Most Influential Books Part 3

This is part three (and final post) in a series on the most influential books I’ve read.  I’ve also listed some “runners up” at the end.  To be honest, there are so many good books that I read each year, that a list like this is necessarily subjective, and its always growing. Not that some books don’t have obvious merit for all people, but I also recognize that some may have had impacted me more than they will you. Not only that – but there’s a good chance that next week I could read something that blows me away and it won’t be on the list. Just this past week I read two books that were pretty darn good – Matt Chandler’s ‘Explicit Gospel’ and Michael Reeves ‘Delighting in the Trinity’. Nevertheless, I have to draw the line somewhere!

I hope you enjoy this third installment!

11. The Power of Positive Thinking – No one will accuse Norman Vincent Peale of being a theological genius, in fact much of his teaching undermines the basic Christian message that we are all sinner who need a Savior extra nos, but early in my theological awakening I didn’t seem to realize much of his incorrect teaching. So despite a deeply flawed message, God graciously used this book to help me learn two important things: 1. I need to be praying for others regularly and 2. The importance of Scripture memorization. This book literally pointed me back to the Bible’s importance for my physical and emotional well-being. I was suffering a great deal of anxiety and my doctor had prescribed anti-anxiety medication. My stomach was constantly in knots and I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with the problem…medication seemed like the only option. But when I fervently began to memorize scripture and pray for others and bigger items besides just my own desires, I began to slowly be cured of my anxiety. I stopped taking medication. I was a free man. And its not a big mystery as to why – this wasn’t magic, it was simply allowing the Word of the Lord and the power of the Spirit to become my top priority and renew my mind. The Bible can do that like no other book.  In addition, praying for others got my mind off my own troubles and focused on loving others (even if I didn’t know them). This book helped point me in the right direction. Would I recommend it now?  No way – but its prescriptions, most certainly. In fact if you want to learn more about Peale’s false teaching you can read Tim Challies’ write up on his bio: http://www.challies.com/articles/the-false-teachers-norman-vincent-peale

12. The Loveliness of Christ – During some of my darkest, most stressed-filled days this book has been a balm of healing. I have quoted it, memorized portions of it, I’ve taken it to the hospital multiple times, and it’s been a great tool of perspective in the midst of suffering. It is a small book, but a powerful book. Samuel Rutherford is probably one of the most influential puritan writers of all time, and his influence on me has been significant. If you were to add any one book to your collection as a result of this blog post, this would be the one I’d start with. The book is comprised of probably 100 (small) pages of quotes which are simply excerpts from his letters to other believers. In another way, if you are a Christian, Rutherford’s caring love for others around him ought to be a model for you as you seek to live in a way that is caring and reflective of the Savior.

13. Kingdom Through Covenant – Perhaps no book to date has had such an outsized impact on the way I understand the way in which the Biblical story is put together and unfolds throughout history. It made me feel good to be a Baptist (truth be told), and assured me that I wasn’t giving up any intellectual ground on that score (perhaps an intramural joke there)! It also explained for me a lot of the flow of events in the Old Testament and how they culminate in Christ – especially O.T. promises. This was an important book in my deeper theological development, and for those who have been Christians for a while and have always wondered at the dispensational and covenant approaches (i.e. you are/were head-scratchers like me), then this will prove very fruitful ground for you. You’ll have to ignore all the Hebrew and Greek text that the authors slip in from time to time. They are the scholars in that field and they do that to show their work (like you did in long division in 8th grade). My best advice is to do your best to read around it and not let it bog you down…its well worth it!

14. The Lord of the Rings – Growing up I was somewhat of a stranger to Tolkein’s work. I was aware of The Hobbit (I had seen a play, and perhaps had it read to me by my mom), but had no idea there was more to the story. Finally, while I was in college, my brother Alex introduced me to the story when Peter Jackson’s silver screen rendition of The Fellowship of the Ring came out in the theaters. I went as a skeptic, and left as a man head over heals in love. Later, in the weeks and days leading up to my wedding, I read The Lord of the Rings almost nonstop. I carried it with me everywhere, and my bookmark was our wedding vows which I was endeavoring to memorize. I still read this book whenever I can, and appreciate its depth and literary value more with each passing year.

15. Henry Drummond – This is not a book, it is an author (is that cheating?). During the 2007/2008 Romney Presidential Campaign I lived on the short sayings of Drummond. He gave me hope that science and Christian intellectualism could co-exist, and helped add perspective to my busy life away from home when I was sad and often feeling lost. Drummond lived and wrote in the mid-nineteenth century and devoted a substantial amount of time to standing up to the popular new scientific theory of evolution. He had a sharp logical mind, and I think just about anything he wrote is really fascinating.
Runners up – books that have taught me at least one major concept that has stuck with me:

God’s Greater Glory – In this sequel to Bruce Ware’s ‘God’s Lesser Glory’, Dr. Ware explains God’s “meticulous sovereignty”, a concept that has really been important in my own studies over the past year or so.  His Biblical and logical arguments are beyond arguing with from what I can tell of all I’ve read thus far. If you’ve read Chosen by God, and don’t want to blow your brains out with a puritan reading (i.e. Freedom of the Will) on the topic of God’s sovereignty, then this is the next step in your educational endeavors.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – This is a recent purchase and read and makes the list for how much it makes me laugh. It is easily one of the most enjoyable and hilarious books I have ever read! What I love the most about it is its trueness to the story as well as to Shakespeare’s famous writing style (the entire book is written in iambic pentameter).  If you love star wars and literature, this is the perfect combination – but be warned, this book is not to be read in any location where laughing out loud might be frowned upon!

The Transforming Power of the Gospel – Jerry Bridges explains “dependent responsibility”, which is the concept that men and women are both responsible for their actions and obedience to God’s laws, while at the same time dependent upon God for help to obey.  The tension here is worked out beautifully, and helpfully.

Give them Grace – Elyse Fitzpatrick examines parenting using the gospel. It is probably the best parenting book I’ve ever read, and it is easily the most challenging. There aren’t a lot of “to-do’s” from here, but there is a significant philosophical boost and reexamination that will likely take place.  If you don’t yet understand how the gospel fits into everyday life, this is one you must read.

A Case for Amillenialism – Kim Riddlebarger opened my mind to eschatology and taught me to enjoy it and not be scared to study it. I don’t think he’s the best writer, it seems a little clunky at times.  But he is really helpful in this area, and I find myself going back to his book and his blog again and again for wisdom.

The Trinity – Bruce ware explains divine roles better than anyone I had ever read. Especially subordination in role and co-equality in ontology.  If you’ve never understood the Trinity, this book will be huge for you.

The Freedom of the Will – Edwards proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that God initiates salvation.  Extremely difficult read though, so don’t read this unless you’re ready to pop a few Advil along with it! In fact, I would recommend not reading this unless you are an advanced scholar whose already read some other puritan works (or even other works by Edwards). But if you are pretty advanced in your reading and understanding of doctrine, then make sure to put this on your bucket list.

Bonhoeffer – This almost made my original list. I read it at a time when I was going through much pain and angst and it helped distract me and keep my mind fresh. It was a very very good book and a very interesting biography.  It will not leave you satisfied though, I warn you there…but I think that is for the best (though I know some who disagree).

The Pleasures of God – Piper explained how it was the will and pleasure of the Father to crush the Son. This concept just blew me away.  He goes into many other “pleasures” of God in this series, and they are worth reading or listening (there is a sermon series) through.

Holiness – J.C. Ryle explained to me that in order to enjoy heaven later I need to pursue holiness now. That concept is meted out over some three or four hundred pages. It was a very impactful book and showed example after example of how men and women from the Bible lived their lives in pursuit of holiness all pointing forward to the One who lived a perfect life of holiness so that when we fail that goodness, that righteousness, is there for us and keeps us in right standing before God.

The 5000 Year Leap – I read this in 2009 (I think) and it was one of the first books to awaken me to how far off course our country has gotten. It’s a great foundational book for anyone trying to figure out for themselves “what’s really wrong with this country?”

The Children of Hurin – This is one of J.R.R. Tolkein’s posthumously published works and probably the greatest thriller/tragedy I’ve ever read hands down. It was published with the help of his son Christopher and if you get the right edition it will have sketches by Alan Lee, which are really good. Just a fantastic piece of fiction.

Knowing God – This classic work of J.I. Packer helped shape a lot of my thinking on the nature of the Christian life.  Perhaps chapter 19 (on adoption) was most influential because it stuck with me the best. You can hardly go wrong by reading this book multiple times until its truth seeps in and helps you better grasp your life’s purpose, and more of who and what God is all about.

