I was considering recently, what do I really need more than anything right now in terms of my internal, personal devotional life with Jesus? I simply need to see Him. Some of this stemmed from feeling a sort of dryness in reading the Scriptures recently. Now needing to see Jesus in Scripture is true in general all the time for all of us, but there are times that I think this can slip our thinking in our devotional life as being central.
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Christ is Isaac, the beloved Son of the Father who was offered as a sacrifice, but nevertheless did not succumb to the power of death. He is Jacob the watchful shepherd, who has such great care for the sheep which He guards.
“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.” – Hebrews 10:1
“When he said above, ‘You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings’ (these are offered according to the law), then he added, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will.’ He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” – Hebrews 10:8-10
The law, religious piety and practice have fallen on hard times these days in the church. The modern day status quo stance of many professing evangelicals seems to be something of, “I’m free in Jesus to do what makes me happy while not hurting anyone else and to follow the way of Jesus as he outlined in the Sermon on the Mount,” etc. etc. This may be the kind of stance red-letter-only Christians tend to possess. However there’s a big problem with this.
If you ever had any hope of trying to please God with your good, moral behavior, put that notion to rest. Psalm 14:2-3 should lay you flat.
2The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,a
who seek after God.
3They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.
How then will you be able to stand in the last day, when God judges the thoughts and intentions of the hearts of all, when all must give an account? Especially in light of the passage above, that there are none righteous?
Reading scripture is (or should be) like holding up a mirror up to your own heart. It’s been said of scripture that you should not merely read it but let it read you. In reading through 1 and 2 Samuel of late, this very thing has been on my mind. Reflected in the lives of Saul and David is my own heart, my own life.
Originally posted at blog.myspace.com on Friday, February 17, 2006, archived here http://old.westerfunk.net/archives/personal/Dave%20Sermon%20Notes/
A. Read Philippians 4:4-7
B. ILLUS. Chaplaincy. Summer 2002. I was assigned to the reception station at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. I was counseling teenagers just about to step into Basic Training. The ones who stopped by my office were stressed and anxious about girlfriends they left behind, mean drill sergeants, the radical culture change, etc. and I did my best to soothe their worries and give them hope. One afternoon, halfway through my assignment, the Deputy Assistant Installation Chaplain and my Brigade Chaplain (my boss) entered my office. They told me that the Red Cross just informed them that my dad had had a massive coronary and was being care-flighted to a hospital 100 miles away and that my mom was in a car trailing them. I was to be released immediately to fly home and take care of family business. The counselor had now become the counselee.
The whole point of worship is looking outside ourselves to another, namely Christ. When you’re caught up in the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, you’re caught up to something outside yourself, its particular heights and depths, its colors, its sheer size. You’re not thinking about yourself or what you’re going to get out of it as a means to an end, emotionally speaking. You’re simply caught up in that object in itself. Now the effect of being caught up to an object so beautiful is emotion. Standing on the top of Long’s Peak causes me to weep, not because I went there for the emotional high, so to speak, but because it is awesome in itself. Emotion and the experience of it is the result though, not the end. Emotion happens naturally because the object of your focus is so incredible.
So it is with worship of God, particularly in a worship service, but even more generally in our daily lives. To the degree we’re enraptured by, or caught up in, the truth (doctrine) of who Christ is and what He’s done on our behalf, and to the extent we encounter Jesus himself in prayer in our daily lives is the extent to which we’ll be rightly emotive in our response at our worship services, I’m convinced. Music aids in that, but it is not an end unto itself (as most of us know), nor is it primary in kindling those emotions. Now music can be extremely encouraging of that goal when good or distracting if it’s bad and therefore should be done with excellence, absolutely. But my concern for the church is larger than the production of things: people can seem unresponsive in worship services because we’re not caught up in the excitement of the truth of the drama of the gospel and encountering the person of Christ in our lives. When we sing “God is good,” yes that’s absolutely true. But how is God good? What is it that makes Him so amazing and good? The job of the pastor and worship leader is to create these categories of thought as it pertains to the gospel. Being caught up in who He is and what He’s done, explained in a literary manner, with awesome music and a sermon centered on the Person of Christ? That’s a recipe for worship that’s honoring to the Lord, that looks outside ourselves to Another. There’s joy there, there’s excellence in music, which translates into some form of a response, which could be sitting down and weeping, or standing with arms lifted, or in some cases not showing emotion and yet exploding with joy inwardly.
This is where the hymns come in, as an example, particularly the more theological hymns. Sure, there are some dreadfully bad hymns, both musically and lyrically. But why are the hymns so great? Let’s take In Christ Alone, a modern hymn. The whole song, verse by verse, is a progressive explanation of the gospel, with a final crescendo of exuberance in our hearts at what God has done. That sings, that produces joy. Love Constrained to Obedience is about Christ fulfilling the law on our behalf, turning our duty into joyful choice now, something we desire to do out of love for the One who saved us. How Deep the Father’s Love is about the depth of His love, literally the theological nature of it, what composes it, its characteristics, its properties. Revelation Song is deeply theological and really just quoting Scripture to a great degree. Before the Throne of God is all about imputed righteousness, how Christ is our advocate, our high priest, how the Father sees us as He sees His own Son! When we think on these things in depth and combine that with the experience of prayer in our lives, it produces a something that wells up within us of love to God and sets our hearts ablaze with joy … and thus a response.
What I desire to see more of in my own life, as well as the larger church, is that we’re all becoming more gospel-centric, meaning marinading ourselves, our teaching and our music in these truths. Let every sermon point there as an application for the motivation unto obedience and worship, as opposed to being motivated by law. Let every song drip it. How does Christ fulfill the law for us? How is His obedience transferred to our account? Why is that amazing? How does that truth apply Wednesday afternoon? How can we take that application into our music? How does Jesus’s blood appease God’s wrath? Resurrection? On and on. These are themes that cause us to well up with joy. And joy is the end goal of the gospel. Joy in the face of Christ, seen in Scripture, experienced through the Spirit.
OT background text: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”‘” (Exodus 3:14 ESV) … and then, “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So [the Jewish people listening] picked up stones to throw at him…” (John 8:58-59 ESV).
“In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will…” – Ephesians 1:4-5
In writing this, Paul desired that this wondrous truth cause us to exult in our salvation, not mourn over the truth itself. Far from it! It is a shame this doctrine produces fear in His people rather than overwhelming joy, as it did with Paul, who can’t even take a break for a breath he is so elated over the implications of the Gospel for His own life, let alone those of his readers. This truth highlights the largeness and eternal depths of God’s love for His people and gives us a solid foundation that cannot fail, rooted in the very nature and essence of who God is. God is love and He is also justice. And these two seemingly contradictory attributes are perfectly expressed in the cross of Christ.
In addition, predestination is never separated from the Person and work of Christ in His life, death and resurrection. We are “predestined… for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.”
What a hope! Let us exult in the glorious wonder that 1) God has mercy on anyone, for we all deserve condemnation (justly), and 2) that He purposed to save His people in eternity past through the finished work of His own Son. The depths of God’s love are beyond searching out. They go into eternity. This gives weight to that truth. What a solid, eternal support to know that God is eternally for His people, never against them! This is just one of the many hopes we have in the Gospel.