Marc Sims • September 13, 2021
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/805801--justice-for-injustice
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What do you think God was wanting to teach you through this sermon?
- Briefly explain what the oppressors were doing in this text that God was so outraged at. Can you think of a contemporary example similar to this?
- Read Isaiah 1:15-16. What does God want His people to do?
- The oppressors in Israel had ignored God's Word and reached out to other false prophets to tell them what they wanted to hear. Is there any part of the Bible where you find yourself thinking: I don't really like this, or even: I don't know if this is good. What should we do in response to that? (See Micah 2:7b)
- Read Matt 7:2. What does this tell us about judgment? How did God judge the oppressors in Micah? What does this teach us about the fairness of God's judgment?
- In what ways does Micah 2:12-13 point to Jesus and the gospel?
- How are we like sheep?
Pharmaceutical companies ballooning prices on life-saving medication; insurance companies refusing to pay out when they really should; politicians taking bribes to stay quiet about corruption; dishonest car salesmen peddling broke down cars to unassuming customers for as much money as they can get.
Does God care about these things? We all intuitively recognize these things as wrong, as unjust. We don’t think they are simply things we disagree with or examples of inconveniences. We believe down to our core that these are wrong. And that is because we are made in God’s image, and our God is a God who cares deeply about justice.
Our church has begun studying the book of the prophet Micah. Micah was an unknown man from a small town (Moresheth) who was given the daunting task of declaring to Israel her sins, exposing the guilt of the popular and powerful, and holding forward the promise of salvation that God would work for those who repented of sin and trusted in Him.
Here in Micah 2 we are going to see those with power exploit and oppress the weak in society. But, God will not stand by. He will act.
Woe to those who devise wickedness
and work evil on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
because it is in the power of their hand.
2 They covet fields and seize them,
and houses, and take them away;
they oppress a man and his house,
a man and his inheritance.
3 Therefore thus says the LORD:
behold, against this family I am devising disaster,
from which you cannot remove your necks,
and you shall not walk haughtily,
for it will be a time of disaster.
4 In that day they shall take up a taunt song against you
and moan bitterly,
and say, “We are utterly ruined;
he changes the portion of my people;
how he removes it from me!
To an apostate he allots our fields.”
5 Therefore you will have none to cast the line by lot
in the assembly of the LORD.
6 “Do not preach”—thus they preach—
“one should not preach of such things;
disgrace will not overtake us.”
7 Should this be said, O house of Jacob?
Has the LORD grown impatient?
Are these his deeds?
Do not my words do good
to him who walks uprightly?
8 But lately my people have risen up as an enemy;
you strip the rich robe from those who pass by trustingly
with no thought of war.
9 The women of my people you drive out
from their delightful houses;
from their young children you take away
my splendor forever.
10 Arise and go,
for this is no place to rest,
because of uncleanness that destroys
with a grievous destruction.
11 If a man should go about and utter wind and lies,
saying, “I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,”
he would be the preacher for this people!
12 I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together
like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
a noisy multitude of men.
13 He who opens the breach goes up before them;
they break through and pass the gate,
going out by it.
Their king passes on before them,
the LORD at their head.
- Micah 2:1-13
The Weak Oppressed
Micah presents us with several snapshots of what he calls “workers of evil” in this chapter.
In verse 1 we are told that they are those who are eagerly and enthusiastically plotting out their evil. As they lay in bed they daydream about their schemes and efforts. At the first crack of dawn, they leap from their beds to enact their plans. These are people who are thrilled by their evil desires and with the “power of their hand” have the ability to carry it out. So these aren’t just people with plans but the power, money, status, and connections to carry out that desire.
In verses 2, 8, and 9, we are told the object of their desire: other people’s possessions, homes, and land. Verse 2 explains that they “covet” these things. What does that mean? To “covet” is to have an illicit desire for what isn’t yours. The tenth commandment explains, “You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's,” (Ex 20:17).
Last week, in chapter one Micah declared to Israel her sin of idolatry. Here, in chapter two Micah is to declaring to Israel her sin of covetousness leading to the oppression of the vulnerable, which sounds like a very different thing. But Paul in his letter to the Colossians will explain that covetousness is idolatry (Col 3:5). So, while chapter one is dealing with formal idolatry, here in chapter two we are seeing the informal idolatry of the heart. The ten commandments begin with a prohibition against idolatry (1 and 2) and conclude with a prohibition of idolatry (10). Why? Because what you worship, what you love most will control you.
In verse 8 we are told that they outright rob people of their robes, becoming enemies to their neighbors. Verses 2 and 9 hone in on their desire for land and homes which may have been taken by force (as the verbs “seize” and “drive out” could indicate) or through financial pressure. We know for certain that God evaluates that what they are doing as wicked, as constituting “oppression” (vs. 2), and it appears to be particularly targeting the most vulnerable of society (women and children, vs. 9). One possibility is that wealthy landowners could pressure the poor into risky loans with high interest that would cause them to forfeit their land and houses if they were not paid on time. Exodus and Leviticus, however, forbids the charging of interest and requires property to be returned to its owner at the year of jubilee (Ex 22:25-27; Lev 25:23-28). Further, in Joshua God portioned out the land to each tribe; everyone was supposed to have their own piece of land that they could work and develop so that they could provide for themselves and for the community.
Isaiah, a contemporary of Micah, writes of the same problem occurring in Jerusalem: “Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land,” (Isa 5:8). The wealthy land barons don’t care that their predatory property seizures are leaving widows and the fatherless homeless and destitute—all they care about is the bottom line, that their portfolio swells, and their profits roll in.
This should sober us. It might be tempting to think that in personal matters, our faith should affect how we treat people, but in business dealings we can be as cutthroat as we need to be. Do you think your business life, how you treat and pay your employees or treat your competition is a secular matter that God has no place in? Friend, God cares how we treat one another—and God especially cares how we treat those who are most vulnerable and most easily exploited in society.
This also comforts us. Just as in Micah’s time, today there is economic disparity between the rich and poor, and the wealthy often use their wealth to (or generate more of their wealth by) oppressing the poor. Here we see that if we are on the receiving end of injustice, God Himself is taking note. “The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed,” Ps 103:6.
The Word Ignored
How can Israel persist in this? When you read through Israel’s Law it is amazing how many laws there are specifically about justice and equity for the poor. How could God’s chosen people have veered so far away from God’s ideal? They had turned the radio dial to a different station—they ignored God’s Word. As this nobody prophet from the middle of nowhere castigates the wealthy and powerful for their exploitation, they wave him away dismissably:
“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
“one should not preach of such things;
disgrace will not overtake us.”
- Micah 2:6
The wealthy, the comfortable, the powerful are certain that if Micah is preaching judgment and telling them to change they are certain he must be wrong. What do they want hear?
If a man should go about and utter wind and lies,
saying, “I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,”
he would be the preacher for this people!
- Micah 2:11
Make us laugh, preacher; tell us what we want to hear, make us feel good! We don’t even care if you’re lying to us! God here hones in specifically on “wine and strong drink”—certainly to condemn their habit of drunkenness (see Isa 5:11, 22), but also to demonstrate that the people only want to hear about the luxuries, the comforts that their wealth affords them. In other words, they not only want Micah to stop preaching about God’s judgment, but they want to be told that God supports their lifestyle.
Paul warns young Timothy of this in 2 Timothy: “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths,” (2 Tim 4:3-4). This can take many forms today, but it is present anywhere where the Word of God is constrained and silenced to make something that God hates, look as if God endorses it—whether it be greed, sexual immorality, violence, racism, etc.
But God’s rhetorical question asked back in verse 7 bear repeating, “Do not my words do good to him who walks uprightly?” (Mic 2:7b). The word for “uprightly” there is the Hebrew word yashar, and it is elsewhere translated “equity” or “straightness” and is used in connection in the Bible with the word “justice.” To “walk uprightly” means to follow God’s path for justice. The oppressors telling Micah to stop speaking God’s Word are assuming that if they walk that path the Word will not do them good—they think that God’s ethical teaching of care and protection for the poor, the immigrant, the widow, and the fatherless is hindering their good, is inhibiting their happiness. Friend, I wonder if you have ever felt that way about God’s Word. Have you been suspicious that something that God has commanded—forgive your enemies, be generous with your money, maintain sexual purity—is not good?
Before the serpent convinced Adam and Eve to eat the fruit, he convinced them that God’s Word could not be trusted, that God was not interested in their good. “Did God really say…?...You will not surely die, you will be like gods!” He convinced them that God’s Word should be doubted, that God’s Law could be modified, that there would be no consequences if they sinned, and ultimately that God was holding back on them. And the great deceiver has continued to use that same playbook generation after generation, up to this very day.
The Oppressors Judged
How does God respond? Verse 1 opens with the announcement of judgment: “Woe to those who devise wickedness…” One author (Sally Brown) captures the feel of this scene well:
Imagine [prosperous landholders] gathered at a benefit gala. Bursts of laughter ripple through the room; their mood is buoyant. Their common bond, in addition to an elite social standing, is a knack for finding the upside in a volatile land market. But just as they are lifting their glasses to congratulate themselves, the party is interrupted by a messenger. Drinks are poised mid-air; all are strained to listen. The messenger bears a funeral announcement? Whose? Theirs.
The oppressors have used their power, status, and money to rob and exploit the vulnerable. So now God is going to use His power to do the very same thing to them. In the explanation of God’s judgment we find a reversal of the oppressor’s very own acts falling back on their heads.
- The oppressors “devised” evil while lying in their beds, so verse 3 tells us God is going to “devise disaster” against them. The word for “disaster” and “evil” are the same (rasha).
- The oppressors have “oppressed a man and his house” (vs. 2)—literally, pressed a man down. So God will place a yoke, a burden on their neck of disaster which will humiliate them (vs. 3).
- The oppressors drive women and children out of their inheritances (vs. 9), that is, their land that was theirs by right. So God will drive them out of their land; their portion will be removed, vs. 4 tells us, “to an apostate he allots our fields.” The oppressors acted like pagans, unbelievers when they disregarded God’s Word, so now He will bring pagans, unbelievers—the Assyrians—to come and steal their land.
A summary of God’s judgment can be found in vs. 10, “Arise and go, for this is no place to rest, because of uncleanness that destroys with a grievous destruction.” The promised land was meant to be the place of rest, the rest that was lost at Eden. But now, rather than this Edenic rest, the land has become a place of uncleanness that destroys, like gangrene that has spread so totally that the limb must be lopped off.
Friend, are you tempted to envy the wicked? Are you seemingly starstruck by the wealth and influence of celebrities, billionaires, CEO’s, and politicians? Oh friend, don’t be.
While the Bible does warn that wealth and social status brings with it a whole host unique problems and temptations, the Bible does not condemn being wealthy or popular as inherently sinful. In fact the Bible commands the wealthy to use their wealth to help others and honor God. We should use our money or influence for God’s Kingdom. But, for those who have generated their wealth by or used their social power to exploit others, to disregard God’s Law, to commit injustice? They are no persons to envy. Micah shows us that their acts injustice will come crashing back down on their head, only instead of a finite, limited human or institution using its limited power and resources to carry out evil, they will be in the hands of eternal, omnipotent King of the Universe who will use all of His infinite power and might to bring perfect, exacting justice.
Jesus Himself taught, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you,” (Matt 7:2).
The People Redeemed
Micah concludes this chapter with this promise:
I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together
like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
a noisy multitude of men.
He who opens the breach goes up before them;
they break through and pass the gate,
going out by it.
Their king passes on before them,
the LORD at their head.
- Micah 2:12-13
God had warned Israel long ago that if they abandoned His law, they would be removed from the land and go into exile. And that is exactly what happened, that is what Micah warned Israel of. But here we get a vision even further into the future when God will restore His people from exile. God will gather a “remnant” of those who want to be in a relationship with Him, and He will deliver them from their bondage, and will gather them together again. But notice what it is going to look like:
- Those delivered will be like sheep. This is not a compliment; those being rescued are totally helpless, incapable of saving themselves.
- It’s described like a prisonbreak. Those being rescued are captives; a great act of delivery, a conquering of an enemy must be worked.
- God Himself, the King, will lead the escape. God Himself will work this act of rescue, He will conquer the enemy, and He will lead His sheep back home.
God’s people had been exiled because of their sin, but after judgment, God brings mercy. It may feel odd, why would God send them away to exile only to restore them? Because it was only through exile that the people could learn how to be sheep, how to trust wholly on the Lord and not on their own understanding, how to be humble. In their arrogance, they had tried to play the role of God, disregarding His Word and setting up their own definitions of what “justice” was. So God humbles them. And it is the humble remnant who will be delivered, who will be brought back to the land and saved.
Later, when Micah explains what God requires of man he summarizes it simply: “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God,” (Micah 6:8). If we are to live justly and mercifully, reflecting God’s character and disposition to our community through acting equitably and charitably, then we must be humble. We must let God define good and evil, we must listen to God’s Word, and we must respond to it with faith. God’s Word does good to those who walk uprightly, and it is only the humble who walk uprightly. And because God loves us, He will humble us.
But, of course, this great deliverance from exile ultimately points towards the final deliverance brought about by Jesus Christ through the gospel. Jesus explains: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” (John 10:10-11). There is an enemy who is bent on holding us captive, to act like the Balrog of Lord of the Rings, the fiery monster bent on destruction, sucking all life out of us. The consequences of our sin have brought a terrifying judgment. But like Gandalf, Jesus is the great shepherd who lays down His life to destroy this enemy, who conquers the great enemy through His own sacrifice. Jesus is the good shepherd who died so that His sheep could be set free, could live, could finally return to their eternal home that they have always belonged to, to heaven itself. This tells us
1. We are very sinful. It took Jesus dying to pay for our sins.
2. We are very loved. God came back for us. He wanted to lay down His life for us.
3. We didn’t contribute anything to being saved. We are sheep dependent on a shepherd.
When we have our sins exposed, but covered; confronted and rebuked, but forgiven, this makes us humble. And it motivates us towards lives of justice and mercy. To lives of following Jesus.
Marc Sims • September 07, 2021
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/802276--fear-god
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What weighs on your mind? What tends to generate the most anxiety in you?
- What is the "fear of the Lord"? Is the "fear of the Lord" something you feel like you rightly understand?
- Which of three aspects of the fear of the Lord (grandeur, gravity, and goodness) do you feel like you need more of in your life to rightly "fear the Lord"?
What weighs on your mind? What generates the deepest sense of unease and worry within you? There are many things we can be anxious about today, from things as small as that minor house project we have been putting off or the phone call we need to make, to things as big as what our children’s future looks like or whether or not we are going to be able to pay our bills next month. Further, it seems like the wider world is just a firestorm of anxiety—from covid, to school starting, to government mandates, to climate disasters, to global conflict—it feels like what we have to worry about just keeps increasing.
Which, in a way, is confusing—we are safer, healthier, and have more creature comforts today than any generation that has ever existed. Yet, we are more terrified, more fearful, and more anxious than ever before. When we read accounts of past generations we never see the same kind of depression, meaninglessness, and profound anxiety that are hallmarks of our generation. Which is amazing considering the suffering and hardships they endured—no one in this room is worried whether or not our children will survive past infancy or worried that violent marauders are going to pillage our city. So why are we so consumed by anxiety? Why does everyone that you talk to feel stressed out, worried, and stretched thin emotionally?
Proverbs 28:1 tells us, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” Irrational fear is what marks the wicked, but courage is the hallmark of the righteous. Courage like a young David who sees Goliath taunting and mocking the living God and sees all the armies of Israel trembling in fear, but still says: “Let no man's heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine,” (1 Sam 17:32). David is just a youth and Goliath is a giant who is wielding a sword roughly the size of David—not even the most experienced soldier in Israel is willing to face him! How does David do this?
The fear of the Lord. I am convinced that what grounds a Christian’s courage and tames all other fears is the fear of the Lord. What do I mean by that? I don’t mean that David simply saw God as a bigger Goliath than Goliath and was afraid of what God would do to him if he didn’t go fight Goliath, so that David was basically being propelled by the same fear that paralyzed everyone else from fighting Goliath, only coming from heaven instead of the Philistine battle lines. No, in the Bible the fear of the Lord is an awareness of the grandeur, gravity, and goodness of God. David is confident that the God He serves is more awesome and terrifying than this Philistine before Him and that this God is ultimately for David—it is that kind of righteous, liberating, happy fear in God that quells David’s fear of Goliath and gives him courage.
Friend, there is so much today that you can be tempted to be fearful of. The fear of the Lord is what we need to deliver us from all our other fears. In the first chapter of Micah God is going to reveal His grandeur, His gravity, and His goodness, He is going to reveal why we should fear the Lord.
Hear, you peoples, all of you;
pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it,
and let the Lord GOD be a witness against you,
the Lord from his holy temple.
3 For behold, the LORD is coming out of his place,
and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth.
4 And the mountains will melt under him,
and the valleys will split open,
like wax before the fire,
like waters poured down a steep place.
5 All this is for the transgression of Jacob
and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
Is it not Samaria?
And what is the high place of Judah?
Is it not Jerusalem?
6 Therefore I will make Samaria a heap in the open country,
a place for planting vineyards,
and I will pour down her stones into the valley
and uncover her foundations.
7 All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces,
all her wages shall be burned with fire,
and all her idols I will lay waste,
for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them,
and to the fee of a prostitute they shall return.
8 For this I will lament and wail;
I will go stripped and naked;
I will make lamentation like the jackals,
and mourning like the ostriches.
9 For her wound is incurable,
and it has come to Judah;
it has reached to the gate of my people,
… 16 Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair,
for the children of your delight;
make yourselves as bald as the eagle,
for they shall go from you into exile.
- Micah 1:2-9, 16
The Grandeur of God
Micah opens with an alarming and terrifying depiction of God:
Hear, you peoples, all of you;
pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it,
and let the Lord GOD be a witness against you,
the Lord from his holy temple.
For behold, the LORD is coming out of his place,
and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth.
And the mountains will melt under him,
and the valleys will split open,
like wax before the fire,
like waters poured down a steep place.” – Micah 1:2-4
God begins His prophetic word to Micah with a summons for all peoples to heed. Despite the fact that God is going to be address Israel specifically in Micah 1, He wants all the nations of the earth to hear. God’s judgment is for Israel’s sins, but the judgment is for them participating in the sins of the nations—so it serves as a sobering warning. If this is how God judges His chosen people, how much more severely will He treat other nations for doing likewise?
God describes Himself here as sitting on His cosmic throne in His heavenly temple, laying out a charge against the inhabitants of the earth. But He rises from His throne and descends down to earth to bring judgment.
Imagine you create a detailed wax model of a mountain range and valley, complete with trees, rocks, and rivers. Then imagine you put on gloves and grab a long, thick steel rod that has been sitting in the hot coals of a fire for the past hour, and slowly lower it on top of that little wax model. What would happen? This is what is going to happen to all of creation when God descends and reveals His glory in its totality. It’s as if God’s holiness radiates so intensely that the elements themselves combust and melt, that the biggest and grandest and seemingly most permanent objects in creation—mountains—turn into puddles at His presence. This is what happens when God reveals Himself in the fullness of His glory. The “high places” were the locations where Israel, following the pagan nations, had erected places of pagan worship for false gods. It is these places that God is going to trample upon, melting the very hills upon which the altars stand upon. This is a dramatic way for God to reveal that He, not any other pretender, is the real God.