Battling Unbelief – John Piper works out some important ideas here in a book that is basically a boiled down version of ‘Future Grace’ and the idea behind the book is that most of our anxiety and sinfulness (and many issues in our lives) derive from a Christian’s failure to have faith in God.  In other words, we don’t believe Him and don’t trust in His promises etc. It’s astonishing how many times Piper is able to get to the root of things in this small book. I’d recommend this one to anyone who wants to get to the root of the problems facing them each day.

The Story of Christianity Volume I – I read this 500 (or so) page history book last year as part of a seminary class on the history of the Christian church. It was so easy to read and so good that I picked up its sequel (volume II) for reading on my own. What I liked so much about this book was Justo Gonzalez’ ability to simplify complex political and religious issues, and help the reader traverse hundreds of years of history without missing the small things, yet without losing site of the bigger picture.  It’s easily the best volume on the church I’ve read thus far (at least for a beginner like me).

Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God – This book is a compilation of essays written about the holiness of God by noted scholars and theologians.  The essay by Sinclair Ferguson entitled ‘Hallowed be Your Name: The Holiness of the Father’ left a lasting impression on me and I refer back to it again and again.

Conclusion: One of the things that is inevitably left off a list like this are the dozens of commentaries and study aides I read each year as I teach through books of the Bible. Men like Carson, Calvin, Ridderbos, Vos, Stott, Augustine, Boice, MacArthur, Morris, Kostenberger, Frame, Schreiner, Grudem, Beale and others who didn’t get mentioned in my book list have been equally influential on my thinking and understanding of life, death, Scripture, and many other topics under the sun. There have also been men and women whose books I have read and have been helpful or enjoyable, but if I listed them all it would take way too long!

But what I have learned is that reading changes lives, it does this in the way that Bruce Ware describes the study of theology: first it changes your mind, then your heart, then the actions of your hands, which in turn affects your habitat.  But it starts in the minds and hearts of those who seek wisdom. You’ll notice that many of my books are theological or Biblically based, and that isn’t because I haven’t read a slew of Gresham or my fair share of Star Wars, and it isn’t because I haven’t read the classic works from Dickens and Dumas (becauseI have), but its because the books that have shaped me, influenced me, and changed me for the better have largely been books whose topic is heavenly, and whose aim is joy in life and after it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the postings – feel free to comment with any questions!

Study Notes 9-2-12

This week we finished off the 6th chapter of John’s gospel and in two weeks we’ll begin the 7th chapter.  Below are my full notes on the section (about 7 pages worth I believe).  I included all of them instead of bullet pointing because I think there’s probably a lot more below than I covered in class + I didn’t get to record the audio (oops!!).  Hopefully this is sufficient.  Enjoy!

6:67-69 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” [68] Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, [69] and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Before we go into what it is that Peter says, I wanted to note something that Calvin says about this shift in dialogue. “As the faith of the apostles might be greatly shaken, when they saw that they were so small a remnant of a great multitude, Christ directs his discourse to them, and shows that there is no reason why they should allow themselves to be hurried away by the lightness and unsteadiness of others.”

This is one of the things I love about Calvin; he’s always putting himself in the situation so that he can explain the context to us more accurately than we might initially compose it in our minds. And what it is that he draws out here is the compassion of Christ.  He directs His attention to the disciples because He knows their hearts and thoughts and wants to be sure that they understand the truths He’s teaching.  He does the same with us, don’t you think?  So many times when I get shaken about something I’ve read or learned, I turn to Christ in prayer and He settles me down.  He speaks soothing words to my heart and helps me understand what it is that He’s made known in His word.

The Bible and specifically the words of Christ, aren’t always easy things to understand.  Carson points out that Peter’s understanding of what Jesus had been saying thus far might have been a bit “muddy.”  The same is often true of myself. That is why it is so comforting to see this example of the attention Christ is giving these men.  His desire is for us to learn more about Him.

Peter’s Confession

Peter makes a great confession here. He must have thought to himself, “what am I to do? What can I say to this”?  This is the same thing we might think from time to time.  We get frustrated with something we face in life and we blame God.  Or we can’t understand the difficult mysteries of Scripture so we get turned off by them and don’t read anymore, or we get rubbed wrong by a pastor or leader and stop coming to church etc.  But Peter, while acknowledging that Christ’s words are difficult – note that he doesn’t deny this – still admits that Christ is the only one with the words of life.  And so He is. We must therefore approach the throne of grace with confidence, but with humility, knowing that these mysteries are difficult even for those who spent time in the very presence of God incarnate.

