How to Live in God’s Word

Understand It

As we open up God’s Word it can be difficult to understand. There are certain books or passages in the Bible that we may glance over or avoid altogether because we don’t understand them. But these passages have lots of value and God has given them to us as a gift. We shouldn’t avoid difficult passages, but instead seek God through prayer to help us better understand. Seek the counsel of others to help us understand. Seek commentaries or study tools to help us understand. We have so many resources at our hands to help us understand God’s Word. Instead of neglecting the difficult passages, let’s embrace them and take them seriously.

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18)

Delight in It

Psalm 119 tells us that the Word of God is sweeter than honey. It is something to cherish and delight in. We taste honey and enjoy it’s sweet flavor. We see a sunset and enjoy its beauty. We enjoy the laughter that we have with friends. All these things are wonderful delights that God has given to us by grace. His Word is said to be sweeter than these things. Knowing and understanding God’s Word will help us to delight in it. Through delighting in His word we delight in Him.

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103)

Obey It

When we know and delight in God’s Word it will cause us to obey. True obedience is the overflow of our relational knowledge of God. Being told to obey (“follow rules”) is not what makes people follow rules. Knowing God’s Word is what produces true obedience to God. Obeying God’s Word can only flow from a proper understanding of it. We shouldn’t look at God’s law as a rule to follow begrudgingly, but as something we are pleased to obey.

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.” (Psalm 119:33-34)

The Cross, Our Value, and the Danger of Heresy

“And then she understood the devilish cunning of the enemies’ plan. By mixing a little truth with it they had made their lie far stronger.”[1]

If heresy is to ever successfully infiltrate the church, then it must not only appeal to the desires of our sinful nature but also have a ring of truth to it. False doctrines that are absurd or obviously unbiblical never gain traction among the majority of Bible-believing Christians. On the contrary, Peter says that false teachers bring in their destructive heresies secretly, with the result that “many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Pet. 2:1-3). Paul writes that the Devil himself disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14); and let’s not forget that he can quote Scripture too (see Matt. 4:5-6)!

In other words, the most convincing false doctrines will always include biblical truth. They will sound good and make us feel good. With just the right amount of Scripture, a hint of Christian concepts mixed with the desires of the flesh, and a dash of rhetorical flair, you have all the ingredients you need to create a fresh batch of ear-tickling muffins. Nevertheless, “a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.”[2] We need to be on guard against false teachers and their subtle attempts to reject and redefine God’s Word.

What the Cross is “Really” About: Our Value

While we could look at many popular heresies in the church today to confirm this, one recent teaching serves as a prime example. The reason for its popularity is because it seeks to shed new light on God’s love, Christ’s redeeming work, and especially our value in God’s eyes. Todd White, a popular proponent of this view, put it this way in an interview on TBN:

The value [that] was placed on my life was determined by the cost that was paid for me. See the cross isn’t just the revelation of my sin; it’s the revealing of my value. Something underneath of that sin must have been of great value for heaven to go bankrupt to get me back. So, Jesus paid such a high price for me on that tree, and when I see that, I see my value.[3]

As you can see, this ticks all the boxes. It affirms several biblical truths: The cross of Christ reveals both our sin and our value to God; the eternal Son of God left the glories of heaven to seek and save the lost; the price of our redemption was the blood of Jesus. It also makes sense to us on a practical level: The price you are willing to pay for something reveals its value to you. So, on the surface, it sounds good and it definitely makes us feel good; it appeals to our desire for significance and worth.

But when we look at the cross of Christ and behold the price of our redemption, should our focus ultimately be on our value to God? Specifically, was there something underneath our sin that made heaven go “bankrupt” just to get us back? Is the reason that Jesus shed his blood for us because we were worth it? The answer to these questions, from the consistent teaching of Scripture and the consensus of church history, is a resounding “No.” While it comes very close to being sound, biblical teaching, this is a false doctrine that only serves to undermine the good news it attempts to proclaim.

A Note on Our Value to God

Before we look at a few objections to this teaching, it’s important to briefly clarify this concept of our value or worth. First, having been made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), all humanity has intrinsic value and special dignity. Human life is of inestimable worth in all its dimensions, despite the fall of man and our enslavement to sin. God has crowned man with “glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5), and Jesus himself affirms we are of great value to our Maker (Matt. 6:26).

Second, for all who have received adoption as sons through faith in Christ, we are now loved and treasured as God’s very own children! We are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9; see also Ex. 19:5; Titus 2:14). If God in Christ gave himself for us to redeem us and make us his own, how could we not have value in God’s eyes?! So, in this second sense, the cross indeed is a revealing of our value to God, since he obtained us with his own blood (Acts 20:28); how deep the Father’s love for us indeed!

Objection #1: This Teaching Contradicts the Meaning of Grace

However, our value to God is not the reason why God sent his Son into the world! No worth of ours, buried beneath the dirt and corruption of our sin, compelled the Son of God to come to earth and redeem a sinful people for his possession. Neither our inherent value as image-bearers, nor our “potential” value as new creations in Christ, caused heaven to go bankrupt (which is itself a reckless phrase to use) so God could get us back. No; our salvation is totally unmerited and completely undeserved—that is, it is by grace alone. To say that Jesus shed his blood on the cross to ransom us because we were so valuable to God is to contradict the very meaning of grace!

The Bible makes it very clear why God set his love on an unworthy, sinful, and rebellious people, and it has absolutely nothing to do with any inherent worth that we possess:

The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt (Deut. 7:6-8).

The eternal God, who is perfectly blessed in himself and in need of nothing, loves us because he loves us! Jesus laid down his life for us not because we were valuable or worth it but quite simply because he loved us. In fact, when Scripture speaks of the death of Christ, it never uses this language of “our value.” Instead, what you will repeatedly find are references to the greatness of our sin and the greatness of God’s love (see Rom. 3:9-26; 5:6-10; Gal. 3:10-14; Eph. 2:1-10; 1 Tim. 1:12-17; Titus 3:3-8). The focus is always God’s unmerited favor towards unworthy sinners. Yet this teaching subtly draws our gaze away from God’s grace to behold our worth.[4]

So, while the cross is the revelation of our value to God—in that he gave “his only Son to make a wretch his treasure”—we only have this value because of the cross! The cross is supremely the demonstration of “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). In Christ, we are no longer glory-stealing sinners and God-hating rebels but new creations, God’s treasured possession. Why? Because our salvation is a gift of God’s grace, due to nothing good in us whatsoever.

Objection #2: This Teaching Confuses Our Value with Our Debt

Another problem with this teaching’s emphasis on our value is that it misunderstands the price that Jesus paid for us on the cross. While it is true that the price of something shows its value, in our case, the price of our redemption isn’t so much a revealing of our worth but of the debt that we owe. It’s a reflection, so to speak, of the “damage” we have caused—as if the servant of a high-ranking government official had stolen one his exotic cars and crashed it into his multi-million dollar estate, which then exploded and set his whole property on fire, destroying billions of dollars’ worth of paintings and sculptures from his private art collection and killing the official’s son.

You see, God in Christ paid such a high price for us not because we were valuable to him and deserved to be redeemed, but because we had rebelled against him and incurred the wages of sin and eternal death! We, who were made in his God’s own image to glorify him like nothing else in all creation, “did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” but “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Rom. 1:21-25). We have committed cosmic treason and robbed the infinitely glorious God of the honor which he is due. Paul says that, “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless” (Rom. 3:12), that, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). And as the author of Hebrews reminds us: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22).

So again, while the cross does in one sense reveal our worth (because those justified by grace through faith in Jesus have received adoptions as sons and become God’s treasured possession), it is ultimately a reflection of God’s abundant grace and generosity and not any value on our part—inherent or potential. The cross of Christ is the revelation that unworthy sinners are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness [notice Paul doesn’t mention our value here!] . . . so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-26). The cross primarily reveals the righteousness of God in perfect justice and mercy, “having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14). This is why we sing:

He paid a debt he did not owe; I owed a debt I could not pay
I needed someone to wash my sins away
And now I sing a brand new song, “Amazing grace!”
Christ Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay.

Objection #3: This Teaching Changes the Grounds for Loving God

This final objection is a bit more subtle than the others but is absolutely critical. Here we see even more clearly why this teaching is such a dangerous false doctrine. Drawing on the writing of Jonathan Edwards, John Piper makes the following observation, worth quoting at length:

Perhaps you have heard people say how thankful we should be for the death of Christ because it shows how much value God puts upon us. In other words, they are thankful for the cross as an echo of our worth. What is the foundation of this gratitude?

Jonathan Edwards calls it the gratitude of hypocrites. Why? Because “they first rejoice, and are elevated with the fact that they are made much of by God; and then on that ground, [God] seems in a sort, lovely to them. . . . They are pleased in the highest degree, in hearing how much God and Christ make of them. So that their joy is really a joy in themselves, and not in God.” It is a shocking thing to learn that one of today’s most common descriptions of the cross—namely, how much of our value it celebrates—may well be a description of natural self-love with no spiritual value.[5]

In other words, this teaching only serves to make us love and worship God because of how much he makes of us! In the end, it’s simply another form of self-love and pride—and it doesn’t take a supernatural act of sovereign grace to make a sinner love himself more.

We simply can’t afford to miss this point. This is a gospel that our world would have no trouble hearing and even accepting, since it completely downplays both our sin and the righteousness of God just to reaffirm our worth and increase our self-esteem. It only validates how awesome we are—after all, God bankrupted himself to get us, right?! Piper goes on to explain:

We have absorbed a definition of love that makes us the center. That is, we feel loved when someone makes much of us. Thus the natural, human definition of love is making much of someone. The main reason this feels like love is that it feels so good to be made much of. The problem is that this feels good on wholly natural grounds. There is nothing spiritual about it. No change in us is needed at all to experience this kind of “love.” This love is wholly natural. It operates on the principles that are already present in our fallen, sinful, and spiritually dead souls. We love the praise of man. It feels good.[6]

But the true gospel is preeminently, unequivocally, exclusively, unquestionably God-centered. Even with all of the blessings with which we have been blessed in Christ, it is ultimately “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph. 1:6).

God did not send his only Son into the world so that we would be amazed with how much he makes of us. God in Christ did not lay down his life to forgive us, redeem us, and make us his treasured possession so that we would be enamored with how valuable we are. No, God sent his only Son into the world to the end that we would forever enjoy beholding his glory, seeing his worth, and making much of him. This is what we were created to do. This is the good news our world so desperately needs.

Conclusion

It is sadly the case that many Christians fail to live in light of our union with Christ and adoption as sons. Many believers continue to live beneath a burden of guilt and condemnation due to either the temptation of the devil or a misunderstanding of the gospel. And we know that all humanity is longing for acceptance, significance, meaning, and a sense of worth. But the solution is not found by simply increasing our self-esteem or making ourselves the center of God’s universe! The answer is found in beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and rejoicing in his great love for us.

Yes, the cross is the revelation of our sin and our value to God. Yes, God obtained a people for his own treasured possession with his own blood. Yes, those who are in Christ are loved by God with the very love that he has for his Son. But our worth does not come from any worthiness on our part; our worth is entirely owing to the love of God in Christ. The glory of the cross is not seen in the revealing of our value to God, but the revealing of his glorious grace.

Two wonders here that I confess
My worth and my unworthiness
My value fixed – my ransom paid
At the cross

I rejoice in my Redeemer
Greatest Treasure,
Wellspring of my soul
I will trust in Him, no other.
My soul is satisfied in Him alone.


Endnotes
  1. C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle, The Chronicles of Narnia, book 7 (New York, NY: Harper Trophy, 1994), 116.
  2. J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990) 126.
  3. “Todd White | How Much Are You Worth?” posted on December 2, 2016 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_KKwLTeMjQ&feature=youtu.be).
  4. For a further look at the emergence of this kind of false teaching in the 21st century, see David Powlison’s excellent article: The Therapeutic Gospel (February, 25, 2010), https://www.9marks.org/article/therapeutic-gospel/.
  5. Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2, ed. John Smith (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1959), 250-51 in John Piper, God is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), 137.
  6. Piper, God is the Gospel, 149.

A Story of True Confession

There is no more joyous person than one whose sins have been covered by God. Likewise, there is no more miserable person than one who tries to cover his sins from God’s sight. In Psalm 32, David shares his personal acquaintance with the shame of unconfessed sin and the wonder of having all those same sins forgiven. 

Most of us know the story of David’s sin, but the valuable lessons we can glean from it mean we should never tire of hearing it. God called the ruddy shepherd boy to be king of Israel when nobody else saw it coming, not even the great prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 16). God said David was, “a man after his own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). Hopes were bright for David and yet in time, those hopes were dashed through one dark night of sin. David let down his guard and grew a little too comfortable with his own power and position. Seeing a woman bathing, David gave his heart away to lust and the downward spiral began. From lust to adultery to lies to murder, David seemed to descend the dark stairwell of his sinful heart. With every step down, David saw depths of depravity he never thought possible. When Bathsheba informed him she was pregnant, David quickly began the cover up process. He was like a child frantically attempting to hide the broken pieces of the cookie jar he’d wrongly gotten from the shelf Dad said not to open.

But there God was lurking in the shadows, watching and waiting for David’s contrite confession, even as He tenderly began to expose David’s sin. God gave Bathsheba a fertile womb that night, but David tried to cover it up by calling Uriah home from battle and getting him drunk so he’d have sex with his wife. If Uriah lay with his wife, perhaps the sin would be successfully hidden. But God loved David too much to let him cover up his sin that long. God gave Uriah such noble character that he was “a better man drunk than David was sober”, and he wouldn’t enjoy sex with his wife while his comrades fought in battle. So the only viable option for a clean cover up now meant the death of Uriah. David’s sin was as his son Solomon called it, “the letting out of water” (Prov. 17:14)…the mess he tried to hide kept spreading beyond his control and getting away from him. The execution was ordered. Uriah carried it with his own hands. The report came back that Uriah was killed. The cover up was successful. David’s reputation had been spared. He was now free to marry Bathsheba and hopefully nobody would do the math once the baby was born. No one knew, thought David. The only problem was that God knew.

David soon discovered that life with unconfessed sin was far worse than life with a shattered reputation. Sin exposed would have brought far less agony for David than sin hidden. God had tenderly used Bathsheba’s pregnancy to expose David’s sin, but he fought that. Then God used Uriah’s noble character to expose David’s sin, but he fought that too. Now God used David’s guilty conscience to bring about a confession, but David even fought that. For perhaps all of Bathsheba’s pregnancy, David pretended all was well while the alarm of his conscience rang out like a smoke alarm that won’t turn off while smoke is present. He writes in Psalm 32:3-4, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” When David refused to confess after all these more gentle exposures, God sent the prophet Nathan. I believe it was David Platt who said, “If we cover our sin, God will uncover it. If we uncover our sin to God, He will cover it up.” God knew it was time for the big reveal. He loves his children too much to let them linger in unconfessed sin.

