Friday, March 30, 2018

Ps 119.176

I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments. Ps 119.176 

I heard recently of someone who won’t sing Come Thou Fount because the hymn writer declares himself “prone to wander… prone to leave the God I love.”
True, this line resonates with me less and less as I grow in faith, but I also recognize how many other things vie for my heart.
Thank God he holds on to me and keeps me close to himself. I could never hold on against all the things that daily tug at my heart and my flesh. Yank and pummel, more like.

I didn’t always know this. I thought I had to muster the strength and faithfulness never to give in to the slightest temptation. Of course I failed.
Even though I trust in the power of God never to let me go, that doesn’t mean I never sin.
I can say with David that I have gone astray like a lost sheep.

Which brings up an interesting question. Just how does a sheep get lost?

Sheep are generally easygoing animals. They don’t tend to get an idea in their head and then execute it. (That would be goats btw.) They mostly stick together and go where everyone else goes. But it does sometimes happen that they get busy eating grass, one mouthful ripped from the ground leads to another, and then to another. Next thing you know, they look up from the grass in front of them, and they’re on their own. The flock is gone. They are lost.
It’s nobody’s fault really, but what are they to do? They couldn’t make a plan and carry it out if they had to. They only know how to follow the guy in front, but right now, there is no guy in front. With no idea where to turn or how to find their way home, they might just as well sit down and cry.

Not very different from us when we sin.
One little compromise, one small step toward distraction, leads to the next.
We lose track of the fellowship of believers in our pursuit of what we deem necessary to survive.
Next thing we know, we look up to find ourselves alone, far from those to whom we belong, not sure how we got there and frightened we may never get back.
A brave sheep might charge off in the direction he thinks leads back to the fold (repent, return, resolve), and may even get it right.
Foolish sheep, of which there are many, put their heads down and keep doing the same thing. They end up wandering further away, getting more and more lost.
Others still, the vast majority of us, sit down and cry.

Strange as it may seem, I think the latter is the best option. Seriously. More often than not, the shepherd finds the lost sheep because he hears it bleat. Stuck, lost, alone, afraid—every sheep will cry for its shepherd.

We have a Good Shepherd, the best Shepherd. He gave his life for his sheep.
He knows his sheep and his sheep know him. He calls us by name, we are his.
We know his voice. We follow him, because he goes before us to lead us.
He knows what he’s doing when it comes to tending his flock.

And when a sheep like you or me goes astray, we can count on him coming after us.
We make ourselves a lot easier to find when we bleat with David, “Seek your servant.”

This is the beautiful, simple message of the Gospel of Jesus.
The elect are God’s people, the sheep of his pasture.
We all like sheep have gone astray, and God has laid on our Shepherd the iniquity of us all.
In the fullness of time God sent his Son to seek and save the lost.
Everyone who calls on him will be saved.

Abraham is the father of our faith, sort of the first sheep ever. His natural offspring, the Israelites, belonged to God because of Abraham’s faith. They bore the brand—circumcision—to prove it.
The Good Shepherd has other sheep too, Abraham’s spiritual descendants, who trust in Jesus by grace through faith. These he also “brands,” with the seal of the Holy Spirit.

Strangely, despite his indwelling Presence, we might still wander from the flock, but never from him. He has his eye on every sheep. Each one matters to him. He’ll come looking for the one lost sheep every time.

The important thing about being a sheep is to recognize when you’re lost. This is most obvious before our first saving encounter with the Shepherd. Separated from him, we followed anything that looked like it would lead us to a place we could belong, anyone who welcomed us even if it was bad for us. We were meant to belong but we didn’t know where or to whom.

Ravaged by corruption and godless philosophies on so many levels, small wonder once we’re saved that we still need to learn to trust our Savior.
We’ve spent a lifetime not knowing how to live in the flock and follow a shepherd who is truly good.
So yes, sometimes we get it wrong.

But here’s where we can learn from David, who started life tending sheep, and interpreted life through a shepherd’s eyes. People act like sheep all the time, getting along, following a leader, not really taking responsibility for their own lives, nor could they. But the Law could teach them how to live before God, as if a shepherd had written instructions to his sheep on how to live like good sheep.

 I love that this shepherd king extolled the Good Sheep Manual in a poem of 176 verses!

Ps 119.175

Let my soul live, and it shall praise you; and let your judgments help me. Ps 119.175 

Ever stop to think how God’s judgments are supposed to help us?
The term conjures up wrath and death and destruction. Such force and violence are terrifying and do not inspire confidence to approach when we are in need. Already made fragile by desperation, we dare not expose ourselves to the divine outrage and displeasure.

And that’s not an exaggeration. While Scripture portrays God from creation to the new Jerusalem as compassionate and gracious and slow to anger, it also contains a significant number of stories of judgment, sometimes against his people and sometimes against their enemies.
The curtain on the biblical stage barely opened before he had to sentence Adam and Eve to death for disobedience.
Cain committed murder and had to be punished.
The whole world went sideways into corruption so that he sent the flood to cleanse it. He even limited the human life span to curtail wickedness.
The descendants of Noah did not scatter as the Lord commanded when they came out of the ark. Instead they built a tower. So he disbursed them by confusing their speech.
The cities of the plains were so reprehensible that God obliterated all trace of their existence to this day.
Pharaoh refused to release his Hebrew slaves, so God placed Egypt and its people under judgment. Time after time, the hammer of God fell until the nation was thoroughly broken.
He fiercely defended his people from attacks and schemes through the wilderness, but he also turned his judgments against grumblers and rebels.
The people of Canaan practiced detestable idolatry, so the Lord gave their kings into the hand of Joshua, and turned their land over to the Israelites.
His people did not drive out the inhabitants and worshiped their idols instead. This set up a cycle of idolatry-oppression-deliverance. When they turned to him, God raised up a ruler to execute judgment and deliver them—until they fell into another round of idolatry.
Forty years of Philistine oppression made them ask for a king. God sent thunder and rain on their wheat harvest.

God turned his eye of judgment on the kings. As they went, so went the people, and the people paid the price for their kings’ sins.
Saul slaughtered the Gibeonites and God sent a famine on the land.
David counted the fighting men and God sent a three-day plague as far as Jerusalem.
Solomon inaugurated the worship of foreign deities and God tore ten tribes away from him.
Jeroboam established pseudo-Yahweh worship and God pronounced a curse on the false altars.
Ahab introduced Baal worship and God sent three and half years of drought.
Manasseh persecuted the prophets of Yahweh and God brought Babylon to Jerusalem’s gates.
The leaders killed the prophets and ignored every warning message. Therefore the people were led into captivity in the most inglorious act of judgment in their history. They became a byword and a shaking of the head among the peoples.

So I ask again, how are God’s judgments to be a help to us?

The answer lies in part in the word for help. This word means to surround and protect. This is a specific kind of aid needed in times of danger or weakness. It’s like the males in a herd of water buffaloes who surround the baby and protect it from the lions stalking. Or the front line defending the quarterback. Or drones defending the hive.

God also used this word to describe the woman he made to keep Adam company. She is called his “help,” a parallel, a counterpart. Adam recognized immediately that she was made of the same as him—bone for bone, flesh for flesh. Her role was not to do his chores for him but to accompany him in doing them.

Scripture uses this word for the kind of help God gives to his people.
How?
God has promised that those who remain faithful will be called holy—consecrated, set apart. To make us holy, he must wash away the filth of our sin and purge the guilt of our transgression. He does this, days Isaiah, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning. Only then can he create a canopy over us to shade us from the noonday heat, a place of refuge, a shelter from every storm.

God carried out his judgment against the sin of humanity when Christ died on the cross. This is the spirit of judgment that washed away our filth. He sent his Holy Spirit at Pentecost as a deposit of fire, a spirit of burning that daily purges all that continues to fall short of his glory,
God will no longer cover our sin with the blood of animals, now that the blood of Jesus is available to remove it. Whenever we find ourselves under the discipline of God, experiencing his reproof for our willful disobedience, we must consider it a mercy. For God is not punishing us as we deserve for our sin. 

Such treatment may seem severe but it does not compare with the final judgment that will take place at the end of the age. When Christ comes back, he will begin with thrones and books, and end with a lake of fire. Once and for all he will wash the earth so clean it will be made new. He will purge with fire all who do not repent.

Because Hell is such an awful future, Jesus warned his generation (and ours) of how certain and terrible it is.
All of us are without excuse and deserve an eternity of punishment for our offense against our infinitely worthy and supremely holy Creator.
Such agony and unending despair that accompany damnation are no light matter to the One who gave his life to intercept it .
Devouring worms don’t die. Scorching fire isn’t quenched. Weeping and gnashing of teeth in outer darkness.
If you knew of a way to escape such a horrific fate, wouldn’t you take it? Wouldn’t you tell others how to as well?

God has given us eternal life, and that life is in his Son. If we have the Son, says John, we have life. Without the Son, we have no life.
All whose souls live through Christ cannot help but praise him.

Especially when we realize the alternative.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Ps 119.174

I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight. Ps 119.174 

What is your delight?
Good friends, majestic scenery, parties, art, family, architecture, books, fine food, the perfect lay-up, a hole-in-one, the resolving note of a symphony, island breezes, good scotch whiskey.
Probably the list is as varied as we are.
Still, I doubt any of us would claim Leviticus or Deuteronomy.

David loved the Word of God. It was his treasure and the joy of his life. There weren’t many copies in those days, but he received his own from Samuel—probably no more than the first five or six books of the Old Testament—after the old prophet anointed him at his father’s house in Bethlehem.
His love for the Law only increased as he matured into manhood, kingship, and old age, a journey he personalized into poems and song. These too have come down to us as sacred Scripture.

Before Samuel even anointed David, God knew the plans he’d ordained to shape the boy into a man after his own heart. That’s why David became such a model of worship and obedience to God’s purpose, especially for those God engages in new or unique ways.
Not everyone is destined for the kind of relationship with God that leads to history-shaping involvement in world affairs.
But we’re all called to abandon ourselves wholly into his hands and to walk faithfully no matter where he leads. It helps when we interpret life circumstances as God preparing us for our place in kingdom work.

David knew from a young age that he would one day serve God as king of Israel. So when Samuel gave him God’s Law, he learned it. A king, after all, must know right from wrong if he’s going to be a good judge.
He’d also need to defend the people. Better start practicing his fighting skills, even if he was too young to go to war with his brothers. I imagine he was like any youngster, making up games about the exploits of Israel’s great warriors—Joshua, Gideon, Samson.

Come to the fields around Bethlehem where a little shepherd boy tends his father’s flock.
Oh, but these sheep are the people of Israel, and the shepherd boy is their king.
He leads them to the water and they drink. He takes them to the pasture and commands them to lie down.
Rambo wants to wander? Rambo, lie down! No?
Out comes the crook, a sharp crack between the horns, and down goes Rambo. That’s better. 
Well, Beulah, look at you! And how’s your newborn lamb? Let’s call her Hephzibah. You don’t have to be scolded to lie down, do you, Beulah? Your baby suckles all the time!
And how are you, Micah? That leg’s healing fine. Getting around a lot easier these days, aren’t you?
Reuben! Come here! Let me check that scab on your ear.

Wait! A movement on the edge of the meadow that doesn’t belong. Instantly on the alert—an enemy spy!
Faster than a thought, the sling is in hand, a smooth stone missile launched at the intruder, knocking it to the ground.

In an instant the pasture becomes a battlefield. Predators who stalk the sheep are national enemies.
That lion? King of the Philistine invaders.
That bear? King of hated Midian.
Future king of Israel, on guard! Keep a sharp eye.
Practice with your sling. You don’t know when they’ll come or from where, so be ready.
Every time they attack, counter. And win the victory!

Follow now to the Valley of Elah. Real battlefield, real armies, real enemies. And a real live Philistine champion taunting the armies of the living God. How dare he?!
Out comes the sling and down goes the giant. You keep the sword and armor, I’ll take the head. Run to Jerusalem. Show them what to expect when it’s my capitol city!

That’s how it began, and that’s how it went for David. He never wavered from belief in his call.
Devoted to the God of Israel, battlefield after battlefield lay littered with the corpses of enemy armies. Just as Moses was chosen by God to bring his people out of slavery, David was chosen to rid the nation of its enemies. 
He grew up in the pastures and fought in the wars but in every place he was a king who shared God’s heart—wise and faithful, upright and kind.

From David’s own writings we see a man with a well-developed emotional life, sometimes sensitive, sometimes ruthless, always devoted. Sometimes despairing, sometimes elated, always honest.
His greatest desire was to find favor with God in order to know him and honor him. He didn’t always succeed, but he always hoped in the character of Yahweh revealed in the Law, an ancient portrait that has not faded.
How many of David’s psalms are only him choosing to rejoice, extolling the goodness of God and his ways?

No wonder he exhorted others to rejoice in the name of the Lord. And David’s not alone in this charge.
Scripture tells us many times to rejoice, and it doesn’t say only when things are going well.
Why? Because joy should be the emblem of our love for God. He is the most glorious Person we could know and he calls us his children and his friends.
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, but like all crops, it must be cultivated.
There’s a discipline of joy that we must develop if our faith is to be characterized by “joy unspeakable.”
It’s called rejoicing, which is nothing more than repeatedly choosing to take pleasure in the things that make us glad.
Why ever wouldn’t we? 

Why not start practicing today?

Ps 119.173

Let your hand become my help, for I have chosen your precepts. Ps 119.173 

The right hand of God is a place of power. Jesus sits there by virtue of the name he bears, the name exalted above every name. He earned his position when he emptied himself of equality with God and made himself God’s human servant. He obeyed God’s will, sacrificed himself, and died as the perfect Lamb of God.

This is profound.
Jesus didn’t just win the prize because he did a better job of being human than the rest of us.
He did that, yes, and so he remains our instruction (Word made flesh) for the kind of righteous, holy, obedient life God requires.
But that’s not the main reason why the precious Second Person of the Trinity became human. He did it to bear the infinite offense of “Otherness.” This he did, and paid for it with his infinite life.
Humanity can now approach God with confidence because Jesus got there ahead of us. His being at God’s right hand is a perpetual intercession on our behalf, pleading mercy and help for us because he was where we are. 

To understand the magnitude of what God accomplished in Christ, we must think of what it means to be God’s Son.
He’s the One appointed by God as heir of all things.
Through him God made the worlds.
The Son was and is the brightness of God’s glory.
He is the expression—the image—of God’s person.
He upholds every thing by the word of his power.
This holy Son took it upon himself to purge the offense of humanity both for being other than God (iniquity) and for doing rebellion against God (transgression).

Thus he became the Mediator of a new covenant, a High Priest over the house of God.
Only, unlike earthly priests whose mediating work was never done, Jesus sat down, finished, at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.
There Jesus stays, for the Lord said to him in David’s hearing, "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool."

This is important. Sometimes I think we have a very wrong idea of what God is doing at this point in the redemption story.
Jesus has gone back to heaven and his Holy Spirit has taken his place here. Frankly, the Spirit can do a better job than Jesus (Jesus said so himself) because he can dwell in and empower all of us at once. This makes him far more efficient in accomplishing the work of God than Jesus could ever have been had he remained on earth.

We’ve heard that Jesus is the head of his church but for all intents and purposes, that seems nominal. After all, the Spirit has taken over the management, growth and development of the Body of Christ on a global scale. So what is Jesus actually doing? Maybe he’s cooling his heels on the throne, sometimes twiddling his thumbs, sometimes leaning out to listen to some prayers, mostly just biding his time and keeping still until the Father lets him out to play. At which point, he’ll get on his white horse and come put a stop to this world as we know it.

Well, not exactly.

Many Old Testament verses spell out what goes on at the “right hand of God.” Even this short list creates an amazing picture of what it means, and if you can get your mind around it, that phrase is a euphemism for Christ.
Your right hand has become glorious in power. Your right hand has dashed the enemy in pieces.
You stretched out your right hand and the earth swallowed [the Egyptian army].
At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
You show your marvelous lovingkindness by your right hand.
Your right hand has held me up, your gentleness has made me great.
Your hand will find all your enemies. Your right hand will find those who hate you.
They did not gain possession of the land by their own sword, nor did their own arm save them. But it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your countenance, because you favored them.
In your majesty, ride prosperously because of truth, humility, and righteousness. Your right hand shall teach awesome things.
According to your name, O God, so is your praise to the ends of the earth. Your right hand is full of righteousness.
That your beloved may be delivered, save with your right hand.
Your right hand upholds me.
The vineyard which your right hand has planted, and the branch that you made strong for yourself… Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, upon the son of man whom you made strong for yourself.
You have a mighty arm. Strong is your hand, and high is your right hand.
Your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
The Lord has sworn by his right hand and by the arm of his strength.

Likewise many New Testament passages show us this same “right hand of God” now clothed in flesh, dripping love.
Jesus took a child and stood him in the midst of the disciples.
He touched a leper.
He put spittle and mud on the eyes of a blind man.
He laid his hand on the coffin of a widow’s dead son.
He took Jairus’s daughter by the hand and told her to get up.
He restored the severed ear of Malchus, servant of the high priest.
He worked in a carpenter shop and well knew the feel of wood rough and smooth, and the throb of a hammer driving nails.
He washed the feet of his betrayer.
He broke bread, and shared the Passover cup with his friends.

But the most tender thing those hands ever did was let Roman spikes pierce them and hold him to the cross.
Hands that separated the waters above from the waters below,
crafted the mountains and continents after drawing the land out of the sea,
hung the stars and planets in order throughout the cosmos.
Hands that shaped nations and moved armies, raised up and brought down empires.
Hands that were watched by myriad angels for the merest flicker summoning them to his defense.
Hands that—seemingly helpless but infinitely powerful—now wait with the Majesty of Heaven.
Hands that will welcome home every saint and distribute our rewards.

Hands that, even now, will become our help if we ask.
What’s stopping you?

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Ps 119.172

My tongue shall speak of your word, for all your commandments are righteousness. Ps 119.172

This is certainly true of me. Ask anyone who knows me. I bring conversations around to principles and perspectives I find in Scripture. A reputation for knowing God’s word is a good thing but I have something better. I am known by the One whose Word I know.

Like Peter, one of Jesus’s closest friends. After three years in his company, enduring the tragedy of the crucifixion and the beauty of restored affection with the risen Savior, Peter has one thing to say about knowing and being known by God. It’s the secret to everything. The divine power of God, his Holy Spirit whose presence transformed Peter from a simple fisherman into an able fisher-of-men, is all we need for life and godliness, but only to the extent that we know him.

