Conspiracy

If only they could find the President guilty of collusion with the Russians to manipulate the 2016 election. Why, that would be a conspiracy to subvert the government; an impeachable offense; a veritable constitutional crisis.

But, so far, it’s not; not even close. If anything, some contend our President sounds much like the Founders.

Turns out, social media feeds this sort of thing by gaming what you see. It must increase its’ profits; why else would they do it? So much for knitting, quilting, and cat videos; go figure.

Maybe we have Russian bots too much on our minds? We certainly like to spread novel falsehoods. But maybe, just maybe, the real collusion story has yet to surface?

The definition of conspiracy is:

con·spir·a·cy

/kənˈspirəsē/

noun: conspiracy; plural noun: conspiracies

1. A secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful.

“a conspiracy to destroy the government”

synonyms: plot, scheme, plan, machination, ploy, trick, ruse, subterfuge; informal racket

“a conspiracy to manipulate the results”

2. The action of plotting or conspiring.

“they were cleared of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice”

synonyms: plotting, collusion, intrigue, connivance, machination, collaboration; treason

“conspiracy to commit murder”

The Bible addresses the concept in various circumstances. One of the most striking is in the Book of Isaiah:

For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying:

“Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear and let him be your dread.

“And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

“And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”

Isaiah 8:11-15 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin remarks on these verses, starting from Isaiah’s perspective:

For thus Jehovah spoke to me. Here the Prophet contends…against the unbelief of the people; and…there were two remarkable temptations, the one external, and the other internal.

The external temptation came from professed enemies, such as from the Assyrian; and when the people saw his plundering and cruelty, they thought that all was over with them, because he had brought them almost to utter ruin.

The other temptation was internal; for that sacred people, which boasted of having been chosen by God, relied on the assistance of man rather than of God. Now, this was a most dangerous temptation; for it appeared as if that nation, by its unbelief, refused [acknowledgement of] the promises of God, which were daily offered, and which were continually sounded in their ears…

And he continues:

As if by taking hold of my hand. This is a beautiful metaphor, [by which Isaiah] alludes to fathers or teachers, who, when their words have not sufficient effect, seize the hand of their children or scholars, and hold them to compel them to obey.

The servants of the Lord are sometimes disposed to throw everything away, because they think that they are laboring to no purpose; but the Lord lays as it were, his hand on them, and holds them fast, that they may go forward in the discharge of their duty.

…Undoubtedly, we would every moment be driven up and down, were it not that we are held by the powerful government of God and fix the anchor of constancy in firm ground.

Every one of us ought to meditate earnestly on this thought; for though we may be convinced, yet when it comes to the trial we fail, and look [to] men rather than [to] God. We should, therefore, attend more carefully to this doctrine, and pray to God to hold us, not only by his word but by laying his hand on us…

Next, Calvin examines God’s admonition to Isaiah:

Say not, a conspiracy. …We must consider what was the condition of that people, for they saw that they were not provided with numerous forces and were not able to contend in battle against such powerful enemies. They longed for outward assistance, and eagerly desired to obtain it, for they thought that they were utterly ruined if they did not obtain the assistance of others…

The Lord…admonishes Isaiah not to regard the counsels of wicked men, though the whole of the people should vie with each other [over their guidance.]

Neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. There may also be a twofold meaning; for some read it separately, as if in this second clause the Prophet condemned in general terms the wicked customs of the people. But these two clauses ought rather to be joined together. “Let it not distress you, if your countrymen in the present-day plot about unlawful confederacies, and do not consent to them.”

And he explains the people’s fear:

Their fear. …The same cause of fear was alleged against [both] the godly and…the ungodly; but all did not fear in the same manner…

The Lord certainly does not forbid the godly to fear, for they cannot avoid that; but he bids them overcome that excessive terror by which the ungodly are swallowed up. [Therefore,] let us not, by their example, gaze around in every direction, and rush headlong to seek unlawful aid; and especially we must [be on guard] lest fear take away our judgment.

There is but one remedy for this evil, to restrain ourselves by the word of God, from which proceeds real tranquility of mind. Comparing the condition of that people with our own, let us learn to [seek refuge in] the name of God, which will be to us an impregnable fortress. (Proverbs 18:10.)

Here, Calvin gets to the heart of God’s message to those who follow Him:

Sanctify Jehovah of hosts himself. …Dangers lead to immoderate alarm [because] wretched men do not raise their eyes and minds to heaven. The Prophet…therefore proposes a suitable remedy for allaying terrors, that they who dread the evils which threaten them may learn to give to God the honor due to him.