Nathan told the story of a man to whom God had given an abundance of wealth and possessions and another poor man who only had one little ewe lamb whom he treated as a child. The rich man had guests coming, so he stole the poor man’s only ewe lamb and slaughtered it to feed his guests. David’s rage was palpable at this rich man and demanded justice. Then, with his finger extended to the great king’s face, the bold prophet Nathan announced that David is the man from the story and that David is the one who deserves justice. Then something astounding happens in the story: confession. Instead of killing the prophet, the God-fearing David comes out from hiding. Upon David’s clear owning of his sin in confession, this same fiery prophet quickly remarks, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam. 12:13). This declaration from the mouth of the LORD was a jaw-dropping change in affairs. Owning his sin in total confession brought from the Lord total cleansing. He moved from being the most miserable person to being the most joyful person. In Psalm 32:5, David described it this way: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Notice how many times David used the personal pronoun “my” to describe his sin and how he gave various descriptions of the nature of his sins. This is true confession. Confession that shifts the blame (“I’m sorry you were hurt”) or downplays the extent (“My bad”/”It was an honest mistake”/”I didn’t mean to do it”), is not confession at all. David’s contrition led to his confession, which resulted in his cleansing. Faulty confession comes from lack of contrition and will never result in true cleansing. This is why he begins Psalm 32 with the words, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” Paul picks up this verse in Acts 4 to show it teaches the beautiful doctrine of imputation, or as theologians call it, the great exchange. For those who truly confess their sins and come clean before God, He does two things: 1) He refuses to impute/count/reckon their sin to them and 2) He imputes/counts/reckons them His own righteousness by faith. The Gospel of Christ is the good news that God not only pays off all of our debts, bringing our bank account back to zero. The Gospel goes beyond this to actually credit us with all the riches of Christ’s righteousness. Justification by faith means not only that we are declared, “Not guilty,” but that we are declared, “Righteous!” There is only one vehicle that can move a person from rebel to righteous, from sinner to saint, from hell-bound to heaven-bound: conversion…and God is the One driving this vehicle. And what is conversion? A turning from delighting in sin and a turning to delighting in Christ. Repentance and faith. A contrite heart that confesses and owns personal sin while trusting the cleansing power of Christ.

Such true confession doesn’t mean the removal of all consequences, however. Nathan’s next Spirit-inspired words to David were, “nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die” (2 Sam. 12:14). The child died and David’s sin was publicly known to all Israel and recorded in the Psalms for all future generations. His kingdom was never the same, but his account of confession and repentance in Psalms 32 and 51 have proven a help to millions of believers struggling with indwelling sin. May the words of David and Bathsheba’s next son Solomon ring in our ears: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Blessed is the one who fears the LORD always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity” (Prov. 28:13-14).

May we all learn from David the joy of confessing and forsaking our sins and the danger of hardening our hearts to them.

May we uncover our sins to our brothers and sisters in Christ, knowing such confession rescues us from our shame and restores to us the joy of our salvation.

The Top 5 Commentaries on Revelation

The book of Revelation is not only hard to interpret, it’s highly debated because of its difficult nature. Because of this the majority of folks react to it in two ways. On one hand some simply avoid it, while on the other hand others embrace an interpretation of the book that resembles a shoulder shrug “I don’t know, it doesn’t really matter” kind of approach. Both of these are bad options that, in the end, don’t help anyone and doesn’t honor God. What then are we to do with it?

Face it, study it, and ask the Lord’s help in understanding it.

Alongside our other pastor at SonRise, I’ve been preaching through Revelation for the past year or so on Sunday evenings. At times the text has proved wondrously more straightforward than I thought it would be, while at other times the text has proven more intensely confusing than I would’ve imagined. What has helped us through it? What can help you through it?

Here is my list of the top 5 commentaries on the book of Revelation:

5) Revelation, Thomas Schreiner – this commentary came out in 2018, and I’ve found it very helpful and thorough. It is included within the ESV Expository Commentary set, specifically in volume 12 which covers Hebrews – Revelation. Overall it’s a good balance between scholarly and devotional, making it a great help to anyone leaning into John’s apocalypse.

4) Revelation, Richard D. Phillips found within the Reformed Expository Commentary set, this is a collection of 65 sermons covering every verse of Revelation. Because it’s sermons it proves to be very helpful not only for interpretation but for application as well. It’s easy to read and therefore is greatly accessible to all.

3) Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, G.K. Beale & David H. Campbell – this is the shorter commentary on Revelation from G.K. Beale, and while his larger one is very scholarly and technical, this shorter edition, while still the most technical in this list, proves it’s worth time and time again. Why? He explains how the symbolism and figurative language of Revelation comes from and is rooted in the Old Testament rather than our own opinions or speculation (which has been an issue historically). After each passage he also provides a devotional thought.

2) Revelation, Joel R. Beeke – this one and Beale’s commentary above could swap spots on this list, but Beeke just presses out Beale simply due to its easier readability. Beale, even in the shorter commentary, can be quite technical while Beeke’s commentary brings a balance between weighty scholarship and powerful pastoral care. For this, it’s my favorite commentary on Revelation, easily.

1) The Old Testament – does this surprise you? On one hand it might, this is mainly a list of commentaries. But on the other hand it shouldn’t. The golden rule of all interpretation stands fast: Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture. Or we could say, the clearer passages of Scripture help us interpret the less clear. In the case of Revelation this is supremely important. Of all the books in the New Testament the book of Revelation contains the highest amount of quotations, images, symbols, and references to the Old Testament. Thus, an intimate knowledge of the Old Testament is the most important tool to have when reading it. The lack of this has led to a host of errors while the proper use of it has led to much faithfulness in reading and preaching.

I hope this helps you discover the wonders God has for us and intends to bring to us through the book of Revelation.

REAPS (1,2,3): A Model for Prayer

Without a doubt, a faithful & fulfilling prayer-life is the singular greatest topic that Christians I encounter confess to struggling with in their walk with Christ. Why is that? You may have many opinions and thoughts on that (as most people do) but it is consistently at the top of the charts in studies and polls, as well.

Praise God, though, that the Twelve (Luke 11:1-13) were honest with the Lord about their struggles in prayer. For by their honesty and humility, we have the Greatest Teacher instructing on one of the greatest topics, and it has been given to and preserved for us.

The practice of prayer is, arguably, one of the two most important practices of a Christian’s life (see Don Whitney’s ‘Spiritual Disciplines for a Christian’s Life); and I believe that to be true. After having been saved by God through faith in Jesus Christ, you will never participate in anything more impactful than applying the words/instructions of our Savior in Luke 11:1-13. Everything in your Christian life flows and is fed from the unfathomable privilege and practice of prayer.

Your intimacy with the Lord, your hunger for His Word & Righteousness, your spiritual growth, evangelism, worship, your thought life & actions as a spouse, parent, covenant member of a Local Body, friend, employee, student are all radically changed by a healthy and robust prayer life.

On the contrary, however, when prayer is neglected or takes a back seat to “the really important and necessary tasks of the day, the Christian will find him/herself dry, disconnected, and often times desperately out of sync.

J.I. Packer:  “I ask whether you prayer, because diligence in prayer is the secret of eminent holiness. Without controversy there is a vast difference among true Christians…I believe the difference in 19 cases out of 20 arises from different habits about private prayer. I believe that those who are not eminently holy pray little, and those who are eminently holy pray much.”

Drawing from what many, perhaps most, call the Lord’s Prayer I hope to provide you with a format or skeletal structure for prayer that the Lord teaches His Disciples. I recently taught our congregation this format using the acronym REAPS (1,2,3)

Recognition

“Our Father” recognizes two fundamental realities of profound blessing: (1) That we have been saved into a community of believers, a family. We are not in this alone. Indeed, God chose to save you but you are not an island. When you read the Lord’s Prayer notice the plural pronouns. We are a family and as a family we praise God together and petition the Lord for and with one another. (2) God has adopted each believer, both Jew and Gentile, into one family with He as our Father; as our Daddy (Romans 8:15). God the Father is not absent or aloof but rather present and intimate with His children. Consider the great expense at which God has made you, and your new family, His own!

