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I believe that God is good. I believe He has claimed a people for His own. I believe it is His desire that none should perish, but that all should come to repentance. I believe that God wants to be close to us; in fact, He seems consumed with it. God came down and fashioned the world, He came down and walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the Garden. He came down and had dinner with Abraham. He spoke to Moses as one does with a friend, He wanted to be so close to Israel that He walked in front of them with one leg of fire and one leg of cloud, and St. Paul tells us that He was the rock that followed them through the wilderness. He couldn’t get close enough to them! So He made His earthly abode smack dab in the center of His people’s encampment. He invited 70 of their elders to dinner with a mountain-top view, and He said let’s eat together often – here’s a “Fellowship Offering” it will be good for your soul!
He assured Joshua of victory, while Joshua grabbed his sandal. He tolerated a doubting Gideon’s multiple fleeces. Because His people were suffering and His heart ached for them, He made a donkey’s jawbone a weapon of mass destruction. I wish I could really convey to you the love this God has for you!
He came down upon His people in Solomon’s Temple, and His presence was so heavy no one was left standing. He washed out Isaiah’s mouth, and gave Him a sneak peak of His throne room. Oh God, open our eyes that we may see!
He couldn’t stand it any longer when His people didn’t listen to His prophets, so He sent His only Son, to walk and talk among us for 33 years. That wasn’t enough so He caught Paul up into the third heaven; and some folks found Paul hard to understand so He met with John on the island of Patmos and promised to come back. Indeed, to send His Son back to make the world right, and if that wasn’t enough to then bring down His entire city upon Earth, because He just can’t get enough of us . . . but really because we can’t get enough of Him!
In fact, it wouldn’t be right, if I didn’t tell you that God just can’t stop talking about being with you. It rings from one end of His love letter to us to the other.
You see, God is quite obsessed, not with taking us up and out of here, but with coming down and being near.
Images evoke and invite; they are windows into which we can gaze. Images provoke and incite; they are doors through which we can walk. They expand our understanding of the multidimensional mysteries of the work of God and His Spirit.
“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” said John the Baptizer, bringing to the mind’s eye for his hearers images they knew intimately and saw regularly, to teach them about a person they did not yet know.
Often times we try to describe God and God’s work in theories, the theory of substitutionary atonement, the theory of penal satisfaction; does God give us theories or images in Scripture? Theories circumscribe the limits of what is true. Can we define the limits of what God has done? No, images are better and images are what God uses. Ransom, Redemption, Deliverance from Egypt, Adoption as sons, lambs to the slaughter, face to face like one speaks to a friend, these are all images that cause us to see and understand, but not to define.
Indeed, we ourselves were created in God’s image. Have you ever wondered why?
God is jealous. Have you ever wondered why?
And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.
Note what comes next:
“Observe (shamar) what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
Take care (shamar), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst.
You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is El Qanna (Jealous), is a jealous God,
lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods.
What is our purpose? Why were we created in His image?
(14) “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.
(15) Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.
How will your light shine?
(16) In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
How will we know how to do “good works”? Well, “good works” was a 1st Century synonym for God’s commandments. Surprised? Doubtful? Where does Jesus go next?
(17) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
I said to you a couple weeks ago that the Law of God describes His character. We were made in His image so that we could reflect His character. What is the Good News? Paul says it is the Gospel of God.
“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16)
Why? Because lukewarmness is confusing. You’re not hot; you don’t look like me, but you claim my name. You’re not cold; you’re not pagans, but you don’t look like me. Pthoah! I spit you out; you confuse my children!
Matt 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
“I desire that none should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
Jer. 7:23 But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I instruct you, that it may be well with you.’
… what was the lesson of the first six books of the Bible? Disobedience Hurts. What is the warning to us, not only will disobedience prevent you from fulfilling your purpose here on Earth, but it will cause you harm; you will suffer for it.
Let me paraphrase Deut 30 for you:
Listen, my child, I made you for a purpose, and I’ve given you the instructions on how to live so as to accomplish it. Furthermore, I’ve empowered you by my Spirit so that you can do what I’ve described, “It’s not too difficult for you, it is within your grasp. It is not up in heaven, that you should say, “who could ascend there, and make this earthly so we could actually do these things?” It is not across the sea, that you might ask, “who could journey that far and bring these to us that we might do them?” No, my message is very close it is on your lips and in your heart so that you can obey it.
“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between prosperity and disaster, between life and death. I have enjoined you today to love the LORD your God and to keep his principles, his statutes, and instructions by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and become a great people, and the LORD your God will bless you and your living place.
But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live a long, good life.
“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, that you and your descendants might live! Choose to love the LORD your God and to obey him and commit yourself to him, for he is your life. Then you will live long in your homeland! (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)
Where was the Tabernacle of God? At the center of their city. It was that which all their life revolved around.
Who or what are you reflecting? We reflect what we look at.
Let me wrap up by telling you this story: this past winter I drove back from meetings in Indy through blizzard-like conditions; I was surrounded and upheld by grace the entire trip, indeed, I suspect there may even have been angels keeping my wheels on the road from time to time. However, that grace-infused trip was not without considerable effort on my part, and I was guided and protected by the laws of safe driving passed along to me by my father.
Grace is opposed to earning; not to effort! Too many of us think that law and grace are opposed; they’re not, their inseparable companions!
Listen to J.I. Packer:
the love-or-law antithesis is false, just as the down-grading of law is perverse. Love and law are not opponents but allies, forming together the axis of true morality. Law needs love as its drive, else we get the Pharisaism that puts principles before people and says one can be perfectly good without actually loving one’s neighbor…. And love needs law as its eyes, for love … is blind. To want to love someone Christianly does not of itself tell you how to do it. Only as we observe the limits set by God’s law can we really do people good.
Finally, I leave you with the words of John Wesley:
I am afraid this great and important truth is little understood, not only by the world, but even by many whom God hath taken out of the world, who are real children of God by faith. Many of these lay it down as an unquestioned truth, that when we come to Christ, we have done with the law; and that, in this sense, “Christ is the end of the law to every one that believeth.” “The end of the law:” so he is, “for righteousness,” for justification, “to every one that believeth.” Herein the law is at an end. It justifies none, but only brings them to Christ; who is also, in another respect, the end or scope of the law, — the point at which it continually aims. But when it has brought us to him it has yet a farther office, namely, to keep us with him. For it is continually exciting all believers, the more they see of its height, and depth, and length, and breadth, to exhort one another so much the more, —
Closer and closer let us cleave
To his beloved Embrace;
Expect his fullness to receive,
And grace to answer grace.
The Great Commandments (Mt. 22:37-40; Mk. 12:29-31) are the summary of that great description of God’s character which Jesus perfectly embodied—the Law of God—condensed even further by St. Paul, “For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not… and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Romans 13:9). Still at the feet of St. Paul we read in Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Which prompts us to ask, “To what purpose the “therefore”? Leading us back to chapter 4: that we no longer walk as the Gentiles do, but put off our old selves, and, “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:24).
Why is God so jealous for us to accurately reflect His character? Because He has no other Body, but us; it is we whom He tasked to reflect His nature to the world. The mission of God—to which we are adjoined by virtue of being baptized with Christ in his death, and raised with Him in His resurrection—is that phrase which echoes from Genesis to Revelation, “I will be your God, and you shall be my people, and I will dwell among you.” (Ex 6:7; 29:45-46; Jer. 7:23; 30:22; Ezek. 36:28; Rev. 21:3).
In whose Image were you created?
Whose image are you reflecting?
Who or what do you spend most of your time looking at?