Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Forgiveness (page 1 of 2)

Plucked from the Fire

firestorm

On August 31, 1894 a firestorm swept across the woodlands of northeast Minnesota, swallowing the thriving town of Hinckley and several other smaller burgs as it cut a swath thirty miles wide as it plunged northeastward. As the inferno hit Hinckley temperatures soared to as high as 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit and the wall of flame soared up to one hundred fifty feet high. The heat vortex may have ascended as much as 30,000 feet into the sky. Under the intense heat steel wheels on train cars and the tracks upon which they once ran melted and ran into pools like water seeking its lowest level. Hundreds of lives were consumed by the flames as people frantically tried to outpace the driving firestorm.

Daniel James Brown in his account of the tragedy in Under a Flaming Sky recounts the story of one particularly fortunate group of the endangered from the tiny village of Partridge.

“A few of the villagers commandeered handcars and stated pumping their way up the tracks; others simply ran along the rails behind them. The largest group, though, remaining remarkably clearheaded, set out on a road toward a logging camp where a hundred acres had previously been burned over by another fire. It was three miles away—a long haul—and there was no chance to pause or rest, as a survivor later remembered: ‘All the time the fire was right behind us. The smoke had gathered again and thickened into a grayish-black mass which rolled forward at an incredible speed with a deafening roar, whining and rumbling. We had barely reached our place of refuge when the great wall of smoke behind us split, or rather was flung asunder, and a blood-red flame of fire shot out like a flash of lighting. In a moment, every particle of smoke had disappeared and in its place we saw a sea of fire as far as the eye could scan.’” (p.122)

Jesus echoed the prophets before Him in promising a judgment by fire. On the last day He separate the peoples and “will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (Matt. 25:41).

Indeed, the end of the Book tells us all, “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15).

But there is hope, for Jesus bore the judgment of God against our sins in His own body on the cross. In those moments the fires of God’s holy wrath swept over Jesus who stood in our place, His death accounted as ours that we might be free.

This act in which Jesus satisfied the just wrath of God against us is called “propitiation.”

  • “Therefore [Jesus] had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17).
  • Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
  • “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10)
  • “God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:25a).

Jesus is the only safe ground from the coming wrath of God. When we flee in faith to Him we find ground where the fiery wrath of God has already burned over and where the fires of judgment will never again be visited. Flee to Jesus and be saved!

A Single Cross on a Single Day

carrying-the-cross

“… through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20).

Paul has in view reconciliation not merely on a personal, but a cosmic level (τὰ πάντα, “all things”). The same expression was used three times in verses 16 and 17 to depict, as it does here, “the whole of creation” (BAGD, 633). The totality of created reality is in view. Something happened upon that cross on that Friday that was reality-altering for everything, everyone, everywhere, for all time.

There the Father moved to reconcile “to Himself” (εἰς αὐτόν) an entire creation that had been hurled into opposition against him. “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but … in hope” (Romans 8:20). The realization of that hope was purchased on the cross. For it was there that God the Father “made peace” (εἰρηνοποιήσας) by bringing wrath—not upon our rebellious race and the creation we’ve taken with us into chaos, but by bringing His wrath upon His own Son whom He appointed to stand in our place. The peace-making tells us how the reconciliation was effected. Through our autonomy we made war on God, through His obedience Jesus made peace for us with God.

The means or instrument (διὰ) employed by the Father (at His good pleasure, v.19) to make that peace was “the blood of His cross” (τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ σταυροῦ αὐτου). The blood of Christ effected propitiation (Romans 3:25), justification (Romans 5:9), redemption, the forgiveness of our trespasses (Ephesians 1:7), and, as here, reconciliation (Ephesians 2:13). It is the ground of all the blessings of the new covenant the Father extends to us in Christ (1 Corinthians 11:25).

When Paul speaks of Christ’s blood he is using a figure of speech known as metalepsis. Thus, in the first place, “blood” stands for blood-shedding (i.e., the death of Christ). Then, secondly, Christ’s death stands for the full and complete satisfaction which is made by it and for all the merits of the atonement which is brought about by it. Thus, says Bullinger, to speak of the blood of Christ “means not merely the actual blood corpuscles, neither does it mean His death as an act, but the merits of the atonement effected by it and associated with it” (610). The blood is called “of His cross” (τοῦ σταυροῦ αὐτου) because, of course, it was upon the cross where Jesus gave up His life in death to effect the singular event that would change all things forever.

Everything, everywhere, for everyone, for all time – “… this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” on that single cross on that single day so long ago (Hebrews 7:27).

Unintended Consequences

unintended.consequences

David sinned. In this he was like us. David sinned in many ways and at many times. In this too he was like us.

Normally, David was quick to acknowledge is sin and to turn from it (e.g., Psalm 19:12; 139:23-24). We think of his surreptitious theft of the corner of Saul’s robe (1 Sam. 24). He had no more than snipped it than his conscience was stricken (v.5). This seems to be David’s pattern: sin—confess … and quickly. This too should be our pattern (1 John 1:9).

Yet when it came to his badly timed stroll on the roof (2 Sam. 11:2), David was not so quick in the acknowledgement of his sin. He hadn’t gone with the army when perhaps he should have (v.1). He went outside for a breath of fresh air. He saw Bathsheba in her backyard bath. He let his eyes linger, his heart ponder, and his imagination have her. And he sent for her. He had her—this time not simply in his imagination. She became pregnant. He tried to cover up. Her husband was too noble. David had him killed. Quick wedding. Child is born.

Hush. Hush. Hush.

It was perhaps a year after his rendezvous with the wife of one of his greatest fighters (compare 1 Sam. 11:3 and 23:39) that God sent in His prophet, Nathan: “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:7a). Now, finally, David was quick and succinct in his confession: “I have sinned against the LORD.” (v.13). Just as quickly the prophet delivered God’s word of pardon … but revealed that He would not remove all the consequences of his sin: “The LORD has put away your sin; you shall not die … the child who is born to you shall die” (v.14).

Note that: “you shall not die … the child … shall die.”

“The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Every time. Without exception.

Someone (or something) always has to die when sin strides on stage. There can be forgiveness and mercy, but there must always be justice.

In the case of David’s sin two of his children would die. Most immediately, the child of adultery died (2 Sam. 12:15-18). His brief life and sudden death testify that, while God is lavishly gracious and quick to forgive, He does not thus necessarily cancel all the consequences of our sin.

A second son of David would also die as a direct result of David’s sin. Over a dozen times in the Gospels Jesus Christ is called “the son of David.” The New Testament’s opening words witness to the fact: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David …” (Matthew 1:1a).

David’s first son died as a consequence of his sin. His second son died as atonement for his sin—and, thankfully, not only for David’s, but ours as well.

The brother of that first son would later write, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Prov. 28:13). One wonders just how much family history and personal emotion is tied up in Solomon’s proverb. We are wise to heed what he says. We do well to cry, as did the blind men along the road, “Have mercy on us, Son of David” (Matt. 9:27). When we do, Jesus is glad to say, “According to your faith be it done to you” (v.29b).

Lavish Grace!

“A simple correspondence of the sacrifice to the sin would have been sufficient to set our hearts free. And Christ did indeed offer just what was needed for our sins. Yet the perfect sacrifice of the God-man, Jesus Christ is not only sufficient, but abundantly sufficient for our debt. ‘In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace‘ (Eph. 1:7). Note: not ‘by the riches of his grace,’ but ‘according to the [infinite and immeasurable] riches of his grace’! The grace measured to us in Christ is not simply out of a reservoir of divine goodness, but in proportion to the limitless measure of the whole of God’s infinite grace. Our salvation arises out of ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’ (Eph. 3:8)!” (Pathways to Peace, p.76)

I am Free!

“He died for me; he made his righteousness mine and made my sin his own; and if he made my sin his own, then I do not have it, and I am free.” (Martin Luther, quoted in The Cross He Bore, Frederick S. Leahy, p.53)

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