The Bishop: The Eye Drinks in More than the Ear

“Lot seems to have stood alone in his family! He was not made the means of keeping one soul back from the gates of hell!

And I do not wonder. Lingering souls are seen through by their own families; and, when seen through, they are despised. Their nearest relatives understand inconsistency, if they understand nothing else in religion. They draw the sad, but not unnatural. conclusion, Surely, if he believed all he professes to believe, he would not go on as he does.’ Lingering parents seldom have godly children. The eye of the child drinks in far more than the ear. A child will always observe what you do much more than what you say. Let us remember this.” —J.C. Ryle, Holiness

“Come and See!” (John 1:35–51)

Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

—John 1:46

Nathanael seemingly found one word blatantly incongruent with everything else Philip confessed. Nazareth? Some are quick to write off Nathanael’s statement as prejudice, as though Nazareth was some backwater town. Galilee itself was looked down on by her southern brethren dwelling in and around Jerusalem. If Galilee was looked down on by them, was Nazareth was like the Galilee of Galilee? No. I don’t think Nathanael’s statement is one berating Nazareth as unmentionable, but accessing it as unmentioned. Micah 5:2 spoke of the Messiah coming out of Bethlehem, just like David. In John 7 we listen in as the people wrestle with this issue. “When they heard these words, some of the people said, ‘This really is the Prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’ But some said, ‘Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?’” (John 7:40–42). The problem wasn’t that Nazareth was of ill repute, but that Bethlehem was marked.

When your witness meets such a reply, a quite reasonable one on the surface of things, you cannot improve on the answer of Philip, “Come and see.” As John’s testimony was simple, “I am not. He is.”, so too is Phillip’s apologetic: “Come and see.”

Philip doesn’t engage in any complex theological debate. He doesn’t reply with some sophisticated apologetic.  If you are crippled in your witness for thinking you need all the answers, you’re wrong. You only need this one.

Yes, we should, as Peter admonishes us, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” (1 Peter 3:15). But, if you have no other answers, you always have this one. “Come and see. Deal with Jesus yourself.” Spurgeon once preached,

“A great many learned men are defending the gospel; no doubt it is a very proper and right thing to do, yet I always notice that, when there are most books of that kind, it is because the gospel itself is not being preached. Suppose a number of persons were to take it into their heads that they had to defend a lion, a full-grown king of beasts! There he is in the cage, and here come all the soldiers of the army to fight for him. Well, I should suggest to them, if they would not object, and feel that it was humbling to them, that they should kindly stand back, and open the door, and let the lion out! I believe that would be the best way of defending him, for he would take care of himself; and the best ‘apology’ for the gospel is to let the gospel out. Never mind about defending Deuteronomy or the whole of the Pentateuch; preach Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Come and see. Step into the cage. It is easy to poke questions at the Lion while you believe He is on the other side of the bars. It is all together another thing to stare into His face. 

I’ve had my hundreds of questions, and I’ve graciously received dozens of answers., but the answers I have received have come not as I stood as some authoritative investigator. They’ve come as I’ve brought them before this same Rabbi. They’ve come not as I stood over the word, but as I bowed under it. And my Lord’s not answering me has assured me of His authority as much as His answering me. I am, we all are, on a need to know basis. I don’t need to know all the answers. I need to know the one with all Authority. And knowing Him, I can call out to others without shame, “Come and see.”

See and Say (John 1:19–34)

“He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said” (John 1:23)

John’s witness is easily imitable. It basically consists of two parts, conveniently divided up for us by two days in 1:19–34. The first day of John’s witness (vv. 19–28) is largely negative as John speaks to the official delegation and tells them, “I am not.” The second day of John’s witness (vv. 29–34) is largely positive as John speaks to the crowds and tells them, “He is!” 

“I am not. He is.” That’s it.

John is not the Light. He came to bear witness to the Light. John is not the Christ. He came to bear witness to the Christ. On this first day, John’s answers are short because this delegation is asking John about John when it is Christ he came to expound on. “You keep asking who I am, demonstrating that you’re missing the point of who I am.” Oh saints, that we would learn this lesson. Not the lesson of a holy rudeness when appropriate (that is one we will need to utilize far less often), but the more foundational lesson of being short on self and long on Jesus. We love the question “Who are you?” “Well, let me tell you about me.” No. “Who am I? I am not Jesus. Let me tell you about Him.”

