Posts tagged ‘Ezekiel’

October 15, 2012

IN NOT OF: Imagining Heaven

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Ezekiel 48:35
M’Cheyne Text: Ezekiel 48; Psalm 104

Heaven: Perhaps it is inevitable to believe in heaven.  C.S. Lewis said, “Heaven is the remote music that we were born remembering” [1]. Yet is it dangerous to believe in heaven? Does it make us bad citizens of earth? John Lennon thought so: “Imagine there’s no heaven … Imagine all the people living for today” [2]. In other words, he argued, until we realize that this is our only reality, we will not work to make it better.

City: Ezekiel was exiled to Babylon in 597 BC. Speaking to both exiles and those who stayed in Judah, he predicted judgment and the fall of Jerusalem. After Jerusalem fell in 586 BC, however, he prophesied hope and restoration. The last words of his prophecy end with a picture of heaven and hope: “The name of the city from that time on shall be, THE LORD IS THERE” [3].

Response: Believing in heaven makes us better citizens of earth. In the years after the resurrection of Jesus, the gospel spread precisely because his followers believed in heaven. Two plagues swept through the Roman Empire – the Antonine Plague (165-180 AD) and the Plague of Cyprian (251-270 AD). In the course of about a hundred years, about 25-35% of its population was wiped out. Although no one knew how to stop these plagues, everyone knew that they spread by contact. As a result, people left the cities in droves. Even family members abandoned sick relatives. But the Christians stayed. They cared for their own and others. Many of them died. Why did they stay? Because they believed in heaven. Contrasting the flight of the famous physician Galen, historian Ronald Stark writes, “Galen lacked belief in life beyond death. The Christians were certain that this life was but a prelude. For Galen to have remained in Rome to treat the afflicted would have required bravery far beyond that needed by Christians to do likewise” [4]. To flee was the rational response of the pagans. To stay was the rational response of the Christians.

Prayer: Lord, We confess we often keep people with bed bugs – much less the plague! – at a distance. Forgive us and lift our eyes to see the empty cross and the glorified Christ, who is the first fruits of our resurrection [5]. Remind us that this life is a prelude so that we joyfully risk our lives for the sake of glorifying your name and loving others. Amen. [6]

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Footnotes

[1] C.S. Lewis. See also Ecclesiastes 3:11 (“[The Lord] has set eternity in the hearts of men.” NIV1984).  |  [2] John Lennon. Imagine.  |  [3] Ezekiel 48:35 ESV  |  [4] (If you enjoy history, I highly recommend this short article.) Rodney Stark. Epidemics, Networks and the Rise of Christianity. January 2011. In this article, Stark quotes Cyprian’s beautiful statement: “… the just are dying with the unjust … Although this mortality has contributed nothing else, it has especially accomplished this for Christians and servants of God, that we have begun gladly to seek martyrdom while we are learning not to fear death. These are trying exercises for us, not deaths; they give to the mind the glory of fortitude; by contempt of death they prepare for the crown … our brethren who have been freed from the world by the summons of the Lord should not be mourned, since we know that they are not lost but sent before; that in departing they lead the way; that as travellers, as voyagers are wont to be, they should be longed for, not lamented … and that no occasion should be given to pagans to censure us deservedly and justly, on the ground that we grieve for those who we say are living with God.”  |  [5] See 1 Corinthians 15:23.  |  [6] For additional reflection on heaven and how belief in heaven makes us better citizens of earth, see Tim Keller. “Heaven.” 8 June 1997. Sermon on Revelation 21:21-22:5.

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October 12, 2012

Witness: Response to the Gospel

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Psalm 100:1-2; 4-5
M’Cheyne Text: Ezekiel 45; Psalm 99-101

Subway: Subway evangelism is part of the New York experience – whether you are on the 6 train or the R. As James Estrin wrote in The New York Times, “The graffiti has been replaced by advertising. The tokens have been replaced by MetroCards. But the subway preachers are a constant. They were there before I was born and will likely be there after I die” [1]. How do riders respond to them? He continues, “Most riders ignore them.”

Invitation: In response to the gospel, we are called to “make disciples” of all people. God calls us to share the gospel, not hide it [2]. In Psalm 100, David invites everyone to worship God: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! … Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” [3].

