“And he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. And he had a dream.”

Genesis 28:11-12

 

At this stage in his life, Jacob was not only a restless man, but a godless one. Though he valued spiritual things–the birthright of the family, and the blessing of his father–he used wicked means to attain a good end. He had not yet met his God, or received promises from him, or called upon his name. He had been a man run by lies and cunning; now he was a man on the run, pursued to the death by his murder-minded brother, Esau.

But here at Bethel–hungry, exhausted, and scared–Jacob lay his head down. The Hebrew says, “And he put a rock at his head place.” What a picture this is, and what a comfort, not only to Jacob, but to all his seed!

For the rock is Christ. And the great promise of our text is that for those who put him at their head place and rest their head upon him, they will dream. They will see God.

But how, exactly, does one rest his head upon Christ?

My answer is three-fold.

First, he rests completely upon the finished work of Christ–his righteous life and atoning death–for his justification and salvation, putting no trust whatsoever in his own works.

Secondly, he rests upon the Word of God, and especially the New Testament, saturating himself with its promises and commandments, so that he might every-increasingly live according to them.

Finally, he rests upon the Spirit of God, who brings the Word to life, enabling him not only to live by it, but even more importantly, to behold and delight in the One who is the great Ladder joining heaven and earth, the divine Head of all the angels, the very House of God, and the Gateway to our Father in heaven.

Yes, saints who know to rest their heads upon Christ will become what they so deeply desire to be, and what God created them to be: Dreamers, seers, and worshipers; men and women who know that, of a truth, God is in this place.

She bent forward to look, then gave a startled little cry and drew back. There was indeed a seed lying in the palm of his hand, but it was shaped exactly like a long, sharply-pointed thorn… “The seed looks very sharp,” she said shrinkingly. “Won’t it hurt if you put it into my heart?”

He answered gently, “It is so sharp that it slips in very quickly. But, Much-Afraid, I have already warned you that Love and Pain go together, for a time at least. If you would know Love, you must know pain too.”

Much-Afraid looked at the thorn and shrank from it. Then she looked at the Shepherd’s face and repeated his words to herself. “When the seed of Love in your heart is ready to bloom, you will be loved in return,” and a strange new courage entered her. She suddenly stepped forward, bared her heart, and said, “Please plant the seed here in my heart.”

His face lit up with a glad smile and he said with a note of joy in his voice, “Now you will be able to go with me to the High Places and be a citizen in the Kingdom of my Father.”

Then he pressed the thorn into her heart. It was true, just as he had said, it did cause a piercing pain, but it slipped in quickly and then, suddenly, a sweetness she had never felt or imagined before tingled through her. It was bittersweet, but the sweetness was the stronger. She thought of the Shepherd’s words, “It is so happy to love,” and her pale, sallow cheeks suddenly glowed pink and her eyes shown. For a moment Much-Afraid did not look afraid at all.
Hannah Hurnard, Hinds’ Feet on High Places


Then I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, there were four horns. So I said to the angel who was speaking with me, “What are these?” And he answered me, “These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.” Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen. I said, “What are these coming to do?” And he said, “These are the horns which have scattered Judah so that no man lifts up his head; but these craftsmen have come to terrify them, to throw down the horns of the nations who have lifted up their horns against the land of Judah in order to scatter it.” — Zech. 1:18ff

 

God’s Judah is still out there, scattered from Eden, scattered from Babel, languishing in the whole wide world. Day after day they are butted about by the four horns of the evil one, whose army of demonic bullies fills the air the globe over, casting down, casting down, always casting down.

But here Zechariah gives us good news. God has a plan for his Judah, a people predestined for the praise of His glory and the glory of His grace. The implementation of the plan is well under way. Already, He has sent them THE Master Craftsmen, the One who skillfully fashioned a perfectly righteous life and a perfect atoning death for Himself, so that He mighty skillfully fashion a perfect people for His possession, and the possession of His God.

But there is more to the plan. As we see here and elsewhere in Scripture, the LORD has posted a Help Wanted flyer. More master-craftsmen are needed, and lots of them; for again, there are still lots and lots of languishing sons of Judah out there, men and women who are still bruised and buffeted, with heads hanging down.

What will lift them up? Zechariah replies: A great host of master craftsmen, all trained by THE Master Craftsmen, fanning out into the four corners of the earth, arriving on the scene with big, heavy tool belts slung over their hips, and ready and able to use those tools swiftly and powerfully.

But herein lies their true mastery: Just like their Master, they will only work at the word of the Master, for they know that in His word alone is all speed, all power, and all skill for all true lifting of the head.

How good to know that the four horns of hell cringe in terror when a team of master-craftsmen shows up on the job site, ready to go to work!

But how much better to know that when day is done, there will be even more of the sons of Judah, men and women from every nation praising The Master Craftsman with uplifted heads and eagerly equipping themselves for a new and glorious trade.