Who is Jesus? He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the word (v. 29). He is the one who was before all, ranks above all, and yet came (v. 30). He is both the Anointed and the Anointer (v. 32–33). He is the Son of God (v. 34).

From one angle, our biggest problem isn’t the lack of knowledge to tell people, “He is!” It is the lack of humility to tell them “We’re not.” It’s not that we think we’re the Christ, but we do like to think we’re something and we’re scared others won’t think we’re something if we tell them we’re not, but Jesus is. Saints, you don’t have to be a great something to testify of Christ. You just need to realize you’re not a great something and that Jesus is.

But, from another angle, because we are big on self, we’re small on Jesus. We know but we don’t know. We need to behold afresh the Lamb of God. We need to see ourselves into saying. If your saying has grown stale, your seeing has grown soft. Look to the Light. Be a light. See Christ as He is, and you will see yourself as you are. You are a sinner. He is the Savior. See this, and you will say.

Praise Goes Out Hoping to Pull In (Psalm 34)

1I will bless the LORD at all times; 
     his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 
2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; 
     let the humble hear and be glad. 
3 Oh, magnify the LORD with me, 
     and let us exalt his name together!

8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! 
     Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

—Psalm 34:1–3, 8

Praise is invitational. Praise is joy come into bloom ready to pollinate. Praise is unselfish joy. Praise is a shared joy that wants others to share in that joy. 

C.S. Lewis, in answering what he calls the “problem of praise” (that is the seeming problem of God being selfish in demanding our praise) gives several answers. The following one is highly pertinent to our meditation.

“The most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise…I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what we indeed can’t help doing, about everything else we value.”

Praise goes out hoping to bring others in and David wants to bring the saints all the way in. When David invites us to praise Yahweh with him, he doesn’t do so like a husband praising his wife asking “Isn’t she amazing?” There is a distance between a husband’s enjoyment of his wife and thus his praise of her and another’s enjoyment of her and praising her. David invites you to praise Yahweh with him the way one man will praise a slice of pizza. “This is the best. Have some!”

I almost hesitate to use this illustration because we have stepped down from something greater to something lesser to make the point. The greater joy, a wife, cannot be fully shared. The lesser one can. For the saints though, God is the greatest joy and fully shareable.

Do you leap at the invitation extended by David? If not, have you really tasted? Do you really fear? Have you cried out? Have you sought?

If you did answer “Yes!”, then isn’t it your longing not simply to join in praise with David but to extend his invitation to praise further? Don’t you not only long to praise, but long for others to praise God? Oh for a thousand tongues to sing! I cannot have a thousand tongues of my own, but I may be used by God to grow the choir. If praise is the consummation of joy, and my joy is God, my own voice is not enough. There must be more. The longing to praise is inseparable from the longing for others to praise.

The Doctor: Ignorance of Our Impotence

“The trouble with all false evangelism is that it does not start with doctrine, it does not start by realising man’s condition. All fleshly, carnal, manmade evangelism is the result of inadequate understanding of what the apostle teaches us in the first ten verses of this second chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians. If you and I but realised that every man who is yet a sinner is absolutely dominated by ‘the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience,” if we only understood that he is really a child of wrath and dead in trespasses and sins, we would realise that only one power can deal with such an individual, and that is the power of God, the power of the Holy Ghost. And so we would put our confidence, not in man-made organisations, but in the power of God, in the prayer that holds on to God and asks for revival and a descent of the Spirit. We would realise that nothing else can do it. We can change men superficially, we can win men to our side and to our party, we can persuade them to join a church, but we can never raise the spiritually dead; God alone can do that. The realisation of these truths would of necessity determine and control all our evangelism.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation, (Baker Book House, 1987) p. 11,

For the Love of the Name (Philippians 1:12–18a)

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Philippians 1:15–18).

In many areas of life there are two kinds of fans. It could concern literature, film, music, but let’s take baseball as our example. The first type is the more common. He enjoys the game, but he loves his team. The second, the more rare, enjoys a team, but he loves the game. He is the true baseball fan. It is baseball itself that he is a fan of. And of course there are those who just come for the hot dogs, but that is another matter.

