"God With A Face"
The family had gone to the mountains for vacation. Their cottage overlooked a friendly lake. After a swim and dinner, it was bedtime. Tenderly, the mother prepared her little daughter for the night, heard her prayers, kissed her, and left the room. Immediately, Julia called for her to come back. The child raised some difficult questions about God. Patiently the mother listened, and then said reassuringly, “We’ll be on the porch. There’s nothing to hurt you. God is in the dark as well as in the light.” Plaintively the child replied, “But I can’t see Him in the dark, Mummy. I want a God with a face.”
So do we all. When night comes, trouble knocks, disappointments punctuate the day, and problems pyramid, we all crave a God with a face. In our anxiety and agony, we join David in saying: “Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob” (Ps. 24:6). (Jones, G. C. (1986). 1000 illustrations for preaching and teaching. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)
Lord God, bless Your Word wherever it is proclaimed. Make it a Word of power and peace to convert those not yet Your own and to confirm those who have come to saving faith. May Your Word pass from the ear to the heart, from the heart to the lip, and from the lip to the life that, as You have promised, Your Word may achieve the purpose for which You send it, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
It’s Going to Hurt Me More...
The reality is that sin hurts, and correction hurts. There is another reality, that we usually don’t truly get until we are parents ourselves. It really does “hurt me more than it hurts you” when a parent has to discipline a child.
From our fallen natures, it hurts more because we want our children to “like” us. NOBODY - unless he or she is sadistic - wants to see their child in pain, be it physical or emotional. It also hurts because we can’t help but wonder if our child’s misbehavior or failure is somehow our fault. Finally, chastisement requires that we take time, in an apparent hostile action, that we would rather devote to something much more cooperative with our child.
From the Image of God part of us, there is a more profound pain, especially if we are trying to raise our children, “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” We are trying to raise up “a godly seed.” In addition, we are modeling a sanctified life, and we desire that life to be followed. When those who follow us stumble, we feel the pain of sin separating us, or those whom we are disciplining, from God.
Even greater than this pain, however, is the pain of knowing that we, not just the one who transgressed, have come short of God’s glory. This pain reminds us that God also suffered for our sin. “For He who knew no sin became sin for us, in order that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
It truly is our sin that led to Christ being “lifted up from the earth” to hang upon the cross. He was not forced to be there, but He was compelled to be there, constrained by His love for us. That love was not an isolated love, born only by the Son; it was the love of the Triune God - Father Son and Holy Spirit - that put our Lord on that “old rugged cross.”
I don’t tell you this to guilt-trip you into promising to do better, but because it is the truth. The truth is that “rugged individualism is a myth.” “Naked self-interest” is a sin. Obsession with introspection is a trick of the devil. As long the colonies were a hodgepodge of individuals doggedly defending each his own interests, they were bound to fail. Until that loose confederation of colonial militias was transformed into the Continental Army, the United States was destined to be a still-born dream. As long as the best hope for the American slave population was individual deliverance via the Underground Railroad, there was no chance that the curse of slavery would end. It was not until America turned from being a nation of tinkers and craftsmen into a nation built upon assembly lines of mass production, of teams working together towards a common goal, that America grew from an Atlantic Coast rump-state to a Continental power and a major player on the world stage.
If that is true naturally, and it is, just read any history book, how much more is it true spiritually. We are not saved by God through the Gospel simply to become more moral individuals. We are saved so that, as it is written,
Romans 9:26 ESV
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ ”
Matthew 6:1–6 ESV
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
In the first portion of our Gospel text, the Lord exposes self-centered pietism as a perversion of the Father’s will, actually opposed to His divine purpose. The purpose of the Law, as it is kept, is to give direction to your love for God and for your neighbor, not to draw attention to your relative purity as compared to other sinners. The aim of prayer is not the praise of others directed towards you, but the intercession for others directed towards God. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus didn’t teach you how to pray for you, He taught you how to pray for us.
Matthew 6:16–21 ESV
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Lent is a season of preparation, as was Advent. In both, we are preparing for the manifestation of the Lord. Advent prepares us for His coming and Lent prepares us for His going. In Advent, we prepare to receive the Lord Jesus. In Lent, we prepare for the Lord to receive us. Therefore, in Advent we bring gifts and acknowledge our King; in Lent, we bring our repentant hearts as we acknowledge our Savior. We come together in Lent beginning today, realizing that we, together, need God to be merciful to us. Together, we are marked out as sinners. Together, we receive His forgiveness.
Therefore our fasting is not simply that of individual purification, with its empty promise of gaining God’s approval.
Isaiah 58:3–14 ESV
‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD? “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in. “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Why do we have so many churches and so much sorrow? Why do we have so many preachers amidst so much pain? Are we living as one body in Christ? Are we members of one Body? Are we helpers of one another?
Or are we individual enclaves each vying for the attention of a skeptical community that sees us as little more than religious entrepreneurs seeking to dominate a depressed market? Instead of focusing on the pure Gospel of Christ, are we seeking for catchy phrases that will gain the attention and approval of those who desire affirmation of their desires instead of seeking the forgiveness and mercy of God?
God will move without us if He must, but He will raise up a people who understand what the will of the Lord is, a people, called by His name, who humble themselves and pray and seek His face, and turn from their wicked ways. If we turn away from the Lord and turn to idols, God will yet deliver this community, without us. But if we turn to the Lord, remember His Strong Word, cling to His exceeding great and precious promises, and enter into His rest that is found in the pure Gospel of Christ, God will watch over His Word to perform it. He will restore us to wholeness, He will bless those who have been wounded by sin with the healing that comes from His wounds, for “with His stripes, we are healed.” He will cause His face to be seen in His people, for such is His Divine purpose after all.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen