Why did Jesus have to die? Many object to the fact that Christ had to be put to death and that blood had to be shed for the remission of sins (Matt 26:28). They believe this is unbecoming of God. Others believe that if we as humans can forgive each other without punishment and God cannot, then humans are more kind and forgiving than God.*
We hear these arguments coming from people who think they need to protect God from the doctrine of penal substitution. Besides their lack of understanding scripture, these arguments escape reason. They escape reason because the same people who make these arguments then go on to make distinctions between good and evil and preach moral living.
Why should man be moral? Why is it wrong to be immoral? These are the questions Anselm raised when dealing with the necessity of Christ’s death. He then went on to lay out the following argument:
To remit sin without satisfaction or adjustment is not to punish it.
And if sin needs no adjustment or punishment, then the one who sins is no different before God than the one who does not sin.
And if there is no adjustment that needs to be made before God, then what needs to be forgiven?
Following this logic there is no reason for forgiveness at all because to be unrighteous or righteous makes no difference before God.
Therefore, it is unbecoming of God not to punish sin because it would make evil and good equal in His sight.
Since this cannot be the case, then God must punish sin.
The idea that God can forgive sin without requiring its just punishment leads us to another conundrum. If it is true that God does not need to justly punish sin, then anyone He sends to hell would be sent there arbitrarily and not out of necessity. Of course, that would be reprehensible which is why many who reject penal substitution eventually become universalists (the idea, contrary to scripture, that no one will go to hell).
The wages of sin is death according to scripture (Rom. 6:23). For God to offer forgiveness, the satisfaction of these wages must be met. This is what the cross is all about. Christ bore upon Himself the sins of all those who come to Him through faith. It necessarily had to happen in order for God to be both just and the justifier of those who believe in Him (Rom. 3:26).
Every sin will receive its just recompense. Either we will pay for it ourselves, or, through faith, we will accept His payment upon the cross on our behalf.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. – Isaiah 53:4
*Even we cannot forgive each other without a cost being paid. If you break my lamp on purpose, and I say, “I forgive you,” some one has to pay for the new lamp. If I slander your good name, and you say, “I forgive you,” there is still a cost. Either you will bear the damage I have done to your reputation, or, if I go to all your friends and tell them I slandered, I will bear a loss of my own reputation. More importantly, even those sins against each other are sins against God for which either we will pay or Christ will bear in our place. Even among each other, sin always has a cost.
I recently had the privilege of preaching at First Artesia Christian Reformed Church. In this clip from the sermon, we take a look at how Christ’s righteousness imputed to us is better than the guiltlessness that Adam lost. Below is the transcript of the video with a few edits to better fit this format.
When we talk about justification, the biblical and theological term of justification, we are talking about two imputations. First, as I already mentioned, our sins are imputed to Jesus. He bears our punishment on the cross, but the second part is that his righteousness is imputed to us and, we are counted righteous in Jesus.
Now some may say, “Well, isn’t guiltlessness the same as righteousness? I mean, if I haven’t sinned, am I not righteous? Well, it is much deeper than that. Let me give you an analogy.
Let us say a mom walks into her son’s room, and her son’s room is a mess. It’s been a mess for a week, and she is kind of getting tired of it. It is morning time, and she says, “Son, you will clean this room by five o’clock today. If you have it clean by five o’clock today, I am going to give you movie tickets for you and your two friends so you can go see that movie you have been wanting to see. If you do not have it cleaned, you’ll be grounded for a week.
Get the analogy here. Here is the law. There are blessings if you do it, and cursings if you do not. Now, imagine the mom comes back at five o’clock, and he hasn’t even started on it. The room is still a mess. She would say, “Okay, you are grounded for a week.”
Now imagine a week goes by, and he has paid his penalty. The son comes back to the mom and says, “Mom, I have paid my penalty. You can no longer punish me for this act.” The mom would say, “That is correct, that was the agreement. Imagine the son then saying, “Now give me my movie tickets.” You would say, “Wait a minute, you never did what was required to get the reward. I cannot punish you anymore, but you do not get the reward.”
Now think about Christ on the cross. We are not just in a place where we cannot be punished anymore. Christ lived the perfect life. He fulfilled all the requirements of the law. He has justly received the reward, and his righteousness is now counted as ours. We are co-heirs with him. That is the beauty of the holiness and the righteousness of Christ. Take that to heart. We are declared righteous in Christ as if we have fulfilled the law.
Thomas Brooks, a great Puritan, said this, “Christ provides a better righteousness than Adam lost.
The covenant of redemption is the theological term for the agreement that was made between the God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in how they were going to redeem for themselves the elect. This covenant is not mentioned by name in scripture but it is clearly implied that an agreement had been made between the Godhead. Much like the term Trinity does not appear in scripture but the concept is clearly seen. Here is a quote by Charles Hodge explaining where this idea can be seen in scripture…
“In Psalm 40, expounded by the Apostle as referring to the Messiah, it is said, “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will,” i.e., to execute thy purpose, to carry out thy plan. “By the which will,” says the Apostle (Heb.10.10), ”we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Christ came, therefore, in execution of a purpose of God, to fulfil a work which had been assigned Him. He, therefore, in John 17.4, says, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” This was said at the close of his earthly course. At its beginning, when yet a child, He said to his parents, ” Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2.49.) Our lord speaks of Himself, and is spoken of as sent into the world. He says that as the Father had sent Him into the world, even so had He sent his disciples into the world. (John 17.18). “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman.” (Gal. 4.4). “God sent his only begotten Son into the world.” (1 John 4.9). God “sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (Verse 10.) -Charles Hodge-
Below is a transcript from a Spurgeon sermon where he describes this covenant and then wonders what it would have been like to be to hear this covenant being made.
“Now, in this covenant of grace, we must first of all observe the high contracting parties between whom it was made. The covenant of grace was made before the foundation of the world between God the Father, and God the Son; or to put it in a yet more scriptural light, it was made mutually between the three divine persons of the adorable Trinity.”
“I cannot tell you it in the glorious celestial tongue in which it was written: I am fain to bring it down to the speech which suits the ear of flesh, and to the heart of the mortal. Thus, I say, run the covenant, in ones like these:”
“I, the Most High Jehovah, do hereby give unto my only begotten and well-beloved Son, a people, countless beyond the number of stars, who shall be by him washed from sin, by him preserved, and kept, and led, and by him, at last, presented before my throne, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. I covenant by oath, and swear by myself, because I can swear by no greater, that these whom I now give to Christ shall be for ever the objects of my eternal love. Them I will forgive through the merit of the blood. To these will I give a perfect righteousness; these will I adopt and make my sons and daughters, and these shall reign with me through Christ eternally.” Thus run that glorious side of the covenant. The Holy Spirit also, as one of the high contracting parties on this side of the covenant, gave his declaration, “I hereby covenant,” saith he, “that all whom the Father giveth to the Son, I will in due time quicken. I will show them their need of redemption; I will cut off from them all groundless hope, and destroy their refuges of lies. I will bring them to the blood of sprinkling; I will give them faith whereby this blood shall be applied to them, I will work in them every grace; I will keep their faith alive; I will cleanse them and drive out all depravity from them, and they shall be presented at last spotless and faultless.” This was the one side of the covenant, which is at this very day being fulfilled and scrupulously kept. As for the other side of the covenant this was the part of it, engaged and covenanted by Christ. He thus declared, and covenanted with his Father: “My Father, on my part I covenant that in the fullness of time I will become man. I will take upon myself the form and nature of the fallen race. I will live in their wretched world, and for my people I will keep the law perfectly. I will work out a spotless righteousness, which shall be acceptable to the demands of thy just and holy law. In due time I will bear the sins of all my people. Thou shalt exact their debts on me; the chastisement of their peace I will endure, and by my stripes they shall be healed. My Father, I covenant and promise that I will be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. I will magnify thy law, and make it honourable. I will suffer all they ought to have suffered.I will endure the curse of thy law, and all the vials of thy wrath shall be emptied and spent upon my head. I will then rise again; I will ascend into heaven; I will intercede for them at thy right hand; and I will make myself responsible for every one of them, that not one of those whom thou hast given me shall ever be lost, but I will bring all my sheep of whom, by thy blood, thou hast constituted me the shepherd—I will bring every one safe to thee at last.”