To sanctify the God of armies means to exalt his power highly [in such manner] to remember that he holds the government of the world, and that the beginning and the end of good and evil actions are at his disposal. Hence it follows that, in some respects, God is robbed of his holiness, when we do not immediately [go] to him in cases of perplexity.

This expression [i.e., Sanctify the God of armies,] …is highly emphatic; it shows us that no higher affront can be offered to God than to give way to fear, as if he were not exalted above all creatures, [and not in] control [of] all events.

On the other hand, when we rely on his aid, and, through victorious steadfastness of faith, despise dangers, then do we ascribe to him lawful government; for if we are not convinced that innumerable methods, though unknown to us, are in his power for our deliverance, we conceive of him as a dead idol.

Then he presents God’s “blessing and cursing” of obedience or disobedience:

And let him be your fear and let him be your dread. He…means that [those] will be free and exempted from [anxiety], if a sincere fear of God be deeply engraven on their hearts, and never pass away from them; and indeed every person who freely devotes himself to God, and undertakes to fear him alone, so as to lay this restraint on himself, will find that no haven is more safe than his protection.

But as the ungodly do not cease to provoke his anger by shameless transgression, he harasses their minds by continual uneasiness, and thus inflicts the most appropriate revenge for their careless indifference.

And Calvin goes deeper and explains God’s relation to His people:

And he shall be for a sanctuary. He promises that the true worshipers of God will enjoy tranquility of mind, because the Lord, covering them, as it were, under his wings, will quickly dispel all their fears…

The meaning therefore is, that God demands nothing for which he does not offer mutual recompense, because everyone that sanctifies him will undoubtedly find him to be a place of refuge. Now, although in this sanctification there is a mutual relation between us and God, yet there is a difference, for we sanctify him by ascribing all praise and glory to him, and by relying entirely upon him; but he sanctifies us, by guarding and preserving us from all evils.

He then punctuates the explanation with strong encouragement for his hearers:

To the two houses of Israel. …[Isaiah] enjoins believers, though nearly the whole multitude of both kingdoms should dissuade them from obedience to God, not to be discouraged, but to disregard everything else, and break through all opposition…

This is a remarkable passage and cannot be [recalled often enough], especially [now], when we see the state of religion throughout the whole Christian world brought nearly to ruin. Many [people] boast that they are Christians who are strongly alienated from God, and to whom Christ is a stone of stumbling…

Wherever we turn our eyes, very sore temptations meet us in every direction; and, therefore, we ought to remember this highly useful instruction, that it is no new thing, if a great multitude of persons, and almost all who [claim] that they belong to the Church, stumble against God. Yet let us constantly adhere to him, however small may be our numbers.

Then turning, with Isaiah, back to the disobedient, Calvin says:

For a snare to the inhabitant of Jerusalem. …[Isaiah] means that God became a snare, not only to the common people who were scattered throughout the fields and villages, but to the nobles themselves, and to the priests who dwelt in Jerusalem, who dwelt in that holy habitation in which God intended that the remembrance of his name should be chiefly preserved…

And, finally, he reiterates God’s admonishments to both groups:

And many among them shall stumble. …Let not the ungodly…imagine that they are stronger or wiser than God; for they will find that he excels them in strength and wisdom, and that to their destruction. They must, therefore, unavoidably be ruined; for either they will be utterly bruised, or they will be snared in such a manner, that they can never [extract] themselves.

This threatening also regards the godly, that they may not hesitate to withdraw from holding fellowship with the multitude, and that they may not resolutely disregard the sinfulness of revolt…Peter reminds us that, though many unbelievers stumble, this is no reason why their stumbling should obstruct the progress of our faith; for Christ is…a chosen and precious stone. (1 Peter 2:4.)

Let us therefore, Sanctify the God of armies and cling to Him.

***

Perhaps the greatest conspiracy that was plotted and actually carried out was the one where the leaders of Israel, the occupying rulers, and the government servants conspired to withhold the Good News of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, it was all in accordance with God’s consummate plan. God’s servants prayed that God would thwart their enemy’s plan:

“…Now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

And, as a result:

…When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

Is your world shaking? Or are your energies spent in foolish controversies?

R.C. Sproul: The Resurrection of Christ, YouTube, Ligonier Ministries, Published on May 29, 2015

Where is the Promise of His Coming?

Haters gonna hate; a phrase with uncertain origins which has come to mean: ‘ignore the hater.’ A ‘hater’ is a person who despises an individual or a group and seeks to diminish their reputation. This is the kind of thing we’ve come to expect a scoffer to do. And these are the ones the Apostle Peter meant when he wrote:

[Scoffers] will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”

For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.

