The Way to Deepest Darkness Is Found in the Light (2 Peter 2:17–22)

“For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.” —2 Peter 2:17 (ESV)

Dante’s Inferno sets forth nine circles of hell, with the innermost being the most hellish. Working our way in those circles are Limbo (where virtuous pagans reside), Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Wrath, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery.  Though The Divine Comedy is imaginative it is fitting that we find Socrates in Limbo and Judas near the center just shy of Satan. 

While Dante’s work is fanciful, here we learn who the “gloom of utter darkness” is reserved for—false teachers. Not false teachers as in pagan philosophers, like Plato, nor those false teachers of false religions who never learned of Christ such as Gautama Buddha. They are in hell, but not the hell of hell. Peter is speaking of false teachers who have risen within the church. Inside the church, one finds the door to the darkest pit of hell. There is no safer place for the saints than the church, and, there is no more dangerous place for hypocrites than the church.

False teachers are overcome with a particular and tragic kind of slavery. Having come within inches of freedom, they reject that freedom for slavery. It is one thing to walk in the darkness, another to refuse the way of righteousness. When an Ammonite king burned his child as an offering to Molech it was a horrid evil, but it was far more evil when Manasseh did likewise, for he, knowing the way of righteousness, turned from the holy commandment of God. False teachers exchange a slavery of ignorance for a slavery that rejects the true knowledge of Jesus Christ.

It is worse to sin in the light than in the dark. It is a sin worthy of an eternal hell to sin against the light of the finite Sun, that is, the light of natural revelation as it declares the glory of God. It is a sin worthy of the hell of hell to sin against the more radiant light of the eternal Son, the light of special revelation, the light of the glorious gospel of Christ.

The way to deepest darkness is found in the light. Be warned not just of false teachers, nor only of heeding them, but of becoming one. Before any are false teachers, they are false believers. As you sit under the preaching of the gospel, that gospel will be either your great salvation or your great damnation.

A Spiritual War with Human Meat Shields (Psalm 17)

There is an emphasis by some on spiritual warfare today, but most of it should be tossed into the looney bin. Many would have us flailing our spiritual fists wildly in the air praying against territorial demons and rebuking the evil spirits in hurricanes.

There is another contingency that thinks we’ll win by niceness. Love can be a potent weapon in war, but niceness is a limp-wristed way of handling a Scottish claymore that’ll result in hurting more friendlies than enemies. Love will make a man throw his body over razor wire so his platoon can escape enemy fire. Niceness will politely hold the wires apart for your allies while signaling the enemy, “We’re over here. Please come to our side.”

Then there are the Westboro militants. You get the impression that the only thing that keeps them from using Satan’s more gruesome weapons is the law of land. They say they’re building God’s kingdom, but they’re using the devil’s tools.

We are in a spiritual war that uses human meat shields. The meat shield shouldn’t keep one from using the imprecatory psalms. They enlisted for their own agenda. The psalms are not a dead language meant primarily for reflective reading and not for active singing.

How aware are we of this war? I think the pathetic nature of our strategies and tactics display that we don’t get it. While some are off playing Dungeons and Dragons in a virtual world, others think we’re in a Nerf gun fight with friends. There are real evils in this world, human and demonic. We must take refuge in God and we must call in heavenly artillery.

Jesus is a King and He is an opposed King. If you think Uncle Sam can draw a line down the middle of the back seat so that we kids play nice and get along, you’re as naive as a five year old. The agenda of the enemy isn’t to maintain space, but to advance space. Jesus said we’re sent out as sheep among wolves. We have all the tactical brilliance of thinking we are sheep among cows. Sure, they’re big and they may hurt us, but we can coexist, grazing peacefully in the same pastures.

Our fundamental confession is “Jesus is Lord.” All the pastures are His. That’s His grass. Repent and bow the knee to Christ as Lord. Persist in your hatred of Him and His bride, and know there is a judgment. 

Let us love our enemies, but let us also sing and lament all rebellion against our King, certain of His glorious judgment to bring us into the fullness of salvation and peace.

Mediated Judgment and Mercy (Exodus 32:15–35)

“You break it, you remake it.” Is this the connection between Moses’ breaking the first set of tablets, which were completely the work of God, and the second set, which God required Moses to cut? Is Moses being punished for a temper tantrum? I doubt it. When Moses makes the second set, it doesn’t speak against, but for Moses.

