Throughout my years of ministry I have entertained not a few questions from Bible readers about the doctrines of predestination and election. Romans 8:28-30 is one of the several places in the Scriptures where these doctrines are mentioned, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (ESV)”
Predestination and Election are true, biblical and mysterious and refer to God’s ancient choice of His family whom He marked out before hand to eternal life. The Scriptures tell us that:
- God elects according to his eternal purpose which means that He’s a God who plans and does what He wants.
- God elects according to the counsel of His will like a Sovereign King who has every right to develop his own military strategy influenced by no one, receiving no advice or input outside of His Triunity.
- God Elects for His own glory which means that He’s the One who gets all the credit and congratulation and through those whom He elects to salvation everyone will see How Great He really is.
On an experiential level, Christians can rest in the fact that the God of Creation has set His affection on them before the world began. There is no deeper love and affirmation, no greater freedom and courage, than resting in the fact that God loved you before your days on the earth even began, before you had the opportunity to do anything good or bad.
I can comprehend this in small degree as a father who recalls loving my first born child before she was born, even before we saw an ultrasound image of her inside of her mother’ womb. No parent waits to see what the child looks like or how she will behave to decide whether they would choose to love or not. Predestination and election are then God’s Plan of Love; His method to apply His grace.
So those whom God elects, He also calls as calling is the effect of election. Calling not like an invitation to a birthday party where you can choose to say yes or no. It is more like a Royal Command by which we must say “Yes.” Though it never feels authoritarian it is authoritative. In His calling, God’s Spirit convinces of our sin and misery. And yes, we have to be convinced that we’re miserable. There are many happy pagans around who frankly just don’t realize that they are miserable in their sin. God then imparts spiritual light to our minds in the knowledge of Christ, renews our wills, which have not been free but are in bondage and His Spirit irresistibly persuades us to embrace Jesus who is freely offered to us in the gospel.
Before the foundation of the world, by His Grace He made a covenant of Redemption with the Son and Spirit. The Father was the architect of the plan who set His decree which included the elect on whom He had set His affection. The Son, the builder, would take the plans and do the work of redemption then by His Grace would send the Holy Spirit, the real estate agent, to call the elect by chasing them down in time and space to seal the deal. Apart from such a plan of grace and love, Heaven would be empty and Hell would be bursting at the seams because men and women are not righteous and do not seek God without the gift of the seed of God in a regenerated heart and the gift of faith. People on their own are therefore unable to make the most righteous decision man could ever make: to choose to follow the Righteous One.
Though still these doctrines are hard to understand and maybe even harder to accept. We raise questions like:
- “Why not them?” – by which we charge God with unfairness because He doesn’t choose some others or demand that He choose everyone.
- “Why not me?” – by which we somehow wrongly feel that we are worthy in ourselves of being among the elect. But really the only question we are allowed to ask is…
- “Why me?” – by which we rightly look at ourselves and see not only an undeserving sinner who is not entitled to heaven but an ill-deserving sinner who has fairly earned hell. In this we marvel at God’s grace and mercy.
Ultimately the first question “Why not them?” is often compassionately motivated as we don’t want to see anyone enter into an eternity apart from God. But taking that question too far puts us in a position far above our pay grade. We can take it too far and by the implcation, “God, I would do a better job at being God than you are doing.” In the movie Rudy, which is based on a true story of a young man whose lifelong dream was to play football at Notre Dame but lacked the size, speed and ability. As he wrestled with the lack of fulfillment of his dream he confided in Father Cavanaugh who shared these immortal words,
“Son, in 35 years of religious study, I have only come up with two hard incontrovertible facts: there is a God, and I’m not Him.”
The words are so simple they are profound. When it comes to life and difficult doctrines we just simply need to trust God with His Godness.
