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By David Mathis — 4 days ago
We ended the first session, and Look #5, with why Jesus was despised, rejected, and crushed to death at the cross: for us, for “the many,” for those who receive him through faith (Isaiah 53:4–6). I noted there, at the end, “the joy set before him.” That, as Isaiah 53:11 foretold, “out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied.” In other words, it pleased him. He delighted to be put to death. His willing was not an empty willing but a full, satisfied willing — full enough to sustain him in horrifying agony and suffering.
But what such joy requires is resurrection. If Jesus stays dead, there is no joy, no delight, no God-honoring and church-loving willingness. But resurrection is right there in Isaiah 53:10–12:
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors;yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
So much there: substitution, willing submission, intercession (which we’ll come to). But for now, amazingly, resurrection:
Verse 10: “He shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.”
Verse 11: “He shall see [his offspring] and be satisfied.”
Verse 12: “I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death.”
The resurrection is not icing on the cake of Christianity. With Christ’s life and his death, it is the cake. If he did not rise, then he is dead — and it all falls apart. Unlike with sacrificial animals, appointed as a temporary provision, the once-for-all salvation is not accomplished without the resurrection of the suffering servant.
So before we go on, here are our five looks at Jesus so far:
He delighted his Father before creation.
He became man.
He lived for his Father’s glory.
He humbled himself.
He died for sins not his own.
Now, to the rest of our ten looks at Christ.
Look #6: He rose again.
Colossians 1:15–20 might be the most important six consecutive verses in the Bible. Here we find both creation and salvation cast in utterly Christ-centered terms:
[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead.” During his life, all those he restored to life died again. But when Jesus rose again, he rose never to die again.
Our key term for Look #6 is resurrection. Which means not to be restored to your fallen, human body to die again, but to rise in your body to the indomitable life of the next age. It is a real body. In fact, we might even say a more real body. What will be true of us was true of Christ’s human body first. 1 Corinthians 15:42–44:
What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body [not a spirit but a spiritual body]. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
So resurrection refers first to Jesus’s human body, then also, in him, to ours. And the resurrection of Christ not only made good on God’s word, and not only vindicated Christ’s sinless life, and not only confirmed the achievement of his death, and not only gives us access to his work, but the resurrection means he is alive to know and enjoy forever.
There is no final good news if our Treasure and Pearl of Great Price is dead. Even if our sins could be paid for, righteousness provided and applied to us, and heaven secured, but Jesus were still dead, there would be no great salvation in the end. At the very center of Christ’s resurrection is not what he saves us from, but what he saves us to — better, whom he saves us to: himself.
Look #7: He ascended into heaven.
Twice Luke writes about Jesus’s ascension. The first time at the end of his Gospel, Luke 24:50–51:
[Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.
Then, in more detail, at the beginning of Acts:
When [the disciples] had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:6–11)
So, Luke 24 says, “He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” And Acts 1 says, “He was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” Then the angel says, “Jesus . . . was taken up from you into heaven.”
Jesus — in his risen human body — was lifted up, carried up, taken up, until a cloud shielded the sight of his apostles, and he was gone. And this was no novelty act. This was crucial for the presentation of his finished work in the very presence of the Father and for the fulfilling of the ancient prophesies of his sitting on David’s throne and ruling as sovereign over the nations.
Luke 24 and Acts 1 give us the earthly vantage of his ascension. But we also get a glimpse from the other side in Hebrews 1. His ascension, human body and all, brings him to heaven, and Hebrews 1 captures something of this great moment of his processing to the throne and being crowned king of the universe. Hebrews 1:3 says,
After making purification for sins [that is, through his death, and being raised and ascending], he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
Hebrews 1:5 then takes the great coronation hymn of Psalm 2 and applies its Messianic declaration to Jesus as the heir of David: “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” And Hebrews 1:6 says that “when he brings [carries, lifts up, takes up] the firstborn into the world [that is, “the world to come,” Hebrews 2:5], he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’”
All this to set the scene for Psalm 110 in Hebrews 1:13: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Not a full account, by any means, but a taste of that climactic moment of coronation on the other side of the ascension.
