2 Kings 18
Hezekiah Reigns in Judah2 Kings 18 1 In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. 2 He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. 3 And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done. 4 He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). 5 He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. 6 For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses. 7 And the LORD was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him. 8 He struck down the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city.
9 In the fourth year of King Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria and besieged it, 10 and at the end of three years he took it. In the sixth year of Hezekiah, which was the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel, Samaria was taken. 11 The king of Assyria carried the Israelites away to Assyria and put them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes, 12 because they did not obey the voice of the LORD their God but transgressed his covenant, even all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded. They neither listened nor obeyed.
Sennacherib Attacks Judah13 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. 14 And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, “I have done wrong; withdraw from me. Whatever you impose on me I will bear.” And the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. 15 And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the LORD and in the treasuries of the king’s house. 16 At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the LORD and from the doorposts that Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid and gave it to the king of Assyria. 17 And the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rab-saris, and the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they arrived, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway to the Washer’s Field. 18 And when they called for the king, there came out to them Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.
19 And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? 20 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? 21 Behold, you are trusting now in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. 22 But if you say to me, “We trust in the LORD our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem”? 23 Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 24 How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master’s servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 25 Moreover, is it without the LORD that I have come up against this place to destroy it? The LORD said to me, Go up against this land, and destroy it.’”
26 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah, and Joah, said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 27 But the Rabshakeh said to them, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and to drink their own urine?”
28 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah: “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! 29 Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you out of my hand. 30 Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD by saying, The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ 31 Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, 32 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live, and not die. And do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, “The LORD will deliver us.” 33 Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 35 Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”
36 But the people were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s command was, “Do not answer him.” 37 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn and told him the words of the Rabshakeh.
2 Kings 19
Isaiah Reassures Hezekiah2 Kings 19 1 As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the LORD. 2 And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. 3 They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. 4 It may be that the LORD your God heard all the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the LORD your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.” 5 When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, 6 Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. 7 Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”
Sennacherib Defies the LORD8 The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he heard that the king had left Lachish. 9 Now the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “Behold, he has set out to fight against you.” So he sent messengers again to Hezekiah, saying, 10 “Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah king of Judah: ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?’”
Hezekiah’s Prayer14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD and spread it before the LORD. 15 And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said: “O LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline your ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone.”
Isaiah Prophesies Sennacherib’s Fall20 Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Your prayer to me about Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard. 21 This is the word that the LORD has spoken concerning him:
“She despises you, she scorns you—
the virgin daughter of Zion;
she wags her head behind you—
the daughter of Jerusalem.
22 “Whom have you mocked and reviled?
Against whom have you raised your voice
and lifted your eyes to the heights?
Against the Holy One of Israel!
23 By your messengers you have mocked the Lord,
and you have said, ‘With my many chariots
I have gone up the heights of the mountains,
to the far recesses of Lebanon;
I felled its tallest cedars,
its choicest cypresses;
I entered its farthest lodging place,
its most fruitful forest.
24 I dug wells
and drank foreign waters,
and I dried up with the sole of my foot
all the streams of Egypt.’
25 “Have you not heard
that I determined it long ago?
I planned from days of old
what now I bring to pass,
that you should turn fortified cities
into heaps of ruins,
26 while their inhabitants, shorn of strength,
are dismayed and confounded,
and have become like plants of the field
and like tender grass,
like grass on the housetops,
blighted before it is grown.
27 “But I know your sitting down
and your going out and coming in,
and your raging against me.
28 Because you have raged against me
and your complacency has come into my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
and my bit in your mouth,
and I will turn you back on the way
by which you came.
32 “Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 33 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the LORD. 34 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”
35 And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 36 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. 37 And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.
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What I'm Reading
The Lost Art of Discernment
By Tabletalk 5/1/2006
The publication of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown has highlighted a great need in our generation. That such a poorly written work of fiction containing, as it does, such invention, distortion, and deliberate deception should cause mature Christian people, as well as young believers, to find their faith challenged comes as a shock. It is no surprise that it should draw so much attention from the non-believing world; but it is a surprise that it should evoke so much concern among so many Christians, who take seriously its claims to be founded upon truth. We have lost sight of what the first Christians seemed to know so well, that it is important for believers to exercise discernment. Indeed, it is of such importance that the apostle Paul understood “spiritual discernment” as a spiritual gift in itself (1 Cor. 12:10). Discernment is a Bible mandate that cannot be ignored by Christians claiming to walk in the light of the faith.
In the New Testament, the word that is translated “discernment” is derived from the decision of a judge adjudicating between conflicting claims. It is seen as necessary to be able to distinguish between what is good and bad, true and false, and between evil spirits and good spirits. Christian discernment is the careful process of sorting through truth claims to arrive at the clearest possible decision concerning their trustworthiness and value as it relates to Christian orthodoxy. Such discernment reveals, clarifies, and proclaims truth and exposes, examines, and rejects error. This involves the Christian fully, as it is a personal commitment to the command of 1 Thessalonians 5:21–22 as a necessary part of Christian growth in grace (or as verse 23 points out, sanctification). The word “discern” appears in Matthew 16:3, Hebrews 5:14, and in Ezekiel 44:23. The clear sense of the term is that discernment necessarily involves making value judgments between differing claims as needed so as to reveal by examination what is right or wrong, or somewhere in the middle. To make such judgments involves the process of examining the claims by an objective standard, and for the orthodox Christian, such a standard exists only in the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16).
Discernment involves each one of us in thinking in a specifically Christian way about each issue. It requires of us that we employ our minds by informing ourselves through the study of the truth revealed in God’s Word. To be grounded in the revealed truth is the surest way to prepare to be able to recognize error. Yet information alone does not provide us with discernment. At the same time our hearts have to be engaged in devotion to Christ. Then and only then will we find ourselves in tune with the mind of God and be able to make judgments and appraisals that accord with that mind, because to the believer is promised the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is the ministry of Word and Spirit in the life of the Christian as in the Christian community that produces the certainty of faith and the obedience of faith.
Discernment is seen in Scripture as an essential component for spiritual growth. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews expresses the importance of spiritually mature believers regularly and routinely making their decisions by distinguishing between the principles of good and evil: “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (5:14). In the Old Testament the prophet Ezekiel makes clear that spiritually mature leaders will teach others how to recognize accurately the difference between the holy and the unholy (Ezek. 44:23). Discernment, according to Scripture, is a critical part of Christian life.
It was also seen as essential in making wise decisions, as James makes clear when he wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). If we are to be faithful, wise Christians in the pluralistic setting where we live among people who do not share our convictions and values, we need to see the need for discernment and also to develop skills in discernment.
Assessing and judging truth from error enables us not only to believe the truth but to be able to live appropriately. For it is clear that if you believe the wrong things, you will most certainly end up with a distorted piety and an impaired Christian witness.
In the providence of God, a book that was written to belittle Christ and Christians can be used to serve kingdom purposes. The interest that has been created by this work gives to the believer a unique opportunity to engage the non-believing culture in an honest pursuit of truth. The content of the book is demonstrably inaccurate and deliberately hostile both to Christ and the church. The believer should understand that, and Jesus warned us that the hostility of the world is a natural condition. The responsibility of the believer is to know and trust the truth, and so be confident as we expose evil, confront lies, and unmask deception; and in so doing we are given a unique opportunity to present honor to Christ and announce the truth of His Gospel, which brings life, light, freedom, and hope.
Tabletalk Magazine from Ligonier.org
What If God Were One of Us?
By R.C. Sproul Jr. 5/1/2006
It is an old temptation, to construct images of Jesus out of celluloid. Christians have fought for and against it, and will likely do so for generations to come, until the next medium seeks to supplant the Word. We have not only debated whether such images should be made, but have argued over whether such images are true to life. Long before The Passion of the Christ became a cultural phenomenon, one that many Christians cheered on, there was The Last Temptation of Christ. This film became a financial success, albeit a minor one, precisely because of the furor of Christians over the film. When we charged the film company with producing blasphemy, the resulting hub-bub put the film on the map. We marched, we protested, and the evening news sold tickets. Hollywood has always known that controversy is on their side.
At the time of the movie’s release, however, the studio put up an actual defense of their film. The film suggested that Jesus, at some point in His ministry, among other hardships, struggled with the sin of lust. The defense of this was rather clear, and expected. The producer, Martin Scorsese, affirmed that while he believed in the divinity of Christ, he simply wanted the film to affirm with that His humanity. He actually claimed he was honoring Jesus in making the film.
The doctrine of the incarnation, from the beginning, has suffered from the weakness of the pendulum. The great christological creeds came to pass because one side or the other was missing the other side of the coin. That is, the trouble was never the affirmation of the deity of Christ, but the denial of the humanity. Or, from the other direction, the trouble wasn’t the affirmation of the humanity of Christ, but the denial of the deity. In our age, with the secular world all-too-willing to deny that Jesus could be God, sometimes we fall into the trap of denying His humanity.
Like the Last Temptation, much of the uproar over The Da Vinci Code centers not around the sundry plot twists, but the suggestion that Jesus married and had children. While the Bible teaches no such thing, as such, our reaction may have more in common with Islam than with Christianity. That is, Islam refuses to embrace the doctrine of the Trinity because they believe it beneath the dignity of God that He should have a son. And we think that Jesus marrying and having children somehow besmirches His purity. In a strange sort of irony, a novel steeped in gnostic notions and ancient Gnostic texts has brought to the surface the gnostic notions that still lurk in our own hearts.
The truth of the matter is that Jesus did take a bride. Better still, Jesus and His bride have begotten children. And I might as well admit in these pages — I am one of those children. So are my father and my mother. My sister and her husband are from the same line, as are their children. My wife too is a part of this family, as are all of our children. I know it’s shocking, but it’s true. And this is the good news. You are one of us too.
Well, truth be told, the shocking thing is that it is not so shocking. We have grown accustomed to His grace. We are appalled by the notion of a few powerful men and women who are descended from Jesus’ line, who strive to rule over all the world. But that is not only what we are, but what we are called to do. Jesus, the second Adam, took as His bride, the second Eve, the church. Husband and wife have, ever since, been busy being fruitful and multiplying. They are, together, in fulfillment of the dominion mandate, filling the earth and subduing it. They are bringing all things into subjection for the glory of the Father. The conspiracy is that we didn’t even know we were part of a conspiracy. We have forgotten that our endgame is total world domination. Indeed, we have been promised that we not only will judge the world, but the angels themselves.
The problem, then, isn’t that Christians have sullied themselves by reading Dan Brown’s silly fiction. The trouble isn’t that Christians have been tempted to believe it. The problem is that we haven’t believed God’s outrageous facts, given to us in His Word. We haven’t believed the good news, that our heavenly Father loves us so much that He allows us to be called His children, that He has seated us in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus. Our problem is that we won’t believe that God took on flesh and dwelt among us, precisely so that He could win a bride, and that He might be given a kingdom. Our problem is that we have missed that in Him we too are more than conquerors.
