The Very First Blessing

We continue our series of exhortations to confession based on the idea of blessing. Receiving our blessings well is part of our worship as well as part of our witness to the world. We’ve considered already that forgiveness is God’s blessing, as is fruitfulness.

The very first blessing of God to man came on man’s very first day on earth. It is the second use of the word “blessing” in Genesis 1, but applied to human beings in verse 28.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on earth.

God looked on His newly created image-bearers with favor. He had given them life and, in light of how Genesis 2:15-25 fits between verses 27 and 28 in chapter one, God had given them each other. For Adam, breath and a bride were both blessings. But verse 28 makes the blessing seem like still more, and I think the blessing is connected with the rest of the verse. Blessing is purpose.

This is a big purpose. On the large scale, you are blessed to make family and culture and technology. But on the day to day scale, this is hugging and feeding your kids, this is filling the car with gas so you can get to work, this is trying to figure out how to help your boss or co-workers or clients better, this is putting the laundry away and baking bread.

We complain often about some of God’s best gifts to us. Our bodies are tired or hurting, but what an amazing grace that they work at all! Our spouses and our kids give meaning to our accomplishments and they provide stories to tell and retell, but we grumble about the challenges. The long task list doesn’t excite us, it overwhelms us, and it may be because we don’t see the blessings. Are you tired because there is a lot to do? Good, God gave you a lot to do.

Our unbelieving neighbors have been given no less purpose. They are made in God’s image. Though they don’t deserve all the meaning that is around them, their failure to recognize it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it means that they are more accountable for their denial. Life seems to them like vanity and striving after wind, but that’s because they refuse to relate their purpose to their Maker.

God didn’t have to give you relationships or responsibilities. But He did. A person with only potential isn’t finished, and we often give such a person grief, but many having many potentials to pursue is good. God blessed you with purpose. How are you receiving those blessings? Does how you’re receiving them make others jealous?

Making a Mess

In his “Treatise on the Holy Supper of our Lord and Only Savior Jesus Christ” John Calvin observed:

The devil, knowing that our Lord left nothing more beneficial to the Church than this holy sacrament, according to his accustomed manner, exerted himself from the beginning to contaminate it with error and superstitions, and to corrupt and destroy its fruit, has not ceased to pursue this course, until he has almost wholly subverted this sacrament of the Lord and converted it into falsehood and vanity.

What was true in 1536 is still true today; the devil is still our adversary and he still seeks to spoil our time around the Lord’s Table. Whatever specifics Calvin had in mind, what are the things that make communion “false” today?

  • Communion is false if men participate as frauds, that is, if they partake without love and pursuit of righteousness.
  • Communion is false if men participate as if the bread and wine themselves are magical, that is, if they do not partake of the elements by faith.
  • Communion is false if men participate in sadness, that is, if they partake without rejoicing in the salvation Christ purchased for them.
  • Communion is false if men participate in isolation, that is, if they partake either on their own apart from the body or in unresolved conflict with another member in the body.
  • Communion is false if men participate with presumption, that is, if they partake without giving thanks. Jesus gave thanks when He instituted the meal, twice, both before the bread and the wine. Being confident to share communion with God in a meal of peace does not mean He owes it to us.
  • Communion is false if men participate flippantly, that is, if they partake without a sober appreciation of the cost, namely, the death of God’s own Son. To be solemn does not require us to be sullen, but a lack of serious joy disrespects His gift to us.

Satan is working to make a mess of this meal. Is our communion true or false?

Forgiveness Equals Freedom

Of all the things that Christians have, what would make an unbeliever most jealous? Of course those who are outside of Christ, those who don’t have the light of the gospel, are in no better position to determine value than a blind man could count the stars through a telescope with the lens cap still on. For those of us whose eyes are open in Christ and who have His Word about things, we’re actually in a better position to know what the unbeliever should want whether he can express it or not.

The Bible describes how men should want God’s blessing. Our eschatology anticipates that an entire people group will envy what we have from God so much so that they will repent and believe in Christ (for example, Romans 11:11-12). What blessings are such a powerful pull?

There are many blessings that God gives. Last week I wrote that stability and fruitfulness are His blessing, and I started with Psalm 1 because it is a timely reminder as we make plans for a new year. But the verses we read in the liturgy that reminded us of our forgiveness from Psalm 32 state that forgiveness itself is a blessing, and it may be the most important one of all.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
(Psalm 32:1–2)

This blessing of forgiveness comes to those who confess that they are sinners. This happiness (the plain meaning of “blessed”) does not come to liars, suppressors, or even to hiders. Verse 3 refers to David’s “bones” that “wasted away” in his silence. Verse 4 describes God’s heavy hand of conviction, drying up strength “as by the heat of summer.”

But when he “acknowledged” and “confessed” (verse 5) he received blessed forgiveness. Men cannot cover their sin on their own, they cannot escape God’s righteous requirements or His all-seeing judgment. Sin is an agonizing burden in the consciences of men. While there is a sense in which discipline equals freedom, and another sense in which gratitude equals freedom, first and foremost forgiveness equals freedom. We who own up and come clean are covered by Christ’s atoning work. How blessed we are.

