Like most (if not all) of you, the past few weeks are days which I will never forget. COVID-19 will be regarded as one of those events in history that will change what is considered… More
It’s a good week to breath some Narnian air.
Though The Horse and His Boy is not the most well known work of Lewis’ it remain’s an astounding work of fiction that, in my opinion, applies to all people no matter what age. Shasta, the main character, has always thought of himself as an unfortunate boy, especially in light of his past events where he seemed to get left out. The scene I want to address finds Shasta as low as one can be, feeling so sorry for himself and his circumstances, that tears began rolling down his face.
What happened next put this to a direct stop.
Shasta discovered that someone or somebody was walking beside him. It was pitch dark and he could see nothing. And the Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly feel any footfalls. What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed the breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.
After going through all sorts of possibilities of what this large Thing could be Shasta could not bear it any longer. He mustered up the courage to talk to It and ask It what it was. The Thing replied and told Shasta that It was not a giant or something dead, and asked Shasta to tell It his sorrows. Without noticing that the Thing had not answered the question but redirected the entire conversation, Shasta began to tell the Thing his entire pitiful life story. After detailing his unfortunate experiences the Thing turned to Shasta and said:
‘I do not call you unfortunate,’ said the Large Voice. ‘Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?’ said Shasta. ‘There was only one lion,’ said the Voice. ‘What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and –’ ‘There was only one: but he was swift of foot.’ ‘How do you know?’ ‘I was that lion.’ And Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. ‘I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.’…‘Who are you?’ Shasta asked. ‘Myself,’ said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again, ‘Myself,’ loud and clear and gay: and then the third time ‘Myself,’ whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all around you as if the leaves rustled with it.
Shasta was no longer afraid of the Voice, or the Lion walking beside him. Rather he felt a terrible gladsome trembling in Its presence. All of the sudden Shasta realized that as the Lion had been talking a light began to grow around Him, so much so that he had to blink over and over because it was almost as bright as the sun. Then he turned toward the light and saw it. There stood a Lion, walking beside him that was taller than his horse, soft and strong at the same time. He caught a glimpse of His face, and jumped out of his saddle and fell on his face before It, without saying a word. Their eyes met, and the Lion and all His glory around Him vanished leaving Shasta and his horse alone on the mountain path. A few days later, Shasta was walking on a hillside far away where all the landscape could be seen around them. Shasta noticed the path he walked on the other night where the Lion met him and was astonished to behold that the path they walked on was a cliff with jagged edges dropping far beneath on the left side. Shasta warmly thought to himself, “I was quite safe. That is why the Lion kept on my left. He was between me and the edge all the time.”
Thus we see Lewis’ purpose in The Horse and His Boy.
His aim throughout the whole story with almost every character was one and the same: to expand and display the reality present in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good, to those that love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Aslan, as you have seen, has this kind of encounter with Shasta and many other characters. All of the characters, even Bree the horse, seem to be down and out when Aslan comes to them with sovereign encouragement one by one.
This story is amazingly helpful because it teaches the reader that those awful circumstances in your own life which you think were the lowest of lows, were precisely the ones that God came to your aid, whether you were aware of Him or not, working them together for your good. And not only your good, but God worked them the best possible way to get to your best possible good. Aslan had been shaping, crafting, and carving out Shasta’s life from the very beginning, and when Shasta realized this he was infinitely humbled because such a glorious King such as Aslan was intimately involved with someone like him. The same is true for all Christian and non-Christian readers. Thus, I think this story has been, is, and will be used of God to bring many people to Himself throughout the past, present, and future simply because watching Shasta deal with real, hard life, and watching Aslan reveal Himself to Shasta gives the reader a window into God’s heart that is rarely seen in this generation.
Through life, Lewis learned one stunning truth that led his own heart to trust God like no other, namely, that God is sovereign and good. This is the helpful, not hurtful, message of The Horse and His Boy.
May you breath this Narnian air deeply amid these times.
 Lewis, 280.
 Lewis, 281.
 Lewis, 290.
Pray for Your Neighbor
– Pray that God will use this time to show believers and unbelievers alike of their frailty and of their great need for Christ (Psalm 103:14-15).
– Pray that God will open a door for you to be able share Christ with your unbelieving neighbor (Colossians 4:3-4).
– Pray for those affected physically by the virus.
– Pray for businesses and families affected financially by the virus.
Encourage Your Neighbor
– Many people are anxious and afraid amidst this pandemic. A word of encouragement will go a long way (Proverbs 12:25).
– It is easy to be short-tempered, annoyed, and unkind in times of uncertainty, but use this time to be patience with other even if they are not kind or patient with you (1 Corinthians 13:4).
– Encourage others by sharing Scripture with them (Colossians 2:2) through text, email, or social media.
Serve Your Neighbor
– Some people will experience great financial burden as a result of a layoff or lack of business due to the coronavirus. We can serve them by helping cover their rent, paying for their groceries, or assisting them in finding a new job.
– We can serve others by looking to their needs above our own by not buying and hoarding all of the supplies at the grocery store (Philippians 2:3-11).
Protect Your Neighbor
– Many of us are in good health and have no concern of falling ill. But there are others among us who are of far greater risk. We should do what we can do be courteous of these people. This might mean staying home when you want to go out. This might mean picking up items at the store for an elderly neighbor.
There are so many ways that we can encourage and honor those around us. We can be an encouragement just by making ourselves available to others. Your hope should be that your life leading up to this point has showed others that you are a person that is available to pray, encourage, serve, and protect others. Make yourself available to others as the Lord would lead you.
Let’s conclude today on the final movement of the Psalm. v14-16, “Because he holds fast to Me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows My name. When he calls to Me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him My salvation.”
We now come to the crescendo of Psalm 91.
Here the tense and voice changes once again just as it did before in v3, but it’s not another human speaker this time, no. In v14-16 God speaks confirming all that’s been said before. God begins with a clarification and then makes eight promises. Because he holds fast to Me, because he trusts in Me, and because he dwells in the shelter of My shadow, because he loves Me…this is God’s clarification describing the experience of one who obeys v1-2 and takes shelter in Him. And by sheltering in Him do you see all that God in His faithfulness promises to do for us? He will deliver us, He will protect us, He will answer us, He will be with us in trouble, He will rescue us, He will honor us, He will satisfy us with long life, and He will show us His salvation. These promises themselves form a kind of melody that rises as it progresses culminating with God showing us His salvation.
Taking it all together teaches us, once again what v1-2 taught us: all that God is, is more than enough for all that life will bring God’s people. His complete plenty is enough for our incomplete lack. So Christian, whether our earthly life is long or short, the life God gives His own in salvation extends far beyond the narrow boundaries of this world.