In all of this we are struck by the sheer grandeur, the bigness, the glory of God. And it is this massive, mighty, tremendous vision of God that is precisely what we need. The most psychologically healthy people alive are those who have been pulled out of themselves by some great and grand cause or thing to which they devote their life to. Conversely, the most miserable and anxious people are those who are turned inward, vain people who love themselves most and are desperate to preserve their comfort. This, of course, is because God made us to glorify Him, to behold Him and all His beauty; sin turns us inward upon ourselves, but God beckons us to look outward.
When God has been so dehydrated and miniaturized down to a Happy-Meal toy of affirmation and well-wishing and patting us on the back, then its no wonder we would be terrified of what our boss is going to say or what our friends are going to think of us. Those things carry a lot of emotional heft, the mental fabric of our mind sinks and tugs under the weight of those things, but God? God is feather-light. Our minds are not consumed with God the way we are consumed with what other people think of us or our fears about what tomorrow may bring—God is the afterthought, if He is thought of at all. But Micah 1 jams a stick into the bicycle spokes of that kind of thinking. Micah 1 presents a picture of God with titanic weight and cosmic grandeur—what seems most permanent and invincible in life melts like water in His presence. And when we see God this way, with this heft, the weight of Him makes everything else seem dinky in comparison. Even our own sense of ourselves feels miniscule and tiny—not because we have a problem with low self-esteem or self-hatred, but you just aren’t thinking about yourself when you stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon or look up at the Milky Way. That kind of self-forgetfulness is one of the most psychologically healthy characteristics we can ever have.
John Calvin writes, “Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.” I wonder how many of our fears would greatly reduce and seem less all-consuming if we regularly were reminding ourselves of the sheer grandeur of God.
The Gravity of God
The next verse in Micah reminds us that God is not only grand, but also a God who takes evil gravely. Look at verses 5-7:
All this is for the transgression of Jacob
and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
Is it not Samaria?
And what is the high place of Judah?
Is it not Jerusalem?
6 Therefore I will make Samaria a heap in the open country,
a place for planting vineyards,
and I will pour down her stones into the valley
and uncover her foundations.
7 All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces,
all her wages shall be burned with fire,
and all her idols I will lay waste,
for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them,
and to the fee of a prostitute they shall return.
- Micah 1:5-7
Verse 5 explains that the mountain-melting arrival of God in verses 2-4 are a response to Israel’s sin. I wonder how many eyebrows were raised when Micah got to this part of his prophecy? Verse 2 made it sound like God was coming to judge the nations, the non-Jews, but here at verse 5 Micah explains that it is actually the transgression of Jacob, the sins of Israel. Further, he hones in on the two capitals of the northern and southern kingdoms: Samaria and Jerusalem. The northern kingdom, which was just known as Israel, had abandoned God earlier than the southern kingdom, known as Judah, but Judah was quickly catching up to Israel (see vs. 9).
Samaria and Jerusalem were the religious and cultural centers of the nation—this was where the important people did important, sophisticated things. Cities themselves have a sense of grandeur and an illusion of permanence. If you walk around Manhattan or Seattle or London you can feel a sense of awe at the sheer size of everything, at the accomplishments of mankind. But it is these epicenters, Samaria and Jerusalem, where God’s judgment is coming. Perhaps it is Samaria and Jerusalem (both of which were situated on top of hills) that God was referring to when he spoke of mountains melting in His presence.
Here we are told that God is going to plow Samaria like a field, all the precious stones that erected the walls and buildings that gave its inhabitants its sense of security and permanence will be poured down (see ‘poured down’ in vs. 4). Why is God doing this? It is because of her idolatry, her spiritual prostitution where she has thrown herself into the proverbial arms of another lover, another god. A few weeks ago we looked at Ezekiel 16 and the way that God understood his people’s rebellion to not simply be a violation of rules, but a perverse kind of spiritual adultery that elicited God’s wrath and judgment. Which means that God takes sin personally. He isn’t a school principle handing out demerits for students breaking the dress code; He is a spouse who has been cheated on.
Friends, this tells us that God takes sin seriously. God is not morally mushy; He is not permissive or lenient because His conscience is guilty from His own sins too. His righteousness is as clear as the morning and as unyielding as iron. The world tries to tell us that our sin is normal and righteousness is strange; our flesh tells us that what is forbidden is desirable, and what is commanded is exhausting; Satan tells us that if we indulge in this secret sin, no one will ever find out and there won’t be any consequences. The seductive woman in Proverbs says to the passerby, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant,” (Prov 9:17). What is forbidden is made to look attractive, until the next verse reveals the deadly reality: “But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol,” (Prov 9:18).
There is no such thing as secret sin—God sees everything you do, and everything will be revealed. And there is no such thing as sin without consequences. Don’t be fooled— you should desire sin the way cattle desires the slaughterhouse. Israel thought that their status as the God’s covenant people gave them a license to sin, to love and trust in other things more than God, to lie about God, to abuse and take advantage of the poor and oppressed, all while believing that they were blessed by God and so be spared of any judgment. But in verses 10-15 God goes through Israel naming specific cities and towns that are going to be destroyed because of their sin, before concluding with verse 16:
Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair,
for the children of your delight;
make yourselves as bald as the eagle,
for they shall go from you into exile.
- Micah 1:16
God’s people will be carted off to exile for their unrepentant sin, just as the curse of the covenant detailed (Deut 28). And that is exactly what happened. Assyria came in and totally decimated Israel and carried them off into exile as prisoners, and not long after, Babylon did the same thing to Judah. God does not make empty threats. And I wonder if one of the reasons that God does not weigh more heavily on our minds is because we believe that really there is no moral weight to God. He is a kind of senile grandparent who doesn’t really care about how we behave, but just likes to see us on the weekends. But friends, God is holy, which means He loves what is good and hates what is bad and always will do what is just and right.
These two truths, the grandeur of God and the gravity of God should drive all of us to Jesus. Jesus is the remedy to our great problem of our sinfulness and God’s holiness. Jesus Christ and His work to die on the cross and raise again to new life is the answer. At the cross Jesus took the penalty for our sins and absorbed into Himself the judgment that our sins deserved so you and I could be saved. And whoever is listening to me, wherever you are spiritually, this is what you need.
Are you not a Christian? Come to Jesus. It is by Jesus alone, not your good deeds or nice living or even religious efforts that you will be saved. Picture the weight of your sin like a great boulder you are carrying, bring that to Jesus and heave it over onto Him to carry. His death is enough to pay the debt of your sin so that you can be spared from judgment.
Are you a Christian weighed down with a guilty conscience over sin? Friend, come to Jesus and confess your sin, and repent of it. Everyone who follows Jesus still struggles with sin, but we do not live by sin, we turn from it. Don’t hide, don’t think you can outwit God. Walk in the light, confess your sins, trust in the blood of Jesus to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.
The Goodness of God
Micah, before listing off the cities about to experience God’s judgment, explains:
For this I will lament and wail;
I will go stripped and naked;
I will make lamentation like the jackals,
and mourning like the ostriches.
For her wound is incurable,
and it has come to Judah;
it has reached to the gate of my people,
- Micah 1:8-9
Micah laments and weeps over the judgment of God. He strips himself naked and wails aloud like a beast, dramatically crying over the judgment to come. At first glance this looks like God has poured out His judgment and Micah is heartbroken over what God has done—as in, God has just done something that Micah feels is too much, too harsh. This subtly perpetuates the idea that God in the Old Testament is cranky and cruel, pouring out judgment indifferently on sinners, and Micah is left heartbroken at the callousness of God. But we have to remember that the entire book of Micah is itself a “word of the Lord that came to Micah” (Micah 1:1), including this lamentation and weeping. Micah’s dramatic tears are themselves a revelation from God that He wanted to communicate to His people. Which tells us that Micah alone isn’t heartbroken—but so is God. God isn’t happy to judge His people the way He is happy to save them.
We see this in the book of Ezekiel:
“Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ez 18:23).
We also see this in Lamentations:
“…though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” (Lam 3:32-33).
God is not delighting in the death of the wicked, He isn’t laughing about afflicting men. It does not give God “pleasure”; He does not afflict “from his heart.” The puritan Thomas Goodwin points out that God’s justice here is therefore his “strange work” whereas His mercy is His “natural work.” All throughout the Bible we are told that God is “provoked to anger,” but never are we told that God is “provoked to love.” Thus, God’s anger requires provocation; His love never does, it flows freely from who He is. So, as God pronounces His judgment here in Micah, He does so with tears and weeping.
I can’t help but think of Jesus Himself in Matthew 23. There Jesus pronounces a series of judgments on the religious teachers of the day, chastising them for their false religion and hypocrisy, ignoring God while simultaneously using God for their own vanity. Here we find Jesus’ strongest language in all of the gospels, literally cursing the Pharisees and calling down judgment upon them. But, immediately afterwards, Jesus walks outside of Jerusalem and looks at it and breaks down and weeps: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt 23:37).
What is God’s heart towards you? Is He sitting in Heaven just waiting to fry you? Can He not wait to just flush you down the toilet of judgment? No, not at all. God is good, friends. God loves you. His heart is broken over your brokenness and rebellion. Come to Him, the God who will judge you is the God who would much rather save you.
Friend, here is what I am trying to do with this sermon: I am trying to recalibrate your heart to see that God—not covid, not our government, not your family, not your tiredness—should be the weightiest reality to you. Or, to use a more Biblical term, I want you to fear God. It is when you fear God that you are set free from other fears and can become bold without becoming arrogant and become cautious without becoming cowardly. To fear God we need to see the sheer grandeur of God, the moral gravity of God in light of our sin, and the goodness of God displayed in His heart towards us. When you realize that God is big, powerful, holy, and for you, everything else in life will begin to feel less terrifying.
Marc Sims • August 30, 2021
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/798702--the-word-of-the-lord
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What stood out most to you from the sermon?
- How do Christians grow? Read the hymn, I Asked the Lord--why does God grow us through "making us feel the hidden evils of our heart"?
- What makes people turned off from religion today? How does the book of Micah confront that kind of dead religion?
- What do we do when we find something in the Bible that challenges us, that makes us uncomfortable?
- How do the books of Jonah and Nahum relate to Micah? What do we learn about responding to God's Word from them?
- "No one is so righteous that they don’t need Jesus; no one is so lost that they cannot have Jesus." What does that mean? Are there people in your life that this makes you think of? How does this apply to you?
The word of the LORD that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem. – Micah 1:1
If you want to get better at something, with practice and time, you will get better. The swimmer, the parent, the gardener—with every stroke, every child, every flower, over time you find yourself slowly and steadily becoming better. When Woody Allen said that “80% of life is just showing up,” he was tapping into this idea. Whoever you are, if you just keep plodding along, you show up, you practice, you will get better at your job, your marriage, your craft.
Is that how Christianity works? Do Christians grow on this gradual but steady rise, from one degree of godliness to another?
John Newton, the 18th century pastor and abolitionist who wrote Amazing Grace, wrote a hymn about this called I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow. It’s first two verses are:
I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and ev’ry grace,
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.
‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer,
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.
God had taught Newton to pray to Him to grow, but the way in which God answered Newton’s prayer “almost drove [him] to despair.” What could that mean?
As we burrow deeper and deeper into Christianity, as we grow more accustomed to the Lord’s teaching, to learning the paths of holiness, something strange and unexpected happens to us. You would think we would become better and better people—but sometimes it feels like we are actually becoming worse. What do I mean by that?
Picture yourself in a valley looking upward at cliffside at the base of a mountain. Let’s say that the valley represents your sin and the top of that mountain is godliness. You would think that path of the Christian life would be rather simple; a direct climb up while watching the sins we left behind us grow smaller and smaller in the distance. This is what Newton assumed in his next verse:
I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And, by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins and give me rest.
And that does happen, in a way. A Christian can no more continue to dwell in sin than you or I can permanently hold our breath under water. As we grow in our faith, we see sins diminish.
But something strange happens to us as we grow as a Christian. The higher we climb the mountain slopes of godliness, we realize that what we thought was a modest valley, is actually a deep, harrowing ravine, and the mountain peak that you thought was a day’s journey begins to look almost unattainable. When you first come to faith your understanding of sin and holiness are fuzzy, and as you mature those realities come into sharper focus. Newton expresses this in his next verse:
Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in ev’ry part.
When I first became a Christian I assumed that sin was basically sex outside of marriage, profanity, and watching scary movies about people being possessed. Holiness, in turn, was not doing those things, plus reading my Bible and going to church. If I did those things and didn’t do those other things, I figured that I had Christianity more or less figured out. But as the years rolled by, my horizons broadened. As I climbed, new vistas of godliness opened up clearer understandings of just how deep, dark, and present my sin was. The pencils marks of sin turned into indelible ink which eventually turned into stone engravings. Before I knew it, sin was everywhere; it was not just in what I did, but in things I failed to do; it was in my heart, even lurking behind motives of good things in my life. I began to feel an intolerable despair; every time I tried to lop off one sin, it felt like seven other ones sprung up—what on earth do I do?
“Lord, why is this,” I trembling cried;
“Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
“’Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.”
Why does God do this? Why does God answer our prayers to grow in grace and faith by revealing ‘the hidden evils of our heart’? The answer, of course, is because the hidden evils are there, lying dormant in our heart. We have within us whole worlds of sin. And because God loves us, He wants us to see that the valley of sin is no place to set up camp. God made us and designed us to live in holiness. Sin is when we deviate from that design, and when we deviate from that design it brings about deadly consequences. So God reinvigorates the nerve endings of our soul so that we can sense the spiritual danger of sin. He does this gradually so that we are not utterly crushed right out of the gate with the weight of our sin.
But God also helps us grow by making us more aware of our sin because He wants us to realize that we are just as dependent upon God’s grace today as we were the first day of our Christian life. Christianity is, at its core, the message of the good news of what Jesus Christ has done on our behalf to pay for our sins, so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to God. It is the response of our holy God in heaven, looking down upon us in our miserable state in the pit of sin, and being so motivated by His love that He descends down to where we are, and says: if you will ask, I will trust me, I will forgive you and adopt you. And we respond with a: Yes, please help me, and we fling ourselves onto Jesus and trust that what He has done is totally capable of forgiving us of our sins. That’s how our Christian life begins.
And because He loves us, that isn’t where it ends. He doesn’t want us to stay down there, He wants us to leave the miseries of sins behind us, so He summons us to climb, to grow, to leave sin behind. But Christians do not obey God the way a child stays upright on a bike after Dad gives them a push. We are not students trying to keep our GPA above a minimum standard in order to keep our scholarship. In other words, Christians don’t receive the forgiveness Jesus offers at the beginning of our Christian life, and then ascend the mountain of holiness leaving the grace of the gospel behind us. Jesus didn’t give us a nice push and now we ride the bike. As we climb, we realize day by day that this valley is much deeper than we thought. And we need fresh doses of grace, new mercies each morning to refresh our souls. This means that the drunk who was just converted while and is still somewhat inebriated and the oldest and godliest saint we know both alike are just as dependent on the grace of Jesus.
We are all beggars who have caught the benevolent eye of the King and have been invited to come live with him in His royal heavenly palace. Sin is ever-present, we will fight it till the day we die; but God’s grace is ever-increasing, and we will never exhaust it or outgrow it.
What Micah Offers
The book of Micah offers us this gift: No one is so righteous that they don’t need Jesus; no one is so lost that they cannot have Jesus.
Micah is an antidote to the ugliest kind of religiosity we are so familiar with today. What makes people cringe at religious people today? What makes people proverbially hold their noses when they walk into church? Either a smug sense of self-righteousness, or a complacent indifference towards evil and injustice. The worst kind of religion is the religion that inflates our ego and makes us emotionally brittle, relationally transactional, and inwardly condescending to what we disagree with while somehow also acting as a spiritual numbing agent that makes us indulgent and lazy to the sins we secretly love. This looks the ultra-religious person who always has something to complain about, always finds a way to blame others and never admits their own faults, even while hypocritically participating in and excusing sin. That’s a religion that not only people hate, but God hates too.
The book of Micah wants to keep us from that by revealing who God is, what our sin is, and the remedy offered to us in Jesus. It wants to remind us that no one is so righteous that they don’t need Jesus; no one is so lost that they cannot have Jesus.
So who is Micah?
Micah 1:1 opens with: “The word of the LORD that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.” Micah lives at the same time of Isaiah (8th century BC), and both are prophets so it is their job to speak “the word of the Lord” to God’s people. This particular word he has received is concerning “Samaria and Jerusalem.” In Israel’s history, after Solomon’s reign, the nation splits into two across a north-south border. The northern half (Israel) has its capital, Samaria, and the southern half (Judah) has its capital, Jerusalem. So Micah’s prophesy is directed towards the capitals of both halves of Israel.
If we look back on the lives of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah we will get a sense of was going on in Samaria and Jerusalem that Micah is responding to in his book. You can read about these three kings in 2 Kings 15-20. Jotham and Hezekiah were relatively righteous kings who sought to obey God and follow His law, while Ahaz was a wicked king who turned far from God and promoted all kinds of wickedness and injustice and idolatry, even going so far as to sacrifice his own children to a pagan deity. This wickedness spread to the whole nation. In 2 Kings 17:13-14 we see God’s plea with Israel and their response:
Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.”
14 But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the LORD their God.
When God wanted to warn His people He sent His Word, and tragically His Word was ignored, and Israel was conquered and taken captive by the global superpower of the day, Assyria. Friends, this invites us to consider how we respond to God’s Word. When we hear something from the Bible that confronts us, that challenges us, that lays a claim on us, how do we respond to it? Because we all bear God’s image, we all will intuitively find things in God’s Word that are attractive and bracing, that seem to confirm what we already sensed to be true. But also because we are all sinners there are things that we will run into in the Bible that will make us uncomfortable, that will push us.
One of the recurring themes in the book of Micah is the people’s failure to listen to God; in fact, they have such a hard time listening to God that eventually people start making up their own prophesies, telling people what they want to hear, promising them peace and prosperity…so long as they are given a generous donation (Micah 3:5;11). People would rather be financially taken advantage of to hear what they want to hear than to hear God’s Word. That is spiritual lunacy. God knows what is best for you and His Word is for your good, and if you will receive His Word, accept it, and obey it, you will find life.
If we click the zoom lens out one notch on the book of Micah this is made clearly by the two books that right around the book. The book of Micah is found at the center of the twelve minor prophets, which were all originally compiled onto one large scroll, so the order of the books were put together intentionally. The book preceding Micah is the book of Jonah and the book that follows is the book of Nahum. Jonah is about the salvation of the capital of the Assyrian empire, Nineveh, and the book of Nahum is about the destruction of the Assyrian empire and its capital, Nineveh. And in-between is the book of Micah which tells of the nation of Israel abandoning God and His covenant, so God brings the nation of Assyria in to judge and exile Israel. So we have an interesting spectrum across these three books of how God deals with Assyria and Israel, salvation and judgment. And what we see as we look at these three books is that how one responds to God’s Word determines whether or not they will experience God’s blessing/salvation or God’s judgment.
