Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Unhindered: Praying Through the Book of Acts to the Christ who Acts

The following is the text of the last sermon I prayed from the book of Acts.  That’s right:  prayed.  I wrote and “preached” the sermon as a prayer which I prayed that Sunday, working through each of the book’s 28 chapters.

Lord Jesus, You are known, loved, and revered by many names in the Book of Acts:  Son of Man, Son of God, Seed of David, the Nazarene, Holy and Righteous One, Prince of Life, Prophet, the Cornerstone, Lord, the Christ, judge of the living and the dead, and Savior.

My heart overflows with a good theme, the best of all themes, and as we reach now the end of our study of the Book of Acts, we address our verses to You, our matchless King and Master.  For of all the blessings You have bestowed on us, Your bride at Immanuel, through this Book of Acts, the highest, the richest, and the fullest, of those blessings has been Your own, week-by-week verse-by-verse, Self-disclosure to us:  You, the Prince of Life and unhindered King of the Nations, the Alpha and Omega of the Book of Acts, have made Your face to shine upon us!

In Chapter 1, You are the Lord, risen from His sufferings, resolved to take possession of His inheritance from among the nations, whose achievements will transform the entire earth into a holy temple, whose plan and command is to build His Church with His Church, and who must first ascend to the Father’s right hand in order to descend once again at the Father’s pleasure and in the Father’s timing.  We praise You, Lord Christ; grant that we—Your people at IPC—would obediently take this mission as our own.

In Chapter 2, though You are the One “delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, and though you were nailed to a Cross by the hands of godless men (2:23), You were unhindered by these evils from fulfilling Your promise, for it was impossible for death to hold You in its power (2:24).  And having entered the Father’s presence in triumph, crowned as Lord and Christ (2:36), Your coronation gift to the world was to pour out the Holy Spirit, proving that “the great and glorious day of the Lord” had come because You had brought it through Your obedient life, crucifixion, and resurrection, and inaugurating the age of amnesty, open until the Day of Your return, in which “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (2:21).  We praise You, Lord Christ.  Grant that we would increasingly trust You to build Your Church with & by the community filled with and sustained by Your Holy Spirit, through means that seem so ordinary to us, but through which You have ordained to release the powers of the age to come:  the teaching of the apostles, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer (2:42).

In Chapter 3, exalted as the highest of men at the Father’s right hand, You prove that Your eye is always upon the lowest of men, when you send Your Apostles to heal the man lame since birth.  Though his physical healing is dramatic, You instruct us there to seek what matters most:  that, in this age of mercy, the greatest of all signs and wonders is the healing of the heart, the reconciliation of a sinner to God.  Grant that the Gospel of Your free grace will always be our hearts’ highest definition of prosperity and health.

In Chapter 4, Yours is the only Name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved (4:11).  Prince of Life, we praise You, for we know that this unyielding and exclusive honor is rightfully Yours because there never has been, nor will there ever be, anyone else under heaven whose worth and work compare to Yours.  Grant that we would have the same jealousy for Your honor as Your Apostles did, and so speak Your Word with boldness (4:31).

In Chapter 5, You are the fearsome and unhindered guardian of holiness inside Your Church.  Holy and Righteous One, we praise You for Your purity and confess that we are afflicted with a casual attitude toward holiness inside Your Church.  We ask that You would cause us to increase in a holy trembling in all our dealings with Your Bride, a trembling that is the fruit of Your Gospel, which has been given to redeem us from every lawless deed.

In Chapter 6, You provide for Your bride by appointing offices for ministry designed to depict Your own ministry in and for the Church.  Great Prophet of God, we praise You that You are the greatest and most faithful Elder over Your flock, guarding, leading, feeding, and interceding for the Church.  Son of Man, we thank You that You are the greatest and most faithful Deacon serving the Church:  who did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many.

In Chapter 7, You are boldly commended by Your servant Stephen as the Righteous One (7:52), the heart and long-expected Champion of Israel’s history, and as he sees you truly in this history, You permit him to see Your glory in the heavens.

Lord Jesus Christ, we praise You for Your identity as Israel’s truest Prophet, her most sympathetic & faithful Priest, and her mightiest King.  Grant that we, Your flock at IPC, would love Your glory even as our brother Stephen did.