I’d like to close this little series of blog posts with a question and a quote.
Here’s the question: Who is Psalm 91 for? It may seem plain enough but it’s one that’s tugged at me all week studying this Psalm. Who is Psalm 91 for? In one sense it’s for Israel. In another sense it’s for all of God’s people throughout all time. And yet, in another sense it’s only for those among God’s people who obey the call to come and dwell in the shadow and shelter of the Almighty and experience the precious promises contained here. But in a far greater sense, and this is stunning, Psalm is only for Jesus Christ. Because He, in His redemptive work, trampled down all His foes in a true Genesis 3:15 manner. But surprise upon surprise, Jesus said all who turn from sin, believe in Him, and abide in Him (very Psalm 91 like language!) shall be with Him forever because He will abide with them! That means, in Jesus we have all that Psalm 91 promises.
Now for the quote. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Around the world the death of Jim Elliot and his four friends on January 8, 1956 was called a nightmare and tragedy. But Jim’s wife Elizabeth Elliot wrote, “The world did not recognize the truth of the second clause in my husband’s creed: ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose’.” She called her book about their story Shadow of the Almighty from Psalm 91:1 because she was utterly convinced that the refuge of the people of God is not a refuge from suffering and death but a refuge from final and ultimate defeat. Is that not what we’ve seen today? God did not exercise His omnipotent power to deliver Jesus from the cross. He did not do the same to deliver Jim and his friends that day. Nor does He promise to deliver you and I from all sorrow and death. Even so, may you know Jesus, and may you feel what Jim felt long ago; that though we live in this life, our hope in Jesus goes infinitely beyond this life.
Psalm 91 reminds us of such reality.
 Van Harn & Strawn, page 236.
 Calvin, notes on Psalm 91:15.
Yesterday I began blogging through Psalm 91, today I keep on…
Let’s begin with the first part of the second movement of the Psalm. v3-6, “For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.”
In this middle portion of Psalm 91 we see what it means for God to be the refuge of His people. The tense and person changes in v3. It’s no longer one speaking personally as it is in v2 but one speaking to another about God’s protection. So, in v3 God is said to be the Deliverer of His people, from the snare of the fowler, or the deadly trapper, specifically delivering His own from the traps of deadly pestilence or disease. In v4 God Almighty, in whose presence no sinner can be, stands forth as loving mother bird, covering us under His feathers, giving us refuge under His wings. This is an image we know don’t we? God actively protecting us with outstretched wings, like a bird with his young? This imagery, by the way, is exactly the same imagery Jesus uses at the end of Luke 13 as He wept over Jerusalem because the people were unwilling to gather under His wings as a hen gathers her young.
But notice as v4 begins with the image of a mother bird it concludes with the image of God’s faithfulness being our protection and defense, literally our shield or buckler. Why the change from bird imagery to war imagery? Well, think of what a shield does. It comes between us and our enemies to protect us. Is this not exactly what a mother bird would do for her own? Now we see what v4 is up to. God as our great protector not only shelters us under His wings and gives us refuge in Him there, He also stands in front of us as a faithful and sturdy shield so our enemies can’t even reach us! Combined in this one verse is both great love and great might weaving a dual beauty for God’s people. Because of this massive reality in v4 we then find v5-6 saying God gives a steady peace to His people not only in the midst of arrows that fly and the destruction that wreaks havoc by day, but the terror that stalks in the darkness of the night. These contrasting images of day and night function to teach us the extent to which God’s wings stretch out to protect His people. Or to say it another way, these contrasting images of day and night teach us that there is no attack which the shield of the Almighty cannot handle. So, with Isaiah then we joyfully affirm, “His arm is not too short to save” (Isa. 59:1)!
v7-10, “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place—the Most High, who is my refuge—no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.”
Historically these verses have caused such trouble from some interpreters and some traditions that they’ve flat out rejected them as being too out of bounds to be true. Do you see why this passage vexes some? It seems as if this is a promise that no harm or evil will ever come to God’s people. Is that true? Some conclude that such a promise just isn’t realistic, that the people of God do suffer greatly, and sometimes they suffer more than the wicked in this life, so they skip ahead past this portion. We certainly don’t want to do that, so it seems we’ve got a question before us. What are we to do with this? Taking into account that v15 mentions we’ll encounter trouble in this life there are a few ways we can interpret this. We can simply say this passage needs no explaining away, it is plain and clear, and common sense tells us what it means. This is a promise of an absolute exemption from all that endanger life, and that it is true of none but Jesus. Or we can say that eternally this passage is true. Thousands and thousands will fall around us but because the Lord is our refuge no evil will come near us, eternally or ultimately. We’ll only look on and see the fate of the wicked at the final judgment and rejoice that such a fate won’t ever eternally or ultimately come near the people of God. Or we could say that though we as God’s people won’t be delivered from every trial in this life, every trial we do encounter in this life will be turned to our greater good, and so the greater we suffer in this life the greater sight we’ll have of God turning all around. The result of this is what v7-10 teaches, no evil can touch God’s people because God our refuge turns the evil intending to harm us into servants of our joy in Him. Therefore, loss serves to make us rich, sickness is eternal medicine, bearing dishonor is our honor, and finally when it comes to it death is gain.
Taking the Psalm in these directions then it is no surprise that the Church in Western Europe looked to no other Psalm but Psalm 91 for comfort and courage when the plagues broke out. The black plagues in Switzerland and France in the 16thcentury, cholera in London and Germany during the 1850’s, or the various respiratory diseases and deaths that resulted from the industrial revolution in large cities on both sides of the Atlantic. In all of these cases for Israel, for these historical moments a few hundred years ago, and for us today in the midst of a global pandemic Psalm 91 proves true, and is a potent reminder that nothing will ultimately touch God’s people because He’s sheltered us under His wings.
Lastly, v11-13, “For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.”
v11-13 without a doubt the most well-known portion of this Psalm. It is particularly known for its mention of angels guarding God’s people, but probably most well-known for how it was abused and misused by Satan as he quoted it to Jesus near the end of His wilderness temptation trying to get Jesus to believe that the Father’s care of Him had failed. But Jesus knew the trick of twisting sacred Scripture to a wicked end. Perhaps then it isn’t all that surprising to find that Psalm 91 has so often been misinterpreted. Satan did it first, and many have followed suit since. So what do these verses teach? Well first see angels. Angels that guard God’s people. This means part of way God shelters us is through His angelic host. Many from this verse see a proof text for each of us having guardian angel but that’s not quite what’s being said here. We find that God certainly does command His angels to guard His people. But note that it’s angels (plural) and not angel (singular), so the image in view is that of the angelic host carrying out a zone defense for the people of God as we go about life.
