Friendship and Intimacy (Gen 18:1-33)


Previous passage: "Walk Before God Blamelessly" (Gen 17:1-27)
Related passages: "The Wonder of Laughter" (Gen 18:9-15; 21:1-7)
Why Did God Chose Abraham? (Gen 18:19)

What do we really want in life? What do we need? We need money. We need a career. We need to have fun. On a more basic and foundational level we need some meaning and purpose to our own existence. Perhaps more than anything else, we need a good friend. If one is married, their best and most intimate friend should be their spouse. As the saying goes, "A happy wife is a happy life." Also, the more true friends one has, the better their "quality of life." Sadly and tragically, when one has no friends, their lives become a living hell. On Christmas and Thanksgiving day, the suicide rate spikes each year without fail, likely because of the absence of a loving and caring friend. Why might friendship be so foundational to a happy life?

Being created in the image of the Triune God (Gen 1:26-27), it would be fair to say that God created man to be an intimate friend with God and to be intimate friends with each other (1 Jn 1:3; Ac 2:42; Jn 15:15). Derek Kidner, renowned OT scholar, says in his commentary on Proverbs that 2 Biblical qualities of friends are candor and constancy. Candor means to be honest and transparent, while constancy refers to faithfulness. Tim Keller says, "Friends always let you in (candor), but never let you down (constancy)."

In the Bible, Abraham is regarded as God's friend (2 Chron 20:7; Isa 41:8; James 2:23). How so? Gen 18:19 says, "For I have chosen him..." Here the Hebrew literally means, "I have known him personally." Commentators say that it means almost "to make someone a friend." In other words, God, by His grace alone, makes us his friends. This is the doctrine of election. In Gen 18:1-33, we can see the candor and constancy of friendship in both God and Abraham (Gen 18:1-8, 16-33), as well as God toward Sarah (Gen 18:9-15). This passage can be divided into 3 parts:

  1. Abraham's friendship with God (1-8).
  2. God's friendship with Sarah (9-15).
  3. The fruit of friendship: intimacy and prayer (16-33).
I. Abraham's Friendship with God (Gen 18:1-8)

Heb 13:1-2 makes a reference to this incident: "Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." Although 3 men came at an importune time in the heat of the day (Gen 18:1-2), Abraham welcomed them with a sumptuous meal with the utmost of generosity, deference and courtesy (Gen 18:3-8). Abraham gave his guests a royal welcome at an inconvenient time. Jesus said, "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in" (Mt 25:35). This hospitality of Abraham was literally extended to God. His reward was contact with God himself.

We learn here that friendship with God depends on faithfully doing our Christian "covenant" duties of prayer, Bible study, worship, repentance, acts of faith and service to those who are needy and hurting, etc. In this way we put God first in our lives as God expects of his covenant people (Gen 17:1). Experiences of the presence of God cannot be programmed; they must come to us. However, they won't come to us if we stop being faithful and diligent in our basic Christian duties. If we have no time for Christian ministry and service and for the "means of grace" (Bible study, prayer, worship), then we won't know or grow in our relationship with God. No one can create or deepen a friendship without being committed to spending time together.

II. God's Friendship with Sarah (Gen 18:9-15)

This has been blogged previously in "The Wonder of Laughter" (Gen 18:9-15; 21:1-7). God was kindly insisting on candor (honesty) from Sarah, because she lied to God (Gen 18:15) -- to God! Yet God shows the essence of friendship: On the one hand God insisted on honesty ("I did not laugh." "(Oh) yes, you did laugh."). On the other hand God did not attack or reject Sarah for her dishonesty. God was convicting her gently. God was calling her to wonder at his grace (Gen 18:14). God wanted her to allow Him to fill her life with wonder. This is the mixture of firmness (truth) and yet loving assurance (grace) that is the essence of parenting and spiritual shepherding in general. Thus, God shows both candor and constancy. What about with Abraham?

III. The Fruit of Friendship: Intimacy and Prayer (Gen 18:16-33)

God also provides candor with Abraham when God remarkably begins to "think out loud" about Sodom in a way that invites Abraham "in" to God's inmost thoughts (Gen 18:20-21). God says in the form of a rhetorical question, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?" (Gen 18:17). The obvious answer is: "No. I will not hide from Abraham. We are friends." Similarly, Jesus said to his disciples at the Last Supper, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you" (Jn 15:15).

God's gracious initiative indeed welcomed Abraham not as a "Yes man" but as a faithful and honest probing friend. The result is one of the most breathtaking examples of candor between friends as seen in Abraham's boldness in seeking to dissuade God from judging Sodom (Gen 18:22-33). Even Abraham is amazed at his own candor and honesty (Gen 18:31), for Abraham's "boldness," "familiarity," and direct talk is the mark of friends.

(Gen 18:19 explained in a separate blog: Why Did God Chose Abraham?) What 6 things can we learn from Gen 18:17-33 about the prayer of a friend of God (often known as intercessory prayer)?

  1. Abraham's prayer is initiated by God.
  2. Abraham's prayer is persistent and specific.
  3. Abraham's prayer is bold.
  4. Abraham's prayer is humble.
  5. Abraham's prayer is theological.
  6. Abraham's prayer is for the city.
Ref: "The Friend of God" (Gen 18:1-33); What were we put in the world to do? Study Notes (136-144). Tim Keller.
"Promise and Intercession" (Gen 18:1-33). Sermon by Ligon Duncan.

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Why did God Call/Chose Abraham? (Gen 18:18-19)


Previous passage: "Walk Before God Blamelessly" (Gen 17:1-27)
Next passage: "The Wonder of Laughter" (Gen 18:9-15; 21:1-7)

Christians often inadvertently think that they choose God, because they accepted the invitation to study the Bible, or to attend church, or to repent and accept Christ as Savior and Lord, or to go overseas as a missionary. But Jesus said, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide..." (Jn 15:16, ESV). This is the doctrine of election. Likewise, Gen 18:19 says, "For I have chosen him (Abraham)..." It is confounding and humbling. Why would a holy God humble himself to chose a proud sinner who thinks he knows better than God?

The God who chose Abraham gives us a clue as to why God chooses and calls proud sinners to be his humble servants. Consider these questions: How does God summarize Abraham's call (Gen 18:18-19)? How does Grace and Law, Calling and Obedience, relate to each other (Gen 18:19)?

1st, Abraham is to teach and order his household in "the way of the Lord" (Gen 18:19a). This is the most explicit expression so far of Abraham's responsibility to create a counter-culture, a new God-fearing community in which God's ways are pre-eminent. This underscores the corporate nature of our covenant relationship with God. Though we are saved individually, we are automatically saved into a community of other saved persons. All Christians, like Abraham, are called to live and shape this alternate humanity, this "new creation" community. God called Abraham not just to "receive a blessing" but to "be a blessing" (Gen 12:2). God wanted to be not only the God of Abraham, but also to be the God of Abraham's descendents (Gen 17:7-8; Lev 26:12). See "Walk Before God Blamelessly" (Gen 17:1-27).

2nd, the 2 marks of this "way of the Lord" are "righteousness and justice" (Gen 18:19, ESV) -- "by doing what is right and just" (Gen 18:19, NIV). These 2 words are often paired in the Bible. It has to do with both personal individual godliness and socially just and generous behavior. God is the Lord of every area of our lives.

3rd, the relationship/order between God's favor and Abraham's obedience. Gen 18:19 says, "For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him” (NIV). The ESV says, "For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

The order and relationship of God's favor and Abraham's obedience could not be clearer. Derek Kidner (Genesis, p133-134) says, "Verse 19 shows particularly clearly how grace and law work together, for it opens with grace (I have chosen him) directed toward the firm discipline of law (direct/command...to keep the way of the Lord) through which eventually grace may reach its goal (that the Lord may bring ... what he has promised)."

God did not choose Abraham because he is "doing righteousness and justice" Rather, it is because God choose Abraham that he is "doing righteousness and justice." Christians are saved by grace alone (Eph 2:8-9). But saving grace always gladly turns to obedience as a way to relate to our Lord and bring about his loving purposes in the world and in our lives. Martin Luther says, "Salvation is by faith alone, but faith that saves is never alone." Thus when a Christian truly knows that God gave us unmerited Grace and Favor, then our utmost heart's desire is to fulfill the Law.

Ref: "The Friend of God." From "What are we put in the world to do?" Tim Keller, Leader's Guide, p 140.

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Walk Before God Blamelessly (Gen 17:1-27)

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

"Walk before (God) faithfully and blamelessly." Bible verses like this scare the living daylights out of people. They think that the Bible demands too much of them, that the Christian life is a straight-jacket, and too restrictive, and that there is no freedom and no fun at all in the Christian life. I once trembled at the thought of being a full time Christian minister, thinking that I can't watch any more movies for the rest of my life. So I completely gave up the thought of ever being a full time pastor! Let's look at this verse in the context of Abram's life.

Intro: Genesis 17 is arguably the hinge pin of all ministry, for it is quoted 10 times in Hebrews, 8 times in Galatians, and 8 times in Romans.

In Gen 17:1, God reveals himself in a new way as "God Almighty" (Hebrew El-Shaddai)--the 3rd name for God so far in Genesis. God's names so far are:


What was the First Church Like? (Acts 2:42-47)


When construction began on the Bible house in Manila a few years ago, a worker was hired to do the job. During breaks, a member of the church studied the Bible with him. After work he wound drink, go home and ignore his wife and 6 kids. But after some months of Bible study, he stopped drinking. One Valentine's day, he stunned his wife by buying her flowers (which he never did before). Totally surprised at her husband's change, she began coming to church. Now all of their 6 children are members of the church, from Children's Bible Fellowship, to High School Bible Fellowship, to College Fellowship. The lives of this entire family was completely transformed by the influence of the church.

What is the church? Christians have called their churches a missional church, worshiping church, gospel church, Bible church, Reformed church, Methodist church, emergent church, evangelical church, non-denominational church, house church, etc. What was the first church in Acts 2:42-47 like? It was:

  1. A learning church: Devotion to the apostle's (NT) teaching (Acts 2:42).
  2. A loving church: Devotion to fellowship (Acts 2:42-45).
  3. A worshipping church: Devotion to corporate worship and prayer (Acts 2:42,43,46).
  4. An evangelistic church: A witnessing church (Acts 2:47).
In 2009, I previously posted on Acts 2:42-47: The Earliest Model Church

1. A Learning Church

Ac 2:42 says, "They devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching..." (which today is our Bible). The Holy Spirit opened a school with 3,000 pupils (Ac 2:41). They committed to learning. They did not simply enjoy mystical experiences, become anti-intellectual, nor did they dispense with human teachers. They learned God's revelation of Himself from the apostles, who authenticated their teaching with "many wonders and signs" (Ac 2:43; Heb 2:3-4). Miraculous signs confirmed the truth of God's word and helped the Christians to devote themselves to it. A church submits to the authority and instruction, not primarily of their human leaders, but of the Scriptures.

2. A Loving Church

Ac 2:42 says, "They devoted themselves...to fellowship..." (koinonia). From koinos, (common), koinonia bears witness to the common life of the church by having fellowship in 2 senses:

  1. with the Father, Son (1 Jn 1:3) and Holy Spirit (2 Cor 13:14); and
  2. with other Christians.
"All the believers were together and had everything in common" (koina) (Acts 2:44), even by voluntarily selling their homes (Acts 2:45), though not everyone did (Acts 12:12, 17:5, 18:7, 20:20, 21:8,16; Rom 16:5). Their fellowship was intense. It called for responsibility and accountability, and others had a claim on their time, their life and their resources. They met "every day" (Acts 2:46). Their intimacy was with a few in a house church/small group.

3. A Worshiping Church

Ac 2:42 says, "They devoted themselves...to the breaking of bread and to prayer..." This suggests a reference to the Lord's Supper and to services or meetings, which was both formal and informal, taking place both "in the temple courts" and "in their homes" (Acts 2:46). It was also

  • reverent, for "everyone was filled with awe" (Acts 2:43)--probably in large group worship--and
  • joyful, as they "ate together with glad and sincere hearts" (Acts 2:46)--probably in small group worship.
It is unforgivable for a church to be boring! The combination of joy and awe, as of formality and informality, is a healthy balance in worship.

4. An Evangelistic Church
They experienced conversions "daily." The early church's evangelism was not an occasional or sporadic activity. Just as their worship was daily (Ac 2:46a), so was their witness. Ac 2:47b says, "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." The 1st Christians were not so preoccupied with learning, sharing and worshiping that they forgot about witnessing. Through out Acts, relentlessly the Holy Spirit drives the church to witness, and churches continually rise out of the witness. Surely, God added to their number because of:

  1. the preaching/teaching of the apostles,
  2. the witness of the church members,
  3. the impressive love of their common life, and
  4. their example of "praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people" (Acts 2:47a).
Only God can cause his church to grow (Mt 16:18; 1 Cor 3:6). There is no place for self-confidence or triumphalism, as if the growth of the church were up to us Christians.

The marks of the 1st Spirit-filled church community were all concerned with the church's relationships:

  1. To the apostle's teaching (in submission), which is our Bible.
  2. To each other (in love). They were a loving, caring, sharing church.
  3. To God (in worship). They worshiped daily (Acts 2:46).
  4. To the world (in outreach). They were engaged in continuous evangelism. No inward-focused church can claim to be filled with the Spirit.
What people want is what the early church had:
  1. Biblical teaching
  2. Loving fellowship
  3. Living worship
  4. Ongoing, outgoing evangelism
  1. The Message of Acts (1990); John Stott, 81-87
  2. Acts Reformed Expository Commentary (2011); Derek Thomas, 53-65
  3. ESV Study Bible (2007), 2085
  4. In Acts 2:42-47, Tim Keller sees the key purposes of the church as:
    1. Worship & Prayer
    2. Learning & Edification
    3. Fellowship & Community
    4. Outreach & Evangelism
    5. Mercy & Social Concern

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The God Who Becomes a Human Being (John 1:1-18)


"The Word became flesh" (John 1:14).

J.C. Ryle says about John's Gospel: “The things which are peculiar to John’s Gospel are among the most precious possessions of the church of Christ. No one of the four Gospel writers has given us such full statements about the divinity of Christ as we read in these pages.”

Indeed, John's Gospel is one of the world's treasures. John is so simple that children memorize their first verses from its pages and so profound that dying adults ask to hear it as they pass from this world. It is said that John is a pool safe enough for a child to wade in and deep enough for an elephant to drown.  Martin Luther wrote, “This is the unique, tender, genuine, chief Gospel… Should a tyrant succeed in destroying the Holy Scriptures and only a single copy of the Epistle to the Romans and the Gospel according to John escape him, Christianity would be saved.”

Why did John write his gospel? According to Irenaeus, the 2nd century bishop, John wanted to combat heresies that were rising, especially those that denied either the full deity or the full humanity of Christ. Moreover, as Christianity spread beyond its original Jewish bounds, it seems that John wrote to make the gospel more accessible to the Greek mind.  But John himself tells us his main purpose in Jn 20:31: These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

In John 1:1-18, the prologue, John says at least 11 things about Jesus:

  1. Jesus is eternal (Jn 1:1-2; Gen 1:1a). Jesus possessed the quality of eternality.
  2. Jesus is distinct from the Father (Jn 1:1). With is a preposition that expresses proximity and relationship.
  3. Jesus is God (Jn 1:1,18). John unambiguously declares this.
  4. Jesus is the Word (Jn 1:1-2), the clearest and ultimate way God chooses to reveal and express himself (Jn 14:9).
  5. Jesus is the Creator (Jn 1:3; Gen 1:1). The Word that brought the world into being (Ps 33:6) has become incarnate in the person of Jesus.
  6. Jesus is the source of all spiritual life (Jn 1:4; 11:25; 14:6). Life was in Jesus inherently, innately, un-derivedly.
  7. Jesus confronts and divides us (Jn 1:9-11,12-13).
  8. Jesus is God in our flesh (Jn 1:14). Jesus became what He was not (a man), without ceasing to be what He was (God) (John 1:14). Incarnation is not metamorphosis. Jesus was enfleshed. God was enfleshed.
  9. Jesus shares the Father's glory (Jn 1:14). A Hebrew knows this 1 truth even if he knows no other truth: No one shares God's glory.
  10. Jesus, in word and deed, accomplishes the Father's will (Jn 1:17). Jesus alone fulfilled/did God's will/work, did God's instructions, did God's truth, fulfilled the Law of Moses.
  11. Jesus is the only revealer of God the Father (Jn 1:18).
(Jesus is God (2006), sermon by Ligon Duncan)

Unlike the other 3 gospels which begin with historical developments, John's Gospel begins by addressing what the coming of the eternal Son, the coming of God, means. From the prologue (John 1:1-18), we begin to sense the wonder and power of who this Jesus is and why he has come in 3 parts:

  1. The Word is God's Self-Expression (John 1:1). 1:1 might say, "In the beginning was God's self-expression (for that is what "Word" suggests).
  2. What the Word does (John 1:2-13)
    1. The Word creates us (Jn 1:3)
    2. The Word gives us light and life (Jn 1:4-5, 6-8)
    3. The Word confronts and divides (Jn 1:9-11, 12-13)
  3. Who the Word is (John 1:14-18): The Word becomes Flesh (the incarnation, literally "the infleshing") 5 major themes from Exodus 32-34:
    1. Tabernacle and Temple (Jn 2:19-21).
    2. Glory (Ex 33:18-19; Jn 2:11, 12:23-33, 17:5).
    3. Grace and Truth (Love and Faithfulness) (Ex 34:6).
    4. Grace and Law (Jn 1:16-17)
    5. Seeing God (Jn 1:18, 14:9; Ex 33:18)
(The God Who is There (2010), by D.A. Carson; Chap 7: The God Who Becomes a Human Being, 101-120.)

