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Archive for Grace

Grace in the Life of Mephibosheth

by John Howell, Jr.

2017 Glimpses of Grace Conference

This is the transcript of a message delivered by John Howell, Jr. at the 2017 Glimpses of Grace Conference.

 

 I. Introduction: How would you define “grace”?

We know from the Bible that, if you are a child of God, you are a beneficiary of something called “grace.” It is the word in our language associated with how God saves sinners, so it is a word of extreme significance. We use the word “grace” quite a bit, and we often sing out this word in our songs of praise.  Nevertheless, I am convinced we scarcely begin to understand how amazing is God’s grace. God issued forth His grace in order to save us sinners. Grace is what erupted from the cross, and flows mightily even now. Grace is what happened when God’s justice met God’s love in that sacrifice of the Lamb. “For by grace are ye saved through faith…” (Eph. 2:8).

I am quick to tell people that “grace” is my favorite word. But, I struggle to define grace in a way that describes this concept sufficiently. I know we can point to the acrostic G-R-A-C-E and say, “Grace is God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.” We can also use the helpful word play: “Justice is getting what I deserve. Mercy is not getting what I deserve. Grace is getting what I do not deserve.” But, really, do these attempts to explain give me a rich, full definition of God’s grace.

How would you describe God’s saving grace?

There is some good news for those who truly want to understand the beauty and scope of God’s grace. In the Bible, grace is defined and “fleshed out” through real-life events and actions of real-life people (the Word of God is living and powerful! Heb. 4:12). So, to assist our limited mental reach, God has been “gracious” to show us what grace looks like, so that our hearts and minds can get a better grasp on His grace. As you study the Word, be looking for those living, breathing illustrations of this majestic attribute of God that we call “grace.”

 

II. Grace in the Life of Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9)

A pitiful existence

 Mephibosheth’s life was sad and painful until King David sought him and showered much grace into his life.

The grandson of Saul and son of Jonathan, Mephibosheth was born in a time of great conflict. King Saul lost his mind and was often on the offensive against David and men who were loyal to David. Saul was also on the defensive against Israel’s traditional enemies, the Philistines. After Saul and his son Jonathan were killed by the Philistines, a period of civil war ignited between Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Saul’s son Ish-boseth attempted to keep the throne but was assassinated. In this time of violence, Mephibosheth was a five year old boy. A nurse attempted to help the child flee the violence as Saul’s short-lived dynasty was crumbling, Mephibosheth suffered a fall which inflicted a serious injury that damaged both feet and crippled him for life.

As was prophesied, David ascended to the throne, eventually unifying Israel and Judah. Nothing is heard about Mephibosheth for many years. One can imagine that he had a bleak life, enduring a severe handicap as well as a realistic fear that he could be assassinated! In this time, descendants of a former king were usually eliminated by the new king to avoid any possibility of rebellion by those loyal to the former king. That was the code of conduct for this period. Mephibosheth, as the grandson of Saul, would never have been able to rest comfortably, and probably spent a lot of time looking over his shoulder, maybe even in hiding. As a crippled man, he was defenseless. As a descendant of Saul, Mephibosheth would also have no claim on any former property or wealth due to the downfall of the family.

So the man Mephibosheth was crippled and impoverished. As the last survivor of Saul’s family, he was always aware that he was operating on borrowed time.

Grace behind the scenes

Though Mephibosheth likely had little hope for joy and meaning in his life, there were some things that he did not know or fully understand—very important information about his daddy (Jonathan) and King David.

God in His sovereignty had knitted the hearts of David and Jonathan in a beautiful friendship when they were growing up. Despite Saul’s hatred for David, Saul’s own son, Jonathan, deeply loved David. What’s more, Jonathan respected the plan of God, which called for the leadership of Israel to shift from Saul to David. Jonathan’s loyalty to David on occasion saved David’s very life as Jonathan helped David avoid the insane violence of Saul. In return, Jonathan’s request to David was this: “If I continue to live, show me kindness from the LORD, but if I die, don’t ever withdraw your kindness from my household—not even when the LORD cuts off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth” (1 Samuel 20:14-15). Jonathan and David then made a covenant, centered around that request from Jonathan. Why did David do this? David made this covenant because he loved Jonathan “as he loved himself” (1 Sam. 20:17).