For his own glory and out of his own good heart, God made spectacular promises that allow us to share in his nature. 
Can we really participate in the divine nature, though?
Peter means more than hosting a spiritual being. He was there when Jesus prayed, “That they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; that they also may be one in us … just as we are one:  I in them, and you in me; that they may be made perfect in one … That the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Peter means serious integration of one being with another. But we know that the Lord has no evil in him. How will his holiness unite with our sinful lusts?
And yet Peter insists that God’s nature becoming ours is the way to escape the depravity that comes with being part of the world. This is called sanctification—more like him, less like me.

Jesus prayed about that, too. He asked his Father to sanctify his followers by the truth. Which is what? None other than the Father’s word. 

Here’s where an understanding of what we mean by “the word of God” is helpful.
In its purest form, it is a comprehensive revelation of God’s being, a representation of himself as far as he wills to be known.
At the simplest level, it is God’s spoken word to others, as when “God said…”
Such utterances are recorded for us in the Bible, another thing we call the Word of God.
The Bible includes God’s activity among his people and their responses to him, ways he made himself known in creation and redemptive history, the beginnings of Christianity in the gospel and apostolic records, and writings of its earliest witnesses. 

Before the Bible came to be as such, however, God revealed himself in Christ.
Jesus too is called the Word of God. He was with God in the beginning, and was also God. This Word became flesh and dwelled among people. He’s described as “the image of the invisible God.” and the “exact representation of [God’s] being.”

But then there’s Peter. He walked with Jesus. He knew this Word of God in living color. We can afford to believe him when he equates the promises of God with the Spirit of God. In fact, he probably got that from Jesus, too. The words I speak, Jesus told his disciples, are Spirit and life.  

For me, that puts learning the Word of God on a whole new level. It means studying Scripture, reading it, memorizing it, meditating on it. When I sit at home and when I walk along the road, when I lie down and when I get up. It means hiding it in my heart and having it on my tongue. But it also means getting to know the Son of God. Spending time in his presence. Learning to recognize his voice. Hearing the sound of his heart and perceiving the thoughts on his mind. Sitting at his feet and watching his hand work his will. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said the Father seeks those who will worship in spirit and in truth.

Paul tells us that in Christ God grants all his promises to his people. This is important because most of God’s promises are conditional in some way, but if we are in Christ, those conditions are met. As God’s children we are heirs with Christ of every spiritual blessing, something God made doubly sure of by two unchangeable things—his oath and his promise.

To believe Jesus that God’s Word is “truth” means we can trust what he says. None of it can ever be overturned or proved false. God is faithful, which simply means he will keep his word. If he said he’ll do a thing, we can count with certainty on him doing it. Even when we don’t see it yet, we know he’ll come through. This calls for us to be faithful in turn. Which is simply to live as if what God says is the way things are.
Does he promise never to leave us? Then faith acts like he is with us whether we feel it or not.
Does he promise to provide? Then faith asks for what we need.
Does he promise to forgive? Then faith confesses sin.
Does he promise peace beyond understanding? Then faith refuses to be anxious.
Does he promise unfailing love? Then faith pours out tears.
Does he promise power to witness? Then faith opens its mouth.
You get the idea.

Ps 119.171

My lips shall utter praise, for you teach me your statutes. Ps 119.171 

Praise between lovers is a beautiful thing.
It is sweet to offer because the one praised feels loved and appreciated.
It is sweet to hear because the one who praises sees and knows us.

How much more true is that of God, the originator of personhood and the supremely worthy Person?
All of heaven, all creation, reverberates with his praises. Every sound utters his greatness. Every sight displays his perfection. Nothing separates us from God’s love because his being saturates all things—death and life, angels, principalities and powers, things present and things to come, height and depth, every created thing. All of it ultimately praises his glory.

But praise is more than appreciating someone for their character or acts. Praise is an essential part of relationship. It’s hard enough to bring two selves together. Praise has the effect of drawing us to each other.

Self is not a bad thing, you know, although it gets a bad rep among Christians, no doubt because Jesus told us to deny it. Whatever.  Self makes us unique, sets us apart as a one-and-only. While there are billions of people who have lived and are living, and probably billions more to come, there will only ever be one of us. The implication is that our self needs validation for its existence, which it only finds in relationship to other selves. Only God—the great I Am—can claim to exist independent of other beings. The rest of us define our selves in a context we did not author and cannot sustain.

The self requires—and constructs—identity. By nature, personhood seeks recognition, which is why we all long to be known and accepted as we really are. This deep longing is not satisfied by attempts to conform to social standards in order to fit in. Sure, posing may gain me entrance but am I really welcome? Do I truly belong?

Sadly, this is all some of us achieve. The artificial veneer of wellbeing often masks a self riddled with empty desire to be truly known.
Which, frankly, is as it should be.
The need to belong is instinctive to the psyche and, paired with living in exile from Eden, is the root of most self-stuff. Self-esteem, self-centeredness, self-determination.
It’s easy to mistake movements of the self for pride, when they’re simply the God image in us behaving according to its nature.

For example, and speaking of praise, we are made for glory. That feature is expressed in a variety of ways.
It can make us crave attention or act with dignity, compete to win or play the perfectionist in our drive for excellence.
Such movements in and of themselves are not bad.
They only cross the line into sin when we aim at something less than the glory of God.
How many sins of the self could we avoid if we simply acknowledged its needs, instead of driving them underground as wrong or to be feared?

Thanks to all that meditating I guess, David recognized the relationship between the qualities of self and the design of God. He understood that God created the self of humans as a complement to his own being. He wrote a majestic poem that glorifies God for the human self and shows its value to God.
The Lord knew all David’s thoughts and deeds and words—his self.
He could go nowhere that God did not already inhabit, neither earthly places near and far, nor spiritual places light and dark.
Such utter exposure of self to the presence of God originated, David said, from being formed physically according to natural processes and spiritually under the all-knowing eye of the Creator. This was as true for the days he would live as it was for his body and soul.

Bottom line, David existed within and for the purposes of God. His life was not a cosmic accident or an evolutionary eventuality. His self had meaning, context. He belonged—to God. He defined his being in terms of his self’s response to God, “I love you, O Lord, my strength.” 

So why did David proclaim his love for God in terms of hating God’s enemies? 
Well, think about it. How close he must have felt to God after meditating on how God made him. Do you wonder that such intimacy conformed his self to God’s image in him? He quite literally identified with God’s self, hating the wicked, men of blood, malicious blasphemers, who took God’s name in vain and rose up against him. He would have nothing to do with them. Instead, he longed for even more closeness, “Search me, O God, and know my heart.”

He’s not much different in this than other Bible characters who found their identity in the Lord.
Moses loved God’s nearness enough to ask him to teach more ways to find his favor.
Job asked to be weighed on honest scales that God might know his integrity.
Jeremiah called God the one who tests the righteous and sees the mind and heart.
Zechariah thought of God as one who refines his people as silver is refined, and tests them as gold is tested.

I have to admit, I haven’t always been keen on God looking into my inmost being.
Ashamed, I’d rather that yuck not be exposed to his holy eyes.
It turns out my self is wrong, which I discovered only because of how desperately I need to be loved.

The One who made me has gently led my troubled heart along waters stilled by his nearness.
He has caused my restless soul to lie down in the safety of his love.
While my anxious mind rested in his presence, his kindness and mercy treated my wounds and healed my brokenness.
And so my fearful self learned that while his power is fearsome, his heart is good.
I no longer fear his holiness but welcome its fire purging all that hinders my ability to adore him forever.

In the quietness of his grace, God has won my heart to his. He has made me like himself.
I love like he loves. I hurt like he hurts. I help like he helps. I see and hear and understand with his eyes and ears and heart.
Like David, I desire one thing only, and my self knows it. To spend every day where he is, gazing on his beauty, meditating on it and proclaiming it to others.
My joy is to tell of his ways, to speak of who he is and how he does, that those who hear might know him as I do, or better.

This is praise for my Lover. The sweetness of it is ever on my lips because he is ever glorious.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Ps 119.170

Let my supplication come before you; deliver me according to your word. Ps 119.170 

Jesus lived in a world without modern conveniences. Public address systems, mass transit, photocopying—printing presses, for that matter. None of it existed at the time. Everything that makes mass ministry work today had not been invented yet.

We might be tempted to think he operated on a much smaller scale. Surely his crowds weren’t as big as the modern mega-church. He didn’t travel more than a 100 miles from home.

We’d be wrong. At least two crowds that we know of had 4000 and 5000 men, not including the women and children. (We know children were there because it was a boy who offered to share his lunch.)
So when the Bible says crowds, well, it means crowds.
Likewise, the reason Jesus stayed within national borders was by choice—he was sent only to the house of Israel.
Even if planes, trains, and automobiles had existed, he would not have gone further afield.

That’s what makes the impact of his ministry so astounding.
Despite his lack of means, Jesus launched not just a new religion but a movement that changed the course of history. The secret of his success clearly was not his methods but his message. The kingdom of God had come.

Still, we can learn from his methods. At least, I think his methods were his message.
When crowds gathered, he taught them the principles of the kingdom, radically different ways of looking at life and people from anything they learned in the world.
The meek inherit the earth.
Love your enemy.
You are more blessed when you give than when you receive.
Turn the other cheek.
Do good to those who mistreat you.
The standard that flies above his throne is the commandment to love, and he spent his lifetime modeling it.
Love that leads to obedience was the hallmark of his public ministry and his personal commitment unto death. 

