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    ARTICLES

      ReadyForTheDefensePhotoSmall

By Bradley J. Powers, Pastor

Click on photo to download a .pdf file


“TO THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY”: UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION AND THE GLORY OF GOD

 The following is a synopsis of the first of two messages delivered at Highview Baptist Church in Huntsville on October 14, 2005 as part of a “Biblical Preaching Conference”. This is based on my notes; the actual message delivered will of course differ a little!

 INTRODUCTION:

I once had the opportunity to observe a Grade 3 classroom where a teacher led the class in a math drill she called a “math train”: slowly the teacher gave a series of arithmetic operations, while the students worked out the answer step by step – whether they did it in their heads or on paper I cannot recall. The “trains” were at least 5 operations long, perhaps longer: what struck me was obviously not the details but the realization that if the best of students “aced” the string of operations, doing each correctly, except the first one, the answer would be very wrong.

The challenge in looking at these doctrines, that have become controversial (although there is no evidence that they were such in Scripture) is to make sure the starting point is right. On one level, I believe that Pastor Muller’s sessions on Total Depravity are for that reason vital: if we understand, and take seriously, that teaching on the damage caused by sin, then he has already made the case for the doctrine I am attempting to demonstrate: for if we are so badly damaged in every part by sin that we are totally depraved, on what condition could election occur?

But in fact, behind even that, there is a starting point that I believe is more fundamental yet – at least, it was basic to my own shifting opinions many years ago when first introduced to these themes: I did not start my acceptance of election as biblical with the doctrine of election, but with a growing understanding of the glory of the sovereign God.

I intend to use Ephesians 1:6 as a key text for both of these studies, where Paul asserts that this act of God in redemption is to the praise of the glory of His grace. In this first study, we will consider the connection between election and the glory of God; and Lord willing in the second study, we will consider election and the grace of God. This first study will explore Ephesians 1:3-6.

 1. Election is a blessing for which we bless God

As much as it may present difficulties for us, the Lord Jesus Himself praised the Father for His acts of hiding and revealing these things in Matthew 11:25-27. Whatever is revealed here in Scripture is designed to stimulate our thanksgiving and praise.

We bless God for this because we do not deserve His attention. In Ephesians 2:4-5, Paul highlights God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace are ye saved). Begin by seeking to understand our condition outside of Christ (for example, Ephesians 2:1-3, 11-12 and 4:17-19, and see also Romans 3:9-20), and quickly we will see that the only attention we deserved was that of His just indignation.

We must beware making any conclusions as to what is praiseworthy. It is far too easy to conclude that there is something distasteful to me about a doctrine, and therefore conclude that it cannot be. We must work the other way around: Paul tells us that what he is about to discuss is a blessing in Christ; now we must look at what it is he says about it.

 2. God chose us

First, notice that “God” is the subject of the sentence, the One doing the action indicated by the verb. Election is a specific application of God’s sovereign rule over all creation. God will not give His glory to another, as Isaiah pointed out (Isa.42:8; and compare: Isaiah 14:24, 27; 46:9-11; 55:11). It is this God who has acted.

Second, notice that “chosen” is the action: not “accepted our choice”. God is not passive: compare John 15:16. We can find help by considering the examples found in the Old Testament, which are a pattern: i) Jacob over Esau: the point in Romans 9:10-12: this choice was before birth so that there can be no question about it being God’s free choice, not based on something in Jacob or Esau; ii) Israel: compare Moses’ repeated insistence that God chose Israel for God’s reasons – His love and faithfulness – not because anything was attractive to God about the people: Deuteronomy 7:6-8 – not because great; Deuteronomy 8:18 – not because prosperous; Deuteronomy 9:4-6 – not because righteous; Deuteronomy 10:15 – not for a good heart!

This is what lies behind the term unconditional election: if God chose us because of something in us, it is not really a free choice on His part: for example, in an election, on what basis do you cast your vote? If you wait until you hear the candidates, evaluate their positions, check their references and so on, that is conditional – based on real or perceived qualities, or perhaps on your best guess on what the candidate will do. If, however, you are going to vote for the conservative candidate, even if you must hold your nose while doing so, even if you don’t know his name, that is unconditional: the choice you make is based on something in you – your inherent conservatism – not something in the candidate: he may even be entirely unworthy.

Finally, notice that “us” is the object: it is simple and personal. That is, God chose a people for His name, not merely a plan for those who choose to become His people. Paul does not say “He chose holiness for those who would be in Christ” but “He chose us in Christ to be holy”.

