Bible by the Beach is an annual weekend conference held in Eastbourne over the first May Bank Holiday weekend. Here are my notes from the 2017 event.
2 Kings 22:1-23:3
It was a dark time for Israel, with the idolatrous legacy of the evil king Manasseh still very much present in the land and among the people, such as child sacrifice of the king’s own son. Idolatry does not find its first expression in the actions of our hands but in the closing of our ears: we choose not to listen to the true and right Word of God.
Therefore God’s wrath is kindled against his people. Yet something unexpected happens just two years after Manasseh’s death: the young king Josiah did was was right in the sight of the LORD. Judah and Jerusalem was cleansed of the idolatry that his forefathers had instituted, and in the midst of this the Book of the Law (at least part of Deuteronomy) was found. Unlike Manasseh, Josiah’s righteous finds its expression in open ears: choosing to listen to and live out the Word of God that he hears in the Book of the Law.
At the beginning of Josiah’s reign, God’s people are in the dark with regard to God’s life giving Word. Judah had willingly been led by its kings to indulge with idolatry for so long that the discovery of God’s Word was a little too late… and yet God is compassionate still. The LORD honours Josiah’s humility and promises him peace.
Josiah’s response is very telling: Josiah takes the Word of God that had brought him peace in the face of God’s kindled wrath and he brings it to all the people… so that they may cease their idolatry and listen afresh to the Word of God with ears opened to the LORD in true worship.
The Protestant Reformation
The events of Josiah find a parallel in the reformation 500 years ago. The church in Europe had closed its ears to God’s Word (which was in Latin and not common language and placed out of people’s reach). The reformers brought the Word of God to the church afresh, so that they (we) might have our ears opened to the Word of God and find true worship through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Satan does not care one hoot about the Word of God… and yet he flees at the proclaiming of it! We live in a world where Bibles are everywhere… and yet every other person does not believe that Jesus even existed, let alone have an awareness of the new life that is found though faith in Him.
So the question for us is this: will we keep our ears open to the Word of God so that we might worship God rightly in and through the Gospel… or will we allow our ears to be closed by allowing the Scriptures to be labelled as outdated, irrelevant or something less that the ultimately authoritative Word of God almighty?
Redeemed by faith alone
Why we need the Gospel
You can tell a lot about someone by asking ‘What is wrong with the world?’ Politics, global warming, injustice, sin? Paul’s answer is that the problems with the world all flow from the fact that we need saving from something – we need saving from God’s justice, holiness and righteousness.
Sin isn’t too much of a problem for us if the consequences are only limited to us and our effect on the world. If that is the case, then we just need to try harder, do better and clean ourselves up. Cover up and remove what is bad and strengthen what is good. We just need to tip the balance of the scales in favour of ‘good’ rather than ‘bad’.
However, sin is a big problem for us if the consequences provoke the wrath of our holy God who cannot tolerate even the slightest hint of sin before him.
God is rightly angry… and there is nothing that you can do about it (3:9-20)
God does not and cannot ignore our sin, no matter how hard we try to counter it or cover it up. God’s holiness and righteousness means that he must deal with sin, and he usually does this by handing us over to the very consequences of the sin we give our hearts to (1:18ff). We cannot do anything to overturn the law (given to make us aware of sin) and turn aside God’s wrath at our sinfulness (3:19).
Sin is not just a wrong act but a relative state that we are in. All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (3:23). Without Christ, all of us are under sin, captive to it, bound to it.
In today’s world, people think that we are at liberty to redefine what is sin or not. Only God can define sin and only he can deal with it. This issue becomes complex when you consider the motives, situations and people involved as we live life and commit sin. Yet, no matter what the situation, our acts of the flesh committed by sin-tainted people – no matter how good our intentions or how harmless our deeds may seem to us/others – cannot fulfil he law of God and spare us from God’s judgment on our sin.
Luther highlighted that the letter to the Romans was written to tear up works of the flesh and to drive us to the work of God in Christ that is ours by grace through faith.
If by ourselves we are fully ruined by sin, deserving of wrath, and powerless to do anything, then what we need is mercy given as an undeserved gift.