For example, Jonah is told to go to Nineveh to preach a message of repentance. He disobeys and does not listen to God’s Word, and flees. So he experiences God’s judgment in the form of a storm. He eventually goes to Nineveh and preaches God’s message, and Nineveh receives it and the whole city repents, and so they are saved. The book ends with Jonah sulking and angry at God for being so forgiving—throughout the whole book the Assyrians are far more righteous than the one Israelite in the story. Why? Because they received God’s Word, while Jonah continually rejected it. In Micah, we see Jonah’s rejection continue as Israel hardens their heart against God’s Word and so incurs God’s judgment. But then in Nahum we see that Assyria likewise stopped listening to God’s Word and thus experience God’s judgment.
What does this tell us? It tells us that anyone who responds to God’s Word, whoever they are, can be saved—no one is too far from God. Assyria had traditionally been enemies of God’s people (which was why Jonah didn’t want to go there in the first place), but because they responded with genuine faith, they experienced God’s blessing. Friend, wherever you are, whatever you have done, you can respond in simple faith to God’s Word today, and you will experience God’s blessing. And this also tells that anyone who rejects and ignores God’s Word, however religious they may appear to be, will experience God’s judgment.
No one is so righteous that they don’t need Jesus; no one is so lost that they cannot have Jesus.
God’s Word to Us
So Micah speaks hard words to us to serve as a bucket of cold water to wake us up from our spiritual laziness, to expose our convenient sins that we have been quietly indulging. Micah describes his prophetic task clearly:
But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin.
- Micah 3:8
God’s people had become spiritually complacent, spiritually disinterested, before eventually becoming spiritually rebellious. Israel’s leaders had begun to abandon God’s clear teachings of the Law, abuse the poor, and exploit the oppressed, all while claiming they were on God’s team.
Its heads give judgment for a bribe;
its priests teach for a price;
its prophets practice divination for money;
yet they lean on the LORD and say,
“Is not the LORD in the midst of us?
No disaster shall come upon us.” – Micah 3:11
God’s people had forgotten what it meant to follow God, so Micah reminds them:
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
- Micah 6:8
If Israel had lost sight of where exactly the mountain peaks of godliness were located, Micah 6:8 is a flashing, neon sign: this is what godliness looks like. It serves as a humbling gut-check to remind Israel that they are way down the mountain-side. In the Disney movie Frozen, the character Anna has to climb this cliffside. The camera then cuts to her heroically hoisting herself up the cliffside, struggling upwards before she shouts downwards, “Please tell me I’m almost at the top…the air seems pretty thin up here, I must be near the top,” but really, she is only a few feet off the ground. That’s what the religious leaders of Israel were like—they thought they had it, they thought they were near God, when in reality they were only a few feet off the ground, still down in the dark valley of their sin. And friends, that’s often what we are like too. The thundering prophesies of Micah wakes us up to our real spiritual state, showing us how far off we really are.
But (praise God!) this isn’t all Micah offers us. With judgment Micah also promises grace; Micah speaks of Jerusalem being remade into the New Jerusalem, Zion, the heavenly mountain where people from all nations will stream into, and all of creation will be remade and every stain of sin will scrubbed clean (Micah 4:1-5); Micah foretells of a coming Savior who will be born in Bethlehem who will personally shepherd His people and will Himself be their peace (Micah 5:1-5). Micah concludes his book with this wonderful promise:
He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
- Micah 7:19
The Gospel Word
In the gospel of John, Jesus is described as the Word of God in the flesh (John 1:14). The dilemma of Micah is the people’s rejection of the Word of the Lord, and that Word was a Word both of judgment and of salvation, the warning and the promise of forgiveness. Jesus shows us that Micah’s Word from the Lord was simply a shadow of the final and lasting Word, Jesus Himself.
Just like Micah, Jesus comes with hard things to say and wonderfully good things to say. Like, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” John 3:16. Life and death are held open before you, eternal joy or eternal perishing.
“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”
Jesus is inviting us all to turn away from “self and pride” to show us that our “schemes of earthly joy,” our attempts to turn away from His Word and do life on our own are killing us.
We grow as Christians to the degree that we respond to God’s Word.
God’s Word tells us hard things, tells us to give up sin, it humbles us by reminding us that we are not impressive.
God’s Word also tells us really, really good things. When we find our all in God, not in earthly joy, that’s where real joy, real life is found.
Marc Sims • August 23, 2021
Sermon Video Here (sermon from 16:37 to 1:10:27): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4chqH12p94&t=3961s
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- How does the gospel help us be "honest, and not freak out" and make us "courageously optimistic"?
- What is God trying to show us with Ezekiel 16? (see the three points)
- What does the gospel have to do with our marriages?
- As you think about your own marriage, what was most helpful from the sermon?
- What do you think single people can learn from Paul's teaching on marriage in Eph 5:22-33?
- What are some common misunderstandings people have of "headship and submission" in marriage? How does the gospel and Paul's teaching here correct that?
Throughout the Bible God depicts His relationship with His people in many different ways: like a Father and a son; like a King and His subjects; like a friend. One way God often presents His relationship with His people, particularly in the prophets, is like a husband and a wife. In the book of Ezekiel there is a fascinating story where God is depicted as a man, and His people are depicted like a woman He intends on marrying (Ez 16). But rather than beginning where most marriage stories begins, this story begins with an infant.
“And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’” (Ez 16:4-6)
God’s people were, from the moment of birth, despised and cast aside, left to die in a field. No one pities her, no one cares for her. That concept—that someone would leave an infant alone to die from exposure—is unthinkable to us. But it is tragically something that happened in the ancient world. Even more tragic, usually the individuals who would pick up abandoned infant girls were those who owned brothels, intending on enslaving them as prostitutes as soon as they were of age (kid friendly definition of prostitute: a woman who is paid to do something she shouldn’t do, something only a husband and wife do).
In this story, however, God intervenes. He will not leave this defenseless infant to perish or be preyed upon. He beckons the child to live, and then proceeds to help the infant Jerusalem flourish and grow (16:7). After an interlude of time and God passes by Jerusalem again, but now she is at the age of marriage, but is primitively unclothed. So God clothes her and then proposes to her (16:8).
God then bestows upon the woman fine clothing, jewelry, and luxurious food. He places a crown on her head and declares: “You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord GOD,” (16:13b-14). God has spared no expense in making His bride as beautiful and stunning as possible. People from all over the world hear of Jerusalem’s beauty, glory, and splendor (cf. 1 Kings 10:23-25). Jerusalem began as the abandoned child on the brink of death, now she has become the winner of world’s beauty pageant. She now has everything all because her loving husband has shown His grace upon her. And what does Jerusalem do in response?
“But you trusted in your beauty and acted like a prostitute because of your fame,” (Ez 16:15a, CSB). She, the one who was saved from either certain death or the bleak life of a prostitute, with tragic irony, uses the beauty and gifts God has given her to become a prostitute, she “lavishes her unfaithfulness on any passerby,” (Ez 16:15b). This is startling imagery. God’s bride turns from her husband and goes out and begins trying to take any random stranger to bed. This isn’t describing literal adultery, it is a personification of what Jerusalem is doing in her idolatry, in turning from Yahweh to worship other gods (Ez 16:16-19). She even goes so far to participate in the abominable and repulsive practice of child sacrifice; taking her own sons and daughters, children of God, and slaughters them on the altars of these false gods “to be devoured” by these pagan deities (Ez 16:20).
“How sick is your heart, declares the Lord GOD, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute… Yet you were not like a prostitute, because you scorned payment. Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! Men give gifts to all prostitutes, but you gave your gifts to all your lovers,” (Ez 16:30-33). Jerusalem is paying other people to treat her like a prostitute, giving away the gifts God has given her to commit spiritual adultery.
And because our God is a morally serious God, He acts. Our God cares about justice, and because Jerusalem has used every good gift God has given her to do nothing but pervert justice, to give herself to false gods, He declares: “You bear the penalty of your lewdness and your abominations, declares the LORD,” (Ez 16:58).
Three things we learn from this:
1. Sin doesn’t start with bad things. What went wrong with Jerusalem? How could a people receive so many good things from God, so much grace, but arrive at this kind of depravity? Remember the source of the problem: “But you trusted in your beauty…” (Ez 16:15a). What a sobering warning. It was her beauty that caused her stumble. She took the many good gifts that God had given her and, like a selfish child on Christmas morning, became more enamored with the gift than the giver, Thank you, but I don’t need you anymore, I got what I wanted from you. This, this is what will deliver me, this is what will keep me safe, this is where I can find my identity. If you think that sin is only found in the seedy, dark, underbelly of the world where sinister men do unspeakable things, you will be wholly blind to your greatest problem. The gospel has come to deal with our greatest problem, but what the gospel tells us is our greatest problem might surprise us. Our greatest problem isn’t the bad things in life, it is the good things. Nobody loves bad things for the sake of them being “bad”—we love good things, like security, comfort, approval of others, and we love them so much that we will do bad things to get them, to keep them. The nuclear reactor of sin is found first in trusting in those good things rather than in God.
2. God takes sin personally. How do you picture God reacting to your sin, to your idolatry? However we imagine it, whether with cool indifference or seeming outrage, Ezekiel shows us how profoundly God responds to our sin: He is not just a master angry with a disobedient servant, He is not just a King whose soldiers have failed Him, He isn’t even a parent angry with a wayward child—He is a husband who has been cheated on in the most grotesque manner. Maybe sin doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to you, but it is to God. We were made for God, He has bestowed kindness upon kindness to us, and when we sin we are not just breaking God’s rules, we are breaking His heart. He is angry, He is sorrowful, He is heartbroken watching us slip deeper and deeper into degradation and shame. One of the refrains that is repeated throughout Ezekiel 16 is “you were not satisfied.” Jerusalem goes from affair to affair, sinking lower and lower, into her spiritual adultery, debasing herself deeper and deeper, and at the end of each dalliance she is left “not satisfied.” Why? Because she never will be satisfied with any other lover but her Lord. And He knows that and it pains Him, saddens Him, angers Him to watch.
3. God will respond. God promised that Jerusalem would bear her penalty, that He would drain the storehouses of His wrath till His righteous anger was assuaged. And the end of Ezekiel 16 seems to reiterate this:
“For thus says the Lord GOD: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant,” (Ez 16:59).
God will deal with us the way we deserve; He will judge us accordingly. And we have broken our marriage vows, we have been unfaithful, and our God is just, is righteous. He will not wink at evil. So He will settle the account, He will judge us according to what we have done, and render to us what our life has deserved. Oh friend, what an awful, terrible thing that payment will be. You and I, when we heard of people preying on abandoned infant girls, we shuddered at how horrific that is. We feel a sense of righteous indignation—the person who does that should face justice. But, apparently, the person who did that was not so alarmed. They had been so numbed by the effects of sin that it seemed like a viable option, a good business choice. But, from our vantage point we see that, we like to think, for what it really is. But that’s how we see it, and we ourselves are beset with many sins, numbed in other ways. There are sins we commit that we don’t think twice of. So, if we, sinners though we are, can look at someone further down the line than us and admit: That kind of person deserves judgement, then friend, how do you think God sees our sin? God, who has never sinned, never sullied His purity, never blunted His holiness, never compromised His righteousness. What does He think of your sin? What flames of righteous hatred are enflamed in His heart when He sees our wickedness that we merely wink at? Friend, God’s justice and our sinfulness are the most sobering realities in existence. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
But this is precisely what makes the rest of Ezekiel so interesting. Judgment isn’t the only way God responds: “…yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant,” Ez 16:60.
Though we are unfaithful, though we abandoned our marriage covenant, Ezekiel says God won’t. He remembers the wedding day, He remembers when His bride was young and He vowed to stay by her side for better or worse. He stays up, sitting at the kitchen table for his battered bride to stumble in after another night of bad choices and pleads with her to stop, to stay here with Him. Further, He plans to now make an “everlasting covenant” with her, an unbreakable vow without expiration date. But what about God’s promise of justice? What about repaying Jerusalem for all that she has done? Here is what God concludes with:
“I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord GOD,” Ez 16:62-63.
God Himself will atone for Jerusalem’s sins. The God against whom we have sinned, we have cheated on, we have taken for granted and treated as irrelevant, whom we have screamed and kicked at and demanded that we have our own way—when we the avalanche of consequences comes bearing down upon us for our insolence and depravity, this God steps in front of us to take the blow, to take the penalty of our very sins. This is the good news of the gospel: God sent His only Son Jesus Christ to bear the penalty of His people’s sins, to atone for their evil. Jesus dies in our place. It makes sense why Ezekiel tells us that we will be left “confounded” and speechless by God’s atonement for our sins. What can we even say in light of such grace?
Friend, God does not sweep sin under the rug, He doesn’t just ignore evil. All sin, big or small, will be judged. The Bible gives us an option: we can be judged in our sins, or we can be judged in Christ.
I Thought This Was a Sermon on Marriage?
What on earth does any of this have to do with marriage? This is supposed to be a sermon on headship and submission from Ephesians 5. Why did I just spend the majority of our time in the book of Ezekiel?
First, because whenever we speak of God’s Law (what He commands), we must always first precede it with the gospel (what God does). We obey because Jesus has saved us, not the other way around. And because of that we know that God loved us when we were at our worst, not our best, so we can be honest and not freak out. Sometimes we are honest about ourselves, and then later we think: Oh no! Why did I do that? I let the mask slip and now they know who I really am! Nobody needs to suck in their spiritual gut around here. When grace enters our heart it deflates our ego and sense of self-importance—we aren’t all that impressive, in fact, we are pretty thick, but that’s okay. Jesus isn’t hanging out with us because we look so good—its actually because we are so bad that He comes near with grace. God has made an everlasting covenant with us—He isn’t going anywhere, He isn’t leaving us behind.
But this also tells us that we should be courageously optimistic! If God has loved us where we are in our sin, but does not love our sin, then that means that God is motivated to get us out of our sin! He doesn’t want us to remain selfish husbands or arrogant wives. God desires us to walk in holiness, and if God can save you at your worst, He will not leave you there. So be encouraged! Maybe your marriage stinks. Maybe you are a lousy spouse, but if you will lean into God’s grace, if you will respond to His Word by faith, He will not leave you there; you can have courage to face down your sin—maybe a sin you’ve failed a million times at—and know that one day, it is going to fall, because God has willed it to be so!
A second reason we started the sermon with a lengthy explanation of the gospel, particularly of God’s love of His wayward bride, the Church, is because Ephesians tells us that the whole point of marriage is to be a display of this gospel. Paul cites the lodestar Bible verse on marriage, Genesis 2:24, before drawing out this point: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church,” (Eph 5:31-32). Paul is telling us that marriage is the virtual reality goggles of the gospel for the watching world. It is a way for God to put out in vivid, technicolor display what His love looks like. So if we don’t understand the gospel we will have no idea what we are doing in our marriages.
If someone asks you what a cinnamon rolls is, you can read them a list of ingredients needed to make cinnamon rolls, you can tell them the nutritional facts about cinnamon rolls, or the history of cinnamon rolls, or different variations of cinnamon rolls. Or you can bake them a fresh, homemade cinnamon roll. That is what marriage is to do for the gospel, to show children and family members and friends and each other what the Jesus, grace, the gospel feels like, smells like, tastes like.
Let’s take a look at what Paul tells husbands they are to do and be in marriage.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” Eph 5:25. Everything else Paul says about husbands flows from this. Husbands you are called to love your wife in the same way Christ loved the church and “gave himself up for her,” dying for her. So, husbands: your default setting in your marriage is sacrifice. This means that you hold everything of personal comfort and ambition with an open hand—your career, education, hobbies, free time, sleep, leisure—all of it you are ready to part with for the good of your wife and family. This is why a husband who has not first been wounded by the beauty of grace, by the staggering cost of what Jesus has done for him in the gospel will not understand what it means to be a husband. John Chrysostom, a fourth century church father, exhorts husbands, “Even if it shall be needful for thee to give thy life for her, yea, and to be cut into pieces ten thousand times, yea, and to endure and undergo any suffering whatever,—refuse it not. Though thou shouldest undergo all this, yet wilt thou not, no not even then, have done anything like Christ.”
This means, husbands, that your headship in the home is a headship of lowliness, of service. Remember Jesus’ words, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,” (Mark 10:43). Leadership in the Kingdom of God is not like leadership in the world. You go to the low places, the place of a servant. So you change the diapers, you empty the dishwasher, you pick up extra shifts at work to make ends meet, you be the first one to admit that you were wrong and ask for forgiveness, you are the one who gets out of bed to investigate the sounds your wife hears in the middle of the night. You inconvenience yourself for the good of your bride, you put yourself at risk to protect your wife.
But Paul is going to color in this Christ-like love in a couple of concrete ways for us: “…that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish,” Eph 5:26-27. Jesus gave himself up for his bride in order to make her spiritually beautiful, radiant without blemish. Men, we are not Jesus, we are not the Holy Spirit—we cannot make our wives holy the way Jesus makes His church holy. But we do learn from this that men should care about the spiritual well-being of their brides. Jesus washes His bride with the water of the word, and so should we.
So, men that means that you are the one who says “Let’s pray…” when some tragedy or frustration hits; it means that you spend time in the Word and prayer so you have something of Christ to give to your family; it means that if you notice your wife hasn’t been reading her Bible you gently ask what you can do to help her be consistent in God’s Word; it means that you gather the family together to do family devotions; it means that you are the one who prioritizes church and small group; it means that you offer to watch the kids so she can go meet with another sister for prayer and fellowship. You are not the Holy Spirit; it is not your job to fix your wife or to get her to obey Jesus; but you have been given a unique authority and influence in the home spiritually—for better or worse. Don’t waste it.
Lastly, “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body,” (Eph 5:28-30). This means that a husband is to care for and provide for his wife in the same way he cares for and nourishes his own body, and the way Jesus cares for and nourishes His body, the Church. Aside from disability which would prevent labor, this means that a husband bears the primary responsibility in the home for its provision. A husband who wants to just be lazy and rely on his wife’s income so he can continue to perpetuate his laziness is shirking this responsibility. This doesn’t mean that his wife cannot work nor does it even mean that his wife can’t make more money than he does. It does mean, however, that the responsibility to provide lays on the shoulders of the husband, so that if the going gets tough the husband doesn’t look to the wife and say, “Why don’t you go work a second job?”
Further, a husband is not only to provide nourishment for his wife, but also “cherish” her. As in, make her feel loved, cared for. That means thinking intentionally about how to make your wife never think: I don’t think he really cares about me.
Paul explains to wives: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands,” (Eph 5:22-24).
Why is Paul’s list of teaching so much longer for husbands than for wives? I think because Paul is trying to curb what each gender is most tempted to. In Genes 3:16 we saw that husbands are tempted to dominate their wives, and wives are tempted to be control their husbands. So, Paul explains all the ways men are tempted not to love their wives, and here he explains ways women are most commonly tempted: to be domineering over their husbands.