I haven’t read The Da Vinci Code. I don’t intend to. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to do so. Instead, what I need is the courage to read the Bible as it is written. We will seek first the kingdom of God only when we realize that His kingdom has come, that His kingdom is forever, and that we reign with Him, kings and queens now and forever. May our Husband be pleased to purify us such that we might believe in the prodigality of His love, and the fullness of His promises.
R.C. Sproul Jr. has served previously as a pastor, professor, and teacher. He is author of numerous books. Some are listed below.
R.C. Sproul Jr. Books | Go to Books Page
The Da Vinci Conspiracy
By R.C. Sproul 5/1/2006
Yes, Virginia, there really is a lunatic fringe on the ideological spectrum. We commonly hear perspectives described as left-wing or right-wing. Beyond that, the descriptions become more precise in terms of radical right and radical left. If we cross the border beyond the radical of right or left, we enter into the domain of the lunatic fringe. There is a lunatic fringe on the right, which would include neo-Nazis, skinheads, and the like. On the radical left there is also a lunatic fringe that would include within it radical conspiratorialists and even academicians who are educated beyond their intelligence. For example, the Jesus Seminar represents the lunatic fringe of the theological world. The proper response to their views is not patient, critical analysis but scorn and ridicule. Their theories and hypotheses are not worthy of serious rebuttal.
In the realm of ideological discussion, there is always a curious phase called the “journalistic phase.” The journalistic phase is the phase that feeds upon sensationalism. It grabs the headlines and the interest of reporters because it is so far out that it is news. The Jesus Seminar has fascinated news makers by virtue of its being so radically new. The same sort of thing catches headlines with the cultural success of a book like The Da Vinci Code. The Da Vinci Code sensationalizes historical evaluations of the New Testament documents and their portrait of Jesus of Nazareth.
We are a people absorbed by finding flaws in the famous. We are incurably iconoclastic, relishing the fall of the mighty. We love to sing “O How the Mighty Have Fallen” when we see famous people caught in criminal acts or moral improprieties. Notice the attention given to the criminal trials of high-profile people such as O.J. Simpson. Whenever the mighty or the hero of the culture falls into corruption, it provokes juicy discussion with delicious elements for a public hungry for controversy. No one in the historical stage of history is represented with less flaws than Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed, even beyond the church and her confession, Jesus is often perceived as being flawless. Yet there is no more delicious target for sensational fiction writing than Jesus. To sully His character by salacious innuendos is the ultimate form of iconoclasm. Add to the mix the appetite for conspiracy and cover-up, and it’s easy to see how The Da Vinci Code can be catapulted to the top of the best-selling list. It adds to the critical exposure of Jesus’ hidden love life, the additional cover-up involving clues from one of the most high-profile artists in history, Leonardo da Vinci. The famous painting of the Last Supper itself supposedly reveals one of these enormous clues.
Why are we so gullible as to take this kind of thing seriously? The author, who is writing a fictional work, nevertheless claims to be basing his story on real historical data. That claim adds to the fictional dimension of the book. We have here fictional fiction with a fictional claim to historical sobriety. The claims of historical knowledge in this book rely on completely non-credible sources. The actual historical source for the salacious speculations of the behavior of Jesus is found in the pseudo-gospels of the second and third centuries. Very early in church history these pseudo-documents were exposed as frauds that were advanced by the early Gnostic community.
Who were the Gnostics that produced such fraudulent literature? The Gnostics were so named because they claimed to have a special type of knowledge that was unavailable to other people. They borrowed their name from the Greek word for knowledge, which is gnosis. The Gnostics eschewed normal categories of knowledge, such as found universally in human epistemology, namely that we learn what we learn by a combined use of sense perception (empiricism) and rational deduction from the data (rationalism). The Gnostics rejected both and claimed a superior way of knowing through immediate apprehension of truth by mystical intuition. These people who claimed to be “in the know” advanced their intellectual theories as being superior to the insights given by the first-century apostles. They claimed to have a knowledge that superseded the knowledge of the first-century eyewitnesses of Jesus. There was no end to their fanciful speculations that they claimed were rooted in their own special mystical revelation. In a word, the Gnostics were anti-science and anti-sober history.
It’s important for us to understand the rudiments of Gnosticism in as much as we live in what has been called a neo-gnostic culture. Our culture has been defined by an intoxication with New Age theories that share many things in common with Gnosticism. The most obvious point of commonality is the substitute of mystical insight for rational and empirical investigation. We also live in an age that is characterized by the embracing of philosophical and moral relativism. Relativism and Gnosticism are not one and the same thing, but they have so many common elements that they are compatible with each other. Once relativism is embraced, there are no brakes on the roller coaster of sensational epistemology. It opens the door for the kind of literature that makes The Da Vinci Code well read and its author, Dan Brown, famous. The flaws of this book reveal far more about the flaws in the character of its author than it does about alleged flaws of the most impeccable character in history.
Robert Charles Sproul, 2/13/1939 – 12/14/2017 was an American theologian, author, and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education and discipleship organization located near Orlando, Fla. He was also copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. Dr. Sproul has contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, has spoken at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and has written more than one hundred books. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.R.C. Sproul Books | Go to Books Page
Bringing Christ Into the Problem
By Gene Edward Veith 6/1/2006
Charles Darwin finally gave up his belief in God not because he discovered evidence for evolution by natural selection (a theory he developed some years earlier) but because of his anguish at the death of his ten-year-old daughter. When he published The Origin of Species in 1859, he purported to prove that the world itself did not need God, an act of vengeance against the God whom He insisted did not exist.
The problem of evil is not just a philosophical or even a theological problem. It is concrete, personal, sometimes irrational. Many people cannot conceive of a loving, all powerful deity, given the evil and suffering in the world. Even when they are convinced rationally that the existence of evil by no means rules out the existence of a good God, they are overwhelmed with the darkness they see in life. And though non-believers seek any pretext to rebel against God, Christians too are sometimes overwhelmed by tragedy and grief, to the point that they question their faith.
When one of their children is wracked with unbearable pain, or is brutalized by a criminal, or dies in a senseless accident, Christians can hardly keep from asking, why did God not intervene? Perhaps He cannot, which saves His benevolence at the expense of His power. Or perhaps He will not, which upholds His power, but which throws His goodness into question.
These conundrums can be solved rationally and theologically, as the articles in this issue of Tabletalk show. But the answers are sometimes small comfort to a soul stretched to the breaking point on the rack of this world. In all of his agony, he cannot help but ask, “Where is God?” Part of the problem is that people tend to imagine God as someone far away, looking down, as from a great height, on the pain and malevolence that plague His creation. Not only attackers but also defenders of God tend to operate in terms of that picture. But Christians do not believe in a God who is merely distant.
The God Christians know became incarnate in Jesus Christ. He entered the human condition. He suffered. He took the world’s evil into Himself. He died. And He rose again, so that those who have faith in Him will enter a realm where every tear will be dried and the problem of evil will disappear.
Much theodicy (the justification of God’s justice and goodness in light of suffering and evil) makes no reference to Jesus Christ. It analyzes an abstract deity. There is nothing distinctly Christian about it. The arguments could just as easily apply to the Allah of Islam. To be sure, the problem of evil applies to every kind of theism and such metaphysical reasoning has its place.
But the triune God of Christianity has a different relationship to His creation — and to sin, evil, and suffering — than the gods of other religions or the impersonal deity of the philosophers. Bringing Christ into the problem of evil does not answer all of the metaphysical questions, but He does complicate it in an important way. And, more importantly, Christ brings profound comfort to people in their deepest need, because they know that God is with them in their suffering.
The second person of the Trinity suffered. He was scourged. He fell under the weight of the cross. He was weary, thirsty, bloody. And on the cross He experienced the utmost physical pain the Roman Empire could engineer and was tortured until He died. And the physical pain was only part of Christ’s agony. He also experienced emotional agony. He was despised and rejected (Isa. 53:3). In the garden of Gethsemane, He knew loneliness. His friends and disciples abandoned Him. He was mocked, humiliated, stripped. And worst of all, He was forsaken by His heavenly Father. That should make a difference to someone enduring physical pain or emotional desolation. Jesus Christ, through whom the whole universe was made, was also wracked with pain. He too experienced rejection, isolation, ridicule, and cruelty. He too felt the absence of God.
But Christ’s suffering resolves the problem of evil in another way. He received the world’s evil. By His own will, He allowed Himself to suffer at the hands of evil men. But more than that, He bore in His body the sins of the world. That is another way of saying that He bore the world’s evil.
Christ took upon Himself the punishment that evil deserves. And through His work on the cross, He gives us evil people who turn to Him free forgiveness.
And in that mysterious exchange that took place on Calvary, in which Christ took on our sins and imputed to us His righteousness, something else took place. According to the prophet Isaiah, He would not only bear our sins. He would bear our suffering. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isa. 53:4).
The problem of evil and the problem of suffering are resolved in Jesus Christ and His cross. God has intervened. He is not absent. His power and His love come together in the work of Christ. This is not just a solution to an intellectual puzzle. It gives concrete strength, support, and comfort to people in anguish. When the worst happens, the sufferer can know that Christ has been there, bringing redemption, and that even God the Father knows what it is like to lose a child.
Dr. Gene Edward Veith is provost emeritus and professor of literature emeritus at Patrick Henry College and director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Gene Edward Veith Books | Go to Books Page
A Refuge for the Weary Soul
By Robert Rayburn 6/1/2006
The sufferings of our Lord and Savior were the penalty He bore for our sins. But those same trials and sorrows served another purpose. Living a very difficult life prepared our perfect Savior to be a better help to us in our temptations and trials than otherwise He could have been. Much as we may struggle to understand this, it is what the Bible teaches. We read in Hebrews 2:18: “For because he himself has suffered…he is able to help….” and again in 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are….” The fact that Jesus suffered as we suffer, that He endured our kind of pain and sorrow, is the reason we can trust Him to help. His own afflictions enable Him to understand what we are going through. His experience of sorrow has taught Him what we are feeling. His experience has made Him wiser still as a comforter and helper. In some mysterious way this is knowledge that even His omniscience did not give Him. It was His very hard life as the Man of Sorrows that equipped Him so perfectly to care for us when we suffer.
Empathy is an art, not a science; an art learned in the trials of life.
Surely this is one reason why the Lord appoints so many trials for His followers. If even the sinless one, even the Lord Christ Himself needed His own afflictions to attain the perfect empathy with us that His high priesthood required, how much more must we poor, selfish sinners suffer to become truly tenderhearted toward others? If to love others is one of the two great purposes for which we human beings have been given breath, then blows that soften our hearts and experiences that teach us how to find our peace in God must be necessary indeed.
It is not so hard to imagine that the Lord’s terrible loneliness (Matt. 26:36–46) — who really understood Him or even began to grasp the burdens He was bearing? — made Him still more perfectly compassionate toward the lonely. Having been “forsaken” later by His own beloved Father (Matt. 27:46) must have had something to do with the way He felt the grief of the widow of Nain, who had lost her only son (Luke 7:13). When out of compassion He helped the sorrowful, and when He does so today by His Holy Spirit, His help had then and has now a special authority because it comes from His own wounded and experienced heart. He understands as only the sufferer can.