In Chapter 8, You display Your unhindered rule over all history by taking what men mean for the worst against You and Your Church, and turning it to the advancement of Your Kingdom, as You use the outbreak of persecution against the Church in Jerusalem to bring the light & liberation of Your Gospel, first to Samaria and then even to Africa through the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch.  We praise You, Lord, that You prove throughout Acts that You are able to build Your Church in the midst of the darkest of storms.  Grant that we would trust You to continue to do so in our own day.

In Chapter 9, Your grace transforms the most vicious wolf, first into a sheep, and then into a shepherd.  We thank You for two unfathomably rich lessons displayed in Saul’s conversion:  (1)  First, Your identification with the sufferings of Your bride, taking a personal interest in her persecution; and (2) Second, Your identification with the worst of sinners.  Grant that our grasp of these truths, anchored in Your Cross, would continue to deepen and bear more fruit in our lives.

In Chapters 10 and 11, You keep Your promise by sending the Gospel and the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles: first, to Cornelius and his friends in Caesarea, and then later in the church in Antioch.  We praise You, Lord Christ, for teaching us in these chapters both what the Gospel is not and what it is.  That it is not:  piety, belief in God, good-works, continual praying or spiritual influence upon others.  But it is: God cleansing what is unholy through the holy work of His holy Son.  Grant that we would never consider unholy what God has cleansed, that we would believe this about others and ourselves.

In Chapter 12, we are confronted by the mystery of Your sovereignty:  in James’ martyrdom, in Peter’s release, and in the death of Herod.  Grant that we would be appropriately humble and hopeful before Your authority and control over all things, even the worst evil of men and the most painful suffering of Your people.

In Chapter 13, You set apart Paul & Barnabas for the 1st missionary journey in fulfillment of Your plan to send Your witnesses to the remotest part of the earth, to fulfill Your own mission as the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 49:6),  to be “the Light for the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the end of the earth” (13:47).  We praise You, Lord Christ, Your light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not, could not, and will not overcome it.  Grant that we would increasingly see ourselves as bearers of Your light into the world.

In Chapter 14, You display Your worth through the willing suffering of Your servants, Paul and Barnabas, as they carry Your Gospel to both the Jews in Iconium and the Gentiles in Lystra and Derbe, with the testimony that it is “Through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God” (14:22).  Grant we, Your people at IPC, would rejoice if and when we are considered worthy to suffer shame for the sake of Your Name.

In Chapter 15, You are the Great Teacher of Your Church, as You guide the Jerusalem Council into a deeper and more accurate understanding of Your Gospel.  We praise You, Lord Christ, for the inexhaustible depth of Your Work and its implications, that no matter how long and far we journey with You, we will never graduate from the wonders of the Gospel.  Grant that we would exult in the riches of Your grace, rejoicing that there is no caste system in Your Church, but all who come to You come on an equal footing, as sinners saved by grace alone through faith alone in You alone.

In Chapter 16, You remind us that You have ordained to build Your Church by linking the edification of the saints and the evangelization of the lost (16:5).  Grant that we, Your people at IPC, would never separate what You, our God and Savior, have joined together.  In Philippi, we witness the power of Your Gospel:  first, by saving very different kinds of people (the pious Lydia, the demon-possessed slave girl, and the jailer), and then by bringing those people together into Your Church.  Great Savior of Sinners and Builder of Your Church, grant that we would experience Your power to save and join together in DeLand as You demonstrated it in Philippi.

In Chapter 17, You build Your Church through much affliction & conflict in Thessalonica, according to the Scriptures in Berea, and assert Your supreme relevance and authority over the intellectual and idolatrous pride of Athens.  We praise You, Lord Jesus Christ, for the boundless relevance of Your Gospel depicted in this chapter.  We pray You will give us hearts like Your servant Paul’s, burdened and provoked by compassion for the lost and a jealousy for Your glory so that we would be courageous speakers & sharers of Your Gospel, Your call to all men everywhere to repent, and your identity as the One appointed as the Righteous Judge over all men.

In Chapter 18, You shock us with Your announcement to Paul that “I have many people in this city.”  First, because the city is Corinth, a place of great sin.  Second, because You teach us once again that Your saving grace is sovereign grace, the grace of election.  Third, because not only have You sovereignly ordained the end for Your people (R&Fàsalvation), but the means by which they are saved (“go on speaking”)(18:9).  We praise You, Lord Jesus Christ, for Your sovereign, invincible grace.  Grant that we, Your people at IPC, would move from this foundation with the same confidence into our communities as Paul did into Corinth, that we would not be silent, but go on speaking until Your return.

In Chapter 19, You literally turn the entire culture of Ephesus upside down and inside out with Your Gospel, liberating people from their slavery to the forces of wickedness and darkness, and proving that the longer and more deeply Your Word is sown into the life of a community and its people, the more every facet of that community will be changed forever by the Gospel.  We praise You, Lord Christ, for Your power in Ephesus.  Grant that we too, Your people at IPC, would sow the seed of Your Gospel into our communities with the expectation that You will turn them upside down.

In Chapter 20, You are the Good Shepherd, who purchased the Church at the cost of Your own blood.  We praise You, Great Shepherd of the Sheep, for redeeming us at such tremendous cost.  Grant that we would decreasingly think of ourselves as belonging to ourselves, and increasingly live as those who belong to, and are the rightful property of, Another, even You.

In Chapters 21, 22, and 23, You are the culminating fulfillment of Israel’s hopes, but Israel (largely) doesn’t honor You for it. You are the Messiah and rightful heir to David’s throne, who has been rejected by His own people, the one true Israelite rejected by Israel; but who has not rejected them, who deploys His lead Apostle to witness to Israel’s leaders once again.  Greatest Son of David, we praise You for Your covenant faithfulness to Your people and Your promise from Acts 1:8 to link Jerusalem with the ends of the earth in Your Kingdom by assuring Paul that he will be Your witness in Rome just as he was in Jerusalem (23:11).

In Chapters 24, 25 and 26, You demonstrate yet again the scandalous extravagance of Your grace as You permit Paul to remain in prison in Caesarea for 2 years (!), thereby ensuring repeated access to Your Gospel for Felix (a man of mixed motives, who feigned genuine interest, but loved his sin more than Your grace), Festus (who feigned neutrality), Agrippa, Bernice & Drusilla (the children of Herod Agrippa I, who murdered Your Apostle James [12:2], the grandchildren of Herod Antipas, who murdered Your cousin John the Baptist, and the great grandchildren of Herod the Great, who slaughtered the baby boys of Bethlehem in order to destroy You!).  We praise You, Lord Christ, that Your grace always proves to be more than sufficient for the worst and darkest of sinners, and that You delight to wield Your strength to save.  Grant that we, Your people at IPC, would grow increasingly strong in this same grace.

In Chapter 27, You are the Sovereign over the storm, and remind us that not only Acts, but the entire Bible is a book of storms which serve Your purposes.  We thank You that Your own Cross proves this to us most compellingly, and that because of Your mastery there, we have an unshakable warrant to believe You that it will turn out exactly as we have been told, that You will deliver us from every evil deed and will bring us safely into Your heavenly Kingdom.  We believe, Lord; please help our unbelief.

In Chapter 28, we learn that the very last word Your Holy Spirit inspired Luke to write, the final word of this momentous book, is the Greek word we translate into English as “unhindered.”  And though Luke uses it to describe Your Apostle’s ministry in Rome, it is such a fitting end to Acts because it so accurately describes Your own ministry throughout Acts and throughout history and the world.

Acts is a book shaped and propelled by the truth that You, our Lord, are the unhindered One.  Your advance is unchecked and unstoppable in Acts:  nothing and no one succeeds in slowing down, let alone blocking, Your project of building Your Church.  We see that the agenda unfolded in human history is the agenda of Jesus Christ alone, You to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given.

In Chapter 28, we see that You are the Lord who has kept every single one of His promises, the unhindered Builder of His Church from Jerusalem to Rome, whose building strategy  has not altered even in the imperial capital.  You shower Your saving kindness on the Jews of Rome as well as the 6 Gentile praetorian guards daily chained to Your Apostle in four hour shifts! (vv. 17—20; 23—28; 30—31), as Your witnesses reason and persuade from the Scriptures which testify to You and Your Kingdom (vv. 23, 31).

From the open, unfinished ending of Acts, You also show us that Your work of building Your Church in the world is not yet done, and since Yours is not, ours isn’t either.  We thank You, Lord Jesus, that Your intentions toward the world remain merciful and gracious.  Grant us, Your people at IPC, not only to see the triumphantly unhindered and open door for the Gospel at the end of Acts, but the one that remains open in our own age until the Day of Your Return.  Grant that each of us who name You as Savior and Lord would lay hold of this mission as our own.

For You and Your Gospel will always remain unhindered—from DeLand to the remotest part of the earth.

With praise, thanksgiving, and joy, we pray in Your name, our Master and our God, the name we have called upon in order to be saved, even Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Savior of sinners.  Amen.

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“Conscious Justification”: The Power of Assurance

“…conscious justification, such as Luther contended for, shut out priesthood and penance; giving a man the joy of true liberty and divine fellowship at once, without the intervention of another party or the delay of an hour.

This conscious justification started the man upon a happy life, because relieved from the burden of doubt and the gloom of uncertainty;

it made his religion bright and tranquil, because springing so sweetly from the certainty of his reconciliation to God;

it delivered him from the cruel suspense and undefined fears which the want of assurance carries always with it;

it rescued him from all temptations to self-righteousness, because not arising from any good thing in himself; it preserved him from pride and presumption, because it kept him from trying to magnify his own goodness in order to extract assurance out of it;

it drew him away from self to Christ, from what he was doing to what Christ had done; thus making Christ, not self, the basis and the centre of his new being;

it made him more and more dissatisfied with self, and all that self contained, but more and more satisfied with Jesus and His fulness;

it taught him to rest his confidence towards God, not on his satisfaction with self, not on the development of his own holiness, not on the amount of his graces and prayers and doings, but simply on the completed work of Him in whom God is well pleased.”

Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness, Ch.9

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A Speaker Greater than Heaven and Earth: Mark 13:31

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mark 13:31).

Here is a Speaker who claims for himself the greatest authority in the universe, and an existence greater than, and independent of, that universe. There are only 2 rational responses to this statement (and this Speaker): either to hate and oppose him as the most dangerously self-deceived megalomaniac in history or to bow before him in worship and allegiance and love as the Lord of history.  To be unmoved (in either direction) is the ultimate irrationality.


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Genesis 20: The Protector of the Covenant

Genesis 20 presents us with a familiar pattern:  Abraham lies about Sarah’s identity as his wife.   In doing so, he jeopardizes two covenants at once.

First, Abraham jeopardizes his marriage covenant.  To save his own skin from a perceived, not an actual threat, he lies: “She is my sister” (v.2).  In the process, he leaves his bride utterly exposed to exploitation by Abimelech.  The only reason she isn’t ultimately violated is that the Lord Himself personally intervenes through Abimelech’s dream (vv.3–7).  It would be one thing, I suppose, for Abraham to have lied about Sarah’s identity to make her safer:  to expose himself to danger so that he might insulate her.  But in fact he does precisely the opposite:  he lies about Sarah to make himself safer, and by so doing exposes her to great moral and physical danger.

By comparison to his greatest son, Abraham is a poor specimen of a husband indeed:  “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies….” (Ephesians 5:25-28).  Abraham gave Sarah up for himself, and did not guard her purity.

The second covenant Abraham puts into jeopardy is the Lord’s covenant with him.  The Lord had promised that Abraham & Sarah would be given a son (Chs.17-18).  Abraham’s deception in Ch.20 raises the possibility that, if Sarah becomes pregnant, it would appear that Abimelech, rather than Abraham, was the father, thus casting a shadow of uncertainty over the heart of the Lord’s covenant with Abraham.

But the Lord intervenes to protect, not merely Sarah’s purity, but the integrity of His covenant with Abraham.  Again and again throughout Genesis, the treasure of the covenant is placed into hands that are not sufficiently faithful to guard it well.  The only hope is always that the Lord’s own zeal to uphold the covenant exceeds man’s that it be upheld.

This is the plotline of the entire Bible.  This the plotline of history.  This is the story of the Christian life:  it is He who began a good work in us, who will also be the One to bring it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).


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One Glorious Whole

The truth is, that all that Christ did and suffered, from the manger to the tomb, forms one glorious whole, no part of which shall ever become needless or obsolete; no part of which we can ever leave without forsaking the whole.

