Despite their subjection to Roman rule, Israel was given religious autonomy, leading to the restoration of temple worship, the liturgical calendar, and pervasive influence upon the family and synagogue. Yet, in their religious and cultural revival there were inherit dangers, notably legalism and hypocrisy. There were also Pharisaical perspectives that made Jesus and his gospel not only unwelcomed but repugnant. It is the religious irony of ironies: The religious right went wrong because their reformation didn’t need a Savior or his gospel, revealing a jaded perspective of their privilege, a blinding pretense, and a misguided presumption. They were a people of whom the prophet wrote, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Come Judgment Day, he who will be revealed to the world as the Judge, we know as our Savior, leading us not to fear that day but to long for it. For, he will judge the world with righteousness and judge the peoples with equity (Ps. 9:8), and “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). So, we who are saved by God’s grace through faith, standing only in the perfect righteousness of Christ, say, “Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev. 22:20). Come!
Jesus taught, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce, you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:1-2). Neither you nor I are the judge before God but merely hypocrites when we play it. God is the Judge. He is the righteous standard. His law is the Law. Before God, we do not pronounce the guilty verdict but rather must plea, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
“God gave them up”: Some of the saddest words in the Bible, repeated three times in this short passage. But what does “God gave them up” mean? And who did he give up, and why? Is it a statement of divine resignation? Has God given up on the world he loved and to whom he sent his one and only Son (John 3:16)?
It’s not a matter of self-improvement, but a supernatural work of God through his Spirit, shining his light upon our darkened hearts, and giving us both the will and the faith to believe. Although our biggest problem is the wrath of God, Jesus said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). Therefore, even this day, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, not only from the wrath of God but from all the problems of worldly worship. And through faith in Christ, you will be enabled to truly worship the one, true God, as he has revealed himself in creation and his Word. You will be able, with all who believe, to worship the Lord in spirit and truth.
Yet how often are we prone to look at, or even obsess on, the evidence of the Fall in our daily lives rather than the redeeming work of God in our midst? How quickly we complain, embrace anxiety, even encourage conflict, as if we are glorifying God by saturating our hearts and minds with the trite, trivial, and temporal. Now before you begin to think that I am adding shame to your guilt for not giving thanks in all circumstances, let me offer this helpful observation: I think we are not consistent in our thanksgiving to God because we do not look to the gospel to empower our praise. Praise is not an obligation accomplished but a response enjoyed.
Consider the relevance of this: We are called to live holy lives, not to merit God’s favor but to be like him, to grow in godliness, to mature in Christlikeness. As such, to live our lives in holiness is not a burden of conformity but a family trait to be embraced and enjoyed. What is even more extraordinary about this is that our holy God calls us saints, even now, even as we wrestle with our sinful flesh, even as we are on this side of eternal life. We are saints of God, because of God’s grace alone through faith in Christ to the glory of God alone.
In this sense, every Lord’s Day is Memorial Day in the church, where we decorate not the graves of the fallen but look to the crucified who is risen, where we not merely commemorate the greatest sacrifice ever made but find our very life in it. And through the ordinary means of grace, we remember the extraordinary means of our redemption: Christ crucified and resurrected. Just as it is the Lord’s kindness that leads us to repentance, it is his provision that leads us to praise.
There is never a moment too late for the One who created time. There is always purpose in his delay, as Jesus reveals at Lazarus’ tomb, explaining to Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:39). As John Piper puts it, “God’s interest is to magnify the fullness of His glory by spilling over in mercy to us.” And so, Jesus lifts his eyes heavenward praying, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me” (John 11:41-42). And then, he who is the Life cried out, “Lazarus, come forth,” (John 11:43, KJV), and Lazarus did indeed come forth, alive and well.
Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, and conviction were done in the dark, both literally and figuratively. He who was sent in love and came in truth encountered neither on that dark night. He was betrayed with a kiss, arrested without cause, tried on false testimony, convicted though innocent. Yet, everything that happened to him on that night, including Peter’s denial, was presented as truth. The entire evening was Satanically staged to have the appearance of truth. The fallen angel of light is an expert at this.