We Win in Him

Near the end of his first letter the apostle John utilized the overcoming language that he had heard Jesus use.

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4–5, ESV)

Verse 4 is one of the first phrases I memorized in Greek: ἡ νίκη ἡ νικήσασα τὸν κόσμον, ἡ πίστις ἡμῶν. The nike that niked, the victory that victoried, the triumph that triumphed, the overcoming that overcame is our faith. When we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, we win in Him.

The Lord’s Supper is a meal of overcoming. We eat and drink by faith as Jesus overcomes our hunger and thirst. He is true food and true drink, eternally filling (John 6:35, 51). We come to this table because He overcomes our sinful distance. We commune with God the Father through His Son. We eat this supper because He overcomes death. Dead men don’t eat, but resurrected men have quite an appetite.

In Jesus we have victory. He invites us to share together the symbols of His triumph, His body and blood. What we have here cannot be taken from us; we cannot be defeated. Even if they lead us like lambs to the slaughter, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. This is the power of the cross.

Trimming the Fat

We are at the threshold of a new year, a customary and fitting time to evaluate if we were worshipping any idols over the last twelve months that should be dethroned. Call it resolutions, call it repentance, we should examine if we are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Many new year pledges seek to unseat the gods of gluttony and lethargy. So many July garage sales will be stocked with treadmills and stationary bikes onto which so many January hopes were placed. And, if you have been laying around like the cows of Bashan that the prophet Amos addressed, then you probably should trim the fat, sure. Let’s just not get carried away considering where the cow came from.

Paul addressed some Roman Christians who were divided over food, over what was clean and unclean. They were concerned whether they were eating food offered under the shadows of altars to false gods. We have taken on a similar concern in our culture. We want our food (coffee) grown under shadows, and we didn’t even have to cut down or carve the tree into an alter or totem pole first. How convenient for us, and how pleased Terra Godessa is with us.

But Paul said, “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). This isn’t to say that eating and drinking, what or when or how, is amoral; we can glorify God in it or not, just as in whatever we do. But we glorify God or not based on what is in our heart, not based on what we put in our mouths.

So whether you need to cut down on the sweets or drink more wine or take a couple laps around your neighborhood or whatever you repent from and resolve to pursue, do it for righteousness more than your waste line. Do it for peace’s sake, not because you’re ashamed of harvesting practices. Do it for joy, because that will show whether your new year plans pursue His kingdom or yours.

Sympathy and Division

Our family advent plate was full the two weeks before Christmas so I didn’t post the last two communion meditations. Here they are, combined into one post-holiday casserole. The previous weeks we considered that God, in Christ, came and manifested. He did not wait for us to get to Him, nor did He wait for us to figure Him out. He took on flesh here among us and He revealed the One who dwells in the heavens. In the incarnation, God also, in Christ, sympathized with our weakness.

Christmas time seems especially suited to expose all sorts of weaknesses. As much as we’d like world peace, we’re faced with anything but peace in the world, or in our homes let alone our hearts. We expect others to give us what we would never give them, the Christmas version of the golden reversal. We wrap envy and bitterness and impatience with holiday words.

But Jesus took on flesh. He was tempted in all ways like we are, He joined us in our sorrows, but He did not sin. He knows our weakness. He sympathized, and then He sacrificed. God did not drop sympathy cards from an unarmed drone. The incarnation demonstrates sympathy as a clear fact more than any sentence ever could.

In Jesus, God also divided men. When Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple for eight-day circumcision, they met a man named Simon. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before he saw Israel’s Consolation, the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:25-26). When Simon took Jesus in his arms he praised God. Then he told Mary,

Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is opposed…so that thoughts for many hearts will be revealed. (Luke 2:34-35)

The incarnation divided between those who rejected Him and those who received Him. Not everyone is welcome at His table. But He invited all those who believe in Him to come.

From the earliest days God in flesh revealed hearts. It’s why many hated Jesus. It’s why, by the work of the Spirit, we have come to Him. We know that we need a Savior from our sin. We sense the distance that our sin took us away from Him. So, yes, God, in Christ, divided. He also delivered His people into His kingdom where we will fellowship with Him forever. Christmas was just the start.

Passion and Patience

In The Pilgrim’s Progress, not long after having his burden removed, Christian arrived at the Interpreter’s house. While showing Christian around the house, Interpreter introduced him to two little brothers named Passion and Patience. Passion was all a’fuss while Patience was calm, content. Christian asked for an explanation.

Interpreter told Christian that both boys had been promised gifts by their Governor at the beginning of the next year. That was not good enough for Passion who demanded all that was coming to him now. Christian saw treasures brought to Passion and Passion laughing at Patience’s lack until all Passion’s valuables turned to tatters. Of course they would.

Christian came to understand:

Now I see that Patience has the best wisdom, and that upon many accounts. 1. Because he stays for the best things. 2. And also because he will have the glory of his, when the other had nothing but rags.

In our on demand world we want our inheritance before our parents have invested, we want our generations to grow up before they can tie their own shoes. But we can’t exhume a corn kernel two days after seeding and expect to eat off the cob. Plant. Weed. Wait. God loves our faith, our abiding dependence on Him, our persistent and patient praying. He has greater gratification in mind, eternal glory, and that won’t come overnight.