 3. Chosen “in Him”

One of the key points of Ephesians 1 is that all salvation is “in Christ”. By this Paul means that God is gracious only in view of the merit and work of Christ, for by that blood there is atonement for sin and resulting forgiveness. God cannot look with favour on a sinner outside of Christ. Therefore election is only “in Him”: that we are seen through Christ, and “accepted in the Beloved”.

This means that when we speak about God’s choice, the entire process, with the means of redemption through His blood, is in view. Election does not answer the question, “How is a person saved?” It addresses the question, “Why is a person saved, given the reality and horror of our sin?” Election does not contradict or eliminate the need for believing the Gospel, but in fact provides for it, as Paul notes in Ephesians 1:12-13. In 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, he emphatically states the means – chosen to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.

Therefore election becomes known to us when a person believes. Paul knew the Thessalonians’ election because when he preached, his message was powerful, and they believed (1 Thes.1:4-10)! He did not need to know if they were elect in order to offer the Gospel; but they needed to be elect in order to respond to it.

 

 4. Before the Foundation of the World

 

The next point is that a time is assigned to election. Although obviously God sees time differently than we do, Paul uses the word “before”, which puts the matter in terms of time as we see it. This time element is designed to underline that the choice does belong freely to God, because we weren’t there! This is the point of election before Jacob and Esau were born in Romans 9:10-12: the children had as yet done nothing. Similar terms are used in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Timothy 1:9; Revelation 13:8 and 17:8. There is nothing in us – not even “foreknowledge” of our faith – that could serve as a basis for our salvation.

 5. That we should be Holy

The underlying point is that salvation is designed in such a way that all the glory belongs to the Lord. This means, as we have seen so far, that the impetus for salvation rests entirely with God. Now Paul adds that it also has great impact on the direction salvation takes. Because it is all of God, the purpose that it serves is God’s purpose. We know why we need to be saved – to escape wrath; but why will God save sinners?

If the purposes are His, then they will demand holiness, because God is holy. So we are chosen through sanctification of the Spirit (2 Thes.2:13). When we are exhorted to make our calling and election sure, it is done through diligence in growth in grace (2 Peter 1:8-10). If our understanding of this doctrine does not make us care about holiness, we have not understood it. For this reason, Paul uses the believers’ being “elect of God” to urge them to pursue holiness (see Colossians 3:12).

6. According to His Will — To the Praise of His Glory

Therefore Paul reaches his conclusion: what the Father has planned is to the praise of the glory of His grace. This means, first of all, that there is no glory to those who evangelize, which Paul makes explicit in 1 Corinthians 1:18-30. There is no evangelist who is capable of overcoming the “foolishness” of the world, be he never so eloquent (1 Cor.2:14). Nonetheless, some are saved: why? Paul’s explanation is that God has called them (1 Cor.1:24). Why does He do it this way? 1 Corinthians  1:27-29: that no flesh should glory in His presence. This is God’s aim: that His glory alone be praised in salvation; therefore election completely removes all grounds of self-salvation and boasting.

In addition, there is no glory to those who receive mercy: Romans 9:14-24. It is not of anyone except God, so all the focus is on His glorious mercy. He is the Creator, and therefore deserves all the credit: it is “not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph.2:9).

 Conclusion: Romans 11:33-36

Obviously, nothing said here clears up all the questions that swirl around this doctrine. The aim of this brief synopsis is simply to show that when election is taught in the Scripture, it is in order to bring all glory to God. To glorify God is the purpose of all creation: everything is “of Him and through Him and to Him”, to whom be glory forever.

But it is also the desire of every Christian. Our drive is to see God receive the glory due unto His Name. We are intensely distressed by the refusal of our world to acknowledge Him. In His mighty work of salvation, God receives His rightful place, and we take ours – refusing to boast, we give all glory to His Name, and declare boldly, “salvation is of the Lord”.

 

 

 

Malachi: True Worship: The Fruit of the Knowledge of God (1:6-2:9)

A message presented to the Canadian Carey Family Conference, 2004, by Pastor Brad Powers

  Introductory:

One of my favorite quotes on worship is by John Piper: it is  actually on subject of missions: at beginning of Let the Nations Be Glad Piper says Missions is not ultimate: worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. This quote, in turn, is rooted in the “Shorter Catechism's answer to the question, “what is the Chief End of Man?”: the answer: Chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Behind all this stands Deuteronomy 6:4-5, where we are to love the Lord with all heart, soul, mind, strength.

But the sad reality is that, even among those who believe (or at least claim to believe) the Gospel, worship can languish:

·Worship is not natural: we are not inclined since Eden to give God His due: Romans 1:30 calls us “haters of God”· Selfish goals: flip side of unnatural worshippers is that we easily worship ourselves: god is our belly; we even pray to consume answers on our lusts (see Ph.3:19; James 4:1ff): Jesus has harsh words for those who turn alms and prayers into a showpiece to build a religious reputation· Distraction: Jesus rebukes Pharisees and others for their hypersensitivity to counting mint leaves while neglecting weightier matters of the law: God desires mercy and not sacrifice! Is it possible that in our haste to make sure the form of our worship is correct, free from the silliness that passes for worship in our time, that we may neglect its heart? It is possible to be heartlessly serious in worship!· Ignorance: in Josiah’s day, they were shocked to realize they had neglected the Feast of Tabernacles for generations: due to neglect of regular reading of the Law, they had no idea what God wanted. True worship has an impact on form, but true worship cannot be reduced to correct form; and where forms are questioned, the reasons for bad form may run much more deeply: Piper would modify the answer to the Shorter Catechism to say “glorify God by enjoying Him forever”; Malachi at least leads us to see that we will never glorify God unless He is our delight: and with that, we have returned to Deuteronomy 6: to love the Lord with all our heart is the necessary foundation and motivation for true worship.

We begin in our text with the corrupt worship, and work backwards from that to true worship.  

 

 A. CORRUPT WORSHIP

1. Its Practice

Malachi 1:7-14 outlines at least three symptoms of the corrupt worship that so angered God amongst the people:

·Polluted, unworthy animals offered on the altar (1:7-8) – no honor due unto the Lord. It is important to realize that in Malachi the issue is not ignorance: as the Lord points out, they would not dare to offer these sacrifices to the Governor. They know it is wrong – but they do not believe God is worth more honor than that: a blind or lame animal is sufficient for the God they imagine

·Weary priests (1:13) – no joy in service, which in turn dishonors God. The priests again are not ignorant in this case: they know their duty; but it has become onerous duty. The sun rises and streams through the priest’s window, and a sinking feeling comes over him as he realizes he must pack his lunch, go to the Temple, and slit the throat of the morning sacrifice; and if there is a line-up, no way he will be done at the altar before the first pitch! To borrow the New Testament language, God’s commands have become a grievous burden to the very servants privileged to serve.

·Careless people (1:14) – no concern for God’s interests in worship. In fact, the people have adopted a “practical atheism”, where they conduct themselves as if God does not see, care or act in response to their sin.

In a shocking contrast, Mal.1:14 points to the underlying justification of dishonoring God by noting that the heathen recognize the Lord of hosts to be a great King, having a dreadful Name – but His own people cannot see it! They are living in a provincial backwater under Persian rule in a pitiful city surrounded by reminders of glory, but no actual glory.

2. Its Justification (in the minds of men)

·God does not love us: in 1:2 Malachi represents the people’s reaction to the statement that the Lord loves them: they are tired. Malachi is likely ministering in Nehemiah’s day: there is a sense that God is barely keeping His promises; the restoration has not lived up to prior billing: already in texts like Isa.40:27; 49:14, Israel had concluded God had forgotten her; and though the restoration did take place, the city is an under populated pile of rubble deeply addicted to paganism: how can you stand here and say God loves us?

·God is not fair: 2:17. For our purposes, note that they are not at all convinced that God is just: perhaps they have not been perfect, but the punishment has (in their view) outstripped the crime, especially since they are worshipping at the Temple and bringing their sacrifices.

In short, a sense of  “what’s the use?” has crept in: that is, if God is not being entirely fair to us, surely I have the right to cut some corners in my response to Him. This, I think, underscores the problem: like Job, they have questioned God’s justice; they are seeing him as capricious and irresistible in His dealings – but so distant that one cannot even lay out his case, and let God know the bad treatment that is going on.

While other prophets raised this issue earlier, what stands out for Malachi is that after all God has done, from the Exodus through the Captivity and return, the hearts of the people remain stubbornly resistant to change: the prophet comes, and the people’s response is something like “what does He want now?”

But before we address the responses of Malachi to this attitude towards God, it is important that we be impressed with the seriousness of the problem: having considered how the people view God, how is God viewing the people?

3. Its Consequences (in the sight of God)

·God Rejects it – in fact, He would like the Temple doors closed since He finds no pleasure in their service, and Himself becomes wearied: if they wish to approach God, they have no means of doing so (1:9-10).  This text has strong echoes of Isaiah 1:11ff: God wonders why they are trampling His courts: who invited them? Why are they praying? For what reason do they think He will hear them? Their sacrifices stink, and He wishes they would desist and get out of His house.

