PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Good Good God

01/31 Good Good God; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160131_good-good-god.mp3

Review of Attributes

We are going to jump back into a study of who God is for the next weeks. We have been studying what God is like, what he says about himself in his word, not merely to satisfy our curiosity or to promote our own wisdom because we know more about him, but because we want to know him, to enjoy relationship with him, so that we can worship him in truth, as he is, not as we imagine him to be. We have seen that God is incomprehensible, yet knowable. He is infinitely far beyond our ability to know exhaustively, yet he is a God who desires to be known, and has made himself known. He is self-existent, not dependent on anything outside of himself for his own existence. He had no beginning and will have no end, he is eternal. He is unchangeable, consistent, he will not be different tomorrow than he is today, he is perfect and cannot improve. He is unlimited by time and space, fully present everywhere. He is spirit, not subject to the limitations of the material universe which he brought into existence with his word. He is unlimited in power; nothing is too hard for him. He is the absolute authority over all things, he is free to do what pleases him, he is unlimited in knowledge and wisdom. He is utterly unique, there is no other being like him, he is in a class by himself, yet he reveals that he eternally exists in the three distinct persons of Father, Son and Spirit, in satisfying relationship with one another.

These are some of the things God has revealed to us about himself. This is a terrifying being. He possesses all authority, all power, he is the uncaused cause of all things, he knows all, sees all, is invisible yet present everywhere, and answers to no one outside himself. If the maxim is true without exception that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then God would be the most unfathomably terrifying tyrannical despot, a sheer horror, a monster. But this is not how he reveals himself to us.

God is Good

The Bible tells us that God is good. In Exodus 33, Moses made a bold and startling request.

Exodus 33:18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”

Moses asked to see God’s glory. A full revelation of all that God is would undo any mortal man, but God offers to give him a glimpse of his name, his character, who he is. He says ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you’. God defines himself as good. In the next chapter we see God’s goodness declared:

Exodus 34:5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

God’s goodness, his very nature is described as the perfect blend of mercy, grace, patience, steadfast love, faithfulness, and justice. God is good. Psalm 25:8 says:

Psalm 25:8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

Psalm 100 says:

Psalm 100:4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! 5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

God’s goodness is worthy of praise. Psalm 106 says:

Psalm 106:1 Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! (cf. 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136:1)

God is good, and his goodness is cause for worship and thanksgiving.

Jesus, in Mark 10, was approached by a rich young man.

Mark 10:17 …a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. (cf. Luke 18:18-19)

Jesus claims that God is exclusively good. He is challenging this man to consider what goodness is and the true identity of Jesus.

Defining Good

But what does it mean that God is good? That might sound like a silly question at first. Of course, everyone knows what good means. Until you try to articulate a definition. What exactly do we mean when we say ‘God is good?’ Stephen Charnock, a puritan minister who died in 1680, citing an older work, defined God’s goodness this way “the goodness of God is his inclination to deal well and bountifully with his creatures” (Stephen Charnock 1628-1680, vol.2, p.219, cited from Coccei, sum. p.50)

God’s goodness is his inclination to deal well and bountifully with us. He deals well with us. He deals abundantly, bountifully with us. And he is inclined to do so. He prefers to be so with us.

Romans 5:7 helps clarify for us what good means. In this verse, a contrast is drawn between a good person and and a righteous person.

Romans 5:7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—

It is more likely that a person would voluntarily die for a good person than for a righteous person. A righteous person is just, keeps the law, does what is right. The righteous person is self-focused, making sure they do everything right and are perceived as righteous. A good person, on the other hand, may not be quite so conscientious about his own righteousness, but he is others focused. He is generous and kind, goes out of his way to bless others. Someone might dare to die for a good person. Of course the real contrast shows up in verse 8,

Romans 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Our God is the kind of God who lays down his life for his enemies.

A. W. Tozer, in his ‘Knowledge of the Holy’, expands on Charnock’s definition. He writes: “The goodness of God is that which disposes Him to be kind, cordial, benevolent, and full of good will toward men. He is tenderhearted and of quick sympathy, and His unfailing attitude toward all moral beings is open, frank, and friendly. By His nature He is inclined to bestow blessedness and He takes holy pleasure in the happiness of His people.”

He goes on to say: “The whole outlook of mankind might be changed if we could all believe that we dwell under a friendly sky and that the God of heaven, though exalted in power and majesty is eager to be friends with us. But sin has made us timid and self-conscious, as well it might. Years of rebellion against God have bred in us, a fear that cannot be overcome in a day. The captured rebel does not enter willingly the presence of the king he has so long fought unsuccessfully to overthrow. But if he is truly penitent he may come, trusting only in the loving-kindness of his Lord, and the past will not be held against him.” (Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, p.57-58)

Mark 10:17 … “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

If God is truly inclined to deal well and bountifully with us, is it too much to imagine that God would be inclined to give us the free gift of eternal life, rather than require us to earn it? Is it even possible for us to earn it? Jesus, like the Psalmist in Psalm 14 and Psalm 53, encourages this man to re-evaluate his standard of goodness. “There is none who does good, not even one” (Ps.14:1, 3; cf. 53:1, 3) Could it be that Jesus might himself be God’s ultimate expression of his inclination to deal bountifully with us, paying a price we could never pay, in full?

God is Good to All

Psalm 145:9 The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.

God is good to all. There is no part of his creation that escapes his inclination to do good. The context of this statement in Psalm 145 spells this out.