  1. Jesus is the Word of God.
  2. Jesus is the Word made flesh/soft/vulnerable/killable.
  3. Jesus tabernacled among us, so we can see his glory.
(The Word Became Flesh, sermon by Tim Keller)

Jn 1:1 was an important statement in the church’s fight with the earliest heretics. Arius, for instance, whose heresy prompted the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., maintained that Jesus, though certainly God-like in many ways, was nonetheless less than God.  Arius argued that Jesus was a created being, however glorious and close to God.  But John tells us, instead, that when time and creation began, Jesus already “was.”  Leon Morris explains, “The Word existed before creation, which makes it clear that the Word was not created… The Word is not to be included among created beings.”

The best-selling novel The DaVinci Code asserts that Christians never considered Jesus to be God until the Council of Nicaea in the 4th century. But here, in clear language, the apostle John writes, “and the Word was God.”  He repeats this claim in John 1:18, saying that the one “who is in the bosom of the Father,” or as the English Standard Version puts it, “who is at the Father’s side,” is himself “the only God” (ESV). Likewise, at the Gospel’s end, when the resurrected Jesus appears to doubting Thomas, the disciple falls before him and cries, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn. 20:28).  That is the Christian confession.  John
wants us to know from the beginning of his Gospel that Jesus Christ, the Word, is God.

“It may be that some day there will come forth from God a Word, a Logos, who will reveal all mysteries and make everything plain.” Plato

(The Word (Jn 1:1-3) sermon by Richard D. Phillips, 2007)

John began his gospel with poetic imagery, referring to Christ as “the Word.” In the ancient world, “the word” was an image that was used differently by various religions. The Stoic philosophers used the term to signify a non-personal principle that ordered the universe, much like “the force” in the Star Wars movies. The Israelites, on the other hand, used the term to signify the creative power of God. Here John took this term that was used by other belief systems and redefined it to make the gospel more understandable. If John were writing in our day of Oprah-esque spirituality, he might have used the term “spirit.”

John was saying that God put on flesh (Jn 1:14) – this is what we call the “incarnation,” it’s one of the central elements of our faith. The force that unleashed a million suns, the power that set the planets in motion, the immensity that hand-carved every atom in existence and set them spinning, the very design for everything that is, was and will be – all of that was contained within a real, flesh-and-blood human body: a real body that got sunburned, that grew fatigued, that needed sleep and food and water; all that power within a body that could be cut and bleed and die; all that power within a man who loved and laughed and cried. Does anybody dare raise his hand and say, “I understand”?

(Rediscovering Jesus, Jn 1:1-18, Russel Smith)

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How can a Holy God "Credit" Sinners with Righteousness? (Gen 15:1-6)


"Abram believed the LORD, and he (God) credited it to him as righteousness" (Gen 15:6). "Credited" has also been translated "counted" or "reckoned." 

How can a holy God "credit" a sinner with righteousness? This seems to contradict the Bible, which says that God "does not leave the guilty unpunished" (Exo 34:7), and that God's "eyes are too pure to look on evil" (Hab 1:13). 

Yet, through out the OT, God rescues his people and establishes personal relationships with those who continually fail to meet his standard of righteousness (Gen 15:1-6). Also, God refuses to credit sin to sinners (Ps 32:1-2; Rom 4:7-8). On what basis can a just and holy God do such things?

Also, how can we be truly humble when we are blessed and successful? How can we be bold and confident when we fail? In Gen 15:1-6, Abram "failed" to have a son, yet God gave him boldness and confidence by giving him an impossible promise to believe by faith. Let's think of the "impossible" teaching of a Holy God crediting sinners with righteousness in 5 parts:
  1. A very tough teaching
  2. Why biblical faith is confused with traditional religion/Christianity
  3. Why faith faces facts
  4. How God can justify the wicked
  5. How true transformation happens
I. A Tough Teaching

Gen 15:6, a "key" verse in Genesis, is quoted and cited at least 6 times in the NT (Rom 4:3,5,9,22; Gal 3:6; James 2:23). This is really a "tough" doctrine and biblical teaching to swallow because it flies in the face of what we expect. It is like regarding something bad as though it is good. We don't mind it when God "credits" us with something good when we don't deserve it. But we're very upset (like Pharisees) when someone else is "credited" with something good which they do not deserve. This is the comical fallen contradiction of our sinful selves.

II. Biblical Faith is not Religion (it's not "Conservative Christianity")

Religion and "traditional Christianity" says 2 things:
  1. When we live right, God accepts us and blesses us. 
  2. When we live wrongly, God rejects us and curses us. 
But this passage says that God accepts and blesses Abram (and us) on the basis of his faith alone, while Abram was full of doubt (Gen 15:2-3) and unrighteousness. In fact, God "credits" (logizomai) him as though he was righteous, even though he was not. 

Martin Luther's famous phrase is that Christians are simul justus et peccator -- "simultaneously righteous and sinful." Those who do not understand this "unique status" invariably do 2 things:
  1. They are proud and self-righteous when they do well.
  2. They despair in self-pity when they do not do well.
But "understanding" this enables a Christian to always be humble (because he is a sinner, no matter how well he does), and also bold and confident (even in failure, because God accepts him with warts and all).

III. Faith Faces "Facts"

Gen 15:1-6 is the passage that Paul uses to prove the doctrine of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone. This is the 1st time in the Bible that the ideas of faith & justification are linked together and combined. Abram’s believing involved looking at the facts of his own experience, recognize his age, recognize the age of his wife, Sarai, and then he believed that God was going to be faithful to this promise, "despite" all the evidence to the contrary.
Thus, faith faces the facts, but it also faces the fact of God. Abraham’s faith was not one that said, "Well, I’m going to be optimistic that this is going to turn out for the best. I’m just going to hope that things sort of turn out in the end." That was not Abram’s faith. Abram looked at the facts, and he said there is absolutely no way, but my God is also one of the facts of this experience, and He has been faithful to me. I will trust Him despite all the other evidence to the contrary. This is a glorious example of saving faith.

IV. God Justifies the Wicked (Rom 4:5)

Rom 4:5 says, "However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness."
The word translated "ungodly" (NIV 2010, ESV) or "wicked" (NIV '84) is from a word that means literally "one who refuses to worship." This boldly states that when a person receives "credited" righteousness ("justifies"), he or she is still wicked and ungodly. How can this be?

Only the cross of Christ answers the question. Without understanding or accepting Jesus' claims, "crediting righteousness" is simply nonsense and unfair. Paul explains how this is so most concisely in 2 Cor 5:21.

V. The Way to True Transformation

Why are Christians often self-righteous and critical, instead of loving, patient, kind, forgiving and forbearing? Partly, it is because our transformation is partial, and incomplete, and still "under construction" as a major "work in progress." But perhaps a major reason is the constant default of our own hearts toward works and performance as the basis of our innermost sense of value and significance, while desperately needing unconditional love.

Christians often complain about proclaiming grace that is freely given, and that is not based on works (Eph 2:8-9). They insist that "Grace must be balanced with works." Otherwise, people will abuse grace. They reason, "If people think that they can never lose God's favor or salvation no matter what they do, then why should they (I) live a holy life? Why should I struggle to deny myself and work hard as a Christian?" The most fundamental answer is that if when we lose all fear of God's punishment we also lose all incentive to live a holy life, then the only incentive we ever had was fear.

Only "credited righteousness" through beholding Christ (2 Cor 3:18) brings about true inner transformation of motive, if the wonder of such a grace is mixed with deep conviction over its cost.
  • The wonder is that I no longer need to achieve or perform in order to know that I am loved and accepted.
  • The cost is that Jesus loved me so much that he willingly endured the uttermost punishment for me.
This creates a new, non-fear based motivation for holy living. My gratefulness to him has no end or limit. Then all I truly want from my heart is to delight and please the one who already has given me everything (Rom 8:32).

The above reflections are from:
  • a sermon by Ligon Duncan {The Cutting of the Covenant [Gen 15:1-21]}, 
  • the ESV Study Bible, and 
  • Tim Keller's Genesis Leader's Guide {What were we put in the world to do}, The Oath of God [Gen 15:1-21], 109-117

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What is the Gospel? (Rom 1:1-6, 14-17)

After a very brief introduction of himself (Rom 1:1), Paul begins his magnum opus by launching off into what the gospel is (Rom 1:2-6,14-17). What is the gospel (to which Paul has been set apart)?
  1. The origin of the gospel is God (Rom 1:1). God is the most important word in this epistle. God's good news to a lost world is "the gospel of God" (Rom 1:1c). Paul did not invent it; it was revealed and entrusted to him by God (Eph 3:3-12).
  2. The attestation of the gospel is Scripture (Rom 1:2). The gospel was "promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures" (Rom 1:2). The gospel did not 1st appear in the NT to the apostles. Jesus himself was quite clear that the OT Scripture bore witness to him (Jn 5:39,46; Lk 24:25-27,44-46). The gospel of God has a double attestation (OT,NT) and both bear witness to Christ.
  3. The substance of the gospel is Jesus Christ (Rom 1:1-4). "The gospel of God" (Rom 1:1) is "regarding his Son" (Rom 1:3,9). Luther says that the Scripture must be understood in relation to Christ. Calvin writes similarly that "the whole gospel is contained in Christ." Rom 1:3-4 have references, direct or indirect, to the birth, death, resurrection and reign of Christ. They also speak of his humanity (earthly life/human nature, descendant of David) and his deity (Spirit of holiness, Son of God). Who is Jesus? This duality/balance expresses
  • both the humiliation and the exaltation, 
  • the weakness and the power of God's Son, 
  • his human descent as the seed of David, and his divine power established by his resurrection as the Son of God, 
  • both weak and powerful, 
  • incarnate and exalted.
4. The scope of the gospel is universal (Rom 1:5-6). Paul says that the gospel he received is "to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith" (Rom 1:5). Paul regards his calling as "grace and apostleship" (Rom 1:5), which means "the undeserved privilege of being an apostle," for Paul always regarded his apostleship to God's gracious decision and appointment (Rom 12:3, 15:15; 1 Cor 15:10; Gal 1:15, 2:9; Eph 3:1, 7-8). Paul discloses and defines the scope of the gospel as "all the Gentiles" (NIV) or "all the nations" (ESV). Though Paul was a patriotic Jew, he was called to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15,22:21,26:17; Rom 11:13,15:16; Gal 1:16,2:2; Eph 3:8). To serve the gospel, we to have to be liberated from all pride of race, nation, tribe, caste and class, and acknowledge that God's gospel is for everybody, without exception and without distinction. This is a major theme of Romans.

5. The purpose of the gospel is the obedience of faith (Rom 1:5). Without equivocation, Paul states from the outset (and at the end of Romans) that obedience is the response which the gospel demands (Rom 1:5,16:26). Though Paul insists most strongly that salvation or justification is "through faith alone," yet he apparently writes that it is not by faith alone, but by "the obedience of faith" (ESV). What does this mean? Although faith and obedience do always belong together, they are not synonymous. To use the illustration of Abraham (Heb 11:8), it is the obedience of faith, not the obedience of law. The proper response to the gospel is faith, indeed faith alone. Yet a true and living faith in Jesus includes within itself an element of submission (cf. Rom 10:3), because it's object is "the/our Lord" (Rom 1:4,7), and it leads invariably into a lifetime of obedience. The response to the gospel Paul looked for was a total unreserved commitment to Jesus Christ (Rom 1:6), which he called "the obedience of faith" (Rom 1:5).

6. The goal of the gospel is the honor of Christ's name (Rom 1:5). "For his name's sake" (NIV, 2010) or "for the sake of his name" (ESV) is the climax of Rom 1:5. We should be jealous for the honor of Jesus' name---troubled when it remains unknown, hurt when it is ignored, indignant when it is blasphemed, and all the time anxious and determined that it shall be given the honor and glory which are due to it. "The highest of all missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission (important as that is), nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as that incentive is, especially when we contemplate the wrath of God [Rom 1:18]), but rather zeal -- burning and passionate zeal -- for the glory of Jesus Christ." (p53)

7. The gospel is a debt to the world (Rom 1:14-15). Why did Paul feel obligated to all kinds of people, though he owed them nothing? It's because Jesus entrusted him with the gospel for them (1 Cor 4:1; Gal 2:7; 1 Th 2:4; 1 Tim 1:11; Tit 1:3). It is Jesus who made Paul a debtor by committing the gospel to his trust, which explains his eagerness to preach the gospel to the Romans (Rom 1:15). Similarly, if the gospel has come to us, we are debtors to the world.

8. The gospel is God's power for salvation (Rom 1:16). Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, because like us, Paul likely knew the temptation to feel ashamed of it. Paul came to the Corinthians in weakness, fear and trembling (1 Cor 2:3). He knew the message of the cross was foolishness to some, and a stumbling block to others (1 Cor 1:18,23), because it undermines self-righteousness and challenges self-indulgence. Whenever the gospel is faithfully preached, it arouses opposition, often contempt, and sometimes ridicule. But though some despise the gospel for its weakness, it is in the fact "the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom 1:16). This gospel is the great leveller, for everyone who is saved is saved in exactly the same way -- by faith, regardess of Jew or Gentile (Rom 3:22, 4:11, 10:4,11). The gospel is both a debt to discharge and a power to experience (Rom 1:14-16). Like him, we may be "under obligation," "eager," and "not ashamed."

9. The gospel reveals the righteousness of God (Rom 1:17). What is the righteousness of God? It can be thought of as:
  • a divine attribute (who God is),
  • a divine activity (what God does) and
  • a divine achievement (what God bestows on us sinners).

  • It is at one and the same time a quality, an activity and a gift.
  • It is God's righteousness initiative in putting sinners right himself, by bestowing on them a righteousness which is not their own but his. It is:

    • God's just justification of the unjust,
    • his righteous way of pronouncing the unrighteous righteous, in which he both demonstrates his righteousness and gives righteousness to us. He has done it through Christ, the righteous one, who died for the unrighteous. He does it by faith when we put our trust in him, and cry to him for mercy.
    10. The gospel promotes faith from "faith to faith," from first to last (Rom 1:17). There are 4 explanations:

    1. Faith's origin is God; it is from God's faith (faithfulness) to our faith. God's faithfulness always comes first, and ours is a response.
    2. The spread of faith from one believer to another.
    3. The growth of faith from one degree of faith to another.
    4. The primacy of faith, for example, faith from first to last, or by faith through and through.
    This is based on The Message of Romans (1994) by John Stott (46-54, 58-65).

    3 "Different" Terms in the NT Describing Salvation


    Interesting, the New Testament (NT) presents salvation by using quite different terms/words. The theme/key phrase of:

    • The synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke is "the kingdom of God/heaven."
    • John's gospel is "eternal life" (with infrequent use of the phrase "the kingdom of God).
    • Paul's 13 epistles is "grace" or "the gospel," both of which emphasizes "justification by faith" (while very infrequently using the above 2 phrases in the gospels).
    What might be the significance of this?
    • If we focus on the synoptic gospels and "the kingdom of God" we tend to be activist Christians (focusing on discipleship and/or mercy ministry). 
    • If we focus on John's gospel and "eternal life" we focus on having a "real" and authentic life as Christians.
    • If we focus on Paul's epistles and "grace" we incline toward theology and sound biblical doctrine.
    This might be an oversimplification. Nonetheless, how might we apply this? Over-studying or over-emphasizing one area might skew/bias our Christian expression, while the Bible contains "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). These 3 expressions of salvation seems to be in keeping with Jesus' words in the great command (Mt 22:37; Mk 12:30) where Christians are to:
    • love God with all our strength by advancing "the kingdom of God."
    • love God with all our heart with deep intimacy and authenticity.
    • love God with all our mind with deep thought, reflection, depth and understanding.

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    Sin, Faith and Salvation (Gen 6:1-14)


    Yesterday, I visited Ford Santiago in Manila, which housed the museum of Jose Rizal (1861-1896), the national hero of the Philippines. During the Spanish colonial era, he was tried and executed by a firing squad at age 35 for advocating reform and rebellion. But his martyrdom strengthened and united his people and eventually led to the Philippines revolution (1896-98) and secession and liberation from the Spanish Empire. His short life of great personal sacrifice because of his love for his country is moving and gripping, echoing shades of Christ's sacrifice to set men free from bondage to sin. His story shows that for true "salvation" there must be both justice and love. The "justice" of Spain cost him his dear life. But his love set his people free.

