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Romans: The Obedience of Faith

Harbor Church Women’s Bible Study will be studying the book of ROMANS during our 30-week 2018-2019 study session. We will meet Tuesday mornings starting September 11 from 9:30 – 11:00 in Room 201. Childcare is provided for children birth – age 4, though we’d appreciate your letting us know ahead of time if you will be bringing children, as we want to be prepared to care for your little ones. Please email womenscareteam@harborchurch.org or tracieNC@gmail.com to let us know you’ll be bringing children or for more information.

If you can read through the entire book of Romans once or twice before we begin, you’ll enjoy having the perspective of the whole before we dig into the smaller portions of text. No book is required, though you may wish to bring a folder or have a three ring binder for your weekly questions and notes. Please join us as we dig into Paul’s longest letter, one many theologians refer to as the clearest, most comprehensive summary and explanation of the gospel and the Christian faith in all of scripture. We look forward to learning and growing with you in our time together!

Save the Date!

The Harbor Women’s Care Team invites you to attend Craving Grace: Walking in the Goodness of the Gospel on Saturday, March 17  from 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. This workshop-style retreat event will provide women an opportunity for fellowship, refreshment, and gospel-focused content that will challenge, encourage, and equip us to live each day in the realities that are ours by union with Christ. Cost for the day’s events is $22 and includes the book Craving Grace: Experiencing the Richness of the Gospel, box lunch, workshop materials, and other goodies. Full and partial scholarships are available. Email womenscareteam@harborchurch.org to register or sign up in the church foyer. We look forward to sharing the day with you!

Be sure to register by Sunday, March 11! Checks can be made out to Harbor Church (please note Women’s Retreat or Craving Grace in the memo) and given to any WCT  member or dropped in the offering plate. Thank you!

 

Women’s Fellowship Event to Support Hope of Mooresville!

Hope of Mooresville provides emergency housing and support for homeless women and children in downtown Mooresville. The Harbor Women’s Fellowship Team has organized a Care Bag Packing Event to take place Saturday, February 17 at 2:30 p.m. at the church. Please mark your calendars to join this time of fellowship and service to those in need in our community.  There is a sign up sheet in the foyer for needed donations. Please bring all requested items to church by Sunday, February 11, when we will also have the opportunity to hear from Bonnie Battalia, Hope of Mooresville’s Community Coordinator, during a missions moment in our worship service. The bags we pack, along with hand written cards of encouragement, will be given to residents at the shelter.  Please contact the Harbor Women’s Fellowship Team with any questions. We hope to see you there!

Happily Ever After!

We’ve finally arrived at Happily Ever After…sort of! God graciously gives us a glimpse of the great and glorious end he has planned for us – and with us – and wants us to be confident of the surety of our hope in Him and the work of his beloved Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But even though we enjoy the “now” of certain aspects of our salvation, we’re still living in the “not yet” of others, aren’t we?

“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:19-20

Praise God that our hope is not in this life only, as is true for so many! This past week in our days of study, we looked at several aspects of the ultimate end that is yet to come, and how that end connects back to the very beginning, and to the long middle in which we live.

All Things New

On Day 1 we looked at the truth that God himself will make all things – all his creation – new.

Revelation 21:1-5 says this:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'”

-Notice the covenantal language of Revelation 21 (first italicized section), language that goes back to the very first books of the Bible. God’s commitment to his promises and to his people is unfailing, and we see its ultimate fulfillment in Revelation 21.
-“The sea was no more.” Of course this came up in our discussion! We talked about the fact that scholars are divided on exactly what this means in Revelation 21. Is this literal? Symbolic? We don’t know for sure, as is true of many elements that we see in Revelation. It helped me to read Dr. R.C. Sproul’s comments on the sea in Hebrew literature and poetry, along with other commentators. While the sea represented chaos and is generally a negative force in scripture, rivers are continually used in positive, life-giving images, and Revelation 22 fittingly tells us that “the river of the water of life” flows “from the throne of God and of the Lamb!” For those of us tempted to disappointment at the possibility of no oceans in the new earth, it might be helpful to remember that in the perfection of the new heaven and the new earth, where there is also no death, mourning, crying, or pain, we won’t miss anything that is no longer; we will live in perfect harmony and fellowship with one another in the presence of God in His perfectly restored world.

The Tree of Life

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him….And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 22: 1-3, 5

-There are a few more “no mores” in this passage: No more will anything be accursed, no more night, and no more lamp or sunlight, for the true light will have come!

-God’s people will once again dwell in His presence with the tree of life in their midst! God, in mercy, barred Adam and Eve from the garden and the tree, lest they live in sin forever. But even as he pronounced the curse, he promised one who would bruise the serpent’s head.

-Consider for a moment that it was a tree of death (the cross) that gave us access to the tree of life in eternity. Galatians 3:13 says “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree – ‘” In Christ’s death and resurrection, Genesis 3:16 is fulfilled! The serpent, Satan, bruised the heel of the woman’s offspring, but the One who was to come, and DID, bruised – actually crushed! – the serpent’s head.

