Was Luther a Lunatic?


Is there any truth in the lunacy of Luther? Martin Luther, the 16th century Augustinian monk and Protestant reformer, has been accused of being insane. Why? Luther was a brilliant scholar. When he entered the priesthood, he thoroughly examined the Scriptures and the Law of God with his brilliant mind, and felt completely overwhelmed and greatly convicted of his sin. He would spend 3-4 hours in confession each day. How much could he have sinned living in a secluded monastery! That’s why he was accused of being an insane psychotic lunatic. But was he?

What do we Christians do when (not if) we sin? When we look at pornography? When we are overcome by lust? Sexual fantasies? Greed? Bitterness? Jealousy and envy? When we retaliate in self-righteous anger? When we blame others? When we feel entitled? When we make excuses? When we take revenge by lashing out and losing our temper? When we cannot forgive one particular person? When we feel superior to someone else?

Do we think “I’m justified”? Or “we’re all human”? Or “God understands”? Or "Jesus forgives me"? Or do we examine ourselves before the 10 Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount?

Do we lower the standard of God to fit the level of where I am at to relieve my guilt? Or do we keep the standard of God and cry out before him with agony of soul as Luther did? Was Luther indeed insane? Or was he a sincere Christian?

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God Became Weak (John's Christmas Message) (John 1:14)


"The Word became flesh" (John 1:14).
John 1:1-18, the introduction/prologue of John's gospel, may not be thought of as a Christmas message, unlike Matthew and Luke chapters 1 and 2. We think of Christmas as a baby in a manger (Lk 2:1-7), a baby visited by Magi (Mt 2:1-12). But there is no baby Jesus in John 1. So, is there a Christmas message in John 1?

Matthew and Luke report the facts of Christmas, about what happened: Mary's visit by the angel Gabriel, the angel of the Lord appearing to Joseph in a dream, Mary's conception by the Holy Spirit, Caesar's decree, Joseph and Mary's journey to Bethlehem, no room in the inn, born in a manger, the shepherds in the field, the angel's chorus, the star of Bethlehem. But John does not mention any of this. However, John tells us not the facts of Christmas, but the meaning of Christmas. John doesn't tell us about how the baby Jesus came to be, but who the baby Jesus is.

What is the meaning of Christmas? To many, it is family gatherings, gifts, Christmas services and messages, singing carols, feeling dreamy and sentimental. This is all good. However, the meaning of Christmas is inexhaustible, theologically profound and powerful with life changing truth. John Piper calls Christmas the end of history, for it is the ultimate fulfillment of God's salvation purpose in redemptive history. In John's Christmas message we think about the meaning of Christmas by considering who Jesus is from John 1:14. It breaks up into 3 aspects of the most pregnant parts:

  1. Jesus is the Word of God.
  2. Jesus is the Word made flesh.
  3. Jesus is the glory of God revealed.
I. Jesus is the Word of God (Jn 1:1-3, 14)

John 1:1-3 tells us that the Word is God. John 1:14 tells us that the Word/God became a man. Why does God chose to reveal Himself as the Word? The Greek word Logos can mean word, thought or speech. What is a word? A word is an audible or a visual expression of a thought. Thoughts are incommunicable until they are put into words or expressed by an action. We make inferences about people we observe: He's cool. She's pretty. He's a jerk. She's a snob. But we will know them best if we talk to them, and they speak to us. Unless I talk about cats with joy, you may not know that I'm crazy about cats. Likewise, God reveals himself most precisely through the Word, who is Christ. Apart from Jesus we may know a lot of things about God. We can even believe in God and know what God wants us to do. But we can't truly know God apart from Christ. Knowing God requires knowing Jesus personally and intimately, because Jesus is the supreme and ultimate revelation of who God is (Col 1:15; Heb 1:3).

Hitch (2005) is a romantic comedy where Will Smith plays a date doctor. In advising a young man to win the girl of his dreams he says, "60% of all human communication is nonverbal body language. 30% is your tone. So that means 90% of what you're saying ain't coming out of your mouth." Jesus revealed God through his words, his Spirit, and his person by his meekness, gentleness, compassion and humility. Jesus is "full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14). Likewise, we communicate Jesus not just through our preaching and Bible teaching, but also especially through the Spirit enabling us to communicate the spirit of Christ. Even when we teach the Bible correctly, we may fail if we communicate a spirit of self-righteousness, Pharisaism, superiority, bias and prejudice.
People generally think that we come to know God either through rationalism or mysticism. But to know God, neither rationalism nor mysticism will suffice. Many say, "Give me proof that God exists and that the Bible is true, and I will believe in God. What I want is a slam dunk water tight argument that proves that Christianity is true." But God has not given a water tight argument (which is an abstraction) that Christianity and the God of the Bible is true, but a water tight person (as the compelling proof), in whom there can be no argument because Jesus is perfect. Jesus' life towers above all other lives. Look at the life of Jesus, the data of his teachings, the accounts of his life, death, resurrection. Process it by using your mind. Think about it. Have you done this? Have you taken Jesus seriously? Do you take your life, actions, choices, and behavior seriously?

II. Jesus is the Word Made Flesh

John 1:14 says, "The Word became flesh." What does this mean? "Flesh" (sarx [Greek]) means that God was made soft, the Almighty was made weak, the divine was made human, made vulnerable, made killable. Only Christianity among the world religions is where God is made human, vulnerable, killable. When God heard our cries he left his ivory palaces and came down; he made himself vulnerable. When a woman was attacked on the street at night, she screamed for help. All the lights in the high rise turned on. The mugger ran away. But no one came down. When he saw that no one came down he returned and killed her. No one came down because it would be taking a risk. But God did not come down at the risk of his life, but knowing that it would cost him his life. God came down knowing that he would be killed.

Hebrews 2:14 says, "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity..." Jesus was made like us, his brothers, in every way. The best counselors are always those who have gone through hell. An X-ray technician, while positioning his patients on the X-ray table, would not care that he was hurting them when they groaned or winced in pain. But this technician had a kidney stone and he had to be placed on the X-ray table. He felt how painful it was when the X-ray technician put him on the table. Since then, he treated his patients very gently. Christmas says what no other religion says: The God of the universe has been on the table. The God of the universe faced hunger, loneliness, homelessness, grief, rejection, betrayal, torture, injustice, death. Jesus has experienced it all. Have you been betrayed? Are you broke? Have you been abandoned? Have you been hurt and wounded? We can go to Jesus. He’s been through it before. Jesus had a big prayer turned down in Gethsemane. Jesus has been abandoned by God.

III. Jesus is the Glory of God Revealed

John 1:14 is translated: "So the Word became human and made his home among us" (NLT). "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood" (Message). "The Word became flesh and took up residence among us" (Hollman). They translate the Greek word "tabernacled," which means "To build a booth, tent, or temporary hut, which fitly applies to the human nature of Christ as a temporary residence for the eternal Divinity." This incarnation is where God takes the form of a man. Because Jesus tabernacled or "tented" (lived in a tent) among us, the author John said, "We have seen his glory."

What OT event is John trying to remind his audience of? In Ex 33:18, Moses prayed to the Lord, "Now show me your glory." God answered him, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Ex 33:20). Then God instructed Moses to build a tabernacle (Ex 35:4ff, 36:8ff), also called the tent of meeting. When the tabernacle was completed (Ex 39:32), Ex 40:34 says, "Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle." God would be with his people, but his glory was concealed in the tabernacle. But through Jesus' incarnation, John said, "We have seen his glory." John and us today may behold God's glory in Jesus, which Moses could not without being killed. What does this mean?

