Throw You Like a Ball

The book of Isaiah is, among other things, a repetitive call for humility before the might and majesty of God. One of the most gripping images of God taking down the proud is directed toward Shebna, a man who built monuments to himself. In addition to straight-up mockery (”O you strong man”), we are given an unforgettable picture of Shebna’s end:

Behold, the Lord will hurl you away violently, O you strong man. He will seize firm hold on you and whirl you around and around, and throw you like a ball into a wide land. (Isaiah 22:17-18)

Two quick takeaways: (1) Don’t overlook the rich imagery of Scripture. As you read, let the multitude of metaphors light your imagination on fire. Can’t you just see strong Shebna being seized, whirled around and around, and violently hurled through the air like a ball being thrown so far away you can’t even see where it lands? Dadgum. That’s quite a picture. Train yourself to see these pictures in the Bible. Imagery is everywhere, on every page. The Bible is 3D, so don’t just read it. See it.

(2) Quit trying to be awesome. “Hurl you” and “whirl you” and “throw you” are not things you want God to do to you. Here is the one to whom God looks: “He who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (66:2). 

Decision-Making and the Will of God

Should I marry this person or not? Should I take this new job or remain in my current job? Should I continue renting, or is it time to buy a house? Should I join this church? Should we adopt? Etc. 

The difficulty in Christian decision-making comes when there are a number of choices you could make within the boundaries of God’s Word. The practical questions outlined below will help you make wise decisions. Weigh all of these questions together.

The Main Question

Will my decision keep me on the path of glorifying God in Jesus Christ, or will it divert me?

See 1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 1:18. If the choice before you is big enough to make you wonder what God’s will is, then you need to have a clear sense that your decision won’t distract you from glorifying God in Christ. Nothing is more important. As the saying goes, “Only one life will soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Practical Considerations

1.  Will this decision keep me in line with clear biblical teaching?

See John 17:17. If your decision will cause you to sin by going against God’s Word, you know it’s not God’s will. Don’t do it. All your conduct must be “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14).

2.  Is my mind captivated by the things of God or the things of the world?

See Romans 12:1-2; Proverbs 1:7. As your mind is renewed in the truth, you have greater ability to discern what will please God in various circumstances. Conversely, the less captivated you are by God and the gospel, the more suspicious you should be of your discernment. You will need to lean harder into the other questions in this list. 

3.  Am I talking regularly to God about this decision?

See 1 Thessalonians 5:17; James 1:5. God is pleased to give you wisdom when you ask for it in faith.

4.  Do I have an open door?

See 1 Corinthians 16:8-9. An open door is no guarantee that you have discerned God’s will. Sometimes more than one door will stand open to you. But still, if the door is closed, there is no decision to be made.  

5.  Do I have a sense of peace about walking through the open door?

See 2 Corinthians 2:12-13. Paul had an open door but no peace. His lack of peace trumped the open door. Having peace that God is pleased with your course of action is important in decision-making, since you will need to make your decision in faith (see Question 7).

6.  What do my godly Christian friends think about my situation?

See Proverbs 11:14; 24:6. It’s almost always wise to seek counsel, especially when you’re stumped, or when you’re about to make a significant decision. Put the decision before a few trusted believers to see what they think. Be open to their counsel, especially if they have some thoughts or concerns that you haven’t considered.

7.  Can I make this decision in faith?

See Romans 14:23; Proverbs 3:5-6. If the Bible allows for your decision but you still can’t follow through in faith, something is wrong. Don’t do it, at least not until you can do it with a clear conscience. “To go against conscience is neither right nor safe” (Martin Luther).

You Can Rest

If the decision you make is within scriptural boundaries, if you’re walking with the Lord and asking for his wisdom, if the door is open, if your Christian friends think it’s a good idea, and if you have peace before the Lord and can act in faith, you are glorifying God! Make your decision, then rest in God’s sovereign care. God is big enough to fix any missteps you take—he will sustain you in your chosen course or he will redirect you to a new path. Regardless, he will never leave you nor forsake you. You simply can’t outmaneuver God, for “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

Can You Make It to the Next Tree?

If enduring through suffering is like climbing a mountain, don’t look at the mountain as you go. Look at the next tree.

Josh Squires gives us this helpful bit of wisdom in his article, “Lord, Help Me Endure One More Day.” His mountain analogy is memorable and insightful:

I once watched a documentary about the toughest school in all the military (or so the film claimed). It was the winter session of the Army Mountain Warfare School which contained unbelievable trials — physical and emotional — that seemed to assail the students from the time they arrived. But the event with the highest dropout rate was a multi-day hike up a snow packed mountain. It required traversing the whole mountain, from bottom to top, through over ten feet of snow drifts with a large, heavy ruck sack slung to their back and no special equipment. They had their feet and sheer determination.

