Daily Light – June 3, 2020

Sin Never Keeps Its Promises

Article by Stephen Witmer, Pastor, Pepperell, Massachusetts

Years ago, some friends and I were swindled out of $70 shortly after arriving in Paris. We were at the train station, puzzling through the French display on the ticket machine. A friendly man appeared, popped his credit card into the machine, and told us he was purchasing two-day train passes for each of us and we could pay him back with cash. It happened fast, and our French wasn’t good enough to double-check him. Besides, he seemed kind and reliable. So we forked over the money. Several minutes later, after boarding the train, we discovered that he had in fact bought us single-use tickets worth $2 each. By then he was long gone. I felt angry and ashamed for the rest of the day.

That experience is a parable of sin and its ways. Sin is a swindler. It covers its deceit with kindness and sweet promises. We sin because we believe the lies. We gossip because the gossip whispers to us that we’re in the know and that people will appreciate us. We envy because we believe that if we only had what others have, we’d be content. We take undue pride in our accomplishments because pride assures us that we’ll feel better about ourselves. But in the end, sin never makes good on its promises. Instead, it leaves us unsatisfied and ashamed.

That’s why the Bible consistently unmasks the falsehoods of sin, warning us that whenever we trust in something or someone other than God, we will be ashamed. One of the most powerful and dramatic instances of this in all of Scripture is an often-overlooked story recounted in Isaiah 20. It contains a stark warning and a sweet promise for God’s people.

Naked Prophet

The year is 711 BC. Ashdod, a city in Philistia, has been part of a multiyear rebellion against the mighty nation of Assyria — a rebellion encouraged by Egypt to the south. The prophet Isaiah has already warned that Philistia’s rebellion will fail. And that’s exactly what now happens, according to Isaiah 20:1. Ashdod is captured by Assyria. We know that the king of Ashdod subsequently fled to Egypt and that, when Assyria came looking for him, Egypt didn’t protect him. They gave him up.

As Assyria crushes Ashdod, God speaks to his prophet Isaiah: “At that time the Lord spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, ‘Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,’ and he did so, walking naked and barefoot” (Isaiah 20:2).

This is surely one of the least desirable prophetic commissions ever received. God commands him to strip naked, not in the privacy of his own home, but in public (that’s the implication of the word go, and of Isaiah’s response of walking) and not just for a short time, but for three years (Isaiah 20:3). Perhaps Isaiah wonders why God couldn’t have asked him instead to do the things other prophets were told to do: lay siege to a brick (Ezekiel 4:1–3), cut some of his hair with a sword (Ezekiel 5:1), or anything else, for that matter. In any case, Isaiah obeys God, apparently without protest. He is, after all, God’s servant (Isaiah 20:3).

Naked Egypt

Why this strange three-year nakedness for God’s prophet? In order to understand what’s happening, it’s crucial to know that nakedness in the ancient world was deeply shameful (see the riveting story in 2 Samuel 10), often associated with helplessness, vulnerability, and lack of protection.

According to verse 3, Isaiah’s odd actions are to be a “sign and a portent” against Egypt and Cush (ancient African nation). Specifically, Isaiah’s nakedness will vividly and unforgettably signify the future shameful nakedness of Egypt’s young and old when they themselves will be led away as captives by the king of Assyria (Isaiah 20:4). And that’s in fact the way it actually happened: forty years later, in 671 BC, Assyria defeated Egypt.

But why does the fall of the city of Ashdod in Philistia (verse 1) lead God to enact a sign of the future fall of Egypt (verses 3–4)? Because Philistia was trusting Egypt (which was encouraging their rebellion against Assyria), and because the people of Judah were watching closely to see whether powerful Egypt, the last best hope against dominant Assyria, would come through for Philistia in their time of trouble. The answer was an emphatic no, and Isaiah depicts that reality not just with words, but with his own naked body.

God means for naked Isaiah to be a sign and portent “against Egypt and Cush” (Isaiah 20:3) but Isaiah’s shame is really a sign for God’s people who are tempted to rely upon Egypt rather than upon God. Verses 5–6 proclaim that all who hope in Egypt in the face of the Assyrian threat will be gravely disappointed and shamed.

How much does God love his people? According to this passage, he loves them enough to warn them of the humiliating shame of sin in a way they can’t ignore or forget. Isaiah’s exposed flesh is God’s means of exposing the false promises of sin. Powerful Egypt will soon be naked and shamed, and those who trust Egypt will follow soon after. When we trust in that which is not trustworthy, we ourselves will be ashamed.

Naked Savior

There’s a ray of hope in this somber passage — the hint of a sweet promise in a story that issues a stark warning. Consider this: in order to portray the shame that will fall upon Egypt and Cush, God requires his own prophet, his own loyal and obedient servant, to experience the very real shame of public nakedness. God could have chosen one of his enemies to be the symbol of coming judgment. But instead he chooses his righteous, faithful servant Isaiah. You might say that as Isaiah walks around naked before his neighbors, he takes upon himself a hint, a measure, of the shame that will later fall upon God’s enemies.