Winsome: The means of our witness – whether subway or otherwise – is less important than the motivation of our witness. In his new book, Center Church, Tim Keller writes, “The moralist believes in proselytizing because ‘we are right, and they are wrong.’ Such an approach is almost always offensive. The relativist/pragmatist approach denies the legitimacy of evangelism altogether. Yet the gospel produces a constellation of traits in us. We are compelled to share the gospel out of generosity and love, not guilt. We are freed from the fear of being ridiculed or hurt by others, since we have already received the favor of God by grace. Our dealings with others reflect humility because we know we are saved only by grace alone, not because we were people likely to become Christians. We are courteous and careful with people. We don’t have to push or coerce them, for it is only God’s grace that opens hearts, not our eloquence or persistence or even their openness [4]. Together, these traits create not only an excellent neighbor in a multicultural society but also a winsome evangelist” [5].

Prayer: Lord, We have seen your glory and, in response, you call us to testify to its beauty. We confess, however, that we sometimes fear bearing witness to your gospel, knowing that our culture sees the cross as foolishness. Give us a winsome witness that invites all people to worship your name, especially our families, friends and neighbors. Amen.

(Optional) Post-Reflection Intercessory Prayer: Join Apostles Church NYC in their current initiative, “By Name” (September 30 – November 11).

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Footnotes

[1] James Estrin. “Speaking of God, as Souls Hurry By.” The New York Times. 21 October 2010.  |  [2] See Matthew 5:14-16.  |  [3] Psalm 100:1-2, 4-5 ESV  |   [4] Exodus 4:10-12 (original citation).  |  [5] Tim Keller. Center Church. (p. 50)

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October 11, 2012

Love and Hate: Response to the Gospel

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Psalm 97:10
M’Cheyne Text: Ezekiel 44; Psalm 97-98

Standards: Our post-modern culture may teach that there is no such thing as an objective good or an objective evil, but no one really wants to believe that this is true. For when there is no objective standard, then “might makes right”, and that is unacceptable. When there is an objective standard, however, then “the simplest peasant in Russia, the simplest Jew in Germany, the simplest slave in Georgia or the simplest Christian prisoner in Rome can say to the most powerful Stalin, the most powerful Hitler, the most powerful plantation owner or the most powerful Caesar, ‘Excuse me. No, sir, this is wrong. Your power does not make it right. There is a God above you and there is a right and a wrong outside of you and your might does not make it right’” [1].

Affections: God defines objective good and objective evil. Good is that which honors Him and helps others, and evil is that which dishonors Him and hurts others. And He calls us to conform our emotions to this reality. As the Psalmist sang, “O you who love the Lord, hate evil!” [2], and Paul wrote, “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” [3]. In other words, we are not merely to choose good and reject evil; we are to love good and hate evil.

Hearts: Yet loving an objective good and hating an objective evil – although somewhat easy to talk about when it comes to international injustices – gets complicated when we start talking about our own hearts. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn reflected, “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts … even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil” [4].

Prayer: Lord, Jesus himself is the ultimate objective good. There is nothing better for us than him. In light of this reality, we beg you to give us your mercy for the miracle of new affections. Help us love good and hate evil, especially the evil in our hearts. Lift our eyes to Jesus, who died at the hands of evil to bring us the ultimate good. Let us not merely reject evil and choose good; let us hate evil and cling to good. Change our affections and, thereby, change our lives. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] John Piper. “Abhor What Is Evil; Hold Fast to What Is Good.” Desiring God. 28 November 2004  |  [2] Psalm 97:10 ESV  |  [3] Romans 12:9 ESV  |  [4] Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The Gulag Archipelago.

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October 10, 2012

Endurance: Response to the Gospel

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Psalm 95:7-11
M’Cheyne Text: Ezekiel 43; Psalm 95-96

Exodus: When God rescued the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and led them through the Red Sea on dry land, they were full of celebration. With one voice, they sang, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously … The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation” [1]. Three days later, however, the complaining began. They grumbled about the way He gave them food and water. They said that they would rather be slaves in Egypt than depend on Him. Then, a few weeks later, they worshipped handmade idols, saying, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” [2]

Warning: Looking back on these events, the Psalmist warned, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts … as on the day of Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways’” [3]. Hundreds of years later, the writer of Hebrews quoted the Psalmist and continued, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence to the end” [4].

Cross: Today, we see the ultimate Exodus on the cross. The Hebrews were slaves to Egypt; we are slaves to sin. They were released by the plague of the firstborn son; we are released by the death of the firstborn son of God. On the cross, the work of God is on display far greater than during the Exodus. How much more, then, must we cling to belief!

