From the Pastor’s Desk
If My People
September 6, 2020
More times than I can recount the words have confronted me: what are we are to do in these times? Why is there so much turmoil, hatred, and fear? Are we being manipulated and isolated? The cures to pandemics and fiscal uncertainty and racial tensions are exponentially worse than the problems themselves. Who is behind all this? There is nothing we can do. I have but one certain answer to these questions. The Lord has hemmed us in. Evil men are lurking, planning, and scheming, but the Lord has done it. Disease or treachery, chastisement or tyranny, he has done it purposefully and wisely.
If we hope for a political solution, I fear we shall be miserably disappointed. We are a group of diverse peoples flung together for a variety of reasons, calling ourselves one nation, but bound together not by common faith, history, and sacrifice but largely for economic reasons. We have very different worldviews, different histories, and competing aims for life and society. Add to this milieu the very real suffering from job losses and the growing despair and unparalleled fear, and we must confess that there are no human saviors or solutions.
This is by no means a declaration of surrender or despair, but a call to be what God has redeemed us to be: his people. The salvation of the world does not lie in this world but in the kingdom from above, submission to the righteous rule of Jesus Christ. Below, here on earth, “my people,” the redeemed from every “kindred, tongue, people, and nation,” are the pillar and ground of the truth. His people are the custodians, humanly speaking of the King’s everlasting gospel and the ambassadors of reconciliation to the world. Good times or bad, who we are in Christ and in his body does not alter but becomes more significant and consuming. We worship God, raise our families to fear him, work for his glory, defend his truth, and resist evil.
But what are God’s people to do? I have thought a good deal lately about Solomon’s famous prayer recorded in 2 Chronicles 7. Against all despair and hopelessness, the Spirit of truth reminds us that we are called by God’s name (v. 14). We are baptized into that glorious name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a name that no one knows but the man who receives it (Rev. 2:17). The world does not know us, because it does not know him (1 John 3:1). But the Lord has shined in our hearts to give the knowledge of his glory and truth (2 Cor. 4:6). By believing on the name of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of sinners, we are brought by grace and adoption into the family of God, bear his name, and have all the protection, light, help, and hope that come with God’s name.
God’s name upon us cannot be erased, for Jesus Christ can lose none of his sheep. Our names are written indelibly in his book because his name is written upon us. In all times, God’s name is what defines Christians. The privileges of being called by God’s name, of being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, come to all Christians, independently of their circumstances and blood. All that we are humanly speaking is now sanctified to the glory of God’s name. In these times, our first and clear duty is to bear God’s name with joy, honor, boldness, with fervent love to all who are in the household of faith.
Although we bear God’s name, he sends affliction (v. 13). It may be due to our own sins or the hatred of the world. We must humble ourselves before him when seasons of affliction come. We must not be surprised by them, but think of them as invitations from the Lord to seek him with greater fervor and faith. As godly as Daniel was, when he was perplexed and desired to understand God’s word spoken through Jeremiah, he “set his face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Dan. 9:3). He began with a confession of his sins. He did not confess the sins of the Babylonians. He did not look for an answer from the power structures and experts of his day. It is tempting for us to blame our troubles upon the world, but what humility is to come from the children of disobedience? None. Are those who hate God able to see their own sins? Will they recognize that they have offended him and suddenly confess their sins and that we are suffering these judgments because of them? I think not. God is calling his people at this moment to humility – to esteem his majesty, to be seriously displeased with ourselves, and trust his name as our only salvation and deliverance.
But what is that humility that is so highly valued in the Lord’s eyes, the meek and lowly heart of our Savior, the humbling before God that leads to being lifted up by God? Solomon describes it as “seek my face.” To seek God’s face is more than perfunctory prayers – praying out of habit, praying without an engaged mind, praying coldly because it is expected, praying selfishly. To seek God’s face is to come before him in that spirit of humility that says, “I am nothing; you are everything. My only hope is your mercy in Jesus Christ. My confidence is that you are faithful to your promises. I have often offended and provoked you, but I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes. Woe is my, for I am undone.” Consult the prayers of Daniel and Job, hear our Savior in Gethsemane, and you will learn what it is to seek God’s face. Pray for this heart, this grace.
Faith must receive a heavenly impetus and invitation to seek God in this way. Most often he drives us through confusion, trouble, and affliction to seek his face. Always there is sincere, broken-hearted repentance if God is rightly sought. Because seeking God’s face is so self-emptying, we shall stumble over this rough terrain, but God always recognizes his name upon us, for we believe upon his Son’s name. We have an Advocate with the Father. Let the Psalms guide you, a sense of overwhelming need spur you, a broken and contrite heart motivate you, and above all, confidence in God’s name settle you. His name is “the Lord, the Lord God, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in steadfast love and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.” We are his people; we have his promise that when we seek him with all our hearts, then we shall find him.
All seeking like this involves repentance. It is an odd thing about Daniel’s prayer that he spends much time doing what is utterly distasteful to those who have no true religion – honest, soul-searching repentance, personal and corporate, abasing yet also elevating. Repentance is a vital component of the true gospel. Humility before God detests its sins and rests in his mercy alone. It is resolved to forsake its sins. Again, we spend too much time complaining that the world will not forsake its sins, but have we forsaken ours? Dead men do not leave the graveyard; men made alive by Christ must be constantly shaking off the old grave clothes of sin. The promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14 is not based upon the world’s repentance, but ours. This should be a great comfort and confidence to us in evil times. We cannot control or change the world, at least not directly. God does both. He brings healing when as we humble seek him and resolve before his holiness and in the power of his grace to forsake our sins and to live by the power of his indwelling Spirit as his repentant and obedient people.
It is very strange in our evil age to put the spotlight upon our sins, but this is where God places it. It is so much more gratifying to our pride to think of all the wicked things others are doing, and then to blame them for our troubles. This is not how the Lord looks at things. He hems us in by trials to bring us to repentance so that we walk in humbler communion with him, learn obedience by our sufferings, and cast ourselves upon his promises. Only then, in dependence upon his forgiveness and favor, can we forsake our sins and live obediently in joy. Then, he will heal our land.
Is this not what we desire, for our land to be healed? For all the murdering of babies, needless foreign wars, unspeakable depravity, hatred among men, divorce, fornication, tyrannies, oppressive bureaucracies, and all the other evils that provoke God to his face, do we not crave healing from these evils? Do we want Jesus Christ to come to our land and cleanse lepers, give sight to the blind, free the prisoners, and establish peace and justice? Do we want him to come and heal our churches from false gospels and worldly fears and theological accommodation? I dare not prescribe to Him what healing in our land might look like. It will not be a revival of Americanism, prosperity by the printing press, and salvation through government. It will be a humbling healing, like Naaman washing in the Jordan, the bloody woman crawling to Jesus, and the Samaritan woman confessing her sins to everyone. Let us leave the healing to the Healer. Let us prepare the way for him, as John did, by humbling ourselves before him, seeking his face, and turning from our sins. We have his promise. Let us unite in this holiest of pilgrimages to return to God. Our land will not. Only God’s people can. We must, for we have God’s gracious promise. We must return to God with all our heart, or else our land will not be healed by God’s power and return to its King and Savior.