He did everything to teach what love is, and what it looks like in practice.
So he healed sick and broken bodies, and delivered souls from unclean spirits. 
Love helps those in need.
Mercy relieves suffering.
Compassion takes care of the helpless.
His people’s greatest need was—and is—for God to love us, despite the fact our sin keeps us from him.
So he came. As a baby. As a healer. As a shepherd.

But he didn’t like what he saw. Rather than a house of prayer, the temple had become a den of robbers. Instead of helping penitents, his under-shepherds got rich on the offerings people brought to God. The business side of temple worship provoked the single most violent actions recorded in the life of Jesus.

Which is just as ironic in contrast to modern Christianity as his lack of technology.
Our churches do the same thing, exploiting devotion to God to amass wealth and prosperity, heedless of the poor and dying around them and throughout the world.

We claim to be Christian, that we want to walk as Jesus walked and love as he loved. But do we really?
He left every worldly attachment behind — home, job, family, possessions— and set off to save the world.
It got him in trouble and it got him killed.
Still, he did more to love people in those three short years than we do our whole lives long.

Do we really want to be like him?
Will we drink the cup he drank?
Will we take up our cross daily and follow where he leads?
That’s the question every serious Christian will answer Yes.

Fortunately for us, we aren’t in this alone.
For three years Jesus cultivated a ragtag bunch of disciples. He left them instructions to make disciples in all nations. But they were not to set out on their mission until they received one last gift—the Holy Spirit who would empower them to witness to what they had seen and heard.
That’s how they should teach others to obey everything he had commanded, which was only to love, after all. 
Tell them about me, what I said, what I did, and they will learn what it means to love.

It sounds a little ridiculous, and it would be if God had not poured out his Spirit on all flesh. Not just those who bring the good news but those who hear it as well. How else would they respond with faith?
Listen. God the Spirit changes hearts. From dead to alive. From sinful to pure. From stone-cold wicked to white hot in love with Jesus. It’s what he does.
He conforms all our desires to the kingdom principles Jesus laid down and entrusted his followers to bring to the world.
Because the Holy Spirit lives with us and is in us, his power inhabits our words and actions so that nothing stands in the way of the gospel.

This too seems ridiculous, except for the fact that it works.
Look back over the last two millennia. What Jesus sent his disciples to do has very nearly reached completion.
Compilation of the Bible.
Councils that stand against heresies.
Infiltration of Christian principles into secular government. 
Advances in knowledge and science.
All of these preserve the teachings of Jesus.

The only real inhibitor to global completion of our mission has always been the reluctance of believers to trust the Spirit of God to do what Jesus said he would.
Nevertheless, from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of God has been forcefully advancing.

The Spirit of God is almost done preparing the Bride of Christ, with all its pockets of local churches. He shuffles resources and relocates personnel. He breaks into new arenas for the gospel.
Under his hand, history moves relentlessly toward that great and final Day of the Lord that will come as a thief in the night.
Every scheme of man or hell has failed to hold back the tide.

The suffering and evil in the world may tempt us to think that the devil has control, but let me tell you, it is not true. He does nothing without divine permission, and God makes no apology for this. Hardships come upon us and we send our supplications before the throne. He delivers us according to his faithful word: no purpose of his can be thwarted.

God will have his church no matter what.
Every saint will be presented blameless before the presence of his glory. With great joy.

Ps 119.169

Let my cry come before you, O Lord. Give me understanding according to your word. Ps 119.169

Sometimes life is too big for us.
Things happen that we can’t comprehend, not just surprises but blind-siding devastation that shouldn’t happen to anyone.
Not that it’s always bad. It can be good things like falling in love, or finally achieving a lifelong dream.
Transcendent moments when we recognize that in fact, we really aren’t in charge of anything that truly matters.
Humbling. But also illuminating.

Here’s where Christian doctrine diverges from all religions—our hope in the goodness and love of God. When things don’t make sense, we trust in a divine hand that guides toward a benevolent end. When trouble hits, we trust in a divine power to protect and avenge. When we are in need, he provides. When we suffer, he comforts. When we fail, he forgives. When we triumph, he rejoices.

No God is like our God.

But life in this world was never the end game. If our hope is only for this life, Christians should be pitied more than anyone!

God is personal, relational. Therefore he made people—in his image, beings like himself—who could relate to him. The future he has in store for us, we can’t begin to imagine. He actually said, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which I have prepared for those who love me.”
Can an acorn imagine an oak tree? Can an egg fathom a chicken? Can a whistle conceive of a symphony? No, the world as we know it is little more than an incubator.

Creating us in his image, and designing an eternity of well-being, he set out to join our hearts to his. He made his character and ways known through his dealings with Israel.
Then he went further. He became one of us.

Through the Incarnation, he experienced what it’s like to be human.
He lived as we live, felt our limitations, knew our sorrow and pain and hunger and lack.
Like us he dwelled in the womb of eternity and passed through the valley of the shadow of death.
He knew separation from the divine and attacks from the enemy.
In every respect he faced all that we face, so that he might fully know us.

So much for his part. He still had to prepare us. He does this brilliantly—from the inside out.
He sends forth his Spirit into our hearts. Think of it. The love between the Father and the Son, that fountain of joy that reverberates between them, tempered by the human frailty of the God-man, enters every person who trusts God enough to be an eternal Father.

The task of the Spirit while we remain in this world is to sanctify sinners. Redemption looks like completing what we lack, using what is ours in Christ to fill the gap between our smallness and God’s greatness. This is what it means to be justified, to become as God in our ability to love, righteous and upright with divine rightness of being.

Only then can God relate to us perfectly. While we lived in sin separated from him, our personhood grew in ways that alienate and offend him. But the Spirit regenerates us and restores the God-image in us. Under the skillful hand of the Spirit, we are being conformed to the image of the Son he loves.
We see the Christ of the Gospels, a man who lived in complete obedience to the Father. We see his kindness and gentleness and strength and wisdom and glory, even his wrath and power. But can we really be like him?

One day, yes, we are promised. We will be like him, because we’ll see him as he truly is.  
This is neither hollow hope nor placatory comfort. For while we wait with the creation for our glorious unveiling as children of God, the Spirit abides with us as a deposit, a guarantee of our inheritance.

He’s a busy guy, is the Spirit of God. He’s at work in each heart. He’s at work in each local church. He’s at work in the global Body of Christ. He does it all at once and in every place. At every level, he surveys all that the Father entrusted to Christ, and lets us know what is ours simply because we belong to Jesus. 

Still, knowing what’s in store is only the beginning.
The Spirit also prepares our character for eternity, a royal bride-to-be—beautiful and pure, majestic and good.
To live in God’s kingdom we must learn its culture, its secrets. Remember I said that God made his ways known to Israel? He wrote them on stone tablets—ever enduring and never changing. How to live as his people in this world. The code of the eternal kingdom is not like that. There’s only one commandment, to love. And, it’s not written on stone either. The Spirit removes our stone heart and replaces it with a heart of flesh. He puts God’s way in our mind and writes it on that new heart.

At the end of the day (well, the age), the work of the Spirit is to make us holy, to create in us an inward rightness of being. Such holiness is the perfected God-image, modeled on him but crafted in us.
This world is full of things we can’t control. While we live here, we do our best to fulfill the great commission. Christians ought to be kind and good and upright, full of joy and hope and loyalty. Just
But none of that is what qualifies us for heaven, nor will it satisfy us for all eternity.

Being like God and being with God. That’s our destiny in Christ.
It's what we were made for, and every cry on this earth tells us so.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Ps 119.168

I keep your precepts and your testimonies, for all my ways are before you. Ps 119.168

It’s a little unsettling to think that all my ways are before the Lord. He sees them all. Not only so, he is watching for them.

We tend to imagine God’s attitude toward us in one of two ways. Either he’s indifferent and neglectful, as if we don’t matter enough to warrant his attention. Or he has an enormous mental capacity for running constant footage of every mistake of our life.
But I think that’s faulty reasoning. Given our finite minds, we can’t really comprehend the nature of God or what it means that he’s omnipresent and omniscient. These are not physical realities but spiritual. He need not be in every location when the created universe resides within his being. He has no physical brain that processes bits of information but a mind that holds all reality within itself.

So when Scripture says that all our ways—paths and processes both—are open to the Lord, it’s telling us that we can rely on him being on the journey with us.

The idea that God journeys with us is everywhere evident in Scripture.

Those first days in Eden, God was with Adam in the cool of the day.
He walked with Enoch, and then took him away.
He called Abram out of the east to a land he would show him.
He promised Jacob, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go… I will not leave you until I’ve done what I promised.”
He accompanied his fledgling nation out of Egypt and right up to the edge of the promised land as a pillar of fire and cloud.
He was with Joshua as he had been with Moses.
He nudged Gideon along the path to freedom from Midian.
He brought forth Samuel and prepared him in the tabernacle to receive and pass on his Word as a prophet.
And so it goes down through the kings, the prophets, the exile, the return, the rebuilding.
Until history arrived at Jesus, when God walked with human feet on the planet he had made.

He came to his own, John said with sadness, but his own did not receive him.
Worse, they rejected him and betrayed him to foreign rulers who put him to death.

Jesus lived among men and knew what was in a human heart.
He read the wicked thoughts of the Pharisees who judged him.
He read the questions in the minds of his disciples.
He knew the Samaritan woman had no husband.
This gift of knowledge came not from his own deity but from the Holy Spirit who came on him at baptism.

Jesus promised he would not leave his disciples as orphans. He would be with them forever through his Spirit within.
He kept this promise when, after he ascended, God poured out his Spirit on all flesh.