On the morning of the infamous march, a drill instructor spoke to the soldiers. I expected it to be something full of bombast and bluster, urging the group to complete the task at hand or face swift retribution! Instead, the wise soldier simply said, “If you want to quit, look at the top of the mountain.” He went on, “But if you want to make it through, then just find the closest tree and tell yourself, ‘I’m going to make it to that next tree and then reevaluate.’ And then when you get to that tree, do the same thing again, finding the next closest tree. If you’ll do that, tree by tree, soon enough you’ll find yourself at the top of the mountain.”

For those in the midst of terrible suffering, looking for hope can be like looking at the top of the mountain, staring at it from the bottom. The thought is nice, but the climb seems impossible. In those moments, the next tree is simply praying for endurance: “Lord, get me through this season, this day, this hour, even this prayer. Do not let me go, that I may not ever let you go.”

You can read the whole article here.

From Worship to Murder in Two Sentences

Are any other back-to-back verses in the Bible more shockingly different? In one verse, the crowd at Lystra wants to offer sacrifices to Paul, thinking he was a god. In the very next verse, the same crowd stones Paul and drags his bloody body out of the city:

Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them. But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.

Acts 14:18-19 takes us from worship to murder in two sentences.

The Fickleness of Man

In reflecting on this astonishing turn of events in Lystra, one might astutely observe that people are fickle. O, you think so? Still, it’s good to be aware of the human capacity to vacillate. Perspectives and emotions and commitments can shift as suddenly as your car tires catching the shoulder of the pavement: one second you’re on the road, the next you’re in the ditch. Your most enthusiastic admirers can quickly become your most enthusiastic adversaries.

It should be noted that, in some cases, an abrupt change can occur in the opposite direction too: fervent opposition becomes fervent devotion. This latter alteration is more pleasant than the former, but don’t imagine that it is necessarily less problematic. Regardless of which way the wind is blowing, it’s still wind. There’s not much substance to the wind.

Early in Jesus’ ministry, many people believed in him. Yet we’re told that Jesus didn’t entrust himself to them, because he “knew all people” and he “knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25). We would do well to learn from Jesus. Don’t get wrapped up in being liked, being approved of, being praised. In other words, don’t believe the hype about yourself. The people who would offer sacrifices to you are the very ones who would stone you. Keep on loving people, but entrust yourself only to God.

The Power of Persuasion

The violent change in the crowd at Lystra can be accounted for. “Let’s worship this guy!” doesn’t become, “Let’s kill this guy!” for no reason. What explains the change? Persuasion explains it. In this case, poisonous persuasion. Unbelieving Jews arrived on the scene and turned the crowd against Paul. They spoke against Paul; they recast him in a negative light; they changed the narrative. “The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood” (Prov. 12:6). That bloody afternoon in Lystra is a dramatic and deadly case study in the power of persuasion.

I’ve seen this power at work in the church. People who were supportive become suspicious. What was once a warm friendship becomes frosty. Many pastors have experienced such a grievous change in their people. Poisonous persuasion often lies behind the change. Someone has taken it upon himself or herself to help others see the pastor in a “truer light” or to get “the whole story” about what happened. The pastor’s beliefs are misrepresented, or his actions are misinterpreted, or his character is maligned—and what was once a good relationship is damaged. Even if you aren’t a pastor, I bet you know what this kind of change feels like, having experienced it in some of your own relationships.

We must use our words wisely. Our words are always at work. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). We may not be out to get someone, like the Jews were Paul. But let us not think that our “sharing a concern” or “straight talk” or “venting” is innocuous. It’s never innocuous. Rather, we are always healing or wounding, unifying or fracturing, securing love or eroding it. We are always persuading.

Our Conversation and Confidence

So wield your power well. Aim to edify in all your conversation. Use your words to persuade people in the truth of the gospel and in love for God and others.

And place your confidence not in man but in Christ, knowing that the same person who supports you in the morning is capable of sabotaging you in the afternoon. That doesn’t mean you have to become guarded or cynical in your relationships. In Christ, you can love others freely and fully. But you must entrust yourself to the Lord alone.

The Day God Tore His Clothes

On Denying What Jesus Won For Every Single PersonAmong the many remarkable events surrounding the death of Christ is the temple curtain being torn in two. The interpretation of this divine act has as many strands as the curtain itself. It has been said that the tear signifies: (1) God’s judgment against unbelieving Israel, who did not recognize their day of visitation; (2) God’s termination of temple worship, as Jesus’ death and resurrection fulfills all to which the temple pointed; (3) God’s termination of the old covenant upon the finished work of Christ; (4) God’s accessibility to all people through the priestly ministry of Jesus; (5) God’s mission to fill the whole earth with his glory. None of these explanations is mutually exclusive. I believe there is truth in all five.

I would like to suggest another interpretation—not in place of the more traditional interpretations, but in addition to them. One more interpretation can’t hurt, right? Here’s my suggestion:

The torn curtain signifies God’s sorrow over the death of his Son. The tearing of the curtain is the Father rending his garment in grief. 


THE DARKNESS

Take three steps with me, step one being to understand the darkness that covered the land at noon on the day Jesus was crucified. The darkness seems to bear some relation to the torn curtain, as Luke pairs the two:

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. (Luke 23:44-45)

What is the connection between these two phenomena? The connection, if indeed there is one, can be made along the lines of the darkness. In what appears to be a clear foreshadowing of Christ’s death, the prophet Amos associates the darkness with mourning:

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.” (Amos 8:9-10)

The meaning of the darkness is mourning. The death of “an only son” is the cause for turning out the lights, for putting on sackcloth, for shaving one’s head. It is a day of bitter lament. The prophetic imagery here, in its fulfillment, is of God grieving over his only Son as he dies on the cross.

THE CURTAIN

Small step two: if the darkness is a sign of mourning, it’s no big stretch to understand the tearing of the curtain as a rending of one’s garment. It was customary among the Hebrews to tear one’s robe in a time of grief. We’re told, for example, that King Hezekiah “tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord” (Isa. 37:1). In the Greek Old Testament, the word used for “tear” in reference to Hezekiah’s clothing is the same word Luke uses for “tear” in reference to the temple curtain.

The context of mourning, therefore, offers a ready explanation for Luke’s pairing of the darkness and the torn curtain. The temple curtain functioned as God’s garment, so to speak, hiding his presence from the people. In sorrow over the death of his only Son, the Father sends darkness over the land and tears his garment in grief.

THE SON 

Step three: Jesus explicitly relates to God as his Father, which further strengthens the idea that God, as Father, was grieving over the crucifixion of Jesus as for “an only son” (cf. Amos 8:9-10). Immediately after reporting the darkness and the torn curtain, Luke writes that Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46). Jesus dies not only as the Prophet, the Priest, and the King—he dies as the Son, entrusting his spirit to the Father.

OBJECTIONS

One objection to this interpretation of the torn curtain is that it is somewhat speculative, hanging mainly on the prophetic background of Amos 8:9-10. I concede to speculating. However, it must be acknowledged that no other interpretation of the torn curtain is free from speculation. Luke doesn’t spell out the meaning. Since we must speculate, what is wrong with doing so within the context of Amos’s prophecy? Indeed, if Amos’s prophecy finds fulfillment in the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, then our understanding of the cross will be impoverished if we fail to consider it.

Another objection is that the Father was doing anything but grieve as Jesus died. For example, we are told that it was the will of God to crush Jesus (Isa. 53:10); that Jesus was cursed in crucifixion (Gal. 3:13); that Jesus was forsaken by God (Matt. 27:46). But surely it is not difficult to imagine that God is capable of feeling multiple emotions at once. Even earthly fathers know what it means to willingly discipline their sons while at the same time grieving over the pain caused by the discipline. There is no necessary contradiction between God’s willing that his Son die and God’s grieving over his death.*

SO WHAT?

So what if this interpretation is true? Then the darkness and the torn curtain give us a moving glimpse into the Father’s love for his Son. God is not dispassionate, aloof, unfeeling. No! The Father grieves to see his beloved Son suffer. Jesus has been betrayed, mocked, spit upon, scourged, and nailed to a tree. The Father’s response to such torture isn’t to cross his arms in detached resignation. Sovereignty isn’t stoicism. Rather, God blocks out the sun and tears his holy garment. Both the cosmos and its holy place reflect the sorrow of the heavenly Father.

Not only does this interpretation deepen our wonder in God, it grounds our comfort in God. Few things should be more comforting to the Christian than the Father’s love for the Son. For the way the Father loves the Son is the way the Father loves all who are in the Son. God is no less concerned about our suffering than he was for Christ’s. God keeps count of our tossings and tears (Ps. 56:8); he cares for us in the midst of anxiety (1 Pet. 5:7); he draws close to us in our pain (Ps. 34:18; John 16:32); he strengthens us in our trials (2 Tim. 4:17). We would have little affection for a taciturn god, but the Father of Jesus loves us in a way that draws forth our adoration: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Cor. 1:3-4a).

The psalmist once promised that “those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy” (126:5). The day of shouting is coming. But until that day, we take comfort in another day—the day God turned off the light and tore his clothes in grief. What love the Father has for his Son … and for those who are in his Son!

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* The doctrine of the impassibility of God, i.e., that God has no passions and feels no emotions, is true insofar as God has no sinful passions or emotions. But as Wayne Grudem observes, “God, who is the origin of our emotions and who created our emotions, certainly does feel emotions: God rejoices (Isa. 62:5). He is grieved (Ps. 78:40;  Eph. 4:30). His wrath burns hot against his enemies (Ex. 32:10). He pities his children (Ps. 103:13). He loves with everlasting love (Isa. 54:8; Ps. 103:17).” (Systematic Theology, 165-66)