The Presence of God

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ESV

Paul makes it perfectly clear that there is no place for boasting in the presence of God. No one can claim to have access to God’s presence due to their own merit or efforts. And if you recall, when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they were cast from the garden and away from the presence of God. Their disobedience resulted in the forfeiture of their right to enjoy unbroken fellowship with their God. Their sin brought about shame and guilt, causing them to attempt to hide from God. They even tried to cover up their nakedness, somehow ashamed of the very form in which God had created them. And the Genesis account tells us that “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8 ESV). But their hiding proved ineffective. God saw them and knew exactly what they had done. While they vainly attempted to cast blame and shift responsibility, God held them both accountable for their actions.  And He placed a curse on them and their future descendants, eventually banning them from ever entering the garden again.

…therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. – Genesis 3:23-24 ESV

The Bible goes on to record that the interactions between God and sinful man were few and far between in the time immediately after the fall. Only on rare occasions did God reveal Himself to men. He did so with Cain, immediately after his murder of his brother Abel, but only to pronounce yet another curse due to sin. God told Cain. “You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:12 ESV). And Cain, fully understanding the import of God’s curse, responded, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:13-14 ESV). Cain was driven from the presence of God.

And things continued to get worse. Just a few chapters later in the book of Genesis Moses records just how bad things got on the earth.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. – Genesis 6:5-8 ESV

The sin of mankind had reached epic proportions, prompting God to vocalize the just and righteous penalty for such rebellion against Him: Death. He warns that the sins of men made them deserving of their annihilation. But God had a plan already in place. A man named Noah, whom Moses describes as having found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

And God revealed Himself to Noah, providing insight into His divine plan for mankind.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” – Genesis 6:11-13 ESV

Once again, God issued a decree concerning mankind’s rampant wickedness. This time, He determined to wipe them from the face of the earth. But He chose to spare a remnant, vowing to keep Noah and his family alive so that they might repopulate the earth when the coming worldwide flood receded.

Noah enjoyed the presence of God and he proved to be obedient to God. He did all that God commanded him to do, building the ark and filling it with all male and female creatures just as God had told him to do. And God kept His covenant promise to spare Noah and his family.

But it wasn’t long before sin entered the scene again. And the next major event recorded by Moses was the tower of Babel, where the descendants of Noah determined to build a monument to their own self-importance. Disobeying God’s command to fill the earth and subdue it, they instead decided to remain in one place and build a great city. So, God dispersed them again. Not only that, He created languages that made it impossible for them to communicate with one another.

So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. – Genesis 11:8-9 ESV

It seems that the further they got away from Eden, the further they found themselves from the presence of God. And it would not be until God revealed Himself to Abram that man would enjoy intimate communication with his maker again. God visited Abram in Ur and said to him:

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

God chose Abram and made a covenant promise to him. God was going to bless Abram and make of him a great nation. Not only that, God promised to bless all the nations of the earth through Abram and his descendants. From Abram would come the nation of Israel, a people whom God would call His own.

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 7:6 ESV

God made them His own and He promised to reestablish His presence among mankind by dwelling among the people of Israel.

I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the Lord your God…” – Leviticus 26:11-13 ESV

The people of Israel enjoyed the presence and power of God. In the wilderness, God had appeared to them as a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud by day. When they built the tabernacle, His presence dwelt in the Holy of Holies. In the land of Canaan, God revealed His presence through miraculous victories over their enemies. He led them, fed them, guided and protected them. He gave them the sacrificial system so that they might receive forgiveness for their sins and maintain a right relationship with Him. But the people of Israel proved to be disobedient and ungrateful. They ended up taking God’s undeserved presence and power for granted, and the day came when God removed His presence from them. He abandoned them to their own sinful desires. Their wickedness resulted in their defeat at the hands of their enemies, sent by God to punish them for their rejection of Him. And they found themselves living in exile, once again cast from the presence of God and unable to enjoy intimate fellowship with Him.

And even when God graciously returned them to the land of Judah, they continued to disobey Him and live in open rebellion to Him. Their lives would end up marked by moral darkness and spiritual blindness. But the apostle John tells us of the day when the darkness was penetrated by the light of God. The very presence of God came to earth in the form of a man named Jesus.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:9-13 ESV

With Jesus incarnation, God came to dwell among men. Jesus was Immanuel, God with us. He took on human flesh and dwelt among men. And while many refused to accept Him for who He claimed to be, John states that “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” And as Paul reminds us, those who become children of God also enjoy access to the presence of God. Not because of anything they have done, but because they have placed their faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Faith in Jesus brings with it wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Belief in the Messiah provides sinful men all they need to be restored to a right relationship with God so that they might once again enjoy the power and presence of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

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The Light of the World

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:21-23 ESV

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ! – Ephesians 4:17-21 ESV

Why was a second Adam necessary? Why did Jesus, the Son of God, have to humble Himself by becoming a man and subject Himself to all the temptations and trials that come with living as a human in a fallen world?

The answer to those questions is provided by the apostle Paul.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 ESV

It might be easy to assume that God overreacted to the sin of Adam and Eve. The punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime. When God discovered what His two image bearers had done, He pronounced curses on both of them, and these curses would be long-term and cross-generational. To Adam God said:

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
    and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 3:17-19 ESV

Death entered the equation for the very first time. And this death involved much more than the termination of life. It included physical separation from God. One of the immediate aftereffects of the fall was God’s expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden.