Hanging up a New Calendar

If you plan to start a new Bible reading plan this year (or if you “cheated” and began at the end of December), you are more than likely going to read Genesis 1. The plan I’m using in 2018 includes the first two chapters for the first day of the year. I always really enjoy the feeling of a new year that goes along with the creation account and the sense of gift and possibility that comes from God.

But, and it’s no more surprising than the inevitable deflation of the Christmas break balloon, Genesis 3 is coming. The ancient dragon is coming. Eve will eat like she’s done every other time. Adam will fail to obey His Maker, and he will doom humanity to death again. For all the optimism that January 1 tends to bring, January 2 is back to work in a world under the curse.

So now is a timely place to remind you that time does not heal all wounds. Hanging up a new calendar has never fixed any relationship. Amazing plans for self-discipline in diet and exercise and communication cannot, by themselves, get anyone back to Edenic paradise.

Depending on your reading plan, maybe you get one day out of 365 (which is a puny percent of the year) where, during your Bible meditation, there is no sin. But in reality we don’t even get that. We are facing, right at 12:00:01 AM on 1/1/18, another year of spiritual enmity, of conflict, of sweaty work, of pain, of death. Here comes another year of seeing our nakedness before God, of the guilt that comes from being deceived or being weak. We are facing another year of sin desiring to rule over us.

Time, past or present or future, does not solve sin, time is a theater for sin. Jesus—dead, buried, and risen from the grave on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures—is the Savior from sin. He is the seed of the woman in whom the serpent’s head is crushed. We enter the year of our Lord 2018, and we do so abiding in Him that His joy may be in us and that our joy may be full.

Really Blessed

For a few months I have been in a #blessed mood. In a sermon near the end of the summer I recommended The Blessed Option as a way to think about our influence in the world. We ought to see His blessings and thank Him for them in such a way that would provoke others, not just to want similar blessings, but more so to come to the God who gives them. Could we want something other, or even in addition to, God’s blessing? We can’t, at least not as consistent Christians.

But “blessing” is one of those Bible words that we hear and use and have only a vague sense about what it actually means. So I’m going to do a series of confession exhortations based on different descriptions of God’s blessing in the Bible. I think it will be especially timely as we count down the beginning of a new calendar year.

There are some famous blessings in the Bible; we will get to some of them. For this morning, consider that the very first word in the hymnbook of the Old Testament is the word blessed: “Blessed is the man…” (Psalm 1:1).

The immediately following lines in verses 1-2 do not describe this man’s blessedness but rather his chosen source of information and direction. He does not spend time listening to sinners and scoffers. He doesn’t hang with them or identify with them. They don’t dominate his radio station presets or podcasts, his favorite cable news channel, or his social media feeds. Instead he delights in and mediates on the law of the Lord. He marinates his mind in God’s Word.

The blessing, more accurately, blessings plural, are found in verse 3.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
(Psalm 1:3)

The blessings of God are stability and fruitfulness. The blessed man’s roots are established and he is not easily moved by the wind. His source of life is abundant so he is not threatened by the heat. He bears fruit when it is time.

To be blessed is not to be driven by fads or driven by fear or driven to doubt by the wicked chaff. Blessing grows out of our chosen meditation. What do you plan to really think about this next year? It will affect whether you or not you are really blessed.

Still Bringing People Together

Birth brings people together. One of the seasonal favorite songs, “The First Noel,” celebrates the good news about the birth of the King of Israel whom we know is the King of kings.

The word noel seems to be borrowed from French (nael) which itself is a derivative from Latin (natalis) meaning nativity, “the occasion of a person’s birth.” The first birth was not the first in history but rather the first in preeminence. Jesus is the true “firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 98:27). He is the one who brings together.

Consider the group that His birth brought together. There was the unwed, teenage mother, Mary. There was the unheralded but steady Joseph. Then add the dirty “poor shepherds” outside the city, and also the “wise men came from country far.” God used a Caesar to get Mary and Joseph in place, angels to get the shepherds in place, and a star to get the wise men in place. Though all of them weren’t actually together on the same night, they did all come together around Jesus.

As do we. Who are we? We are not many wise according to worldly standards, not many powerful or of noble birth (1 Corinthians 1:26). We are more the previously sexually immoral, idolators, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunken revilers (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). But a baby was born. God by His grace and Spirit has brought a ragtag group together around the baby.

Matthew’s genealogy includes the outcast, scandalous, and foreigner. The family Jesus comes from anticipates the family he has come for. (Sam Allberry)

We who believe in Jesus are a new family, a new humanity in the Second Adam from above. Jesus’ birth, leading to His death and resurrection, is still bringing people together.

Keeping the Incarnation on the Front Burner

For the past three weeks I’ve been reminding us that God came in the flesh. We need reminding about certain things, and the Christmas season is a strategic time to keep the incarnation warming on the mental front burner. The apostle John stated that to deny Christ came in the flesh is the spirit of the antichrist (1 John 4:2-3). The apostle Peter referred to Christ’s suffering in the flesh as key to our thinking (1 Peter 4:1-2). And the apostle Paul considered the truth of Christ’s incarnation to be the church’s responsibility to protect.