The power of empathy rests in a shared understanding, a shared experience of pain. The great missionary John Paton acknowledged this when speaking of his own broken heart upon the death of his wife and infant son: “Let those who have ever passed through any similar darkness as of midnight feel for me; as for all others, it would be more than vain to try to paint my sorrows.” This is what makes Christ’s empathy so valuable to us. If He had not suffered precisely every pain or loss that we have, He has suffered similarly and far more heavily than we have.
As Christians, it is our calling, as we are often told, to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). When we do so we are imitating the Lord Jesus (Phil. 2:1–9). In fact, we are never more like the Lord Jesus than when our sorrows and our disappointments are turned to the advantage of others. And as with the Lord Himself, nothing equips us more effectively for this sacred work than our own suffering, sorrow, and trial, at least, if we bear our trials as Christians should in faith and hope.
The old writers used to speak of the importance “improving our afflictions,” that is, turning them to the best and holiest use. Well, the best use we can make of any of our suffering is to turn it into empathy and wisdom with which to love and help others. Patrick of Ireland provides a splendid example of this. Reflecting on the terrible ordeal through which he passed when, as a teenager, he was kidnapped from his home and sold into slavery in Ireland, he said, “God used the time [of my slavery] to shape and mold me into something better. He made me into what I am now — someone very different from what I once was, someone who can care about others and work to help them. Before I was a slave, I didn’t even care about myself.” We all have too hard, too selfish hearts. Trials are necessary to soften them so that we can be of real use to others in this benighted world. To be of such use, to love others when they need love the most, is our special calling as the followers and imitators of Jesus Christ.
As such, much of the Lord’s own care for His people is to come through His people. He appoints our afflictions in part to teach us what pain feels like, what happens in the confused and broken heart, and how the Lord can lift us up and will in His own time. But this is empathy and knowledge to be shared! Christ suffered nothing for Himself! Every Christian should judge himself strictly by this rule: in imitating Christ and following Christ I should regularly bring comfort and consolation to others as He did. Do others look to me to find hope and encouragement? Do folk grow calmly restful and quietly smiling because they have been with me and talked with me?
Dr. Robert S. Rayburn is senior minister of Faith Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, Wash., and the stated clerk of the presbytery of the Pacific Northwest (PCA).
By Don Carson 4/27/2018
One of the most attractive features of David is his candor. At his best he is transparently honest. That means, among other things, that when there is an array of things going wrong in his life he does not collapse them into a single problem.
Nothing could be clearer from Psalm 38. Commentators sometimes try to squeeze the diverse elements in this psalm into a single situation, but most such re-creations seem a trifle forced. It is worth identifying some of the most striking components of David’s misery.
(1) He is facing God’s wrath (38:1), and (2) suffering from an array of physical ailments (38:3-8). (3) As a result he is full of frustrated sighing and has sunk into depression (38:9-10). (4) His friends have abandoned him (38:11). (5) Meanwhile he still faces the plots and deception of his standard (political) enemies (38:12). (6) He is so enfeebled that he is like a deaf mute (38:13-14), unable to speak, for his enemies are numerous and vigorous (38:19). (7) Meanwhile he is painfully troubled by his own iniquity (38:18).
One can imagine various ways to tie these points together, but a fair bit of speculation is necessary. What stands out in this psalm is that even while David is asking for vindication against his enemies, he does so in the context of confessing his own sin, of facing, himself, the wrath of God. It is quite possible that he understands both his physical suffering and even the loss of his friends and the opposition of evil opponents to be expressions of God’s wrath — which intrinsically he admits to deserving. In the psalm David does not ask for vindication grounded in his own covenantal fidelity. He frankly confesses his sin (38:18), waits for the Lord (38:15), begs God not to forsake him (38:21), entreats God to help him (38:22) and not to rebuke him in anger and wrath (38:1). In short, David appeals for mercy.
This is another face of the vindication theme (see the meditation for April 24). Yes, we want God to display his justice. In circumstances where we have been frankly wronged, it is comforting to recall that God’s justice will ultimately triumph. But what about the times when we are guilty ourselves? Will justice alone suffice? If all we want from God is justice, what human being will survive the divine holocaust?
While pleading for vindication, it is urgently important that we confess our own sin, and entreat God for mercy. For the God of justice is also the God of grace. If this be not so, there is no hope for any of us.
Don Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and co-founder (with Tim Keller) of The Gospel Coalition. He has authored numerous books, and recently edited The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Eerdmans, 2016).Don Carson Books | Go to Books Page
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 43Send Out Your Light and Your Truth
43:1 Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
against an ungodly people,
from the deceitful and unjust man
2 For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
why have you rejected me?
Why do I go about mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?
3 Send out your light and your truth;
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling!
4 Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
The Institutes of the Christian Religion
Translated by Henry Beveridge
OUR FATHER WHICH ART IN HEAVEN.
36. The first thing suggested at the very outset is, as we have already said (sec. 17-19), that all our prayers to God ought only to be presented in the name of Christ, as there is no other name which can recommend them. In calling God our Father, we certainly plead the name of Christ. For with what confidence could any man call God his Father? Who would have the presumption to arrogate to himself the honour of a son of God were we not gratuitously adopted as his sons in Christ? He being the true Son, has been given to us as a brother, so that that which he possesses as his own by nature becomes ours by adoption, if we embrace this great mercy with firm faith. As John says, "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe in his name," (John 1:12). Hence he both calls himself our Father, and is pleased to be so called by us, by this delightful name relieving us of all distrust, since no where can a stronger affection be found than in a father. Hence, too, he could not have given us a stronger testimony of his boundless love than in calling us his sons. But his love towards us is so much the greater and more excellent than that of earthly parents, the farther he surpasses all men in goodness and mercy (Isaiah 63:16). Earthly parents, laying aside all paternal affection, might abandon their offspring; he will never abandon us (Ps. 27:10), seeing he cannot deny himself. For we have his promise, "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" (Mt. 7:11). In like manner in the prophet, "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will not I forget thee," (Isaiah 49:15). But if we are his sons, then as a son cannot betake himself to the protection of a stranger and a foreigner without at the same time complaining of his father's cruelty or poverty, so we cannot ask assistance from any other quarter than from him, unless we would upbraid him with poverty, or want of means, or cruelty and excessive austerity.
37. Nor let us allege that we are justly rendered timid by a consciousness of sin, by which our Father, though mild and merciful, is daily offended. For if among men a son cannot have a better advocate to plead his cause with his father, and cannot employ a better intercessor to regain his lost favour, than if he come himself suppliant and downcast, acknowledging his fault, to implore the mercy of his father, whose paternal feelings cannot but be moved by such entreaties, what will that "Father of all mercies, and God of all comfort," do? (2 Cor. 1:3). Will he not rather listen to the tears and groans of his children, when supplicating for themselves (especially seeing he invites and exhorts us to do so), than to any advocacy of others to whom the timid have recourse, not without some semblance of despair, because they are distrustful of their father's mildness and clemency? The exuberance of his paternal kindness he sets before us in the parable (Luke 15:20; see Calv. Comm). when the father with open arms receives the son who had gone away from him, wasted his substance in riotous living, and in all ways grievously sinned against him. He waits not till pardon is asked in words, but, anticipating the request, recognizes him afar off, runs to meet him, consoles him, and restores him to favour. By setting before us this admirable example of mildness in a man, he designed to show in how much greater abundance we may expect it from him who is not only a Father, but the best and most merciful of all fathers, however ungrateful, rebellious, and wicked sons we may be, provided only we throw ourselves upon his mercy. And the better to assure us that he is such a Father if we are Christians, he has been pleased to be called not only a Father, but our Father, as if we were pleading with him after this manner, O Father, who art possessed of so much affection for thy children, and art so ready to forgive, we thy children approach thee and present our requests, fully persuaded that thou hast no other feelings towards us than those of a father, though we are unworthy of such a parent.  But as our narrow hearts are incapable of comprehending such boundless favour, Christ is not only the earnest and pledge of our adoption, but also gives us the Spirit as a witness of this adoption, that through him we may freely cry aloud, Abba, Father. Whenever, therefore, we are restrained by any feeling of hesitation, let us remember to ask of him that he may correct our timidity, and placing us under the magnanimous guidance of the Spirit, enable us to pray boldly.
38. The instruction given us, however, is not that every individual in particular is to call him Father, but rather that we are all in common to call him Our Father. By this we are reminded how strong the feeling of brotherly love between us ought to be, since we are all alike, by the same mercy and free kindness, the children of such a Father. For if He from whom we all obtain whatever is good is our common Father (Mt. 23:9), every thing which has been distributed to us we should be prepared to communicate to each other, as far as occasion demands. But if we are thus desirous as we ought, to stretch out our hands and give assistance to each other, there is nothing by which we can more benefit our brethren than by committing them to the care and protection of the best of parents, since if He is propitious and favourable nothing more can be desired. And, indeed, we owe this also to our Father. For as he who truly and from the heart loves the father of a family, extends the same love and good-will to all his household, so the zeal and affection which we feel for our heavenly Parent it becomes us to extend towards his people, his family, and, in fine, his heritage, which he has honoured so highly as to give them the appellation of the "fulness" of his only begotten Son (Eph. 1:23). Let the Christian, then, so regulate his prayers as to make them common, and embrace all who are his brethren in Christ; not only those whom at present he sees and knows to be such, but all men who are alive upon the earth. What God has determined with regard to them is beyond our knowledge, but to wish and hope the best concerning them is both pious and humane. Still it becomes us to regard with special affection those who are of the household of faith, and whom the Apostle has in express terms recommended to our care in every thing (Gal. 6:10). In short, all our prayers ought to bear reference to that community which our Lord has established in his kingdom and family.
39. This, however, does not prevent us from praying specially for ourselves, and certain others, provided our mind is not withdrawn from the view of this community, does not deviate from it, but constantly refers to it. For prayers, though couched in special terms, keeping that object still in view, cease not to be common. All this may easily be understood by analogy. There is a general command from God to relieve the necessities of all the poor, and yet this command is obeyed by those who with that view give succour to all whom they see or know to be in distress, although they pass by many whose wants are not less urgent, either because they cannot know or are unable to give supply to all. In this way there is nothing repugnant to the will of God in those who, giving heed to this common society of the Church, yet offer up particular prayers, in which, with a public mind, though in special terms, they commend to God themselves or others, with whose necessity he has been pleased to make them more familiarly acquainted. It is true that prayer and the giving of our substance are not in all respects alike. We can only bestow the kindness of our liberality on those of whose wants we are aware, whereas in prayer we can assist the greatest strangers, how wide soever the space which may separate them from us. This is done by that general form of prayer which, including all the sons of God, includes them also. To this we may refer the exhortation which Paul gave to the believers of his age, to lift up "holy hands without wrath and doubting," (1 Tim. 2:8). By reminding them that dissension is a bar to prayer, he shows it to be his wish that they should with one accord present their prayers in common.