Psalm 145:5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. 6 They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. 7 They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. 8 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. 10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you! …13 ​…[The LORD is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.] 14 The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. 15 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. 16 You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. 17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. 18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. 20 The LORD preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. 21 My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

God is not obliged to extend the same level of goodness to each of his creatures. We tend to suffer from the disease of entitlement. We assume that God owes us all equal benefit and privilege. God is free.

Matthew 20:15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’

He is not obligated to extend his generosity to any. But he does give to each one better than they deserve. He could have sent Jesus to Sodom and Gomorrah, and they would have repented. But instead he sent righteous Lot. And it will be more tolerable in the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for those to whom Jesus came. (Mt.11:24).

Jesus said in Matthew 5:

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

God is good even to his enemies, to the evil and unjust. Listen to the abundant bounty of God poured out on his creation in Psalm 104.

Psalm 104:10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills; 11 they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. 12 Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches. 13 ​From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. 14 You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth 15 and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

God is indeed good to all.

God is the Source of All good

All good comes from God.

Genesis 1:31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

In the beginning, God made all that is, and all that he made was very good. His inclination to deal bountifully was expressed in his creative acts. He gave existence to that which did not exist. And he blessed everything he made.

James tells us that

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

God is the source of all good. All good that we experience ultimately comes from God. Any goodness in us or in our fellow man does not originate within us. It is a reflection of his image in us. It is a gift.

God is the one who equips us for every good work. In 2 Corinthians 9:8, God makes all grace about to us, so that we may abound in every good work. In Ephesians 2:10, we are God’s workmanship, created to walk in the good works he prepared in advance for us. In Colossians 1:9-10, we are filled with the knowledge of his will so that we can bear fruit in every good work. In 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, we are given good hope through grace to establish us in every good work and word. In 2 Timothy 3:17, we are given God’s word so that we may be equipped for every good work. In Hebrews 13:20-21, we are equipped with everything good that we might do his will, and he works in us that which is pleasing in his sight. God’s goodness is the source of any goodness in us.

God is Good In and Of Himself

Psalm 119:68 says:

Psalm 119:68 You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.

We defined God’s goodness as his inclination to deal well and bountifully with his creatures. God does good because God is good. God is good in and of himself. God would be good if he had never expressed the overflow of his goodness in creation. God would remain good if he never demonstrated his goodness in redemption. Any goodness we experience from God is a free and unnecessary overflow of his goodness. Because God is inclined to deal bountifully, it does not necessarily follow that he must deal bountifully. For his own wise and good purposes, he is free to restrain his inclination to deal bountifully and instead give us what we have asked for. Hebrews 2:16 tells us that he chose not to rescue the angels who sinned. God makes it clear that his inclination is to forgive. Ezekiel 18:23 says:

Ezekiel 18:23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (cf. Ez.18:32; 33:11)

2 Peter 3 says:

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

God’s inclination is that we turn and find forgiveness. Salvation belongs to the Lord, and our God is mighty to save. But we know that not all people will be saved. God is free to restrain his inclination to deal bountifully with us for his own good purposes.

The prodigal’s father was clearly inclined to deal bountifully with his son, and he could have pursued his son into the far country, but he restrained his inclination and waited for his son to come to his senses and return. He was inclined to deal bountifully with his older son, and could have given him a calf to kill and make merry with his friends in spite of his hardness of heart toward his younger brother, but this inclination was restrained by a greater purpose. The son must come in to experience his bounty.

God is the Ultimate Good we Seek

God does good to all, he is the source of all good, God is good in and of himself, and God is the supreme good of every creature.

Psalm 16:2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” …5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. …11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

The Psalmist cries out that there is no good apart from God. God is our supreme good. To be contented with God’s good gifts and not pursue him, a relationship with him, is to settle for something fleeting and temporary. At the end of Psalm 17, the psalmist prays for deliverance from the wicked men of the world.

Psalm 17:14 … from men of the world whose portion is in this life. You fill their womb with treasure; they are satisfied with children, and they leave their abundance to their infants. 15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.

Their portion is in this life. They, like the rich man in Jesus’ story, received their good things in this life. But far better to accept hardship and persecution in this life, with our eyes fixed on he alone who can eternally satisfy. Jesus said in Luke 9,

Luke 9:23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

Psalm 73 says:

Psalms 73:25 ​Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. …28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

What is your greatest good? What is it that you are pursuing? Psalm 34 is an invitation … to you!

Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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January 31, 2016 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For Freedom; Galatians 5:1-6; Matthew 11:28-30

1/24 For Freedom! ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160124_freedom.mp3

The last two messages I gave were on two of the most important spiritual disciplines; meditation on the Word of God and prayer. If we want to be fruitful, effective in the ministry God has called us to (and we are all called to minister), then we must be listening to God and enjoying our relationship with him. This is what Jesus was talking about when he said in John 15 that we must abide in him. Apart from him we can do nothing. If we abide in him, he promises that we will bear much fruit. It is vital that we as followers of Jesus evaluate and re-evaluate what we are doing to grow in our walk with the Lord, and discipline ourselves to reinforce good habits and form new ones that will enrich our relationship with God. Daily Bible study and constant prayer are essential to the health of the believer, and consequently to the health of the church body.

I want to balance this teaching on the spiritual disciplines with some teaching on Christian freedom, because it is possible to misunderstand Bible meditation and prayer in such a way as to view them as a duty by which we earn favor with God. This would be a terrible misuse of good gifts God has given.

Two Extremes

There are two dangerous extremes to avoid. I’ll tell you my own experience to help illustrate what I mean. When I was very young, I had a well meaning Bible camp counselor give me a little tract on having daily devotions. I think it was titled ‘7 minutes with God’ and I was told how important it was to read my Bible and pray every day. I can still remember what the tract looked like, the big ominous red number 7, and the picture of the hourglass with the sand slipping away. There was probably nothing wrong with the tract itself. I’m sure had some helpful suggestions on how to get started in the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer. But I felt the weight of the obligation. I needed to pick a special place to have my quiet time. It was strongly suggested, if not explicitly mandated that this be the first thing you do each and every day. It had clear instructions on how to structure and spend your 7 minutes. I acknowledged how important this was to do, and I committed myself to doing it. I did great… for a day or two. Then I would wake up late and have to cut the 7 minutes down to 1 or 2 or skip it altogether so I wouldn’t be late for school, and I would feel like a failure. Sometimes I would try to make it up in the evening, but I wasn’t sure if that really counted, because really spiritual people do it in the morning. Guilt. Shame. You can’t even faithfully give God 7 minutes of your day? God gave his only Son for you! Surely you can afford to give him 7 measly minutes? Did you know that there are 1,440 minutes in each day? 7 minutes is less than half a percent of your day. I just can’t measure up. This thing called the Christian life, I can’t do it. I’m not good enough. Even when I worked really hard and disciplined myself to sit down and dig in, often my 4 minutes of Bible reading landed me in some endless genealogy of the Old Testament, and somehow I’m supposed to feel closer to God by trudging through a long list of names I can’t even pronounce? Or reading about skin diseases and what to do if the hair in a wound turned white or black? I’m clearly not very spiritual, because as I read, I just wasn’t sensing God’s presence (it actually kind of grossed me out). And then, in the 2 ½ minutes of prayer, my mind would wander incessantly. What am I supposed to say? Did you know that you can see little floating specks on the insides of your eyelids when you have your eyes closed for 2 ½ minutes? Do you know how disheartening it is when you open your eyes after what seems an eternity to peek at the clock and only 45 seconds have elapsed? After dutifully plodding along checking off the boxes for a short while, I gave up. I just couldn’t do what was expected of me.

When God got a hold on my heart, I wanted to spend time with him. I began to see things in the Bible I had never seen before. I set my alarm early so I would have time to spend with God, and I enjoyed sweet communion with him, listening to his voice in his Word, pouring out my heart to him in worship and thanksgiving. I was hungry for truth. I would meet with other believers my age and we would sing worship songs together, and we would go out on the streets of the city to tell people about Jesus, just out of a natural overflow of joy in Jesus. Those were some of the sweetest moments of my life.

Then a well-meaning college professor told our first year Bible class that we didn’t need to have quiet times. Nowhere in the Bible are we told to ‘do our devotions’ or to ‘have a quiet time each day with God’. After all, most believers throughout history didn’t even have daily access to a Bible. And I was in Bible college, so all my studies were in the Bible. My reading load for classes was heavy enough. And we are under grace. Some daily religious ritual doesn’t earn you any points with God. So I ditched my habit. Looking back, although I got a lot out of Bible college, my spiritual life suffered. I got distracted. I began to justify sin.

Galatians 5 – For Freedom!

Galatians is a letter written to believers who were in danger of abandoning the gospel by heading back to a form of law-righteousness. Paul warns that by doing this they are deserting Christ. Justification, our right standing before God is not earned by us. That is what it means to believe – we depend on Jesus who substituted himself for us, kept perfectly the law that we could not keep, and died the death that we deserved to die.

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

The issues today are different, but the principle is the same. I don’t know of anyone today pushing circumcision as a means of gaining a right standing before God. But there are a lot of people pushing a lot of different things, even good things, as a means of gaining favor with God. Today’s issues range from whether you smoke or drink to how you vote or where you stand on particular issues, or what you wear or don’t wear or what movies you watch or what kind of music you listen to or what you do on Saturdays or Sundays or with your spare time or how often and how long you read your Bible and pray.

I’m not saying that none of these are important questions. A lot depends on how they are asked. If we are investigating to see if someone makes the grade, passes the test, lives up to a standard, there is a problem. Paul contrasts freedom in Christ and a yoke of slavery; the advantage of Christ and obligation to the law. Like oil and water, these two cannot be mixed. The danger of the Galatians, and the danger for us, is that we understand justification by faith alone through the finished work of Christ alone. We understand that we cannot pay the price for our sins, and that Christ alone paid our debt in full. Where we go awry is when we begin look at the Christian life as the obligations of slavery rather than the freedom of sons. He says back in:

