothing to attain his favor unless God takes the initiative to save us and transform our dead stone hearts to living hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

The first words of Isaiah 61 have profound significance in redemptive history because they are spoken by Jesus near the beginning of his ministry to accomplish the salvation of His people. We read in Luke 4 that he visited his hometown of Nazareth where he had been brought up and was teaching in the synagogue. News about him had spread throughout the whole countryside of Galilee, so we have to imagine there was great anticipation to see what the hubbub was all about. He gets up to read and the scroll of this passage in Isaiah is providentially given to him:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

When he hands the scroll back to the attendant and sits down, Luke says, “The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.” It feels dramatic and we’re waiting for something to happen, and his next words seem to indicate this is it: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” But the people don’t respond to these astonishing words. Maybe the words were not seen as directly Messianic, I’m not sure, but what he says next really gets them ticked off. For some reason, we’re not told, he says, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown,” and then uses the story of Elijah doing miracles only for non-Jews. They were so furious they ran him out of town and tried to throw him off a cliff! You just don’t make stuff like that up!

Jesus had only started his ministry so he walked right through them and left, but his words to these Jews in his hometown were prophetic. You will notice he had stopped the Isaiah quotation mid-sentence and left out these words: “and the day of vengeance of our God.” That vengeance would come against the Jews who will reject their Messiah 40 years later with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and will come at the end of time with the judgment of the living and the dead. Until then it’s all good news, the gospel of the kingdom, of reconciliation and forgiveness of sins, of mercy and grace in Christ. And all of this is of God as we read in verse 3: 

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

Oaks of righteousness is an interesting phrase. If we think of Oak trees it brings to mind strength and stability, something not easily moved. If our salvation was our doing, we would be weeds, not oaks. As it is, our helplessness is more than clear in the passage. The “they” referred to are those Jesus came to proclaim this good news to, those who are poor, prisoners, blind, and oppressed. What is it that has people in such a state? Sin. Alienation from God, their Creator and ours.

These words indicate what Calvinists call total depravity, the utter inability of sinners to save themselves. We’re not sick in our sin, we’re dead in our sin. Big difference. Being poor and oppressed is something we could possibly address by our own efforts, but if we’re blind, there is nothing we can do to make ourselves see, and if we’re in prison, nothing we can do to set ourselves free. It’s all God, all of it, including our faith, our decisions, our will, our affections, He transforms our entire being by the almighty power of his Holy Spirit that our lives might be “for the display of his splendor.”  

In New Testament hindsight we know there is a direct connection between “the year of the Lord’s favor” and being an oak of righteousness, “a planting of the Lord.” The Apostle Paul tells us how in Romans 3:

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

We trust in Jesus, and the very righteousness of God is ours! That is why we are at this very moment “oaks of righteousness.” It literally has nothing to do with us! Is that the best news ever or what! This is no longer something we have to try to attain by our own efforts and works, the “religion” I spoke of above. The pressure is off. We no longer have to worry about measuring up to something we can never measure up to anyway. He himself will plant us for our good and his glory. No human beings could ever make up such a religion because it goes against the grain of every inclination of the human religious heart. All grace and mercy? That makes no sense! It is revealed to us that it is true, praise be to God.

The last two verses of the chapter are the icing on God’s sovereign salvific cake:

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
    my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
    and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
    to sprout up before all the nations.

Isn’t it incredible that instead of fearing God and always worrying that we’re just not good enough, that we’re not pulling this Christian thing off like we think we should, we can rejoice in the Lord God because He clothes and covers us? The right answer is yes! It turns “religion” on its head, upside down, inside out, and why Christianity could never, ever, be invented, be a figment of human imagination, mere fiction. If we did make it up, we would never, ever make it this easy. We are completely His work for the display of His splendor, thanks be to God!

 

The Lord Himself is Our Salvation

The Lord Himself is Our Salvation

I’ve concluded over these four plus decades as a Christian talking and listening to many Christians, that no matter what tradition they come from or their theological convictions, they are all Calvinists. What I mean by that is they all realize, every single one of them, they can’t save themselves from their sins; it is God alone who has saved them and is saving them. It’s just too obvious to any honest person who has a real relationship with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, that they are sinners, hopeless, pathetic sinners in need of a Savior who actually saves, not a Savior who just makes salvation possible or theoretical. That is Calvinism. There is no need to try to figure out God’s sovereignty and free will. They’re both true and well beyond our ability to comprehend. Every Christian knows, every one of us, that “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost,” (Luke 19:10), and that he was given the name Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). He will not try, he will.