John Piper talks about the vast wisdom and knowledge of Christ in his book ‘Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ’ and says that the greatest knowledge Christ had was of who God was.  He had this knowledge because He was God Himself!  And this is what Christ is trying to get these people (and us) to understand: that He is God.  Here’s what Piper says:

Nothing greater can be said about the knowledge of Jesus than that he knows God perfectly. All reality outside God is parochial compared to the infinite reality that God is. What God has made is like a toy compared to the complexity and depth of who God is. All the sciences that scratch the surface of the created universe are mere ABCs compared to Christ’s exhaustive knowledge of the created universe. And even this knowledge of the created universe is a dewdrop on a blade of grass compared to the ocean of knowledge that Jesus has of the being of God himself. While the universe is finite, God is infinite. Complete knowledge of the infinite is infinite. Therefore to know God as Jesus knows God is to have infinite knowledge.

And so this is the reality that Peter came to at the end of this discourse.  And this is why verse 64 is so significant, it all points to Christ’s knowledge.  He knows everything from before the foundation of the world.

There are other instances of this in Scripture.  For example, in John 18:4 it says “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him…” and earlier in John 2:24-25 it says, “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

I also love the example of a time when the Pharisees were trying to question Jesus to see how smart he really was, and He ended up asking them the questions instead.  The passage is Matthew 23:41-46:

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

I just love that last verse – the reaction to His scriptural example is that “nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions”!  What a great verse!

This is where Peter found himself, only his reaction was one of confessional worship, while the Pharisees were simply silenced in their embarrassment.

6:70-71 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” [71] He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

First we notice that Christ makes certain that His disciples understand that it is He that is doing the choosing and not themselves. This is perhaps a very clear example of election, though MacArthur says “He is not here referring to election to salvation, but rather selection to apostleship.” God knows who His chosen ones will be, as He also knew who Jesus’ disciples would be. Peter makes his declaration of faith, first and then Christ reminds him that it wasn’t Peter who chose Christ for His words, but rather Christ chose Peter that he might hear His words and choose to follow Him. So while we see that Christ might not specifically be talking about salvation, the principles of sovereignty are the same – in all things He is sovereign.  As D.A. Carson says, “Ultimately, the twelve did not choose Jesus; He chose them.”

Very interesting that Jesus would choose to react in verse 70 to Peter’s confession this way.  In another discourse Peter makes a more clear confession of faith and Christ responds slightly differently, but the point is really the same.  That confession is found in Matthew 16:16-17.

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

There are some wonderful parallels between this passage and the one we’re looking at here in John.  As you recall, we said that being taught of God is the same as being drawn or chosen by God.  And these two verses demonstrate this all the more.  The Matthew passage shows us that what Peter understood about Christ did not emanate from within himself, but rather from God who revealed it to him.  We might call this being “taught” of God.

The passage we have in John shows us a similar confession by Peter, though slightly different in the phraseology.  He states that Jesus is the “Holy One of God” and Jesus doesn’t say specifically this time that God revealed this to him, but rather says that it wasn’t Peter that chose to have this knowledge, it wasn’t something within Peter that made him want to stay and be with Christ and follow Him, rather Jesus says that it was Christ who called him out of darkness.  Peter would later write this about what it means to be a Christian:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

So we see here that Jesus isn’t going away from His main point of this passage, which is that in all things God is sovereign, and particularly in the matter of salvation.

Allowing Evil

The second thing we notice here is what Boice calls “a disturbing revelation.”  He points out is that one of the disciples is “a devil” and John adds a contextual note that Judas will betray Jesus.  Leon Morris says that all the gospel authors make this betrayal clear when they first introduce Judas in each of their accounts.

There is no question that Jesus is stating that He is sovereign over who will be His disciples, just as He is sovereign over salvation and is sovereign over all living things.  He’s already stated this numerous times throughout the passage, and once more again just now.  But why would He allow Judas to be numbered among them?

The answer lies in the fact that, while God hates evil, He allows evil, and even chooses to work through evil situations and people, to bring good to His people.  This is the whole meaning of Romans 8:28.  It isn’t that God simply is sovereign over the good times, and it isn’t as though these evil people are somehow out from under His thumb.  No indeed.  God in His mysterious sovereignty allows evil people to do what they do in order that He might bring about redemption.

