August 2022

God who suffers well – Part 2

Humanity remains consistent and creative in their rebellion and indifference to God. Being the source of grief to God is not unique to any single people group, with all of mankind sharing in this role. Equally true, is God’s consistent grace. While His holiness and all other aspects of His character remain true, the day is coming when grace will step aside to allow justice to do its work. Jesus’ younger brother speaks about this coming day in Jude 1:14-15. Behold, the Lord comes… to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him (See also Romans 2:5-8). But for now, grace is dominant, and we should be very thankful for it.

The writer of Hebrews highlights the fact that Jesus Christ is the radiance of the glory of God (Hebrews 1:3a) and has always existed in the splendour of heavenly glory. Yet He did not hesitate to surrender His privilege; He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). For a time, Jesus willingly exchanged His place of glory to become despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isaiah 53:3).

As justified sinners, when we Christians look at Christ, we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he (Jesus) might taste death for everyone (Hebrews 2:9). Although He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth (1 Peter 2:22), He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24).

In a world fixated on comfort, ease, and self-vindication, the sufferings of Christ are of no interest. The world continuously reasons away the reality of sin, despite the overwhelming evidence against itself. Yet, on the cross of Jesus, we see the greatest suffering purchased the greatest blessing for sinners who are willing to believe. Suffering was the inescapable path for the Son of God to appease the Father’s wrath (1 John 4:10). Suffering was the only mechanism through which the sacrificial Lamb of God could make atonement for sinners (John 1:29). Suffering was the only path capable of delivering the sanctification we sinners were incapable of (1 Corinthians 1:30). Indeed, the Saviour Jesus Christ suffered well.

Peter clearly understood the relationship between Christ’s suffering and believers’ salvation. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:18). While we struggle to understand how, it was Jesus alone, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus’ joy was in obeying His Father’s will for Him to go to the cross, in appeasing the Father’s wrath for man’s sin, and in making it possible for sinners to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18).

God’s greatest expression of love towards mankind caused His greatest suffering. And from His suffering repentant sinners can receive the greatest blessings, forgiveness, rebirth, imputed righteousness, adoption, and eternal life in Christ.

To be continued…

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God who suffers well – Part 1

Watching others suffer is a distasteful part of life, and sadly, it’s possible to become insensitive to it. However, when suffering is personal, it usually brings our innermost character to the surface; for better, or for worse. And although we may not think of it often, if at all, the same is true of God.

Officially, the teaching about God suffering is called the doctrine of Impassibility. This doctrine does NOT teach that God is changeable, has mood swings, or cannot control His responses, because God is never the victim of circumstance. The doctrine of passibility does teach however, that God is emotionally invested in His creation; that He is involved because He cares, and because He cares, He feels pain when His creation suffers.

For humankind, it began in Genesis 1:27-28, God created man in his own image… male and female he created them. And God blessed them saying… “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Humanity was the most spectacular and privileged of all God created, unparalleled in design and capacity for glorifying their creator.

Genesis 1:31 summarizes, God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. As Yahweh microscopically examined everything, particularly volitional humanity, His conclusion was that it all surpassed being good. It was very good! Tragically, it wasn’t long before the first two people bought into the lies of God’s enemy, and they sinned, introducing death and suffering into the world. Before long, human rebellion was so rampant, that the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart (Genesis 6:6). The original word for “grieved” carries the idea of pain that carves its way into the heart. Although sin causes God the deepest pain, He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities (Psalm 103:10).

Stepping forward in time, we see unfaithful Israel becoming the source of great suffering for God. They rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert! They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel (Psalm 78:40-41). In the New Testament, it was Peter who publicly explained Israel’s ultimate wound to God’s heart. Men of Israel…  Jesus of Nazareth… attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst… this Jesus, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (Acts 2:22-23). Yet, despite the pain suffered by the Father at the murderous rejection of His Son, God has not rejected his people Israel (Romans 11:2). Such mountainous grace displays God’s holiness through His suffering.

The Lord’s mercy towers above the immense suffering caused by mankind, especially Israel. His integrity shines brightest when upholding His many covenantal promises to Israel, and especially through the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-33; Hebrews 10:10-18). His grace prevails over His suffering, seen by only a partial hardening which has temporarily been brought upon Israel. As stated by Paul, it remains God’s firm intension for all Israel to eventually be saved (Romans 11:25-26). Such is God’s integrity, who suffers well for His glory and the ultimate blessing of His covenant people.

When this world suffers, grace is often among the first qualities to get dropped. But not so with Yahweh, His suffering only highlights His incalculable grace. God’s innermost character is seen best through His sufferings, may the same be true of us.

To be continued…

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God of Patience

Looking over humanity’s brief history, we see an extraordinary degree of God’s patience with mankind. After all, humanity alone was created in the image of God (Gen 1:27), and it was humanity who reasoned through the serpent’s arguments against God and decided disobedience was the pathway to greater Godlikeness. So it was, that sin and death was introduced by humanity (Gen 2:16-17; 3:1-19).