But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

2 Peter 3:4-7 English Standard Version (ESV)

By implication, Peter is saying that those scoffers will reap for themselves the outcome of the doubt that they’ve sown.

John Calvin comments first on the consequences of the scoffers’ derisive taunt in verse 4:

Where is the promise. It was a dangerous [scorn] when they insinuated a doubt as to the last resurrection; for when that is taken away, there is no gospel any longer, the power of Christ is brought to nothing, the whole of religion is gone. Then Satan aims directly at the throat of the Church, when he destroys faith in the coming of Christ.

For why did Christ die and rise again, except that he may sometime gather to himself the redeemed from death, and give them eternal life? All religion is wholly subverted, [unless] faith in the resurrection remains firm and immovable. Hence, on this point Satan assails us most fiercely.

Calvin then analyzes the nature of the taunt:

But let us notice what the [expression of contempt] was. They set the regular course of nature, such as it seems to have been from the beginning, in opposition to the promise of God, as though these things were contrary, or did not harmonize together.

Though the faith of the fathers, they said, was the same, yet no change has taken place since their death, and it is known that many ages have passed away. Hence, they concluded that what was said of the destruction of the world was a fable; because, they conjectured, that as [the world] had lasted so long, it would be perpetual.

Next, he shows how Peter refutes the derision:

For this they willingly are ignorant of. By [a single] argument…[Peter disproves] the [scorn] of the ungodly, even by this, that the world once perished by a deluge of waters, when yet it consisted of waters. (Genesis 1:2.) And as the history of this was well known, he says that they willingly, or of their own accord, erred.

For they who infer the perpetuity of the world from its present state, [intentionally] close their eyes, so as not to see so clear a judgment of God. The world no doubt had its origin from waters, for Moses calls the chaos from which the earth emerged, waters; and further, it was sustained by waters; it yet pleased the Lord to use waters for the purpose of destroying it.

It hence appears that the power of nature is not sufficient to sustain and preserve the world, but that on the contrary it contains the very element of its own ruin, whenever it may please God to destroy it.

Calvin then reminds us that the sovereign God does as He pleases with His creation for His good purposes:

For it ought always to be borne in mind, that the world stands through no other power than that of God’s word, and that therefore inferior or secondary causes derive their power [from him], and produce different effects as they are directed.

Thus through water the world stood, but water could have done nothing of itself, but on the contrary obeyed God’s word as an inferior agent or element. As soon then as it pleased God to destroy the earth, the same water obeyed in becoming a ruinous inundation.

We now see how egregiously they err, who stop at naked elements, as though there was perpetuity in them, and their nature were not changeable according to the bidding of God.

By these few words the petulance of those is abundantly refuted, who arm themselves with physical reasons to fight against God. For the history of the deluge is an abundantly sufficient witness that the whole order of nature is governed by the sole power of God. (Genesis 7:17.)…

In this way, Calvin shows that the world’s current state, stable as it appears, is not normative of its past states. He then concludes:

But the heavens and the earth which are now. [Peter] does not infer this [i.e., the world’s future destruction by means of fire] as the consequence; for his purpose was no other than to dissipate the craftiness of scoffers respecting the perpetual state of nature.

And we see many such, [today,] who, being [somewhat] imbued with the rudiments of philosophy, only hunt after profane speculations, in order that they may pass themselves off as great philosophers.

But it now appears quite evident from what has been said, that there is nothing unreasonable in the declaration made by the Lord, that the heaven and the earth shall hereafter be consumed by fire, because the reason for the fire is the same as that for the water [i.e., to obey God’s will in judgment…]

Isn’t it common experience to expect everything to carry on as it always has? We perform our chores, drive to and from work, prepare and eat our meals, sleep and then awake. But then, suddenly, a love one is injured or dies. We lose our job, our car, or our home. Our spouse walks out, our friends give up on us, or we pick up and move away.

It’s wise to realize beforehand that all things obey the Lord’s word. Whatever change may take place, we should rely on our God, even as the prophet Habakkuk did:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,

    nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail

    and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

    and there be no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

God, the Lord, is my strength;

    he makes my feet like the deer’s;

    he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 (ESV)

Habakkuk awaited a Chaldean invasion, but we await a Savior.

