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I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart;
        before the gods I sing your praise;
    I bow down toward your holy temple
        and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
        for you have exalted above all things
        your name and your word.
Psalm 138:1-2

Isn’t it funny the things that make us happy? It is amazing what a little warm weather, fresh air and sunshine produces in us Michiganders. Oh the praise we can heap upon the blazing sun for breaking up the bleak winter days! That is no surprise given that we were created to worship. However, we all know that summer does not last and the happiness found in it is fleeting. We will find ourselves perpetually in want if we seek our joy in anything but God. So then, what things can we stake our lives upon that will not fade away nor in the end leave us wanting more?
In Psalm 138, David points us to the two things God has made great in all the earth by setting them above all things in all creation, namely His name and His word. David can exalt in these two things along with the One True God because he has experienced the saving, redeeming grace of God in his life. We see this in two ways in this psalm. God’s word reveals His purposes. Throughout the Bible, we see a God who keeps His promises. When God speaks, we hear what He intends to do and the record of Scripture shows that these purposes are always fulfilled. Therefore, because our God not only makes great promises, but actually fulfills them, His Name is also exalted. He does not just make commitments, He keeps them. It is inextricably wrapped up in His character to do so. So we are brought to praise God with our whole heart (v. 1) because He is steadfast love, He is faithful and He will bring us safely through the circumstances of life! What kind of rejoicing does this produce in the lives of God’s people? The kind that not only praises God for His amazing greatness, but flaunts this greatness in the faces of the false gods of Our Time (v. 2).
But to spend our lives exalting and finding joy in these two things that will never leave us in want, we first need to remember. The pattern we find throughout this psalm is David calling to mind what God has done which leads him to praise who God is. Who is this God who has captured David’s affections? He is a God who first loved us (v. 2), who acts for His people (v. 3) and who dwells with His people (v. 6).
As the psalm ends, we are reminded to value God’s name and word above all things and orient our lives around them. The way to walk through the reality of human experience is to daily, and sometimes moment by moment, remind ourselves of the truth of God’s deliverance. We must recall to mind the rock solid reality of God’s commitment to His Word and Name, which promises His people more than we can possibly imagine. And isn’t it interesting that the psalmist closes not by reminding himself of this truth, but by humbly reminding God himself. So one way David gives us to press ourselves deep into the the promises of God is to set our hearts away from self-reliance and upon God’s name and word by reminding ourselves of His amazing grace, that it is He alone that saves, that He will save His people because He has promised to do so, and He will do so because He has exalted not His people above all things, but His name and His word. So God does not mind when we come desperate (v. 6): desperately seeking, desperately asking and even desperately reminding Him to not forsake the work of His hands for His name and glory (v. 8). So let us make this a month to remember and rejoice in God’s love & faithfulness.

“God is the ultimate focus of Christ’s death on the cross.  Yes, Jesus died for sins and for the unrighteous, but ultimately Jesus died for God and his glory.  For when Christ brings us to God, he brings us into a right relationship with God.  It’s as if the universe is set back where it should be – a relationship in which he is the center and we orbit around him in a safe proximity and nearness, a relationship in which his glory is the point and we find our joy and meaning in being a display of his worth rather than our own.”

~ Michael Lawrence, It Is Well, 215

When we find our joy and meaning in living as “a display of his worth rather than our own”, we do what we were created to do.  We find ultimate joy when we decrease and He increases because He is the ultimate focus of everything.  Though everything around us and everything within us tells us to put ourselves on display for all to see, Christ died so we could live for Our Father and His glory.  When He is the center, everything is as it should be… even when thinking about the ultimate purpose of the cross.

“Jesus’ body bore our sins on the tree, and it was a horrible, bloody, fatal, and physical reality.  The New Testament tells us this to underscore the extent of the servant’s service on our behalf (cf. Phil. 2:5-11).  Not only did he take the form of a man and humble himself to wear the garb of a servant, but he also became obedient.  He even became obedient unto the ghastly death of the cross for our sakes.  We see that the whole point was to emphasize how full, complete, and extensive was the servant’s obedience to the Father on our behalf.  Even when his body is marred beyond human semblance, he bows himself down and says, “For the sake of the salvation of sinners, my Father, let your will be done.”