Exaltation

Lest we become too familiar with the Incomprehensibly Glorious One, the Lord Jesus Christ reminds us that He is “in Heaven.” I am always reminded of the magnificent communication skills of RC Sproul who taught on the Imminence of God (His nearness to us) without ever compromising the Transcendence of God (His “otherness” if you will). “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts…” the seraphim cried out (Isaiah 6:3). Our culture, even our Christian culture would do well to remember to revere Him who sits enthroned above the heavens with the earth as His footstool. The Almighty is not your “homeboy” or the “little 6lb 5oz baby Jesus” but the King of Creation, The Eternally Existent and Self-sufficient One, who is worthy of our utmost reverence.

Adoration

The hallowing of God’s name goes beyond setting apart the name of YHWH in our speech. Al Mohler demonstrates the profound nature of this request when he writes, “By asking that the name of God be hallowed, Jesus is asking God to so move and act in the world that people value His glory, esteem His holiness, and treasure His character above all else. We must not miss this: Jesus’ first request is not that His personal needs be met, but that God’s glory and holiness be known and loved as it deserves. What a remarkably God-centered prayer.” In short, we adore the name, fame, and glory of God so highly that we ask God to move/act in history in such a way that the whole world sees His glory; regardless of personal costs associated with such a prayer. We would do well to focus first on His glory before our own desires!

Prioritization

When praying “your kingdom come and your will be done,” Believers align themselves with an agenda far beyond their comprehension. Jesus also summarized this type of attitude when He taught on the Mount that His followers would “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). This prayer, when genuinely prayed, has catastrophic consequences for personal and political agendas. God’s Kingdom/Will is not a matter of earthly or materialistic advancement but “of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17); it’s about His reign and His design for life to be our earthly reality. Therefore, to pray for God’s Kingdom and God’s Will to be accomplished we should first ensure that when He consummates the Kingdom (the Second Coming) we personally are prepared, and secondly ensure that our hold on this world not be so tight that when the Lord brings the Kingdom to this world we wouldn’t find ourselves disappointed by some perceived loss. In other words, do your priorities in life lead you to an Eternal Kingdom or when the Eternal Kingdom is ushered in would you find your priorities leaving you empty handed?

Supplication (1,2,3)

Finally, the Lord gets to where many Christians begin; asking the Lord to supply our needs. But, pay special attention to these needs: (1) Give us, (2) Forgive us, and (3) Lead us. “Give us” points the believer to his/her dependence upon the Lord for their daily sustenance. In spite of the fact that our pantries and closets are full, we should still be confessing our dependence upon the One who gave it and we know could take it if it brought Him the greatest glory and us our greatest good (see Job). “Forgive us” points the believer to the spiritual reality of our dependence upon Him to take away that which we cannot undo; namely, our sin. We are desperately in need of the Father’s forgiveness daily and we can praise our Merciful Father that He is pleased to oblige through Calvary (Isaiah 53:10). Lastly, “Lead us” points the believer to our ongoing need for the Good Shepherd to “lead us beside still waters” and to “lead us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” How desperately we need the leading of the Good Shepherd and how lovely it is to hear His voice and follow Him (John 10) away from the Evil One. Our supplications cover our physical, spiritual, and shepherding needs!

I’ll leave you with one parting thought on prayer from the Prince of Preachers as he mulled over the promises of the Lord contained in “ask, seek, and knock” from Luke 11:1-13—“Ask, therefore, after a God-like fashion, for great things, for you are before a great throne…The right spirit in which to approach the throne of grace is that of unstaggering confidence… Shame on us if we are unbelieving before the throne of the King of Heaven & Earth. With our God before us in all His glory, sitting on the throne of grace, will our hearts dare to say we mistrust Him? Shall we imagine either that He cannot—or will not—keep His promise?” Far be it from us, brothers.

May the Lord be glorified as we learn to pray at the feet of the Master.

Itchy Ears & Conspiracy = Rebellion?

In 2 Timothy 4 Paul warns against those who won’t endure sound teaching, but instead from their “itching ears” they will “accumulate teachers to suit their own passions…turning away from the truth and wander off into myths.” Now, in context Paul is warning against false teachers who promote false doctrine, and false followers who will seek out these teachers to hear them instead of a faithful teacher.

I think there is a parallel application for us to see in our current pandemic. This past week my social media feed has been chock full of those promoting and spreading a variety of teachings and opinions about the ‘true nature’ of the government regulations surrounding the Coronavirus. These headlines range from the subtle, “WHY YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT THESE REGULATIONS” to the more pointed, “THE REAL THREAT BEHIND COVID19”, even to the extreme, “WHY THE GOVERNMENT IS SHUTTING US DOWN”, or “THE CONSPIRACY IS REAL” and the like.

Can I ask a question?

Could it be that those of you sharing these things are feeling your own kind of stress, worry, and fear (maybe trauma?) from what’s going? And that from such feelings you’re seeking out ‘teachers’ that suit your stress induced opinions? And from hearing said ‘experts’ share your opinion you feel you must spread the word to spread the ‘truth’ behind what’s going? I could be wrong and of course I can’t make a blanket statement here, not everyone is doing this. But I do think this is occurring to a large degree.

Why bring this up? Because one of the results of itchy ears looking for conspiracies is rebellion against governmental authorities. From the subtle to the more extreme opinions being shared today, most of them desire to persuade their hearers to one conclusion, “YOU CAN’T TRUST THE GOVERNMENT.” Which of course is just another way of saying “You don’t have to obey what they’re asking, do what you want.”

Again, can I ask a question?

Where does such an argument leave you? More fear. More stress. More worry. And also, when did God promise we could trust government? He didn’t. What God does say is that we’re to submit to the governing authorities over us because He’s placed them there as ministers for our safety and our good. So insofar as they aren’t causing us to sin against God, we’re to submit to them.

In one sense this doesn’t surprise me. The United States was born in rebellion, so naturally the shoe fits, probably a little too well. But in another sense it saddens me to see these itchy ears among Christians because Romans 13 is still in our Bibles. Perhaps we need a reminder that God cares very deeply how you and I interact with the government. In fact He cares so much about it that in Romans 12-15, where He tells us how we’re to live worshipful lives before Him, one of the things He brings up is how to rightly do life with those in authority over us. What’s His conclusion? Submission. There is great blessing for those who obey this command and glorify God, while there is also great warning to those who disobey this command and dishonor God.

In light of all of this here are six reminders for Christians to put into practice today (and always):

1) Be reminded: in all of life is to be lived ‘Coram Deo’, before the face of God. This is why Romans 13 is in the section beginning with the all-encompassing vision of the Christian life found in Romans 12:1-2.

2) Be reminded: I don’t care what political party you affiliate with, our view of government shouldn’t be informed by party lines but by Scripture.

3) Be reminded: in Scripture we are brought face to face with the God who is Lord of the State just as much as He is Lord of the Church.

4) Be reminded: when the government stops doing what God ordained it to do (promoting good and punishing those who disrupt that good) it is the Church who calls the government back to what it should be. In doing this we’re not going against the separation of Church and State, we’re merely calling the government to function in the manner God intends them to.

5) Be reminded: the gospel is more political than we realize. It declares that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, that He sits in the ultimate seat of authority. He subdues us to Himself. He rules and defends us. He restrains and conquers all His and our enemies. During His humiliation we see His Kingly authority in His ministry, and right now in His exaltation He still carries out His Kingly authority by being Lord over all things.

