Opened and Closed Discipline: H.C. Question 85

How is the kingdom of heaven closed and opened by Christian discipline? 

Matthew 18:15-20 – “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

1 Corinthians 5:3-5 – For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 5:11-13 – But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 – Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.

Luke 15:20-24 – So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

2 Corinthians 2:6-11 – The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

Did He have to Die? H.C. Question 40

Why did Christ have to suffer death?

Genesis 2:17 – but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Romans 6:23a – For the wages of sin is death…

Romans 8:3-4 – For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Philippians 2:8 – And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Hebrews 2:9 – But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Suffered: H.C. Question 37 (part 1)

What do you understand by the word “suffered”?

Isaiah 53 – Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

Escape Plan: H.C. Question 12

Heidelberg Catechism Question 12

According to God’s righteous judgment, we deserve punishment both now and in eternity: how then can we escape this punishment and return to God’s favor?

Exodus 23:7 – Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.

Romans 2:1-11 – You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.

Isaiah 53:11 – After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Romans 8:3-4 – For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Day 231: Jeremiah 38-41; Fear and the Fall

Today, we come to it yet again, the fall of Jerusalem.  We have talked about it a couple of times already at the end of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.  These two links will bring you back to these posts (over 100 days ago!).  Jeremiah‘s perspective on all that is happening is similar to what is recorded in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, but seen from a different point of view as he is still working desperately to save the city of Jerusalem and deliver the messages of the Lord of the Lord to King Zedekiah.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the fall of Jerusalem though.  It feels like we have covered this time and again through all of the prophesies and the accounts of its destruction.  There is another message for us today from the last conversation between Jeremiah and King Zedekiah.  The main theme of this?  Fear.

Jeremiah was punished for his unpopular message, imprisoned and thrown into a cistern because “he was going over to the Babylonians.”  I’m sure the public opinion poll of Jeremiah was pretty low at this point and the frustration level of all the Jews was super high.  This is a recipe for disaster for Jeremiah, one that winds up with him at the bottom of a cistern.  Clearly the people don’t want to hear what Jeremiah has to say… at least not until they are desperate, which is exactly what happens here.

The siege is almost over, the city has almost fallen, and King Zedekiah in a last ditch effort call for Jeremiah so he can hear from God one last time.  Jeremiah, knowing this game pretty well by now, doesn’t want to tell him anymore because he knows he’ll just get punished.  But after a promise, Jeremiah delivers one last message to him from the Lord, one that is, by prophetic standards, quite gracious.  I think that God recognizes that the King understands his folly and is seeking the Lord for repentance.  Yet even in that, Zedekiah is gripped with fear.  Jeremiah tells him to surrender… Zedekiah says he is afraid.  Ultimately, Zedekiah give into his fear and it costs him the entire royal court, his entire family, the whole city of Jerusalem, his eyesight, and his freedom.  All of this could have been avoided if Zedekiah had just listened to God.

Fear is a very powerful enemy, a gripping opponent, and a paralyzing emotion.  To often people in the world live (or rather don’t live) their lives because of fear.  I feel like there are times when I am even afraid to come before God because of the things that I have done.  I know my past and I know how God wants me to live and I see that these two things don’t match us.  In Zedekiah’s situation, the fear of what other people would think, say, and do if he followed God was what ultimately lead to his horrific capture and sentence.  Our culture pushes us to look and act a certain way so that people will like and appreciate us as well.  However, God calls us to live a certain way, a way in which He will indeed bless us, if we are faithful to Him.  Again, contrasting the Rechabites to Zedekiah, one will have a place serving God forever and the other will be completely cut off.  Sometimes faith and devotion to God may cost us a few worldly things, but those pale in comparison to the blessings we receive as faithful followers of God.

Day 219: Jeremiah 4-5; The Coming Judgment

Like Isaiah, the beginning of Jeremiah’s message has a lot to do with the coming judgment that will take place on the people of Judah for their disobedience to the Lord.  Yesterday, we heard Jeremiah picking up the notion of the people of Judah prostituting themselves before other gods, carvings and images that were made by man and had no power.  Interestingly, this message comes to us right after the commissioning of Jeremiah, a commissioning that actually is representative of the greater nation of Israel as well.  They were meant to be what Jeremiah is, the voice of God among the nations.  They too were blessed, touched and saved by God for the work that He had for them, yet they would not and did not follow His commands, neither did they fulfill the purpose to which they were called.

Apart from the book of Isaiah, this theme of what will happen to the people of God if they didn’t follow God’s commands is covered in the early books of the Bible as well, in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.  As God is laying out the laws for His people, the covenant which they are supposed to follow, He lays out a section of Blessings and Curses which spells out very clearly these things that Jeremiah, and Isaiah before him, prophesied about.  While it may seem like this is coming out of the blue for the people of Judah, they have been warned before and really, for the extent of their existence as a nation, they have worked under this understanding of the covenant.

Fol.148. Detail of God addressing Jeremiah

Fol.148. Detail of God addressing Jeremiah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This message, again like the message of Isaiah, seems so logical and calculating.  God is saying through His prophet that the people have not followed His commands.  They have not lived out the Shema, they have turned to other gods.  He reminds them that they have been warned time and again and that they have still not listened.  It all seems so emotionless, and kind of sets God up as this rather fist of iron ruler with no mercy or willingness to forgive.  Clearly the people have sinned and that seems to be all there is to it.  Herein lies the main thing that sets Jeremiah apart from the other prophets, emotion.

Too often, I think we take the emotion out of the message; Jeremiah doesn’t though.  While he is a human and likely reacting to the visions and messages that God is giving him about his home country, we also see in him some of the emotion that God exhibits in this message as well.  We always chalk God up to being a God of love, which is entirely true, but I don’t think we often give him credit for all of the other emotions that God has and clearly shows in the book of Jeremiah.  This judgment isn’t simply an emotionless decision.  Like a father disciplining a child, there is hurt on both sides, even if the father knows it is in the best interest of the child.  God knows that his children need to learn, and we have seen in Isaiah that this punishment is part of the process of refining the people of Judah, but it doesn’t make the pain any less great for God the Father either.  It is important for us to understand that, though God is indeed omniscient and knows all that is to come, the actions of punishment and judgment that He takes against His children are difficult even for God, even if He knows the punishment is necessary and the outcome will be good.  These are the actions of a loving God who wants what is best for His children, a love that can be seen in an entirely different light through the emotions of Jeremiah.

Day 201: Isaiah 14-16; Oracles Against The Nations (Part 1)

If we look back at the first graph in the introduction to Isaiah, we come to the section in the book called “God vs. The Nations.”  This is a section in which God is speaking through Isaiah the judgments that will be carried out on all of the other nations around and including Israel.  Today we cover Assyria, Philistia, and Moab, three of the nations surrounding Israel that they had the most contact and conflict with.  Philistia especially, located to the southwest of Israel, continually brought war and strife to the nation of God; the struggle against them was never brought to an end.  One might be bold enough to say that the war is still going on today between Israel and the Palestinians, who live in the same area as the Philistines did in the time of Biblical Israel… though this would be a bold and rather not provable statement I think.

In any case, the next three days we will be reading through these Oracles that contain within them and majority of judgmental messages spoken against these nations.  That being said though, even in here we can find glimpses of hope and restoration that give the dark future a glimmer of light.

One might be tempted to think that it isn’t fair of God to judge the nations that He hasn’t revealed Himself to directly.  They clearly didn’t know the law and didn’t know what was considered sin and what would have been good behavior for them.  In many ways, these people could have been considered innocent by plea of ignorance to the law.  Yet that is not so in God’s eyes.  In fact, to God they stand as guilty as the sinful Israelites did, and were to face the same judgment as them too.

One might also be tempted to say that these other nations were just victims of unfortunate circumstances.  God raised up nations to judge His sinful, disobedient people and they happened to be collateral damage.  Isaiah seems to be saying that this is not so; their destruction and judgment was  also intentional.  This alone indicates to us that they too are under the same Law and judgment of God, even if they didn’t know it, which actually makes sense when you give it some thought.

If God chose Abraham and built Him into a great nation so that through His children all the people of the world would be blessed, then it is clear that God’s plans for the world do indeed go far beyond the boarders of His people.  That too would mean that God has been working for them as much as He has for the people of Israel themselves, and that they fall under the same blessing / curse formula that was laid out in the Covenant at Sinai.  Ultimately one of Israel’s main purposes was to be a light to these nations.  They were to be the ones that would reveal God and God’s will to the nations around them.  This was the way in which God’s love, holiness, and justice was to be communicated.  Clearly, Israel failed at this, but that doesn’t mean that the nations were any less responsible.  God did communicate Himself to them in many ways and we saw the nations of the world coming to Israel in several different circumstances, seeking the will of God through the prophets.

In the end, however, none could live up to the way of life God called them to.  No one was able to live the righteous life that God had commanded and all fell into sin.  Yet even here, found within the words of Judgment against these three nations can be found a word of hope for them as well.  God is not done with any of these nations, or any of the nations of the world.  Indeed God is still at work.  These judgments will come to pass for them for sin needs to be punished, but forgiveness also comes.  Isaiah writes in chapter 16 verse 5:

…then a throne will be established in steadfast love,
    and on it will sit in faithfulness
    in the tent of David
one who judges and seeks justice
    and is swift to do righteousness.

This is a prophecy of the coming Messiah, right in the middle of the judgment that will be coming on the nation of Moab.  Though judgment comes, so too will love, faithfulness, justice and righteousness… the true way of God.  Many times in Scripture, God is portrayed as a gardener amongst the nations.  He tends to his garden, carefully guiding and watering the plants that they may grow.  Sometimes though, a plant needs to be pruned back, for it has grown to big and reached too far.  Sometimes plants need to be pruned all the way down to the stump.  Always though, pruning happens for the good of the plant.  The loving gardener holds no malice for the plant he is pruning, but instead understands that doing this will ultimately lead to a stronger, healthier plant that will bear even more fruit than it already has.

This is the picture that is set before us for the nations as well.  God’s wrath against sin is clear, His judgment on it is righteous, and His purpose ultimately is to bring restoration to the people and all of creation that He has made and sustains.

Day 145: Job 5-8; Job's Wife and Eliphaz

Yesterday we read the intro to Job.  A man that had everything, who was rich beyond richest of the day, lost all but his life in what seemed like an instant.  What is interesting to me though is Job’s reaction, something that we’ll continue to see throughout this whole book.  Job tears his clothes and begins to mourn, but Scripture also says that Job worships God in that time as well.  While I wouldn’t want to belittle anyone’s suffering or pain, I wonder how many of us would turn to God in “worship” when something bad in our lives happens.  I think that part of this is the idea of a funeral worship service in that we remember the life of the person and thank God for the days they were with us.  This is an important part of mourning, in that we remember that it is ultimately God who has given to us the people in our lives and it is He who sustains us.  Job’s words remind me of a wonderful and popular song by Tree63, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job Mocked by his Wife

Job Mocked by his Wife (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After these events happen and Job has even lost his health his wife enters into the scene and give Job her counsel: “curse God and die.”  While I don’t believe this is meant to be a knock on wives, I do think it is indicative of our first tendency when we face trials and evil like this.  We don’t understand why this is happening and the first voice that shows up is one that screams in our minds about fairness and the apparent contradiction that is placed before us.  “How can a loving God allow these things to happen?  He must not be real or He must hate me.”  It is, sadly, our first instinct… to run.  No one likes to be hurt.  Certainly no one likes to suffer.  But the fact of the matter is that sin, evil, and brokenness are a reality in the world.  Job’s response to his wife is very telling of the conviction of his faith in God: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”  I imagine this was not an easy thing for him to say… and it certainly isn’t for us either… but there is truth in his words; a very hard truth.

Иов на гноище. Job. 1547-51. Роспись ю-в. стоп...

Иов на гноище. Job. 1547-51. Роспись ю-в. стопа Благовещенского собора Кремля (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Enter Job’s friends.  For the rest of today and tomorrow we will explore Job’s friends and their responses to Job’s plight.  Initially it seems as though they take the right approach.  They show up and sit with him for SEVEN days without saying a thing!  Wow… 7 days.  Have you ever gone to someone in pain and just sat with them?  Have you ever needed someone to just come and sit with you?  It can be uncomfortable… the silence can be unnerving even… but in this initial reaction, I think Job’s friends get it right.  However, for them and often for us, when Job starts asking questions and despairing out loud, the discomfort takes over and the desire to settle ourselves takes over.  This is what happens with Job’s friends.

Eliphaz listens to Job’s cry, his questioning of the situation, and even his wish that he had never been born, and then he speaks up with words of counsel for Job.  His first response in the ESV Bible is titled “the Innocent Prosper.”  The whole premise for his speech to Job it to point Job away from his “deceit” and towards whatever sin he has done that has brought upon him this punishment.  He works, in many ways, from the idea of a black and while God who only lets good things happen to the good people and bad things happen to the bad people.  Therefore, from the perspective of Eliphaz, Job must have done something wrong.

Sound like a familiar thought?  I know I tend to jump to those thoughts and sometimes even suggestions when it comes to uncomfortable topics like suffering and pain.  Its really easy to explain it away isn’t it?  But I wonder if we (or if Eliphaz) was saying these things for Job’s sake… or for his own?  See, the first thing that we tend to do when we get into an uncomfortable situation is to distance ourselves somehow.  Eliphaz seems to want to answer all of Job’s questions, to explain away his predicament so that the discomfort will go away.  Perhaps you are familiar with this discomfort?  I know that I am quick to answer and slow to listen when it comes to times like this.  But I wonder, if there are times when we need to just be uncomfortable with our friends… if there are times when just sitting in silence, wiping the tears away, and even just listening to the despairing talk of a loved one is all that is necessary.  Perhaps maybe the best answer, is not the one that tries to explain all of the problems away… but is simply a listening ear and a hug?