Decrees

4 2

[Preface]

Nothing instills confidence in one’s own control and power than a new year. The calendar is fresh and new. Resolutions are made with an inner assurance that this year you will really make it happen. You will lose the weight; you will exercise consistently all year; you will accomplish this objective or that objective.

Visions of being in control instill a deep sense of power and significance, which we love.

But, alas, February arrives and by March the vast majority of people’s New Year resolutions have either been abandoned or severely modified.

Why?

Because in reality we control very little of our circumstances or the people and forces around us. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make plans. But we must acknowledge that our plans are fully subject to God’s plans.

In Luke 12, Jesus told the parable of the rich man who had big plans to build more barns and then retire, eat, drink and be merry. But God had other plans and said to him that he would die that night.

James chides those who would say: “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and make a profit” not because there is anything wrong with making plans, but to think that you can make those plans outside of God’s plans is to fail to recognize that we are but “a mist that appears for a time and then vanishes”. Instead, James says that we should  say: “If the Lord wills, we will do this or that.” James 4:13-15

Because the will of the Lord trumps everything and His plans supersede all plans.

So, let’s contemplate for a little while the “plans” and the “will” of God and why they both are bound up in what we call His “eternal decrees”.

God is eternal and omnipresent, existing outside of time and space. Therefore anything He “wills” has been “willed” from eternity, and anything He “plans” has been “planned” for eternity. These are sometimes hard things for us to comprehend because we are entirely bound by time and space.

Therefore, it would be wrong to think that God makes a decision or sets His will at some point in our time. If He sets His will it has always been set. If He forms a plan, it has always been formed. This is difficult for the finite mind to grasp. We can’t imagine how a being can be infinite and eternal, fully omniscient and omnipresent such that He is fully present in the eternity past and the eternity future.

We always get in trouble when we try to understand God in the context of our physical realm. This is why all attempts to say: “Well the Trinity is like…” and then we offer some physical example, which is always short of the reality… like eternally short.

But, we have to use finite words to describe infinite things, just as God has revealed Himself to us in finite words, because that is all we have in this finite realm.

So how do we speak of God “forming a plan” or “setting His will” without implying that there was a moment in our time when He did so? Well, the best I’ve heard is the old phrase “God’s eternal counsel” which allows us to speak in words that make sense to us: “God, in His eternal counsel” did thus and so. But even this phrase can be problematic if we begin to think that there was a “counsel” that God had at a point in our time in which He came up with a plan or some aspect of His will. This might lead us to think that there was a “time” when God was coming up with an idea or plan. But God, who knows everything from all eternity past cannot be thought of making a decree in which He has for an eternity been unaware of.

This is where we stop and hold our head and say “Oh, my!”

Now, don’t run off the track there, because this does NOT mean that God doesn’t act IN time and space. He does. Jesus came in the form of a baby. He met with Abraham and made a covenant with him. He destroyed the world with a flood. He has acted at countless times (our times) in the past and He will, no doubt, act countless times in the future.

We just need to be careful that God’s “actions” in our finite world don’t cause us to make Him therefore finite.

When God asks “Adam, where are you?” this doesn’t mean that God was clueless as to where Adam was hiding. God knew Adam would fall and knew he would be ashamed and knew he would try to hide from God… and He knew all of this for all eternity.

When Abraham “bargains” with God over how many righteous people it would take to spare Sodom, it doesn’t mean that God was over-matched by Abraham’s negotiation skills. God was fully aware of all of this in the eternity past. But in order for God to interact with finite man, He must stoop into our world to do so. And if He wanted Abraham to plead for Sodom, He must interact with Abraham as He did. If He wants Adam to confess that he is hiding and why, God must ask, “Adam, where are you?”

And so, it is in the context of the mind-blowing contemplation of God’s eternal nature, that we speak of His eternal decrees.

In Acts, when Peter is speaking to the Jews at Pentecost, said:

“… this Jesus, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” Acts 2:23

Here we have the notion of an “eternal counsel”, as we are finitely bound to call it, where this plan of God was “predetermined”. In other words… in the eternal past. This is also an amazing look at how the decrees of God and man’s finite actions somehow intersect in a way that man is fully responsible for His actions and God is fully sovereign in His plans and purposes.

Nowhere, is this more starkly clear than in one of my favorite passages from Isaiah:

 “Remember this and stand firm,
    recall it to mind, you transgressors,
    remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me,
 declaring the end from the beginning
    and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
    and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
 calling a bird of prey from the east,
    the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
    I have purposed, and I will do it.” Isaiah 46: 8-11

Make your plans. Establish you goals. Seek to do better. All of these are good things.

Just hold you plans loosely.

And may our goals and what we seek, all be found to be in accordance with His plans and purposes… “if He wills”.

[Previous: Creator] [Next: Defender]

Verses to ponder throughout the week:

Psalm 33:10-11

The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
    he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
 The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
    the plans of his heart to all generations.

Proverbs 19:21

Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
    but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

 Isaiah 14:27

For the Lord of hosts has purposed,
    and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
    and who will turn it back?

Isaiah 25:1

O Lord, you are my God;
    I will exalt you; I will praise your name,
for you have done wonderful things,
    plans formed of old, faithful and sure.

Jer 4:28

“For this the earth shall mourn,
    and the heavens above be dark;
for I have spoken; I have purposed;
    I have not relented, nor will I turn back.”

Daniel 4:35

all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
    and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
    and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
    or say to him, “What have you done?”

Ephesians 1:11

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will

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5
Judge
[preface] I suppose this attribute of God is one of the most rejected in our culture, for a people who have self-ascended into their own divinity surely deem themselves immune from judgment. Spurning the notion of transcendent truth, we now get to make up our own. “My Heart” becomes a divine voice and everyone should be obligated to acknowledge it as holy and unassailable. If I want to define my own sexuality, then the world should bow down and pay homage. The individual’s heart is revered as sacrosanct. This is why we have become a culture filled with little angry gods who are incensed with those who fail to pay them tribute. But, alas, there is reality. This is the reality that Paul writes about where the divine nature of God is evident to all men because of what God has made, yet man stand’s in defiance before Him and He therefore judges them[i]. Peter writes of scoffers who deliberately overlook the fact that God judged the world with a flood in the past and choose, therefore, to ignore that He will judge the world with fire in the future[ii]. The reality is that God and His transcendent Truth not only really do exist, but that He also judges the evil works of men: “God’s judgment is against people who do evil acts.” Revelation 2:23 This is quite unnerving to us today. God judges rebellion. He really does. Regardless of what your heart tells you, regardless of how much our culture scoffs at it, regardless of the snarky Hollywood quips, God judges rebellion. This was a reality for Adam and Eve and all creation[iii]; it was a reality for those in Noah’s day[iv]; it was a reality for Pharoah and Egypt[v] and for Sodom and Gomorrah[vi]. Time does not allow us to speak of Ananias and Sapphira[vii] or Babel[viii] or Israel (judged over and over again) or Uzziah[ix] or Jezebel[x] or the 185,000 Assyrians that God put to death[xi] or when God opened up the earth and it swallowed the entire tribes of Korah, Dathan and Abiram and their households, their tents and every living thing that followed them[xii]. It is, indeed, “a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 10:31 These are things our culture doesn’t want to hear. And, if we were honest, we don’t either. It is possible that you really don’t like the picture and verse I posted at the beginning: Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. Isaiah 13:9 It just seems so... well, so judgmental! We would rather hear of a God of Hollywood love… a God of the wink and nod, “tsk tsk” and “boys will be boys” and “aren’t they just so adorable”. That’s the God we want… the God of pleasant things. Yet, God is both Creator and Holy, and He therefore has the right to judge rebellious acts by His creatures that are contrary to His Holy character and plans. But here we must be careful, for it is more than that He has the “right” to do it. He doesn’t judge simply because He has a right to, as if His judgment is merely an emotional reaction to being offended… a God pounding someone in order to assert His rights. He righteously judges because this is who He is. He doesn’t “judge” simply because He gets angry with someone. He judges because He is the Judge. This is sometimes hard for us to contemplate for we are so finite and depraved in our nature that we can only see judgment as a violent emotional outbreak rather than a holy, righteous attribute of God. When you step into a courtroom and the bailiff orders “All rise!” it is not because an emotional outbreak is about to enter the courtroom. The one who steps to the bench, wearing the judicial robes is a “judge”. So, too, is God. He is the Judge who judges rightly in accordance with what is righteous and holy. I sometimes wonder if the anthropomorphic language of God adorned in His robe is just as much the robe of a Judge as it is the robe of a King. The Judge of the universe will uphold righteousness and holiness. It may not be immediate and it may not be according to how you want it to be meted out. For our own rebellion, we would like for it to be overlooked; for our enemies, we want it swift and thorough. But, in the end, always according to His good plans and purposes, God will judge. His delay is often seen by the foolish as getting a pass or sometimes leads them to scoff “where is this God?” Sometimes we do the same, complaining when wrongdoers prosper or evil seems to reign. Of course, we are more than happy when God delays His judgment on us. This is the God we like. When my oldest daughter was a little girl, just learning to read, she was looking over my shoulder as I was studying J. I. Packer’s “Knowing God”. She looked at the title of the chapter I was reading and sounded out “God the Fudge”. It was written in a script and she mistook the “J” for an “F”. I thought it was funny and when I explained it to her we both laughed. But I’ve never forgotten that because it is in our nature to want to carve out the hard things in God and make them into soft things… sweet things that are more delightful to our own desires. But, the Judge has already meted out the most horrible of judgments, though there is yet a horrible one to come. This was the judgment rendered upon a totally innocent Man… a Man who lived a sinless life… a Man who obeyed God perfectly, even an obedience that took Him to the scourge and the cross. Jesus bore the entirety of God’s judgment and wrath for His people. All of it. God said that He would not let the guilty go unpunished. And if there had not been a substitute for us, this promise would have doomed us for all eternity. But God was pleased, for the sake of His elect, to place all of our rebellion on Him. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53 It was the Judge who smote Him. It was the Judge who pierced Him and crushed Him. For this we cringe at the massive weight He bore; yet for this we also rejoice and clap our hands in gladness for the judgment due us is no longer. The Judge didn’t lay aside our crimes; He just laid them on Someone else. Oh what a glorious mystery, this Good News! Let us ponder this week the goodness and the severity of God. P.S. I suppose I ought to here do the most unpopular thing and comment on the “Only God can judge me” mantra of our culture. You see it tattooed on a lot of body parts and you see it on posters and in songs and, well, everywhere. Although it has its genesis in a rap by Tupac Shakur in 1996, it is used today as a shut-down phrase for anyone or anything that attempts to tell me I can’t do what I want to do. It certainly isn’t an endorsement for God as Judge. But, as we all tend to use biblical sayings for our own purposes, so, too, does this phrase attempt to silence all who would disagree with the right to follow the longings of my own heart. Don’t be fooled by it. [Previous: Jesus] [Next: Just] Verses to contemplate throughout the week: God’s judgment is against people who do evil acts. Revelation 2:23 The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son. John 5:22 God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. Psalm 7:11 The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge! Selah Psalm 50:6 Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods? Do you judge the children of man uprightly? No, in your hearts you devise wrongs; your hands deal out violence on earth. Psalm 58:1-2 Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. Isaiah 13:9 For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; he will save us. Isaiah 33:22 The king mourns, the prince is wrapped in despair, and the hands of the people of the land are paralyzed by terror. According to their way I will do to them, and according to their judgments I will judge them, and they shall know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 7:27 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.” Ezekiel 18:30 Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. Joel 3:12 He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; Micah 4:3 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. John 8:50 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. Acts 10:42 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:30-31 “…on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” Romans 2:16 “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead…” 2 Timothy 4:1 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. James 5:9 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. Revelation 19:11 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Revelation 20:12-13     [i] Romans 1:18-32 [ii] 2 Peter 3:3-10 [iii] Genesis 3:1-20 [iv] Genesis 6-9 [v] Exodus 5-12 [vi] Genesis 19:1-29 [vii] Acts 5:1-11 [viii] Genesis 11:1-9 [ix] 2 Chronicles 26 [x] 2 Kings 9:30-37 [xi] 2 Kings 19:35 [xii] Numbers 16:1-35
6
Humble
[preface] Sometimes gazing upon the face of God stumps us. Sometimes it stupefies us. And sometimes it means we have to rethink the picture we have created in our minds of who God is. All of this was true of me the first time I contemplated that God was humble. I honestly didn’t know how to fit it in with attributes like omnipotence, omniscience, and sovereignty. It seemed that a God who was holy and just and a “consuming fire” that blazed forth wrath upon evildoers certainly, in my mind, didn’t quite match what I envisioned as “humble”. The road for me began with the words of Jesus when He said that He was “gentle and humble in heart”. Now I had read this many times before, but often the Spirit of God will highlight some words to us and it’s as if we had never read them before. So here was Jesus telling us that He had a humble heart. Well, in my shallow thinking, I thought that this was, of course, true of Jesus, but certainly couldn’t be true of God the Father, for He, in my mind, was the Lawgiver, the Judge and that awful “Consuming Fire” that devoured the offerings on Mt. Carmel and subsequently 450 prophets of Baal were slain. He split the ground open and swallowed up the entire clan of Korah and 250 priests were burned up. He is the God of Revelation who sends forth the four horsemen of the apocalypse that destroy vegetation, seas and rivers; He blasts trumpets and pours out bowls of wrath and sends plagues where the rivers turn to blood and men are consumed with sores; mountains are moved and stars fall from the sky and locusts torment men for months. Whew! Hard to reconcile the holy, wrath of God with a humble heart. And so I didn’t. I basically began to think that the “humble” heart was for Jesus and the consuming fire was the Father. And, unwittingly, I slowly created a polytheistic god in my mind and not the One God of Scripture. Then the Lord highlighted another passage for me. This was the killer. In the Upper Room, Jesus performed one of the greatest acts of humility, washing the disciples stinky, dirty feet. A few minutes later, after performing this humble act, Philip said to Jesus: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” And Jesus made the stunning response: “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father…” And it dawned on me, that when they saw Jesus kneeling before them washing their feet, they were watching the Father as well. Paul states that Jesus is the “exact image” [eikon] of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). We could dwell on this word for days, but the essence is just what Jesus said: "If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father." There is no polytheism here. There is One God, and He is humble… through and through… Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So how do we reconcile our bad thinking? How do we bring together what we have erroneously thought as incompatible: the powerful, omniscient, almighty, holy, consuming fire of God and His humility? Well, the problem isn’t with God, for none of His attributes are contrary and He is totally consistent within His own Being, so it must be with us… with our thinking. I have often used this metaphor: Suppose there were two kings. Each ruled over half of the earth and all of its wealth. Both unimaginably powerful. One king would never, ever engage with the people, especially paupers. The other king, when his duties were done at the end of the day, would put on a ragged cloak and walk in the streets, talking with the people, the shop owners as well as the man who swept the street. In your eyes, which is the greater king? It is here that we begin to understand just what it means for God to be “humble”. In Psalm 113 we read this great passage: “Who is like the Lord our God, who is enthroned on high, who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth?” The Hebrew word here [shaphel] means that God has to “stoop” to engage with our world. This is like the king who puts on the ragged cloak and comes down from his lofty throne to speak with the peasants. But it is greater, for God is higher than any king could ever be. And to Him, we are lower than any peasant could ever be to an earthly king. But this is our God… who stoops, who humbles Himself, to engage with us. “... Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Phillipians 2:5-8 And why did God do such a thing? Because His humility is bound up inexorably with His love. It is impossible to truly love unless you are humble, for true love requires sacrifice. Jesus “humbled” Himself and became a man. He “stooped” to take on flesh that He might save us. This was not contrary to His nature, but it was in conformance with His nature. Just because God is all-powerful and sovereign does not mean that He is not humble in heart. When the Scripture calls us to be holy, it is because God is holy. When it calls us to be perfect, it is because He is perfect. When it calls us to be humble, is this because He is proud and arrogant? No. It is because He is “gentle and humble in heart”. And why He calls us to be like Him in Romans 12: “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” Romans 12:16 And, it is why in Psalm 51 we read that God is not interested in the sacrifice of bulls and goats, but "... a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” There is no room in the heart of God’s people for pride and arrogance. There is no room for haughtiness or lack of love. If we are the children of God, we should be characterized by humility. Not a mousy, no-spine kind of thing, but a strong, courageous willingness to “stoop”, to sacrifice, to become engaged with the lowliest of God’s creatures. The Philippians passage begins with these words: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…” And then it describes His willingness to “stoop”, to sacrifice, for the good of another. Are we willing to “stoop”? Are we willing to set aside our comfort, our script, our plans for the sake of those who, from a worldly perspective might be “beneath” us? God is opposed to the proud, but He gives grace to the humble. James 4:6 Ah! Therein lies a great clue. [Previous: Holy] [Next: Immanuel] Verses to ponder throughout this week:  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8 But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. Hebrews 2:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29 Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; Psalm 113:5-6 Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, he sees them from afar. Psalm 138:6 For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. Isaiah 57:15 These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word. Isaiah 66:2 God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. James 4:6 “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” Romans 12:16 “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:16-17