Going Deeper: Resources for Psalm 124

PilgrimSongsWeekly

Each week, I plan to help the church I serve at as preaching pastor with additional resources to help them go deeper in their study of the Scriptures from the previous week’s sermon. This past Sunday at Mercyview, we looked at Psalm 124:1-8 in our summer sermon series, “Pilgrim Songs: The Psalms of Ascent,” in a sermon entitled, “Divine Deliverance.”

Commentary/Book(s)

James M. Boice: Psalm 124, “If,” from Psalms, Vol. 3 (Psalms 107-150) (Expositional Commentary)

Derek Kidner: Psalm 124, “When Earthly Armour Faileth,” from Psalms 73-150 (Kidner Classic Commentaries)

Tremper Longman III: Psalm 124, “The Lord is on our side,” from Psalms (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries)

Eugene Peterson: Chapter 6, “Help,” from A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society

Josh Moody: Chapter 5, “Danger,” from Journey to Joy: The Psalms of Ascent

Charles Spurgeon: Psalm 124 from The Treasury of David

John Calvin: Commentary on Psalm 124

Article(s)

Jon Bloom: “When God Seems Silent” (Desiring God)

James Emery White: “The Silence of God” (Crosswalk)

Quote(s)

Has God trusted you with His silence…? God’s silences are actually His answers…His silence is the sign that He is bringing you into an even more wonderful understanding of Himself. Are you mourning before God because you have not had an audible response? When you cannot hear God, you will find that He has trusted you in the most intimate way possible— with absolute silence, not a silence of despair, but one of pleasure, because He saw that you could withstand an even bigger revelation. If God has given you a silence, then praise Him— He is bringing you into the mainstream of His purposes. The actual evidence of the answer in time is simply a matter of God’s sovereignty. Time is nothing to God…A wonderful thing about God’s silence is that His stillness is contagious— it gets into you, causing you to become perfectly confident so that you can honestly say, ‘I know that God has heard me.’ His silence is the very proof that He has.

–Oswald Chambers

Music

“Rescue” by Jared Anderson

“Deliver Me” by David Crowder

“The Silence of God” by Andrew Peterson

Jesus is the Better Atoner

jesus-cross

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis argues that “we feel the rule of Law pressing on us so ­ that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility…human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it.”[1] He says that even though humanity knows what is right and wrong, “they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it.”[2]

Truth and untruth are hardwired in us but it’s in the dabbling with untruth that we know there is a culpability. It is in the “breaking” that we taste the bitter loss of innocence. The result? We just can’t seem to get out from under the anvil of guilt.

It finds it origins in Genesis 3. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen. 3:7­-8). After disobeying God, the first actions of our first parents were to cover up and hide. These are the activities of ones who find themselves mired in disgrace.

We know this to be true because its antithesis is found a few verses prior in Genesis 2:25, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” In a moment, an identity once hidden in perfect and safe communion God was now subsumed in an overwhelming sense of shame. Now present was a gaping sense of insecurity where there was once peace. A cavernous space where there was once intimacy. And instead of running in their newfound vulnerability to God, they disguised themselves and holed up away from him. Commentator Alec Motyer describes it this way:

They [sense that] they cannot meet and keep company with the Lord God as before, but neither do they see that the consequence of sin is loss of paradise. Hearing the approach of the Lord, they hide, but within the Garden… The blindness of sin is beginning to take effect…From the moment of the Fall, humankind has suffered from moral schizophrenia: neither able to deny sinfulness nor to acknowledge it for what it is. [3]

This is what shame does. It disorients. It muddles. It flusters. But those are only its horizontal affects. There was something else that happened in this moment of moral failure. Something more sobering. Something more destructive. After cursing the serpent, God approached Adam and Eve and said these words, “…for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). The “hide and seek” that Adam and Eve played was short­-lived. God found them and relayed to them a harsh but necessary truth. Death would now be the repercussion of their blatant disobedience to the parameters that he had set. In God’s economy, the reach of the spiritual consequences had to be relative to the sinful activity of his human creations. Rebellion cost something.

