A God Who Is Near

1 “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you. Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal-peor, for the Lord your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor. But you who held fast to the Lord your God are all alive today. See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?– Deuteronomy 4:1-8 ESV

God had just reconfirmed that Moses would not be leading the people of Israel into the land of promise. With his little display of self-aggrandizement in the Wilderness of Zin, Moses had angered God by attempting to steal glory from God. In his anger with the people of Israel, Moses had disobeyed God’s commands and attempted to grandstand before the people, leaving them to believe that it was he who was supplying their need for water. Moses was out to win the respect of the people, when he should have been leading the people to honor, glorify, and revere God.

Yet, in spite of the news that he would not be entering into the promised land along with the rest of the people, Moses didn’t shirk his leadership responsibilities. He continued to perform the task assigned to him by God all those years ago in the land of Midian. While Moses had been caring for his father-in-laws flocks, God had appeared to him in the form of a burning bush, telling him:

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” – Exodus 3:7-10 ESV

God was going to deliver the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt and He was going to use Moses to make it happen. But God’s deliverance of His people would include a deliverance to and not just from something.

“I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.” – Exodus 3:16-17 ESV

Now, more than four decades later, the people had arrived at their final destination: The land of promise. And while Moses would be denied the joy and pleasure of leading them into the land, he was going to make sure that were well-informed as to their obligations to God once the arrived in the land.

God had personally given His laws to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai, and Moses had delivered them to the people of Israel. Those laws remained binding upon the people and were intended to regulate their conduct once they arrived in the promised land. They were not suggestions, but were irrevocable laws that required willful obedience on the part of the people. So, Moses wanted to make sure that the new generation of Israelites, who would be the first to enter the land, would know and obey the commands of God.

“…listen carefully to these decrees and regulations that I am about to teach you. Obey them so that you may live, so you may enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.” – Deuteronomy 4:1 NLT

Moses was taking no chances. He was not going to assume that the parents of these people had been affective in passing on the laws and statutes of God. Moses knew that ignorance of God’s laws would be just as deadly as choosing to ignore them. And he also knew that God would not tolerate any alterations or additions to His law.

“Do not add to or subtract from these commands I am giving you. Just obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you.” – Deuteronomy 4:2 NLT

God would not tolerate any deviation from His law. His commands were not up for debate or open to interpretation. And, just to make sure the people understood the gravity of their situation, Moses reminded them of one of the many times when their parents had failed to keep God’s commands. It had happened on the plains of Moab at a place called Shittim. When the people of Israel entered the Moabite territory, Balak, the king of Moab, had attempted to hire a local diviner named Balaam to place a curse on them. But when Balaam discovered that God would not allow him to place a curse on the people of Israel, he came up with an alternative plan. He instructed the king to have the women of Moab seduce the men of Israel. And the book of Numbers tells us exactly what happened.

…some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the LORD’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:1-3 NLT

This was far more than a display of immorality that angered the Victorian sensibilities of God. It was a blatant violation of His law.

“You must worship no other gods, for the LORD, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you. You must not make a treaty of any kind with the people living in the land. They lust after their gods, offering sacrifices to them. They will invite you to join them in their sacrificial meals, and you will go with them. Then you will accept their daughters, who sacrifice to other gods, as wives for your sons. And they will seduce your sons to commit adultery against me by worshiping other gods.” – Exodus 34:14-16 NLT

And yet, that’s exactly what the people of Israel had done at Shittim. And Moses reminded the people what God had done in response to their disobedience to His commands.

“You saw for yourself what the Lord did to you at Baal-peor. There the Lord your God destroyed everyone who had worshiped Baal, the god of Peor. – Deuteronomy 4:3 NLT

Those same laws still applied and God was not going to allow His people to bend or break them, without suffering the consequences for their disobedience. Moses knew that the abundance and fruitfulness of the land would mean nothing if they people refused to remain faithful to God. The land flowing with milk and honey would become a killing field flowing with blood if the Israelites did not take God’s commands seriously. Partial obedience would not result in partial blessing. It would bring the full wrath of God. Which is why Moses warned them, “Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations” (Deuteronomy 4:6 NLT).

God had a secondary purpose behind His laws. They were to guide and direct the lives of His people, providing them with clearly understood parameters for living in submission to His will for them. His laws were meant to protect them. His laws were intended to assure that they enjoyed His blessings and avoided His curses. But they were also meant to provide the nations living within the land with a visual testimony of what it looks like when men live in a right relationship with God Almighty.

The Mosaic Law was intended to display a never-before-seen relationship between a god and man. The pagan religions of the day featured a plethora of gods who were distant and, for the most part, invisible to their worshipers. Except for carved idols, these gods were nowhere to be seen. And the relationship between the worshipers and their chosen deity was a fickle one, with the people never knowing if their god was truly pleased with their behavior.

Yet, the God of Israel, while transcendent and all-powerful, had chosen to insert Himself into the lives of His people, providing them with laws that regulated not only their behavior concerning Him, but with one another. He wanted to influence every facet of their lives, providing them with righteous rules and regulations for every imaginable form of conduct. And as the people of Israel obeyed His laws, they would be displaying their wisdom and intelligence to the nations around them – a wisdom and intelligence that originated from God, not men.

Moses knew that if the Israelites would obey God’s commands, the pagan nations would be amazed at their wisdom.

“How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!” – Deuteronomy 4:6 NLT

But he wanted the Israelites to remember that it would not be their wisdom that set them apart. It would be their God.