He wrote to Timothy about “the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The church supports and defends the truth. Then he continued with an amazing hymn of truth.

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)

Most of these belong with godliness. It suits God to be vindicated and appreciated and believed then received into heaven’s glory. All of those fit. It does not fit, not naturally, that godliness would first be “manifested in the flesh.”

The Old Testament prophesied it. The virgin would bear a son and his name would be called Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). God would be with us (Matthew 1:23). But it was still a mystery. It still didn’t all make sense. Yet now we know. God, and true godlinesses, was revealed in Jesus.

We are to love and proclaim and believe and support that truth. It is not secondary or optional. Our salvation depends on it. And we also should desire that godliness be manifest—made known, gone public—in our own flesh. The work of the Spirit is a sanctifying work until we are taken up into glory with Jesus.

The Gluten of Your Family


One of the reasons God gives us fathers is so that we can learn what is good, including what is good to eat. It’s not that God expects every father to be a nutritionist, but He does provide father’s with the opportunity to be examples. Father’s will inescapably teach their children about eating, the question is what lesson they will teach.

What is a balanced meal? Who says what is “balanced” and based on what (verse)? Is that even worth pursuing? How do you handle the food being a bit late to the table? A lot late? Do you ever help to prepare the meal, or clean up from it? How big, or small, are the portions you dish out? Is eating a thing done in silence or amidst confrontation or amidst laughter? How do you handle items on your plate you don’t prefer (I’m looking at you, Brussels sprouts)? Is there more fear about where the food came from or ingredients in the food than there is fear about not giving God appropriate thanks for it? Even if you’re actually allergic to gluten, does your attitude glue the family together?

The lesson here is not as much about what goes into your mouth and more about what comes out of your heart. The Pharisees constantly missed this, and yet they made a lot of converts to their discriminating but dead righteousness. Fathers aren’t paid to follow their kids around and police what goes into their mouths. Father’s are given to children to care for them and show them the ways of Christ. The same is happening at the Lord’s Table. Fathers, I urge you, eat and drink in the way you want your kids to imitate, because they will.

A Season to Be Made More Sturdy

We believe that by the power of the Holy Spirit God’s Son became incarnate from the virgin Mary. We believe that He is now recognized in two natures, truly God and truly man, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation. There is no one like Him.

We confess that Jesus came in the flesh (1 John 4:2-3). Not only so, we remember that Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3). And what did He do in the flesh? Among all the normal human things such as eating and drinking and sleeping and walking and working, He suffered.

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:1-2).

Peter’s previous paragraph talked about Christ the righteous suffering for the unrighteous. He was “put to death in the flesh” (1 Peter 3:18) for us. It is amazing that God became man. It is more amazing that God came to suffer.

It is an annual temptation to forget the suffering part, His and ours in imitation of Him. Christmastime is not a time to get out of suffering, it’s a time to remember the God who wrote Himself into the suffering story with us and for us. Christmastime may include sweet things to eat and a sense of security, but those are only possible because others sacrificed, and in some cases died, to give us what we have.

We receive cards that use soft colors to portray calm, warm evenings by a fire with lots of presents under a decorated tree. Such sentimental sketches don’t keep anyone from sin, they often stimulate false expectations and holiday idols. The same is true with so many “seasonal” songs; they are superficial and saccharine and don’t make us more sturdy. But Christ came in the flesh and suffered in the flesh so that we also would live for the will of God, and that includes our sanctified suffering, even on and around Christmas.

The Goat that Went Away

A scapegoat is a powerful symbol.

In the Bible it comes from Leviticus 16. On the day of atonement the Lord told Aaron to take “two goats and set them before the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for [the scapegoat],” at least that’s how the King James Version and the New American Standard Bible translate it. The ESV translates it as “the other lot for Azazel,” unsure of the exact meaning, suggesting maybe it is the name of a place.

Yet the note of commentary in the ESVSB says:

The traditional explanation is that Azazel (Hb. ‘aza’zel) is a compound word, combining “goat” (Hb. ‘ez) with “going away” (Hb. ’azel): the word would then mean “goat that goes away” (hence the conventional “scapegoat”).

The word is used in Leviticus 16:8, 10, and 26.

As I said, the image is powerful. It is a goat, it is a goat that gets sent away into the wilderness, and it is a goat that gets sent away into the wildness carrying the sins of the people. Of the two goats, one is sacrificed and the blood covers the sins. The other goat, the scapegoat, symbolically removes sins. They are taken away.

Cultures seek scapegoats. Whole books are written to explain the motives and the methods. But none of them are effective. Jesus is. He is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The apostle John also wrote, “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins” (1 John 3:5).

Jesus died so that we might reign with Him (see 2 Timothy 2:12, Revelation 20:6). Who died and made us kings? Actually, Jesus did, and we’ll reign with Him.

And there we’ll find our home

Our life before the throne

We’ll honour Him in perfect song

Where we belong

He’ll wipe each tear-stained eye

As thirst and hunger die

The Lamb becomes our Shepherd King

We’ll reign with Him
(“There Is a Higher Throne” verse 2)