Recall the moment when the king of Syria was warring against Elisha in 2 Kings 6. Syria came up against the city with a vast host, so vast that Elisha’s servant was terribly afraid. Elisha taught him a lesson saying, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16). After this God opened the servant’s eyes and he beheld the mountains full of horses and chariots of fire all around them he and Elisha. Guardian angels? Don’t think so small! God commissions the whole armies of heaven to keep watch over every individual believer. We stagger and stumble through all of life, but they bear us up and see to it that we don’t ultimately fall. And then v12, the angels defense remains true even though strong and sneaky trials come are way. The king of jungle might attack us with his strong might, or the adder (meaning snake) might attack us with his secret malice. Will these bring us down? Ultimately, no.
Through God’s sheltering us in His shadow and through being strengthened by the host of heaven we will walk, in a Genesis 3:15 like manner, trampling down all the foes that come against us!
 William P Brown, Seeing the Psalms: A Theology of Metaphor (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002) page 201.
 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (accessed 7/13/19, via accordance Bible software), notes on Psalm 91:4.
 Van Harn & Strawn, page 237.
 Calvin, notes on Psalm 91:5.
 Plumer, page 850.
 The English Annotations, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, vol. 8: Psalm 73-150 (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2018) page 120.
 Spurgeon, page 93.
 Calvin, notes on Psalm 91:11.
 Van Harn & Strawn, page 238.
In the Psalms we come across many different kinds of Psalms expressly fit for every season of the soul. Today, as I begin blogging through Psalm 91, we come to what many call a Psalm of consolation. These kind of Psalms express deep relief and comfort, but because they tend to focus so much on God’s protective care over His people these Psalms can often feel like a rousing pre-battle speech. Psalm 91 in particular has an unusual quality about it: being that it appears on Hallmark cards very often as well as being the only Psalm quoted by Satan. Nevertheless, Psalm 91 cheers the soul immensely. Its tone is elevated and triumphant, its message is fearless, and it presents faith at its best from start to finish. But as encouraging and bolstering as it has been to many, it has also given some much vexation and frustration. Why so? Because the promises of God contained in it, some say, are so remarkable that they’re simply untrue. And on the surface many do believe that these promises, especially v7-8, bring some unanswerable interpretive questions to the surface. But as we’ll see this morning, Psalm 91 is a masterpiece about how our strong and sovereign God holds us fast.
We do not know the events that gave rise to the words of Psalm 91, there is no setting given before in v1a. Many speculate on various seasons of David’s life these words fit into, some say since Moses wrote Psalm 90 he also wrote 91 and 92 as a kind of threefold introduction to the fourth book within the Psalms, while others believe it was used as something of a back and forth responsive reading in the worship of Israel. While we can see potential in all of these explanations we shouldn’t give ourselves too heavily to any of these opinions because we just don’t know for sure. So, like many other Psalms we take this one as it is, glad that it can fit into a variety of settings for all of God’s people throughout all time.
There are three movements to Psalm 91, all having to do with God as our refuge. Today I’ll begin with the first movement…
God our Refuge Affirmed (v1-2)
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
v1 is forms a kind introductory trumpet call for the whole Psalm to all who have ears to hear while v2 is the suitable response to it. In v1 the call to God’s people is to not remain at a distance from God but to come near God and take up a permanent residence, or dwell, in Him and near Him. If this call is obeyed do you see what is promised? For all who come to dwell in the shelter of the Most High, they will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. And all those who dwell there will not only be reminded of but will state confidently how firm a fortress and refuge God is for His people. This God isn’t like any other weak idol of the nations, no. This God, because of who He is, can be trusted by His people. Shelter and shadow is here paired with refuge and fortress, forming a stunning promise of protection for God’s people. That’s what v1-2 says, and this is the rousing beginning of v1-2.
Many people and often we ourselves at times in conversing with others will casually ‘name drop.’ As well intended as we may be, the reason someone drops a name is to bring about a certain kind of awe or astonishment in those we’re talking to. Whether it’s the name of a close relative or family friend we usually desire to be seen as important because of our connection to them.
Notice not just what v1-2 says but how it says what it says.
Witness here in v1-2 ‘name dropping’ at its finest. While speaking of the great benefits and security offered to those who dwell in Him, four times in v1-2 the Psalmist gives us different names of God. In v1 God is the ‘Most high’ (Elyon) and God is the ‘Almighty’ (El Shaddai). In v2 God is the ‘LORD’ (Yahweh) and God is ‘my God’ (Elohim). Why do this? Why go into such detail about who God is with an extensive list of His names? To bring about a certain kind of astonishment in us about all that our God truly is in Himself and therefore all that He is for us. Of all the connections God’s people have in this life it’s our connection to God that we should prize the most. Why? Because all that God is, is more than enough for all that life will bring God’s people.
His complete plenty is enough for our incomplete lack. While the bird has its nest, and the fox has its hole, the believer has the Lord Himself.
 William S. Plumer, Psalms (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, reprint 2016) page 848.
 Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David – vol. 2, part 2 (Mclean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing, reprint) page 88
 Roger E. Van Harn & Brent A. Strawn, Psalms for Preaching and Worship: A Lectionary Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2009) page 236.
 Reformation Study Bible, introductory notes on Ps. 91, page 939.
 Van Harn & Strawn, page 236.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
There is great wisdom in the truth that for the people of God there is nothing in this world that we should fear, for we serve a loving and sovereign God who controls all things. There is nothing in this life that can separate His own from His loving hands. This is especially true today as we turn on the television or browse the internet and see a world captivated by a health crisis. One of the things we know for certain is there is nothing new under the sun, all that has been will be again. However, with that in mind there are few encouragements I would like us to remember today:
- God is God I am not. He is ultimately in control of what will transpire over the coming weeks and months. Our trust must be fully in Him and not ourselves. This doesn’t mean we become lazy in our day to day affairs or careless in how we act during this time, but that we know the ultimate source of our hope is not how much we can hoard, but how much we pray and trust the Lord.
- Love your neighbor. This is where taking care of yourself and following prescribed guidelines come in to play. Yes, most of us won’t experience the virus, and of those of us who do many will experience little to no known affects, however for a percentage of our population, the elderly and immune deficient, they may have a very different experience. As followers of Christ we should care for those in our community who are most likely to experience the worst effects of this virus and be most vigilant in our love for them. This doesn’t mean to leave them in isolation, but to be aware of what you are doing and how best to care for them in this time.
