The Day of the Lord – Coming at you like a Freight Train

Last night I was reading the Old Testament book of Malachi with my wife Brittany; we read chapter four it was quite a terrifying chapter because it talks about the coming Day of the Lord – “yom Yahweh.”

Yom Yahweh – a day of horrific judgment when God’s power is unleashed on his enemies. It is a day of God’s visitation. The day God “shows up.” (Not that he wasn’t present before…but now he is present differently.) Or as Tom Wright would say, this is the day when God “puts the world to rights.” Moreover, it was a blessed day of restoration for those whose hope is in God. They will skip with joy like a newborn calf learning how to use it’s legs (Mal 4:2).

So the question we asked is this: has this day already happened or is it still in our future?

The answer is that it’s both.

The day of the Lord’s visitation happened when Jesus visited the earth – that’s why Elijah/John the Baptizer had to come before him (Mal 4:5; Matt 17:10-13). In Jesus’ message on the Mount of Olives recorded in Luke 21, Mark 13, and Matthew 24 , he appears to say that when the temple is destroyed in AD 70 that was also a sort of fulfillment (or better, instantiation) of God’s great DAY. And then of course, Paul exhorts us to look forward to the return of Jesus on his “day” (1 Thess 5:2).

In other words, this “day” is actually a larger, ongoing reality that is fulfilled over many days.

It’s like a huge freight train in the night. Malachi saw the light at the front of the train, and he saw it from afar and in it’s radiance. But as the train starts moving passed we see one car after another, on and on…connected, progressive, and unstoppable. The day of the Lord is like that – one huge day. Yet the fulfillment is ongoing until we finally see the caboose, when justice is totally meted out and total restoration is here.

So with that a I’d encourage you to get on board. The ticket is free but it will cost you everything. Don’t get crushed underneath. Turn to Jesus and be saved.

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To Die is Gain

When I was in university there were certain people who were totally devoted to their schoolwork. They had their days planned out, minute-by-minute, to maximize the amount of time they could put into studying. They would go to bed at like 2am and then wake up the next day at 6:30am to get in a quick bite from the cafeteria, and then a bit more studying before 8am class.

I was one of those people. It was all about the next test score. It was obsessive. It was all-encompassing. It was messed up.

But when you look at the life of the Apostle Paul you quickly see that this is the kind of all-consuming passion he had, but he had it for Jesus. He says in Philippians 1:21-24, “…to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which shall I chose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”

Paul wanted more than anything just to be with Jesus. That is why death for him was gain! It was a gain to leave this body for at time to enter the presence of Jesus! And this all-encompassing, overriding, love for Jesus changed how he looked at the rest of his life.

What kind of a person can say death is gain? Most Christians cannot say that. Hey! In all honesty – I can hardly relate to that! Occasionally I can. But what kind of person would we need to be to be able to say, with sincerity, “My live is lived totally for Christ and my death will be a great victory for me! It’s a gain because then I will get to see Jesus face to face!”

If we really want to say that then we would have to be people of intense faith, intense hope, and intense love (1 Cor 13:13):

Faith

Paul did not just believe in Jesus as a sort of guess at “the meaning of life.” He trusted in Jesus and his existence and in his promises moment by moment. When you are faced with clubs and whips, you need to really trust that what you believe is worth believing in. And for Paul it was. Jesus revealed himself on the Damascus road and commissioned Paul to be the suffering missionary to the Kings, the Gentiles, and the Jews (Acts 9:17). And suffer he did. His faith was as strong like a bull moose on steroids. It propelled him to serve others and look forward to meeting Jesus.

Hope

I am convinced that Paul woke up and got out of bed saying, “Come today, Lord Jesus!” The return of Christ was not some vague idea. It fueled him. It pushed him forward like high octane jet-fuel. His focus was set on the reality that one day Jesus would split open the sky and return. He was not all that concerned about the next Avengers movie; his weekend sleep-over plans; or his next paycheque. He was driven by a simple thought “What if Jesus comes back today?”

Love

Most of all Paul was driven by love for Jesus, his supreme treasure. Paul’s treasure was in heaven sitting down at the right hand of God the Father. That’s why death was gain.  Death was just the necessary bridge to cross to get to that treasure. It was like walking out in a cold winter day to pick up a cheque in the mail for a million dollars. The treasure makes the walk pretty easy.

Paul’s love for Jesus propelled him in two ways – to love the people of Jesus and to do all he could to care for them. And second – it made him want to go home to see Jesus ASAP. That is why he was torn. He wanted to care for Jesus’ people. Yet, really he cared for them because he cared so much about Jesus himself.

So what about you?

Where is your faith? What are you trusting in? Do you really believe in Jesus?

Where is your hope placed? What are you hoping for? Is your hope really placed in the return of Jesus?

What do you love? What is the chief treasure of your life? What is the GAIN you are pursuing? Do you really love Jesus, or are you just kidding yourself?

And if Jesus is secondary in all of those answers. Then you need to wake up to the fact that the King is returning and it would be best to get ready for his arrival. That is an all-consuming truth – but, unlike getting a good test score, it is sure to happen, and it is sure to satisfy every longing of your heart. All other obsessions don’t even come close. All other loves won’t ultimately deliver like this one.

ADOPTION: The Highest Blessing and Privilege of the Gospel

It is not an understatement that the highest privilege God has given us in the gospel is the reality of adoption – we have been made sons of God![1]  In this short, reflective essay I will not lay any theological foundation for the reality of adoption – for an explanation of it I would refer readers to Sinclair Ferguson’s Children of the Living God and Michael Milton’s What is the Doctrine of Adoption? [2] Instead, I will simply unpack seven ways that the doctrine of adoption impacts life and ministry, making a few references to Scripture and to these two books.

First, the doctrine of adoption confirms to us that we are totally secure in our salvation.

Michael Milton opens his book with a prayer for the reader – that we would know that we are happy, secure children.[3] There is absolutely nothing that can change the reality that we are now in God’s family. What a tremendous blessing it is to know, not just intellectually, but also emotionally, that we are safe in the Father’s care – present and future. This means that whatever worry, grief, suffering, or difficulty we may encounter in life and ministry, our Father has his protective, providential arms around us. We have absolutely no reason for any insecurity. We belong to God. We belong with God.

Second, the doctrine of adoption confirms to us that we have been completely embraced by the lavish, overwhelming, gracious love of God.

The love of God is not contingent on our actions and attitudes – it is contingent only on the immovable, rock-solid union that we have with Christ – in other words, it’s not contingent at all. Now that we are “in” Jesus, the Son of God, the Father regards us with the same love and affection he has for Jesus. Ponder that last sentence again slowly. By the Spirit, we now have the same access to “Abba” that Jesus had (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). What a wonderful reality to embrace in the challenges of daily life – how much more does our Heavenly Father freely give to us than our earthly fathers (Matt 7:11)?

Third, the doctrine of adoption confirms to us that all our longings for intimacy are satisfied in God the Father.[4]

What do we desire more than to be known and to be loved? Many people know us who don’t love us. And others love us who don’t really know us. But God the Father both fully knows us and fully loves us. It is only the doctrine of adoption that provides that level of intimacy.

Fourth, the doctrine of adoption confirms to us that we have God’s favour.

We don’t need to earn God’s favour. We never needed to. It was given. The same favour when God said, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” is now given to us (Matt 7:13).[5] What a tremendously liberating thought for life and ministry. How many church leaders are slaving away seeking to earn God’s favour? We work so hard to please God, and in one sense that is right – we should always seek to please him (Heb 11:6; 1 Thess 2:4). But we must be careful in this, lest we take on the heart of a prodigal striving for fatherly acceptance. At the most foundational level, we only please God by virtue of the fact that we are sons of God in Christ! Therefore we have all the fatherly acceptance we could ever ask for. We have all the favour we could ever want.

Fifth, the doctrine of adoption confirms to us that we no longer need to be driven by any slavish fears.

“So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’” (Rom 8:15 NLT). The doctrine of adoption does not remove our fear of God – he is still an awesome and terrifying King. However, if that same fear is a servile, hyper-submissive, groveling fear that makes us scared to enter the presence of God then we have not come to realize what the doctrine of adoption really means. We are no longer slaves; we are sons. We now have a dignified intimacy with the most terrifying and majestic Being in the universe. This is a wonderful truth because it means that we have full access to God the Father as sons. We can come before his throne of grace boldly (Heb 4:16). And this is something we need to remember in life and ministry. Satan can make no more claims on us. He will entice us to question our adoption. But his accusations that we are illegitimate sons are ultimately unfounded because we will have already lost our slavish fear of God and it has been replaced with the witness of the Holy Spirit, who confirms the witness of our own spirit, that we in fact are true sons.[6]

Sixth, the doctrine of adoption confirms to us that we have a new freedom, a new humility, and a new direction, in this new family.

My friend Phil Webb told me yesterday that in the Christian life we first belong, then we find our identity, and then we find our purpose.[7] How true is this when we consider adoption? We belong in God’s family. And that gives us a rare and sublime freedom. In that belonging we also discover our identity in humility. We are just little kids playing with our “Abba” Father. The pressure to perform is off – for He is strong and we are weak. So this new identity as tiny, dependent children means that we get to have fun with God as we serve him. There is nothing to prove. Finally, arising from this new filial connection to God we find our purpose. Freedom and humility give way to direction as we serve our Father, resting in the assurance of his good favour. This is particularly important in ministry. We do not need to be driven by the fear of man, always pleasing people and seeking to earn their favour. Instead, we need to experience the freedom of being kids again, and then lead and serve from that place of security and dependency on the Father.

Seventh, the doctrine of adoption confirms to us that we are united to a new family, the church.

One of the best chapters in Ferguson’s Children of the Living God was chapter four, which is entitled “family traits.” The idea is that in a family, the siblings have unifying features and also distinguishing features. I am so different from my two brothers, Gareth and Stanley, and yet in many ways we are profoundly similar. For example, we are all quite musical…and lanky. Yet my older brother is passionate about medicine; my younger brother is passionate about mechanics; and I am passionate about theology. What the doctrine of adoption means is that in the local church we should expect a similar sort of unity and diversity in God’s family. We are all to grow up into the image and likeness of Jesus, our Elder Brother, and so we should increasingly be displaying some of the same traits – godliness, holiness, faith, and love. And yet we ought to recognize our differences! There should be no sibling rivalry between us, only brotherly affection (Rom 12:10). We ought to recognize and appreciate the way that we all contribute differently, serve differently, lead differently, and we also interpret events, situations, and even the implications of truth differently. As my pastor, Jason Hagen, recently said, we need to realize that the devil is always substituting unity for uniformity.[8] And we need to reject the latter. The local church should never be uniform, but it should be united. So we need to grow in our sense of belonging with one another, and unity, despite the ever-present differences in temperament, personality, and interpretation of events that can so quickly divide us.

Conclusion

I can think of no higher blessing and privilege that being adopted by God. This doctrine is what produces the most meaningful and emotional songs of praise to God. The prodigals have come home. The fattened calf has been killed. The robe and the ring have been placed on us. And our job now is to learn how to embrace all the many implications of this wonderful new identity that is ours by virtue of our union with Christ.

[1] A brief comment on gender pronouns in this paper: I use the word “sons” here rather than “sons and daughters” not to be insensitive to women but rather because I am about to write for six pages unpacking the reality of “sonship” which really has nothing to do with gender but everything to do with status. We are all sons of God because Jesus is the Son of God. I like the word “children” but again, it is really the biblical notion of “sonship” that I am really trying to get at – a notion that relates, to our gender, but to the new identity we have because of grace, as men, women, boys, and girls, within the pre-existing Trinitarian relationship between The Father and The Son.

[2] Sinclair B. Ferguson, Children of the Living God (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1989); Michael A. Milton, What is the Doctrine of Adoption? (Philipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2012).

[3] Milton, What is the Doctrine of Adoption?, 12.

[4] Ibid., 24.

[5] All scripture citations are taken from the English Standard Version.

[6] Milton, What is the Doctrine of Adoption?, 35.

[7] Personal conversation, November 4, 2015.

[8] Jason shared this thought in a church meeting on Sunday night, November 1, 2015 in discussion the integration of our Spanish and English congregations.

By the way, on the topic of devils…an important little insight from Luther

Martin Luther, in his typical kinda-over-the-top style, commenting on John 15, wrote that God the Father says this to the devil:

“Devil, you are indeed a murderer and an evildoer; but I will use you for my purpose. You shall be My hoe; the world and your following shall be My manure for the fertilization of My vineyard.”

Oh Luther – only you have the guts to say this kind of thing. But oh how we need this perspective today – the devil, as Luther would say, is God’s devil! His trials and attacks are within God’s control, and even they are ultimately just a tool, a hoe, used for our good and God’s glory.

Luther’s Works, ed. J. Pelikan, vol 24 (St. Louis: Concordia Publising House, 1961) 195.

Justification by an Imputed Righteousness

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As we prepare our hearts to receive the Lord’s Supper today I want to simply reflect on one particular aspect of Jesus work on the cross.

And I want to start by looking at a few passages of Scripture we find in the New Testament.

First, 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Second, Romans 3:23-36: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Third, Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

The first thing to point out is that justification is a legal declaration.

Let me give you an example. If a man commits a murder, he is morally guilty and he knows it. But he is not legally guilty until the trial continues and they court declares the man guilty. His legal status changed on the basis of the declaration. He has a new legal status.

Moreover, this declaration really has nothing to do with the actual nature of the person involved.

Switch the analogy: in a wedding ceremony, the man and the woman are two separate people and then the minister declares, “I now pronounce you husband and wife, you may kiss the bride.” Well there is a legal declaration there and it confers a new legal status. But the man is the same man. The wife is the same woman. There was no magical wife-ness infused into the wife. The husband didn’t have some sort of husband juice poured into him. No one minute he was single, the next he was married. And nothing changed in him, but a declaration outside of him brought him a new status.

When it comes to our standing before God it is the same way. Our nature is not involved in the legal declaration. God declares us legally righteous even though we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It is only after this declaration that we begin to change and become more holy. Again, it is akin to marriage – it is only after that legal declaration that you get to kiss the bride and enjoy the privileges and responsibilities of the marriage.

The God Who Wants to Condemn and Doesn’t Want to Condemn

On what basis then, can God declare us righteous, even though we are sinners? This is a real problem people have with the doctrine of justification! If we are truly guilty, how can God declare us to be not guilty, without himself becoming guilty? Well what I have just described is the real problem of Romans chapter 3 – God wanted to save us – he wanted to legally declare us to be righteous! And yet his justice demanded that we be condemned for our guilt! He wanted to condemn, and not condemn at the same time! So what is he to do? Well the answer from the Romans 3 passage that I just read is that in order to be just and also the justifier is that God put forth Jesus, his own Son, who was fully God, to take the punishment that we ought to have for our sin. So justice was done. And then what he did is, for anyone who would come to believe in Jesus, God legally declared that our status would be conferred to Jesus and also legally declared that Jesus’ status would be conferred to us! And the old word for that is imputation. God thinks of us differently than what we actually are. He imputes the standing of Jesus to us as if we had earned it. It’s not just that we are forgiven and we have a morally neutral state – no we have a righteous standing, a morally positive state. And we did nothing for it.

So our dirty robes are taken off and placed on the back of Jesus. And Jesus clean and royal robes are placed on our backs.

And so then because of this exchange, we have forgiveness, and God keeps his justice! So we are free to walk out of the courtroom totally righteous in our status. That’s glorious! Amen? “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Three Imputations

So salvation then actually comes down to three legal imputations. When we are born we are imputed with the sin of Adam. He is our forefather – he is our head to use the language of the Bible. As our head we inherited his legal status. But then because of Jesus, if we trust in him in faith, the legal status we have in Adam is declared to now belong to Jesus. And then, third, the legal status of Jesus, before God, is declared to be ours! So our actual righteousness, our actual deeds have no role to play in this interaction whatsoever! The only thing that we need to do is have faith in Jesus – and that faith, by the way, is God’s gift – it’s his work, his doing.

And that brings us to this table. To have a seat at this table is only possible because of the work of Jesus. It is all gift. It is all grace. We did nothing. We have no righteousness in which to place our hope if we are to stand before God. So I want to encourage you to turn to Jesus, to be baptized, and then to receive this feast in thanksgiving for God and what he has done for us in Christ. And if you have not yet believed in Jesus and responded to him in baptism then I would ask you to let this bread and juice pass by and then take some time to reflect on all I have just said.