“For what great nation has a god as near to them as the Lord our God is near to us whenever we call on him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?” – Deuteronomy 4:7-8 NLT

The very presence of God’s law was proof of God’s proximity. He was with them. He was intimately involved in their lives and cared about every detail concerning their conduct and character. Unlike the false gods of the nations living in the land of Canaan, Yahweh was real and His relationship with His people was intended to be all-pervasive and highly personal. He was not a distant, disinterested deity, but a loving, caring God who longed to display His glory in the lives of His chosen people.

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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They Shall Declare My Glory

Isaiah 66:15-24

After 66 chapters, it would be easy to assume that the entire book of Isaiah is all about the nation of Judah. And while they are one of the main topics of the book and the key recipient of the messages contained in it, they are not its primary focus. God is.

All throughout the book, Isaiah has communicated the glory and greatness of God. What set the people of Judah apart was their God. He was the reason they were a nation in the first place. He had called Abraham out of Ur and made from him a great nation consisting of descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. The whole purpose behind Isaiah writing the book that bears his name was to express God’s glory and expose the guilt of the people of Judah for refusing to reflect that glory to the nations. They were to have been a living, breathing witness to the rest of the world of what it looks like to live in unbroken fellowship with God Almighty. But they had failed. Instead of bringing glory to the name of God through submission to His will and obedience to His commands, they had displayed an open disregard for His holiness and greatness by pursuing false gods. They had profaned the name of God by their actions and, while God was obligated to punish them, He was still determined to protect the integrity of His reputation by remaining committed to the covenant He had made with them.

Throughout this book, the glory of God is juxtaposed to the sinfulness of humanity. And the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel are highlighted as glaring examples of mankind’s stubborn rejection of God’s revealed glory. He had chosen, rescued, led, protected, and provided for them. He had given them His law as a guideline for living in relationship with Him and one another. He had provided them with the sacrificial system as a means of receiving forgiveness when they inevitably failed to live up to His law. And each time God displayed His power among them, showered His grace and unmerited favor on them, and maintained His covenant commitment to them, He was revealing His glory. But rather than responding in gratitude and with a renewed determination to remain faithful to Him, the peoples of Judah and Israel had continued to treat God’s glory with disdain and indifference.

So, the book of Isaiah tells us what God intends to do. It reveals His plans regarding His disobedient children and the rest of mankind who live in open rebellion to Him. While the punishment of Judah is a major theme of the book, the future restoration of Judah and Israel is given far more significance. And the primary point behind their restoration will be the glory of God. Isaiah has already told us what will happen in that day.

And you will say in that day:

“Give thanks to the Lord,
    call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
    proclaim that his name is exalted.

“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
    let this be made known in all the earth.
Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
    for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” – Isaiah 12:4-6 ESV

Notice that God is the main focus of these verses. He will receive thanks. It will be His deeds that are made known. His name will be exalted. Praises will be sung to Him and about Him. Because He alone is great. God’s restoration of His people will not go unnoticed by the rest of the world. They will recognize His glory and greatness as He displays His covenant faithfulness. But they will also see and experience His glory in the form of His judgment. As Isaiah has made clear, the day is coming when God will reveal His glory as He metes out justice to the nations.

“My mercy and justice are coming soon.
    My salvation is on the way.
    My strong arm will bring justice to the nations.
All distant lands will look to me
    and wait in hope for my powerful arm.
Look up to the skies above,
    and gaze down on the earth below.
For the skies will disappear like smoke,
    and the earth will wear out like a piece of clothing.
The people of the earth will die like flies,
    but my salvation lasts forever.
    My righteous rule will never end!” – Isaiah 51:5-6 NLT

Again, don’t miss the emphasis of these verses: My mercy and justice. My salvation. My strong arm. My righteous rule. It will all be about God and His glory. In fact, verse 18 of this chapter clearly states that the focus of all that happens in the end times will be about the glory of God.

“For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory…”

The Hebrew word translated “glory” is kabowd and it literally means “heaviness.” But it is primarily used to refer to the weight or significance of something or someone. Used of God, it is an expression of His greatness, magnificence, and majesty. God’s glory is what sets Him apart as the one true God. Isaiah 43:7 tells us that we were made for God’s glory. In other words, our very existence points back to His majesty as the Creator-God. The psalmist tells us that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1 ESV). The apostle Paul reminds us that, as believers, we are vessels of clay in which the very glory of God is contained (2 Corinthians 4:7).

God is all about His glory, and He can reveal His glory in a variety of ways. In fact, all that He does reveals His glory. When He saves, He receives glory. When He judges, He is glorified. When He displays His righteous indignation against sinful mankind, the glory of His character is revealed. God’s merciful and gracious gift of His Son as payment for the sins of man is a manifestation of His glory. And Jesus told His followers that, when they bear fruit, “This brings great glory to my Father” (John 15:8 NLT).

So, back to the closing verses of Isaiah 66. What does any of this have to do with God’s glory? God talks about coming in fire and rendering His anger in fury. He describes His judgment as resulting in the deaths of many. In fact, the very last verse in the entire book states:

“And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” – Isaiah 66:24 ESV

And while that description may leave us feeling a bit discomfited, we must not overlook the reality that it too reveals the glory of God. He is going to deal with rebellious mankind once and for all. And less we think that God is being a bit too harsh, we have to remember that He has been extending grace and mercy to the nations for centuries. He has been showing great patience for generations. But the day is coming when His patience will run out and His righteous judgment will be poured out. And, as the book of Revelation reveals, when the period of the Tribulation comes and God begins to pour His final judgments upon humanity, the vast majority of them will refuse to repent.

Everyone was burned by this blast of heat, and they cursed the name of God, who had control over all these plagues. They did not repent of their sins and turn to God and give him glory. – Revelation 16:9 NLT

…and they cursed the God of heaven for their pains and sores. But they did not repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. – Revelation 16:11 NLT

And yet, notice what God is going to do. Isaiah reveals that there is a day coming when God will display His glory in yet another way. He will send messengers to all those whom He spares from judgment, giving them a second and final chance to see and experience His glory in the form of salvation.