God would have been justified in executing the promised death penalty upon Adam and Eve right there in the garden of Eden. Yet, that’s not what we see. Instead, we see God’s mercy patiently working with independent humanity. Yes, immediate judgement was enacted upon Adam and Eve. And yes, death was initiated immediately, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned (Romans 5:12). But the Lord restrained the extremity of His justice, displaying mercy that would work through His patience, leading to Christ’s substitutional death on the cross.

Nowhere in Scripture is this explained more clearly than in Romans 9:22-23. 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 though we feel the tensions created by sin, human will, judgment, and God’s purposes, the Holy Spirit states that these all work for God’s glory. Therefore, mankind are both vessels of wrath and of mercy. The Lord’s indomitable will employs the worst of man’s rebellion to exercise patience that endures long after a defiant person passes away. God continues broadcasting His grace to the very sinners who live under His wrath, waiting for their response of repentance.

As believers who can look back at our salvation, the Lord patiently spoke into our lives through others, through God’s Word, through life’s events, and through Holy Spirit conviction. God’s patient grace was investing in His glory through our lives, and we didn’t realise it. We thought the gospel was all about us. Therefore, Paul told Timothy, I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life (1 Timothy 1:16). The patience of Jesus Christ is gospel mercy in action towards the unsaved for the purpose of bringing them to eternal life. Just as Christ patiently brings sinners to repentant faith, so we must be patient in prayer, then engage with the lost. Every interaction with the unsaved which exposes them to the loving gospel is God glorifying.

Although grace is patient, we need to be careful not to presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance (Romans 2:4). Divine patience has purpose and destination in mind. Even unwilling sinners are drawn by grace under the Lord Jesus Christ for God’s glory through repentance. Although repentance seems to have fallen on hard times lately, God intends repentance of sin to remain a key expression of faith in Christ, for God’s glory.

As we mature in Christ, the unsaved should be able to observe Christ continuously changing us; again, this takes time and gracious patience by the Lord. As always, Christ is our template, patiently leading us through the internal ministry of the Holy Spirit to greater Christlikeness. May we be increasingly grateful for the Lord’s gracious patience with us, and quick to tells others of it.

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A willing Christian spirit is one that is compliant and anticipates surrender with a measure of enthusiasm before any request or expectation is made of God. Just as a willing spirit enriches human relationships, so it is the quality of willingness that infuses vitality into our spiritual relationship with the Lord. Willingness must be mutually active to produce the glory and the blessing that both God and believer desire.

In John 10:18, we read of Jesus saying that no one would take His life from Him, “but I lay it down of my own accord.” Jesus’ willingness to obey His Father and sacrificially serve sinful humanity on the cross is our template for right attitude. Such an expensive, self-sacrificing attitude by Christ, displays the richness of Jesus’ holy, loving, and merciful character.

Therefore, it should not surprise us to see a reflection of this willingness in the lives of those who follow the Lord. When David turned back to the Lord from his disastrous backsliding, he recorded the words of his repentance in Psalm 51. Central to his repentance was understanding his dependence upon the Lord to change every level of his heart attitude. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you (Psalm 51:12-13).

When a child of God discovers they have been swept down a path of sin, it is only the restoring work of the Lord which brings recovery. Only the Lord can rejuvenate the joy of salvation within a person who has been hijacked by sin. Joy is the expected fruit within the sinner when our Saviour does His work of regeneration. Consequentially, joy authored by the Lord, overshadows the pains and struggles of repentance with peace.

However, David also recognised he needed more than forgiveness to prevent him reverting to sin. He needed God to make a foundational and preventative change within His spirit/heart. David asked God to strengthen his walk of obedience with a willing spirit. A heart that desires to comply by default. A heart that considers the choices of life and chooses obedience without negotiation, and without complaint. This is the level of willingness we see in Christ, and we seek for the Holy Spirit to generate within us. An unnatural and unworldly compliance authored by Yahweh that gives evidence of His supernatural work within us.

As David continues, he understands the outworking of such a shift in attitude. Willingness should desire to teach transgressors your ways. A God authored transformation will cause the repentant sinner to look for others who need to be save, as they have been. Again, only God the Spirit can germinate a willing desire to share Christ with others. Similarly, David realised that telling others is not sufficient in and of itself. David’s newly shaped willing spirit expected sinners will return to you. It is Christlike character, generated by the Holy Spirit, that desires to be actively used by the Lord in the process of sinners turning away from a life of sin to a life under the Lordship of Christ. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Whether we are outgoing by nature or not, quiet or loud, find conversation easy or not, should not interfere with our desire of willingness to serve God. Personality and abilities are not in David’s or Jesus’ thinking here. I encourage you to seek a willing spirit/heart for the Lord Jesus Christ.

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