-There is no longer a curse upon those whose trust is in Christ! These will be restored to the privilege of eating from the tree of life, and living forever with God.

The Throne of God

The throne of God was mentioned several times in the passages from Revelation quoted above. Revelation makes plain that the throne of God will be a significant feature of our eternal home, and rightly so, for the kingdom of God will come into its fullness when God and the Lamb are seated on it and the whole of God’s people/children/subjects are gathered before Him in worship. I appreciated how Courtney Doctor, in our study, took us back to Isaiah 6 to consider Isaiah’s vision of the throne of God. Isaiah, the prophet of God, cried out in apparent anguish at his vision of the Lord high and lifted up. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Other translations use the words “ruined” and “undone” in place of lost. Isaiah, in facing the awesome holiness and purity of God, saw his own sinfulness, almost to the point of his undoing. But God…

“Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

The presence of God should be terrifying for you and I, as sinners, to behold. But though we were yet sinners, Christ DIED for us, to give us access with boldness and confidence so that we can come to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Ephesians 3:12, Hebrews 4:16) In the glory of heaven (the final dwelling place of God with man), we will have continual access to the father without shame, without guilt, and without the ongoing presence of sin to inhibit our intimacy with God.

I love how Revelation 4 echoes the glory of the vision of the throne room the prophet saw in Isaiah 6. I also love that you and I who are in Christ can look forward to enjoying the awesome presence of our holy God without the fear and dread that Isaiah experienced. We know that our Lamb has been sacrificed, and our guilt is atoned for! Revelation 7 tells us that same Lamb of God now sits on the throne of God and will be our shepherd, guiding us to springs of living water. We will be numbered among the multitude from every tongue, tribe, and nation, clothed in white robes, made spotless by the blood of Christ.

God’s Dwelling Place

We’ve traced the progression of God’s presence with his people throughout scripture. We saw God cast Adam and Eve from his presence after their rebellion in the garden. We saw God move toward Abraham with a call and a promise (several, actually). We saw the people of Israel leave Egypt in the Exodus, following God in a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. We saw that the tabernacle, and later, the temple, was given so that our holy God would have a way to dwell in the midst of his unholy people without ignoring or making light of sin. We saw Jesus, Immanuel, God With Us, humble himself and take on human form to dwell (or tabernacle) among us. (John 1:14) We know that Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, and died as the spotless Lamb of God so that he might be the atoning sacrifice for all who believe in Him. And though Jesus ascended to be with the Father and is no longer present with us in bodily form, he did not leave us orphans, as he promised in John 14. We now have the Holy Spirit of God to indwell us who believe; we are new creations by the work of the Spirit, who is a guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it (2 Cor 5:17, Eph 1:14). In eternity, though, we will see God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. We will finally be whole, complete, perfected, glorified.

Even with all that we’ve studied, there is much we don’t know about what heaven and eternity will be like. We will have redeemed, restored bodies and reside in a redeemed, restored earth in the presence of God. Jesus’ resurrection body gives us hints and clues about what our resurrected bodies – and our redeemed, renewed earth – will be like. But we have just the glimmers of the reality that is to come. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully….” As faint as the picture may seem, though, friends, this is our reality. Our hope – and our future – is in the hands of our covenant making, covenant keeping God, who cannot and will not be unfaithful to his commitments.

I hope that as we move into this Christmas season, we will see the incarnation of God with fresh eyes that enable us not only to look back at what God has done for us in love, but also forward, with hope, toward the eternity he has planned for us. May the reality of our hope breathe life and promise into our moments and days, for the glory of the One who called and keeps us!

Waiting for our King to Return

This past week in our lesson we considered how we are to live as we are Waiting for Our King to Return. Over the past nine weeks, we have seen that God’s word is not simply a disconnected set of random pieces of literature by unrelated authors. Though it covers broad ground in terms of genre, writing style, authorship, chronology, and content, every chapter and book also contributes to the story of God who created a people for His glory and for relationship with Him, and who is at work to redeem them and restore them to fellowship with Himself after they (we!) broke fellowship with Him through our sinful rebellion. Because of His great mercy and compassion, man’s sin was not the end of the story.

We’ve learned that God’s word is His revelation of himself to us, that all creation was created by God as good, that man’s willful sin destroyed that goodness, and that God has been working throughout history using various means (patriarchs, oppressors, priests, judges, kings, prophets, and then some!) to point us to our need for salvation and to fulfill His promise to provide the One who would accomplish that salvation: His son, Jesus Christ. Since the accomplishment of our salvation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has been about the business of building His church on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets (Eph. 2:20), with Christ as the cornerstone; he is this in both his completed work on the cross and his present, active intercession on our behalf at the right hand of the Father. Not only that, but he returned to the Father that he might send us a helper, the promised Holy Spirit of God, to indwell us. No longer slaves to sin, we have new identities as children of the living God! Consider just some of what scripture says is true of us who believe in Christs’s work on our behalf:

– You are a new creation. (2 Cor. 5:17)
– You are (part of) a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession. (1 Peter     2:9)
– You are a living stone being built up with other believers into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5)
– You are redeemed and forgiven according to the riches of God’s grace. (Eph. 1:7, Col. 1:14)
– You are sealed with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of your inheritance in Christ. (Eph. 1:14)
– You are seated with Christ Jesus in the heavenly places. (Eph. 2:6)
– You are the workmanship of God, chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world and created for good     works which God prepared beforehand. (Eph. 1:4, 2:10)
– You are a child of God. (John 1:12, Gal. 3:26, Romans 8:16)
– You are a friend of Jesus. (John 15:15)
– You are justified by faith and have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)
– You are a member of the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:27)
– You are a child of God and a fellow heir with Christ (provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be     glorified with him). (Romans 8:17)
– You are God’s temple and God’s spirit dwells in you. (1 Cor. 3:16)
– You are blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. (Eph. 1:3)
– You are an ambassador for Christ, reconciled to God through Christ and entrusted with the message of     reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:18-20)
– You have in Jesus Christ a high priest who is able to sympathize with your weakness and lives to make  intercession for you. (Heb. 4:14-15, 7:25)
– You are welcomed and encouraged to approach the throne of grace with confidence to receive mercy and find   grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16)
– You have boldness and access [to God] with confidence through faith in Christ. (Eph. 3:12)
– You have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of the beloved Son of   God. (Col. 1:13)
– You have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)
– You are born again of imperishable seed through the living and abiding word of God. (1 Peter 1:23)
– Your old self was crucified with Christ so that you are no longer enslaved to sin; you are set free from sin.  (Ro.   6:6-7)
– You are not subject to condemnation in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
– You have eternal life. (John 3:16, 1 John 5:13)
– Your new self is created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4:24)

This isn’t even an exhaustive list! But what do we DO with it? Are we simply to bask in the enjoyment of our new identity? Of course not! We are to live and walk in it!! Courtney Doctor has reminded us that the story of redemption is an unfolding drama in which we are not merely observers, but participants. Consider the bullet-pointed truths above essential truths and traits that you and I need to embody to play our part as we go about our work of “faithful improvisation.” If we need to know the background on our role, this is a good start! All that we say, do, and think as we participate in this drama should flow from God’s declaration in his word of who we ARE by faith in Jesus Christ.

So how do we go about living and walking in our new identities?

– We give ourselves to being conformed to the image of Christ. (Romans 8:29)
– We present our bodies as living sacrifices, being transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we may be   able to discern what is the will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)
– We proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
– We put off the sins that belong to our old nature, and put on the qualities of the new nature that is ours in Christ.   (Colossians 3:5-17, Eph. 4:17 – 5:21)
– We walk by the Spirit, not gratifying the desires of the flesh, but bearing the fruit of the Spirit in all of our   relationships and circumstances. (Gal. 5:16-26)
– We take care that our words are truthful, not corrupting, crude, or foolish, and that they build up, fit the   occasion, and give grace to those who hear them. (Eph 4:25, 29, 5:4)
– We are prepared and look for opportunities to give a reason for the hope that we have, doing so with gentleness   and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)
– We are quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)
– We love, serve, submit, obey, look to the interests of others as well as our own, cultivate gratitude, pray, rejoice,   contribute to the needs of the saints, love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, confess our sins, consider   those whose faith is weak, put no hindrance in the way of a brother (or sister), show hospitality…

There is plenty to do, dear sisters, but this doing is wholly unlike us attempting to tackle our never-ending to-do lists! It is a result of walking in the freedom and identity that Christ has provided for us; it is our response to Christ Jesus, our savior. Consider Jesus’s invitation:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”                       (Matthew 11:28-30)

So…

Pursue reconciliation, remembering that the most solid ground for human reconciliation is our reconciliation with God through Christ.
Pursue peace, recognizing that the only peace in which we can have complete confidence is peace with God, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Pursue the flourishing of others, desiring them to flourish for eternity through salvation, which confers blessing upon blessing for both this life and the one to come.
Pursue holiness, righteousness, faith, and love. Pursue your Savior, who pursued you first, and proclaim him by speaking the truth of Him to all!

The 50 Most Important Days in the History of the World – A Summary of Lesson 8

In Lesson 8, Courtney Doctor walked us through the time from Jesus’ crucifixion to Pentecost. It’s kind of staggering to stop and think about all that occurred in this brief period of 50 Days. Why would she claim that this span of time, barely a blip, chronologically, on the radar screen of history, contains THE most important days in all of history? Let’s look:

Crucifixion:
Jesus’ death on the cross bought us back from slavery to sin and death, paying the purchase price, or ransom, for our redemption. (Mark 10:45) He died in our place that, by faith, we might be clothed in his perfect righteousness before the Father and be reconciled to him. (2 Cor 5:18-21) Jesus’ sacrifice was essential to pay the penalty for our sin; his perfect obedience in the Garden of Gethsemane, facing down the agony of bearing our sin and enduring the wrath of God that was due it, undid and redid what took place years before in the original garden, Eden. By agreement with God the Father, Jesus willingly (for the joy set before him! Hebrews 12:2) set aside honor, glory, and perfect, unbroken fellowship with the Father that sinners (his enemies) might be made righteous and granted unhindered access to God. (Isaiah 53, Hebrews 4:14-16, 10:19-22)

