Let Your Deeds Be Your Deposits

Some friends of mine are serving as missionaries in Ghana. From what I gather, it is not easy work. Just yesterday, though, I came upon an encouraging passage from Ignatius' letter to Polycarp, written in the first century. He urged the younger pastor,

"Be more zealous than you are... lend everybody a hand, as the Lord does you... Let your deeds be your deposits, so that you will eventually get back considerable savings."

The reward which God shall grant for our works done in faith is of grace. It will nonetheless be a reward proportioned to our service, while greatly outweighing any opportunity costs involved. I'm jealous for the blessing the Lord is preparing on behalf of my missionary friends, doubtless one that will crown Christ admirably. Because I cannot have their reward, but must receive one suited to my service, I will need to serve all the more heartily so that I can share the same joy with them in glory. Lord, bless us all to run the race so as to win.

If "God is love" why is he wrathful?

When we read in passages such as Exodus 20:5, that God is “jealous,” we are to understand divine jealousy in a Trinitarian way. The Father yearns for the dignity of the Son and Spirit, such that he is angry at anything and anyone who slights them. The Son is likewise passionate for the honor of his Father and the Spirit, and the Spirit burns with zeal for the respect of the Father and Son. Love, at the most sublime level, is the ardent regard each divine person has for the members of the godhead.  As such, God's communal love necessarily involves antipathy for idolaters who defame the Trinity by their sinful substitution of creation for Creator. But it is the effulgence of divine love which also brings sinners back into communion in the life of the Trinity, through redeeming grace. 

Why didn't Jesus say, "Game Over" after his resurrection?

Among the five-hundred who witnessed Jesus after his resurrection, it is notable that Pilate and the Sanhedrin were apparently absent (1 Cor 15). You might expect Jesus to have gone straight from the tomb to the palace, yelling, "Game Over! Who was right, after all?" By withholding his glorious appearance from them, it seems that Jesus created room for thousands of years of tension between unbelief and faith, years filled with suffering. Why does he let the game go on, so to speak? 

The question of God's purpose in human suffering tends to arise from personal pain, as much or more than from intellectual or biblical difficulties. Having orthodox answers doesn't always prevent us from wrestling with unresolved feelings about the goodness of God's plan. The so-called "problem of pain" make us groan deeply, "why does God allow his people to suffer?" All the more when that pain settles on someone we love dearly.

As you read the Gospels, you will notice Christ purposely limited whom he revealed himself to after his resurrection. I believe Jesus' decision to veil his resurrection from the authorities was very much intended to foster a certain tension, as well as to serve as a form of judgment. "To everyone who has [faith] will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away" (Mt 25:29). Compare Jesus' motive for speaking in parables:

"Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given." (Matt 13:10-11)

Those who believed, Jesus took aside and gave further explanation. Those whom God determined to leave to their own wickedness were excluded from fuller interpretations of the Kingdom message. It is God's right to withhold revelation, including the presence of the risen Son.

Another passage worth considering in connection with Jesus' choice not to appear before the Pharisees is his warning about the Sign of Jonah:

“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here” (Mt 12:39-42)

For this warning to hold true, the Jews would have to have been generally persuaded of the truthfulness of Christ's resurrection. Nineveh could not condemn Jerusalem for rejecting the Sign (the resurrection) unless they had in fact been aware of it. Just as all million-plus Ninevites did not see the whale spit up Jonah, but were nonetheless aware of the prophet's ordeal, so it was not essential for every Jewish leader to have witnessed Christ's resurrection firsthand to be accountable for rejecting it. They had plenty of credible testimony from others, beside the Spirit bearing witness in their hearts of its truthfulness. 

Based on Mt 12:38-42, and Paul's testimony in Acts 26:26 ("these things did not happen in a corner”), it is apparent that many leaders did indeed know of the resurrection, even if direct experience of the glorified Christ was a privilege reserved for those who had trusted him before the crucifixion.

To conclude, Christ's self-veiling after the resurrection was part of God’s judgment against the religious and political leaders. He gave enough proof to make them culpable, but also "enough rope to hang themselves" with stubborn denial. Not seeing Christ firsthand, they could persist, even against their consciences, in persecuting God’s people for selfish gain.

It also set up the tension between faith and unbelief that persists until the second coming. As you endure this time of testing, recall Jesus words to his disciples, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (Jn 20:29).

I hope to address the question of suffering more later. For now, God bless you and keep you.


Truly Human Sanctification

Sanctification is not the process of becoming more angelic, or even more godly, in some abstract or spiritualized way. What it means to be renewed after the image of Christ, the Firstfruits of resurrected humanity, is only to become human as God originally intended. The ascended Son sends forth his Spirit to renew believers in his glorious human likeness. Sanctification, then, is not mimicry. Not mere imitation of Christ, as though Christian life is external to, and apart from Christ. Such “life” consists in aping rituals and righteous deeds, and is really animated death.

