The World’s True King

The wedding of William and Kate has evoked worldwide interest and media coverage.  True, the event is historic.  And, true, it may be the only royal wedding some people ever see.  But the whole extravaganza, in a sense, is a massive letdown.

The streets were shiny, the church was prepped, the instruments were tuned, and the participants were appropriately attired.  But none of it will last, none of it bears the weight ascribed to it by fallen man.  The world watches royalty–fallen, temporary royalty at that–and is not rightly captivated by Jesus, the Messiah, the royal Son of David.

William is someone who will one day be king of England, but the Bible declares the One who is King of all the earth (Psalm 47:7).  When Israel wanted a king like the nations (1 Samuel 8:19-20), they discovered no earthly ruler could exercise permanent dominion or live in perfect righteousness.  Many of Israel’s kings were wicked, participating in idolatry and leading the nation into egregious rebellion against Yahweh.  Even Israel’s good kings, the ones who walked in the ways of God, were sinners and eventually died.

But God promised to raise up a king whose rule would never end: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-13).

Israel longed for this king, but no successive ruler fulfilled the royal expectations.  After Israel split into northern and southern kingdoms, they eventually fell to the conquests of the Assyrians and Babylonians.

Isaiah, though, extended hope of a Great Ruler: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Centuries later, an angel announced to a group of shepherds, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).  Jesus, the Royal Son of God, had come.

When Jesus neared the end of his earthly life, Pilate asked him, “So are you a king?” (John 18:37a).  Jesus told him, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36a).  Then the king of the world was crucified–and three days later he rose victoriously over sin and death, never to die again.

When Jesus returns, “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16).  Jesus is the world’s true King, the one who rules in righteousness.  His integrity cannot be matched, his faithfulness is incomparable, his justice is incorruptible, his worthiness exceeds our comprehension, and his reign will never end.  He is forever king.

So heed the warning of Psalm 2: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.  Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.  Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.  Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:10-12).

In other words, flee to Christ as the object of your affections and the refuge from righteous judgment.  Only in Christ is salvation, and apart from him condemnation.  Every king, every prince, every duke, every citizen of Britain, every American, and every human on the earth–know that Christ alone is the rightful Ruler of the world, and all should bow their hearts in glad adoration.

A 2011 Easter Poem

In Genesis 3:15 God told the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

The following poem is my attempt to relate Genesis 3:15 to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Easter Poem     4-24-11

The serpent heard the words that were spoken
In the midst of a world now bleeding and broken,
“Enmity I put between you and the woman.”

Then came the promise—the hope of the earth,
Which is blinded by sin to God’s infinite worth—
That God would reverse the curse through a birth.

In the fullness of time, the Seed did appear,
Declaring, “Repent, for the kingdom is here,”
And his hour drew nearer with each passing year.

He told his disciples of what must take place,
Especially suffering that he had to face,
But they cringed at the notion of holy disgrace.

When the hill of Calvary he ascended,
Upon the cross his body suspended,
With dying breath, his mission ended.

Jesus, the Seed of the woman, did tread
With two bruised heels on the vile serpent’s head—
Then three days later he rose from the dead.

Kim Riddlebarger on the Nature of Man

Kim Riddlebarger weighs in on the debate concerning the nature of man.  His article is entitled “Trichotomy: A Beachhead for Gnostic Influences.”

An excerpt: “Historically, Christians have argued that dichotomy is clearly taught throughout Scripture. There is no doubt that the Scriptures not only teach a material aspect that is essential to human nature, the same Scriptures preclude any notion of the Gnostic tendency to depreciation of the body because it is material.”

Another: “In popular literature and preaching, it is often asserted that since God is a Trinity, and since as humans we are created in God’s image, humans, too, are tri-partite, having a body, a soul and a spirit. But such analogies are not drawn directly from the Biblical data itself; they come only by way of crude inference.”

And one more: “If our doctrines do have consequences–and they certainly do–there is no doubt that trichotomy will lead down some very predictable and problematic roads. Any scheme which depreciates the body and the mind, and which correspondingly elevates the spiritual without due regard to the fact that God the Holy Spirit works through the means that God Himself has created, is in fact, deeply influenced by the Gnostic impulse.”

Man-Pleaser or a Slave of Christ?

Sometimes you can’t be both of something, and Paul makes that reality unmistakably clear with this statement: “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10c).

These words present a real dichotomy: you will either be a slave of men or of Christ, but you will strive to please one or the other.

Evidently Paul’s life as an unbeliever was characterized by striving to please man.  The word “still” indicates that Paul’s focus has since changed, but clearly, before conversion, Paul was not serving Christ or honoring God.

Paul’s man-pleasing ways certainly didn’t lack passion.  Before his conversion, Paul demonstrated fervent zeal: “…I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.  And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers” (Gal 1:13-14).

But Paul’s zeal dishonored God because it opposed Christ.  Paul was in bondage to sin, a slave to human advancement and approval, a captive in chains to the badges of pedigree and morality (see Philippians 3:4-6).

Upon his conversion, Paul’s aim changed: he now desired to please the world’s true Lord, Jesus Christ.  Significantly, he doesn’t say, “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be able to please Christ” (which would have been true, of course).  Instead, he uses an image of slavery: “…I would not be a servant of Christ.”

The word “servant” denotes bondage and is better translated here as “slave” or “bond-servant.”  In Paul’s day, slaves lived to please their masters.  Slaves did their master’s bidding, prioritized their master’s will, and needed–more than anything else–to carry out their master’s agenda.

By calling himself a “slave,” Paul has aptly communicated his allegiance to Jesus.  The apostle still lives to please, but now the object of his affections is the world’s Messiah and Redeemer.  Paul is a slave to Jesus, living to please him (Ephesians 5:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:1).

An evidence of new birth is new allegiance.  Are you a slave of the unworthy masters of men?  Or are you a slave of the worthy Christ?  You can’t be both.

Preaching to Please God or Man?

Not all preaching pleases God.  Some preachers will incur God’s end-time wrath because of what they preach (Galatians 1:8-9), for God is dishonored when the gospel is distorted.

When Paul wrote Galatians, he found himself falsely accused of preaching a watered down gospel when he actually upheld the true gospel revealed to him by Jesus Christ.  His opponents in Galatia didn’t like his grace-centered message.  Imagine being labeled a man-pleaser because you herald the riches of radical grace in Christ!

Paul is probably countering an accusation against him when he asks, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?  Or am I trying to please man?” (Gal 1:10a-b).  Apparently some intruders in the Galatian churches were spreading a rumor that Paul was a man-pleaser.  While the reason for the accusation is not described in the letter, possibly it pertained to the content of Paul’s preaching.  He proclaimed that God saved by grace alone, excluding human works as playing any role in justification.

On the other hand, the intruders promoted works of the Mosaic Law as integral to a sinner’s status before God (see Gal 2:4-5, 16, 21).  Therefore, according to the intruders, Paul omitted the works of the Law of Moses in his preaching because he wanted to sway his Gentile listeners with what sounded too good to be true (that grace, apart from works of the law, saves sinners).  The intruders insisted that his omission was rooted in his desire to please his audience with what they wanted to hear.

But Paul is no man-pleaser.  As proof, the opening “For” of Galatians 1:10 points back to the curse-language of 1:9: “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

That doesn’t sound like something a man-pleaser would say.  Calling down a curse on false teachers is the polar opposite of telling people what they want to hear.  But Paul tells the truth, fearing God more than man.  He boldly declares the judgment of God upon anyone who preaches a different gospel than his.

Our aim must be to please God by preaching the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  As demonstrated by the rumor in Galatia about Paul, preaching the gospel of God’s grace in Christ doesn’t always please men.  In fact, the true gospel may anger and offend men (see 1 Corinthians 1:18)!  Not all listeners will be pleased when preachers exalt the law-free gospel of God’s grace, but God will certainly be displeased when a false gospel is proclaimed.

We mustn’t be ear-ticklers, no matter how great the temptation.  But neither should we shrink from heralding the incredible message of God’s radical grace offered to us in Christ, grace that cleanses us from sin and reconciles us to a holy God.