Enthroned as Man
There are two critical realities worth mentioning with his enthronement and sitting down. (1) In taking his seat on the very throne of heaven, he comes into the fullness of divine sovereignty, and now as man. As he says at the end of Matthew, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). It always was his as God. But now, he has come into full possession of the divine rule over the universe and all nations as man, sitting as the climactic human king on the throne of heaven.
“From heaven’s throne, the risen Christ pours out his Holy Spirit in new measure on his people.”
Which leads then to (2) his pouring out his Spirit (Acts 1:8: “When the Holy Spirit has come upon you . . .”). From heaven’s throne, the risen Christ pours out his Holy Spirit in new measure on his people for the accomplishing of his ongoing work in the world of applying his salvation to his people.
Perhaps you know from the Apostles’ Creed: “He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.” Now as we move from Look #7 to Look #8, we move from past to present, from ascended and enthroned to is seated and is interceding.
Look #8: He intercedes for us.
Present tense. This is what Jesus is doing right now — interceding. Until now, we’ve rehearsed seven past-tense verbs: delighted, became, devoted, humbled, died, rose, ascended. But now: intercedes.
Now he “is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty,” and as Isaiah 53:12 says, he “makes intercession for the transgressors.” As Romans 8:34 celebrates, “Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” But our main text for Look #8 is Hebrews 7:25:
He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
Our key term: intercession. So what does it mean in general and specifically, as it relates to what Jesus is doing right now? In general, to intercede means to go between two parties in an effort (1) to reconcile them to each other or (2) to advocate for one with the other. We often talk about interceding in prayer when we pray on another’s behalf, but the specific kind of interceding Jesus does for his people, with the Father, is distinct from our praying for each other.
“There is one God,” says 1 Timothy 2:5, “and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” So Jesus’s intercession for us is not an asking on our behalf based on the mediation of another. Jesus is the mediator. He himself is the intercession. And so Hebrews 7:25 says, “He always lives to make intercession [for us].”
Which means that with his every breath, with every beat of his indestructible new-creation heart, he is our living, indissoluble link to God. I don’t think we’re to picture Christ in heaven as our intercessor, on his knees, begging the Father, “Please, don’t destroy him — I’m asking for that one.” No, he ever lives to make intercession for his people. How does he do it? He lives. If we are his, and he is alive, then his very life, his very breath, the very beating of his glorified human heart (that will never stop beating), intercedes for all those joined to him by faith.
Seated in heaven, Jesus is not anxious or uncertain. He is not scurrying around heaven’s throne room. He lives. He sits on heaven’s throne, secure and utterly stable, in perfect heavenly equanimity and composure, interceding for his people with God almighty by his very life and breath. And as the Apostles’ Creed confesses, “From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.”
Look #9: He will come again.
Now to the future: his second coming, and with it, the final judgment. This is the next distinct step in history. He will return and bring with him the fullness of mercy and grace to his people, and at long last perfect and final justice to the world. “He comes on that day,” says Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1:10, “to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.”
“Jesus is coming back. And those who reject him will stand in terror. And those who love him will thrill at his coming.”
Jesus is coming back. And those who despise and reject him — whether through apathy or outright hatred — will stand in terror. And those who love him will thrill at his coming and marvel at him, which will glorify him, and receive rewards from him, the righteous judge.
One of the great glories of Christ is that God will judge the world through him. When Peter opens his mouth to proclaim the message of Christ to the Gentiles for the first time, he not only recounts Christ’s death and resurrection and the witnesses “who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:39–41). But he also says that Jesus commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that “he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42).
And Paul preached in Acts 17, God “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). Let’s consider five distinct aspects of this coming justice (our key word for Look #9).
1. He will come in glory.
First and foremost, this second coming, as final judge, is very much about the glory of Christ. His saints will marvel; his enemies will cower. “The Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father” (Matthew 16:27), and “the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him” (Matthew 25:31). No eye will miss this (Revelation 1:7). No corner of the earth will be unaware. All else will stop. Every eye will see him — in his glory.
