Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Why Did My Savior Come to Earth?

In 1892 James G. Dailey, Sr. published a hymn entitled, “Why Did My Savior Come to Earth?” Each stanza and refrain repeatedly answers, “Because He loved me so.” While acknowledging the hymn’s beauty and soul-stirring effect, technically this is not a biblical answer. Scripture clearly affirms God’s love for us,1 but whenever we read of our Savior Jesus Christ’s love, the emphasis is on what he did while living on earth rather than the express purpose of his coming.2

If we allow the Lord himself, in his own recorded words and through his inspired agents, to answer the “why” of his coming, here is what we learn: 

·      To fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17).

·      To proclaim God’s kingdom (Luke 4:43).

·      To call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32).

·      To seek and save lost sinners (Luke 19:10; 1 Tim. 1:15).

·      To bring conflict among the noncompliant (Matt. 10:34-38).

·      For judgment, giving spiritual sight to the receptive and blindness to the resistant self-reliant (John 9:39).

·      To provide the abundant life (John 10:10). 

·      To serve others, giving his life a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45).

·      To suffer and die (John 12:27); to taste death for everyone (Heb. 2:9).

·      To destroy the works of the devil and the power of death (Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8).

·      To release the captives of sin (Heb. 2:15).

·      To be a merciful and faithful high priest, make atonement/appeasement for sins, and help those who struggle with temptation (Heb. 2:17-18).


While Dailey’s hymn reminds us of the motivating power of Christ’s love (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14a), when biblically defined love is so much more than an emotionally stirring prompter. The life and teachings of our Savior demonstrate that genuine love is always active and outwardly focused, having the recipients’ best interests at heart. Why did my Savior come to earth? The Bible provides a number of reasons, but maybe love is the best single-word summation of them all.


--Kevin L. Moore


Endnotes:

     1 John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; Eph. 2:4; 1 John 3:1; 4:9-11, 19.

     2 Mark 10:21; John 11:3, 5, 36; 13:1, 23, 34; 15:9, 12, 13; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20; Rom. 8:35, 37; 2 Cor. 5:14; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 3:19; 5:2, 25; 1 John 3:16; Rev. 3:9; also John 14:21 with reference to what he will do.

 

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Image credit: https://studyprayserve.com/2019/02/23/daily-mass-transfigured-glory-before-the-cross-of-christ-catholic-inspiration/

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

When God is Able But Not Willing (Isaiah 59:1-2)

About seven centuries before Christ, Assyria was rising as a world power hostile to God’s covenant people, who had shamefully divided into two dysfunctional kingdoms, each drifting farther and farther away from the Lord’s standard of righteousness. During this period Isaiah the son of Amoz is called to be God’s spokesman. Along with a message of messianic hope for the future, he issues warnings of impending judgment against Israel and Judah, as well as surrounding nations.

In the 1st verse of the 59th chapter Isaiah announces: “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear” (NKJV, emp. added). God’s lack of response to the cries of his people and refusal to deliver them from their oppressive enemies has nothing to do with whether or not he is capable. He is neither powerless nor indifferent. But there is something keeping him at bay. The next verse reads: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.” 


The English word “hear” in this text is translated from the Hebrew שָׁמַע [shema],

with nuances including hear, listen, understand, heed, and hearken unto. The Jewish confessional prayer, known simply as the Shema, declares: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” (Deut. 6:4). This speaks of a receptive and responsive hearing.


God is omniscient. He sees, hears, and knows all things. However, for those who are unreceptive and disobedient, he will not hear responsively, i.e., he will not hearken unto their pleas. It is not because he does not care. It is not due to a lack of love. “For God so loved the world …” (John 3:16a); “But God demonstrates his own love toward us …” (Rom. 5:8); “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us” (Eph. 2:4). 


Why, then, does God allow this separation from those he loves? Why does he close his ears to their calls? Could it be because of his holiness? As Habakkuk observes, concerning God, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness” (Hab. 1:13a). God is so holy and infinitely pure, he can have no close association with that which is sinful. His very nature demands this separation.


But God still loves us anyway. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom. 5:6-11).


Sin separates. The love of God through Christ reconciles. When we are not as close to the Lord as we would like to be or ought to be or used to be, he is not the one who has moved (Heb. 13:5). Although God is able to do extraordinary things, he will not hear and he will not save when his just and holy nature does not allow it.


The good news is, we do not have to be estranged from God because of our sins. He offers forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ. As penitent believers we can have our sins washed away by Christ’s blood in baptism, raised to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). If your sins are causing a separation between you and God, take advantage of his gracious offer of forgiveness and reconciliation.


--Kevin L. Moore


* FHU chapel talk 19 Oct. 2020

 

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Image credit: Tran Tuan Viet’s photo of Vietnam’s “Golden Bridge,” https://e.vnexpress.net/news/travel/places/golden-bridge-shot-wins-top-architecture-photo-prize-for-vietnam-4093088.html

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Beyond Words

How does one go about describing God, explaining God, or even fathoming his nature and works? Many reject the reality of God’s existence because the very concept is so foreign to our human experience and self-perception. But that’s the point. If he could be conceptualized on the human level, he wouldn’t be God! His ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours (Isa. 55:9). His depths are so vast (1 Cor. 2:10), mere words are inexpressible (2 Cor. 12:4) and amount to inarticulate groanings (Rom. 8:26).1 The vocabulary of all human languages combined does not have sufficient words through which the Most High can fully reveal himself. 

Due to the limitations and inadequacies of human speech and thought, the transcendent LORD and his direct activity cannot be verbalized literally. Divine revelation therefore has to employ analogy, metaphor, personification, anthropomorphism, hyperbole, and other figures of speech (e.g. Isa. 6:1-7; Ezek. 1:3-28; et al.). With valiant attempts to accommodate our limited capacity to understand, biblical authors, even inspired by God’s Spirit, seem to struggle to put into meaningful words that which is inexplicable and indescribable.

·      “O the immensity of abundance, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and incomprehensible his ways!” (Rom. 11:33).

·      “But to the One having power above all things to do exceedingly beyond what we ask or think, according to the power working in us” (Eph. 3:20).

·      “But we have this treasure in clay containers, that the surpassing excellence of the power might be of God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7).

·      “Thanks to God for his indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).

·      “For the momentary lightness of our affliction, according to excessive excellence unto excessive excellence,2 is producing for us an eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17).

·      “For God so [emphatically] loved …” (John 3:16a). 

·      “But God being rich in mercy, through his abundant love with which he loved us” (Eph. 2:4).

·      “How will we escape, having neglected so great a salvation …” (Heb. 2:3a).

·      “Wherefore also he has the power to save to the uttermost …” (Heb. 7:25a).

·      Much more then having now been justified by his blood …. much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:9a-10).

·      “I came that they may have life, and may have it exceedingly” (John 10:10b).

·      “But in all these things, we more than conquer through the One having loved us” (Rom. 8:37).


How do you explain? How do you describe? The ancient psalmist has observed, “Yahweh our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth, Who has set your majesty above the heavens” (Psalm 8:1). In more recent times we lift our voices and sing, “You are beautiful beyond description, too marvelous for words; too wonderful for comprehension …. I stand in awe of You.”3

 

We basically have to resort to feeble expressions like boundless, infinite, unsearchable, unfathomable, inexplicable, indescribable, and incomprehensible, realizing that words alone are insufficient. God therefore has stooped down to our level and communicates not only with our words but beyond our words through the Word who took on human flesh (John 1:1, 14, 18; Heb. 1:1-2).

 

--Kevin L. Moore

 
Endnotes:
     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation. Emphasis added with italics; added words in [square brackets].
     2 The inexpressible magnitude of what lies beyond this temporal life is so hard to put into words that the Greek term ὑπερβολή [huperbolé], from which the English word “hyperbole” is derived, is employed twice as a feeble attempt to make the point: ASV, “more and more exceedingly”; CSB, “absolutely incomparable”; ISV/NASB, “far beyond any/all comparison”; NIV, “far outweighs them all”; N/KJV, “far more exceeding.”
     3 “Beautiful Beyond Description,” by Mark Altrogge (1987).
 
*Appearing in modified form in The Estes Echo (6 Nov. 2020).

Image credit: http://openuniverse.asi.it/

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Are Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:11-19 Records of Satan’s Fall?

Isaiah’s Message

Isaiah’s prophetic career spanned more than four decades, during the reigns of four kings of Judah (ca. 740-698 BC) and the rise of the Assyrian empire. Along with a message of hope for the future, Isaiah issues warnings of impending judgment against the divided and dysfunctional kingdoms of Israel and Judah, as well as surrounding nations.


It has long been assumed that the name Lucifer applies to the devil, based on some translations of Isaiah 14:12 (notably Douay-Rheims, New/ King James versions). However, the context concerns the fall of the Babylonian king (v. 4), using various symbolic images. The Hebrew helel simply means “shining one” or “morning star,” with its Latin counterpart luciferus“bringer of light.” This is not a proper name of the devil but metaphorically descriptive of Babylon’s arrogant ruler.


The first part of the prophecy depicts the collapse of the Babylonian empire and its despotic king, symbolized as a massive tree cut down and cast into the depths of Sheol (the pit of darkness, death, despair), while other “trees” (nations) rejoice, having been oppressed by the once-powerful Babylonians (vv. 4-11). Next the Babylonian monarch is pictured as a self-exalted heavenly star that is cast down to earth and into the depths of Sheol (vv. 12-15). The surrounding nations are at peace when Babylon falls, with the defeated despot pictured further as a despised branch, a bloody garment, and a desecrated corpse (vv. 16-21). The sure destruction of Babylon is a judgment of Yahweh (vv. 22-23), later carried out by the Medes and Persians. 


Ezekiel’s Message


Ezekiel was a 6th-century BC prophet among the Jewish exiles in Babylon, using parables and symbolic imagery to warn of impending judgment against the remaining inhabitants of Judah and other nations, including the Phoenician city-state of Tyre (26:1–28:19) and neighboring Sidon (28:20-24) on the northeast coast of the Mediterranean Sea. A message of doom is directed to the city of Tyre itself (chap. 26), followed by a lament for its downfall (chap. 27), then against Tyre’s ruler [Heb. nagad, not strictly a “prince” but the “commander”] (28:1-10), followed by a lament for the fall of Tyre’s ruler [Heb. melek, the “king”] (28:11-19). 


The city of Tyre consisted of the mainland metropolis on the coast and its heavily fortified island city. Its ruler was guilty of boastful self-sufficiency and thought his island fortification “in the midst of the seas” (28:2), surrounded by the waters of the Mediterranean, was impregnable. 


The biblical text does not identify Tyre as “Satan,” or anyone else other than the 6th-century BC city-state of Tyre and its leadership. Interpreters through the centuries have literalized Ezekiel’s symbolism and applied it to what they think happened to Satan, but their inferences are not clearly stated in the biblical record. 


Seeming to parallel the story of Adam and his fall (Gen. 1–3), the description of the ruler of Tyre (Ezek. 28:11ff.) corresponds to his deified self-assessment (vv. 2-6). Ezekiel is figuratively portraying an environment of wealth, privilege, and security at the beginning of the ruler’s life, while still in his innocence. The imagery describes him as an anointed “cherub” dwelling in God's “garden” and “holy mountain,” i.e., enjoying divine favor and blessings (vv. 12-14). The king is then reminded that this state of perfection or innocence lasted until “iniquity was found in you” (v. 15). Consequently he was cast out of God's mountain (out of God's favor) to the ground, upon the earth, symbolizing his public defeat and humiliation (vv. 16-19). 


This highly symbolic prophecy was historically fulfilled by the Babylonians and later the Greeks. Note also similar imagery likening the downfall of the Egyptian Pharaoh to that of Assyria (31:2ff., esp. vv. 8-9, 16). 


Conclusion


The main subject of each prophecy is “a man” (Isa. 14:16; Ezek. 28:2, 9), not Satan or any other spirit being. The only way to get Satan’s fall out of these verses is to ignore the context and read into them what is not there. When understood properly, both passages confirm the divine inspiration and integrity of scripture as predictive prophecies that were in fact fulfilled in the chronicles of history. 


--Kevin L. Moore

 

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