40. The next words are, WHICH ART IN HEAVEN. From this we are not to infer that he is enclosed and confined within the circumference of heaven, as by a kind of boundaries. Hence Solomon confesses, "The heaven of heavens cannot contain thee," (1 Kings 8:27); and he himself says by the Prophet, "The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool," (Isa. 66:1); thereby intimating, that his presence, not confined to any region, is diffused over all space. But as our gross minds are unable to conceive of his ineffable glory, it is designated to us by heaven, nothing which our eyes can behold being so full of splendor and majesty. While, then, we are accustomed to regard every object as confined to the place where our senses discern it, no place can be assigned to God; and hence, if we would seek him, we must rise higher than all corporeal or mental discernment. Again, this form of expression reminds us that he is far beyond the reach of change or corruption, that he holds the whole universe in his grasp, and rules it by his power. The effect of the expressions therefore, is the same as if it had been said, that he is of infinite majesty, incomprehensible essence, boundless power, and eternal duration. When we thus speak of God, our thoughts must be raised to their highest pitch; we must not ascribe to him any thing of a terrestrial or carnal nature, must not measure him by our little standards, or suppose his will to be like ours. At the same time, we must put our confidence in him, understanding that heaven and earth are governed by his providence and power. In short, under the name of Father is set before us that God, who hath appeared to us in his own image, that we may invoke him with sure faith; the familiar name of Father being given not only to inspire confidence, but also to curb our minds, and prevent them from going astray after doubtful or fictitious gods. We thus ascend from the only begotten Son to the supreme Father of angels and of the Church. Then when his throne is fixed in heaven, we are reminded that he governs the world, and, therefore, that it is not in vain to approach him whose present care we actually experience. "He that cometh to God," says the Apostle, "must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him," (Heb. 11:6). Here Christ makes both claims for his Father, first, that we place our faith in him; and, secondly , that we feel assured that our salvation is not neglected by him, inasmuch as he condescends to extend his providence to us. By these elementary principles Paul prepares us to pray aright; for before enjoining us to make our requests known unto God, he premises in this way, "The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing," (Phil. 4:5, 6). Whence it appears that doubt and perplexity hang over the prayers of those in whose minds the belief is not firmly seated, that "the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous," (Ps. 34:15).
41. The first petition is, HALLOWED BE THY NAME. The necessity of presenting it bespeaks our great disgrace. For what can be more unbecoming than that our ingratitude and malice should impair, our audacity and petulance should as much as in them lies destroy, the glory of God? But though all the ungodly should burst with sacrilegious rage, the holiness of God's name still shines forth. Justly does the Psalmist exclaim, "According to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the ends of the earth," (Ps. 48:10). For wherever God hath made himself known, his perfections must be displayed, his power, goodness, wisdom, justice, mercy, and truth, which fill us with admiration, and incite us to show forth his praise. Therefore, as the name of God is not duly hallowed on the earth, and we are otherwise unable to assert it, it is at least our duty to make it the subject of our prayers. The sum of the whole is, It must be our desire that God may receive the honour which is his due: that men may never think or speak of him without the greatest reverence. The opposite of this reverence is profanity, which has always been too common in the world, and is very prevalent in the present day. Hence the necessity of the petition, which, if piety had any proper existence among us, would be superfluous. But if the name of God is duly hallowed only when separated from all other names it alone is glorified, we are in the petition enjoined to ask not only that God would vindicate his sacred name from all contempt and insult, but also that he would compel the whole human race to reverence it. Then since God manifests himself to us partly by his word, and partly by his works, he is not sanctified unless in regard to both of these we ascribe to him what is due, and thus embrace whatever has proceeded from him, giving no less praise to his justice than to his mercy. On the manifold diversity of his works he has inscribed the marks of his glory, and these ought to call forth from every tongue an ascription of praise. Thus Scripture will obtain its due authority with us, and no event will hinder us from celebrating the praises of God, in regard to every part of his government. On the other hand, the petition implies a wish that all impiety which pollutes this sacred name may perish and be extinguished, that every thing which obscures or impairs his glory, all detraction and insult, may cease; that all blasphemy being suppressed, the divine majesty may be more and more signally displayed.
46. The sixth petition corresponds (as we have observed) to the promise  of writing the law upon our hearts; but because we do not obey God without a continual warfare, without sharp and arduous contests, we here pray that he would furnish us with armour, and defend us by his protection, that we may be able to obtain the victory. By this we are reminded that we not only have need of the gift of the Spirit inwardly to soften our hearts, and turn and direct them to the obedience of God, but also of his assistance, to render us invincible by all the wiles and violent assaults of Satan. The forms of temptation are many and various. The depraved conceptions of our minds provoking us to transgress the law--conceptions which our concupiscence suggests or the devil excites, are temptations; and things which in their own nature are not evil, become temptations by the wiles of the devil, when they are presented to our eyes in such a way that the view of them makes us withdraw or decline from God.  These temptations are both on the right hand and on the left. On the right, when riches, power, and honours, which by their glare, and the semblance of good which they present, generally dazzle the eyes of men, and so entice by their blandishments, that, caught by their snares, and intoxicated by their sweetness, they forget their God: on the left, when offended by the hardship and bitterness of poverty, disgrace, contempt, afflictions, and other things of that description, they despond, cast away their confidence and hope, and are at length totally estranged from God. In regard to both kinds of temptation, which either enkindled in us by concupiscence) or presented by the craft of Satan's war against us, we pray God the Father not to allow us to be overcome, but rather to raise and support us by his hand, that strengthened by his mighty power we may stand firm against all the assaults of our malignant enemy, whatever be the thoughts which he sends into our minds; next we pray that whatever of either description is allotted us, we may turn to good, that is, may neither be inflated with prosperity, nor cast down by adversity. Here, however, we do not ask to be altogether exempted from temptation, which is very necessary to excite, stimulate, and urge us on, that we may not become too lethargic. It was not without reason that David wished to be tried, nor is it without cause that the Lord daily tries his elect, chastising them by disgrace, poverty, tribulation, and other kinds of cross.  But the temptations of God and Satan are very different: Satan tempts, that he may destroy, condemn, confound, throw headlong; God, that by proving his people he may make trial of their sincerity, and by exercising their strength confirm it; may mortify, tame, and cauterize their flesh, which, if not curbed in this manner, would wanton and exult above measure. Besides, Satan attacks those who are unarmed and unprepared, that he may destroy them unawares; whereas whatever God sends, he "will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." Whether by the term evil we understand the devil or sin, is not of the least consequence. Satan is indeed the very enemy who lays snares for our life, but it is by sin that he is armed for our destruction. Our petition, therefore, is, that we may not be overcome or overwhelmed with temptation, but in the strength of the Lord may stand firm against all the powers by which we are assailed; in other words, may not fall under temptation: that being thus taken under his charge and protection, we may remain invincible by sin, death, the gates of hell, and the whole power of the devil; in other words, be delivered from evil. Here it is carefully to be observed, that we have no strength to contend with such a combatant as the devil, or to sustain the violence of his assault. Were it otherwise, it would be mockery of God to ask of him what we already possess in ourselves. Assuredly those who in self-confidence prepare for such a fight, do not understand how bold and well-equipped the enemy is with whom they have to do. Now we ask to be delivered from his power, as from the mouth of some furious raging lion, who would instantly tear us with his teeth and claws, and swallow us up, did not the Lord rescue us from the midst of death; at the same time knowing that if the Lord is present and will fight for us while we stand by, through him "we shall do valiantly," (Ps. 60:12). Let others if they will confide in the powers and resources of their free will which they think they possess; enough for us that we stand and are strong in the power of God alone. But the prayer comprehends more than at first sight it seems to do. For if the Spirit of God is our strength in waging the contest with Satan, we cannot gain the victory unless we are filled with him, and thereby freed from all infirmity of the flesh. Therefore, when we pray to be delivered from sin and Satan, we at the same time desire to be enriched with new supplies of divine grace, until completely replenished with them, we triumph over every evil. To some it seems rude and harsh to ask God not to lead us into temptation, since, as James declares (James 1:13), it is contrary to his nature to do so. This difficulty has already been partly solved by the fact that our concupiscence is the cause, and therefore properly bears the blame of all the temptations by which we are overcome. All that James means is, that it is vain and unjust to ascribe to God vices which our own consciousness compels us to impute to ourselves. But this is no reason why God may not when he sees it meet bring us into bondage to Satan, give us up to a reprobate mind and shameful lusts, and so by a just, indeed, but often hidden judgment, lead us into temptation. Though the cause is often concealed from men, it is well known to him. Hence we may see that the expression is not improper, if we are persuaded that it is not without cause he so often threatens to give sure signs of his vengeance, by blinding the reprobate, and hardening their hearts.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain
Institutes of the Christian Religion
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
3/1/2005 The Cross and the Crown
Several years ago I heard about a large suburban church that rented a fifteen-thousand seat performance hall and invited a well-known college football coach to give his testimony about being a Christian coach. When I heard about this, what concerned me was not the fact that a college football coach was asked to give his testimony but that this event replaced the church’s Easter worship service. Instead of dedicating their worship service to the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (as we are called to do each Lord’s Day), this church decided it could serve the interests of God’s people better if the congregation were not confined to the house of God where there was a pulpit and a cross. Rather, it seemed fitting to meet in a concert hall so that unbelievers would feel more comfortable in attending church on Easter Sunday. And by forsaking the testimony of the Word of God in order to hear the testimony of a popular football coach, the thousands who attended the event were deprived of true worship by the entrepreneurs of contemporary evangelicalism.
Many churches have embraced the strategies of twenty-first century evangelical entrepreneurs. In doing so, they have traded in the old rugged cross that once adorned the sanctuary’s chancel for a high-definition movie screen so that the congregation can watch commercials for the church’s mid-week programs between segments in the service. “But,” many will surely retort, “isn’t that what attracts people to go to church? And if people go to church, isn’t that a good thing?” Indeed, going to church is a good thing; hearing the testimony of a Christian football coach is a good thing; even watching commercials about the church’s programs is a good thing. However, not one of these things can be considered good if it is not centered on the fundamental reason for the church’s very existence, namely, the finished work of the crucified and risen Christ.
Perhaps never before in the history of the church have the people of God been so apathetic to the reality of the resurrection, ascension, intercession, and second coming of Christ. Nevertheless, we are called to celebrate Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and intercession, and we are called to proclaim boldly His second coming, not merely through a personal testimony, but by the preaching of the Good News of Jesus Christ so that the lost might believe and so that we might rightly live coram Deo, before the face of God.
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Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., a visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is editor of John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology.