6) Therefore: all governing authorities, though they may be over many, are still under King Jesus, and will one day give an account to Him for how they exercised their rule. And Christians, 99% of the time, are to be the example to the world of what submission looks like.

All in all, don’t make room for itchy ears, cynicism, or rebellion. Don’t lose this opportunity to shine gospel light by our obedience to Christ’s commands.

“A Mind of Joy”

The ongoing battle in our lives is that between subjective experience and objective truth. We always must strive for a balance and there is a danger of being so doctrinally-minded that one thinks it is wrong to display joy and gladness in the Lord. Doctrine should fuel our doxology for how can we worship God if we do not know Him? With that being said, many are interested in a “truth” that is totally shaped by how they feel and what they experience. My experience determines what I perceive as truth and dictates what I deem is right. Our feelings and emotions are very susceptible to being played by sinful impulses and desires all the time. We will even possess cravings for feeling that are often rooted in sinful desires and tell ourselves that they are natural somehow excusing us.

Christianity emphasizes doctrine, theology, and objective truth. When we confess our faith in Jesus Christ, we are not saying that we came to a conclusion that He is the best option out there but there are some plausible alternatives. No, we confessing that He is the way, the truth, and the life. If we subject our lives to the whims of the day, there will be much in the way of disappointment and defeat that characterize us. Paul gets to the heart of the matter in Philippians 4:4-9. Christians experience joy by knowing truth. However, there is a caution before us. Joy is not found in simply memorizing soteriology, pneumatology, and ecclesiology in a perfect way. You can recite the fine points of each one of those fields and lack true joy. True joy comes from us resting and dwelling upon the truth as it is in Jesus Christ. We must grasp the battle that we are engaged in and how we can possess a mind of joy.

 

In verses 4-5, Paul shows how our joy as believers endures regardless of circumstances because our joy is in the Lord. Joy does not depend upon the season or experience. Biblical joy is rooted in the Lord Himself. That is the key as Paul puts it: rejoice in the Lord. This joy comes from contentment in the Lord. This joy rests in the trust one has that all things are under God’s control. In the most difficult times, we can know this true joy in the Lord. Satisfaction is not found in circumstances but in our sovereign Lord.

Paul then shows the importance of prayer in connection with joy in verses 6-7. If we are anxious, through prayer, God grants us peace that transcends the problem. We might not understand nor know how things troubling us will unfold. Yet, in Christ, we can truly experience this blessed peace. Heart and mind are used together to speak of the soul, of our complete being. In Christ Jesus, we can know a garrison of peace! This peace of God that comes to us in Christ as we pray shows us that regardless of the situation, it is all under the authority of heaven.

Prayer settles our hearts as we come to the throne of grace and consider our standing in Christ. “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). The peace that our Lord gives to us in our hearts is just as real and sure as when He said to the winds and the waves on the Sea of Galilee, “Peace! Be still!” This should comfort our hearts and remove all fears and anxiety. The God of heaven beckons us to come and bring our cares before Him. This mind of joy will not be fully experienced unless we rest our weary souls daily in the Savior.

Finally, in verses 8-9, Paul calls our attention to those matters that we should think, dwell, and meditate upon. “True” points our focus to the word of God and Christ who is the theme of the Scriptures. “Honorable” is that which is noble and to be revered. Of course, there are things of the earth that are noble and to be honored such as honoring our parents and commitments we make. In a greater way, the things of heaven are to be adored and revered. “Just” or right; righteousness should consume our minds and this would bring us to consider the law of God as the rule and standard for our living as believers. “Pure” would be that which is free from sin and his holy, clean, and undefiled. “Lovely” is only used here in the NT. Other terms we can think of are sweet and gracious. What is pleasing according to God should fill our minds. “Commendable” is only used here in the NT and it is that which is highly regarded. The Word of God will bring our minds to that which is heavenly and lofty. Paul summarizes it all by saying that those things which are excellent and praiseworthy should dwell in our minds.

The command “think” means to dwell or meditate on. The mind is being filled all the time: what are you filling it with? Often, we think it can seem legalistic to speak on things like what we watch, read, or listen to. I agree that we can go overboard but I fear that is not often what is our biggest issue. For most of us, it can be a laxness that sets in where we do not think it is a big deal. Use verse 8 as a prism in your watchfulness. Remember that we are called to bring every thought captive unto Christ.

This is the battle for our minds. Are we bringing every thought captive to Christ? We are what we think! May we be given to that which is spiritually whole and healthy that comes from above! Let us use our days to be filled with the good things of God as revealed in His Word. Let us beware being enslaved to Netflix or conspiracy theories. None of those things will bring us a mind of joy. In the Lord, there is joy forevermore! Think upon that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Waltz

As I recline upon my bed, without sleep and bombarded with imagery, the scene takes shape in my mind…

A grand ballroom swims into view. The chandeliers are lit. The guests are arranged. The symphony swells. A lovely lady, cloaked in elegance, steps out from a crowd. A gentlemen moves forward to offer his hand. Across the dance floor the delighted couple glide. He whispers in her ear. She flashes a smile. She is the picture of serenity.

A second suitor emerges from the observers. He places a hand upon the first gentlemen’s shoulder, before whisking away the damsel. This couple moves in striking similarity to the first. The lady is the same; but her lead has changed. This second suitor also whispers in her ear. We see her mouth turn downward; her brow furrow. Clearly she is disturbed.

The first gentlemen intrudes, stealing away the lady. Moments later the second gent, almost forcibly this time, steps in. Back and forth the ordeal swings. Time and again she dances, laughs, and glides with the first lead; time and again she is stolen away to lament and discomfort with the second.

What does all this mean? Who is the damsel? Who is he that makes glad? Who is he that offends? The answer is simple.

The first gentlemen – delightful, optimistic, and charming – is faith. The second suitor – forever obtrusive, doubtful, and openly antagonistic – is fear. The lady is the soul of the Christ-follower. The waltz is the daily life for many a believer.

I find myself constantly in this dance. It is not that fear rips me from the grip of faith, but certainly I come face to face, all too often, with my insufficiencies, my vices, my failures. Fear declares to my soul that I am alone, unsupported, uncared for. I do not have what it takes. I am not as polished as that writer, not as knowledgable as that scholar, not as eloquent as that teacher. My affections stray, my soul grows weary, my theology is merely cerebral. The light of hope grows dim. The mouth of my soul twists downward in a scowl. And then, by a stroke of Divine favor, again and again, relentlessly faith, as a gift, takes hold. I am reminded that I am intimately known and unreservedly delighted in by God Himself. I am comforted with conviction, contrition, confession. I know that I am redeemed and that this is enough.

Perhaps you struggle as I do. Perhaps you dance. Perhaps you need to recall the power of Christ through faith. Hopefully this reminds you.

Read more of Aaron’s post at themoderninkling.com

Pray For Your Pastors/Elders

In Hebrews 13 we are told that pastors must give an account for those they watch over (Hebrew 13:7). We see this again in the epistle of James where we are told that pastors/elders will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1) as they have tremendous influence over the church. Pastors/elders have been given a very weighty task – to shepherd God’s people (Acts 20:28). This is an enormous responsibility that at times can be daunting. Certainly there is great joy in pastoral ministry. It is a tremendous privilege and blessing to shepherd God’s people. However, at the same time, the toll of ministry can truly cause pastors/elders to become overwhelmed, discouraged, and even burnt out. It is so important that we lift our pastors/elders up in prayer regularly, asking God to guide their every step.