2. All will stand before him.
But not only will every eye see him. Every person will stand before him. “Each person,” says Jesus (Matthew 16:27). “Each one,” says the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 5:10). And not just those alive at the time but “the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42; Romans 14:9; 2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5). “We will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:10). And whom will we see seated on that throne? “Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead” (2 Timothy 4:1).
3. He will separate wheat and weeds.
Then, for those who are in him by faith, there will come a glorious and perfect discrimination:
Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matthew 25:32)
In this glorious and horrifying moment, all human pretenses and illusions will be stripped away, and one thing will matter: Are you wheat or weed? As the Judge had said in his first coming, “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn’” (Matthew 13:30) — and it will be a spectacular barn.
4. He will remedy every wrong.
First the weeds, he said, will be bundled and burned. And in that day, every just cry for justice will be answered, and far more fully and finally than we are able to answer pleas for justice in this age. We will put our hands over our mouths as the risen, omnipotent Lamb executes perfect justice in his perfect righteousness, with no excess and no compromise.
How many seemingly irreconcilable conflicts in this age, which our judges and judicial systems stumble over again and again, await the day when the Judge finally comes and sets all to rights? And we will marvel at his justice.
5. He will reward the righteous.
Finally, he will gather the wheat into his barn. Having remedied every wrong, he will reward every cup of cold water given in his name (Matthew 10:42). He will reward the righteous — those who are righteous ultimately by faith but also in true measure by the Spirit.
In his extravagant generosity, grace, and mercy, he will lavish his people not only with entrance to a new heavens and new earth, where righteousness dwells, but on top of it all, he will reward his people for what good they have done “in the body” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
On that great day, we will see it with our own eyes — and feel its full effects as recipients of his great mercy by faith: our advocate will stand supreme as final judge and complete the arc of his glories as the God-man.
And so one last Look remains: eternity future.
Look #10: We will enjoy him forever.
In an important sense, Look #10 is not the end but a new beginning. Now, and till then, “we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now [we] know in part; then [we] shall know fully, even as [we] have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). “When he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). To see him, face to face, in his glory — with all history complete — will be not only to know him but to enjoy him, in that great climactic moment, and increasingly forever.
In Revelation 5, the scene is set in heaven. The apostle John sees a scroll in the hand of the one seated on the throne. In verse 2, an angel lifts up his voice and asks, “Who is worthy to open the scroll?” And heaven goes quiet. No one is worthy. And John says he began to weep because none were found worthy. Then one of the elders of heaven turns and says to him,
“Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:5)
Then John reports, “I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, . . . they sang a new song, saying,
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.
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne . . . the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,to receive power and wealth and wisdom and mightand honor and glory and blessing! (Revelation 5:5–12)
So, John sees a Lamb who is the Lion. He sees one who had been slain now standing, risen. He sees one who is worthy, like no one else is worthy, to take the scroll of history from the hand of God almighty and open it. He sees a lion-like Lamb and a lamb-like Lion who in the very presence of God almighty in heaven receives the praises of heaven’s angels and myriads of myriads.
“Our sight of Christ and nearness to him and enjoyment of him will not be momentary, but eternal.”
Our last key term is beatific vision, which means literally “the sight that makes happy.” This is the great Happiness to come, the final happiness for which our souls have longed our whole human lives. And as much as we long for that coming first instance, our sight of Christ and nearness to him and enjoyment of him will not be momentary, or static, but eternal and dynamic — ever increasing, ever progressing, ever clearer, ever deeper, ever sweeter.
The one who once, in his state of humiliation, “had no form or majesty that we should look at him” (Isaiah 53:2), will be the supremely Majestic One from whom we will never want to turn away our gaze. We, his people, will be his bride, and he will be our Groom to enjoy forever. Not only will we have him as ours, but he will have us as his. Then we will delight in, and increasingly so forever, “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
One Look at Yourself?
So, ten Looks at Christ. Seven past, one present, two future:
Preexistence: He delighted his Father before creation.
Incarnation: He became man.
Devotion: He lived to His Father’s glory.
Submission: He humbled himself.
