The Savior Reconciles

[Moses] supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside…

Acts 7:25-27a

Have you ever known a person who suffered from blindness? If so, you have undoubtedly recognized that the simplest little things can become painfully complicated when a person cannot see.

Many years ago, a pastor and a deacon took a blind parishioner out to lunch. Despite her difficulties, the aged and faithful Mrs. Todd seldom spoke and never complained. When the food arrived at their table, the saintly senior wrapped her sandwich in a napkin and slowly began to eat. Church business so engrossed the men that they lost track of time and what was happening with their lunch guest. After the meal, they were both horrified to see that Mrs. Todd had eaten her whole sandwich—and napkin! Because of her disability, Mrs. Todd could not see her sandwich, but because of their depravity, sinners will not see the Savior.

Moses was misunderstood. The Sanhedrin accused Stephen of blasphemy against Moses, so in his defense-by-sermon, he cited the Law-giver. Moses’ first attempt at public ministry ended in disaster. One day, while watching his people languishing in slavery under Pharaoh’s brutal taskmasters, Moses witnessed an Egyptian mercilessly beating a Hebrew. He intervened and killed the abuser. The next day, Moses was again observing his people when two of his fellow Hebrews began to have an altercation. Moses asserted himself and attempted to reconcile the men and thought that his “brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand”. Because of their envy-driven blindness, the Hebrews couldn’t see Moses. Blinded by their power and tradition, the Sanhedrin wouldn’t see the Savior.

Moses was misjudged. God is sovereign over everything, even the angry misperceptions of unbelievers. “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? (emphasis mine)”, the miffed men asked Moses. The stinging sarcasm of Moses’ “brothers” reminds us of a similar event when Joseph’s brothers asked, “Are you indeed to rule over us?” (Genesis 37:8). In both cases, God’s salvation and the inability of observers to perceive it was at odds. Moses would, in fact, reconcile the people as a ruler and judge over all Israel, but not for another forty years. At the right time, Moses would testify that Yahweh had sent him to lead Israel out of Egypt to worship God at Sinai. Because of misperception, his own brothers couldn’t see Moses.

Moses was a mediator. A mediator is an advocate who stands between two parties in conflict bringing them together in peaceful reconciliation. Because we are sinfully separated from God, we must be forgiven and brought back into fellowship with Him. Moses reconciled the people to each other (Exodus 18:13-27) and he also reconciled the people to God (Exodus 32:7-14, 30-35). There is no salvation without reconciliation and there is no reconciliation without a mediator. Moses was a great mediator, but Christ Jesus is the greater Mediator through whom God reconciles the whole world (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). Moses came as a prince but pointed to Jesus who came as a pauper. Moses reconciled Israel by giving the Law. Jesus reconciled the elect by giving His life (Hebrews 9:15, 12:22-24). In the darkness of Golgotha, the angry mob couldn’t see the Messiah mediating hell.

Mediation is major. How important is the reconciling work of Christ our Mediator? Sometimes Christians erroneously say that because of Jesus’ death on the cross, we have direct access to God. It must be observed that our access to God is “through Christ” (Ephesians 2:18) who opened the curtain through His flesh (Hebrews 10:19-22). Jesus taught us to pray in His name emphasizing His role as our Mediator before the Father (John 14:13). Our Savior is at the King’s right hand in continual prayer for His people (Romans 8:33-34). We come boldly to the throne of grace and find help because Christ is waiting there for us (Hebrews 4:16). Because our God is “holy, holy, holy”, we thank Him that we have Christ Jesus as Mediator. By “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” we are made to see our Mediator.

Dr. Ligon Duncan observes, “Hell is eternity in the presence of God. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God, with a Mediator.”

How do you see your eternity—mediated or unmediated?

 

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An Inconvenient Mercy

Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Luke 10:36-37

My son was ZAPped. Zeros Aren’t Permitted is a program run by his math teacher. She is fastidious about her students keeping all their assignments completed and submitted on time. When they fall behind, they receive a ZAP notice which requires the student with delinquent work to report to the math class for about ninety minutes after school. Recently, my son, whose name shall remain secret to protect his guilt, was ZAPped because of a “zero” or three in his teacher’s grade book. Have you ever noticed how these things happen at the most inconvenient times?