- Be a witness of the true hope. In the midst of the apparent chaos and uncertainty of the future the world once again reflects on their own mortality. These are wake-up call moments that as believers we should not shy away from. We have the true hope that transcends the experiences of this world. We know of the truth that there is a much greater threat that lurks inside everyone that is far deadlier than any earthly virus. We know the reality of sin and the wrath to come for those apart from Christ. We must be a light in the darkness of uncertainty, offering the true and lasting hope of Christ and the blood that covers our sins.
Through the months ahead let us love God, love our neighbor and be the light of the Gospel the world needs. Let us be examples of godliness and wisdom. Let us pursue the Lord with all vigilance. Let us not lose our heads while the world around us rages on. Christ is our victory, He is our hope, He is our sovereign Lord who watches over His sheep. Let us trust the Lord.
I love to garden.
I love preparing the soil, planting the seed or plant, tending the soil around the the plant to produce healthy growth, pruning, harvesting, preserving the produce for the year to come, and of course eating it fresh off the vine. Believe it or not, I even enjoy weeding. Because no one enjoys weeding, it has become a place of quiet reflection for me. Everyone enjoys the harvest but it’s really gardening that has become a joy for me.
It wasn’t until I was recently engaged in conversation about the Gospel that this metaphor of gardening and harvesting really came to life for me. I was asking questions of the person who was clearly disagreeing with the message of the Gospel when someone asked me if I had been reading “Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions” by Greg Koukl.
I had not been, but upon his recommendation I picked up a copy and began learning how to better engage with people who have a differing opinion than mine; especially in matters of faith. But it’s not so much the “tactics” that have stood out to me up to this point so much as Koukl’s approach to Gospel-conversation as a whole. He likened his approach of sharing his faith to gardening vs. harvesting.
The Harvest is easy to understand. You share the Gospel, God does a supernatural work in that person causing them to be born-again, they confess Christ, turn from their former way of life and follow Jesus. In essence, you’ve just harvested, you’ve picked the ripe fruit, and it seemed easy—some have called it “low hanging fruit” before. If you are a gospel-sharer, more than likely you have picked some low hanging fruit. You didn’t prepare the soil, plant the seed, tend the soil, weed the garder, prune or fertilize, someone else did; you simply plucked the juicy, sun-ripened, vibrantly red tomato from the vine. Rejoice! What a joy!
The Gardening, however easy it is to understand, is not so easy to do. Gardening is hard. Sometimes the soil is hardened by a lack of rain and doesn’t easily work up. Sometimes the soil is soggy due to an oversaturation and is equally difficult to work. Still, someone needs to work the soil, plant the seed, weed out that which hinders growth and steals nutrients, and the labor is long & tiresome. It is necessary work and if there is to be a harvest in the future, often many gardeners have labored over this one “plant.”
In these times, there is still no promise of a harvest at all. Perhaps the rains will drown out the whole garden. Perhaps drought or the neighborhood dog will decimate the well-teneded garden. Perhaps, locusts devour and destroy or plant disease comes through and depletes the health of the plant until all it can do is grow, never producing fruit.
Gardening is hard work. And if we think of gardening and harvesting as a metaphor in evangelism, there is much more time invested in gardening than in harvesting. The harvest happens quickly and often times not by the gardener. Are you content with being God’s gardener? Are you “swinging for the fences” (how’s that for mixing metaphors) every time you talk with someone whether it’s forced & awkward or not?
Koukl’s approach to gardening and harvesting is that most of the gospel conversations he will ever engage in are gardening conversations. After all, it is Jehovah who is “the Lord of the harvest”, is He not? Sometimes in “gardening,” well meaning Christians rush to the thrust of the Gospel hoping to reap a harvest when the “young plant” is still in its germination or even before the soil has been tilled. This is not to say, “You shouldn’t share Christ with people too quickly” but “We should inquisitively discover where this person is in the gardening process so as to have a better understanding of our role in God’s process.”
I know I’m guilty of forcing the meat of the Gospel into a converstation where it doesn’t naturally fit in an effort to “do what I’m supposed to do.” If I’m honest, that’s never resulted in anyone converting or following up with “Hmmm, tell me more.” It almost always (and maybe always) ended the conversation. It’s like harvesting the bloom hoping the little yellow flower tastes like a well-tended, sun-ripened tomato.
God is sovereign over salvation, I’m not suggesting otherwise. I also know that if I were more attentive & inquisitive, I could be of more use to Him as He draws those to Himself from whom He has chosen to reap a harvest.
It doesn’t take a long time reading the Bible to discover that names mean a great deal. Names of people, names of places, and names of events often describe much more than names do today. There may be sentiment or tradition behind the names we give things, but that’s usually where it stops. In the Bible we find something different. We find the character of a person, place, or event wrapped up in its name. This is certainly true when it comes to names of human beings we meet in the Bible, but one thing most of us overlook is that it’s also true of God and the names He is called throughout Scripture.
If I were to go over every name God has or is called by in the Bible this would be a long post. We could speak of: Elohim, Elyon, Yahweh, Adonai, the Holy One of Israel, the Fear of Isaac, I AM, or the Lord of Glory. But in regard to Christ the most important names we have in Scripture are Christ, Lord, and Son of Man.
It’s so common to call the Son of God Jesus Christ that many people think Christ is Jesus’ last name. But it’s not. His name is simply Jesus, Christ is a title given to Him. It’s actually the title given to Jesus more often than any other in Scripture. It’s used so often throughout the Bible sometimes we find it reversed and we read of ‘Christ Jesus.’ The word Christ is the Greek word christos which comes straight from the Hebrew word Messiah, or, the Anointed One.
Jesus’ first sermon is recorded for us in Luke 4:18-21 where we see Him walk up to the front of the gathering, take the scroll of Isaiah, open it to chapter 61 and read the following, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” After reading that passage from Isaiah Jesus said to those at the temple, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” By doing this Jesus was proclaiming to the world that He was the One Isaiah was speaking of. He was the Messiah, the anointed One. He was saying He was the Christ.
