Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Blessing of Difficult Times and the New Covenant

These are difficult times. Discouragement has become our tutor. Therefore, it is necessary to remember how rich we are in Christ. Ironically, discouragement also serves as our search-engine, causing us to seek out comforting thoughts of hope that can only be found in our Savior.

One poignant way to view our riches is from the perspective of the Hebrew Scriptures. We are so blessed compared to the Israelites. The Chosen People dreaded the presence of God. He terrified them. They thought they were going to die when they heard His voice from the foot of Mt. Sinai, and therefore requested Moses to:

  • "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die." (Exodus 20:19)
 God’s righteous requirements had not yet been satisfied by the cross, and so true forgiveness was not yet a reality. God had merely “passed over the sins” committed under the Mosaic Covenant (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 9:15).

This fact weighed heavily upon Israelite believers. An impenetrable barrier stood between them and God. They couldn’t stand His presence and He couldn’t stand theirs, despite His love for them. This dysfunctional relationship was symbolized by the curtain of the Temple, separating Israel from her God.

We mistakenly think that the Prophets could come boldly before God. But this could only happen when special provisions had been made, like in the case of Moses and Isaiah (6:6-7). However, normally, intimacy with God was terrifying (Job 38-42), even life- threatening (Lev. 10), as long as His righteous requirement for justice hadn’t been satisfied.

The lives of the Prophets demonstrate this fact. The Prophet Micah confessed:

  • I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against Him, until He pleads my case and executes justice for me. He will bring me out to the light, and I will see His righteousness. (Micah 7:9; NASB)
 It is surprising to read that Micah – and I’m assuming that he had already confessed his sins – realized that he still bore the wrath or “indignation of the Lord.” He, therefore, could not come confidently and joyfully before the Lord. However, he was confident that this was only temporary, until “He pleads my case and executes justice for me.”

These words are very strange.  Israel was enabled to obtain a “forgiveness” through animal sacrifice. It is therefore puzzling that Micah had to wait for God, who “pleads my case and executes justice for me.” Evidently, he realized that animal sacrifice was insufficient.

We are also puzzled that Micah had to wait until “He pleads my case.” To whom would God make His plea? To Himself? Exactly! The blood of the Messiah will make the plea and “execute justice.” Through this payment for sin, Micah confesses that “I will see His righteousness.”

In chapter 5, Micah revealed the Agent of this “righteousness” – the Messiah born in Bethlehem but existing everlastingly. He closes his prophecy by declaring:

  • And this One will be our peace. (Micah 5:5)
 Hosea doesn’t write that the Messiah will make peace, but rather that He would be peace – a peace offering between us and a wrathful God. And this peace offering would make peace. Paul explained what this means:

  • For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him. (Col. 1:19-21)
 It is only through this peace that the provisions of the New Covenant could be realized. Our sins would never again be brought against us (Jer. 31:31-34). Consequently, we could now enjoy the most incredibly intimate relationship with our Savior:

  • In that day I will make a covenant for them…Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety. I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord. (Hosea 2:18-20)
 Israel had “enjoyed” a distant relationship with their God, but under the New Covenant, He would draw near to them in the most intimate manner – like in a marriage. Through this relationship, all of our unrealized dreams of love and intimacy will find their fulfillment.

Micah wrote about a time when he would actually see “His righteousness,” and his most profound longings would be realized, and he would be vindicated before his enemies (Micah 7:10).

With our conscience cleansed from sin, we can now enter confidently and joyfully into the presence of God. God’s consuming fire is now a comforting glow - not a threat to our existence:

  • Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)
 The writer instructs us to “draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.” This suggests that this joyful confidence might not come automatically. Instead, for most of us, we must grow into it, like growing into playing the piano. This might sound like an improper analogy. It likens learning a skill with having a confident, intimate relationship with God – two things that do not seem analogous. Therefore, let me try to explain.

I have been following the Lord for 35 years. For the first half of those years, I was tormented by doubts. I would confess my sins, but I would still feel guilty. I also read in the Bible that God loved me, but I was still controlled by feelings of self-contempt.

However, this torment drove me into His Word. Without any other hope, I meditated upon His Word day and night (Psalm 1; Joshua 1:8). Gradually, His Word became more real to me than my feelings and reactions. I learned that I could bank on it. Consequently, now, when I confess my sins and still feel guilty, I can simply dismiss it:

  • “You’re just a feeling, a passing vapor. That’s all! You will soon pass, but the Word of God stands forever.”
 I am now thankful for the torment. It trained me in melodies of God’s Word (Psalm 119:71). Today’s worries will also train us in His Word, and the Word will sing a duet, reminding us of how blessed we are.

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