Friday, September 20, 2013

Terrible Things

1 ¶ Oh, that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, --that the mountains might flow down at thy presence, 2 --as fire kindleth brushwood, as the fire causeth water to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations might tremble at thy presence! 3 When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, and the mountains flowed down at thy presence. 4 Never have men heard, nor perceived by the ear, nor hath eye seen a God beside thee, who acteth for him that waiteth for him. 5 Thou meetest him that rejoiceth to do righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: (behold, thou wast wroth, and we have sinned:) in those is perpetuity, and we shall be saved. Isaiah 64:1–5, JND
Isaiah 64 describes what happens when God comes down. The mountains melt, His enemies learn His name, the nations tremble at His presence, and He does terrible things.

The New Testament records three times when God comes down:

  1. the Incarnation, when the Word was made flesh (John 1:14)
  2. Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended (Acts 2)
  3. Armageddon, when the Lord Jesus will descend on the Mount of Olives (Revelation 19:11–21, cf. Zechariah 14)
If we were to look at each of these in detail, I'm sure we'd find that the description in Isaiah 64 applies to each of these. For example, we might think that Acts 2 is characterized by fire that from heaven (cf. v. 2). Or we might think about Zechariah 14:1–5, where the mountains will flow down at His presence when the Lord descends (cf. v. 3).

We notice that God's descending is characterized by "terrible things which we looked not for" (v. 3). God does unexpected, terrible things when He descends. Did God do terrible, unexpected things when the Word became flesh? Absolutely He did! Let's consider some of them

When the Lord Jesus came down, He bore our sins in His body (1 Peter 2:24). It's important that we don't lose the truth of Substitution. When the Lord Jesus died, He carried my sins away. It's not just that He died for my sins (this is true), but that He actually took them from me and made them His own. He took the sins I committed, and bore them in His body. So when His body was judged, my sins were judged.

This is an important truth to remember, because it's the basis of my standing with God. God doesn't see my sins when He looks at me: the last time God saw my sins was at the Crucifixion. God saw my sins on the Cross, Christ was bearing them in His body. Then He was buried, and His body was hidden in the earth. Now He has been raised from the dead, and has gone back into Heaven. My sins aren't on His body now, He's in Heaven where sin can never come. So my sins are gone forever: the last time God saw my sins was in the body of the Lord Jesus.

So we're happy He bore our sins in His body, but there's no doubt it was a terrible thing that God did there. He put His own Son to shame, and put my wickednesses on Him so that He'd not see them when He looks at me. I'm grateful, but it was an awful thing He did.

When the Lord Jesus came down, He poured out His soul unto death (Isaiah 53:10–12). We sometimes get used to the idea that the Lord Jesus offered His body and His blood for us, but Scripture teaches that He offered something else: He offered His soul for us. And so Isaiah 53 says He, "poured out His soul unto death" (Isaiah 53:12).

This is a remarkable statement. 1 John 1 starts with this statement:

and the life has been manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and report to you the eternal life, which was with the Father, and has been manifested to us: (1 John 1:2)
Christ is "the eternal life which was with the Father". Colossians makes a similar statement:
When the Christ is manifested who [is] our life, then shall *ye* also be manifested with him in glory. (Colossians 3:4)
Christ is our Life, but the One who is eternal life poured out His soul to death.

We can't understand what that means: how does Someone the Bible calls "the eternal life that was with the Father" die? More than that, how does He pour out His soul to death?

Once again, we realize this was necessary for us to have eternal life. We're grateful, but it was a terrible thing He did.

When Christ Jesus came, He gave His flesh for sinners to eat and His blood for sinners to drink (John 6:38–58). We could spend months or years talking about John 6 without really getting past the surface. It's a powerful and profound passage. I think I've pointed out before that one major difference between John 5 and John 6 is that in John 5 the Son acts sovereignly, giving life to "whomsoever He will", while John 6 presents human responsibility: if you want eternal life, you need to eat. John 6 introduces another aspect: here the Son of Man can give eternal life, but it comes at a cost to Him. When the Son of God in John 5 gives life, it costs Him nothing. But when the Son of Man gives eternal life in John 6, it costs Him His flesh and His blood.

This brings in a deep and profound truth: that Christ Jesus paid an awful price to save sinners. I have eternal life: I know that because I believe on the name of the Son of God (1 John 5:13). My eternal life cost the Son of Man a great deal. The Son of Man came into the world to offer His flesh as food for wicked sinners, and His blood as something to drink.

Now, we don't think we literally eat Christ's flesh and drink His blood, but it literally cost Him both His flesh and His blood to give us life.

When Jesus Christ came down, He was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Even more astonishing than Christ taking my sins in His body is that He became sin for me. There are several statements made in Scripture that seem really close to blasphemy. This is one of them: the Son of God was made sin for us.

Scripture doesn't tell us what this means, and I don't think we can understand it. But Christ took my place so completely in judgement that Scripture says He became sin for me.

Need I say, I don't think I'm worth that? Need I say, you're not either? Christianity is based on the idea that God gave the priceless to buy the worthless.

When Christ Jesus came, He was forsaken by God (Matthew 27:46). Once again, we need to tread carefully here. We get awfully close to blasphemy when we make statements about eternal relationships in the Godhead. But Christ Jesus said God forsook Him on the Cross.

We might say that this takes the scandal of the Cross into Heaven. When we look at the Cross and see the Son of God dying for us, that's more-or-less limited to what happened on earth. When we look at the Son of God pouring out His soul to death, we see something incredible, that the One who is eternal life could die. But when we see Christ forsaken by His God, we see that the Crucifixion reached up into Heaven, into God's heart. That's how terrible my sin is. That's how seriously God took it. That's how far He was willing to go to save me.

When God comes down, His coming is characterized by "terrible things we looked not for": terrible things no one expected. This is one of those things, one of those things that astonishes us, no matter how well we know it to be true.

God's coming down is characterized by much more than "terrible things", but it's good for us to remember Who He is. He's the One who has done (and does!) unthinkable things to give eternal life to worthless sinners.

1 comment:

Gwen said...

Excellent post, bro.