“A Good Person”

Romans 3:21 “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”

            In order to appreciate “a righteousness from God,” we need to realize it is something we lack. What I am about to say is intended to keep you and me from saying the really foolish thing people say that keeps us from seeing our need for righteousness. That is the statement, “I am a good person.” If all we mean by this is, “I am not a habitual criminal,” then perhaps we can let it pass. But you know that even the family and friends of convicted criminals are inclined to say, “But he is really a good person.” I once knew a woman whose husband had multiple affairs and finally divorced her for no other reason than he was tired of her. Still, she insisted, “But he is still a good person.” Our contemporary culture is so uncomfortable with the truth about us, that even in the most obvious cases, we find it difficult to say, “He is not a good person. In fact, he is bad.”

            What does Jesus have to say about all this? You may remember the rich young man who came to Jesus to learn what he had to do to inherit eternal life. The first words out of his mouth were, “Good teacher…” And Jesus couldn’t let his greeting pass. “Why do you call me good? Jesus answered. No one is good–except God alone” (Luke 18:19). No one is good, except God alone. Jesus wasn’t denying that Jesus was good. But he wanted the man to think some more about the person to whom he was talking, and he was already starting to confront some of the false ideas this man had about the man’s own goodness.

            This isn’t said to drive us into depression. It is meant to help us confront the truth. It helps us get past our rationalizations about our own behavior. We can become very comfortable thinking that we are good because, in our opinion, we are mostly good. We are mostly pure and chaste. We are mostly generous. We are mostly obedient. We are mostly content. We are mostly free of anxiety and worry. We think we are “mostly good.” But that isn’t the same thing as righteous. I believe that I have developed a reputation for patience. Ask my wife, however, how patient I am in the middle of a home improvement project that isn’t going right. So it turns out I am “mostly patient.” And that isn’t the same thing as being good.

            Even if we were to shape up 100 percent today (something that no one ever does), we would still have a sinful past keeping us from being righteous–100 percent in conformity with God’s law. Righteousness would still be something we lack. Since we can’t become righteous ourselves, Jesus comes to bring it as God’s gift. This brings us to the righteousness Paul means, “a righteousness from God, apart from law.”

            Jesus brings us righteousness from God. The gift wasn’t a repair project, as though our bodies and souls had a few bad parts that needed to be replaced, and then we would work properly. He didn’t tweak our spiritual diet and exercise to improve our performance, like athletes in training. Nothing but a full replacement was going to do if we were going to be righteous.

             So that’s what Jesus did. He gave us a full identity swap. He became us so that we could be him. He traded our sinful past for his life of perfect love and obedience. On God’s books, if the Lord were now to do a background check on us based on his own records, the article on your life story or mine reads like the story of a man born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. He was raised in Galilee. He traveled Israel as a courageous preacher and teacher, a friend of the poor and the outcast, and a worker of miracles of mercy. There simply isn’t any fault to be found here.

            That sinful past we traded to him, together with our sinful present and our sinful future, eventually landed Jesus in man’s court, where he was condemned as a criminal, and in God’s court, where he was condemned as every sinner who ever lived. From the cross, Jesus life-blood flowed across God’s record book of our sins, erasing every entry as it went, leaving behind nothing but pages fresh with the story of his own love. Now our life’s story, from beginning to end, reads like perfect conformity to God’s law.

            This righteousness isn’t a gift Jesus found somewhere, purchased one for us, boxed it up, gave it to us, and then stood back while he watched us open it. In giving us righteousness, Jesus is giving us his very self. He is our substitute in life and in death. His righteousness is legitimate. His righteousness works. He is “a good person,” and now in God’s eyes, so are we.

Praise Him…For Taking Care of You

Psalm 103:2,5 “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits–who…heals all your diseases…who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

            David wasn’t a TV evangelist making outlandish promises about miraculous healing. He wasn’t denying the real value of doctors, nurses, and medicine. But David knew that all people, even God’s people, experience plenty of pain and suffering in their lives. And David knew that, whatever other help we might get, our pain and suffering goes away only when the Lord touches our remedies with his blessing.

            Maybe we are inclined to question David’s assertion, “who heals all your diseases.” At this very moment I could point to three or four irritating imperfections in my own health that linger on and on. And yet, I got up this morning with enough strength to go to work. The day will come when the diseases finally appear to win, and all my strength is gone. Then God will bring me to the final fulfillment of this promise: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

            Until that day, it is true that now the Lord “satisfies your desires with good things.” Some of us have more, and some of us have less. But all of us have our daily bread. If we take serious stock of our lives, and look closely into the details of what we have and experience, the good far outweighs the bad in practically every case—even in a year marred by worldwide pandemic, widespread unemployment, horrific police brutality, political division, and destructive riots. The Lord has given us life and sustenance. It’s one of many reasons we have for praising him today.

            I send my parents birthday cards each year. I don’t usually send them gifts. Like so many people who have reached retirement, there is little I can give him. They made a good living. They have a good retirement. They have collected “stuff” throughout their adult lives. They seem to have everything. What do you get for such people? The main thing I can do is show my appreciation. I can give him them time and attention. I can thank them.

            In the words of Psalm 103, David urges us to praise the Lord for the kind of God he was and is. There is little else we can give him. He doesn’t depend on the stuff we might bring him. He already has everything. In every way he continues to provide for me and my family.

Though he will put our gifts to use to build his church and care for the souls of others, the main thing we can do is show our appreciation. We can give him our time and attention. Let’s praise him for all his benefits.

Praise Him…For His Forgiving Grace

Psalm 103:2,4 “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits–who forgives all your sins…who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.”

The Lord forgives all your sins and mine. The Bible, you may know, has many different words for sin. In English, too, we can speak about iniquities, and trespasses, and transgressions. The word David uses to describe sin here thinks of it as twisting or bending something.

When I was a little boy, my dad would let me play with some of the scrap wood and simple tools in his workshop. He also had some tools that I wasn’t supposed to find. I once wanted to pull a nail out of a board, but I couldn’t get the claw of the hammer under the head of the nail. I looked around and I found a set of wood chisels he kept hidden away. I pounded the tip of one of those chisels under the nail head, and pried the nail up and out. But in the process I dented and bent the edge of that chisel and pretty much ruined it. My father was not pleased.

Many kinds of sins do the same thing to the good tools God has given us for life in this world. It is good to celebrate and feast like we do at holidays, birthdays, or anniversaries. But you know that not every day can be a feast. Too much of a good thing becomes a sin that bends and twists God’s gift of food so that it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to anymore.

Relationships are another beautiful gift from God, a tool he uses to care for our hearts and our lives in so many different ways. But when we use guilt trips, threats, lies, or pouting to manipulate those relationships for our own purposes, we bend and twist God’s good gift so that it doesn’t work right anymore. It might even become unusable. Our Father is not pleased.

Still, he “forgives all your sins.” Although we connect one sin to another in an unbroken chain that stretches across the length of our lives from birth to death, the Lord forgives them all. It’s not that he is unaware of them. He never approves of them. He simply refuses to hold them against us. No link in that chain of sin is so big, or so long, that he is forced to say, “Now this is just too much. Now you have gone too far.”

A few verses later David gives us a beautiful description of this forgiveness that needs no commentary. It just needs to be heard. “He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:9-12).

What makes the benefits of God’s grace even more amazing is the price that makes forgiveness possible. “He redeems your life from the pit,” David says. The word “redeem” always means that a price is being paid. But just look at who is doing the paying! God himself paid to make sure that we get out of our graves someday. Old Testament believers were given some inkling of the price as day after day, year after year, thousands and even millions of animals died at the altar in God’s temple–all the dead sheep, and goats, and cattle, and doves!

But that was just a picture, and it was small compared to the real price when God became a man, and let himself to be nailed to a cross, where he slowly bled and suffocated and died to pay the price for our guilt. How dearly the Lord must love you to consider you so precious to him that he paid so much to forgive your sins and make you his very own! Having any trouble remembering why we have reason to praise the Lord? Don’t forget the benefits of his grace.

Praise Him…For Your Own Good

Psalm 103:1 “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”

Our praise serves ourselves far more than it will ever serve our Lord. He doesn’t lack self-confidence and need us to pump him up so that he can feel good about himself. He isn’t plagued with all kinds of deep insecurities that make him shrivel up and withdraw if we don’t constantly praise him. He isn’t so stuck on himself that it makes him angry when we aren’t giving him compliments. He desires our praise, even commands it. But the Lord is never needy. Our praises give evidence that we properly understand his place and ours in this relationship.

The benefit of such praise is that it rehearses us in our relationship. There used to be a sign sitting on the counter in the kitchen where my children attended school. It read, “Please and Thank-you Are Still Magic Words.” We work to teach these words to our children, don’t we? Why? We want them to understand when they are asking for a favor, not demanding a right. Others are not their slaves. Our children depend on those who serve them to take care of them. “Please” says, “I am needy, and you are kind to take care of me.” “Thank you” says much the same thing, only after the fact. These words rehearse us in our true roles in the relationship between giver and receiver.

Praising and thanking God teaches us similar lessons. We are needy. I didn’t create myself. I can’t create myself. Ever wish to have a skill you don’t have, and no matter how hard you worked at it you never really managed to do it well? That’s one of the reasons I preach and teach, but I don’t play piano or organ on Sunday mornings. All the abilities I do have are gifts that God has given me. He has been kind. He has done me a favor.

Likewise, I didn’t redeem myself. I can’t redeem myself. I produce sins with no help at all, but it took Jesus to save me from them. He has done this needy soul a favor by giving his life to save me. Giving him our praise and thanks keeps us from forgetting it is so.

Do you know what happens when we stop giving thanks, and our praises fade and die? It doesn’t take long before we forget God’s role in every good thing we have. Our food, our money, and everything else we need appear to be the product of natural processes and our own natural skill and cleverness. What a dark and horrible faith that would be! All the burden to live, to eat, to survive would sit on our own weak shoulders, or worse yet, on the shoulders of other people who may or may not care about us at all! Wouldn’t that be a terrifying life?

What if something goes wrong with the environment, and there is no God promising that while the earth remains seedtime and harvest will never cease? What if something goes wrong with the economy, and there is no God promising to supply all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus? What if something goes wrong with the government and there is no Christ at God’s right hand ruling over all things for the good of his people? What if something goes wrong with my mind, my health, or my skills and there is no God promising, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you”?

One of the benefits of our praise and thanks is that we are spared from that dark and horrible faith (or lack of it). It keeps us from forgetting all God’s benefits. It allows us to live each day in the joy of his grace.

Content With Your Calling

2 Chronicles 26:3, 15-16 “Uzziah was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-two years…His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful. But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall.”

Uzziah had a great life, a great job, and he was good at it. As king, he strengthened his country’s defenses and beat their enemies when he went to war. He loved the land, so he dug wells, and promoted farming and livestock, and turned his country into an agricultural force.

As time passed, however, being the king was less of a calling for Uzziah, more of a way to stroke his ego. He used it to feed his sinful pride.

When sinful pride makes us full of ourselves, the problem never stops with sinful pride. Uzziah stopped being content with his calling. “He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the Lord followed him in. They confronted him and said, ‘It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the Lord.’”

Not just anyone could serve as an Old Testament priest. You had to be a direct descendant of the very first high priest, Moses’ brother Aaron. Uzziah did not come from the right family or right tribe to be a priest. He was dabbling in things for which he had no calling.

As long as he had the skills, though, and he did it right, did it really matter? It mattered to the Lord. It still matters that we learn to be content with our callings.

I had a friend who wanted to be in politics. But you don’t just walk into the capitol and start attending sessions of Congress. You have to be elected. Today my friend works for an elected politician. It’s as close as he is going to come, it appears, and he can serve God faithfully if he is content with his calling.

The New Testament makes being male a qualification for certain church leadership positions. So Paul writes in 1 Corinthians chapter 14 and 1 Timothy chapters 2 and 3. We can question God’s wisdom in setting such limits. But God calls us to be content with our callings, even though that may mean limits on what we can do.

Somewhat ironically, since Jesus has come, God now claims us all as his priests. Our own bodies are the temples in which we serve. Peter writes, “You (you Christians, all of you) are a chosen people, a royal priesthood.” That’s not priests in the sense of professional clergy. But since Jesus is the Great High Priest for all time, and by his blood on the cross he has removed every sin that stood between us and God, we can bring our prayers and sacrifices to God directly. We offer our bodies to him as living sacrifices in thanksgiving for the gift of salvation. Our callings–father, mother, son, daughter, citizen, student, employer or employee–are the sacrifice of love that come from our spiritual priesthood. 

Uzziah wanted to try a different calling. Now God was going to give him one. But it wasn’t the calling for which he was looking. “Uzziah, who had a censor in his hand to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the Lord’s temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead…King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house–leprous, and excluded from the temple of the Lord. Jotham his son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land.”

You know about leprosy. It was incurable. Lepers had to live apart from other people so that the disease would not spread. Leprosy meant that Uzziah could not serve as king anymore. His son Jotham took over the government. Leprosy made it very clear that Uzziah couldn’t be a priest. He couldn’t even go to the temple. He had to live by himself in his separate house. God had changed Uzziah’s calling. He lived the rest of his life as sick man, a patient, with his disease.

Was that nothing more than a punishment because Uzziah made God so mad? Actually, God struck Uzziah with leprosy because he loved him. If the Lord had let him continue with his pride, it would take him away from God. But we read about Uzziah the leper, “Uzziah rested with his fathers and was buried with them in a field for burial that belonged to the kings, for people said, ‘He had leprosy.’” Since he wasn’t actually buried next to the other kings, we don’t understand “he rested with his fathers” as a reference to a royal burial. His soul rested with his believing ancestors in heaven. In a strange twist, God used leprosy to help save Uzziah’s soul.

There are things about your callings that aren’t always fun. There are things about them that aren’t ever fun. The unpleasant parts of your calling probably aren’t as extreme as having leprosy. But they all serve to humble us. They expose our weaknesses. Sometimes they uncover our sin. They remind us that we must depend on God, and they drive us back to the cross where Jesus is always waiting with forgiveness and love.

What you and I need is rarely an escape to a different calling. What we need is to be content with our calling, because even when they humble us, God is using them to keep us close to him.

Problems with Purpose

Philippians 1:13-14 “As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”

If we are going to trust God and embrace the life he has given us, problems and all, it helps to know it serves some purpose. I can’t say that the Lord always tips his hand and shows us the specific good purpose for every unhappiness you or I have. Scripture proposes a number of possibilities. But the promise of Jesus and of his word is that God’s good purposes are always lying behind the problems he permits.

Paul saw at least two good purposes behind his imprisonment in Rome. Both of them had to do with the Gospel’s progress. Through his imprisonment, others could see Christ. “As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” It’s not that Paul had a chance to speak to all these people personally. But as his case became known, the reason this prisoner was in Rome became known to more and more people. Maybe they didn’t know the whole gospel yet, but the name of Christ, and the difference he made in one man’s life, was becoming clear. That paved the way for more mission work as others began to see Christ in Paul’s circumstances.

Can our problems have a similar purpose? You don’t know Marshall Shelley, but almost thirty years ago his wife gave birth to a little girl with a severely underdeveloped brain. As a result, this little girl developed frequent seizures, was unable to swallow, never really made use of her limbs or senses, and lived only two years. Mr. Shelley asked the question, “Could a sightless, wordless, helpless infant ever be a successful human being? If success is fulfilling God’s purpose, I consider Mandy (his little girl) wildly successful.” (Christianity Today, April 1993).