Ligonier coram Deo (definition)
by Bill Federer
Forced to resign from the Army for excessive drinking, he failed as a farmer and a businessman. Not til he volunteered for the Civil War did things change. He was promoted to brigadier general, captured Fort Henry and Vicksburg, establishing Union control of the Mississippi. Lincoln then placed him over the entire Army and within a year he forced Lee to surrender. His name: Ulysses S. Grant, who was born this day, April 27, 1822. As the 18th President, Grant stated: "On… the hundredth anniversary of our… nation, a grateful acknowledgment should be made to Almighty God for the protection… He has vouchsafed to our… country."
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
Certain thoughts are prayers.
There are moments when,
whatever be the attitude of the body,
the soul is on its knees.
--- Victor Hugo
You can tell the size of your God
by looking at the size of your worry list.
The longer your list,
the smaller your God.
--- Author Unknown
The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.
--- G. K. Chesterton
Have the courage to take your own thoughts seriously, for they will shape you.
--- Albert Einstein
... from here, there and everywhere
Thomas A Kempis
Book Three - Internal Consolation
The Forty-Eighth Chapter / The Day Of Eternity And The Distresses Of This Life
O MOST happy mansion of the city above! O most bright day of eternity, which night does not darken, but which the highest truth ever enlightens! O day, ever joyful and ever secure, which never changes its state to the opposite! Oh, that this day shine forth, that all these temporal things come to an end! It envelops the saints all resplendent with heavenly brightness, but it appears far off as through a glass to us wanderers on the earth. The citizens of heaven know how joyful that day is, but the exiled sons of Eve mourn that this one is bitter and tedious.
The days of this life are short and evil, full of grief and distress. Here man is defiled by many sins, ensnared in many passions, enslaved by many fears, and burdened with many cares. He is distracted by many curiosities and entangled in many vanities, surrounded by many errors and worn by many labors, oppressed by temptations, weakened by pleasures, and tortured by want.
Oh, when will these evils end? When shall I be freed from the miserable slavery of vice? When, Lord, shall I think of You alone? When shall I fully rejoice in You? When shall I be without hindrance, in true liberty, free from every grievance of mind and body? When will there be solid peace, undisturbed and secure, inward peace and outward peace, peace secured on every side? O good Jesus, when shall I stand to gaze upon You? When shall I contemplate the glory of Your kingdom? When will You be all in all to me? Oh, when shall I be with You in that kingdom of Yours, which You have prepared for Your beloved from all eternity?
I am left poor and exiled in a hostile land, where every day sees wars and very great misfortunes. Console my banishment, assuage my sorrow. My whole desire is for You. Whatever solace this world offers is a burden to me. I desire to enjoy You intimately, but I cannot attain to it. I wish to cling fast to heavenly things, but temporal affairs and unmortified passions bear me down. I wish in mind to be above all things, but I am forced by the flesh to be unwillingly subject to them. Thus, I fight with myself, unhappy that I am, and am become a burden to myself, while my spirit seeks to rise upward and my flesh to sink downward. Oh, what inward suffering I undergo when I consider heavenly things; when I pray, a multitude of carnal thoughts rush upon me!
O my God, do not remove Yourself far from me, and depart not in anger from Your servant. Dart forth Your lightning and disperse them; send forth Your arrows and let the phantoms of the enemy be put to flight. Draw my senses toward You and make me forget all worldly things. Grant me the grace to cast away quickly all vicious imaginings and to scorn them. Aid me, O heavenly Truth, that no vanity may move me. Come, heavenly Sweetness, and let all impurity fly from before Your face.
Pardon me also, and deal mercifully with me, as often as I think of anything besides You in prayer. For I confess truly that I am accustomed to be very much distracted. Very often I am not where bodily I stand or sit; rather, I am where my thoughts carry me. Where my thoughts are, there am I; and frequently my thoughts are where my love is. That which naturally delights, or is by habit pleasing, comes to me quickly. Hence You Who are Truth itself, have plainly said: “For where your treasure is, there is your heart also.” If I love heaven, I think willingly of heavenly things. If I love the world, I rejoice at the happiness of the world and grieve at its troubles. If I love the flesh, I often imagine things that are carnal. If I love the spirit, I delight in thinking of spiritual matters. For whatever I love, I am willing to speak and hear about.
Blessed is the man who for Your sake, O Lord, dismisses all creatures, does violence to nature, crucifies the desires of the flesh in fervor of spirit, so that with serene conscience he can offer You a pure prayer and, having excluded all earthly things inwardly and outwardly, becomes worthy to enter into the heavenly choirs.
The Imitation Of Christ
Practical religion. The Christian life
Many people speak of these things as though they were the natural result of our feebleness and cannot well be helped. Many people speak of these things as sins, yet have given up the hope of conquering them. Many people speak of these things in the church around them, and do not see the least prospect of ever having the things changed. There is no prospect until there comes a radical change, until the Church of God begins to see that every sin in the believer comes from the flesh, from a fleshly life midst our religious activities, from a striving in self-effort to serve God. Until we learn to make confession, and until we begin to see, we must somehow or other get God's Spirit in power back to His Church, we must fail. Where did the Church begin in Pentecost? There they began in the Spirit. But, alas, how the Church of the next century went off into the flesh! They thought to perfect the Church in the flesh.
Do not let us think, because the blessed Reformation restored the great doctrine of justification by faith, that the power of the Holy Spirit was then fully restored. If it is our faith that God is going to have mercy on His Church in these last ages, it will be because the doctrine and the truth about the Holy Spirit will not only be studied, but sought after with a whole heart; and not only because that truth will be sought after, but because ministers and congregations will be found bowing before God in deep abasement with one cry: "We have grieved God's Spirit; we have tried to be Christian churches with as little as possible of God's Spirit; we have not sought to be churches filled with the Holy Spirit."
All the feebleness in the Church is owing to the refusal of the Church to obey its God.
And why is that so? I know your answer. You say: "We are too feeble and too helpless, and we try to obey, and we vow to obey, but somehow we fail."
Ah, yes, you fail because you do not accept the strength of God. God alone can work out His will in you. You cannot work out God's will, but His Holy Spirit can; and until the Church, until believers grasp this, and cease trying by human effort to do God's will, and wait upon the Holy Spirit to come with all His omnipotent and enabling power, the Church will never be what God wants her to be, and what God is willing to make of her.
Absolute Surrender (The Colportage Library)
by D.H. Stern
thus he avoids Sh’ol below.
25 ADONAI will pull down the houses of the proud,
but preserves intact the widow’s boundaries.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
What do you want?
Seekest thou great things for thyself? --- Jeremiah 45:5.
Are you seeking great things for yourself? Not seeking to be a great one, but seeking great things from God for yourself. God wants you in a closer relationship to Himself than receiving His gifts, He wants you to get to know Him. A great thing is accidental, it comes and goes. God never gives us anything accidental. Nothing is easier than getting into a right relationship with God except when it is not God Whom you want but only what He gives.
If you have only come the length of asking God for things, you have never come to the first strand of abandonment, you have become a Christian from a standpoint of your own. ‘I did ask God for the Holy Spirit, but He did not give me the rest and the peace I expected.’ Instantly God puts His finger on the reason—you are not seeking the Lord at all, you are seeking something for yourself. Jesus says—“Ask, and it shall be given you.” Ask God for what you want, and you cannot ask if you are not asking for a right thing. When you draw near to God, you cease from asking for things. “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him.” Then why ask? That you may get to know Him.
Are you seeking great things for yourself—‘O Lord, baptize me with the Holy Ghost’? If God does not, it is because you are not abandoned enough to Him, there is something you will not do. Are you prepared to ask yourself what it is you want from God, and why you want it? God always ignores the present perfection for the ultimate perfection. He is not concerned about making you blessed and happy just now; He is working out His ultimate perfection all the time—“that they may be one even as We are.”
My Utmost for His Highest
the Poetry of R.S. Thomas
The Country Clergy
I see them working in old rectories
By the sun's light, by candlelight,
Venerable men, their black cloth
A little dusty, a little green
With holy mildew. And yet their skulls,
Ripening over so many prayers,
Toppled into the same grave
With oafs and yokels. They left no books,
Memorial to their lonely thought
In grey parishes; rather they wrote
On men's hearts and in the minds
Of young children sublime words
Too soon forgotten. God in his time
Or out of time will correct this.
Selected poems, 1946-1968
Teaching His Disciples / Mark 8:31-10:52
The key to this section of Mark is the repeated note that Jesus "began to teach" and "was teaching" His disciples. Also, five of the six times in Mark that Jesus' disciples call him "Teacher" are found in Mark 9 and 10.
What was happening before the events reported in these chapters? Wasn't Jesus teaching then?
Jesus did teach as He traveled from village to village, healing and casting out demons. But it was the crowds that He was teaching. Often that teaching was in parables. Mark does not report this teaching in detail. But what he does tell us suggests that Jesus' teaching was both about Himself and about life in His kingdom.
In this section there is a significant shift. The ones Jesus taught were the disciples. While He began to teach them about His coming death and resurrection, the focus of His teaching is not how to live in Israel's expected kingdom, but on how to live as His disciples now.
The great value for us in these chapters of Mark is to be found in the fact that, as believers, we too are called to be Christ's disciples. How good to learn more of how to live for Him.
Disciple. The Greek word means "pupil" or "learner." In its most intense sense discipleship suggests a total commitment to stay close to and to obey the person chosen as one's teacher.
In each of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and
Luke) one question Jesus asked His disciples marks a turning point. That question is, "Who do people say I am?" (Mark 8:27: see also Matthew 16:13; Luke 9:18)
The disciples reported what the people were saying, people who had seen Jesus' miracles, listened to His teaching, been restored by His healing power, and eaten of the bread and fishes He had multiplied. Everywhere people were convinced that Jesus was among the greatest of the prophets, and might even be one of the ancients restored to life!
And then the synoptic Gospel writers each tell us that Jesus asked His disciples, "But who do you say that I am?"
Peter answered for them all.
"You are the Christ."
What is so significant about this incident is that three Gospels tell us that from this point there was a shift in Jesus' ministry. Only then did Jesus begin to teach His disciples about His coming death. In fact, from this point on Jesus focused His ministry more and more on instructing the Twelve.
Why? Because these men acknowledged Jesus for who He is: the Christ, the Son of God. The compliments of the crowds who linked Jesus with the greatest of Old Testament saints fell far short, for they failed to acknowledge Him for who He is. Those compliments in fact constituted a rejection of Jesus, a damning with faint praise.
There is no way that people who will not believe in Jesus can really profit from His instruction. Without the personal relationship with God which is established by faith, what a person does is completely irrelevant. It is only as we believe and obey that Jesus can fill our lives with newness. It is only faith and obedience that can transform.
And so Jesus now turned to instruct the little core of men who did believe, as you and I believe, how to live as disciples and so to please our God.
Life Through Death: Mark 8:31–9:13
Jesus' coming death (Mark 8:31–33). Matthew, Mark, and Luke agree. As soon as Peter expressed the disciples' conviction that Jesus truly is the Christ, Jesus began to "teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the Law, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again."
This blunt, clear teaching upset the disciples. They didn't want Jesus to die. Peter even took Jesus aside and began to "rebuke" Him!