In a way, God was following through with his earlier promise that if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die. “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 3:16­-17). But did they? Not immediately. What did happen in the fall were two “kinds” of deaths. The first, the promise of physical death. Dust returning to dust. The second, the actuality of a spiritual death.

Yes, sin brings horizontal a sense of internal shame and insecurity but graver was that the chomp of an apple was a defiant spiritual action of the heart. It was an exploit that produced a cosmic condemnation of the soul. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). No one escapes this kind of guilt. It is corporate. And it has a debt.

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Maybe that is what we all really feel. We may call it “guilt” but at the bottom of it all, what we sense is a deep, pervasive debt. We detect that there is a settlement that we can never repay. When Adam and Eve tried to conceal themselves and cover their nakedness from God, they were beginning to feel that there was a deficit that could not be reimbursed. They were keenly aware of a bankruptcy of the soul that resided in the red. It’s what they did with their guilt that was the problem.

When feelings of spiritual indebtedness start to overtake us, we mimic our first parents. We hide. We self-protect. We self­-justify. And maybe most threatening ­ we try to make up the difference. We attempt to pay back the debt in one form or another. We functionally do “penance.” Pastor C. John Miller says:

Penance is a religious attitude deeply rooted in the human heart which prompts people to attempt to pay for their own sins by good works and sufferings. Self­-justification is the goal of this effort. In practice this means that humanity always has one more scheme for getting things right with God and their conscience. Sinners doing penance always say in their hearts, ‘Give me one more day, a new religious duty, another program, another set of human relationships or a better education, and then things will come right­side up’…They are preparationists—that is, sinners who are forever getting ready for grace. They want to make themselves worthy of grace so that God will reach out to them once this work of preparation is completed. [4]

Notice Miller’s statement that those who do penance are “forever getting ready for grace.” It’s interesting that we know that our guilt requires something radical to handle the chasm between our deeds and what is required for forgiveness of the debt. But we go on. We think one more bible study, one more soup kitchen visit, one more degree, one more zero at the end of our salary will balance the shortage, one more intimate relationship. It never does. We will never be able to get “prepared” for grace.

Herein lies the rub. We don’t want anyone to give us mercy because that means we have to, one, admit we can’t make up the difference, and two, admit that what have to look outside ourselves to someone who can. This is offensive to our Western ideals of independence and strength. But this confession is the very beginning point for absolution. Acknowledging our spiritual inability is actually where we begin to see the light. Powerlessness is the prerequisite.

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Head over to Grace For Sinners to read the third section of this article to see where atonement can be found – outside of ourselves.

Quotable…
from The Prodigal Church  by Jared Wilson

I am posting some of the quotes that caught my attention from Jared Wilson’s new book, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo, chapter by chapter. Wilson is the director of content strategy at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, and managing editor of the seminary’s website for gospel-centered resources, For the Church. He is a popular author and conference speaker and blogs regularly at The Gospel Driven Church, hosted by The Gospel Coalition.

prodigalchurch

Today, we look at Chapter 2 entitled – “What If the System’s Broken?”:

There’s not really anything wrong with having or not having a cross on your church walls, but for many of us, in retrospect this removal became symbolic of what seemed to be taking place message-wise. (27)

 

A cognitive dissonance can result for those who hear a message all about what they should do to be more successful or victorious or happy…only to hear the proposition that Jesus died for our sins. To hear a lengthy appeal to our abilities, culminating in an appeal to our utter inability, can cause spiritual whiplash. (27)

 

…we may mistake the rising of something for the health or success of the thing. So it’s possible to look big, to look successful, and to not actually be big or successful in the ways that matter. The is not a strike against having a megachurch. It’s only a strike against the idolatry of the megachurch. It’s a strike against a church of any size that is trusting in growth, whether it’s actually experiencing it or not. (40)

 

Sometimes healthy things grow, but the growth continues on in a momentum of its own and ends up obscuring areas of concern or deeper need that are easy to ignore because of the easy justification and visibility of the growth. (41)

 

…the problem is not really one of size but of an unhealthy obsession of size, with a pitting of bigger against smaller, and with the failure of growing churches to compensate for their numeric growth with scalable efforts to maintain pastoral care, community, and discipleship. (43)

 

In too many attractional churches, committed Christians are put to work largely in service of the weekend worship experience…In the beginning of such ministry, enthusiasm is high. But when the lion’s share of one’s discipleship is occupied with weekly efforts toward the worship service, it is not too long before the volunteers begin to feel interchangeable, like cogs in a wheel…if they [weekly efforts] are the sum total of one’s connection to the church, they do not provide the nourishment that growing Christians need. (44)

 

…when it comes to proclaiming the gospel to the lost and feeding the sheep, we have to give great care to the means. And in fact, how we do church will have a direct impact on the quality of the results we get. (46)

Four Lessons From Visiting a Prosperity Gospel Megachurch

m_PG_Money_on_altar
Image Credit: The Gospel Coalition

Recently, Steven Morales, associate editor for The Gospel Coalition’s Spanish site, Coalición por el Evangelio, who lives in Guatemala with his wife and is pursuing church planting in Guatemala City, visited a prosperity gospel megachurch in his home country. In reflecting on his visit, I thought the four lessons he shared were helpful for all of us who struggle with how to respond to this subculture. Here are the four lessons from Morales, with thoughts from within each lesson:

1. It’s easy to make the Bible say whatever you want.

If we approach Scripture only a few verses at a time, we’ll easily change its message to adapt to our own. The Bible is the key to its own lock, and we must let it interpret itself. Read it. Study it. Pray over it. And don’t teach it until you know the whole story.

2. False teaching can be easily hidden under superficial Christianity.

Although this is most evident in false teachers, we’re all guilty of this sin to some degree. After all, who hasn’t tried to look his best, do the rights things, and act as “Christianly” as possible to hide the filthiness residing within (Matt. 23:27)? We need Jesus. If our exterior doesn’t correspond with our interior, it’s time to pray for repentance and run to Jesus (1 John 1:9–10).

3. It’s easy to focus on the wrong things.

I don’t care if your music is loud, as long as your theology is louder. I don’t care if your church is big, as long as your view of God is bigger. I don’t care if your stage has bright lights, as long as your love for Christ is brighter. I don’t care if you make a joke or two, as long as you’re serious about the gospel. Don’t get upset about peripheral things; get upset that the gospel isn’t being preached.

4. People need Jesus, not your snarky criticism.

We don’t need to share another video depicting another ridiculous thing that happened in a prosperity-preaching church; we need to start sharing the gospel with people…patiently explaining why King Jesus is better than any promise of earthly prosperity.

 
Read the entire article here.

A Buoyant Hope

Behind the veneer of much of our discipleship (and honestly, my own weathered and jaded heart), there is something in the depths of my heart that regularly flusters and flummoxes. It is something we all crave but even on our best days, we feel very little of. In our pursuit of it, we have replaced it with falsified versions that aren’t up to spiritual snuff. And thought it’s right under our noses, it’s possible that the reason we may not have much of it is because we are looking in the wrong nooks and crannies for it.

Oh hope, where art thou?

More Like the Mona Lisa

One of the reasons that we overlook hope is because we are wrongheaded in our definition of it. Hope is typically expressed as doubt rather than a deep certitude that what seems impossible is assured. I’ve said it before. “I hope everybody shows up tonight for missional community” or “I hope they remember to show up for this counseling meeting” or “I sure do hope they like this sermon.” But that is not biblical hope. Hope is not just an aspiration for something good but an expectation that it will happen—an assurance that it will happen. An inevitability that the good we anticipate and long for will transpire. In other words, biblical hope is not finger­-crossing. It is a thumbs up kind of hope—a hope that it is embedded, not in skepticism, but in the stalwart faithfulness of God.