Resurrection:
Jesus is not the only good man in history to die – even for the sake of another. But Jesus is the ONLY perfect man to die on behalf of another, and the ONLY one who is BOTH fully God and fully man. Though Jesus’s death is clearly unique in what it accomplished, his death is not the end of the story. As Courtney Doctor notes in our study (p. 142), it’s highly likely that we’d have missed the miracles of Jesus’s virgin birth, sinless life, and atoning death if we’d been alive when they took place. “But at the moment of the resurrection,” she says, “everything changed.” In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul tells us that it is “of first importance” that Christ DIED for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, was BURIED, was RAISED on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he APPEARED to Cephas (Peter), and the twelve disciples, and then to more than 500 others. Jesus appeared physically – in a resurrected body. Jesus’s resurrection is the ground of our hope of eternal life; apart from it, our faith is in vain! (1 Corinthians 15:14-19) 1 Corinthians 15 gloriously spells out the mystery and victory of the resurrection. Resurrection is not only something Jesus did when he conquered sin and death. It is also part of the victory he has secured for us! We, too, have been – and will be – resurrected to new life, according to 1 Corinthians 15 – not just spiritually, but physically, as he was.

Ascension:
While Jesus’s death and resurrection are certainly central to the story of redemptive history, there is still more to his life and work beyond these events. After Jesus’s death and resurrection, his disciples asked him “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) Even those closest to him, who had walked alongside him in his public ministry and been promised a significant role in the building of his church (Matthew 16:13-20), had yet to understand Jesus’s mission. They would understand soon, though! Acts 1:6-11 indicates that after Jesus answered their question, “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” Verse 11 tells us that Jesus was taken into heaven, and will come again in the same way his disciples saw him go. Hebrews tells us what Jesus is actually, presently doing in heaven. We learn that he is seated there at the Father’s right hand as our great high priest who has offered his perfect sacrifice once for all, thus securing an eternal redemption for us. (Heb. 9:12, 10:12). We learn that he “always lives to make intercession” for those who draw near to God through him. (Heb. 7:25) The kingdom that Jesus came to restore was a greater kingdom than even his closest disciples could imagine while he was still with them! Jesus’s ascension marked the return of the king to his throne, as well as the entrance of the perfect high priest into the Holy of Holies. (Ephesians 1:20, 2:6)

Pentecost:
Back in Lesson 4 we discussed the concept of covenant, and saw that it encompasses the commitments to which God binds himself and to which he calls his people. While most of God’s covenants were between himself and his people, theologians speak of one specific covenant that occurred only within the members of Godhead: the covenant of redemption. In the covenant of redemption, the Father planned the way of salvation, the Son committed himself to accomplish that plan and the Spirit gave himself to effectively apply it in the lives of those who would be saved. While you won’t find “Covenant of Redemption” as a passage or chapter heading in scripture, the evidence of these commitments and their fulfillment are evident throughout its pages. In John 16, Jesus assures his disciples that it is to their advantage that he go away, so that he might send them the helper, the Holy Spirit. Shortly after Jesus’s ascension, we see the Holy Spirit descend upon the people of God in a powerful way. In Acts chapter 2 the Holy Spirit fulfills the promise of Ezekiel 36:26-27, in which God says he will remove his people’s hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh, putting his own Spirit within them, to cause them to walk in his statutes and obey his rules. At Pentecost, the believers were “all together in one place” when a sound “like a mighty rushing wind” filled the house and “divided tongues as of fire” appeared and rested on each one. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Others in Jerusalem “from every nation” heard in those “other tongues” their own language – despite the fact that those speaking were Galileans. (Acts 1:7) Peter, in the power of the Holy Spirit, stood and boldly proclaimed and explained the work of God in Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit being witnessed:

“‘This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing….Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (from Acts 2)

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Romans 8:11

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” 1 Corinthians 3:16

Sweet sisters, the Holy Spirit of God dwells in you who by faith have been reconciled to God through His son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. So how do we live while we are waiting for our King to return? I hope you’re being encouraged and edified as you consider that very thing in this week’s lesson.

The Hero Arrives – A Summary of Lesson 7

In Lesson 7 we looked at JESUS, the hero of scripture!

We talked about Jesus being the Second Adam (Romans 5:12-19, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49).

-The first Adam’s disobedience brought death to all men; the “second Adam’s” obedience brought life to all who would believe in him.
-Robert A. Peterson, in Salvation Accomplished by the Son: The Work of Christ, says “Adam ruined his race. Jesus rescues his.” (p. 474)
-Satan won the conflict with the first Adam. Jesus, the second Adam, crushed the head of the serpent and won the victory over sin and death (Gen. 3:15).

-Adam’s disobedience brought the curse to all men. Jesus’ perfect obedience redeems us from the curse.

We looked at Jesus as the Reconciler. (Romans 5:10-11, 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, Ephesians 2:16)

-Courtney Doctor reminded us that we are, in the truest sense, saved by works: the perfect works of Jesus Christ.
-Reconciliation is necessary when a relationship has been disrupted.
-What is broken in our relationship with God is not simply and only that we don’t understand how very much He loves us. To understand how much our Heavenly Father loves us, we must have a sense of all that our sin breaks, defiles, stains, and rips apart. We cannot understand the good news of Jesus’s reconciling work if we don’t understand the depth and gravity of our sin and wonder at the unimaginable length to which God has gone in Christ to address our sin and reconcile us to himself.
-The reconciliation that Christ worked for us by giving himself on the cross gives us peace with God. (Romans 5:1) That peace is the starting point not only for our vertical relationship (with God), but all of our horizontal relationships, as well (with one another).

-As reconciled children, we have been entrusted with “the message of reconciliation.”

We considered what it means that Jesus is our Redeemer. (Colossians 1:13-14, Romans 3:23-24, Galatians 3:13-14, Ephesians 1:7, Hebrews 9:12-15)

-A redeemer is one who pays the purchase price of redemption – the ransom – for another. (Mark 10:45)
-Redemption is necessary where one is captive or hostage. Redemption is necessary for sinners, because they are enslaved by sin. (John 8:34)
-One who has been redeemed is no longer a slave to sin, but is freed to offer the the Lord obedience from the heart.

(Romans 6:15-23)

We discussed Jesus’s being the Perfect Sacrifice. (1 Corinthians 5:7, Hebrews 9, 10:1-18)

-Christ is our Passover Lamb, by whose blood we receive eternal life. (prefigured in Exodus 12)
-The sacrificial system of the tabernacle and the temple required ongoing, repeated sacrifice for sin. Jesus’ perfect sacrifice was made ONCE for ALL; not referring to a universal salvation of all mankind (in contradiction to the clear testimony of scripture), but to the perfection and finality of Christ’s sacrifice of His own body and blood as sufficient payment for the sin of all those the Father has given to the Son. (See John 6, 17)
-Atonement of sin requires sacrifice. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words indicates that the corresponding NT words are “propitiation” and “mercy seat.” It goes on to say this of propitiation:
“It [the word “propitiation”] is never used of any act whereby man brings God into a favorable attitude or gracious disposition. It is God who is ‘propitiated’ by the vindication of His holy and righteous character, whereby, through the provision He has made in the vicarious and expiatory sacrifice of Christ, He has so dealt with sin that He can show mercy to the believing sinner in the removal of his guilt and the remission of his sins….Through the ‘propitiatory’ sacrifice of Christ, he who believes upon Him is by God’s own act delivered from justly deserved wrath, and comes under the covenant of grace.” (p. 493)
-Propitiation is an atoning sacrifice (Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary).

-Courtney Doctor reminds us that “it wasn’t an easy or cheap solution. It was costly beyond comprehension. But, because the Lamb of God willingly placed himself on the altar, his sacrifice was acceptable and pleasing to the Father. And the glorious result is that you and I are cleansed from all our unrighteousness. Permanently. Completely. Finally.” (From Garden to Glory, p. 132)

We saw Jesus as the Conqueror. (1 Samuel 17, 1 Corinthians 15:54-56)

-On Day 5 we looked at the story of David and Goliath. It is not a children’s story about using courage and faith to slay the giants in our lives, however much we might appreciate the thought. You and I probably aren’t intended to see ourselves in David. We’re the Israelites, cowering in fear, defeated at the very prospect of battle before it has even begun. David, as Israel’s conqueror and king, while a REAL conqueror and king in a REAL time and place, ALSO pointed forward to one who would come after him as the ultimate conqueror and king. Our ultimate conqueror and king wins the victory FOR us, defeating our greatest enemy – sin and death.

-Just as the Israelites went from cowering in fear to pursuing their enemies and plundering their camp after the victory was won for them (1 Samuel 17:11, 51-53), you and I are the beneficiaries of a victory won on our behalf that allows us, too, to successfully fight against our enemy and enjoy the spoils won for us by our conqueror, Jesus. (From Garden to Glory, p. 135) Not only that, but we, too, can be considered the plunder of Christ’s victorious battle against our enemy, Satan. (Colossians 1:13, Matthew 12:29) The ESV Study Bible notes on Matthew 12:29 state that “Jesus has come to plunder [the strong man Satan’s] house and rescue people for the kingdom of God” (p. 1845)

And in the video, we heard, as well, that Jesus is our Legal Substitute.

-In our video, Courtney Doctor painted the picture of God as a righteous judge, reminding us that “a good judge is bound to justice.”
-God’s perfectly just character and settled hatred for sin presents us with a serious problem, because you and I, outside of Christ, are guilty and subject to condemnation. Our justly deserved sentence for our sin is death.
-We are wholly and fully guilty, and there is NO defense for our guilt. There is no “hard labor” or restitution we can offer to atone for ourselves and make payment for our sin.-Exodus 34:6-7, while declaring God’s mercy and forgiveness, makes plain that He “will by no means clear the guilty.” God, in His justice, cannot and will not ignore or minimize sin.
-Courtney said in the video, “It is not that God’s mercy overcame His justice. It’s that his justice and mercy are perfectly met at the cross. He did NOT overlook sin…He fully placed all our sin on His son. Justice was met as mercy was given.”
-Isaiah 53 speaks of Christ, our substitute. Read it all right now, if you can. Here’s a portion, to whet your appetite:

“He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6)

Substitute, conqueror, sacrifice, redeemer, reconciler, rescuer, representative (second Adam). Hallelujah! What a Savior!!

Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
Full atonement! can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
It is finished! was His cry;
Now in Heav’n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious king,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Please join us for our new study!

 

The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms & Wisdom Books, by Nancy Guthrie

As we wrap up our ten-week study From Garden to Glory: A Bible Study on the Bible’s Story, the Harbor Women’s Bible Study would like to invite you to join us for our winter/spring study, introduced by author Nancy Guthrie, above. We will continue to meet at the same time and location (Tuesday mornings at Harbor Church from 9:30 – 11:15 in Room 201), and will be studying this content through May 2018. Childcare is provided, though if you are new to the study and need to make use of it, please let us know so we can plan accordingly. If you have questions or want us to order the book for you at a discounted rate, please email womenscareteam@harborchurch.org.  The cost of the book as part of the group order will be between $7 and $8.50, depending on the number of participants. Please submit all book requests by Thursday, November 16 if you would like to be part of our group order. If you would like to order your own book, the one we will be using can be found here. Our first meeting date for this study is Tuesday, December 5th. We hope to see you then!

A Dwelling Place for the King

At the very beginning of the story of God’s word, when all was right with the world, God dwelt harmoniously with his people in a perfect relationship marked by peace and purity. “Naked and unashamed” characterized not only Adam’s and Eve’s relationship with one another, but with the God who made them.

Then sin disrupted that perfect goodness, introducing self-consciousness, separation, and shame, and bringing it into every relationship thereafter, between man and man, and man and God.

As we trace the story line forward, we see that ever since man broke God’s good world with sin in an act of “cosmic treason,” God himself has been at work to redeem and restore what man broke in his rebellion. God has done that by binding himself in covenant commitments to his people, pursuing them over and over again to call them to himself, give them a good work to do, and remind them that they are His and will remain so, because He cannot and will not be untrue to his promises. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13)

Though the hope embedded in this good news of God’s promise and pursuit carries us forward in anticipation, we cannot help but see that the problem presented by sin is pervasive and ongoing. How can a holy God be reconciled with an unholy people? If sin is not a problem, God is not holy, righteous, and just. If sin is as big a problem as it seems to be, God can never again dwell with man, and man can never again live in joyful fellowship with God. Though we know, this side of the cross, what (or more accurately who) the remedy has proven to be, we must carry with us an awareness of the gravity of the situation  – our situation – to appreciate the miraculous and merciful nature of our rescue and redemption. And, as we study, it is also helpful for us to remember that in the days chronicled by the Old Testament, God’s people, Israel, didn’t have the fulfillment of the “who” that we enjoy today.

As Courtney Doctor mentioned in our video this past week, we zoomed way out to 30,000 feet and covered a great swath of historical and chronological ground in our lesson – about 1500 years’ worth.  Our “flyover” surveyed the following:

-In God’s giving of instructions for the tabernacle – its structure, its rules, and its rituals – God communicated once again not only his holiness, but his desire to dwell among his people. “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.” (Exodus 29:45-46)

-The establishment of the tabernacle in all of its beauty AND in its regulations both conveyed God’s holiness and protected his people from that holiness.

-“The irony of the tabernacle is the agony of redemptive history. By its very form this structure communicates God’s desire for cohabitation. But the increasing restriction of persons – and the elaborate systems of sacrifice and mediation even for those approved persons – communicated the legacy of sin, separation.” (Sandra L. Richter, The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry Into the Old Testament)

-The glory of God is the manifestation of his presence. It is, as Lindsay said on Tuesday, “splendor with substance.” Where God’s presence is, there his glory is, as well. In the tabernacle, miraculously, the Holy God of the universe, in all his glory, graciously condescended to live in a tent in the wilderness that he might dwell with his people.

-Moving forward, from the tabernacle we looked (very briefly) at the time of the Judges, during which God’s people Israel, after initially refusing to obey by going into the Promised Land, finally entered into it. They also entered into a recurrent pattern of “sin, slavery, supplication (crying out), and salvation.” (From Garden to Glory, p. 111)

-We saw God raise up judges (deliverers) to rescue them out of their oppression, only to see them fall back into the cycle over and over again. The deliverers, though provided by God, could not fully and finally deliver God’s people from the oppression of their ultimate problem: sin.

-Looking back over God’s covenant commitments, we remember his promise not only of offspring, a great nation, and a great name from Abraham’s lineage, but also kings (Genesis 17:6).

-Though Israel demanded for herself a king to be “like all the nations” around them (1 Samuel 8:4) God rejected the king Israel chose for herself (Saul), placing upon the throne of Israel, David, a man after his own heart. God covenanted with David as he had with Abraham so long before. In 2 Samuel 7:16 God tells David, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” (for more on God’s  instruction to Israel regarding kings, see Deuteronomy 17:14-20.)