This has become even more clear to me reading through the Old Testament again, now into Jeremiah. The message God is communicating loud and clear is the inability of God’s people to save themselves, the premise of the entire Calvinist theological system. Over and over God commands, and his people do the opposite. They are pathetic. As I wrote recently, the stories of the people of Israel have to be of God and true because no ancient people make themselves look so horribly bad unless it was true. And before we get all judgmental and feeling superior, those stories are about us! And deep down every true Christian knows it. The reason is because at Pentecost Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). His job is to reveal to us the guilt of our sin and that we can’t save ourselves, that we need a Savior. I’ve never met a true Christian in my life who thinks they are their own Savior. I’m not too concerned about how they think that all works, unless they’re interested in my opinion. I just know if Jesus is their Savior, if they realize they can’t save themselves from their own sin, we’re on the same team.

From the very beginning when God promised the seed or offspring of the woman would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3), the plan was for God to save his people from their sins, not make salvation possible for all people. Since He saved me, raised me from the dead when I was at the bottom of the spiritual ocean, I trust His salvation. I couldn’t choose Him, He chose me. Therefore, my confidence is wholly in Him. No matter how wretched I am, I know He has saved me from my sins, all of them, past, present, and future. I am Israel! I like them get to the end of the story in Malachi, and then silence. Until the messenger comes and points to the One, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Isaiah points forward to Jesus as God our Savior in Isaiah 7. The Lord is telling King Ahaz to trust him to save them from their geopolitical enemy, and to ask Him for a sign. Ahaz refuses to “put the Lord to the test,” and the Lord rebukes him saying, alright then, I’ll give you a sign whether you ask for it or not!

14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

When you read these few verses about this son they seem completely out of place, but God is always interspersing prophetic utterances about a spiritual salvation to come with geopolitical Israel. The name given to this son the virgin conceives means “God with us,” and we now know this was the Messiah Jesus who was God himself in human flesh. Jews would never, ever have interpreted the name that way. The Messiah had God with him, along side him in battle like any king—he would never be God himself. That’s why Jews don’t make up Jesus of Nazareth, the word made flesh.

Then in a brutal passage in Isaiah 63, verses 1-6, the Lord is proclaiming himself coming in judgment “mighty to save.” A salvation of wrath drenched in blood is a very strange salvation, as He says, “the day of vengeance.” That doesn’t make any sense until you realize in Christian hindsight that the spiritual salvation to come includes both judgment, wrath, and righteousness. Here the Lord tells us only He can pull that one off:

I looked, but there was no one to help,
I was appalled that no one gave support;
so my own arm achieved salvation for me,
and my own wrath sustained me.

Notice the past tense. In the eternal sovereign council of the Triune God this salvation has already been accomplished. His prophetic words through His prophets are as good as already done.

Then in Jeremiah 23 we get a glimpse into the full picture of the nature of this salvation when we read of a Righteous Branch. The Lord condemns “the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of” his pasture, and says He in effect will become their shepherd, of course pointing forward to Jesus, the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. Then we read:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteousness.

No Jew could conceive that Yahweh himself would be the atonement, or propitiation, for our sins, even though Isaiah 53 gives a very strong hint of just that. And it isn’t only that he will pay the penalty for our sins, i.e., death, and take God’s wrath for us, but that he will be “our righteousness.” What does that mean?

I heard Tim Killer say many times, Jesus died the death we should have died, and He lived the life we should have lived. Jesus not only died for us, but He also lived for us. Just as our sin was imputed to Christ on the cross, his perfect sinless life was imputed to us as well. This is why the Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 1:

30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, sanctification and redemption.

This became the most important verse in my life after more than three decades as a Christian when I finally realized I am Israel! No matter how hard I try, no matter what I do, I can’t pull it off. I fail over and over and over again. I am, I know it’s shocking, a sinner! And being a sinner I sin, also shocking. Sinning is what sinners do. But we are born that way, all of us. Isn’t it obvious? This is what makes “The Lord Our Righteousness” so powerful.

Here is the realization I came to: I can never be more acceptable to God than I am in Christ my righteousness no matter what I do or don’t do. I used to think, sort of, that God would like me a little bit more if I did this or didn’t do that. Nope! And I found that the gratitude that flows out of this grace, this unmerited favor, makes me want to be more righteous! I’m just not very good at it, but I keep trying. So I repent daily, and thank God that I don’t have to save myself.

 

Song of Songs and the Bride of Christ

Song of Songs and the Bride of Christ

Some Christians in church history, and maybe even today, are a bit embarrassed by the Song of Songs because it is so overtly sexual. Some try to allegorize it; the early church fathers were especially fond of this approach, or they might completely spiritualize it because they were uncomfortable with human sexuality. It’s kind of hard not to be because of all the good gifts God has given his creatures, sex is very often perverted and abused, and in ways that cause so much pain and misery. But human sexuality is an unqualified good meant for our pleasure and the propagation of the species, and there is nothing shameful about it in the proper, marital context between a man and a woman. It is a beautiful, private experience that creates pleasure and life. Although it creates more of the former than the latter, I believe we must never divorce one from the other, but that’s a topic for another post. For this one I want to focus on its meaning for Jesus and his Church.

That doesn’t mean I’m spiritualizing the text. My reading through it this time profoundly impressed upon me both the creational (I was tempted to write “natural” but I try not to use that word anymore because secularism has made it imply “without God.”) and the spiritual aspects of the text. The theme of the book is love, depending on the translation used 25 to 50 times, between a lover and his beloved. It reminded me of something I was fortunate enough to experience in my life, but thankfully no longer have to—infatuation, being gratefully married for almost 36 years. The lover and beloved are obsessed with one another, can’t help but think about each other all the time. If you are not currently in that state of distraction, do you remember the times in life you were? If the other person reciprocated, wasn’t the sky bluer, the grass greener, wasn’t your step lighter, didn’t you wake up quicker in anticipation of seeing that person who you were thinking about all the time? How wonderful is that!

Thankfully, the giddiness is temporary. Who could live that way their entire life! Novelty always wears off when reality sets in, which is of course when true I Corinthians 13 love begins. True love, long lasting love, love that works, is a verb, not an emotion, as wonderful as the emotion can be. God in the Song of Songs is letting us know that giddiness is a good thing! To be enjoyed in its fleeting joy. And the sexual consummation of that giddiness in marriage, and only in marriage, is beautiful, holy, and good. Solomon leaves no doubt right out of the gate:

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
for your love is more delightful than wine.
Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;
your name is like perfume poured out.
No wonder the young women love you!
Take me away with you—let us hurry!
Let the king bring me into his chambers.

And he’s only getting started! I won’t delve further into the details of the text, but suffice it to say, the lovers will enjoy carnal knowledge before the night is out.

But that’s only the obvious meaning of the book. What may not be so obvious is the spiritual meaning. Solomon uses the word bride six times, but doesn’t use husband or groom once. And each time he uses the word bride, he says, “my bride,” as if she is his possession, which indeed she is, as is the husband of the bride. But in the Christian understand of marriage and the family, the man is in effect the owner of the relationship, and the one primarily responsible for its success. I wonder if saying something like that might get me banned from Twitter. I sure hope so because it’s as counter cultural in our secular woke day as can be. To our woke leftist elites patriarchy is repressive and toxically masculine. How dare you say the man is the man of the house, the leader, the one God has tasked with the success and safety and support of the marriage and the family. Well, I say it, loudly and proudly! It is biblical, God ordained. And it is the way marriages and families work best, the way they flourish and produce solid citizens.

But this is much more significant than what works and is counter cultural in the moment (we need to make it cultural again!). It is a metaphor for Christ and his marriage bride, the church. The idea of marital faithfulness between the Lord and his people is a consistent theme throughout the Old Testament so it doesn’t surprise it is carried into the New. Paul addresses this most directly in Ephesians 5 as he discusses the relationship between wives and husbands:

31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

There is something about the union of a man and a woman in marriage who in some way become spiritually one being, one flesh, and this in some way communicates the relationship between Christ and his church. It’s almost like when Paul uses the phrase “great mystery” he knows something that is in mere human terms impossible to communicate. As a man and woman become one being, so does Christ with his church. We are part of him, and he is part of us. Even as we are unique beings, we are a united being who becomes one entity share in the essence of the other. In writing this I feel the futility Paul must have felt trying to convey this mystery.

Which brings me back to Solomon’s Song of Songs. The giddiness of infatuation we experience in a novel romantic relationship that is consummated in marriage is like our relationship to Christ. As a man pursues a maiden, Jesus pursued us, and loved us with a love unto death. It is the kind of love men are called to for their wives as Paul says in Ephesians 5. In a way, Jesus is infatuated with us! I know, it’s hard to fathom, but it’s true. Remember what the writer to the Hebrews said, that for the joy set before him Jesus endured the cross. We are that joy! This is something to remember next time you go to a wedding.