This certainly has the feel of something God might do. In fact, much later in history, we see God go a step further. God’s perfect servant Jesus, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52–53 (the word servant in Isaiah 52–53 is the same word used to identify Isaiah as God’s servant in Isaiah 20), is stripped naked and humiliated as he hangs on a cross, identifying with the shame of God’s enemies.

In fact, Jesus identifies so profoundly with their judgment and shame that he actually takes it upon himself. He suffers not only as a sign of their coming judgment but as a substitute, so that if God’s enemies trust in Jesus, they won’t have to suffer themselves.

Never Ashamed

It may be that you’re currently being tempted by sin’s whispered lies. Perhaps even though you know God’s goodness and power, you’re drawn to find security, comfort, peace, or meaning elsewhere. Don’t do it. The path away from God leads nowhere good. Sin is a swindler. When we trust in that which is not trustworthy, we will be ashamed.

How much better to trust the one who bore shame for us, suffering in our place? How much better to glory and boast in his shameful suffering (Galatians 6:14)? When we trust in him, we will never be ashamed.

Stephen Witmer (@stephenwitmer1) is the pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, Massachusetts, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the cofounder of Small Town Summits, an organization that serves rural churches and pastors, and has written Eternity Changes Everything and A Big Gospel in Small Places. He and his wife, Emma, have three children.

Daily Light – June 2, 2020

Let the First Voice Be His

Why Wisdom Meets God in the Morning

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org

Among all of the Bible’s teaching on meditation and prayer, God never commands us to meet with him in the morning. He never tells us that the first hour of the day is an especially sacred time to commune with him, nor does he suggest that he’s any less near to us in the afternoon and evening.

Some godly saints, in fact, find that late night rather than early morning offers the most undistracted hours for meditation and prayer. Others manage (I know not how) to carve out quiet moments in the middle of the day.

Nevertheless, the testimony of God’s people in Scripture and church history suggests that morning is, far and away, the best time for most of us to meet with God. Before the day’s tasks demand to be done, before the headlines bring the world into our living rooms, before our phones beg for our attention, and before the air around us starts humming with activity, we desperately need to hear from God. We need the first voice of the day to be his.

The morning, more than any other time of day, invites us to give God our firstfruits, roll away our burdens, hear his teaching, and enjoy his love.

Give Your Firstfruits

If you lived near the Jerusalem temple under the old covenant, you would have awoken not only to the crowing of roosters, but to the singing of Levites. “They were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the Lord, and likewise at evening” (1 Chronicles 23:30). Along with a song of praise, the sons of Levi would welcome the dawn with a sacrificed lamb and fragrant incense (Exodus 29:3930:7), thus giving to God the firstfruits of the day.

Although we do not wake up to Israel’s temple singers, God has not left himself without a witness to his worth at the start of every day. Charles Spurgeon once preached, “The early morning hour should be dedicated to praise: do not the birds set us an example?” And not only the birds: for those with ears to hear, God makes the very “going out of the morning . . . to shout for joy” (Psalm 65:8). What do our mornings sound like?

Sun and clouds, birds and dew all gather morning by morning to remind us, “Yours is the day” (Psalm 74:16). What better way to start our own days, then, than by giving God the first of our time and attention?

Roll Your Burdens

Someone once asked George Müller, the nineteenth-century lover of orphans, how he could remain so composed in the midst of such frenzy. Thousands of children depended on him for food and clothing, and resources were often scarce, yet his soul seemed as calm as the sea that Jesus stilled. Müller responded with something like, “I rolled sixty things onto the Lord this morning” (The Satisfied Soul, 308).

Desperation has a way of waking us up early. As with Müller, the author of Psalm 119 found that his needs were too great to wait until midday, or even until sunrise: “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words” (Psalm 119:147; see also 88:13).

Even outside seasons of desperation, however, what better time than the morning to reach ahead into the day, gather up every burden and care, and roll them, one by one, into our Father’s open hands? As often as we cry, “O Lord, be gracious to us. . . . Be our arm every morning,” God is ready to respond, “I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 33:241:10).

Hear His Teaching

The prophet Isaiah, speaking as the servant of the Lord, said,

The Lord God has given me
     the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
     him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
     he awakens my ear
     to hear as those who are taught. (Isaiah 50:4)

When the greater Servant came, we find him doing the same: “Rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Before our Lord Jesus spoke to his disciples or to the crowds, he came to his Father, morning by morning, to hear as those who are taught (John 5:19).

What could be more important in the morning than sitting before our Father, his word open in front of us, and asking him to teach us “how [we] ought to walk and to please God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1)? John Piper writes of our morning routines,

What we want . . . is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We want something that gives us a zeal for the glory of Christ for the day’s work. We want to be strengthened to face whatever the day may bring. We want something that gives us joyful courage to resolve to count others better than ourselves.

This is what we want, isn’t it? And what better way to walk in God’s ways day by day than by asking him to lead us morning by morning?

Enjoy His Love

On February 23, 1834, the 20-year-old Robert Murray McCheyne wrote in his journal, “Rose early to seek God and found him whom my soul loveth. Who would not rise early to meet such company?” McCheyne strikes at the heart of why anyone should go through the trouble of getting to bed on time, setting the alarm early, and refusing the snooze: not ultimately to stick your face in book, but to meet the lover of your soul. Not for the activity itself, but for the company.

The psalmists thought the same way. David sings, “Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust” (Psalm 143:8). Moses prays, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14). It is a miserable experience to walk into the day unsure of God’s love, wondering whether his heart toward us is warm or cold. Yet many of us do wake up unsure, needing to hear of his love and be satisfied by his love again.

The God who knows our frame, who remembers that we are dust, is always glad to remind us. He is always ready to steady our fragile hearts, and help us not only receive his love, but to walk into the day declaring it: “It is good . . . to declare in the morning your steadfast love” (Psalm 92:1–2).

The Day’s First Voice

Some of us, perhaps, are among the saints who benefit most from an evening or midday devotional time rather than a morning one. But many of the rest of us can resonate with C.S. Lewis when he writes of what happens “the very moment you wake up each morning.”

All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job of each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. (Mere Christianity, 198)

Before we have even turned off the alarm clock, many of us are living a few hours in the future: crafting plans, shouldering worries, cherishing hopes for the day ahead. But often, these plans, worries, and hopes have little to do with God.

Why not, then, meditate on God’s word to take that other, heavenly point of view? Why not open up your soul to let that larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in from the Spirit? Why not let the first voice be his?

Scott Hubbard is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and an editor for desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Bethany, live with their son in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – June 1, 2020

The Sorrows of Minneapolis

A Prayer for Our City

John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Almighty and merciful Father,

Hallowed be your name in Minneapolis. Revered, admired, honored — above every name, in church, in politics, in sports, in music, in theater, in business, in media, in heaven or in hell. May your name, your absolute reality, be the greatest treasure of our lives. And may your eternal, divine Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord — crucified for sin, risen from the dead, reigning forever — be known and loved as the greatest person in this city.

It was no compliment to the city of Nineveh, but it was a great mercy, when you said to your sulking prophet Jonah, “Should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left?” (Jonah 4:11).

Oh, how kind you are to pity our folly rather than pander to our pride. Jonah could not fathom your mercy. His desire was the fire of judgment. And you stunned him, and angered him, with the shock of forgiveness.

And have we not heard your Son, crying out to the city that would kill him, “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!” (Matthew 23:37)?

Oh, how large is your heart toward cities in their sin and misery.

Yes, we have heard you speak mercy to great cities. Did you not say, to Jerusalem, “This city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth” (Jeremiah 33:9)? They were not worthy — not any more than Nineveh, or Minneapolis. But you are a merciful God, “slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).

And what are we? Debtors. Whose only hope is grace. For we could never pay back the honor we have stolen from your name. How precious, then, is the lightning bolt of truth that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!” (1 Timothy 1:15).

And for what have you saved us, Father? To what end did you forgive, and cleanse, and free, and empower your people? You have told us, “In the coming ages I will show the immeasurable riches of my grace in kindness toward you in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). Yes. That is best. You are your best gift to us.

But that’s a long way off, Lord. What about now? For now, we live in Minneapolis, not heaven. This is our home away from Home. We love our city. We love her winters — yes, we do — and cherish her spring. We love her great river and her parks. Her stadiums and her teams. We love her lakes and crystal air. We love her beautiful cityscape. We love her treelined neighborhoods, her industry, her arts, her restaurants, and recycling.

And we love her people. Her old immigrant Swedes and new immigrant Somalis. Her African Americans, her Asians, her Latinos. We love those with so many genetic roots they don’t know what box to check. We love her diversity — every human precious because you made each one like yourself and for your glory.

This is our home away from Home. We are sojourners and exiles in this city (1 Peter 2:11). So we ask again: For what have you saved us? Here and now?

Open our hearts to hear your answer, Lord: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).

Yes, Lord. Yes. This is our heart for Minneapolis. We seek her welfare. We pray on her behalf.

For those who knew George Floyd best and loved him most, bring them your consolation, and direct their hearts to the God of all comfort.

For Derek Chauvin, who put his knee on Floyd’s neck for seven minutes, until he died, we ask for the mercy of repentance and the judgment of justice. For officers Thomas Lane and Tou Thao and Alexander Kueng, who stood by, we pray that grief and fear will bear the fruit of righteous remorse; and may the seriousness of the killing and the cowardice of the complicity meet with proper penalties.

For the upright police who have watched all ten minutes of the unbearable video of Floyd’s dying, who consider it “horrific” and “inhuman,” who find it unbelievable that Chauvin did not say a single word for seven minutes as the man under his knee pled for his life, and who lament with dashed hopes that they must start again from “square one” to rebuild what meager trust they hoped to have won — for these worthy servants of our city, we pray that they would know the patient endurance of Jesus Christ, who suffered for deeds he did not do.

For police chief Medaria Arradondo, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, our Mayor Jacob Frey, and our Governor Tim Walz, we ask for the kind of wisdom that only God can give — the kind king Solomon had when he said, “Cut the baby in half” (1 Kings 3:16–28), and discovered the true mother.

