Consider the statement Paul made about the Jews in 1 Thessalonians 2:16. He said that they opposed “all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved–so as always to fill up the measure of their sins.” They did not think that they were heaping up a pile of predefined sin. It would be too bold for Paul to claim that he knew the quantity. So who had the measuring bucket? God.
Isn’t this true for everyone? When God covenanted with Abram He said that Abram’s descendants would return to the land in 400 years for the “iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16). Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees, “Fill up, then, the measure of your [murdering] fathers” (Matthew 23:32). God knows the amount of sin and He knows when we’ve reached the quota.
This also means, does it not, that God knows exactly how big the bucket of sins was that He poured on Christ. That bucket included all the sins of all those who would ever believe. Each and every person who is part of the redeemed can say that wrath has been taken for them at last! The measure of all our sins was filled up and taken by the Lamb.
We are great sinners. But we Christians have confessed our sins and He has forgiven us because His bucket of grace has no quota. It never runs out. Think about how many cups, no matter the size, have been filled for sake of celebrating the Lord’s Supper by Christians since the Last Supper. We have gone through approximately 5,000 cups at our church alone in less than four years. Imagine how many more have been used by our brothers and sisters throughout the world today. Multiply that by some 1975 years or so. Not one of those cups has represented partial payment. Not one of them has been a symbol of Christ’s incomplete taking of wrath. Christ took all the wrath for us and gives to us all the grace.
Sin is not sweet. We shouldn’t ever look at it, or look back at it, with nostalgia. Confession is not a time for warming ourselves by the fire with a cup of hot cocoa telling a wistful story about the time when we blew it, and doesn’t it just take us all back to a happier time? And, hey, look how transparent we were!
Sin is gross. We should be gentle with babies when they soil their pants. But we should be gentle as we clean off the mess. I realize that some Christians still can’t seem to explain why it stinks everywhere they go. They aren’t acknowledging their mess, they don’t ever confess their sin. But it is also possible to run around holding our pile of sin under everyone’s nose. “Isn’t this great?” No, it’s disgusting.
Sometimes I confess my own sin publicly, occasionally during our weekly time of exhortation, maybe as an application from something the in sermon, even at a Men to Men or Life to Life meeting. Isn’t that showboating? It could be. If I did it to attract attention to myself it would be wrong. If I did it without actual repentance that would also be wrong.
I try to do it so that it’s clear that persons need to repent. We can study what the Bible says about confession, but then we need to do what it says. Confession is a doctrine that we must practice. Even persons in positions of leadership and authority need to confess; men and husbands and fathers and pastors sin. I need to repent of my sins more than I need to be an expert at seeing the sin of the other guy. I never had an example, so it can be helpful to see what repentance might look like. But the sin is ugly. My sin stinks. Sometimes I confess in public so that you know I know it’s good to kill it.
We don’t need sympathy for our sin. We need a Savior from it. Don’t confess your struggles here, or in a small group setting, or on your blog, or over coffee because you think it’s a treasure to show it to everyone. That’s not necessarily more honest, it may just spread the stink around.
What kinds of things can be learned by imitation? Behaviors such as how to small talk can be learned, as can preferences such as how you like your meat cooked, or traditions such as what to do on holidays, or even partialities for dying or artificial Christmas trees. Maybe the better question is, what kinds of things can not be learned by imitation? We talk about many different styles of learning, but the Trinity wired us to watch and pick up on patterns and mindsets, even when those go against the words spoken or printed. Kids more often do what their parents do even when their parents tell them to do as they say.
The inevitability of imitation can be as encouraging as it is overwhelming. It means that we can make a difference with our kids, with our fellow small groupers, with our neighbors, students, co-workers, and friends. It may take time. It will take time. But consider that the Thessalonians earned quite a reputation in a short while. Entire regions knew about their imitation of the Lord within months of the start of the church. Obedience, joy, work, those are things that stand out.
Paul told the Ephesians,
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1–2, ESV)
When we come to the Lord’s Table things turn. We see what Christ did and we learn to do likewise. We also show what to do as we come. We consider His example and then become examples. This is why some of our kids want to participate. That’s how it should be. We demonstrate who saves and that our joy is in Him. Our joy demonstrates that we believe that God has provided forgiveness, not that we can earn or purchase it. We don’t come to win His grace, we come to receive it. We’ve turned from the idols of human effort to the living and true God, to the loving and sacrificing God in Jesus His Son. That sort of thing gets around.
When Paul defended his ministry before King Agrippa in Acts 26, he included the charge that the Lord gave to him. Jesus said to him,
I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:16–18, ESV)
Jesus commissioned Paul to work for conversions. This converting work still happens today as men become Christians, and in another sense it also still happens within Christians.
When we gather on the Lord’s Day, we say that our eyes have been opened. We acknowledge that we have been converted, that we no longer walk in darkness but in light. We worship the true and living God. We declare that have sinned but that we also have received forgiveness. And we take our place among the holy.
We are still tempted, though, and we still sin. The Lord set us apart, converted us, but He continues to convert us as well, changing our behavior by changing our longings. He is still sanctifying us, still turning our loves away from sin, from unholy and unworthy desires.
A fundamental break was made when he first granted us repentance, but our feet get dirty day by day. We must continue to repent, to turn away from the ways of the world and be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Are you continuing to turn? Do you think about your ongoing conversion? Are you seeking further sanctification by faith in Him? If yes, then confession of sin is a time to look forward to. It continues the purifying process and in doing so declares whose side we’re on.
More than David, more than Job, no man ever felt more forsaken by God than Jesus. Near the end of His time on the cross (Matthew 27:46), Jesus took a line from Psalm 22 as His own.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1a)
The next few lines of Psalm 22 also fit with His affliction.
Why are you so far from saving me,
from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
We sing about when “The Father turned His face away” from the Son. Yet Jesus certainly did nothing wrong. He had no sin of His own. And He felt forsaken. We know that He wasn’t doing drama or mouthing the words.
Our righteous God cannot look at the unrighteous. But the good news is that the Father forsook His Son for a time so that He could never forsake His redeemed, adopted children.
We can be encouraged to know that the godly have such times. We can be encouraged to know that ours will never be an experience as bad as that of Jesus. And we can be thankful that Christ endured being forsaken in order to secure our eternal fellowship with God. Do you feel isolated from God? Then come, eat and drink in remembrance of Him and in fellowship with Him by faith.
Ah, the winter holiday season is upon us and it starts this coming Thursday with Thanksgiving. We are learning that God is honored when we feast and not only when we fast. We are also learning that feasting is a whole lot of work.
Fasting takes a lot of discipline. We could even call it work. But it is mostly mental and spiritual work. In order to honor the Lord with a fast, no one needs to compile a shopping list, or vacuum the floors, brine the bird, roll the dough, mash the potatoes, fold the napkins, whip the cream, uncork the wine bottle, or wash all the dishes. Denying the flesh requires effort but a lot less clean up.
That said, those who do a lot of work to feed bodies have a different need to deny their flesh. Prepping a great meal is an example of something that can happen anytime, but the Thanksgiving holiday sets the table for what we could call Thanksgrabbing, a tradition some of us may already be observing.
Thanksgrabbing occurs when we expect to be seen and praised for all our work. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be thanked; of course you should. But if bitterness grows every hour you’re on your feet because no one seems to notice, let alone offers to help, or if your leftover casserole cooks in a broth of hurt feelings because guests didn’t acknowledge all your effort, then you may be grabbing for thanks.
Again, attitudes can sour in a cornucopia of ways and it isn’t particularly a matriarchal sin. It’s the kind of sin that happens when one trades a monk outfit for a lightweight martyr outfit, serving and sacrificing in order to obligate thanks from others. Deliverance from dualism involves new difficulties, but they are difficulties worth fighting. Don’t let resentment make you the biggest turkey at the table. Remember, “The liberal soul shall be made fat,” and those who gladly share gravy will be gravied themselves (see the KJV of Proverbs 11:25).
On most Saturday nights our household makes dinner into an event. The food may be a bit more fancy as well as the decorations on the table. We get the kids involved with some quick-fire catechism type questions, we all sing the doxology, we pray, and then we feast as an appetizer for Sunday morning’s feast of worship.