Now we know and experience the Spirit of God journeying with the saints. Philip was transported away from the Ethiopian eunuch. Saul of Tarsus first met Jesus on the Damascus road and his Spirit traveled with Paul ever after. He forbade Paul when he wanted to go into Asia Minor. Later, he spoke to him in a dream about going to Macedonia. Another time about staying in Corinth. John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day when Jesus showed up in his glorified ascended form.

Scripture records the fact that the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth in search of anyone whose heart is fully devoted to him. Not to catch them in their sin and frailty but so that he might strengthen them.

While such proximity can be encouraging, it is also terrifying.
David described God’s perpetual nearness.
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

I used to fear being so close to God, being seen and known so thoroughly that absolutely nothing about me is hidden from his sight. After all, he is perfectly holy and, well, I am not.

The longer I have journeyed with him, however, the more I treasure his nearness.
I’ve discovered that he is not out to condemn me. There’s no condemnation in Christ.
He has no desire to expose my shameful weakness. He clothes me with a garment of praise.
He will not punish me as I deserve. The punishment that brought me peace was laid on his own Son. He is not pleased to terrify. In fact, he rebukes our fear 300 times in the Bible.

Truth be told, I want to be known by the Majesty of Heaven, even in my inadequacy. As I present myself to him, I am humbled and broken by the weight of my need, worse, the wretchedness of my sin.
But that’s the very thing that draws the depths of his mercy and kindness to me.
He doesn’t find fault with me but graciously offers all I need.
Neither does he leave me broken, but restores me to the beautiful child he designed.
And he offers me the power and ability to do what my heart longs to do out of my love for him.

That I need him in this way is not something to be ashamed of.
He delights to bless. It is his joy to shower goodness and peace on all who ask.
Paul tells us that God blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ when he transferred us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son he loves.
In this new realm, where we know him and love him as our glorious and all-satisfying source of life, we naturally keep his statutes and testimonies.
We come boldly before his throne and invite him to search our hearts.
He will keep what is worthy and with a whispered breath, blow the rest away.


Ps 119.167

My soul keeps your testimonies, and I love them exceedingly. Ps 119.167 


This may sound like rule-mongering, but in fact the original words paint a picture of a sentinel on guard outside the room of a beloved prince, not a Pharisee under full steam.

To keep God’s testimonies is to watch over them and protect them from anything that would bring dishonor on the name of the Lord. This is our response to anything we really love.

The Lord reveals the kind of person he is in large part by the way he deals with people. These dealings are the testimonies spoken of here. They are truth he’s made known about his character, his activities, his purpose, his ways.
He intends that these lodge inside us unshakable.
Not information we’ve been taught about Scripture.
Not sermons we’ve heard over the years.
No, these are the deep, soul-transforming insights that have changed the course of our journey with God.
Every life has them. 

God’s testimonies—what he makes known about himself—allow us to see into his heart and soul and mind.
It’s significant, then, that these are guarded by our soul but loved exceedingly with our heart.
For me, this puts a new face on the greatest and first command, to love him with all our heart. soul, and mind.

Does it strike you as odd that we are commanded to love?
But think about it. Inasmuch as love is an action, to do so is a choice. That makes it command-able.
Love must involve the affections, yes, but true love doesn’t begin with the heart. It begins with the will.
So the Lord helps our choice by giving us a variety of testimonies—the creation, sacred history, personal experience, the life and work of Jesus, the indwelling Spirit, the written Word—like exhibits that display what makes him supremely worthy of our affection. 

In Scripture we have a record of what God has done, and quite often the reason why. His overarching goal, repeatedly stated, is to be known for who he is. If you’ve read the Bible, you’ve seen the phrase many times, “[You/They] will know I am the Lord.” Sadly, we rarely consider why he wants to be known.

The Godhead is a Trinity, three divine persons essentially the same being, who know each other with perfect intimacy. God’s desire to be known, then, is not from lack of relationship.
It is the nature of divine love to give what is most excellent to the beloved. To those whom God loves, therefore, he gives himself in relationship. The perfect Father-Child relationship is the whole point of what he accomplished in Christ. Is not the Holy Spirit called the Spirit of Adoption? Having received him, he never stops orchestrating circumstances and events to provide personal testimonies of his unfailing heart for us.

Do we find those testimonies exceedingly lovable? Ponder them for a moment.

The physical creation is saturated with glimpses of the divine mind behind it. The accounts in Genesis and Job describe how it came to be (whether or not we believe them to be literal) but they can’t hold a candle to standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking mountain lakes. Or snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. Or looking out across the savannah. Or the Sahara. The sheer beauty and intricacy and immensity of nature, from its most complex systems to its most precise measurements, its variety and consistency and so much more, perfectly model the holiness of God wherein reside every attribute of flawless personal being.

Doesn’t every event from creation to Pentecost and beyond tell of the faithfulness of God to keep his covenants, and his sovereignty over human affairs? We see throughout the generations how God prepares in advance and executes at the right  time every necessary detail to move history toward his own purpose. Whether he works in the heart of a sassy maid like Hagar or sends an emissary like Joseph or an advisor like Jethro, God is able to achieve his desired end through people and nations.

Even before Jesus was born, people met God and experienced his power and character. This is recorded in the Bible, and isn’t limited to Abraham’s descendants. God dealt directly with Gentiles like Job and Balaam and Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus. 

While Jesus walked the earth, people encountered God in the flesh but really, relatively few. Nevertheless, the Gospel record of his life and words adequately testifies that he was sent by the Father, and that he was himself the divine Son. What can be known of God in this world is embodied in Jesus—the image of the invisible God.

The Indwelling Spirit also testifies to the character and power of God, but unlike Jesus in his earthly ministry, he’s not limited temporally or geographically. He too constrains himself, more or less, but to an individual’s capacity to acknowledge him. At the same time, he constantly pushes to extend that capacity.
This dynamic is the Spirit’s personality, being as he is the love between Father and Son. He can’t help but perpetually make much of them to us, testifying to what is lovely in them, and encouraging his own love for them to grow in us.
This is precisely what Jesus asked the Father, that the love he had for Jesus would be in us, that the Father pour his Holy Spirit of love into our hearts.

Of all his testimonies, for me, the best is his written Word. I find it a reliable and eternal witness. He called us to know him, Peter tells us, by the power of his own glory and goodness. To that end, he set down very great and precious promises. Every word recorded in Scripture is faithful and true, as trustworthy as himself. 
He has spoken and he will act.
The way he has been he will always be.
The things he does will not be undone.
We can count on this. It’s why he said and did it all.

And that’s why we love his testimonies exceedingly.
They magnify for us the beauty and splendor of holiness, and they confirm to us how worthy is our God.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Ps 119.166

Lord, I hope for your salvation, and I do your commandments. Ps 119.166 

I love this picture of how a Christian walks through this world. Poised between knowing God’s love is our only hope, and the fear of offending the Holy that leads to obedience.

Our salvation is not from troubles in this world but from the wrath of God when it ends. Hope in this sense is not a wish for the delights of heaven so much as the expectation of avoiding the torments of hell. Only, while saving faith quickens us to spiritual life, we remain in this world until our flesh dies. We find ourselves caught between the already and the not yet. We wait in hope with the certainty of faith. And while we wait, we keep God’s commands.

We don’t typically make the connection between hope and obedience, do we?
More often we associate obedience with fear. That’s what Moses told the terrified horde when God spoke his commands from Mount Sinai.
Or we associate obedience with love. “If you love me,” said Jesus to his disciples just before he died, “keep my commandments.” 

God himself joined hope to obedience when he instructed his people to teach his law to their children and grandchildren so that they’d set their hope in God, and not forget his works, but keep his commandments. 

The link between hope and obedience looks like walking in the fear of the Lord, because real life requires right relationship with God. Here again, definitions are helpful. What does the Bible mean when it speaks of fearing the Lord?
On the one hand, to fear God means to be afraid of his power and wrath.
He has infinite power, supreme authority, utter sovereignty.
He has the right to do whatever he wills to whoever he wants, and no one has the least ground to oppose him.
The only thing that stays his hand from judgment is the movement of his own merciful heart. No external influence can be brought to bear on his will, and none can legitimately challenge any decision or action on his part.
This is terrifying.

But the fear of the Lord is more than dread of his power. It’s the right response to who he is. 
A God called love. Who delights to show mercy.
Who lifts up the downtrodden.
Who exalts the humble.
Who draws near to the brokenhearted.
Who’s kind to the needy, and generous to the poor in spirit.
Who lavishes favor on the unworthy that admit their need of him.
He’s all that goodness and more, while still terrible in power and majesty.

True fear of God knows who he is, what he’s like, and the right way to relate to him. Which tells us that unless God moves toward us in love, we are doomed. To walk in the fear of the Lord means to hope for his salvation.

Still, that’s not all. We dare not take the love that leads to salvation for granted. God’s grace does not negate his holiness or his righteousness. Guilt must be punished and God will never compromise justice in the name of love. That movement of grace toward sinners cost him his precious Son, so while salvation may be the free gift of God to us, it was not free to him.
He will not tolerate anyone who dishonors the gift of his Son.
Be assured that to dishonor Jesus is to provoke his Father’s wrath.

That’s exactly why Jesus urged those who love him to obey his commands.
Because obedience produces the holiness needed to be near God.
God’s demand that his people be holy has not changed from one covenant to the next. Under the old one, holiness meant God could dwell with his people. Old Testament holiness meant outwardly observing the law, performing regular sacrifices, and keeping separate from profane or unclean things.
Under the new covenant, God made a way to dwell within his people. Holiness is still necessary, but New Testament holiness is an inner righteousness, an exchanged life, that obeys the two greatest commandments (on which hang all the Law and the Prophets).