May our leaders love the truth, seek the truth, stand unflinching for the truth, and act on the truth. Let nothing, O Lord, be swept under the rug. Forbid that any power or privilege would be allowed to twist or distort or conceal the truth, even if the truth brings the privileged, the rich, the powerful, or the poor, from the darkness of wrong into the light of right.

For the haters and the bitter and the hostile and the slanderers — of every race — we pray that they will see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). We pray that the light will banish darkness from their souls — the darkness of arrogance and racism and selfishness. We pray for broken hearts, because “a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

We pray that our city will see miracles of reconciliation and lasting harmony, rooted in truth and in the paths of righteousness. We pray for peace — the fullest enjoyment of shalom, flowing down from the God of peace, and bought at an infinite price for the brokenhearted followers of the Prince of Peace.

And as the scourge of COVID-19 has now killed 100,000 people in our nation, and still kills 20 people a day in our state — most of them in our city — and as the virus wreaks havoc with our economy, and riots send lifetimes of labor up in smoke, and the fabric of our common life is torn, we pray that the compounding of sorrows will not compound our sins, but send us desperate and running to the risen Savior, our only hope, Jesus Christ.

O Jesus, for this you died! That you might reconcile hopeless, hostile people to God and to each other. You have done it for millions by grace through faith. Do it, Lord Jesus, in Minneapolis, we pray. Amen.

Daily Light – May 29, 2020

From Chaos to Christ

Gratitude for Ravi Zacharias (1946–2020)

Article by Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

Countless thousands of us around the world, with tearful gratitude, are saying our earthly goodbyes to Ravi Zacharias, who passed away on May 19 after being diagnosed with cancer just a couple of months ago. Someone whose life enriches ours is worthy of honor — and, if he enriched us through faithfully laboring in preaching and teaching, double honor (1 Timothy 5:17). Ravi enriched mine.

I benefited from a number of Ravi’s books and many of his recorded messages. But what stands out most in my memory is reading Can Man Live Without God at a crucial time in my life nearly 25 years ago. I don’t know that I’ve read or heard a public intellectual more fluent and incisive regarding the history of Western philosophy and its consequences — at times horrifically brutal — on Western civilization, especially in the twentieth century. And this from someone born and raised in the East (India).

Ravi ruthlessly described the psychological and social ramifications of atheism’s existential meaninglessness and moral bankruptcy. If God doesn’t exist, the inescapable human need to make sense of the world has no foundation; it’s a castle in the air. If God doesn’t exist, we have no objective basis for our inescapable, deeply intuitive sense of good and evil; it’s a human construct projected onto an amoral reality, perhaps an adaptation favored by natural selection to advance our genes into future generations. Nothing more.

Once man realizes he has no inherent meaning and there are no objective morals — that he must create both himself — and once the restraining vestiges of theism have been removed, terrible consequences will follow. Chilling consequences like the Nietzschean superman madness of the Third Reich and the Marxian utopic madness of Soviet and Sino Communism and their unprecedented carnage. Or on the individual level, consequences like the violence and suicide that result from nihilism and existential despair.

Such despair was not theoretical for Ravi. At 17, seeing no hope for his future, he attempted suicide at his family’s home in Delhi. That proved to be the turning point. For Jesus, as he does for so many of his disciples, came to Ravi at his lowest point and gave him a future and a hope. A Youth for Christ worker visited him in the hospital and left him with this text: “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). In these written words, Ravi heard his living Lord speak, and this previously unremarkable teen made a remarkable resolution: “I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth.”

For more than half a century, Ravi not only relentlessly pursued the Truth (John 14:6), but relentlessly taught and defended the truth all over the world. The good fruit of his labors can be seen in the legacy of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), the Oxford Centre for Christian ApologeticsWellspring International (humanitarian aid), 28 books, and the list could go on and on.

All this is the harvest of a seed sown in a Delhi hospital bed after a failed suicide attempt. I would say the seed fell into good soil, though only Jesus would have known it at the time. One thing Ravi knew: he could not live without God. He spoke from his own experience when he wrote,

When man lives apart from God, chaos is the norm. When man lives with God, as revealed in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the hungers of the mind and heart find their fulfillment. For in Christ we find coherence and consolation as he reveals to us, in the most verifiable terms of truth and experience, the nature of man, the nature of reality, the nature of history, the nature of our destiny, and the nature of suffering. (Can Man Live Without God, 179)

I have one more reason to be grateful for the life and ministry of Ravi Zacharias: Michael Ramsden. Michael was installed last year as president of RZIM, succeeding Ravi. But prior to that, he led RZIM’s European outreach for many years. In the early 2000s, Michael graciously served on the board of Desiring God’s short-lived European arm, and he became a personal friend. More important than being perhaps the most brilliant person I have ever met, Michael is also among the most faith-filled, sincere, and humble people I have ever met. Ravi has handed this baton to another laborer worthy of double honor.