Christ spoke sharply. "Out of My sight, Satan," Jesus said. And He added, "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."
This last phrase is especially important. What seems right and reasonable to human beings is often totally out of harmony with God's ways. We must learn to trust the wisdom of God, even when it seems to go against all that seems wise or best to us.
Choosing "death" (Mark 8:34–38). Jesus immediately applied what He had said to discipleship. God had determined Jesus' own death on the cross. Through that death will come new life for Jesus (He will "after three days rise again") and also new life for those who believe in Jesus. But God had also determined that the way for disciples to experience that new life was through a self-denial like Jesus' own!
He told the Twelve that if they were to "come after Me," they must also deny self, take up their cross, and follow Jesus.
The disciple's cross is the choice of God's will for the individual, even as Jesus' cross was God's will for Him. Self-denial is a rejection of human wisdom and desires that may conflict with God's will. And "following" Jesus is staying close to Him, living in intimate daily relationship, by adopting His own commitment to please God.
What hinges on this kind of discipleship? Jesus said that the person who rejected discipleship and held on to his (old) life will lose it, while the person who loses his (old) life will save it.
While this may seem complicated, the point is simple and vital. A person who rejects discipleship will never know what he or she might have become if his or her life had been turned over to Jesus. Only if we commit ourselves fully to Him, and make the disciples' daily choice of obedience, can we discover the new life relationship which Jesus makes possible for us!
The Teacher's Commentary
Ver. 32.—They were now going up from Jericho to Jerusalem, going up with Christ to his cross and his death. He went before them, eagerly leading the way for his timid disciples, who were now beginning to realize what was about to happen, and that he would be condemned and crucified. Therefore the evangelist adds, they were amazed; the same word which is used at ver. 24. The words in the original, according to the best reading, make a distinction between the utter amazement of the disciples and the fear of the others who followed. St. Mark draws a distinction between the disciples, who would be following him, though at a little distance, and the mixed company, who were also following him, though at a greater distance. The whole scene is before us. Our blessed Lord, with an awful majesty on his countenance, and eager resolution in his manner, is pressing forwards to his cross. “How am I straitened until it be accomplished!” His disciples follow him, amazed and bewildered; and even the miscellaneous crowd, who no doubt gazed upon him with keen interest as the great “Prophet that should come into the world,” felt that something was going to happen, though they knew not what—something very dreadful; and they too were afraid. In the case of the disciples, Bede says that the chief cause of their amazement was their own imminent fear of death. They were amazed that their Master should hasten forward with such alacrity to his cross, and they feared lest they too should have to suffer with him. He took again the twelve; and once more impressed upon them the dread realities which were awaiting him. They were still slow of apprehension; they required to be told again and again.
Ver. 35.—And there come near unto him James and John, the sons of Zebedee, saying unto him, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall ask of thee. St. Matthew (20:20) informs us that this request was made by Salome, “the mother of Zebedee’s children.” The two accounts are readily recounciled if we consider that the request was made by Salome and her sons, and by her in their behalf. This request was made by them not long after they had heard our Lord’s great promise that his apostles “in the regeneration” should “sit upon thrones,” judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28), and very soon after they had heard his repeated announcement of his sufferings and death. But the thought of the glory which was to follow swallowed up the thought of the suffering that was to precede it; and so these two disciples were emboldened at once to ask for prominent positions amongst the thrones. St. Cyrysostom finds an excuse for the imperfection of their faith. He says, “The mystery of the cross was not yet accomplished; nor yet was the grace of the Holy Spirit poured into their hearts. Wherefore, if you desire to know the strength of their faith, consider what they became after they had been endued with power from on high.”
Ver. 38.—It will be observed that in St. Matthew (20:20), while Salome is represented as the person who makes the request, the answer is given, not to her, but to her sons. Ye know not what ye ask. Our Lord knew that the sons had spoken in the mother and by the mother. They knew not what they asked (1) because his kingdom was spiritual and heavenly, not carnal and earthly, as they supposed; (2) because they sought the glory before they had gained the victory; (3) because perhaps they thought that this kingdom was given in right of natural relationship (they were his cousins); whereas it is not given save to those who deserve it and take it by force. Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? It is as though he said, “It is by my cross and passion that I am to attain to the kingdom: therefore the same way must be trodden by you who seek the same end.” Our Lord here describes his passion as his cup. The “cup” everywhere in Holy Scripture, as well as in profane writers, signifies a man’s portion, which is determined for him by God, and sent to him. The figure is derived from the ancient custom at feasts, by which the ruler of the feast tempered the wine according to his own will, and appointed to each guest his own portion, which it was his duty to drink. Our Lord then proceeds to describe his passion, which he had already spoken of as his cup, as his baptism. He uses this image because he would be totally buried, immersed, so to speak, in his passion. But it seems probable that the idea of purification entered into this image. It was a baptism of fire into which he was plunged, and out of which he came forth victorious. The fire of his bitter passion and death tried him. It was his “salting with fire.” It pleased God thus to “make the Captain of our salvation perfect through sufferings.” Our Lord asks these ambitious disciples whether they could drink his cup of suffering, and be baptized with his fiery baptism.
Ver. 39.—James and John seem to have understood the meaning of the cup; and perhaps also of the baptism. They both of them drank the cup, though in different ways. St. James, preaching Christ more boldly and fervently, became an early martyr, having been slain by the sword of Herod (Acts 12:2). St. John also drank of this cup, and was baptized with this baptism, when, if we may trust the authority of Tertullian (‘De Præscript.’ c. 36.), he was cast by order of Domitian into a caldron of boiling oil, before the Ports, Latina at Rome, although the oil had no power to hurt him. Another legend states that he drank a cup of poison, and took no harm. On this account he is frequently represented with a cup in his hand.
Ver. 40.—But to sit on my right hand or on my left hand is not mine to give; but it is for them for whom it hath been prepared. The Arians gathered from this that our Lord was not of one substance with the Father. But this arose from a misunderstanding of the words. For the antithesis is not here between Christ and the Father; but between James and John on the one side ambitiously seeking the pre-eminence, and those on the other side to whom it ought of right to be given. St. Jerome wisely says, “Our Lord does not say,’ Ye shall not sit,’ lest he should put to shame these two. Neither does he say, ‘Ye shall sit,’ lest the others should be envious. But by holding out the prize to all, he animates all to contend for it.” Our Lord is also careful to point out that he who humbles himself shall be exalted. But Christ is the Giver, not indeed by way of favour to any one who asks, but according to the eternal and unalterable principles laid down by the Father. That Christ is the Giver is plain from St. Luke (22:29), “I appoint unto you a kingdom, even as my Father appointed unto me.”
Ver. 41.—And when the ten heard it, they began to be moved with indignation concerning James and John. How did they hear it? It is most likely that Salome and her two sons sought this favour secretly from Christ, lest they should excite the envy of the others. But they, the ten, must have noticed the approach of James and John with their mother to our Lord. They came in a formal manner, worshipping him first, and then making their request (see Matt., 20:20). The ten would naturally be desirous to know the nature of this interview; and when it was explained to them, they began to show indignation. Our Lord perceived that they were disputing; and he then called them and addressed the whole body. For he saw that they were all labouring, under this disease of ambition; and he wished to apply the remedy at once to all, as we see in the words which follows.
Ver. 42.—In these words our Lord does not find fault with that power or authority, whether civil or ecclesiastical, which is exercised by princes or bishops; for this is necessary in every state, and so is sanctioned by Divine and human law. What he condemns is the arbitrary and tyrannical exercise of such power, which the princes of the Gentiles were accustomed to.
Vers. 43, 44.—In these words our Lord enjoins him who is raised above others to conduct himself modestly and humbly; so as not to lord it over those beneath him, but to consider for them and to consult their security and happiness, and so to conduct himself that he may appear to be rather their minister and servant than their lord; ever remembering the golden rule, ‘All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, even so do to them.” At the same time, our Lord here teaches all alike, whether superiors or inferiors, by what way we should strive to reach heaven, so as to sit at the right or left hand of Christ in his kingdom, namely, by the way of humility. For those who are the lowliest and most humble here will be the greatest and most exalted there.
The Pulpit Commentary (23 Volume Set)
A father who has been coaching Little League for several years gets his own son on his team. Several friends suggest that it is not the best of situations to be your child's coach, but the father thinks he can handle it. In a critical game, with the championship on the line, the coach picks his son to be starting pitcher, despite the boy's mediocre record. The child has a bad outing; the opposition hits practically everything he throws. Despite the unhappiness of the other team members, and over the complaints of many parents in the stands, the coach refuses to take his son out and put in a new pitcher. Later, he blames the defeat on the bad calls of the umpire and the poor fielding of the players. What the coach-father refused to acknowledge is that it is so very difficult to see the shortcomings of those we love. A coach has to treat all his players equally; a father has to show special attention to his own child. Sometimes these two roles are mutually exclusive.
A supervisor at work is asked to put together an evaluation of one of the firm's employees who is being considered for a promotion. Just last year, however, the two women fought bitterly over the way a job was being handled. Harsh words were exchanged, and feelings were hurt. The employee questioned the supervisor's competence and submitted a complaint to the boss. The supervisor has never forgotten, or forgiven. Now, she will have the last word, making sure that the employee pays for what she did to her. Despite the fact that everyone else values the employee and raves about her work, the supervisor cannot find anything positive to say about her.
Rav Papa would remind us that we all have our prejudices. Honesty demands that we recognize them and admit them; fairness requires that we not allow them to influence how we behave in certain situations. Some people are able to perform the difficult balancing act that is required of a coach and parent. Some people can give an objective evaluation of another person's work, even though they may dislike that individual intensely. Most of us, however, can not. Rav Papa suggests we acknowledge this and step aside, allowing someone more objective and less involved to judge the situation and make the difficult decisions. The Torah already warned us that bribes and other influences can blind us from making the right choices. The key question is whether we are willing and able to see this when issues touch close to home.
A man should not drink from one cup while looking at another cup.
Text / "So that you do not follow your heart
[Numbers 15:39]." Based upon this, Rabbi said: "A man should not drink from one cup while looking at another cup." Ravina said: "This is necessary even if both of them were his wives."
Context / The Rabbis of the Talmud often employed metaphors and euphemistic language. There are numerous reasons for this. The Rabbis were concerned that Jews use respectable language. Hence, pubic hair is called "the lower beard" and sexual intercourse "use of the bed." Their use of euphemisms in part reflects a belief that sexual relations are holy yet private, sacred to the point of being personal. In addition, some subjects are extremely sensitive, and the Rabbis tried to avoid hurting anyone when discussing these issues. Thus, there is a moving story in the Talmud (Berakhot 58a) about Rav Sheshet who was blind and how he outsmarted a certain sectarian. Rav Sheshet is called sagi nahor, Aramaic for "an abundance of light" or "much light." This is the talmudic euphemism for one who is blind. In fact, euphemistic language in general is called leshon sagi nahor, the "language of much light."