The new covenant is better in every way.
Consider, for example, how God gave the Law (the Old Covenant) and how he gave the Holy Spirit (sealing the New).
The presence of God descended on Mount Sinai in fire.
It looked like lightning and sounded like thunder.
A thick dark cloud covered the mountain.
Smoke billowed up as from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently, with the blast of a very loud trumpet.

When the Holy Spirit descended on believers at Pentecost, the effects looked very different.
With no warning, a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house.
Tongues of fire separated and came to rest on each person.
All, being filled with the Holy Spirit, began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
This was just as public as events at Mount Sinai, for people in the city came to see what made such an explosion.

But there’s an important difference.
When God came only to dwell with, his holy presence terrified the people. They fled from the mountain—and from him.
But when he came to dwell within, his holy presence filled them with so much joy they appeared deliriously happy, drunk even. This picture of bliss is magnified by those who glimpsed the unspeakable joy of heavenly throngs of angels and saints gathered around the throne of the God and the Lamb.

God’s unending joy at the end of our story is the hope that leads to salvation.
It’s also why we choose to obey his commands to love him and others.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Ps 119.165

Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing causes them to stumble. Ps 119.165 

Wouldn’t it be nice to walk through this life without making mistakes?
Maybe some people don’t worry about getting things wrong, but I’m not one of them. I want to do what’s right.
This is due in part to my upbringing, taught as I was that the job I do reflects on my character. My perfectionist dad faulted any sub-par effort, which trained me to work hard and get it right.

But the desire to avoid mistakes also comes from my relationship with Christ.
He bought me with his blood from a life of slavery to sin.
He set me free from sin and death.
He brought into liberty of heart and spirit.
I refuse to submit again to the yoke of bondage to falling short.
Granted in the early years of my faith I found myself living in old habits of inferiority and small-mindedness, but as I have grown into more Christ-like character, I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting the stumbling stones and pitfalls on my path.
I’ve learned that even a stumble can be a step forward, if only I lean into it, get up again, and move on.

I’ve also learned that on this journey, light makes all the difference.
The Word of God is described as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. God intends us to use his Word both as a guide for specific decisions and to interpret great matters in life.
This truth is even more promising when we understand that the Word of God—not mere concepts but the Second Person of the Godhead—took on flesh and dwelled among us. In so doing, he became a Light to the world, and now lives within each of us. Those of us in Christ need never stumble in the dark again, thanks to the light of life that was poured out at Pentecost.

The real question then is, what do we do with the light? 
This isn’t an easy question, considering the true Light can be hard to identify, just as in the physical world.
There are many different kinds of light. Think of flames versus electric bulbs. These also vary, candlelight versus gaslight, and incandescent versus fluorescent. And then there’s the trick of colored lightbulbs.
But none of these compares to the contrast between natural and artificial light. Sunlight just works differently. It’s more pervasive, stronger, hotter. In fact, the sun is a good image for the glory of God that radiates over all creation.

Just as people have produced the means to artificially light our surroundings so that we continue to see when the sun isn’t shining on our part of the world, so have we invented philosophies and religions that interpret the world in ways that make sense in the absence of the greater revelation of truth in the Scriptures.
The problem with this tactic of man-made wisdom may not be evident in our short term decision-making, in the same way that a candle or a flashlight can show us the ground beneath our feet so that we don’t trip or fall off a cliff.
Neither is the problem evident in larger life decisions we make in the artificial light of man-made philosophies and religions, in the same way that floodlights illuminate large areas but do not dispel darkness outside their range. Dangers and enemies lurk in the darkness but such light reveals them not.

But when it is day, we have the advantage of being able to see both the short step ahead of us and the whole world around us. We can tell not just where to place our feet but the direction and destination of our path. To travelers, this is everything. Even if the terrain hides some of our road for a time, we can still navigate in the light, but never in the dark. And we can be sure no enemies are hiding, because the Light outshines the dark that covers them.

As the sun shines on the earth, so the Law of God illuminates reality. God’s Law is not just the commands recorded by Moses. It’s the entire revelation from beginning to end of what God has said and done. These are “law” in the same way that gravity is law, or thermodynamics, or electromagnetism. It is the nature of the physical world to operate in certain ways because God created it to do so. The same applies to the metaphysical world, including the supernatural and spiritual realms.

Humanity belongs to both and so we operate according to both natural and spiritual laws.
Both function simultaneously, and the failure to understand this is what causes so much disconnect between science and religion. For example, most of us know that babies are conceived when male DNA meets female DNA. Most of us also know that bringing a new life into the world is way more than biology. Some will say, “God opens and closes the womb,” not to discount biological obstacles to conception or gestation but to account for the divine right to give life.

Likewise, natural disasters like volcanoes and earthquakes and hurricanes are the result of geophysical and meteorological forces. But the impact on communities and individual lives goes so far beyond environmental devastation that even into our own age people interpret such cataclysms as divine judgment, not to discount geology and physics but to account for the intersection of meaning and experience with events beyond human control.

We search for a soulmate, the “one for me,” but we find ourselves constrained by geography and history and chemistry.
We crave purpose for our lives but can’t find our way past the borders of talent and opportunity.

In so many ways, we stumble in the dark as we try to make our way through this world. We borrow what lamps we can, but they often prove insufficient.
Unless we choose to walk in the light of God’s Word, we forfeit good vision. Turning on the light, living by faith as we walk in his ways, may not instantly improve our sight but it will clarify the world around us and the path through it.

We must take advantage of this clarity, as Peter warned his readers, to add virtues to our faith. Everything God has given us in his Word—his very great and precious promises—is not enough to make us effective and productive in our knowledge of Christ without them.

What Peter is really saying, is that while we have great peace because we walk in the light, we have to keep walking.
And that’s going to take every effort if we hope to avoid stumbling.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Pa 119.164

Seven times a day I praise you, because of your righteous judgments. Ps 119.164

The number seven appears frequently in Scripture—459 times in 390 verses. Its usage conveys not only completeness, but abundance.
The number first appears after six days of creation. On the seventh day, God ended all his work and rested from all he had done. He blessed the day and made it holy, from which has come the world’s rhythms of seven day weeks and sabbaticals.

Jacob worked seven years to pay the bride price for Rachel, and then another seven when he found himself married first to her sister Leah.
Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams about fat and skinny cows, and thick and scrawny wheat. In both, the number seven plays prominently, because there would be—and were—seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine.
The law, with its rituals and feasts, involve many sevens, as do the tabernacle and the temple and their furnishings.
Joshua marched around Jericho for seven days. On the seventh, the army marched seven times.
Elijah prayed seven times for rain.
Naaman the Syrian leper washed seven times in the Jordan to heal his leprosy.
Joash was seven when he became king.
Seven loaves and fish fed thousands of people.
Mary Magdalene had seven demons cast out of her.
Jesus walked seven miles to Emmaus while explaining the Scriptures about the Messiah.
Seven lampstands, seven churches, seven trumpets, seven bowls, seven seals, seven thunders, seven heads, seven crowns, seven angels, seven plagues, seven mountains, seven kings. Why not? Revelation is the completion of the age. It’s only fitting that it radiate the abundance of God—both in the praise of his majesty in heaven and the judgments poured out on the earth.

But there’s one seven that stands out to me simply because of its contrast.
It begins with a little known story early in Genesis, involving some characters we tend not to know, and don’t like if we do. But as they represent most of humanity before the flood, it pays to at least notice them.

So the story, as far as we know it, begins with Cain and Abel in one of the earliest cases of sibling rivalry on record. Jealous that Abel’s sacrifice found favor with God when his own had not, Cain took his brother into the field and killed him. The blood of righteous Abel marks the beginning of martyrdom for the children of God in this world, and still cries out from the ground. Only the blood of Jesus, mediator of the new covenant, speaks better things.
But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Back in the field where Abel died, the Lord confronted Cain with his guilt and sentenced him to the life of a restless fugitive. Overwhelmed by this punishment, Cain appealed to the Lord, who marked him and sent him away with the promise that whoever killed Cain would be avenged seven-fold.

The Biblical account tacks sideways to tell of Cain and his wives and sons. Seven generations are recorded, down to Lamech who sired three sons. Between the three, they invented musical instruments, metal working, and animal husbandry. Pretty much the basis for moving human culture out of the primitive stone age. More than that, it argues for the mark of Cain being an intelligence that allowed the sons of Adam to use culture to separate humans from the rest of the animal kingdom.

When Lamech killed a young man who wounded him, he boldly proclaimed his own code of vengeance. He took the Lord’s pronouncement that protected Cain, and multiplied it for his own retaliation.
“If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”
People have lived by this ethic ever since.

Jesus aims to change all that. 
One day he was talking about this very subject—how to deal with someone who wrongs you. He addressed the destructive issue of sin among believers. He told them how to confront and the power they have to connect heaven and earth, and insisted that they deal with problems in agreement and for the greater good of the community.

Impetuous Peter, who by now understood the emphasis Jesus placed on forgiveness, took the matter seriously and applied it to himself personally.
“If my brother sins against me—”
He suggested forgiving seven times, no doubt expecting approval for such generous grace.