·God Judges its Practitioners fiercely (2:2-3). Insofar as they refuse to give God the glory He deserves, He will take action against them: that is, He will be glorified in them: if not by their praises, by their curse.  As they offered their sacrifices, the offal, the innards and waste, was carted away to the valley: this unclean material will be spread over their faces, and they will be carted away with it.  The language is vivid, and the careless approach to worship drives fear into our hearts.

·God Replaces its practitioners with true worshippers (1:11). God will be worshipped: His glory will be made known; and if not by these people, then His name will be great among the Gentiles: if the wedding guests are not willing to come, others will be brought in, for the tables will be filled.  

B. TRUE WORSHIP DESCRIBED

  1. Conforms to God’s Stated Purposes (2:4-5a)

God had made a “covenant with Levi”. I am not sure of the intention of this assigned topic – I hope it was not to enter into the modern discussion of appropriate forms of worship, for I do not think that is the issue: as an OT prophet, there is no doubt about what form the worship should take, and ignorance of the Law is not now the problem – it was the issue before the Captivity, when the Law was “lost”, but not now.

What they have missed is why God instituted the forms He did: there was a reason Levi was given the task. The reference to the “covenant of peace” most likely reflects back on the incident in Numbers 25: when Balaam and Balak could not curse Israel, Balaam had the brilliant idea of seducing Israel, and God would do the cursing for them! The horror did not end until a brazen act of defiance – an Israelite man brought in Midianite woman to his tent right in front of the weeping congregation – was stopped by Phinehas the priest, driving a javelin through them both: in response, the Lord made this covenant: Numb.25:10-13. The purpose of this covenant with Levi, then, is zeal for the Lord’s glory.

Of course the form matters: under the Old Covenant, “strange fire” was judged harshly; the Lord dictated how He would be glorified in the form of all the types and shadows, and woe to the one who varied them. But the crimes of Levi in Malachi’s day was not varying the worship; the crime was loss of purpose: the form was there;  the zeal was gone: so Mal.2:2: their heart was not set to honor God The zeal of Phinehas was not represented in the priests; the careless sacrifices was the symptom, but no heart for the Lord was the cause. There is little worship more horrifying than disinterested worship, no matter how correct the form.

  2. Rooted in the Fear of the Lord (2:5b)

There is not time to develop an understanding of the “fear of the Lord” that would make clear that there is no contradiction between godly fear and worship grounded in delight; read Bridges’ Joy of Fearing God if necessary.

But true worship of the Lord takes the Lord seriously. Clearly, there is a difference between joy and silliness, and if we critique much of modern worship for drifting to the latter, we must ask whether the driving force is the fear of the Lord: to see how these things fit together, remember Psalm 2:10-11, serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling: delightful worship and godly fear are intertwined and interdependent.

The contrast we noted earlier is seen in that the Gentiles in 1:11,14 understand the dread of the Lord’s Name: there will be no true worship without recognition of His grandeur and splendor – which leads to the third, and in fact, central, principle of true worship in Malachi:

3. Grows with the Knowledge of the Lord (2:6-7)

Note the repeated emphasis on the greatness of the Lord’s Name in 1:11,14; 2:2. The two texts mentioned earlier from Isaiah (40:27; 49:13-14) show the danger of not knowing the Lord: we are robbed of much comfort and hope because of not knowing the Creator and Redeemer.

This reminds us of Exodus 34:6-7: the revelation of God’s “Name” – that is, nature, reputation, revelation. The themes of love and justice are found in that basic declaration to Israel, but most especially see Moses’ response: Ex.34:8: it is that of worship.

There is a classic statement of the problem in Asaph’s cry in Psalm 73. He concluded that it was vain or useless to wash his hands – to draw near to God, because of the apparent injustice that surrounded him in the easy life of the wicked. It does not take much “cyphering” to know such an attitude will not result in vigorous and joyful worship!

But like Asaph, when we once go into God’s Temple, and understand who He is, everything changes: Ps.73:25-26: now he is ready to declare the wonderful works of the Lord (73:28)! And now that “injustice” that was so troubling, is put in perspective.

And in fact, that is exactly our boast, according to Jer.9:23-24: understand and know the Lord! that He is just!

How was that knowledge of God to be sustained? By the teaching of the Law. Remember that the context of Deut.6:5 is exactly that: talk about the Lord as you walk, sit down, rise up; teach your children what He has done! In addition, this is what corrects the misguided focus on right form alone: remember Hos.6:6; also Isa.1:16-20 referred to above: what does the Lord truly desire? Not forms, but heart! Acknowledgment of God!