But if Jesus was to be the Christ according to Isaiah’s standards, He had to be more than what was reflected in Isaiah 61. Isaiah spoke of the Christ many times throughout his prophetic ministry. He said the Christ would be a shepherd, a king, a lamb, and a suffering servant. The odds were astronomical for all these things to culminate in one person, but nothing is impossible with God. In fact, once Jesus comes on the scene in redemptive history at His first coming it is breathtaking to see all the different strands of prophecy come together into harmony in the Person and work of Jesus. He was the long awaited Christ, the Messiah, but spoke of Himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep in John 10. He spoke of His Kingdom being at hand in Mark 1, and if He has a Kingdom He must be a King. This is why the Babylonian astrologers, the magi, traveled an astounding distance to see the boy Jesus and give Him gifts, because He was a King. John the Baptist spoke of Christ being the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world in John 1. That He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world shows us that Jesus is also the Suffering Servant who suffers and dies for His people. All of these things and more culminate in the one Person of Jesus. This means Jesus is the Christ. This is most famously stated by Peter in Matthew 16 when Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” To which Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
After the title Christ the second most used name or title given to Jesus is the title Lord. Actually the statement ‘Jesus is Lord’ was the first creed or confession of the early Church. This was not only the first creed of the early Church, the statement ‘Jesus is Lord’ was the confession that put the early Church in serious conflict with the Roman Empire because Caesar was known as Lord. For the Church of that day to claim another Lord then Caesar was no small offense, it was considered high treason. This is why so many Christians were killed in the early Church, because they would no longer say ‘Caesar is Lord’ but would boldly proclaim the truth before their executioners ‘Jesus is Lord.’
You should be aware though, that the Greek word for Lord, kurios, is not always used in royal language. It had three common uses. First, the word was used as a polite address, like the word ‘sir.’ Second, the word was used as a greeting for wealthy landowners who owned and employed slaves. Third and lastly, the word was used as an imperial title. This is where the usage of Caesar is Lord comes into play. The Caesar chose the loftiest title to accompany his name, so Augustus was not merely called Augustus or even Emperor Augustus. Being Caesar, Augustus demanded to be called kurios. This last usage is the usage being employed when we say Jesus is Lord. We do not intend to communicate politeness or even that Jesus is a person of means, no, we intend that Jesus is majestic, that He is truly Lord over all.
Perhaps the most famous use of this title is found in Philippians 2:5-11 where Paul writes some of the most memorable words in Scripture. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” In this passage you really can make the argument that the name that is above all names, the name at which every name will bow isn’t the name Jesus, but the name Lord.
Son of Man
To end our discussion on the names of Jesus we come to the third most frequently used name of Jesus in the Bible, the Son of Man. Many critics of Jesus claim that His divine reputation came from the opinions of those around Jesus rather than Jesus Himself. Yet, this is misleading because while this is the third most frequent name or title attributed to Jesus in the Bible after Christ and Lord, Son of Man is the name Jesus uses the most when speaking of Himself. Still others think the name Son of Man refers to a humble or creaturely image Jesus wanted to portray, as if Jesus preferred Himself to be thought of as just a son of another man. This also is not the case. We see this in the pinnacle text of Daniel 7:13-14 where we find the majestic and exalted definition of the name Son of Man. Daniel 7:13-14 says, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
See the glory of this text. The Son of Man is one who comes to the Father, called here the Ancient of Days, and receives dominion, glory, and a kingdom, for the express purpose that all peoples and nations would serve (i.e. worship) Him. The Son of Man is not only given all these things, but it says after this that His kingdom shall be everlasting, it shall not pass away, and shall not be destroyed. This is no humble or creaturely designation is it? No, it’s a supreme and sovereign title.
So see in the names of Jesus, more than just names. See His character. Jesus is the Christ, Jesus is Lord, and Jesus is the Son of Man.
Adapted from 7Summits of Systematic Theology, by Adam Powers
In “The Whole Christ,” Sinclair Ferguson describes how many modern evangelical Bible teachers and commentators reject concepts like the three-fold division (or dimension) of the law (moral, civil, and ceremonial). Ferguson points out that the rejection of this concept flows forth out of a mindset that sees anything “traditional” as being too rigid, extra-biblical, out of step with the times. Citing C.S. Lewis, Ferguson notes that many students of the Bible come in at eleven o’clock without realizing that a conversation actually began at eight o’clock. Each generation faces the temptation of succumbing to “the heresy of modernity.” This “heresy” teaches that, for the most part, it is our generation that needs to be listened to and a scornful gaze is cast on those who have gone before us.
Each day brings fresh reminders of how prone believers are to being ensnared by this error. For instance, our cultural moment relishes the quick answers, pithy statements, and theological clichés to solve all of the theological issues and debates. Social media platforms, like Twitter, become the places where believers “do theology” which means that the space and time are short. Whatever a person says about an issue, the limit is 280 characters so nuance and explanation cannot be entertained. The flashy retorts and the witty responses rule the day regardless of whether any substantive really took place.
In recent days, questions and discussions regarding theonomy, the place of the law in civil society, the nature of the church and the state, and liberty of conscience are being discussed with a renewed focus. Theological discussions are a good thing. The church needs robust exchanges and study concerning biblical doctrine. However, it is apparent that too many believers fail to put in the hard work of study. It is quite easy to listen to the hottest podcast, watch the most provocative YouTube videos, and read the wittiest blogger than it is to dig into the primary sources of theology. With all due respect, there is more to learn and understand about the law and the gospel in the writings of 17th century Baptists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists than in most of the current material being sold in the virtual marketplace.
While it is easy to claim a heritage, it is harder to actually study and know the complexities of that heritage. If one claims to be a subscriber to the 2LBCF (1689), it would behoove him to actually read Abraham Booth’s essay on the kingdom of Christ and Isaac Backus’ treaties on liberty of conscience concerning the issues that distinguish us from those who advocate for a state church. Why would such a person take their cues on the function of the law in society from one who supports a state church? Ask yourself this question: am I really shaped by the historic foundations of the faith or the cultural moment that I live?
Carl Trueman provides much wisdom, “The Christian mind is not only doctrinal; it is also marked by a certain attitude to the past. And church practice, as well as church teaching, plays an important role in the cultivation of this.” So, what would describe your practice right now? Do you do theology within the context of a local church shaped and guided by the historic creeds, confessions, and catechisms that have been passed down to us? The Christian views history differently than the world for Christianity understands that all of history is written by God. Beware the heresy of modernity that ignores the Spirit working through the people of God who have gone before us. May this generation faithfully contend for the faith passed down!
 Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 182.
I pastor a predominantly blue collar church. Many in my congregation don’t have a bachelor’s degree. These are the kind of people I love. I grew up in a blue collar home and loved my childhood (my dad is a carpenter and my mom is an RN). That being said, the Bible is chock-full of rich theological concepts and terminology that often require serious study. One doesn’t have to read very far into the New Testament to encounter words like propitiation, predestination, regeneration, and justification. These and many other five syllable words shouldn’t be glossed over and are central to understanding our salvation. Then you’ve also got issues like the difference between Israel and the church and the struggle between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Do blue collar Christians who work in the trades and spend their lives around common people really need this sort of robust theology? Should their pastors be more mission-driven and less doctrine-driven? Here are a few reasons why I think robust theology is indeed vital for all believers, including the blue-collar working class.