Why? During her short life in the hospital, her silent condition, and the faithful Christian reaction of her parents, brought Christ to the attention of many people. Friends in the neighborhood, at school, and even strangers in the grocery store would ask about her. Very quickly conversations about her medical condition turned to deeper questions about God and his purposes. At least three different hospital employees discovered or renewed a relationship with Christ as a direct result of their interaction with the family. Do my problems have any connection the Gospel’s progress? They do, when they help others to see Christ as a result.

They might even inspire brothers and sisters in the faith to speak about him! “Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”

You might think Paul’s chains would discourage other Christians from speaking up about their faith. That is certainly what the enemies of Christianity have in mind when they persecute us. But threats, violence, and intimidation often have the opposite effect on the Gospel’s progress. Hardship has a way of weeding out the pretenders and the uncommitted. Bravery in one person inspires bravery in others.

Think about it. You might be entertained by “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” (Okay, I am dating myself). But the stories that inspire us, the people that move us to try harder and do better, aren’t the stories of people who had it easy. It is those who had it rough, who had all the odds stacked against them, who fought and struggled against the obstacles and overcame them, or died trying.

So Paul’s chains were inspiring others. “If Paul is willing to sit in prison instead of keeping his mouth shut about Christ, I can speak about my Savior a little more fearlessly, too.” How about us? Can we be inspired by his courage? Can the godly, faithful, courageous way in which we bear our own burdens and carry our own crosses inspire our Christian brothers and sisters not only to see Christ at work in our lives, but also to speak about him in their own? When I hear missionaries telling about the dangers they have faced, it doesn’t make me clam up. It makes me want to speak up! And we can do so in the relative safety of the United States.

In the same way, maybe our own problems can serve the Gospel’s progress and move others to live and speak their faith more fearlessly, too.

Accepting the Life I Get

Philippians 1:12 “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”

What happened to Paul was this: He was arrested for inciting a riot in Jerusalem that was started by others. Because of false charges and a corrupt justice system he waited for two years in prison for the opportunity to clear his name before the emperor. Now he was sitting under house arrest in Rome, 1400 miles away, and it appears that he had testified in at least one hearing.

This was not a situation Paul had sought. He didn’t go looking for trouble. But he did accept that, for two years, this was his life. Later he writes to these same Christians in Philippi that he had learned to be content in any and every situation. The Lord had even sent a prophet to inform Paul ahead of time that he would end up in chains if he visited Jerusalem. But Paul was convinced that God had called him to make this trip to Jerusalem. If that meant arrest and prison, Paul was willing to accept it. It wouldn’t be the first time that preaching the gospel got him into trouble with the law.

What can you say about the place that Jesus and his love had taken in Paul’s heart? Here was a man who had really let go of the world for his faith. He wasn’t worried about how his retirement savings were doing, updating the kitchens and bathrooms in his house, whether his favorite team was going to make the playoffs, or how popular he was at school. He had one great love: his Lord Jesus Christ. He had one great goal: introducing everyone he could to Jesus and his saving sacrifice. If problems, and even prison, meant progress for this gospel–if it meant more people heard that Jesus was their Savior from sin–he was ready to say, “Bring it on!”

We have our own problems happening to us. You didn’t sign up for yours, did you? If someone said to you, “Stand in this line, and when you get to the front they will give you cancer, or diabetes, or high blood pressure,” you wouldn’t be volunteering yourself for that. If you were told, “Get in line here and receive a broken home complete with petty fights, unreasonable demands, unfair blame, and cruel insults,” you aren’t a willing customer. You aren’t going to plunk your money down for the book on how to be a socially awkward. You aren’t going to respond to the ad for less than average looks, where people might still say nice things about you, but “pretty” or “good-looking” is never going to be one of them.

You and I aren’t signing up for this stuff. But they still might be our reality. Can we be content like this? Even more, can we embrace our reality if this is what God has given us?        

In order to see past our problems, and embrace the life that God has given us, whatever it is, we need to see that we can trust God implicitly. We need to believe that he loved us so much that we can trust him even if we don’t understand why he lets all these problems happen.

Isn’t that exactly what we have in the gospel? Here we learn that in spite of our sin, God has never stopped loving us. He didn’t just look at our life from far away and shake his head. He came and shared it. In the person of Jesus, he transformed himself into one of us. He struggled with our problems. He experienced our temptations, even to the point of suffering with them. And he overcame. He lived a joyful life, a holy life, a giving and loving life through it all. Credit for this victory is his first gift to us.

Then he paid for the suffering we deserved. Like the Apostle Paul, he knew that the city of Jerusalem had bad things waiting for him. But Jesus embraced God’s will for his life, even if it meant suffering. He embraced the cross and death by crucifixion because this is how he rescued us from sin and hell. This is how forgiveness can come flowing from heaven in a stream so constant, so deep, and so wide that every sin we commit no matter how big or small is swallowed up and disappears under the river of God’s eternal grace. When Jesus rose from the dead on the third day his new life promised us a new and perfected life to come where our problems, no matter how large they look now, aren’t even a memory anymore.

This is reason enough to trust God with the way he runs our lives.

Getting Jesus Right

Mark 8:27-29 “Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, ‘Who do people say I am?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets. But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ.’”

If Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” what would the answer be today? Some people want the practical principles Jesus. By listening to him and watching his example, they find all kinds of useful principles to improve their lives. Following Jesus can help businessmen with their leadership skills and time management. Eating like Jesus can improve your diet. Developing relationships like Jesus did might improve your family or your friendships.

Many of these observations may even be true, but we don’t really think that Jesus came as a business consultant, a dietician, or a family counselor, do we? It’s not wrong to learn these things, but if we don’t see him as something more, then he remains nothing more than a messenger. It is even possible that we will end up using him to turn in on ourselves, to become more worldly.

Then there is the moral police Jesus. In this view Jesus becomes the champion of sobriety, abstinence, celibate singlehood, modesty, and heterosexuality. He is the enemy of getting buzzed, promiscuity, adultery, homosexuality, and anything that denies the sanctity of life. You can’t deny that these lists of virtues and vices all reflect good, biblical positions. Read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and then can you deny that these were Jesus’ morals, too?

But if that is all we see in Jesus–the man with the moral message– then our red hot zeal may easily turn us into prideful, spiritual bullies. Do we find Jesus trying to force himself on those who don’t want to hear him in the gospels? The answer is no. Is the tone of his ministry one of forcing the truth or trying to win people to it? If we get Jesus right, we see that he is not merely a moral messenger, especially not a mean-spirited one.

Still another version of “Who is Jesus?” is “the great humanitarian Jesus.” By word and example, he teaches us to be kind and generous. Isn’t this why Christians have historically built hospitals, shelters, orphanages, and soup kitchens? Isn’t this why Christians volunteer their time to help someone build a house, or donate their money to dig wells in third world countries?

But all our charity will never turn earth into a Paradise. Christian charity, by itself, never got anyone into heaven. If this is all we make of Jesus, a messenger of mercy, something still is missing. If we follow Jesus this far, but no farther, we still are just as lost.

So who is he, really? When Jesus puts the question to the Twelve, Peter gets Jesus right: “Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ.’”

Christ means “The Anointed One.” Among the Jews, the Christ was always understood to refer to a rescuer, a deliverer. The Messiah was coming to save his people, to free them from something they could not escape themselves. Getting Jesus right, then, always means that we keep the idea of delivering us and rescuing us in view–he does for us what we cannot do ourselves.

When the Jews heard “Christ,” they thought first of a king. We also say, “Jesus is my Lord.” It’s not the same thing as saying “I have a boss. His name is Jesus.” As our Lord, our King, Jesus fought to save us. He fought alone. He died in the battle. My King laid down his life to save an ungrateful peasant like me–not from invaders or criminals, but from the traps of the devil and the consequences of my own sins.

