Brains and Bread

If you were God and wanted a way for people to remember the most important event in human history, what program would you use? More than a watershed event, this is the Son of Your love, Your eternal glory, who enfleshed obedience and sacrifice to purchase a people for life. How will you move the redeemed to remember and rejoice?

We might be tempted to focus on the mental aspect. After all, memory is the brain’s territory. Once the truth is in there, we need a trigger to recall it. We could also support it with specifics to remind us about the scope of this truth—say, that God planned it before the foundation of the world, and the comparative value of the truth—the resurrection of God-incarnate means more than any other resurrection. We can do quite a lot on the inside of our heads and all on our own.

This is what maybe most Christians make of communion in the individualist West. We are separated from one another, separated from connection with place and time. We are even tempted to be separated from our tongues. If we could just visualize communion, wouldn’t that be easier? Wouldn’t that make it less likely to get messed up by forgotten salt in the bread or by bitter wine from the bottom of the bottle or by a slow family at the start of the procession to the table? Isn’t communion about remembering Jesus?

It is, and Jesus instituted a meal for us. Words explain it; we don’t disengage our reason. But words explain it, that is the table and the bread and the cup of wine and the plural number of particular persons with faces and names. The symbols are not empty or superfluous. The eating and drinking together are not wasted physical motions. God cares about who He’s saved and that includes what He’s made them to be. Your body may be broken for now, but He has promised you a healed one for eternity, purchased by the giving of Jesus’ body for you.

Serious Bible Studiers

The disciples on the road to Emmaus listened as Jesus interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself, and their hearts burned. Earlier in His ministry Jesus had talked with some other Jews who were serious Bible studiers. They searched the Scriptures. They didn’t do it to disprove God’s Word, they did it with confidence that they would find eternal life in there.

Yet Jesus claimed that while they knew some of the finer points they had missed the entire point. They knew the details and they didn’t actually know God (John 5:39).

Jesus confronted the Sadducees over a similar problem when some of them came with a Bible question. They wanted to know how the law of Moses—specifically the law about a younger brother marrying his deceased older brother’s wife—fit with the teaching on resurrection. Before giving them the answer Jesus told them, “You know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). But again, their question was based on the Scriptures.

What did these men need to repent from? They needed to repent from the very thing they considered their righteousness. They needed to repent from their Bible reading.

Of course it’s not the Bible that’s the problem, it’s the reading. There is a way to read and search and know the Bible that isn’t enough. It is to read partially, or academically, or for the purpose of impressing others with what we know. But reading the Bible should make us want the glory that comes from God not that comes from man. And reading the Scriptures to know Jesus should show that Jesus is interested in more than just our Bible reading.

It is not enough to be delivered out of the land of weak theology and topical-topic sermons, but still complain and not obey. Some have itching ears for sermons that make them feel better about themselves, yes, and others of us have itching ears for expositional sermons that make us feel better that we aren’t like “other men,” like the unrighteous (see Luke 18:11). Let us repent whenever we need to, including when we find ourselves missing the point while staring at the pages.

Life in the Body

The Christian life is a life in the body. Paul told the Roman church to present their bodies as living sacrifices as part of their spiritual worship (Romans 12). He warned the Corinthians about sexual sins against the body, because “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you. You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

He made us with bodies, He redeems us to “control [our own bodies] in holiness and honor” (1 Thessalonians 4:4), and He promises that, we, with Job, will see our Redeemer in our flesh (Job 19:25-26).

God affirmed our body-ness by giving one to His own Son; the Word became flesh (John 1:14). And God declared Christ Jesus to be the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4).

Jesus was eager to show the disciples His hands and feet post-resurrection.

he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:38–39)

Jesus died in the flesh. Jesus lives in the flesh. Jesus told us to eat His flesh and drink His blood in our flesh and blood.

We receive His grace-strength by faith, but that grace-strength is not for sake of mystical good-feels and holy-thinks. That grace-strength enables us to listen with our ears, to speak truth in love with our mouths, to take the gospel with our feet, and to make lunch/wash clothes/write code with our hands, all for Him.