Galatians 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Here is another contrast, between the Holy Spirit and our flesh, between how we began and how we finish. How do we live the Christian life? It is clear that we ‘must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt.5:48) and there is ‘holiness without which no one will see the Lord’ (Heb.12:14). The question is how do we come to be righteous? There is the imputed righteousness of Christ which is credited to our account when we believe. But there is also the practical righteousness of a a daily walk of sinning less and loving God more. Of course, we are counted righteous in Christ when we let go of our own efforts toward righteousness and depend on the perfect righteousness of Christ alone. But how do we daily fight the battle with sin and deepen in our affection for God? This is where discipline and structure and clear boundaries and focused effort will help, right? Be careful, you who received the Spirit by hearing with faith, lest you now seek to be perfected by the flesh. To begin by the Spirit and then seek to be perfected by the flesh means submitting to a yoke of slavery, where you are obligated to keep the whole law, where Christ is of no advantage to you, it means falling from grace, being severed from Christ. This is serious stuff! In 4:9, he warns against turning back to weak and worthless elementary principles of the world. He lists the observation of religious rituals – the observation of days and months and seasons and years. He calls this slavery! Knowing God, being known by God, relationship with God, this is freedom! In Colossians 2 Paul uses this same word ‘the elementary principles of the world’ and draws a contrast between captivity to human tradition, to human regulations and self-made religion and asceticism, and on the other hand, walking in Christ.

Colossians 2:6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

…20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 ( referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Man-made religious laws like ‘do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’ sound good. They have the ‘appearance of wisdom’, but they are slavery. As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him. Having begun by the Spirit, having received the Spirit by hearing with faith, do not seek to be perfected in the flesh, by observing law.

Paul says in Galatians 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free” and he exhorts us to stand firm and not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Christ set us free to be free, to live in freedom.

Yoked Together with Christ

You understand what a yoke is. If you have two oxen and you are going to plow your field, you connect the two oxen together with a wooden beam, a yoke, so that together they can pull the plow. A yoke in the Old Testament was an image of slavery. When God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt, he said:

Leviticus 26:13 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.

In Numbers 25, when God’s people indulged in immorality and idolatry, God describes it this way:

Numbers 25:1 … the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.

In the early church, in Acts 15, there was debate over the relation of the Old Testament law to non Jewish believers in Jesus. Must they subject themselves to the laws in order to follow Jesus?

Acts 15:7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

[James concluded] …19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.

Notice the argument? God cleanses the hearts of Jew and Gentile alike by faith. The law is a yoke that neither Jew nor Gentile could bear. Both Jew and Gentile alike are saved through the grace of our Lord Jesus. The decision was not to trouble the believers with unnecessary rules or regulations. Simply recognize that following Jesus is inconsistent with idolatry, immorality, or giving unnecessary offense to Jewish brothers. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Jesus says something very interesting about a yoke in Matthew 11.

Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus invites us to come to him if we are weary of work, not to work, but to receive rest. And then he invites us to take his yoke on us in order to find that rest! This seems contradictory. Find rest from labor by being yoked with Jesus. How can this be? This picture is powerful. Think of the yoke that has made us weary, labored and heavy ladened? The law was ‘a yoke that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear’. We have been yoked to tablets of stone, and we have been attempting unsuccessfully to drag them around. Jesus invites us to leave the yoke of the law, and join him in his yoke. If I am in a yoke with Jesus, guess who is pulling the weight? Not me! I’m along for the ride, so to speak. Jesus is saying the same thing when he commands us to abide in him.

John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

We can’t pull any weight on our own. But when we are yoked together with Jesus, he pulls all the weight, and we get to walk beside him. In fact the yoke keeps us close to him, in step with him. He works, we rest, we walk by his side, we enjoy his company. And at the end of the day, we receive the reward that he earned, simply because we were in the yoke with him!

Jesus says this at the end of Matthew 11. Halfway through Matthew 11, Jesus says that he came eating and drinking and he is being accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners (11:19). Right after this teaching, in chapter 12, Jesus’ disciples are plucking heads of grain and eating them, something the religious people said was not lawful to do on the Sabbath. Jesus declares himself Lord of the Sabbath. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Application to Spiritual Disciplines

Let’s bring this back around to where we started and make some application to the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer. We started with the two extremes of being crushed under the obligation of performing religious duties, and on the other end of neglecting good things that are beneficial to our growth in grace.

Let’s look at the issue of prayer. We are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Colossians 4:2 and Romans 12:12 to pray without ceasing, to continue steadfastly in prayer, to be constant in prayer. What does this mean? Does this mean conscious articulate prayer 24/7? Does this mean that we are incessantly verbalizing either audibly or at least mentally our prayers to God? Do you know anyone who is always talking and never shuts up? That is annoying. By saying we should pray without ceasing, does it really mean that we need to run our mouths to God non-stop? Aside from being annoying, it would be difficult to ever read the Bible and really pay attention and listen to what God is saying if we are talking over him the whole time. It would be virtually impossible to do anything at all. I don’t believe this is what it means, and I don’t believe we need to live under the weight of bondage to some religious performance. As believers, we are yoked together with Jesus. He will never leave us or forsake us. Live with a constant awareness of his nearness, of his intimate involvement in all things, knowing that the line of communication is always open. I think that is what it means to pray without ceasing. Live in his presence.

Think of it this way. God is the giver of all good gifts. If I buy my son a bicycle and give it to him as a gift, how should he respond? I hope he would express his gratitude. But do I expect that he stand in front of me saying ‘thank you thank you thank you, you’re the best dad ever. Let me sing you a song – you are the best dad, you gave me a bike, you are so awesome, I’m going to tell all my friends about you, you must be really rich and really smart and really strong, you are the greatest dad ever! I just want to sit in your lap and stare into your awesome face forever and ever and ever’ and all the while, his new bicycle sits in the corner, untouched? Go! Ride the bike! Enjoy the gift! The giver finds pleasure when you take pleasure in his gift. Don’t use the bike to hurt yourself or others or use it to ride off into evil. Later in Galatians 5 Paul says ‘do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh (5:13). But enjoy the good gifts that he gives. Know that he is with you always, enjoy his presence, and enjoy his gifts in his presence.