This text appears in the third chapter of Nedarim, where there is a long excursus on permitted and prohibited sexual relations between husband and wife. The author of this saying is Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi, the third century C.E. leader of the Jewish community in the land of Israel. He was such a central rabbinic figure that the Talmud simply called him "Rabbi."
It is clear that the Rabbis of the Talmud assumed that Jewish law or halakhah, which is ultimately God's law, should control every action of the Jew. There is nothing beyond the purview and the value system of the halakhah. For example, the Talmud describes the proper way for us to eat, drink, sleep, and even relieve ourselves. Each of these reflects a set of values based on a total world view. Included in this system and these values are human sexual relations. The Rabbis were not afraid to talk about sexual intimacy or to describe what halakhah allowed between a husband and his wife. Nonetheless, the Rabbis often employed euphemistic language. In this case, "drinking from a cup" is a rabbinic metaphor for having sexual relations with one's wife.
Thus, "looking at" would probably best be understood as "fantasizing about," rather than physically peering at with one's eyes. The Talmud teaches that a man should not think of another woman, even if that woman is a second wife of his. The Rabbis did not see this as being within the Jewish ideal of sexual relations. During the talmudic era, few Jewish men actually had more than one wife at a time. Even though there was little possibility of fantasizing about a second wife, Jewish sexual ethics nevertheless applied the same principle to all relationships. Rabbi Nissim Gerondi, from eleventh century North Africa, known by the acronym "Ran," offers the following commentary on this section of Talmud:
At the hour when he is engaged [in sex] with his [first] wife he should not look at another woman, even if she is his [second] wife.
A Biblical basis for this is given by Rabbi in the verse from Numbers, that one not "follow his heart" and the fantasies of his imagination. Note that the discussion is largely directed to the man, perhaps reflective of the limited access that women had to the world of talmudic learning.
Swimming in the Sea of Talmud: Lessons for Everyday Living
Judea under Roman Rule (6–41 C.E.)
Meanwhile, since Archelaus’ deposition in 6 C.E., a Roman prefect or procurator had governed Judea and Samaria, beginning with Coponius. Josephus’ narratives provide most of the information about this period in Judean history, although the Gospels also provide some information, specifically about Pontius Pilate. Coin evidence and some archaeological material supplement Josephus’ testimony, but for the most part scholars rely upon Josephus’ account. In general, his depiction of the Roman administrators is decidedly negative, and he asserts that their mismanagement played a fundamental role in the downward spiral of the relationship between Rome and its Judean subjects. In this first stage of Roman occupation, however, Josephus’ narrative is rather neutral, and the majority of these early governors receive minimal mention, which suggests somewhat peaceful interactions (Ant. 18.2, 29, 31–35). The sole exception to this is the tenure of Pontius Pilate (26–36 C.E.).
Outside of literary sources such as Philo, Josephus, and the Gospels, the name Pontius Pilate appears in only one inscription, which records his dedication of a Tiberieum and was discovered in the theater at Caesarea. In the literary sources, two main images appear. In the Gospels, Pilate is depicted as the blameless instrument of Roman justice. In both Philo and Josephus, however, he appears as a ruthless administrator who openly offended Jewish sensibilities and reveled in brutal methods of suppressing dissent. Philo calls him “a man of inflexible, stubborn and cruel dispositions” whose tenure was characterized by “venality, violence, robbery, assault, abusive behavior, frequent executions without trial, and endless savage ferocity” (Legatio 301–2). On more than one occasion, Pilate blatantly disrespected Jewish religious sensibilities, and his response to their complaints was often to resort to violence (J.W. 2.169–77; Ant. 18.55–62, 85–87). Finally, in ca. 36/37 C.E., he was recalled by the governor of Syria, Lucius Vitellius, and ordered to return to Rome to explain his conduct to the emperor.
Things were relatively quiet in Judea until the Winter of 39/40 C.E., when the non-Jewish minority of Jamnia erected an altar to the imperial cult, which the Jewish inhabitants of the town promptly destroyed. The imperial procurator in Jamnia, Gaius Herrenius Capito, reported the incident to the new emperor, Gaius Caligula, who was enraged at the supposed insult to his majesty. He ordered the new governor of Syria, Publius Petronius, to march into Judea with two of the four legions stationed in Syria and to erect a golden statue of Gaius in the Temple. If the Jews resisted, Petronius was ordered to suppress them by force (J.W. 2.184–85; Ant. 18.261–62; Philo, Legatio 198–207). Realizing that Jewish resistance was inevitable, Petronius attempted to delay constructing the statue.
The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism
For Thy name’s sake, O LORD, pardon mine iniquity, for it is great. --- Psalm 25:11. KJV
It is evident by some passages in this psalm that when it was penned it was a time of affliction and danger with David. (Classic Sermons on the Grace of God (Kregel Classic Sermons Series) ) His distress makes him think of his sins and leads him to confess them and to cry to God for pardon, as is suitable in a time of affliction.
It is observable in the text what arguments the psalmist makes use of in pleading for pardon.
First, he pleads for pardon for God’s name’s sake. He has no expectation for pardon for the sake of any righteousness or worthiness of his or for any good deeds he had done or any compensation he had made for sins. If human righteousness could be a just plea, David would have had as much to plead as most.
Second, the psalmist pleads the greatness of his sins as an argument for mercy. He does not plead his own righteousness or the smallness of his sins. He does not say, “Pardon my iniquity, for I have done much good to counterbalance it,” or “Pardon my iniquity, for it is small and you have no great reason to be angry with me.” But, “Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.” He enforces his prayer with this consideration, that his sins are very heinous.
But how could he make this a plea for pardon? Because the greater his iniquity was, the more need he had of pardon. It is as much as if he had said, “Pardon my iniquity, for it is so great that I cannot bear the punishment. My sin is so great that I am in need of pardon. My case will be very miserable unless you are pleased to pardon me.” He makes use of the greatness of his sin to enforce his plea for pardon as someone would make use of the greatness of calamity in begging for relief. A beggar who begs for bread will plead the greatness of his poverty and necessity. And God allows such a plea as this, for he is moved to mercy toward us by nothing in us but the misery of our case. He does not pity sinners because they are worthy but because they need his pity.
--- Jonathan Edwards
Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers
Two Men, Two Martyrs April 27
April 27 belongs to two martyrs. They never knew one another, never met, and indeed, lived centuries apart. One was married on this day, then killed shortly afterward. The other marks this as the day of his death. The latter was a Christian named Pollio in the town of Gibalea (modern Vinkovce, Hungary). On April 27, 304 he was hauled before a judge who demanded his name. “Pollio,” he said.
“Are you a Christian?”
“What office do you hold?” Pollio replied that he was chief of the readers in his church, one whose duty it was to read God’s Word to the congregation. For that offense, Pollio was promptly burned to death.
Sixteen hundred years later, another Christian named Roy Orpin, a New Zealander, considered missionary service. He had been deeply moved by the martyrdom of John and Betty Stam in China. He went to Thailand, and there, on April 27, 1961, married an Englishwoman named Gillian. She was also a missionary in that country. At the reception the two sang a duet, the hymn “Calvary.”
The couple moved into a shanty in a Thai village and spent their first year of marriage amid growing danger. Violence was escalating in Southeast Asia. Gillian became pregnant, and Roy became afraid. “I had no peace,” he wrote friends, “until I remembered 2 Corinthians 10:5.” Gillian moved to a regional town having a missionary hospital while Roy stayed in the village of Bitter Bamboo to work with a small band of Christians. Suddenly three robbers appeared, demanded his valuables, and shot him.
He was taken to a government hospital, and Gillian rushed to his side. He lingered four days. His dying wish was for his wife to join him in singing a favorite hymn. The two lovers raised faltering voices and sang, “Jesus! I am resting, resting / In the joy of what Thou art; / I am finding out the greatness / Of thy loving heart.” Then Roy, age 26, passed away. They had been married less than 13 months.
We live in this world, but we don’t act like its people or fight our battles with the weapons of this world. Instead, we use God’s power that can destroy fortresses. We destroy arguments and every bit of pride that keeps anyone from knowing God. We capture people’s thoughts and make them obey Christ.
--- 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.
On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - April 27
“God, even our own God.”
--- Psalm 67:6.
It is strange how little use we make of the spiritual blessings which God gives us, but it is stranger still how little use we make of God himself. Though he is “our own God,” we apply ourselves but little to him, and ask but little of him. How seldom do we ask counsel at the hands of the Lord! How often do we go about our business, without seeking his guidance! In our troubles how constantly do we strive to bear our burdens ourselves, instead of casting them upon the Lord, that he may sustain us! This is not because we may not, for the Lord seems to say, “I am thine, soul, come and make use of me as thou wilt; thou mayst freely come to my store, and the oftener the more welcome.” It is our own fault if we make not free with the riches of our God. Then, since thou hast such a friend, and he invites thee, draw from him daily. Never want whilst thou hast a God to go to; never fear or faint whilst thou hast God to help thee; go to thy treasure and take whatever thou needest—there is all that thou canst want. Learn the divine skill of making God all things to thee. He can supply thee with all, or, better still, he can be to thee instead of all. Let me urge thee, then, to make use of thy God. Make use of him in prayer. Go to him often, because he is thy God. O, wilt thou fail to use so great a privilege? Fly to him, tell him all thy wants. Use him constantly by faith at all times. If some dark providence has beclouded thee, use thy God as a “sun;” if some strong enemy has beset thee, find in Jehovah a “shield,” for he is a sun and shield to his people. If thou hast lost thy way in the mazes of life, use him as a “guide,” for he will direct thee. Whatever thou art, and wherever thou art, remember God is just what thou wantest, and just where thou wantest, and that he can do all thou wantest.
Evening - April 27
“The Lord is King for ever and ever."
Jesus Christ is no despotic claimant of divine right, but he is really and truly the Lord’s anointed! “It hath pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell.” God hath given to him all power and all authority. As the Son of man, he is now head over all things to his church, and he reigns over heaven, and earth, and hell, with the keys of life and death at his girdle. Certain princes have delighted to call themselves kings by the popular will, and certainly our Lord Jesus Christ is such in his church. If it could be put to the vote whether he should be King in the church, every believing heart would crown him. O that we could crown him more gloriously than we do! We would count no expense to be wasted that could glorify Christ. Suffering would be pleasure, and loss would be gain, if thereby we could surround his brow with brighter crowns, and make him more glorious in the eyes of men and angels. Yes, he shall reign. Long live the King! All hail to thee, King Jesus! Go forth, ye virgin souls who love your Lord, bow at his feet, strew his way with the lilies of your love, and the roses of your gratitude: “Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown him Lord of all.” Moreover, our Lord Jesus is King in Zion by right of conquest: he has taken and carried by storm the hearts of his people, and has slain their enemies who held them in cruel bondage. In the Red Sea of his own blood, our Redeemer has drowned the Pharaoh of our sins: shall he not be King in Jeshurun? He has delivered us from the iron yoke and heavy curse of the law: shall not the Liberator be crowned? We are his portion, whom he has taken out of the hand of the Amorite with his sword and with his bow: who shall snatch his conquest from his hand? All hail, King Jesus! we gladly own thy gentle sway! Rule in our hearts for ever, thou lovely Prince of Peace.