Here are a few ways we can do this:

Pray For Their Walk with Jesus

It is important that we pray for our pastor’s spiritual growth. We want them to be the men are walking closely with Jesus and who are striving to be more and more like Him everyday. Over the years the church has had it’s fair share of pastors who have fallen in moral failure. Certainly we do not want this to be true of our pastors. However, sin and temptation are never far away (Genesis 4:7). Therefore, it ought to be our prayer that God would guard our pastor’s hearts from sin. The Bible calls for our pastors to be men who are above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6 ) and that needs to be our regular prayer for them. This includes all areas of their lives – family relationships, work relationship, personal friendships, and ultimately their walk with Jesus.

Pray For Their Preaching

Every week our pastors stand before their congregations and preach God’s Word (hopefully). This is one of the most important, if not the most important, things they do. God’s Word is spiritual nourishment to God’s people. It helps them to grow into mature, healthy believers. Therefore, it is important that the church is served a hearty portion of God’s Word each week. Pray then, that God would guide our pastors each week in their sermon preparation and study. Pray that they would rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) each time they step into the pulpit. And most importantly, pray that God would be magnified and that we would grow through the preaching of God’s Word.

Pray For Their Leadership

There are many decisions to be made, people to counsel, and problems to solve as elders in pastoral leadership. In each instance we want our pastors to lead wisely and in a way that honors God. We want them to be moving in the direction that God would have them go. This requires prayer. We need to pray that God would grant great wisdom to our pastors as they lead the church (James 1:5), meet with individuals, and plans for the future. We want each step our pastors make to be guided by God.

Prayer is a crucial component to the Christian life and your pastors/elders need to be included in your regular prayers. Don’t just think of your pastors/elders as the ones who should be praying for and helping you – they are just as much in need of prayer as any person. Never stop praying for your pastors/elders. they covet your prayers, needs your prayers, and your prayers will have an impact.

The Table in Exile….

There has been a lot of talk over the last month about what makes a church. How do we define its actions and, most importantly, how are we supposed to act in this season of separation? The reality is, at this moment, we are not assembling. We are not physically gathering together, hearing the voices of our church family raised in song, passing the elements, hugging one another, or sharing life together. In the absence of our normal routines, it is understandable that we would begin to make compromises as an attempt to find what normalcy we can. However, I hope this post will encourage you to use this season as a time to allow your heart to feel the weight of that longing and grow your desire for the communion of saints without compromising the integrity of the things we hold dear. Specifically, I want to address the theology of the Lord’s Table, in absence of the gathered body.

“So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment.”

1 Cor. 11:33-34

One of the questions we have been asked is, “Why are we not doing a virtual communion during this season?” It’s a good question, and we acknowledge there are other church bodies who have been observing the Lord’s Table virtually, but we do not feel this is the most biblically accurate representation or purpose of the Table. Paul gives a hearty admonition to the Corinthian church to be prudent in how they come to the Table. It is not a trivial matter, but one that requires humility, reflection, and community. In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul was clear that the Table should be a communal activity of the church. In chapter 11, he rebukes those who are seeking only to serve themselves through the Table at the exclusion of the rest of the church. They are not exercising proper judgement towards one another. Also, as we see in the text, there is far more at work than a simple meal. For he openly encourages them to eat at home if in need of food, then come to the Table to be with your family. For the Table is much more than food, it is a meal with the family of God, in communion with Christ, lived out in humility and forgiveness, expecting and practicing for the great wedding feast of the Lamb.

However, these are not the only things we can glean from Christ’s institution of the Table and Paul’s admonition. We also see that the fencing and admonition given at the Table have no bearing if we freely partake in our homes, as we are not engaged with other believers calling us to repentance or forgiveness. Christ gave the church the command to practice this together as we await His return, where we will eat it with Him in Paradise. It is in this waiting that we truly see the need to be assembled together at the Table. The Table reminds us of the price paid for our sins, the Savior who paid it, and that we are not alone in this salvation. When we come to the Table, we are not alone; we are together as God’s people, living in anticipation of the feast to come.

So, as we yearn for the great day of the Lord and the feast we will experience as His bride, so too in this season we wait and yearn for the feast we share together. Therefore, our hearts should reflect to a degree what Israel felt in exile: a yearning to return home, a desire to experience the wonder of the temple again, and sadness over what has been lost. Oh how sweet it will be when all is returned, when we feast again with our church family, when we hear the voice of our neighbors sing songs of victory in the midst of sadness, when we see the wonder of baptism and new life spring from the ashes of death, when we marvel at God’s work day by day around us.

May our weeping be turned to singing on the day we gather together once more at the table.

Selah: Points to Ponder in a Pandemic

Selah. Its a word that shows up 74 times in our Bibles. 71 of those are in the book of Psalms and 3 are found in the book of Habakkuk. The word was most likely a musical term and reveals to us that the psalms were indeed written down for the congregation of Israel to sing the words. Most Christians throughout history have said it refers to a pause in the music. Perhaps a call for silence from those singing. This pause is a call for people to reflect on the words just spoken. Each of our lives in one way or another have been put on pause during this season of the COVID-19 pandemic, therefore I think it would be a good use of our time to pause and reflect on God’s Word. The following are a selected number of phrases from the Psalms followed by the word Selah which contain weighty truths for us to consider in this uncertain season.

1. “Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! Selah.” (3:8)

How easily we forget our complete dependence on God. When doctors are looking for a vaccine and businesses are looking to government aide and families are looking to stimulus checks, may God’s people look to Him for their salvation.

2. “You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah.” (32:7. See also 85:2)

David may have been on the run from murderous king Saul, but he knew he was safe in God. He gives us a glorious picture of God shouting as a warrior who has just conquered his greatest foe. Indeed He has conquered Satan, sin, and death for the believer by means of the cross. Jesus is a true hiding place for us. Corrie Ten Boom knew this. When she could no longer hide from the Nazis, she was hidden in God. May we remember as God’s children that we are, “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). We can be no safer! 

3. “Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah.” (39:5. See also 9:16, 20; 89:48)

A handbreadth is the four fingers in your hand minus the thumb. It was one of the smallest units of measurement in Bible times. This pandemic should give us pause to reflect on our own mortality. Sickness and death have this positive effect on prideful humans and may we learn to use our moments for God’s glory. Instead of binging Netflix episodes or wasting time pursuing sinful pleasures, let us remember how frail we are.

4. “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah.” (46:7, 11. see also 62:8)

Life in this stay-at-home, self-quarenteening season can stir up loneliness, especially for the single. But here is a glorious promise from our faithful God who calls us “friend” (James 2:23; John 15:14-15). It can be argued that God dwelling with man again is the point of the entire biblical narrative. Let us not forget that our Immanuel has come and now we abide in Him and He in us. He is a fortress for us, protecting us and preserving us.

5. “[He] rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations— let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah” (66:7)

Pandemics shouldn’t make believers panic. We must remember when all seems out of control, every tiny droplet of this virus is in God’s sovereign control, being guided according to His predetermined and perfect will for our good and His glory. As R.C. Sproul once said, “there is no such thing as a maverick molecule.” This is not a time for Christians to blush over, but to boast in God’s sovereignty. May we display the humility and submission to an invisible Sovereign even as the “rebellious” exalt themselves.

6. “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah” (67:4)

Be glad and sing for joy in a pandemic? Yes. As Paul has said, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). Why? Because our God judges and guides the nations with equity. Right now, through this pandemic, God is accomplishing His worldwide purposes and believers from every nation will eternally praise Him for it one day. 

7. “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Selah” (68:19)

May we remember that each day of this pandemic, Christ, “upholds the universe by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). He bears you up each day and is your true source of salvation. 

8. “When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars. Selah” (75:3)

The earth is tottering from COVID-19. Riots in the streets, businesses crumbling, unemployment rising, economy failing. But in the midst of it all, there is God. He is like Atlas under the world, bearing us up.  If our faith is in Him, we are eternally and gloriously secure.

9. “You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. Selah” (85:2)

Take this time to reflect on the sheer wonder of God forgiving all your sins…and at the cost of His Son’s precious blood! Every one of them. Forgiven. Cast into the bottomless sea (Mic. 7:19). Thrown behind His back (Is. 38:17). Forgotten forever (Is. 43:25). As far as the East from the West (Ps. 103:12). Borne away by our precious Redeemer (1 Pet. 2:24).

10. “What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah” (89:48)

This question from the psalmist is rhetorical. The answer is obvious: no one. The wise Solomon has written, “No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death” (Ecc. 8:8). Sober way to end, but a good reminder for us all. Since Jesus tasted death for us on the cross, we need not fear the grave (Heb. 2:9, 14). Take precautions and obey the governing authorities, but do not attempt to run from the day appointed for all of us. Embrace that your good and all-wise God knows the end for your earthly life and will sustain you until He calls you to Himself. 

May you spend time to pause and reflect on these and many more of God’s precious promises in His Word. And may the Lord give us all a deeper gratefulness and trust in His good hand of providence in our current season. Selah.

 

Longing Leads to Hope

COVID-19 is everywhere. Whether it’s in the news, on your news feed, through the Twitter-sphere, in your community or maybe even in your home, we just cannot escape COVID-19. It has even infiltrated the gathering of the Church. To be honest, I’m exhausted with it.

I praise God that I have not had to deal with it firsthand, as I know many have, but to see that there is yet “no end in sight” is rather disheartening. It has, however, created a longing in my heart that has proven to be unquenchable. I long to be with the Body of Christ like never before. Surely, I have taken for granted the freedom and ability to gather for worship and fellowship. But, I believe this longing is pointing me, and prayerfully you, to an even greater longing that will not be quenched until the Second Coming of Christ.

Romans 5:1-5 says that we not only “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God…but we rejoice in our sufferings.” Not having the freedom and ability to gather for worhsip may not be persecution but it has unquestionably led to a level of suffering that I have never encountered as I have never been restrained from the Ordinary Means of Grace.

What is the Christian’s (therefore my) response? Rejoice.

Romans 5 continues, “rejoice…knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”

Endurance

Suffering is producing an endurance in me that leads me to recognize that I must go on because I am not in control of, well really, much of anything. I must accept and embrace that which God has brought to us/me while praising and trusting Him through it; even when I don’t understand.

Character

Endurance is producing character in me that leads me to trust the Lord no matter what comes; which is growing me in faith. The Holy Spirit reveals to us in Romans 5 that our faith-filled endurance and trust, produced through trials and suffering, make us “battle-hardened soldiers of faith.” One Greek-English lexicon records “character” in this manner: “the experience of going through a test with special reference to the result, standing a test, character…as a process of enduring something amounts to a test that promotes and validates the character of the one undergoing it.”[1] In essence, God uses our suffering to mold us and shape us into the image of our Savior (Romans 8:29). And in that, I can rejoice!

Hope

Character is producing hope in me that makes me long for the One upon whom I wait. I love how Paul Tripp defines hope in his book ‘The War of Words’: “Hope for the believer is not a dream of what could be, but a confident expectation of a  guaranteed result that shapes his life.” Read those words again and think through them“Hope is…a confident expectation of a guaranteed result that shapes his life.” Ultimately, this hope that Paul writes of in Romans 5 is the believer’s justification and I, indeed, rest in that Hope. But, I think I can find some application for today too.

My “suffering”, if you’ll allow me to call it that, in longing to be reunited with the Body of Christ is teaching me about where my hope, ultimately, needs to be redirected. The Body of Christ is a sweet grace of God in which His people are fed, nourished, cherished, and grow but it pales in comparison to Who awaits those same believers; namely, Jesus Christ! I do long to gather for worship and I often wonder and pray how much longer I am willing to not do so, but something greater than the Body awaits those in Christ, our Head Himself. How much sweeter will worship be when it is face-to-face before the Lamb upon His throne? This is my ultimate Hope: The sweet, rich, glorious, unfathomable gathering of God’s elect free from the presence of sin, engulfed in the unending, never-fading, incomprehensible glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ!

This Hope, the hope that does not disappoint or put us to shame (Rom. 5:5), in the Second Coming of Jesus is, for the believer, a confident expectation of a guarunteed result that shapes his life (thank you Rev. Tripp). I’ve hedged my bets, reordered my life, surrendered my passions, my desires, my thoughts, words, and actions to the promise of the forgiveness of sins & salvation by faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection & Christ’s Second Coming where He will not “deal with sin but [will] save those who are eagerly waiting for Him” (Hebrews 9:28).

Eagerly, I stand with the Apostle John when he wrote, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20); fill the longing of my soul!

 

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 256). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

He Could Not Save Himself

This sermon, “He Cannot Save Himself,” was preached on Good Friday, April 14, 2017 by Matt Bedzyk

And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. (Mark 15:29-32)

Jesus has been arrested, put on trial, brought before Pilate, Herod, then Pilate again. He has been beaten, spit upon, mocked, whipped, crowned with thorns, and now is nailed to a cross to die.

The story is a familiar one to most of us, and to most of the world at large. However, tonight I want to look at one particular event that took place during the crucifixion of Jesus. Here, we are given a clear picture of what the world demands of Jesus, the terrible cost of their demands, and ultimately a better understanding of the faithful work of Christ.

The Demands of this World

In this passage we have three groups of people reacting to the crucifixion of Christ: those passing by deride him; the religious elite mock him; and the two criminals insult him.

First, those who were passing by and saw Jesus hanging on the cross used the opportunity to ridicule and blaspheme him. “If you’re so powerful that you’d be able to destroy the entire temple and rebuild it in three days, prove it to us now by coming down from the cross!”

John’s gospel tells us that Jesus, having been asked for a sign, said: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” speaking of his death and resurrection, the temple of his body (Jn. 2:18-22). But here, as well as at his trial, his words were being twisted. The crowds had come to believe that Jesus was going to destroy their temple, which fueled their hatred of him. So, in hardened unbelief and hatred towards Jesus, they mock him and call for him to come down in order that he may get to work destroying their temple. “Save yourself, if you can!” (cf. Ps 22:7-8)

Second, the religious elite, the teachers of the law, those of all people who should have been first to recognize the Messiah and champion Jesus’ life and ministry, here mock him amongst themselves: “He saved others, but look—he can’t even save himself!”

Notice how they even admit here that Jesus did perform miracles, heal, and save many. They witnessed his ministry for three years yet still rejected him and his claims. Adding to the ridicule of the crowds passing by, they mock him further: “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down that we may see and believe. You claimed to be the Christ, so now just prove it by saving yourself; come down from the cross, and we will see and believe!” Fully convinced that Jesus was simply a Messianic pretender, a false prophet, a failed revolutionary, they mock his inability to save himself. They know he’s done for, that he’s doomed to die a slow, painful death, so they ridicule and mock him with sarcasm.

And third, adding insult to injury, even the criminals begin to insult and curse him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Then prove it by saving yourself and us! The Messiah is supposed to be a national hero, a conquering king; if you’re really the promised Christ, then prove it!”

Each of these responses are essentially the exact same: In their minds, the real Messiah was coming to liberate Israel from her Roman occupiers and see the nation reestablished as God’s glorious people. He was coming as a king to conquer his enemies! Besides, he wouldn’t have confronted and called out the Pharisees, chief priests, and teachers of the Law; he would have applauded them! If Jesus was truly the Messiah, then he wouldn’t be here stripped, helpless, beaten, scourged, bleeding, and nailed to a cross, cursed and forsaken by God. But here was this so-called Christ, the Son of God, being crucified like a common criminal, dying as any blasphemer should. So, in their mockery, they call for him to come down, knowing that this carpenter’s son, this troublemaker from Nazareth, was unable to do so and was obviously a Messianic imposter.