I am always at the manger, and yet I know that mere incarnation cannot save; always in Gethsemane, and yet I believe that its agony was not the finished work; always at the cross, with my face towards it, and my eye on the crucified One, and yet I am persuaded that the sacrifice there was completed once for all; always looking into the grave, though I rejoice that it is empty, and that ‘He is not here, but is risen;’ always resting (with the angel) on the stone that was rolled away, and handling the grave-clothes, and realizing a risen Christ, nay, an ascended an interceding Lord; yet on no pretext whatever leaving any part of my Lord’s life or death behind me, but unceasingly keeping up my connection with Him, as born, living ,dying, buried, and rising again, and drawing out from each part some new blessing every day and hour.

Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness, Chapter 7

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Horatius Bonar on the Wonder of Imputed Righteousness

Never had His law been so kept and honoured before.  Son of God and Son of man in one person, He in this twofold character keeps the Father’s law, and in keeping it provides a righteousness so large and full, that it can be shared with others, transferred to others, imputed to others, and God be glorified (as well as the sinner saved) by the transference and imputation.

Never had God been so loved as now; with all divine love and with all human love.  Never had God been so served and so obeyed, as now He has been by Him who is ‘God manifest in flesh.’  Never had God found one before, who for love to the holy law was willing to become its victim that it might be honoured; who for love to God was willing not only to be made under the law, but by thus coming under it, to subject Himself to death, even the death of the cross; who for love to the fallen creature was willing to take the sinner’s place, to bear the sinner’s burden, to undergo the sinner’s penalty, to assume the sinner’s curse, to die the sinners death of shame and anguish, and to go down in darkness to the sinner’s grave.

Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness, Ch.6.

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Genesis 19: From Moab to Jesus

There are many themes from Genesis 19 worthy of reflection (e.g. Lot’s failed leadership of his home; the spiritually corrosive effects on Lot and every member of his family of longterm exposure to the wickedness of Sodom; the extravagant mercy of God in extricating him from Sodom before its destruction; or the perversity of his daughters’ incest).  A chapter full of one sobering lesson after another.

But I’ll restrict my reflections in this post to vv.30-38, or rather, their stunning place within the wider arc of the story of redemption that Scripture presents to us.  The question that concerns me is not what led to the incest of Lot’s daughters, but what God, in His grace, brought forth from it.

In verses 37-38, Moses explains the bitter consequences of the incest of Lot’s daughters.  He tells the Exodus generation (his original audience) that the Moabite and the Ammonite peoples trace their respective lines back to Lot’s daughters.  This doesn’t mean much to us, I’ll grant you, but to Moses’ original audience, this was an enormously relevant connecting of the dots, since the Moabites and Ammonites were bitter antagonists of the Israelites as they emerged from the wilderness on their way to the promised land.  It was Moab that hired Balaam to curse Israel (Numbers 22; Deuteronomy 23:3-6).  Later, as Moses charges Israel to remember this historical hostility in Deuteronomy 23, he concludes his warning with this note of God’s triumph on Israel’s behalf:  “instead the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because the LORD your God loved you” (Deut. 23:6).  God turned the curse into a blessing.

The rest of Scripture shows us that He continued to turn the curse of Moab into a blessing for His people.  Remember that King David’s great grandmother was Ruth (Ruth 4:17-22), and consider that this Ruth was a Moabite (Ruth 1:4).  This fact of Moabite blood flowing in David’s veins, by the way, explains why the book of Ruth (in our English Bibles) is situated so appropriately between Judges and 1 Samuel:  it explains this fact about Israel’s King (who was a man after God’s own heart) by demonstrating that, even though she was a Moabite, his great grandmother Ruth was a woman after the Lord’s own heart.  So, rather than besmirching David’s kingly credentials, his Moabite blood–given  that he comes by it through Ruth–actually embellishes them!

So much so, in fact, that Ruth–the Moabitess–is given a place of honor in the opening chapter of the New Testament, as Matthew details the genealogy of our Lord Jesus:  “and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king” (Matthew 1:5-6).  The clearest proof of Ruth’s greatness is not that her Moabite blood flowed in King David’s veins, but that it flowed in the veins of Jesus Christ, the sweetest fruit and purest seed of blessing that God, in His amazing grace, brought forth from the curse of Lot’s daughters.


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Genesis 18: And then there was One….

In Genesis 18, Abraham is interceding in behalf of the righteous, and the result is that the wicked are to be spared in the process.  In the Gospel, the wicked are spared as well, but through the condemnation of the Righteous One, Jesus Christ.  In Genesis 18, the Lord is willing to spare the wicked by preserving the righteous.  In the Gospel, He is willing to spare the wicked by judging the Righteous One in their place.

“Then Abraham drew near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Genesis 18:23).

This single preposition–“with”–leads me into deeper appreciation for the scandalous grace of the Gospel.  Abraham thought his “with” was a shock, but the Gospel presents us with a far greater scandal, because that “with” becomes, in Jesus Christ, a “for”.  At Calvary, the Righteous One is swept away for the wicked because the God of Abraham doesn’t merely justify the godly, but the ungodly (Romans 4:5)!

As Scripture unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that there isn’t even a single righteous man:  “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).  Until the fullness of time, when Jesus Christ appears as that rarest of all rarities, the Enormous Exception–the Righteous One, and He is swept away by His Father’s judgment on the Cross, so that the wicked might be spared.

Thanks be to God that Abraham barely began to touch the outermost fringes of the true extent of His mercy and grace!


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Genesis 17: The Logic of God’s Heart

The only explanation for Genesis 17 is that there is more mercy in the heart of God than sin in the heart of Abram; that what sustains the covenant is not the faith of men, but the faithfulness of God.

Any way you slice it, Genesis 16 is an epic failure.  On the heels of the Lord’s breathtaking gifts of assurance in Genesis 15, Abram is more persuaded by the logic of unbelief than the promises of God, and the Hagar Plan B is launched.  Abram was 86 when Ishmael was born.  Genesis 17:1 opens with the announcement that the Lord appeared again to Abram when he was 99.

Think of it:  13 years have passed.  13 years to regret the wrong decision.  13 years of living with the consequences of your compromise.  13 years of walking yourself back through the events and wishing you could rewrite history.  13 years to beat yourself up.  13 years of wondering whether you had permanently disqualified yourself, whether this latest mistake was the final straw that broke the covenant’s back.

And, suddenly, with no warning, at the end of the 13 years, the Lord appears to Abram (once again) and re-affirms (once again) His covenant with Abram.  Not a word about Hagar or Ishmael.  Not even the slightest hint of condemnation or recrimination.  No incremental easing back into covenant graces, no probationary period.  Instead, the Lord opens the floodgates of His heart full-tilt and the vastness of His grace is unleashed unrestrained upon Abram.  If Genesis 16 proved the weakness of Abram’s faith, Genesis 17 proves the beautiful omnipotence of the Lord’s faithfulness.  No wonder Abram falls on his face before the Lord (v.3).

This is what captures my heart about Genesis 17:  it shows us (just like the rest of Scripture) that the logic of God’s heart is an alien logic.  After Abram’s failure in Genesis 16, we might expect that the Lord would contract the scope of His promise to Abram, as a kind of interim probationary measure to test whether Abram would remain steadfast.  As Genesis 17 proves, we would be totally wrong about that!

Rather than contract–or even merely restate–His covenant promises to fit the scope of Abram’s faith, the Lord actually moves in the opposite direction:  He elaborates and expands upon them, unfolding their fullness more and more for Abram (vv.4-8).  He introduces a new element that we haven’t heard explicitly before:  “and kings shall come from you…kings of peoples shall come from her….” (vv.6, 16).  Amazing!

As Abram’s faith weakens and appears to falter, as his grip on the Lord’s promises loosens (e.g. Ch.16), the Lord’s grip on Abram actually tightens!  This is why Ch.17 includes the covenant sign of circumcision:  among other things, it is an accommodation of the Lord’s grace to the weakness of Abram’s faith.  By definition (since it is impossible for God to lie), the sign can’t add to the truthfulness or trustworthiness of God’s  promise.  But it can serve as a bulwark against unbelief in Abram’s heart.

In the most important of senses, there is nothing new in this chapter.  It’s merely the latest episode in the story of God’s triumphant faithfulness.  There is only one Hero of the covenant–the Lord.  What sustains and propels the covenant forward–and guarantees its fulfillment–is never the faith of men, but the faithfulness of the Lord.  Abram has learned this lesson once again, and I pray that I will as well.

As I look through Genesis 17 to the rest of redemptive history this morning, Romans 5:20-21 comes to mind:  “…but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”  The logic of God’s heart on display in Genesis 17 (i.e. kindness and faithfulness that flow against the grain of man’s unbelief and unfaithfulness) is the DNA of Calvary’s logic.  Oh, how I love the logic of our Lord’s amazing heart.


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Genesis 15: The Brilliance of the Gospel’s Design

Genesis 15 gives us an(other!) occasion to celebrate the brilliant design of the Gospel.

The chapter’s drama centers on the question of assurance, in two related episodes.

The chapter opens with the LORD appearing to Abram in a vision and promising Himself as Abram’s shield and great reward (15:1) (cf. Hebrews 11:6).  Abram, who is still without an heir of his own, is then moved by this lavish promise to express his desire for assurance that the Lord will in fact fulfill His earlier promises to him:  “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless….” (15:2).  This is what I call boldness of the first order, and the Lord’s response demonstrates that He believes it is a boldness that honors Him because it is a boldness that takes His promises seriously.  He assures Abram that he will have an heir:  “…your very own son shall be your heir” (15:4), and then takes him outside under the stars to remind him of the full scope of His original promise–the Big Picture of what He intends to accomplish for and through Abram:  “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them…so shall your offspring be” (15:5).

The second episode of assurance centers on the “land” aspect of God’s covenant with Abram (15:7).  The Lord responds to Abram’s request by instructing him to take several animals, cut them in half, laying each half over against the other, creating a lane of sorts boundaried by the carcasses.  Although alien to us, this procedure would have been readily understood by the original audience of Genesis as the ceremony by which a covenant was formally memorialized in the ancient near east.  After they had entered into their covenant,  the parties would each walk down the “lane” between the carcasses.  The symbolism was stark:  by walking the lane, the covenant parties were acknowledging that they would deserve the fate of those animals if they violated the covenant they were entering.

The stunning thing here is that only one party passes down the lane, and it’s not Abram.  In fact, Abram is sound asleep at the decisive moment in the chapter’s action (15:12).  Asleep, Abram sees a remarkable–and unprecedented–vision:  the Lord Himself moving down the lane between the carcasses in the “form” of a “smoking fire pot and a flaming torch” (15:17).  The symbolism is breathtaking.  Not only is the Lord condescending to give Abram the assurance he desires by participating in a cultural ritual Abram would have understood (strictly unnecessary because it is impossible for God to lie-Titus 1:2) , but, as the only One who passes down the lane, the Lord is also dramatically illustrating His commitment to assume full responsibility for both sides of His covenant with Abram.  The Lord is guaranteeing not only His side, but man’s side as well, willingly placing Himself under a curse for man’s failure to uphold his side of the covenant.  Shocking!

This is where the brilliance of the Gospel’s design comes so marvelously into view in this chapter.  God’s side of the covenant is not in doubt.  It’s man’s side that, from the beginning, has been the weak link.  Genesis 15’s drama lays the groundwork for a resolution in which the Lord Himself  will act to fulfill and uphold not only His own side of the covenant, but man’s side as well.  What will that look like?

It will look like the Word becoming flesh (John 1:14).  It will look like the Son of God being born of a woman in the fullness of time, being born under the law that He might redeem those who were under the law (Galatians 4:4-5).  It will look like the Son of God fulfilling all righteousness in a life dedicated to the single purpose of doing the will of God (Matthew 3:11; Hebrews 10:4-10).  It will look like the Son of God triumphing over every temptation (Matthew 4:1-11; Hebrews 4:15), so that He might present Himself as the spotless and unblemished Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29; Hebrews 9:14).  It will look like Jesus–the beloved Son in whom the Father was well-pleased–being made a curse on the Cross in order to redeem His people from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13), being forsaken by His Father (Psalm 22:1) in order that we might be embraced by His Father as our Father (Galatians 4:6; 1 Peter 3:18)

Thank you, Abram, for being bold enough to ask your questions.  The answers you received have strengthened my heart and deepened my joy this morning by helping me to see your greatest Heir more clearly.


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