Because it was the end of the quarter, the students were given a day off for teacher planning. Therefore, my son’s ZAP session was scheduled to begin on a Friday morning when only the teachers were at school. While all the good little boys and girls were enjoying extra hours of sleep, a three-day weekend, and peaceful parents, I drove to school while sipping coffee and delivering an impassioned and inconvenience-inspired lecture to my student, “Don’t you know I have better things to do today than drive you to school and wait for you to finish homework that was due two weeks ago?” Does mercy ever bump into you when you’ve got better things to do?

While dialoguing with my ZAPped conscience, it came to me: ZAP is really mercy. Mercy is when one doesn’t get something bad that is deserved. Students who earned zeros were given academic mercy, yet somehow, we perceived it as a massive inconvenience.

The Good Samaritan was mercifully inconvenienced. He risked his life, took time away from his journey, and spent his own money, but he did something much more than the sum of all those parts—he was a true neighbor to his enemy.

Have you considered the massive inconvenience of Christ’s mercy? God-haters, who earned by their wages of sin something far worse than zeros, were given the most expensive mercy ever purchased. For that mercy, Jesus didn’t risk His life, He gave it. For that mercy, the Master didn’t take time away from His journey—it was His journey. For mercy’s sake, He didn’t spend His money, He spilled His blood. The sum of all these parts is that while we were still His enemies, Christ died for us. If it had been convenient, would it be mercy?

As you pursue life bent towards convenience, remember: His is an inconvenient mercy.

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Resisting the Spirit

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

Acts 7:51-53

Emotional congruence with the Holy Spirit is a slippery notion for most Christians. Somehow, many of us have misconstrued the Holy Spirit as immutably nice. However, scripture tells us of exemplary saints who—while filled with the Holy Spirit—gave vent to His holy spleen.

Resisting begins with deceit. False witnesses stirred up the authorities by accusing Stephen of profaning the law and temple (Acts 6:11-14). However, the trouble wasn’t as simple as the lies which were spoken against a man, but that darkened hearts reveled in the deceit. God has illuminated human beings with the conscience so that we may know the truth and He crafted our hearts to love “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:61 John 4:7). But men “loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). There is no truth apart from or known autonomously from the Holy Spirit. He has been sent as the Guide into all truth (John 16:13). Sadly, we tend to prefer lies to truth and resistance of instead of resignation to the Spirit.

Resisting is disbelief. Using the word “always” is often a prelude to falsehood. Very rarely is even the worst of us always angry, wrong, or anything else. But Stephen didn’t exaggerate for dramatic effect. From his fullness with the Spirit of Truth (Acts 6:3-5), he commandingly reproached the Sanhedrin, “you always resist the Holy Spirit.”

Scripture teaches that there are at least three negative and progressively dangerous responses to God’s Spirit: grieving (Ephesians 4:30), quenching (1 Thessalonians 5:19), and resisting (Acts 7:51, Matthew 12:31). Sin hurts the Spirit who indwells all who are born again. In an opposite way, the Spirit burns with holy passion—a reverent fury and consuming flame—causing believers to desire what God desires and love what He loves. When we quench the Spirit, we “throw a wet blanket” on that fire. Thankfully, the Spirit is stronger than our sin and burns hotter than our apathy, He is, after all, the Spirit of the Almighty, Sovereign God who is not thwarted by our “old man”. Grieving and quenching are ways believers can sinfully respond to the Holy Spirit. However, resisting the Holy Spirit is an activity unique to unbelievers.

In prophetic fashion, Stephen proclaimed that the Sanhedrin’s resistance was due to their unregenerate and impenitent hearts. He presents them with two colorful word pictures illuminating their Spirit-resistance: “stiff-necked” and “uncircumcised in heart”. “Stiff-necked” was frequently used in the Old Testament to describe Israel’s stubborn slowness to believe God (Exodus 32:9, 2 Chronicles 30:8). However, “uncircumcised in heart” does not describe weak faith, but want of faith due to an unregenerate state. The filth of the “old man” had not been put off by the Holy Spirit. Jesus told Nicodemus that a person could not see or enter the kingdom of God unless one was born again by the Spirit (John 3:1-5). Stephen rightly diagnosed the problem of the Sanhedrin: they were spiritually dead! Their response to the Gospel was to lie still in the rigidity of their spiritual rigor mortis.