    In Gen 4:1-16, we examined the story of Cain and Abel with the title, Sin, Grace and Salvation. In Gen 6:1-14, I want to think about the story of Noah and the Flood with the title, "Sin, Faith and Salvation." (Previously, I shared this passage with the title, Divine Judgment.) The Deluge reveals in rudimentary seed form that God's salvation always includes his judgment.

    1. Sin (The devastation of sin)
    2. Faith (The practicality of faith)
    3. Salvation (The way of salvation through judgment)
    I. Sin

    All human beings, including Christians, tend to treat sin lightly, especially our own sins, while we tend to "see" the sin of others much more clearly (Mt 7:3-4). What do the early chapters of Genesis show us about sin? So far, we see that the sin of Adam spread to Cain, then to Lamech, and then to the entire generation in the times of Noah (Gen 6:1-4,11-12). We learn the following about sin:
    1. The seriousness of sin. Sin is so serious that God would destroy man (Gen 6:7). God cannot tolerate evil.
    2. The inner nature of sin. Sin always begins with "the thoughts of the heart" (Gen 6:5), not behavior.
    3. The inclination (content) of sin. Sin is primarily "inclination" (NIV) or "intention" (ESV) (Gen 6:5; Lk 15:11-32).
    4. The grievousness of sin. The ultimate reason sin is sin is that it is against God (Gen 6:6; Mk 2:5; Ps 51:4; Lk 23:34).
    5. The universality of sin. With God's judgment against sin, there are no exceptions (Rom 3:10-12,23).
    II. Faith

    What would God do with his world that is devastated by sin? True to his character of holiness and righteousness, he would judge and destroy the world. Yet, true to his character of love, he would also save the world. Gen 6:8 says, "But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord." He did not earn or merit this favor or grace (Hebrew chen). But because of the grace and favor of God, he lived a blameless and faithful life before God (Gen 6:9), for grace and favor always precedes works. His faithfulness to God was expressed in his obedience to build an ark of salvation. Heb 11:7 says, "By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith." What do we learn here about faith?

    1. Faith is deeply connected to God's word. Noah heard God's word when he was "warned about things not yet seen" 120 years before the flood.
    2. Faith involves holy fear. Noah lived in a condition of "inner awe and wonder" before God. (Distinguish Fear from fear.)
    3. Faith expresses itself through example, not just words. Noah did not "condemn the world" by his words (John 3:17).
    4. Faith saved his family. Noah's "faith-life" both condemned the world and saved his family, though he "failed" with Ham.
    5. Faith leads to obedience. Being saturated with God's word, he "lived it (his faith) out" in obedience.
    III. Salvation

    Salvation always expresses both God's love (Gen 6:6) and God's justice (Gen 6:13). Liberal people emphasize God's love without God's justice for sin. Conservative people emphasize God's justice for sin without clearly evidencing God's love. Both expressions of salvation fail to clearly reveal God's salvation that fully expresses both love and justice simultaneously.

    1. God's love is expressed in his own personal pain and grief because of man's sins (Gen 6:6). God has so tied his heart to us that the pain and brokenness of human life now actually affects him too!
    2. God's holiness and justice is expressed in his chilling and sweeping expression of the devastation of his judgment against man's sin. People complain most about God's judgment. But Gen 6:11 says, "the earth was corrupt..." which translates the Hebrew word for "destroyed." Thus what God decided to judge and cleanse was already "virtually self-destroyed already" (Atkinson, 137; Kidner, 37). The human race had destroyed itself! Sin is a kind of self-judgment, self-punishment, de-constructive. God's judgment is simply to confirm our choices.
    As Creator, God has:
    1. the right to judge, since he owns it all.
    2. the power to judge, since he assembled it all.
    3. the wisdom to judge, since he knows all hearts and all ends.
    Simultaneously, the flood also shows the love and grace of God. In the midst of God's judgment, he is also showing mercy to Noah and his family. The ark is a "vessel of grace." Thus, both God's justice and mercy are evidenced in the flood. The flood is both a "judgment" and a "salvation," that both worked and did not work; it was both partial and incomplete. They point to a complete judgment and a complete salvation that will come years later at the Cross (1 Pet 3:20-22; 1 Jn 1:8-9).

    Many of the thoughts and ideas are from the Genesis Leader's Guide by Tim Keller: "What Were You Put in the World to do?", Study 8: Judgment and Grace, 65-73

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    Why did Noah find Favor with God? (Gen 6:8)


    Gen 6:8 says, "But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord."

    Which came 1st, the chicken or the egg?

    Did God's favor come 1st, followed by good works? Or did some goodness exist, followed by God's favor? If we think it is the former we live in freedom. If the latter, we live with some constant inner uncertainty and nervousness, always wondering where we may by falling short or not measuring up.

    In the OT, the Hebrew word translated "favor" (NIV, ESV) is "chen," which is defined as "favor" or "grace." Favor/grace always suggests something that is always undeserved and unmerited -- or it would not be grace. So, why did Noah find grace/favor with God?

    For over 2 decades I have instinctively thought and taught that the reason was because of Gen 6:9: "Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God." Therefore, because of Noah's blamelessness and faithfulness, Noah found favor with God.

    But such a reason fails to consider the emphatic declaration/nature of the preceding 3 verses in Gen 6:5-7, which surely also fully applies to Noah. This is also in line with what the NT says (Rom 3:10-12,23; 6:23). Thus, even Noah would be included in these severe and harsh indictments and assessment of the entire human race.

    Gen 6:8 does not say that "Noah earned or won favor in the eyes of the Lord," but that "Noah found favor..." To find is to discover or come upon it. It is the difference between finding $10 and earning $10. To find $10 is for it to come to you freely, without regard to work or behavior. Thus to find God's favor is not the same as to earn it.

    J.A. Motyer, renowned OT scholar writes in Look to the Rock (An OT background to our understanding of Christ), 1996,

    "The formula 'x found favor in the eyes of y' is found about 40 times in the OT... in its strict intention it deals with a situation where "x" can register no claim on "y" but where "y" contrary to merit or deserving, against all odds, acts with grace. Taking Gen 6:8 then, with its preceding context, we meet Noah...as a typical man among men. Like the rest, because he too is part of humankind, he is wicked outwardly and inwardly, a grief to God and under divine sentence. But in distinction from the rest of humankind a grace of God, as unexplained as it is unmerited, has come to him. He has not "found" this grace by merit or effort; rather it has found him."

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    The Search For One TRUE LOVE (Gen 29:15-35)

    "...the Lord saw that Leah was not loved..." (Gen 29:31).

    Theme: Those who have an inner vacuum and emptiness give themselves to a hope---a hope for 1 true love.

    "The Titanic" was a mega hit in 1997 partly because every girl in the world wishes to have her own Leonardo DiCaprio, who sacrificed himself to the freezing ocean out of his undying love for his 1 true love. Many a girl wishes that her "heart will go on" forever because of a true love that never dies. Because of the undying desire for 1 true love that never diminishes through out life, James Cameron made $1.8 billion with his own personal share of $100 million. We agree with the Beatles that "All you need is love."

    The Bible is utterly realistic about how hard it is to not be married (thus "not loved"), and how hard it is to be married (somehow the love is not enough). Outside the church people are cynical about marriage. Inside the church people think that family values are what life is all about. The Bible says both these attitudes are wrong. The Bible does not hold up marriage as what one needs to have a fulfilled life. Rather, it points us to a person, to Jesus, the ultimate source of our deepest fulfillment.

    There is a fascinating account of Jacob's search for 1 true love. He gave himself to a singular hope--a hope for 1 true love. We learn 3 things about man's quest for 1 true love:
    1. What’s behind the hope (What is behind that hope for 1 true love)
    2. The disillusionment that generally accompanies that hope for 1 true love
    3. What will actually/ultimately fulfill that hope (the hope for 1 true love)
    I. The Hope Behind 1 True Love (There is an overpowering human drive in every person to find 1 true love)

    This text begins with Laban asking Jacob what wages he would like (Gen 29:15). Jacob had to flee from home. He had deceived his father Isaac to give him the blessing of the firstborn that belonged to Esau, his older twin. Thus, Esau wanted to kill him. Jacob had no choice but to travel a month's journey to his uncle Laban, his mother's brother.

    Laban, a shrewd businessman, realized Jacob's tremendous ability as a good worker and manager. He figured that he could make a lot of money if Jacob cared for his flocks. So he asked how he would pay Jacob (Gen 29:15). Jacob's answer was simple: "Rachel, my 1 true love!" She was Laban's absolutely stunningly gorgeous younger daughter (Gen 29:16), with "a lovely figure and was beautiful" (Gen 29:17). Robert Altar, the great Hebrew literature scholar at Berkeley, says that there are all sorts of signals in the text about how over-the-top, intensely lovesick and overwhelmed Jacob is with Rachel. Upon meeting her, he showed off his strength, kissed her and wept aloud (Gen 29:10-11). He agreed to work 7 years for her (Gen 29:18). "So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her" (Gen 29:20). After 7 years, Jacob demanded, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her" (Gen 29:21). In the Hebrew, this statement is so bald, so graphic, so sexual, so over-the-top, inappropriate and non-customary. The narrator is showing us a man driven by and overwhelmed with emotional and sexual longing for 1 woman. Why?

    Jacob's life was empty. He never had his father's love. Now he didn't have his mother's love. Though he had met God (Gen 28:17), he had no sense of God's love. He'd lost everything -- no family, no inheritance, no nothing. Then he saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He said to himself, "If I had her, finally something would be right with my lousy life. She will make my life right; she will fix everything that's wrong about my life." All of the longings of the human heart for significance, for security, for meaning--they were all fixed on Rachel.

    Cultural historians say that in ancient times people married for status; they didn't marry for love, which is supposedly a relatively recent phenomenon. Our culture is begging us to load all of the deepest needs of our hearts for significance, security, and transcendence into romance and love, into finding that 1 true love. This will fix my lousy life! In most of the world today, people cannot imagine living without apocalyptic romance and love. This has been magnified to an astounding degree. Where does this lead?

    II. The Devastation/Disillusionment that Accompanies the Hope for 1 True Love

    Laban knew exactly what it meant when Jacob offered to serve 7 years for Rachel. At that time, to marry someone required a bride-price paid to the father (30-40 shekels). Robert Altar says a month's wages was 1 and a half shekels. Jacob offered 3-4 times the normal bride-price. Why? He was absolutely love struck, love sick. He wanted to show how much he loved her. Laban knew how vulnerable he was.

    Commentators say that there are indications in the text that Laban immediately came up with a plan, realizing that he could get even more out of this deal. When Jacob proposed the 7 years (Gen 29:18) (the bride price he did not have), Laban never said, "Yes! Deal!" He said, It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me (Gen 29:19). Jacob wanted to hear a yes, so he heard a yes. But Laban did not say yes.

    7 years pass. Jacob says, "Give me my wife" (Gen 29:21). So Laban prepared a great feast (Gen 29:22). In the middle of the feast, the bride, heavily veiled, was given to him, and he took her into her tent. He was inebriated and in that dark tent, "Jacob made love to her" (Gen 29:23). But "when morning came, there was Leah!" (Gen 29:25a). Rightfully angry, Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?" (Gen 29:25b). Laban nonchalantly responds, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work" (Gen 29:26-27). Without a fight or protest, Jacob basically says, "Oh, OK" (Gen 29:28). Why?

    Jacob was obviously absolutely angry, knowing he was thoroughly unfairly deceived. Why doesn't respond with righteous unrelenting indignation and wither Laban's cool exterior? Many devastating persuasive reasonable 'comebacks' are possible. But he didn't retaliate. He is unlike the usual "man of struggle and conflict" that he is. He also just caved in and agreed to another 7 years for Rachel without a fight. His indignation was absent. Why did Jacob quietly just give in?

    1st, Laban said, "It's not our custom here..." (Gen 29:26). Robert Alter translates it, "It's is not done thus in our place..." Laban is an instrument of dramatic irony: his perfectly natural reference to "our place" has the effect of touching a nerve of guilty consciousness in Jacob, how in his place acted to put the younger "before the firstborn" (Gen 29:26, ESV), the word Laban used to refer to Leah. Those words must have been like a dagger in Jacob's heart. They could not fail to make Jacob think of what he did and set his guilty conscience on fire.

    2nd, Jacob said, "Why have you deceived me?" (Gen 26:25) Here the word translated "deceived" is the same word Isaac used to describe Jacob to Esau (Gen 27:35). "It has been clearly recognized since late antiquity that the whole story of switched brides is a meting out of poetic justice to Jacob--the deceiver deceived, deprived by darkness of the sense of sight as his father is by blindness, relying, like his father, on the misleading sense of touch." (Robert Altar, Genesis, 1996, 155). The parallels are hard to miss. Jacob's deceit and Laban's deceit both entailed deception and exploitation of weaknesses and the switching of the 1st-born and 2nd-born.

    Likely Jacob realized that Laban did to him what he had done to his father. In the dark, Jacob thought he was touching Rachel, as his father in the dark of his blindness had thought he was touching Esau. In an imaginary conversation the next day between Jacob and Leah, Jacob says to Leah, "I called out 'Rachel' in the dark and you answered. Why did you do that to me?" Leah says, "Your father called out Esau in the dark and you answered. Why did you do that to him?" Suddenly the evil Jacob has done comes back to him. Jacob sees what it is like to be manipulated and deceived, and meekly picks up and works another 7 years.

    We see Jacob in his devastation, but what about Leah? Who is she? She is described variously as having eyes that are weak, tender, soft, delicate (Gen 29:17). The Hebrew word is ambiguous. Perhaps, she was cross-eyed. Likely, it was something unsightly. The point, however, is that she is particularly unattractive, in sharp contrast to her absolutely stunning sister. Laban knew that no one was ever going to marry her or offer any money for her. How was he going to get rid of her? How would he unload her? He found a way through Jacob who was completely vulnerable and love struck. Now the girl that Laban, her father, did not want was given to a husband who doesn't want her either. She is the girl nobody wants.

    Leah has a hollow in her heart every bit as big as the hollow in Jacob's heart. She begins to do to Jacob what Jacob had done to Rachel and what Isaac had done to Esau: She set her heart on Jacob. The evil pathology in the family just ricochets around from generation to generation.

    When Leah had her 1st 3 sons (Gen 29:32-34), what was she doing? She was trying to get an identity through traditional family values. In those days, having sons was the best way to do that. But it was not working. She set her heart, all of her hopes and dreams, on her husband, by giving him many sons. She thought, "If my husband loves me, it will fix my lousy life." Instead, she was just going down into hell. Gen 29:30 says, "his (Jacob's) love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah." It meant that she was condemned every single day. Her hell was to see the man she most longed for in the arms of the one in whose shadow she has lived all of her life. Every day was like another knife in the heart.

    What can we learn here?

    1st, in the morning, it is always Leah! In all of life there runs a ground note of cosmic disappointment. Understand that life will always disappoint. Jacob says, "If I just get Rachel, everything will be OK." Like Jacob, whatever we set our hopes on--in the morning, it is always Leah! Why? Because the good things in the world that we desperately want (marriage, families, ministry) will never be able to do what we want them to do for us. If one puts weight on the person we are marrying, (the children we love, the ministry we desire), we are going to crush him or her. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, we KNOW that everything disappoints, and that there is a note of cosmic disappointment and disillusionment in everything, in all the things into which we most put our hopes. When we experience this, there are 4 things we can do:

    1. Blame the thing (The fool's way), drop it, get new and better ones.
    2. Blame yourself (The way of self-pity and despair). Beat yourself up. Hate yourself.
    3. Blame the world (The cynical way). This leads to ever increasing hardness.
    4. Realize the reality (God's way). In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis said, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in the world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world (something supernatural and eternal)."
    2nd, liberalism and conservatism are wrong about romance, love and sex. Jacob was liberal, "Give me my wife! I want sex!" Leah was conservative. She is having babies. She is trying to find her identity in being a loving wife. They are both wrong. Their lives are a mess. Earnest Becker (Denial of Death, 1973, 166) says, "No human relationship can bear the burden of godhood... However much we may idealize and idolize him (the love partner), he inevitably reflects earthly decay and imperfection. And as he is our ideal measure of value, this imperfection falls back upon us." We are all seeking redemption, value, significance, meaning, validation through love, through our idols. It doesn't work. Yet we have this undying drive in us for 1 true love. What can we do?

    III.  What can Fulfill the Hope for 1 True Love

    See what God does in Leah and for Leah. She is the 1st person to get it. Scholars notice that even though she is clearly making a functional idol out of her husband and her family, she is calling on the Lord. She doesn't speak about God in some general way or invoke the name Elohim. She uses the name Yahweh in the birth of the 1st 2 sons (Gen 29:32-33).

    Elohim was the generic word for God. The general idea of God in all cultures were gods at the top of the ladder. So we had to get up there through rituals, moral performance, transformations of consciousness. Everyone understood God in that sense. But Yahweh was different. Yahweh was the God who came down the ladder, the one who entered into a personal covenantal relationship and intervened to save. In Altar's translation of Genesis, Gen 28:13 says, "the Lord was poised over him." Likely Leah learned about Yahweh from Jacob. Even though she is still in the grip of her functional idolatry, somehow she is trying, she is calling out, she is reaching out to a God of grace. She has grasped the concept. Finally, with the birth of the 4th son, there is a breakthrough. She does not mention husband or child, but says boldly, “This time I will praise the LORD” (Gen 29:35). At that point, she has finally taken her heart's deepest hopes off of the old way, off of her husband and her children, and she has put them in the Lord.

    Jacob and Laban had stolen Leah's life. She had given her heart to a good thing (husband, love, children) and turned it into an ultimate thing. The result was only heart break and more heart break. But when she gave her heart to the Lord, she got her life back. What good thing in your life are you treating as an ultimate thing? What do you need to stop giving your heart to in order to get your life back?

    Something happened to Leah. She began to understand what you are supposed to do with your desire for 1 true love. She turned her heart toward the only real beauty, the only real lover who can satisfy those cosmic needs. God did something in her. There was a breakthrough. She sensed that God was doing something in her. The author of Genesis knows what God had done. It is the child Judah, through whom will come the King (Gen 49:10). God has come to the girl nobody wanted, the unloved, the unwanted, and made her the mother of Jesus! Leah is the mother of Jesus, not beautiful Rachel, but the homely one, the unwanted one, the unloved one. Why did God do that? Because of his person and his work.

    1st, his person. "When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive" (Gen 29:31). God is saying, "I am the real bridegroom, the husband of the husbandless, the father of the fatherless." God is attracted to the people the world is not attracted to. He loves the unwanted, the unattractive, the weak, the ones the world doesn't want to be like. God says, "If nobody is going to be the spouse of Leah, I will be her spouse."

    2nd, the gospel. Jesus came as the son of Leah. Jesus became the man nobody wanted. He was born in a manger. He had no beauty that we should desire him (Isa 53:2). He came to his own and they received him not (Jn 1:11). At the end, nobody wanted him. Everybody abandoned him. Even his Father didn't want him (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34).

    Why did Jesus become the man nobody wanted? For you and me! Here is the gospel: God did not save us in spite of the weaknesses that he experienced as a human being but through it. No one gets salvation through their strength; it is only for those who admit they are weak. If you cannot admit that you are a hopeless moral failure and a sinner and that you are absolutely lost and have no hope apart from the grace of God, then you are not weak enough for Leah and her son and the great salvation that God has brought into the world. God chose Leah because he is saying, "This is how salvation works." This is the upside down way. The way up is down. The way to become rich is to give your money away. The way to power is to serve. God came as the son of Leah because he choose the foolish things to shame the wise; he chooses the weak things to shame the strong (1 Cor 1:27-29).

    Practical Applications:
    1. "Enjoy" the "Labans" in your life. Don't be bitter and beat them up. God can use them in your life to make you better if you don't become bitter.
    2. Enjoy rejection. God knows/cares for the rejected/betrayed. Jesus was rejected. God didn't just love Leah, but he actually became Leah, the son of Leah.
    3. Know/understand that in the morning, it will always be Leah. It will make you less desperate in your marriage-seeking, less angry with your spouse.
    4. You can't mess up your life. You can't screw up God's plan for you. Everyone has blown up/screwed up their life. Everybody sinned. Jesus is the "fruit" of everyone's sin. Jesus is not plan B.
    The devastation and unhappiness and misery that happens in your life because of your sins are always your fault. You are responsible. You should repent. Yet God is going to work through you. These 2 things are together. This is an antimony, a paradox. It's never too late for God to work in your life. Start over now. Like Leah, say, "This time I will praise the Lord."

    This is based on a sermon by Tim Keller, "The Girl Nobody Wanted," published in Heralds of the King, 53-72.

    Genesis Study Guide by Tim Keller: What were we put in the world to do? 191-201.

    The Girl Nobody Wanted (Gen 29:15-35)
    1. What might Laban know about Jacob (Gen 29:10-14)? Why was the motivation of Laban and Jacob (Gen 29:15-20)?  In what ways is Laban's scheme ingenious, though cruel (Gen 29:21-26)? What did Laban gain?
    2. Though Jacob was shocked and furious (Gen 29:25), why did he agree so compliantly to Laban's explanation and further offer (Gen 29:26-30)? How was Laban's deceit with Jacob parallel to Jacob's deceit with his family?
    3. How does the affirmation of Gen 28:13-15 and the discipline of Gen 29:15-30 work together for Jacob's good (Heb 12:5-6; Prov 3:12; Amos 3:2; Gen 50:20)?
    4. Identify the idols of Jacob (Gen 29:18,20,30), Leah (Gen 29:32-34), Rachel (Gen 30:1,8). How does God deal with the lovelessness of Leah (Gen 29:31) and the barrenness of Rachel (Gen 30:22-24)? What does this tell us about God's salvation (Isa 53:2; Jn 1:11; Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34; 1 Cor 1: 27-29)?


    God's Heart of Love (Zeph 1:1-3:20)


    He will take great delight in you;  in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing (Zeph 3:17b).

    We love romantic photos/stories because we love to be adored by one we adore. This longing never diminishes throughout life. Why? It is because we were made to love God and to be loved by him. But because of sin, we look for love in all the wrong places, only to be unfulfilled and unsatisfied. God loved his people Israel. But they spurned his love for idols and suffered the consequences of their idolatry. Despite this, God still longs to delight in his people.

    Zephaniah, an OT prophet, warned Judah during the reign of Josiah (637-608 BC) that their final days were near (Zeph 1:7). Their divine judgment will come at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar (605-586 BC), who would conquer and exile them about 20 years later (Zeph 1:4-13). Still God longs to delight in them.

    This sermon is by Mike Bullmore (senior pastor of CrossWay Community Church, Bristol, Wisconsin), delivered at the Gospel Coalition 2011 in Chicago. Watch the video, or listen to the audio of "God's Great Heart Toward His Own" here. Bullmore explained and expounded the message of Zephaniah in 3 steps.

    1. There appears to be no hope. (God's judgment is rightly against all mankind.)
    2. There is a glimmer of hope. (A word of hope is spoken.)
    3. This glimmer bursts into a great and glorious rejoicing of God's people.

    Zephaniah, along with all other OT prophets, is pregnant with the message of the Bible, and therefore it is pregnant with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Granted, in the earlier stages of salvation history and of progressive revelation, the shape of, and the specific contours and content of the gospel is harder to detect. But Zephaniah has the entire Bible in miniature (as with all the other books in the OT), for the gospel is present in Zephaniah in utero.

    Zephaniah begins with a sober assessment and announcement of the condition of all mankind—sinning against God (Zeph 1:17). He pronounces God’s righteous judgment on sinful mankind. But in the midst of the pronouncement of judgment, with all of its darkness, gloom, distress and anguish, there comes shining through like a bright ray of light, a word of hope from God. The good news for sinful man under the judgment of God is the promise of salvation, even while that sure judgment is coming. Thus, there is hope for sinners like us, because of the mercy of God. God has provided salvation not just as an escape from God’s judgment, but as an entrance into God’s very joy.

    Step 1: There Appears to be No Hope (Zeph 1:1-18)

    Zeph 1:2-3 must be some of the most dramatic and silencing opening verses to any book in the Bible. God will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the world (Zeph 1:7-13). Why? Because of man's posturing/attitude toward God.

    • Patronizing God. The people of Judah became good religious pluralists by trying to cover all the bases (Zeph 1:5). They succumbed to cultural pressure. They tried very hard not to offend anyone, but God was very offended. God said, "You shall worship God only" (Deut 6:13), for worshiping God and something else is not worshiping God at all, but patronizing God.
    • Neglecting God. We should involve and trust God in every area of our life (Prov 3:5-6): marriage, family, career. But they neglected God (Zeph 1:6); they did not trust God (Zeph 3:2). They didn't seek input from God. They were proud and self-sufficient. God was not taken into consideration in their daily life. They were practical atheists.
    • Marginalizing/trivializing God. Not only were they patronizing and neglecting God, they were also marginalizing and trivializing God, where God was not a factor in their lives (Zeph 1:12). Thus, the great day of the Lord (Zeph 1:14-18), the day of God's wrath and judgment is coming on all unrepentant people. God is absolutely just (Zeph 3:5). When God sees blatant idolatry, God is angry, full of wrath, and he will judge. It happened when Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, including Solomon's temple. God is holy. In his holiness, God will punish all sin. God will bring justice. God will set all things right. All of this judgment is due to one thing (Zeph 1:17): "Because they have sinned against the Lord."

    The Bible announces God's judgment for a reason. Through out history, the first truth about God to be denied is the doctrine of God's judgment (Gen 3:4). We think our neglect of God or our sin is minor, or that I can do whatever I want. But God's judgment will come (Zeph 3:8). God's judgment applies to everybody. God is the greatest reality in the universe. God is the greatest reality of every man's universe.

