God’s Enemy and God’s Delight

April 22, 2010

Are you God’s enemy? Or are you God’s delight?

In Psalm 18, David is attacked by enemies. He prays to the Lord, and God gives him victory over them. This occurs, David says, because he is God’s delight; his hands are clean:

He rescued me, because he delighted in me.  The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.  For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God. (Psalm 18:19-21)

Who are these enemies: From Israel or from other nations? The previous Israelite king, Saul, certainly tried to kill David, and might have been termed David’s enemy. But David never fought against Saul. David never had victory over him. Instead, God arranged for Saul and his son Jonathan to die in battle against the Philistines. So these enemies referred to in Psalm 18 must be from other nations.

David’s victory is total:

You made those who rise against me sink under me. You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed.  They cried for help, but there was none to save; they cried to the LORD, but he did not answer them. I beat them fine as dust before the wind; I cast them out like the mire of the streets. (Psalm 18:39-42)

David then draws an implication from this victory granted by God:

For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing to your name. (Psalm 18:49)

Why does he say that he will praise God “among the nations”? Is David gloating in triumph over his fallen enemies?

No. Note how Paul uses Psalm 18:49 in Romans 15:

I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness . . . in order that the nations might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the nations, and sing to your name.” (Romans 15:8-9, own translation)

Paul quotes Psalm 18 as support for his statement that Christ became a Jew, Christ became incarnate in part so that these non-Israelite peoples would receive God’s mercy and then praise Him. God has always had a heart for all nations: “The people must praise You, O God; all the peoples must praise You” (Psalm 67:3, own translation).

How, then, do we understand Psalm 18? Why does God defeat David’s enemies?

God defeats David’s enemies for two causes: The cause of justice and the cause of mercy. Justice, in that they were fighting against God’s chosen king – a king, moreover, who is a picture of His coming Christ. In the end, if not before, He will bring down all who oppose Jesus. King Jesus deserves all honor, glory, and praise; justice demands that those who resist Him will be conquered.

But God also defeats these enemies for the cause of mercy. They have no hope as long as they continue in rebellion against God’s anointed One. He defeats them. And then, as Psalm 18:49 says, they hear His praises. They hear of His goodness. They hear of His mercy. They hear of His grace.

And today they hear that “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10); they hear, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Once fighting against God’s anointed King; now subdued by Him. Once enemies. Now at peace. Once unrighteous; now declared righteous.

Hear that carefully: Declared righteous. So that the one-time enemies can now say with David in Psalm 18: “The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness” (Psalm 18:20). A righteousness that comes from another – from the very King Jesus I opposed and resisted. I am granted His righteousness.

So I once was God’s enemy. I once was conquered by King Jesus. By His grace and through faith in Him I was united with Him, as His death paid the penalty due for my rebellion. In union with Christ, I am credited with His very righteousness, so that I can say with David, “my hands are clean!”

And there is even more. Psalm 18:19 also is now true of me: ”He rescued me, because he delighted in me.” Since I am one with Christ, when God looks at me, He sees Jesus.

From enemy to delight. From fighting against God to being rejoiced over by God. From rebel to child.

Praise God for conquering us, His enemies, so that we might become His delight.

Theology and Gospel

April 22, 2010

Wise words from Carl Trueman’s essay in this month’s Themelios:

We have a tendency to make the chronological end points— what new things we learn each day—the most important. Yet this confuses the process of learning with the real order of things. The study of theology is not a chase after something or a movement beyond where we start our Christian lives; it is rather a reflection upon the foundations of where we already are. The end term is, strange to tell, the beginning. I start by confessing with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in my heart that God raised him from the dead, and I never actually go any further. All my theology, all my study, is simply reflection on what lies behind that. Thus, I never move beyond praise, never leave behind the beauty of adoration of the living God; I simply learn more and more about the deep foundations upon which that praise and worship rest, which all believers share from the most brilliant to the most humble. . . . [The study of theology] does not move us beyond our starting point; it merely helps us to understand that starting point better. (emphasis added)

Missions Conference Messages

April 21, 2010

I returned late last night from Martinsville, Virginia, where I spoke Sunday to Tuesday at the Fontaine Baptist Church Missions Conference. Andrew Shanks, for four years a DGCC member while in seminary, is the pastor. It was a great joy to be with Andrew, Laura, and their not-quite-two-year-old Julienne. Thanks to Ed, Annette, Fred, Earl, and Catherine for driving up Monday; we all had dinner together before the meeting that evening. The conference messages are available at this link:

April 18 – Why Should God Bless You? Blessing and Missions – Psalm 67
April 18 – Missions to Whom? – Romans 15:9-24
April 19 – Becoming Senders: Why and How to Send Missionaries – III John
April 20 – The Privilege of Missions – Isaiah 66:18-23

He is Risen Indeed!

April 8, 2010

He Is Risen!

How do we know Jesus was raised from the dead? And why is this of any importance?

Paul answers both of these questions in 1 Corinthians 15.

How Do We Know Jesus Rose from the Dead?

In verses 5 to 8 Paul present evidence for the resurrection from eyewitnesses. He mentions:

  • Peter (called “Cephas” in verse 5). Peter is one of the twelve disciples – indeed, the apparent leader of the disciples during Jesus’ earthly ministry. But, after boasting that he would die for Jesus, he denies that he even knows Him three times the night of His betrayal. Peter is a failure – yet Jesus appears to him.
  • The Twelve (verse 5) – that is, all His closest companions of the last few years. Yet these too all are failures, for they all scattered in fear after His arrest.
  • More than 500 at one time (verse 6). Paul is writing 20-25 years after the resurrection took place. So while some of these witnesses have “fallen asleep” (meaning they have died), most are still alive. The evidence is there. Anyone can check it out.
  • James (verse 7). This most likely is not either of the men named James who were among the Twelve, but Jesus’ half-brother, who in Acts 15 is prominent in the Jerusalem church. There is no evidence that any of Jesus’ brothers believed Him to be the Messiah prior to His resurrection. Indeed, other passages (Mark 3:20-31 and John 7:5) indicate the opposite. Perhaps it is this appearance itself that leads to James’ faith.
  • All the apostles (verse 7). In order to be an apostle, one must have witnessed the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 9:1); perhaps Paul here is not talking about a specific incident, but a series of appearances to everyone else who is an apostle.
  • Paul himself  (verse 8), to whom Jesus appeared years after He had ascended (Acts 9:1-18).

Paul is saying, “The resurrection of Jesus is the linchpin of history, one of the key central moments in God’s plan to redeem a people for himself. Test the claim! Investigate it! Talk to the eyewitnesses! Evaluate their lives; have they proven themselves trustworthy? In fact Christ has risen!”

Note carefully:

  • Paul is not claiming, “We had a vision of Jesus’ spirit, and this vision so inspired us that we are changed men and women!”
  • Nor is he claiming, “We have strong faith, and even His death could not extinguish our faith that Jesus is the Messiah! We know He must be alive!”

Paul instead claims that the physical body of the crucified Jesus was resurrected, made alive, given new life. He is making a historical claim, and encouraging his readers to verify the fact by talking to eyewitnesses. In years to come, Paul himself and many of these other eyewitnesses will face death because of this claim. They could avoid suffering and death if they only say, “What I saw was just a spirit, not a risen physical body.” But they don’t. They die holding to this truth.

He is risen indeed.

Why is the Resurrection Important?

In this chapter, Paul also gives six reasons why the resurrection is vitally important.

  1. Unless Jesus is risen, Paul’s  preaching is in vain, it is pointless (verse 14).
  2. Unless Jesus is risen, the Corinthians’ faith is also in vain, pointless (verse 14). Why? He explains in the third reason:
  3. Unless Jesus is risen, you are still in your sins (verse 17). If there is no resurrection, the Gospel is false. No payment for sins has been made. Note that Jesus’ death is vital; without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for sins (Hebrews 9:22). But the resurrection is also vital. A dead Christ is no Christ. A dead Christ does not save from sins, for there is no evidence that the penalty paid is sufficient. There is no evidence that He has any power over death.
  4. Unless Jesus is risen, the apostles and the Scriptures are false witnesses (verse 15). They claim that He rose from the dead, and thus they are liars if He did not. All Scripture is then unreliable (verse 4).
  5. Unless Jesus is risen, those who have died believing in Jesus have perished. They had no hope. No matter how courageously they died, they were fools, for they trusted in a lie. In his own life, I suspect Paul has in mind Stephen, the first martyr, whose death he witnessed (Acts 7).
  6. Unless Jesus is risen, we are of all men most to be pitied (verse 19). We are pitiful fools.

The key item, the item on which all else hangs, is the third. We cannot separate Good Friday from Resurrection Sunday. Jesus’ death and resurrection go together. There is no payment for sins unless Jesus is risen.

All men die. So the fact that Jesus died is not notable.

That He died cruelly and unjustly is notable but far from unique; millions and millions more have died similarly,

That He died for your sin and mine to give us new life in Him is mind blowing and life changing.

But that is only true if He rose from dead. That is only true if He continues as our faithful High Priest who “always lives to make intercession for us” (Hebrew 7:25).

Jesus died for our sins according to the Scripture (1 Corinthians 15:3).

Jesus rose from the dead according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:4). In history. In fact.

He is risen indeed.

(This is an excerpt from Sunday’s sermon. The audio for the sermon is available at this link.)

John Newton – The Happy Debtor

April 2, 2010

Ten thousand talents once I owed,
And nothing had to pay;
But Jesus freed me from the load,
and washed my debt away.

Yet since the Lord forgave my sin,
and blotted out my score,
Much more indebted I have been,
than e’er I was before.

My guilt is canceled quite I know,
and satisfaction made;
But the vast debt of love I owe
can never be repaid.

The love I owe for sin forgiven,
for power to believe,
For present peace and promised heaven,
no angel can conceive.

That love of Thine, Thou sinner’s Friend!
Witness Thy bleeding heart!
My little all can ne’er extend
to pay a thousandth part.

Nay more, the poor returns I make
I first from Thee obtain;
And ’tis of grace that Thou wilt take
such poor returns again.

‘Tis well – it shall my glory be
(Let who will boast their store)
In time and to eternity,
to owe Thee more and more.

(John Newton, 1779)

Two Poems of the Cross

April 1, 2010

As you meditate on the biblical texts about Christ’s passion this week, consider also these two poems. Written by friends and published together in 1779, in quite different ways they bring out key biblical truths about the death of our Lord.

“Jesus, Whose Blood So Freely Streamed” by William Cowper:

Jesus, whose blood so freely streamed
To satisfy the law’s demand;
By Thee from guilt and wrath redeemed,
Before the Father’s face I stand.

To reconcile offending man,
Make Justice drop her angry rod;
What creature could have formed the plan,
Or who fulfill it but a God?

No drop remains of all the curse,
For wretches who deserved the whole;
No arrows dipped in wrath to pierce
The guilty, but returning soul.

Peace by such means so dearly bought,
What rebel could have hoped to see?
Peace by his injured Sovereign wrought,
His Sovereign fastened to a tree.

Now, Lord, Thy feeble worm prepare!
For strife with earth and hell begins;
Conform and gird me for the war;
They hate the soul that hates his sins.

Let them in horrid league agree!
They may assault, they may distress;
But cannot quench Thy love to me,
Nor rob me of the Lord my Peace.

“In Evil Long I Took Delight” by John Newton:

In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopp’d my wild career:

I saw One hanging on a Tree
In agonies and blood,
Who fix’d His languid eyes on me.
As near His Cross I stood.

Sure never till my latest breath,
Can I forget that look:
It seem’d to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke:

My conscience felt and own’d the guilt,
And plunged me in despair:
I saw my sins His Blood had spilt,
And help’d to nail Him there.

Alas! I knew not what I did!
But now my tears are vain:
Where shall my trembling soul be hid?
For I the Lord have slain!

–A second look He gave, which said,
“I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid;
I die that thou may’st live.”

Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.

With pleasing grief, and mournful joy,
My spirit now is fill’d,
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by Him I kill’d!