Substitution: He died for others’ sins.
6 Resurrection: He rose again to eternal, glorified human life.
Ascension: He was lifted up to heaven (and sat down as king).
Intercession: He intercedes for us.
Justice: He will come again to right every wrong and reward.
Beatific Vision: He will be our delight forever.
For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. And after these ten looks at Jesus, might we end with one look at ourselves? I won’t pretend to know what the particular need is for you.
Perhaps here tonight you’ve heard Jesus’s whole story, from beginning to end, for the first time.
Or perhaps you’ve heard it before, at least in bits and pieces, but it’s never been compelling until, strangely, somehow, tonight. Maybe your looks at Jesus have been few and far between. But ten looks kept your eyes on him longer than ever before, and your heart is swelling with admiration.
Or perhaps you’ve heard his story before, you know it well, and now you’re encountering him again tonight.
And there is so much more to behold. So let me end where we began, and make Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s counsel to a friend a happy exhortation to us:
Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in His beams. Feel His all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and [rest] in His almighty arms.
By Marshall Segal — 1 year ago
I had never thought of myself as passive. Throughout high school and college, and all throughout my twenties, I had been the driven dreamer and achiever. I thought of myself as the organized one, the proactive one, the disciplined one, the visionary. I was the one who initiated next steps, important meetings, needed changes, group plans, hard conversations.
And then I married, and marriage showed me sides of myself I had never had to see.
A man does not change much by making vows and putting on a ring, but an awful lot changes for a man that day. The apostle Paul tried to prepare us: “The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided” (1 Corinthians 7:32–34). Divided me was not as put-together and proactive as single me had been. And as the pressures rose and the cracks began to show, I suddenly saw just how tempted to self-pity and passivity I could be.
What God Expects of Husbands
Over the first year or two of marriage, the passivity of Christian husbands went from a foreign and somewhat perplexing problem to a profoundly familiar and personal and humbling one. Vision and initiative were easier, in some ways, when they were fenced into certain parts of my life. Now, as two became one, all of life required a leading love.
Will I give myself up for her good again today (Ephesians 5:25)? Will I keep pursuing her, studying her, wooing her? Will I develop and carry out a vision for our family? Will I consistently open the Bible and pray with them? Will I lead our family in loving and serving the church? Will I lean into conflict with patience and love, or will I withdraw? Will I anticipate our family’s needs and preserve space to rest? Will I discipline our children, even when I’m tired? Will I bring up difficult conversations and make tough decisions? Or, like Adam, when God comes calling, will I hide and point the finger somewhere else (Genesis 3:12)?
God expects much from husbands. As my senses have been heightened to my own tendencies to passivity, stories of husbands in Scripture — good and bad — have come alive with greater gravity and relevance for marriage.
Weak and Wicked Example
God often trains men to be faithful husbands and fathers by giving us great examples to follow — the faith of Abraham, the conviction of Moses, the leadership of Joshua, the wisdom of Solomon, the heart of David. Sometimes, however, God trains us for faithfulness by showing us just how wicked men can be. He trains us to love by showing us men who failed to love, to lead by showing us men who failed to lead, to fight by showing us men who refused to fight, to die for others by showing us men who saved themselves.
And as husbands and fathers go, few were as corrupt and shameful as King Ahab.
“Sometimes God trains us for faithfulness by showing us just how wicked men can be.”
When we first meet the man, Scripture tells us, “Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him” (1 Kings 16:29–30). The kings before him were a cauldron of evil — conspiring, deceiving, stealing, murdering, and in it all, insulting God by choosing idols over him. Ahab, we learn, was worse than them all.
And his marriage was at the center of his rebellion. “As if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him” (1 Kings 16:31). He first mocked God by marrying an idolator, and then — as God warned would happen — he caved and bowed in submission to her and her god.
The facets of Ahab’s wickedness are worthy of much reflection, but here I want to focus on a scene that exposes the allure and peril of his passivity.