-David’s son Solomon began well, reigning with wisdom from God and building a magnificent and glorious temple for God’s dwelling place, but his kingdom was not only not eternal, his reign didn’t even end well. Shortly after his death, Israel was divided into two kingdoms, which enjoyed the rule of very few God-honoring kings over hundreds of years. Eventually, Solomon’s temple was destroyed and God’s people were taken into exile in Babylon and Assyria for their disobedience to God’s commands. (See 1 Chronicles 9:1, Ezekiel 39:23, and many other scriptures that discuss the exile of God’s people.)

-Besides patriarchs, priests, judges/deliverers, and kings, God also sent prophets to his people to remind them of His words and warn them of the consequences of rejecting his good commands for their welfare. Though called by God, in some instances, to outrageous displays intended to impact God’s people and help them see the absurdity and wickedness of their ongoing rebellion, the prophets, just like the priests, judges, and kings before them, were unable to effect the obedience of God’s people. Even their living pictures could not open Israel’s spiritual eyes or soften the hearts of God’s people sufficiently to right their relationship with Him.

-The news isn’t all bad. The latter part of the Old Testament records some promising developments. But even the restoration of God’s people to the Promised Land and the rebuilding of the temple reflect more loss than glory. As the history of the period covered by the Old Testament draws to a close, we are left with a rebuilt temple that is a shadow of its former glory, a people not wholly regathered and reestablished, and a nation that is no longer sovereign, but subject to national powers ruled by pagan kings. God’s people, as a nation, are a people in decline, diminished in stature and glory in the world. God’s people are not the “kingdom of priests” he had called them to be.

400 years of silence. Waiting. Longing. Hope. And surely, as well, its faltering. In the years beyond their return from exile, God’s people waited for the one who had spoken these words to them:

“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses….”

But how? And when?

A Kingdom of Priests

I am so grateful for our discussion on Tuesday! Trying to understand the “big picture” of God’s story is no small task, is it? We’ve covered a lot of territory and big ideas: creation, kingdom, mission, covenant, sin, obedience, redemption, blessings, curses, law…and those are just (some of) the concepts! We’ve also touched on the attributes of God: his holiness, righteousness, covenant loyalty (hesed love), sovereignty, wisdom, immanence, transcendence, mercy, and grace (which is by no means an exhaustive list). And we’ve looked at the framework provided by God’s covenant promises to particular individuals and to the nation of Israel as his called and chosen people. From beginning to end, God’s word tells the story of Him pursuing a people for himself in love to rescue and redeem them from sin by binding Himself to them in covenant.

Michael Horton says that “A covenant is a relationship of ‘oaths and bonds’ and involves mutual, though not necessarily equal, commitments….Some biblical covenants are unilaterally imposed commands and promises; others are entered into jointly [with the terms of the covenant always specified by the greater party]. Some are conditional and others are unconditional.” (Introducing Covenant Theology, pp. 2-3)

In the garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve a beautiful place to enjoy pure and perfect relationship with himself, his creation, and one another. These gifts endowed to them by God as creator, king and father were subject to only one condition: that they not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, lest they die. (Genesis 2:16-17) We know that our first parents did, in fact, eat of the fruit, and in mercy were cast out of the garden, barring their way to the tree of life and sparing them an eternity of sin and separation from God.

But even in the announcement of curse and consequence for the serpent, Eve and Adam, God provides a first whisper of hope in the promise of offspring. One will come, born of woman, who will bruise the serpent’s head. The craftiness of the serpent is no threat to the wisdom of God. (Gen. 3:15)

Beyond the garden, sin increased to the point that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”(Gen. 6:5) In mercy and judgment God sent a flood to destroy the earth and everything in it, judging sin but sparing a remnant for himself in faithfulness to his promise of redemption. When God told Noah to build an ark he also said “I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife and your sons wives with you.” When the waters receded, God again bound himself by oaths and commitments to Noah and his offspring, placing the burden of responsibility upon himself and giving the rainbow as a sign of his promise to never again destroy the entire earth with a flood. Man’s call to vocation as an agent of God’s mission was confirmed in God’s restatement of the original creation mandate given to Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it.”

The episode at the Tower of Babel shows us that man’s sin and rebellion continued unabated after the flood. Though man stubbornly refuses to submit to God as Loving Father and Sovereign Lord, God (again and always) deals with sin and keeps the course of His covenant commitments. God will not allow man’s sin to come to its full fruition at Babel for man’s glory, but will call out from among the descendants of Seth and Shem one whom he will bless with a great name for his own purposes and glory in the greater world. God promises Abram offspring, land, and blessing, once again, through covenant, unilaterally in Genesis 12 and 15, and with specific stipulations for his people in Genesis 17.

As we trace the line of people and promises through the patriarchs, we come to the oppression and slavery of the Hebrew people (the nation of Israel) in Egypt. Genesis 15:12-14 shows us that God had their slavery – and their rescue – in view from the very beginning. Exodus 2:24 says that God “remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” When God remembers, unlike you and I, he doesn’t recall something forgotten, but moves to act on the promises he has made. When God’s people call upon him to remember, they are asking him to work on their behalf according to his promises. And this is what we see him do in the book of Exodus.

Our lesson summary makes several important points to bear in mind:

– The exodus of Exodus is the pivotal event of the Old Testament, as it sets a pattern of God’s redemption.

– God’s people were taken out of slavery to be His treasured children. (Ex. 19:5-6) [Note that God promised this rescue according to his covenant relationship in making many “I will” statements to Moses in Ex. 6:1-8, and followed through on this promise despite the fact that the people of Israel did not listen to Moses when he told them of God’s gracious intention.]

– The goal of salvation is relationship and flourishing.

– God calls his children to participate in his mission of redemption by being a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

– The law of God is for the flourishing of God’s people.

In the Exodus, God rescues and redeems his people Israel according to His promise (covenant) to their forefathers, giving them a fresh start in freedom from slavery and in relationship with him, and calling them to particular obligations as a holy nation because of what he had already done for them. God punished Egypt for enslaving his people, protected his people as he brought them through the wilderness, brought them to himself, and is now preparing to present them with His law. It is wholly appropriate for the God who rescued and redeemed His people to call them to covenant faithfulness and declare the terms of their obligations to Him. As Michael D. Williams reminds us, “…the vocation and obedience to which God calls his people are always responses to his gracious, elective action.” (Far as the Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption, p. 135)

The nation of Israel was called, and rightly so, to be God’s treasured possession among all the peoples of the earth, a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” (Exodus 19:5-6) that in keeping the Law of God, the people of the nations of the land they were entering would say of Israel “this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (Deuteronomy 4:6) Under the terms of the Mosaic covenant, God’s law was provided not only for his people’s good and protection, but to guide their conduct in such a way as to point to the Lord their God. Though blessings and consequences (curses) were promised to the nation of Israel through their obedience or disobedience, the Mosaic covenant was not a departure from God’s gracious plan, but a distinct episode within it. We struggle with the “if clause,” of Exodus 19:5, though, don’t we? Because we know what God’s people will do. Or rather, what they will fail to do.

Rick Phillips says this:

“The record of the Bible is one of human failure; we think especially of Israel’s failure to keep the Law. For Abraham to have the offspring God promised, those offspring had to keep the conditions, which they did not. But here is how God himself fulfilled the condition of obedience – by sending his own Son as the true Israel to keep the Law in our place. Jesus fulfilled the covenant condition of obedience for us. He fulfilled the Covenant of Works Adam broke; he fulfilled the Law that Israel transgressed. Now he offers to credit his obedient righteousness to our account, under the covenant of Grace, if only we will believe on him. Faith, now, is the condition of our salvation. And this also is fulfilled by God as the Spirit gives his people the saving gift of faith (Eph. 2:8-9). To fulfill his unconditional promises, God satisfies his own conditions through the work of Jesus Christ and his effectual grace ministered by the Holy Spirit. In this way, God has a people who truly love and serve him while all the glory belongs to him alone.” (“Is God’s Covenant Conditional?” Internet article accessed here.)

God not only establishes the requirements of the covenant, he also fulfills them!! What he requires he provides. Let’s not be too quick to move on from that. If the very thought doesn’t catch your breath, pray that the Holy Spirit would work that reality and its ramifications deep into your heart and mind.

So what should we do with what we’re learning? Is there anything here for us to apply, or is this simply a history lesson until we come to the New Testament? While our understanding and application need to be guided by all the things we discussed at the very beginning of our study (genre, setting, context, original audience, etc.) scripture is still, in its entirety, God’s revelation of himself to us. Learning about our Heavenly Father always presents us with truths to consider and apply to our own hearts, minds, and actions.

One specific thing that came up during our discussion time is our relationship to the law as those under grace

(Romans 6:15). As our study outlines and we talked about in class, God’s law is a reflection of his character and was given for our flourishing. Obedience is clearly important. Yet it is evident from our discussion time that it’s challenging to articulate exactly how that plays out in the life of a believer without stumbling toward one ditch or another. God’s faithfulness to his commitments is never dependent upon us. Yet how we live and respond to our Heavenly Father matters. Michael Horton says, “In the covenantal thinking we find in Scripture, there is no such thing as true knowledge without love and obedience.” (p. 9 Introducing Covenant Theology) Elsewhere he says, “The Law no longer represents God as Judge, but God as Father to the justified.” You and I, as children of God by faith in his son, are justified: made right with God. “The law tells God’s children what will please their heavenly Father. It could be called their family code.” (Nathan W. Bingham, The Threefold Use of the Law)

Let’s remember our adoption, walk in the good of every blessing that is ours by it, and seek to glorify and enjoy our gracious Father by walking in the way he has called and enabled us to go.

If you have an interest in reading the article Overview of the Bible: A Survey of the History of Salvation that I mentioned last week, you can access a PDF here. (With many thanks to Cindy for bringing that link to my attention!)