Below is an open letter to Republican leaders, one that I will likely send in hard copy to select men and women whom I judge to be receptive. Realistically, I think Republican voters—and leaders—have pretty much resigned themselves to Trump. But citizens of God’s Kingdom do not always yield to earthly realism, especially when God’s standards and the well-being of their family, nation, and world are at stake. So join me in dreaming a little, and praying a lot. d

May 10, 2016

Dear American Leader,

The current presidential contest has caused me to fear for the future of my party, my country, and my world. I am writing to give you my assessment of the situation, and to offer my best thinking on the way forward.

As any number of conservative leaders have demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt, Donald Trump, like Hillary Clinton, is unfit for office. His words, deeds, and ever-shifting policy recommendations show us that Trump is an ungodly man without character, competence, meaningful accomplishments, abiding principles, self-control, intellectual depth, or emotional stability. No principled conservative American could ever vote for such a man (or for Hillary) with a clear conscience. Moreover, it is evident that a Trump presidency would wreak havoc upon our nation and beyond. Why? As our Declaration of Independence states, God has ordered his world according to certain natural and moral laws. One of them is that good ends (e.g., stopping Hillary) never can justify the use of evil means (e.g., electing Donald); another is that we cannot choose an evil leader (even if he is supposed to be the lesser of two) and still hope to secure good results. In sum, we simply must find an alternative to Donald Trump.

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Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand that he had taken from the altar with tongs.

And he touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and now your iniquity is removed and your sin atoned for.”

Isaiah 6:6-7

 

Isaiah was having a vision of the thrice-holy LORD of hosts, seated upon his throne, high and lifted up. Seeing the great King, realizing that His judgment was about to fall upon the land, and knowing that he himself, like his fellow Israelites, was a man of unclean lips, he cried out, “Woe to me; I am undone!”

Today’s text pictures God’s response to the anguish of a man awakening to his sins and his sinfulness. But, knowing that all OT texts testify of Christ, we know that this one pictures something more—something solemn, yet profoundly encouraging.

Isaiah pictures God’s elect children, spiritually removed from their Creator and King, but seeing Him at last, and also for the first time, and so under deep conviction of sin.

The seraph, created to be a messenger of God, pictures Christ’s Church, and each individual member thereof, sent into all the earth with the message of the Gospel.

The burning coal symbolizes the mighty gospel itself, the power of God for forgiveness, salvation, and restoration to all who believe (Luke 24:46-47, Rom. 1).

And the comforting words of absolution, spoken by the angel sent to Isaiah, sweetly foreshadow the words that Christ Himself puts into the mouth of all his evangelists when they see the signs of genuine repentance and faith in those to whom they are sent; for He told us all, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven” (John 20:23).

But with all this in mind, note something fascinating about our text: It tells us that the seraph took the burning coal from the altar with tongs. Why exactly did he do that? Why did the angel not take up the coal with his hand? The answer, it would appear, is that it was too hot to handle!

I am not sufficient to explain all the meaning hidden here. Perhaps the Spirit is telling us that angels were never meant to carry the gospel to sinners, but that Christ’s people are. Perhaps He is telling us that in OT times no living creature—whether man or angel—was ready to carry the coal of the Gospel to sinful men.

But of these two things I AM sure.

First, it is the glory of the Church that She should carry, with joy and power and confidence, the coal of the Gospel to all nations; that She is not meant to take it up with tongs of timidity, or intellectualism, or moralism, but to lay hands on it boldly and to experience deep within Herself the fire of God’s truth pouring into her body, equipping her for her mission.

But secondly, even in our day—and perhaps especially in the deep darkness of these last days—the Gospel is still indeed a coal too hot to handle. That is, we must not, and we cannot, handle it in the flesh. If it is to perform its work; if it is to produce true conviction of sin; if we are to have the joy of speaking tender words of divine absolution to trembling sinners, then we had best have hand and heart fully clothed with the Holy Spirit before taking up the Word of the Gospel and taking it out to the world.

Here is the great thing about seraphim: They get to live in the presence of the glory of God, hear His voice, and know, with full assurance, the people to whom they are sent and the message they are charged to bring to them. This is our birthright as well, yes and moreso; for unlike the seraphim in our text, we are not a people who cover ourselves in the presence of God, but a people who are called to live with Him face to face (2 Cor. 3:18).

So then, as we read this text, let us remember our birthright: First, to dwell in His presence face to face; second, to take up the coal of the Gospel only at His bidding; and third, to take it faithfully in the power of the Spirit to those to whom we are sent.

Then—and then only—the Gospel will not be too hot to handle. Indeed, then it will be too beautiful and powerful to resist or lay down, filling not only our hands but our whole bodies with light and life and warmth for a world that increasingly trembles before the Holy One of Israel and the High King of Heaven and Earth.