He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. – Genesis 3:24 ESV

Rather than enjoying constant fellowship with God in the beauty of the garden, Adam and his wife found themselves set apart from God. They were denied further access to the garden and prevented from having any further contact with God. Not only that, they lost the right to eat of the tree of life, which appears to have been the source of eternal life. This seems clear from God’s reaction after their transgression.

“Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” – Genesis 3:22 ESV

God did not want Adam and Eve to continue eating of the tree of life in their current fallen state. Eternal life had been intended for the sole purpose of bringing glory to God and enjoying unbroken fellowship with Him. But sin had changed all that. A holy, righteous God cannot tolerate sin in His presence. As the apostle Paul rhetorically asked: “For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14 ESV).

One of the immediate results of the sin of Adam and Eve was a change in their awareness. They experienced a significant alteration to their consciousness.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. – Genesis 3:7 ESV

Interestingly enough, this was exactly what Satan had said would happen if they disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden fruit.

“You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 ESV

Their eyes were opened. But they didn’t like what they saw. For the first time, they experienced guilt and shame. They knew they had sinned and were overcome by the condemnation they felt. Their guilty consciences caused them to view themselves differently. They suddenly saw their God-created state in a new and sin-darkened light. The beauty of their bodies became nakedness, and they tried to cover it up. Their eyes were opened, but their vision had become distorted by sin. And this is the very same state into which every man and woman has been born ever since.

As Paul states in the Roman’s passage above, “they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Opened eyes do not always see clearly. And humanity would find itself blinded by sin and incapable of seeing the truth regarding God and their own fallen state. They would understand their need for God and would spend their lives searching for a means by which they might be restored to their former state of fellowship with Him. 

But unable to find God, they would seek out false gods, exchanging “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:23 ESV). In his letter to the Ephesian believers, Paul describes lost mankind in very unflattering terms.

They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them… – Ephesians 4:18 ESV

But he doesn’t stop there. Paul goes on to describe the outcome of their darkened understanding.

They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity… – Ephesians 4:19 ESV

Created to bear God’s image, but damaged by sin, mankind has spent centuries living in open rebellion to God and failing to reflect His glory. Paul says they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images.” Denied access to the one true God, they sought substitutes. As His image bearers, they were to have been the glory of God. But God’s glory in their lives became veiled by sin.

Think of it like the sun darkened by clouds. The glory of God still shines, but sin prevents it from casting God’s shadow on the earth. Which takes us back to what it meant for man to be created in the image of God. The Hebrew word for image is tselem, and according to the Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon, it means “an image, likeness (so called from its shadowing forth).” Man was intended to be the shadow of God on earth, created by the glory of His majesty. Like the shadow of a man, created by the brilliance of the sun, humanity was to have revealed the reality of God by its very existence.

Jesus came into the world as the very light of God. The apostle John describes Him this way: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5 ESV). “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (John 1:9-10 ESV).

Why was the second Adam necessary? Because sin had darkened the minds of men. They no longer had the capacity to see truth. Their lives no longer shadowed God’s glory. The darkness of sin had veiled the Light. And John goes on to paint a bleak picture of the world when Jesus arrived on the scene as the second Adam.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. – John 3:19-20 ESV

Jesus came into the world as the light of God. He shadowed the glory of the light of God perfectly to the world, exposing man’s sin and extending an invitation to step into the light of God’s glory once again. But for man to enjoy fellowship with God again, the guilt and shame of sin must be removed. The darkness veiling the eyes of men must be healed. Blind men can never see the light. Those who have learned to love the darkness of sin will never know what it means to live in the light of God’s glory, without the sin-shattering, darkness illuminating power of the second Adam. It is only through Jesus, the second Adam, that we are able to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24 ESV). 

Jesus makes it possible for the cloud of sin to be removed so that man can once again reflect the glory of God. Read the following words from the apostle Paul and consider the remarkable gift provided to you by Jesus Christ.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV

But God is greater than Satan.

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. – 2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV

God sent the light of His Son into the darkness and made it possible for sinful men to be restored to their original purpose: to reflect the glory of God.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. – 2 Corinthians 4:7 ESV

The light has shown in the darkness. Jesus, the Son of God and the second Adam, has come into the world so that the darkness of sin might be replaced with the light of God’s glory. He has made it possible for man to be restored to his former position as God’s image bearer.

“I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”  – John 8:12 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

In the Image of God

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:26-27 ESV

Before we begin unpacking the topic of justification, let’s start with the beginning – the book of Genesis that is. This very first book in the canon of Scripture opens with the words, “In the beginning, God…” (Genesis 1:1 ESV). Then it provides a detailed account of the creation story, when God made the universe and all that is in it, including the first man and woman. 

The reason we are begining at the literal beginning is because creation and sanctification have much in common. One has to do with the setting apart of man as unique and distinct in all of creation. Adam and Eve were the only beings created by God that were made in His image. While the rest of creation was deemed “good” by God, only the man and the woman received His blessing (Genesis 1:28) and were given a divine mandate from God.

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” – Genesis 1:28 ESV

And after having created the first two humans, God deemed all that He had made, “very good” (Genesis 1:34 ESV).

The Genesis account is extremely important to understand if we are going to grasp the significance of all that sanctification is intended to mean. For far too many of us, sanctification has become little more than a self-energized duty to “do better” at living the Christian life. We have relegated it to a series of rules to keep or duties to perform in order to stay on good terms with God. And in approaching sanctification from this limited and distorted mindset, we not only turn it into an unnecessary burden to bear, but we miss out on the remarkable nature of what God is intending to do through it.

In the Genesis account, we are given a glimpse into God’s original intentions for mankind. He intended for Adam and Eve to bear His image. The Hebrew word is tselem and it means “likeness” or “representation.” They were not an exact represenation or replica of God, but as the Hebrew word conveys, they were a “shadow” or “phantom” of His divine nature. Like the shadow cast by an object, man was meant to simulate, not duplicate the nature of God. Adam and Eve were not intended to be “little” gods, sharing all the same attributes as their Creator. But as His “shadows” they were to reveal or prove His existence. As a shadow bears the likeness of an individual, but in a distorted manner, so was man meant to bear the image of God, His imago dei. This Latin phrase came to be a popular means of expressing mankind’s responsibility to image or resemble God.

But sadly, the Genesis account also tells us how the first man and woman rejected and permanently damaged their role as God’s image bearers. They sinned against Him, willingly disobeying His command to refrain from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was the one and only tree in the entire garden which God had made off-limits.

“You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” – Genesis 2:16-17 ESV

But they failed to heed God’s warning and they ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree. And the rest, as they say, is history. As a result of their sin, Adam and Eve were cast from the garden and lost their access to God’s presence. Their sin had left them banished from their former position of intimacy with their Maker. The shadow was separated from its source. Banned from the garden, Adam and Eve lost their access into God’s presence and, ever since, men have been attempting to fill the God-sized hole in their very being.

And yet, the Bible goes on to tell us that God sent another image-bearer to earth, a second Adam, whose job it was to restore the broken relationship between Himself and fallen men. The apostle Paul tells us about this very unique individual.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. – Colossians 1:15-17 ESV

Paul is speaking of Jesus, the Son of God who was sent to seek and to save the lost. He is the image (eikōn) of God and, as such, He is part of the Godhead, and an actual participant in the creation of the world. He not only created man, He became one. Again, the apostle Paul tells us that Jesus “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8 ESV).  Jesus, the Son of God, became a man and, unlike the first Adam, Jesus bore the image of God obediently and perfectly, without sin.

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. – John 1:18 NLT

Jesus became the model of what it means to bear God’s image. He wasn’t a shadow or phantom of God, but very God Himself. He was God in human flesh. And this perfect blend of humanity and divinity allowed Jesus to image God as no other human being had ever done. He became the perfect imago dei.

Yet, Paul tells us that Satan has blinded the eyes of men, so that they cannot see the image of God found in the life of Jesus.

…the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV

But Jesus came into the world not only to reveal God the Father, but to redeem fallen mankind. He entered the world in order to restore sinful men to a right relationship with God and to reestablish the intimate communion with Him that was broken by the fall.

When Philip had asked Jesus to show he and his fellow disciples the Father, Jesus had responded, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9 ESV). Jesus was enough. To see Him was to see God. To hear Him was to hear from God. In fact, when Peter, James, and John had witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus, God had spoken to them out of a cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35 ESV).

Later on, Jesus told His disciples, “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life” (John 5:24 NLT). Jesus not only revealed God, He spoke on behalf of God. He offered a message of salvation based on the grace and mercy of God, and His sinless life, modeling the character of God, would be the key.

Which brings us back to the topic of sanctification. Man was made in God’s image, but that image was marred by the fall. The image of God became perverted and twisted. So, God sent His Son to become a man, in order that He might once again image the Father accurately and effectively. And it is Jesus who is to be our model. He is to be the one we emulate and after whom we strive to model our lives. Paul reminds us, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29 ESV). That is God’s will for us. Jesus was sent Jesus not only to save us, but to model for us what it means to reflect God’s character. He is the ultimate imago dei.  And sanctification is God’s intended means by which we take on the character of Christ.

It is not about sinful men trying to be more godly. It is not about good men trying to become better. It is about chosen sons and daughters of God allowing themselves to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And in the days ahead, we will be looking more closely at how God intends for that transformation to take place. But suffice it to say, the process of sanctification is, in a sense, the restoration of sinful man to his original pre-fall condition.

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27 ESV

And Jesus not only shows us what that image in living color, He makes it possible for us to become just like Him.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Wisdom, Madness and Folly.

12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

15 What is crooked cannot be made straight,
    and what is lacking cannot be counted.

16 I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.

18 For in much wisdom is much vexation,
    and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 ESV

Solomon established the theme of his book in verse two: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” He is the “preacher” or speaker in the assembly. He is addressing his audience with words of wisdom and worldly experience, expressing what he has learned after years of living on this planet. And his words are intended to shock and surprise us. After all, he is the king of Israel, and one of wisest and wealthiest men who has ever lived. He ruled over one of the greatest nations of the world, populated by a people who had been chosen and set apart by God. He lived in an opulent palace, surrounded by treasures of all kinds. His was a life marked by luxury and a lavish lifestyle that made him the envy of every man on earth, including other kings. And yet, as he stood at the end of his life, looking back, he could not help but recognize that all his wealth, wisdom, and worldly goods had resulted in vanity.