The Sin of Seasonal Humbug

I hate Christmas for a different reason than I used to. I used to hate Christmas when I thought I was more of a saint. Now I hate it because I know how much more I am a sinner.

Christmas used to provide a great platform for my self-righteousness. My strong seasonal humbug spiced up my holiness. Obviously, I was so serious about Jesus that I couldn’t be dragged down into the fray of shopping and sweaters and wassail. I worshipped Jesus better by not getting involved.

I realize now that my “worship” was mostly defined by how I wasn’t like “those” people. Yet many of those people went down from the outlet mall more sanctified than me. Not all of them. An idolator will use any reason to worship his idol, even if that reason is named Jesus. I hated Christmas because people abused it. But I threw the Baby out with the busted LED lights.

I hate Christmas now because it exposes the atrophy of my celebration muscles. I can’t lift much true cheer even though the burden is light. I realize, of course, that this means I don’t really hate Christmas, but Christmas does cause me to hate my sin more. I am not like Christ. I do not naturally give myself away, serve from love, or laugh when it’s hard. I prefer to stay away from mess rather than take it on.

That said, Christmas is JOYFUL because Jesus did come. He took on our weaknesses so that He could fill us with His joy. As we remember that He came we remember why we need Him. We also remember what He gives us: peace, hope, and joy.

Merry Communion!

We are taking these four Sundays before Christmas as an opportunity for advent Lord’s Suppers. That is, we are considering how the incarnation affects our communion. Last Lord’s Day at the Table we rejoiced that God came. We can also celebrate that God, in Christ, manifested Himself.

According to John, “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18). If that’s accurate, then fellowship with Him is out of the question. But, “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus Christ exhibited the eternal God.

Paul, referring to the living God, said, “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), even if not in that order. “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’incarnate Deity.”

God, in Christ, showed that God is full of grace and truth, that God is love, that God descends to take on flesh and serve and take pain for others. God puts the broken back together, He heals, He reconciles, He sets prisoners free.

Jesus reveals God. In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). Through Him we not only know more about what God is like, we are brought to God (1 Peter 3:18). If we’ve seen Jesus we’ve seen the Father (John 14:9) and have fellowship with Him. “Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die. Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.” With all that Christ has shown us, we can greet each other at this meal, Merry Communion!

Listening to Sad Songs

Asaph wrote a sad song in Psalm 81, though not every verse sounds sorrowful. He ended by noting the kinds of things the Lord would do: “he would feed you with the finest of wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you” (verse 16). The Lord provides. He also protects. “I would soon subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes” (verse 14). These sound fantastic. What is the basis for God’s people to believe these great promises?

The first half of the song works through a short account of Israel’s exodus. “I relieved your shoulder of the burden” (verse 6), “in distress you called, and I delivered you” (verse 7). So, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it” (verse 10). So far, this all sounds great. Why say that the song is sad?

The Lord continues. “But my people did not listen to my voice. Oh that my people would listen to me” (verse 11). They didn’t, and the Lord said, “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels” (verse 12). Maybe the most dreadful thing in the world is for God to give us what we think we want while we disregard Him.

For Christians, God delivered us from a greater slavery, from slavery to sin and the wages of eternal death. He has given us not only great promises, but also personal copies of His counsel to read and He sent His Spirit to illuminate the truths of His Word. He decreed generations of His faithfulness for us to survey. Are we paying attention? Are we appreciating our advantages? Are we hearing and obeying? He would satisfy us with honey if we would listen to this sad song and walk in His ways.

A Holiday Challenge

When we are tempted to lose heart we go back to the gospel. When we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down we know it is nothing new. We believe, we speak, and we know “that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us…into his presence.” This is an appropriate way to envision our future because it is based on His promise. Our future resurrection doesn’t depend on a dream, it depends on Easter.

So we spend our lives for others as representatives of the Lord who died so that we might live. As Paul said, “It is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God.”

Here is a challenge for this holiday season. Do not be only thankful, but extend grace (by dying) so that others are made more thankful. If we are growing up in Christ then not only will we see His blessings more clearly we will also be a blessing to others more consistently.

The grace we extend, the grace we slosh from our clay pots, is grace we have been given by God lavishly. Whoever believes in Jesus, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.

Why Bother?

Why bother with righteousness? Why do we desire it and why are we as believers dissatisfied without it?

Loving righteousness and sensing the lack of it is not natural, that is, the flesh isn’t motivating us. Even if we could see moral beauty, we still wouldn’t want it. We have no innate desire for or ability to do righteousness.

Wanting righteousness and mourning the lack of it doesn’t even come from Scripture. God’s Word reveals the standard of righteousness, it illustrates it, and it promises blessings or judgments according to man’s relationship to it. But the Bible by itself has never made any man righteous. In fact, the law makes men more unrighteous by stirring up new desires for disobediences.

The only way to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to pursue it, and to enjoy it is by God’s Spirit. The Spirit does more than give better definitions of right. He does more than make the case against our wrongs. He convicts us and then changes our affections so that we want holiness.

God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3–4, ESV)

The Spirit is the only one who can make our prayers of confession meaningful. He is the only one who can get down into our hearts and work His way out through our prayers and decisions. This is part of the advantage for us in Jesus’ ascension: He sent the Helper to convict the world (John 16:8). Our dependence on the Third Person’s help to acknowledge our sin is part of our worship of the Triune God.