  4. Nourished through Walking with the Lord (2:6) Thus true worship is intimately related to our fellowship with, and knowledge of the Lord. To put it another way, we worship properly when we walk with the Lord – that is, follow His steps, rather than blazing our own trail. His truth is taught; He determines the way we take; our dependence is completely in Him.

Even though we tend to worship in austere auditoriums, and fellowship in cheery basement halls holding coffee and cake, the aim of redemption is God dwelling with His people. Worship is a product of the awe and delight and fear of that circumstance – and the desire to have it so: we worship the God with whom we fellowship.

On a practical level, these cries of the prophets are often for social justice: other speakers will elaborate this theme, for it is found here as well, in the next paragraph: true worship fails, however, because they are not acting as God would have them towards others – somewhat reminiscent of 1 Peter 3:7, and  compare Micah 6:6-8. While we have tried to show that worship is essentially God-ward, there are many man-ward implications: the fear of the Lord, after all, perfects holiness.  

C. TRUE WORSHIP ESTABLISHED

For Malachi, the possibility of truly reformed worship is remote: old habits die hard, and the people’s understanding of the Lord’s ways is faulty at every turn. The shock of the Lord’s coming to His Temple will be too great to bear (3:1ff).

Yet in that very coming, there is hope: and amongst the hope in the appearance of the Lord (that is, the coming of Christ into the world at Bethlehem to save His people from their sins) is the hope for the restoration of true worship, in light of the problems addressed by Malachi.

  1. Jesus States God’s Purposes: John 4:24; 1 Peter 2:9-10

The fact is, Jesus says, the Father seeks worshippers – but in spirit and in truth: remember Piper? Purpose of missions is to produce worshippers; this is why Jesus came, and stilly why He saves! Jesus takes the themes of the prophets and highlights them:

·Mt.15:7-9 quotes from Isa.29 about honoring God only with lips, not heart: right form not enough· Mt.23:23 urges them to beware of sitting in garden counting mint leaves while ignoring social needs around them: James will amplify these implications in James 1: pure undefiled religion visits the fatherless and widows!·But especially Mt.12:6-8 which quotes from Hosea 6:6 – but in a distinct Messianic contrast: their fighting against Christ showed that they did not understand Hosea.

  2. Jesus Teaches the Fear of the Lord: John 5:23

There will be no true worship outside of Christ: if not in Christ it is blasphemous idolatry. True worship will not let go of the uniqueness of Christ, for it is not true that there are many roads to the Father: there is but one way, and but one Name by which we are saved – and there is but one through whom we worship and honor the Lord: our work that pleases God is to believe the one He has sent (Jn.6:29).

There is an implication of this that I think is quite important: we have sought in this paper to note the emphasis on protecting the Lord’s glory, and adopting His purposes, that is demonstrated in just treatment of others.  But the connection between the church and the OT Temple must be stated: if they defiled the Temple and its altar and thus dishonored God, we can do the same thing by destroying the church. Paul makes this application in 1 Cor.3:17 in exactly this context; the zeal of the Lord in Malachi for His Temple becomes the zeal of the Lord Jesus for His Church! It is designed to reflect the fear of the Lord, and woe to us when we fail; but to divide and disrupt for our own sake and reputation is to fail to fear the Lord – even while we are congratulating ourselves for “standing up”!

At the end of the day, however, we come back to Psalm 2: earlier noted that we serve with fear and rejoice with trembling; but the application made: Kiss the Son! It will only be in Christ that we fear the Lord.

  3. Jesus Teaches the Knowledge of God, Revealing His Glory: John 1:14

Our basic thesis is that Malachi’s people did not worship the Lord properly, not out of ignorance, but out of unbelief: they did not know or trust the Lord. Because they considered Him to be unjust and unfaithful in His dealings with them, they doubted His love.

According to John 1, the coming of the Lord Jesus was to rectify our darkness: He is the Word of God, in whom we behold the glory of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth, and He is the One who shows the Father like none other – so much so that Jesus can declare that “He who has seen Me has seen the Father”.

In light of Malachi, perhaps a brief comment on the love and justice of God is in order:

i) the love of God: in Deut.1:27 Moses sums up the reason why the people refused to take Canaan 40 years earlier: they said “the Lord hates us” and wants them to die in the wilderness. It is not just that they forgot the Exodus, it is that they completely re-interpreted it to assign evil motives to God! Yet for all that the Exodus was display of love: so Deut.7:8.