Acquittal must be a gift (3:21-24)
God is righteous and he demands righteousness of us… and the righteousness of God is offered to us by grace through faith in Christ, who is the righteousness of God for us. By ourselves, we must try to clothe ourselves with righteousness that is acceptable to God… and we cannot do it. In the Gospel, God gives us the righteousness of Christ and clothes us with it as an act of grace through faith alone.
The gift of Christ’s righteousness is completely free to those who receive it by faith… yet it cost Christ dearly.
Justification is a gift at Christ’s expense (3:24-26)
Christ bore the wrath of God which was the penalty and cost of our sin. Without Christ’s death, our forgiveness and mercy from God would be unjust.
In God’s infinite wisdom, the punishment for sin of those whom God chooses to forgive is paid for in full by Christ on the cross. He died that we might be cleansed and forgiven, by his wounds we are healed (1 Peter 2:24).
This is the Gospel, and the delight of all who receive grace and mercy from God in Christ and eternal life by the Spirit.
Who is this?
The most common objection to Christianity is the question of ‘why?’. We all ask this when we suffer or are confronted with the consequences of our sin or the sin of others – ‘Why, God?’
For the Israelites hearing Isaiah’s message, this would have been a question on their minds and in their hearts, and yet it is a question that has not been answered so far in Isaiah. In the face of this situation of judgment and punishment in exile, the LORD announces a servant who will bring about restoration of his people.
In the immediate context, this servant was going to be Cyrus. You have to be a powerful sovereign to have your enemies do your bidding while they are fighting against you! Yet this servant is none other than the LORD himself.
The servant as people see him (53:1-3, 7-9)
The general indication that Isaiah gives us that people will regard him with contempt. As a result he is afflicted and suffers greatly at the hands of others who reject him. This is murder, for there is no sin in him and he is not guilty of any crime. If you want to know about suffering, ask this suffering servant, for he suffers greatly. If there was one person who could rightly ask ‘why?’, it was him.
The servant as God sees him (52:13, 53:10-2)
God does not see this servant in this way. God sees him as wise, great and worthy of exaltation.
So why does he suffer? The LORD wills it to bring about something incredible in the wisdom and plan of God. This servant’s suffering is productive, producing many ‘descedants’ by offering himself for their sin. In the OT sacrificial system forgiveness from sin was costly. Blood had to be shed for the sin of the people.
The servant as the believer sees him (53:4-6)
Those who believe in this servant as the one God has sent to bring restoration and peace see him as the one who bears their sin in their place. We are the ones who have sinned and turned away from the LORD… yet it is upon this servant that the LORD has laid the burden of our iniquity. He was pierced, punished and crushed in our place by becoming our sin for us.
The servant as you see him?
The question that Isaiah 53 raises for those who read it is this: ‘Who do you think this servant is?’
The description and role of the servant in Isaiah 53 fits Jesus like a glove. Will we accept him as such? Will we accept him, by faith, as the suffering servant who bore our sin for us and gives us the righteousness of God that is rightly his?
Raised by grace alone
The message of Romans is crystal clear: we can only be right with God through faith in God’s promise to save people by grace in the death of Christ. This is the message of the whole Bible (Luke 24:46-47) and the Old Testament is given both for the original hearers but also for us. Romans 4 takes the content of the Old Testament Scriptures and applies it to Paul’s argument of salvation through faith alone in Christ.
Getting right with God has never been about what you do (4:1-8)
We cannot work our way ut of God’s judgment and into his righteousness and favour. We cannot work for the wages of salvation. Instead, our only option is to believe in the one who is the justifier of the ungodly.
This is always been the way of things with God. It is not the case that Jesus somehow changes God’s way of operating and softens his character. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David are all people who by themselves are sinners due God’s wrath yet find forgiveness and salvation by grace through faith.
Getting right with God has never been about who you are (4:9-16)
Romans 3:10-12 levels the playing field of how sinful we are – we are all stained by sin and unrighteousness. So too this levels the playing field of who deserves God’s blessing.
Circumcision was not the thing that made Abraham right with God… he was already right with God before circumcision because he believed God’s promises (Genesis 15). Circumcision was the sign of the covenant that Abraham had been given by grace through faith in the promises of God.