Just before Moses comes down we have the fullest description of the tablets (Exodus 32:15–16). This sets you up to be devastated at their being broken; but who really has broken these tablets? The tablets say, “You shall have no other gods before me.” The tablets say, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image.” Who has broken the tablets? If Moses’ breaking the tablets was wrong, far better to break these tablets the way Moses did than the way Israel did. Still, I don’t believe Moses is sinfully throwing a hissy fit, and thus, neither was his making new tablets like being required to rewrite a sloppily composed essay.

Consider the following things that speak for Moses’ action. First, the very words are used to describe God’s anger (32:10), and now used for Moses’ (32:19). Second, unlike the instance in Numbers 20 where Moses does disobey God, there is no rebuke here. Third, Moses breaks the tablets at the foot of the mountain, the place where the true altar was built and their covenant with the true God was ratified. Finally, the tablets are a visible sign of the covenant. Israel has broken covenant, and now Moses throws them down as a sign of what has happened. Moses throws down the tablets of the covenant to show them what they’ve done.

Following this, further judgments are then mediated through Moses, yet, following this, he pleads with God for the people. When the people enter back into covenant through Moses’ mediation, the second set of tablets is carved by the mediator. This isn’t punishment, rather, it speaks to the necessity and blessing of mediation before God.

What we have broken, Jesus makes new. We have received something better than the sign of tablets for our covenant breaking. We have received the cup of the new covenant. Yet all the same, we should not take this sign lightly (1 Corinthians 11:27–32). Both judgment and mercy were mediated through Moses. We should not then be dumfounded that such things can be joined together in Jesus if they were united in Moses. Jesus will both save His church and purify her. All of His mediation is good and all of it is for the good of the church.

Poetic Justice (Exodus 7:14–25)

In the Exodus, how many signs are there? How many wonders? How many great acts of judgment? We speak of the ten plagues, but the Scriptures talk of signs, wonders, and acts of judgment. In 4:17 Moses was told to take the staff with which He will do the signs (4:22). The staff/serpent gig is clearly a sign. So, Pharaoh receives not ten, but eleven signs. Still, the staff/serpent sign is clearly not one of the “wonders” that God “strikes” Egypt with (Exodus 3:19).

What we commonly call the ten plagues are linked together as a set—ten wonders, ten great acts of judgment. Yet, this first wonder, and second sign, of water being turned to blood clearly forms an inclusio, that is, a form of literary brackets, with an eleventh wonder, the parting to the Red Sea. The first wonder foretells of the last. The previous Pharaoh commanded, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live (Exodus 1:22).” That very river turns to blood. The firstborn of Egypt die in the “final” wonder that brought them out of Egypt. Pharaoh’s heart grows hard again (remember this is God’s doing, cf. Exodus 4:22; 9:16; 14:8). He pursues Israel to the Red Sea, and there, his host is drowned.

This isn’t just justice. It’s poetic justice. The wrath that falls on Egypt has a beauty, a wonder, a rhythm, and a poetry to it. It has motifs and themes. It swells and moves. It is God’s orchestration. A symphony unto His own glory. This is no mindless rage. Wisdom unsurpassed has penned notes of wonder long ago for glory. One day, this motif will reach it’s pre-composed crescendo, and we will sing for its glory.

The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea.

The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say,

“Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was,
for you brought these judgments.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve!”

And I heard the altar saying,

“Yes, Lord God the Almighty,
true and just are your judgments!”

—Revelation 16:3–7

Superglue not Necessary Unless (Matthew 23:37-24:2)

This text is like superglue (if needed). But it isn’t like the covert superglue project of a son glueing two things together that shouldn’t be, say a forehead and a flashlight. No, this is the mature parental glueing together of something the clumsy child has broken.

It doesn’t take superglue to hold the end of chapter 23 with the beginning of chapter 24. It just takes clumsy foolishness to break them apart. Jesus’ lament is snuggled nicely in the midst of judgment speak; it’s cozily at home. Curse and lament, “woe,” and “o,” tenderness and wrath, these two do go together.

How? Theologians have long spoken of two wills (some even mention three) in God using a variety of labels. You may hear them mention God’s secret and revealed will, or His will of command and will of decree. They might speak of his sovereign will and moral will, or his efficient and permissive will. Still others prefer the terms decretive and preceptive will. That there are so many terms says both that there is something there, and that that something is complex.