Imagine, that for all who believe, our names were written in the Lamb’s book of life since before the foundations of the world. The Triune God has covenanted to save us, and who can stay His hand. This is eternal security.
“And He said unto them, This is My blood of the new testament, shed for many.” -Mark 14:24
Never did those lips, upon which grace shed its divinest, sweetest fragrance, utter words so precious as these. The language is figurative, but the truth is literal. “This is My blood,” or, this cup is the ’emblem’ of “My blood of the new testament,” the new covenant, “shed for many,” for the sins of beings whom no man can number. We are thus brought into contact with the most essential and vital doctrine of the Bible, the great Atonement of the Son of God. Beloved, the blood of Jesus is very precious to a poor, guilt-burdened sinner. It is the blood that saves him. There is everything you need in the blood of Jesus, forgiveness for every guilt-burdened, healing for every sin-wounded conscience.
The blood of Jesus speaks peace, the blood brings us into the holiest, and places us in the very presence of the Father. It is the blood that keeps the heart pure, and supplies it with the most powerful motive to holiness. It is the blood that sustains the soul in death, and after death places it before the throne in robes washed white, with the “new song” breathing from its joyous lips. My soul, consider the blood of Jesus in two or three essential points of light.
It is the blood of the Incarnate God. Herein lies its intrinsic worth, its essential efficacy. The Deity of the Savior gave it all its merit to atone, and all its virtue to cleanse. We marvel not that the apostle should denominate it, “the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish.” It is the most precious thing in the universe–it is the precious blood of Him whose person is precious to those who believe. Is it, my soul, precious to you?
And, then, remember that faith alone is necessary to make its saving virtue ours. Believe only, and all the sovereign efficacy of Christ’s blood is ours. This “precious blood” and “precious faith” constitute the two most precious things in the universe.
Look at it, also, as applied blood. We know that the blood of the paschal lamb would have availed nothing to the Israelites when the angel of death swept through the land to slay the first-born of the Egyptian, had it not been really and visibly sprinkled upon their dwellings. It was the applied blood that saved them. So must it be with the blood of Jesus, our Passover slain for us. If we want to be placed in a state of non-condemnation, if we desire to be quite sure that we are safe from eternal death, the blood of Jesus must be applied to the conscience. Rest not short of this, my soul! Clearly this is the mind of the Spirit in those remarkable words of the apostle, “You are come to the blood of sprinkling.” There is a present coming to the blood of Jesus, and this gives us a present salvation.
It is the blood of Jesus that sanctifies. It sets us apart as a holy people for God, it cleanses the heart from vain thoughts, worldly imaginations, and impure desires–from the taint and defilement of indwelling sin. Rest not short, then, of the applied blood of Jesus. This will remove all your doubts, quell all your fears, and bring you into perfect peace. The Holy Spirit is prepared to take of the blood of the covenant, and sprinkle it upon your heart, and then all will be peace.
The blood will give you great power in prayer. Coming to God with this plea, you may open all your heart to Him, confess every sin, disclose every sorrow, make known every need, and reveal, as in the light of the noontide sun, every secret cloistered there.
In a word, it is the blood of Jesus that saves, saves us from a present condemnation, and saves us to a future and eternal salvation. There is no salvation elsewhere. Here is pardon for the vilest sinner, for the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin. Yes, dear Lord! it is Your blood, Your own blood, possessing all the dignity and virtue of Your Godhead, and this will be my song and my joy through eternity, “Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father–to Him be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
This morning I had the privilege of preaching at Bethel Grace Baptist Church. The sermon is one that was heavy, but I pray, in the end, lifts you up. We serve a sovereign God, and any suffering you experience in this life will not be wasted. Often, it is in that valley that you hear the Lord speaking tenderly to you.
The video is of the entire church service, but the sermon begins around the 40 min mark. Click to the link below to watch on YouTube.
No preacher worth his weight enters the pulpit without some distress. There is a heaviness to delivering the word of God that is unlike anything else. Even if the preacher is one who is naturally jovial and brings humor into the pulpit, the man moved by the Spirit of God will tremble under the gravity of what he is doing.
I do not hold the office of pastor, but I do preach occasionally, and I teach the Bible regularly. Though I do not know the full burden these pastors carry, I do know, in part, that preaching is often accompanied by a sense of dread that weakens them to their very core.
What is it that causes this? It is the holiness of God. To stand in the pulpit as a representative of God to His people is a weight and responsibility that can only properly be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. To stand there in the power of the flesh, or to trust in our own oratory skills is a sin.
Preaching, when done correctly, almost always begins with anguish. The greatest preachers will always ask, “Who am I to stand and proclaim Your word?” They know they meet the qualifications of pastor or elder as laid out in the scriptures, and they know God has called them to this, but they also know they need to be fed the word of God as much as any person in the congregation. Due to their sinfulness, their lives depend upon the gospel they declare just as much as anyone to whom they will preach.
This acknowledgment of need is the only foundation for a great sermon. The pastor will often find himself studying the word of God until the passage he is covering begins to feed his soul. He studies the text to make sure he faithfully understands the intent of the biblical writers: the intent of God Himself who inspired those writers. From there he begins to see the treasure that lies within and how it speaks to the heart of the believer. If the word of God has not fed the soul of the preacher, the preacher will not be able to feed those to whom God has called him to minister.
Oh, but once his soul has been illuminated to the power of the word, and once God has strengthened his soul, the message begins to burn in his breast until it is able burst forth in proclamation. Once the message ignites the heart, this is when the preacher knows he is ready to preach.
Though the trembling remains, once the Lord brings the preacher to this point, there is a change in the distress. Instead of cautioning him, it now compels him. The fear of the Lord not only causes dread but as Proverbs tells us, “In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence (Proverbs 14:30).”
This confidence in God is one of the places the preacher finds great delight. He now has full confidence, not in himself, but in the God who laid him prostrate before His holiness, then brought him to his feet by the power of His word. It is here that he can stand liberated from the fear of man, and in full freedom proclaim the message the Lord has given him. There is no better place to be, and there is no higher calling.
Many of you reading this may never preach a sermon in front of a church congregation, but a similar distress and delight experienced by a preacher can be experienced by you as well. Christ has called us all to minister to those around us. Our sinfulness has broken us before our holy God, He has strengthened us with His word, and He has called us to comfort others where we have been comforted (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). This distress and delight can take place in a Christian’s writing, music, art, and a variety of other acts of service.
With contrition, spend time with Jesus, and He will speak to you through His word, and once that message begins to burn within you, He will put someone in your path, or send you to someone who needs to hear His truth. A voice that trembles before the Lord because of His holiness and has found full confidence in His word is a voice the Lord often uses to resonate into the heart of the hearers. In this God is glorified which is our greatest delight.
This Saturday, February 9, I lost a friend to a motorcycle accident. I met Henry just over 16 years ago working in admissions at Trinity Law School. He came to talk to me because he was interested in attending law school. The day I met him he walked in with the same exuberant smile that you see in the picture above, and his countenance never changed in all the years I knew him. Anyone who knew him can attest that Henry was glad to see everyone who crossed his path, and he was an encouragement to me whenever we spent time together.
When it comes to memories of Henry, there are too many to mention so I will only tell you of one here. One of my favorite recollections is when Henry, myself, and our good friend Ryan Theule represented the law school at a three-day music festival in Monterey CA called Spirit West Coast. The best part was that we decided, instead of getting a hotel, to sleep in a tent at a campground for three nights. Henry was exuberant in all aspects of life and this aspect carried over to the noises he made while sleeping. Ryan and I did not get an hour sleep that night because Henry sawed enough logs to devastate an entire forest. As we began stirring in the morning, standing in the cleared land that was now our campground, a couple neighbor campers came by to tell us that they too could not sleep thanks to Henry. Why would I tell you this? Because Henry’s response to all this is a perfect picture of who he was. Henry was slightly embarrassed, apologetic, and yet tickled pink at the entire scenario. His grin went ear to ear each time we brought it up as if he saw it as some kind of accomplishment. His thumbs would go up, his head would begin to nod slightly, and he would let out a slow and satisfied “YYYYEEEAAAAHHHH!”
One of the things Henry and I used to do when he worked with me full-time, is we would go to the used theology bookstore on lunch to find treasures. There are many things I could tell you about Henry, but there is one thing I can not leave out because it was the basis of so many of our conversations, and that was his love for the theological writings of the Puritans. I can still picture the day he returned, arms full, with all eight volumes of John Owen’s commentary on Hebrews. Henry was glowing.
What was it he loved so much about the Puritans? I believe it was their ability to speak to his spiritual condition. Like every Christian, Henry was a sinner saved by grace. The Lord called him out of a background of drugs, and other sinful choices. He knew what he deserved for his iniquities, and he knew, thanks to Jesus, he would not have to face that recompense. This is what bonded Henry and me. We also knew that even though we have been justified by the blood of Jesus, we were still fighting a daily battle with indwelling sin, and this is where the Puritans, the physicians of the soul, had their most profound effect on us.
Often, the Christian life is portrayed as one of constant victory, “if you have enough faith,” but this is not what is presented in scripture. Being a believer in a fallen world is one fraught with difficulties and disappointments, and that is on top of the daily battle with our own sinfulness. The Puritans understood this and this is why I believe they resonated with Henry so much. The joy that flowed from Henry was not contrived, it was real and it was deep, but this did not mean that Henry did not feel the weight of the world on a daily basis. Like the Puritans, he desired to grow into a holiness that he did not yet entirely possess in practice, but he did not place his hope in himself, or his ability to conform himself into the image Christ. He had laid that at the feet of Jesus.
Upon coming to Christ, Henry’s sins were forgiven. Any regrets he may have had from his past were wiped away, and the justice that those sins deserved, Jesus bore on the cross in his place. Henry was counted righteous in Christ because his sins were imputed to Jesus, and Christ’s righteousness was counted as his. This is justification. From there, the Lord begins the sanctification process. This is where we begin to actually become more holy in our daily living. The desire to be conformed to the image of Christ was something Henry pursued; though, like every other Christian, he did not pursue it perfectly. As Henry strove to grow in godliness, he kept his confidence in Jesus who promised to “complete the work he started in him.” (Phillipians. 1:6). It is with this foundation that any other obstacle can be endured, and this is what kept Henry smiling.
Henry has fought the good fight, he has finished his race (2 Tim. 4:7-8). He lived a life of hope and heartbreak, of discouragement and delight. In the midst of all of his successes and failures, the Lord never let go of his child. The last enemy that Henry had to face was death, and death will be the last enemy to be destroyed (1. Cor. 15:26). Jesus was not only delivered over to death for Henry and all who will place their trust in Him, but He rose for our justification (Romans 4:25). Anyone who believes in the name of the Son of God may know that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13), and Henry has taken hold of the eternal life to which he was called (1 Tim. 6:12).
I can remember the day I was married to my wife, Julie. I am the youngest of five and all my siblings had already been wed. As I stood there, I remember thinking, “this is actually happening to me. It is my turn to do what so many have already done.” Beforehand, it always seemed so far in the future, but there I was in the midst of it. The same could be said for so many other events in our lives, and the same could be said about the day we will die. Henry never would have thought that it would come so soon, but it was his time, and it will be our time soon enough. To paraphrase John Donne, there is a sense we need not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. Every death is a reminder that our time is coming.
Are you ready? Have you placed your faith in the atoning work of the only mediator between God and man; Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5)? Are you living for the things that matter? As Henry found himself on his death bed, I am sure he would have told us, that so many of the anxieties he had held while living were driven by the pursuit of things that hold no ultimate value. I can say this because of my many conversations with him, and my own experience chasing the things of the world. Knowing Henry, if he could tell us anything now, he would tell us to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Any pursuit that does not have this as its ultimate aim is chasing the wind.”
I believe with all my heart that right now Henry is in the presence of Jesus. Henry has been conformed to the image of Christ now that he has seen Him face to face, and his hunger and thirst after holiness have been filled. I imagine soon, he will be sitting down with John Owen to discuss and the glory of Jesus. For those who believe, we will see Henry again, and at that moment his thumbs will go up, his head will begin to nod slightly, and he will let out a slow and satisfied “YYYEEEEAAAAAHHH!
Their snarls penetrated my ears with every evading stride. Every breath I took was weighted by the awareness that they were close behind. I had entered at the narrow gate, but somehow they had managed to follow me onto the path. I could hear their taunts, and every one of their footsteps were like the sound of a war drum. There are days when they are far away. During those times, I feel the warm breeze of the Celestial City beckoning me homeward, but even then I know they are lying in wait. Their pursuit often leaves me anxious and exhausted.
I didn’t think they would be able to follow me onto the narrow path, but somehow they made their way onto the road. When I entered the narrow way, under the shadow of the cross, my sins were forgiven. He had delivered me from the slavery of sin that held me captive. Since He had open the way and called me in, I thought, at that point, I would be out of the reach of my enemies, yet they pursue me daily.
Every time I fall, the enemy shouts from behind, “You do not belong on this path! You belong to us, and we will catch and destroy you!” I have learned the names of some of them, but others I am still trying to figure out. There are two who give chase named Shame and Regret. They often disguise themselves as messengers of the king. They tell me that, since my heart is prone to wander, the King prefers that I stay out of sight. That is Shame’s greatest strategy. He convinces us that we need to hide. He does this to keep us from finding the assistance that is available in the congregation of the saints, and he works closely with regret to keep us from approaching the Throne of Grace.
Many other enemies desire to sink their teeth into me as well, like sickness and sorrow, sin and sadness, and the final enemy death who boasts of his many conquests. However, in those moments when I am running scared, I have learned that there is a song being sung. It is a song of the past as well as a song of the future, and I must tune my heart into its melody.
The first time I heard it was at a time when I thought all was lost. The enemy had convinced me that I was a trespasser on the narrow way, and their presence was the proof. They told me that Lord had allowed them access to remove me from His sacred passage. I heard them chanting as they chased, “Our desire will have its fill. Our sword is in our hand. We will destroy (Exodus 15:9).”
Their tune, however, was soon drowned out by the song of the saints. The great cloud of witnesses sang, “The Lord is a man of war. Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy (Exodus 15:3,6).” This refrain gave me immediate comfort. Then another line stood out and gave me the perspective I needed. It recounted, “Pharoah’s chariots and his host He cast into the sea.” It continued, “The floods covered them: they went down into the depths like a stone (Exodus 14:4-5).”
The song I was hearing was the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:1-18). At that point, it all fell into place. God had set the people free from their slavery in Egypt, and He had made a way of salvation by parting the Red Sea. He then allowed their enemies to pursue them into the way of escape for the very purpose of destroying them.
You and I have entered the narrow path. At the entrance of that gate, we found salvation where there is no accusation or separation, but there is a path we must walk between the door of salvation and the gates of the Celestial City. Do not be dismayed by the fact that there are enemies still pursuing you. Regret and shame, fear and anxiety, the troubles of a fallen world, and even death itself, will never make it to the other side, but you will.