Getting right with God always brings life-from-the-dead hope (4:17-25)
Abraham’s faith and our faith had the same form and structure but slightly different content. Faith in God, however, always has life-from-death hope as a core aspect to it.
For example, both Abraham and us are promised blessing from God and yet Abraham was promised to be the father of many nations while we are promised the Spirit living in us. Both promises, however, have a life-from-dead dimension to them. Abraham and Sarah were both ‘as good as dead’ and yet they have many offspring in faith. We were dead in sin and lifeless with regard to God and yet now have new life by the Spirit living in us.
Life-from-the-dead hope is a core facet to the message of Romans and one of the greatest implications of the Gospel for us now and forever.
This passage contains two of the most important words in the Bible: ‘but God…’
The world is in a terrible state. But In order to turn a terrible situation around we need a correct diagnosis of our condition that we heed and pay attention to, so that we can take the required steps to bring about healing and restoration.
There are lots of poor diagnosis out there:
- We are in need of scientific knowledge and technological advancement.
- We are in need of better education.
- We are in need of better social conditions.
Yet these are (at best) threadbare diagnoses. We need a diagnosis from someone who is in a position to give us that objective assessment. Ephesians 2 gives us this diagnosis. Have we the humility to acknowledge this diagnosis?
We are dead (v1)
God gives us the news straight: we are spiritually dead. We are unresponsive, disconnected (alienated) and unable to do anything to save ourselves.
But God… (v4-5)
God makes us alive in Christ. He does this for no other reason than because of his great mercy, and the result is that we are raised up to eternal life, by faith here and now and in totality in the New Creation. This is all by his immense, amazing grace.
Bank Holiday Monday
Reconciled by Christ alone
Paul tells us there is even more to what Jesus has done that the legal aspect of salvation (that has been in Romans 3 and 4). In Romans 5, Paul revisits the Gospel in a way that will connect with gentiles (this could be because Paul is on his way to gentile Spain and wants the Roman believers to support hi in this).
What difference does the faith in Christ that brings our legal justification make in everyday life?
We have hope because God’s love transforms our sufferings (v3-5)
Sufferings in this life are manifold. Yet Paul ‘rejoices’ in them. That is, he boasts in and glories in suffering. Paul wants to give confidence and hope to faltering or suffering Christians.
We often ask, ‘If God loves me, why…?’ There is no easy answer to this. That is, there is no easy-to-accept answer. The reason is clear: we suffer for a good reason according to his good purposes. Yet this is hard to accept when we suffer. Therefore, as we trust in Christ we trust in the one who excels at bringing blessing from suffering and evil and so we can boast in our sufferings, knowing that they will be used for blessing according to God’s good purpose.
Our sufferings are no longer consequences of the sin that keeps us from Christ. They refine us and draw us closer to him. Our sufferings are a doorway to greater blessing and an increased closeness to God in Christ.
We have hope because God’s love is not like ours (v8)
The world hates God, not just apathetic and indifferent but ungodly and acting as his very enemies.
As his enemies we were deserving of God’s wrath. Yet Christ died for us in our enemy-state. This is the demonstration of God’s love for us that brings us peace with God. We are familiar with the idea of people giving themselves for someone else (a friend, a good person, to enable a worthwhile cause). Yet no-one sacrifices themselves for an enemy. The love that this requires is an extra-ordinary love that only finds its origin in God himself. God gives himself for his enemies, who were utterly unlovely to him, to save them from their sins committed by them against him!
The impact of this is our rejoicing in God, his cross and his sufferings for us. He gave himself for us, and in this we rejoice. God’s love is unlike any other. The love of others for us is usually conditional to some degree. God’s love is not conditional upon us but on himself. God’s own love for us is conditional upon his own goodness, grace and mercy.
We do not have to try and earn God’s love (either in good works before receiving salvation or in worthy living after salvation). God does not expect us to try and be worthy of his salvation but to enjoy it and live in it, delighting in his love for us in Christ.
On the Last Day, we do not need to be fearful of being worthy of God. If Christ died for his enemies… imagine what he will do for his friends. Therefore we have great hope and confidence as we face the certain return of Jesus on the Last Day.