Let’s simplify by analogy. Can you have two wills? Have you ever had to go to the dentist? Have you ever wanted ice cream and to exercise? Better, have you ever wanted ice cream and to lose weight? As far as I am concerned, both exercise and ice cream are good desires. The trick is to will them in the right proportion.

Can God have two wills? Look no further than the cross. When sinful men crucified our Lord they were violating the will of God, and yet, they were carrying it out. We mustn’t think of God’s will(s) like our going to the dentist, “I guess I have to. I want to, but I don’t want to.” The ice cream illustration is better. Ice cream is so good, illustrations become superior to other illustrations by the mention of it. A person might desire ice cream, and desire to exercise; and these desires can harmonize perfectly. Perhaps the exercise is so intense, a high number of calories must be consumed.

In God, mercy and wrath meet perfectly. It takes no superglue for these to go together. They meet in this goal, the glory of God. Jesus wills to save and He wills to damn and He does neither with a grimace. “Our God is in the heavens, he does all that he pleases (Psalm 115:3).” The will of God is always done with pleasure, because the Father delights to make much of the Son and the Son of the Father and the Spirit of them both. And this is what everything that God wills in every way is ultimately about. If you make God supremely about you, you will hollow out words like election, and sovereignty to put these two together. If you realize the cross (John 17:1, 4-5), and all creation (Romans 11:33-36) is ultimately about the glory of God, you will see that these harmonize perfectly.

If you can’t bear this, remember this, Jesus deals out nothing that He hasn’t borne. He deals out wrath, for His glory in the damnation of sinners, and He bears that wrath for His glory in the salvation of sinners.

A “Christian” of Leafy Show (Matthew 21:18-22)

American’s knowledge of figs is generally limited to Fig Newtons, so some knowledge of fig trees is especially helpful here. But before we get on that highway I want to emphasize the sense in which I use “helpful.” You don’t need to be an expert on ancient customs and practices to read your Bible. If you carefully read your text, and have a thorough knowledge of Scripture you can read with confidence. You will make greater strides in understanding if you steep your mind in the Old Testament rather than a book about old customs. Nevertheless, such knowledge can be helpful.

It is March/April. A fig may be putting out leaves at this time and if there are leaves it is certain that there is an early, edible fruit bud. This bud will fall off and the better fruit will be ripe in June. This is why Mark says that it “was not the season for figs (Mark 11:13).” This is why Jesus didn’t go to another tree. This tree was an early bloomer, it stood out. Jesus is on the highway to Jerusalem and Figgy’s Diner had a light flashing “open.” Jesus pulls off the highway, but the doors are locked and the place is desolate. This tree flirts fruit, but only gives leaves. R.T. France comments, “Its precocious show of foliage promised, but did not provide.”

That information is helpful, but much more helpful are texts like this:

Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers. But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved. Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird— no birth, no pregnancy, no conception! Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left. Woe to them when I depart from them! Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow; but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter. Give them, O Lord— what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels. Ephraim is stricken; their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit. Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death. —Hosea 9:10-16 (ESV)

The fig tree is often a metaphor for Israel. Fruit is expected, but Israel proves fruitless. John the Baptizer said “even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees (Luke 3:9).” Jesus is the lumberjack. This miracle is the only miracle of judgment, of cursing, we see Jesus do, and it plops itself right here after Jesus purges the temple, and before he has a showdown with the priests. The point? There are lots of leaves, but no fruit, so the axe is coming down.

Are you a “Christian” of leafy show? Like Adam and Eve do you try to hide behind leaves of your own making? Church attendance, Bible study, small group participation, zestful singing, being involved in lots of Christian activities and programs can be nothing more than leafy show. How do you know if you are producing bitter leaves or sweet fruit? Here is a question to help you answer that question; do you approach things like prayer, Bible study, the worship gathering, as leaves to show, or streams to tap your roots into? Do you say of the things listed above, “I do…,” or “I need…”?

When Flood Insurance Drowns You (Matthew 21:12-17)

Instead of receiving light the crowds “see” by projecting darkness. A war horse is perceived instead of a donkey. Instead of a carpenter with His motley crew made up of the likes of fishermen, a tax collector, and perhaps most recently two former blind beggars, they see a commander with SEAL Team Six; they see David and His mighty men. But instead of riding into the royal city and purging if of Romans, Jesus comes to the Temple and purges it. Jesus is angry. Check. They wanted that. They wanted a flood, it was just that the waters were not flowing where they wanted them to be channelled. Instead of sweeping away the filth of pagan Romans, it was cleansing the Temple.