  1. Christianity and Christmas signifies the end of religion. Dick Lucas, the renowned minister of St. Helen's church in London, once preached a sermon where he recounted an imaginary conversation between an early Christian and her neighbor in Rome. The neighbor says, "I hear you are religious. Religion is good. Where is your temple? Where do your priests work and do their rituals? Where do you offer sacrifices to acquire the favor of your God?" To each question, the Christian replied, "Jesus is our temple. Jesus is our priest. Jesus is our sacrifice." The pagan neighbor sputters, "No temple. No priest. No sacrifice. What kind of religion is this?" It’s no kind of religion at all. The Christian faith is so utterly different than how every other religion works that it doesn't really deserve to be called 'religion'. All religions, including Christianity wrongly understood, insists on doing things to be right with God. But Christianity says the reverse: because we’re accepted in Christ, we then do things. Religion says, “Live this way, then you’ll be accepted.” Christianity says, “You’re accepted. Therefore, you live this way.” It’s exactly the opposite of religion. All the requirements of religion is gone, because Jesus himself is the tabernacle: he is the temple, the priest, and the sacrifice. There is nothing for the Christian to do to get right with God. Because of Jesus there is no more need for temples, priests and sacrifices, for Jesus is all of that. We don’t get a religion; we get a person: the Word. In religion you need to prove yourself to be good before you can see God's glory. But in Christianity, we are shown God's glory freely through Jesus Christ.
  2. Christianity and Christmas enables us to see (feel, touch) God's glory, which Moses could not. Why? Anyone who has been wronged, anyone who has experienced injustice and evil, a gap opens between the victim and the perpetrator. Even if the perpetrator says, “I’m sorry,” the gap remains. Some action has to happen to close that gap. We feel that gap because we are made in the image of God. Injustice is such a serious thing. No one can just shrug off injustice. Something has to happen. The gap we experience between man through our injustices to each other is nothing compared to the infinite gap between the human race and God. Because of what we’re done, what we’re done to creation, what we’re done to each other, there’s a gap. Something has to close that gap. There has to be atonement. The tabernacle was pointing to it. There were priests and there were sacrifices. Jn 1:14 says Jesus tabernacled among us. What does this mean? Jesus came to this world to become vulnerable. Why? So that he can become killable. Why? So that he can pay the price. By paying the price, Jesus closed the gap. At Christmas the glory of God became a baby we can behold.

    In the OT, the glory of God is smoking mountains, pillars of fire, a consuming fire. In NT, the transcendent holiness of God, the unscalable holiness of God become a baby. What does this mean? The glory of God is a baby. God is now accessible, safe, embraceable, huggable. Because Jesus has paid the price and closed the gap.

    Just as God has come into history, now the glory of God can come into each man’s life. The life transforming glory of God can come to you and I.

    That is what Christmas means: The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. Now we can behold the glory of God that Moses was not permitted to see. If not for Christmas, we would never be able to see the glory of God without being killed and destroyed.
  • The Word Made Flesh (Sermon by Tim Keller, 12/13/09): John’s Gospel begins by teaching that Jesus Christ is the Word of God. Just as we come to know a person through speaking to them and listening to their words, we come to know God by listening to Jesus speak to us. Yet, Jesus did not come solely to speak. He came to live among us so that there is nothing we will suffer that He has not also suffered. But most of all, He came to die for us. In the incarnation, God became vulnerable to us—even to death—and yet He loved us so much that He was glad to so.

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Characteristics of a "Christian" (Psalm 15:1-5)


"Who shall dwell on your holy hill?" (Ps 15:1; ESV)


  1. What is Psalm 15:1 asking (Ps 24:3; Isa 33:14)? What 2 ideas does God's "tent" suggest (Exo 29:42; Ps 27:4; 84:1-2)?
  2. What are the 12 ethical requirements which focuses on life-and-lip qualities (Ps 15:2-5)? What does this tell us about the man's character, words, allegiance, dealings and place?
  3. How can a man never be shaken (Ps 15:5c; 16:8; 21:7; 55:22; 62:2,6)?
Who can come in the presence of God (Ps 15:1)? God's reply is not a list of rituals, but a searching of the conscience (Ps 15:2-5; 24:3-6; Isa 33:14-17). It reveals the pure in heart, a man after God's own heart, a "Christian" who loves and honors God.

God's "tent" (and holy mountain/hill) conjures 2 ideas: worship/sacrifice (Exo 29:42) and hospitality. Man comes to God to worship, but he also comes as an willing invited guest (Ps 27:4; 84:1-2). The encounter is both one of awe and friendship, transcendence and immanence, holy and personal. Notice the 12 ethical requirements (Ps 15:2-5), which focuses on life-and-lip qualities. The qualities described are those that God creates in a man, not those he finds in himself:

  1. Blameless: not sinless, but whole, wholehearted and sound. His lifestyle exhibits integrity.
  2. Does what is right/righteous: promotes happiness. His deeds exhibit justice.
  3. Speaks the truth: not merely correct but what is trustworthy. His speech exhibits reliability.
  4. Tongue utters no slander, which has the meaning of "going around," spying things out, spreading them abroad.
  5. Does no wrong to a neighbor: He does not harm his fellow man.
  6. Casts no slur on others (Prov 10:12).
  7. Despises a vile person. His allegiance is clear cut, not Pharisaical but loyalty and declaring what he admires and where he stands (Gen 14:17-24).
  8. Honors those who fear the Lord: He respects the people of God.
  9. Keeps an oath to his own hurt: He holds himself accountable.
  10. Does not change: He is not fickle.
  11. Lends money to the poor without interest: He is not greedy or exploitative.
  12. Does not accept a bribe: He cannot be bought.
"Whoever does these things will never be shaken (moved)" (Ps 15:5c). The threat of insecurity expressed often in the Psalms by the word "moved" is met not by siding with the strong, but by steadfast  trust in God. Psalm 16:8 says, "I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand I will not be shaken."


  1. Psalms 1-72, Derek Kidner, 1973: A Man After God's Heart
    1. God as man's host (Ps 15:1)
    2. Man as God's guest (Ps 15:2-5)
      1. His character: true (Ps 15:2).
      2. His words: restrained (Ps 15:3).
      3. His allegiance: clear cut (Ps 15:4).
      4. His dealings: honorable (Ps 15:4c-5).
      5. His place: secured (Ps 15:5c).
  2. MacArthur Study Bible, 2006: Description of a Citizen of Zion
    • A 12 part response (Ps 15:2-5) to a 2 part question (Ps 15:1).
  3. Reformation Study Bible, 2005: Who Shall Dwell on Your Holy Hill?
    • The 10 requirements for approaching God's presence (Ps 15:2-5) are ethical, not formal or liturgical.
  4. ESV Study Bible, 2008.

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How David Expressed His Thanksgiving (2 Samuel 9:1-13)


"I will surely show you kindness" (2 Sam 9:7).

Being thankful is so darn hard. Why? It's so much easier to be angry and upset with others!

2 things that seem to deeply upset and anger us is when we think or feel that we were unappreciated or disrespected. We just can't get over feeling dissed or disregarded, regardless of whether or not others intended to do so. This bothers us so deeply and profoundly, because we so naturally default to self-centeredness and self-righteousness, which are common expressions of selfishness. So, how can we be thankful when we feel angry, upset, disrespected, unappreciated, disregarded?

To be thankful we must know that Being Thankful is a Response, not a Command. Luke 17:7-19 suggests that thanksgiving requires that we acknowledge 2 things:

  1. We deserve nothing, even after we have done our best (Lk 17:7-10).
  2. We need Jesus more than what our hearts desire (Lk 17:11-19).
When we do our best, we invariably expect some reward, either from God or others. But such an attitude will not result in thanksgiving, because we are then only getting the reward that we believe we deserve. Therefore, only when we know that we deserve no good thing, can we be truly thankful. Only "unworthy servants" (Lk 17:10) are thankful and happy.

As fallen beings, what our hearts desperately want should always be questioned, even if what we want is a good thing. The fact that 10 lepers cried out to Jesus to heal them is a good thing. Jesus healed all 10 of them. But only 1 returned to give thanks and "praise to God" (Lk 17:17). What's the problem of the other 9? They wanted to be cured of their leprosy (a good thing) more than they wanted Jesus. Thus, only when Jesus is all I want and need as my utmost treasure, will we be truly thankful. Otherwise, we will only "use" Jesus to get what I want.

