From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
As I contemplate human nature and human life, what astonishes me is not that God allows and permits war, but the patience and the long-suffering of God. “He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). He suffered the evil, perverse ways of the children of Israel for centuries; and now for nearly two thousand years He has patiently borne with a world that in the main rejects and refuses His loving offer, even in the Person of His only-begotten Son. The question that needs to be asked is not, “Why does God allow war?” but rather, “Why does God not allow the world to destroy itself entirely in its iniquity and its sin?” Why does He in His restraining grace set a limit to evil and to sin, and a bound beyond which they cannot pass?
Oh, the amazing patience of God with this sinful world! How wondrous is His love! He has sent the Son of His love to our world to die for us and to save us; and because men cannot and will not see this, God permits and allows such things as war to chastise and to punish us, to teach us and to convict us of our sins, and above all to call us to repentance and acceptance of His gracious offer. The vital question for us therefore is not to ask, “Why does God allow war?” The question for us is to make sure that we are learning the lesson and repenting before God for the sin in our own hearts and in the entire human race that leads to such results. May God grant us understanding and the true spirit of repentance, for His name’s sake.
– Martyn Lloyd-Jones
(Read this slowly and carefully with real meditation-MT)
Of the many video clips I watched of Billy Graham the week of his death, one in particular has stuck with me. Preaching in Southern Seminary Chapel in 1982, Graham said that at sixty-four years old, his greatest surprise in life was the brevity of life: ‘If someone had told me when I was twenty years old that life was very short and would pass just like that — I wouldn’t have believed it. And if I tell you that, you don’t believe it either. I cannot get young people to understand how brief life is, how quickly it passes.’
Time. Flying past us. Not enough of it. Slipping away from us. Always pressed for it. Wishing we were better at managing it. Feeling guilty we don’t have more for someone special or something noble. We are always running out of time. And Billy Graham is right — oh, how quickly it passes.
Time is a profoundly theological entity. An eternal God teaches creatures some of his greatest lessons in the vehicle of time. It has both a linear and a circular form — you can’t repeat time, even as it gives you many things on a repeating loop. All of it educates us about what God loves and about what it means to be human, giving us at least three great lessons.
1. THE PATH OF WISDOM RESPECTS TIME’S RHYTHMS.
‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven’ (Ecclesiastes 3:1). It’s worth pausing right there, at the entrance to this most famous of reflections on time.
Scripture says there is a time for all things, but our world counters that, instead, all things can be done all the time. Most technology, for instance, has harnessed us to the lie that we can throw off the creaturely restraints of time and have access to everything always, without waiting, without stopping, and without needing to rest.
Electricity blurs the boundaries between working while it is day and sleeping while it is night. Our online life has become our timeless master, as several screens ping commands without end which we obey without question. Gyms, fuel stations, libraries, offices, and supermarkets are open 24-7 and we come to believe we can do everything all the time. There is no particular season for anything. We do what we want, when we want.
Wise people respect time’s rhythms. Dawn, morning, afternoon, evening, night. God made six days to work, one day to rest. This structures a week, which repeats over a month, and the months in years.
Many people try to live rhythm-free lives by simply doing whatever they feel like doing in any given moment, without proper attention to whether it is the right time to do that thing; this actually tears at the fabric of what it means to be human. We are now discovering that our constant, season-less attention to digital media is diminishing our personhood.
In years of pastoral ministry, I have not seen many families unravel who unswervingly observe the Lord’s Day together with deliberate joy and routine hospitality. I have witnessed others whose irregular devotion to the corporate body of the church is merely a symptom of the irregular rhythms in other areas of life.
2. THE PATH OF FOLLY SEEKS TO CONTROL TIME’S SEASONS.
Rhythms are not all there is in an ordinary life under the sun — there is ‘a time to be born, and a time to die’ (Ecclesiastes 3:2), there is ‘a time to weep, and a time to laugh’ (Ecclesiastes 3:4), there is ‘a time to love, and a time to hate’ (Ecclesiastes 3:8). These are seasons, not rhythms, for there is no predictability to their appearance in our timelines and often their presence takes us by surprise.