Prayer: Lord, We confess that, like the Hebrews, we can turn quickly from celebration to sin. Yet we do not have the strength to endure in faith. Therefore, we beg you to increase our faith. As we look at the cross, help us to remember your work and exhort one another daily so that we will not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Amen.

(Optional) Post-Reflection Worship: “Painting Pictures of Egypt” by Sara Groves

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Footnotes

[1] Exodus 15:1, 2 ESV  |  [2] Exodus 32:4 ESV  |  [3] Psalm 95:7-11 ESV  |  [4] Hebrews 3:12-14 ESV

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October 9, 2012

Humility: Response to the Gospel

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Psalm 94:10-11
M’Cheyne Text: Ezekiel 42; Psalm 94

Knowledge: At some point, we reach the end of knowledge – even in science. At the 2010 TED Conference, David Eagleman argued, “When you get to the end of the pier of everything we know in science, we see that beyond it is all unchartered waters, all the stuff that we don’t know, the vast mysteries around us like dark matter and dark energy or … what the fabric of reality is or what life and death are about. These are all things that are beyond the end of the pier in science. What you really learn from life in science is the vastness of our ignorance” [1].

Understanding: The end of knowledge is not merely relevant to matters of science; it is also relevant to matters of faith. When the Psalmist saw the injustice around him and heard the wicked boast, “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive,” he responded, “Understand, O dullest of the people! … He who teaches man knowledge – the Lord – knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath … For the Lord will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage; for justice will return to the righteous and all the upright in heart will follow it” [2].

Gospel: In the gospel, we see the depths of our ignorance and the vastness of the glory of God. When Jesus hung on the cross, his enemies mocked him: “He saved others; he cannot save himself” [3]. Yet they were at the end of knowledge. They did not understand that he chose to die to redeem his people. Even when the body of Jesus was laid in the tomb, his disciples mourned because they thought that their hopes and dreams were dead. Yet they, too, were at the end of knowledge. They did not understand that he died to be resurrected.

Prayer: Lord, As we consider our confusing and discouraging circumstances, we look upon the gospel and see how little we can know of your divine intentions and purposes. Our thoughts are but a breath. We admit with great humility that there is a vastness of knowledge beyond the pier of our understanding [4]. Therefore, we plead with you to increase our faith in you. Let us not judge you with feeble minds [5], but instead let us remember your promise – that you will not forsake your people or abandon your heritage. Amen.

(Optional) Post-Reflection Worship: God Moves in a Mysterious Way by William Cowper

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Footnotes

[1] David Eagleman. “TED Houston.” June 2010.  |  [2] Psalm 94:7-8, 10-11 ESV  |  [3] Matthew 27:42 ESV  |  [4] For more biblical reflection on the limits of our knowledge, see God’s answer to Job’s questioning (Job 38-41) and Job’s response to God’s answer (Job 42:1-6).  |  [5] Loosely taken from God Moves in a Mysterious Way by William Cowper (“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.”)

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October 8, 2012

Worship: Response to the Gospel

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Psalm 92:1-2
M’Cheyne Text: Ezekiel 41; Psalm 92-93

Gospel: As we saw last week, the gospel is news, not advice. It is the good news that Jesus lived a perfect life as a substitute for our imperfect lives, bore the wrath of God on the cross so that we would not have to bear it, rose from the dead to take away the sting of death, and joined the Father in heaven to intercede on behalf of those who trust in him. Nothing can change this gospel. It is rooted in space and time. It happened in history.

Response: How are we to respond to the gospel? This is what we will be reflecting on this week. Today, we start with worship. Worship is perhaps our most fundamental response to the gospel. It is a delighting in the majesty and glory of God. It is a seeing of His holiness and being stunned in silence [1]. Worship fears the Lord with reverence for His righteous power [2]. Along with brokenness and contriteness, it also longs for God [3]. Worship is filled with joy and hope, as it looks back at the cross and forward to glory [4]. As John Piper has written, “Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth. This cannot be done by mere acts of duty. It can be done only when spontaneous affections arise in the heart” [5].

Worship: In the Psalms, we frequently see worship expressed through music. In Psalm 92, for example, the psalmist sings, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night” [6]. Indeed, worshipping through song is common. Yet all of life is worship. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual act of worship” [7]. How we shop, eat, exercise, dress, talk, work, read and play – all of these things are opportunities to worship God because the gospel affects everything about us.

Prayer: Lord, Help us to see and feel the incomparable beauty of your Son. Let our hearts spontaneously worship you as a response to hearing and meditating on the gospel. Today, as we go about our daily lives, show us how we can worship you in everything that we do. Give us an expansive view of what worship is. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Psalm 46:10; 33:8; Habakkuk 2:20  |  [2] Isaiah 8:13; Psalm 5:7; See also 843 Acres. “Fearing the Lord.” (9/24/12).  |  [3] Psalm 42:1-1; Psalm 73:25-26; Psalm 63:1; Psalm 30:11-12  |  [4] Psalm 130:5; 42:5.  |  [5] John Piper, Desiring God, p. 83  |  [6] Psalm 92:1-2 ESV  |  [7] Romans 12:1 ESV

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October 5, 2012

The Gospel Is Lasting, Not Fleeting

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Psalm 89:49
M’Cheyne Text: Ezekiel 38; Psalm 89

Fall: This week’s New York Times Magazine features the professional rise and fall of Ina Drew. Drew was formerly the Chief Investment Officer at JPMorgan Chase, where she invested a total of nearly $350 billion throughout her career. Now, however, she has become “the public face attached to a $6 billion mistake, a trading loss so startling in size that it dominated the business press, put [CEO Jamie] Dimon on the defensive and cost Drew her job” [1]. Yet one headhunter noted that her fall is just part of the process: “That’s what they pay you so much money for. To take the fall when things go wrong.”

Covenant: Psalm 89 celebrates God’s covenant with David [2] and begs Him to apply that covenant to David’s descendents: “You have said, ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: “I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations”’ [3]. Since David was already dead when the psalmist wrote this psalm, we know that he himself was claiming that the covenantal promises made to David applied to him, too: “Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?” [4].

Certainty: Our careers and incomes are fleeting. We can hold the economic lever for a major bank one day and take the fall for its loss a few months later. Although God has not promised to make us C-level executives, He has promised – through David – to make us co-heirs with Christ, who sits on the throne forever. The gospel is not merely that Jesus lived and died; it is also that he was resurrected from the dead and glorified. Today, he sits at the right hand of the Father, where he lives to intercede for us. This is the gospel, and it is lasting.

Prayer: Lord, The circumstances of our lives are constantly changing. Yet we do not react to our uncertainties with fear, hoarding our resources and being timid about the gospel. Instead, we react with faith, knowing that we have the unchanging covenantal love that you made to David and kept in Christ. Therefore, we claim your promises – that goodness and mercy will follow us all our days and that you will make us co-heirs in Christ to that covenant promise to David if we seek our satisfaction in you. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Susan Dominus. “The Woman Who Took the Fall for JPMorgan Chase.” The New York Times Magazine. 3 October 2012. | [2] 2 Samuel 7:16 (“Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” ESV) | [3] Psalm 89:3-4 ESV | [4] Psalm 89:49 ESV

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October 4, 2012

The Gospel Is a Resurrection, Not a Prescription

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Ezekiel 37:5, 12, 14
M’Cheyne Text: Ezekiel 37; Psalm 87-88

Death: There is not a clear line separating life and death. In The Undead, Dick Teresi notes that the old standard for determining death was the absence of a heartbeat. But even experienced practitioners sometimes misdiagnosed lack of pulse when life remained. Even today, medical professionals still have trouble agreeing on a standard. Some emphasize cardiopulmonary death while others might declare patients as brain-dead when their hearts are still beating.

Bones: There is another way, however, that those with beating hearts and working brains may be dead. The Lord took Ezekiel to a valley filled with dry bones and said to him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then the Lord said, “Prophesy over these bones … Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live … I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people … And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live” [1].

Resurrection: It was a picture. His people may have been walking around with beating hearts and working brains, but they were spiritually dead. Their sin had alienated them from the only source of true life – namely, God. They were dead, not sick. Thus, they needed a resurrection, not a prescription. In Jesus, the Lord kept His promise to open their graves and give them His Spirit. On the cross, Jesus defeated death itself. And this is costly, not cheap, grace. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God” [2].

Prayer: Lord, By nature, we are spiritually dead. There is nothing in us that would choose you [3]. Instead, by our nature, we choose disobedience and rebellion. In Jesus, however, we have the hope of resurrection. He breathes new life into our dry bones. We praise you for this good news. For apart from him, we have no hope of true life and, in him, we have eternal life. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Ezekiel 37:3-5, 12-14 ESV  |  [2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The Cost of Discipleship.  |  [3] See Romans 3:10-11; Psalm 14:3.