Jesus did not approve. I wonder if Lamech’s code wasn’t rattling around in Peter’s head, and Jesus knew it.
He shot back the answer, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
Then he told the parable of the king who forgave incredible debts, but held his unforgiving servant in prison until he should pay his own.

Jesus stood the code of vengeance prevalent in all societies in sharp contrast with the code of forgiveness on which his kingdom operates. The grace of his Father is given to us who are in Christ—all our sins are forgiven. We no longer need to fear the vengeful wrath of God. But this is extended to us according to the righteous judgment of God. He made Christ to be sin for us, so that we might become his righteousness. God remains both just and the justifier of all who trust in Jesus for salvation.

A far better plan than wide-ranging and never-ending revenge among peoples.
Let alone the eternal consuming fire in store for those who offend the Lord of All.

Ps 119.163

I hate and abhor lying, but I love your law. Ps 119.163

Hate is a hard thing, an ugly thing. I was taught very young never to say I hate something, especially not other people.
I think that explains the visceral response whenever I read that word in the Bible.

This is complicated when I read that God, whom the same Bible defines as love, hates something or someone. Or when Jesus, who taught us to love our enemies, requires us to hate even our family in order to be his disciple. 
On the other hand, this very perplexity has driven me deeper into understanding what hate is, and more importantly what God means us to do with it.

A surprising thread of hatred runs through Scripture. Its black sinews first appear in the history of the patriarchs.
Abraham, called by God to father nations, waited a long time before he had children.
He parted ways with Lot, whose two sons Moab and Ben Ammi sired enemy nations of Israel.
Abraham’s first son Ishmael (also the father of twelve enemy nations) was rejected by God in favor of the miracle-born late-comer, Isaac.
Isaac was 60 before his wife had children, and they were twins. Once again, God rejected the elder outdoorsman Esau for the younger homebody Jacob.

But Jacob had the patriarchal heart of his father and grandfather, something his brother Esau lacked.
He wanted—and won—Esau’s birthright easily enough. It mattered so little to Esau that he traded it for a bowl of stew.
In keeping with a prenatal prophecy about the twins, Jacob deceived his aged father into giving him the blessing of the firstborn as well. So thorough was this blessing that when Esau sought some residual blessing, Isaac’s words sound almost like a curse.

Jacob’s methods leave us wondering about divine ways, for God, the Bible tells us, loved Jacob and hated Esau.
Esau’s reaction seems far more reasonable. He hated Jacob and threatened to kill him for his treachery.

Jacob spent the next 20 years keeping a safe distance.
Until God called him back. The land his descendants would inherit for a nation was his blessing and birthright, and God would keep his word.
Esau seemed friendly enough when he met Jacob on his return. While Jacob was away, Esau had prospered materially while enjoying the continued favor of his father. Still, he rejected Jacob’s peace offering and took his household and all his possessions south, out of the land God had promised to Abraham and his descendants forever. The brothers lived amicably until their father died, but history tells us that Esau’s offspring—the Edomites—never forgot their animosity.

Before he died, Jacob took his family to Egypt to escape a famine. On their return more than 400 years later, the hordes of his descendants came around the southern border of the land. When Moses asked permission to cross through Edom, they refused. Not only that, they came out against the Israelites in force. Because God had forbidden them to fight the Edomites, they took a longer route.

The history of Israel once established in the land is riddled with conspiracies and intrigue and war with Edom. These brother-neighbors often joined forces with Israel’s enemies. It was an Edomite named Doeg who betrayed David to Saul, and killed the priests at Nob with the sword. Many prophets spoke against Edom, because of this antagonism.

It continued right down to the time of Christ. Edom, which came to be known as Idumea, had been subsumed into Palestine during the centuries between the Babyonian captivity and Roman rule. One of the best-known Idumean families in history is the Herods. Of all the great and terrible things they were guilty of, perhaps the most heinous is the massacre of the babies at Bethlehem when Herod learned that a true king of the Jews had been born.

How could he conceive of such a scheme?
Because Edomites have long memories. A king of the Jews had done a similar thing to them long ago.
The story is told that while David was in Edom putting in garrisons and making all Edomites his servants, Joab and his brother between them cut down 30,000 Edomites—“every male in Edom.”
While they buried the slain, one of the royal sons still a boy escaped to Egypt. He came back as an enemy of Solomon, and I’ll bet if we look closely enough, the Herods could trace their lineage back to him.

It’s not much of a stretch to see the darkness-born connection take shape in Herod’s mind. A king born in the city of King David’s birth? The king who had slaughtered his own ancestors? Golden opportunity to exact revenge. Only instead of killing all the men in Bethlehem, which wouldn’t be politically prudent, why not kill all the baby boys?
Atrocious, wicked, monstrous, cruel. Words fail.
Yet in the hands of a hateful and ambitious man, not beyond the pale.

When Jesus told us to love our enemies and bless our persecutors, he was warning us of the power of hate.
Hate comes naturally to fallen humanity. Unchecked, it makes fertile soil for every kind of evil against others.
Hate is a savage, destructive force. On the scale of love, only in the opposite direction.
Whereas love is nurturing, hate is deadly.
Whereas love unites, hate divides.
Whereas love stops at nothing to do good, hate stops at nothing to do harm.

I’m pretty sure that’s why Mom and Dad taught me not to hate.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Ps 119.162

I rejoice at your word as one who finds great treasure. Ps 119.162

The pearl of great price. A treasure hidden in the field. That’s how Jesus described the kingdom of heaven—serious treasure we’d willingly give up everything to gain. And if the kingdom, how much more the king—Jesus, the incarnate Word of God. So precious in fact that David glimpsed him from 1000 years before the Emmanuel was born.

That’s the Gospel, after all—the Kingdom of Heaven has come.

A good indicator of our connection with the Gospel is how much we rejoice at the Word of God.
Promises of help and words of hope give comfort, even when we struggle to believe they apply to us.
The characters and their stories nurture our imagination and inspire us to trust God—sometimes.
For old literature, the writing can be poetic, lyrical even.
But if we’re honest, a large part of the written Scriptures—the law, the prophets, the letters—feel heavy and nearly unintelligible to modern ears.
Written in times and cultures completely foreign to us, we sense we’re missing a big part of what it all means.
And if historical content befuddles us, what are we to make of the barely comprehensible prophetic visions of what awaits us beyond the grave?

And yet anyone who takes the Word of God seriously, who cultivates a knowledge of it through meditation and study, inevitably arrives with the psalmist—rejoicing at the Word of God as one who finds great treasure.
I’m not sure what this phenomenon is, except maybe the reality that the Word of God is living and active. A person in ink-and-paper form, with personality and purpose, that accomplishes any mission it sets out on.

Like no other writing ancient or new, the Bible creates a relationship with all who cross swords with it.
I’ve seen it time and again, when a person reads the Bible cover to cover with the intention of knowing what it says as a unit, they’re changed. The reading of it is enough discipline to allow the Word to do its work. These people come away with an altered sense of what’s real. It has taken up residence in their mind and will forever be available within them to the Spirit of God when he wants to speak. Of course they do not have it memorized, but that doesn’t mean they won’t recall a word, a phrase, a sentence at just the right time. Even those who read for critical reasons of disbelief and controversy still ingest it. And it has this effect. No one can un-read the Bible.

There’s a story about someone for whom this very thing happened, an Ethiopian eunuch who discovered great treasure in God’s word.
The guy had been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was on his way home. Jerusalem at the time was in the thick of religious upheaval as the national leaders dealt with the emerging sect of Jesus-followers. Persecution against Christians was harsh, to the point of martyrdom. No visitor to the city escaped hearing of the religious excitement caused by the death and rumored resurrection of the Nazarene.

Somehow the eunuch got his hands on a copy of Isaiah’s writings. No Gospels or letters of the New Testament existed yet but Jewish scribes made copies of Old Testament scrolls, especially Isaiah; Jesus read one in the Nazareth synagogue. While he traveled, the Ethiopian occupied himself with reading his scroll. Judging by the passage he was stuck on, he might have been doing background study on Jesus’s claim to Messiahship.

Note this. He couldn’t understand these things on his own. Scripture states that the Holy Spirit will teach us all things . But I’m telling you, the Spirit often brings a teacher to those who earnestly seek understanding.
The story goes that one day an angel of the Lord told Philip, second-generation deacon of the church with a gift for evangelism, to head south to the desert road toward Gaza. Not a likely place to evangelize, but like all good ministers, Philip obeyed and went. When he came to the caravan, the Spirit nudged him close to the Ethiopian’s chariot where he might overhear the man.

Imagine Philip’s astonishment when he heard Isaiah’s words being read.
He blurted out his surprise, “Do you understand all that?”
No he did not, but as Philip seemed inclined to chat, they traveled together for a while.
The man’s first question tells us that he had heard of the execution of Jesus and how he behaved. Then to see it described here in the scroll made him ask if the prophet spoke of himself or another, but subtext says he was thinking about Jesus.
No wonder he was willing to listen as Philip explained the gospel.
Not just listen. Believe. And be baptized.

Then just like that, the Spirit took Philip away.
Unperturbed, the eunuch went on his way rejoicing over the treasure of the Word he now carried in his own clay jar.
History tells us the Gospel was preached in Ethiopia as one of the early outposts of the kingdom of heaven.
All because a man sat down to research what he had heard.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Ps 119.161

Princes persecute me without a cause, but my heart stands in awe of your word. Ps 119.161

David was truly persecuted without cause, not least of which was rooted in his anointing when God chose him over another.