~ Sinclair Ferguson; Christ, the Sin-Bearer, in Atonement, 113-114

Today is the one year anniversary of Pastor Dan Cummings’ death.  Death is a reality of life because of sin (Romans 6:23) and it is appointed for man to die once (Hebrews 9:27). But the good news of the gospel is that though sin entered the world and death through sin, there is an abundance of grace and a free gift of righteousness through Jesus Christ.  It is through Jesus Christ’s perfect life and death on the cross that sinners find justification by His blood and reconciliation with God.  And it is this truth that leads Paul to say in Romans 5:21, “so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  For the person who puts their faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins, death is not eternal.  As John Owen wrote, “the Father and his Son intended by the death of Christ to redeem, purge, sanctify, purify, deliver from death”… in Jesus, the death of death has come.  [The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Book II, Chapter III)]

This reminds me of a song from the album Come Weary Saints (which is on sale this month at Sovereign Grace).  The lyrics are below:

It Is Not Death To Die

Come Weary SaintsIt is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who’ve found their home with God
It is not death to close
The eyes long dimmed by tears
And wake in joy before Your throne
Delivered from our fears

O Jesus, conquering the grave
Your precious blood has power to save
Those who trust in You
Will in Your mercy find
That it is not death to die

It is not death to fling
Aside this earthly dust
And rise with strong and noble wing
To live among the just
It is not death to hear
The key unlock the door
That sets us free from mortal years
To praise You evermore

“Oh! Rejoice in the richness of our salvation! When the Lord pardoned our sins, he did not pardon half of them, and leave some of them on the book— but with one stroke of the pen he gave a full receipt for all our debts.

When we went down into the fountain filled with blood, and washed, we did not come up half-clean, but there was no spot nor wrinkle upon us—we were white as snow.”

~ Charles Spurgeon, “The Joy of Salvation”

“Love begets a likeness between the mind loving and the object beloved….. A mind filled with a love of Christ crucified … will be changed into his image and likeness.”

~ John Owen, The Holy Spirit

In conclusion of the series (and hopefully not the fighting of sin!), we have heard a call from our guides to deepen our knowledge of what Christ accomplished in salvation, that true repentance is turning from sin and to Christ, that fighting sin is a continual necessity and that there is a mean streak to the Christian life that focuses on the sinful deeds of our own flesh.  However, Owen reminds us that all is for naught in the fight against sin if there is no love for Christ.  Ultimately, loving Christ will help us fight sin on a daily basis, not because it will simply help us defeat temptation, but because it will actually change us more and more into Christ’s “image and likeness”… an image and likeness that was holy, sinless and one that glorified and still glorifies God every single moment. Owen leaves us to think about the question Pastor Dan Cummings used to ask, “What do you love?”

“There is a mean streak in the Christian life. There is a violence. There is a militancy. But it is exactly the opposite of selfish violence against people. It is a violence against the “flesh” or against “the deeds of the body” – our flesh and our body. The Christian is not mean to others. He is mean to his own sinfulness – his own flesh… So to put to death the deeds of the body (as Romans 8:13 says) “by the Spirit” we must set our minds on “the things of the Spirit,” which we now see means: set your mind on the word of God in scripture. What makes this ring so true is the connection with Ephesians 6:17 where Paul says in our battle against evil we must “take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

~ John Piper, How To Kill Sin-Part 3

The great thing that Piper leads us to see is that the glory of God in Jesus Christ is at stake in our daily, necessary and continual action of fighting and “killing sin”.  He says, “Jesus is glorified when we kill sin by the Spirit”.  Now, we hear that we live to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, but sometimes putting the ‘how’ into words is difficult.  The fighting of sin on a daily basis, and not only fighting but also killing it, is not just a little triumph in a Christian’s life, but one that glorifies Jesus.  This is a way we can daily live for His glory, not through our own will power, but by setting our minds on the Word of God and weilding The Sword against our flesh!

