Friday, May 29, 2009

The Sovereignty of God and Prayer

Here is an article that I have been saving by John Piper that looks at God Sovereignty in our salvation and our responsibility to pray for the lost. The typical argument from those who place man's free-will over the sovereignty of God in salvation is that if we really believed that salvation is all God's doing - the he alone works in salvation - then our prayers for the lost are illogical and a waste of our time. Here Dr. Piper shows that it is in reality those who hold to the Doctrines of Grace who are being consistent in their theology when they pray for the lost.

I encourage you to read this slowly and to think about what he is saying here. And as always, I encourage you to comment - especially if you disagree.

The Sovereignty of God and Prayer

I am often asked, "If you believe God works all things according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11) and that his knowledge of all things past, present, and future is infallible, then what is the point of praying that anything happen?" Usually this question is asked in relation to human decision: "If God has predestined some to be his sons and chosen them before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4,5), then what's the point in praying for anyone's conversion?"

The implicit argument here is that if prayer is to be possible at all man must have the power of self-determination. That is, all man's decisions must ultimately belong to himself, not God. For otherwise he is determined by God and all his decisions are really fixed in God's eternal counsel. Let's examine the reasonableness of this argument by reflecting on the example cited above.

1. "Why pray for anyone's conversion if God has chosen before the foundation of the world who will be his sons?" A person in need of conversion is "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1); he is "enslaved to sin" (Romans 6:17; John 8:34); "the god of this world has blinded his mind that he might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" (II Corinthians. 4:4); his heart is hardened against God (Ephesians 4:18) so that he is hostile to God and in rebellion against God's will (Romans 8:7).

Now I would like to turn the question back to my questioner: If you insist that this man must have the power of ultimate self-determination, what is the point of praying for him? What do you want God to do for Him? You can't ask that God overcome the man's rebellion, for rebellion is precisely what the man is now choosing, so that would mean God overcame his choice and took away his power of self-determination. But how can God save this man unless he act so as to change the man's heart from hard hostility to tender trust?

Will you pray that God enlighten his mind so that he truly see the beauty of Christ and believe? If you pray this, you are in effect asking God no longer to leave the determination of the man's will in his own power. You are asking God to do something within the man's mind (or heart) so that he will surely see and believe. That is, you are conceding that the ultimate determination of the man's decision to trust Christ is God's, not merely his.

What I am saying is that it is not the doctrine of God's sovereignty which thwarts prayer for the conversion of sinners. On the contrary, it is the unbiblical notion of self-determination which would consistently put an end to all prayers for the lost. Prayer is a request that God do something. But the only thing God can do to save a lost sinner is to overcome his resistance to God. If you insist that he retain his self-determination, then you are insisting that he remain without Christ. For "no one can come to Christ unless it is given him from the Father" (John 6:65,44).

Only the person who rejects human self-determination can consistently pray for God to save the lost. My prayer for unbelievers is that God will do for them what He did for Lydia: He opened her heart so that she gave heed to what Paul said (Acts 16:14). I will pray that God, who once said, "Let there be light!", will by that same creative power "shine in their hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (II Corinthians 4:6). I will pray that He will "take out their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26). I will pray that they be born not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God (John 1:13). And with all my praying I will try to "be kind and to teach and correct with gentleness and patience, if perhaps God may grant them repentance and freedom from Satan's snare" (II Timothy 2:24-26).

In short, I do not ask God to sit back and wait for my neighbor to decide to change. I do not suggest to God that He keep his distance lest his beauty become irresistible and violate my neighbor's power of self-determination. No! I pray that he ravish my unbelieving neighbor with his beauty, that he unshackle the enslaved will, that he make the dead alive and that he suffer no resistance to stop him lest my neighbor perish.