Samuel poured oil on David’s head, marking him as the next king, long before Saul gave up the throne. This made things awkward for David, as you can imagine. Through no fault of his own, and despite his loyal and extraordinary service, it didn’t take Saul long to recognize—and persecute—his God-appointed successor.

Anointed while still a boy, David spent a few years being instructed by the prophet Samuel while his brothers joined Saul’s service in war against the Philistines. The most David saw of that conflict was the occasional trip to bring supplies to the quartermaster in his brothers’ honor.
While they bivouacked with the army of Israel, David pretended to slay enemies when he killed lions and bears who threatened his father’s sheep.
But like the warrior-king in training he was, one day David had occasion to face—and defeat—the enemy champion Goliath. With one shot.
Of course King Saul drafted him into the army. What a message to all their enemies if a mere shepherd boy was more than a match for giants!

David quickly prospered once Saul promoted him. Time after time he took his fierce loyalty to the God of Israel onto the battlefield, and decimated tens of thousands along the way.
Unfortunately, this popularity antagonized Saul, who knew the Lord had rejected him as king. Despite David’s skill with a harp to soothe Saul’s tormented soul, jealousy turned to murderous hate, and sent David running for his life for years.

All this purely without cause. David had done nothing to deserve being a fugitive. In fact, it was likely David’s littleness that made him such a threat. True to Paul’s New Testament teaching, David’s weakness was his strength because of the greatness of God’s grace. Who can overcome the one with whom the Lord chooses to stand?

Saul’s anti-David campaign was only the beginning of David’s persecutions. Once crowned king, David determined to make his kingdom safe from enemies—Philistia, Moab, Zobah, Hamath, Damascus, Aram, Edom, Ammon, Amalek. God granted him victory over them all.

Many of the difficulties of David’s reign involved his sons—the princes of Israel itself.
One of the worst family scandals imaginable happened in this royal house.
David’s first-born, Amnon, raped David’s daughter and his own half-sister, Tamar, virtually with David’s blessing. Amnon then rejected her, which caused the princess’s brother, Absalom, to devise a scheme of (justifiable) revenge. After he killed Amnon, Absalom fled Jerusalem. Tired of exile, he wormed his way back into the capital, only to undermine his father’s authority and mount a rebellion. David once again found himself on the run, until Joab—who as military commander did what he had to do to protect David’s throne—slew Absalom.

Later on, when David was nearly dead of old age, his eldest remaining son, Adonijah, set himself up as David’s heir. We have no record that David reproached him any more than he had Amnon or Absalom, although he ensured Solomon as the royal successor, which eventually spelled death for Adonijah.

All that was still persecution without cause, especially as we know that David was the ideal king in God’s eyes, the archetype of the Messiah. Jesus modeled his life with God on David’s. As much as being chosen by the Lord initiated opposition, it also guaranteed divine favor. God’s call is irrevocable. Not even David’s sin turned God’s heart away from the purpose he designed for David.

Which is not to say there were no consequences. It’s why David accepted his domestic strife. He was wrong in every way to take another’s wife, not to mention the schemes to kill her husband to hide his sin. David knew this. He did nothing to punish Amnon or Absalom or Shimei or Joab, because his heart stood in awe of God’s word. God had promised this outcome—both in the Law and through the prophet Nathan—and it had come true. The law judges wrongdoing and sentences the guilty to death, while making provision for substitutionary sacrifice. So while the Lord took the life of their first child instead of his, David knew that this death did not truly atone. He deserved far worse than a contentious, wicked, dishonoring household.

Although David suffered all of this as an earthly king, I’m not sure today’s verse refers to earthly princes exclusively. In fact, the word translated princes means rulers, but not sovereign. Those with authority to carry out the will of someone higher up.
One thing is sure: Behind every human act of violence and deceit and harm lies a principality, a power, a ruler of the darkness of this age, a spiritual host of wickedness in heavenly places. These guys take root in the greed and ambition and pride in the hearts of men, and use them to accomplish their evil schemes.

The only defense, which David surely knew, is the armor of God.
Because God had determined David’s destiny, God defended his reign with omnipotence.
How did David remain faithful, both in his own heart after he failed to keep commandments, and in his public behavior when he suffered causeless persecution?
He stood in awe of God’s word.

At the end of the day, having done everything we can against the darkness, God requires only that we  be found standing. We as believers do not bow to anyone or anything but Jesus. We resist all kinds of evil, and we get buffeted and battle-wounded in the process. But because God has chosen us, we like David will still be on our feet if we stand in awe—not of the enemy or our strategies and programs—but of the incarnate Word and his promise of victory.

Take God seriously.
His Word is sharper than any two-edged sword. 
His Truth is a shield and buckler.
We have enemies.
We are at war.
We are more than conquerors.
The next time you find yourself persecuted without cause, give your heart a moment to worship the God who reigns victorious.

Ps 119.160

The entirety of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous judgments endures forever. Ps 119.160 


I imagine Pilate couldn’t get his mind around Jesus when they first brought him for trial. Jesus stood before him and made the whole affair a matter of truth. Was he not Truth Itself?
Willingly submitted to an unjust judgment.
Rendered by world rulers.
At the instigation of untold evil.

The Jews found Jesus guilty of blasphemy, a crime against the Law of Moses that called for the death penalty. Being under Roman governance at the time, the religious council could not execute apart from the procurator’s sanction. So they took Jesus to Pilate in hopes that he would carry out their scheme.

Unlike them, Pilate had full discretion to execute.
When asked the accusation brought against Jesus, their evasive answer told Pilate that Jesus was not guilty under Roman law so much as they wanted him put to death anyway.
If true, stirring up dissent and calling himself the king of the Jews was tantamount to treason against Caesar. Given the personalities in Rome at the time (Tiberius and Sejanus), this was not a charge Pilate could easily dismiss.

So he went to ask Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?"

This is where the matter began, and this is where the matter would end.  
Who was Jesus?

Jesus made this personal for Pilate. It may have been his Father’s will for the Son of God to die, but the way Jesus dealt with Pilate shows that Pilate was no puppet in the Divine Hand. Jesus did not allow the man to hide behind government. Pilate’s verdict had to come from his own convictions, not someone else’s say so.

Grounded as he was in the road-building, nation-conquering, enemy-crucifying power that was Rome, Pilate found it difficult to comprehend Jesus’s explanation that his spiritual kingship had nothing to do with earthly realms.
So Jesus told him the secret of his kingdom: “Since I came into the world to bear witness to the truth, only those who are of the truth hear my voice.”
To which we all know Pilate’s philosophical--and highly irrelevant--reply, “What is truth?”

I’m sure Jesus didn't respond because that was the wrong question.
The truth is a who not a what.

Pilate still didn’t get it. Jesus was no threat to Caesar, but what to do with him?
The Jews were a stubborn people, very touchy about their religion. It could be political suicide to ignore their wishes. A sensible compromise was to pass him down the political ladder. Herod had jurisdiction over Jesus as a Galilean.

Herod had his own issues with Jesus, from believing he might be John the Baptist returned from the dead, to wanting a magic miracle show, to resenting Jesus’s snub when he called the usurper a fox.
Annoying, then, that Jesus answered him nothing. Not a word.
Why not? Herod was only Pilate’s pawn, an unlawful ruler with no real power to contribute to events that God the Father had ordained.
Petty and ineffective, Herod did no more than mock Jesus as “king” and send him back to Pilate.

Failing to rid himself of Jesus in this way, Pilate tacked in another direction.
He would use the Roman courtesy of freeing a prisoner on a holy day as a way to release Jesus.
Irony abounds.
Barabbas had been imprisoned, tried, and found guilty of murder during a rebellion—kissing cousin to treason. Yet the people, stirred up by the priests to ask for his release, yelled for Jesus to be crucified.
The same people who had hailed him as the Son of David less than a week earlier.
Three times Pilate asked, and three times the crowd insisted.

Still wavering between Jesus’s innocence and his own political predicament, Pilate had Jesus flogged.
Soldiers again arrayed him in a purple robe and placed a crown—of thorns—on his head and presented him to the merciless crowd, who remained unmoved by the sight of their bloodied, coronated king.
They continued to ask for his execution. Had he not called himself the Son of God?

This term, used of Caesar, alarmed Pilate. He was a superstitious man entangled in the web of God’s design. He found no guilt in Jesus or offense in his demeanor. His own wife had just warned him to avoid this righteous man.
We can see his official posture crumble as he asks a final question, “Where are you from?”
He didn’t mean Galilee or Judaism.

Jesus would say no more than he’d already said. Pilate knew enough to make his decision.

Into the silence came shouted accusations of Pilate’s own treason if he failed to execute Jesus.

This proved the deciding factor. Fearing more for his worldly situation than his True Sovereign, he acknowledged that Jesus was king. Theirs, not his. But he still had power over this rabble rouser.
"Shall I crucify your king?" he asked them.

“We have no king but Caesar!” Hear their glee at the capitulation they sensed coming.

More convinced than ever of Jesus’s innocence, Pilate literally washed his hands of the judgment, as though he were their puppet and the decision not his own.

So dreadful was the Jewish hatred of Jesus, magnified as it was by the kingdom of darkness on the brink of putting the God-man to death, they voluntarily took Christ’s blood on themselves and on their children.
An invocation they could not begin to understand in light of the new covenant it ushered in.

Pilate had the last word, however, when he posted the charge against Jesus on the cross.
I’m not sure he did it to provoke the Jews as much as to acknowledge that he had learned the truth at last.

Jesus was guilty of nothing save being the king eternal.