Resisting is detestable. Stephen disposed of the “kid gloves” as he punched out the charges of persecution and murder. The Sanhedrin accused him of slandering Moses, but Stephen counterpunched by saying they had slaughtered Messiah (Acts 7:52). False witnesses said he blasphemed the law; Stephen responded that the Sanhedrin had broken the law in its proceedings against Jesus (Acts 7:53). With a law so shattered by those sworn to love and uphold it, what kind of justice was being served?

Resistance is damnable. The 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation has inspired a mixed celebration. Certainly, Martin Luther was a complex and sinful man, but God used him mightily to sanctify His Church. The harsh rhetoric he directed at the Jews of Germany has left some to ask, “Was Luther Anti-Semitic?” However, Luther’s problem with the Jews wasn’t ethnic or social, but spiritual. Like Stephen before him, Luther didn’t speak softly to “good religious folks” who rejected Jesus. Perhaps both men accurately understood that a harsher judgment than their own awaited those who—through resisting the Spirit—were baptized into the blood-guilty league of those who crucified Christ Jesus (Matthew 27:25). As punitive as Luther’s pronouncements were, we must all consider that one day the sheep will be separated from the goats and none who have resisted the Spirit—neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female—will stand in resistance to the eternal wrath of God in hell.

Sometimes God uses a hammer. Luther nailed his remonstrance to a church. God nailed our Redeemer to a cross. The Spirit nails the repentant with Christ:

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

Have you resisted the Spirit? Repent and believe in Jesus—He must win the battle!

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Squelching the Spirit

Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’”

Acts 7:48-50

Citizen’s Band (CB) radios were a ubiquitous cultural apparatus in 1970’s America. Every CB radio had two knobs whose purpose seemed self-evident: “Volume”, and “Channel”. But there was a third knob which seemed mysterious to every child playing “Breaker 1-9” in their parents’ cars. The mystery was revealed when my father finally used the word in a sentence. Upon entering a room overflowing with kids’ cacophony, he would often call out “Squelch it!” Adjusting the “Squelch” to a higher position on a CB radio filters out the background noise so that only the strongest signals are audible.

Hearing our Father can be difficult especially when background noise is preferred to the “still, small voice.” Which do you squelch, the din or the divine?

He is uncontainable. God’s Spirit does not live in hand-made boxes, even when they are as opulent as that ancient wonder of the world known as “Solomon’s Temple”. When he dedicated the temple, King Solomon prayerfully confessed: “heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27). God doesn’t need us to build Him a house; we need Him to build us a house (2 Samuel 7:1-11). God doesn’t need a house, in fact, He doesn’t need anything. He’s not a man; He’s God and He’s uncontainable.

He is unrestrainable. Perhaps the reason we humans have tried to build houses for God throughout history is that we’d really like to “get a handle” on the Holy Spirit. Well, He can’t be handled! He’s the irreducible God whose throne is heaven, the height of which is as unimaginable as it is inaccessible. But the Sanhedrin tried. If God’s Spirit was going to be anywhere, so they reasoned, He would reside in their temple, not rest on a Nazareth-born rabbi-carpenter (Acts 6:8-15). But the God of the universe doesn’t live for our reasons or play by our rules, even when those reasons and rules find their nexus in our religion. No matter how much effort our religious hands exert, we simply cannot “wag the dog”.

Canis Marjoris is the Big Dog in our neck of the celestial woods. At two billion eight hundred thousand kilometers in diameter, the red hypergiant is thought to be the largest star in our galaxy and one of the most luminous. If our sun was replaced by Canis Majoris, it would extend past the orbit of Jupiter. To put it in terms we may better grasp, if a person could continuously fly in a jet airplane at five hundred fifty miles per hour, it would take one thousand one hundred years to circle the hypergiant once. Just think of it, Canis Majoris is one star of billions in the Milky Way which is one galaxy among one hundred billion galaxies. As we mere mortals exercise our tiny minds to comprehend the vast expanse which is the known universe, we have done nothing more than begun to imagine the chair on which the King of Kings sits. But God created it all with the words, “let there be light”.

Christ Jesus, the God-Man, through whom all things were made (John 1:3), created something of infinitely greater value than stars when with His dying breath, He shouted: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). He created the Church, “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). The Spirit and the Bride speak with one voice “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

Are you listening to His voice, or have you squelched the Spirit?

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