But what does that term mean? The NLV and NIV translate it as “meaningless.” The Hebrew word is hebel and it can best be described with terms such as “vapor” or “breath.” It conjures up the image of something that is without form or substance. It is here one minute and then gone another. Like fog or dew, it appears and then disappears, leaving no trace that it ever existed. It’s not so much that it’s without meaning, but that it lacks sustainability. It seems that Solomon is attempting to describe the transitory nature of life. Just look at the descriptions he used in the opening verses.
A generation goes, and a generation comes – vs 4
The sun rises, and the sun goes down – vs 5
The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns… – vs 6
All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full… – vs 7
There is a certain futility to life because it all appears to be cyclical in nature. These are the words of a man who is near the nadir of his life, and who recognizes that all his many accomplishments and acquisitions will amount to nothing when he is gone. His words would be echoed by James centuries later.
How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. – James 4:14 NLT
It was this somewhat morbid perspective that had led Solomon to pen this book. But it is doubtful that his only motivation was to journal his dying thoughts. These are not the ramblings of a depressed man mired in self-pity, but the reflections of a wise man who had taken a wrong turn somewhere along the path of life and was warning those behind him not to make the same mistake. At this stage of his life, he describes himself not as a king, but as a preacher, a bearer of vital news, whose sole intent is to instruct others and to open their eyes to the realities of life. His role had changed. In fact, he describes his kingship in the past tense. He had been the king of Israel and he had lived in Jerusalem. It is not that he was no longer king when he wrote this book, but that he was looking back with a sort of detached perspective, viewing his life from the outside. His is a message based on hind site, the wisdom that comes from analyzing something from retrospect. Solomon is contemplative and more objective than he had ever been in his role as king. As he nears the end of life, his position and possessions mean little to him. He is an old man nearing death, who knows that his days are numbered and that his title and treasures will do him no good when he is gone. Which is what lead him to conclude:
I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. – Ecclesiastes 3:14 ESV
Solomon had spent his life acquiring everything from wisdom and knowledge to wealth and women. He had been the consummate collector and consumer. He openly admits:
“I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” – Ecclesiastes 1:16 ESV
But Solomon’s quest for knowledge had been all-encompassing, including the pursuit of madness and folly. He will refer to these two things several more times in his book, always linking them together. What Solomon means by these two words is essential to understanding the rest of what he has to say in this book. Madness and folly are not references to mental illness, but to moral perversity. For Solomon, wisdom and knowledge represent his pursuit to know truth and righteousness. He was on a quest to discover the meaning of life and to find significance for his life. But when he didn’t find what he was looking for, he turned to immorality. In some sense, Solomon used his brain and his body in an attempt to find meaning in life. He pursued information by using his intelligence, but he also pursued experience by utilizing his physical senses and fulfilling his passions and desires.
Solomon describes his life in stark terms, stating:
I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. – Ecclesiastes 1:13 NLT
Notice his words: Everything done under heaven. He had no barriers. He had removed the guard rails from his life, allowing himself the right to experiment with anything and everything, in a vain attempt to discover meaning and significance. But what is glaringly missing is any mention of God. He was not looking to God for meaning. He was not pursuing God for fulfillment and satisfaction. It had been God who had made him king and granted him his wisdom and wealth. But Solomon had an insatiable desire for more. He was not satisfied with God.
It brings to mind the scene in the Garden of Eden after God had made Adam and Eve. He placed them in the garden and surrounded them with everything they would need for life, including an intimate, unbroken relationship with Him.
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. – Genesis 2:8-9 ESV
They had it all. There was nothing they lacked. And the only thing God denied them was access to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He had warned them, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”(Genesis 2:16-17 ESV). In other words, they could even eat of the tree of life. In fact, I believe it was the fruit of this tree that provided them with eternal life. As long as they ate it, they would live. Life was not forbidden. But the knowledge of good and evil was. They were to avoid that tree, under penalty of death. God had told them that violating His command by eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree would result in death. And it seems that the death to which He referred was not an immediate extermination of life, but the slow, steady decline that comes with aging. They would suffer a spiritual death, an immediate separation from fellowship with God, but also a physical death, that would come as a result of their removal from the garden and their inability to eat of the Tree of Life. 
It’s important to note that, when Satan tempted Eve, he twisted the words of God, accusing Him of having said, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden.” But that was a lie, and Eve corrected him. But even she got it wrong, because she inferred that God’s ban had included instructions not to even touch the tree. But Satan had responded, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5 ESV). He contradicted God. He called God a liar and painted him as nothing more than a cosmic killjoy. Satan presented the real goal in life as that of pursuing the knowledge of good and evil. He portrayed knowledge and experience as the twin values that make life truly meaningful. His portrayal of good and evil was not an attempt to set up one against the other, but to present them as equally valuable and significant. 
And that seems to be the thought behind Solomon’s strategy for life. He tried it all. He dabbled in wisdom, but also in madness and folly. He tried his hand at the righteous life as well as the wicked. And none of it worked. None of it satisfied. This was a man who had 700 wives and 300 concubines. He denied himself nothing. He was an extremist. But when all was said and done, he found himself extremely unfulfilled and dissatisfied. He had eaten a steady diet from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He had seen the forbidden fruit and wolfed it down. And while Solomon was much the wiser for his efforts, he was far from content. Which is why he so sadly concluded: “The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18 NLT). He knew things God never intended him to know. His eyes had been opened to things God had never meant for him to see. Satan had convinced Solomon that God was not enough. He had tempted Solomon to believe that God had been holding out and that the real meaning in life was to be found outside of God’s will, not in it. And now, the wisest man who ever lived, was looking back on his life, recognizing that it had all been a lie. Solomon had taken his eyes off of God and had placed his trust in anything and everything but God. And it had all proved to be vanity.   

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The War of the Wills.

“Go out of the midst of her, my people!
    Let every one save his life
    from the fierce anger of the Lord!
Let not your heart faint, and be not fearful
    at the report heard in the land,
when a report comes in one year
    and afterward a report in another year,
and violence is in the land,
    and ruler is against ruler.