2 Peter 3:1-7 sermon by Dr. Bob Utley, YouTube, Free Bible Commentary

Treasure of the Broken Land

So many have died this winter. Simply scanning the list of deaths in December noted by Wikipedia is overwhelming. Imagine, then, a valley of dry bones. Surely, symbolic of something epochal. The prophet Ezekiel recounts his vision in chapter 37 of the book of the Bible named after him. He tells of a conversation between the Lord God and himself:

And [God] said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:3-6 English Standard Version (ESV)

Some commentators think Ezekiel’s vision pertains to national Israel, either prior to and during the Lord’s first advent or His second. Some think it represents the resurrection to life of spiritual Israel, either prior or after the same two appearances. Finally, some think it refers to the general resurrection at the last day. Here’s a sample of three commentators’ views. Matthew Henry says:

…It is without doubt a most lively representation of a threefold resurrection, besides that which it is primarily intended to be the sign of:

1.) The resurrection of souls from the death of sin to the life or righteousness, to a holy, heavenly, spiritual, and divine life, by the power of divine grace going along with the word of Christ, John 5: 24-25.

2.) The resurrection of the gospel church, or any part of it, from an afflicted persecuted state, especially under the yoke of the New-Testament Babylon, to liberty and peace.

3.) The resurrection of the body at the great day, especially the bodies of believers that shall rise to life eternal.

Next, Alexander MacLaren says:

This great vision apparently took its form from a despairing saying, which had become a proverb among the exiles, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost: we are clean cut off’ (v. 11). Ezekiel lays hold of the metaphor, which had been taken to express the hopeless destruction of Israel’s national existence, and…from it wrings a message of hope…We may look at the vision from three points of view: considering its bearing on Israel, on the world, and on the resurrection of the body.

…The spirit promised in them is simply the source of life, literally, of physical life; metaphorically, of national life…The proper scope of the vision is to assure despairing Israelites that God would quicken the apparently slain national life, and replace them in the land.

…We may extend the application of the vision to the condition of humanity and the divine intervention which communicates life to a dead world, but must remember that no such meaning was in Ezekiel’s thoughts…

As to the bearing of the vision on the doctrine of the resurrection little need be said…For clear expectations of such a resurrection we must turn to scriptures [such] as Daniel 12: 2, 13 …

Finally, Charles Haddon Spurgeon says:

This vision has been used, from the time of Jerome onwards, as a description of the resurrection…But while this interpretation of the vision may be very proper as an accommodation, it must be quite evident to any thinking person that this is not the meaning of the passage…

The meaning of our text [from] the context is most evidently, if words mean anything, first, that there shall be a political restoration of the Jews to their own land and to their own nationality. And then, secondly, there is in the text and in the context a most plain declaration that there shall be a spiritual restoration— in fact a conversion—of the tribes of Israel…

…There will be a native government again. There will again be the form of a political body…A State shall be incorporated and a king shall reign…And they are also to be reunited. There shall not be two, nor ten, nor twelve, but one—one Israel praising one God—serving one king and that one King the Son of David, the descended Messiah!

But there is a second meaning here. Israel is to have a spiritual restoration or a conversion…The unseen but Omnipotent Jehovah is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth by His ancient people. They are to come before Him in His own appointed way, accepting the Mediator whom their [ancestors] rejected. They will come into Covenant relation with God…that Covenant of which Christ is the federal Head, the Substance and the Surety…

Our times are in turmoil as many watch for the fulfillment of this prophesy in one or many of its stated understandings. However, though Ezekiel’s prophesy may not explicitly refer to the general resurrection, we know that this event is sure. In line with our recent postings on Ecclesiastes 9:10-11: Marking Time and The Race, I refer you to lyrics that one of our poets wrote:

…I thought our days were commonplace

Thought they would number in millions

Now there’s only the aftertaste

Of circumstance that can’t pass this way again

.

…I can melt the clock hands down

But only in my memory

Nobody gets the second chance to be the friend they meant to be

.

…Treasure of the broken land

Parched earth give up your captive ones

Waiting wind of Gabriel

Blow soon upon the hollow bones

I have these lyrics framed on my desk in memory of my mother’s going to be with Christ. Soon, we will see our treasures in heaven: the people we loved who obeyed the Lord Jesus Christ even unto death.

Mark Heard – Treasure of the Broken Land, March 12, 2013, YouTube, Righteous Rock Radio

No Other Name

Jesus’ is one of the most recognized curse words the world over. Beyond this, there are many who profess that theirs is the right way to God. However, the Acts of the Apostles records Peter as saying:

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:11-12 English Standard Version (ESV)

Oops, we all must be mistaken. According to the scriptures, there’s no alternative for: “This Jesus.” How did John Calvin understand the passage?