Thus the cross is the demonstration of the Father’s love for us: Rom.5:8; so powerful and radical that 1 John 4:7-10 makes it the new definition of love. The implication is that in the midst of suffering and trial, I remain convinced of God’s love because of the cross, and therefore continue to worship and rejoice

ii) the justice of God: Paul deals with this theme in Romans 3:25-26: the cross, ironically the most unfair thing in history, is in fact the display of God’s justice in justifying sinners: never again can we say that God cares nothing for justice, if we have understood the cross.

The result of this is displayed in Rom.11:33-36: like Moses in Ex.34, Paul expounds God’s justice and amazing love – and makes haste to worship.

4. Jesus Draws Us Near to the Father

In Psalm 70:4, there is the Psalmist delighting in the glory of God’s salvation: those who love His salvation say “let God be magnified” In similar terms, Peter speaks of the new people of God in 1 Pe.2:9-10 who declare His praises.

This great salvation is one of access to God: we walk with God because Jesus brings us near: Romans 5:1-2 reminds us of our confident hope; Eph.2:18 and 3:12 apply this to our ready access with confidence into God’s presence: God has brought us near, who were far away through the blood of His cross. And therefore we find grace to help in time of need (Heb.4:14-16), and draw near with full assurance of faith, Heb.10:19-21, encouraging one another!

 The message of Malachi on worship, then, is to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and by honoring the Son, give unto the Lord the glory due unto His Name – this God who is just, faithful, forgiving, holy, powerful, majestic and love: for of Him, and through Him, and unto Him are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen  

 

THE GOSPEL GOD’S POWER: SALVATION ACCOMPLISHED

  The following message was aired Sunday, September 7, 2003 on MCTV from Sudbury, Ontario, on a program called “Focus on the Bible”. This program airs each Sunday morning at 8:00 – channel 5 Cable 4 in Sudbury, and on Bell ExpressVu satellite TV channel 221.

Pastor Brad Powers and Mr. George Deeley are the preachers on the program. This message was Pastor Powers, of Berean Baptist Church, Sudbury, Ontario. It has been lightly edited for print by the author. It should also be noted that this was one message in a series of messages on the Gospel.

If you are interested in the ministry you may contact us at Focus on the Bible, P.O. Box 2005, Sta.A, Sudbury, ON, P3A 4R8; fax (705) 693-4096; or e-mail, focusonthebible@canada.com.

  Introduction:

This is the third message in a series that uses the word “Gospel” as an acrostic to underline some key New Testament aspects concerning this central message. Here is a brief summary of the six points that were developed over the course of the series:

G – Glory Revealed: the driving force behind the Gospel: that it is God’s power and God’s plan: key text for the whole series is Ro.1:16-17: for Paul in Romans the Gospel shines in light of fact that humans have no merit, and no means of obtaining any: that we are saved by the power of God and for His glory. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, and that in the Gospel, we have the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor.4:4-7).

O – Offer Declared:  “good news” is only good if we actually find out about it; to that end, Jesus’ commission to His disciples in Luke 24:45-48, gives three essential elements rooted in the Scriptures: that Jesus died; that He rose again; but also that repentance and remission of sins is to be preached – that is, declared – in His name among all nations: the disciples are sent out as witnesses of that!

S – Salvation Accomplished: will be our focus for today

My wife and I bought a 70 year old house in Sudbury; we only looked at re-sale homes. Now of course, there are always a few little surprises, but at least it’s not like buying off of plans: we were able to send in a home inspector, and carefully look at what we were getting. New homes sections of newspapers often include questions where buyers were disappointed in the house, having bought off plans, when they finally moved in: it does not seem to match the drawings! But the Gospel is based on the finished work of Christ: the Lord Jesus, when His work on the cross was done, cried out, “It is finished”! The Gospel is not a “work in progress” but a completed thing; although  there is much more to learn as we seek to live it,  it is presented to us as an accomplished fact, and this enables us to embrace it, knowing what it is we are receiving.

P – Proof Displayed:  the proof of the Gospel can be seen from two perspectives – both the “proofs” offered by the NT preachers for the Gospel, and what the Gospel proves to us! Consider 1 Cor.15 about the resurrection of Christ as part of that.

E – Escape Opened through the Lord Jesus Christ.  The language of being “saved” is often used carelessly by believers and mockingly by the world, but it is the best language to grasp our situation: one who is in need of being saved is one who is in danger; the Gospel is a rescue operation for those hopelessly entangled in bondage and under wrath: for example, 1 Th.5:9-10

L – Life Enjoyed: finally, consider the life that flows out  of this: the life that we enjoy in the Lord Jesus Christ. In  Jn.10:10 Jesus said the thief cometh not but for to steal and to kill and to destroy; I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. If God gives life through Christ, what life will it be!

