Advent day 4: Moses and Terror

Exodus 3:6. Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Exodus 20:18-20. Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.”21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

Exodus 33:20. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”

Let’s just be honest, God is terrifying. Have you ever been terrified? I have felt the extreme terror that comes with a full blown panic attack. A feeling like you are literally about to die. It’s the worst thing in the world. There have been times when I have felt the terrifying nature of God. Especially in seasons of doubting. What if I’m not really his child? What if he is actually against me? There are still times when these thoughts scare the sanctification out of me.

Is that what Moses felt at the burning bush? Is that what the Israelites felt at Sinai? Is that what God wants us to feel when he says man shall not see me and live?

In Genesis we read that mankind rebelled against God and unleashed evil upon the earth. There is now rebellion in the hearts of all humanity. Which means that when we have a real encounter with the living God there is also terror in the hearts of all humanity.

Waiting for the first Christmas was terrifying for humanity. God keeps coming down to earth as fire, and smoke, and lightning, and wind and we just can’t handle it. It’s a real problem. Christmas is in trouble.

God has promised to send a human hero to crush evil. An offspring of Eve, Abraham, Judah, an Israelite. But whoever this human is going to be, he too will be full of the very evil he is supposed to crush. Not even Moses, the chosen one of God at that time, could look at God in his holiness without dying.

Thus is the terror of God, that he has to destroy evil for us to live. But that same evil is in each of us, so he must destroy us too if he is going to destroy evil. That’s terrifying.

A terrified Marv destroys Harry. 

And so in Exodus God tries a social experiment called the Law. Can humanity save themselves? Can they be good enough? Can they develop into a loving and holy civilization that fears God?

And he tries a theological experiment. Can God and man live together? If God is veiled in smoke, and fire, and bushes can he dwell among us? Can he be God with us, but not really WITH us? Can he rescue us from within the veil? Can he rescue us from outside of us through the law?

And, of course, the answer is a resounding NO. We could not escape the terror of God at all by law keeping. In fact, the terror just grew and grew and the need for more and more words of comfort and the need to repeat the promise grew and grew.

Praise God that none of this was actually an experiment. It was the plan all along. The plan to reveal our need and his heart. His desire to live with us and our need to be made new will collide in the incarnation. God will become flesh and dwell among us. And then by the Spirit, God will live within us. This is “to live is Christ.” And this is the end of the terror of God.

If you are not in Christ, then the God of the bush, the God of the mountain, the God that cannot be looked upon without death is your God. Be afraid.

But if you are in Christ, then you have looked upon God in the face of Christ and lived. The God that was veiled in smoke and fire and bushes was veiled in a baby, in a man, in a cross, and now, in you and me. No more terror. Only life.

How does union with Christ remove the terror of God from our lives? Why are we able to look at God now and live instead of die?

Cast out our fears and enter in, be born in us today.

 

Advent Day 3: Joseph and Evil

Genesis 50:20. As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

The season of Advent, of waiting, is full of evil. It always has been. Evil was unleashed in the Garden and so we have always been waiting in the midst of great evil. The Bible doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to this evil. It’s perfectly clear from the Bible that evil is running amuck.

As the world waited for the first Christmas, God was using the family of Abraham to bring it to pass. Abraham’s great-grandson, Joseph, experienced evil at the hands of his older brothers. They were jealous and hated him and so they sold him into slavery, faked his death, lied to their father, and thought they were rid of their “goody two shoes” brother. But, plot twist, Joseph was taken to Egypt where he rose to power and favor in Pharaoh’s court. It’s a long story that you can read in Genesis.

When Joseph’s brothers came looking for help from Egypt, during a famine, they were confronted by their long lost brother. They were terrified. They thought Joseph would exact revenge and kill them all. Instead they heard Genesis 50:20 (above).

This is one story of hundreds in the Bible where God used what was evil in this world and turned it into something good. Joseph’s power allowed him to save his family not kill them.

The “problem of evil” (how can a good God allow evil) has plagued us as humans since the beginning of time. Fat books have been written about it. Theologians and philosophers have debated it. And Christians have secretly struggled with it for centuries.

Why God allows specific instances of evil to occur is probably way beyond us. In fact evil itself is probably way beyond us. Evil is more than just messing up or making a blunder. Evil is a force. Sin is a force. It seeks to control us. It controlled Joseph’s brothers that day they dumped his body in a pit and then sold him away as a slave. Mess ups can be fixed. Blunders can be righted. Mistakes can literally be paid for. But evil… We need something much more powerful than our own human agency to fix it. We can’t just pay off the Holocaust. Or apologize for the slave trade. Or correct the mistakes of genocide, rape, and torture.

We are helpless against evil.

Warning: evil gremlins killing

This is why in Romans Paul tells us that we have to die to Sin. Only death can bring victory over evil. In a very real sense, Joseph had to die to his old life in order to not be defeated by evil. He had to embrace his own form of death and resurrection before he could forgive the evil of his brothers.

What does all of this have to do with Christmas? And what does it have to do with our union with Christ? Everything. The story of Joseph and the story of Christmas teach us that God is able to overturn evil. The powerful force of evil and death is defeatable. How?

Many see evil as the absence of good. In that case how is evil defeated? By the presence of good. How is death defeated? By the presence of life. That’s Christmas. God defeats evil with his powerful presence. That’s what we were waiting for for thousands of years. That’s what the birth of Christ introduced to the world – goodness and life. And that is what “to live is Christ” introduces to your own life – goodness and eternal life. Evil defeated, and death destroyed by the indwelling presence of Christ in your life.

How has evil been defeated in your own life? How does your union with Christ defeat evil and bring good in its place?

Advent Day 2: The Call of Abraham and Comfort

Genesis 12:3. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

When Adam and Eve crashed in the Garden of Eden, bringing death and evil into the hearts of mankind, God promised the world that he would send us a rescuer. The seed of Eve. The promise of Genesis 3:15 would survive the flood of Noah and be brought to the forefront of history again with the call of Abraham.

in you all the families of earth shall be blessed.

And here is one of the great statements of comfort in our advent, our waiting: God has not and will not ever abandon humanity. In Abraham all the peoples of earth will be blessed. All are savable. All are welcomed into God’s grace.

Our comfort this Christmas comes from this work of God himself, a work that continues from Adam and Eve to Abraham and Sarah. A miraculous work. The offspring of Eve will be the offspring of Sarah. An old barren woman. Through that miraculous birth all the nations will be blessed. That work continued unto the birth of Christ and the new birth in your heart. This is the comfort our hearts long for. All lesser comforts point to this final comfort.

Any command, or act of obedience, you might try to tackle this Christmas will fail until you embrace the comfort of the call of Abraham. The comfort of the blessing that comes, not from obeying the commands, but by the blessing of simply being IN Abraham’s descendant – Jesus Christ.

The comforting call to Abraham came before he did a thing. He was blessed before his obedience. He was blessed by sheer grace. In Christ so are you. That’s the comfort of Christmas. That’s what allows us to rest in the waiting of advent.

Buddy comforted by Papa Elf

Let this Christmas season remind you of this ultimate comfort. Christmas can tend to make us way too comfortable, even in the stress of the season. That stress reveals that we have made the season itself our hope and comfort. If this Christmas season can make you uncomfortable, then you have made something other than Christ your comfort. Therefore, the comfort of Christ may be the most uncomfortable thing. To rest in the comfort of Christ, is to give up the control that comes from the things or situations that bring you comfort. Including Christmas.

“To live is Christ” is to embrace the comfort of being in Christ. The blessing that is imputed to those of us who deserve no blessing. It is to denounce all else as our source of comfort in this life and rest in Christ alone.

What are you counting on to comfort you this Christmas season? How does your union with Christ bring you comfort?

Advent Day 1 – The Protoevangelium and Waiting

Genesis 3:15. I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

These are the words God spoke to the serpent in the Garden of Eden after the fall of mankind. These words are sometimes called the protoevangelium. The first gospel. When the worst thing in human history happened what was God’s response? When evil, chaos, and corruption invaded creation what did God do? He made a promise. A promise that set off the first advent season (advent means arrival). It would take thousands of years for this promise to be realized.

What did God promise? He promised a baby. An offspring. A human baby from the genealogy of Eve. But how on earth does this help? How does it solve the problem that man’s selfishness caused? How does it crush the head of the serpent? Well, like we said, it would take thousands of years for that question to be answered. A whole lot happened between this promise and the fulfillment. A flood. The formation of a family. Slavery and exodus. The rise and fall of a nation. Kings and wars. An exile. A new city. A new temple. A whole lot of silence. And a whole lot of waiting.

And so here we are waiting once again for Christmas. True, we wait from the other side of the cross. Yes, the protoevangelium has been fulfilled, 2000 years ago. Eve’s child was born. Jesus Christ lived and died and rose to give us his life.

And yet we still wait. Because everything Genesis 3:15 promised has not fully happened. Our heels are still getting bit by that snake every day. His serpent head appears to be fine most days. The baby has come and gone. Yes, he died on the cross. Yes he rose again. Yes he made another promise. A promise to return again. But how long? How much longer is this going to take?