Neither is there salvation in any other. […Peter] meant to prick and sting the priests…as if he should say, that they are twice damned who did not only refuse the salvation offered them by God, but endeavored to bring the same to naught, and did take from all the people the fruit and use thereof.

…And although he seems to speak unto deaf men, yet does he preach of the grace of Christ, if [perhaps] some can [bear] to hear; if not, that they may at least be deprived of all excuse by this testimony.

Neither is there any other name …Salvation (says Peter) is in Christ alone, because God hath decreed that it should be so. For by ‘name’ he means the cause or means, as if he should have said, forasmuch as salvation is in God’s power only, he will not have the same to be common to us by any other means than if we ask it of Christ alone.

…And if…this doctrine were deeply imprinted in the minds of all men, then…so many controversies concerning the causes of salvation [would] be soon at an end, with [which] the Church is so much troubled.

Calvin, in his exposition clearly states the import of ‘this Jesus’ for us who have believed:

…Christ took upon him our flesh once…that he might be a continual pledge of our adoption. He has reconciled the Father to us forever by the sacrifice of his death: by his resurrection he has purchased for us eternal life. And he is present with us now also, that he may make us partakers of the fruit of eternal redemption.

And, those of you who have no assurance of Christ’s pledge to you, I urge you to consider:

“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10:8-10 (ESV)

Opponents: Objections and Judgment – Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones Sermon, posted by Christian Praise and Worship in Songs, Sermons, and Audio Books

Get Behind Me

No one likes a stern rebuke for something they’ve done wrong. Perhaps our father, a coworker, or our boss reprimanded us. Rejecting correction from the former could have led to punishment if we weren’t repentant (and sometimes even then.) Rejecting the same from the latter could lead to job termination. Often, however, chastisement brings with it wisdom.

But, what if the one you’ve offended has a world-changing responsibility to carry out? Performing that responsibility will affect untold millions upon millions of lives for all time and eternity and you’re opposing them. After Christ described to His Disciples the manner of His death and resurrection:

…Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matthew 16:22-23 English Standard Version (ESV)

Clearly, what Christ earlier described and then later endured was in all of our interests and for our benefit. That Peter opposed it showed earthly sentiment. Christ used the opportunity to correct, not only Peter, but, the rest of the disciples and us:

But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Mark 8:33 (ESV)

How should we understand what Peter did and the nature of Christ’s rebuke? John Calvin says:

And Peter, taking him aside, began to rebuke him. It is a proof of the excessive zeal of Peter, that he reproves his Master…It was highly presumptuous of Peter to advise our Lord to spare himself, as if he had been deficient in prudence or self-command. But so completely are men hurried on and driven headlong by inconsiderate zeal, that they do not hesitate to pass judgment on God himself, according to their own fancy.

…In the person of one man [Christ] intended to restrain all from gratifying their own passions. …It is on this account that Christ reproves it so sharply, and bruises it, as it were, with an iron hammer, to teach us that it is only from the word of God that we ought to be wise.

Get thee behind me, Satan. …Luke (4:8) informs us that our Lord used those very words in repelling the attacks of Satan, and the verb…signifies to withdraw. Christ therefore throws his disciple to a distance from him, because, in his inconsiderate zeal, he acted the part of Satan; for he does not simply call him adversary, but gives him the name of the devil, as an expression of the greatest abhorrence.

Thou art an offense to me; for you relish not those things which are of God, but those which are of men. Peter was an offense to Christ, so long as he opposed his calling; for, when Peter attempted to stop the course of his Master, [he would have] deprived himself and all mankind of eternal salvation.

This single word, therefore, shows with what care we ought to avoid everything that withdraws us from obedience to God…Lest we and our intentions should be sent away by our heavenly Judge to the devil, let us learn not to be too much attached to our own views, but submissively to embrace whatever the Lord approves.

…And with regard to ourselves, if we do not, of our own accord, resolve to shut ourselves out from the way of salvation by deadly obstacles, let us not desire to be wise in any other manner than from the mouth of God.

That day, Peter clearly learned the truth of Proverbs 3:5–8 the hard way.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

    and do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge him,

    and he will make straight your paths.

Be not wise in your own eyes;

    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

It will be healing to your flesh

    and refreshment to your bones.

Proverbs 3:5-8 (ESV)

Let us take his lesson to heart and not repeat his mistake.

Get Thee Behind Me - Tissot

Get Thee Behind Me, Satan, (between 1886 and 1894), James Tissot (1836–1902), public domain in the United States

Faith Fail?

This was a critical time in the Lord Jesus Christ’s service to humankind. The ruling leadership was plotting his murder with one of His inner circle of disciples, Judas. Jesus had sent Peter and John ahead to prepare for a significant religious dinner celebration.

Then, at that dinner, while instructing His disciples of His impending death and resurrection, a controversy over who was the greatest disciple broke out. After Jesus taught them the meaning of humility and about their future roles as his disciples, He tells Peter how he will betray Him:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:31–34 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin explains:

…When Christ formerly promised to his disciples the spirit of unshaken fortitude, he referred to a new state of things which followed the resurrection; and, therefore, as they were not yet [endowed] with heavenly power, Peter, forming confident expectations from himself, goes beyond the limits of faith.

…This claims our attention, that every man, remembering his own weakness, may earnestly resort to the assistance of the Holy Spirit [through prayer]; and next, that no man may venture to take more upon himself than what the Lord promises. [Thus,] Paul…enjoins us to:

…Work out our salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God that works in us to will and perform, (Philippians 2:12 – 13.)

…Therefore, whenever any temptation is presented to us, let us first remember our weakness, that, being entirely thrown down, we may learn to seek elsewhere [i.e., from God] what we need [i.e., His mercy and grace]; and, next, let us remember the grace which is promised, that it may free us from doubt.

So, we must rely on Christ and not on our own strength. However, this is not the end of the matter. Christ, through His servant Paul, challenges us:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 2 Corinthians 13:5 (ESV)

And Calvin says:

…But what does Paul say here? He declares, that all are reprobates, who doubt whether they profess Christ and are a part of His body. Let us, therefore, reckon…right faith [is that] which leads us to [rest] in safety in the favor of God, with no wavering opinion, but with a firm and steadfast assurance.

They admonish us because God supplies saving faith; it is not our own doing:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

Yet, facing ourselves more deeply, let us not forget the parable of the soils. As Christ explains:

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.

And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.

And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.

As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

Luke 8:11-15 (ESV)

Let us therefore exercise patience in our calling because He cannot fail; though we may:

My flesh and my heart may fail,

   but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:26 (ESV)

To this, Calvin reveals:

…There is here a contrast between the failing which David felt in himself and the strength with which he was divinely supplied; as if he had said, “Separated from God I am nothing, and all that I attempt to do ends in nothing; but when I come to him, I find an abundant supply of strength.”

It is highly necessary for us to consider what we are without God; for no man will cast himself wholly upon God, but he…who despairs of the sufficiency of his own powers. We will seek nothing from God but what we are conscious of [lacking] in ourselves.

Then, let us cast ourselves wholly upon Him that our faith may not fail.

The Denial of Saint Peter - Carravagio (1610)

The Denial of Saint Peter, circa 1610, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571 – 1610), public domain in the United States

Why Are There Four Gospel Accounts?

From an historical perspective, theologian Louis Berkhof explains that:

…Matthew wrote for the Jews and characterized Christ as the great King of the house of David. Mark composed his Gospel for the Romans and pictured the Savior as the mighty Worker, triumphing over sin and evil. Luke in writing his Gospel had in mind the needs of the Greeks and portrayed Christ as the perfect man, the universal Savior. And John, composing his Gospel for those who already had a saving knowledge of the Lord and stood in need of a more profound understanding of the essential character of Jesus, emphasized the divinity of Christ, the glory that was manifested in his works…

Recently, I ran across an interesting conjecture about this question while researching my next book. However, while it was compelling, I thought it best to test this conjecture against what Calvin penned about the four gospels in his Commentaries.

The first thing to notice is that Calvin values the Gospel of John differently from the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Concerning John’s Gospel in relation to the other three, Calvin says:

Yet there is also this difference between them, which the other three are more copious in their narrative of the life and death of Christ, but John dwells more largely on the doctrine by which the office of Christ, together with the power of his death and resurrection, is unfolded.

…And as all of them had the same object in view, to point out Christ, the three former exhibit his body, if we may be permitted to use the expression, but John exhibits his soul.

On this account, I am accustomed to say that this Gospel [i.e., John’s] is a key to open the door for understanding the rest; for whoever shall understand the power of Christ, as it is here strikingly portrayed, will afterwards read with advantage what the others relate about the Redeemer who was manifested.

About Mark’s gospel, Calvin says:

Mark is generally supposed to have been the private friend and disciple of Peter. It is even believed that he wrote the Gospel, as it was dictated to him by Peter, and thus merely performed the office of an amanuensis or clerk. But on this subject we need not give ourselves much trouble, for it is of little importance to us, provided only we believe that he is a properly qualified and divinely appointed witness, who committed nothing to writing, but as the Holy Spirit directed him and guided his pen.