Paul explains that wives should submit to their husbands in the same way the church submits to Christ. Because of our cultural location, we have a lot of red flags that might fly up in our head, but if we simply pay attention to the text I think many of these will be settled. How is the wife to submit to her husband? “As the church submits to Christ.” When we hear the word “submission” I think we subtly hear the word “exploitation” or “coercion.” I think of the world of MMA fighting, where “submission” looks like pinning someone to the ground with an arm-bar or chokehold. It is a word of power crushing someone else. But that obviously isn’t what Paul is referring to. How does the church submit to Christ? Does Christ exploit us? Does Christ pin an elbow into our neck and seconds before we become unconscious we tap out and submit? Not by a long shot.
What submission isn't
Submission is not a wife participating in sin. A wife is to submit to her husband the way the church submits to Christ in everything. So, if a husband requires a wife to participate in sin, it is impossible for her to then submit to him as the church submits to Christ. In fact, not only is she not required to submit to him then, but is obligated to refuse to submit to him. Her higher allegiance to the Lord will always trump her submission to her husband.
Submission is not about a wife being inferior. When Jesus was a child He submitted to His earthly parents (Luke 2:51). He obviously did not submit to them because they were superior to Him, but because God had designed the world where children ought to submit to their parents, Jesus was simply obeying the Law. Likewise, wives are not summoned to submit to their husbands because husbands are in anyway way superior morally or intellectually--it is not about competence, but the calling which God has placed on us all.
The church submits to Christ out of love, out of respect, out of gladness. It is a joy to submit to Christ! So too, friends, if a husband is loving his wife like Christ loves his church, it should be a glad joy for his bride to submit to him. Friends, also notice: this command is given to the wife, not the husband. The husband is not told: “Make your wife submit to you.” Submission must be freely given by the wife; it cannot be coerced or demanded for. Nowhere in the Bible is the husband called to make his wife submit—He is called to love His wife like Christ does the church. The Church responds to Jesus’ display of service, of love, of tenderness, and sacrifice.
But wives, while your husbands cannot make you submit to them, Jesus is calling you to. He is asking you to think about the glad-hearted way you have responded to the gospel, to the way we now lean into Jesus’ leadership, and to gladly lean into the leadership of your husband. So, this means you treat your husbands with respect; you don’t bad mouth him when talking with others; you don’t belittle him or treat him like he is not what Jesus is saying he is—the head of your marriage. When talking through big decisions, after voicing your opinion, always communicating respect and deference to your husband: I love you and I trust you; I will support you.
Would your husband say: I feel respected, admired by my wife.
In closing: husbands, wives, Christ is calling you to be a picture and display of the gospel to the watching world. You are, every day, demonstrating to your children and neighbors: this is what the gospel is like. Are you content with what you are displaying? By God's grace and mercy, He will not leave us where we are, but He will love us and help us where we are.
Marc Sims • August 16, 2021
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/791704--man-and-woman-in-christ
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- Who comes to mind when you think of a good example of godly manhood or womanhood?
- What are some unhelpful ways our wider culture defines "manhood" or "womanhood"?
- Looking at Genesis 1:26-28, in what ways are men and women equal? And what is the difference between that and being "the same"?
- What are some of the differences we see between Adam and Eve in Genesis 2?
- What domain is Adam cursed in and domain is Eve cursed in? (see Gen 3:16-19). What does it mean when Eve is told: "your desire shall be contrary to your husband, and he shall rule over you"?
- What were the major emphases of what manhood and womanhood looks like, according to Genesis 2-3?
- What does it look like to embrace those designs for yourself?
- We live in an "anti culture" where we are defined by what we reject, not what we are for. Thus, our wider culture in rejecting traditional gender roles, is unclear about what it means to be a man or woman.
- Men and women are equal and very similar as both being made in God's image and given authority over creation. This, however, does not mean that men and women are the same. The differences between men and women should be celebrated as a further display of the image of God, not denigrated.
- Men and women bear distinct roles in creation. In Genesis 2-3 we see that God creates Adam to lovingly lead his wife, Eve, and to use his strength and gifting to cultivate and protect the exterior life of the family. Eve is created to help Adam complete their God-given task of filling the earth through creating a family. Eve is to use her unique gifting to cultivate and nurture the interior life of the family.
- Manhood and womanhood are more about men and women's character as they submit to and follow Christ than they are about cultural stereotypes.
- Jesus' grace is available to us all and will train us in our pursuits for biblical manhood and womanhood.
What does it mean to be a man? To be a woman?
More specifically, what does it mean to follow Jesus as a man or as a woman?
Why is that question hard?
Tevye, the main character of the musical, The Fiddler on the Roof, opens the musical with this comment on his Jewish communities traditions: “Because of our traditions each of us knows who he is and what God expects of him.” The song "Tradition" then carries on explaining how each member of the family has their role to play in life and the wider society. The rest of the musical, however, is a sad story of the undoing of so many of these traditions. Modernity has undermined many of the ancient traditions that human societies have relied on for so long to tell them who they are and what God expects of them.
We live today in what sociologist Philip Rieff describes as an anticulture—we are defined by our rejection and cynicism of the past. We are not defined by a positive vision of what we believe life, society, or family to look like--all we know is what we don't want to be. So this makes questions like: "What does it mean to be a man or woman?" very difficult for us. All we know is that we have seen things in traditional gender roles, for instance, that we don't like and we don't want to be that.
What I want to do in this sermon today is to provide a broad, general overview of what the creation account of Genesis tells us about God's distinct design for men and women to be like.
How Are Men and Women Similar?
While there are important distinctions between men and women, we must not miss that there is far, far more similarities than differences. The overwhelming amount of what God has to say to us in the Bible is addressed to both sexes. In Genesis 1 we see a number of things that demonstrate ways in which men and women are the same:
1. They both are created by God
2. They both are made in the image of God. (Gen 1:27)
3. They both are given the charge to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28)
4. They both are given dominion over all of creation and told to fill and subdue the earth (Gen 1:28)
The Bible depicts men and women alike as being equal in worth, dignity, and status before God. Thus any perspective of manhood or womanhood which would denigrate the humanity of men or women runs into direct collision with the Bible’s own teaching. For Paul to encourage the Corinthians to consider singleness as a serious option for life, in some ways a superior option, then that has to mean that a man or a woman are not lacking in anything to experience a fully human experience (see 1 Cor 7:8; 26-40). A woman is not completed by a man, or vice versa—rather, they are both alike made in God’s image and given an ennobling calling as image bearers, whether male or female.
But being equal does not mean being the same. Because men and women are equally made in God’s image that means that the differences we see between men and women are not attributed to one sex being inferior or superior. As the Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck notes, “The human nature given to man and woman is one and the same, but in each of them it exists in a unique way. And this distinction functions in all of life and in all kinds of activity,” (The Christian Family). Unfortunately, it has been common to assume that distinctions between the sexes are distinctions of competence or innate value.
We can see a popular ancient view of this in Aristotle, who taught that females were incomplete, deformed males, since they lacked masculine characteristics of strength and fortitude. So, for Aristotle, the masculine experience of life was, in his estimation, what real human existence was, and because women were difference he assumed this was a deficiency. We see a bizzarro inverse of this in contemporary pop-culture where typical feminine characteristics are disparaged, and women are encouraged to basically become men. If men are brutes who can clobber people who get in their way, then so can women; if men are sexually ravenous with little emotional attachment, then so are women; if men will prioritize their careers to the neglect of their family, then so can women.
But in depicting women constantly doing what men do (for better or worse; I am not at all condoning these behaviors), whether that be in a physical fight or the bedroom or boardroom, it subtly tells women that real freedom is to become like a man, which is just another species of the sexism Aristotle was saying thousands of years ago. It is telling women that they do not have anything unique or genuine to offer the world through their distinct femininity; it is only when they abandon their womanhood that life is found. It is, in a way, the erasure of women. I recently spoke with a friend who wondered out loud what would happen to our society if stay-at-home mom’s, school teachers, and nurses all were paid six-figures and given the same air of respect we give individuals who make that kind of salary. No stay-at-home mom is going to wow people with her profession the same way a female CEO will, we all know that. But what is the biggest thing that a woman has to offer that men cannot do: bear children. And yet, our culture quietly assumes that the woman who prioritizes raising her family over a career to be a missed opportunity, certainly not something to be held in a high honor.
But friends, men and women are equal, they both display the image of God and reflect God’s character and nature through their distinct roles as men and women. They are not the same; a man does not need to become a woman, and a woman does not need to become a man to bear God’s image.
How Are They Different?
Genesis one represents an overarching, sweeping description of how God creates and fills the whole world. Genesis two provides a deeper look at how God specifically made man and woman. In Genesis one we are simply told that God creates man and woman at the same time because it is providing an overview summary, but in Genesis two the camera lens zooms in, and we see the details of how God specifically created Adam and Eve.
How they are made
As we zoom in on the creation story of Adam and Eve, we find that there are a number of differences in how Adam and Eve are made. Let’s look at what Genesis tells us:
“When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature,” – Gen 2:5-7
It is only later that God remarks, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him,” (Gen 2:18). After Adam names all the animals (Gen 2:19-20), God causes “a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man,” (Gen 2:21-22).
There are two distinctions we see in the text: (1) God creates Adam first, then Eve; (2) God creates Adam from the ground, and Eve from the side of Adam. These are details that may seem irrelevant at first, but the order of creation is something that Paul grounds his argument for male headship in marriage and the church (1 Cor 11:8; 1 Tim 2:13), so they can’t just be inconsequential details. Of course, even though Eve is made of Adam’s rib and Adam is made of the dirt, they are still fundamentally made of the same thing—the distinction isn’t that men and women are inherently different in their essence, but that they are different in the way they were made—one from the dirt, one from the side of man.
What they are called to do
Directly after God makes Adam He creates the garden of Eden, “And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” Gen 2:8-9. God is described as a gardener here, planting and cultivating Eden into a place of beauty and abundance. A few verses later, we see God charge Adam with a unique vocation:
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” Gen 2:15-17.
Adam is placed in the garden and is told to “work” and “keep” the garden (two words that describe the priests’ service in the tabernacle/temple). Like God, in whose image Adam is made, Adam is to work as a gardener, tending to the garden and protecting it from harm. Also, notice these two commands are given to Adam before Eve is created. Of course, as Eve is tempted by the serpent, she repeats this prohibition (Gen 3:3; although twisting it some), so it applies to her, but God only gives it to Adam. Thus Adam must have born a particular responsibility to teach his wife this warning.
In the creation of Eve we see a slightly different emphasis. After God proclaims that it is “not good” for Adam to be alone, God says He will create a “helper fit for him.” It may be tempting to assume that God’s pronouncement over the sad state of Adam being alone is primarily a psychologized evaluation—Adam is lonely and needs a companion. But if Adam simply needed another friend, God could have made another man for Adam. Or if he needed help in the labor of working the garden, He could have created a team of men or given him a herd of oxen to plow the fields for him. Instead, God creates a woman, something that is like and unlike Adam. There are many differences between men and women, from the composition and structure of their bodies, to their general interests, to the indefinable difference between rugged masculinity and feminine beauty. But of the differences between a man and a woman, none is greater than a woman’s ability to bear and care for children. God commanded man and woman back in Gen 1 to “be fruitful and multiply” (1:28)—Adam cannot do this by himself. This is why it is “not good for man to be alone.” The “very good” design of men and women ruling over God’s creation together, bearing children and multiplying cannot happen with only one of them.
So Eve comes along to be a “helper who corresponds to” Adam. The word “helper” may carry negative, or belittling connotations today, and so we may be tempted to assume that this title is degrading in some way to women. But do you know who is called “helper” most throughout the Old Testament? God. God is repeatedly called Israel’s helper. So “helper” cannot mean anything diminutive or patronizing. Instead, it means that you possess a strength and ability that another does not and you are present to use that strength and ability to aid. Eve comes alongside Adam as help, blessing him with her unique giftings, interests, and femininity, manifested supremely in her ability to bear children.
In Genesis 5, Adam is described as a “son of God,” meaning God is like a parent who has created children. So, just as Adam gets to mirror God in his calling to work and keep the garden, Eve likewise gets to reflect God in her ability to create children.
Both Adam and Eve are given the command to be fruitful and multiply, to exercise dominion over the earth, and to subdue it. Both are made in God’s image and are therefore called to reflect what God is like to the watching world. But this isn’t something they can do apart from each other. To quote Bavinck again, “The human nature given to man and woman is one and the same, but in each of them it exists in a unique way. And this distinction functions in all of life and in all kinds of activity.”
For Adam, his primary emphasis is to be looking at the cultivation of the exterior life of the family through working for and protecting their home, the garden. We see this emphasized in how Adam is cursed after the Fall:
To the man he said:
Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:17-19)
Notice that last verse, the connection of the curse being tied up with the domain from which Adam was created. Adam was created from the ground, and was called to work and keep the ground, and now, the ground is cursed—Adam’s labors are now going to be met with toil, frustration, and sweat. Work, on this side of the Fall, is hard and tiring. But this shows us the unique emphasis of Adam’s vocation—God has given men strength and fortitude in a unique way so that they may use that strength and fortitude to labor, provide, and protect.
Eve’s emphasis is on cultivating the interior life of the family, through bearing and nurturing children, helping and supporting her husband. We likewise see this emphasized in how Eve is cursed:
To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.” (Gen 3:16)
While Adam is cursed in the domain he is created from (the ground), Eve is cursed in the domain she is created from (Adam’s side). She experiences the curse in two distinct ways: in relation to her children, and in relation to her husband. “Pain in childbearing” doesn’t only refer to the physical pain of childbirth, but to every heartache that comes with raising a family, from childbirth, to miscarriages, to barrenness, to familial strife, even to the desire for a family or spouse but remaining alone. It is a tragically holistic pain.
“Your desire shall be contrary to your husband” could be more literally translated “Your desire shall be for your husband.” This, however, doesn’t mean a romantic desire or fixation. It means rather a desire to dominate. We see a near exact recreation of this phrase one chapter later when God is warning Cain of the sin in his heart: “…sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it,” (Gen 4:7). In the same way sin wants to dominate Cain, Eve will now be tempted to dominate her husband. And how will the husband respond? “He shall rule over you.” Nowhere in Genesis 1-2 is Adam told to “rule over” his wife. Adam and Eve together are to “rule over” creation, but not each other. In Genesis 2 we do see a unique authority given to Adam in the priority of his creation and the prohibition of the tree given to him and then taught to his wife, an authority that Paul likewise sees (1 Cor 11; Eph 5; 1 Tim 2). But the gift of servant-hearted leadership Adam is to exercise is now perverted into a cruel domination, so that now the marriage becomes a power struggle of who is dominating who.
What does it mean to be a man? To be a woman?
If we were to scoop up everything from Genesis 2-3 and consider God’s design, the ways we are tempted, and what God has called us to do, I think we could summarize what biblical manhood and womanhood looks like in a few words. For men, God desires you to gladly use your unique abilities as a man to, Paul tells us, to lay down your life as Christ did for His church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25), to take initiative and responsibility for others around you, to work, protect, and serve for the good of your family, church, and community.
For women, God desires you to use your unique abilities as a woman to pursue what 1 Peter describes as, “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious,” (3:4), to cultivate an environment of nurture, connection, and care to serve the good of your family, church, and community.
There are so many unhelpful cultural stereotypes about manhood and womanhood. Christians have to be careful about inappropriately baptizing what our secular culture tells us is manly or womanly, and believing that this is what God wants us to be like. While we should take what Paul tells us in 1 Cor 11 about not blurring gender lines in our dress and appearance seriously, we shouldn’t be overly rigid in assuming that everything that is culturally masculine or feminine is necessary for us to participate in as Christians. Ironically, much of what fuels the recent rise in transgenderism is a kind of commitment to these traditional, cultural gender stereotypes. If a young boy is more sensitive and doesn’t like sports, or a young girl is more of a tomboy, then our wider culture, rather than understanding that not all masculinity and femininity expresses itself the same, tells these young boys and girls that they likely are just transgender and should transition. I, for instance, do not particularly enjoy many traditionally masculine interests—sports, cars, guns, Jean-Claude Van Damme movies—and enjoy many things that many would associate as being something more feminine—I like art, literature, and poetry; I am more emotionally intuitive and enjoy children than most men. While masculine interests and feminine interests do tend to be different, we must be able to discern between what is descriptive (the way things commonly are) and what is prescriptive (what does God require of us).
Further, we shouldn’t assume that the distinctions between men and women are hermetically sealed categories. Just because I said that one of the primary emphases of manhood is responsibility and sacrifice, doesn’t mean that women are never going to need to take responsibility or sacrifice. And just because I said that womanhood is defined by nurture and connection doesn’t mean men are never required to be nurturing or work to cultivate relational connections. It’s much, much more complicated than that. These different emphases come from the unique ways God has made us, called us, equipped us, and the unique ways we are tempted to abandon God’s design—men are tempted to avoid responsibility or use their strength abusively, women are tempted to dominate or manipulate men. But, because both men and women are fundamentally made in the image of God, that means that both male-ness and female-ness alike reflect God’s character and thus, in the words of Bavinck, “No man is complete without some feminine qualities, no woman is complete without some masculine qualities," (The Christian Family).
So, Paul tells the entire Corinthians church, women included, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong,” (1 Cor 16:13). And then he tells the Thessalonians, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us,” (1 Thess 2:7-8). These tell us two things: certain characteristics are feminine and some are masculine. There is something manly about strength and resolved determination, and there is something feminine about gentleness and tender affection. But also, there is a way that women need to be strong like men, and men need to be gentle like women, even while we affirm that strength may be more regularly emphasized in men, and gentleness may be more regularly emphasized in women.
Manhood and womanhood have far more to do with character than anything else. What is the ideal of manhood? Womanhood? And individual who is submitted to the Lordship of Christ and reflecting God’s character and nature as they walk by the Spirit. How that manifests itself will look slightly different given our callings and temptations as men or women, but it will flow from fundamentally the same source of obedience to God. This is why it is possible for single people to pursue this just as much as married people. While it may look different some, it is still the same fundamental calling.
Under the original design of Genesis the distinctions and callings of men and women were exercised exclusively in marriage. But with the arrival of Jesus and the Kingdom of God, we see blessings being pronounced on single people and barren women. Why? Because although sin took away much from us as men and women, Jesus restores to us more than sin took from us. So the childless woman and single mom, and unmarried man, as they follow Jesus, can still pursue their unique callings of manhood and womanhood. Men will pursue leadership and responsibility and labor for the good of their church and community and women will use their giftings of nurture and care to love their church, to love their neighbors.
I heard a story this week of a little boy who ran to his father crying because his sister threw a rock at his head. His dad told him that he was proud of his son for taking it like a man. “No I didn’t, I am crying!” the little boy replied. “Being a man has nothing to do with crying. You acted like a man because you didn’t try to retaliate—that’s being a man.”
What do we do now?
What does the gospel have to say about our callings as men and women?