This is the kind of thing that baffles us.  Christ ends the passage that is so rich with predestinarian language and teaching that one can’t help but realize that from the beginning of time God had a plan for us and for His Son’s incarnation, death, and glorious resurrection.  Yet we struggle with the purpose of evil.  And we must be careful, because this is where errors can filter into our thinking.

We must guide our thoughts of Jesus’ allowing of Judas, and other evil men, into His plans by what we know is true about God’s character.  God is not the author of evil Himself, nor does He like, or condone it.  Evil is contrary to God’s holy character, it is so fully opposite of who He is that He will not evil look upon sin (Habakkuk 1:13).

And yet His Spirit strives with us while we continue to sin, and He also uses evil to accomplish His will on earth.  This is close to being a paradox – it is something that seems contradictory on the surface, but when we look at God’s character we find it is not so.  God can be both merciful, and holy.  He can be both loving of His sinful creatures, while displaying at least some measure of His wrath at our sin.

We would not call these attributes contradictory in a person, just as we won’t call them so in God.  But we do have a tendency as human beings to assume God’s mercy outweighs His justice and wrath.  We tend to think of God as sort of a one-sided all loving God, or perhaps as a lopsided all-judging and wrathful God.  But the truth is that God’s characteristics are balanced as He sees fit.  We can’t know the “why” of His choosing to be merciful to some and deliver justice to others.  He chose to be merciful to the disciples and deliver justice to Judas.  He had a plan that involved Judas betraying Him.  If He hadn’t have chosen Judas to be one of the 12, there would be no betrayal, no cross, and no redemption for sins.

The Mind of God and Vessels of Wrath

It is impossible to understand fully the mind of God.  For the past several weeks we have been struggling with the operation of God’s choosing some and not others.  We have mostly been focused on how God chose us, and how amazing it is that He would do so – and indeed it is amazing!  But here we’re confronted with the necessary opposite of that choice of His.  Here we see that Judas was not only not chosen for heaven, but was in fact chosen by God for a purpose – as a vessel of wrath to fulfill the scriptures.

This seems even more unacceptable and unpalatable to us that God discriminating who will be chosen to go to heaven!  But the Bible isn’t silent on this either.  In Romans 9 Paul explains the mysterious dilemma we’re facing right now:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, [7] and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” [8] This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. [9] For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” [10] And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, [11] though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—[12] she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” [13] As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

[14] What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! [15] For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” [16] So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. [17] For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” [18] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

[19] You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” [20] But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” [21] Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? [22] What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, [23] in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory (Romans 9:6-23 ESV)

This is an astounding passage of scripture and it would be easy to fall into error if we don’t properly understand what God is saying here.

In one sense, God is both active and in another He is passive.  This is a paradox – not a contradiction (hence why I’ve taken the time in the past to explain this important principle).  God is actively not choosing some men – like Judas, and in the passage above Esau, while He is also not actively putting any kind of evil into their hearts.

This doctrine is called by some “Double-Predestination”, and the idea is that God elects some to life and others to destruction, while not retracting any responsibility from mankind whatsoever. Judas was still responsible for his actions. So then, God knows both who will go to hell and who will go to heaven.  He elects believers to life – we know that because we’ve spent the last few weeks reading all about Christ’s teaching on the matter.  But now we read that He also has plans for Judas – plans that end in his destruction. We can’t escape the fact that Jesus knew what was going to happen, and not only knew, but also chose to have Judas as part of the 12.

But none of this makes God the author of evil, nor does it take away Judas’ responsibility for his own sin. This is why it is so very important that we have a clear understanding that mankind is fallen, sinful, and without God. We are strangers and aliens (Eph. 2:19) to God until He brings us into His kingdom.  Once we understand our radical depravity, we’ll understand how God can not be the author of evil, and yet allow some men (like Judas) to be vessels of wrath.

Just as with Pharaoh, Judas was a sinner who loved the darkness rather than the light (John 3:19-21). We are all the same way. Why did Judas sell Christ out to the Pharisees?  For money!  He was a lover of money and not a lover of God.  It wasn’t as though Christ did something within the heart of Judas to make him do what he did.  No indeed.  We all are bound for Hell regardless of how sinful we are because we’re all sinful at some level – we were born that way.  So all men, in a manner of speaking, are destined for Hell until God intervenes and saves us from that terrible destruction!

But we know that here there’s another more terrible reality.  God actively allowed this man to do what he did.  Judas was a vessel of wrath.  The same was true for Pharaoh.  But in “hardening” Pharaoh’s heart, God was not placing some new evil there, but rather turning Pharaoh over to him own desires.  Paul tells us in Romans 1:24 and 1:26 that God “gave them up” to their sins.

God does actively make His children alive from the dead through the power of His spirit, and God does actively pass over those who are not His children.  But God does not actively implant evil in men – He doesn’t need to!  For we are already evil, and when He lifts His restraining arm of common grace from our lives and turns us over to ourselves, we quickly destroy ourselves.

In all of this, He has a purpose and a plan.

The Answer is Hidden in His Purposes

The “answer” or the “reason” in all of this is that God chooses some for heaven and not others – in fact He hardens some and not others.  And this seems difficult, but we don’t know all of His reasoning, we just know that He does it because for His own pleasure and for His own glory.

You see, as Paul pointed out, God is the creator, and as part of the Trinity, Christ was a part of that creation process.  So Christ saying that He chose these 12 men – including one as a vessel of destruction – is the same as God saying He chose these 12.  Jesus is God, and that is what He’s trying to get across.  He can do whatever He wants with His creation for His own glory and pleasure.  We’re the creatures.  He made us and can really do whatever He wants.

When I was younger I played with Lego men, army men, and GI Joe figurines.  I would make Lego fortresses and ships and zoom them around my bedroom.  Some I kept in pristine condition because I wanted to make certain I could continue to use them the next day, but others I crashed into the floor.  I did so because it was my pleasure to do so, because it brought my joy.  Now God is not an 8-year-old boy.  God’s heart is much more complex and more sincere and loving.  And we are not merely Lego men, but we are creatures and He is the creator and He is absolutely sovereign over our lives and over who will join Him in heaven, and who He will use as vessels of wrath.

Judas was placed where he was because God allowed it.  Boice talks about how this was an ongoing trial for Jesus – even when He was alone with the 12, He had an enemy in His presence.

A.W. Pink says that God chose Judas for several reasons:

  1. Because it furnished an opportunity for Christ to display His perfections
  2. It provided an impartial witness to the moral excellency of Christ
  3. It gave occasion to uncover the awfulness of sin.
  4. The choice of Judas supplies the sinner with a solemn warning – Boice says, “A person may experience the closest possible contact with Jesus and still not come to Him for salvation.”
  5. The presence of Judas shows us that we may expect to find hypocrites among the followers of Jesus.
  6. It affords us one more illustration of how radically different are God’s thoughts and ways from ours.

This is a mystery that will not be solved in one day or in one reading.  We have to have faith that God, who created us and has saved us, also has a plan that is bigger than our finite minds can comprehend.

What Should our Reaction be?

I think the only proper reaction to this is to fear the Lord.  We too easily forget that His ways are not our ways.  His thoughts are not our thoughts.  So often we use that as a cop-out for learning more about God, but this is one instance where His mind and His plans are simply out of bounds.  And I do not mean simply beyond out understanding, but also beyond our questioning.  What He has purposed from eternity past we must not question.  Instead we must bow before Him in admiration for His power, His sovereignty, and His love for us.  For indeed we see evil all around us.  We ourselves were once enemies of God.  And yet, not because of anything in us – “not because of man who wills or who runs” but for His own purposes and His own glory (Eph. 2:8-9) He has chosen to redeem us from our fallen state (Rom. 5:8).  He does this because He wants your worship.  God has saved you for a point.  He has not only saved you from something but also for something (Eph. 2:10).  He wants you to know about these great truths because He wants your to be broken.  He wants you to be humbly relying completely on Him – for surely if He has planned all things from eternity, He can guide you through the rocky shoals of life.

This should cause us to love God. We see what He’s done in us, and though we can’t know His secret purposes, we do know the why of His purposes in our lives and what we ought to do with this new life we’ve been given.  Boice says, “let us learn to trust God in matters for which we can see no reason. Let us humble ourselves before Him. Moreover, since we can se that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, let us learn that our thoughts must change.”

I pray we learn to use this small understanding of His ways to foster a new love for Him in our hearts.  For we love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).