We could compare prayer and Bible intake to breathing and eating – stop breathing and you will die. Stop eating and you will die. Eat poorly and your health will suffer. Breathing and eating are necessities for life; not obligations. Breathing we often don’t even consciously think about – we just naturally do it. We don’t view it as a duty. If you focus too much attention on your breathing, you will probably hyperventilate. But if we are deprived of air, if we are underwater, we quickly become aware of the urgent necessity of breathing; we become desperate for air. Eating is different. Sometimes we skip a meal. Often we don’t eat as healthy as we should. Sometimes we pay more careful attention to what we eat. But we still don’t view eating as a chore. Normally, we take pleasure in eating. We enjoy a good meal. We get hungry and crave certain things.

We wouldn’t think of being underwater without access to air as freedom. We wouldn’t view being out in the desert without water or food as freedom. Develop good habits where you eat and drink and enjoy God’s presence with you always. Don’t get ritualistic or legalistic about it. Live in freedom! If you are a work weary pilgrim, come to Jesus, abide in Jesus, be yoked together with Jesus, allow him to pull your weight, and enjoy waking side by side in constant fellowship with him.

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

January 26, 2016 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Pleasure and Privilege of Prayer

01/17 Pleasure and Privilege of Prayer ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160117_pray.mp3

As we look at a new year together, I like to ask the question ‘What do we need to focus on? What do we need to be reminded of? What is most important?’ Two weeks ago we looked at Psalm 1 and what it has to say about the word of God and the blessings, the delights of meditating on the word. Today I would like to look at prayer. I want to look at the pleasure and privilege of prayer. My goal is that we would be encouraged to pray, empowered to pray, equipped to pray, motivated to pray, that we would treasure the privilege of prayer.

Commanded to Pray

The way we view prayer affects how we approach prayer, and how we pray (or don’t pray). We often feel that prayer is an obligation, something that Christians are supposed to do, and we often feel that we ought to do it more or longer or better than we do. We often feel guilt over our shortcomings in prayer. And in part, we are right to think this, because prayer is something we ought to do. We are commanded to pray.

1 Thessalonians 5 says

1 Thessalonians 5:16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

God’s will for you is that you pray. Pray continually. But not grudgingly. With rejoicing. Overflowing with thankfulness in all circumstances. Ephesians 5:20 tells us that we ought to be filled with the Spirit, “giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Ephesians 6 concludes teaching on spiritual warfare with “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” Colossians 4 says:

Colossians 4:2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

Romans 12 says:

Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

We are to continue steadfastly in prayer, to be watchful in prayer, to be constant in prayer. Anybody living up to this? Philippians commands:

Philippians 4:6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Paul says:

2 Timothy 1:3 I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.

Paul claims to pray constantly. Night and day. Anyone discouraged yet? Is this just Paul? In Colossians 4:12, Paul mentions Ephaphras, “one of you” who is “always struggling on your behalf in his prayers” In Acts 1:14, 2:42, and 6:4, we see the early church – the whole church – “devoted to prayer.” In Acts 16:25 we find Paul and Silas in prison at midnight, “praying and singing hymns to God.” In Acts 9:11, when Ananias was hesitant to go see Saul, the persecutor of the church, the comfort and confidence God gave that he was now converted was “for behold, he is praying.”

Jesus in Luke 18

Luke 18:1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

We are to always pray, be devoted to prayer, constant in prayer, characterized by prayer, continue steadfastly in prayer, pray without ceasing, and rejoice always. This feels overwhelming. Discouraging. Unattainable. And I’m supposed to rejoice?

The Privilege of Prayer

I believe the pleasure of prayer is rooted in the privilege of prayer, so we will start by looking at the privilege of prayer. An Old Testament illustration from the book of Esther will help us understand the privilege of prayer. Esther, a young Jewish girl, was taken to be the replacement queen for Ahasuerus, king of Babylon, because Queen Vashti had been banished for refusing to appear before the king when summoned. Haman, one of the king’s top advisers, had plotted the genocide of all the Jews. Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, called on Esther to intercede with the king and plead for the lives of her people. She responded in Esther 4

Esther 4:11 “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.”

Esther rightly feared for her life if she approached the throne unbidden. She did not have access to the king unless the king called for her. The king had already been counseled to do away with one queen. Even if she risked her life to approach the king without being summoned, she had no guarantee that her request would be granted. Esther was rightly terrified, but it seemed like the only hope for the Jewish people, so Esther responded to Mordecai:

Esther 4:16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”

We are told

Esther 5:1 On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, in front of the king’s quarters, while the king was sitting on his royal throne inside the throne room opposite the entrance to the palace.

Put yourself in Esther’s shoes. She was desperate, she was risking everything, but she seemed to have no choice. I can only imaging the knot in the pit of her gut as she entered the inner court unbidden.

Our situation was far worse. Esther was the queen. The king took great pleasure in her. Imagine how much worse the situation would have been if it was the former queen Vashti, who had been banished from the kingdom, who was now seeking audience with the king. Vashti’s hopes for a hearing would be far less than zero. But that was our condition.