As to the fans, here is how you might distinguish the two. When the game is over, even if it was an amazing game, the more common fan will always walk away devastated if his team lost. Something of his identity is linked with that specific team. He loves his team in a sense more than he does the game. In contrast, the second type, though he wishes his team to have won, will walk away talking about how great a game it was.

Simply because man takes up holy things doesn’t act as a forcefield against such vices. We see the same thing in the church. I’m afraid it is more common to find Christians, who quite often, what they get really excited about is their team and not the game. Their team might be the flavor of music, a particular ministry, a preacher, or even a solid theological persuasion. Your team can be a good team, the team that should win, but God have mercy on us so that it is the game itself that we most love. God have mercy on us such that it matters not if we’re watching amateurs who play just to play, or professionals who are only in it for glory and money—still we can rejoice, simply because it is the game we love.

For Paul, it is far less concerning for an insincere man to preach the true gospel, than for a sincere man to preach a false gospel. The truth of the message is more important than the sincerity of the messenger. Because Christ is preached, Paul rejoices. 

If Christ is preached, let us rejoice. When Christ is preached at Falls Creek, at an Arminian seeker-sensitive Church, or by some hipster topical-sermon preaching pop-culture pastor, rejoice! There may be much that bothers us, there may be much to legitimately critique and express concern about, to point out how the very gospel preached is outshone or subverted by other things, but inasmuch as the gospel is preached, let us rejoice. Or can you only rejoice when it is your team? When it is a reformed church? When it is through a ministry like Ligonier rather than Lifeway?

Opposite the “holy club” from which Wesley and Whitefield came, their later arose what were called “hell fire clubs” to mock and obstruct the revival. At one tavern, among such a group, a Mr. Thorpe rose to outdo his fellows in mimicking George Whitefield, or “Dr. Squintum” as they called him because of malady that is something like a lazy eye. He began by reading Luke 13:3, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” But as he continued mocking Whitefield’s preaching of the gospel, he was converted and later became a minister.

I’m not advocating that we rejoice when the gospel is so ridiculed, but this should make it clear why, when the gospel is preached, we can rejoice in that. Why can we rejoice whenever the gospel is preached, regardless of who preaches it? Because, as Paul told the Romans, it is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation. However man may try to use the Son to make themselves shine, they will always be overshadowed. Attempt to use Jesus as your spotlight, and you’ll find Him so bright, all eyes will be on Him.

The State of the Church and the State of the State (Jeremiah 23:9–40)

 

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In the prophets of Samaria
I saw an unsavory thing:
they prophesied by Baal
and led my people Israel astray.
But in the prophets of Jerusalem
I have seen a horrible thing:
they commit adultery and walk in lies;
they strengthen the hands of evildoers,
so that no one turns from his evil;
all of them have become like Sodom to me,
and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.

—Jeremiah 23:13–14

In conversations concerning politics and religion, Americans frequently mention a wall of separation between church and state. That idea was intended by Jefferson as a one way street, yet most people today, ignoring the “Wrong Way” signage, are driving the opposite direction. The phrase was meant, not to keep the church from driving to Washington, but to keep Washington from driving a church—a state church on the republic.

Nevertheless, using my liberty to leverage the phrase in yet another manner, let us pray that the church is truly separate from the state in this—in holiness. Let us pray that there is a wall of separation between the sins of the state and the state of the church. Unfortunately, I believe the reason the state is full of lies is because the church is. The world is dark because the world is dark while the light has been hidden. When the world is rotting without pause, it means that which is posing as salt isn’t salty and therefore good for nothing but to be cast out.

In Israel there was to be no separation of church and state; rather, both were to be separate, set apart unto Yahweh. But both the state, that is the kings, and the church, that is the prophets and priests, had become defiled. In chapters 21–23 Jeremiah first denounces the kings and then the prophets. More time is spent on the kings in these chapters, but it’s highly likely more time is spent on the prophets in the book as a whole. Indeed, Jeremiah speaks concerning false prophets more than any other true prophet.