My children loves to color our carport sidewalk with chalk. It’s one of their favorite activities. Pinks and greens and blues and yellows all scribbled on gray concrete. I love to watch them as they make the grandest creations with no thought about their lack of permanence. Inevitably, a rain shower eventually rolls in and washes away their artwork. Gone. In a moment. Hope in a faithful God is never like this. It doesn’t wash away with a little rain. There is firmness in it that can’t ever be dissolved because God’s purposes are more like the Mona Lisa—enduring and unfading. Hoping in God and hoping in anything else is the difference between chalk and paint. One fades, the other abides.

Seeing the Unseen

The writer of Hebrews adds a vital component to the idea of hope: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Wherever there is full guarantee of hope, there is faith. Or said another way, faith is the jam-­packed, self­-confidence of hope. I admit that I regularly lack that kind of confidence but that is what real hope brings. It brings spiritual assuredness. I need that kind of inspiration for my flimsy faith. But the writer of Hebrews also says that yes, faith includes hope but it is more than hope.

Charles Spurgeon says it this way, “Though the ‘things’ are only ’hoped for’ and ‘not seen’ at present, the eye of faith can see them, and the hand of faith can grasp them.” See, faith­-shaped hope does the unthinkable and the counterintuitive. It sees what is unseen and clasps on what is intangible. It has vision for what is undetectable. It clutches onto what is indiscernible. That’s good news to me because frankly, my faith tends to be miniature sized. What was Jesus’ proposal to his disciples for their little faith? He told them to grow it to the size of a tiny mustard seed (Mk 4:31). I love that. Jesus, as only he can, gives me hope that I can have a faith that believes and sees what can’t be seen if it’s as big as something that is very small because my faith is small most of the time.

The Bible describes the patriarch Abraham as a man of deep faith who had this kind of hope. He was filled with hope that God was able to do everything that he had promised ­ even though reality raged against God’s promise. “In hope he believed against hope” (Rom. 4:18). Interesting verbiage. Webster’s Dictionary has a separate entry for the phrase “hope against hope.” It is defined as “to hope without any basis for expecting fulfillment.” Does this sound like Abraham’s faith? Not even close. Abraham’s hope had a different tone and focus.

Abraham’s “against hope” meant that from a conventional human perspective, there was not an ounce of likelihood that a miracle could happen. Remember, Abraham was old and his wife was barren. Abraham knew that hope is never anchored to what is achievable by man’s effort. Biblical hope gazes to the promise of a miraculous God. Abraham had a Hebrews-like hope. We must point our hearts and the hearts of others to this kind of hope in our discipleship.

Head over to Gospel Centered Discipleship to the last part of this article and read how hope is like a cork for the soul.

Quotable…
from The Prodigal Church  by Jared Wilson

Over the next few weeks, I am going to be posting some of the quotes that caught my attention from Jared Wilson’s new book, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo, chapter by chapter. Wilson is the director of content strategy at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, and managing editor of the seminary’s website for gospel-centered resources, For the Church. He is a popular author and conference speaker and blogs regularly at The Gospel Driven Church, hosted by The Gospel Coalition.

prodigalchurch

Today, we look at Chapter 1 entitled, “What This Book is Not”:

…when faced with critique, the contemporary church holds us the idea of traditional church as boring or fundamentalist or backward, it is the cheapest kind of defensiveness and self-justification. (17-18)

 

It is legalism when place a burden on another local church body to look more like our own than Christ’s. (19)

 

And while faithful Christians may disagree on church forms and the like-while we may, in love, differ on all manner of secondary matters-could it not be that some of these secondary things we differ on have implications for how people receive and believe primary things? How we ‘do church’ shapes the way people see God and his Son and his ways in the world. (21)

 

For all the evaluation we tend to inflict upon ourselves-from test marketing felt needs to measuring the participation of our churchgoers, from studying the demographics of our target mission fields, to critiquing the level of excellence of what takes place on our stages-I hope we have never ruled out asking, ‘What if what we’re doing isn’t really what we’re supposed to be doing?’ We should ask that. All of us. (24)

The Full Circle Gospel

ascension

 

I

Jesus wasn’t always in the flesh.

John 1:14 reminds us that “the Word became flesh.” Becoming flesh means Jesus existed before His incarnation. In our quest to prove the veracity of God becoming man so that as a man, he could do what only God could do, we sometimes caper right past the beauty and mystery of one aspect of the incarnation’s import. Before it, Jesus didn’t have skin.

When John claims that “in the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word was God,” he is implying that Jesus had been around long before his earthly arrival. Before the God­-man was a God­-baby, he existed eternally in perfect community with the triune God outside of time and space.

In the incarnation, Jesus resolved to lay aside the majesty of his deity to take upon himself man’s likeness and a servant’s form. Before that moment, Jesus had only existed in his preincarnate glory. He was in the form of God, according to the apostle Paul. The early church father John Chrysostom affirms, “The form of God is truly God and nothing less. Paul did not write that he was in process of coming to be in the form of God; rather ‘being in the form of God,’ hence truly divine.” Jesus has always been truly divine but his divinity hasn’t always donned flesh.

So from the vantage point of finite beings and though Jesus has no beginning, we see that the God­-man’s timeline “began” before his advent in an earthly manger. And as we deal in beginnings and endings to make sense of the sacred, we can’t lose that the pre­incarnate Christ’s pre­-skin context was the harmonious community of the Godhead in heaven. His ex nihilo eternality is necessarily an essential in understanding the gospel’s content. You have to have a Jesus who was in the form of God eternally before he was in the form of man to do what only the God­-man himself could have done—make a way for the soul to be rid of it’s one dark blot.

II

We love to sing in our church community.

We heartily belt it out in our retrofitted fellowship hall Sunday after Sunday. One of the songs we routinely revisit says, “When Satan tempts me to despair/And tells me of the guilt within/Upward I look, and see Him there/Who made an end to all my sin.” I recall when I first sang these lines, I thought I was singing about the cross. It was my gazing upon the cross that could recalibrate my vacillating spiritual discouragement. While that can be true factually, those lines aren’t about peering at the crucified Jesus on a cross. There about something entirely different. They are about looking at my resurrected and ascended Jesus in heaven.

Now, I can’t literally look up and see Jesus in heaven. It exists in an unseen dimension at the moment. But what these lines point to is the reality that Jesus currently resides in the eternal home from whence he came. He has returned to his divine community—but not in his preincarnate form. No, he has returned as one who possesses a resurrected body that “made an end to all my sin” and is now exalted to the place of highest honor—God’s right hand. That is the God I am to “see” when I sing those lines. But without the ascension, I can’t look to Jesus in that way. Without it, we omit another crucial aspect of comprehending the thrust of the gospel message. Jesus is back in heaven. And that means something.

There are three primary passages which give us the historical record of the ascension of Jesus: Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, and Acts 1:9. And while there are many themes we could extract from these texts, in my opinion, one stands out above the rest. John Calvin put it best when he said, “For as soon as God’s dread majesty comes to mind, we cannot but tremble and be driven far away by the recognition of our own unworthiness until Christ comes forward as intermediary, to change the throne of dreadful glory into the throne of grace.” Christ as intermediary. Christ as advocate. Christ as intercessor. No ascension—no throne of grace. Only a throne of dreadful glory that we can’t approach boldly. But Jesus.

Head over to Grace For Sinners to read the third act and why the ascension matters to the fullness of the gospel’s timeline.