Of Luke:

Luke asserts plainly enough that he is the person who attended Paul.

And of Matthew, Calvin says:

Matthew is sufficiently known [from the Gospel accounts].

Summing up for all three:

…For we will not say that the diversity which we perceive in the three Evangelists was the object of express arrangement, but as they intended to give an honest narrative of what they knew to be certain and undoubted, each followed that method which he reckoned best. Now as this did not happen by chance, but by the direction of Divine Providence, so under this diversity in the manner of writing the Holy Spirit suggested to them an astonishing harmony, which would almost be sufficient of itself to secure credit to them, if there were no other and stronger evidences to support their authority.

Note that John had intimate access with God and man and later in life, much knowledge and love.

Matthew (called Levi) was a Hebrew civil official collecting Roman taxes, despised by his countrymen, and was grateful to leave all behind.

Peter (and perhaps Mark) worked with his hands, was bold, impulsive, and spoke well  extemporaneously.

Luke was a physician who set out to document both the life of Jesus and the Acts of the Apostles meticulously.

The conclusion of the preceding exposition brings us to the source of the conjecture.

David Keirsey’s book Please Understand Me is a useful reference for writers who want to fully flesh out their characters.

He says Hippocrates and Galen observed that there are four personality types. Later scientists refined their observations by identifying four distinctions within each type. We’ll review Keirsey’s take on the four personality types via several posts over the next few weeks (possibly interspersed among other postings on different topics).

In the book’s notes section, Keirsey relates the four main personality types to the gospel writers:

Artisan (SP) — Bold, Works with Hands, Extemporaneous, Present Oriented — Peter (with amanuensis Mark)

Guardian (SJ) — Administrative, Works with Resources, Desires Respect, Past Oriented — Matthew

Rational (NT) — Reasoning, Works in Sciences, Seeks Knowledge, Period Oriented — Luke

Idealist (NF) — Empathetic, Works with People, Sagacious, Future Oriented — John

These are the Gospel author’s predispositions. Their experiences molded them, as far as they were willing and able, so that they acquired attributes of the other personality types. These attributes in total could be said to be their overall dispositions.

Although God may choose to relate to our predispositions through the Gospel writers, once He gets hold of us, He conforms us to His Son’s likeness as His sons and daughters.

None of the four writers seemed more transformed than Peter who, in his second letter to the churches, documents instruction for and prophesy of the future as his provision for the saints:

I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. 2 Peter 1:13-15 English Standard Version (ESV)

Of course, the number “four” is a common theme throughout the bible.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalype

Death on a Pale Horse is a version of the traditional subject, Four Horsemen of Revelation, 1796, Benjamin West (1738 – 1820), in the public domain in the US

Gullible

Many think that those who follow Christ are hopelessly ignorant and gullible. They’ll believe anything.

I was reminded of how gullible I am by this video. It purports to show an F-35B Lightning II Marine Corps fighter takeoff, falter, and make a remarkable recovery to flight from a ship at sea.

F-35 Unintended loop right off the carrier deck during vertical take-off, December 15, 2009

Is it real? It sure looks real on the surface. But the answer is no; it’s a doctored frame sequence from a video game. Once you see how the F–35B actually takes off and lands, you’ll note many obvious discrepancies.

Are those who follow Christ gulled into believing? Are they rubes unworthy of being taken seriously? Are they insufferable? When you see what’s involved in true belief, you’ll note the impossibility of it.

We’ll take the Lord Jesus Christ’s testimony as evidence. Speaking in His own defense before the Council of Elders at Jerusalem, they ask if He is the Messiah and He responds to them:

“If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe” Luke 22:67 English Standard Version (ESV)

Their refusal to believe was ordained. John explains this clearly in his gospel account. After Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and His performance of many attesting signs, when the people still did not believe in Him, John tells us:

So that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,

   and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

“He has blinded their eyes

   and hardened their heart,

lest they see with their eyes,

   and understand with their heart, and turn,

   and I would heal them.”

John 12:38-40 (ESV)

The Lord Jesus picked up on this theme when He told the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus to His disciples, the Pharisees, scribes, tax collectors, and sinners [a derogatory term the religious elite used for commoners as if they were not the same].

And [the rich man] said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” Luke 16:30-31 (ESV)

From elsewhere in scripture we know that Moses and the Prophets spoke of Him. I always imagine he delivered this punch line to the parable with dramatic irony.