Seduction of Self-Pity
When 1 Kings 21 opens, Ahab covets the vineyard of his neighbor, Naboth, and asks to buy it from him — disregarding God’s law that prevented the permanent sale of land (Leviticus 25:23). Naboth doesn’t merely refuse because he wants to keep his land; he refuses because to do otherwise would be to disregard God. Now watch how Ahab responds, crumbling into self-pity and passivity:
Ahab went into his house vexed and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him, for he had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and would eat no food. (1 Kings 21:4)
The most powerful man in the land curled up in a ball, like a brokenhearted teenager. He refused to eat. He pouted because he didn’t get his way. He’s almost a parody of passivity — almost. As pitiful as the cry-baby king seems, many husbands will know something of the temptation he indulged. Self-pity is strangely seductive, and can be equally paralyzing. It can keep a man from confessing his sin, from initiating reconciliation, from picking up the phone, from attempting family devotions, from making a difficult decision or taking the hard next step.
What happens next, as Ahab nurses his hurt feelings, compounds his shame all the more. See how self-pity imprisons and disables him.
Passivity Encourages Iniquity
Knowing his wife and what she was capable of, Ahab should have stepped up to stop her — for the good of Naboth and those who loved him, for the good of the kingdom, for the good of his own soul, for the good of his wife. A passive husband will inevitably enable and encourage the sins of his wife (and vice versa!). When Jezebel sees how miserable and pathetic poor King Ahab is, she takes matters into her own hands. She says to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Arise and eat bread and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite” (1 Kings 21:7). Ahab’s sorry silence suggests he was all too glad to acquiesce.
So Jezebel instructed the leaders in Naboth’s city to kill him. She wrote letters (and signed them with Ahab’s name and seal), saying, “Set two worthless men opposite him, and let them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out and stone him to death” (1 Kings 21:10). The greed, the deceit, the robbery, the conspiracy, the murdering of a blameless man. These were the weeds of wickedness in full bloom.
We could explore the devilry of Jezebel — a wife so awful Jesus himself uses her as a metaphor for immorality (Revelation 2:20). For now, however, notice how her peculiar sins were kindled by her husband’s passivity. While he wallowed in self-pity, he nurtured her iniquity. Had he had the conviction and nerve (and honor) to act as God called him to, he likely could have prevented all that unfolded here. He could have saved a good man’s life.
But he stayed in bed instead. Ahab proves that sometimes a man who does nothing is as harmful as the man who does the wrong thing.
“Sometimes a man who does nothing is as harmful as the man who does the wrong thing.”
A good husband cannot keep his wife from sinning, but he also will not lie on the couch while she does. A bad husband — especially a passive husband — will encourage her to sin all the more. In the challenging moments of our own marriages, some men will lie down like Ahab, others will rise up like the man we meet next.
Refusing the Pull of Passivity
Jezebel tells Ahab that Naboth is dead and that his vineyard is now available. “As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab arose to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it” (1 Kings 21:16). Again, the passivity. Not, What have you done? Not, How did he die? Not, Is this dead man’s vineyard mine to have? No, “as soon as he heard that Naboth was dead,” he finally found the strength to leave his bed and went to enjoy another man’s field.
“Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite” (1 Kings 21:17). As much as I despise how selfish, passive, and evil Ahab was, I admire all the more the man who stepped up to confront him. While Naboth’s innocent blood ran in the street, the prophet Elijah came knocking at Ahab’s door — notice he comes to Ahab, not Jezebel — with a word from the Lord: “You have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord” (1 Kings 21:20).
They had just killed a man for refusing to sell them a vineyard. Imagine what evil they might do to a man who accused them like this. While other men watched and stayed silent (and even participated in the injustice), one refused the pull of passivity and embraced the costs of obedience. He would rather die than sit and watch God’s law be vandalized.
Don’t miss what God says next through Elijah. Ahab’s passivity would come back not just on his own head, but on the heads of all he loved — his sons, their sons, his wife: “I will utterly burn you up, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel . . . for the anger to which you have provoked me, and because you have made Israel to sin. And of Jezebel the Lord also said, ‘The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the walls of Jezreel’” (1 Kings 21:21–23).
Ahab’s judgment is a vivid, bloody picture of how unchecked sin ruins a home. When a husband grows passive, the whole family suffers — perhaps not in judgment like Jezebel, but they will suffer nonetheless.
Mercy for Passive Men
The story circles back to where it began with Ahab: “There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited” (1 Kings 21:25). The narrator wants us to see all that just happened as a clinic in iniquity, a masterclass in marital failures. The next verse, however, is one of the more surprising verses in Scripture:
And when Ahab heard [Elijah’s] words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly. (1 Kings 21:27)
One might think this is the same man we found lying in bed, feeling sorry for himself, refusing to eat. This, however, is not the same man — not in God’s eyes anyway. Instead of lashing out in fury at the prophet, instead of retreating into more self-pity and passivity, Ahab humbles himself in repentance. He does the hard thing. He sees his sin, hates his sin, and seeks the Lord’s mercy.
“And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, ‘Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster upon his house” (1 Kings 21:27–29). Consequences still remained, to be sure, but something of his sin had died. The selfish, prideful, passive husband became a humble one, at least for a time, giving hope to selfish, prideful, passive husbands.
It’s easy to hate the passivity of Ahab — a king who stubbornly mopes while his wife commits murders, who blatantly disregards, even mocks, God’s calls to lead and love, who selfishly sets God’s will below his own desires. It’s harder, however, to hate the passivity in ourselves. Will we, as husbands in Christ, practice an intentional, costly, active love? Will we keep leading when it’s inconvenient to lead? Will we receive the mercy of God, humble ourselves before him, lay down our pride and self-pity, and resist the enticing pull of passivity?
By John Piper — 4 months ago
We end our week together talking about trials and temptations. It’s a sobering topic, but one relevant to each of us at some point, maybe with some of you right now. We start with what we know for sure. God tests us. He does. That’s clear in texts like James 1:3–4 and 1 Peter 1:7. But then comes the question: Does God ever tempt us? James 1:13 says no, God never tempts us. But what really is the difference between being tested and being tempted? Here’s a sharp Bible question from a listener named Mike: “Dear Pastor John, in APJ 694 you said that the word for ‘temptation’ and the word for ‘test’ are the same word in the Greek, peirasmos. So how are we to understand the differences in meaning of the two words in passages where it talks about God testing us (James 1:3–4; 1 Peter 1:7), and then in James 1:13, where it says, ‘God does not tempt anyone’? How do we put those together?”
That is an utterly crucial question. We so need to get that clear, for God’s honor and for our own peace of mind. So let me set the stage as best I can so that everybody can get on board with what the problem really is as Mike has presented it here.
Trials, Tests, Temptations
In 1 Peter 1:6–7, it says, “Now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials [and the word there, peirasmos in Greek, could be translated ‘temptations’ or ‘testings’], so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
And then, similarly, in James 1:2–4, it says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet [testings or temptations or] trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” And then in James 1:12, he adds this amazing promise about the outcome of tested faith. He says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial [same word], for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”
Now, all these testings are merciful trials from the hand of God in the way he disciplines and purifies and stabilizes and preserves his children. We know that Jesus tested his disciples (John 6:6). We know that God tested Abraham (Hebrews 11:17). So we set the stage for this problem first by establishing from 1 Peter and James that God does indeed test people. He does. He “tests” people — and the word there, peirasmos or peirazō, is the same as the word for “tempt.” There’s the problem. He puts us through trials.
Now, the second part of setting the stage for the problem is to observe that in James 1:13, James uses the same word for testing, peirazomai, and we translate it “tempt.” He says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” It’s the same word as the word for “test.” So, that’s the setting of the stage.
Here’s the double problem:
When James says, “God tempts no one,” the word tempt is the very same word in Greek for test, and we know God does test people.
He says that God cannot be tempted, and yet we know that Jesus was tempted (same word) in the Gospels in the wilderness. In Matthew 4:1, the Holy Spirit drove him out to be tempted. And Jesus is God in the flesh.