One day shame and regret will be no more. Even now they have lost their power. To believe that a life of self-punishment and shame is required for us to be right with God is to believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was insufficient. That is a lie of the enemy. There is complete freedom in Jesus. The reason they are unable to hurt us now is that He has disarmed them and put them to open shame (Colossians 2:15). Our sin is what gave them their power, but He has canceled our debt (Colossians 2:14). Even death has lost its sting in His resurrection.
Though these enemies may get the best of us from time to time, they will all fail because our Lord is triumphant. Their pursuit of us into the King’s domain will be their destruction. As I mentioned earlier, this is a song of the past as well as a song of the future. This song will be sung again when the Lord returns to set all things right (Revelation 15:3). Listen to the song and keep marching heavenward. “The Lord will lead us with His steadfast love, the people whom He has redeemed. He will guide us by His strength into His holy abode” (Exodus 15: 13).
Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea. – Exodus 15:21
The movie Bohemian Rhapsody has hit the theaters to chronicle the life of Freddie Mercury and his untimely death to aids. To reflect on such a life as a believer is sobering. To reflect on the life and death of anyone would do the same, but there seems to be something more significant when we think about the death of someone like Freddie Mercury. To imagine that rock royalty, Queen, will one day stand before the King of kings, should cause us all to pause and reflect on our lives for a moment.
Scripture tells us that it is appointed once for a man to die, then the judgment (Heb. 9:27). All men, even those who seemed to have the world by the tail for a time, are subjected to it. What is more troubling for the Christian who considers such an event, is to see how many people are still clamoring to have what Freddie had at the height of his fame, knowing that they fail to see how quickly these kingdoms will come crashing down.
There is no doubt that the pursuit of fame has engulfed many to the point that it seems to have consumed them. Knowing this, it should not surprise us when we read in scripture that “the wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest” (Isa 57:20). Even if we end up with all that we dreamed of in this world, unless Christ is our treasure, we will be unable to find the rest that seems to be eluding us (Matt. 16:26). In fact, we often impale ourselves with many troubles as we continue the pursuit (1 Tim 6:10).
There is a restlessness in the human heart as Augustine pointed out when he said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” This restlessness comes from the fact that there is a knowledge of God written on our hearts, and in our sinfulness, we want nothing to do with it (Rom. 1:18-20). It is from this point that our pursuits for peace take us everywhere except the one place we would be able to find it.
In our sinfulness we reject God, knowing that we have violated his ways (Rom 1:32), and to cover up that knowledge, we tend to work even harder to find things that can distract us from that truth. In it, we tend to go further and further down a path of vanity, for all is vanity apart from Christ (Ecc. 1:2).
From here we create our own standards of what we think a virtuous person ought to be, but even by our own standards, we fail to measure up. Only by deceiving ourselves are we able maintain any level of self-approval. Often during these pursuits, we find ourselves engaging in all kinds of aberrant behavior merely trying to measure up to our own standards and fill our emptiness. In it, we cling to our own righteousness to appease the God we know is there and to assuage the guilt we know is ours. We, even in our suppression of the truth, will create a God to our own liking and will try to appease it (Rom 1:23), and these little gods are tyrants without mercy. On top of that, the God of scripture tells us that all our righteousness is as filthy rags, and he wants nothing to do with it (Isa. 64:6). But, praise God, He then goes on to tell us of the remedy that he has offered in Christ Jesus, for all of us have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God (Rom. 3:23). God the Father sent his son to die upon the cross to bear the punishment for all who will believe in Him (John 3:16) to bring us into a right relationship with Him and give us the peace we are seeking.
As was mentioned before, it is appointed once for a man to die then the judgment. The only way anyone will be able to stand in the judgment is if they are in Christ because he is the only one who has lived a truly righteous life and paid the penalty for our sins (Acts 4:12), and if we are not in Christ, we will have to pay our own penalty for sins. This truth applies to all men and women, whether rich or poor, famous or unknown, loved by the world or not.
To paraphrase John Donne, when we hear that someone has died and we wonder for whom the bell tolls, there is a sense in which it will always be tolling for us. It is a constant reminder of our own frailty, telling us to be cognizant of our own end, and to ponder what awaits us afterward, and whether or not we are living life the way it should be lived; to the glory of God (Psalm 39:4). In it, you will find the fulfillment, rest, and, most importantly, the forgiveness of sins, you so desperately need. It was for this reason Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).
In Jesus, there is hope even at the bottom of the darkest pit.
David thought it was over. His sin had been exposed, he had sought the Lord’s forgiveness, and it had been granted. A right spirit had been renewed, and a clean heart had been created. Then came the news that his child was gravely ill. As David was thrown to the floor in anguish, thoughts of his sin filled his mind. Months had passed, but now his sin had come out from hiding to remind him of his treachery against the God of the universe.
Years later another son of his rebels, and once again David is reminded of the sword that has been driven into his family because of what he had done. Another brutal reminder that he, at one point, actually thought he knew better than Lord of all creation. In his sinful nature, he desired something that the Lord had forbidden, but David ignored the law because he thought it would be better if things were done his way. Oh, but how that sin has haunted him. How many times he thought he was done with it. He had repented, he had been forgiven, but regardless of all that, it seemed to pursue him. Though it had no hold on his life, and there was no possibility that his sin could exact its wages from him, due to the redemptive plan and work of God, it was not going to let him forget.
It seemed to sit in silence for extended periods of time just to make David comfortable. Then as he would be going about his day, there would be those moments when something, whether it was something he saw or something he heard, gave his sin an opportunity to spring upon him and cloak his day with darkness by taunting him of his failures and reminding him of his foolishness.
You see, one or two moments of sin do not simply last for a season. Many times they have a way of coming back in little reminders which sink your spirits every now and again, and the fact that it comes on when you least expect it is what makes it all the more difficult. After it happens a few times, it can cause you to begin to look over your shoulder in preparation for it to happen again, until you feel it trying to stifle you in your Christian walk. It can even cause a hesitancy to step out into new areas in life because of what it might do when you reach the new territory.
As it did with David, sin has a way of robbing us of peace and joy. It can weaken, embarrass, and grieve us years after the indiscretion. On top of all that, as the enemies of God hear about it, they begin to rejoice, mocking the God we love because of what we have done. If you are toying with sin or considering spurning God’s loving standards to feed your flesh, you might want to think twice because what you do could linger for years to come.
Now if this warning comes a bit too late and you already know from experience that all of this is true, you must remember that the haunting cannot ultimately hurt you. Bear in mind that our sovereign God, who has taken your sin and bore its wages on the cross, has promised never to lose His child, and has promised that all things will work together for the good of those who love Him: even the haunting effects of sin. Though they can be troubling and painful, He is using all things to accomplish His purposes in your life. He will finish the work he has started in you, and with a little wrestling, He can change your name from Jacob, the heel-catcher, and deceiver, to Israel; the prince of God.
Ultimately, David never forgot his sin, but that did not stop God from calling him “a man after His own heart.” As king of Israel, the Lord has used his example to show the world His love and forgiveness, and that the Lord can use anyone in a powerful way, even those with serious failures in their past. Sin can haunt the repentant believer all it wants, but ultimately it cannot separate them from God’s love. Even though the enemy naively believes that he is going to stifle them by it, the sovereign God is using it to conform them to the image of His Son. Let us never forget that it was the haunting effects of sin that God used in David life, which caused him to draw up under the wing of his Lord, and through it birthed several of his Psalms which were inspired by the Holy Spirit and considered the very Words of God.
In an extraordinary way, the Lord uses the haunting effects of sin to bring his child to the point where we will no longer be able to be haunted by them. By using them to conform us to His image, not only will we avoid sin in the future, but when the accuser rears his head, we will understand that all his work is in vain, and the more he tries to afflict us, the more we will grow. Then, before long, Satan will be looking over his shoulder, because greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.