Last week I was looking at things that rouse God’s wrath, things written about the Israelites in the desert, written to be an example and warning to us so that we don’t miss out on God’s best for us (I Cor.10). Moses thought it crucial for the people to remember the stubborn bent of their hearts. He reminded them of five concrete events where they’d provoked their God to wrath, instances of: idolatry, complaining, testing God, lusting after things He hadn’t provided, and unbelief. (Deut.9) That’s how far I got last week. Looking at them.
It’s one thing looking at them, so long ago, so foolish, so stupid. I can get the impression that I would never react like that. Who complains when they’re getting the ‘bread of heaven’ delivered to their doorstep daily? Who would be silly enough to cast an idol in the shape of a calf and worship it? Granted, God is invisible and we’d like to be able to see Him and assure ourselves that He is in fact leading us but… I can go glibly through these examples and disparage the Israelites for their unbelief and stubborn hearts and miss the fact that these are written down for ME!
However, my week didn’t end with theoretical ponderings. Without warning I found myself in Israelite sandals. I live in a land of plenty. My freezer’s full of the fruit of the land. The ‘bread of heaven’ is delivered to my doorstep, in the form of plums and apples and tomatoes and …well, you get the idea. I have plenty. But, my ‘neighbors’ have more.
I am prone to measure my godliness with inaccurate scales, by the sins that don’t readily draw me. For instance, I can read in Colossians these instructions while doing a mental check-off of ones that don’t apply to me: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality (check), impurity, (check), passion (check), evil desire (check?) and covetousness, WHICH IS IDOLATRY.”(gulp) What exactly would you call it when I stand in my neighbor’s yard surveying all their fruit and nut trees and wishing they were mine?! Guilty as charged!
How is idolatry somehow less bad than sexual immorality? Only in my mind. When I measure my spiritual stature based on sins that don’t hold great temptation for me, I am only deceiving myself. I could well write a more personal list of ‘Things that make God angry’… It might begin this way…
--When I want my neighbor’s good fortune for myself, or at least his apples!
Or if I’m to go for the jugular, what about:
--When I despise my neighbor—considering him more foolish than I, using his blind spots to bolster my pride in ‘knowing better’.
Yes, I’ve had to do some repenting this week. These are things God hates. They don’t reflect my calling as his dearly loved child: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Eph.5:1,2
Instead I envy. I judge. I criticize. I condemn. I exult in pride: “you’ll see”; I ‘know better’; “Poor you”; “Fool.” Mind you, I don’t say these things. But sins of the heart are no less sins. God hates them. (And thankfully He prompts me to see them and to hate them too.)
And yet this is only half of the story. God’s wrath is aroused because He loves us. These things he hates destroy His glorious designs for our lives. They are destructive. They mar the holiness we are made to reflect. We are by nature children of wrath but He has called us to be His children and to learn His ways and to share in His holiness (Heb.12:10)
And this is the delightful part of the story. “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I Th.5:9
We have a good idea what incites God’s wrath, but do we realize
what delights Him?
I’ve spent a lot of time in the Old Testament over the last several months, comparing it to what I’m reading in the New. You cannot read Leviticus and not be struck with all the bloody sacrifices that had to be made to cover the people’s sins. God makes it perfectly clear that He is holy and the people He has chosen to be his own are not. Their hearts are endlessly straying to other gods and requiring the slaughter of animals to atone for them. Sacrifice is endless… You could get the impression that God loves the slaughter of animals, the blood of bulls and goats. But this is not so. He’s only laying out a plan.
Then the ‘fullness of time’ comes, and with the New Testament God’s plan unfolds. He’s made a way for ‘children of wrath’ to be His friends. He wants them near Him.
That plan is Jesus—the very Son of God ‘with whom He is
What delights God? Not animal sacrifice, but His Son.
God Himself provided the propitiation for man’s sin in the perfect Lamb, Jesus. The blood of bulls and goats only pre-figures this. Propitiation, ‘the turning away of wrath by an offering’ is exactly what we needed! Jesus was sent into the world to be that offering, the perfect Lamb ‘who takes away the sin of the world’.
“…whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” (Rom.3:25)
Which brings us to another thing God delights in—faith in His Son. I am not stuck in my sins. I am not destined either to live in remorse, kicking myself for not being more holy, or in constant struggle to do better. I am offered by faith the very righteousness of Christ to my account, if I will receive it. Will I put aside my determination to do better, be better, be good, prove myself worthy (and such rot!) and simply cast my case on Jesus? His death and resurrection has covered my sin once and for all. My covetousness, my envy, my pride, they are real. I remember them, lest I begin to think myself beyond need of Jesus’ blood. But overlaid on the memory of my sins is another remembering.
“But when Christ had offered for all time a a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb.10:12-14)
Jesus invites me to remember Him: “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk.22:19) Jesus died to cover my sin. This is enough. That bread from heaven the Israelites ate, that was a picture of Jesus. No wonder their despising it was an affront to God. Jesus is the bread of life; those who eat will live. Those who demand something more, something else, something other, may get it, but with it death. There is life only in Jesus.
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. Jn.17:3
Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Acts 4:12
There are plenty of things that bring God delight I suppose but they all come back in one way or another to Jesus (“God Saves”). God is pleased with His Son--the perfect spotless obedient Lamb who fulfilled the Father’s purpose and will be the culmination of everything. Eph.1:9,10
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me…And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Heb.10:5,10
This is why faith pleases God when it is placed in His Son. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Matt.17:5
We cannot assume God is pleased with us apart from it. “And without faith it is impossible to please God…” Heb.11:6 Any vestige of confidence that I have something to offer God in and of myself is folly. It is only when my faith rests in His Son as my only claim to righteousness that God looks at me with pleasure.
This is a little hard for me to swallow. I am by birth a ‘pleaser’. Even as a Kindergartener I was known for my quiet compliant demeanor. This is not a virtue; I just wanted people to like me. But God is not fooled. He does not look and say ‘Oh, what a sweet girl’. No matter what moral codes of conduct, rules or formulas we’ve found to live by they are not sufficient to gain favor with God. Only faith in Christ makes us pleasing to God. No sacrifice, effort, or moral lifestyle can take its place. God is looking for humble hearts that will acknowledge their shortfall and take Him at His Word:
--All have sinned and fall short of my Glory.
--Sin’s wages are death.
--Believe on Jesus as your Lord and Saviour and you will live.
If you're good enough without Him, Jesus did not come for you.
It’s simple. But it’s humbling. And it leaves no room for self-justification or self-anything! The children of Israel in the desert failed in this respect; they had hard unbelieving hearts. They were stubborn, resisting God’s voice, choosing their own desires over His. Consequently a whole generation died in the desert, never reaching the good land God had intended for them.
For forty years I loathed that generation and said, "They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.” Ps.95:10
Even as believers, God is not so much pleased with our efforts and determinations to be good as He is with our faith in His Son. It is only through the Spirit of Christ within us that we can do anything truly good in God’s sight. “Without Me you can do nothing”. Again it is humble faith that pleases God and by which we are transformed to resemble Jesus in our thoughts, words and deeds. We can’t do this life in Christ apart from Christ!
"If we are going to grow in the realization of who we are in Christ, we must come to terms with the reality that we are not yet perfect; the presence and activity of sin is still alive and well within us. The reason we must accept this fact is that we cannot look to Christ for our identity if we are still trying to find something about ourselves to prop up our self-esteem. To really grow in the wonderful reality of who we are in Christ, we must abandon any desire to find something within ourselves that makes us acceptable to God." –Jerry Bridges
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Gal.3:2,3
But here’s the remarkable thing. These bodies, in which the Spirit of God comes to reside can then become living offerings to God—good and pleasing sacrifices. Bodies that were once instruments of sin, in thought, word and deed become houses of worship. Our lives become living sacrifices in honor of the One who designed them for His glory.
Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Rom.12:1 HCSB
As I yield my heart to learn God’s ways, to say YES! to Him and NO! to ways the world calls life, I am transformed into a living sacrifice with an aroma that’s pleasing to God.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom.12:2)
Pleasing aroma—the Old Testament is replete with this expression. Every sacrifice, every bit of incense, every burnt offering gave off an aroma pleasing to God. Jesus is the fulfillment of these offerings. Jesus’ death on my behalf was a pleasing sacrifice. Now I am brought near to God, reconciled to Him at great cost. And because He lives in me by His Spirit my life now is said to have a pleasing aroma to God!
For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? II Cor.2:15,16
It’s incredible really, but this body of mine that houses the part of me that is bent toward sin, also is God’s instrument for righteousness. And because I am IN CHRIST He looks and is pleased. I still fail. I still fall. I still envy my neighbor and harbor ill will at times. But Jesus doesn’t. And by faith in Him I can get up, admit where I’ve fallen and know that Jesus blood was shed for this and God is pleased. I will never outgrow this dependence on his mercy, this need for his grace and his forgiveness. I was never meant to.
For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness Ps.95:7-8
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. Heb.13:20-21
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Ps.51:17
But I am afflicted and in pain; let your salvation, O God, set me on high! I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. This will please the LORD more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs. Ps.69:29-31
But the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. Ps.147:11
May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD. Ps.104:34