Freedom from Confusion Is a Gift

Those who believe in the sovereignty of God ought to be the most kind instead of belligerent, and the most patient instead of panicked, in discussions with those who disagree. This is true logically; it is inconsistent to act as if you make the difference while saying that God makes the difference. So it is an issue of being consistent. It is also an issue of obeying God’s command.

the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. (2 Timothy 2:24–25)

Act in accordance with your doctrine, and that doctrine is displayed in the next sentence. As the Lord’s servant behaves himself, “God may perhaps grant them repentance.” Turning from sin is a gift of God, a work of His independent grace.

But what particularly interests me is the result of repentance. “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.”

Repentance precedes knowledge. Sin is blindness,. and God gives the gift of open eyes. Sin is willful error, and God gives the gift of hating falsehood. Sin is slavery to lies, and God gives the gift of freedom from confusion.

This is God’s work in unbelievers, those who are caught in “the snare of the devil,” those who were “captured by him to do his will.”

As it applies to spiritually dead men repenting toward a knowledge of the truth, let us not forget that spiritually alive men still need to repent, and our repentance will result in knowing more truth. We are rescued from the devil’s stranglehold, but we are not without need of correction. Sometimes our sin makes us stupid, and we learn when we turn.

Get You Out of Bed Truths

After a paragraph of imperatives and illustrations about the generational work Timothy was called to (1 Timothy 3:1-7), Paul added another imperative, a turn of the head to the Savior.

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel (1 Timothy 2:8)

Think on Jesus, keep Him in your mind. And in particular, remember that He died, was buried, and on the third day rose again in accordance with the Scriptures. The gospel Paul preached is a gospel promised. God promised a servant-king in the line of David, a redeemer-ruler who came and is coming again. These are ancient truths, these are also get-you-out-of-bed-today truths.

They were truths that Paul was willing to suffer for, to be imprisoned for, and it had a larger aim that his own endurance. He said, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”

We also remember Jesus Christ at the Lord’s Table. We remember His sacrifice of body and blood as we eat the bread and drink the wine. We remember how He substituted Himself for us, for sinners, for those chosen by the Father and given to the Son. We remember that He purchased our forgiveness, our cleansed consciences, and also our place of honor with Him forever. He gets glory and gives it to us. “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.” For now, let us eat and drink with Him.

Spiritual Shapeshifters

Whatever your preferred system of eschatology, there is no doubt according to Paul’s definition that we are living in the “last days.” He told Timothy that the last days would include “times of difficulty” (1 Timothy 3:1), and he described the people who would make it difficult. Such persons “will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (verses 2-4). But that’s all. You can’t collect five Poké Balls, or watch five minutes of cable news, without seeing people like that.

These times will be “difficult,” hard, troublesome. Diesel engines don’t run well on unleaded gas, and a wicked culture will clunk down the road. Sin not only makes the sinner stupid, sin makes a society deadly. A society of evil men will be a violent, dangerous society. These are the difficulties of our lives.

The worst part of all, though, comes in verse 5. Whether it applies to the final two adjectives alone (pleasure-lovers and not God-lovers) or to the entire list doesn’t make much difference. These are the kinds of people “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”

They have the morphosin, the form. They know how to morph into giving a particular look. But it’s just a show. There is no actual life. Not only do they not have power, they refuse to have it. They wouldn’t want it if it was their only choice.

Paul told Timothy: “Avoid such people.” Good counsel. It’s also a good call to confession. We can’t play with any of these sins and not make it more difficult, for ourselves, and certainly for our worship. Be the people who are lovers of God rather than lovers of pleasure, having the appearance of godliness because you are strengthened by God.

Divine Smack Talk

Even though He offers them no redemption, God is, perhaps surprisingly to us, interested in teaching the angels.

For much of the Old Testament, prophets searched and inquired their own prophecies about the grace that would come through the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. All of this good news, which Peter said had been preached to his elect readers, were “things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:10-12).

On the cross Jesus died for those who were dead in their trespasses. He canceled “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” This is Christ’s work for us. But in doing so He also “disarmed the rulers and authorities, and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:13-15). At the cross God taught the angels a lesson.

There is another lesson still going on. God is bringing to light for everyone what is the mystery of His plan. This “God who created all things” continues working “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:9-10). Angels learn lessons as God builds His church.

This demonstrating work goes all the way back to Eden. God told the dragon, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed,” and you are going to lose. We usually don’t describe God’s revelation as “smack talk,” but this is divine insult to the serpent. The woman’s seed wins.

For generations God has been talking this way to rebel angels and He continues to make His point by uniting the church in the Dragon-Slayer, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Pots Throwing Pieces

I bit the bait and clicked an inflammatory link a while back that permanently burned my brain. A straightforward tweet asked: What is the most offensive verse in the Bible? and promised an answer behind a click. The answer surprised me, stirred me, and settled for me so much of our cultural, and even Christian and Christian cultural, woes.

The most offensive verse in the Bible is Genesis 1:1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

If that verse is true–and I believe it without hedging or hesitation, without a wink or crossed fingers behind the back–then God must be acknowledged as Creator, thanked as Maker, and obeyed as Lord by all. This God who created the world rules the world and He makes the rules for the world. He does not need anyone’s counsel, nor does He ask for it or take it. He did not create in order to disclaim His authority but rather to demonstrate it.

He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you 
 but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

What is good for man requires man to submit to God. What is this strange word, “submit”? It means to do what someone else says.

As the t-shirt so memorably exhorts: There is a God, and you’re not Him. Resistance is futile, like clay pots throwing pieces of themselves at the Potter, destroying themselves in the process.

We would do well to take the posture and pray in a way similar as Jesus did, “Not my world, but Yours be done.”

No More Intended Evil

The sovereignty of God and the suffering of men is not an academic exercise. Theodicy—a good God’s control over man’s evil (and nature’s destructive force that hurts men)—confronts us every day. If we say He can stop it, why doesn’t He? If we say He can not stop it, where can we go for help?

I’ve always found it helpful to remember that the most evil thing that has ever happened in the world was planned by God before He created the world. No torture has ever been more unjust than what the soldiers did to Jesus, and by those wounds we are healed. No State sanctioned capital punishment has ever been more malicious or murderous in intent, and by Christ’s death we know God’s loving intent. God used the most heinous sin of man to purchase the salvation of man.

The apostles recognized God’s hand in the crucifixion. Peter preached on Pentecost:

this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:23)

The believers prayed in light of predestination:

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:27–28)

God not only can use the evil of men, He meant to. He invites us to remember the glory of the cross–where He designed the ultimate display of glory–as we eat the bread and drink the wine together.

Calvinist Excuses

If God is sovereign, should we confess our sin?

In other words, if God planned that we were going to sin, then isn’t our sin His responsibility? If He willed our sin to bring about His glory, and, in some cases, to bring about good for us, then what is really wrong with it? It is not a new question.

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. (Romans 3:5–8)

This is a deep subject, one that requires more than a few hundred words to cover. But there are a few things that we can hold as securely as oil is slippery.

  1. God is sovereign. He does whatever He pleases. His will, decreed before the foundation of time, always takes place. God meant the sale of Joseph for good, to save many people alive. God meant the crucifixion of Jesus for good, to atone for many sinners. God meant the rejection of Jesus by the Jews for good, to spread the gospel to all the peoples.
  2. God calls sin, sin. Joseph’s brothers meant evil against Joseph when they sold him. The Jews and Romans meant evil against Jesus when they tortured and killed Him. The Jews who failed to submit to Jesus as the Messiah were evil in their unbelief.
  3. God holds men responsible. The same God who wills history is the same God who wills obedience for men. He has revealed laws, instructions, prohibitions, and warnings. He has also followed through with many warnings, providing us with examples that He’s serious.

He wills to condemn every man who will not confess, He wills to forgive every believer in Christ if we do confess. Shall we excuse our sin because God is sovereign? May it never be!