So again, our focus in this message will be on Salvation Accomplished: we need to ask the question, what exactly has been finished, and we need to think through the implications of that completion for our conduct.

1. Law Fulfilled: No More Delay

The first area we want to consider when we think about Jesus’ saying “it is finished” has to do with the fulfilment of the Law. The law is fulfilled, and that means no more delay. As we noted above, Jesus’ commission in Luke 24:45-48 to his disciples called them to be his witnesses. The basis of that witness was not only to tell what Jesus had done, but that it was all in complete harmony with the Old Testament message: v.45 notes that Jesus is “opening their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written”. Earlier in the chapter it is said that Jesus, speaking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, rebuked them for being “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things and then to enter in to his glory?”. Luke then summarizes that, “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself”, and again in v.44: all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.

The Lord Jesus makes clear that every part of the Old Testament led to Christ. The Old Testament is not a free-standing book that makes sense on its own: it is about Jesus! This was the conflict the church had in its early days, and to some extent still, with those who believed Moses was adequate on his own. Jesus Himself tells us that Moses was writing about Him (John 5:45-46)!

Nothing, then, could be left undone that the Scriptures promised, if the plan and purpose of God were going to be accomplished. When Jesus cried out, “It is finished” from the cross, He was declaring precisely this: that everything that God had intended for Him to do, every work that He had been assigned, was done: nothing was left hanging. This work continues to be applied, of course, but the work itself is accomplished.

2. Justice Satisfied: No More Condemnation: Rom.3:24-26; 8:1

Paul makes this second point concerning salvation accomplished in the course of his argument in Romans: consider Romans 3:24-26, as foundation for the promise that there is “no condemnation”: Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God: to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

A friend of mine, who used to paint cars, once told me that the greatest need for good work was proper lighting; otherwise what appears to be a good job in the shop, when rolled out into sunshine, is revealed as full of imperfections.

Similarly, when we compare ourselves with each other, we don’t look all that bad, but when the searchlight of God’s holiness comes upon us, and that through the Word of God, we realize that He is just and holy, and every imperfection in our life begins to show up in light of God’s holiness.

But this means that when God saves, He must do so in a way that preserves His justice. This is not mere theological quibbling: we know that if someone had assaulted us, but the judge in mercy let him go free, we would be most upset, and picket the courtroom due to injustice! How then could God, the best Judge, let our sins just go by? How would that be justice?

Further, the enemy of our souls is bringing accusations against us, seeking to undermine the confidence of those who believe in Jesus. As a matter of fact, our own conscience will accuse us when we do things that violate the will and purpose of God. I need to know that the salvation that is offered in the Lord Jesus Christ is completely legal – and to know that it will remain so.

This is the  application in Romans 5:1 for example: we have peace with God – we are reconciled to Him by the death of His Son; or again in 8:1: there is no condemnation! The law’s penalty is not brought against anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus. Later in Romans 8 Paul says, If God be for us, who can be against us?...who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us (8:31-34). The justice of God has been satisfied; those who have been justified freely by His grace by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ will never come under any condemnation under the Law, for the Lord Jesus Himself has borne the full penalty. God is just because He pours out the just penalty of our sins; but we are saved because that penalty is poured out on the Lord Jesus Christ. He was made sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.

3. Ransom Paid: No More Bondage: Mk.10:45

In that same text (Romans 3:24-26), Paul mentions the “redemption that is in Christ Jesus”. The  picture of redemption in Scripture has to do mostly with a slave or a captive being set free. Moses sings that God “in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed”, a sentiment picked up by Isaiah, who confesses art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the wateres of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over? Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto ion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away” (Ex.15:13; Isa.51:9-11)

Where do all of these blessings come? This is the promise in Isaiah, but where’s the fulfilment? When the Lord Jesus cried from the cross “It is finished”, that is what He was saying: the ransom price has been paid in full, the redemption was accomplished, and we can go free. The enemy of our souls was destroyed, and sin has no more dominion over us. He has made us free, and therefore we are free indeed.

4. Final Word Spoken: No More Doubt: Heb.1:1-2

The fourth thing we want to think about is that the final Word has been spoken. After the Lord Jesus Christ has come, there is no more doubt about how God will save a sinner. In Hebrews, the writer tells us  that in these last days [God hath] spoken unto us by His Son...who...when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.