“I will perform a sign among them. And I will send those who survive to be messengers to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (who are famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to all the lands beyond the sea that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. There they will declare my glory to the nations. – Isaiah 66:19 NLT

God will be glorified as He redeems and restores a remnant of His rebellious people, Israel. But He will also be glorified when He spares and saves a portion of sinful mankind. And the outcome of all God’s activities in those days will be the worship of Him.

“All humanity will come to worship me
    from week to week
    and from month to month. – Isaiah 66:23 NLT

And the apostle John provides us with a marvelous description of that day, when God and His Son will rule over all the earth and their glory will fill the earth.

No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 22:3-5 NLT

We shall declare His glory.

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

A Corporate Confession

1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
    that the mountains might quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
    and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
    and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
    you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From of old no one has heard
    or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
    who acts for those who wait for him.
You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
    those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
    in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
We have all become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
    and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls upon your name,
    who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
    and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. Isaiah 64:1-7 ESV

Isaiah continues his passionate prayer to God, temporarily abdicating his role as God’s messenger in order to speak to God on behalf of his people. In a sense, Isaiah reversed his role and became an emissary for Judah to God, pleading with the Almighty to leave heaven and invade their circumstance with His divine presence and power. He wanted God to show up on the scene and prove to the stubborn and sin-blinded people of Judah that He was real and that His promises to save them could be trusted.

Isaiah’s graphic description of how he envisioned God showing up on the scene reflects his understanding of how God had appeared to the people of Israel in the past. When God first appeared to the Israelites at Mount Sinai in the wilderness, Moses had used similar terminology to describe the scene.

On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled. Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. – Exodus 19:16-19 NLT

Isaiah longed to see the very same thing because he knew that his rebellious friends and neighbors would have a hard time ignoring a God who revealed Himself in such a dramatic and undeniable way. With that kind of entrance, even the most jaded among the people of Judah would have to sit up and take notice. They would have no excuse to ignore God anymore. In essence, Isaiah is asking that God move from being transcendent to immanent. It is not that God is one or the other at any given time. He exists outside of time and space and is only knowable by men when He chooses to reveal Himself to them. But God has done just that. As Paul states in his letter to the believers in Rome, “what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20 NLT).

Over the centuries, God had revealed Himself to men in a variety of ways. On several occasions, God appeared to Abraham and spoke with Him. He appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush. In the wilderness, He revealed Himself to the people of Israel in the form of a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. Later on, Moses would make a request of God: “show me your glorious presence” (Exodus 33:18 NLT). And, in response, God gave Moses the following instructions:

“Look, stand near me on this rock. As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.”  – Exodus 33:21-23 NLT

Isaiah longed for a similar experience. He had obviously talked with God, but now he expressed His desire to see God with his own eyes. And this yearning was driven by a longing to see God intervene on behalf of His people so that the nations would know that the God of Judah was truly powerful. Not only did Isaiah want the people of Judah to see their God for who He really was, but he also wanted their enemies to shake in their boots at the sight of God Almighty. So, he begged God, “to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!” (Isaiah 64:2 ESV).

Isaiah knew that God stood alone. He had no competitors and there were no other gods who could be compared with Him. But he was looking for tangible, palpable proof. He wanted to see God in action with his own two eyes, and he wanted to see Him do “awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations” (Isaiah 64:3 NLT).

But Isaiah knew there was a problem. God was holy and they were not. There were certain requirements that God had placed upon His chosen people. And Isaiah articulated them.

You welcome those who gladly do good,
    who follow godly ways. – Issaiah 64:5 NLT

God demanded righteousness. He expected holiness. He had chosen the people of Israel and set them apart for His glory. They were to live their lives according to His laws and they were to reflect His holy character to a lost world. Even back in Midian,  when God appeared to Moses in the form of the burning bush, He had warned him, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5 NLT). Later on, when God allowed Moses to see His glory, He denied Moses the right to see His face. God is holy and He expected His chosen people to live holy lives. But Isaiah knew that was a major problem. 

But you have been very angry with us,
    for we are not godly.
We are constant sinners;
how can people like us be saved? – Isaiah 64:5 NLT

Here we have Isaiah aligning himself with the people of Judah and asking as their corporate representative. He includes himself as one of the guilty, describing their state as sinners who deserve no salvation from God. And Isaiah doesn’t attempt to minimize the depth of their sinful state. He lays it out in graphic terms that reveal his understanding of their corporate culpability and well-deserved condemnation.

We are all infected and impure with sin.
    When we display our righteous deeds,
    they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

This was not a new recognition by Isaiah of the guilt of he and his fellow Judahites. From the day God had called him, he had expressed his realization that they all stood condemned before a holy God. In fact, he had clearly stated, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips” (Isaiah 6:5 NLT). But it’s essential that we notice what prompted this incredible confession from Isaiah. Chapter six opens up with the words, “It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple” (Isaiah 6:1 NLT). Isaiah had seen God. He had been given a vision of God. In that vision, Isaiah had seen the seraphim surrounding the throne of God and had heard them proclaiming: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” (Isaiah 6:2 NLT).

And the immediate impact of that vision on Isaiah was a recognition of his own unholiness. Standing before the perfectly holy God, Isaiah was fully and painfully aware of his own unrighteousness and undeservedness. He had no right to be in the presence of God. He was guilty of sin and unclean as a result. And he knew that the only thing he deserved from God was condemnation and death. Yet, God had sent one of the seraphim with a burning coal from the altar to touch the lips of Isaiah. And the next thing Isaiah heard was the incredible news, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven” (Isaiah 6:7 NLT).

That experience had left Isaiah a changed man. He would never be the same again. And now, years later, he was pleading with God to reveal His holiness to the people of Judah. Why? Because he longed for them to have the same life-changing experience that had transformed him from guilty to forgiven.

Yet, in spite of their undeniable sin and guilt, Isaiah is shocked to admit that “no one calls on your name or pleads with you for mercy” (Isaiah 64:7 NLT). There was no one willing to confess, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips.” And, as a result, Isaiah sadly acknowledges the state of affairs in Judah.

Therefore, you have turned away from us
    and turned us over to our sins. – Isaiah 64:7 NLT

Isaiah was the only one willing to admit the obvious. They were sinners and deserved every ounce of judgment God was bringing upon them. They were a people of unclean lips, but because they refused to admit it, there would be no burning coal to cleanse them and provide forgiveness. Instead, they would face the loving discipline of God. Because they refused to repent of their rebellion against Him, he would punish them for it. But Isaiah was not going to give up. His prayer was not quite finished. He knew what it was like to stand before the holy, righteous God of the universe, and have his life radically altered. And he would not be content until he had interceded with God on behalf of his people.

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

An Audience of One.

But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. – 2 Corinthians 10:13-18 ESV

While Paul was willing to become all things to all people in order that he might save some (1 Corinthians 9:22), he was not willing to submit himself to the authority of men or to work for their approval. Fourteen years after his conversion, Paul traveled to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus to meet with the original apostles. He had already been doing ministry among the Gentiles for well over a decade. He had not traveled to Jerusalem to get their approval for his ministry. In fact, Paul quite boldly proclaimed:

…the leaders of the church had nothing to add to what I was preaching. (By the way, their reputation as great leaders made no difference to me, for God has no favorites.) Instead, they saw that God had given me the responsibility of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as he had given Peter the responsibility of preaching to the Jews. – Galatians 2:6-7 NLT

Paul would later tell Timothy, “Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NLT). He also told him, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity” (1 Timothy 4:12 NLT). For Paul, the approval of God was paramount. He considered himself a servant of God and so his only concern was to do what his Master had commanded him to do. And yet, because he was human, Paul was sensitive to the constant criticism he faced. His ministry was always under siege, and the most vicious attacks seemed to be leveled at him personally.

It seems that, in the case of Corinth, Paul was being accused of having overstepped his bounds. Corinth was a long way from Jerusalem. Paul might argue that he was under the same commission Jesus had given to the original disciples, to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV), but his critics were saying he was out of bounds in Corinth. It was their territory. He needed to mind his own business and leave them alone. But Paul considered Corinth well within his God-assigned jurisdiction. He was the one who had brought the gospel there and had helped plant the first church. “For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:14b ESV).

When ministry becomes a competition or a quest for fame and glory, everyone loses. Those who minister in order to gain recognition or the approval of men will always find others who minister as adversaries, not allies. Paul was not out to build his reputation, but to build up the body of Christ. He was not motivated by man’s approval, but by God’s. Paul wanted to one day hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21 ESV). The whole idea of ministerial boundaries and serving God for personal glory or gain, was foreign to Paul. He simply went where God told him to go, and he was able to say, “from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:19b-20 ESV). Paul’s passion was for evangelism. He longed to take the gospel to those places where the name of Christ was unknown and the message of the good news had not yet been heard. But Paul also had a desire to see those who had come to faith in Christ grow up in their salvation (1 Corinthians 3:2; 1 Peter 2:2). So while he was anxious to continue his missionary efforts and to take the gospel to places such as Rome and Spain (Acts 19:21; Romans 15:28), he was not willing to watch newly converted Christians languish in spiritual infancy or find themselves prey to false teachers. So he continued to reach out to the Corinthians, longing to see them grow. And it was his desire that they would increase in spiritual health and maturity “so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence” (2 Corinthians 10:16 ESV). He wanted to move on, but was not willing to do so if it meant sacrificing the stability of the work in Corinth.

When all was said and done, Paul was only interested in one thing: the approval of God. He truly operated under the idea that he performed his duties before an audience of one: God. Yes, there would always be others watching. There would always be some who complimented his work and others who attacked it. But at the end of the day, he was looking for God’s approval. He wanted to be able to lay his head on the pillow and find rest in the fact that he had done what God had called him to do. Which is what led him to say, “‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:17-18 ESV). When we do the will of God, we will find ourselves with admirers and detractors as well. We may receive compliments and equal amounts of criticism. We will have our methods and motives questioned. We will watch others attempt to take credit for what we have done. But as long as we are doing what we do for the Lord, it will not matter. Like Paul, we need to constantly remind ourselves that we perform our duties for an audience of one. All that is truly important is what He thinks. The applause and approval of men carry no weight when compared to the commendation of God. So, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17 ESV), and “do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NLT).

God’s Glory In Clay Jars.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. – 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 ESV

Paul was not afraid to admit that he was human. He was far from perfect. In fact, later on in this same letter, he will write, “I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT). But this did not mean that Paul saw himself as flawed or somehow faulty when it came to his ministry for Christ. This was an important distinction that Paul felt compelled to make, because the value and integrity of his ministry was constantly under attack.
Paul is out to defend his ministry, not himself. As far as he was concerned, this was not about him. It was about the glory of God as revealed in the face of Christ and made accessible by the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. He was simply a conduit through whom God communicated His message of reconciliation to the lost. He claims, “we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5 NLT). Just like the rest of the believers in Corinth, Paul’s life had been transformed by the gospel.

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. – 2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT

And ever since his conversion experience, he had seen it as his Christ-commissioned responsibility to take that same gospel message to the ends of the earth. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV). 

The amazing thing to Paul was that God had chosen to place His glory in a “clay jar” like himself. He viewed himself as common and unimpressive, as without value and unworthy of being a receptacle for the very Spirit of God. He humbly admits, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7 ESV). God had chosen to place His glory into less-than-perfect vessels. And not only that, Paul saw himself as sharing in the very sufferings of Christ as he bore the light of God’s message of redemption to the world. Just as Jesus suffered and died in order to make possible the redemption of mankind, so Paul and his fellow apostles were suffering for the sake of the gospel. “Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:10 NLT).

Paul explains to the Corinthians, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NLT). In spite of all the problems, persecutions, rejections and roadblocks they faced in their daily ministries, the apostles supernaturally sustained by God. He protected and provided for them. This does not mean they were somehow immune to trouble. Paul knew what it was like to go hungry and do without the essentials of life. In fact, he wrote the believers in Philippi, thanking them for their willingness to help him, but confessing, “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13 NLT). Paul knew what it was like to experience all kinds of deprivations and indignities for the sake of the gospel. On one occasion, he had even been stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19-20). And yet, God had sustained and revived Him. Just days later, Paul and Barnabas would continue their missionary journey, sharing the gospel and encouraging believers. “They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 NLT).

Paul knew what it was like to suffer. He was familiar with pain and persecution. But he had a unique attitude toward his life and ministry.

Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. – 2 Corinthians 4:11-12 NLT

Paul would later write to his young mentor, Timothy, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8 ESV). He would write to the believers in Philippi, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all” (Philippians 2:17 ESV).

Paul was not perfect, but he was perfectly content in knowing that he was being used by God. He was a clay jar containing the glory of God and carrying the life-transforming message of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Paul had no problem admitting his own weaknesses. He even referred to himself as the chief of all sinners. But it was this indisputable realization that made his ministry all that more amazing. It led him to say, “This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7 NLT). The thousands of changed lives Paul had left in his ministry wake were not the result of his powers of persuasion or oratory skills, but because of the glory of God that had taken up residence within him in the form of the Holy Spirit. That is why Paul could be content with sufferings of all kinds in his ministry for Christ. It is why he could boldly claim, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 ESV).

 

Instruments for Righteousness.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. – Romans 6:12-14 ESV

It seems quite obvious that Paul knew the power and reality of indwelling sin. He would not have told his readers “let now sin therefore reign in your mortal body” if the possibility for it to happen had not existed. In verse 16 he writes, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16 ESV). Each and every day, Christ-followers have the choice to give in to and be enslaved yet again by sin or to live in obedience to their God-given, Spirit-empowered new nature. The temptation to give in to sin is an ever-present reality. That’s why Paul warned his readers, “Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desire” (Romans 6:12 NLT). There is a conscious choice to be made. We can present our bodies to sin as instruments for unrighteousness or to God as instruments for righteousness. We can allow our sin nature to dictate the behavior of our bodies and determine our actions, or we can, through the power of the Holy Spirit, use our bodies as instruments or tools for God’s will. These physical bodies in which we live are the means by which we can accomplish God’s work in this world. With these bodies we can love one another or we can lust after one another. We can use these bodies to accomplish God’s will or to selfishly fulfill our own. The natural inclination of our sinful nature is to produce some very damaging and destructive fruit. Paul describes the outcome of a life in which sin is allowed to reign. “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these” (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT). If you allow sin to reign in your physical body, you will end up obeying its passions and desires. That’s why Paul said, “I discipline my body and keep it under control” ( 1 Corinthians 9:27 ESV).

Paul wants us to know that, as believers in Jesus Christ, we have died to sin. It was as if we were crucified alongside Christ. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there” (Galatians 5:24 NLT). Those things are no longer to have control over us. And yet, our physical bodies are constantly tempting us to satisfy its passions and desires. We have to fight constant cravings and desires that are opposed to God’s will for us. Paul puts it this way: “The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other” (Galatians 5:17 NLT). But Paul also gives us the key to resisting the urges of our flesh: “let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves” (Galatians 5:16 NLT). We can choose to live under the control and influence of the Spirit or we can allow our sin nature, working through our physical bodies, to dictate our behavior. That is why Paul so strongly encourages us to “put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world” (Colossians 3:5 NLT). He warns us, “Run from sexual sin!” (1 Corinthians 6:18 NLT). He encourages us to “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NLT).

We belong to God. We have been purchased by the blood of His Son. And while these earthly bodies are temporary and will one day be replaced with new, redeemed bodies, we are obligated to use them for God’s service as long as we live on this earth. At one time, Paul had used his earthly body to persecute Christians, throwing them into prison and attempting to eliminate them altogether. But once he was redeemed from his old way of life by faith in Jesus Christ, he did everything in his power to make his body his slave and to use it for the glory of God and the good of His Kingdom. Rather than live as a captive to his body’s desires, he made his body his slave, using it to accomplish God’s will. His sin-prone flesh became an instrument for righteousness. And that is God’s call to us. He has not yet redeemed our bodies. But He wants to use them for our good and His glory. Paul describes our current condition in these terms: “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 NLT). Sin’s dominion or control over us takes place primarily through our physical bodies. It is with our bodies that we fulfill our sinful passions. We use our tongues to lie and deceive. We use our eyes to lust and covet. We use our entire bodies to commit acts of immorality. We use our hands to steal. We use our feet to take us places that are against God’s will for us. We use our brains to think inappropriate thoughts and plan unrighteous acts. But because of Christ, we have the capacity to use these fallen bodies as instruments of righteousness. We can use our hands to serve others. We can use our eyes to see needs and meet them. We can use our bodies to accomplish God’s will. We can use our tongues to encourage. We can use our feet to take the gospel across the street and around the world.

 

Too Smart For Our Own Good.

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. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 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

Wise fools. The world is full of them and always has been. Paul describes them as futile in their thinking. The Greek word Paul uses is mataioō and it can mean “to passively become foolish, or to become idolatrous.” Paul says they are without excuse because they have had every opportunity to honor or recognize the existence and reality of God, who has revealed Himself through His creation. “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20 ESV). These kinds of people indict themselves because they all end up worshiping something or someone. They may not call it worship, but they esteem or honor other things, giving them the place of prominence in their lives that belongs to God alone. Some end up worshiping man, making humanity to end-all-be-all of our existence. They believe we are our own savior. Others worship science, placing all their hope and trust in reason and man’s ability to solve all of the world’s problem through scientific research and development. We can end up worshiping political parties or governmental policies. Elevating men or man-made ideas to a god-like status in our lives has been the lot of humanity since the fall. That was the original temptation of the serpent in the garden. “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 3:5 ESV).

Paul makes it painfully clear that all men know God. They sense the existence of something bigger and greater than what they can see. Creation virtually shouts that there is something or someone out there, the first cause behind all that we see. Ancient man knew that there was something out there. That’s why they created idols. That’s why they worshiped the sun, moon, stars, animals, nature and every other created thing. But modern man is more sophisticated than that. Our idols are more subtle and sensible. We wouldn’t dream of worshiping the sun. But we will worship the Big Bang Theory. We will go out of our way to concoct every possible explanation for our existence, while refusing to accept the idea that God exists. Claiming to be wise, we become fools, self-deceived and sadly mistaken in our conclusions. We end up exchanging the glory of the immortal God for a cheap, but seemingly plausible replacement.

Paul insists that man’s persistent attempt to explain away God has left him with a darkened heart. What was once clearly visible to them, the invisible attributes of God, has become cloudy and veiled. Man has lost the ability to sense God’s presence and power. This has left him with the nagging need to explain his existence and make sense of a world that continues to spiral out of control, despite all our scientific advances, modern conveniences, and moralistic efforts. We keep hoping and believing that we can make the world a better place. We have made vast improvements in communication, transportation, medicine, education and agricultural production. Yet the world remains plagued by hatred, disease, famine, ignorance, and inequities in all their hideous forms. We have been able to make advances in everything except the state of man’s heart. We can help him live longer, but we are incapable of making him live better. Human reason will never come up with a way to deal with sin. Science will never come up with a solution to the problem of the human heart. In our wisdom, we have become fools.

And  yet, in the midst of all of mankind’s arrogance and pride, God sent His Son. Paul calls it the gospel, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16 ESV). In the gospel, the righteousness of God has been revealed. What God expects of humanity has been made known through His Son coming to earth as a man and living a sinless life. Jesus did what no other man had been able to do since Adam. He lived in perfect obedience to the law of God. And it was His sinless life that made Him the perfect sacrifice to pay for the sins of man. He died so that man might live. He gave His life so that we would not have to give ours. The death of Jesus was what God required so that men might be made right (righteous) with Him. And this righteousness is only available by faith. Not by reason. Not by scientific explanations or experiments. Not through human effort or any amount of seemingly moral advancements.

Man, apart from God, is helpless, hopeless, blind, ignorant, and spiritually dead. Even his best efforts on his best day are flawed and, ultimately, worthless. As the prophet Isaiah so aptly put it, “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). Man has become to smart for his own good. His intelligence has left him unable to honor God or give Him thanks. He is determined to come up with his own explanation for his existence and his own plan for his future. But in the end, all men must face the reality of God’s existence. God doesn’t go away because we attempt to explain Him away. He doesn’t cease to exist simply because our intelligence refuses to accept Him. God has revealed Himself in His creation. He has made Himself known through His written Word. And He has given men the means by which they can know Him personally and permanently through His Son. But the knowledge of God is ultimately available as a result of faith, not wisdom.

Praying For God’s Glory.

Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy.  – Daniel 9:17-18 ESV

Daniel 9:4-19

Throughout his prayer, Daniel has used two different Hebrew names for God: Adonai and Elohim. The first refers to God’s sovereignty as King. The second speaks of His strength. Daniel was appealing to the Almighty God, the very same God who had created the universe, called Abraham, rescued the Israelites from captivity and proven Himself powerful and in control of all things over and over again. Daniel knew he was taking his appeal to the only one who could do anything about it. There was no other place to go and nothing else to do. So he asked God to listen to his pleas for mercy. He asked Him to see their desolations. He begged Him to make His face shine upon the devastated temple in Jerusalem. Daniel was asking God to take a long hard look at their situation, from Babylon all the way to Jerusalem, and do something about it. Not because they deserved His rescue, but because of His mercy. Because of His own reputation.

Daniel subtly reminds God that the devastated city of Jerusalem belongs to Him. It is the only city in the world where a temple dedicated to Him exists, and it is in ruins. Daniel appeals to God’s reputation. He shows concern for the name of God. This prayer is a whole lot less about Daniel and the people of israel than it is about the reputation of God. Daniel seems to know that God is going to act for the sake of His own name. He will protect the integrity of His reputation. He has given His Word to the people of Israel to be their God and to keep His covenant with them. Daniel knows that He will do what He has promised to do and boldly prays accordingly. Daniel also shows a great deal of concern for the city and Jerusalem and its temple. His was not a selfish, self-centered prayer, aimed at his own rescue and restoration. He was praying on behalf of all the people of Judah, including those back home as well as those in Babylon. His concern was for the nation of Israel, the chosen people of God, and the city that bore the distinction of containing the temple of God.

How often our prayers far more focused on our own needs than on God’s reputation and glory. Daniel seemed far more concerned with the fame of God than with his own situation. The truth is, Daniel had a pretty good thing going in Babylon. He had a government job. He had weathered the storms of persecution that took place early on in his stay in Babylon. Daniel had access to the king and was in his good favors. He most likely lived well and enjoyed a certain degree of prominence and prestige that his fellow Jews would have envied. But Daniel was more concerned about God’s glory. He couldn’t stand the thought of God’s temple lying in ruins, the city of Jerusalem sitting unoccupied and the remnant who remained living without a king. He wanted God to act. He longed to see God display His power and exert His sovereignty on the earth. It’s interesting to note that Daniel did not tell God what to do. He didn’t give Him a long list of expectations or demands. He simply asked Him to listen, see, and act. Sometimes we can be so bold and presumptuous as to not only tell God what is going on in our lives, but also how to solve it. We not only share our needs, we share our demands. And in doing so, our concern becomes less about God’s glory than about our own good. We want what we want, not necessarily what He wants. There is nothing wrong with sharing our requests with God. The Scriptures command us to do so. But there is a huge difference between sharing our problems with God and telling Him exactly how and when we want them solved. God is not our personal genie. He does not exist for our glory. Our prayers should focus far more on God’s reputation and glory than our own.

Daniel wanted to see God act. There is no doubt that Daniel would have loved to have seen Jerusalem restored, the people returned to the land, and the nation of Israel reborn as God’s chosen people. He had read in the scroll containing the words of Jeremiah the prophet that this was exactly what God had promised would happen. So Daniel wanted to see that promise fulfilled. But his concern was far more focused on God than on himself. A restored Jerusalem and a rebuilt temple would bring glory to the name of God all around the world. The release of the people of Israel after 70 years of captivity in Babylon would take a miracle of God, and when it happened, God would get the glory. And for God to do all of this despite the fact that the people of Israel didn’t deserve it, would speak volumes about His grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. It would display His power and prove His sovereignty over all nations. It would convince the people once again that He is a covenant-keeping God. Praying for God’s glory requires trusting in God’s goodness. We must learn to trust Him to do what is best. He will always do what is right and will always act in such a way that His reputation remains unstained. We may not always get it and even like it, but God will always do what brings Him glory and results in our ultimate good, whether we see it or not. The key is learning to care first for His glory, and less about our own good.

Hear Indiscriminately.

Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake  (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name. – 1 Kings 8:41-43 ESV

1 Kings 8:22-53

It was Peter who wrote, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35 ESV). The apostle Paul seconded this sentiment when he wrote that God, “will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury … God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:6-8, 11 ESV). Solomon knew that God had chosen the people of Israel as His special possession. He was well aware of the fact that they enjoyed a unique relationship with God and were privileged to be called His people. But Solomon also understood that God was the God of all the nations. Their privileged position as His chosen people was in order that they might be a witness to the rest of the world. As they lived in obedience to God’s commands and experienced His abiding presence and power, the nations around them would stand in awe and admiration. Long before the days of Solomon, Moses had told the people, “See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8 ESV).

The relationship between God and His chosen people was not intended to be exclusive, but an example of what it meant for men to live in a right relationship with God. As those outside the nation of Israel watched God work among His people and act on their behalf. they would be intrigued and attracted. As they witnessed Israel’s adherence to God’s commands and jealously watched as He blessed them abundantly, some would find themselves drawn to Israel’s God. Converts to Judaism were a regular occurrence even during the days of Solomon. He knew that there were those from foreign lands who would turn to Yahweh, “for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm.” They would show up at the newly completed temple and pray to God, and when they did, Solomon asked that God would hear them indiscriminately. He knew his God to be accepting of all those who called on Him for His name’s sake. Any who knew God to be the one true god and approached Him humbly and reverently would be heard by Him. But Solomon’s request was based on his desire for God’s glory and fame to be spread around the world and among the nations. He knew that when God heard and answered the prayers of even the non-Israelite, the news of God’s gracious favor would spread. For Solomon this meant “that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel.” He wanted everyone to know, fear and worship God as he did. He desired for God to be known among the nations. His was not a biased and bigoted view that refused to share His God with others. He simply wanted the glory and greatness of his God to be known among all men.

It is interesting to juxtapose Solomon’s outlook with that of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. They had become intolerant of and even hateful toward anyone who did not measure up to their exacting standards – Jew and Gentile alike. They looked down their noses at Jesus and the disciples. They despised the Romans. They treated the common people with derision. They were far more concerned with their own glory than they were with God’s. Their reputations were far more important to them than His. Yet Solomon begged that God would hear the prayers of the foreigner indiscriminately and answer graciously and mercifully. Why? So that God’s fame and glory might spread. Is that my desire? Do I want to see God’s fame spread among the nations? Do I ask that God would hear the cries of all those who call out to Him, so that they might see the goodness and glory of God? Perhaps if we were more interested in God’s glory being spread, we would care more interested in sharing the good news of God’s grace among the nations. If we really wanted God’s fame to fill the earth, we would more readily desire to see God’s power to be revealed among all people. We would also want to see to it that we illustrated what it looks like to have the God of the universe intimately involved in the everyday affairs of life. We would want our lives to be a testimony to God’s goodness, grace, and glory – “in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you.”

Deuteronomy 3-4, John 11

The Glory of God.

Deuteronomy 3-4, John 11

Has any nation ever heard the voice of God speaking from fire—as you did—and survived? Has any other god dared to take a nation for himself out of another nation by means of trials, miraculous signs, wonders, war, a strong hand, a powerful arm, and terrifying acts? Yet that is what the Lord your God did for you in Egypt, right before your eyes. He showed you these things so you would know that the Lord is God and there is no other. – Deuteronomy 4:33-35 NLT

God had revealed Himself to men. Not only that, He had chosen to make Himself known to a nondescript nation who didn’t deserve His grace, mercy, power or the privilege of His presence. Moses explained to the Jews, “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. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8 ESV). God chose the Israelites, not because they were a great nation or because they somehow deserved to have a relationship with Him, but because He wanted to reveal His glory to them and through them. They were to be an example to the rest of the world of what it looked like to live in a right relationship with the Creator of the universe. He had given them His law in order to set them apart from the other nations of the earth. They were to live according to a different standard. Moses reminded them, “Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations. When they hear all these decrees, they will exclaim, ‘How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!’ For what great nation has a god as near to them as the Lord our God is near to us whenever we call on him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:6-8 NLT). God was wanting to reveal His glory through the people of Israel. He let them hear His voice. He allowed them to enjoy His presence. He graciously and repeatedly provided proof of His power. So that they might know “that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:39 ESV). Israel existed as a nation is order to reveal God’s glory. But they would constantly confuse the situation, and mistakenly believe that God existed for their glory. They would find themselves believing the lie that there was something special about them. They would convince themselves that God had chosen them because they deserved it; and He was somehow obligated to continue blessing them whether they were obedient to His law or not.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God is “a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24 ESV). He will not tolerate unfaithfulness. The privilege of being His chosen possession comes with the responsibility to remain faithful. He will not put up with spiritual infidelity among His people. His law was intended to set His people apart. It was to be a practical and visible expression of their uniqueness and glorify Him. When the other nations saw how the Israelites lived, according to a unique set of instructions, unlike anything else they had ever seen, they would recognize the greatness and glory of God. Any time the nation of Israel lived as God had commanded and did as He had instructed, the nations around them were witness to His glory, and it produced a fear of Him. God wanted to reveal His glory through them. He wanted to exhibit His power on behalf of them. They were to be a living, breathing example of what life could be like when it was lived in obedience to Him. For God, the problems and seeming setbacks of this life are of no consequence. There is nothing too great for Him. He is not panicked by our predicaments. He is never up in heaven wringing His hands in worry over the situations and circumstances of our lives. He is never caught off guard by the trials and tribulations that seem to constantly mar our existence on this earth. They are simply opportunities for Him to reveal His glory among men.

When Jesus was given word that His friend, Lazarus, was ill, He delayed two days before He finally made the trip to Bethany to visit him. Upon receiving news of Lazarus’ condition, Jesus simply said, “it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4 ESV). Jesus knew that His delay would result in Lazarus’ death. In fact, he told His disciples, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe” (John 11:14-15 ESV). When He finally arrived on the scene, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days. But Jesus was not surprised or shocked. He told Lazarus’ sister, Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23 ESV). Jesus knew something that Mary and Martha didn’t know. He knew that His Father had power over death and the grave. He also knew that in the days ahead, there was going to be an even greater resurrection from the dead that would radically change the spiritual landscape of the world. Jesus Himself would die, but be raised again three days later, all to the glory of God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Mankind is in desperate need of God’s glory. In spite of the fact that God’s glory and greatness has been revealed through His creation, mankind has refused to acknowledge it. Instead of worshiping the Creator, they ended up worshiping the creation itself. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20 ESV). Instead of honoring God and giving thanks to Him, mankind “became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:21-22 ESV). In other words, mankind did exactly what God had warned the people of Israel NOT to do. The Israelites were to set a different standard. They were to worship one God. They were to glorify Him and not one another. They were to worship the Creator and not the creation. Creation was intended to reveal God’s glory, not replace it. Men were intended to seek God’s glory, not their own.

Mary and Martha were disappointed that Jesus had not come earlier and healed their brother. They were upset that He had not prevented Lazarus’ death. But Jesus told them, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40 ESV). They were focused on Lazarus’ death. Jesus was focused on God’s glory. Jesus’ delay and Lazarus’ death were intended to bring glory to God. They would be further evidence of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. Everything Jesus did during His time on this earth was done so that He might bring glory to God the Father. In His High Priestly Prayer, Jesus said, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:4-5 ESV). As a man, Jesus spent His life bringing glory to God. The glory of God was His obsession. Jesus showed us how to live as children of God. Our lives are to be lived out for the glory of God. We are to be ordinary vessels through which God’s glory is revealed to men. On this earth, we exist for His glory. But there is a day coming when we will be glorified by God.

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

The temptation on this earth is to make much of me. It is so easy to mistake this earthly existence as the focal point. I want to be glorified and made much of. But my life is to be lived out for God’s glory, not my own. I am to be an instrument in His hands, not the other way around. My life is to point to Him and provide opportunities for Him to exhibit His power and presence among the lost of this world. Paul reminds me, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV). Jesus lived in obedience to God, even to the point of willingly giving His life as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He glorified God in life and in death. And as a result, God glorified Him by raising Him from the dead and restoring Him to His side in heaven. And it is the reality of Jesus’ glorification that is at the heart of the message of salvation. It is because He has been glorified that we know can have assurance that our future glorification is a sure thing. And every time we talk about it and tell others of it, God gets glory. Even talking about the gospel brings God glory. Pointing others to Jesus brings God glory. Living in reliance and dependence on Him in this life brings God glory. Making much of God and less of ourselves brings God glory. Keeping our focus on the future instead of the here-and-now brings God glory.

Father, I want my life to bring You glory. Forgive me for the many times that I end up trying to turn that equation around, desiring to believe that You exist for MY glory. I want to make much of You. I want to live my life in such a way that You become the focus, not me. Help me to understand that my glorification is future. In the meantime, my desire should be to bring You glory in all that I do. May my life be a vehicle for Your glory. Amen

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