2. If someone now says, "O.K., granted that a person's conversion is ultimately determined by God' I still don't see the point of your prayer. If God chose before the foundation of the world who would be converted, what function does your prayer have?" My answer is that it has a function like that of preaching: How shall the lost believe in whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear without a preacher, and how shall they preach unless they are sent (Romans 10:14f.)? Belief in Christ is a gift of God (John 6:65; II Timothy 2:25; Ephesians 2:8), but God has ordained that the means by which men believe on Jesus is through the preaching of men. It is simply naive to say that if no one spread the gospel all those predestined to be sons of God (Ephesians 1:5) would be converted anyway. The reason this is naive is because it overlooks the fact that the preaching of the gospel is just as predestined as is the believing of the gospel: Paul was set apart for his preaching ministry before he was born (Galatians 1:15), as was Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5). Therefore, to ask, "If we don't evangelize, will the elect be saved?" is like asking, "If there is no predestination, will the predestined be saved?" God knows those who are his and he will raise up messengers to win them. If someone refuses to be a part of that plan, because he dislikes the idea of being tampered with before he was born, then he will be the loser, not God and not the elect. "You will certainly carry out God's purpose however you act but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John." (Problem of Pain chapter 7, Anthology, p 910, cf. p 80)

Prayer is like preaching in that it is a human act also. It is a human act that God has ordained and which he delights in because it reflects the dependence of his creatures upon Him. He has promised to respond to prayer, and his response is just as contingent upon our prayer as our prayer is in accordance with his will. "And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us" (I John 5:14). When we don't know how to pray according to God's will but desire it earnestly, "the Spirit of God intercedes for us according to the will of God" (Romans 8:27).

In other words, just as God will see to it that His Word is proclaimed as a means to saving the elect, so He will see to it that all those prayers are prayed which He has promised to respond to. I think Paul's words in Romans 15:18 would apply equally well to his preaching and his praying ministry: "I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles." Even our prayers are a gift from the one who "works in us that which is pleasing in his sight" (Hebrews 13:21). Oh, how grateful we should be that He has chosen us to be employed in this high service! How eager we should be to spend much time in prayer!

Dr. John Piper

Friday, May 22, 2009

Revelation Chapter 5, Part 1 - The Sealed Book

In the previous chapter we were taken to Heaven where we saw a throne and One sitting upon it. We saw that around this throne there were twenty-four other thrones with twenty-four elders seated upon them. We saw an emerald rainbow and a sea of glass. We saw four living creatures that are unlike anything we know here on earth. We saw lightning and we heard thunder. And we heard the praises that are issued day and night unto our God.

Now we come to chapter five and we continue with the scene that we began in the previous chapter - John is still in the spirit, and he is still in the throne room of heaven; what we will see now in chapter five is a continuation of the vision that began in chapter four.

Since this chapter is a continuation of the vision of chapter four I am once again going to borrow Warren Wiersbe’s outline for this chapter; he outlines this chapter as follows:
The Sealed Book (5:1-5)
The Slain Lamb (5:6-10)
The Shouting Hosts (5:11–14)1
In this chapter we will see Jesus, as He is about to return and redeem the earth from sin, death, Satan, and the curse that is upon the earth. Jesus is the rightful ruler and He is the central theme of this chapter. So, now that we have an outline and know the theme for the chapter lets jump right in and see what we can learn.

1. The Sealed Book (Verses 1-5)
Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Revelation 5:1-5

The chapter begins with the words “Then I saw” in the ESV, but the chapter begins with the word “And” or “Then” in most other English translations which indicates that this vision in chapter five is a continuation of the vision begun in chapter four. So what this means is that after John has seen the twenty-four elders cast their crowns before the throne and heard them say, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” (Revelation 4:11) he then looks and he sees a book in the right hand of “Him who sat on the throne.”

The word that is translated book here is the Greek word biblíon, and it should be noted that this is actually a scroll since bound books as we know them today did not exist in the first century. There are several indications here that support this conclusion:
  1. The basic book form at the time of this writing was a scroll.
  2. That all seven seals were visible indicates that this was a scroll.
  3. The fact that the contents of the book could not be known until it was opened indicates a rolled up scroll.
So what we see here is a rolled up piece of parchment that is written on both the inside and on the back, and that is sealed up with seven seals. Warren Wiersbe writes:
John could see writing on both sides of the scroll, which meant that nothing more could be added. What was written was completed and final.2
But what is this scroll that is in the hand of God, and what does it represent? There has been much written about this book, or scroll, and there are as many opinions as to what it may be as there are commentaries. To this point Dr J Vernon McGee writes:
Godet considers this scroll to be ‘the book of the new covenant.’ Others label it ‘the book of judgment.’ Walter Scott considers it ‘the revelation of God’s purpose and counsel concerning the world.
McGee then adds:
It perhaps should bear no title because it is, as Dr. Harry Ironside has suggested, the title deed to this world.3
While there is plenty of evidence to suggest that any of these opinions may be correct, I believe that careful study of Scripture will show that it is Dr Ironside who is right – that the scroll that we are seeing here in God’s right hand is the title deed to the earth. Here are a few quotes by other commentators who also hold this position:

The scroll John saw in God’s hand is the title deed to the earth, which He will give to Christ.4
John MacArthur
The scroll represents Christ’s “title deed” to all that the Father promised Him because of His sacrifice on the cross.5
Warren Wiersbe
The roll, or book, appears from the context to be ‘the title-deed of man’s inheritance’ [De Burgh] redeemed by Christ, and contains the successive steps by which He shall recover it from its usurper and obtain actual possession of the kingdom already “purchased” for Himself and His elect saints.6
Jameson, Faucet, Faucet, Brown and Brown
The case can also be made for this being the title deed to the earth by looking at Revelation chapter eleven. At the end of this chapter when the seventh trumpet sounds we read:
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
Revelation 11:15
We will see as we go though this that as the seven seals of this scroll are opened judgment is poured out upon the earth, and we will also see that with the opening of the seventh seal the seven trumpet judgments commence, so the verse above from Revelation eleven, which shows the earth becoming once again the kingdom of God and of His Son Jesus Christ, is a direct result of the opening of this scroll.

As was briefly mentioned above, this scroll is sealed with seven seals. The picture here is of a Roman will; Warren Wiersbe writes:
A Roman will was sealed with seven seals; this scroll is the will, or testament, giving Christ the right to claim creation by virtue of His sacrifice... A will could be opened only by the heir, and Christ is the “heir of all things".7
Earl Palmer adds:
It was first-century tradition to validate and secure books and scrolls with a clay or wax seal imprinted with the special mark of the sender. The seal then had to be removed or broken in order to read the document. In some cases, more than one seal was placed upon a document.8
The seals that are on this scroll then are used to seal it and keep anyone but the rightful owner from reading what is written therein. It should be noted that the scroll was rolled up and then the seven seals were placed upon it. Some have suggested the scroll was rolled up a little and a then seal was placed on it sealing that portion of the scroll, then it was rolled up some more and another seal was attached, and so on. This way, as the scroll is opened a seal will be broken and the scroll unrolled revealing what is written there, then the next seal will be broken. This however cannot be the case here because John was able to see all seven seals at the same time, which would indicate that the scroll was rolled up and then sealed along its edge. This would also mean that all seven seals would have to be opened before the contents of the scroll could be read. This point will become more important as we move through the next few chapters.