The Jews had the basic ingredients right, they just fuddled the recipe and mixed it according to their own whim. All the right puzzle pieces were there, no foreign ones were mixed in, they were not trying to make syncretic pagan Messiah. They were guardians of the Old Testament puzzle box, no foreign pieces allowed, but they hammered the right pieces together to make a Picasso/Frankenstein Christ after their own marred image. They tried to fill in fulfillment. Like Joseph they say, “No, your hands are crossed! The other way, the other way!” Blessing and curse are falling, but this time the darkness and flood fall on Goshen.

Jesus is angry at sin. In contrast the leaders are sinfully angry. True worship finally happens in the Temple, and the leaders get mad. How many American churches would Jesus walk into angry? How many churches would be angry if Jesus walked into them? I’m afraid that many American churches should be afraid. We have built levees of religiosity to make us feel secure in our city of sin, but they only allow the flood waters to rise higher. By our acts of piety we want to merit. And merit we shall have. Salvation is by grace. Judgment is by merit. “Mount Zion Church” is below sea level, she is below the Dead Sea, and a flood is coming. Beware of playing with holy things. Better to sin in the dark than against the light.

How do we know if we are above the flood plain? How do we know if we are on the true Zion of God? Here is a good diagnostic question: Does our “worship” lead to prayer? If prayer is used as nothing more than a curtain drop to change the props on stage—beware! If the atmosphere of all your religious activity actually wars against prayer—beware! Does the worship gathering of your church birth desperation, confession, joy, repentance, and faith expressed to God in prayer? If not, you may find your communion cup to be full of a vintage you can’t stomach. Your cup may indeed overflow, but the cup of salvation will have been replaced with a cup of wrath that you will drown in.

Matthew 13:47-50 & Perform No Appendectomy!

If these parables formed a body, would the parable of the dragnet be the appendix? Seemingly all it does is repeat part of the parable of the weeds. Does this parable contribute anything unique?

I think this parable, while teaching the same truths seen in the parable of the dragnet, does contribute something unique. While there unity among all these parables, they are all parables about the kingdom, there is also diversity and progression; with that being the case why repeat an earlier theme? Also, while there are other parables that build on each other and repeat the same idea, such as the parables of the mustard seed and leaven and the parables of the treasure and the pearl, notice how these follow one another. If the parable of the dragnet is meant to do nothing more than repeat the truths of the parable of the weeds why insert so many other parables in between them?

There are two things that make this parable unique, its emphasis and its context.

Whereas the parable of the weeds stresses the delay between the inauguration of the kingdom in sowing the good seed of salvation and the consummation of the kingdom bringing full salvation and judgment, the parable of the dragnet the emphasizes judgment alone. The parable of the weeds answers the question, “Why if the kingdom has come is there still evil present?” The parable of the dragnet warns of certain judgment. D.A. Carson points out the different emphasis saying, “Whereas the parable of the weeds focuses on the long period of the reign of God during which tares coexist with the wheat and the enemy has large powers, the parable of the net simply describes the situation that exists when the last judgment takes place.” In the parable of the weeds we are told of the state of both the weeds and the wheat at the close of the age (vv.42-43), here we are told only of the state of the bad fish. The first parable is an explanation, this one is a warning.

But it is the context that I think makes this parable most distinct and powerful. I think the word that makes it explode with power is the first one, “again”. Initially I thought of this word as nothing more than connective tissue. I read some great commentators who made much of the “again” in v. 45 as indicating the close connection between the parables of the treasure and pearl. I agree there is a close connection, but was bothered by their ignoring the “again” in v. 47. Then I thought what if the “again” is meant to show the relation of all three parables? I believe it is.

How do they relate? It’s like this, the kingdom of heaven will eternally be for you either treasure or torment. The kingdom brings both salvation and judgment, so it will either be your greatest delight or your greatest fright. All that God is will either be for you to enjoy, or for you to fear. God is holy, infinite, sovereign, incomprehensible, self-sufficient, immutable, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal, righteous, and faithful. Will you know all that God is as your eternal and deepest delight or dread?