Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Whole of Man

I love a good mystery!  When I was growing up, I cut my teeth on Sherlock Holmes and Perry Mason. In fact, I still love an occasional Perry Mason rerun. But there is a mystery in the universe that makes a Sherlock Holmes adventure look like a child's puzzle. That mystery is the Lord Himself. He is inscrutable (Isaiah 40.28).  He is incomprehensible (Job 37.5). He is unknowable (Job 36.23).  He is awesome, majestic, full of wonder (Exodus 15.11). He is limitless (Job 11.7).  His ways are beyond us (Isaiah 55.9). Great minds, past and present, have tried to penetrate the mystery of God, to fathom its depths, to comprehend His ways. Scientists have tried to explain His ways while philosophers have treated Him as a quaint idea. But after centuries of inquiry, God is still a mystery.

God is far too complex for the scientist and far too deep to satisfy the philosopher.  By now, you have probably sensed some of my own struggle with this mystery. Larry Crabb said men inevitably have difficulty handling mystery; and he's right. So please bear with me as I consider once more the question how then should we respond to Him?  The wisest man in history suggests the only appropriate response a finite person can give to the infinite God:  "Here is the  conclusion, when all has been heard: fear God and observe His commandments, because this is the whole of man" (Ecclesiastes 12.13, my translation).  We have already seen a little of what the fear of the Lord means [See the chapters "Never Alone," "The Beginning of Wisdom" and "The Grace of Fear," in my book Candle Drippings-Meanwhile, continue reading.], but what does it actually involve?  How does it become a reality in our experience?

In his conclusion, Solomon focuses not on fear and obedience, important as they may be, but rather on God and His commandments.  The Hebrew is more emphatic, reading like this: "God fear and His commandments keep!"  When we focus our attention on the Lord Himself, our response follows spontaneously. And that response is essentially one of fear and trembling.  Albert Martin suggests several ingredients that comprise the fear of the Lord. Let's look at two of them.  One is a pervasive sense of the presence of God. And this is perhaps the most important one. If you are conscious of the presence of God manifest around you and in your life, you will naturally respond with fear. Let me suggest (if we are not too proud to receive it) a modern example from Kenneth Grahame's delightful tale, The Wind in the Willows.

Rat and Mole are approaching the mythical creature Pan on some island in their world, speaking to each other about him as if he were God. "'Rat,' he found the breath to whisper, shaking, 'Are you afraid?'

'Afraid?' murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.  'Afraid?  Of Him?  O never, never, never.  And yet---and yet---O Mole, I am afraid.'"

When we enter the presence of God, our response is much the same.  We are not afraid and yet we are. A.W. Tozer calls this one of the paradoxes of the Christian faith, to fear and not to be afraid. We enter His presence in fear and we walk with Him until our fear matures into fellowship. But ultimately the fear lingers when we're in His presence.  Remember Jacob?  When he awoke from his dream, he said essentially, "The Lord is here and I did not know it.  I'm scared." (cp. Genesis 28.16-17).  The presence of God alone generates godly fear of the Lord.

Martin offers a second ingredient, a correct concept of the character of God.  Even a brief glimpse of Who God is should send us trembling to our knees. When King Uzziah died, Isaiah experienced the presence of God and a glimpse of His character at the same time. His response to both was to fear the Lord. He saw the Lord sitting on a throne, surrounded by angelic beings. The temple was filled with smoke, the doors trembled on their hinges, the seraphim covered their faces with their wings and cried to one another, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory" (Isaiah 6.3).  The entire scene radiates the holiness of God.  As a result, Isaiah feared for his life.  He fell on his face and cried out, "Woe is me, for I am ruined!  Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts" (Isaiah 6.5).

You see, God is a God of holiness, a God of majesty.  A God of transcendent glory.  Our God is an awesome God.  Perhaps the greatest title of honor we can place upon the Lord, however, is that of holiness.  God is a God of love, no doubt.  The Bible says so.  He is a God of light and of wrath.  But holiness reflects the majesty of His very name.  Holiness reflects the venerableness of His name.  The beauty of the Lord glows through His holiness.  Over three hundred years ago, Stephen Charnock said of all the attributes applied to the name of God, holy is the most frequently used.  The holiness of God, he adds,  is "the glory of every perfection in the Godhead; as His power is the strength of them, so His holiness is the beauty of them; as all would be weak without almightiness to back them, so all would be uncomely without holiness to adorn them...." According to Charnock, God's purity is the splendor of every attribute in the Godhead. The majesty of God stands for His purity, His truth, His holiness, His justice, and every expression that indicates the moral supremacy of the Lord. And it is the moral purity, the holiness of God that moves us to fear Him.  And Solomon said this is the very essence of our being ---to fear the Lord is "the whole of man."
"You know it ain't quotin' the Bible that makes a man. It's livin' it."     ~~ Will Sonnett (Walter Brennan), The Guns of Will Sonnett, "Chapter and Verse" Episode.
Our God Reigns!

Did you know that these words are really a part of a proclamation of salvation?  Does that mean I have to recognize that God is Lord before I can receive Him as Savior?  On the other hand, how can I receive Him as Savior without recognizing Him as Lord?  A. W. Tozer answers, "Nowhere are we led to believe that we can use Jesus as a Savior and not own Him as our Lord.  He is the Lord and as the Lord He saves us."  Several weeks ago, I learned that fact again when I heard my pastor say, "When you meet the Savior, He stands before you as Lord."  When you search the Scriptures, you find the same thing.  You see, these titles are more than theological labels.  They are descriptions of who He is!  He is Lord, as we have already seen.  But also, He is Savior!  From the beginning, it is the Lord who redeems and delivers and saves.  And He redeems because He reigns supreme.

In the Garden of Eden, Satan started with Eve, telling her that if she ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, she would be just like God; and as a result, she and Adam would be lords of their own lives.  Why let God run your life when you can run it yourself with the same wisdom and knowledge that He has?  Eve bought the pitch.  So did Adam.  He was right there with her.  He heard the temptation.  All of it.  And he evidently believed it, too.  With one bite, the appointed lord of God's creation abdicated.  But the real Lord of creation didn't abdicate.  Instead, He came searching for Adam and Eve.  When He found them, the Lord made coats of skin to cover the nakedness of their sin, clothing them with His special robes.  The Lord also provided the promise of a future deliverer who with royal power would destroy the enemy serpent.  The Creator became the Redeemer without relinquishing His lordship.

In the Old Testament, Isaiah is the prophet of salvation.  More than once, the eloquent prophet identifies the Lord of Israel as their Savior.  Quoting the Lord Himself, Isaiah declares, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! ...for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior...." (Isaiah 43.1-3).  "I even I, am the Lord; and there is no savior besides me" (Isaiah 43.11).  In another place, He said, "Then you will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob" (Isaiah 60.16; cp. 49.26).  He is Lord and Savior.

In the New Testament, the message is the same.  Hear the praise of Mary: "My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior" (Luke 1.47).  The first proclamation of the gospel by Jesus Himself was "the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel" (Mark 1.14)  George Ladd defines the kingdom of God as "the authority to rule, the sovereignty of the king."  In other words, in the Word of God, a kingdom is primarily the act of reigning rather than a geographical realm over which the king reigns.  Ladd also indicates that  the phrases "the Kingdom of God" and "the Kingdom of Heaven" are interchangeable with each other, as well as interchangeable with eternal life. This simply means that to receive eternal life is to receive the Kingdom of God at the same time, or rather to receive eternal life is to receive the reign of God in your life at the same time.  To believe the gospel, to receive Jesus as Savior is to recognize Him also as Lord.  "The Lord will not save those," says Tozer,  "whom He cannot command....He would not be who He is if He saved us and called us and chose us without the understanding that He can also guide and control our lives."  He is Lord and Savior.

As previously noted, the words "Our God Reigns" are an essential part of a proclamation of salvation.  Isaiah, again quoting the Lord, declares, "How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, 'Your God reigns.'" (Isaiah 52.7)  In Romans 10, the Apostle Paul discusses salvation in detail, quoting this passage as part of his Biblical support (verse 15).  He says, "if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation" (Romans 10.9-10).  The confession that results in salvation is Jesus is Lord!  In verse 13, he adds, "whoever will call upon the name of the Lord, will be saved."

Finally, the words Lord and Savior appear together only four times in the Bible, all of them in 2 Peter (1.11; 2.20; 3.2; 3.18); but in all four places, they appear in that order: Lord and Savior.  He was Lord before He was Savior.  When He became Savior, He did not cease to be Lord.  Our great joy comes not only in recognizing Him as Lord and Savior, but in declaring to the world and to each other in song, "Our God Reigns!"
"If we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants."          ~~ William Penn