    • Are you patronizing God? (OK, I'll go to church.)
    • Neglecting God? (Trusting yourself.)
    • Trivializing God? (God doesn't care what I do/think about/how I live.)

    On that day, there will be nothing that will be able to save you (Zeph 1:18), not your wealth/accomplishments. There will be nothing we can hide behind. There will come a day we have to stand alone before God with nothing to hide behind. If step 1, God's judgment on sin does not register with you, if it doesn't strike you as true, nothing else will. Then you won't listen to step 2 and 3 and you will be lost forever. You'll just convince yourself that God's judgment will somehow overlook you, that it won't apply to you, and you won't read the Bible, which is always calling us to remember who we are and what we would be apart from God's grace: lost and without hope forever. All mankind is under the just and certain judgment of God.

    Step 2: There appears a Glimmer of Hope (Zeph 2:1-15; 3:1-8)

    Zeph 2:1-3 gives us just a glimmer of hope: "perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord's anger" (Zeph 2:3). After this brief glimmer of hope, it is followed by more pronouncements of judgments (Zeph 2:4-15):

    in addition to God's opening pronouncement of judgment on the whole earth, focusing on Israel (Zeph 1:2-18) and on Jerusalem (Zeph 3:1-8).

    God is saying, “I am the Lord of all nations, and all nations are accountable to me.” God is also saying, "Any way you turn, you will run into judgment. There is no place to turn, to flee from safety, except one." The only 1 place to turn for refuge/salvation is turn to God himself (Zeph 2:3).

    The glory of the gospel is this: The one from whom we need to be saved is the very one who saves us. All of us stand guilty before the holy and righteous God. When this registers, we may turn to other remedies: I’ll go back to church, I'll stop this/that, I’ll clean up my act, I'll be better. But there is no hope other than to turn to God. All we can say is "God, have mercy on me, a sinner" (Luke 18:13). It is the only plea of a sinner before a holy God. This is not a magic formula, a special incantation. This is the humbling of your heart, humbly turning to Christ, humbling taking refuge in his death for our sins. It is God's intent to rescue and to redeem for himself a people, a remnant (Zeph 3:12).

    Step 3: The Glimmer of Hope Bursts into a Great and Glorious Rejoicing of God's People at the Consummation of the Salvation of God's Own People: God Saves (Zeph 3:9-20)

    For those who take refuge in God, God saves.
    Zeph 3:14-17 is not just an escape from God's judgment, but an entrance into God's joy. These blessings are not just for the people of Israel, but for all the people of God through out the world (Gal 3:29). On that day, those who have received God's salvation, God's redeemed children, are called to "sing, shout aloud, be glad and rejoice with all your heart" (Zeph 3:14). This is not some tame singing. Given what has been done for us, we have every reason to rejoice with all our heart. No experience here on earth that causes us to rejoice can compare with this or come close to this, to those who have put their trust in Christ. When this is brought to full consummation, you will not be able to not rejoice with all your heart. In this life, we grasp the significance of our salvation only slightly and partially and vaguely (1 Cor 13:9). One day we will realize it and experience it fully. What is it that we will fully realize? 3 things:

    1. There will be no judgment for us at all. God has taken away our judgment/punishment against us (Zeph 3:15; Rom 8:1). What a beautiful statement of the heart of the gospel right here in this obscure OT "minor" prophet (Zeph 3:15). What a beautiful statement of justification. On the cross, Christ drained the cup of God's wrath bone dry. If we are in Christ, there is no judgment left for us. Do the math. The judgment of God's holy law can no longer have anything to do with me. My Savior's obedience and death hides all my sins and transgressions from God's view.
    2. We will be in God's very presence. God, our Lord and Mighty Warrior, is in our very midst (Zeph 3:15,17).
    3. There is no more fear of any kind (Zeph 3:16). What will this be like? No experience of fear. Our King is right in our midst.

    But what Zephaniah marvels at is the amazing prospect of God rejoicing in love over us on that day (Zeph 3:17,20). God will not look at us and be disappointed. God won't say, "Well, given what I had to work with..." or "Well, it is what it is," or "Well, what do you expect..." No, God will rejoice/exalt over us with great gladness, with loud singing. God would have completed His purpose for us by making us spotless, blameless, without blemish. God's rejoicing over God's work in us will be right. There is an unrestrained intensity of passion in God's heart over us. God is not doing this reluctantly. There is no constraint here at all. Isa 62:5 says, "As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you." Hos 2:19 says, "I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion." If you are in Christ, that's how God feels about you.

    All the most moving and thrilling and delightful experiences in this life will seem like nothing, compared to God’s joy and rejoicing over us. Even greater than your joy will be God’s joy. Charles Spurgeon said, "Believer, you are happy when God blesses you but not as happy as God is. You are glad when you are pardoned, but he who pardons you is more glad." The book of Zephaniah lets us know this.

    (A footnote of pastoral encouragement: What is the gospel? What must we include when we preach it, share it? Our thoughts/preaching/personal treasuring of the gospel must always include this consummation of God’s joy. This is the end to which it is all moving. This is the whole point: Being with God to God’s great joy. This is the great contribution of Zephaniah: The consummation of the redeeming work of God in Christ. Sometimes we forget to mention this. But it must be spoken. That’s exactly what Zephaniah does here. This may not be left out. Preach it, share it, until it fills our heart and souls with joy. To Christ’s glory.)

    John Piper's 2 sermons from Zephaniah are The Pleasure of God in the Good of His People (1987) and The Lord will Rejoice over You (1982). Piper's intro and outline:

    According to Zephaniah 1:1, the prophet Zephaniah delivered the Word of the Lord during the reign of Josiah, king of Judah. Josiah reigned from 637 to 608 BC. So his reign came to an end just 20 years before Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians and Israel was taken into captivity. Josiah is the king, who found the long-lost book of the law in the temple and tried to reform the people who had drifted so far into idolatry and wickedness. Zephaniah, then, was a part of this effort to call Judah, and especially Jerusalem, back to God. I think the book falls naturally into 5 parts.

    1) Zeph 1:1-18 announces the coming judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem: "I will stretch out my hand against Judah, and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem" (Zeph 1:4).

    2) Zeph 2:1–3, calls the nation back to God, and specifically to "seek righteousness and seek humility" (Zeph 1:3).

    3) Zeph 2:4–15, Zephaniah announces the judgment that is also coming on the lands that surround Judah: the Philistines to the east (Zeph 2:4–7), Moab and Ammon to the west (Zeph 2:8–11), the Ethiopians to the south (Zeph 2:12), and Assyria to the north (Zeph 2:13–15).

    4) In Zeph 3:1–7, Zephaniah turns his attention to Jerusalem again and lengthens the catalogue of God's accusations against her.

    5) Finally, Zeph 3:8–20, proclaims the conversion of the peoples (Zeph 3:9), the conversion and re-gathering of Israel (Zeph 3:10), and the glorious future of all the godly as God rejoices over them with gladness.

    I think the main point is Zeph 2:3, "Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do his commands; seek righteousness, seek humility." The rest of the book is mainly made up of warnings that judgment is coming upon the proud, and promises that the humble and righteous who seek refuge in the Lord will be saved (Zeph 3:12-13). So there are 3 things: commands, warnings, and promises. Obedience to the command in Zeph 2:3 is Zephaniah's main goal, and the warnings and promises are incentives for the people to repent and obey.

    GOD’S HEART OF LOVE (Zeph 1:1-7; 2:1-3; 3:14-20)

    He will take great delight in you;  in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing (Zeph 3:17b).  Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger (Zeph 2:3).

    Zephaniah, an OT prophet, warned Judah during the reign of Josiah (637-608 BC; about 80 years after the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated by Assyria) that their final days were near (Zeph 1:7). Their divine judgment will come at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar (605-586 BC), who would conquer and exile them about 20 years later (Zeph 1:4-13). Still God longs to delight in them.

    1. How devastating is God’s pronouncement of judgment (1:2-3; 14-18)? Why (1:17; 3:5)? How were they patronizing God (1:5), neglecting God (1:6, 3:2), trivializing God (1:12)? What can save us on the day of judgment (1:18)?
    2. Is there any hope for man (2:1-3)? Can they turn west (2:4-7), east (2:8-11), south (2:12), or north (2:13-15) to escape God’s judgment? What can we do (2:3; Luke 18:13)?
    3. What does God do for those who take refuge in him (3:14-20; Gal 3:29)? What are the reasons for our great joy (3:14-17)? How does God feel toward his people on that day (3:17; Isa 62:5; Hos 2:19; Jer 31:3)?

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