And so, once again, just like from the Garden, waiting is the posture that God requires of us. A posture that will either make us or break us. Waiting has the power to undo us. To drive us into the tyranny of busyness. It causes and reveals our impatience. It causes the anxiety that comes from knowing that we’ve left so many things undone. It makes us believe that we’re just not ready yet.

We’re constantly torn between “I need more time,” and “When is this ever going to happen?” “I’m not ready to die” (FOMO) and “Come quickly Lord Jesus.”

For us who believe that “to live is Christ” we must surrender control. Waiting is only a crisis when we have to be in control. But faith trusts the promise. The promise of the coming good news. No longer the protoevangelium, but the final evangelium. Here in the waiting faith trusts the promise that we have been joined to the offspring. Yes, he came and left, but he came again as the Spirit of life. The child of Eve is our life, our guarantee. Our promise made good.

God is really good at waiting. So today, as we wait, let’s be reminded that God always keeps his promise. And that the waiting is his way of making sure his promises have the maximum impact on all of history, and on your heart.

Do you hate waiting? Are you waiting for Christ’s return? How’s that going? How does your union with Christ sustain you in that waiting?

November 30: Grace in Christ Alone

Romans 6:23. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God’s grace is found in Jesus Christ our Lord. It is our union with him that unites us also to the grace of God. God acts freely toward us without hesitation or limitation because of Christ.

Because God’s grace is in Christ alone, it is completely uncaused by you. You have done nothing, do nothing, and will do nothing to make you deserving of this grace. We must learn to stop trying to cause God’s grace. We cannot bring it about. We cannot even produce it by our faith. Our faith is in existing grace; it does not make grace exist. Grace is not contingent at all upon what you or I do. It does not come and go with our sinning and behaving. It does not increase and decrease by our consecration. It does not rise and fall by our worship. Grace is a principle and a power that is completely outside of us that enters us in spite of us by the Spirit of Christ.

Because God’s grace is in Christ alone, our response must be full and free humility. The receiver of grace must see himself as completely unworthy and yet completely blessed. There is no room for fleshly pride in the economy of grace. Grace produces the self-forgetfulness that neither has anything to gain or anything to not lose.

Because God’s grace is in Christ alone, we are fully accepted in Christ. Fully righteous. Fully justified. We are not on probation until Heaven. We are heaven ready – absent from body, present with the Lord. The past Adamic life is gone. Our life is Christ. This grace can never be taken away. God bestowed his grace on us knowing every contingency beforehand. He loved us in spite of all the things we did do wrong and would do wrong, even after receiving grace. We will be judged from the reality that we have already graciously been judged in Christ.

Because God’s grace is in Christ alone, our focus is on Christ alone. We do not hope to be better, for we are as good as he is. We are not disappointed in ourselves, for that is to trust in ourselves. We are not proud, for all of our standing is in Christ. We are not discouraged, for we know God’s plan of future grace for our life. Our devotion comes from recognizing God’s blessing by grace, not from our will to be devoted. We do not make vows and resolutions, for these come from the flesh. We are not burdened by our own life, but take up the burden of others. We allow ourselves to be loved more and more while seeing our unworthiness more and more. We rely on the discipline of the Lord, while testifying of the goodness of the Lord.

“To live is Christ” is to live in this grace alone. Grace that changes everything. How we see ourselves, God, others, all hinges on our reception of grace.

Do you receive or resist grace? What makes it hard to receive grace? What makes it easy? Are you relying on your position in Christ for blessing or are you relying on something else?

November 29: Grace is a Gift (so stop trying to pay it back)

Romans 6:23. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Our relationship to God is fundamentally one of receiving grace. The giving and receiving of grace is ultimately how God relates to people. Everything God does he does to bring us into a relationship of grace with himself.

Grace is a gift. It can never be repaid. Let me share four reasons why we should not see our relationship to God as one of indebtedness.

First, it is literally impossible to repay God. And not because what you owe is so big (this is how I often here preachers explain it – you can’t repay God because the debt is so large. But this is still calling our relationship with God primarily one of indebtedness). The reality is that God is the source of all that you do. His grace empowers every breath you take. So as soon as you work hard to repay God, all the hard work that you just did is also by the grace of God. By working to pay off your debt to God, you just went deeper and deeper into debt. Everything is from grace. But if grace is a debt then we will never be out of debt.

Second, grace, by definition, can never be repaid. As soon as God demands that you repay it, it ceases to be grace. Grace is one-way love. It holds no expectation. It makes no demands. It keeps no record. The gospel never describes our relationship to God as a lender – borrower relationship. Yes, before justification, we owed a sin debt to God, but our justification in Christ has cleared our debt.