First, Jesus meets us where we are, not where we should be. Perhaps you realize that God’s design for manhood and womanhood is not something you have gladly embraced, but ignored or begrudgingly tolerated. Jesus is not waiting till you arrive at whatever plateau of godliness you think you need to be at before God is pleased with you—He comes to you here and now with mercy and grace in His hands. Titus tells us, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,” Titus 2:11. All people. That means the best of husbands and the worst of husbands, the best of wives and the worst of wives; single men and women who chafe at the calling of responsibility and nurture given to them—wherever we are, God comes to us now, where we are, not where we want to be. Jesus is not holding back on the storehouses of His grace until you shape up—it is the exact opposite. It is precisely because you and I fall so short that the storehouses are flung open and His grace flows our way, the way water flows to a parched desert.
But His grace does not only meet us where we are, but it leads us to where we should go. Paul continues, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,” (Titus 2:11-12). How stunning. Grace doesn’t merely forgive us, and then we are brow beaten into obeying. Grace forgives and grace restores. The schoolteacher of the Christian life is grace! So we are led, shaped, and propelled forward into holiness by the gracious love of our Father towards us.
So, we, broken people though we are, lean into the current of this grace and let it sweep us into its path. We gladly embrace God’s design for us as men and women, knowing that God’s kindly heart is for our good, not against it.
Men, take responsibility.
Women, cultivate the imperishable beauty of a gentle spirit.
Husbands, love your bride and lay down your life for the good of your family.
Wives, respect your husbands and help him in the calling God has given him.
Marc Sims • August 09, 2021
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/788539--creation-and-gender
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What are some ways that contemporary understandings of gender differ from traditional understandings?
- "A soul is a spirit designed for physical life" (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics). Do you agree? What does this have to do with the issue of transgenderism?
- Read 1 Cor 6:12-20. What does this tell us about our bodies?
- If Romans 8:23 tells us we are awaiting the "redemption of our bodies", what does this tell us about our bodies?
- What How do Christians respond with truth and love to those experiencing a confusion of gender identity?
- Read 1 Cor 11:14-15. What does this mean? How are we to apply this in different cultures where what is "masculine" or "feminine" may differ from Paul's contemporary culture?
- Your body is a gift given by God and is part and parcel of your identity as an image bearer; everything created by God is good (1 Tim 4:4)
- Sin has affected all of our bodies, resulting in both physical (sickness, disabilities, etc.) and moral (sinful desires, identity confusion, etc.) problems. Our bodies do not function they way they should and we find within us many conflicting and confusing desires that are contrary to our identity as image bearers.
- Rather than embracing these confusing desires that come as a byproduct of sin, we should embrace and participate in the identity God has given us that comes with being embodied beings, male or female. God has designed our bodies for the purpose of glorifying him (1 Cor 6:13; 19-20).
- While this may be clear in the Bible, sometimes we can doubt whether or not this is good. Given the nature of current discourse about gender, it may be tempting to suspect that God's design is not loving or fair. But we can trust God's design to be not only authoritative but also good--even if our impulse is otherwise--because God has revealed himself to be both loving and trustworthy in the gospel. If God loved you enough to send His own Son to die for your sins, then we can be confident that His commands are for our good, are given because He loves us.
The less significant something is, the less catastrophic is the nature of it being used wrongly. If my child uses his bath time toy boat to play in the sandbox, it does not matter. It isn’t hurting anyone. But if someone attempts to take a yacht and drive it up upon the sand dunes, things will be much, much more consequential.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. – Gen 1:27
Is there an innate design to life? A way things should be? A way we ought to live?
Of course, we all recognize that there are some things in life that just do not work. No matter how much my child wants me to believe that the plastic fruit he “cooked” for me is a real meal, things won’t go well for me if I try to digest it. If you attempt to stop sleeping and live on energy drinks and protein bars, you will eventually collapse. If I plant lemon seeds, no matter how much I may want oranges, a lemon tree is what will come up. There is a certain given-ness to reality that cannot be ignored.
But while it is obvious that there is a kind of design to our bodies and our world that can only be ignored at our own peril, is the same to be true for morality and identity? Is there, to use an older philosophical word, a “nature” to human beings that explains and guides how we are to live? A design with which we should seek to shape our lives to?
Of course, Christians would answer with a resounding “Yes.” As we examined last week, we believe that all human beings (Christian and non-Christian alike) are made in the image of God, thus there is a universal human nature that undergirds us all: a reflection and image of God’s character and nature Himself. God has conceived in His mind, so to speak, what a human being should be. And this nature persists even through sin, though it is marred by sin. While our union with Christ helps restore the image to its original design, those outside of Christ still bear God’s divine image, and thus there is a universal human nature that is indelibly stamped on us all. Thus, I argued, all human beings are left with an innate, even if imperfect, sense of the knowledge of God and what He requires of them (Rom 1-2). But what does this identity have to do with our understanding of gender?
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. – Gen 1:27
Gender has traditionally been understood to be the display of one’s sex, male or female, through cultural means of dress, speech, mannerisms, etc. that telegraphs either a masculine or feminine characteristics. So our sex is the biological reality of us being either male or female and gender is a culturally appropriate display of that biological reality. Gender, thus, has been assumed to be necessarily tethered to our biological sex. A more modern definition of gender, however, can be found from Yogykarta Principles, a standard model used for formulating many SOGI (sexual orientation gender identity) laws today:
Understanding “gender identity” to refer to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body (which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or function by medical, surgical or other means) and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms.
Notice a couple of things in this definition:
1. Gender identity “may or may not correspond” with biological sex. Even further, sex is not discovered, but “assigned” at birth. The sexual anatomy of the infant is not itself what determines that the child is male or female; it is the designation that the doctor or parent assigns the child. This not only separates gender from sex, but removes sex itself from the biological and anatomical phenomena of the body.
2. If the anatomy, chromosomes, and physiology of the person do not determine their gender identity, then what does? It is “each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender.” Last week we spoke of the recent model of turning first inward for identity formation. Transgenderism is the most recent logical outcome of this method of forming identity: if the world around me and God above me are at best secondary or tertiary guides to consult to discover who I am, and at worst something to be disregarded entirely, then not even something as close to myself as my own body can tell me who I am. The inner psychologized self has been shorn from the body like a kernel from a husk.
3. One way for those experiencing a disconnect between their sex and gender to alleviate this problem is through modifying their physical experience through dress, speech, mannerisms, or through medical solutions, such as surgery or hormone therapy.
We could summarize these three insights by saying:
1. The body is unimportant
2. The self knows best
3. The solution is to remake yourself
What should Christians think about this? How do we respond? These issues strike at the very heart of some of the most vital truths God’s Word: the image of God, gender, the body, and sexuality.
As we look we will find three answers to this dilemma:
1. Our bodies
2. Our fallen bodies
3. Our great hope
A Theology of the Body
The early church struggled with a false teaching called “Gnosticism” which viewed the created world and our bodies, and all its attendant appetites, at best as unimportant, and at worst evil. It was the immaterial, the spiritual world that was pure and undefiled, and the more one distanced themselves from the pleasures and comforts of the material world the closer one would be to the spiritual. Bodily appetites were debased and could not be trusted. So the individual who lived the most strict and ascetic life, denying themselves comfort, food, and sex, who were viewed as the most spiritual.
There appear to be forms of this cropping up in the New Testament church that the writers of the New Testament address. Paul warns his young protégé Timothy of false teachers, “who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving ,” 1 Tim 4:3-4 (cf. Col 2:18-23). Everything that God created is good. As God is ordering and creating and filling the world in Genesis 1, what is the constant refrain? “It was good.” And after God creates human beings in His image, male and female? He declares, “It was very good,” (Gen 1:31).
Back in June when we covered the resurrection of Jesus I made a brief comment about what God thinks of our physical bodies. When the Son of God became man, He did not just temporarily dawn a “human suit” so that He could live and die, and then cast it aside so as to return to His previous spiritual existence. No, when Jesus took on flesh, He permanently added to Himself a human nature that He will never set aside, and that human nature is inseparable from His bodily existence. After Jesus was put to death on the cross, significantly His body was resurrected. He did not appear to His disciples as a disembodied ghost. He hugged people (John 20:17), invited Thomas to touch his hands and side (John 20:24-29), and ate food (Luke 24:36-43). And, most significantly, when Jesus ascended into Heaven to sit on His heavenly throne, His body went with Him! Jesus’ human body is so significant that John tells his church that anyone who denies that Jesus came in the flesh, is not from God (1 John 4:2-3).
If Jesus is the human par excellence, and His existence as the perfect being involved a human body, then that means our bodies matter to God. He designed them, He created them and, as Paul told Timothy, “everything created by God is good” (1 Tim 4:4). Psalm 139 pictures God lovingly and intimately fashioning each one of us within our mother’s womb, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Our bodies are a stunning display of God’s brilliant handiwork.
While we experience a temporary separation from the body upon death, this is not anyone’s final state. The book of Revelation tells us that the final state of all human beings will be in a resurrected body (Rev 20). The New Heavens and New Earth will not be a plane of spiritual ether, we will not exist as disembodied spirits, but will live in a renewed world where creation is not bypassed but remade.
While we understand that there is a distinction between our soul and body, the Bible gives us little room for imagining a great deal of distance between these two. We are embodied beings. Your entire human experience happens through your body. What you do with your body bears direct impact on your soul. Try staying up all night and notice how much tempted you are the next day to snap in anger at someone or bow in reverence for five minutes and notice your ego deflate. Further, we don’t disassociate people from their body: if I attack you and you get angry, you will not feel sympathetic if I attempt to explain that I was not attacking you, just your body. If a racist treats someone else differently because of the color of their skin, the individual doesn’t comfort themselves that they are just treating their skin, not them, unfairly. While there is not a one for one identification with ourselves with our bodies, it is impossible for us to conceive of anything happening to, through, by or against our body, and not seeing it directly affecting ourselves. This is God’s design for image bearers—to be embodied beings.
Our Fallen Bodies
But, of course, there is a problem. Our bodies are often the source of much frustration in life. Since the Fall, sin has cursed all of creation, including our bodies. We get sick, our body hurts, our “outer self is wasting away” as Paul says (2 Cor 4:16). Further, we find within our bodies cravings and impulses and desires that are in direct contradiction with what the Lord requires of us, so much so that Paul can use the word “flesh” as a metaphor for his sinful nature. This leads Paul to write:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom 8:20-23)
All of creation, including ourselves, groan under the weight of the curse. Last week we spoke of how human beings are made in God’s image, that is our fundamental identity, and that is stamped on all of us from our creation. Sin creates a distance between us and God. And thus, since we bear God’s image, it leaves us feeling internally out of sorts. We are left uncertain of who we are and alienated from ourselves. Reflecting on this, the prophet Jeremiah writes: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). Our heart’s lie to us, they cannot be trusted; they are sick, not healthy; and they are an enigma, who can understand the depths of their own heart? We are strangers to ourselves. We now find desires inside of us that feel right, the seem desirable, but are at odds with God’s design for us.
As a by-product of the Fall all of our bodies are now not functioning the way they were designed. And like no two mirrors hit with a hammer crack exactly the same, we all are broken differently. Further, as we live in a wider society of other broken people, the influences of that wider view affects how we think of our bodies, use our bodies. For some, the unique way sin has affected them and the way the wider world thinks leads them to denigrate their body through cruelty to their body, for example, through self-harm, or eating disorders, while it leads others to indulge their body, through gluttony or greed. It leads some people to treat other people’s bodies unjustly because they look different than them, are a different sex than them, or race than them.
And because an unavoidable aspect of our bodily experience is our sex as male and female and the sexual activity those different sexes include, sin taints this as well.
This can lead to all sorts of different kinds of brokenness—from the abusive and manipulative husband who abuses his wife to the young college student viewing porn and pursuing casual sexual encounters with others, from the woman who thinks that because she is a woman she is less valuable than a man to the man who thinks any sexual act is permissible as long as there is consent involved. Sexual sin manifests itself in many, many different forms.
In the case of transgenderism, this looks like someone experiencing a disconnect between their biological sex and their inner sense of identity. Most transgender activists today blanch at the notion that transgenderism is rooted in biological phenomena, such as a chromosomal abnormality or hormonal deficiency, but nearly 1 in 5,000 births today are classified as a “disorder of sexual development” (When Harry Became Sally, p. 88). The majority of these simply lead a person to be sterile or infertile, but a small minority of some of these lead to an ambiguity about which sex the child is. This certainly results in painfully difficult cases where much wisdom and medical insight is needed. These tragic circumstances fit within the Christian doctrine of sin and how it affects our bodies, much in the same way we would explain the presence of cancer or other physical disabilities in the world. But, like I said, most transgender activists today reject the idea that their gender identity has any biological grounding whatsoever. Most transgender activists speak in almost mystical language referring to a soul or spirit that is either male or female or neither, and it is that inner immaterial reality—not their body or chromosomes or anything like that—that determine who they are. The body is an obstacle to be ignored or overcome.
But in the Bible we see that even in the fallen world we inhabit, even with a body that is fallen and prone to this internal conflict, God still cares about what we do with our body.
The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. – 1 Cor 6:13b.
And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!... Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. – 1 Cor 6:14-15, 18-20 (cf. Rom 12:1; Rom 6:13; Phil 1:20).
You may not think much of the body God has given you, but He does. And He has a specific design for that body: glorify Him. That means use this body in such a way that, as Paul says, “always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death,” (Phil 1:20). That means that all of our life—and our death-- with whatever we do with our body, we are to honor God, to display to the watching world that God is King and ruler.
This means that we draw our sense of gender from the body that God has given us and happily participate in it by expressing our masculinity or femininity outwardly. We can see this in the Old and New Testaments
A woman shall not wear a man's garment, nor shall a man put on a woman's cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God. – Deut 22:5
Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. – 1 Cor 11:14-15
What are these verses telling us? That it is wrong for men to make themselves look like women and vice versa. It is contrary to “nature” for a man to have long hair and is disgraceful for a woman to have short hair (1 Cor 11:6). “Nature” here isn’t referring to what we may understand “nature” to mean—it is referring to God’s design for how the world functions. Of course, the standards for what counts as “long hair” and “short hair” is relative, determined by cultural norms. Many of the authors of the Bible likely had what we today would consider “long hair,” so what does Paul mean then? Is he condemning all of them? Do tribal women who normally have shaved heads in their culture need to begin to grow their hair out? The specifics of how this is applied in each culture will be different, but it tells us is that in whatever culture we are in we should adorn and present ourselves in such a way that does not blur gender lines, but demonstrates that we are presenting ourselves in accordance with our identity as "males" or "females."
Our statement of faith, in point 18, “On Human Sexuality and Identity,” states: “That despite sin’s ruinous effects on creation which may lead to a confusion in identity and desires, our identity as “male” or “female” are not socially constructed identities, but are given by God and to be embraced, displayed, and participated in without confusion or ambiguity.”
Romans 8 concluded with this beacon of hope: “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies,” Rom 8:23. If something is to be redeemed, we can learn two things about it: 1) it is in trouble, and (2) it is valuable. When God made you a man or a woman, He did not make a mistake. Maybe it feels that way to you. Maybe you have a voice that plays inside your head that tells you that something is terribly wrong with you. Maybe you hate your body. But God doesn’t, and I want to invite you to consider listening more to His voice today than that other internal voice.
While it is possible to demonstrate what the Bible says about our bodies and gender, I think the dilemma that many are in today has less to do with what the Bible says about it and more to do with whether or not what it says is good. The rhetorical question that Abraham asks in Genesis 18, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” doesn’t seem terribly obvious to many people.
Is it right for God to forbid people from transitioning genders? Perhaps we can see that the Bible’s teaching is clear, but is it good?
We could answer this a number of ways. We could look at how our intuitions of what is “good” are often more influenced by our culture than we realize, and thus we are often more discipled by the world than by our Lord. We could examine God’s sovereign freedom to do whatever He wills, and thus need not provide explanations for His decrees, or the fact that God is not bound by our modern sensibilities and thus it is our job to shape our sensibilities to Him, not the other way around. All of those would be correct and helpful.
But I think what would be best would be to think of this: Ultimately, God is not asking us to accept a set of impartial rules or theoretical set of principles in the abstract—He is asking us to trust a Person. And that Person has revealed Himself supremely in the person of Jesus Christ.
Trust is usually earned through a person demonstrating that they are worthy of your trust. What has Jesus done to demonstrate that He is worthy of your trust? Recall what 1 Corinthians told us: “you were bought with a price.” What is that referring to? Jesus does not merely bark commands at you and then sigh in disappointment when you fail. He came down, He drew near. Jesus knew that your sins had put you into bondage and slavery to sin and death. So what did He do? He redeemed you. He paid the price with His priceless blood. He took your guilt and the punishment your sins had earned, and bore them away at the cross, and died as your substitute. Further, He resurrected and ascended to the right hand of the Father and now intercedes on your behalf as an advocate. Even more, He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell you, regenerate you, and aid you in walking out the Christian life; He adopted you into the family of God and has set before you a glorious future of dwelling with Him forever.
This person—the one who has seen you and your sin in its totality, and not only didn’t turn away from you but intervened to save you—this person is worthy of our trust. This person says hard things to us like “deny yourself,” (Mark 8:34), things that seem so strange when the wider world screams at us to indulge ourselves, listen to ourselves, and follow ourselves. But Jesus says, “Trust me—deny yourself, and there you will find life,” (Mark 8:35). Maybe you struggle with what Jesus calls us to in regards to our gender or identity, but look at what He has done for you and know that He is worthy of your trust, He knows best, and above all, He is committed to you. Jesus can be trusted, friends.
Marc Sims • August 02, 2021
Sermon Audio Forthcoming
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What are some things that people commonly find their deepest identity in today?
- What was the difference between looking "inward" and looking "outward" for identity formation? Can you give examples of what those look like?
- Read through Genesis 1:26-28. What four things do we learn about our identity as "image bearers" of God?
- What is the relationship between the image of God and justice? (see Gen 9:6 and James 3:9-10).
- Think of a person you strongly disagree with or dislike. Do you think you tend to think of / treat this person as one who bears God's image? If not, what would it look if you did?
- Read through 2 Cor 5:16-21. What do we learn about our new identity in Christ from this? Which of those four things stuck out to you most and why?
What makes a person a “person”? Of course we could point to biological or anatomical features to identify a person: someone who has a body and is alive. Or we could point to mental faculties: self-consciousness. But none of those definitions provide a satisfactory definition of what we often think of when we think of what comprises a “person” in the most important sense. The idea of “personhood” is attached to the idea of “identity,” which is far more complex than whether or not one is a conscious, embodied being.
My wife was recently not feeling well so she laid in bed to rest and watched a movie. Whenever my wife wants to watch a romantic comedy, she usually waits till I am not around because she usually doesn’t appreciate my commentary or snarkiness (which I sincerely do try to keep to myself). I walked through our room while she was watching her movie and sat down for a minute and caught a scene where one woman was explaining to another woman why she kept putting off getting married to her long-time boyfriend, “I just don’t even know who I am.” I couldn’t keep watching anymore of the movie because I think my wife could hear me rolling my eyes, so she elbowed me out of the room. But that scene has stuck in my mind for a couple of reasons: (1) it is a terrible thing to have no identity, to not really know who you are; (2) as the woman gives this explanation to her friend, her friend knowingly nods, telegraphing that this is something all people must find out before moving forward in life. What is odd about that is how not odd that is. Prior to one hundred years ago, aside from a handful philosophers, if someone would have said I don’t know who I am, everyone would have looked at that person like they were insane. “What do you mean you don’t know who you are?” And yet, that question is met with universal understanding today—we all know what it is like to struggle with discovering who we are and how paralyzing it is to be robbed of identity. Why is that?
Who are you? What’s the truest thing about you? I want to answer those questions through what may seem like an indirect approach by answering: what is a human being? That probably seems so odd because “human being” seems like such a broad category that it doesn’t appear to be terribly satisfying as an identity. So let’s go back to Genesis where we see the creation of human beings and the uniqueness of being made in the image of God:
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” – Gen 1:26-28
What you believe about where you came from (and where you are going) will determine what you believe about yourself, about who you are. What does this tell us?
As image bearers we find that our identity:
Comes from God
Notice in the text it is God alone who creates, He initiates the process of our creation. It is fascinating to compare ancient and modern creation mythologies with the story we find in Genesis. In most ancient mythologies the creation of the cosmos is usually brought about through a battle among the gods, with one god usually conquering the others and then bringing about the created world because of that victory, with human beings created to fulfill some need the god or goddess requires (sacrifice, worship, etc.). In modern mythologies we find something similar, but instead of gods and goddesses battling one another, we find species battling one another, fighting for primacy and dominance.
In the Bible we find something different. The God of the Bible is not described as one god among many, vying for supremacy and waging war to earn His throne. The Bible simply describes God as eternally existing prior to anything that was ever created and choosing to create freely through simply speaking, “Let there be…” His creation does come not out of any self-deficiency or need, but simply out of a desire to share His fullness and goodness with others; He doesn’t create human beings because He was lonely or needed tasks to be accomplished. Further, He doesn’t set human beings up to claw their way up to achieve the status of personhood—He simply gives it to them.
This tells us that our identity is not self-created but given. The image of God is not something that some individuals earn, but is graciously bestowed on all. This also tells us that our identity as image-bearers in formed in the context of relationship. Our identity is not something we invent as a solitary individual, but must be realized before the face of Another.
Is in the “likeness” of God
God declares: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” Gen 1:26. Human beings are made to bear God’s image, to be “like” God in some way. What does that mean? It doesn’t mean that we look like God in the same way a child looks like their parents—God doesn’t have a physical body, so our physical features are not based off Him in that sense. It means that we reflect and represent God, the way an ambassador is intended to represent their king when sent to a foreign land. We will look at the calling this gives us next, but this tells us that because every human being bears God’s divine image, every person we meet is worthy of dignity, honor, and justice.
In Genesis 9, after the flood God explains to Noah why murder is forbidden: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image,” Gen 9:6. A man forfeits his life when he commits murder. Why? Because human beings are made in God’s image, so when you do violence to the image bearer you do violence to the One whose image we bear. This is also seen in the New Testament when James is explaining the duplicitous nature of our tongue, how we can use it for good and evil: “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so,” James 3:9-10. You cannot use your mouth to praise God, but then turn and curse your neighbor who bears God’s image. You can’t look at me and assure me that you really like me, but then turn to a portrait of me and say, “But I can’t stand to look at this guy!” Because human beings bear God’s image that means that we all are freighted with inestimable worth and worthy of dignity, honor, and care.
The reason that there is so much injustice in the world is because we fail to see human beings for what they are, and we do that because we fail to see God for who He is. The early 20th century atheist Samuel Beckett, wrote a short absurd play titled Breath, that featured the curtain opening to a large pile of garbage on the stage as the sound of a baby cried, followed by the rhythmic sound of someone breathing, till the breath becomes labored, and eventually ceases. The curtain closes after a mere thirty-five seconds, leaving a jarring experience for the viewers of what this playwright understands the sum of human life to be. We naturally recoil at something so bleak, something that reduces human beings down to nothing but garbage. What is a human being in a worldview apart from God? Matter in motion that soon expires. “Tormented atoms in a bed of mud, devoured by death, a mockery of fate,” as 17th century thinker Voltaire puts it.
The image of God decidedly disagrees with this. God’s image is stamped indelibly on us all.
Comes with a calling
Our identity as image bearers, as representatives of God, is exercised in the call God places on us: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth,” Gen 1:28.
God didn’t prepare the world the way an innkeeper prepares your room for a vacation. He created this beautiful world, but now invites His image bearers to, well, image Him by participating in the cultivation of the world. The beautiful Garden of Eden we are told about in Genesis 2 is a defined locale that God places Adam and Eve into, but is distinct from the rest of the world. God here summons Adam and Eve to take the beauty of Eden, and extend it out to the whole of the world.
Adam and Eve are to “be fruitful and multiply”—they are to bear children and create a family. They are to “fill the earth and subdue it”—they are to fulfill what theologians have historically called the “cultural mandate.” “Subdue” here does not mean “exploit,” but rather take the raw materials of creation and steward, cultivate, and fashion them into something meaningful and beautiful. This looks like the creation of culture, music, art, cuisine, government, education, technology, architecture, etc.
Unity in diversity.
Look at Genesis once more: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them,” Gen 1:27. The image of God is not so idiosyncratic that it is only displayed in one kind of person (either male or female, but both and). As the story of Genesis progresses and humanity continues to multiply and fill and the earth, we see the image of God go with them as various nations are formed (Gen 10) and eventually up to the tower of Babel, where the people are dispersed across the whole globe with various languages, creating entirely new and different cultures, all carrying God’s image with them. So God’s image is displayed across not only gender lines, but a vast diversity of peoples, nations, and cultures. But this diversity has its bedrock unity in the fact that we all are made in God’s image.
So the stock broker on Wall Street making seven figures and the undocumented immigrant surviving below the poverty line are both made in the image of God. The young political activist on the coast with access to a great deal of cultural power and caché and the ninety-year-old living in a nursing home in South Dakota are both worthy of the same dignity. The evangelical Christian and the conservative Muslim and the progressive secularist alike are made in God’s image, and thus all are worthy of dignity because they all bear the ultimate identity: image bearer.
So, no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, your most fundamental identity is that of one who bears God’s image.
If we are all made in God’s image, if that is our deepest and most fundamental identity, what does sin do to this? Human beings are made in God’s image in Genesis 1, but by Genesis 3 we have already sinned. God warned Adam and Eve that if they turned away from Him and refused to listen to Him, if they attempted to define “good and evil” according to their own standards, not God’s, there would be deadly consequences (Gen 2:17). They were made, their design, the blueprint of human beings is “representative, reflector of God.” What happens to us when we reject that design? Mirrors are designed to be looked into and reflect—what happens when one throws a hammer at the mirror?
Sin has now created a brokenness deep inside of us, we all know: something isn’t right. There is a way we are supposed to live, and we all know that we aren’t doing it. What is happening? We still bear God’s image—sin did not erase the image of God in us, but it has marred it. We know God’s image persists on the other side of the fall because God still speaks of human beings as image bearers (Gen 9:6). When one throws a hammer at a mirror, the mirror still reflects, but is seriously distorted.
Our inherent relationship with God is now muddied, and when we do not know who God is, we don’t know who we are. John Calvin, the magisterial reformer, begins his magnum opus The Institutes with the comment that all true knowledge of God and knowledge of self are inseparable. Because we are made in God’s image, we cannot really know ourselves unless we know God. And when we don’t know God? We fail to treat other people as we ought to, and we are left internally confused, alienated from ourselves. Voltaire, right before he calls human beings “tormented atoms in a bed of mud,” laments: “What is the verdict of the vastest mind? Silence: the book of fate is closed to us. Man is a stranger to his own research; He knows not whence he comes, nor whither goes…Ourselves we never see, or come to know.” Sin makes us strangers to ourselves, internally confused and uncertain about who we are.
Nature abhors a vacuum. We cannot stand having no identity, that feeling of dislocation and estrangement, so what do we do? We find something, anything, that can serve as a replacement, something to name us, to tell us we belong, to give us a sense of identity, and we give ourselves wholly to it. This is what the Bible refers to as “idolatry”—finding something that isn’t God and treating it as if it was God.
We can do this with anything: hobbies, politics, sexuality, career, family, friends, morality, education, romance, things/possessions. These are not necessarily bad things—they are often very good things—but when we take good things and attempt to lift them up to be an ultimate thing, something that grants us our sense of being and identity, this is who I am, then that is when it becomes an idol. A pseudo-god.
Which brings us back to the poor woman in the movie hesitant about getting married because she didn’t know who she was. I mentioned that prior to a hundred years ago no one would have understood that statement. If what I am saying about idolatry is true, and this has been a problem since Genesis 3, how could that be? Isn’t this a problem that has dogged humanity from the get-go?
It certainly has. People have been fabricating false gods since Genesis out of a desire to ease the internal disease they experience. But what has become new of late has been the way in which we form that identity, the way in which we express the problem of idolatry. Most of human history has assumed that their fundamental identity is something given to them by forces outside of themselves: the gods they overtly worship, their tribe, nation, family, etc. The looked outward before they looked inward to tell themselves who they are. Social life was much more concrete and stable than ours currently is; you were hemmed in by place, tradition, and class. No one panicked about who they were because these external forces determined who they were for them.
We live in a different world now. Our starting point is to first look inward and then look outward for identity formation. So now, our struggles with identity are largely a psychological issue (who do I feel I am?), whereas previous generations it was a sociological (what does the wider society tell me I am?) or cosmological issue (what does the divine design of cosmos tell me I am?). This process of identity formation—beginning with looking inward before outward—is so ubiquitous now that we are as blind to it as a fish is blind to the water it swims in.
There are two major ways we see this play out today that catches our eye due to its ramifications: identities that center around victimhood (where you fall on the scale of oppressor or oppressed), sexuality and gender identity, and race. These realities are the byproduct of philosophers like Darwin, Nietzsche, and Marx, or Freud, Marcuse, and Reich. But virtually nobody reads those people today and even fewer arrive at their conclusions about internal identities from reading their arcane works. That’s not how societies usually imbibe ideas. They are slowly absorbed over time, trickling down from the halls of academia until they begin to be popularized through art, media, and literature. And while there has been a particular emphasis on identities coming from sexuality, race, or victimhood, what has taken a more fundamental root in our wider society is the inward turn, the psychologizing of our identity. So, in every Disney movie that comes out we usually find a young person who has a dream or ambition, but is hindered by someone who seeks to impose a set of traditional expectations upon the young person that stifles their goal and thus crushes their identity. It is only when the hero or heroine throws off the shackles of expectations and norms that they can achieve their dreams and become who they really are.
If Christians today are going to want to not only speak intelligently but provide real help for a very confused world then we have to do more than act outraged or respond with scorn to expressions of identity that we find outlandish. When a man says “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” conservative Evangelical Christians can be tempted to just point out how bizarre and foreign and patently absurd that is. What we may not realize is that the philosophical underpinnings that led that man to make that sentence has likely influenced us as well. If asked why we find our own faith to be true, many of us would likely turn towards our inward experiences—Christianity is true because it feels true to us. Further, if we are going to want to help, to love our neighbor, we need to realize the deeper problem of turning inward for identity formation, and thus go upstream of this manifestation of identity that we find so troubling, and try to show people why the inward turn is not a sustainable or helpful way to form identity and offer an alternative—an alternative that we find in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The Bible tells us something interesting about Jesus: “He is the image of the invisible God,” Col 1:15. Jesus is the image of God. Jesus perfectly reflects and represents what God is like because He is God in the flesh. Whereas Adam, the original image bearer failed to represent God, Jesus doesn’t fail. Jesus perfectly obeys the Law, always trusts His Father. But this perfect image bearer dies on the cross as a substitute for imperfect image bearers. Paul explains here:
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. -2 Cor 5:16-21
What does this tell us?
Well, we see this mirror the same four things about our identity as image bearers in Genesis 1:
Comes from God
Look at verse 18, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself…” What Jesus did on the cross granted us an identity that came out of sheer grace. We didn’t contribute to it, we didn’t earn it, we didn’t impress God. It was simply given. How did He reconcile us to Himself? “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” 5:21. Jesus absorbed the penalty of our sin on our behalf; our sin led us to be alienated and estranged from God, so Jesus, God’s own son, became estranged and cast out on our behalf so that we could be reconciled to God! So we, with Paul in verse 20, “implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!” Receiving this gift requires you to turn in faith and accept it.
This means we have been given a new identity in Christ that we did not earn, so we don’t become arrogant or self-righteous; we don’t look down on people we disagree with.
This also means that your identity isn’t found within yourself, but is bestowed on you from God. So, if you look within yourself and find conflicting desires or doubts, it doesn’t affect your identity in Christ.
We are in his likeness
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come,” 2 Cor 5:17. Because by faith we are now “in Christ” we have a new identity—we are literally a new creation. What is the New Creation? A restoration of what was lost at Eden. Now, by faith, you are part of that; Jesus is restoring you to what you were designed for: reflecting and representing God.
Who are you? You are not your past, you are not your sins, you are not what others have done to you: the old has passed away, the new has come. This means that our identity can’t be taken from us; it is decisive. Every other identity you attempt to make for yourself can be stripped from you: being perceived as intelligent, beautiful, progressive, conservative, etc. But your identity as one “in Christ” is immovable, resolute, and never-ending.
It comes with a calling
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Cor 5:18-20
This means we have a task ahead of us. We are ambassadors of God. Your life has significance, meaning and purpose. Life is not a dull drudgery where you simply limp along from one exhausting and pointless task to another. You have been summoned and bestowed with the noble task of the heavenly embassy. You are to represent your God to the wider world; you have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation; you are called to go forward and plead with others on behalf of Christ “Be reconciled to God!”
Unity in diversity.
“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” 2 Cor 5:16-17. To regard someone “according to the flesh” is to treat and estimate them the same way the world does. At one point, Paul regarded Jesus this way. He was just another Jewish rabbi, a would-be Messiah, uneducated and unconnected from the right circles, hopelessly misguided and in need of correction. Paul was blind to who Jesus really was, but no longer. So too, now through our union with Christ our identities have been transformed, thus we do not regard anyone else in the same way the world does. What does that mean? It means that we treat other Christians as if their deepest and most fundamental identity is “in Christ” is “new creation.”
But did you catch how wide this net is cast? “If anyone is in Christ…” Anyone! The offer of new identity is not restricted to one kind of person. This is not the “white man’s religion” or restricted to those of Western European descent. This is open and available to all and provides a new identity to all. Which is why Paul elsewhere can say: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal 3:28. This doesn’t mean that the distinctions between Jews and Greeks or males and females are now erased through our union with Christ. Paul did not envision the Church being some androgynous, colorless blob through which we all are absorbed into. No—what he means is that now in Christ, those identity markers no longer provide the grounds for our identity and thus are not sufficient reasons for divisions in Christ’s church.
This means that anyone can get in on this, whoever we are and wherever we come from, so long as we turn in faith to Christ. The danger of those in a majority culture within the church is that they can assume that they do not possess a distinct culture of their own. So they will speak to minorities around them about the importance of not elevating cultural identities as being equal with our identity in Christ, but really what they mean is: you must set aside your cultural preferences, but I don’t have to. The body of Christ is diverse—it is not synonymous with any particular majority culture. Rather, all cultures must bow the knee to king Jesus; the kingdom of God will offend and confront all cultures at some point. So we must be careful never to elevate our particular culture to the point where outsiders may feel that they must conform to our culture in order to be a Christian.
The diversity and unity of the Body of Christ is something to be celebrated and embraced, even if it leaves us feeling confronted and uncomfortable at times. This doesn’t lead us to strive for an artificial diversity in our church, hunting down minorities and trying to get them in our church or on stage just so we meet some quota or give off an appearance of being diverse. That would be ridiculous. Our aim, rather, is to labor to have the community of our church reflect the diversity of the community we are in.
In sum, all human beings are image bearers. Sin has led us to be alienated from our God and thus alienated from others and ourselves, leaving us uncertain about our identity. In Christ, we find the resources to restore what was lost, not through self-discovery or coercion to what others tell us, but to who God tells us we are: new creations in Christ.
Marc Sims • July 26, 2021
Unfortunately, the audio of this sermon was not able to be recorded.
Sermon Discussion Questions:
Feel free to use whichever questions are useful, or pass over ones that don't seem particularly helpful
- What stood out to you most from the sermon?
- (Point 1: God Speaks) How did God reveal Himself to Moses in Exodus 33-34? (See Ex 33:18-34:8).
- (Point 2: The Word Spoken, Jesus Christ) Read Hebrews 1:1-3. What is this telling us? (Compare with Col. 1:15)
- (Point 3: The Word's Effect, Growth and Hardness) Read John 6:60-68. What are the two different responses to Jesus' "hard saying" here?
- (Point 4: The Word Sent, God's Representatives) Read Hebrews 13:7. What do leaders in the church do?
- (Point 5: The Word Applied, the Holy Spirit) What was the point of the story of Spurgeon's conversion?
- Is there anything you would like to change about your posture towards, or how you prepare for receiving God's Word on Sunday morning?
- Eph 4:11-15 explains that the church grows when the members take the truths taught to them by their God-given leader and speak that truth to one another in love. Do you feel like there is anything currently preventing you from fulfilling this command? If so, what would it look like for you to begin to "speak the truth in love" to one another?
G.K. Chesterton, in his book The Everlasting Man, tells of the story of a young man who lives on a series of hills in the verdant countryside. One day, he departs on a journey that leads him, for the first time, to depart from his little hillside. After climbing out of his foothills and ascending a large mountain across the valley he looks back on his little home, only to discover that his house didn’t rest on a hillside. The rolling green hills were actually the side of an immense, slumbering giant the young man’s cottage had, unbeknownst to him, laid on top of all this time.
Chesterton, attempting to warn his readers of the danger of becoming so familiar with the truth that it no longer strikes us as profound or strange or glorious, invites his readers to attempt to look at it like this young man looks at his home—from a distance, as if for the first time, in hopes of seeing the alarming and wondrous reality that had been slumbering beneath our feet the entire time.
My hope today is to do something like that for you. My hope is to open your eyes to the awesome reality of God’s Word communicated to you through God’s people. And through that, help you to receive God’s Word as you should. I told my wife this week that I thought I wanted to preach a sermon on how to listen to a sermon. Her response was: “Wow, that’s like cleaning the inside of your dishwasher.” I realize this may seem strange, and the application of this won’t be limited exclusively to listening to a sermon, but to anytime someone is speaking God’s Word to us.
Why preach a sermon on this?
1. The Word: Our God Speaks. God has chosen to reveal Himself by His Word. When Moses asks God to reveal Himself, to show Moses His glory, God responds: “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD,’” (Ex 33:19). But He explains that no one can see God’s face and live, so instead He tells Moses that He will place him in the cleft of a rock and cover Him with His hand, “Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen,” (Ex 33:23). But, interestingly, when this event happens, we are told nothing about Moses seeing “the back” of God. What happens?
“The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.” (Ex 34:5-8).
When God reveals Himself He does so through His Words. Moses “sees” by “hearing.” Of course, God is a spirit, meaning He has no body, so He has no “back” or “face” (prior to the Son’s incarnation). These are anthropomorphisms; God is using the image of a body as an analogy to reveal something about Himself. To see God’s ‘face’ would be, like seeing anyone’s face, the fullest revelation of Himself. And that is something, apparently, Moses (and everyone else) cannot yet handle. There will be a day, on the other side of the grave, where we shall no longer see through a mirror dimly (1 Cor 13:12), but “shall see Him,” in the words of John, “as He is,” (1 John 3:2).
But God’s “back” is a revelation of Himself, but a less direct one. If a child walks into the kitchen and there is a stranger hunched over the sink doing dishes, even though they may only see the stranger’s back, they will know that this isn’t the back of their parents, but someone they are unfamiliar with. Moses sees the “back of God” through the Words that are spoken to Him Moses and is, I believe, what we get when we encounter God’s Word. A true revelation of God—not the full revelation we will experience when we come face to face with God—but one the discloses who our God is.
2. The Word Spoken: Jesus Christ. As we read the Bible we find a wide variety of content covered. There are detailed historical accounts, prophesies of judgment, promises of unremitting grace, and poetic accounts of pain, beauty, and hope. God’s revelation of Himself in His Word is not a static, flat, simplistic revelation. It is multi-faceted and varied.
And yet, all of the many colored threads of the Word are woven together in the singular tapestry of God’s Son incarnate: Jesus Christ. Jesus, while confronting the local Bible authorities of His time chastises them: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” John 5:39 (cf. Luke 24:27). When beginning His gospel, John describes Jesus as the Word of God: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth,” (John 1:14; cf. 1:1-3). Or, as Paul puts it, Jesus is: “the image of the invisible God,” (Col 1:15).
Jesus is the fullest disclosure and revelation of God; all of God’s Word, therefore, is a disclosure of Jesus Himself. What is God like? Look to the humble Galilean, teaching the masses, feeding the hungry, rebuking the self-righteous, warning the complacent, lifting the head of the downtrodden. See his gentle and lowly heart offering rest for the weary. See the man of sorrows bear the rude cross to calvary. See him forgive his crucifiers, hear him pray to the Father in agony, watch him die in your place. See his commitment to justice, his holiness, his unwavering hatred of sin mingle with his invincible love of sinners as he takes the curse and burden of sin upon himself to pay its debt. This is your God—ignore Him at your own peril, come to Him in faith to your great delight.
If we are to be faithful to rightly speak God’s Word to others, it must have some savor and culmination in our great, mighty, and gentle Savior.
3. The Word’s Effect: Growth and Hardness. I remember while candidating for my position here someone asked me a question about what my plans were for helping grow the church or help our discipleship or something of that nature, and I responded with what may have come across as a glib answer: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ,” (Rom 10:17). But I was serious. If we want our faith to grow there are many things we must do, but what is essential is to feed the fire of faith with the kindling of God’s Word, and pray that the Spirit may come and ignite a blaze. Listen to the power God’s Word has:
“…you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” 1 Pet 1:23-25a
This, of course, doesn’t mean that everyone responds this way. There are individuals, like Pharaoh in Exodus or the Pharisees in the Gospels who upon hearing God’s Word respond by hardening their hearts against God. There’s an old Puritan saying: “The same sun that hardens the clay melts the ice.” God’s Word is “living and active”—it is a sword that does something to us; it either softens our hearts, or drives us further away.
4. The Word Sent: God’s Representatives. We receive God’s Word through our own private study, through reading of helpful books, through conversations with other Christians, small groups, etc. But there is something distinct and unique about receiving God’s Word through the authoritative proclamation of preaching. This pattern, of an individual speaking to on God’s behalf to God’s people, is the regular pattern of God’s communication to His people throughout the Bible.
Consider that passage from 1 Peter we looked at earlier: “…you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” 1 Pet 1:23-25.
There are many places in the Bible where God speaks directly with His people, but the most common way that God reveals Himself to His people is through a representative.
It is odd to consider, for a moment, that God does this. God doesn’t send podcasts down from Heaven, He sends an individual to represent Him. He wants His truth to be delivered by a person--embodied. For example, when God wants to confront King David after his great sin with Bathsheba, what does He do? Does He appear to David in a dream? Does His voice thunder from behind a cloud? No—God sends the prophet Nathan (2 Sam 12). When God wants a valley of dry bones to come alive, a picture of the creation of God’s people, does He snap His fingers and transform the bones into living persons? No, He commands Ezekiel to prophesy, to proclaim God’s Words to the dead bones, and live (Ez 37). God seems to delight in using human representatives to be the bearer of His Word to His People.
God continues this pattern by gifting teachers and commissioning them to go and proclaim God’s Word to God’s people. This is what elders, or pastors, are called to do (1 Tim 3:2; 5:17), and this is what the young pastor Timothy was to charged to do: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching,” 2 Tim 4:1-2.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” Eph 4:11-12, 15.
God’s Word is given by a representative—teachers and preachers—and then that word equips God’s people to do the ministry of speaking that Word to one another, speaking the “truth in love” to one another, so resulting in the entire Body growing.
5. The Word Interpreted and Applied: The Spirit. Cotton Mather, a minister in New England 300 years ago explained, “The great design and intention of the office of a Christian preacher [is] to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men.” How are we to do this? Man, left to himself, does not desire God to sit on the throne of his life—we want to sit on the throne! We want to be in control. How does this happen? Sometimes we can be tempted to think that the transmission of God’s Word is something we can do on our own. We assume that if a pastor is clever enough, smart enough, charismatic enough, funny enough, passionate enough, he can do the job. We do the same thing with our own personal ministry—many of us hold back from sharing the gospel with our neighbors or speaking God’s Word to each other because we assume that you must be eloquent and persuasive and personable and super smart, and sense very few of us feel like that, we simply stay quiet—forgetting that the task of speaking God’s Word to produce change in people is humanly impossible, it is trying to stop a tank with a squirt gun. How can you do that?
Here’s how Paul understands this can happen:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God… Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. (1 Cor 2:1-5, 12-13).
Notice: God’s Spirit empowers those speaking God’s Word and helps the listeners receive and understand God’s Word. Do you know what is the most common thing that happens in the book of Acts after we are told that someone is “filled with the Spirit”? They begin to speak God’s Word.
I wonder if you have ever heard of the story of the conversion of the most famous English speaking preacher of the 19th century, Charles Spurgeon? In 1850 when Charles was only 15, a terrible snow storm struck while he was walking and he took shelter inside a small Primitive Methodist Church. Inside there were about a dozen people and apparently the preacher was unable to make it to the church because of the snow storm. So one of the members, a poor shoe maker, got up to the pulpit to preach a sermon on Isaiah 45:22, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.”
By Spurgeon’s own account, it was a terrible sermon. The poor man just kept repeating the text over and over again because he apparently didn’t have much else to say. He did, however, offer a simple explanation and offer of the gospel. And, at a certain point in the sermon, the preacher caught Spurgeon’s eye and cried out: “Young man, you look very miserable…And you will always be miserable—miserable in life and miserable in death—if you do not obey my text. But if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.’ Then he shouted, ‘Young man, look to Jesus Christ.’ Spurgeon recounts: “Then I had this vision—not a vision to my eyes, but to my heart. I saw what a Savior Christ was.… Now I can never tell you how it was, but I no sooner saw whom I was to believe than I also understood what it was to believe, and I did believe in one moment.”
The work of the Spirit transforms the humble and modest and inadequate human words and produces a Spirit-empowered effect. Suddenly, God is speaking to His people through our words, calling them to repentance, summoning them to faith, resurrecting the dead. Our words become God’s Words through the supernatural work of the Spirit. This makes sense of passages like 1 Pet 4:10-11a, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God.”
“Historically, church leaders and scholars have taken this as a comment on preaching. Chapter 1 of the Second Helvetic Confession famously says, “The preaching of the word of God is the word of God.” Earlier, Martin Luther said, “Every honest pastor’s and preacher’s mouth is Christ’s mouth . . . and the Word which he preacheth is likewise not the pastor’s and preacher’s but God’s.” Similarly, John Calvin said, “When a man has climbed up into the pulpit . . . it is [so] that God may speak to us by the mouth of a man.” So preaching is God’s Word in some sense, yet the preacher’s words are human, too, and therefore often garbled, weak, or even false. But the Spirit “makes the broken human words become . . . a living word of God to the hearers.” …At best, when a congregation hears Christ proclaimed, according to the pattern of Scripture itself, they hear more than explanation and application; they hear Christ himself, imploring them to believe and to live by grace.” (Doriani, REC, 1 Peter).
Application: How can I receive God’s Word? How can I speak God’s Word?
1. Be filled with the Spirit. Paul commands us in Eph 5:18 to not be drunk with wine, but to be filled with the Spirit. If God’s Word is received and declared via the Spirit, then we must be Spirit-filled people. Sin dumps mud on the eyes of our heart and blinds us from seeing rightly, so we need fresh renewals of God’s Spirit day by day to help us. This means we must pray regularly. A good prayer could be taken from Ephesians 1, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,” (Eph 1:17-18).
2. Be discerning. Just because someone stands in a pulpit or claims to be a spiritual authority or speaks with conviction doesn’t necessarily mean that they are speaking God’s Word. “Test all things, hold fast to what is good,” 1 Thess 5:21. We must know our Bibles well enough to know when someone has begun to deviate from or wrongly interpret or apply God’s Word, even if that person is a pastor of the church. God’s Word—not pastors—has the final authority.
Just because I am a pastor does not mean that everything I say has the effect of God speaking to His people. My authority to speak, “Thus saith the Lord,” is entirely dependent on my staying under the umbrella of God’s Word. As soon as I deviate out from under that covering, I have no right to tell anyone: this is God’s Word on the matter. I can give opinions and thoughts and perspectives, but I no longer have that same ontological authority I have when I am under the text.
3. Speak the truth in love. God gives the spiritual gift of teachers and preachers to the church in order to, in the words of Ephesians, “equip the saints for the work of the ministry,” (Eph 4:12). This ministry looks like this: “Speak the truth in love to one another.” We do not simply receive God’s Word and then hoard it to ourselves. We receive God’s Word in order to share its abundance with others, to speak the gospel to our non-Christian friends, to encourage a brother who is discouraged, to warn a member who is wayward, to pray for one another as we ought to. God’s Word cascades into God’s people through God’s representative, but then is intended to reverberate around, back and forth between all of the members.
4. Receive God’s Word as God’s Word. “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers,” 1 Thess 2:13. What is your posture towards God’s Word? Do you receive it as what it truly is? Is it a nice opinion to consider, or does it settle the matter? How do you approach our corporate worship?
Conclusion: the trinitarian nature of revelation. The Father speaks, His Word spoken is the Son, the Spirit interprets and applies the Word.
Marc Sims • June 28, 2021
(You can also find our sermon audio on Apple's podcast app by searching for "Quinault Baptist Church")
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What stood out to you most from the sermon?
- Why did Mark want to demonstrate that Jesus was really dead?
- Why is it significant that the first witnesses to the resurrection are women?
- What did the resurrection prove?
- What does the resurrection of the body mean for us today? Read 1 Cor 6:18-20. What conclusion does Paul draw here about how we are to use our bodies?
In the final installment of the Lord of the Rings, we read of the humble hobbits, Sam and Frodo, on their journey through the land of shadow, the land of Mordor. Frodo has been entrusted to destroy the one ring of power to save all of Middle-Earth, but Frodo is no mighty king or warrior; he is but a lowly hobbit. His path isn’t a path of military victory, but a path of suffering. Through a long, costly, and torturous journey, Frodo and his companion, Sam, finally arrive to Mordor. The landscape is a barren wasteland of scorched earth, poisonous gases, and is littered with orcs, and, of course, there is the lidless Eye of Sauron, “wreathed in flame.” The movies paint this picture well, but it is only in the book that we see just how hopeless and pitiful Frodo becomes. The closer Frodo gets to the mountain, the more overwhelmed he is by the weight of the ring, by the depths of despair, till at the very end he is wholly consumed—he only makes it up the mountain because the loyal Samwise carries him. After the ring is destroyed both Frodo and Sam only have enough energy to crawl out to the side of Mount Doom and wait to die before they blackout.
Sam, Frodo’s companion, awakens to find himself no longer in Mordor, but lying in a soft bed in the midst of the beautiful paradise of Rivendale. Suddenly, Gandalf, their companion whom they thought had died, walks into the room and Sam cries out, “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What's happened to the world?" “A great Shadow has departed," said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land.”
Last week, we examined the darkness of the cross (Mark 15:33). Appropriately, our text opens today with night falling. Like the darkness of Mordor, the darkness that descended on Golgotha was itself a picture of a deeper internal darkness, a darkness Jesus Himself bore. Now, Jesus has died and the black of night fits the bleakness of the death of Jesus. But, also appropriately, the night does not last. The early light of dawn spills over the dark horizon and brings a hope like Sam’s hope: death does not have the last say, a great shadow has departed, and everything sad has and will come untrue.
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. – Mark 15:42-16:8
The Ending of Mark?
Before we go on, I just want to share a brief word about the ending of Mark. If you are reading along in most modern translations there will be a little note after verse 8 that says something like: “Some of the earliest manuscripts conclude with 16:8.” What follows in verses 9-20 appear to be something that was written in the 2nd century by Christians who found the abrupt ending of Mark so troubling that they wrote a conclusion to provide a more satisfactory ending. So, while verses 9-20 provide an interesting window into what later Christians believed and most of it can be corroborated by what is found in the other three gospels, most scholars agree that this ending was not Mark’s ending and thus is not a part of inspired Scripture. If you have questions about this and would like to discuss it more, I’d be more than happy to talk it over with you after the service.
Jesus Was Dead
The text opens with what should be done with Jesus’ body and a man named Joseph asking for the body from Pilate. It was Friday when Jesus died, so that meant that Sabbath would be beginning as soon as the sun set, and nothing could be done to bury Jesus during the Sabbath, since that would constitute Sabbath-breaking work. So Joseph moves quickly to provide an honorable burial for Jesus. Notice that Mark includes that it required “courage” to Joseph to ask for the body of Jesus. This courage might have implied a courage to reveal himself to actually be a disciple of Jesus, despite being a member of the council (Luke explicitly states that he had opposed the council’s decision to crucify Jesus, Luke 23:50-51). Or it may have revealed a courage to approach Pilate to ask for the body; Rome at times would leave victims of crucifixion on the cross till the body began to decompose.
Pilate is surprised to learn that Jesus is already dead, and so asks for confirmation from the centurion. It could take anywhere from 1-3 days for someone to die from crucifixion, but Jesus dies in a mere six hours—which could be a testament to how severe his scourging (or the beatings from Sanhedrin before that) had been, or could have been to the spiritual and psychological trauma of experiencing the wrath of God for the sins of the world. After hearing that Jesus is dead Pilate permits the body to be given to Joseph and Jesus is buried.
There are several details that Mark includes in this final section to really hammer home the point that Jesus is, in fact, dead. For instance:
· The fact that Jesus’ death requires a confirmation from the centurion present—an individual who would have seen many men die via crucifixion. Further, John’s gospel tells us the centurion pierces Jesus’ chest with a spear to ensure He is really dead (John 19:34).
· Jesus’ body is described as a “corpse” (Greek: ptōma) in 15:45.
· Jesus’ body is wrapped in a linen cloth, a traditional burial ceremony (15:46; cf. John 19:40).
· Jesus’ body is place in a tomb with a heavy wheel-like stone placed in front of it (15:47).
· The women, the two Marys, observe the tomb where Jesus is buried, so when they arrive the following morning we know that they haven’t arrived at the wrong tomb. They arrive with spices, hoping to anoint Jesus’ dead body.
· Joseph of Arimathea is described positively in the text as a disciple of Jesus. We are told that he is “seeking the kingdom of God” and the other gospels describe him as a fearful, but genuine disciple of Jesus (John 19:38; Matt 27:57; Luke 23:50-51). Joseph is described by Mark as a faithful disciple of Jesus (unlike the other disciples who are nowhere to be found), and yet even Joseph believes that Jesus is dead.
One would think the brutal torture of scourging (so savage that Jesus was unable to carry His own cross, Mk. 15:21) and crucifixion that was just described earlier in Mark 15 would demonstrate this fact already. Why would Mark need to go out of his way to demonstrate that Jesus was dead?
As Christianity began to spread the idea of a crucified Messiah was controversial, to say the least. Paul describes the crucifixion of Jesus as, “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,” (1 Cor 1:23). Heroes don’t die, a Messiah isn’t supposed to die—certainly not a death as humiliating as death on a cross! So, as the early church began to spread and the teachings of Jesus began to infiltrate Jewish and Gentile communities they attempted to airbrush away what they found problematic in the story of the gospel.
So they began to propose a series of other theories that would try to avoid the shame and indecency of such a powerful and respected teacher, the King of Heaven, dying a shameful death. They began to teach that Jesus never really had a physical body, but was just a spirit, and so only appeared to be crucified (cf. 1 John 4:1-6). Others taught that Jesus swapped places with Judas at the cross and Judas was actually crucified, or that the deity of Jesus departed from the human Jesus right before the crucifixion.
This theory that Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross carried on through history. The Qur’an, written six hundred years after Jesus’ death, holds Jesus to be a powerful prophet of Allah, but denies that he died on the cross (Qur’an 4.157-158)—why? Because why would Allah allow one of his favorite prophets to suffer such a terrible death? A theory that became popular with Muslim apologists later was that Jesus didn’t die on the cross but simply “swooned”—that is, passed out. The unconscious Jesus—after being scourged, crucified, and pierced with a spear—is bound in linen burial cloths, placed in a tomb with a large boulder placed in front of it. The coolness of the tomb, so the theory goes, refreshes Jesus and He awakens, pushes the boulder out of the way, overpowers or sneaks past the Roman guards stationed outside the tomb (Matt 27:66), and travels on foot the 70 mile journey to Galilee to appear to the disciples. Of course, such an account seems nearly as miraculous as the resurrection itself.
But, the gospel writers and the other authors of the New Testament make it unequivocally clear: Jesus died. Consider Paul’s summary of the bare essentials of the gospel: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” (1 Cor 15:3-4). It is a critical pillar of the gospel that Jesus died (cf. Heb 2:14-15).
Why was this such a stumbling block to so many? It was a stumbling block to so many in the ancient world because they lived in an honor/shame society and the idea of God experiencing shame did not fit into any of their preconceived mental categories. While we live in a different world, it breaks many of our own mental categories as well.
For a while the idea of a God who never punished anything and only accepted all individuals with zero judgment was popular. But it was a view that only a privileged few could hold; those who had never experienced or seen true injustice.
We get the idea of a God punishing us, that makes sense to us. Don’t believe me? Just look at how we treat one another. Criticizing, condemning, and shaming others is second nature to us. You may think that the internet or “political correctness” is to blame for “cancel culture,” but it isn’t. Those things may have amplified it, but that has been with us since Eden, from the time Adam throws his wife under the bus the second God confronts him: It was that woman! It was her fault, punish her God!
Forgiveness is unusual. Grace is foreign to us. And the idea of someone willing to throw themselves on the grenade so that the guilty can be forgiven is unthinkable to us. And so while we may not have the same issues precisely as the ancient readers would have had with Jesus dying, we do have an issue with why Jesus would die for us: for our sins to be forgiven.
Jesus Is Alive
Early in the morning, just as the sun is peeking over the horizon, two women who had followed Jesus approach the tomb where Jesus is buried (Mark 16:1-2). “And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large,” (Mark 16:3-4). At the entrance of tombs there would be a slot in the ground in front of the tomb entrance that a disk-shaped stone would be rolled into, serving as a guard to keep animals and grave-robbers out. The women realize as they approach the tomb that there will be no way they can move the stone themselves, only to find—to their shock—that the stone is already moved.
“And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you. And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” – Mark 16:5-8
Just as the passion account began in Mark 14 with a woman anointing Jesus for burial (Mark 14:3-9), so it now ends with women coming to anoint Jesus after His burial (16:1). Only, the women are too late. When Vladimir Lenin died, the Soviet government decided to embalm his body and keep it out on display in the Red Square so that his followers could come and pay homage to him. It is still there today and devotees to Leninism still travel there to show their respect. When the women arrive at Jesus’ tomb instead of the body of a martyr or great thought leader or revolutionary who was sadly extinguished, what do they find? Nothing.
Death doesn’t care what kind of life you lead. It doesn’t matter whether you possessed a stunning intellect and changed the world, or were as stupid as a rock and the only thing you changed was the channel, it doesn’t matter if you were pioneer of industry or a pauper, the grave will take both with unflinching indifference. All men die, even great men die. And, given the seemingly infinite expanse of time that will extend after them, after a few dozen millennia, no one will remember who they are or what they did for good or for ill.
But not with Jesus. Jesus is not snuffed out by the darkness of death. The women find an empty tomb and an angel telling them that He is not there, He is risen. This reality is so awesome, is freighted with such magnitude, that the women are paralyzed with fear…what could this mean?
Mark’s gospel ends with this seeming cliffhanger for us to ask ourselves that question: what does the resurrection of Jesus mean?
1. Jesus was who He said He was. God in the flesh, the Son of God, the Messiah.
The angel tells the women, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you,” (Mark 16:7). Jesus knew that He was going to die, knew that He would be raised—He even had already made plans of what was going to happen after His resurrection: “After I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee,” (Mark 14:28).
2. Jesus did what He said He would do. He would pay the debt of our sins
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery,” Hebrews 2:14-15.
What does this mean for you?
God cares about our bodies.
Why did Jesus need a resurrected body? Couldn’t He have just taken the form of a spirit and sluffed His body off?
- The Son of God took on flesh at the incarnation
- He lived a perfect, law-fulfilling life, demonstrating that a human body was necessary to do that.
- He died in a human body.
- He resurrected with a human body.
- He ascended into heaven in a human body.
- He will return again with a human body.
God created the human body, it was His idea. While sin mars it and wears it down, leaves us broken and confused, God does not intend on throwing your body away. He plans to renew it.
“And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain… So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power,” – 1 Cor 15:37, 42-43.
What will the glory of a renewed body be like after our resurrection? Take an acorn in your hand and go stand next to an oak tree.
Friends, this means that what we do with our bodies matters. God cares about our bodies and has great purposes and designs for our bodies.
The Hope of New Creation is Now
While we await the resurrection of our bodies in their glorified state, Paul seems to understand that we get to enjoy some measure of that benefit here and now.
“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Cor 5:16-17
That final phrase, "The old has passed away; behold, the new has come," is an allusion to Isaiah 65:17, a description of the creation of the New Heavens and New Earth, which is picked up again at the end of the book of Revelation, when the New Heavens and New Earth is revealed (Rev 21:5). The future glory of the New Creation is pulled back into the present, and can be, in some measure, enjoyed now. We have, so to speak, one foot in the New Creation. Our future and inheritance is so secure and so certain that we can begin to enjoy it here, and now. This is what baptism itself is a picture of: new life.
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Rom 6:4
This future joy, this hope therefore provides us great confidence and peace in a troubled world. One of my favorite lines from all of Tolkien's work comes from when Frodo and Sam are still in the land of shadow, Mordor. It details perfectly what peace can be brought by this kind of heavenly hope:
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.” – The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, “The Land of Shadow” pg. 901
Marc Sims • June 21, 2021
(You can also find our sermon audio on Apple's podcast app by searching for "Quinault Baptist Church")
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What were you afraid of when you were younger?
- What are incorrect, but popular perceptions of what Christianity is?
- What does the darkness of Mark 15:33 represent? (Read Amos 8:9-10)
- Read Mark 15:34. What was so significant about the cry? What was Jesus suffering while on the cross?
- Read Gal 3:10 and 3:13. What do these verses tell us?
- Marc read this quote during the sermon: "Christ, being perfectly holy, knows and feels the horror and weight of sin more deeply than any of us sinful ones could." If that is true, if Jesus hates sin, why does He not also hate us?
- What were the two things the death of Jesus accomplished in the text? What did those two things mean?
What were you afraid of when you were younger? When I was a little kid there was a TV show called Are You Afraid of the Dark? that I was, admittedly, too afraid to watch. It was a kid’s show, but it was a show about scary stories, but scary stories made for kids, Nickelodeon style (I don’t know why this was a thing, this sounds like a terrible idea). But just the title of the show turned me off because I was afraid of the dark.
We naturally fear darkness. Some of that certainly comes from some sort of biological survival instinct. We can’t see in the dark, we get disoriented, and we panic: What if there is something lurking in the darkness that is going to hurt me! But there is something more than just a survival instinct. My children have experienced nothing but safety and comfort in our home, we don’t release wild animals into their bedrooms at night or show them horror movies before bedtime; we don’t kiss them goodnight and whisper “good luck…hope you make it,” but they still get scared at night.
Why do we fear the dark? The Bible actually has an interesting theology of darkness.
In the beginning there was darkness. “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep,” (Gen 1:2). Darkness represents the disorder and chaos of the formless void. The earth had not yet been ordered, structured, and aligned by God—it was in a state of disorder, and so Genesis simply describes it as “darkness.” Throughout the Bible “darkness” serves as a picture of God’s judgment, like God is reversing the process of Genesis 1, deconstructing the order back to a state of chaos.
We see this later in Genesis when Abraham is making a covenant with God, but just as the covenant is about to be ratified this happens: “As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him,” Gen 15:12. This is the darkness of God’s judgment that envelopes Abraham—a judgment that God wants Abraham to be aware of, but a judgment that He pledges to take Himself if Abraham breaks the covenant (Gen 15:17).
We see this again in the book of Exodus, when God blankets the land of Egypt in a thick darkness as a judgment, a darkness described as “a darkness to be felt,” (Ex 10:21. The OT prophets would picture divine judgment on the last day taking the form of darkness, like Amos who explains, “And on that day,” declares the Lord GOD, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight,” (Amos 8:9; cf. Isa 13:10; 24:23; Ezek 32:7; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Amos 5:20; Zeph 1:15; Rev 6:12; 8:12). Jesus follows this pattern when He describes what the final day of judgment will be like, He explains that “the sun will be darkened” (Mark 13:24).
In our text today we will see this happen: God’s judgment. Jesus has been unjustly nailed to the cross and is hours away from His death while being mocked by onlookers. And suddenly, just like Amos foretold, the sun will be darkened at noon, a thick darkness of God’s judgment will fall, a darkness of dread, a darkness to be felt. The signs of judgment that are to be present at the Last Day, is showing up. But, amazingly, the darkness of judgment isn’t falling on the perpetrators of the cross, but the Victim. Let’s read:
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” – Mark 15:33-39
If anyone ever thought that Christianity was basically a moral improvement program, like a mindfulness app on your phone meant to center you and motivate you with positive messages, if anyone has thought that Jesus is basically a cheerleader there to rah-rah you on in your personal development goal-setting and that’s it—then they do not know what Christianity is about. Here’s what the world tells us Christianity should be about: you should be happy; you have dreams and goals, and the difficulty of life stands in the way of your self-actualization. Other people may not believe in you, they may doubt you, but God doesn’t! He is there to make sure you achieve your dreams! Why did Jesus come? To show us how to live a life of love and goodness, a life of impact and influence, a life where we don’t let anyone else tell us how to live! So go, follow your dreams, care for other people, and believe in yourself! That’s what God is here for.
Friends, God wants something so much better for you than that cotton-candy, whip-cream nothingness; something solid like a mountain, something gloriously bigger than you. But even if we had nothing else in the Bible but this story, we would notice that there would be a problem with this theory of Christianity as a self-improvement program: this story leaves a jagged scar on the face of this depiction of our faith. This story screams for something more than just an example. It is a story of accomplishment, of substitution. Here we see the two boulders of the holiness and justice of God crashing together with the mercy and grace of God.
The “Cry” (What happened at the Cross?)
As Jesus is being crucified He offers what is now traditionally known as the cry of dereliction: “At the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (15:34). Why does Mark preserve the Aramaic phrase here? Jews in Palestine during Jesus’ day all spoke Aramaic, but Mark has been writing his gospel in Greek, so he has been translating everything thus far—why preserve this? Because the words themselves were burned into everyone’s memory. They couldn’t get them out of their heads.
Here, Jesus is actually citing Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest,” (Ps 22:1-2).
Psalm 22 is a psalm of David that recounts David’s lament that he feels abandoned by God while all of his enemies surround him and attack him (a psalm that seems to prophetically foretell precisely the crucifixion itself, see 22:16-18). By citing this passage Jesus is associating Himself with this same kind of abandonment, this same kind of despair. This is not an example of Jesus losing His faith or second-guessing the plan of salvation. Rather, Jesus is a faithful Jew who has spent His entire life reading, meditating on, and memorizing God’s Word. It is just a part of Him. So much so that when He is wanting to express His grief and despair, He reaches for God’s Word. He is experiencing real grief, real despair, but He is turning to God’s Word to express it. But what does the cry itself tell us?
Something we noted last week was that nowhere in the gospels do we hear Jesus crying out because of the physical pain of the scourging or crucifixion (though, He most certainly did)—the only thing Mark thought significant enough to record was Jesus’ complaint of feeling abandoned by God. More painful and agonizing than anything else was Jesus’ experience of the Father turning His face away. The doubling of “my God” is an expression of grief, like David weeping over the death of his son Absalom, “My son, my son,” (2 Sam 18:33). Further, note that Jesus doesn’t just say “God, God,” but, “My God, my God.” God isn’t some distant deity that Jesus is lamenting over—it is personal. If I refer to my wife as “My Hillary,” it’s a way of communicating the depth of our relationship. And the depth of that relationship means that if that relationship is severed, there will be far, far more pain. If some random stranger on the internet tells me that she never wants to speak to me again, that won’t bother me too much. But if my wife tells me she never wants to see me again, I will be devastated. What is happening at the cross? The Father is forsaking, abandoning Jesus. But considered: how deep was Jesus’ relationship with the Father? How perfect was it? And how painful would it be to experience that forsaking?
Now, sometimes preachers who get really worked up in a sermon on this passage will make it sound like the Trinity broke apart here. God the Father turns to God the Son and casts Him out of the Godhead, or something like that. That is not happening—Jesus is God, and He cannot be un-God-ed anymore than the Father or the Spirit can. So, what is happening here? Jesus, the God-man, in the fullness of humanity is experiencing for the first time of His human life an abandonment from the Father. He is experiencing the human punishment for sin: the judgment of God.
The “Why” (Why did it happen?)
Jesus cries out to the Father: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Remember friends, Jesus is citing a psalm here. Jesus knows why. He taught His disciples repeatedly that He would die, He told them the purpose of His death (Mark 10:45). So when He cries out in asking “why,” He isn’t asking that question for Himself, but for us, for us to wonder to ourselves: why is Jesus being forsaken? This question gets us down to the very heart of the gospel, to the very heart of God.
Earlier, Mark explained that Jesus was crucified at the “third hour” (which would have been 9 AM), but in verse 33 we are told that at the “sixth hour” (Noon) something odd happens, “there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,” (Mark 15:33). So, from noon to 3 PM an inky darkness covers the whole land. The darkness is the judgment of God, the judgment reserved for the Last Day when sinners will be held accountable to God. But who is being judged here? Jesus. Why? Paul provides an answer for us by summarizing our problem and our solution in Christ:
The problem: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them,” (Gal 3:10). We were made in the image of God, meaning we are meant to image God to the world around us. Our life should reflect the character and holiness of God. That was how we were designed. And from the Garden, God warned us that if we veer away from that design there will be consequences: death (Gen 2:17), a curse (Deut 27:26; cf. 28:15-68). An earthworm is designed to live buried under the dirt and eat decomposing plants and garbage; I am not. What happens to me if I try to bury myself alive or eat garbage? I will die. That is what sin does to us—it kills us. God does not give us commandments and warnings arbitrarily; He is trying to save our lives. But we don’t listen to Him and plunge ourselves headlong into the curse. And how does Jesus respond?
The solution: “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,” Gal 3:13. Jesus’s response: He redeems us through becoming a curse for us. When Jesus is hanging from the tree of the cross He is becoming the curse, bearing the punishment, the death we deserved.
Think about this: the more pure and morally clean your conscience is, the more horrified you are at the sight of evil. Conversely, the more debased and seared your conscience is, the less you are bothered by it. In Dane Ortlund’s wonderful book, Gentle and Lowly, he carries on this thought: “Christ, being perfectly holy, knows and feels the horror and weight of sin more deeply than any of us sinful ones could.,” (p. 69). This leads us to assume the natural conclusion: we should be cast out of God’s presence, we should suffer the curse—precisely because Jesus is so holy, so pure.
But Ortlund also considers this conclusion as well: “Just as the purer a heart, the more horrified at evil, so also the purer a heart, the more it is naturally drawn out to help and relieve and protect and comfort, whereas a corrupt heart sits still, indifferent. So with Christ. His holiness finds evil revolting, more revolting than any of us ever could feel. But it is that very holiness that also draws his heart out to help and relieve and protect and comfort,” (p. 69-70).
Jesus takes sin very seriously. He hates it more fully and perfectly than any other being in existence. It makes Him sick. But, amazingly, when He casts an eye an lecherous, sin-soaked people like us, what does He do? Not only did Jesus not turn from away from us in revulsion, but He was drawn to us, was willing to take on the very curse our sins deserved. The perfectly holy One, whose conscience had never tasted a drop of guilt, suddenly had 10 billion mega-tons of human guilt and corruption and condemnation dumped onto His spotless soul and presented Himself as “guilty” before the Father and was cast out, condemned, abandoned. Why? Because His pure and holy heart was drawn in by your weakness, by your plight, by your sin.
Of course, we shouldn’t pretend that judgment is no longer an option for humans. There are two places where God’s justice will be assuaged: the cross of Christ, or the eternity of Hell. If we reject the offer of Christ, then our sins will evoke God’s holy wrath and we will be left cast out from His presence. But if we are Christ’s? Then the payment for our sins have been made and our sins evoke His pity, His loving concern:
“There is comfort concerning such infirmities, in that your very sins move him to pity more than to anger…Christ…is so far from being provoked against you, as all his anger is turned upon your sin to ruin it; yes, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that has some loathsome disease, or as one is to a member of his body that has leprosy, he hates not the member, for it is his flesh, but the disease, and that provokes him to pity the part affected the more…The greater the misery is, the more is the pity when the party is beloved…And [Christ], loving your persons, and hating only the sin, his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction, but his affections shall be the more drawn out to you,” (Thomas Goodwin, The Heart of Christ, cited in Gentle and Lowly, p. 70-71).
Drop an axe head into the ocean of God’s grace and come back a thousand years later, and it will still be sinking.
The “Sigh” (What did it accomplish?)
“And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” – Mark 15:37-39
Jesus surrenders His spirit, breathes His last, and dies. It is finished. Immediately two things happen: The temple curtain is torn, and the Roman centurion standing opposite of Jesus confesses that He is really the Son of God.
The veil of the temple was a thick curtain erected to separate the holy of holies from the rest of the temple. It was within the holy of holies that the ark of the covenant dwelt, the footstool of God’s throne (1 Chron 28:2), dwelt. It was within the holy of holies that God’s covenantal presence dwelt. Only one person was permitted to enter the holy of holies, the high priest and only once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16). On that day, the high priest would enter with a sacrifice of blood from an animal, a substitute to take the penalty of Israel’s sins, and sprinkle blood on the ark, confession the people’s sins, and leaving. It is ironic, of course, that in the gospel we have the high priest working to execute Jesus, who will be the final sacrifice to end all sacrifices.
When Jesus dies, the curtain “tears”—the only the other place this word (schizō) is used in Mark is at Jesus’ baptism when Jesus sees “the heavens being torn open” (Mark 1:10) as the Spirit descends and the Father speaks His benediction over the Son. Now the curtain is being “torn” open, and just in case we didn’t catch that God is the one doing this, Mark points out that it is being torn “from top to bottom.” What is happening here? All heaven is breaking loose. God is erupting into our broken, hopeless, pitiless world.
And now, this means that anyone can get in on this. The veil has been torn, there is no separation now. Jesus has come to give us direct, unfiltered, total access to God, anytime we want! If you want to go to God you do not need to go to a priest, you don’t have to wait for Sunday, you do not need to go to some sacred spot or do some religious pilgrimage, you don’t need to be born in the right family or have the right ethnicity, you don’t need to be hyper religious and know all of the right words and all the right motions. All you need is to come to Jesus and admit your need, confess your sins, and turn away from them and turn towards Jesus. St. Augustine, writing 15 centuries ago, said: “God gives where He finds empty hands.”
We see this wide open invitation by the second thing Jesus’ final sigh does: the confession of the centurion. The centurion was a Roman soldier with rank, which meant that he had to have been in the army for quite some time. He had seen many, many people die. He likely would have performed dozens and dozens of crucifixions. But, we are told, “when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). The centurion is standing opposite Jesus, watching Him take His final breath. And there is something that happens in the heart of the centurion as he watches Jesus die that makes him realize that the sign hanging over Jesus’ head isn’t a farce. To a Roman, the title “Son of God” was reserved for Caesar—it was both a claim to deity and a claim to kingship. Which makes his confession even more astonishing: He really is the King, He really is divine.
But this tells us one final point of application: you cannot understand who Jesus really is apart from the cross. No human being in the entirety of Mark’s gospel has confess that Jesus was Son of God. While people discuss and Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah (Mark 8:29), people at the time didn’t assume that the Messiah was divine in any way. It is only as Jesus is dying as a substitute on the cross that one can rightly understand His identity.
If you imagine Jesus as being primarily a moral example or teacher, you will misunderstand Him. If you imagine Him being a pool of energy and affirmation, there only to empower you to achieve the goals in your life, you will not see Him. If you think He is nothing but a cold, distant deity who is perpetually disappointed at your pathetic life, then you will not understand Him. It is only as you see Him as your sin-bearer, as your substitute who was abandoned and deserted on the cross, judged in your place, that you will see Him for who He is: the Son of God.