No More Tears, No More Reproach (Smith)

 I’ve been enjoying Gary Smith’s Isaiah commentary in the “New American Commentary” series.  I haven’t read it all, but so far so good!  This morning when studying Isaiah 25 I was looking at verse 8, which says this: “…he [Yahweh] will swallow up death forever.The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces;he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.The Lord has spoken” (NIV).

Here’s Smith’s helpful commentary:

…When God rules over his kingdom, death will have no power over people in this new world.

As if that were not enough, God also promises the removal of all tears. This includes tears shed when people die, but certainly also tears of oppression, sickness, pain, disappointment, loneliness, rejection, military defeat, financial trouble, and other kinds of loss. All these experiences will be obsolete in God’s kingdom.

Finally, God’s removal of the reproach of “his people” (ʿammî 25:8b) should not be interpreted as a specific reference to removing Israel’s reproach of the exile, for at this point all people (ʿam, “people,” is used in 25:3, 6, 7, 8) in God’s kingdom are his people. When people are reproached they are objects of derision, mockery, shame, and humiliation by others. These evil actions will not be experienced any longer. If the enemies of God are defeated, there will no longer be people to give a reproach, and there will be no sinful people who will deserve to be reproached. This paragraph ends (25:8b) with the affirmation that God has declared that this is what will happen; thus, one can know that all these statements are true.

Gary Smith, Isaiah, (The New American Commentary), Isaiah 25:8.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Light, Peace, Hope, and a King! (Smith)

  After studying and working through Isaiah 9:2-7, I appreciate how Gary Smith summarizes these verses in the “theological implications” section of his commentary.  FYI these verses in Isaiah 9 talk about a “shadow-of-death” kind of darkness that God shines his light into, which brings joy, victory, and peace.  This prophecy also speaks about a son born to God’s people who will rule on David’s throne with justice and righteousness forever and ever.  Here are Smith’s comments:

This message of hope functions as a reassurance that God’s previous promises to the Davidic dynasty will be fulfilled in spite of all the terrible, dark circumstances the nation faced in the time of Ahaz. Light, joy, the end of war, and a new, righteous, Davidic ruler empowered by God himself will replace the gloom that surrounded the nation in the middle of the Syro-Ephraimite War. This hope was an encouragement to Isaiah and his faithful followers to continue speaking about the things of God, even if most people would not listen or understand (6:10–11).

God’s promise to bring peace and justice to this world through the Messiah is also an encouraging message that people can share today, because the political situation in modern times is sometimes about as dark and hopeless as in the days of Isaiah. This good news offers another opportunity for rebellious people to turn from trusting in political alliances, mediums, and the spirits of the dead because God is their only true source of hope. Neither Ahaz nor any modern political figure can ever hope to bring about an era of perfect peace and justice. Only God’s wonderful plans will bring about these ideals, not the plans of Ahaz (8:10) or any other fast talking politician. God’s promises will only be accomplished through his chosen messianic ruler, so placing trust in any other solution is folly.

Gary Smith, The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Our Living Hope (Clowney)

Reading through Edmund Clowney’s commentary on 1 Peter 1:3-5 this morning brought me to these excellent observations about Christian hope:

Peter writes a letter of hope. The hope he proclaims is not what we call a ‘fond hope’. We cherish fond hopes because they are so fragile. We ‘hope against hope’ because we do not really expect what we hope for. But Peter writes of a sure hope, a hope that holds the future in the present because it is anchored in the past. Peter hopes for God’s salvation, God’s deliverance from sin and death. His hope is sure, because God has already accomplished his salvation in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus was a life-changing reality for Peter. When Jesus died on the cross, it was the end of all Peter’s hopes. He knew only bitter sorrow for his own denials. The dawn could not bring hope; with the crowing of the cock he heard the echo of his curses.

But Jesus did not stay dead. On that Easter morning Peter learned from the women of the empty tomb and the message of the angels. He went running to the tomb and saw its evidence. He left in wonder, but Jesus remembered Peter and appeared to him even before he came to eat with the disciples in the upper room. Hope was reborn in Peter’s heart with the sight of his living Lord. Now Peter writes to praise God for that living hope. The resurrection did much more than restore his Master to him. The resurrection crowned the victory of Christ, his victory for Peter, and for those to whom he writes. The resurrection shows that God has made the Crucified both Lord and Christ. At the right hand of the Father Jesus rules until the day that he will come to restore and renew all things.2 With the resurrection of Jesus and his entrance into glory, a new age has begun. Peter now waits for the day when Jesus will be revealed from heaven (1:7, 13). Peter’s living hope is Jesus.

 Edmund P. Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter: The Way of the Cross, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 44.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

How We May Strengthen Our Hope

Christian hope is one of the greatest blessings because it increases our joy, assures us of our blessed future, gives us patience to bear burdens, and it helps us keep our eyes above, where Christ is.  But how can we strengthen our Christian hope?  William Gurnall gave six directions for strengthening hope.  I’ll summarize them below; notice how intimately the growth of Christian hope is tied to the Word and prayer.

  1. Study the word of God diligently.  The Christian is bred by the word, and he must be fed by it also.  “…Through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4 NASB).  God has provided in Scripture food to nourish every Christian grace, and in it we find particular respect to the welfare and growth of our hope.
  2. Keep your conscience pure.  Sins that are deliberately plotted and committed are to the Christian’s hope as poison is to his body.  Faith and good conscience are hope’s two wings that help her fly.  If you have wounded your conscience by any sin, renew your repentance so that receiving renewed forgiveness you may revive your hope.
  3. Pray to God daily and beg for a stronger hope in him.  This is what Paul prays about in Romans 15:3, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (NASB).  Be sure you humbly acknowledge God by a constant waiting on him for growth.  God will surely hear the prayers of his children when they beg for more hope.
  4. Labor to increase your love for the Lord.  There is a secret but powerful influence that love has on hope.  Love casts out fear (1 John 4.18).  “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love” and into the patient waiting for Christ’s return (2 Thes. 3:5).  Love him, and you will patiently wait for him – this has to do with hope.
  5. Exercise your hope much.  Repeated acts strengthen habits.  The promises of God are hope’s object to act upon.  Meditate on the promises, set some apart for yourself, and drink in the refreshing truths of God’s promises.  David did this when he remembered that with the Lord there is forgiveness (Ps. 130).  He exercised his hope by meditating on the promise of forgiveness.
  6. Fill up your experiences of past mercies, and your hope will grow stronger for future mercies.  Endurance works hope (Rom. 5:2-4).  A good Christian keeps track of the history of God’s gracious dealings in the past, and this gives him hope for the future.  “This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope” (Lam. 3:21 NASB).  When God gives one mercy, he opens a door so he can give it, and this open door leads us to expect more mercy through it.

William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armor, volume 2, pages 177ff.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

Why Does God Make Us Wait?

Quite often waiting is very difficult.  In our instant culture, most of the time we don’t even like waiting one week for a package to come in the mail; we get impatient if our internet is a tiny bit slower than usual or if our data connection isn’t lightning fast.  Waiting can be frustrating!

When it comes to the Christian faith there is a lot of waiting involved.  God’s people are already justified, but not yet fully sanctified.  We have been saved, but we don’t yet have full and complete deliverance.  We have the promise of eternal life but don’t yet experience it.  God promised that he will glorify all of his people, but that’s something for which we still wait.  Christ will come again to make all things new, but we don’t know when.  Therefore we wait and pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”  Sometimes in the Christian life, waiting is hard and we get impatient.  We even ask: “Why does God make us wait so long?”

William Gurnall answered this question with another question:

Why does God make any promise at all to his creatures?  This may well be asked, considering that God is free from owing any kindness to his creatures; till, by the mere good pleasure of his will he put himself into covenant bonds, and made himself, by his promise, a debtor to his elect.  This shows that the former question is flippant and over-bold, as if some great rich man should make a poor beggar that is a stranger to him his heir, and when he tells him this, the poor man asks, ‘But why should I wait so long for it?’

Truly, any time is too soon for him to receive a mercy from God that thinks God’s time in sending it is too late.

Gurnall goes on to say that impatience in waiting for God’s promises to come true arises from our selfishness since we prefer our own contentment and satisfaction before God’s glory.  Impatience also arises from ingratitude and forgetfulness (Ps. 106.13).

To combat spiritual impatience, we need to pray for more hope and patience.  Here’s Gurnall again:

“Patience is the back on which the Christian’s burdens are carried, and hope is the pillow between the back and the burden, to make it sit easy.”