Father, thank you for the life of Ravi Zacharias. Thank you for showing him that he could not live without you. And when all he believed was that he could not live, thank you for showing him you. Thank you for his faithful and fruitful pursuit of stone-turning for the truth and for his double-honor-worthy labors in preaching and teaching and evangelizing and contending for the truth. Thank you that, in the words of Ajith Fernando, in “an era that has heralded the demise of reliance on objective truth as the primary source of direction to the lives of individuals,” Ravi showed “that a ministry committed to demonstrating the validity of objective truth is still relevant and desperately needed.”

Thank you for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of souls, like mine, that you have enriched and strengthened through Ravi. Thank you that he finished his course, kept the faith, left a legacy of financial and moral integrity, and enjoyed a strong marriage of 48 years. And thank you for the next generation of leaders in the RZIM family of ministries, who are taking the helm and leading in the same spirit and by the same Spirit. Give them a double portion of Ravi’s anointing. I have no doubt he would join me in saying, in Jesus’s name, amen.

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by SightThings Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife have five children and make their home in the Twin Cities.

Daily Light – May 28, 2020

One Could Never Say Enough

How Ethnicity Proclaims His Excellencies

Article by Marshall Segal, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

“Excuse me, but I just had to ask — Are you guys fighters?”

My two roommates and I were eating wings and watching football when the woman approached our table, puzzled and a little nervous. Of the three of us, I was easily the most flattered by the idea. No one had ever mistaken me for a combat athlete.

“Umm, no, we’re not.” I looked to my roommates while I spoke, just to make sure I hadn’t missed something. By the look on their faces, you would have thought she was speaking in Swedish.

“Oh,” she responded, disappointed and searching. “So are you actors?” When one roommate slowly shook his head, she finally asked, “Well, what are you, then?”

The answer really was simple, but it suddenly didn’t feel all that simple anymore. What my other roommate said next confused her even more. And yet he answered perfectly: “Well, we love Jesus.”

“Huh. My husband and I were over there trying to figure out how you three knew each other.” What had mystified this couple so deeply? A white man, a black man, and a Filipino man eating wings and watching football together.

‘Lest We Be Dispersed’

As we watched that woman walk away, we tasted something of what happened when God judged the world at Babel — when he made the people into peoples and, for the first time, alienated them from each other.

To be sure, the world had known division and hostility before Babel, even murderous hostility (Genesis 4:8), but apparently it had not yet experienced racial or ethnic hostility. Families and generations had multiplied from Adam to Noah, and then for 350 years after the flood, from Noah until Babel. And still, after nearly four centuries of being fruitful and multiplying, “The whole earth had one language and the same words” (Genesis 11:1).

Because the flood had not washed away their sin, however, their unity did not produce deep thanksgiving, but only accelerated their defiance. Instead of seeing the awesome image of God in themselves, they thought they saw something better than God.

Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:4)

Do you hear the ignorance and insurrection? Lest we be dispersed. And who, we might ask them, would disperse you? The God they thought they could eclipse and dethrone. And so, God does what any jealous and loving God would do: he brings “to nothing things that are” — like towers, and governments, and our own illusions of wisdom, power, and control — “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:28–29).

Walls of Our Pride

God came down to see their city and their tower, saying, “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:7). Then God did precisely what they thought they could prevent:

The Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:8–9)

Why did God divide and disperse them? Why insert the reality of ethnicity and alienate the unity of humanity? Because their oneness had begun to serve their pride, throwing gasoline on the sin that had ruined the garden (Genesis 3:5). What God did at Babel was an act of holy war against the sin under every other sin. He humbled the whole world, not because his sovereignty or glory was truly threatened — he has no rivals (Job 42:2) — but because if he let us build towers to ourselves, they would bury us deeper in rebellion and destruction.

Any complexity and difficulty in ethnic diversity, from Babel to today, is a blessed thorn meant to immerse us, all the more, in grace (2 Corinthians 12:7–9) — if we humble ourselves, repent, and focus on building his kingdom and church.

A People for All Peoples

Make no mistake: ethnic diversity is ultimately a blessing, not a curse, because humility is a blessing, not a curse. Like so much of the pain and groaning in history, it may have seemed like the hostilities were in Satan’s hands (and he certainly delighted in much of them), but we find out, just a few verses later, what God was really doing, at a far deeper and wiser level, when he confused and dispersed the peoples. Babel was about humbling humanity, but it was not finally about our humility; it was about his glory.

In the very next chapter, God chooses Abraham, out of all the people and ethnicities in the world, and births the new people of Israel. But before Abraham could take even the first step, before he built that first altar in the land of Canaan, God told him this was not about one nation, one people, one language, but about God having the whole world as his treasured possession:

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:2–3)

God did set Israel against many nations of the world, for long and devastating centuries, but any wars they made were meant to ultimately bring the nations — all the nations — home.

Truly Together, Undeniably Different

That great ingathering really does begin, here and there, throughout the Old Testament. As Daniel Hays traces so well, ancient Israel was not as homogeneous as we might assume — from the “mixed multitude” coming out of Egypt (Exodus 12:38), to Moses’s African wife from Cush (Numbers 12:18), through the “all the peoples” messages in the Psalms and Prophets.

