Rejoicing in Our King’s Rejoicing (Psalm 21)

O LORD, in your strength the king rejoices, and in your salvation how greatly he exults!

…For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence. —Psalm 21:1, 6

In this psalm, the people of God rejoice in their king’s rejoicing. The people are rejoicing, but they are not singing about their joy, and yet it is their joy. The salvation the king exults in is their salvation. His joy is their joy. When David is saved, the kingdom is saved.

As this is fulfilled in Christ, it speaks to the joy that was set before Christ, for which He endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). This is not simply the eternal and infinite joy that the Son has always had in the Father. This is the joy which follows the Son’s salvation, meaning the deliverance from and destruction of His enemies (Psalm 21:8–13). This the the joy that falls on the incarnate Christ, our King, who acts as our covenant head. When He is “anointed… with the oil of gladness beyond [his] companions,” that oil covers His people who are in union with Him in the Spirit. His salvation is our salvation. His joy is our joy.

In John 17:13 Jesus prays that His joy might be filled in us (cf. John 15:11). Is there any joy like this? Spurgeon comments, “The rejoicing of our risen Lord must, like his agony, be unutterable. If the mountains of his joy rise in proportion to the depth of the valleys of his grief, then his sacred bliss is high as the seventh heaven.” Here we see the highest joy, the infinite God delighting in what is infinitely delightful. But again, we are not seeing the Triune God’s joy as it has always existed, but as it is in the redemption of man. This is no self-contained joy. This is a joy we are invited into.

Do You Do Well to Be Angry? (Jonah 4:1–11)

Jonah comes to a jarring end with pagans repenting and the prophet rebuked. A litany of three questions leaves us hanging in suspense.

“Do you do well to be angry?”

“Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”

“Should I not pity Nineveh…?”

Like Job, Jonah is brought into God’s court. Unfortunately, Jonah neither speaks nor keeps silent with the wisdom of Job. Unlike the book of Job, no pleasant resolution follows the court scene. Instead, we are left with Jonah to wrestle with these questions. If we don’t, I’m afraid we miss the message of this little book.

There is a sense in which you need to get angry to understand the message of Jonah. The central message of this book is found near the center, at the end of chapter two where Jonah exclaims, “Salvation is of the LORD!” How could we get mad at a message like that? Paul anticipates that we might.

“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:14–24 ESV)

A good sign that you understand Romans 9, and Jonah also, is if they’ve ever made you angry. Do they give rise to an initial objection? That so many interpretations of Romans 9 don’t hit the mark is evident in that they make no one mad. Often, the best indicator that you’ve understood God’s salvation isn’t that you now rejoice in it, but that at some point it has made you furious. Have you never felt what Paul calls the “offense of the cross?”

Perhaps the reason you’re so comfortable with God’s grace is that it makes sense to you. You live in Jerusalem where God’s grace makes sense. You live among the pretty people. Of course God loves you so. Have you never stepped outside of your bubble of bliss to see the Savior’s sovereign salvation of sinners? Here is where the rub lies. He is sovereign. We are sinners. Yahweh is free to have mercy on whom He will.

Just how free do you believe God’s grace to be? When all is done, what separates you from your neighbor in hell? “I believed,” you reply. Yes, but why did you believe? Is the answer found in you or in God? Salvation is not of you. Not even a little. You do not make the difference. Salvation is of Yahweh. Every bit of it. Soli Deo Gloria. Glory to God alone.

Jonah ends with Jonah’s silence, and yet the book screams. We are brought to exclaim, “No! Jonah does not do well to be angry. He deserves to die. And yet, Yahweh, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, allows him to live. In doing so,  He is free to have mercy on whom He will.”

If you read this book closely, I believe you’ll see that Jonah came to sing after the appointed plant, worm, and wind, just as he sang after the appointed fish. Chapter two is not a record of Jonah’s prayer, but an account of his praying. The narrator is no longer unfolding the events for us as they came, rather, Jonah’s poetic recollection of his praying is inserted. I don’t believe Jonah took time to pen poetry after being spewed out by the fish before heading to Nineveh. I believe Jonah 2:1–9 were written sometime after God’s final question was put to him. In this way, Jonah does answer God’s questions. He answers with a prayer of repentance and faith and praise exclaiming again, “Salvation belongs to Yahweh!”