God wasn’t obligated to make any good promises to sinners like us.  But in his sovereign and free mercy, he did promise salvation and all the blessings that go with it. Therefore, it’s fitting and right to be patient and to say that his timing is best.  And we put on “the hope of salvation as a helmet,” knowing he will keep his promise (1 Thes. 5:8)!  “And this is what he promised us – eternal life” (1 John 2:25 NIV).

The above-edited quote by William Gurnall is found in volume 2 of The Christian in Complete Armor, p. 151-2.

Shane Lems

When Darkness Hides His Face

calvincommentaries Sometimes life for the Christian is just plain hard.  We’re not exempt from the effects of Adam’s sin, so we face debilitating illnesses, allergies that nearly cripple us, mental anguish that makes for dark days, and other people often are like thorns in our flesh.  Sometimes we still wander and stumble into sin.  Following Jesus doesn’t mean life will be painless and easy!  I know a contemporary version of the hymn My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less says “When darkness seems to hide His face;” however, I think the original is more accurate: “When darkness veils His lovely face.”  It reminds me of Cowper’s great hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, which says,

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.”

This also makes me think of the criminal on the cross, who truly repented and made the good confession.  He was loved by Christ, promised heaven, but his pain and torture didn’t immediately end.  He still suffered terribly as a convicted criminal.  Calvin comments well on this:

What is promised to the robber does not alleviate his present sufferings, nor make any abatement of his bodily punishment. This reminds us that we ought not to judge of the grace of God by the perception of the flesh; for it will often happen that those to whom God is reconciled are permitted by him to be severely afflicted. So then, if we are dreadfully tormented in body, we ought to be on our guard lest the severity of pain hinder us from tasting the goodness of God; but, on the contrary, all our afflictions ought to be mitigated and soothed by this single consolation, that as soon as God has received us into his favor, all the afflictions which we endure are aids to our salvation. This will cause our faith not only to rise victorious over all our distresses, but to enjoy calm repose amidst the endurance of sufferings. (John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 314.)

Dear Christian, if you’re suffering, facing affliction, or if your cross has recently been very hard to bear, don’t take it as a sign that God is angry with you, has stopped loving you, or has forgotten about you.  By God’s grace, our suffering is productive (Rom 5:3-4).  Our feelings are not a reliable guide in the Christian life; God’s gracious promises are.  “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace!”

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI, 54015

Cancer, Grief, and God (Groves)

I’m nearly finished reading an excellent book that honestly walks through the suffering of cancer while resting in the hope of God.  It’s called Grief Undone and it was written by Elizabeth Groves whose husband, Alan, died from cancer in 2007.  As some of our readers may know, Alan Groves served in various departments at Westminster Theological Seminary.  This book is something like an autobiography (Elizabeth’s) and a biography (Alan’s) together in one, but ultimately it is a testimony of God, our only rock and refuge in time of storm.

I appreciate this book because it is a real-life account of dealing with cancer.  Having children of my own, I could totally relate to many stories Elizabeth told – the stress, the sweetness, and the bitterness involved.  Elizabeth didn’t just say everything was fine since her and Alan were Christians; she tackled the hard issues of pain, broken hearts, questions, uncertainty, and so forth.  Here’s one way Elizabeth put it:

“Daily and hourly we set our hope in the certainty of our Father’s love in the midst of uncertainty about what would happen to Al.  I don’t know that that was a measured, intellectual decision on our part as much as it was just the natural cry of desperate children who know their Father is the only one who has answers and help” (p. 18).

Or, as Alan said it before he died,

“It is not being healed from cancer in this life in which I ultimately hope.  Rather, it is in Christ now and forever that I find my hope.  I have been healed and raised in that ultimate sense by all that Christ has done.  Blessed be his name” (p. 43).

You can’t read this book without being moved.  Having lost friends and family to cancer,  I had to put the book down a few times because it squeezed tears from my eyes as I remembered the suffering of it all.  But in the midst of suffering there is hope that shines brightly through.  It’s not a false, flimsy, or “better place” type hope.  It’s the hope that Elizabeth leaned upon, that Alan rested in, and that all Christians can take comfort in.  It’s a “living hope” that we have through the resurrection of Jesus, a hope that we can hold fast to because “he who promised is faithful.”  It’s the hope of eternal life in Christ; the hope of a renewed, resurrected, and imperishable body; the hope of being with the Lord forever in the new creation where there will be no more tears.  This book testifies of that hope!

Elizabeth Groves, Grief Undone (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2015).

Shane Lems