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October 3, 2012

The Gospel Is Universal, Not Local

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Psalm 86:8-10
M’Cheyne Text: Ezekiel 36, Psalm 86

Spiritual: “I’m spiritual, but not religious,” is a cop-out, according to Alan Miller, Director of The New York Salon and Co-Founder of London’s Old Truman Brewery. The increasingly common refrain, he says, “represents some of the most retrogressive aspects of contemporary society … [and] highlights the implosion of belief that has struck at the heart of Western society.” He continues, “The spiritual but not religious reflect the ‘me’ generation of self-obsessed, truth-is-whatever-you-feel-it-to-be thinking … At the heart of the spiritual but not religious attitude is an unwillingness to take a real position” [1].

Public: The Scriptures show, however, that the gospel is a public truth – that is, a truth that is true for all, not just those who believe it. As the Psalmist sang, “There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God” [2].

Gospel: In Creation Regained, Albert Wolters writes, “The story of the Bible tells us the way the world really is. It is not to be understood simply as a local tale about a certain ethnic group or religion. It makes a factual claim about the world as a whole: it is a public truth” [3]. Our response to the gospel (e.g., obedience, joy, rebirth) – while important – is not the gospel itself. The gospel is the life, death, resurrection and glory of Jesus Christ, who made atonement for our sins by his death to bring us into the presence of God, where there are pleasures forevermore. To keep the gospel as separate from our response to it is important. As Lesslie Newbigin writes, “It is to affirm the gospel not only as an invitation to a private and personal decision, but as a public truth which ought to be acknowledged as true for the whole of the life of society” [4].

Prayer: Lord, We live in a postmodern society that celebrates being spiritual but not religious. Any claim to a public truth is mocked as arrogant or retrogressive. Yet your word shows us that there is no other God but you and that all the nations will worship you. Make us oaks of righteousness that do not blow in the wind, as we cling in great humility to the public truth of the gospel. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Alan Miller. “My Take: ‘I’m spiritual but not religious’ is a cop-out.” CNN Belief Blog. 29 September 2012.  |  [2] Psalm 86:8 – 86:10 ESV  |  [3] Albert Wolters. Creation Regained. p. 125.  |  [4] Lesslie Newbigin. To Tell the Truth. Introduction.

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October 2, 2012

The Gospel Is a Kiss, Not a Negotiation

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Psalm 85:10
M’Cheyne Text: Ezekiel 35, Psalm 85

Negotiation: For Jonathan Powell, the former chief of staff to Tony Blair, “the key attribute [of negotiation] is pragmatism” [1]. When interviewed by FiveBooks, he said, “Not everyone accepts that as a starting point. Some groups believe it’s a form of sin to compromise. I remember negotiating with the Orange Order in Northern Ireland. They would turn up and say: ‘Here is our position’. I would take it to the Catholic nationalists and they would present a different position, which I would take back to the Orange Order, who would say: ‘No, you don’t understand. We told you what our position was. It would be wrong to move from that in principle’. That’s the problem if you have a position of principle that leads you into conflict. If you’re pragmatic, you can negotiate. At the root of it all is a willingness to make concessions and see the other side’s point of view.”

Gospel: Is the gospel a negotiation? At first glance, it might seem so. After all, at the beginning, God demanded perfect righteousness, but soon it became obvious how sinful His people were. His principles were going to get Him nowhere. So He got practical. He became willing to make concessions. Right?

Cross: On the cross, however, we see that the gospel is not a negotiation. God did not concede His demand for perfect righteousness. He kept it. The Lord poured out His wrath for our sin on Jesus, who bore that pain in love for us. The gospel is a kiss, not a negotiation. As the Psalmist sang, “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other” [2]. As Tim Keller explains, “Jesus was so holy that he had to die for us; nothing less would satisfy his holy and righteous nature. But he was so loving that he was glad to die for us; nothing less would satisfy his desire to have us as his people” [3].

Prayer: Lord, As we look upon the cross, let us be humbled of our pride and self-centeredness by seeing its demand for righteousness and let us be affirmed out of our discouragement by seeing its offer of love and peace. May the cross inspire us to hate our sin even as it forbids us to hate ourselves. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1]Jonathan Powell on Negotiation.” FiveBooks by The Browser.  |  [2] Psalm 85:10 ESV  |  [3] Tim Keller, Center Church, p. 77 (emphasis original).

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