To some, this gospel sounds too good to be true.  Don’t we have to do something to warrant this grace, to merit this mercy?  Our sinful flesh may want to assert its efforts and point to its achievements, but no one’s obedience accomplishes redemption except that of Jesus Christ on the cross.

We must preach to please God, not man, because tickling people’s ears doesn’t help their souls.  We are most helpful when we are most truthful.  And here’s the truth about the gospel: Christ, who had no sin, became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

If that sounds too good to be true, then obviously the gospel is even more glorious and amazing than you imagined it to be.

Bonhoeffer on Why Christians–Not Psychologists–Know the Human Heart

“The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus.  The greatest psychological insight, ability and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is….And so it does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness.  Only the Christian knows this.” 

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible, vol. 5 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 115.

David Powlison on “The Pastor As Counselor”

I really enjoyed David Powlison’s chapter, “The Pastor As Counselor,” in For the Fame of God’s Name.  Here are some excerpts from his contribution:

All Christians are meant to become wiser counselors.  God intends that every word you ever say to anyone is actively constructive in content, intention, tone, and appropriateness (Eph 4:29).” 

“Counseling is not essentially a technical enterprise calling for technical expertise.  It is a relational and pastoral enterprise engaging in care and cure of the soul.” 

“God has chosen to impose his values on the entire universe….On the last day, every knee bows to God’s values.”

“In your preparation and testing to become a pastor, perhaps no one ever said that firsthand understanding of people and firsthand skill in counseling are essential aspects of your pastoral calling.”

Randy Alcorn on Repenting of Materialism

In For the Fame of God’s Name, Randy Alcorn contributed a chapter entitled “Dethroning Money to Treasure Christ Above All.”  He writes:

“Financial stewardship seems to be the last bastion of accountability.  People are more open about their sexual struggles than battling materialism.  Some churches are talking about getting out of debt.  I applaud that.  But you can be out of debt and still be stingy and greedy.  We don’t need to become smarter materialists; we need to repent of materialism” (emphasis mine).

For a great read, get Randy’s excellent little book The Treasure Principle.

Not Paul, Nor An Angel from Heaven…

No one has the authority to change the message of the gospel.  To assume such liberty is to incur God’s fearsome judgment.

Paul said, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).

Notice Paul included himself in this curse.  Not just “even if you” but “even if we.”  Not even the apostle Paul had heavenly clearance to alter the message of the gospel.  The good news was his to announce, not amend.

What about authorities other than Paul?  Could someone greater than an apostle tweak the content of God’s revealed message?  What about…say, heavenly authorities–angels?  Not even them.  Paul denied that “an angel from heaven” could ever be authorized to change the content of the gospel.

In Galatians 1:8, the “one we preached to you” was the gospel he proclaimed in Acts 13-14 to the churches established in southern Galatia.  Those churches received the true message, so for Paul to change it would be to spread a false message, one contrary to what they had initially received.

The seriousness of Paul’s warning is clearly perceived in the consequence.  False teachers are accursed.  The word “curse” refers to the end-time judgment of God.  Paul has no patience for people who propagate a false gospel.  They are under God’s curse.  Their words may flatter and tickle the ears of many, but God will crush them with righteous wrath.

Paul is excluding not only himself and angels from others charged to amend the gospel.  His next statement universalizes his warning: “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9).

Same threat (curse), same issue (gospel), but now everyone is included in his statement (if anyone).  Paul is talking about you and me.

Christians, then, are responsible to proclaim the truth of the gospel.  Paul clarifies what the gospel is: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4).

God revealed the gospel to man, and His revelation is not subject to improvement or abridgment.  Those who seek to distort the truth of the gospel will assuredly face the just judgment of God.

The penalty for false teachers actually underscores the preciousness of the gospel.  Put another way, the judgment of false messengers highlights the worth and significance of the message.  What would we perceive about the gospel if false teachers could treat it like silly putty, molding it and remaking it into whatever they wished, without any consequence?

Truth matters.  Getting the gospel right matters.  Lord, help us love the Truth, and guard our minds from deception.