We read in Genesis 3

Genesis 3:8 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. 9 But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

…23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

Mankind had been banished from the presence of the Lord. You see, God had given us everything good we could imagine, provided for all our needs, fulfilled all our desires, and we enjoyed sweet fellowship with him. There was but one rule, a test really, to demonstrate whether we would be faithful to him. But we sided with his enemy, doubted his goodness, and committed high treason. So we were cut off from his presence, banished. Isaiah 59 says

Isaiah 59:2 but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

Even this separation was mercifully less than we deserved. God had promised that the wages of sin is death, and yet he accepted the death of a substitute, promising one day to crush the skull of the enemy and bring us back to himself. This is what Romans teaches. Although God’s righteous wrath had been revealed against all mankind because of our failure to honor him as God, he sent his only Son Jesus to be our substitute, to bear the punishment we deserved, so that we could be declared righteous, as if we had kept God’s law perfectly. Although we had made ourselves his enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. Romans 5 says

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Think of this. Savor this. Treasure this. Access. We have access, not to an earthly king or president, not access to a human political ruler, but to the King of kings, to the throne room of the all sovereign Creator of all things, to the one who spoke all that is into existence, access to the God who rules all things! ‘We have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.’ We stand in grace, God’s free and unmerited favor poured out on his enemies, giving access to himself, to his throne. This, friends, is cause for rejoicing! This is a high honor indeed! Listen to Ephesians 2.

Ephesians 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

We are reconciled to God through the cross. Jesus himself is our peace. We have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Through Jesus we have access in the Spirit to the Father. Access to the Father! Brought near! Look over at Ephesians 3. In Christ Jesus our Lord,

Ephesians 3:12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

Through our Lord Jesus, we have access. Not a timid, hesitant, halting, fearful access, but confident boldness, a frank openness, blunt, fearless, unreserved freedom, total unhindered freedom to speak in his presence. This is the blood bought free access we have through Christ with the Father!

Look over with me to the book of Hebrews. Hebrews points us to Jesus, our great High Priest.

Hebrews 4:14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

We can with free and open confidence draw near to the throne of grace. What a title! The throne of grace! The place where we find, not justice and judgment for all the wrongs we have done, but gracious pardon and acceptance extended to the undeserving. The throne of grace, where we find all the blood-bought blessings we do not deserve, where we find mercy that releases us from the burden of guilt. We go confidently, because nothing is there for us but grace to help in time of need. There is no condemnation there, no judgment, no rejection. There is help. We are needy. We come with confidence, we come to receive, because he is the gracious giver of all good things, and because in him we find the help we desperately need.

In Hebrews 7:19, a better hope is introduced, a better hope than the law, which made nothing perfect, Jesus, our better hope, through which we draw near to God. Jesus is the better priest of a better covenant, he lives forever,

Hebrews 7:25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

We have access to God, we draw near to God through Jesus, who always lives to make intercession for us. Brothers and sisters, Jesus is continually, before the presence of his Father, praying for us, interceding for us. Did you know, loved one, that even when you or I are prayerless, Jesus is praying for us? Jesus does not just save us part way. Jesus is the great High Priest who saves fully, completely, to the uttermost! In Hebrews 10

Hebrews 10:17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. 19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

In Jesus our great High Priest, we have received forgiveness. We have confidence to enter by the blood of Jesus. Let us then draw near, with a true heart, in full assurance of faith. Let us draw near to God. Boldly, confidently, enjoying free access.

The Pleasure of Prayer

I started by saying that I believe the pleasure of prayer is rooted in the privilege of prayer. Now that we have looked at the privilege of prayer, I probably don’t need to even finish this sermon, because the pleasure of prayer should become self-evident. We have access to God. Our God is incalculably good. Gracious, merciful, eager to help. To know him is to know life.

Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 21:6 says ‘you make him glad with the joy of your presence.’

Psalm 4:7 You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.

Psalm 36 says:

Psalm 36:7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. 8 They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

Listen to the Psalmist in Psalm 73:

Psalm 73:25 ​Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 ​My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. … 28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

Nothing in heaven or on earth compares to God. You are my portion. It is good…it is good to be near God. And through Jesus we have access to God!

Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

If you have not experienced the pleasure of prayer, I would invite you to taste. Come. Take refuge. Taste. Develop a hunger and thirst for him.

Psalm 63:1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. 3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. 4 So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. 5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, 6 when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; 7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. 8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

So my advice to us is to go. Remind yourself of the inestimable privilege we have through the blood of Jesus, and go. Recognize your need and go boldly. Go confidently. Go with reverence and worshipful awe, but go. Go with the blood bought confidence that belongs to you in Christ Jesus. Push open the doors, throw back the curtains, and approach the God who has made himself approachable. He invites you in. He has paid the way. Enter and enjoy!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

January 17, 2016 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How To Be Happy (Psalm 1)

01/03 How to Be Happy; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160103_be-happy.mp3

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (Declaration of Independence, 1776)

The Pursuit of Happiness

It is not just an American thing to pursue happiness. We all want to be happy. We all endeavor to pursue our own happiness. That is part of what it is to be human. We bought Satan’s lie and bit the fruit in the first place because we saw that it ‘was good for food, …a delight to the eyes, , and …to be desired to make one wise’ (Gen.3:6). We want to be happy. We eat lots of sweets because we want to be happy. We try to eat healthier because we want to be happy. We lounge around and watch TV because we are seeking happiness. We decide to exercise more because we want to be happy. We indulge in great pleasures, we make great sacrifices, all in pursuit of our own happiness.