Now in verse two John sees a strong angel who proclaims, or asks, in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?" This angel has been identified by some as being either Michael, or possibly Gabriel, but the text does not give this angel a name so we cannot be dogmatic on this point. There are, however, other places in the book of Revelation where angels referred to as strong:
Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire.
Revelation 10:1
Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more;
Revelation 18:21
In the Psalms we also see references to strong angels:
Bless the LORD, you His angels, Mighty in strength, who perform His word, Obeying the voice of His word!
Psalm 103:20 (NASB)
So while we do not know the identification of this angel, we do know that there are a multitude of angels, and that angels are strong and mighty. We also know that they use their strength in the performance of, and obedience to, the word and will of God. Dr. Zodhiates writes that the Greek word translated here as strong is the word ischurós, which can be translated as “Strong, mighty, [or] powerful.” He then adds that it refers to “powers both of body and mind, physical and moral. [One who is] valiant in war… able to overcome… firm in faith… strong in influence and authority, mighty, honorable.”9

This is a description of the angel John saw making this proclamation. He is valiant, firm in faith, strong in influence and authority – a mighty warrior of God. And what does he say? “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?" Matthew Henry wrote:
This angel seems to come out, not only as a crier, but as a champion, with a challenge to any or all the creatures to try the strength of their wisdom in opening the counsels of God; and, as a champion, he cried with a loud voice, that every creature might hear.10
So the picture we have here is reminiscent of the giant Goliath standing before the armies of Israel. In 1 Samuel 17 we read the account of Goliath coming out and challenging the Israelites to send a man to fight him, and while this is not a perfect comparison to what John sees, it conveys the same idea. This angel is standing and crying out so that every creature in heaven, on the earth and even in hell can hear, and he is met with only silence. The champion of God is looking for someone who is worthy to break the seals and to open the scroll, and no one is found. John MacArthur writes:
But as the echoes of his cry recede there is only silence. The powerful archangels Michael and Gabriel do not answer. Uncounted thousands of other angels remain silent. All the righteous dead of all the ages, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Peter and the rest of the apostles, Paul, and all the others from the church age, say nothing. No one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. A search of the entire universe, from hell to heaven and all points in between, turns up no one worthy to open the scroll.11
So John weeps. Verse four tells us that he weeps greatly. The word weep here is the Greek word klaíō, which conveys the idea of “not only the shedding of tears, but also every external expression of grief.”12 This is the same word used to describe Jesus weeping over Jerusalem in Luke 19:41 and of Peter weeping after he denied Jesus on the night of His arrest and trial. John MacArthur writes:
It is thus a word that expresses strong, unrestrained emotion.
And then adds:
This is the only time in Scripture that tears are seen in heaven.13
We must ask the question here, why was John weeping? W.A. Criswell answers this question with these words:
[John’s tears] represent the tears of all God’s people through all the centuries. Those tears of the Apostle John are the tears of Adam and Eve, driven out of the Garden of Eden, as they bowed over the first grave, as they watered the dust of the ground with their tears over the silent, still form of their son, Abel. Those are the tears of the children of Israel in bondage as they cried unto God in their affliction and slavery. They are the tears of God’s elect through the centuries as they cried unto heaven. They are the sobs and tears that have been wrung from the heart and soul of God’s people as they looked on their silent dead, as they stand beside their open graves, as they experience in the trials and sufferings of life, heartaches and disappointments indescribable. Such is the curse that sin has laid upon God’s beautiful creation; and this is the damnation of the hand of him who holds it, that usurper, that interloper, that intruder, that alien, that stranger, that dragon, that serpent, that Satan-devil. ‘And I wept audibly,’ for the failure to find a Redeemer meant that this earth in its curse is consigned forever to death. It meant that death, sin, damnation and hell should reign forever and ever and the sovereignty of God’s earth should remain forever in the hands of Satan.14
John knew, as did all of heaven, that the redemption of creation from the curse of sin required that someone open this scroll. When no one was found worthy to do so John was so overcome with grief that he wept greatly.

In verse five then we see one of the elders speaking to John. This is referring back to chapter four and the twenty-four elders who are seated around the throne. We are given no other indication as to the identity of this one who is speaking to John other than that it is one of the elders. And the elder tells John to, “Stop weeping…” Again, John MacArthur writes:
John’s weeping, though sincere, was premature He need not have wept, for God was about to take action.15
The elder continues, “…behold the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” There is One who is worthy to open the book, and He is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. He is described here as The Lion from the tribe of Judah, and as the root of David. These are both Old Testament allusions and titles for the coming Messiah, so let’s take a few minutes to look at each of these and see what we can learn.

The first title the elder uses is “the Lion from the tribe of Judah.” This title goes all the way back to the book of Genesis where in chapter forty-nine. As Jacob was dying, he pronounced blessings on each of his sons. We read the blessing to his son Judah in verses nine and ten.
Judah is a young lion— my son, you return from the kill— he crouches; he lies down like a lion and like a lioness—who wants to rouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah, or the staff from between his feet, until He whose right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to Him.
Genesis 49:9-10 (HCSB)
The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus did in fact come from the tribe of Judah.
For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
Hebrews 7:14
Then the elder uses the title “the root of David.” We can see reference to this in the promise that God made to David in II Samuel chapter seven. In this chapter we see that David wanted to build a house for God, but God had denied him that request. But God then goes on to tell David that his son would be the one to build the temple, and then He makes this promise in verse sixteen:
And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.
2 Samuel 7:16
Then in Isaiah chapter eleven we read:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
Isaiah 11:1

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
Isaiah 11:10
In these verses (and many more) we see that God promised David that One would come from his line who would rule over the people of God forever. J Vernon McGee writes here:
He [God] says, ‘I am going to bring One in your line who shall rule, not only over these people, but over the whole earth.’ The Lord Jesus Christ has the right to rule, as He is the fulfillment of the prophecies made in the Old Testament relative to the future of the world.16
In the gospels the title “son of David” is used numerous times of Jesus, but one must ask the question, “How can Jesus be both the son and the root of David?” Jesus asked this same question of the Pharisees in an attempt to get them to recognize His deity. We can read this account in Matthew chapter twenty-two:
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”
Matthew 22:41-45
It is clear from even a casual reading of the Gospels that the Pharisees missed who Jesus was – the promised Messiah – but as we study the book of Revelation it is clear that these two titles refer to none other that the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Messiah that was promised throughout the entire Old Testament, and He alone is worthy to take the scroll from the right hand of the One on the throne and to break its seals. Robert Van Kampen writes:
The references to Judah and David establishes Jesus as the royal descendant of King David. This requirement is stated throughout the New Testament. However, it is not based solely on His genealogy that makes Him worthy to open the book. [Nikáō, the Greek word translated 'has overcome'] gives the reason that this particular Judeo-Dividite is worthy to open the book.” He continues, “This verb means to conquer. The Greek construction means ‘to conquer absolutely.’ John did not explicitly state what this Judeo-Dividite did to conquer here, but an indirect allusion is given in verse 6.17

1 Wiersbe, W.W. (1997, c1992). Wiersbe's expository outlines on the New Testament (811). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
2 Wiersbe, W.W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 5:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
3 McGee J. Vernon (c 1983). Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee Vol.5 1 Corinthians-Revelation Pg.933 Nashville TN.: Thomas Nelson.
4 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (164). Chicago: Moody Press.
5 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 5:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
6 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. (Re 5:1). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
7 Wiersbe, W.W. (1997, c1992). Wiersbe's expository outlines on the New Testament (809). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
8 Palmer, E. F., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1982). Vol. 35: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 35 : 1, 2 & 3 John / Revelation. Formerly The Communicator's Commentary. The Preacher's Commentary series (159). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.
9 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G2478). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
10 Henry, M. (1996, c1991). Matthew Henry's commentary on the whole Bible: Complete and unabridged in one volume (Re 5:1). Peabody: Hendrickson.
11 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (165). Chicago: Moody Press.
12 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G2799). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
13 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (165). Chicago: Moody Press.
14 Criswell, W.A. (1969) Expository Sermons on Revelation (3:69–70) Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
15 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (165). Chicago: Moody Press.
16 McGee J. Vernon (c 1983). Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee Vol.5 1 Corinthians-Revelation Pg.935 Nashville TN.: Thomas Nelson.
17 Van Kampen, Robert. Revelation Commentary Ch5 Pg2-3 (© Orlando Fl.: Sola Scriptura
We will pick up our study next time in verse six where we will look at the slain Lamb.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What Must I Do To Be Saved?