It takes the eye of faith to see that God ‘has made everything beautiful in its time’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11), because we often live with life’s ugliness and pain as much as its beauty and delight. Further, these are relational seasons: they involve people we love and lose, those we wrong and forgive, those we befriend and those who do us harm. We are profoundly relational beings and most of our lives are taken up with navigating the different seasons of our relationships and the effects they have on us.
Such seasons expose how little control we actually have over our lives. Zack Eswine says, ‘Many of our frustrations rise from our blindness to the change of season or to the pain or joy of them, and we struggle to adjust our expectations’ (Recovering Eden, 130). What do we do with those seasons which bring wrecking-ball damage to our tidy little realms? Where do we turn?
Ecclesiastes helps us to see that one of the seasons we do not control is the time for justice. ‘I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work’ (Ecclesiastes 3:17). There will be a time, one day, for divine time travel: ‘God seeks what has been driven away’ (Ecclesiastes 3:15). All the events of human history that have slipped through the hourglass of time into the past might be lost to us — but they are never lost to God. One day, he will dial back time and fetch the past into his present to bring it to account. Every time will have its day in court.
Foolish people seek all the answers to life in each and every season of life. But some seasons yield only questions, not answers. Some seasons bring a wound that will not heal; it might take a lifetime to learn that we ‘cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The story of my life has broken characters, jarring interruptions, unexpected joys and relationships caught up in unresolved tensions and difficulties. In God’s kindness I have, as yet, unfinished chapters. But my story is not the story. ‘The story reveals that there will be a time for judgment, and believers trust that judgment will finally prevail’ (Craig Bartholomew).
3. THE PATH OF LIFE EMBRACES TIME’S REVERSALS.
This perspective is the gospel’s now-and-not-yet voice speaking in the unfamiliar accent of Ecclesiastes. Today is the time of suffering and anguish, of work and pleasure, of toil and terror; tomorrow is the time of glory and judgment, of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting in world without end.
Now, this; tomorrow, that. The Lord Jesus fills our time with the unspeakable comfort of promised great reversals. Lose your life today for the sake of Jesus and his gospel; save it tomorrow. Gain the world now; forfeit your soul then. Be ashamed of Jesus in the time of this sinful generation; witness him being ashamed of you in the time of his coming in the glory of the Father and the holy angels (Mark 8:35–38).
Believers on the road to life know that the experiences of time can be reversed. The gospel turns the world on its head. Marred beyond human resemblance, the Servant of the Lord comes, in time, to shut the mouths of kings; buried with the wicked, he comes, in time, to divide the spoils of the strong (Isaiah 52–53). Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are meek, who are hungry, those who lose everything in the here and now, for the day of reversal is coming and the reward will be great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5).
– David Gibson
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
When the alarm went off at 4:59 am, I had a split-second thought of the utter realness of dying and standing before an utterly holy God with nothing to commend me but my own life.
The horror of it was only surpassed by the flash of reality: Jesus Christ died for this very moment.
Then it was gone.
My immediate sense was: This is the essence of what happens whenever someone is converted. This is how Jesus Christ is discovered to be real. This is how a person comes to cherish the love of Christ. Suddenly, for the first time, they see and feel, with the eyes of their heart, the undeniable reality of having to meet God with a guilty conscience.
The impact of that vision is devastating. It causes us to know that our only hope is a Mediator. Standing alone, with nothing to commend us but our own sinful life, we are utterly lost. If there is any hope for eternity in the presence of this God, we will need a Redeemer, a Substitute, a Savior.
At this point of terrible crisis, nothing shines like the gospel of Jesus Christ — “who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). In the split second before he was there, I was granted to see the all-engulfing darkness and horror of the judgment — not a theological inference, not a merely rational conclusion, not a mere thought, but a glimpse with the inward eye full of knowing and feeling and certainty.