I thought it would be fitting, at the beginning of this new year, to preach on how to be happy. It is not wrong for us to desire happiness. We are wired for pleasure. God designed eyes with the ability to perceive color and texture and depth and beauty. God created taste buds capable of savoring all varieties and complexities of flavors from salt to sweet to bitter to sour. He created ears that could delight in beautiful melodies. He gave us a nose that can appreciate savory aromas. God saturated our skin with nerve endings that respond to touch and warmth and sensation. God made us with the capacity to experience a rich complexity of emotions. God placed mankind in a garden of delights and he blessed them and said be fruitful, multiply, fill, subdue, exercise good authority, enjoy. God holds out to us the prospect of happiness. He invites us to pursue happiness. The book of Psalms begin with the word ‘happy’, and the word ‘happy’ occurs 25 more times throughout the Psalms. Most English translations render it ‘blessed’, although there is another Hebrew word that more properly means ‘blessed’.

What we are talking about is a happiness that is substantial. This is not empty frivolity, but settled joy; happy in the richest, deepest, most lasting sense. Happiness that satisfies the longings of our soul at the deepest level.

So what does the Bible say about how to be happy? How should we pursue our happiness in such a way that we taste it and enjoy it and it lasts? How do we pursue happiness in a way that it is not continually just out of reach, that it does not, as so often happens, slip through our fingers?

Look with me at Psalm 1.

Psalm 1

1 Blessed is the man

who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

nor stands in the way of sinners,

nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD,

and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree

planted by streams of water

that yields its fruit in its season,

and its leaf does not wither.

In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so,

but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will perish.

Three Paths to Death

This Psalm starts in the negative; telling us three things that do not bring happiness. That which is morally wrong does not bring happiness. That which is offensive to God does not bring happiness. Happiness is not found in pride, scorning, mocking, or looking down at others. Getting advice from those who are morally bankrupt will never bring the happiness we desire. Fixing yourself in the path of resistance to God will never satisfy. Proud looking down at others will never bring true joy.

We say, ‘of course, who would embrace a wicked, sinful, prideful lifestyle as a means to happiness?’ The reason this Psalm lays out these three things as paths that do not lead to genuine happiness is because these are three places we naturally seek happiness in. Is there not something within us, when we see the ‘no admittance, danger keep out, do not touch’ sign, that thinks that pleasure is found in that which is forbidden? This was the first seed of doubt planted by the snake in the garden; ‘Did God really withhold a pleasure from you?’ Or do we not look around and ask ourselves ‘why do the wicked prosper’ (Ps.73:3)? You can’t really make it in the world without bending the rules, stretching the truth, cutting some corners. Do we not, in our minds, or among our friends, criticize others, point out their flaws, their shortcomings, and think that we are just a bit better than they? The Psalm warns us because these are paths we often take. That which is morally wrong, that which is offensive to God, that which inflates self, these are not paths to the joy we seek.

The Path to Life

The Psalm warns against three paths that do not lead to happiness, but only one that brings true joy. That is the law of the Lord; the Torah, the instruction, the direction of the Lord. This is inclusive of all God has said to us, all God’s instruction, all his Word. What we know as the Bible is the collection of all God’s instruction to us. The counsel of the wicked, the way of sinners, the seat of scoffers all lead to ruin, but the instruction of the Lord leads to lasting happiness.

Notice our response to God’s word determines our eternal happiness. The one who is happy delights in God’s instruction. John Calvin wrote “that forced or servile obedience is not at all acceptable to God, and that those only are worthy students of the law who come to it with a cheerful mind, and are so delighted with its instructions, as to account nothing more desirable or delicious than to make progress therein …all who are truly actuated by love to the law must feel pleasure in the diligent study of it.” Grudging or obligatory attention to God’s word is empty. We may take medicine because we are supposed to, and we hope that it will be good for us, but it tastes terrible. We plug our nose and swallow the pill. It is distasteful, but good for us. God’s truth is not like that.

Psalm 19 describes God’s word as “pure, reviving the soul; …sure, making wise the simple; …right, rejoicing the heart; …pure, enlightening the eyes; …clean, enduring forever; …true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. … in keeping them there is great reward.” (v.7-11)

Psalm 119 says:

Psalm 119:103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Psalm 34 says:

Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Psalm 139 says:

Psalm 139:17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

God’s word is precious, good, sweet, rewarding, valuable, more to be desired, reviving, rejoicing, enlightening. The one who finds true happiness finds God’s word as a treasure, as a pleasure, as delicious, as a delight. The one who is happy views God’s instruction with delight.

Notice also, the one who would be truly happy meditates on the words of God. Taste, take time to enjoy, savor, pay attention to, focus on, study, speak it, mutter it, muse on it, memorize it, turn it over and over and over.

My kids eat candy as if it were a race. Like a pack of insatiable piranhas they are attracted by the scent of sweets. They descend ravenously on the bag of M&M’s that was just opened, and sometimes when its over, I wonder if some of the wrapper got consumed in the frenzy. I don’t think they taste it at all. It seems the goal is to ingest as much sugar as possible in the shortest amount of time possible. I wish they attacked their chores like that! Don’t read God’s word like that. I want to warn you, that is a danger with Bible reading plans. Reading plans are good, they are helpful, and I would encourage you to read intentionally, with a plan. But the danger lies in it becoming a chore, a box to check off, a task to accomplish, something to get through and finish, something you feel bad about if you get behind, or you feel good about yourself if you keep up, a conquest. Don’t read God’s word merely to get through it. Slow down. Savor. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Enjoy him!

Spurgeon said “The inward meditation is the thing that makes the soul rich towards God. This is the godly man’s occupation. Put the spice into the mortar by reading, beat it with the pestle of meditation—so shall the sweet perfume be exhaled.” [Spurgeon, Ps1:1-3, # 3270]

Meditation is a process that cannot be hurried or rushed through. Eliminate distractions. Focus your attention. Think. Ponder. Muse. Prayerfully consider. Savor. Take time to enjoy. Delight yourself in the instruction of the Lord. Meditate on it day and night.

A Tree Planted

The Psalm compares the person who delights in and meditates on God’s word with a tree planted.

Psalm 1

3 He is like a tree

planted by streams of water

that yields its fruit in its season,

and its leaf does not wither.

In all that he does, he prospers.

He is compared to a tree, not a vegetable or a grain or a shrub. This is one who stands the test of time, one who has staying power, one who lasts. This is a tree planted. It is not a wild tree, an unplanned tree, a volunteer. This is a cultivated tree, carefully selected, intentionally placed by a wise gardener. Jesus said:

Matthew 15:13 …“Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.

This is a tree planted by streams of water. Not in a desert. Not by a stagnant pool, not by a wadi or wash that fills with water during a rain and is dry the rest of the time. This speaks of intentional consistent irrigation. This is a tree that yields its fruit in season. This is not a decorative tree, or a shade tree. This is a fruit bearing tree. It is a cultivated tree, intended to be productive. Fruit trees are beautiful and good for shade, but their main purpose is to bear fruit. Jesus said:

John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. …8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

Fruit bearing is directly proportional to abiding, delighting, meditating. The fruitful tree is nourished by the word. A tree without adequate water supply will wither. The one who day and night drinks in the word will not wither.

This is the happiness that comes from a purpose realized. In all that he does he prospers. He advances, makes progress, is profitable. This is not the empty happiness of fleeting pleasures. This is the enduring happiness of a purpose fulfilled, the enjoyment that comes from knowing what you were made for, being who you were created to be, doing what you were meant to do. This is the substantial satisfaction of being fruitful.

The Wicked are Not So

The contrast is drawn between the happy one who delights in and meditates on the truth of God’s word and the wicked. Notice, by the way, there is no third category. There is no category for nominal, complacent, comfortable, non-abiding, non-fruitful trees. There are those who treasure God’s word, and the wicked.

Psalm 1

4 The wicked are not so,

but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will perish.

After grain is harvested, it is beaten and winnowed out to separate the kernel of grain from the chaff. Chaff is the useless husk that surrounds the grain. The contrast could not be more stark. On the one hand, a firmly planted well nourished fruitful tree, and on the other hand, the empty husk of grain blown by the wind. There is the one with purpose, rooted, alive, thriving, growing, productive, and there is the lifeless empty shell. What a description of a life with no purpose, with no joy. A mere empty husk blown away by the wind.

The Way of the Righteous

The Lord knows the way of the righteous. The one who is rooted in God’s word, nourished and satisfied, the one who delights in the Lord, knows that there is none righteous, no not one. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Rom.3:10, 23). But the righteousness of God has been manifested, not a righteousness that comes from keeping the commandments, but a righteousness the entire scriptures point to, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe (Rom.3:21-22), the righteousness of Christ that is counted to us, credited to us as a gift (Rom.4). By the obedience of Christ we are made righteous (Rom.5:18-19). The Lord knows the way of the righteous. The only path to a righteousness that pleases God is the sinner humbly trusting God to credit us with a righteousness not our own, the righteousness of Christ.

There are 25 other places in the Psalms where we are declared to be happy. Those who are truly happy are:

those who delight in the instruction of the Lord (1:1 cf. Prov.3:13; 8:32, 34; 29:18)

those who trust in the Lord (2:12; 34:8; 40:4; 84:12; cf. Prov.16:20)

those whose God is the Lord (33:12; 144:15 (x2); 146:5)

those who enjoy the presence of the Lord (65:4; 89:15)

those whose strength is the Lord (84:5)

those who fear the Lord (112:1; 128:1-2; cf. Prov.28:14)

those who are forgiven (32:1-2)

those who are disciplined by the Lord (94:12)

those who do righteousness (106:3; 119:1-2; cf. Prov.20:7)

those who consider the poor (41:1; cf. Prov.14:21)

those who enjoy their children (127:5)

those who execute God’s judgment (137:8-9)

Known By the Lord

The Lord knows the way of the righteous. Those who are justified, declared righteous, credited with the perfect obedience of our Lord Jesus, are known by the Lord. The Lord know those who are his (2Tim.2:19). Those whose delight is in the word of God, who meditate on it day and night, are characterized by an intimacy with God. They are known by God.

Would you find real happiness? Do not seek it in that which is morally wrong, that which is offensive to God, that which looks down at others in pride. Do not listen to the counsel of unbelievers or follow their ways. Seek the righteousness that comes by faith in the finished work of Christ. Delight yourself in the Lord, in his word, treasure it, savor it, meditate on it, draw from it your nourishment day and night.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

January 3, 2016 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment