Blessed are the Pure in Heart, For They Will See God (Matthew 5:27–30)

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Blessed are the Pure in Heart, For They Will See God (Matthew 5:27–30)

Sexual sin. It is a destructive issue we face more often than we like to admit.

Whether it is lust, pornography, adultery, same-sex attraction, or any number of other desires that deviate from God’s good design, we are inclined to bury these parts of our lives in the dark. Yet, in Sermon on the Mount, Jesus wisely and lovingly shines a light on our hearts. Getting to the heart of sexual sin, he explains what lust is, where it comes from, and how, by God’s new covenant grace, it be put to death.

This Sunday we looked at Matthew 5:27–30 to learn from Jesus what lust is and how to combat it. And the answer, which may or may not come as a surprise, is to look more at the beauty and goodness of God than to merely turn away from the flesh. While external barriers and accountability are helpful, it is a heart full of Christ that empowers us to flee from sexual lust.

You can listen to this sermon online, and you can find discussion questions and related resources below. In particular, there are notes below that deal directly with the subject of pornography. Continue reading

Seeing God’s Holiness in the Pentateuch

mosesOver the summer I took ten weeks to preach on the holiness of God in the Old Testament. Or, that’s what I intended to do.

Somewhere in Numbers, I realized that I needed to limit my Old Testament sojourning to the forty years Yahweh led Israel through the Wilderness. Even then, I didn’t have time to consider all that Numbers says about God’s dealings with Israel.

What I did preach and what I pray our church saw, however, was a God relentless in his pursuit of his holiness. Continue reading

Without Holiness . . .

bushSunday I will begin a series of sermons on the holiness of God, namely his kindness and severity evinced in the stories of Old Testament Israel. Since the history and example of Israel has been given to Christ’s church, it is vital that we labor to know those men and women who walked with God in the Wilderness, and more, we must know the Holy One of Israel, whose holy love impelled the Father to send the Son to die for sinners.

In truth, we in the modern church are not comfortable lingering with God and meditating on the fact that he is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). We are much more accustomed to bite-size theology, ten minute devotionals, and casual worship. And yet, what the church needs most today is a fresh encounter with the holiness of God.

Or maybe I just speak for me. I continue to be struck by how much my faith is influenced by the weightlessness of modern evangelicalism. I am not surprised at how my ambient culture has impacted me; I am surprised by how little the God of the Bible has impacted modern Christians. This is why I will be preaching on the kindness and severity of God found throughout the Bible (cf. Rom 11:22).

Without Holiness . . .

Most recently, this thought about our need to ponder the holiness of God was stirred afresh by David Wells in his book God in the WastelandHis soul-searching, heart-pulverizing disclosure of God’s holiness indicates what happens to grace, sin, God, and the gospel when churches overlook the holiness of God. In his survey of Scripture and church culture, he explains what has happened to the modern church who by and large operates without a sense of holiness.

Consider his words, which I’ve bullet-pointed to draw attention to the idea of holiness’s absence (pp. 144–45). Continue reading

Gospel-Motivated Generosity is a Mark of True Obedience

Some of the largest philanthropists in the world are non-Christians.  Agnostics love to give to their Alma Maters as much as Christians; and the generosity of many believers does not always spring from gospel-centered reflection on Jesus Christ.  Accordingly, we need to think more carefully about the relationship between believing the gospel and obeying God’s commands to give generously.

Among many places in the Bible that address this subject, Exodus teaches us that obedience, in general, and giving, in particular, are motivated by grace. Yesterday, we saw how obedience was a result of the Spirit’s work.  Now today, I want to reflect on how God brought about obedience in the people of Israel, and how he does something similar in our lives.

He does not accomplish obedience in us through demand (alone), threat (alone), or reward (alone).  Each of these speech-acts are important in their own right, but ultimately God does something more powerful to effect change in us.  Something we should take note of, in order to live lives according to the gospel.

The Cause of Israel’s Obedience

In Exodus 35, Moses called for Israel to give gold, silver, precious wood and fabrics for the construction of the tabernacle.  If you read carefully, you will notice that he doesn’t badger, manipulate, or threaten.  He asked plainly, and the people gave generously.  In fact, the giving was so abundant that Moses had to tell Israel to stop giving (Exod 36:5-7).  This should immediately cause us to ask: How?  Why did Israel who days earlier made a false God, now give with such generosity?  Was this a guilt offering?  Or was something else going on?

To begin with, lets read Exodus 35:20-29 and then lets make a few observations.  Moses records,

Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the LORD’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the LORD. And every one who possessed blue or purple or scarlet yarns or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or goatskins brought them. Everyone who could make a contribution of silver or bronze brought it as the LORD’s contribution. And every one who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work brought it. And every skillful woman spun with her hands, and they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. And the leaders brought onyx stones and stones to be set, for the ephod and for the breastpiece, and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the LORD had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the LORD.

Observations on Gospel-Centered Giving and Obedience

In these ten verses, we see a wonderful model of grace-inspired giving.  If what Moses describes speaks of the totality of Israel, it is likely that all of Israel gave from hearts that were stirred up in affection for God.  Thus, the giving was great because of God’s earlier grace in not only saving them from Egypt but in sparing them from the wrath they deserved because of the Golden Calf debacle.

There are a number of things to notice in these verses that pertain to obedience and giving.

First, the generosity was not motivated by guilt.  Moses did not badger, demand, or manipulate.  He called and Israel responded.  Apparently, something had happened between Aaron’s call for gold and Moses’ call.  The only text standing in between is God’s gracious revelation which presumably accounts for the change.  Moses records that Israel’s hearts/spirits moved them.  Here is the lesson: true obedience, true giving, true Christianity (in the OT and the NT) is a matter of a changed heart, not just a winsome sales pitch.

Second, if you want to produce giving people, you don’t use outward means of solicitation.  Sure, pep talks, testimonies, and logical reasons for giving can be produced.  But in the long run, Christians will give in direct proportion to their heart-felt understanding of the gospel.  If someone is born again and their mind is taken captive to the gospel, they will be quick to give to the work of the gospel.  Now of course this is according to their means—and it was in Israel, as well.  But those committed to seeing the gospel go forward should be asking themselves, what can I do financially to further the ministry of my church or the ministry of gospel-preaching missionaries.

Third, grace is what motivated Israel.  It is not coincidental that such generous obedience follows from God’s revelation to Moses and the renewal of the covenant in Exodus 34.  God’s character was revealed and pronounced with grace and goodness, this in spite of Israel’s wrath-inviting sin.  Thus, grace seems to be the reason why Israel had such a change of heart. Just the same, grace should motivate you and I in our obedience, giving, and in everything else.

What We Are Missing

I think this is something that is often missed.  And it is missed by pastors as much as it is missed by anyone.  Such gospel ministers who “save” people with the gospel and then try to produce growth and discipleship through the law. But it is not just pastors, parents are just as culpable, as they  focus on rules and making their children submit, instead of winning their hearts by the grace of God.

Somehow in efforts to produce good Christians and good children, we have missed the way God motivates through his inspired servants.  Moses was overwhelmed by God’s glorious grace in Exodus 34, and he spoke about YHWH’s abundant grace for the rest of his life–just read Deuteronomy.

Likewise, Paul when writing to the Corinthian church urged them to give, not with appeals to conscience or legal demands.  Rather, he called them to give out of glad hearts, hearts overflowing with thanksgiving in the gospel. Notice what he says in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15.

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

In these words, the great gospel missionary reminds the Corinthians of God’s abundant grace, total sufficiency, and he spurs them on to give so that they might see greater gospel fruit—the lost being won to Christ, the gospel reaching new peoples, etc.  He motivates with the gracious gospel.  So should we.

The Deeper Problem

Still, the deeper problem is not that we motivate others with the law and calls to do better.  We do the same with ourselves.  A number of years ago, I asked a prominent Bible teacher how he has remained faithful in the work of the Lord.  His answer surprised me.  Instead of appealing to God’s word, or the Spirit, he simply said that every day, he simply made the choice to keep following God.

I guess for him, it had worked, but I know too many people who have failed at the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of Christianity.  Indeed, I think God wants us to fail at self-sufficient sanctification.  I would even say, that the man who said his obedience to the Lord came from simply doing it everyday was radically dependent on the promises of God and the power of the Spirit.

But therein lies the problem: The way he walked by faith in God’s gospel was assumed, not articulated.  Sure, he depended much on the word of God.  In another conversation, he said, he studied a different book of the Bible every month and that over decades he had been through the Bible countless times.  Thus, he was radically dependent on God’s word and captivated by its vision of Christ.  Still, he did not communicate that when asked about how to remain faithful.

Thus, we need again and again to point out from God’s Word how and where we find motivation for holy living.  Such obedience is motivated by the gospel and nothing else, and here in Exodus we find an excellent example of a people who gave richly because they had received richly.

May we do the same.  May we risk, give, and live for Christ not out of the goodness of our hearts, but rather because of the goodness of God proclaimed and promised in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Until he comes, may we live in radical dependence on God’s grace, and may we trust that his grace will be sufficient for all that he calls us to do.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

 

Sermon Notes: Holy to the Lord

Aaron’s priestly work brings holiness Israel

In our last reflection on Exodus 28, we see that verses 36-39 describe the priest’s turban. Front and center in this brief description, and on the priest’s head, is a the mention of a golden plate.  Engraved in this golden crown is the inscription, “Holy is the Lord.”

From this statement, it seems that Aaron and his sons’ ability to enter the holy of holies and not die, indicates that he was given the status of holy and pure. Does this anticipate imputed righteousness? Perhaps, but clearly from the surrounding context (esp. Exod 29), he is not intrinsically holy, but covered in the blood of sacrificial bulls and goats, and wearing his priestly apparel, he is “holy to the Lord.”

More importantly though, he is not just representing himself.  He is approaching the throne of God on behalf of Israel’s twelve tribes.  Their names are on his heart. Thus, his status of holy is representatively communicated to the people of God as well.  As the mediating priest for this people, he maintains or establishes the ongoing holiness of God’s treasured possession (cf. Exod 19:5-6).

Christ’s priestly work does not depend upon bulls and goats

Again in Exodus, we are working in types and shadows.  So, it must be asserted that at the same time that the priestly work effectively preserves the people of Israel–God really does dwell in their midst–the sacrificial system given to Moses on Sinai cannot really make Israel holy.  The blood of bulls and goats cannot cleanse from sin (Heb 10:4).  But as they point forward to Christ, God accepts these offerings for his people, until the fulness of time, when his own Son would come and fulfill the law.

In fact Hebrews 10:1-10 explains how Christ’s priestly service depends not on animal sacrifice, but rather his own holy life.

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

With Christ as our perfect high priest, his holiness extends to all those for whom he represents.  As Hebrews 10:14 declares, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”  To say it another way, the priestly work of Christ is particularly for those designated by God to receive the benefits of his atonement, not his enemies (v. 13).   Still, the effect of his purification goes even farther.

Christ’s priestly work purifies all of heaven and earth

There is only one other place in the Bible where an inscription reads, “Holy is the Lord.” It is in Zechariah.  Consider the what the prophet sees,

And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the LORD.” And the pots in the house of the LORD shall be as the bowls before the altar. And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the LORD of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them. And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day (14:20-21).

The question is what does it mean that “Holy is the Lord” is inscribed on the bells of horses?  What is Zechariah, the prophet, telling us about the age to come?

Consider a couple things. First, the bells are on a horse, not a human.  Though, I have had little experience with horses, the smell of Mackinaw Island stands out.  There on that little island, cars are not permitted, and thus the island has a certain “horsey” smell.  In other words, horses are not clean, and the bells on their bodies would certainly not, of themselves, have the kind of cleanness needed to enter the courtyard, let alone the holy of holies.

More biblically, the mention of horses in the Bible, though variegated, is often not holy.  In the law, kings were not meant to collect horses as a means of strength (Deut 17:16).  In the Psalms, there is exists a contrast between trusting in horses, or trusting in the LORD (20:7).  In the prophets, this sort of distinction, plays itself out with regularity (cf. Isa 31:1).  While not attempting to draw out a “theology of horses,” there is a certain kind of tension in the text, that the inscription of the priest is now engraved on the bells of horses.

Moreover, as verse 21 continues, this holiness is not limited to horses.  Rather, it is an example of how far-reaching this holiness is.  What does this mean?

Here is my proposal: This prophecy magnifies Christ’s priestly work!  So great is Christ’s priestly work that not only will his people be eternally redeemed by his blood, but all heaven and earth will be cleansed as well. His blood perfectly atones for the New Israel (Gal 6:16), but it also makes a way for all the earth to be purified.

Has this happened yet?  No, but the text in Zechariah is eschatological.  It is looking forward to “that day.’  The cleansing of the universe has not taken place yet.  New Creation is still forthcoming; and yet Christ’s new creation work has begun in the individuals who have been made priests by the blood of his atonement (1 Pet 1:18-19; 2:5, 9).  Thus, while we have not seen Zechariah 14 yet, we have every reason to expect that it will come to fruition “on that day.”

In the meantime, we have confidence that if Christ’s blood has the power to make horses clean, his blood has the power to make the worst sinner clean.  In other words, if the atonement is so extensive as to clean all the universe, than it must be have such an intensive power, that there is not one sin that God cannot forgive in Christ.

Indeed, that is the promise: For anyone who confesses there sins to God, he is faithful and just to forgive their sins and cleanse them of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).  This is the good news, and it seen in the tabernacle of Exodus 28, on the bells of horses in Zechariah 14, and throughout the rest of the Bible.

What could be better knews than that?

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


Sermon Notes: The Tabernacle as a Holy Abode

Yesterday, we considered how the tabernacle served as a typological model meant to instruct Israel and us about God’s world, God’s plans for salvation, and what it means for the Creator to dwell with his redeemed creation.  Today, we will look at the way  God’s house is a holy abode.

In Exodus 25:8, Moses records God’s statement, “Let them make me a sanctuary…”  The word here means holy place.  Everything about the house of God is intended to stress his holiness.  From the arrangement of the curtains to the selection of the building materials, everything about the tabernacle shows how closer proximity to the holy of holies demands increased purity and holiness.

Holy of Holies, Holy Place, and Courtyard

The first thing that shows the holiness of God is the floor plan of the tabernacle, along with the series of curtains that separated Israel from God.  Exodus 26 explains these dimensions. So that looking down on the tabernacle, you can see a courtyard 150 feet long, 75 feet wide.  This courtyard was surrounded by a fence (7.5 feet high).  The gate was on the East (like the garden of Eden), and upon entering the courtyard, the Levites would be confronted with a massive bronze altar (7.5 ft wide, 4.5 feet high) and a bronze basin for washings.  Describing this holy space, T.D. Alexander writes,

Separated from the rest of the Israelite encampment, the courtyard was set apart as a holy area; only the tabernacle, in which God dwelt, was considered to be more sacred… Just as Moses set a boundary around Mount Sinai to prevent the people from coming into the divine presence (19:12-13, 21-24), so the courtyard fence prevented them from approaching God inadvertently… Without the courtyard buffer zone, it would have been impossible for [Israel] to dwell in safety close to the Lord (T.D. Alexander, From Paradise to Promised Land197).

So at the first-level, God’s holiness is seen in the separation between the priests and the people.  Next we come to the tabernacle, itself. At the end of the courtyard was the house of God.  In it were two sections—the holy place and the most holy place.  Again these correspond to the pattern on the mountain, and the pattern of access typified in Exodus 24.  When Moses met with Israel, the people remained in the camp, the priests came half-way up the mountain, and Moses alone entered the cloud (24:1-2).  

The Screen and the Veil

Next, we see how the screen and the veil add to the idea that God’s presence is separate from man.  Exodus 26:31-37 reports,

 Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain. “And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. It shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it. And you shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, on four bases of silver. And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy. You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the Most Holy Place. And you shall set the table outside the veil, and the lampstand on the south side of the tabernacle opposite the table, and you shall put the table on the north side. You shall make a screen for the entrance of the tent, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, embroidered with needlework. And you shall make for the screen 5 pillars of acacia, and overlay them with gold. Their hooks shall be of gold, you shall cast 5 bases of bronze for them.

When we unpack this passage, the holiness of God’s dwelling space is stressed by the screen that separates the courtyard from the Holy place in verse 36, as well as, the veil that separates the holy of holies from the holy place.  On the veil that protects the most holy place, there are cherubim—angelic beings who live to praise God around his throne.  These are not on the screen.  The difference between the veil and the screen is one more evidence, that approach to God’s throne room should not be taken lightly.

Gold, Silver, and Bronze

Likewise, as you move towards God’s dwelling place, the value of the materials changes.  Notice, the fence at the outside has silver hooks (on top) and brass bases; the screen has gold hooks and brass bases, and the veil has gold hooks and silver bases.  It is also worth nothing that because of these bases, the curtains of the  tabernacle don’t really touch the ground—again this stresses the holiness of God’s dwelling place, and by extension, the holiness of God. 

What might we learn from all this?

It is worth asking at this point, what are the implications of this holy space.  Let me suggest two things.

First, God dwells in unapproachable holiness, and we as covenant-breaking sinners  do not have natural access to him.  Truthfully, I wish someone would have told this to me when I was 17.  Wrongly, I had the impression that because God was a loving father, he was pleased with me and happy for me to come to him.  The tabernacle says otherwise.  God is pleased with absolute holiness.  This doesn’t change in the New Testament, either.  Jesus says that we must be perfect (Matt 5:48); Hebrews declares, without holiness, no one will see the Lord (12:14).

God’s unapproachable holiness has points of access.  At the same time that God’s dwelling place shouts “Holy, Holy, Holy!” It also promises gracious access.  Notice that in the fence there is gate.  In the screen there is an opening.  And in veil there is a way to enter.  What does this teach us about God?  Simply this: We cannot come to him on our own terms or in our own names, but through priestly mediation and a system of sacrifice, God has made a way to come behind the veil.

More specifically, from the people of Israel, there is a chosen people—the Levites—who can enter the courtyard.  In the courtyard, there is an altar to make burnt offerings, sin offerings, and peace offerings; as well as, a basin for cleansing.  These make possible access into the holy place.

Moreover, there is Exodus 28-29 a designated high priest  who will go before the LORD once a year in order to make atonement for Israel (Leviticus 16).  In all this, God reveals that he does not relax his holy standards, but neither does he leave his people to perish under the weight of his law.  He is terrifyingly pure but also unfathomably tender.

Bringing this forward, the tabernacle prepares the way for Jesus Christ, our superior access.  He is the the way, the gate, the door to the Father.  Jesus who is as pure and holy as the inner chamber of the tabernacle comes outside of the courtyard, into the polluted world, and makes clean not only the Levites.  He comes and makes clean people from every tongue, tribe, language, and nation, such that Revelation 5:9-10, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Praise God for his perfect provision of a way into his inner chamber.  May his tabernacle–in shadow and substance–teach us afresh of God’s sublime holiness and boundless grace.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss