How to Approach the Throne of the King

Relevant Text: Rom. 9:30-31
Full Text: Job 5; Rom. 9

Queen | In 1992, when Australian PM Paul Keating dared to touch the Queen, he earned the nickname, “The Lizard of Oz” [1]. After all, he should’ve known that, according to protocol, you’re not supposed to touch the Queen. You’re not even supposed to initiate a handshake [2]. In 2009, however, something “absolutely extraordinary” happened. The Queen and the First Lady put their arms around each other. According to an eyewitness, “No one – including the ladies-in-waiting standing nearby – could believe their eyes. In 57 years, the Queen has never been seen to make that kind of gesture and it is certainly against all protocol to touch her” [3].

King | If such formal protocol is observed when meeting a mere human monarch of a single country, then what is expected when approaching the King of Kings? One thing is certain – the Law demands far more than protocol; it demands an entire lifestyle: “Be holy as I am holy” [4]. Yet, as Paul has shown, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks after God” [5]. Thus, we have a problem. We want to meet with the King, but we cannot because we are unrighteous sinners.

Lord | The Law, however, was intended to awaken in our hearts a longing for something to bridge the gap between its righteous requirements and our inability to meet them. In other words, it was meant to make us long for Jesus and his righteousness [6]. How do we get his righteousness to be our own? We pursue it as a gift to be cherished, not a wage to be earned: “What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law? Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works” [7].

Prayer | Lord, You are holy and, therefore, unrighteousness cannot stand in your presence. Thus, we tremble at the impossible standards of the Law, knowing that we are hopeless sinners apart from your grace in Jesus. In him, we believe and are forgiven. Thus, we rejoice in the Law because its requirements have been met in him. Today, as we approach you with imperfect faith and obedience, we see and savor his righteousness as our only hope. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Jimmy Orr. Michelle Obama hugs Queen – breaks royal protocol! The Christian Science Monitor. 2 April 2009.  |  [2] Good Morning America. Royal Etiquette: Talking to the Queen. 7 May 2007. An interview with Paul Gauger, the director of regional press for VisitBritain. See ABC Nightline. Royal Etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts When Meeting Her Majesty. 1 April 2009.  |  [3] Id. at FN1  |  [4] This is the oft-repeated phrase and one sentence summary of the entire book of Leviticus.  |  [5] Rom. 3:9-11 ESV  |  [6] c.f. Rom. 9:4-5  |  [7] Rom. 9:30-31 ESV

How Radical Grace Can Be Dangerous

Relevant Text: Rom. 6:1-2
Full Text: Job 2; Rom. 6

The Stakes | Only one kind of life leads to eternal life. All of us are guilty sinners through our own disobedience and through our being united with Adam. Another life that leads to heaven, however, comes from being united with Christ: “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” [1]. What leads to eternal life? Sanctification. Freedom from sin. Slavery to God.

The Danger | In the first part of Romans, Paul shows a radical emphasis on justification by grace alone through faith alone apart from works of the law. This is tremendous kindness: Christ’s obedience – not ours – is our grounds for justification. Yet, Paul recognizes that such sweeping grace can be dangerous because it can be easily distorted. As D.A. Carson explains, “People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated” [2].

The Reality | So, having just said, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” [3], Paul counters: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace abound?” [4]. Then he resounds: “By no means!” Why not? Because dead people don’t sin: “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” [5]. In other words, when Christ died, we died in and with him [6]. When he rose, we were made alive in and with him [7]. Therefore, we are to become in practice what we are in truth: dead to sin and alive in Christ [8]. In this way, the hard work of sanctification is not the opposite of grace; it is the result of experiencing grace.

Prayer | Lord, Our hearts are fundamentally flawed and deceptive. Although we cherish your grace, we go about manipulating it for our own selfish purposes. Therefore, we ask that you would change our hearts to hate our sin and to love your grace, as we live obedient lives of sanctification. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Rom. 6:22 ESV  |  [2] D.A. Carson, For the Love of God, Vol. 2.  |  [3] Rom. 5:22 ESV  |  [4] Rom. 6:1 ESV  |  [5] Rom. 6:2 ESV  |  [6] Rom. 6:5, 6, 8  |  [7] Rom. 6:4, 5  |  [8] Rom. 6:11, 13

Letting the Tension Remain

Relevant Text: Job 1:21
Full Text: Job 1; Rom. 5

Tension | In February 2006, six weeks after her daughter, Penny, was born with Down syndrome, Amy Julia Becker journaled:  “I went to the doctor for a follow-up appointment today. The receptionist was very nice. She told me about a good friend of hers who has a daughter with Down syndrome. The young woman is in her mid-20s, with a job, with highlights in her hair. I think the receptionist was trying to comfort me by giving an example of how functional someone with Down syndrome can be, but her words betrayed her. She said things like, ‘They dress her in cute, funky clothes,’ and, ‘She can walk around the neighborhood all by herself and the neighbors keep an eye on her.’ What I heard was not that she wears cute clothes and goes for walks, but that her mom still chooses those clothes, she can’t drive, and she needs the neighbors to look out for her on a walk around the block. I didn’t feel particularly consoled. People are always trying to downplay the hard part and overemphasize the good instead of letting the tension remain[1].

Limitations | Job is about letting the tension remain. It’s written for people who struggle with loss. It’s realistic about confusion in suffering and limits in understanding. Although Job “feared God and turned away from evil” [2], he lost everything – his family and his wealth – in a single day. Yet, even as he mourned: “Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head” [3], he also worshiped: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” [4].

Honesty | Suffering is universal, but sometimes we’re tempted to avoid admitting that it brings doubt, fear and anger. We want our praise nights to be pep rallies. A realistic understanding of the Christian life, however, includes a recognition that the founder of our faith was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” [5] and that, if we want to be glorified with him, we must also suffer with him [6].

Prayer | Lord, Make your name holy in our lives, as we walk in your footsteps. Let us live in the tension of the suffering of the cross as well as the joy of our salvation through it [7]. Help us to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice [8], even as we learn to love others in grace and honesty. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Amy Julia Becker. A Good and Perfect Gift.  |  [2] 1:1 ESV  |  [3] 1:20 ESV  |  [4] 1:21 ESV  |  [5] Is. 53:3 ESV   |  [6] Rom. 8:17  |  [7] See Heb. 12:2  |  [8] Rom. 12:15

The Grand Reversal of the Gallows and the Cross

Relevant Text: Esth. 9:1
Full Text: Esth. 9-10; Rom. 4

The Gallows | “On the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them” [1]. Haman’s plot against Mordecai was foiled. He was supposed to be exalted and Mordecai was supposed to be dead. Instead, Mordecai was honored and Haman was hanged on the very gallows he built for Mordecai. And the people rejoiced in their salvation: “The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor. And in every province and in every city, … there was gladness and joy among the Jews” [2].

The Cross | On the very day when the enemy of God hoped to gain the mastery over Jesus, the reverse occurred: Jesus gained mastery over the one who hated him: “God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” [3]. In the death of Christ, Satan was disarmed and shamed. He was stripped of his power to accuse us before God because the cross nullified his indictment against us [4]. And we rejoice in our salvation: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” [5].

Prayer | Lord, You work all things according to the counsel of your will [6] and you are righteous in all your ways [7]. In the story of Esther and the gospel of Jesus, not only did you defeat evil, you made evil destroy itself. Although the dark powers did their best to destroy your glory, they found themselves “quoting the script of ancient prophecy and acting the part assigned by [you]” [8]. Therefore, we have hope because no plan of yours can be thwarted and nothing – not even the most evil plans – can separate us from your great salvation [9]. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Esther 9:1 ESV  |  [2] Esther 8:16-17 ESV  |  [3] Col. 2:13-15 ESV  |  [4] See Rom. 8:37-39  |  [5] 1 Ptr 1:8-9 ESV  |  [6] Eph. 1:11  |  [7] Ps. 145:17  |  [8] John Piper, Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ. Wheaton: Crossway, p. 12.  |  [9] See Rom. 8:38-39

“The bloodline of Jesus Christ is deeper than the bloodlines of race.”

Relevant Text: Rom. 3:29-30
Full Text: Esth. 8; Rom. 3

Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God,
who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.
Romans 3:29-30

I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count,
from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.
Revelation 7:9

Bloodlines by John Piper
(an excerpt)

“God’s concern to include all the ethnic peoples of the world in his saving purposes – in his final, eternal family – is unbreakably linked with the two greatest realities in the universe: God’s very being as one God and the way God has ordained to put sinners in the right with himself through justification in Christ. Ethnic diversity is not connected to God marginally. It’s connected at the center – his infinite being and his single, glorious way of justifying sinners.

“As this sinks into our minds and hearts, the effect it should have is to change the way we think and feel about racial and ethnic diversity of the world and the church. We are constantly in danger of feeling (even when we are not thinking this way) that God is partial to our tribe – that he has a special liking for our ethnicity and cultural norms.

“This danger is especially present and unseen among majority cultures and majority ethnic groups. When we are in a very large majority, we do not even operate with the category of our own ethnicity. We are just human, so we are prone to think. Others have ethnicity. This makes us very vulnerable to the assumption that God is our God in a way that minimizes his being the God of other ethnic groups.

“May the astonishing way that Paul speaks in Romans 3:29-30 of justification by faith alone awaken us from this deadly assumption. And may it fill us with a sense of amazement at God’s passion in the pursuit of all ethnic groups of the world. May we never forget that this pursuit is rooted in God’s being one infinite God and in his justifying sinners in one glorious way through faith alone in the blood and righteousness of his Son, Jesus Christ.”

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Special Note

In Bloodlines (PDF – forward by Tim Keller), not only does Piper candidly confess that he was “manifestly” a racist as a teenager, he also repeatedly reminds his readers that he is not a model multiethnic urban pastor today. This is why, he says, he must cherish and cling to the cross – for it has defeated his ethnocentrism and offered manifold forgiveness to his formerly racist heart: “The Lord will be my judge someday. I will give an account to him of how I served him. I expect that as he goes down the list of the choices I have made, none will have a perfectly pure motivation, and many will appear as unwise in the bright light of his holiness. I hope I have been a good steward of my gifts and time. But my confidence in the judgment is not in that. It’s in the perfection of Jesus that God has credited to me through faith and in the punishment Jesus endured for me. And I believe there will be in my overall ministry sufficient, imperfect fruits of love that witness that my union with Jesus by faith was real.”


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