Hebrews begins with drawing a sharp distinction between God’s way of revealing His will in the Old Testament and the way He revealed it in Christ: the age of the prophets, as it were, drew to a close with the coming of Christ – not that the Spirit doesn’t still work to give us direction and understanding, but the redemptive acts of God and their authoritative explanation, have been accomplished with the coming of Christ and the New Testament record that followed (see also Heb.2:3-4).

So when Christ cried out, “it is finished”, he means that the long and sometimes indirect manifestations of God’s purposes were finished. The Old Testament had developed the theme of redemption bit by bit over many centuries – but when Christ came, God had finally spoken by a Son – no more mere human messengers.

This is not to say that the Old Testament was less from God, but that it was not complete. It is true, but in need of a final explanation in deed and word before it made sense. That is what happened when Jesus came. We deal with a completed picture, a final message. Grace and truth have been revealed through the Lord Jesus, and the words of this book are not to be added to. Of course there will be many books and commentaries on the text, but the Bible is the complete picture of what God wants us to know. There are no more inspired writings because the Son was the completion of the message.

 5. Sins Purged: No More Offering: Heb.1:3

The fifth thing that Jesus intended to communicate when he said “It is finished” is that our sins have been purged, and there is no more offering for sin. The picture repeatedly in the book of Hebrews is that of the Lord Jesus being sent to finish the work that the Father wanted him to do. But He finished the work and went and sat down as a sign of completion. It was finished “once for all”. And as you go through the book of Hebrews you keep coming across that expression: one sacrifice for sins forever. For example in Hebrews 10:12 he writes, But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God.

The book of Leviticus outlines at least seven different types of sacrifices, not including the specific rituals of the Day of Atonement that you find  later in that book: it was a complex system in order to gain and maintain access to the favour of the  holy God.

Hebrews reminds us of this in order to make two points: (i) that these sacrifices were designed to show how one would be able to come to God, namely through the shedding of blood and blood alone; and (ii) to show that in themselves these sacrifices never actually opened the way. But when Jesus offered His sacrifice, it was once for all; it never had to be repeated precisely because the blood that Jesus shed actually covers our sins and makes us clean; it actually reconciles us to God. There is never a need for a sacrifice again; the church does not offer sacrifices now, for that would rob the Lord of the glory of the finished work of Christ. It would say something more is necessary, whereas Hebrews says it is finished: it is done once for all.

6. Way Opened: No More Obstacles: see Heb.10:19-23

When Jesus cried out “it is finished” he meant that the way is opened unto the Father, and there are no more obstacles. In this text in Hebrews the writer assures believers that they come near confident that the Lord Jesus has removed all of the obstacles that kept us out of the presence of God; we are urged simply to draw near.

Any thought that there are elaborate rituals that need to be followed still in order to gain an audience with God, or that we need any kind of human priest, also takes away from the glory of the offering of Christ: to suggest that I cannot come directly to God is to say that God is not entirely satisfied with what Jesus has done, and that suggestion  is virtually blasphemous!

If you will come through Jesus alone, and on the merit of His shed blood alone, He will in no wise cast you out! That is why Hebrews urges us to “come boldly to the throne of grace”, to be confident: not because we are worthy but because Christ has removed all obstacles for us. That’s what it means to believe in Jesus.

“It is finished” Jesus said: the whole system of the sacrifice, the priesthood, the distance from God: draw near! In a very graphic display of this truth, we are taught in Scripture that the veil of the Temple – a large heavy curtain that barred the way to the Most Holy Place where God in symbol dwelt, and met with His people – was torn in two from top to bottom: God has ripped open the way through the sacrifice of Christ!

7. Duty Clear: No More Excuses: Heb.2:1-4

When Jesus cried out, “It is finished”, He said our duty is clear: there is no more room for excuses. In this text in Hebrews 2, we are challenged to recognize that such an astonishing work of God demands a response; to neglect this or let it slip deserves the judgment it will receive.

The way has been made open; the only question left to consider is, will we come? He urges us not to neglect the work of God in Christ; for one thing, our need is too great; for another, there will never be any other helper like this one!

Take all of these things together, and we have the reason why the Gospel is good news: in a stroke of brilliant divine wisdom, God has done what seemed to be impossible: to make a true and proper way open for us. That’s why Paul says in Romans 5 that we have “peace with God”:  things were done that we might rejoice in the Lord Himself, that we might draw near to the one who is able to meet our every need, and satisfy us with His love.

Why would we make excuses? Why not rather flee to Him, listen to His warnings, and escape that which destroys us?! Is your understanding of your duty clear? May God help you to understand, and find the rest that is in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Amen

"Neither is here salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."

 Acts 4:12

 


 

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