The idea of grace is hard for us, even offensive. We believe that the right and moral thing is to pay for what you get. To earn everything. If you buy me lunch, then I say “I’ll get the next one.” If you give me a gift, then I feel the need to get you a gift. If your gift is better than mine, I have to one up you next go around.

Sometimes even what we call gratitude is actually us just trying to pay back grace so we don’t feel so guilty. The very thing that God gives us to relieve all guilt often makes us feel the most guilty. Why is this? Because we don’t really trust in grace.

Third, if we believe that we can pay God back then we are rejecting forgiveness. God’s forgiveness eradicates your sin. Your debt is gone forever. As far as east is from west. If you can pay God back (which you can’t) then are you really forgiven? Jesus died so that you wouldn’t have to pay him back. This is the very essence of Christian forgiveness – God takes the hit. He pays the debt himself. The wage of sin is death. So God died. He took the earned wage and now offers the free gift of grace. That is the definition of forgiveness.

Fourth, you were never intended to be in a relationship of indebtedness to God. When God made Adam and Eve as the representatives of humanity, what was the goal? What was the nature of their relationship to God? Worship. Image bearing. Receiving. Dependency. Submission. Enjoyment.

Not debt.

Humanity’s job is to live. Live a life that reflects and represents God. This kind of life was lost at the Fall and regained for us by the cross. Your salvation is a restoration of this life. Plain and simple. Did Jesus’ resurrection place him in God’s debt? Or did it restore his relationship to God as the Son of God? You too are restored as a son. You too are not placed into God’s debt, you are restored to a worshipping image bearer who loves and enjoys and serves God. Not because you owe him but because you are joyfully enslaved to him.

“To live is Christ” is to live in grace. Grace that not only can’t be repaid but was never meant to be repaid. Grace that was meant to restore life, worship, and love.

In what ways are you trying to repay God? How does our union with Christ prove that we are in a son-ship relationship with God, not a debtor relationship?

November 28: Grace is Eternal Life

Romans 6:23. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Grace is life. Eternal life. In Christ Jesus.

And so here in Romans 6:23 we have a summation of all of human existence. All of God’s redemption story. The purpose of creation, the cross, and the new creation. The reason for everything is that we might escape the wage of sin, and receive the gift of God. His own life.

Zoe.

The little Greek word that the Apostle’s use to mean the divine life. Christ’s life. Not bios (physical life). Not psyche (mental life). Zoe (spiritual life). Of these three words used to describe life in Greek, only zoe is used to describe God’s life. Only God has zoe, until he gives it to us by his grace.

Eternal life is not your human life forever. What a hell that would be. What living death. To be you forever enslaved to sin. That’s no gift. That’s the wage. God’s grace is not immortality; it’s his life joined to yours forever. Goodness forever. Not just being alive forever. Not just an eternity of trying to improve.

Sure, improving your bios or psyche is something that you can do. You probably have done it. Self-help. Anger management. 12 steps. Behavior modification. Psychology. Beach Body. Keto. But none of these solves the bigger problem that each of us faces – the wage of sin. Death. Those that are born sinners must be reborn. Rebirth is something that none of us could accomplish on our own. Only grace can bring it to pass. Only the creator can create something from nothing.

Zoe life only comes from God himself. This life was given to Jesus in the incarnation and then it was made available to us.

John 6:57. As the living [zoe] Father sent me, and I live [zoe] because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live [zoe] because of me.

Zoe life is only available by feeding on Jesus. That is, participating in his life by faith. Or, as Paul says, receiving it as a gift. This is everything that God has ever wanted for us. It’s the life he offered in the Garden through the Tree of Life. It’s the life he now offers in the person of Jesus Christ.

Eternal life is a big deal because death is a big deal. Slavery to sin is a big deal. Without the gift of eternal life, death is irreversible. Our life is not enough to overcome death. Our bios and psyche can’t defeat the finality of death. But God’s zoe life can. And did. Jesus subjected himself to death to defeat death. Now our death is reversible. Now it is a gift, an entrance into immortality. Our spiritual death (you died with Christ) and our physical death both bring about the very life that we all desire and strive after, but without the striving. It’s grace! It’s a free gift!

Paul ends one of the greatest chapters in the Bible with one of the greatest statements in the Bible – the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. This simple statement is the depths of the gospel poured into one phrase. Let us strive to know it, consider it, and present ourselves to God from it’s power. May we never trivialize it, or turn it into just another cliche. May we live from the fullness it promises and provides. May we abide in it and rest in the eternal security of “to live is Christ.”

1 Timothy 6:12. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.