I was going to post part one of Revelation chapter 5 today, but when I listened to this sermon earlier today I decided that this was more important. So take some time, open your Bible, and let the Holy Spirit speak to you; this is the most important question you will ever ask.

I will put the Revelation post up in the next few days.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Motions

Here is a song by Matthew West that I find to be very convicting. I don't want to get to heaven and be asking myself "what if I had given everything?" I want to get there and like the apostle Paul be able to say:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:7

I want to get there and know that I have given everything. And I want to hear Jesus say, "Well done good and faithful servant,"

How about you?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Another Great Sermon

Every time I hear Voddie Baucham preach I am convicted of just how sinful I am and of how dependent I am of the grace and mercy of God poured out for me in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And this sermon is no exception.

Here Voddie takes Jesus' words about adultery in the Sermon on the Mount and he clearly shows how we have all broken the seventh commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery" and that in the breaking of this commandment we have also broken several other commandments in the process.

He then uses this as a spring-board to show why we need a Savior and why, even as a Christian, we need to hear the Gospel preached daily. As the apostle Paul wrote:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the Greek.
Romans 1:16

Monday, May 4, 2009

John Piper On Marriage

Here is a great sermon on marriage by John Piper.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Study Of Covenant, Part 2 - A Look At Examples Of Covenant in the Bible

As we continue our study of what it means to be in a covenant relationship with God I want to look at two of the covenants we see in the Old Testament: The covenant between God and Noah, and the covenant between Jonathan and David. The principles we learn from these covenants will help us to more fully understand and appreciate what we will see when we study the covenant of our salvation - the New Covenant - in a few weeks.

A. God’s Covenant with Noah

The first use of the word covenant in the Bible occurs in Genesis 6:18. In this verse God tells Noah that He will establish His covenant with Him, and in order to do this He must first save Noah and his family from the coming judgment:

Then God said to Noah, “Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—that they may swarm on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by families from the ark.

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”
Genesis 8:15-22

In these verses we see that after the flood was over God told Noah to come out of the ark, and the very first thing he did after leaving the ark was to build an alter and offer burnt offerings to God. The passage then tells us that when God smelled the pleasing aroma of the offering He said that He would never again curse the ground because of man, and would never again kill every living creature.

As we move then into chapter 9 we see God say to Noah:
And you, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it.”
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
Genesis 9:7-11

In these verses God is setting the conditions for the covenant; Noah and his family are to be fruitful and multiply, and spread out over the whole earth. God said that He was establishing this covenant not only with Noah, but also with all of Noah’s descendents and with every living creature on earth. God cut a covenant with Noah and his descendants, which included you and me, stating that He would never again destroy the whole earth with a flood.

And remember from part 1 that as part of the process of cutting a covenant a memorial was set up? Look at verses 12-17
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
Genesis 9:12-17
There is a lot more we could go into here, but that is not the purpose of this lesson; what I want you to see here in this first mention of covenant in the Bible is that:
  • God was the one who initiated the covenant
  • God was the one who established the conditions of the covenant
  • God was the one who took all of the responsibility in the covenant.
The only condition, or responsibility, that Noah had in this covenant was to be fruitful and multiply. And we still benefit from this covenant today.

B. Jonathan’s covenant with David

The next covenant that I want to look at is the covenant between Jonathan and David; we find this covenant in 1 Samuel 18. In verse 1 we see that Jonathan committed himself to David because he loved him as much as he loved himself. Then in verse 3 we see that Jonathan made a covenant with David:
Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.
1 Samuel 18:3-4
We are not given the privilege of seeing the whole covenant ceremony here, but here is what we do get to see; Jonathan and David exchanged robes, weapons, and belts. Remember from part 1 the significance of this, as it will be important later on.

As we continue in 1 Samuel we learn that Saul (Jonathan’s father) begins to hate David and wants to kill him. He tries on several occasions but David is always able to escape. This goes on for the next two chapters, then in chapter 20 we pick up the story with David asking Jonathan what he did to anger Jonathan’s father and requesting that Jonathan help him in his escape from Saul. Jonathan tells David in verse 2 that Saul won’t do anything without first letting him know, so David has nothing to worry about. But David persists in his request and in verse 8 David reminds Jonathan about the covenant.
Therefore deal kindly with your servant, for you have brought your servant into a covenant of the Lord with you. But if there is guilt in me, kill me yourself, for why should you bring me to your father?”
1 Samuel 20:8
And Jonathan responds in verse 9.
And Jonathan said, “Far be it from you! If I knew that it was determined by my father that harm should come to you, would I not tell you?”
1 Samuel 20:9
Why? Because of the covenant David is now more important to Jonathan that his own family. Remember that as part of covenant the enemies of one party become the enemies of the other party - even when this includes family. The covenant relationship supersedes all other relationships.

As we continue the story Jonathan does what David asks of him and helps him to escape from Saul, and in the process Saul actually tries to kill Jonathan. So Jonathan and David part company and David flees to Nob, but before they separate Jonathan revisits the covenant and expands it to include their descendants.
And Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord take vengeance on David’s enemies.”
1 Samuel 20:16
Fast forward several years to 1 Samuel 31 and we see the death of Saul and his sons, including Jonathan. This happened in a battle with the Philistines, and after the deaths of Saul and Jonathan David is made king of Israel. After David becomes king a civil war breaks out between the house of David and those remaining of the house of Saul. This culminates with the death of Saul’s only remaining son Ishbosheth, but what I want you to see here is in verse 4 of 2 Samuel chapter 4.
Jonathan, the son of Saul, had a son who was crippled in his feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel, and his nurse took him up and fled, and as she fled in her haste, he fell and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth.
2 Samuel 4:4
This is important, and to fully appreciate the ramifications of covenant you must get this. Saul was king of Israel and he has just died. David became king and a civil war broke out that resulted in all of Saul’s descendents being killed – with the exception of one. There still remains a son of Jonathan named Mephibosheth that was crippled in both feet when his nurse dropped him trying to save him from the fate of the rest of Saul’s family. By all rights he has the legal claim the throne of Saul, but in fear for his life he is taken into hiding where he spends the next several years.

David , now king in Israel, has many victories over the next few chapters of 2 Samuel. Then in chapter 9 we again pick up the story of Mephibosheth. This is rather lengthy, but I think it is important that we read the whole passage.
And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “I am your servant.” And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”

Then the king called Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson. And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master’s grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master’s grandson shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba’s house became Mephibosheth’s servants. So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet.
2 Samuel 9:1-13
I hear you asking, “Why is this so important?” Let’s look at it together and I will try to help you understand. As I have already said, Mephibosheth is the only remaining heir of Saul, and more importantly, he is Jonathan’s son. He has spent his entire life crippled and in hiding from the king. He has nothing to offer David, and when David inquires about the descendents of Saul and has Mephibosheth brought to him Mephibosheth is afraid for his life. And rightly so, as the only remaining heir of Saul’s household, and a cripple, I’m sure he thought he was about to be put to death.

But that is not what happened. Remember, David had a covenant with Jonathan; a covenant that Mephibosheth didn’t know anything about, but that covenant not only protected him, it actually became a blessing to him as he spent the rest of his life living in the king’s city and eating frequently at the kings table.

What a wonderful picture of covenant, and what a blessing to us when we realize that Mephibosheth is a picture of us, and our relationship, in covenant, with God!