While speaking with His disciples about the difficulty of entering the Kingdom of God, His disciples questioned Him:

And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:26-27 (ESV)

So, by His own admission, entering into belief is impossible for humankind on their own. The Apostle Paul reiterates and expands on this truth:

For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. Romans 9:15-16 (ESV)

So belief is a gift of a merciful God to individuals, not something we can adopt like a political party affiliation or can attain like elected office.

But we may be assured that:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John 3:36 (ESV)

And we know that this gift is certain:

For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” Romans 10:11 (ESV)

Please, believe in Him.

The Lord Is Always Before Me

Can you make the claim in the title like the psalmist David did? I find I can’t; at least not consistently. But I want to. I want to very much.

I have set the Lord always before me;

    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;

    my flesh also dwells secure.

Psalm 16:8-9 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin says with regard to verse 8:

…The meaning, therefore, is, that David kept his mind so intently fixed upon the providence of God, as to be fully persuaded, that whenever any difficulty or distress should befall him, God would be always at hand to assist him.

He adds, also, [always], to show us how he constantly depended upon the assistance of God, so that, amidst the various conflicts with which he was agitated, no fear of danger could make him turn his eyes to any other quarter than to God in search of succor.

…David then reckons himself secure against all dangers, and promises himself certain safety, because, with the eyes of faith, he beholds God as present with him.

And with regard to verse 9:

In short, calmly to rejoice is the lot of no man but of him who has learned to place his confidence in God alone, and to commit his life and safety to his protection.

When, therefore, encompassed with innumerable troubles on all sides, let us be persuaded, that the only remedy is to direct our eyes towards God; and if we do this, faith will not only tranquillize our minds, but also replenish them with fullness of joy.

…Farther, although the body is not free from inconveniences and troubles, yet as God defends and maintains not only our souls, but also our bodies, David does not speak groundlessly when he represents the blessing of dwelling in safety as extending to his flesh in common with his soul.

David’s statements in verses 8 and 9 pertain to us if we’ve trusted in Christ. However, verse 10 does not.

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,

    or let your holy one see corruption.

Psalm 16:10 (ESV)

This verse didn’t even apply to David as the Apostle Peter rightly points out in his sermon at Pentecost. Peter uses this psalm (esp. verse 10) as a testimony of Christ’s resurrection. The passage is found in Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, verses 25-28 (ESV).

We serve a risen Lord always ready to provide mercy and grace in our time of need. Call to Him.

View from the Cross

What Our Lord Saw from the Cross, 1886–1894, by James Tissot (1836–1902), in the public domain in the US

Salvation

There is much confusion about this concept nowadays. There needn’t be. Scripture is clear:

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin says:

Neither is there salvation in any other. …And assuredly Christ had showed this one token of his grace, to the end [that] he might be known to be the only author of life. We must consider this in all the benefits of God, to wit, that he is the fountain of salvation. And he meant to prick and sting the priests with this sentence, when as he says that there is salvation in none other save only in Christ, whom they went about to put quite out of remembrance.

As if he should say, that they are twice damned who did not only refuse the salvation offered them by God, but endeavor to bring the same to naught, and did take from all the people the fruit and use thereof. Although he seems to speak unto deaf men, yet he preaches of the grace of Christ, if [perhaps] some can abide to hear; [and] if not, that they may at least be deprived of all excuse by this testimony.

Neither is there any other name…Salvation (says he) is in Christ alone, because God has decreed that it should be so. For by name he means the cause or means, as if he should have said, forasmuch as salvation is in God’s power only, he will not have the same to be common to us by any other means than if we ask it of Christ alone.

Whereas he says under heaven…I do rather think that this was added, because men cannot ascend into heaven, that they may come unto God. Therefore, seeing we are so far from the kingdom of God, it is needful that God does not only invite us unto himself, but that reaching out his hand he offer salvation unto us, that we may enjoy the same.

Peter teaches in this [passage], that he has done that in Christ, because he came down into the earth for this cause, that he might bring salvation with him. Neither is that contrary to this doctrine, that Christ is ascended above all heavens, (Ephesians 4:10). For he took upon him our flesh once for this cause, that he might be a continual pledge of our adoption. He has reconciled the Father to us forever by the sacrifice of his death: by his resurrection he has purchased for us eternal life.

And he is present with us now also, that he may make us partakers of the fruit of eternal redemption; but the revealing of salvation is handled in this [passage], and we know that the same was so revealed in Christ, that we need not any longer to say, “Who shall ascend into heaven?” (Romans 10:6).

And if this doctrine were deeply imprinted in the minds of all men, then should so many controversies concerning the causes of salvation be soon at an end, wherewith the Church is so much troubled…

The Visual Bible – Acts Chapter 4