Paul was a blue collar worker himself
Oftentimes when we think of biblical texts that are doctrine-heavy, we think of Paul’s epistles. Even Peter said this of Paul’s writings: “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). But we have to remember that Paul and the other New Testament authors were not theologians sitting in some ivory tower. They were blue collar workers. Paul was not just some talking head. He traveled throughout the known world preaching, planting churches, and getting persecuted. Sure Paul spent decades of his early life studying the text of Scripture in the tradition of the Pharisees, but his life was totally transformed the day Christ met him. He went from persecuting Christians to preaching their Christ. He even took up a common job that would help him carry this amazing Gospel to everyday people around the world. He worked with his hands, plying the trade of a tent maker (Acts 18:1-3). He spent much of his time gathering leather and other materials to sew and construct livable dwellings. He instructed fellow pastors like this: “I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak…” (Acts 20:35). When he discovered idle church members at Thessalonica, he wrote this: “You yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10).
Also, we all need the theology of God’s Word because…
Paul’s letters were written for blue collar church members
Some may say, “Okay so maybe Paul was a hard working man, but 21st Century, working class Christians don’t need to understand all he wrote. They just need to love Jesus and live for Him.” Such reasoning sounds logical, but it is actually very arrogant and even dangerous. If we claim that Christians don’t need to understand Paul’s writings, we’re rejecting the Bible’s authority. Why? Because 2 Timothy 3:16 informs us (also Paul’s writings) that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” God’s Word (and Paul) says that every word contained within is vital for our well-being. Most of the New Testament was written to actual churches and people, and most of them were for the blue collar type. Some argue for biblical illiteracy by saying they don’t know how to read at all, but I find this argument also has its flaws. God has revealed Himself in a book and books require the ability to read. A person who is truly born-again by God will so long to know God that if they don’t know how to read, they will get educated to do so. One godly man I know came to Christ while working on the railroad. He only had a third grade education and never even learned to read. Steve so longed to know the God who spoke in His Word that he humbled himself and had his wife teach him how to read. He told me this was so hard, but it was well worth it. His Bible is now marked up and underlined as he wakes each morning to study it.
Another reason the Bible’s rich theology is for blue collar people is that…
Theology drives mission
I recently listened to a podcast where a pastor in my home state discussed how he revitalized his church. I was intrigued until I heard his story a little more. He said this blue collar church was in serious decline and said the former pastor’s theological ministry stunted the church’s “growth.” He then went on to say that numbers are now high since he has shifted the church’s focus to reaching outsiders. His church is now very doctrine light and I wonder if his sheep will truly grow or if they’ll survive on a meager diet under him. On the one hand, I am grateful this pastor is leading his people to reach the lost, as sadly many churches do not evangelize as they ought. But it is a major mistake to say mission must take a backseat to theology. Doctrine drives worship and mission, not the other way around. Any church that isn’t doing mission well is probably confused on their theology anyway. Our understanding of man’s total depravity, for instance, will shape how we reach out to them. Passing out water bottles is great, but if faith comes by hearing, we must share Christ with them. Our understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation also directly affects our witness. If we believe our evangelistic fervor is what saves, we’ll become boastful or discouraged or even negligent when we don’t see many saved. Also our understanding of the Gospel has a huge impact on our witness. If we get the Gospel message wrong and have a man-centered gospel, we won’t truly be ambassadors for God and people won’t truly be reconciled to Him through our message.
So may none of us shy away from the hard, but glorious truths in our Bibles. May we not boast in our ignorance. God gave us a brain and He gave us words and truths to study. He did not waste a single word and so we as God’s people, blue collar and white collar, must be diligent to study it to better know and love Him.
I have been a bi-vocational pastor for the last decade. When it comes to bi-vocational ministry there are many unique challenges and benefits. Over the years I have gotten to know several godly men who are in bi-vocational ministry. Recently, I had the opportunity to ask each of them two questions: “What is your greatest prayer request as a bi-vocational pastor and what is the greatest benefit to being in bi-vocational ministry.”
The following is a summary of their answers:
Dr. Joe Allotta – Crossroads Church
Pastor Joe believes that one of the greatest benefits of being a bi-vocational pastor is the freedom to make decisions. Since his income is not solely based on the church, he is able to make choices based on what he believes is right and good for the church without fear that he might lose his job and not be able to provide for his family.
A great prayer need for Joe is that God would allow him to use his time wisely and that he would be putting in the appropriate time for each area of his life (family, ministry, and career).
Pastor Jake Collins – Northwest Community Church
Pastor Jake believes that being used by God in the workplace is one of the greatest benefits of bi-vocational ministry. Jake stated, “I work with autistic kids and their families so God often has me in a place of chaos where I can be light and encouragement to those I work with and be used by God outside the church setting.”
Jake’s greatest prayer need is time management and the zeal and energy to do both ministry and secular work well for the glory of God.
Pastor Spencer Sowers – First Baptist Church of Wesley Chapel
Pastor Spencer believes that the greatest benefit to working in bi-vocational ministry is the ability to regularly work with people outside of the church. This is a unique opportunity that many full-time pastoral staff members simply don’t have, but it allows for different kinds of ministry opportunities.
Spencer’s greatest prayer request is for time management, especially when it comes to his family.
Pastor Yeriel Dominguez, The House of Restoration
Pastor Yeriel believes the greatest benefit of being a bi-vocational pastor is that is does not put a huge financial burden on the church. It allows the tithes and offering that come in to be used for ministry rather than for the pastor’s salary.
Yeriel’s greatest prayer request is that he would not have to be bi-vocational anymore. He would love to be able to focus all his attention on the work of leading and shepherding the people God has given him.
Drew Regan, Riverside Baptist Church
Drew believes that the greatest benefit of being in bi-vocational ministry is being able to see the true culture that we live in. Before he entered bi-vocational work, he was typically only around other believers, but now that he is bi-vocational he has been able to branch out and minister to those outside of the church as well as those within. This has given him a new perspective as he ministers to those around him.
Drew’s greatest prayer request is that he would have a Kingdom mindset regardless of where he is or what he is doing.
Pastor Jason Lowe, Crossroads Church
Pastor Jason believes that the greatest benefit of being bi-vocational is being aware of what life is like outside of church. Jason believes that seeing people outside the church gives him an opportunity to stay connected to people and their difficulties. When he sees the struggles that others face it makes it easier for him to serve people as he understands where they may be coming from.
Jason’s greatest prayer request is for balance in ministry, work, and family. He is often being pulled in numerous directions and if he doesn’t give the appropriate attention to one area of his life, it is possible that the others could come crashing down as well.
Remember to pray regularly for the bi-vocational pastors (and all the others too) in your life. We need your prayers.
“Should we listen to or sing the songs of bands with porous theology?”
It’s a legitimate question and one that came to me, in similar form, this past week. From the dancing Israelites on the eastern shore of the Red Sea in the fifteenth chapter of Exodus, I had drawn a lesson on worship for the church at our weekend gatherings: ‘what we sing to or say about God should be Biblically-informed.’ With so much of modern “Christian music” bordering on doctrinal disdain or flirting with Biblical neglect, a question such as the one above lesson. So, here is my answer to the inquiry…
This is a terrific question. I am all too aware of the hollowed out anthems of “modern worship;” or the erroneous, if not heretical, teaching that exists in several of the churches behind the most popular of Christian artists. I’ll offer my response as succinctly as possible.
When lifting our voices in adulation to the Lord the most critical component is not the origin of a song, or even our intent to worship through the song, but is rather the content of the song. The lyrics themselves must, without fail, acknowledge our Sovereign for who He is and what He has done – without compromise. This does not mean that every anthem must completely explain intricate Gospel depths or unpack weighty Divine attributes. Instead, what this does mean is that however many or few lyrics are contained in the song, these lyrics must convey a Biblical expression of salvation, glory, brokenness, redemption, dependence, and the list rolls ever onward and upward. Anthems, should recount the excellencies of our Savior far more than the experiences of the subordinates. The question then is really quite simple: does the song in question – not the band who sings it, or the artist who wrote it, or the teacher who shaped it – agree with the testimony of Scripture? If the answer is “yes” then, I believe, we are completely at liberty to sing.
With that said, our affirmation of a song must, at times, come with mature and honest instruction and dialogue. Caveats and clarification are hardly a bad thing in a day of relativism, secularism, and fanaticism. There are remarkable anthems at times produced by musicians who are Biblically compromised. We certainly need to protect fellow believers, and even those scoping out the faith, from the egregious nature of much modern Christian doctrine – or lack thereof – communicated through music.
The easy conclusion is always elimination – of liberties, music, delights, or anything that has even the slightest potential to offend; but that is not, I believe, to what we are called. Instead, we are called to discernment, humility, wisdom, discussion, and tough decisions.
There’s something beautiful in barn-wood. The old, worn-out, seasoned and scarred-up wood from a barn tells a story without words. You know in that deeply grooved and distressed plank there has been life, death, tears, joy, confusion, and hard work. It has seen storms and sunshine, extreme cold and heat, winds that threatened destruction and a gentle breeze that brought relief to those inside and out. There is joy in the old.
Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s because my tastes and desires have changed. Maybe it’s because I have simply come to enjoy the complexity and longevity of time-developed enjoyments. Allow me a moment to explain.
This is where the Lord has me in my personal Bible reading, as well. To be honest, I’ve always labored through the Major Prophets because of the mystery in multiple prophecies, with people I don’t remember, names I can’t pronounce, and situations I’ve forgotten from I & II Kings and Chronicles. But this time through has been different.
I’ve been praying “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). And, the Lord has been faithful to that request. I can’t get enough of Isaiah. In times past, I’ve bogged down and struggle through “The Majors” but the Lord has slowed me, fed me, led me to meditate and take “small bites” and feast on His complexity, longevity, and His time-developed redemptive plan, and most importantly, His covenantal faithfulness to True Israel.
Take for example Isaiah 46. In verse 3 & 12 the Lord commands the attention of His covenant people when He says, “Listen to me…” He moves His people through the futility of idolatry, that the idols of the idolatrous follow them into slavery demonstrating their impotence. Yet, it was His covenant people “who have been borne by [YHWH] from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (46:3b-4). The LORD is not impotent. He has proclaimed this before it happened, then caused it to happen that His people might remember Him and stand firm. “…there is no other…I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (46:9 & 11).
It was YHWH who knows His people even before they were born (Isaiah 46:3 & Ephesian 1:4), who carries them from out of the womb and through their lives (Isaiah 46: 3b-4a; Psalm 139:13-16 & Matthew 28:20), and will save those He has born and carries (Isaiah 46:4b & 13 & John 6:40). How can the student of Scripture, the disciple of Jesus, not see his Messiah in these “old words,” and in seeing not rejoice?
And yet this is only a passing scent, carried on the breeze, of the feast that awaits the student of the Old. The Sovereign God who sent His Son laid the ground-work in centuries past, that when His advent came His own would know Him. He is ours for the discovery, as well as the joy that awaits with it, in the Old.
I often wonder if this is how Cleopas and his fellow sojourner felt on their way to Emmaus while the resurrected Jesus “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets…interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Indeed, my heart burns within me while the Lord talks to me through the opened Scriptures (Luke 24:32).
There are joys in the Old. And, if you’re willing to set down the New (Testament), even if just for a season, and ask the Lord to open your eyes, that you may see wonderful things from His Law, I am confident that when you pick the New back up the Old will have enriched not only your understanding but also your love and appreciation for God’s time-developed plan of redemption; especially in the most obvious connection between the Old & New, the person Jesus of Nazareth, your Savior!
Just for the record: Jesus is better than barn-wood!
All of us desire to be noticed. Whether a person wants to admit or not, we do crave attention, affirmation, and acceptance. The sense of being “special” really makes us feel unique. The notion of uniqueness and being special can be overplayed especially in a society that values individualism in an unhealthy way. The temptation to pride, however, knows no historical limitations. There is no question that John the Baptist did occupy a unique place in redemptive history. He is only man set apart to be the forerunner to the Messiah. With that unique calling, John seeks to remove attention from himself and point to Christ. As ministers of the gospel today, we find ourselves in a very “unique” spot where boasting in our talents comes naturally. None of us are John the Baptist though when it comes to his office. His mindset and ministry demonstrate what should be the desire of all who teach and share the word of God: hear the voice of Christ.
In his excellent work, Expository Thoughts on Mark, J.C. Ryle notes that large numbers and popular preachers can become the measurement of spirituality for man. People can equate a crowd or popularity as a stamp of God’s approval upon a person, ministry, or church. J.C. Ryle notes that there were many who came out to hear John for a season. He was a popular preacher in his day. Men and women walked miles to come to the Jordan River and hear him preach. I have never had anyone walk miles to attend a service I was preaching! Yet, for all of the crowds that came to hear him, how many were truly converted? Did they come to hear John and be entertained by this funny looking man heralding the kingdom in the wilderness? This is not a statement that small numbers equal godliness. However, just because a large number go to this place or that place does not mean the presence of God is there.