Morning and Evening
ABIDE WITH ME
Henry F. Lyte, 1793–1847
But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to tarry with them. (Luke 24:29 KJV)
Yes, life is like the Emmaus road, and we tread it not alone
For beside us walks the Son of God, to uphold and keep His own.
And our hearts within us thrill with joy at His words of love and grace,
And the glorious hope that when day is done we shall see His blessed face.
--- Avis Christiansen
The author of this text, Henry F. Lyte, was an Anglican pastor. Though he battled tuberculosis all of his life, Lyte was known as a man strong in spirit and faith. It was he who coined the phrase “it is better to wear out than to rust out.”
During his later years, Lyte’s health progressively worsened so that he was forced to seek a warmer climate in Italy. For the last sermon with his parishioners at Lower Brixham, England, on September 4, 1847, it is recorded that he nearly had to crawl to the pulpit. His final words made a deep impact upon his people when he proclaimed, “It is my desire to induce you to prepare for the solemn hour which must come to all, by a timely appreciation and dependence on the death of Christ.”
Henry Lyte’s inspiration for writing “Abide with Me” came shortly before his final sermon, while reading from the account in Luke 24 of our Lord’s appearance with the two disciples on their seven mile walk from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus on that first Easter evening. How the hearts of those discouraged disciples suddenly burned within them when they realized that they were in the company of the risen, the eternal Son of God!
Abide with me—fast falls the eventide.
The darkness deepens—Lord, with me abide;
when other helpers fail and comforts flee,
help of the helpless, O abide with me!
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me!
I need Thy presence ev’ry passing hour—
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who like Thyself my guide and stay can be?
Thru cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy word before my closing eyes.
Shine thru the gloom and point me to the skies;
heav’n’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee—
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
For Today: Psalm 139:7–12; Luke 24:13–35; 1 John 3:24.
Relive the thrill expressed by the two Emmaus disciples when their spiritual eyes were opened and they first realized that they were in the presence of their risen Lord. Use this hymn to help ---
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
Sect. VII. — BUT I will set your theology before your eyes by a few similitudes. — What if any one, intending to compose a poem, or an oration, should never think about, nor inquire into his abilities, what he could do, and what he could not do, nor what the subject undertaken required; and should utterly disregard that precept of Horace, “What the shoulders can sustain, and what they must sink under;” but should precipitately dash upon the undertaking and think thus — I must strive to get the work done; to inquire whether the learning I have, the eloquence I have, the force of genius I have, be equal to it, is curious and superfluous: — Or, it any one, desiring to have a plentiful crop from his land, should not be so curious as to take the superfluous care of examining the nature of the soil, (as Virgil curiously and in vain teaches in his Georgics,) but should rush on at once, thinking of nothing but the work, and plough the seashore, and cast in the seed wherever the soil was turned up, whether sand or mud: — Or if any one, about to make war, and desiring a glorious victory, or intending to render any other service to the state, should not be so curious as to deliberate upon what it was in his power to do; whether the treasury could furnish money, whether the soldiers were fit, whether any opportunity offered; and should pay no regard whatever to that of the historian, “Before you act, there must be deliberation, and when you have deliberated, speedy execution;” but should rush forward with his eyes blinded, and his ears stopped, only exclaiming war! war! and should be determined on the undertaking: — What, I ask you, Erasmus, would you think of such poets, such husbandmen, such generals, and such heads of affairs? I will add also that of the Gospel — If any one going to build a tower, sits not down first and counts the cost, whether he has enough to finish it, — What does Christ say of such an One? (Luke xiv. 28-32).
Thus you also enjoin us works only. But you forbid us to examine, weigh, and know, first, our ability, what we can do, and what we cannot do, as being curious, superfluous, and irreligious. Thus, while with your over-cautious prudence you pretend to detest temerity, and make a show of sobriety, you go so far, that you even teach the greatest of all temerity. For, although the Sophists are rash and mad in reality while they pursue their curious inquiries, yet their sin is less enormous than yours; for you even teach and enjoin men to be mad, and to rush on with temerity. And to make your madness still greater, you persuade us, that this temerity is the most exalted and Christian piety, sobriety, religious gravity, and even salvation. And you assert, that if we exercise it not, we are irreligious, curious, and vain: although you are so great an enemy to assertions. Thus, in steering clear of Charybdis, you have, with excellent grace, escaped Scylla also. But into this state you are driven by your confidence in your own talents. You believe, that you can by your eloquence, so impose upon the understandings of all, that no one shall discover the design which you secretly hug in your heart, and what you aim at in all those your pliant writings. But God is not mocked, (Gal. vi. 7,) upon whom it is not safe to run.
Moreover, had you enjoined us this temerity in composing poems, in preparing for fruits, in conducting wars or other undertakings, or in building houses; although it would have been intolerable, especially in so great a man, yet you might have been deserving of some pardon, at least from Christians, for they pay no regard to these temporal things. But when you enjoin Christians themselves to become rash workers, and charge them not to be curious about what they can do and what they cannot do, in obtaining eternal salvation; this, evidently, and in reality, is the sin unpardonable. For while they know not what or how much they can do, they will not know what to do; and if they know not what to do, they cannot repent when they do wrong; and impenitence is the unpardonable sin: and to this, does that moderate and sceptical theology of yours lead us.
Therefore, it is not irreligious, curious, or superfluous, but essentially wholesome and necessary, for a Christian to know, whether or not the will does any thing in those things which pertain unto Salvation. Nay, let me tell you, this is the very hinge upon which our discussion turns. It is the very heart of our subject. For our object is this: to inquire what “Free-will” can do, in what it is passive, and how it stands with reference to the grace of God. If we know nothing of these things, we shall know nothing whatever of Christian matters, and shall be far behind all People upon the earth. He that does not feel this, let him confess that he is no Christian. And he that despises and laughs at it, let him know that he is the Christian’s greatest enemy. For, if I know not how much I can do myself, how far my ability extends, and what I can do God-wards; I shall be equally uncertain and ignorant how much God is to do, how far His ability is to extend, and what He is to do toward me: whereas it is “God that worketh all in all.” (1 Cor. xii. 6.) But if I know not the distinction between our working and the power of God, I know not God Himself. And if I know not God, I cannot worship Him, praise Him, give Him thanks, nor serve Him; for I shall not know how much I ought to ascribe unto myself, and how much unto God. It is necessary, therefore, to hold the most certain distinction, between the power of God and our power, the working of God and our working, if we would live in His fear.
Hence you see, this point, forms another part of the whole sum of Christianity; on which depends, and in which is at stake, the knowledge of ourselves, and the knowledge and glory of God. Wherefore, friend Erasmus, your calling the knowledge of this point irreligious, curious, and vain, is not to be borne in you. We owe much to you, but we owe all to the fear of God. Nay you yourself see, that all our good is to be ascribed unto God, and you assert that in your Form of Christianity: and in asserting this, you certainly, at the same time assert also, that the mercy of God alone does all things, and that our own will does nothing, but is rather acted upon: and so it must be, otherwise the whole is not ascribed unto God. And yet, immediately afterwards, you say, that to assert these things, and to know them, is irreligious, impious, and vain. But at this rate a mind, which is unstable in itself, and unsettled and inexperienced in the things of godliness, cannot but talk.
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library
W. Phillip Keller | (1920-1997)
4 He Leads Me Beside Quiet Waters
In the Christian life it is of more than passing significance to observe that those who are often the most serene, most confident, and most able to cope with life’s complexities are those who rise early each day to feed on God’s Word. It is in the quiet, early hours of the morning that they are led beside the quiet, still waters where they imbibe the very life of Christ for the day. This is much more than mere figure of speech. It is practical reality. The biographies of the great men and women of God repeatedly point out how the secret of the success in their spiritual life was attributed to the “quiet time” of each morning. There, alone, still, waiting for the Master’s voice, one is led gently to the place where, as the old hymn puts it, “The still dews of His Spirit can be dropped into my life and soul.”
One comes away from these hours of meditation, reflection, and communion with Christ refreshed in mind and spirit. The thirst is slaked and the heart is quietly satisfied.
In my mind’s eye I can see my flock again. The gentleness, stillness, and softness of early morning always found my sheep knee-deep in dew-drenched grass. There they fed heavily and contentedly. As the sun rose and its heat burned the dewdrops from the leaves, the flock would retire to find shade. There, fully satisfied and happily refreshed, they would lie down to rest and ruminate through the day. Nothing pleased me more.
I am confident this is the same reaction in my Master’s heart and mind when I meet the day in the same way. He loves to see me contented, quiet, at rest, and relaxed. He delights to know my soul and spirit have been refreshed and satisfied.
But the irony of life, and tragic truth for most Christians, is that this is not so. They often try, instead, to satisfy their thirst by pursuing almost every other sort of substitute. For their minds and intellects they will pursue knowledge, science, academic careers, vociferous reading, or off-beat companions. But they are always left panting and dissatisfied.
Some of my friends have been among the most learned and highly respected scientists and professors in the country. Yet about them there is often a strange yearning, an unsatisfied thirst that all their learning, all their knowledge, all their achievements have not satisfied.
To appease the craving of their souls and emotions, men and women will turn to the arts, to culture, to music, to literary forms, trying to find fulfillment.
And again, so often, these are amongst the most jaded and dejected of people.
Amongst my acquaintances are some outstanding authors and artists. Yet it is significant that to many of them life is a mockery. They have tried drinking deeply from the wells of the world only to turn away unsatisfied—unquenched in their soul’s thirst. There are those who, to quench this thirst in their parched lives, have attempted to find refreshment in all sorts of physical pursuits and activities.
They try travel. Or they participate feverishly in sports. They attempt adventures of all sorts or indulge in social activities. They take up hobbies or engage in community efforts. But when all is said and everything has been done, they find themselves facing the same haunting, hollow, empty, unfilled thirst within.
The ancient prophet Jeremiah put it very bluntly when he declared, “My people . . . have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13).
It is a compelling picture. It is an accurate portrayal of broken lives—of shattered hopes—of barren souls that are dried up and parched and full of the dust of despair.
Among people, especially the younger generation, the recourse to drugs, to alcohol, to sexual adventure in a mad desire to assuage their thirst is classic proof that such sordid indulgences are no substitute for the Spirit of the living God. These poor people are broken cisterns. Their lives are a misery. I have yet to talk to a truly happy sinner. Their faces show the desperation within.
And amid all this chaos of a confused, sick society, Christ comes quietly as of old and invites us to come to Him. He invites us to follow Him. He invites us to put our confidence in Him. For He it is who best knows how we can be satisfied. He knows that the human heart, the human personality, the human soul with its amazing capacity for God can never be satisfied with a substitute. Only the Spirit and life of Christ Himself will satisfy the thirsting soul.
A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23