Nor is spirituality a progressive negation of humanity, as if our goal were to “doff this mortal coil” by rejecting corporeality and all its scandalous sensuality. The life working within believers is a resurrecting life. A life that preserves and fulfills humanity, rather than destroying it. At creation, God pronounced humanity “very good.” The Father looks upon his Son dressed in human nature, and again says, “I am well pleased.” In Christ, the divine re-affirms the human forever.

We experience sanctification, then, as participation in Christ's life. The same energies working in the truly human Jesus now vitalize us, so that we are able to commune with God and love our neighbors. Sap courses from the root to the stem. The resurrection life of the immortal Son is likewise communicated to every believing branch by the Spirit. What this means is that holiness is to be experienced humanly. Not ceasing to live as humans, but desisting from that which tends to death. The aim is human life flourishing under the aegis of the Triune presence. Glorification or “divinization”, as early Christians sometimes called it, is not exchanging the human for the divine, but the divine ushering humanity into fullest communion. A communion which, by virtue of its invincible vitality, realizes every relationship in perfect love.

The Wrath of Man will Praise Him

"Surely the wrath of man shall praise you; the remnant of wrath you will put on like a belt." (Psalm 76:10)

The wrath of man is sometimes perplexing. We do not see how God's justice can be upheld when so much evil is done in the world. At the judgment, however, all eyes will be made to see how even ungodly rage redounds to the praise of God. The intricacies of a trillion historical plot lines will then come together to reveal God's overruling power, turning all things to good for those who love him. For now, we take solace in Biblical examples such as that in the book of Esther, where Haman's rage becomes the catalyst for God to bless his people and make his name great. For now, we wait and trust.

Will we eat in heaven?

The other day I came upon this passage in the Psalms: "Man ate the bread of angels, God gave them food in abundance." (Psa 78:25) It is more than a little fascinating to discover that angelic creatures have a staple food, manna. In Hebrew the word means "what is it?" Today, we might call it Who-knows-what-it-is (as we do with hotdogs). According to Exodus, the bread of angels tastes something like honey and has a flaky consistency that can be made into a sort of flatbread. Following Jesus' forty-day fast in the wilderness, angels came to restore his health. No doubt they brought some of their angelic bread for him.

Why do angels eat if they are immortal? Scripture is silent about whether manna is an instrumental means for strengthening them, or if it is simply given for their pleasure. Nor does the Bible satisfy our awkward curiosity about the angelic digestive process—are angel guts, if there be such a thing, so efficient that they have no need to expel waste as we do? Or are there bathrooms in heaven? Of this much I am confident, whatever their bodily functions may consist of, angels do not suffer from embarrassment as we do. I suggest that will be the case for us as well in the new creation.

Are we going to eat manna forever? Perhaps, but I surmise that we will eat other things as well. That our diet in the age to come will consist of more than manna seems evident in passages which say that we will feast and drink wine. King Solomon's reign was a typological picture of the glory awaiting us in the kingdom to come. I believe something is foreshadowed in these words from 1 Kgs 4:20, "Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea. They ate and drank and were happy."

Whatever such passages signify, it is hard to imagine the new earth being less abundant than the garden in which God placed Adam, full of every variety of pleasant things to eat. I suspect we will have new foods to match our new bodies. Regardless of what we shall find on that glorious menu, we can be assured that we will not suffer from the same degree of fickleness that presently afflicts humankind. Like bees, the angels do not tire of their honey bread. Even so, God will enable us to find delicious enjoyment forever in the cornucopia of delights he is preparing for his children.

The Punishment for Being Deceived

“The punishment of the prophet and the punishment of the inquirer shall be alike” (Ezek 14:9-11)

It is often overlooked, that according to Scripture both deception and being deceived have a moral quality. The person who embraces fatal errors is not simply a victim of clever deceivers, but is himself a partner in evil. This is because deception is made possible only by the deceived person having already craved some excuse or plausible justification to depart from the Lord. By nature, lying doctrine leads to separation from the things of God. But lies take root only because they find soil ready to receive them. 

You see a person's hunger by how he shovels food greedily into his mouth. Likewise, hearts which gulp down fatal religious or intellectual doctrines reveal an appetite for errors which excuse sin. When in God's providence believers are misled to entertain serious error, the Spirit of God who lives within them, who is contrary to lies, makes that error spiritually upsetting and untasteful so that they disgorge themselves of it. It is not in the nature of the regenerate to stomach damning lies, but to be repulsed by them and to vomit them out. 

Sunday Devotions: 1 Pet 1:13 and Full Assurance

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
— 1 Pet 1:13

Peter's words summon me to spiritual discipline. I am to prepare my mind for holy action and to live soberly. Yet it is clear that spiritual activity is not meant to assure myself that I am "good enough to get in." Facing death and judgment, Peter insists that my hope cannot rest in my own faithfulness, but only in the "grace that will be brought to you." The Spirit presents this reality, that full assurance comes only as I set my hope fully on this promise that when Christ is finally revealed, he comes bearing grace to believers. Such assurance does not undermine holy action, but in reality undergirds and inspires it. It frees me to serve God from love and out of respect for my Redeemer.