“Therefore, behold, the days are coming
    when I will punish the images of Babylon;
her whole land shall be put to shame,
    and all her slain shall fall in the midst of her.
Then the heavens and the earth,
    and all that is in them,
shall sing for joy over Babylon,
    for the destroyers shall come against them out of the north,
declares the Lord.
Babylon must fall for the slain of Israel,
    just as for Babylon have fallen the slain of all the earth.

“You who have escaped from the sword,
    go, do not stand still!
Remember the Lord from far away,
    and let Jerusalem come into your mind:
‘We are put to shame, for we have heard reproach;
    dishonor has covered our face,
for foreigners have come
    into the holy places of the Lord‘s house.’

“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will execute judgment upon her images,
and through all her land
    the wounded shall groan.
Though Babylon should mount up to heaven,
    and though she should fortify her strong height,
yet destroyers would come from me against her,
    declares the Lord.

“I will make drunk her officials and her wise men,
    her governors, her commanders, and her warriors;
they shall sleep a perpetual sleep and not wake,
    declares the King, whose name is the Lord of hosts.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts:
The broad wall of Babylon
    shall be leveled to the ground,
and her high gates
    shall be burned with fire.
The peoples labor for nothing,
    and the nations weary themselves only for fire.” – Jeremiah 51:45-58 ESV

We’ve all met strong-willed individuals. Perhaps you have raised or are in the process of raising a child with a stronger-than-normal will. They tend to want to get their way. They can be very demanding and are usually not afraid to let others know what they are thinking and what it is they think they deserve, want or need. Can you imagine how many strong-willed people God deals with on a daily basis? Consider the number of people He has run into over the centuries who thought their will was more important than His own. If you think about it, every person who has ever lived fits into that category. Because of the fall, all of mankind was born strong-willed and self-obsessed. We all came out of the womb like little gods, demanding our way as soon as we could make a sound. The human will is the battleground on which the war between mankind and their Creator wages day after day, and it has been going on since God made Adam. When God told Adam, “Thou shall not…”, there arose in the first man’s heart the spark of self-awareness that responded, “Yes, I shall…” And the battle over control began. Adam and his newly formed bride didn’t take long to decide that their wills were more important than God’s. Their passions and desires quickly took precedence over God’s commands. Their attraction to the forbidden fruit and all that the enemy said it offered them overwhelmed any desire they had to obey God. Their wills won the day.

As God continues His quite lengthy oracle concerning Babylon, it is important to note that much of what He is dealing with is man’s innate need to be in control, to be the master of his own fate. The nations God has addressed over the last few chapters of the book of Jeremiah are corporate representations of man’s fallen state, and Babylon holds the distinction of being the epitome of willful arrogance and pride. Nebuchadnezzar was the poster-boy of pride. The book of Daniel tells the story of his pride reaching its zenith and God’s divine response to his unchecked arrogance and self-adulation.

God had given the king a dream, which Daniel had interpreted for him. Daniel had given the king the meaning of the dream, warning him:

You will be driven from human society, and you will live in the fields with the wild animals. You will eat grass like a cow, and you will be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.” – Daniel 4:25 NLT

But the king didn’t take Daniel’s words seriously. And in a relatively short period of time, Nebuchadnezzar would learn the painful truth behind what Daniel had told him.

“But all these things did happen to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later he was taking a walk on the flat roof of the royal palace in Babylon. As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.’

“While these words were still in his mouth, a voice called down from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, this message is for you! You are no longer ruler of this kingdom. You will be driven from human society. You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.’” – Daniel 4:28-32 NLT

And it happened just as God had said it would.

“That same hour the judgment was fulfilled, and Nebuchadnezzar was driven from human society. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven. He lived this way until his hair was as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails were like birds’ claws. – Daniel 4:33 NLT

He went from walking along the parapets of his palace, bragging about his many exploits and personal accomplishments, to crawling around on all fours, eating grace like an animal. What separates man from the rest of creation is the fact that he was made in the image of God. But when man attempts to replace God’s image with his own, he becomes little more than an just another animal. Mankind’s capacity for reasoning, while it may set him apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, can also be his downfall. That was the lesson to be learned in God’s ongoing oracle against Babylon. God warns the pride-filled residents of Babylon:

“Though Babylon reaches as high as the heavens
    and makes her fortifications incredibly strong,
I will still send enemies to plunder her.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 51:53 NLT

God’s wording brings recalls the days in which he destroyed the tower of Babel, a pride-motivated building project taken on by the ancient predecessors of the Babylonians. God had commanded Adam and Eve, along with their descendants, to fill the earth. But the book of Genesis tells us that the people decided to do things their way, according to their own wills.

At one time all the people of the world spoke the same language and used the same words. As the people migrated to the east, they found a plain in the land of Babylonia[a] and settled there.

They began saying to each other, “Let’s make bricks and harden them with fire.” (In this region bricks were used instead of stone, and tar was used for mortar.) Then they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.” – Genesis 11:1-4 NLT

Essentially they said, “We know better.” They decided their plan was better than God’s. They desired fame more than they did following God’s revealed will. So, God stepped in and, just as He did with King Nebuchadnezzar, God knocked the residents of ancient Babel down a few notches.

But the Lord came down to look at the city and the tower the people were building. “Look!” he said. “The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them! Come, let’s go down and confuse the people with different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other.”