One thing I usually do is poor the drinks. Everyone around the table gets a glass of wine, be it a large glass or a kid cup, and to whatever degree it is cut with seltzer water. It’s part of our celebration and my privilege to pour out the portions. Dad sets the tone by doling out the wine.
The Lord also fills cups. The wicked get the cup of fire and sulfur and scorching wind to drink as David described in Psalm 11:6. For the righteous, we can sing along with another of David’s songs,
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
The Lord is the one who gives us our cup. He gives it to us Himself and in it He gives us Himself. He gives Himself to us now, during worship, as a taste of a forever feast.
What more proof do we need than the word that declares the goodness of the Lord’s Supper? God gave Himself for us so that He could give Himself to us. He gave His body and blood, He gives us Himself. He is our cup and the cup today is an endowment for an eternal heritage of fellowship.
There is a stage of development as Christians are learning to love righteousness that can cause its own kind of damage. There is no way to not love righteousness and have that be good. There is also a way to love righteousness that is not as good as it could be. It can happen between peers, it can happen from parents and pastors, and really anytime someone watches someone else sin.
Here are two ways to state it positively, one from Proverbs and one from an apostle. Solomon said,
Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
And Peter said,
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
In each circumstance there are real problems: an offense was committed and sins were multiplied. These are not okay, and they are virtually impossible to avoid in a community or a classroom or around a kitchen table. Yes, we are to help one another recognize and repent from sin. Yes, we are to train our kids to obey and respect. Yes, we are to be a people who love righteousness.
But how can we have the glory of overlooking an offense without anyone committing an actual offense against us? And are we loving earnestly by always grinding confession out of others? It is not good sense, let alone our glory, to be fussy with the fussers. We may have been sinned against, but we may sin in being so easily offended.
November is National Adoption Month and in this first week of the month elections took place across our country. It may be too much to tie together an exhortation to confess from these two threads, and yet they may be in a knot already.
When we worship God we not only see what He is like but also what He likes. More than that, we begin to like the same things. It is possible to study His interests without becoming interested in Him or the subjects, but we will not sing from our souls about Him having certain loves and then act as if our loving the same persons or things is inconsequential. The godly will be like the God they praise.
Our God cares about the fatherless. In Psalm 10 David celebrated that the LORD “will incline [His] ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed” (verses 17b-18a). He “settles the solitary in a home” (Psalm 68:8). Widows and orphans are His cause (James 1:27).
So then must we also care for the fatherless. It may be providing permanence. It may be helping in transition. It may be working at prevention. It could be adopting, fostering, providing emergency care or respite care, or just helping financially in any part of the process.
We also ought to be voting for officials who will not kill our children before they are born (or kill our widows because they are a “drain on society”). How the wicked have been making men fatherless, not because men grow up without fathers, but because the wicked urge fathers to kill their kids. When men worship the god of their belly (more money and time for themselves) they hate the fruit of the womb. But God cares about them.
Our kids are not a hindrance to our fruitfulness, they are our fruitfulness. Until we get (or regain) that perspective, one that can only come as we worship God, our nation will continue to be barren and barbaric.
Though David wrote Psalm 8 about man as in mankind, the author of Hebrews also recognized a unique application for the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere,
“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
putting everything in subjection under his feet.”
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:5–9)
God gave man dominion on earth, but God gave His Son dominion over the dominion-takers, the history-makers, and even over the nay-sayers. “At present we do not see everything in subjection to him.” Sinners still live and sin and stand against the Son of Man. Men still reject their Creator and suppress the truth they know about Him.
We have not reached the final chapter, but we will see all things in subjection, we will see God’s will on earth as it is in heaven, because Christ’s dominion is not potential. It is established; He is risen from the dead.
All things, including governments and businesses and neighborhoods, will be in service to the Son because He already suffered, died, and rose again. He did it as grace. He did it as a substitute. He did it to redeem “many sons” and bring them to glory through sanctification (Hebrews 2:10).
He is helping the tempted now (Hebrews 2:17-18). He is changing us now. He is identifying with us, unashamed to call us brothers now (Hebrews 2:11), even as He invites us to eat His flesh and drink His blood.
At present we do not see everything subjected to Him. But the world ought to see us in subjection to Him as we gather at His Table.