J.C. Ryle then makes a weighty statement: “It is not enough to hear and admire popular preachers. It is no proof of our conversion that we always worship in a place where there is a crowd. Let us take care that we hear the voice of Christ himself, and follow him.” In our corporate worship, do we desire to hear the voice of Christ? When worship is guided by principles of pragmatism then hearing Christ is diminished as a priority. The worship leader’s talents and the speaker’s charisma become the driving force of the service. Men and women fill buildings week after week hearing a voice but it is not the voice of Christ.
John the Baptist exhibits that which is faithful and better in his continual efforts to move the spotlight off himself and onto the Messiah who was coming. John receives attention and possesses a unique calling and office. How does John respond to these factors? John points to Christ and yearns for the people to not look to him but to look to the Lamb who came to take away the sin of the world. For all of the crowds and for the temporary popularity, John’s focus remains upon Christ. The forerunner’s voice comes at a critical moment. However, there is another voice that John desires the people to hear.
What will be the verdict upon our preaching, our teaching, our discipleship, and our catechizing? Was our aim continually upon the voice of Christ being heard? Do we find ourselves being consumed by fleeting popularity, podcast downloads, and attendance? Beloved, let us hear the words of John: Christ must increase and I must decrease! Our voices cannot raise spiritually dead men to life, bring comfort to the broken, and heal the afflicted soul, but the voice of Christ does make the dead alive, comfort brokenness, and heal affliction. Let us then give ourselves to being people who point others to Christ, the pre-eminent One. Let us join with John the Baptist in saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
The night when Jesus was born, the sun of righteousness began to rise on our dark world. Jesus came into our world “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” God’s only Son was born to deliver us from sin’s dark night and bring us into the light of God’s glorious day.
You see, Jesus lived the life of obedience that we could have never lived. He never chose the darkness of sin and pride, but obeyed the Law fully, loving God and neighbor from a true heart. Yet this Jesus, as truly God and yet truly man, took our sins upon himself when he laid down his life on the cross. He not only entered our dark world but also experienced the dreadful darkness of God’s judgment in our place—on behalf of all those who would believe in his name. Now, by believing in his name, his light can be our light. By receiving him as the gift of God’s grace, his life can be our life. Friends, only Jesus can deliver us from the darkness.
But though Jesus conquered death by his own death and resurrection, and though he ascended to his Father as the King and Savior of the world, his kingdom still hasn’t come in all its fullness. Today, we find ourselves still waiting in a world of darkness. It’s the darkness of sin, of evil, of injustice, of uncertainty, of pain, of suffering—and it has yet to be fully dispelled.
While God’s grace has appeared in Christ, from his cradle to his cross, we now wait “for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). One day, the risen Lord Jesus will return to rid this world of death’s dark shadow forever. He will make all things new. And until he comes, we walk by faith in the dark before the Dawn. I want to briefly focus our attention on the coming Dawn. I want us to consider the blessed hope that all who trust in Christ possess now. To do this, I want to read from the final chapter of the Bible: Revelation 22. It’s a passage full of imagery used throughout Scripture
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:1-5).
Just as the Bible begins with God and man, dwelling together in perfect fellowship in a garden full of beauty, life, and joy, here we see the same Eden-like imagery. This is a vivid picture of the new heavens and the new earth; the city of God; the people of God in a restored creation. Here, God and his redeemed people are together, face to face. The two images we find here—a river of living water, streaming from the throne of God and the Lamb; and “the tree of life” with its abundant supply of fruit and healing leaves—depict the results of Christ’s saving work.
Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, because he triumphed over sin and death, the effects of sin are completely overcome here. The eternal life which God gives to his people will be constantly available to nourish us, and will heal the effects of every former sin. All of this is a picture of eternal life. This is not simply everlasting life; it’s more so everlasting communion with God. It’s the experience of unending fellowship with God—knowing him, loving him, obeying him, and enjoying him forever. It’s rest, satisfaction, peace, and joy.
But notice the depiction of the new heavens and new earth found in verse 5: “And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev 22:5). The focus here is not so much on what this will look or be like literally. We’re not supposed to read this and ask “Will there be sun or moon in the new creation? Will we need to sleep? How can there be months (v.2) if there’s no day/night cycle to distinguish days and months?” No! John is describing eternal life with God in the restored creation with beautiful language that we can understand. Think about what this phrase is saying: “night will be no more“
The darkness of sin and evil will be no more. No longer will God’s creation be corrupted by sin, ruined by the curse of the Fall. No longer will this world be a place of danger, violence, uncertainty, and ruin. No longer will there be any evil! No longer will our hearts be plagued with sin, rebellion, or the powers of darkness. We will be glorified, saved to sin no more!
The darkness of suffering and death will be no more. No longer will we experience any kind of pain, sickness, or even death. Moreover, no longer will we experience any kind of worry, depression, anxiety, or fear about pain and death. No longer will be weak, tired, worn out, restless, insecure, confused, lost, unsure, or dismayed. We will only know life and joy.
So, when we read that “night will be no more”, this means that the curse of physical and spiritual death that entered world through Adam’s sin will be permanently removed by King Jesus. At the Dawn of the new creation, when Jesus comes back renew the world, we will experience total peace and security and relief from all suffering that characterized the old creation.
But the beauty of this passage—the most wonderful blessing of this passage in Revelation—is not simply that night will be no more, that darkness will be no more. No; it’s that we will see the Light of Day forever and ever. It’s that the Lord God will be our light! God will dwell us, his people, forever in perfect peace, rest, and joy. This is our hope as we wait in the dark before the Dawn.
Friends, we all know the present darkness of this broken world. Yet at the same time, everyone would like to believe that there’s a happy ending to this story; everyone wants to believe all will be well one day. We want to believe that the darkness of sin and death will be dispelled forever. But the truth of the matter is that, for those who fail to repent and believe in Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was for sinners slain, the coming Day of the Lord will only be a day of eternal darkness. Those who belong to the darkness will be dispelled with it.
If you are tired of the darkness of this world—and more importantly, the darkness of your own heart, with all of its sin and guilt and worry and depression and fear—then hear the words of Jesus Christ from John 8:12:
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Behold the Son of God! Repent of your sins, trust in his finished work, and believe in his name. United to Christ by faith, the coming Day of the Lord will be the Day of your full and eternal salvation. Our God is merciful and patient and wants all to come to the light of Christ. While the offer of salvation stands, before Jesus returns, receive his light by faith.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we await the coming of our Lord and Savior, let us endure this present darkness with joy, with gratitude, and with a confident expectation that our God will fulfill every one of his promises. He will dispel the darkness and bring us into his light forever. Let us be encouraged that one day, sin’s dark night will be no more. One day, the Lamb who was for sinners slain will make all things new, and the Lord our God will be our steadfast light.