“Be always at it, cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will  be killing you.  He who ceases from this duty lets go all endeavors after holiness…  Sin will not die, unless it be constantly weakened. Spare it, and it will heal its wounds and recover its strength. We must continually watch against the operation of this principle of sin; in our duties, in our calling, in conversation, in retirement, in our straits, in our enjoyments and in all that we do. If we are negligent on any occasion, we shall suffer by it; every mistake, every neglect is perilous.”

~ John Owen, Works, Vol. 3

In our fighting of sin, we not only need to grow in the knowledge of the gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ and to know that repetance requires both a turning away and a turning to, but also that the fight against sin is a continuous activity.  Most people know it is a necessity, but we must also realize it is a continual necessity… “cease not a day from this work.”  Our culture and the busyness of our lives seem to choke out any striving towards the constant killing of sin.  It is not that we don’t ever kill sin, but that we don’t do it unceasingly.  So how does Owen encourage us instead of shaming us? He says neglecting to kill sin is disastrous… it is no small matter!  He holds out two options: kill sin or be killed.  And I do not believe he overstates the matter one iota.

I was re-reading a portion of The Prodigal God by Tim Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.  He writes a great paragraph that has a focusing effect as we begin another week of being incrementally transformed into the image of Christ, fighting sin and finding our delight in God.  He writes,

“All change comes from deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ and living out of the changes that understanding creates in your heart. Faith in the gospel re-structures our motivations, our self-understanding, our identity, and our view of the world. Behavioral compliance to rules without heart-change will be superficial and fleeting.”

If we really want to fight sin without constantly being in the “Give in, Repent, Repeat” cycle… we need a change of heart that comes from a deepening of our knowledge of what Christ’s salvation of His people actually accomplished.

In Matthew 26.37-38 we read, “And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” Words cannot truly express the depth of emotion that our great Savior begins to feel here in the garden. The grief is encompassing, encircling and overwhelming our Lord. Thomas Goodwin, the puritan wrote, “He was plunged head and ears in sorrow and had no breathing-hole.” The grief was overwhelming our Lord to the point where he felt like he was suffocating. Our Savior was drenched with a sorrow so deep that it felt to him as if it were killing him. Surely he had felt grief and sorrow in his life, but why is there now a sudden plunge into deep agony?

Here in the garden, Matthew gives us a view into what it means for Jesus to be Savior and his sinless nature was shocked beyond our comprehension at how intimately he was now being associated with iniquity… iniquity he did not commit. He began to be sorrowful and troubled because the Father began to withdraw His presence from His One and Only Son.  Charles Spurgeon said, “The shadow of that great eclipse began to fall upon His spirit when he knelt in that cold midnight amidst the olives of Gethsemane… He was left single-handed… to contend for the deliverance of man.”  He now begins to taste what his name means, to be the Savior (Matthew 1.21), what it means to receive God’s full and holy wrath on our sin.  The cup that was always future is now this cup and Matthew’s language describes quite simply that Jesus began to be overcome with distress because of the cup’s arrival.

What is this cup?  It is a reference fully loaded with Old Testament imagery of God’s wrath against mankind’s sin.  Isaiah 51.17, “Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering.”  Psalm 11. 6, says it’s a cup of “fire and sulfur and a scorching wind”.  Isaiah 51.22 says it is a cup “of staggering; the bowl of my wrath”. This is what caused our Savior to shudder in terror, to become deeply distressed and overcome with sorrow to the point of death.  He beheld this now present cup.  So overwhelmed, he falls to the ground and prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”  This cup leading to death is the one held out for Jesus to take from the Father’s hand in fulfillment of his mission to save his people from their sins.

The first Adam, in the Garden of Eden, knew what the will of God was but when the moment came he did not submit his will to line up with the will of God.  Now here, the Last Adam, also in a garden, must come to terms in emotion and will with what he has known was coming his entire life.  In the garden of Eden, the first Adam said ‘Not your will but mine‘ and sin and death changed Perfection to wilderness.  But here, in the garden of Gethsemane, the Last Adam prays ‘Not my will but yours be done’ and it brings extreme sorrow and anguish to him but transforms the wilderness and saves his people from their sins!