Whereas the main invective against the kings was their oppressing the poor, that of the prophets was their deceiving the people. The former fleeces the sheep, the latter leads them to destruction. John MacKay comments, 

“From the preceding section the impression might readily be gained that the problems facing Jeremiah had to do with the political institutions of Judah and its civil leadership. That unfortunately was true but they were by no means the exclusive source of opposition to him. Both church and state were corrupt in Judah, and in this section he focus is on the religious degeneracy of the land. …it was what they [the prophets] proclaimed in the name of the LORD that set the tone for church and state in Judah, as well as reflecting prevailing sentiment.” 

This section is “concerning the prophets,” but yet is speaks of the wickedness of the land. The implication is that the prophets are to blame. Where prophets are false, the church is false. When the church is false, the state of the state is sure to be one full of lies.

Meridian Church · Jeremiah 23:9–40 || Concerning the Prophets || Josh King

 

Home Alone (Jeremiah 16:1–21)

“For thus says the LORD: Do not enter the house of mourning, or go to lament or grieve for them, for I have taken away my peace from this people, my steadfast love and mercy, declares the LORD. Both great and small shall die in this land. They shall not be buried, and no one shall lament for them or cut himself or make himself bald for them. No one shall break bread for the mourner, to comfort him for the dead, nor shall anyone give him the cup of consolation to drink for his father or his mother. You shall not go into the house of feasting to sit with them, to eat and drink. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will silence in this place, before your eyes and in your days, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride (Jeremiah 16:5–9).

city-1868530_1280.jpgJeremiah was not to enter two houses: the house of mourning and the house of feasting. Both fasting and feasting with his countrymen were forbidden. The most expected social conventions were off limits—the mourning of a funeral and the mirth of a wedding. Jeremiah was home alone. “Jeremiah,” writes Phil Ryken, “spent his Friday nights at home, alone. There were three things he did not do—go out on dates, send sympathy cards, or sit down to fancy dinners.”

Though these commands as given to Jeremiah are circumstantial and prophetic, there is a principle underneath that is not alien to us today. There is mirth and mourning in which we should not mingle.

Weddings are celebrations. There are “unions,” attempted unions, that we cannot celebrate. When the world tries to make the north ends of two magnets stick, we should not join their jolly madness. We can love the persons involved, but we may not celebrate their attempted union, because nothing is being joined. In such, there is no peace, no covenant, and no mercy (Jeremiah 16:5). There are also times when north and south do click in earthly covenant, and yet, heavenly covenant is maligned. When two folks play like they know Jesus, and want a Christian wedding, but only with a white dress on the surface and not clean hearts by the blood of Christ underneath, the name of Jesus is blasphemed therein. There are unions that we can recognize as legitimate, but not celebrate as Christian.

While there’s still enough sanity for some professing Christians to see we can’t make merry over “same-sex mirage,” mourning with the bereaved seems trickier. This is because we’re looking at the other person instead of ourselves. We don’t go to the north–north wedding because of their sin. We go to the funeral, because dead men are no longer sinning. What we need to ask is if by our presence we are sinning. 

Frequently our Lord is as blasphemed in funerals as He is in weddings. We have transitioned from funerals in which we grieve, looking to the blessed hope of the resurrection, to celebrations where we take comfort in the beauty of a life lived. Let’s be honest, the editing skills of funeral slide shows rival that of Hollywood, though not in production, truly in bias. As R.C. Sproul says, what many really believe in is “justification by death.” When the dead are preached into heaven while their souls are surely in hell, we should desire no part in endorsing that message. Problem is, most often we have no idea what that message will be. One of the elders I am honored to serve alongside attends primarily only visitation now for this reason. 

Regardless, let us express our condolences, and weep with those who weep, and let us also make clear that the blessed hope is the death and resurrection of Christ. Sometimes we must merely grieve over the dead, and not with the living. That is, we must be clear what our comfort is. Or, to put it yet another way, sometimes we must grieve over the dead and not be comforted with the living when their comfort is a false one. Again, if Christ is not known, there is no peace, no covenant, no mercy.

Understand, all this is a digression from the thrust of Jeremiah 16. The focus isn’t on Jeremiah and his actions, but the word of God thereby. Jeremiah is cut off from the most expected of social conventions to make this word emphatic. This is a severe word of judgment, radically portrayed through the prophet. A judgement is coming on Judah so severe, that not only will the mirth of marriage be silenced, there will not even be a proper lamentation and burial for the dead.