Years after that covenant was struck, this beautiful, godly friendship still lived in David’s heart. The kingdom had been established, and David’s enemies had indeed been “cut off” as Jonathan had prophesied. Reminiscing, David’s thoughts turned to Jonathan. “David asked, ‘Is there anyone remaining from the family of Saul I can show kindness to for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9:1). And then, learning that there was a remaining descendant, David turned those thoughts of love into actions of grace!

This is what grace looks like!

Through an elderly servant of Saul’s former estate (property now controlled by David, of course), David learned that Jonathan’s son Mephiboseth had survived the bloody years and now lived as an adult at Lo-Debar under the charity of a man named Machir. So David had Mephibosheth fetched from that location and brought to the king.

Don’t you know those were some anxious moments for Mephibosheth! Logically, he would have concluded that David perceived him as a potential threat. Mephibosheth probably thought that he was being summonsed to his imprisonment, or worse! Here is the scene when Mephibosheth finally arrived in Jerusalem and made his way into the very presence of the king: “Mephibosheth son of Jonathan son of Saul came to David, fell facedown, and paid homage. David said, ‘Mephibosheth!” ‘I am your servant,” he [Mephibosheth] replied” (2 Samuel 2:6).

What a scene! The poor, crippled descendent of an untrustworthy former king brought into the presence of the mighty King David. Mephibosheth’s life was in David’s hands. What was about to happen to him? This man was frightened and not hiding it. David’s first instructions to him: “Don’t be afraid.” Huh? What’s going on? David explains, “’Don’t be afraid,’” David said to him, ‘since I intend to show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan…’” (2 Sam. 9:7a).

So here is the message from David to the crippled man: “Mephibosheth, you are not in danger. You are not unwanted. Mephibosheth, I have brought you into my court to show you checed (an important Hebrew word for lovingkindness/grace) because of a covenant and a friendship I had with your father Jonathan.”

Whoa! Imagine Mephibosheth’s mind trying to process this development. But wait, there’s more! David continues, “I will restore to you all your grandfather Saul’s fields, and you will always eat meals at my table” (2 Sam. 9:7s).

Friends, this is grace. This is mind-blowing, inexplicable, beautiful grace. Mephibosheth is not hated. He is not in trouble. He is not in danger. He is now loved and protected. Mephibosheth is no longer poor and an outcast. He is now wealthy! Very wealthy! The estate and property of King Saul was now to be transferred to his ownership. Verses 9 and 10 reveal that David instructs a capable manager, Ziba (who formerly served Saul, and who also had 15 sons and 20 servants in his employ), to manage Saul’s fields on behalf of Mephibosheth,. This meant that Mephibosheth’s job would be to just pick up the check when the harvest was sold. And the icing on the cake: Mephibosheth would eat all of his meals from this point forward at the table of David and his family. David orders Ziba to carry out the work and tells him again how it all will work: “But Mephibosheth, your master’s grandson, is always to eat at my table” (2 Sam. 9:10).

This helps me to wrap my mind around the concept of grace. Grace brings off-the-charts blessings. Grace brings mysterious, humbling, unexpected outcomes. Grace actually is “getting what you don’t deserve.” If you and I can get in Mephibosheth’s mind at this point, as he digests David’s promises to him, we can get a glimpse of God’s grace. God’s grace is so amazing, so big, and so breathtaking that it takes scenes like this just to give us that glimpse.

The only proper response to grace

One key in the work of understanding God’s grace is to see just how unmerited it is and how unworthy are the recipients of His grace. Mephibosheth didn’t stick out his chest, take a big breath, and orate about the return of Saul’s glory. Mephibosheth didn’t let this stunned audience in David’s court know that it was about time that someone recognized Saul’s grandson as worthy of attention and honor. No, not all. Here is how he responded: “Mephibosheth paid homage and said, ‘What is your servant that you take an interest in a dead dog like me?” (2 Sam. 9:8).

Homage. Servant. Dead dog. Mephibosheth’s heart melted upon exposure to God’s grace. There was no response other than the proper response of brokenness and humility. There could be no label more humble or more crude than the label of a “dead dog,” especially in the culture of the Middle East.

