August 7, 2013

Ways To Please God - I: Cross Over Into The Light

People often ask, "What is it that God really wants? What pleases God?" In this short series of posts I will give a few dozen things that please God directly from Scripture as Scripture is always the source to understand God's will. The listing and explanations will be based loosely in Merediths' Book of Lists. Exposition of Scripture will be mine as I feel Meredith's book is not biblical or not true to Scripture at times. What we will see when reviewing many of these things is that the very things that we can do to please God are to our ultimate benefit.

(1) We Are to Fulfill All Righteousness

Matthew 3:15 “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

At first this passage seems enigmatic and difficult to understand but it is quite simple. Jesus is merely stating to John the Baptist that He is fulfilling all righteousness (or all that is righteous) which is called of for all believers. In this way He is being perfectly obedient to the will of God as is John by doing the baptism in question here. So we see that it is possible for Jesus and a regular man to fulfill all righteousness in a joint effort. Jesus is fulfilling to the letter the predictions of Him in the Old obedience to God the Father. Part of that total obedience was that Jesus would need to be baptized as our role model of public confession of our faith and initiation into our ministry in the Lord. It is necessary that one repents of their sin to reach this point though.

Please note also that Jesus said that it is proper ἡμῖν/"to us" . It is proper to fulfill all righteousness. It is something that man can do too, not just Jesus. I have often seen this simple fact overlooked by expositors and teachers of the word. It isn't so much about someone getting saved as it is a response to God's grace. A righteous person is the one who lives in harmony and obedient to the will of God through Christ. In this way for sinners it is an ethical righteousness but true righteousness can only come from God. This is just as John the Baptist did in this instance.

The word righteousness is synonymous with the Christian's life. We too are to be to fulfill righteousness. Why? Because Jesus was perfectly righteous…as Christians we are called to be exactly like obedience to Him and like Him. But we can't. So how do we fulfill this righteousness that we are called to? We fulfill it through the very One who is God who is perfectly righteous: Jesus Christ himself. We gain our righteousness through nothing we do but through everything Jesus did. Jesus identified Himself with sinners and was the friend of sinners. We as sinners need to reciprocate that relationship and realize our total dependency on Him. 

(2) We're Don't Live Just by Things of the World. We Are to Live By the Word of God.

Matthew 4:4 ~ “Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Here we see another statement from Jesus. Satan is tempting Jesus and is rightfully asserting that the Lord of all does not need to suffer privation as He has the power to feed Himself any time He wants. What needs to be seen here is that this privation or suffering is by choice. To take it even further it is a choice according to a predestined plan. Later miracles by Jesus prove Satan correct as Jesus creates bread and fish from mere child's snacks in the feeding of the 5000 (Matthew 14:13-21). So what is Jesus really saying here?

Jesus understood that the very fact that he was starving in this situation was for the benefit of believers in the very retelling of this story (like now in your hearing). It was to teach the lesson alluded to in Deuteronomy 8:3
Deuteronomy 8:3 ~ “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

In other words we are to allow ourselves to suffer privation, persecution and suffering on a continued basis for the sake of God’s will and word and in a greater aspect…God’s Kingdom. Just as the Israelites suffered to some extent in the wilderness and needed to walk by faith in God to truly survive the forty year wandering.

For Jesus to focus on His own needs would cause Him to draw focus away from what was really important…which was active obedience to the Word which leads people to repentance and leads to salvation in the eternal scheme of things. Feeding on the Word of God in the long run is more important than anything physical or materialistic that this world can offer a person.

(3) We're Only to Worship God-There Are No Other Gods Before Him-We Are Only To Serve God

Exodus 20:3 ~ “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Deuteronomy 6:13 ~ “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.”

Matthew 4:10 ~ “Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Again we are involved in a temptation from Satan. Again we see a rebuke from the Lord towards that snake. Satan had taken Jesus to a high mountain and offers Jesus all the Kingdoms of the world if only He will worship Satan. In this way Jesus would be king over the world but be able to avoid the Crucifixion. This of course would require that Jesus disobey the will of the Father. That is not going to happen and Jesus is emphatic in His response. By taking Satan’s shortcut to ruling the kingdoms of the world not only is Jesus not being obedient, He would be disproving the truth of Scripture. This is a no-go. Again we see perfect obedience. It shows that God’s way is the right way since it fulfills His perfect will in accordance with a perfect plan that leads to the salvation of repentant humanity all to the glory of God.

Again we see Jesus jump back to the Law and the prescribed reaction to situations like this outlined in the law. We see Jesus do this exactly to act as a role model for the believer in the same or similar situations. There are no shortcuts to the will of God. At times we will need to walk directly through the flame.

In the end we see something definitive in Jesus reaction to Satan. He is sovereign and in control over Satan. Jesus in His supremacy over all of the created order dismisses him with what seems to be a resolute distain: “Away from me” or “be gone.” Satan is powerless to resist and his departure is as succinct as Jesus statement: (v.11) “Then the Devil left Him.” It is good to know that Jesus has this control over the other elements in the creation (including Satan) and therefore our lives. I am comforted by this fact.

(4) We Are To Seek First the Kingdom of God and God's Righteousness 

Matthew 6:33 ~ “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”

In contrast to unbelievers (or the Gentiles) in Matthew’s context, believers are called to seek the things of the Kingdom over the things of the world like food, drink, clothing, etc.  The verb used here is ζητεῖτε or “you all be seeking.” It is in the present active indicative. In other words believers are to be constantly seeking the Kingdom things first in a manner in which to actually obtain them. This is not to be done in a half-hearted or token manner. This is not a suggestion, it is an emphatic command to action. In other words we as believers should always be striving or seeking to give God His proper due which is to say that we should constantly be seeking to glorify Him. We are being exhorted to recognize God as supreme over our lives in all that we do whether it be in our work, everyday actions, recreation and so on. That is because when we do this we will be seeking and pursuing holiness. If this is the case, than we will become more holy. In so doing righteousness prevails and gets the upper hand now over the system of the world which is under control of Satan and the evil of the world. Where God reigns in a believers heart…therein lies the Kingdom and therefore righteousness.

What is ironic about these pursuits is that the very things we are exhorted to pursue are in themselves part of the gifts that will be gracious bestowed or promised in this very passage. If we pursue the Kingdom or Christ, righteousness therefore holiness is given. If righteousness and holiness in and of itself is pursued through Christ…the reward is a piece of the Kingdom arriving before Christ’s Second Advent becomes manifest through His Spirit (the Holy Spirit) in us as He sanctifies lives. Not a bad deal if you ask me. It is in the act of a diligent search that we gain more and more knowledge. In this case it is a diligent search of knowledge about God and His will. In so doing we find the beginnings of true wisdom which is actually a fear or true knowledge of God. (Proverbs 9:10; Psalm 111:10; Job 28:28)

 (5) We Must Be Born Again 

John 3:3 ~ “Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

The last thing that pleases God that I will mention for this post is salvational and is again--a statement from the Lord’s mouth. It is being given to Nicodemus. Nicodemus has just told Jesus that he and others know He is a teacher that has come from God because no one could possibly perform the signs (miracles) Jesus has if He hadn’t come directly from God. Our verse in question is Jesus’ response. Why does Jesus say this? I believe this is self-explanatory.

A child inherits part of the nature of the parents. The nature of human parents is clearly sinful. The nature of our Father is holy and righteous. We must inherit or take hold of the nature of our divine Father and that is done through acceptance of the life laid down by His Son for our sin. In this way we are born again from above. Nicodemus was thinking of only physical birth but Jesus was looking in the broader perspective. Jesus is speaking specifically of believing to be born again. He is also asserting that it “must” take place. It is an imperative and it is conditional as we will see in verse 7. One must be born again to enter the Kingdom. Once a person is born again, they are in the Kingdom instantly…even while still alive in this physical life. The implication is staggering. We can have the Kingdom here now if we truly believe.

John 3:7 ~ “You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’”

Additionally, the idea of a birth implies some type of future that includes life. In a physical birth there is a physical life, in a spiritual birth there is a spiritual life. The first gives life temporarily, the second gives it permanently and eternally. The instant that belief in Christ takes place, the eternal life starts. The difference and dividing line is in the person’s faith. The more we believe the more probably our ability to see the Kingdom more clearly. Paul alluded to this when he said:

1 Corinthians 2:14 ~ The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

Nicodemus must have been totally befuddled at this point. Jesus’ next statement alludes to this fact, “Do not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ ” If Nicodemus had to be born again…that means being a Jew in and of itself does not grant one's salvation. Salvation therefore is not being anything nor is it a work. This must have obliterated Nicodemus’ understanding of the Law, salvation and most of his understanding of the Old Testament. Jesus introduces a paradigm shift into Nicodemus’ life and thinking. It is clear he wanted to understand the path to life. Jesus essentially tells him he must be born again or born in a radically new manner. It is in this radical new rebirth that we see the work of God from Heaven. It is a change that only God can affect and make happen. Again, it is not a work of man. This new life only comes to those who believe and trust in God and the fact He has sent His Son Jesus to cover mankind’s sins. In this way it is quite exclusivist and that is why it is so despised in our pluralist society and societies like ours.

One additional thing that needs to be said about Nicodemus is this. He is a man in the dark. He is in the dark about what it takes to be saved or enter the Kingdom. He comes to Jesus in the darkness of night which appears to be a reflection of his spiritual condition as a Pharisee (since this is an oft used theological metaphor by John in his gospel and letters). It is ironic though that he will come to Jesus in the dark of night and it is in the depth of his spiritual and physical darkness that Nicodemus will finally stumble upon the light. In John's thought, darkness is the realm of evil and untruth (it is where Judas goes out into when he betrays Jesus in John 13:30). In choosing to approach Jesus in his darkened state, Nicodemus has chosen to leave the darkness (evil and untruth) and enter the light (Jesus and truth).

This of course would please God immensely.

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