God’s commands to his prophet may seem hard, but is the judgment portrayed thereby that is truly unbearable. Sinner, if you don’t know Christ, you stand under such judgment. It is because Christians love you that they don’t want you to think otherwise. It is because we are earnest for you to know His love that we speak of His wrath. Saints, may we not confuse by our presence those who have no peace, no covenant love, and no mercy into thinking that they do. Let us love them more and better than that.

Reading the Characters in God Story (Psalm 15)

“ …in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord…” —Psalm 15:4 (ESV)

Nowadays there is fresh emphasis on Jesus as a friend of sinners. This is a welcome reprieve from the kind of legalism and fundamentalism that withdrew into a “holy huddle” refusing even a brother who enjoyed a beer in moderation. But just as fundamentalism could go to one extreme, there are many sinner-friendly folk veering off the other shoulder.

There is a problem if your theology is reactionary. We shouldn’t determine truth by seeing the consequences of folly on the other side. Republicans who set their policies based upon Democrat stupidities are only prepping to be a different kind of ninny head. Trying to stay far away from the extreme left means veering towards the alt-right. We should not react, but be principled people who act upon the truth of God. If we’re only reacting, someone else is determining the agenda; we’re not driving, we’re being driven.

I’m afraid that when many say “Jesus was a friend of sinners,” they’re looking for a Biblical text to support their reaction, rather than having digested Biblical truth and then acting upon it. The evidence in support of this is that often only one thing is being said.

Our relationships to people should reflect God’s relationships people. God both hates sinners and graciously determines to save sinners. God’s wrath abides on man and yet he is long suffering and benevolent to humanity. You should both love your neighbor as yourself and despise the vile person. This isn’t easy. The Spirit must give wisdom based on Biblical principles.

If we start with how to relate to some extremes I think it’ll help make sense of the middle. We honor the apostle Paul, missionary Adoniram Judson, and orphanage founder George Muller. We despise Nero, Hitler, and Kim Jong-un. We do this knowing that Paul was once detestable and hoping that all whom we despise might be so transformed. In Genesis 14 Abraham receives a blessing from Melchizedek but refuses rights to the spoils from the King of Sodom. This is the kind of discretion that is called for in this world. In-between is where most people are and in-between is how we need to relate to most people.

Now, back to a general dichotomy. Douglas Wilson offers a helpful paradigm. We must learn to distinguish apostles of the world and refugees of the world. The Israelite spies treat Rahab differently than Phinehas deals with the Midianite woman. Elisha speaks to Naaman one way; Moses speaks to Pharaoh another. While Paul was preaching the gospel to Sergius Paulus he turned to Elymas the magician and called him a son of the devil, an enemy of all righteousness, and full of deceit and villainy. Likewise, we should speak one way to the woman broken after an abortion and another concerning Cecil Richards and Kermit Gosnell. When the forbidden woman of Proverbs tries to entice us, we flee, and when the prostitute wishes to fall prostrate at Jesus’ feet washing them with her tears, we welcome her.

This kind of wisdom comes from the Word. Marinate in Proverbs for some time and you’ll find yourself honoring the wise, faithful, diligent, righteous and just while despising the fool, liar, slothful, wicked, and evil. You will value an excellent wife over an alluring adulteress. Spurgeon said Bunyan’s blood was bibline. Prick him and he’d bleed Bible. This is why Bunyan could write honorable characters like Hopeful, Faithful, and Old Honest and despicable ones like Hypocrisy, Talkative, and Formalist.

If we soak in the Psalms, we’ll not only think and talk this way, we will sing this way. If you are fearful this will curb a gracious spirit, can you think of many figures more merciful and magnanimous than David? David forgave as big as he fought and fought as big as he forgave. Ingest the Bible and you’ll learn to read the characters of this world and you’ll read them hoping that God will rewrite them just as He has you.

The Exegetical Systematician: The Gospel Does Require Adaptation…

Oftentimes it is pleaded that the Christian message must be adapted to the modern man. It is true that the message must be proclaimed to modern man, and to modern man in the context in which he lives and in language he can understand. But it is much more true and important to plead that modern man must be adapted to the gospel.  —John Murray, The Importance and Relevance of the Westminster Confession