God holds back nothing in His Great and Precious Promises, giving to us in accordance with the riches of His grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. By clinging to these promises, all of which are fulfilled and merited for us in Christ, He imparts the quality of His character to us making us godly and beautiful (cf. 2 Peter 1:3-4; Eph. 1:7; 2 Cor. 1:19). In fact, one way to explain the Christian Life is as a Life that daily clings to the Promises of God. As I walk through life, I’m faced with difficulties and challenges which always involve some combination of circumstances and relationships. These contexts evoke various emotions in me that the Lord uses as a catalyst to bring me to the place of humble prayer (one more reason to pay attention to your emotions). And it is in this place of prayer that the Lord desires for us to fix our minds and our trust on His Promises.
But what do we mean when we speak of God’s Promises?
God’s Promises are:
-His declarations that He will do something for us or give something to us.
-His express assurance on which our expectations can be based. He tells us what to expect from Him.
-His guarantees of security against loss. What we have in Him, we will not lose.
-His pledge of fulfillment of an obligation. He intends to keep all of His Promises.
-His bond that he has made himself responsible for us. The all-powerful Creator God is in charge of our well-being.
As children of God, we can trust the Promise Maker because this Promise Maker is the ultimate Promise Keeper. While we live in a world where we see promises broken all of the time. Our parents weren’t perfect at keeping their promises, about half or more of marriage promises aren’t kept and we’ve even become cynical about the promises of politicians. A Promise is only as good as the Promise Maker’s track record, the trustworthiness of His character and His true ability to impact the outcome. When we speak about the Majestic King of Kings, our Sovereign Creator and Redeemer, His track record is perfect (He has never forsaken His children), His character is absolutely trustworthy, and His Omnipotence guarantees the end result. This means that we can live in full reliance on Him and live out the words of the old hymn,
Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.
As I’ve thought about God’s promises this week, I’ve realized that I spend much of my thought life, clinging to and standing on specific promises that He has given especially when the “howling storms of doubt and fear assail.” In a quick, random brainstorming session, I listed these promises which are in my heart and yours:
- Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass. (1 Thess. 5:24)
- There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1)
- For God demonstrates His own love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8)
- For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that if anyone believes in him he shall not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
- He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus (Php 1:6)
- If anyone is in Christ He is a new creation, behold old things have passed away new things have come (2 Cor. 5:17)
- Do not be anxious in anything but in everything by prayer and petition and with thanksgiving present your requests to God and the peace that passes understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Php. 4:6-7).
- If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (John 1:8-9)
- He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Ps. 103)
- For He Himself Has Said, I will never leave you nor will I ever forsake you. so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me.'” (Hebrews 13:5)
- Come to me, all who weary and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:28)
- Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life. no one comes to the Father but through me. (John 14:6)
- And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
- Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.’ (John 6:35)
- Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Prov. 22:6)
- I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing. (Ps. 37:25)
- Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight (Prov. 3:5)
- Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:8-10)
- See ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you. (Matt. 6:33)
- He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalms 147:3)
- So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Is. 41:10)
- The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners. (Is. 61)
- He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. (Is. 40:29-31)
- No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[m] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)
- When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Is. 43)
- We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Cor. 4:8-9)
- For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17)
Men especially have difficulty paying attention to their emotions. Some men would admit to having only two primary emotions: Anger and Hunger. But when I pay attention to my heart attitudes and emotions, I realize that the Holy Spirit and my brain are sending SIGNALS to my consciousness that there’s something going on deep inside of me. Emotions, like those red warning lights on the dashboard of our cars, are often the means that the Lord uses to bring about change and repentance. So I am learning to pay attention when I feel anger or anxiety. I’m learning to notice when I feel too confident or arrogant. And I’m starting to wake up to myself when I’m tempted to lose self-control or when I feel depressed and hopeless.
Here’s what our emotions could be telling us about our lives:
- Anger = often reveals an inordinate and yet unattained goal that your heart feels worthless without.
- Anxiety = often reveals an exaggerated need for security.
- Arrogance – reveals an inordinate confidence in a human attribute that in your heart makes you feel superior.
- Tempted to lose self-control – reveals an excessive appetite that your heart needs satisfied to be happy.
- Despair – reveals a false reliance on something that you once possessed but now you’ve lost and your heart thinks there’s no hope for you.
So when we find these emotions present in ourselves, it is a signal that I need to spend some time with God, His Word and His People. We need to talk about these things to someone (God and/or a trusted, wise Friend, or counselor) who can understand and empathize with our situation. Paying attention to the emotions and seeking to understand their source is a big part of keeping short accounts with God, confessing our sins and living a life of repentance.
Do you find it easy for your heart to lose its focus on Christ and doing His Will? I think there is natural drift in all of our hearts especially when our little worlds feel chaotic and our eyes attend to circumstances rather than remembering the generosity and grace of our Lord. And sometimes we forget that Christ’s design in coming into the world was to reform the world and in doing so, He expects that His followers would be radically identified with Him. As we identify with Him and follow Him, we seek to cooperate with the work of His Spirit in the reforming of our hearts and lives. Thankfully even as we make a mess of things, He still remembers His gratuitous covenant which He has made with us through His Son.
The prophet Malachi writes, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness.” Take a moment with the following prayer:
Grant, Almighty God, that as Satan strives to draw me away from my full attention in serving You through the circumstances of disorder and confusion in my world; — O grant, that I may know that You still have a tender affection for me; and if I perceive that you don’t by what I find in my world, may I rely on Your Word, and not doubt that You always watch over my safety; and being supported by this confidence, may I always continue in the path of my calling: and as You have designed to make me a partaker of the greatest evidence of Your favor in being reconciled to You through Your only-begotten Son; and being made one with Him, may I never hesitate to cheerfully offer my services to You, however defective they may be, since You have once promised to be a generous Father to us, so as not to rigidly test what I offer to You, but so graciously to accept it, that we may know that not only my sins, which justly deserve condemnation, are forgiven and laid aside, but that You also bear with my infirmities and my defects in my imperfect works, that I shall at length receive the reward which You have promised, and which I cannot attain through personal merits, but through the sanctification of Your Spirit, and through the sprinkling of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. — Amen.
(paraphrased from Calvin’s prayer at the end of his commentary on Malachi)
To Recap the Historical Narrative of that first Easter Weekend, it was on Good Friday evening that a wealthy Jewish Disciple of Jesus named Joseph of Arimathea along with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish Sanhedrin wrapped Jesus’ lifeless body in clean linen and laid him in his own new tomb which he had cut in the rock and rolled a giant stone down a slope to cover the tomb’s entrance. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sat and watched with great emotion. Later several Roman soldiers would be posted to lock down and seal the tomb to prevent body theft and resurrection fraud.
As the sun rises on that first Easter Morning, the women emerge from the darkest 30 hours they have ever experienced, an empty void, a Black Sabbath. The gospel writers give us few details about the day between Good Friday Sunset and Easter Sunday Sunrise it is just empty space and dead air. After a Good Friday of despair, darkness, defeat and hopelessness and before an Easter Sunday of joy, light, victory and hope, the women and the disciples endured the longest day of their lives. A day of stark emptiness. A day of dead intermission between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ when His body lays in the tomb. A parenthesis when they reflect on reflect on their cowardice, their denials, and their desperate flights in fear.
For the disciples it would be a dark season of emptiness, wondering what would become of them as they hid from the authorities. The women, not feeling the same guilt as the apostles, would still feel empty, lonely, grieved and without hope. They would spend the better part of these two nights laying on their beds soaking their pillows with tears. And so the story continues in Matthew’s Gospel, “Now after the (Black) Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.” And what they would find was completely unexpected…
What were the disciples looking for on the first Easter Sunday Morning?
On that first Easter morning, there was a band of women and a group of disciples who were hunting. But they weren’t hunting for Easter Eggs, they were hunting for their best friend, Jesus the Christ, the Promised One…
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.”
The gospel accounts testify to the physical, literal, bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because the Resurrection of Christ is so crucial to the Christian faith, gospel writers Matthew, Mark and John are very careful to record the details of what they saw with their own eyes. Luke, another gospel writer, includes eyewitness testimony from as many as 500 people who saw the Risen Christ in order to assure us that Christ is risen from the dead. He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
Holy Saturday is the time in between John 19:41-42 and John 20:1: Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there…(INSERT HOLY SATURDAY HERE)…Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb…
Holy Saturday is the day between the Good Friday Dusk and Easter Sunday Morning Dawn. It consists of over 30 Sabbath hours of time between Friday Sunset and Sunday Sunrise in which the gospel writers give us no details, it is just EMPTY SPACE and DEAD AIR. We know what Good Friday feels like: despair, darkness, defeat and hopelessness. We know what Easter Sunday feels like: joy, light, victory and hope. But does Holy Saturday have a feel?
Recognizing that the Passion Week represents a continuous historical narrative, churches typically pause to enter into emotion of Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday or Tenebrae) and some pause to remember the journey of our Lord on the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday. But then we enter into Holy Saturday, a time when the sanctuaries of the old churches are stripped bare and lay in darkness. No services are scheduled, no sermons are preached, no one gathers for fellowship and there is no Lord’s Supper in order to commemorate the non-event of Holy Saturday. Holy Saturday is a dead intermission, an empty void between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ when His body lays in the tomb. I’ve never heard a message preached about Holy Saturday and I don’t recall singing a Hymn where Holy Saturday is given more than a sentence. But in the sentence of Holy Saturday (or more accurately, the parenthesis) there is an eerie feeling of familiarity to me.
I see that we live every day in a similar yet post-resurrection tension as we wait for the King to come back to consummate the Kingdom he inaugurated 2000 years ago. In between His two advents, we sin, we feel guilt, anxiety, shame, restlessness, we deny Him, sometimes betray Him, life sometimes feels dark and we often wonder what to do next just like the disciples on that First Holy Saturday. The difference living parenthetically on this side of Easter is that we can always turn back with understanding to the significance of the Cross to find forgiveness and mercy and embrace the life and certain hope imparted to us through the Resurrection.
(Inspired by Alan E. Lewis: “Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday“)
Just days before He cleansed the temple again, before He hosted the Last Supper complete with foot-washing, before He predicted Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s thrice denial, before He went to Gethsemane and caught a glimpse of the imminent cup of wrath, before He was arrested, interrogated, flogged, and nailed to a cross like a criminal; Jesus was praised and welcomed into Jerusalem in a manner befitting the return of the King of Kings. In fact the songs that were sung by the crowds are those which we will sing when the King Returns again. Psalm 118 is a song for the promised redemption of God’s people placing their hope in the coming Son of God so they sang, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” See Psalm 118:19-29 for the part of the Psalm which the people gathered along the road sang to Jesus as He entered into Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey:
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Hosanna (Save us), we pray, O LORD!
O LORD, we pray, give us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God,
and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!
“If looks could kill” is a familiar idiomatic expression used to characterize the look of strong hostility in the penetrating eyes of a murderous heart. Often we evaluate the look we get from people because the eyes tell us much about what the heart is thinking. After Peter’s third denial of and disassociation from Jesus in the midst of His interrogation by the High Priest, the eyes of the Lord meet Peter’s. But what kind of look was this?
Peter had denied any association with Christ, with no feelings of repentance, his heart becoming harder each time, searing his conscience. The denials became progressively easier, a warning to us about how sensitive we ought to be to our consciences upon the first occasion for sin. The first time, it won’t seem like a big deal to sin, but the second time creates a habit and the third time we risk the lulling to sleep of our conscience, grieving the Holy Spirit within us our will is rendered ineffective to resist anything. When we push through the barrier of grieving the Spirit, we find ourselves on the other side of the fence with no one to restrain us. Certainly Peter understood this retrospectively when he wrote years later in his first epistle, “Therefore preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” We must be early on guard against sin which desires to master us but when we sin there is only one thing that can bring us back to Jesus, His Look. Luke 22 tells the story this way,
But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
While Peter was warming himself by the fire numbering himself among wicked men and Jesus was being struck in the cheek by the closed fist of an interrogator in the courtyard of the high priest the entire scene enters into slow motion. What happens feels like a private moment between Jesus and Peter. Only Jesus sees that Peter has fallen while everyone else seems oblivious. There are no words exchanged and the Savior doesn’t disgustingly shake his head nor look away in disappointment. This is not even a parental, “I told you so” but a look of sympathy and mercy. This is a look that says, “I understand and I want you to come back!” Jesus knows the intensity of a battle with the evil one so he his sympathetic to Peter in his failure. This is the look of a friend who understands and a God who loves.
In Peter’s darkest hour, Jesus gives him THE LOOK of Mercy that initiates Peter’s repentance instantly after the moment of his greatest failure. When we sin, the only thing to bring us back is an apprehension of the mercy of God that is found in Christ’s look of sympathy and mercy. The Look that says, “I understand and I want you to come back.” Even in our most rebellious, frustrated and independent moments when our hearts rage against God we must catch the glance of the Savior, to see His eyes inviting us back to intimacy with Him. He gives us an efficacious look that meets our eyes and its rays of grace penetrate our hearts. When we fall, our repentance is always initiated by the Lord’s look of mercy. If He is not merciful, we should not dare turn back to Him but He is merciful, generous and patient towards us. What brings Peter back and what brings us back time and again is the Lord’s look of sympathy and mercy. This is no ordinary look nor a look that could kill, it is a look that gives life!
He was a chameleon who lived under the pretense of virtue and faith. Publicly, he was one of the Twelve, faithful and devout following the King, but privately his only love was money. And nobody saw it coming, nobody except the One who sees everything. Jesus knew from the beginning that His betrayer would come from among His inner circle. Should we be surprised that one from among the inner circle was a hypocrite? This is likely the most popularly stated reason of unbelief given by those who reject the Christian faith, “The Church is full of Hypocrites!”
Augustine referred to the church as a “mixed body” consisting of both the righteous and the unrighteous. His interpretation of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30) saw the church like a field where good seeds of wheat along with the bad seeds of weeds are sown and grow side by side. They would ultimately be separated from each other at the time of harvest (judgment) but until then, the weeds and wheat would coexist together in the same field (the church).
There is no such thing as a perfect church, one only with righteous good seed. There will always be people in the church with bad motives, those associating for wrong reasons and those whose relationship with God is only outward. There will always be people who claim to love Christ but whose heart is far from Him. Some are in church for show, some to be seen by others as spiritual, others are there for a social outlet or a business network. Many, Jesus says, will say on that day, did we not do this or that in your name? Jesus will say, “I never knew you.” Those of whom Jesus speaks are people who sat in local churches, many of whom are baptized, have made professions of faith and have personal testimonies. But the mere existence of such hypocrites in the church is neither an excuse for disbelief in Christ nor rejecting His Church.
To those who like to base their claim of unbelief on the existence of hypocrites in the Church, I would say, “You wouldn’t deny the existence of lettuce just because there are weeds in the garden, would you?” Or perhaps I would ask a person with such reasons for unbelief, “Do you carry money in your wallet? Don’t you know that there are people who create counterfeit money yet you still accept that genuine dollars still exist? We need not deny the existence of the authentic based on the evidence of some counterfeits. In fact, the presence of a counterfeit is, in some ways, evidence of the existence of the genuine article because no one counterfeits the invaluable or inherently false. The entire concept of counterfeiting is based on the reproduction of a reasonable facsimile of something that is both genuine and valuable.