At that moment, David didn’t respond by putting his boot on Mephibosheth’s prostrated body and say, “Boy, you got that right. I’m the grace-giver and you are nothing but a dead dog.” Instead, David just lavishes more grace as that is when he gives Ziba his instructions put his team to work for Mephibosheth’s business interests.

It’s just crazy beautiful to see grace flowing. But is also breathtakingly humiliating when God pours His grace into my life.

 

III. I am Mephibosheth

The parallels between Mephibosheth and me are spot-on. Look at this encounter in God’s Word again, and catch the truth of its application to me and to you.

A pitiful existence

Mephibosheth was in bad shape—crippled and a descendant of a disgraced dynasty. He was living a sad life and had a bleak future. Mephibosheth in this illustration from God’s Word represents me, and you. We are broken. As sinners, we are in bad shape. We come into this world spiritually dead to God. Romans 3 spells out just how bad our predicament is from the perspective of a holy God:

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one…for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10-12, 23).

Because of our sin, we deserve death and eternal separation from the holy God who created us. As sinners, we are in bad, bad shape. You and I are Mephibosheth.

Grace behind the scenes

Thankfully, just as grace enters this chapter through the heart of King David, grace enters into our rebellious, messy world through the heart of God. Consider something very, very important that went on behind the scenes, long before we lived, before this universe was even created.

God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit put a plan into motion before the world was created whereby the Father covenanted to send the Son to come to this sinful world and to die on the cross for the sins of us all. God the Son convenanted to come, and to die this sacrificial death—the sinless lamb of God! God the Spirit covenanted to draw men, women, boys and girls to the Son. This mighty work of God is what is referred to in Hebrew 13:20 as the “blood of the everlasting covenant.” The result of this work of God is the mighty flow of something that the Word calls His grace!

This is what grace looks like

When King David saw Mephibosheth, he didn’t see a sad, crippled man from the lineage of a Saul (a guy who repeatedly tried to kill David!). Instead, when David saw Mephibosheth, he saw Jonathan, whom David dearly loved. Never once in this chapter do you hear David refer to Mephibosheth’s crippled condition. Instead, David said, “Fear not: for I will surely shew thee kindness for Jonathan thy father’s sake…” (2 Sam. 9:7a).

This is a picture of how God sees the person who is in Jesus Christ. When God looks at us, God sees His beloved Son. That is why the Bible tells us that the believer is clothed in “the garments of salvation” and covered with “the robes of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). What a manifestation of grace! In Christ, we are not seen as sinners of the race of the first broken Adam; we are seen by God as being in the last Adam, the righteousness One, Jesus Christ.

And grace keeps getting bigger and more spellbinding the more I study the Bible. Mephibosheth sat at the king’s table, and was given possession of Saul’s important and valuable estate. Likewise, because I am in Christ, God considers me to be His adopted son. And being in Christ, I have a seat at God’s table! Always and continually! I am a child of the King! I am the recipients of spiritual blessings and power, even now. And I am the recipient of eternal blessings.

The only proper response to grace

When King David poured grace onto the life of Mephibosheth, we see Mephibosheth respond by accepting this outpouring of grace in great humility. We don’t see Mephibosheth manifest any pride. We don’t see him attempt to do any negotiations with David, or in any way proclaim his own worthiness. No, we see that Mephibosheth “fell on his face, and did reverence” (v. 6) Mephibosheth responded to David by saying, “Behold, thy servant!” (v. 6). Mephibosheth submitted to David’s gracious authority by bowing before David and saying, “What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am?” (v. 8).

Likewise, when the gospel is presented to a sinner, and the sinner learns that God provides forgiveness and eternal life through His Son, the sinner’s only proper and saving response is to bow down and show reverence, and say, “Behold, thy servant!” Who am I, Father, that thou shouldest look upon me, a dead dog of a sinner? The sinner accepts the grace that God has chosen to pour upon him, and he walks in newness of life, a saved man! A blessed man! A beneficiary of God’s amazing grace!

 

“For by grace are ye saved by faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking out of the Box

November 15, 2011

A seminary professor often said that if we are going to make an impact with the Word of God, we must allow the Spirit of God to move us to think outside the box.  He did not mean that we should think beyond what is written in Scripture but that we should seek through observation and meditation to fully grasp the truth that is revealed from what is written.

I would like to take such a step while thinking of God’s perfect creation and the fall of man.  What we learn about the sinfulness of our sin has tremendous bearing on what we eventually believe about His immeasurable grace. Let’s begin, well, at the beginning.  Believers should recognize that the God who created us became our Savior.  The one who saves us, the Lord Jesus Christ, has all the attributes of deity.  He is eternal, co-existent with God, and co-equal with God, just to name a few.  A life-changing, out-of-the-box glimpse of the miraculous God that we serve is the realization that the second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the very one who created us. The Bible says that all things were made by Him (John 1:3); by Him were all things created (Colossians 1:16); and God made the worlds by Him (Hebrews 1:2).

Since all things means all things, the words, “In the beginning God created” take on a fresh new meaning.  These words imply that the first works of creation recorded in the Bible – the heavens, the earth, the light, the plants and animals – were accomplished with the direct involvement of the Lord Jesus Christ. It follows, then, that He was also involved in the creation of Adam.

Now we are walking freely out of the box. God’s words, “Let Us make man in our image, according to Our likeness” has enormous implications. Catch this glimpse! The “Us” points to our Trinitarian God’s participation in creating man and in particular the involvement of the Creator of all things, the Lord Jesus Christ. It has been assumed by many that when God said, “Let Us make man in our image, according to our likeness,” He was speaking of the invisible likeness of personality. This is because the Bible makes clear that God is spirit, and spirits have no visible characteristics.  While likeness could very well point to unseen spiritual traits, image does make one think of a physical feature. It is possible that the second person of the Trinity appeared in a recognizable preincarnate form in the Old Testament.

Although Jehovah took upon Himself a human body in Bethlehem, that may not have been the first time that He revealed Himself in a recognizable form. Think of the first wedding – when Jehovah walked Eve down the isle to the man, so to speak.  We read that God fashioned Adam’s rib into a woman and “He brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:22). Is it possible that Adam saw a preincarnate form of the Creator? It is hard to imagine a disembodied spirit presenting a woman to a man.

Following their rebellion against God by eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve heard the sound of Jehovah God walking in the garden in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). Adam heard someone walking! It is difficult to conceive that a spirit could make walking noises as he approached. The guilt of the fallen couple impelled them to hide from God among the trees in the garden. How could one hope to hide from a spirit?

The first visible act of God in providing grace is recorded for us. Adam and Eve had compensated for their new feeling of guilt before God by stitching for themselves designer clothes made of fig leaves (Genesis 2:7). Their clothing did not meet with God’s approval, however, so He made tunics of skin, and clothed them (Genesis 3:21). Again, it is difficult to imagine a spirit stitching clothes and then putting them on someone.

What conclusions can we draw from God’s work as a tailor? First it was an obvious contrast to the couple’s tailor work. Second, it was God who initiated the gracious act. The couple was not asked whether or not they desired the clothes.  Finally, it was God who did the work.  He obviously killed animals – and this was long before the Mosaic Law was given. The picture given the reader is the very first foreshadowing of God’s future work in Jesus Christ.

Now back to the subject of Jesus Christ being the Creator of all things.  The Bible says that Jehovah Elohim formed man from the dust of the ground and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being (Genesis 2:7).  There may have been more to this creative act than meets the human eye. God created us as triune beings made of body, soul, and spirit (1Thessalonians 5:23).

God first created the visible part. One can just visualize the Lord Jesus Christ hovering over a large lump of clay like a potter would do and then reaching down and picking up slabs and shaping it. Slowly the clay began to take the shape of man. Then we picture the divine Potter creating the inward, invisible parts, leaning down and exhaling His breath into the nostrils of that clay form. At that moment, Adam awakened as a conscious being.  The lifeless lump of clay received life from God.

Again, out of the box we go! What is the true meaning of the English translation the “breath of life” in Genesis 2:7?  The original text of the Old Testament is the Hebrew language. The Hebrew manuscripts are those writings that are truly God breathed and totally inerrant. While it is true that the translators rendered the phrase “breath of life,” and surely they had reasons to do so, the literal Hebrew says that God breathed into the man the “breath of lives,” plural.

“Breath of lives” in the Hebrew is nephesh chayyim. Chayyim is a plural Hebrew word. In order to make a word plural in English, we simply add and “s” or an “es.” At the risk of sounding exceedingly simple, we could have one pear or two pears; one house or two houses. In order to make a Hebrew word plural, “im” is added. One might think of one cherub (angelic being) or two cherubim (two angelic beings), or one seraph (one angelic being) or two seraphim (two angelic beings).  You get the idea. God actually breathed into Adam the breath of lives.

In contrast, God had earlier created the animals giving to them nephesh chay, the breath of life (Genesis 1:21).  This is the major way that animals differ from humans. True to our triune nature, Jesus Christ created Adam with a body and then breathed into him a soul with an attached human spirit.  The animals do not have this human spirit. The words soul and spirit are often used interchangeably in the scripture, but there is a difference. The writer of Hebrews says that the word of God is living and powerful and sharp enough even to divide the soul from the spirit (Hebrews 4:12). This implies that they are not the same!

Allow me a little speculation. The soul connects human beings to the earth, giving them the ability to know, to feel, and to choose, in the earthly realm. It provides the appetites for securing food, shelter, protection, and the desire to procreate. In man the soul also had the human spirit attached to it. Adam’s soul connected him to the earthy realm, but his human spirit linked him to God.

Before the fall, Adam had ability and the desire to think and to reason accurately, not only about worldly things but also about heavenly things. Said simply, human beings were created to know God. Their living human spirits gave them the ability to appreciate their relationship with God and to choose to continue in it. With this knowledge, Adam understood the reason for God’s creation and in his innocence he knew that he was created to have dominion over the earth.

After his sin – as God had warned – he died! He did not fall over dead physically, but his human spirit died toward God. He no longer had the ability to use his mind, emotion, or will toward God. As a result of their spiritual death, the fallen couple hid themselves from God. The residue left upon them was still the image of godlikeness, but it was a defective image. Adam and Eve continued with their human appetites in tact and their intelligence – the ability to think and to reason, to feel and to choose in a limited earthy realm – but still far beyond that of the animals. Adam and Eve had become natural, soulish human beings. This is the very nature that this fallen couple passed to all generations of the human race (Romans 5:12). All sinned and died in Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22).

We are all born with Adam’s death image upon us. The fallen race has the desire to worship gods, but they worship gods coming from their own corrupt imagination. Paul wrote that the soulish person “cannot understand the things of God (human ability) neither can he know them (human ability) for they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  In clothing the first couple with the animal skins, God established a prototype. If we want to know how God saves today it would not be a bad idea to go back to His original pattern.

God must initiate salvation. The spiritually dead can do nothing to help.  He does not clothe us with animal skins as an act of His saving grace, but He does clothe us. He clothes us with His special sacrifice. The fall did not catch God by surprise. He prepared a Lamb before He created the world (1 Peter 1:20). He eventually gave that Lamb to die on a Roman cross for us, and then He raised Him from the dead (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 4:25).  He lovingly calls us to Himself as a shepherd does his sheep and gives us the free gift of faith to place in His Lamb (John 6:37-39; John 10:28; Ephesians 2:8-9). He then wraps tightly those believing in His Lamb with the covering of the Lamb. Every believer is said to be “in Christ” (Galatians 3:26-28).  This is thinking out of the box.

Glimpses of Grace

October 19, 2011

At a meeting not too long ago, I overheard two fellow pastors questioning their call to the ministry. Think of this! They were wondering aloud why in the world they did not pursue a different educational path that would have given them a career to “fall back on.” This obviously caught my attention, and I settled in to listen more carefully. Both men were obviously discouraged about the ministries that God had placed them in. They were not sufficiently motivated to stay the course amidst all the obstacles they were facing.

In my mind, the call of God to preach His word to the world is the highest calling a human being can have. However, it is hard for some to stay the course amid all the possible pitfalls in ministry – the money that does not come in to pay the bills, church leaders that feel that it is their obligation to stand against everything the pastor suggests, disgruntled church members that think it necessary to keep something negative stirred up all the time, not to mention the personal family pressures. I wanted to say, “Fellows, don’t you remember how and why the living God called you to Himself in the first place?”

My mind went back to my own reasons for hanging tough through the years. How had I been motivated to stay the course through it all? That thought always draws me back to the amazing glimpse of grace that I received in 1989 during a morning walk. God used it to change the entire course of my ministry. I was going through a particularly rough time in the congregation that I was leading. I was looking to God for answers and pondering some passages that I had recently studied.

Centuries ago Paul was facing the same opposition for preaching the gospel. He found that he had to defend himself before the very people who should have trusted him totally. I identified with that! Some even accused him of using the gospel to serve his own selfish desires. Quitting was never an option. Paul said that we are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed. We are perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed.

What enabled Paul to persevere in the face of such suffering? He thought back to the day of His own dramatic Damascus Road conversion when he met Jesus Christ face to face. It has always been fascinating to me that God blinded Paul so that he could really “see” for the first time. From that day on, his ministry was to advance the cause of Jesus Christ, not his own. Then he gave one of his famous conclusions marked by the word “therefore.”

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

I am painfully aware that my outward man is perishing. My body is growing older and wearing out! I do not have all the time in the world to finish the purpose that God has set me apart to do.

Paul went further! We are not to lose heart because the spiritual man inside is being renewed day by day. This is a comforting thought! No matter what is going on around us, the Holy Spirit is constantly renewing our minds and is steadily conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ.

What an encouragement! But how is this possible? Paul made this amazing contrast. He said that our momentary light affliction is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. What exactly did Paul mean by a “momentary light affliction.” He tipped his hand in the same book. Read this recap of his life!

“In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:23b-27)

This is momentary light affliction? Up against that backdrop, my problem with the congregation didn’t appear so bad. Paul said that all that he was going through in this life paled in significance when compared to the eternal weight of glory that awaited him. Seeing Christ face to face far outweighed the effects of an aging body – the suffering, the defeats, all the heartaches in this life.

What Paul said next became the motivation for my life’s ministry. He said that I was to begin looking beyond the things that human eyes can see and begin to peer into God’s unseen world. The things that I see with my physical eyes are destined to pass into oblivion. They are just temporary passing things. The things that I cannot see with my human eyes are eternal things.

My mind raced on to a third passage that I had recently studied. Contrasting human wisdom with God’s wisdom, Paul wrote these incredible words that God etched forever into my mind.

“But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-13)

God’s wisdom is knowledge that cannot be seen with human eyes or heard with human ears. That sounded familiar! In fact, God’s wisdom is that which has never entered into a human mind before. Incredible! That would mean that this wisdom is not the rehashed human understanding coming from the mind of man.

Paul then wrote something that has become the motivation for the “Glimpses of Grace” ministry and the day by day church ministries that God has led me to. He said that God has revealed these hidden things to us through His Spirit. Hold it! Is this saying what I think it is saying? Is Paul saying that God’s Spirit opens to our human spirits the deep things of God, the hidden wisdom of God? Is he saying that we can know the things that human ears have never heard, nor eyes have ever seen! We can know the things that no human mind has ever thought. That is exactly what he is saying! This is fascinating!

How is this possible? The next line reads, “What man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him?” I alone know my own secret thoughts! Likewise, the Spirit of God alone knows the deep things of God. My mind began to race. “We have received, not the spirit of this world – but the Spirit who is from God!” Why? “In order that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” The Spirit of God lives in me. He has a purpose for being there. He can teach me the “deep things” of God. We can know the things that have been freely given to us by God.

The final words of the passage “comparing spiritual things with spiritual” actually sent me into another world. The Holy Spirit brings to the mind spiritual thoughts as the words are read. As I study the written words of the Bible, verse by verse and line upon line, God the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of my mind to see and understand the deep, fascinating wisdom of God behind the scene. That is absolutely incredible. I (we) can know the mind of God!

Here’s a catch! These glimpses into God’s unseen world cannot be found by searching for them. God opens them to us at His pleasure as we study the Bible word after word and line by line year after year. These “glimpses” are not unique to only a few special Christians. They are open to all. Since we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us, we meet the criteria to receive them. There are not different glimpses for different people. Every believer receives the very same truth.

God has not taught me everything that I have desired to know about His plan, but He has been pleased to give me small insights, small “glimpses.” These insights placed together began to etch a beautiful portrait in my mind. God has opened to me His incredible salvation plan, the true identity of Jesus Christ, the immense value of His death and resurrection, and the nature and purpose of the Holy Spirit, to name but a few.  These are truly God’s glimpses of grace.

The Value of the Cross

January 15, 2011

One of the most used words by Christians – those with a Calvinistic view, those with an Armenian view and those everywhere in between – is the Old Testament word atonement. Why not? It is a strong Bible word.  Atonement is first used in Exodus. “They shall eat those things with which the atonement was made, to consecrate and to sanctify them; but an outsider shall not eat them, because they are holy” (Exodus 29:33). It is last used in Ezekiel 45:20. “And so you shall do on the seventh day of the month for everyone who has sinned unintentionally or in ignorance. Thus you shall make atonement for the temple.”

In my mind, the most important word translated atonement is the Hebrew word “kaphar.” It means simply “to cover.” It is found first in Genesis 6:14 to describe the work of the tar or pitch used between the boards of Noah’s ark to cover and waterproof the boat. No matter how many times it was used and in whatever version it is found, its basic meaning is “to cover or to hide.”

This word permeates the entire Old Testament sacrificial system. The blood of all of the sacrificial animals shed by the sinner, or by the priest on behalf of the sinner, was done in order to symbolically hide the consequences of the sin from the eyes of a holy God. Its primary use culminated with God establishing the holiest day of all to the Jews, the Day of Atonement, or “Yom Kippur.” This special day is mentioned first in Leviticus 23:26-28. Once a year God commanded that the high priest take blood from a kid goat into the holiest part of the tabernacle or the temple. There he would sprinkle the blood upon the mercy seat on top of the ark of the covenant. The blood symbolically came between the judgmental eyes of God represented by two replicas of cherubim located at each end of the ark. They were looking down upon that which was beneath the gold mercy seat.  There rested three items: the broken tablets of the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod that had sprouted buds, and a pot filled with manna. These articles represented Israel’s rebellion against God’s law, His order, and His amazing provision. Together they revealed the depth of Israel’s sin against God.

The blood came between the eyes of the cherubim and the sin of the people. The blood symbolically hid the consequences of sin (death) from the eyes of God. Thus, the blood became the “atonement” for sin before God. The blood never satisfied the just demands of a holy God on behalf of the people. It merely revealed that such satisfaction was necessary. It became a temporary shadow indicting that God was going to deal with the sin of man by the shedding of blood.

Hebrews 10:1-5 says clearly:

For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.

So, what is the value of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross? Two schools of thought have emerged among serious Bible students. Both groups teach that God used Christ’s death on the cross as the atonement for sin. Then what remains is to decide what the extent of that atonement is. Did Christ’s death provide atonement for the entire sin debt of Adam’s race, or did Jesus’ death just atone for the sins of the elect, His beloved sheep? Was Christ’s blood shed for all men, even those whom God created, knowing that they would reject His Son, or was Christ’s blood shed for those whom God has chosen even before He created this world.

I believe that God did not use Christ’s death to be an atonement for sin at all. His death did not merely temporarily cover sin, nor was it to foreshadow anything. His death actually paid sin’s price in full, and it is an eternal payment. The author of Hebrews says that if any Old Testament sacrifice actually satisfied God, then the worshipers, those who were making the offerings, would have no more consciousness of guilt before God. The writer goes on to say that when Jesus came into the world He said that God did not desire the sacrifices or the offerings but that God had prepared a body for Him (Jesus). It would be the sacrifice of His body as the Lamb of God that would actually take away sin, not merely cover it (Hebrews 10:5-10).

The entire sacrificial system made clear God’s just demand against sin but the cross work of Jesus Christ met the demand. God had determined before He created this world that He was going to die in order to pay our sin debt. But God is eternal life and eternal life cannot die. So, amazingly, God took on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ in order to die in our place. As a man, He suffered the death of the cross becoming the Lamb of God (Philippians 2:7).

People saved in the Old Testament were given divine insight into the real meaning of the myriads of sacrifices and the shedding of their blood. God opened the eyes of their heart look beyond that which was seen and believe that He was going to pay their debt in ful. “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way, but the Lord has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

In a strange way all Old Testament saints were saved on credit with the bill finally coming due and being paid in full on the cross of Calvary. So, technically speaking, Christ’s death was not an atonement at all but a propitiation. The word propitiation (Greek, “hislesterion”) means “satisfactory sacrifice.” Like atonement, propitiation is a Bible word that for the most part is seldom used. It is applied to Jesus Christ as our faithful High Priest making propitiation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17).

It is true that the word “mercy seat,” in Hebrews 9:5 is the word that is often translated “propitiation,” but it points directly to the finished work of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:11-15). It clearly connects the dots, so to speak. Christ – unlike all of the Old Testament sacrifices – offered one sacrifice for sin forever (Hebrews 10:11-12).

The word propitiation, not atonement, explains the value of Calvary’s cross. Therefore, the issue concerning the worth of Christ’s death on the cross should not be “limited or unlimited atonement,” but “limited or unlimited propitiation.” But there can be no such thing as an unlimited propitiation. Since Christ’s death – unlike the sacrifices in the Old Testament – actually takes away the consciousness of guilt before God, then it has to be limited to all those who are to trust the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.  People do not go to hell with God permanently freeing them from the guilt of their sin. That would be ludicrous! Propitiation explains clearly that Jesus Christ died to really satisfy His Father’s demand against sin and it will accomplish His purpose of saving those who trust in Jesus Christ alone. Christ’s shed blood has immeasurable worth. His blood does not simply give members of this fallen race a chance to be saved but actually saves those who believe (Hebrews 10:13).

Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:24-26)

And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

Conversion

December 14, 2008

There is a word that is not used much today in local churches. It is the word “conversion.” I do not understand why this is the case.  Jesus Christ used it with His disciples.  Christ’s disciples were having a discussion among them as to which of them would be greatest in the kingdom (Luke 9:46).  Our Lord’s answer is found in Matthew 18 and involved an illustration and an important truth. Jesus called a little child to Him and set the child before the disciples and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:3).  One who enters the kingdom is one who has been converted.

To be converted means “to be changed.” It implies changing from one life into another.  David wrote, “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You” (Psalm 51:13). Peter used a similar word in the book of Acts when he extended this invitation to the Jews, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

Christians are sinners who have been changed. This change has everything to do with being baptized into Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). In Christ we instantly change from being part of an old creation to becoming part of a new creation. We are converted from sinners to saints. Just as the color of cloth is changed when it is submerged into dye, those who are submerged into Christ are changed forever.  New things come and old things go!

“Old things” does not refer to the old sins that plagued us in the past. As long as we remain in this body of flesh, we will possess both the temptation and the capacity to sin. The sin nature resides in our physical bodies. Paul wrote, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.” (Romans 7:18; see also James 1:13-15, James 4:1-2).  John wrote:  “If we say that we have no sin, we make God a liar and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

The “old things” refers to the characteristics that linked us with the old Adam. We are all born connected to him (1 Corinthians 15:22; Romans 5:12). When we receive Christ, the Holy Spirit places us into the last Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ who breathed into us the breath of life (1 Corinthians 15:45).  When we are joined to this Adam, His characteristics become ours.

  • In the first Adam we had an old human nature connected to our physical birth.  In the last Adam we receive His nature from a new birth.
  • In the first Adam we had an old righteousness that is condemned by God’s law. In the last Adam we receive His righteousness written in on our account that meets the demands of the law.
  • In the first Adam we had an old relationship connected to the realm of Satan as children of darkness.  In the last Adam we received His relationship to the Father. He is the Son of God, therefore we become children of God.
  • In the first Adam we had human distinctions that separated us from one another.  In the last Adam those barriers are broken down.
  • In the first Adam we were citizens of old planet earth. In the last Adam we are citizens of heaven.
    In the first Adam we were imprisoned in an old physical body that is ordained to die and to perish.  In the last Adam are destined to receive a new body just like the body that Christ has, designed by God to live forever.
  • In the first Adam we were slaves to sin and fated to spend forever in a place called hell. In the last Adam we become servant kings destined to reign with Christ in His heavenly kingdom.