Our God is a consuming fire. He will not look upon evil. We are utterly lost. My guilt was so huge, so real, so unquestioned in that split second, that there is not even the remotest possibility of making excuses. It was sudden and all-enveloping and infinitely hopeless.
In this instant, Jesus is all that matters. O Christ! O Christ! Can my heart contain the wave of gratitude?! O Gift of God, my desperate and only need!
– John Piper
Psalm 87 is so good this morning! But one verse in it reminded me of growing up in a small moralistic and legalistic church in West Texas. There was no gospel preached in that church, and it was boring to me. But I have some vivid memories, one of which was the Sunday evening service, when they would always sing s specific song every Sunday night each week. I knew it was coming every time and I dreaded it– The Footsteps of Jesus. The first stanza was forever etched in my mind as a lost sinner growing into adulthood–
Sweetly, Lord, have we heard Thee calling,
Come, follow Me!
And we see where Thy footprints falling
Lead us to Thee.
Footprints of Jesus,
That make the pathway glow;
We will follow the steps of Jesus
Where’er they go.
The words meant nothing to me for years except as a religious memory. But I could have sung that first stanza and the chorus anywhere, anytime, by memory. Only later did I realize it was straight out of the Bible in Psalm 85:13–“Righteousness will go before Him, and shall make His footsteps our pathway.”
His footsteps our pathway; what is the pathway for the believer laid out in Psalm 85? It is marvelous! To summarize—
1. The path of favor (vss. 1 and 3); In the gospel is favor. He has made known to us his salvation. Merciful and kind favor so undeserved! In His favor, all His wrath is gone toward us forever because of the cross–“You have taken away ALL your wrath and turned from Your fierce anger.” The redemption of the cross did this permanently for us. Now favor is ours always every moment– forever!
2. The path of restoration (vss. 1 and 4) “You have brought back the captivity of Jacob . . . . Restore us, O God.” Deliverance from the bondage and captivity of sin and being restored to life and freedom. What a path!
3. The path of reviving and joy (vs. 6) “Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?” The Holy Spirit gives this periodically, as we seek Christ and walk with Him.
4. The path of continual communion and obedience (vs. 8) “I will hear what God the Lord will speak; He will speak peace to His people.” This is the path of walking with Christ, hearing His voice, and joyfully conforming our lives to His ways, purpose, and path.
5. The path of gospel warning (vs 8) “But let them not turn back again to folly.” The gospel not only sets us free and encourages us, it not only strengthens and sanctifies us, it also warns us to not return to a path of past sin and this world again. It warns us to not turn back, not to look back, and to keep our hand to the plow. There is nothing in our past or in this vile world that can satisfy or help us. The past path of sin and worldly pleasure only robs the believer. It offers nothing for us except spiritual grief and danger. Keep on the path! Turn not back again to folly!
6. The path of promise (vs. 12) “Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.” The Lord will give what is good”; all He does is good and whatever He gives is always good for us, regardless of our evaluation of it. If it is not good for His child, He won’t give it; if it will do us true good, He gives it. Scripture says, “No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” What promises the gospel gives us, exceedingly great and precious! We should feed daily upon the sweet and true promises of His Word. They are all ours, certain and unfailing–the path of promise!
7. The path of His footsteps (vs. 13) “Righteousness will go before Him and shall make His footsteps our pathway.” Picture it–His footsteps, the way of the Master, the path Jesus walked, the way He lived, the choices He made, the way of God’s commandments, the life of obedience He had–all of it is our pathway, which were His footsteps. His footsteps are the map set before us in Scripture, the highway of holiness, the path of obedience, and the steps of the Lord.
Wherever He leads, I’ll go–whatever He reveals, I will walk in that light–whatever He says, I’m bound with joy to do–what He wants for me is my daily bread, meat to eat that the world knows nothing about. Following Jesus is better than life itself. There is no other way for the Christian than one–His footsteps, our pathway!
– Mack Tomlinson