Jonathan Edwards too was once troubled by the Savior’s sovereign salvation of sinners. He wrote:

“From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, in choosing whom he would to eternal life, and rejecting whom he pleased; leaving them eternally to perish, and be everlastingly tormented in hell. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me. But I remember the time very well, when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God, and his justice in thus eternally disposing of men, according to his sovereign pleasure. But I never could give an account how, or by what means, I was thus convinced, not in the least imagining at the time, nor a long time after, that there was any extraordinary influence of God’s Spirit in it; but only that now I saw further, and my reason apprehended the justice and reasonableness of it. However, my mind rested in it; and it put an end to all those cavils and objections. And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, with respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found so much as the rising of an objection against it, in the most absolute sense, in God showing mercy to whom he will show mercy, and hardening whom he will. God’s absolute sovereignty and justice, with respect to salvation and damnation, is what my mind seems to rest assured of, as much as of any thing that I see with my eyes; at least it is so at times. But I have often, since that first conviction, had quite another kind of sense of God’s sovereignty that I had then. I have often since had not only a conviction, but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so.”

Like Jonah, the sweetness of Savior’s sovereign salvation of sinners may not be the saint’s first conviction, but it is sure to be their last. 

Salvation is of YHWH!

The Exegetical Systematician: Faith is Forced Consent

“But what we are insisting upon is that when faith is present it is because there has been a judgment of the mind that the evidence is sufficient, whether made consciously or unconsciously, hastily or slowly, whether it is justified or unjustified. Faith is a state of mind induced by what is considered to be evidence, presented to the understanding and evaluated by the judgment as sufficient.

We must add one other characteristic, and go one step further in our analysis of the phrase we have used, ‘a state of mind induced by evidence’. Faith is forced consent. That is to say, when evidence is judged by the mind to be sufficient, the state of mind we call ‘faith’ is the inevitable precipitate. It is not something we can resist or in respect of which we may suspend judgment. In such a case faith is compelled, it is demanded, it is commanded. For whenever the reasons are apprehended or judged sufficient, will we, nill we, faith or belief is induced. Will to the contrary, desire to the contrary, overwhelming interest to the contrary, cannot make us believe the opposite of our judgment with respect to the evidence.” —John Murray, “Faith”

God Saves, We Sing (Exodus 15:1-21)

Then Moses and the people of Israel sang…

I will sing to the LORD, for

—Exodus 15:1

God saves, Israel sings, this is the story of salvation.

God saves, we sing, this is the Christian faith. Certainly there are some vital qualifying adjectives, but nonetheless, this is the essence of our faith. The Christian faith is not we sing, then God saves. We see this in other religions. God is not looking down from heaven on our show responding, “Great performance! Now here’s some salvation. Keep up the good work.” In false religions, and false Christianity, worship isn’t a response, but an attempt to elicit one. Mantra and chants are a performance hoping to get a hand from God. True worship is a response because God has given a hand. Not a helping hand, but a nail scared hand that saved us when we were dead, in bondage, and without strength.

The LORD is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

—Exodus 15:2

If Jesus isn’t your song, you don’t know His salvation. The saved, the rescued, the pardoned, the forgiven, the redeemed, the ransomed, the delivered, the justified, and the reconciled SING!

Some folks, of the highly educated sort, think this song is odd in its placement. This is ridiculous on a number of levels. Where else would you put it? Would you like Moses to insert it following the instructions for the golden lampstand? Further, such persons reveal they not only  know little of salvation, they know little of life.

“It’s not natural for this song to be here.”

“Have you ever eaten an exquisite steak?”

“I don’t follow.”

When you experience something good you want to praise it. Lewis observed, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” Praise is a response to the praiseworthy. Songs of praise are a response to the exceptionally praiseworthy. Israel had reason to sing. She had to sing. We have reason all the more. The “then,” “for,” and “because” of our singing have been more fully revealed. Because of the incarnation, the perfection, the death, the resurrection, the ascension, the session, and the promised return of Christ, let us sing. Because of the redemption, ransom, salvation, propitiation, regeneration, reconciliation, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification we have in Christ, let us sing.

The history of salvation is sometimes described as a drama—the drama of redemption. However, this drama is actually a musical. It is impossible even to conceive of Biblical Christianity without songs of praise. —Phil Ryken

Thus Says Yahweh (Exodus 5:1–23)

“Thus says Yahweh…,” so chapter six of Exodus begins; by the end, everyone doubts this. There are several conversations in chapter 6: Moses and Aaron speak to Pharaoh (vv. 1–5), Pharaoh speaks to the taskmasters and foremen (vv. 6–9), the taskmasters and foremen speak to Israel (vv. 10–14), the foremen speak to Pharaoh (vv. 15–18), the foremen speak to Moses and Aaron (vv. 19–21), Moses speaks to Yahweh (vv. 22–23). Everyone is talking, no one is listening—to God. Yahweh speaks, men ignore; well, at least, they try. By the end of the book, no one will doubt Yahweh has spoken; well, at least for a while.

Pharaoh’s refusal cannot silence Yahweh’s word’s of judgment. Israel’s grumbling cannot hush Yahweh’s words of grace. Thus says Yahweh. YHWH has spoken. It will be done. “Who is Yahweh?” Pharaoh asks. He will receive an education. Israel has not listened, but God still hears His prophet intercede for His people. He hears Moses’ prayers (Exodus 5:22–6:1ff), He hears His people’s groaning (Exodus 6:5). Pharaoh has not listened to Yahweh, nor does he hear the Hebrew’s cries (Exodus 5:15–19), but God has spoken and God listens.

“Thus says Yahweh,” those words will not fall flat. They may fall as quiet snowflake, but it is the snowflake that starts the avalanche. Yahweh’s words don’t dissipate, they swell. His voice does’t just carry, it’s self-amplifying. They are words so loud they will make the hearing deaf and the deaf hearing.

Yahweh has spoken words of judgement and grace. There’s a lot of talk, and little listening. Yahweh speaks, men ignore, or so they try. By the end of the book, when the author has finished speaking the tale of this age, when His words have swelled to the point that a new heaven and a new earth are on the verge of being, no one will doubt “thus says Yahweh.” On that day, no one will doubt the words of the One whose word holds them together. If He didn’t speak they would not be; recognizing this, all heads will be bowed, with mouths silent and ears attentive, to His words of judgment and grace. Thus says Yahweh.

A Religious Assassination (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

Why was Paul saved? “I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” Paul’s salvation wasn’t accidental. Paul didn’t chance upon the opportune place at the opportune time where and when grace happened to burst through the earth’s crust. Nor was it that Paul had a core of virtue beneath a veneer of vileness so that universal grace found a ready subject.

Saving grace isn’t a shotgun; it’s a sniper rifle. God is a hunter, a sniper, who has a specific target to make a loud statement. This is an assassination to make a religious statement. The assassination was followed by resurrection. Saul became Paul because of Jesus, and Jesus killed and resurrected Paul to communicated this to wretched sinners: He can kill and resurrect any one of you.

God has a galaxy of grace to match your Jupiter of sin. Do you feel the crushing, unbearable weight of your sins? Do distress if God’s grace can match them? This is as brainless as fretting if there is enough Milky Way for Jupiter. Jupiter’s covered, and so are you if you are in Jesus.

Your thirst isn’t bigger than this ocean. Your darkness isn’t as potent as this Son’s light. Your stain is not as set as His blood is cleansing. Your sin isn’t bigger than Jesus’ atonement.

Matthew 16:13-20 & Damnation by Imagination

When asked who people say Jesus is, the disciples only give the “good answers.” They don’t include the bad ones; they don’t mention the Pharisees’ blasphemous accusations of Jesus’ casting out demons by Beelzebul. Yet, none of the “good answers” are good enough. You can’t get partial credit on this test. This is a true or false question. Jesus is a prophet, but saying He is Elijah or Jeremiah doesn’t count for even 33%. The crowds are in awe of Jesus, and they flunk. “Who do you say Jesus is?” This is the one question test that everyone either eternally passes or fails.

There is a contrast here, but not between the crowd’s awe-filled speculations and the Pharisees’ jealously-filled accusations; it is between the crowd’s opinions and the disciples’ confession. It does not matter how great you think Jesus is, if you think Him to be less than He is. Drop Him the slightest notch and you will find yourself falling endlessly into a bottomless pit.

Imagine you are talking on the phone with your wife. You use the most flowery language to express your endearment to her, you press the limits of poetry to convey her beauty, but you do this using another woman’s name and attributes. It matters not how highly you praise her blond hair when it’s brown. Think Jesus less than He is, and He is not flattered.

Do you believe in Jesus, or do you believe in the Jesus you believe in? An imaginary Jesus produces only imaginary salvation. This ain’t Peter Pan; just because you believe it don’t make it fly. We do not preach faith in faith. We do not preach, “believe and you can fly.” We do not preach, “believe and you will be saved.” We preach Christ and Him crucified. We preach, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!”

“Oh, I believe in the Jesus of the Bible. I believe that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Ok, let me push a bit. What does that mean? If you can’t fill in the lines, you’re still trying to fly using your own magic fairy dust.

If you rebut that Peter didn’t understand everything his confession meant I would retort, “You can be confused with Peter, but can you understand with him?” Sure, Peter didn’t understand everything this meant, but he did understand truth as to what it meant, and this truth was being given to him by Jesus’ Father. The confession that saves is a confession that is understood, and it is understood because it is revealed by the Father. Any thing less than this, is at best, damning.