Yakkity yak, don’t talk back…

“But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”
Romans 9:20

I have written before describing how our relationship with our children are good reminders of our relationship with God.  Your child’s dependence on your provision as a parent is a tremendous sign of your own dependence upon God for everything.  Your child’s begging and pleading for the desires of their heart is how we ought to come to God in prayer.  Your child’s disobedience illustrates our own disobedience from our heavenly Father.  Your love for your child, even your disobedient child, is but a glimpse of the steadfast and unfailing love of God.

As I was reading through Romans 9 today, I was reminded of another correlative aspect of the parent/child and God/creation relationship: lipping off.  I don’t know if there is a more frustrating thing as a parent than to have a child talk back in disrespect. As a parent I’ve learned the meaning of pain by stepping barefoot on a lego on the bedroom floor.  I’ve learned humility through cleaning up sick in the middle of the night.  I have re-learned Algebra, History, Biology and the Arts to help guide and shape my children through their education.  And what thanks do I get, “Whatever, Dad!”

I am not a perfect father, far from it.  I have a lot to learn, and I will readily admit when I am wrong, and often have.  But when a child starts talking back, questioning not just my decision, but the very intention of my heart, that’s too much.  It is as if they think I’m making this up as I go (which, sometimes I am), but even worse, that I don’t want what’s best for them in the long run.  I doubt that I’m alone; this is one of the most frustrating things I have faced as a parent.

And yet, aren’t we like that with God?  This evening I’m attending a Presbytery Seminar on “The Future of the Five Points,” in which 5 of my colleagues in ministry will be discussing the 5 Points of the Doctrines of Grace and how they continue to be relevant today.  What I find fascinating is that whenever Calvin or Reformed Faith are even mentioned, the automatic question is, “What about my free will?”

Okay, what about it?

By insisting upon your freedom of will, what are you making of God’s will?  Shall the will of the sovereign of the universe bend to yours?  Are you questioning the wisdom of God?  Are you doubting his heart?

The apostle Paul has laid out the gospel throughout his letter to the Romans, that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, and that “God has done what the law, weakened by flesh, could not do by sending his own Son… in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us”.  This is God’s sovereign work of salvation in Jesus Christ for all who are called according to his purpose.

As Paul anticipates the rejoinder from his audience, arguing “Well, if God’s will is sovereign and you cannot resist Him, why does he still hold us accountable.”  And his answer, Because God is God.  “Who are you to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?'”  Ultimately, Paul’s solution to the question of free will is to compare the will of created man to the will of the eternal God; and there is no real comparison.

This is the answer that God gave Job when Job questioned the Almighty:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding. (Job 38:4)

Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? (Job 40:8)

Ultimately, who gets the glory? Who’s will is sovereign?  If it is mine, then we’re all done for, because I cannot even plan a trip to the grocery story without something going wrong. He holds my breath in his hands (Dan 5:23).  So who am I to think that I have the strength of will to determine the outcome of my existence in eternity?  God is sovereign, therefore His will must reign supreme and work all things for the purpose of His good pleasure.  Will I not honor Him?

Please don’t think that I am being flippant or dismissive of the real struggle that many have in regards to our responsibility and God’s sovereignty. But in the end we must acknowledge that He is God, and we are not.  Will you, will I, continue to question his love, his mercy, His sovereign will?  He has ordained all things according to His will, things for wrath and things for mercy, that He might be glorified in all things.  This great mystery ought to lead us, not to divisions among us, but to join in the wonder and praise that Paul shares in Romans 11:

Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen.

He Came for You

“[The Grace of God]… which now has been manifested
through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus,
who abolished death
and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…”
(2 Timothy 1:10)

Here we are, once again, in the first week of another Advent Season. The Christmas decorations are up, the lights are shining, the music is playing, and The Christmas Story movie is undoubtedly already playing on a continuous cycle from now until the end of the month. Ah Christmas!

I’ve been especially struck by the idea of Advent this year. The word “advent” means “coming.” In the Advent Season, we celebrate Christ’s coming for our salvation, and are encouraged to remember, long for, and prepare for His glorious return. He has come, and He is coming again!

In my sermons this Advent, I’ve been asking the question, “Why Did Jesus Come?”  We’ve been looking at those verses where Jesus tells us why He came (to bring fire, to fulfill the law…).  Still, maybe a better question to ask would be, “For Whom Did Jesus Come?”

Thinking about the way Christ came to be with us, and who He came to be with – just thinking about this is staggering.

He came, from the realm of glory, to be born, meek and mild, the King of Glory enthroned in a humble manger. He came, heralded by the Heavenly Host of Angels, and was greeted by lowly, working-class shepherds. He came, full of grace and truth, teaching the wisdom of God, and He was surrounded by the blind, the sick, the poor, the outcast – all those who had been rejected by the world. He came full of righteousness and bringing the judgment of God, and was friend to sinners, the prostitutes and the tax collectors.

He came to these. He came for these. The Incarnate Word of God, Emmanuel, God with us, to seek and to save the lost.

Christ is the Lord of the universe – “by him all things were created… and in him all things hold together (Col 1:16-17) – therefore we must meet Him as He is. If we want to find Him, to know Him, to walk with Him, to be found with Him, then we need to first recognize ourselves among those for whom He came. We have to see our brokenness and our desperate need for a savior to come. We need to realize we are the blind, the sick, the poor, the sinner; we are the ones for whom He came. As long as we keep denying this truth about ourselves, then Jesus will always be coming for someone else, one of them over there. But once we realize who we are, and that we are the ones Jesus came for – then we will know Him and we will know great joy.

This is the tremendous grace and mercy that we find at Christmas, the beautiful reminder of God’s love in Advent. This is why the heavens rang out with “good news of great joy.” He has come for us. We did not deserve it, we could not earn it, but God loved us so much that He sent His Son for us. We are the ones for whom He came. He has come to be Savior to those dead in their sins, Shepherd to the lost, Healer of the sick, Light for those in darkness, Hope for those in despair, Friend of sinners.

This is the grace which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. This is the grace that comes to us in Advent. “Glory to God in the Highest!”

SDG