So, James expects us to make a distinction in the meaning between the testing that God in fact does bring into our lives righteously, and the tempting that God never does, even though he uses the same word for both of them. He expects us to make that same distinction in order to show that God is never tempted himself and yet Jesus, who was God, was in some sense tempted.
Now that’s the challenge that Mike sees in these verses and is asking about, and he’s right to see them. I’ve seen them for years and wrestled over and over again with how to understand this. James is not tripping up here. He knows exactly what he’s doing, since he puts the two words together back-to-back in two sentences. It’s not like he forgot that ten years ago he used the word one way.
Four Steps of Temptation
I think the key to solving both of these problems is found in the next two verses (James 1:14–15) and the way James carefully defines temptation. It’s probably the nearest thing we have to an analysis of temptation in the Bible. He is talking about our experience of it and how God doesn’t experience it and doesn’t perform it. Here’s what he says in James 1:14–15: “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” So, there are four steps in this process of what James is calling temptation.
There’s desire, which may at first be innocent. In fact, I think, at first, most of them are innocent.
There’s the desire becoming an enticement and an allurement across a line into sinfulness and sinful craving and sinful desire: like the desire of hunger, which is innocent, crossing the line into gluttony; or the desire of natural sexual appetite, which is innocent, crossing the line into lust; or the desire of your paycheck — it’s not wrong to want to be paid so you can pay your bill — crossing the line into greed. That’s the second step.
Then there’s the act of sinning itself, in which the sinful desire is put into action.
And then finally, when that pattern of sin goes on without repentance, it results in eternal death.
God Is Not Tempted
Now, I think the reason that James says God is not tempted, even though Jesus was tempted, is that the innocent desires like hunger, or the desire for sex, or the desire for our paycheck are the beginnings of being drawn toward what could be a sinful desire of gluttony, lust, or greed. And in that sense, the awakening of that desire is a kind of temptation, but it has not become a full-blown temptation. For example, in the life of Jesus, he hungered (an objective allurement toward bread) when he was fasting, but it didn’t cross the line into an evil desire of rebellion or disobedience or undue craving for what God had told him not to have. In fact, none of Jesus’s desires in his whole life ever crosses the line into evil desire, and therefore never gives birth to sin.
“None of Jesus’s desires in his whole life ever crosses the line into evil desire, and therefore never gives birth to sin.”
So, we can speak of him being tested or tempted in the sense that he’s presented with objective allurements, like bread when he is hungry, so that he experiences hunger or desire, and in that sense, temptation, but it’s never taking him captive by allurements and enticements that cross the line into sinful desires.
God Does Not Tempt
And in the same way, I would say, God does not tempt, because — now this is really delicate, so listen carefully — at that point in the human life where we cross the line from experiencing objective allurements (say, like food: you smell a steak or see an ice cream cone), at that point of a legitimate desire crossing the line into sinful desire (like the second helping, or something the doctor told you shouldn’t have, or something that’s really part of gluttony or lust), at the point of crossing that line, the Bible ordinarily describes God’s action as handing us over or giving us up (Romans 1:24, 26, 28) — giving us up to our lust, giving us up to a debased mind.
In other words, God is not described as the positive, creative, active agent at the point where our desires become sinful. If you’re going to involve God by providence here, which I do, his action is a negative action, in the sense that he hands us over, he lets us go, he gives us up to our sinning at that point.
So I don’t think James is contradicting himself. I think he expects us to make a distinction between temptation understood, on the one hand, as objective allurement that need not involve sin, and temptation understood, on the other hand, as the movement of that allurement across a line so that the desire becomes sinful. And the line between desire as a thankful, God-dependent desire and desire as an assertive, self-indulgent desire is crossed when the temptation happens, which he is saying God never experiences and God never performs.
“Our faith in God and our love for God are being tested with every temptation.”
And if we step back and ask the question of why the New Testament would use the same word for testing and temptation, perhaps part of the answer is that every test really is a kind of temptation. And every temptation really is a kind of test. Our faith in God and our love for God are being tested with every temptation. And every test, if we do not act in faith, can result in our falling into temptation. So when James says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life” (James 1:12), that same promise applies to resisting every temptation as well.