In that way, the Lord scattered them all over the world, and they stopped building the city. That is why the city was called Babel, because that is where the Lord confused the people with different languages. In this way he scattered them all over the world. – Genesis 11:5-9 NLT

King Nebuchadnezzar had his thinking confused and literally lost his mind. The people of Babel had their language confused and literally lost the capacity to communicate. Adam and Even had their moral compass confused and literally lost their communion with God. And in each case, the human will was the culprit. They had decided to do battle with God over and engage in a war of the will – and they lost. Man will always lose that battle. Oh, there may appear to be times with man’s will wins out. It may look as though we are getting our way and reaping the benefits of our own self-centered, egotistical plan. But in the end, God’s will always wins. Adam and Eve got what they wanted: The forbidden fruit. But they lost what they really needed: Communion with God. Nebuchadnezzar got the joy of standing on his palace roof and marveling over the mighty kingdom he had built. But he lost his mind. The people of Babel began an aggressive building program to construct a monument to their own human ingenuity and corporate capabilities. But they lost the ability to understand one another.

Man’s ongoing attempt to win the battle of the wills is a lost cause. Any minor victories we enjoy will always end in defeat. Any attempt on our part to exert our wills and force our way on the sovereign plans of God will prove hopeless and futile in the end. And God’s dire warning to Babylon should be a sobering reminder to us all that God’s will always wins.

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says:
“The thick walls of Babylon will be leveled to the ground,
    and her massive gates will be burned.
The builders from many lands have worked in vain,
    for their work will be destroyed by fire!” – Jeremiah 51:58 NLT

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Prone to Wander.

“How can you say, ‘I am not unclean,
    I have not gone after the Baals’?
Look at your way in the valley;
    know what you have done—
a restless young camel running here and there,
    a wild donkey used to the wilderness,
in her heat sniffing the wind!
    Who can restrain her lust?
None who seek her need weary themselves;
    in her month they will find her.
Keep your feet from going unshod
    and your throat from thirst.
But you said, ‘It is hopeless,
    for I have loved foreigners,
    and after them I will go.’

“As a thief is shamed when caught,
    so the house of Israel shall be shamed:
they, their kings, their officials,
    their priests, and their prophets,
who say to a tree, ‘You are my father,’
    and to a stone, ‘You gave me birth.’
For they have turned their back to me,
    and not their face.
But in the time of their trouble they say,
    ‘Arise and save us!’
But where are your gods
    that you made for yourself?
Let them arise, if they can save you,
    in your time of trouble;
for as many as your cities
    are your gods, O Judah. Jeremiah 2:23-28 ESV

God knew that the people of Judah would deny His accusations. When confronted by the prophet of God bearing the indictment of God against them, they would simply resort to a pitiful attempt at denial. They cry, “Not guilty!” But God says that there is plenty of proof to convict them. He tells them to take a look at the valley – probably a reference to the Hinnon Valley just south of Jerusalem. It was at this place they worshiped Baal and Molech, even sacrificing their children to these false gods.

And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. – Jeremiah 7:31 ESV

When Jeremiah started his ministry, he did so under the reign of King Josiah. And we read in 2 Kings where he made many reforms, trying to correct the many misdeeds of the people of Judah. One of them involved the Hinnom Valley.

“he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech.” – 2 Kings 23:10 ESV

This chapter in 2 Kings validates God’s accusation, providing additional evidence of just how corrupt and immoral the people of God had become. Josiah found himself quite busy trying to remedy the spiritual problem that permeated every area of life in Judah.

…the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven – 2 Kings 23:4 ESV

And he deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and the moon and the constellations and all the host of the heavens. – 2 Kings 23:5 ESV

And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the Lord – 2 Kings 23:5 ESV

And he broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the Lord – 2 Kings 23:7 ESV

And he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the Lord – 2 Kings 23:11 ESV

And the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites… – 2 Kings 23:13 ESV

And the list goes on. And while Josiah was busy trying to clean up the mess left by ages of disobedience and disregard for God, the people never really changed. Their hearts remained stubborn and totally opposed to returning to God. In spite of his best efforts at reform, Josiah would not be able to reform the hearts of the people. That is why God was sending Jeremiah and why the author of 2 Kings went on to write:

Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. And the Lord said, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.” – 2 Kings 23:26-27 ESV

They could deny their guilt, but the evidence was stacked against them. God even compares them to a wild donkey or camel in heat. They couldn’t resist their inner urges. They were driven by their own desires, like a female donkey that runs away from its master in order to satisfy its base desires. God had repeatedly called the people of Judah to repentance, begging them to return to Him. He loved them and would have accepted them and restored them to a right relationship with Him, but they responded, “Save your breath. I’m in love with these foreign gods, and I can’t stop loving them now!” (Jeremiah 2:25 NLT). They weren’t going to stop. They couldn’t. Their sin natures wouldn’t allow them to do so. What a great picture of man’s inability to seek and serve God faithfully. If left to ourselves, we will always choose sin over righteousness. We may mean well, but our natural predisposition is toward sin. We can’t help ourselves. That is why Paul wrote, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 ESV). The people of Judah were doing what came naturally. They were sinners in need of a Savior. They had been chosen by God and set apart by Him, but they still had hearts that were predisposed to sin. It was in their DNA, inherited from their ancestor, Adam. Paul reminds us of the terrible consequences of Adam’s original sin:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned – Romans 5:12 ESV

…by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners – Romans 5:19 ESV

And the people of Judah were living proof of this theological reality. They were sinners. In spite of all that God had done for them, they continued to follow their natural inclination to seek and serve other gods. But their passion for other gods was really based on a need for self-determination and autonomy. They wanted to be the arbiters of their own fate. They wanted to determine the kind of god they served. And this desire went all the way back to the garden of Eden. God had warned Adam:

“You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” – Genesis 2:16-17 ESV

It was Satan who came to them and subtly seduced them to disobey the command of God. He misconstrued the words of God and made it sound like God was denying Adam and Eve something they would really enjoy. He was attempting to keep them from being like Himself.