But the flood walls really begin to break at Pentecost. Do you see the shadows of Babel’s tower in that terrifying and wonderful scene? As the winds and fire of heaven descend and surround them, Luke says,

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. (Acts 2:5–6)

What’s particularly striking about Pentecost, and perhaps surprising, is that God did not remove all the languages. Instead, he finally harmonized them at the deepest level. Each man kept his own language, and yet they suddenly understood one another. Across the barriers of distinct languages, and hostile cultures, and horrible histories, they were together again, by faith in Jesus and the indwelling of his Spirit — not wholly or pervasively yet, but truly and deeply. In Christ, God had finally remarried the peoples — to build not a tower, but a church (1 Peter 2:4–5).

Pentecost confirms, in bold colors, what God had said to Abraham: the dispersing at Babel was not mainly or ultimately a judgment, but a preparation, over thousands and thousands of years, for unparalleled glory. God had multiplied ethnicities, exponentially and across generations and continents, to do greater justice to the beauty, worth, and sacrifice of his Son.

One Is Not Enough

The beauty and worth of his sacrifice, however, will come into full definition only in the world to come. Then we finally will hear the melody of the song we have waited for:

Worthy are you to take the scroll
     and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
     from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
     and they shall reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:9–10)

One tribe could never say enough about this Christ. One language would never have enough words and nuances. One nation would never last long enough to see what many nations over many centuries could. Everything truly great and beautiful about every people group in history will be gathered and lifted before the throne, trying to capture just something of who this Lamb is. And though we will never fully capture him, we will capture far more because we are not the same.

Heaven proves that, in the wisdom, imagination, and creativity of God, diversity is vital to the supremacy of Jesus. If it did not reveal and exalt more of him, why would it be there?

At one level, then, our experience of the beauty and supremacy of Christ will always depend on the diversity of our fellowship. That doesn’t mean our more homogeneous communities are necessarily in sin (especially if our wider context is more homogeneous), but it does mean that for now we are missing out on something precious and eternal.

As long as everyone we know and love lives with our perspective, shares our background, and speaks our “language,” we see Christ mainly through that one window, that one angle, that one set of eyes and experiences. Our slice of the surpassing worth of Jesus is smaller, at least until we join in the explosively diverse choir and joy of heaven.

Treasure of the Nations

Our ethnic diversity is not an accident, nor merely a consequence of sin. God did disperse the peoples at Babel in order to humble each and every people (and ultimately Israel more than any other), but the humbling of God was meant to lead us into the hands of mercy, the wounds of his Son, and the hope of heaven. Anything different about those of us joined in Christ serves to show just how great a Lord, Redeemer, and Treasure he really is.

As my roommates and I watched that woman walk away from our table, we did experience some of the humbling, even maddening harshness of Babel, that birthplace of all racial tension and prejudice. But we also tasted, over wings and football, something of what heaven will be like. And something of how powerful and captivating Jesus really is. As different as we may seem to some, friendship has never been easier or sweeter or deeper, because we found each other in Christ.

Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have a son and live in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – May 27, 2020

Sell Yourself Short

The Rare Joy of Christian Humility

Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

We live in a day in which understatement is an endangered species. There is no shortage of embellishment and exaggeration. Public communication can feel like one grandiose soundbite after another. Parties, events, releases, contests, political rallies must be bigger and better than the last.

In our society of hype and hyperbole, pomp and posturing, we embellish our own online profiles, selecting our most flattering photo, highlighting our most impressive accomplishments, and filling our timeline with the confirming data, all carefully curated. We are enduring (not to overstate it) an epidemic of over-promising and under-performing. At least in the public eye, few seem to have the humility to speak, post, and report with the simple truth.

Sadly, we Christians often fall prey to this cultural pressure. This Sunday, this conference, this study, this book, this message must be more “epic” (talk about exaggeration) than the last. Such a penchant can be especially acute in church planting and other ministry startups, when our collective insecurities and immaturities conspire to make it feel like everything needs to sound better than it actually is, to make us seem stronger than we truly are, to give the impression we have momentum and staying power. Often, it’s all an elaborate and upbeat cover for feeling fragile, weak, and gnawingly uncertain.

But what if we unsubscribed from the madness? What if we asked ourselves, in such a world as ours, How do I humble myself?

Think Less of Yourself?

Wise men want to be humble. And yet, ironically, the first lesson we learn in the pursuit of humility is that it’s not something we can just up and do. The first step in seeking humility is a humbling one. Humility begins with God’s initiative, not ours.

However, even though self-humbling is beyond our control, God does give us the dignity of participating in the process, and the opportunity to prepare our hearts to be humbled. Romans 12:3, which is one of the most important words in the Bible about humility, gives us a glimpse into the kind of heart that is ready to receive God’s humbling hand whenever it falls:

I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

C.S. Lewis memorably observed that humility does not mean thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. More than just guarding against swollen views of self, the apostle Paul would have us “think with sober judgment” — which I take to mean, among other things, don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about yourself at all.

Yet self-awareness is a mercy, even if Paul would caution us against self-focus. What might it mean, then, as a Christian, to think with sober judgment about self?

Observe the World’s Pattern

First, we will do well to remember what kind of world we live in: one swollen with inflated views of self. We cannot take our bearings from our surroundings and at the same time cultivate sober judgment of ourselves. In the verse before Romans 12:3, Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

From the beginning, from humanity’s very first sin, we have been overestimating ourselves. And as sin — the great, deadly, rebellious impulse in the heart of the creature to overestimate self in the face of God — as sin has taken root, and grown, and spread, and borne fruit in our world, one age after another (apart from revival) has sought to outdo the others in self-regard.

Maybe modern humans are no more swollen with self-regard than our ancestors, but we do have a bigger box of powerful digital tools for going into all the world and preaching ourselves. It’s in the air. And on our screens. If we look at the world around us for our balance, we will soar in self-exaltation, or soon crash in self-pity.

We need to get our bearings before the face of God, with hearts daily and weekly recalibrated by the rhythms of God-conscious worship and devotion. For most of us, the outworking of genuine humility before God also will include owning our proneness to overestimate ourselves. Humility may feel like underestimating self because our age is so bent on overestimating. The goal is not to underestimate ourselves, though, but to think with sober judgment, in a generation inebriated with self.

Choosing the Lowest Place

Jesus told a parable when he saw the evidence of such overestimation (pride) in wedding invitees. Rather than presuming to sit in “the place of honor,” he instructed them instead,

Go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher.” Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:10–11)

Christ would have his people think of themselves as ordinary, not special. As lowly, normal, one of the flock, not as a rabbi, teacher, instructor (Matthew 23:8–12). Not as a cut above the common man, but as happily ordinary, even gladly a servant. Even as a child (Matthew 18:3), as one who knows his smallness and dependence. Such people feel no need to pretend to be strong and self-sufficient; they are happily God-reliant and self-admittedly lowly, too modest to pretend otherwise.

Speak with Sober Judgment About Self

So, we reject the world’s pattern of self-exaltation and self-pity, but how will we discern what we really think about ourselves — and whether it is sober or swollen? It will come out of our mouths.

Consider the countless junctures in everyday life when how we think about ourselves comes out for all to hear and see. How do you introduce yourself to a new person? How do you “tell your story,” and what do you foreground? How polished a version of yourself do you put forward online? How often do your words slide into the humble-brag, not to mention your social-media posts? Do you presume and anticipate public acknowledgement and appreciation from others? Do you deliberately self-denigrate, hoping someone will swoop in and correct you? Do you presume the greater seat or happily head for the gallery?

Thinking with sober judgment may begin in our heads and hearts, but it comes out in our words. And our words in the world not only reveal our inner person, but also then shape our minds and hearts going forward.

Secure Enough to Be Small

It is humility, after all, that goes hand in hand with what we call “understatement.”

Understatement, as a figure of speech, has long had the technical title “tapinosis,” based on the Greek for humility (tapeinosis). It is humble to understate certain realities (especially our own abilities and accomplishments) and allow our hearers to experience the rare joy (almost inaccessible in modern life) of discovering something is more impressive than promised. And it’s humble to understate ourselves such that some listeners may never know the full force of it — because we are secure enough in Christ to have our qualities go unacknowledged.

When Christ is our security, we learn to be content with our lives being more dramatic in reality than in our telling of them, whether in conversations or online. Rather than making subtle, and sometimes shameless, efforts to have others think we’re more impressive than we really are, we’re happy to have them underestimate what otherwise might amaze.

Ultimately, it is the bigness and unsurpassed beauty of Christ, who is “the radiance of the glory of God” (Hebrews 1:3) and whose worth we cannot overstate, that frees us from exaggeration and inspires us to understate self.

As we’re increasingly impressed with him, we lose our need to be impressed with ourselves.

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.

Daily Light – May 26, 2020

What Billions Say in Silence

The Deafening Sermons of the Stars

Article by Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

“When I look at the stars, I see someone else.” (Switchfoot)

When David looked up in the Near Eastern night sky 3,000 years ago, what he saw almost took his breath away. And in an attempt to express the wonder that flooded him as he contemplated his minuteness in view of such vastness, and God’s design in it all, he did something uniquely human: he transposed his awe into art.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:3–4)

The “heavens,” that mysterious realm of marvelous lights, have astonished mankind from our earliest days. When we look at the heavens today, our understanding of what we see, due to advances in science and technology, far exceeds David’s understanding. David only had a hint of how minute he was in relation to the heavens. Our fuel for awe is astronomically greater. We know more, but do we marvel more?

Silent Sermons of the Stars

The starlit sky is speaking. In Psalm 19, which C.S. Lewis considered “one of the greatest lyrics in the world” (Reflections on the Psalms), David again wrote,

The heavens declare the glory of God,
     and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
     and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
     whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
     and their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:1–4)

If the heavens are the work of God’s “hands,” and if they are declaring the glory of God, what are these silent preachers telling us? To listen closely, I have leaned on David Blatner’s book, Spectrums: Our Mind-Boggling Universe from Infinitesimal to Infinity to help capture the wonder of what we too often take for granted.

All That We (Do Not) Know

When David surveyed the sky, part of what he saw belonged to our solar system (sun, moon, and a couple “stars” that were really planets), part belonged to our Milky Way galaxy, and part were distant stars and (probably) other faraway galaxies. David would have barely had a clue how massive and distant these heavenly bodies were.

To give us some perspective, Blatner writes, “if our solar system . . . were the size of a grain of salt, the Milky Way galaxy would be about the length of a football field.” That “milky” stripe we can see on a clear, dark night is a dense collection of stars in one of the Milky Way’s spiral arms — and it’s about 1,000 light-years thick! And what these starry arms (and we with them) are spiraling around is a supermassive black hole, called Sagittarius A, located about 27,000 light-years from us. Scientists estimate that our galaxy is about 100,000 light-years wide.

Looking at the sky with the naked eye, as David did, we can see a few thousand stars at most. But, “look through the telescope, do the math, and you’ll find there are somewhere between 200 and 400 billion stars in the Milky Way.” That’s a lot of stars! But our neighboring galaxy Andromeda appears to contain a trillion or more stars.

And that’s not even a chip on the tip of the cosmic iceberg. A recent estimate of the total number of galaxies in the universe is 150 to 200 billion, but the Hubble Telescope is indicating that the real number might be ten times that amount. And when it comes to the total number of stars, we really don’t know. One estimate is around 1 septillion (that’s a “1” followed by 24 zeros). And all this inhabits a universe that has an estimated radius of about 46 billion light-years.

All this information doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what we as a species collectively now know. And scientists say that what we now know barely scratches the surface of what we don’t yet know.

What Are the Heavens Declaring?

So, if these heavens declare the glory of God, what are they declaring?

Having spent hours pouring over scientific expositions of the silent sermons of the starry hosts, I first want to put my hand over my mouth. I want to say with Job that far too often “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). I fear trivializing what is ineffably profound.

These glory heralds don’t have three points and an application. They join all who in the presence of God cry “Glory!” (Psalm 29:9); they join all who in the presence of God cry, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Revelation 4:8). And it seems to me that worshipful prayer is the only appropriate response.

PRAYING THROUGH THE HEAVENS

Lord God Almighty, when I look to your heavens, I join the choir in ascribing to you absolute glory. And I echo David in saying, “What is man, who occupies this pale blue dot, a dust mote in the vast heavens, that you are mindful of him? And who am I, a man so often consumed with the tiny microcosm of my own concerns, to speak of you who speaks this whole cosmos into being? Indeed, ‘there is none like you’” (Psalm 86:8).

When I look to your heavens, I hear them declare that there is none like you possessing such wisdom. For you, Lord, “by understanding . . . established the heavens” (Proverbs 3:19), “determin[ing] the number of the stars [and giving] to all of them their names” (Psalm 147:4), and conferring upon each one unique aspects of your glory (1 Corinthians 15:41). And they declare that your wisdom is infinitely greater than ours: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). In view of such wisdom, I repent of all my foolish leaning on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

When I look to your heavens, I hear them declare that there is none like you who possesses such power. For “by the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host” (Psalm 33:6). For it is you alone “who brings out [this] host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of [your] might and because [you are] strong in power, not one is missing” (Isaiah 40:26). Yes, “yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. . . and you are exalted as head above all” (1 Chronicles 29:11). In view of such omnipotence, I repent of all my foolish trust in the strength of man (Psalm 118:8).

When I look to your heavens, I hear them declare your sheer immensity, since even “the highest heaven cannot contain you” (1 Kings 8:27). And they declare your incomparable creativity, since “the universe was created by [your] word, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). And they declare your supreme authority, since “all things were made through [you], and without [you] was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). And they declare your sovereignty (Psalm 115:3), your righteousness (Psalm 50:6), your faithfulness (Genesis 15:5–6), and your steadfast love (Psalm 136:9). In view of such glory, I repent of my foolish, selfish pride and bow my knee and confess with my tongue that Jesus Christ, the Word through whom the cosmos was created (John 1:3) and the Word made flesh (John 1:14), “is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10–11).

More Valuable Than Galaxies

When David looked up at the heavens, he did not know what we now know: the unfathomable extent and scope of the universe. And when he asked, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4), he did not know what we now know: the unfathomable extent and scope of God’s care for us in sending the incarnate Jesus “to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

The heavens will not tell us that Jesus came or why. Only Scripture’s special revelation tells us that. But the heavens do declare in a silent shout, literally around the whole world, glorious things about our Creator’s and Savior’s “eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20).

All that is involved in creation and all that is involved in redemption is nothing less than fearful and wonderful. The deeper we look into these things, the more fearful and wonderful it all becomes. A child can take joy in the sun, the moon, the stars, and the empty tomb. And scholars will never plumb the full depths of such glorious things. But children and scholars alike can take comfort in this: the God who remembers the names of a sextillion stars, and knows all sextillion molecules in a drop of water, knows and remembers us.

God does not measure value or significance in size, but in his creative design. The cross reminds us that he is mindful of us in ways that galaxies will never know. Of how much more value are you than they?

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by SightThings Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife have five children and make their home in the Twin Cities.