Since Jesus is the Christ, he rescues us as our Priest. Does that sound a little odd? “The clergy to the rescue!” There aren’t many action films about heroic ministers. But Jesus is the Priest who rescues us, and this is the heart of getting him right. When Jesus went to work as our Priest, he did more than lead a worship service, offer some prayers, and deliver a message. He offered his own body and soul as a sacrifice. The effect was payment for sin and forgiveness for the world. He rescued us from an eternity of death and hell.

Since Jesus is the Christ, he rescues us as our Prophet. The message he delivers is the message that assures us that he did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. It is the message of grace and faith that gets Jesus right.

He Will Come with Vengeance

Isaiah 35:4 “Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.’”

“He will come with vengeance; with divine retribution,” Isaiah says. Does that sound right? “There’s that Old Testament God,” some people might say, “all wrath and judgment. He is nothing like the New Testament God of love and peace.” But Isaiah isn’t describing God as an otherworldly law enforcement officer who has lost his cool. He isn’t an angry policeman who snapped and now is beating some man in handcuffs senseless.

Vengeance and retribution, when God is dishing it out on behalf of his children, is simply a matter of justice. Don’t we still want a just God? Don’t we all have an inner sense that demands justice ourselves? A criminal in Texas admitted from prison that he shot a sixteen- year-old girl so that she would not testify against him at his upcoming trial. When she didn’t die immediately after being shot twice, he stepped on her neck until she stopped breathing. We all watched on video as a Minneapolis policeman kneeled on George Floyd’s neck until he expired. Do we really feel that it would be right to give all the guilty parties a free pass in cases like these? Is it only a cruel and unenlightened heart, some uncivilized savage deep within us, that wants to see the guilty pay for what they have done?

Or do we recognize a sense of fairness in justice? Do we see that is better for the guilty themselves that they have to answer for their crimes, rather than to let them live with the illusion that their behavior was acceptable? Do we believe this even if we can’t bring them all the way to genuine regret for what they have done?

That introduces a scary thought. We have been guilty of our own sins. Should God bring his vengeance and retribution down on me? He would be completely within his rights to do so. But that isn’t what happened when he came the first time, was it? Jesus was the only man who ever lived who lived his entire life without owing anything to justice. He committed no crimes to pay for, not even petty sins. Then he turned around and paid for all the crimes of everyone who ever lived. When our God came with his vengeance and retribution, he served justice on himself. He shielded us from the punishment our sins deserved by giving up his life on the cross.

Some might call that “unfair” or “injustice.” But God himself has taught us to call it “grace.” Our sins have not been approved. They have never been excused. But they have been paid for and forgiven. That’s why in Jesus, our God has come with justice and salvation. As Isaiah said, “He will come to save you.”

For one reason or another, most remain unwilling to receive the salvation God has provided. And for one reason or another, that makes them resent and persecute the children of God who do. Many times the people who do not love our Jesus will make us suffer. In response we will do all we can to help them find the same grace of God we have found. Since we remember that we were no better ourselves, we will pray for them, and plead with them, and patiently endure from them to help them find faith and forgiveness in Christ.

But where that fails, Isaiah’s promise applies again to make us strong and brave. In Jesus, your God has come. He came to save you 2000 years ago. Jesus promises that he will return. For us, too, your God will come. When he does, there will be justice for his enemies who make his people suffer.

The Apostle John assures us that even now the Christians who died for their faith and have found their place in front of God’s holy throne are praying, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” The Lord tells them to be patient, to wait a little longer. But he does not deny that the day is coming.

When our God comes, there will be salvation, deliverance, rescue, an end to every enemy that attacks us, body or soul. The issues that make you suffer now, whatever they are, are only temporary. Their end is only a matter of time.

So what are we afraid of? Why do we let life freeze us in fear? Your God has come. He will come again.