“You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 ESV

Satan was right. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their eyes were opened. They not only knew what evil was, they had an irrepressible desire for it. And driving their urges from that day forward would be their desire to be like God. They would want to be in control. They would want to determine their own future and live according to their own will. Man’s ongoing attempt to create his own gods is nothing more than his need to find value and meaning in something outside of himself. Our innate need for God gets satisfied by our own attempt to create our own gods, whether in the form of an idol or an ideology. Today, we worship science and politics, education and enlightenment. Our gods are more sophisticated, but are no less idols than a Buddha statue sitting on a table.

God points out the absurdity of man’s incurable desire to create his own god.

“To an image carved from a piece of wood they say,
    ‘You are my father.’
To an idol chiseled from a block of stone they say,
    ‘You are my mother.’
They turn their backs on me,
    but in times of trouble they cry out to me,
    ‘Come and save us!’” – Jeremiah 2:27 NLT

We have this innate desire to worship anything and everything but God. Then, when things go south, we find ourselves turning back and crying out to God for help. Like the millions of people who flocked to and filled churches all across America after 9/11, we find ourselves falling back on God when our world falls in on us. But God would say to us as He did to Judah:

“But why not call on these gods you have made?
    When trouble comes, let them save you if they can!
For you have as many gods
    as there are towns in Judah.” – Jeremiah 2:28 NLT

Why not let science save you? Why not ask your politicians to come to your rescue? You’ve spent your life putting your trust in money, why not put your hope in it now? You’ve made pleasure your god, so why not let pleasure get you out of the fix you’re in? But false gods have no power to save. They are totally incapable of providing rescue from the effects of sin. Science can prolong life, but it can’t prevent death. Politicians can pass laws and legislate till their blue in the face, but they can’t prevent sin or promise eternal life. In fact, the gods we worship in place of the one true God, can only cause sin. They tempt us to turn from God. They cause us to misplace our trust and misdirect our affections. They produce sin, rather than prevent it.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Genesis 1-2, Matthew 1

God’s Faithful Relationship With Man.

Genesis 1-2, Matthew 1

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27 ESV

What does this passage reveal about God?

From the opening chapter of Genesis all the way to the first few pages of the first Gospel, the story of the Bible is the story of God’s relationship with man. It reveals the answer to the age-old question of how man got here in the first place. “In the beginning, God…” God spoke and the world came into being. With just a word from His mouth, the universe and all we can see was miraculously and instantaneously created, including the first man. Genesis reveals the indescribable and somewhat unbelievable power of God. What we read in the first two chapters of Genesis is hard to fathom or comprehend. It sounds fanciful and far-fetched. It comes across as a fairy tale or like some kind of ancient myth. But Moses penned these words fully believing in their veracity. He was not there to see any of it happen, but was divinely inspired to write a record of just what had occurred, having received his information straight from God Himself.

The apex of the Genesis story is the creation of man. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’” (Genesis 1:26 ESV). Man was created to bear the likeness of God. That doesn’t mean the first man was god-like, but that he shared in common some of the God’s characteristics or traits. Man was given moral discernment, the ability to think and speak, a conscience, a knowledge of right and wrong, and not only an awareness of self, but an awareness of God. No other creature shared these qualities.

Regardless of man’s starring role in the creation account, God is still the central figure in the story. He is the headliner of this epoch event, and without Him, nothing would have taken place. This is true even in the Matthew account. The very birth of Jesus was the work of God, not man. The genealogy recorded in chapter one of Matthew’s gospel gives us the family tree of Joseph, but makes it quite clear that he was the husband of Mary, not the biological father of Jesus. It was the Holy Spirit of God who made possible the birth of the Son of God. Joseph was told by the angel, “do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21 ESV). This was the work of God. In fact, the Old Testament prophets had written that this baby would be called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” God would once again penetrate the darkness and chaos of the world with Light. He would bring order to the confusion and give man a second chance to bear His likeness. In Jesus, man would not only bear the likeness of God, He would be fully God. He was the second Adam, the God-man who would live a sinless life and satisfy the demands of a holy, righteous God; as no other man had ever been able to do.

God created the world. God conceived a Savior. God created man and would recreate man in His image through the sending of His Son to the world in human flesh.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man was uniquely made in the image of God and given the responsibility to care for and manage God’s creation. He enjoyed an intimate, uninterrupted relationship with God and was unhampered by sin. He lived in a perfect environment and had the unique capacity to communicate with God Himself. He had God-given authority over the rest of creation, and was a trusted companion of the Creator of the universe. Adam and Eve were commanded to be fruitful and fill the earth with their kind. And according to chapter one of Genesis, they had been successful. Here we have recorded the generations from Abraham all the way to Joseph, revealing the family tree of Jesus on His father’s side. What we don’t see revealed are the countless number of sins committed by men along the way. That short, seemingly unimportant genealogy contains a hidden list of sins committed against God. It also reveals the names of men who had failed to live up to the standard of God. Even the great men like Abraham, David and Solomon were sin-prone and flawed reflections of the One who had created them. Which is the reason God had to send another man, His own Son Jesus. Paul reminds us, “The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45 ESV). Jesus was the “second Adam.” He was more than just a man. He was the God-man. He was God in human flesh, sent to do what Adam had been unable to do: live in perfect obedience to God.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

As God is the central focus of the Bible, so He should be in my life. I tend to want to make it all about me. I want to be the star of the show. And I am not alone. For generations, men have been attempting to make it all about themselves. Even those who call themselves children of God have the tendency to see themselves as more important than the very one who made them. They mistakenly believe that God exists for their benefit. They view Him as some kind of cosmic genie who exists to grant their wishes. But the book of Genesis would remind us that God is the all-powerful force behind all that exists. He is the Creator-God, the very reason for our existence and the only one worthy of man’s worship. I don’t exist because God needed me. I am not here because I somehow deserved to be created. I am, like the rest of creation, the work of God’s hands. I am a created being with severe limitations and a genealogical track record marred by rebellion and sin. But my God has a plan. He always has had a plan. The sending of His Son was not a knee-jerk reaction or a quick fix to a surprising problem. God was not caught off guard and forced to come up with a solution to man’s sin problem. He had planned His Son’s coming long before the foundation of the world. He knew that the key to man having a right relationship with Him that would last an eternity, was to send a man who could live a sinless life and satisfy His holy requirements. Paul tells us, “Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come” (Romans 5:14 ESV). As we will see, Adam was going to fail in his effort to remain faithful to God. His efforts would bring sin into the world. But Jesus would prove to be the man who brought life, hope, healing and forgiveness into the chaos of a sin-soaked world. I need to never forget that God stands as the source of all physical life and the provider of eternal life. Without Him, I wouldn’t exist. Apart from Him, I would have no hope.

Father, thank You for creating man. But thank You even more for sending Your Son as a man. You are the only reason I exist and the only reason I will enjoy an eternity free from sin and the punishment I so readily deserved. Help me keep You alone as the focus of my life and the central star of the story taking place all around me.  Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

 

Romans 1:18-32

God Substitutes.

Romans 1:18-32

They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. – Romans 1:25 NLT

While Paul relished the the Good News that man could be made right with God through a relationship with Jesus Christ, he was also painfully aware of the bad news surrounding the state of mankind. The next section of his letter paints a very bleak picture of just how bad things had become in the world. God was angry with men, and justifiably so. They had long ago abandoned any idea of acknowledging His presence or obeying His commands. Ever since Adam and Eve had sinned in the Garden of Eden, rejecting God’s authority over their lives, man’s moral descent had been a rapid one. While the very nature and attributes of God could be seen all around them, most explicitly through His creation, they refused to acknowledge Him as God. Instead, relying on their limited intellects and sin-infected reasoning capacities, they began to develop their own concept of God. Rather than worship the One who created all that they could see, they began to worship those things He had created. They missed the point. They lost their focus. They became distracted by the temporal, rather than see the eternal. Over time, their minds became darkened and confused. Their sinful pride and arrogance led them to believe they were wise, while in reality, they were nothing but misguided fools.

“So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired” (Romans 1:24 NLT). He handed them over. He took His hand off the wheel, so to speak, and allowed them to do what they wanted to do. This is one of the saddest statements in Scripture. It is also one of the scariest. Man, left to his own, evil devices, is a disaster waiting to happen. Without God’s restraining hand in place, man will self-destruct, which is exactly what happened. Devoid of God’s moral boundaries in place, mankind quickly steered off course. Their behavior degraded quickly, as they exchanged the truth about God for a lie. They worshiped the creation rather than the Creator. They saw more value in themselves than in the One who had made them. With no moral compass to guide them, their sins became increasingly more bold and base, while their behavior became increasingly more man-centered rather than God-centered. “Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done” (Romans 1:28 NLT).

Things had gotten bad. “Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip” (Romans 1:29 NLT). The state of affairs could not have been any worse. But this bleak and foreboding picture is exactly what Paul wants his readers to wrestle with. He wants them to understand just how bad things had become and just how dire the circumstances were when God determined to step back in and fix the problem. When God had turned mankind over to seek their own selfish, sinful desires, He had not done so permanently. He had not abandoned them forever. He had a plan in place and was only waiting for just the right moment to introduce His solution to man’s problem. While God had every right to mete out punishment on mankind for their sin and open rebellion against Him, He chose to show mercy and grace. Mankind stood as guilty and without excuse for their rejection of God, and He would have been just and right to punish them for their actions. The world had become God-less and unrighteous. Yet God would solve their unrighteousness by introducing a righteousness of His own. He would reinsert Himself into the scenario once again – this time in the form of the Son of God in human flesh. Righteousness would invade unrighteousness. The true God would reveal Himself in the midst of rampant godlessness. That is the Good News that Paul will talk about throughout the rest of this letter. “This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life'” (Romans 1:17 NLT). In the midst of man’s hopelessness, helplessness, sinfulness, and godlessness, God intervened and provided a gracious, merciful solution that should leave everyone of us blown away and eternally grateful.

Father, even as bad as things had become, You never truly abandoned us. You allowed us to follow our own sinful inclination and proved to us just how desperately we need You. Without You, we are doomed to destruction. We will self-destruct. We will destroy ourselves and all that You have made. And yet, You had a solution and You introduced that solution at the peak of our sinfulness – in spite of our sinfulness. While we were yet sinners, You sent Your Son to die for us. That is amazing. It is mind-boggling. And it is truly Good News! Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org