288 Ways to Judgment

In The City of God Augustine took time to interact with another philosopher who calculated that there were 288 different ways to get meaningful, personal peace. As it turned out, some of those paths could be considered the same, but whatever the exact number is, men have a variety of options to choose from.

Many people are pursuing many different paths today and, while Christians usually say that all paths don’t lead to the same place, what if we turned that around. I heard another pastor say years ago that all paths do lead to the same place. All paths lead to God; they lead to the judgment of God.

This is not the same thing as Universalism because there is only one way to get through judgment to peace. Only those who believe in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who bore judgment for those who believe, will have peace with God. All the other paths get to Him but men will receive from the Judge the punishment of eternal death.

Our weekly celebration of communion reminds us not only of the way to God, but of the way to fellowship with the Father. Judgment had to happen because of our sin, and we rejoice that we’re spared from judgment in the Savior. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” and “access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).

The Taste of Truth

Eve was deceived by the deceiver of the world. Sin in the heart deceives the sinner. Riches deceive from what is truly valuable. God is never deceived; He sees straight through. And we must put deceit away if we want to receive the word of truth.

I’ve observed before that we’re never commanded to read the Scripture. We’re commanded to hear it, to meditate on it night and day, and to do it. But listening or, for those of us with our own copies, reading is only a necessary step in the process. From the inside we’re to “long for the pure spiritual milk (of the word).” Crave it like a newborn craves milk. It’s one of the few things worth getting fussy about. “I need the Word now!”

The Word is good. The Word of the Lord tastes good (1 Peter 2:3), which we know from the Word. The Word gives our spiritual lives energy and nourishes growth in salvation (1 Peter 2:2). We believe that man lives by the Word of God, and we must get rid of some things before we come to eat it.

“Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1). In English this sounds like an imperative, and it is necessary. But in Greek the verb in verse 1 is a participle that depends on the main verb, the imperative in verse 2, “desire.” “Having put away” in verse 1 is the condition.

We’re instructed to get rid of every kind of lying, and we could also see the irony. Are we coming to receive truth while full of falsehood? Do we have duplicity in our hearts and yet want something pure? Jacob wanted God’s blessing through the word of his father, but he had to deceive his father to get it? It ought not be so.

Let us not be deceived by sin, or sin by deceiving. Instead let us taste and talk about the truth.

The Problems with Blessings

Those Christians who are gospel-centered are in great shape to see blessings in context. Good things do not ever exist in a vacuum.

The closest it’s ever come to having good things without problems was in Eden. But even there, everything good was given. No man has ever had anything good from and by and for himself. He has always needed to give thanks. It wasn’t a trial, but it was a test.

After the fall, this is what man naturally hates to do: give thanks. He wants good things that will make him happy, but he doesn’t want them in the real world. He doesn’t want to be in love, he wants to be in love in a movie. He wants to make an idol, have that idol bless him without requiring anything, and then also not to have to deal with the nagging sense of silliness about the process. The last part may be the most difficult.

But, someone might say, what about in heaven? Won’t the blessings there be removed from all problems? In one way, but not in all ways. The blessings may come unattached to new problems, but not from the remembrance of problems. We’ll still have questions such as How did we get there? Who paid for all of this?

In John’s vision in Revelation he “saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5;6). We will always worship God for His love for us, love shown when Jesus died on the cross. Every blessing we enjoy forever is only any good as it is on context of our sin, His sacrifice, and salvation. Blessings don’t come in a vacuum. They come at a cost.

At the Lord’s Table we’re already learning to receive the good from God in the context of trouble. But even those troubles are good in so far as God uses them to keep us dependent on Him for good.

It’s a Lie

I’ve heard it said that our talk talks and our walk talks but our walk talks a whole lot louder than our talk talks. In other words, we’re known not just by what we say but by what we do. “Even a child makes himself known by his acts” (Proverbs 20:11).

Since we speak, then, with both our lips and our lives, and since it’s true that we lie with our lips, then we should also consider that we can lie with our lives. We may not use untrue words, but we may be constantly communicating untruth in our ways. The easiest and worst lie of our lives—worst because it should be the least neglected—is to live as if we do not need God.

The human race wants to “be like God,” but in a way that we replace Him. That is not only difficult, it’s a miserable lie. It’s miserable because it’s pathetic; does the pot really think it can replace its Potter? And it’s miserable for all who do believe it because of the constant head-banging. Trying to replace God is contrary to the inescapable reality that we were made to reflect Him and depend on Him. The truth is that our identity is tied to Him.

Augustine wrote in The City of God:

That is a lie which we do in order that it may be well with us but which makes us more miserable than we are.

Unless we believe, unless we worship, unless we call on the name of the Lord, we cannot be truly blessed because we will be disconnected from the only one who gives true blessing. May we do truth by coming “to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that our works have been carried out in God” (John 3:21).

Big Brother

Jesus is a much better big brother than Esau. Both were willing to give something up, but one gave up to his shame, the other to His glory.

Esau despised his birthright. He was born into a special position but it meant nothing to him, so he basically gave it to his brother. Jesus is the firstborn of creation and the firstborn from the dead. He did give up glory, in a way for a time (see Philippians 2:5-11), but not because He despised His position. Instead it was so that He could eventually share more glory with His brothers.

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17)

Even though Jesus had and has a unique place in the heavenly Father’s heart, Jesus did not rub that in. He doesn’t flaunt His exalted position or work to make us feel that we don’t have it. He identified with us, He was “made like his brothers,” in order to “make propitiation,” meaning that our older Brother won His Father’s favor for us by dying for our sins.

At our remembrance of Him in communion He brings us closer to the Father and to each other. He overcomes our grasping for preeminence, our tantrums and envy and posturing. He feeds us. He Himself is our food and our drink by faith. Our Brother did not despise His birthright, but despised the shame of the cross and is the founder and perfector of our faith.

A Profanity Problem

In a paragraph of instruction about how we ought to treat one another, the author of Hebrews named names. In particular, he named the name of one man that we must not be like. There were many men and women of faith to be imitated in chapter 11, but in chapter 12 we must not be like Esau.

Starting in Hebrews 12:12 we’re told to pursue peace and holiness. We are to help everyone obtain grace. We’re to weed out bitterness that causes trouble and that defiles. And then we’re to be careful:

that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.

The Old Testament doesn’t ever refer to sexual immorality by Esau, so, while there is a connection between the two sins in verse 16, Esau especially embodies the latter. His sin was that he was “unholy” (ESV), “godless” (NAS), or “profane” (KJV). The Greek word is  βέβηλος, an adjective describing something worldly without transcendent significance. Eating stew could have been good if Esau had received it from God with gratitude. It was no good for him to eat it without thanks, without humility, and to trade something special for it. That’s profane.

Esau didn’t just eat in panic, he ate out of proportion. He desired the bowl in order to fill his belly more than he desired God’s blessing.

That wasn’t the end of the story. The very next verse, Hebrews 12:17:

For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

The “afterward” wasn’t after the meal, it was years after when Jacob stole the blessing. But the process started when Esau bartered away his birthright. His life was represented in the act of grasping the things of earth instead of receiving God’s gift in the things of earth.

There are many in the church today with a profanity problem, not just in the worldly language they use, but in despising the privileges God has given them that go beyond the immediate and the visible.