Our thanksgiving sermon is a short narrative about David and Mephibosheth (2 Sam 9:1-13). It teaches us about "chesed", which is a rich Hebrew word that is translated "kindness" (2 Sam 9:1,3,7), "loving kindness," "steadfast love," "loyal love." It shows us how David expressed his thanksgiving practically. To David, his expression of thanksgiving was:

  1. A top priority
  2. Surprising
  3. Promise-driven
Previous post: David's "Chesed" Love.

1) David's thanksgiving sought for a way to show kindness as a top priority when he finally became king after years of hardship (2 Sam 9:2-6). Some questions to ponder about "chesed":

  • How aggressive is your love for people?
  • Are you on the look out for people to love?
  • Can you love people who can't pay you back, or who might even be your enemy?
2) David's thanksgiving, expressed as "chesed" kindness toward Jonathan's son Mephibosheth, was "over-the-top" generous. Jonathan asked David to not cut off his family (1 Sam 20:14-15). But David went far beyond what Jonathan asked (2 Sam 9:7,9-10).
  • Is our love like this?
  • Is it over-the-top, surprising in its generosity?
  • Does it think through and address the particulars?
  • Is it directed toward the "lame"--those who are in no position to reciprocate?
  • Does it find special joy in conferring honor upon others?
  • Is it fearless, reaching out to those who might turn out to be our enemies?
  • Is it costly?
3) David's thanksgiving and "chesed" is promise-driven, arising from faithfulness to pledges earlier made (2 Sam 9:1,7). David is like God who swore to his own hurt (Ps 15:4). God's love is a love that honors--a love that keeps a promise and is willing to pay any price. As displayed movingly in David's first act as king, God's love is:
  • a love that takes the initiative,
  • a love that is over-the-top generous,
  • a love that is costly,
  • a love that is thoughtful and particular,
  • a love that never wanders from promises that have been made.
What is the source and the power behind such love? It is to know that:
  • I am nothing but a "crippled dead dog, lame in both feet" (2 Sam 9:8,13), and yet...
  • I am loved, well provided for, and highly honored (2 Sam 9:7-13).
3 questions:
  • How can you and I know this?
  • How can we be thankful like David who gave "everything" to Mephibosheth?
  • How can we be thankful like Mephibosheth who received "everything" completely free of charge?
We have to be a Mephibosheth before we can be a David. David knew he was a "dead dog" whom God delivered only by his grace. Thus he could be gracious and generious toward another "dead dog" Mephibosheth. Ultimately, we can be thankful:
  • Only through Jesus who is the true David who loves, provides for, and honors us more than David loved Mephibosheth.
  • Only through Jesus who is the true Jonathan because of whom we are so loved with every blessing (Eph 1:3).
2 Practical Applications/Ministry Implications (simul justus et peccator):
  1. We are humbled. Why? We are spiritually like a "crippled dead dog, lame in both feet."
  2. We are bold and confident. Why? We have been loved, provided for and so highly honored by God through Christ, and it is not at all because of me or my performance or merit.
Only in Christ, we are "honored failures" and "righteous sinners." No matter how "good" we become we are still sinful. No matter how sinful we are, we are still honored and loved because of what Christ has done for me on the Cross. When we deeply apply our status as both "honored failures" and "righteous sinners," thanksgiving overflows in our hearts through Jesus Christ.


  1. After David was established as king over all Israel (2 Sam 8:15), what was the first thing he did (2 Sam 9:1)? Look up the meaning of "chesed" or "hesed." Whom did David find (2 Sam 9:2-6)? Why was David like this (Lk 19:10; Jn 4:23)? How aggressive is our love for people?
  2. Who is Mephibosheth (2 Sam 9:6)? What had Jonathan once asked David (1 Sam 20:14-15)? How great is David's love (2 Sam 9:7)? What is the cost of love (Rom 5:6,8)? How generous is our love for others?
  3. What was the motivation/driving force behind David's kindness (2 Sam 9:1,7)? How is God like this (Gen 3:15; Ps 15:4)?
  4. Should we love this way? Why? How? Where do we find the power to love like this (Ps 27:1; 1 Jn 4:19)? How can I be sure of such love when I am so "lame, crippled and like a dead dog" (2 Sam 9:3,8,13)?
  5. Who is the only one worthy of God's "chesed" (Mt 17:5)? How did Jesus lose it all (Ps 22:1; Mt 27:46; Mk 16:34)? Why is Jesus our true David and our true Jonathan (1 Jn 3:1-2; Rom 8:32; 2 Cor 5:21)?

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Being Thankful is a Response, not a Command (Luke 17:1-19)


Thursday, Nov 24, is Thanksgiving Day. But being thankful is so darn hard. One painful reason is that we expect rewards and commendation for our good works. So instead of being thankful, we expect reward for "good Christian behavior."

Truth be told, there is always SOMEONE we are upset with, or angry about, or hurt by, or disappointed with. What are the reasons? They disrespected me. They disregarded me. They gossiped about me. They slandered me. They lied about me. They did not support me. They cared only about themselves. They don't love me. They caricatured me. The reason could even be, "They are not thankful." It is almost comical to say or feel, "I am so unhappy and unthankful because that guy is so unthankful!"

According to the Bible, how can we be thankful?

Luke 17:1-19 seem to be isolated disconnected teachings of:

  • Jesus teaching his disciples about sin (1-4), faith (5-6), and duty (7-10).
  • Jesus' healing of 10 men with leprosy (11-19).
How are these seemingly separate teachings related? How do they connect together?

My theme is that "Thankfulness is a response, not a command." My thesis is 2 fold:

  • No one can be thankful or happy if they think they are owed something from God or others. No one can be thankful if they think that their sacrifice, faithfulness and good works obligates God and others to reward or honor them.
  • No one can be thankful or happy if they strongly desire something else more than Jesus.
3 Things Christians should always do (Jesus' teaching about sin): Jesus' teaching about sin is that his disciples should do 3 things (Lk 17:1-4):
  1. Never cause others to sin/stumble (1-3a).
  2. Always confront others' sin (3b).
  3. Always forgive others when they sin against you (4).
How easily do we cause others to sin! It could just be a subtle look or a body gesture of disgust, and we might cause others to sin.

How can we always confront others when they sin? It is easy to smash others by self-righteously pointing out their sins. It is easier to ignore others when they sin. To truly confront others when they sin requires deeply bearing the pain and grief of their sin, and approaching them gently with humility, tears and trembling (Gal 6:1).

How can we always forgive others when they have deeply hurt us or betrayed us? How do we forgive others, not just once or twice, but 7 times (Lk 17:4), and then 70 X 7 times (Mt 18:22)?

Increase our faith (Jesus' teaching about faith): When the disciples heard the 3 things Jesus said about sin, they knew it was impossible for them to do. They cried out, "Increase our faith!" (Lk 11:5) Jesus' response was not that they needed a greater quantity of faith, but they simply needed faith, even "faith as small as a mustard seed" (Lk 11:6), which is proverbially the smallest of seeds. How can our faith increase? Luke tells us Jesus' parable of a nasty landowner (Lk 17:7-10), followed by Jesus' healing of 10 lepers (Lk 17:11-19), which teaches us 2 things about faith:

  1. Faith is knowing that our good works do not count (Lk 17:7-10).
  2. Faith is treasuring Jesus more than our heart's desire (Lk 17:11-19).
God is not obligated to you by your good works (Jesus' teaching about duty): This is really a hard and bitter teaching (Lk 17:7-10). When we do good we want and expect respect, honor and appreciation. But our faith is that just as God does not hold our sins against us, God also cannot credit our good works to us. Why not? All of our good works and righteous acts are tainted by selfish impure motives (Isa 64:6), even the selfish motive of being honored and recognized! So, we are upset if we don't get it.

What do you want more: Jesus or your heart's desire? (Jesus healed 10 lepers) When Jesus healed 10 lepers, only 1 returned to thank Jesus. If they were asked whether or not they were thankful, the other 9 would surely answer "Yes!" Yet Jesus lamented, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Lk 17:17-18) The other 9 would insist that they are thankful for being healed of their leprosy. But their actions testified otherwise. Though they were "thankful" to Jesus for healing and blessing them, their heart's desire was to be cured of their leprosy, which they already received. In effect, they no longer needed Jesus, since they already got from Jesus what they wanted. Only 1 man truly loved and valued and treasured Jesus more than being cured of his leprosy. Only 1 man out of 10 was truly, deeply thankful.

The Bible says, "Give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess 5:18). It is an imperative command. Yet it can only be obeyed in response to what we are thankful for. When we think we are worthy of something, anything, we will not be thankful and happy. But if we know that we are unworthy servants, we will be thankful and happy. If we are overcome by our natural desires, our emotions sway with the wind. But if Jesus is our ultimate Treasure, we will be happy, like the thankful leper.

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Thanksgiving Is Knowing That My Good Works Do Not Count (Luke 17:7-10)


"We are unworthy servants..." (Luke 17:10)

What is your posture before God? As Christians, do we have the posture of a trembling, undeserving, unworthy sinner before God, no matter how hard we have faithfully worked, served and sacrificed for our church and for others?

This is a very, very painful and bitter thought: God can never ever credit any of my good works to me.

Why is my good works not being credited to me so painful and bitter? Even if we mentally acknowledge that this is true (Eph 2:8-9), we often do not feel or act accordingly. We all get upset if we think that others do not appreciate our efforts or our faithfulness. Why is this biblical truth so hard to swallow? It is because all of life suggests otherwise: If we study hard we get good grades. If we do what our boss/leader expects, he is pleased. But it doesn't work like this with God. Why not?

  • Our best efforts fall short of God’s requirements (Rom 3:10-12,23).
  • Our hearts are deceptively faulty and deceitful (Gen 6:5; Jer 17:9).
  • Before God’s eyes of perfection, there is nothing good in us (Rom 7:18,23-24).

Was this hard for Martin Luther? The 16th century German Reformer Martin Luther understood how "exceedingly bitter" it is that God loves us only through our faith and by his grace alone, and never though our good works. Luther wrote,

"Even though we (Christians) are now in faith ... the heart is always ready to boast of itself before God and say: After all I have preached so long and lived so well and done so much, surely he will take this into account ... But it cannot be done. Let anybody try this and he will see and experience how exceedingly hard and bitter it is ... I myself have been preaching and cultivating it (the message of grace) ... for almost 20 years and still I feel the old clinging dirt of wanting to deal so with God that I may contribute something, so that he will have to give me his grace in exchange for my holiness. And still I cannot get it into my head that I should surrender myself completely to sheer grace; yet (I know that) this is what I should and must do."

What do I believe and what do I feel? Even if I believe what the Bible says about undeserved grace, it is still so easy to feel that God owes me his favor for my holy living and faithful service. No matter how long we have been a Christian we default to our work righteousness. We subconsciously relate to God on the basis of my attempts at holy living. Sadly, we also relate to other Christians (and non-Christians) on the basis of their performance of Christian duties (or on their living morally and rightly).

Do you truly feel like an unworthy servant? To illustrate that God is not obligated to us by our good works, Jesus told a very unpleasant and painful parable about an ungrateful and unappreciative landowner (Luke 17:7-10), who seems to care less about his servants. He overworks them all day in the fields. He does not care if they are tired, hungry, sick, or discouraged. He seems concerned only about how well his own fields and flocks are doing, and about being served for his own comfort and convenience. Why does Jesus suggest that God is like this unsympathetic and nasty landowner?

A way that this parable should NEVER be taught is to tell our fellow Christians that no matter how hard you work, serve or sacrifice, you should just be thankful and not to expect anything from God or others (even though this is true). What shouldn't we do this? It is because we are not God or Jesus! We are all equally fellow servants and fellow beggars of his grace.

What is the secret of being thankful? Jesus simply wants his disciples to know that God is a God of grace. Just as our sins do not stop God from loving us, our good works do not obligate God to give us his blessing. That our gracious God loves us fully despite our sin also implies that God does not account our good works as the reason that he must show us his affection.

This is the secret of being thankful. If I think that I earned or deserve something from God or others, I will never truly thankful, because I am just getting what I think I deserve. But if I truly and deeply know that I have received everything only by the grace of Jesus, then I can be genuinely thankful for his marvelous undeserved grace that is greater than all my sins.

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How Can God Expect Me To Be Blameless? (Gen 17:1-27)


I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless (Gen 17:1).

Previous passages: How the Divine Deals with our Doubts (Gen 15:1-21); See The God Who Sees You (Gen 16:1-16)

What is Genesis about? Jesus says that Genesis is about Jesus, for Moses, who wrote Genesis, wrote about Jesus (Jn 5:46). We want to study Genesis and find how it points to Christ (Lk 24:27,44). Genesis tells the story of Creation, the Fall of Man resulting in God's judgment on man and the world, and God's plan to save man and restore the world. How would God do this? By calling 1 man Abraham, through whom God would send the Messiah to save us from our sins.

The Covenant: Gen 17:1-27 occurs 23 years after God called Abraham. God promised to make him into "a great nation" (Gen 12:2). In Gen 17:5, God promised to make him "a father of many nations." The key word in this passage is "covenant," which occurs 14 times (NIV, 2011). What is a covenant? A web definition is "an agreement between God and his people in which God makes certain promises and requires certain behavior from them in return." Gen 17:1-27 shows us that God's covenant with Abraham required him and his household to be circumcised. Let's study about the covenant in 4 parts:

  1. What the covenant is: God's grace (Gen 15:1-16:16).
  2. What the covenant requires: Walk blamelessly before God (Gen 17:1-8, 15-22).
  3. What the covenant commands: Circumcision (Gen 17:9-14, 23-27).
  4. What the covenant means: God will be our God, and we will be his people (Gen 17:7-8).
  1. What it is
  2. What it requires
  3. What it commands
  4. What it means
  1. Why does God reveal himself as "God Almighty" (Gen 17:1)? What does this suggest about how we should live (1 Chron 28:9)? Explain coram deo (Gen 3:8). How can we not be cut off when we are not able to walk blamelessly (Isa 53:8; Lk 2:21; Gal 3:13)? What do the new names of Abram and Sarai signify (Gen 17:3-6, 15-16)? Why was this hard for Abram (Gen 17:17-22)? What did he do (Gen 17:23-27)?
  2. How is the covenant of Gen 17:1-16 similar/different from the covenant in Gen 15:9-19? Why is it significant that God's oath came first before Abram's oath (Rom 4:9-11)? How is the gospel different from religion (Ex 12:13, 20:2-17)?
  3. How is circumcision the sign of being God's covenant people (Gen 17:9-11; Dt 10:16, 30:6; Jer 4:4)? Why is community crucial (Gen 17:12-13,23,27; Heb 10:24; Gal 3:28)? How does Jesus' cross shed light on circumcision (Col 2:11-12; Rom 2:29)?
I. What the Covenant is: Grace

God's covenant is a covenant of grace (Gen 15:1-17:17). What is grace? Grace comes to us when we don't deserve it, when we are not seeking it, when we resist it again and again, and even after we have received it we do not appreciate it. In Gen 15:1-21, God "walked between the pieces" and promised to unilaterally bless Abraham at great cost to himself. In Gen 16:1-16, after receiving abundant grace, Abraham acted like a non-believer by conceiving an illegitimate child through a concubine. Abraham failed completely...for 13 years. But God comes to him again...in grace.

II. What the Covenant Requires: Be Blameless

There is a serious misunderstanding of grace. Some Christians think that because they are saved by grace, then what they do or fail to do is not so important. Though God's covenant with Abraham is based on grace, yet God said to him, "Be blameless." The Hebrew word translated "blameless" does not mean "sinless" but "whole." It signifies complete, unqualified surrender. Abram is to be wholly devoted to God. God's covenant of grace will benefit only those who walk before God and are blameless. Grace never makes obedience optional (Jn 14:15). When God removes good works as a condition for his acceptance, he does not remove righteousness as a requirement for life. We cannot undermine legitimate standards of the Bible without grave consequences. God does not love us because we obey him, but we cannot know the blessings of his love without obedience. Resting on God's grace does not relieve us of our holy obligations. Our holy obligation requires that we live coram deo: live before the gazing eyes of God. "Walk before God" is a call to 3 things:

  1. Know God personally.
  2. Obey God.
  3. Grow continually.
When we live blamelessly and wholeheartedly before God in his grace, we will:
  1. be fruitful (Gen 17:2,4,6; 1:18). We bear inner fruit (Gal 5:22-23) and outer fruit.
  2. change (Gen 17:5,15-16). God changes us from selfish/self-centered to God/other centered.
  3. experience everlasting and temporal blessings (Gen 17:7-8): Kingdom of God and peace on earth.
III. What the Covenant Commands: Circumcision

Circumcision brought God's people into a:

  1. relationship with God. It is our personal, individual surrendering of our heart to God.
  2. relationship with others. It is our communal commitment to community.
No Christian ever grows to maturity without giving his heart to God and to others in community. Abraham needed to "cut" his heart's attachment to Ishmael (Gen 17:18), and yield it to God. Abraham needed to believe God's almighty power to give him and his barren wife a son in their old age (Gen 17:19,21), through whom the Messiah would come.

IV. What the Covenant Means: God will be our God

The ultimate purpose of the covenant (of the Bible) is "to be your God and the God of your descendants" (Gen 17:7). God simply says, "I will be their God" (Gen 17:8). Why does God want to be our God? It is not because God needs us to complete himself (Acts 17:25). But God does love us. God wants to be our God not for any personal ego reasons, but because God knows that God being our God is the only way that we can ever be truly happy. When we live as though we are god who knows what is best for ourselves, we loose our peace and joy sooner or later.

No one is able to walk before God blamelessly, save One. Only Jesus ever did all that the Father wanted (Jn 8:29). Jesus is the only One who deserves all the covenant blessings. But instead, Jesus was "cut off" and cursed for living blamelessly (Isa 53:8; Gal 3:13). Why? So that we who fail to walk before God blamelessly and should be cut off, can be blessed. This is grace. This is how God kept his covenant.

Pray that because of the grace of Jesus, God may enable us to be children of obedience, and people of community.

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The Lord Came Down To See (Genesis 11:1-9)


"But the LORD came down to see..." (Genesis 11:5).

From this week we resume our study of Genesis. I had given 8 sermons from Gen 3:1-24 (The Fall of Man) to Gen 28:10-22 (The Stairway to Heaven) before I left for the Philippines for 2 months in July 2011. However, we did not study every passage from Genesis chap. 3 to 28. My plan now is to fill in the gaps and continue to the end of Genesis by early 2012.

Why do we study Genesis? What is the point of Genesis? More fundamentally, what is the Bible about? Briefly, the Bible is NOT a book of morals or instructions (even though it has both). It is a STORY. The story of the whole Bible can be summarized in 4 words:

  1. Creation.
  2. Fall.
  3. Redemption.
  4. Restoration.
Genesis is crucial to the understanding and foundation of Christianity and the Bible because it teaches us clearly about the Creation (Gen 1-2), the Fall of Man (Gen 3), and about God's plan to redeem fallen man (Gen 3:15), beginning from 1 man Abraham (Gen 12:2-3), through whom God would send the Savior of the world (Jn 4:42; 1 Jn 4:14).

What is the point of Genesis? It is NOT to emulate the patriarchs or the heroes in Genesis, for they are all flawed people. Why not? Abraham was a coward. Sarah was mean and harsh. Isaac was spiritually blind and showed favoritism. Rebekah tried to play God and taught her son Jacob the art of deception. Jacob was a nasty fellow in every way imaginable. Joseph was an insensitive sociopath in his youth before God disciplined him through slavery and imprisonment. The point of Genesis cannot be to be to be like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or Joseph.

What does Jesus say that Genesis is about? Jesus said, "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me" (John 5:46). Jesus also said, "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (Luke 24:27). "Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). Jesus said that Genesis is about JESUS.

From her book, The Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones rightly explains what the Bible is not before she beautifully explains what the Bible is. She writes:

Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.

Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you’ll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose), they get afraid and run away. At times, they’re downright mean.

No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne–everything–to rescues the ones he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!

You see, the best thing about this Story is–it’s true.

There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in the puzzle–the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

I pray that God may help us to see this beautiful picture and learn about Jesus as we study each passage in Genesis.

Previous/related posts: Sin, Faith and Salvation (Gen 6:1-14); Divine Judgment (Gen 6:5-13); Am I Really That Bad? (Gen 6:5).

The familiar story of the tower of Babel can easily be divided into 2 parts (Gen 11:1-4; 5-9) as Rebellion (Man's) and Response (God's), or the Sin and the Solution. Though it is an ancient story, it is quite contemporary, for man in his sin and rebellion continues to build our own towers of Babel. I had previously blogged on this: Babel: Let's Do Away With God (Gen 11:1-9). Let's think of this passage in 3 parts:

  1. How We Sin (Gen 11:1-4)
  2. Why We Sin (Gen 11:4)
  3. The Solution of Sin (Gen 11:5-9): What God does
I. How We Sin (Gen 11:1-4)

Misery loves company. No one sins alone. We cooperate with others to justify our own sins, and move away (usually gradually) from God (Gen 11:1-3). Like the people of babel we sin by:

  1. building a city (Gen 11:4).
  2. building a tower that reaches to the heavens (Gen 11:4).
Why do we do this?

II. Why We Sin (Gen 11:4)

  1. The love of praise (make a name for yourself; exalt or glorify self).
  2. The love of security (build a city and not risk going out to fill the earth).
III. The Solution of Sin (Gen 11:5-9): What God does
  1. God knows them (Gen 11:5).
  2. God laments at them (Gen 11:6).
  3. God confuses them (Gen 11:7).
  4. God scatters them (Gen 11:8).
Gen 11:5 says, "But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building." God came down to see... God is omniscient. God knows and sees everything, including all the hidden secrets and inclination of our hearts (Gen 6:5,12; 1 Chron 28:9). It is the narrator's way of showing the folly of man before the all knowing God. How foolish is any man to think that he can accomplish anything and succeed against the purpose of God!

God came down to see... This also hints at the heart of God toward his fallen children. Man, who is of the earth, foolishly thinks that he is able, by his own meager effort, to reach heaven or to find his own happiness. God, who occupies the highest heaven and lives in everlasting light and security, has no reason to leave his domain. Yet he came down to see the folly of man and live among them (Jn 1:14). God came down and became like the foolish, so that we who are foolish, may be enlightened. God, who lives in an ivory palace, descended to the lowest depths, so that we, who are mired in the valley of sin and shame, may be rescued. We are too low to ascend, due to our sins. God is too high to descend, due to his holiness. But heaven down and glory filled my soul.

When God came down, he confused their language and scattered them (Gen 11:7-9). God did so to prevent their escalation of rebellion (Gen 11:6), which would warrant God's severer judgment. What hope is there for man in such a world of rebellion and arrogance? God confuses and scatters the inhabitants of Babel in order to restore his kingdom of earth. Out of this world of rebellion and idolatry (Josh 24:2), God would call one man Abraham (Josh 24:3), and through his seed, Jesus Christ, God would save the world (Gal 3:16). When Jesus died at Calvary, he took away "the sin of the world" (Jn 1:29). After Jesus rose again, he commanded his disciples, "Go and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19).

The people of Babel will never ultimately succeed, but be totally destroyed (Rev 18:2,10). In this passage, God scatters the inhabitants of Babel in order to restore his kingdom on earth. This gives hope to God's people today that our sovereign Lord is able to break down secular kingdoms in order to restore his kingdom on earth.

God's promise to bless the nations (Gen 12:3) was initially fulfilled at Pentacost when Jesus' followers "were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:4-5). This resulted in amazing unity among people from different nations (Acts 2:41-47). Pentacost reversed the judgment of Babel, which is the city of man, the city of autonomy and rebellion. One day, the new Jerusalem, the city of God, will replace Babel entirely when Christ returns (Rev 21:1-4).

How can I know this? Only through the gospel. Like Babel, we are confused and scattered wanderers because of our willful rebellion and sins. Truly this is our destiny. "But the LORD came down to see..." Ultimately, God's coming would be costly. He would go to the Cross, where our sins were laid on him. God's full wrath fell upon him. Jesus was not just confused and scattered, but he was ripped apart and deconstructed (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34). In this way, Jesus descended from the highest heavenly light to deepest depth of destruction. Why? So that we who are confused and scattered may be enlightened and brought home. Jesus became completely lost so that we may be found (Lk 19:10).

Do you understand this? To the degree that you do, you will no longer live in confusion, but live in everlasting light (Isa 60:19-20; Jn 8:12). Your heart will be transformed by the grace of Jesus that is greater than all our sins. We can become people of the gospel. We can become a gospel community. We can respond to all others in grace, because we have tasted and know of the grace of Jesus who lost all things, so that we who are lost can gain and obtain all things.


  1. What is the advantage of a common language (Gen 11:1)? Why did people move east (Gen 11:2; 3:24; 4:16)? In Gen 11:4, notice 2 expressions of rebellion and 2 underlying motives (sins) of man (Gen 3:5; Dan 4:30)?
  2. Why is "making a name for oneself" defying God (Isa 14:13; 63:12,14; Jer 32:20; Neh 9:10)? How can a man's name become great (12:2; 2 Sam 7:9; Phil 2:9-11)? Why is "not wanting to be scattered" a sin against God (Gen 1:28; 9:1; Isa 12:4)?
  3. Notice God's 4 responses to man's rebellion (Gen 11:5-9). Think about the irony of God who "sees" them "reaching for the heavens" (Gen 11:5; 6:5,12; Ps 2:1-4; Isa 40:21-23). Notice the phrase "Come, let us..." (Gen 11:3,4,7). Whose "let us" prevailed (Gen 11:8-9)?
  4. The Hebrew for "confused" is "balal," while Babel means "gate of the God." What is the narrator communicating in this wordplay?
  5. What is the message of hope for Israel (Num 13:28; Deut 1:28; 3:5; 9:1; Jer 51:53)? For us (Gen 11:10-32; 12:1-3; Jn 1:29; Mt 28:19; Rev 18:2,10)? How is Pentecost at Jerusalem the initial reversal of the judgment at Babel (Acts 2:4-6,11,41-47)? How is the new Jerusalem the final fulfillment (Isa 2:2-4; Rev 21:1-4,10,23-24,26)?
Preaching Christ from Genesis, Sidney Greidanus, 2001, 120-138.
The Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones, 2007

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Real Power Through Real Weakness (2 Corinthians 11:16-13:14)

"I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses..." (2 Cor 12:9). "I will boast of the things that show my weakness" (2 Cor 11:30).

: The backdrop of 2 Corinthians is the devastating assault on the Corinthian church by the "super-apostles," who virtually accused Paul of everything bad/evil under the sun. This devastated Paul, who found comfort and the power of God in his utter helplessness. Thus, the theme of 2 Corinthians is "Out of weakness comes strength" (God's Power Expressed Through Man's Weakness). This is one of Christianity's countless confounding paradoxes.

What's the Problem with Paradoxes? The problem with a paradox is that Christians understand it and agree with it in principle, but practically it seems impossible to truly put it into practice. Thus, though you like the paradox, you do not experience it as a reality, because you are unable to live it out. How does strength come out of weakness?

Some Paradoxes: Here are some of the paradoxes that are common in Christianity:

  • If you die, you live. If you try to live, you die.
  • If you work hard, you will live easy. If you live easy, your life will be hard.
  • If you live poorly, you're rich. If you try to be rich, you're poor, no matter how much you have.
  • If you limit yourself, you're free. But if you live without limits, you're a slave.
  • If you listen, you're heard. If you demand to be heard, no one listens to you.
  • If you give up control, you have authority. If you're authoritarian, you loose control.
  • If you're humble, you're exalted. If you want to be exalted, you're humbled.
  • If you expose your weakness, you experience power. If you conceal your weakness, you loose your power, even if you have might.
Paul concludes 2 Corinthians by gladly boasting about his weaknesses, so that God's power may be manifest through his weakness in the following ways:
  1. Weakness as a Fool Through Suffering (2 Cor 11:16-33).
  2. Weakness Through a Thorn/Stake (2 Cor 12:1-10).
  3. Weakness in Love for the Church (2 Cor 12:11-21).
  4. Final Warning: Examine yourself (2 Cor 13:1-14).
2 Corinthians is Paul's 4th letter to the church at Corinth. The 1st letter is lost (1 Cor 5:9), and the 3rd letter, known as the "severe letter" (2 Cor 2:3-4), is also lost. What we have is Paul's 2nd and 4th letter, which is known to us as 1 and 2 Corinthians.

Understanding 2 Corinthians requires a knowledge of the context and circumstances as to why Paul wrote it. Paul was being severely criticized by some who regarded themselves highly (2 Cor 10:12) as elite and special "super-apostles" (2 Cor 11:5; 2 Cor 12:11). They undermined Paul's credibility not only as an apostle and a Christian, but also as a human being. So Paul wrote this letter to encourage them (chap 1-9) and to defend himself by "boasting" about his credentials, and about what God has done through him and revealed to him (chap 10-13).

Paul was clearly against boasting (2 Cor 12:1). Yet he boasted, not because he wanted to defend himself, but because he wanted to build up the gullible Christians (2 Cor 10:8, 12:19) who were being swayed by the defective teachings of the super-apostles (2 Cor 11:4).


  1. Weakness as a Fool: Why might Paul have repeated the word "fool(s)" or "foolish(ness)" 11 times (1 Cor 1:18,20,21,23,25,27; 2:14; 3:18,18; 4:10; 15:36) + 8 times (2 Cor 11:1,16,17,19,21; 12:6,11)? How did Paul show his "foolishness" (2 Cor 11:16-33)?
  2. Weakness through a Thorn: Why did Paul write in the 3rd person (2 Cor 12:1-6)? Is it good to boast (2 Cor 12:1,5-6)? What did God want to teach Paul through his thorn/stake (2 Cor 12:7-10)?
  3. Weakness in Love for the Church: How did Paul not burden them (2 Cor 12:11-18; 11:7-11)? Why did Paul defend himself (2 Cor 12:19-21; 10:8)?
  4. Final warnings: Why should we examine ourselves (2 Cor 13:1-10)? What can we learn from Paul's final greetings and his Trinitarian blessing (2 Cor 13:11-14; Mt 28:19; 2 Thes 2:13-14; Rev 1:4-5)?
The Message of 2 Corinthians, Paul Barnett, The Bible Speaks Today, 1988.
2 Corinthians, John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary, 2003.


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God is Sovereign in the Tragedy of Exile (Daniel 1:1-21)

"But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine..." (Daniel 1:8)

Questions to ponder: Imagine being alone and scared, exiled from home to a foreign city, a long way from the familiar. How would you cope in a hostile setting? What truths do you cling to? Would you remain faithful to your former identity or be assimilated into your new surroundings?

Another question: Is Daniel about how we should deny ourselves like Daniel (Dan 1:8), or about One greater than Daniel who made the ultimate sacrifice and denied himself for us?

What is Daniel about? It is about enduring faith through trials and adversity. It is to believe God who is sovereign, and to be faithful to Him in the midst of trials and adversities like Daniel and his friends. Otherwise, trials and adversities are a nightmare. In God, they are His grace to us. Sinclair Ferguson says, “All too frequently we tend... to see our trials and temptations... as isolated nightmares. God, however, sees them from a different perspective. They are important and connected punctuation marks in the biography of grace He is writing in our lives. They give formation, direction, and character to our lives. They are all part of the tapestry He is weaving in history. He uses them to build up our strength and to prepare us to surmount greater obstacles, perhaps fiercer temptations.”

Daniel is is both familiar and unfamiliar to most Christians. We teach/encourage Christians to “Dare to be a Daniel,” and live for Christ in a hostile world. This is biblical: they provide models and examples for believers living in an alien world as to how they can both serve the culture, and at the same time live lives distinct from that culture. They encourage believers to remain faithful, no matter what the cost. Yet the reality is that few of us can really claim to come close to the standard set for us by Daniel and his friends: we are all compromised in so many ways, even after being Christians for decades. Therefore, it is important to be reminded of the one greater than Daniel who has perfectly lived the exilic life of service and separation for us, Jesus Christ.

As encouraging as they were, Daniel is not about his bold decision (Dan 1:8), or the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Dan 3:16-18), or the daunting apocalyptic passages in the latter chapters that often lead to a variety of end time speculations. Rather, the centerpiece of these visions is the exalted heavenly Son of Man who took upon flesh in the person of Christ. Daniel helps us to see how the gospel of Jesus Christ is at the heart of the book. Also, the theme and the main thing is: The Lord God is the sovereign Lord and He will bring about all His holy will in His own time, no matter how bleak the present circumstances appear to be.

Are you in exile? Like Daniel, it is still true that Christians are exiles on earth. As citizens of heaven, we live as aliens and strangers in a land that is not our own (1 Pet 1:1). At times the world’s enmity/hostility is felt. We feel squeezed/pressured into its mold, to make us conform to its values and standards in school, at work, in the way we dress, the language we use. We are expected to laugh at certain jokes. We gossip about others. If we want to be promoted in business, we are pressured to leave our values and religious beliefs, assimilate to the business community, value the things the surrounding culture values, pursue passionately its glittering prizes, and live in obedience to its idols. We have to choose daily whether to be part of this world in which we live, or to take the difficult path of standing against it (1 Jn 2:15-17; Rom 12:2).
Dan 1:1-21 may be divided into:
  1. God's Judgment (Dan 1:1-2).
  2. God's Providence (Dan 1:3-16).
  3. God's Faithfulness/Grace (Dan 1:17-21).
I. God's Judgment (Dan 1:1-2)

To "live in exile" we need God's help and God's faithfulness. Interestingly, in Dan 1:1-2 God expressed his faithfulness in his judgment by exiling Judah to Babylon in late 700 B.C. How? "...the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into (Nebuchadnezzer's) hand" (Dan 1:2).God gave his people into the hand of their enemies. Why?

  1. They broke their covenant with God. In Lev 26:3-13, God promised his favor and blessing when they kept God's covenant, but if they violated God's covenant, they would experience his wrath and disfavor (Lev 26:14-39): their crops would be ruined (Lev 26:20), God would multiply their afflictions and afflict them for their sins 7 times over (Lev 26:21,24), scatter them among the nations where they will waste away (Lev 26:33,39). This was exactly what happened when they went into Babylonian exile.
  2. It was the specific fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah in 2 Kings 20:18. King Hezekiah of Judah had received envoys and a gift from Merodach-Baladan, king of Babylon. In response, Hezekiah showed them all of his treasures (2 Ki 20:13), for which Isaiah prophesied against him specifically and severely (2 Ki 20:14-18). The Babylonians would one day carry off everything in his palace (2 Ki 20:17), and some of his own offspring being taken off would become eunuchs in the palace of the Babylonian king (2 Ki 20:18). Why was God so upset? Because Hezekiah was seeking an alliance with Babylon to be a useful ally against Assyria. Politics replaced trust in the Lord. Do we adopt the world's methods of getting ahead instead of simply trusting in God (Prov 3:5)?
II. God's Providence (Dan 1:3-16)
God's judgment does not mean God's abandonment. This important point is repeatedly shown through out the Bible. Though God judged his people very severely through exile, he would never abandon them. One day God would open the way for their return (Ezra 1:1-7).
God is always in control. This tells us that though life often seems to be out of control, God is never out of control. Though men say and do things that adversely/unfairly affects/wounds us, every detail of life lies under the control of our sovereign God. No sparrow dies without God's permission (Matt 10:29). Even the most trivial of events are within his sovereign rule. At the other extreme, the most wicked act of all time, the crucifixion of Christ, was also decided and predestined by God before hand (Acts 4:28). No sin of ours/others ever catches God by surprise or thwarts his sovereign will (Gen 50:20). For Christians, every single circumstance is the Lord's means of furthering his sanctifying goals. God NEVER abandons or forgets us, but will preserve us through even the most fiery of trials by his grace (1 Pet 1:5-9).

The world's strategy of spiritual reprogramming. Thus, in the will of God, Daniel and his 3 friends found themselves exiled in Babylon, and chosen by the king for special consideration, reeducation, favor and privilege (Dan 1:3-7). The 4 of them were perhaps teenagers at the time. What happened to them?

  1. Their names were changed from Yahwistic names to Babylonian names which invoked their gods, Marduk, Bel and Bebo, rather than Israel's Lord (Dan 1:6), for:
    • Daniel means "God is my judge."
    • Hananiah means "the Lord is gracious."
    • Mishael means "Who is what God is?"
    • Azariah means "The Lord is a helper."
  2. They were instructed in the language and literature of the Babylonians, so that its myths and legends would take the place of the Scriptures as the source of their wisdom and worldview (Dan 1:4).
  3. They were to be royally supplied from the king's table, with a daily allowance of food and wine, which would lead them to become accustomed to a life of dependence on their new master (Dan 1:5a). After 3 years, with their previous identity fully obliterated, they would enter the service of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 1:5b).
Satan's reprogramming. Worldly reprogramming consists of threat and promise (the recalcitrant banished), enforcement and encouragement (the majority assimilated), since more flies are caught with honey than with vinegar. The fundamental goal was to obliterate all memory of Israel's God from their lips and minds and instill in them a sense of dependence on Babylon for the good things in life. Likewise, Satan violently persecutes Christians in some parts of the world, while seducing the rest to forget about God and seek blessings from somewhere else. He controls the educational process, changes the worldview of our children, instills in them a dependence on material comforts and pleasures of the world/flesh, to draw us away from God.
How did the 4 young men deal with this? They had to maintain their dual identities as citizens of 2 kingdoms. Likely, they did not outwardly resist the Babylonian system, or refuse to work for them. They recognized God's hand in their situation. They understood through Jeremiah that they should actively labor for the common good of the community and for the blessing of Babylon (Jer 29:4-7). They did their best to work within the system, and were good citizens of Babylon as well as of heaven. We learn here that our calling is not to form Christian ghettoes that are isolated from the world around us.

Though the 4 young men served the Babylonian community, they accepted the will of God for their lives, and inwardly resisted the assimilation process of the Babylonian empire.
  1. They resisted the pagan Babylonian program. They answered to their Babylonian names. Yet they maintained their Jewish names/identities as well. They preserved biblical knowledge and perspectives in the midst of a thoroughly pagan educational system. Daniel did not become Belteshazzar, though he answered to that name, nor did Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah become Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They preserved their Hebrew names amongst themselves as a marker of who they really were (Dan 1:11,19;2:17). They lived with dual names as a reminder of their dual identities, and of their God. Likewise, as citizens of heaven, we should celebrate our heavenly citizenship, gather with our fellow exiles, remind one another of our "true home" (2 Pet 3:13), and fix our eyes on the heavenly realities that truly define who we are. We do not gather to be taught how to be better spouses, parents, children, employees, etc. Rather, if our heavenly identity is strong, it will transform our marriages, parenting, work relationships (Eph 5:22-6:9). Whether we home school our kids or send them to secular schools, we pray for them not to outwardly conform to Christian morality but to live in true countercultural Christian identity as citizens of heaven on earth. They need to know and understand the contemporary "language and literature of the Babylonians" and be armed with discernment into its follies and flaws.
  2. They stayed dependent on God: They resolved not to eat the food from the kings' table nor to drink his wine (Dan 1:8-16). There was nothing intrinsically evil about the Babylonian food and drink (Dan 10:3). But they instead choose to eat only things that grow naturally--grains and vegetables--and to drink only naturally occurring water (Dan 1:12). This suggests that their decision was to be constantly reminded of their dependence upon their Creator God for their food, not dependence on King Nebuchadnezzar, which was the sin of King Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:17).
What can we build into our daily routine that provide constant reminders of our dependence on God?
  • Give thanks for our food at each meal.
  • Keep a daily record of the Lord's gifts to us, from the trivial to the profound.
  • Practice fasting--deliberately choose to abstain from some of the legitimate pleasures and satisfactions in the world.
  • Omit a meal to devote time to pray.
Daniel and his friends sought to maintain faithfulness to God by working within the Babylonian system, not against it. They sought permission from the chief official for their personalized diet plan (Dan 1:8). When the official feared potential consequences of bucking the system (Dan 1:10), Daniel asked the guard who looked after them and proposed a 10-day test (Dan 1:11-14). At the end of the trial period, Daniel and his friends looked fitter, healthier, better than those who indulged in a high-calorie lifestyle (Dan 1:15).

III. God's Grace
(Dan 1:17-21)

God's faithfulness. The focus on this chapter is not simply the faithfulness of these 4 young men to their God, but it is on God's faithfulness to them. God caused them to find mercy (rahamim) in the eyes of their captors (Dan 1:9; 1 Ki 8:50). Also, the outcome of their 10 day dietary test was not what ordinarily would have been expected, but was a mark of God being with them. God also gave all 4 of them exceptional knowledge and understanding of Babylonian literature and learning and gave Daniel the unique ability to discern visions and dreams of all kinds (Dan 1:17-21). God's favor upon them enabled them to answer all of Nebuchadnezzar's questions, so that he found them 10 times better than all of his other advisors (Dan 1:20). God placed them in a unique position where they could be a blessing to their captors and build up the society in which they found themselves, while at the same time enabling them to remain true to God in the midst of extraordinary pressures.

Only God can... If we stress the resolve and decisions of Daniel and his 3 friends, we might miss the remarkable work of God's faithfulness to them, and thus miss the comfort and encouragement, which only God can provide. If God is able to keep these young men faithful to him in their situation, then he is surely able to keep us faithful to him in our much lesser trails and difficulties. No matter how overwhelming our situation may seem, God is able to keep us through it. It is his work from beginning to end, and he will do it.

God's faithfulness sustained Daniel through out his life. This theme of the faithfulness of God emerges again in the brief note that closes this chapter: "And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus" (Dan 1:21). That year was the year in which the decree was issued that enabled the Jews to return home (2 Chron 36:22-23), 70 years after the time Daniel and his friends were taken into exile. God faithfulness proved sufficient from Daniel throughout the entire time of the exile. Babylonian kings came and went, until the Babylonians themselves were replaced as the ruler world power by the Medo-Persians in the person of Cyrus. Yet God sustained his faithful servant throughout the whole time. In the same way, God is able to preserve us throughout the trials and tribulations that we face, no matter how intense they may be or how long they may last. When the world does its worst, God's grace and faithfulness is enough.

Do not try to "Be like Daniel." Most of us are NOT like Daniel and his 3 friends. Those who think they are may come across as self-righteous Pharisees or self-proclaimed elitist Christians. Thus, if the message of Daniel is simply "Be like Daniel and all will be well," then studying Daniel may not be beneficial to us as Christians. The more we get to know Daniel, the more we come to realize that we are NOT Daniels.

The gospel: Jesus is the true and ultimate Daniel. The good news of the gospel, is not simply that God is faithful to those who are faithful to him. It is that a Savior has come to deliver faithless and compromised Christians like us. Our salvation rests not on our ability to be like Daniel and remain undefiled by the world, but rather on the pure and undefiled offering that Jesus has provided in our place. Jesus came voluntarily into this world, with all of its pains and trials. He endured far greater temptations and sufferings than Daniel did, or than we ever will (Heb 4:15). Yet he remained entirely faithful and pure until the very end, without spot or blemish, and grants the perfection of his obedience to all those who trust in him by faith (1 Pet 1:19). What is more, Jesus has already returned from his time of exile and now sits at the Father's right hand in heaven. He has prepared our places there, and his presence there already is the guarantee that 1 day we will be with him there as his people. The cross is the means by which God's faithfulness redeems the unfaithful; the resurrection and ascension are the surety of our inheritance in heaven.

Fix our eyes on Jesus crucified, raised and exalted. He has not only pioneered the route home; he is the route home. Trust in him and ask him to work in you a true faithfulness. Be constantly dependent upon God's sanctifying work, looking to him to keep you faithful, not to your best efforts to "Be a Daniel." Finally, long for the day when his heavenly kingdom will invade this earth and bring the fullness of your inheritance.

"When The World Does Its Worst" (Daniel 1:1-21), Iain M Duguid, Daniel, Reformed Expository Commentary, 2008.
"Take Time To Be Holy" (Daniel 1), Ligon Duncan.


God’s Power Expressed Through Man’s Weakness (2 Corinthians)


"I will boast of the things that show my weakness" (2 Corinthians 11:30).

"I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses..." (2 Corinthians 12:9).

"...he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power" (2 Corinthians 13:4).

In his commentary, John MacArthur says, "A church should not ordain anyone who has not read (2 Corinthians) and commentaries on (it)."

The Theme: Power Through Weakness. The magnificent message of 2 Corinthians is that God’s power comes to people in their utter helplessness and weakness, not in their human strength. So...

Do we defensively show our strength, our smartness, our significance, our success?

Or are we free, even happy, to be regarded as useless, foolish, worthless, weak?

(Related posts: Why Do We Have Divisions?; A Church with Major Problems)

The Problem: Shadowy Opponents Regard Paul as a Fool, as Scum and Garbage. Today, Christians highly honor Paul as the greatest Christian who ever lived. But Paul’s own real life situation and reality was quite the opposite: he was regarded as a fool--a horribly depraved and undesirable human being. To many Christian leaders, he was scum and garbage (1 Cor 4:13)! He had multiple opponents and opposition, who attacked him, criticized him, and slandered him mostly behind his back. In this letter Paul confronts his shadowy opponents who "ganged up" against him with the local church leaders and members of the church at Corinth. 2 Corinthians is a fascinating record of that painful conflict, which is often a sad reality today behind many church conflicts, church divisions, and church splits. No preacher in the history of the church has faced more intense persecution as did Paul, and in this letter he models how to handle suffering in the ministry (2 Cor 1:4-10; 4:7-12; 6:4-10; 11:23-33).

Paul's Godly Character shines through as he interacts with his most troubled church. Paul's humility is evident through out. He describes himself as a lowly clay pot (2 Cor 4:7). He stressed his human weakness and inadequacy (2 Cor 3:5, 11:30, 12:5,9-10). He was reluctant to defend himself when attacked (2 Cor 11:1,16-17,21; 12:11). He reveals his passionate concern for God's flock, both for their spiritual growth (2 Cor 3:18, 7:1), and for their spiritual safety (2 Cor 11:2-4,29). His selfless concern for them is seen in his declaration, "For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake" (2 Cor 4:5).

An Important Principle in Studying 2 Corinthians. Paul's 13 letters were expected to be read straight through, not broken up into chapters or paragraphs and studied section by section or verse by verse. Thus, when preaching or teaching through any portion, the whole big picture should not be lost or ignored. This is true for all 66 books of the Bible.

Time Line. Paul’s relationships with the Corinthians span 7 years. (Dates below are approximate.)

AD 50-52: Paul spent 1 ½ years in Corinthian planting/establishing the church.

AD 54: 1 Corinthians written.

AD 55: Paul made a 2nd visit to Corinth (2 Cor 13:2), the painful visit (2 Cor 2:1) to deal with an emergency disciplinary problem in the church.

AD 56: 2 Corinthians was written from Macedonia after this 2nd visit.

AD 57: Paul came to Corinth for the 3rd and final time (2 Cor 13:1) and stayed for 3 months.

Differences Between 1 and 2 Corinthians. Of all the churches planted/founded by Paul, the Corinthian church was the most demanding. As a result, Paul wrote 4 letters to them, 2 lengthy ones remain, while 2 were lost, 1 written before, and the other after 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 5:9; 2 Cor 2:3-4, 7:8-12).

1 Corinthians deals with major problems of behavior (divisions, immorality, lawsuits, favoritism) and doctrine (doubts about the resurrection). They also questioned Paul’s abilities and authority (1 Cor 2:1-5, 4:8-13). Paul addressed all of these issues objectively and unemotionally.

2 Corinthians, however, reveals a range of unashamed emotional extremes in Paul. He is overjoyed and confident (2 Cor 7:4), yet deeply hurt by their coldness toward him (2 Cor 6:12), by them “putting up” with him (2 Cor 11:1), and believing all the criticisms leveled against him, that he is weak, ineffective and not a true apostle/leader. They believe that Paul is all of the following:

  • He is worldly; he can’t keep his decision (2 Cor 1:17).
  • He is deceptive; he distorts God’s word (2 Cor 4:2).
  • He is weak; he will just fade away (2 Cor 4:16).
  • He is corrupt; he exploits people (2 Cor 7:2).
  • He is not a true servant of God (2 Cor 10:7).
  • He is unimpressive in person, while he boldly talks big in his letters (2 Cor 10:1,10; 11:6,21).
  • He is a fool; he is out of his mind (2 Cor 11:1,16,23).
  • He is untraditional, unconventional, crafty; he refused financial support (2 Cor 11:7; 12:13-16).
  • He is not a leader; he lacks credentials as a leader (2 Cor 12:1,11-12).

Because of all such criticisms against him, spurred on by other Christian leaders, Paul was forced to defend his doctrines/teachings, his ministry, and his integrity/character (2 Cor 1:12-13; 2:17; 3:5; 4:2, 5; 5:9-10; 6:3-4,11; 7:2; 8:20-21; 10:7; 11:5-6,30; 12:11-12; 13:5-6). He is sorry that the Christians do not reciprocate his love for them (2 Cor 6:11-13), and that they do not acknowledge the authenticity of his Christian life--his apostleship, and God’s work done through him (2 Cor 3:1-3; 12:11-13).

Why Christians Criticized Paul. There may be 2 major factors:

1. Cultural differences. Since Apollos and Peter had visited the church at Corinth, the educated Greek Christians were drawn to the gifted orator Appollos, an Alexandrian Jew (Acts 18:24-28), while the Jewish members were attracted to Peter. These southern Greeks, who were fascinated by oratory, rhetoric, intellectualism and sophisticated discourse, were unimpressed by manual worker Paul because of his amateurish speaking abilities. They also felt insulted by his refusal to accept money from them, while he accepted money from the rustic northern Greeks (2 Cor 11:7-9). They also likely didn’t like Paul continually admonishing them about their idolatry and immorality (2 Cor 6:14-7:1; 12:20-13:1). The Jews, on the other hand, were upset with Paul for not championing their conservative Jewish Mosaic tradition. (See below.)

2. Senior Jewish ministers criticism of Paul. Paul does not name or identify these elite, special, superior, “super-apostles” (2 Cor 11:13,23). They were persuading the Christians in Corinth that Paul’s Bible study and theology was bad/wrong, because he seems to dismiss the Law of Moses and promote cheap grace. They also claimed their own legitimacy on the basis of their works, their achievements, and their miraculous/mystical experiences, which they claimed Paul lacked. They also slandered Paul for being personally and morally deficient in many ways (2 Cor 7:2).

Thus, Paul was preparing to make his 3rd and final visit to them (2 Cor 13:1) by writing 2 Corinthians, which is Paul's own defense for why he did what he did. Paul explained why he deferred the 3rd visit and wrote to them instead (chap 1-2). He nevertheless expressed joy that the moral problem which necessitated the 2nd, painful visit and the (now lost) "sorrowful" letter has been resolved (chap 7). He urged that the collection of money for the Jerusalem church (which had lapsed) be revived and completed (chap 8-9). The major part of 2 Corinthians is devoted to answering the criticisms against him by the "super-apostles" (chap 3-6) and their assault on his character (chap 10-13).


Can we overcome our endless need to defend ourselves and prove our worth to others? Or are we happy to be regarded as scum and garbage as Paul was, and be content to let God reveal His power through our utter weakness and helplessness?


The Message of 2 Corinthians, Paul Barnett, 1988, The Bible Speaks Today.

 2 Corinthians, John MacArthur, 2003, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary.

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