Did you notice the words of the religious crowd: “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe”? Even though they were completely insincere, it’s important to understand that even if Jesus did exactly what they wanted, they still wouldn’t see and believe! Why? Because they were blind; they had suppressed the truth. The religious Jews were always asking for signs, and though Jesus was working miracles in their midst, they still would find problems and bring other accusations against him; Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and the Jews went and made plans to kill him!

Remember the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus? In hell, the Rich Man tells Abraham to have Lazarus go and warn his brothers. But he replied: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Even after Jesus rose from the dead, and he gave the “evil and adulterous generation” a sign they were looking for, they still didn’t believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.

Aren’t these demands similar to the demands of the world today? The unbelieving world says: “If your God was really God, then he wouldn’t have let such and such happen.” Or, “Your God is a God of hate; my God is a God of love and acceptance.” Or, “I would believe in Jesus if I just had some more proof; if he would just give me a sign.” Yet when confronted with powerful evidence, logical arguments, the very created world around them, or when it seems as if their prayers are answered, they don’t believe in God but just find more excuses not to believe! They’ll hear of Jesus life and death and say “No thanks.”

Ultimately, what the world wants is a god made in their image; one that suits them, their beliefs, and their desires. When the world hears the gospel, when unbelievers are confronted with Jesus, they suppress the truth about God in unrighteousness. They don’t want to be told that they are selfish, proud, evil sinners. They don’t want to submit to the Lordship of Christ and fall on their knees in obedience to God; we want to be our own gods! They don’t want to listen and submit to what he says; they want Jesus to do what they want.

So we have Jesus crucified, being blasphemed, mocked, and insulted, with the chief priests and teachers of the law saying to one another, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself.” But church, could Christ have come down from the cross and saved himself? Of course he could have! He could have put an end to it all in the garden! “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53). He truly was the Son of God, who walked on water and raised the dead to life—he could have miraculously come down from the cross, putting an end to their mockery. Besides, he was sinless! He was the one human being born in the entire history of the world who was totally undeserving of death, since he lived a life of perfect obedience to the demands of the Law of God. He shouldn’t be subjected to death, let alone a shameful death by crucifixion!

In fact, wouldn’t it be extremely satisfying if Jesus did come down?! After reading of how beautiful, tender, compassionate, powerful, loving, and awesome Jesus was to a broken humanity, and then to see how he was being treated here—being rejected, beaten, humiliated, crucified, and now ruthlessly mocked—wouldn’t it just be so satisfying to see Jesus actually come down from the cross and just destroy all his enemies? To hear Jesus say, “You want me to prove my power? You want me to prove I’m God?! Then so be it!”  (e.g. Count of Monte Cristo)

Church, he could have and they would have been totally deserving of his just wrath. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t save himself. He doesn’t give in to their demands. He instead chooses to remain nailed to that cross—bleeding, gasping, broken, crushed, and dying.

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted (Isaiah 53:3-4).

Why? Why does he stay there? Why doesn’t the sinless Son of God come down and judge his enemies? Why doesn’t he give into the demands of the world? Because they come with a cost…

The Cost of Their Demands

These people were calling for him to prove his Messiahship, his claims of deity, by saving himself; if he would just come down, then they’d know and believe that he was truly the Christ, God’s promised anointed one, the rescuer of Israel. But what these men failed to understand was that if Jesus was to come down from the cross, he would have proven himself to not be the Messiah, For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19:10) and “give his life as a ransom for many (Mk. 10:45).

The crowds wanted him to prove to be the Son of Man by ceasing to be the Son of Man! He had clothed himself with human flesh, and came into the world, so that, by his sacrificial death, he might reconcile men to God the Father. So, in order for him to prove himself to be the Son of Man, it was necessary that he should hang upon the cross. If he had come down, he would have failed to fully obey the command of his Father, and having failed to make atonement for the sins of his people, he would have deprived himself of the office assigned to him by his Father (cf. Jn 10:17-18).

Because of this, their demands would come at an even great and more devastating cost: If Jesus came down from the cross, we would have no forgiveness for sin. Scripture is clear: the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23) and “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22). Even under the law, animal sacrifices in and of themselves were insufficient, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins(Heb. 10:4). No animal can atone for man’s sin. Only man can atone for man’s sin.

Jesus came that he might be the atoning sacrifice for sin, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. God sent his Son into the world to be the propitiation for our sins. As Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah, he came to be crushed under the wrath of God, to bear our iniquities, to pour out his soul to death, to be counted among sinners and intercede for them. If Jesus had come down from the cross and saved himself from death, he would have failed to carry out his divine mission of redemption.

If Jesus came down from the cross, we would still be under the curse and Law, enslaved to sin, held by the power of death, and separated from God, deserving wrath for our sin against him.

But it gets worse. If Jesus came down from the cross, God would have proven to be unrighteous! Romans 3:25 says that Christ’s death was to demonstrate God’s righteousness, to demonstrate God’s moral excellencies and perfect justice. How? Because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. All of the many times forgiveness was extended to Israel in the OT was not because of their sacrifices but because of God’s ultimate provision of Christ, his Son.

If Jesus had come down and not died on the cross that day, under the divine judgment of God for the sins man, then God’s holiness and righteousness would have been compromised. All sin that God had mercifully passed over in anticipation of his Son’s sacrificial death would not have been fully and finally atoned for! God would be guilty of excusing sin—cosmic injustice!

And if Jesus came down from the cross, God would have also proven himself to be a liar. All his promises made to his people throughout the ages—from the very beginning in Genesis 3:15 where the Seed of Woman was promised to one day crush the serpent’s head—would have fallen through.

Church, do not miss what’s really going on in this passage here: these demands given to Jesus to come down from the cross are ultimately Satan’s last ditch effort to tempt Jesus into abandoning his God-given mission of redemption. This was Satan’s attempt to destroy our hope for forgiveness, to keep humanity enslaved to sin and death, to prove God to be an unrighteous liar, to steal his glory. Just as Satan had tempted Jesus in the wilderness to abandon his mission as the Son of God, here—when Jesus is at his weakest, experiencing the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual suffering of his crucifixion—Satan entices him to end it all. But Jesus refuses to give in.

Though he was certainly powerful enough to come down from the cross, Jesus refuses to give in to the demands of the world and the temptations of Satan. He had come to die.

He Cannot Save Himself

But do you see what this means? While it is true that Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, the God-Man, was in some sense capable of saving himself, in a very real and profound sense he could not save himself. In an ironic twist, the words of the Pharisees were actually true— it was precisely because he came to save others that he could not save himself!

Jesus came into this world to seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10); he came to destroy the works of the devil (1 Jn. 3:8); he came to be made sin, who himself knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God ((2 Cor. 5:21); he came to be the propitiation for our sins by his blood (Rom 3:25). Isaiah tells us that “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5)

“To descend from the cross was not indeed a physical impossibility, but it was a moral and spiritual impossibility for the Messiah. If he did so, he would cease to be God’s Christ, treading God’s path of Messiahship; instead, he would become a mere human Christ, and such a Christ could never save the world. The only path by which to save others was to refuse to save himself” (Alan Cole, Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, TNTC, 325).

Scripture is abundantly clear that it was necessary, and even predetermined before the foundation of the world that God, in Jesus, would die for sinners (cf. Mk. 8:31; Lk. 24:26-27; Acts 2:22-23; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Rev 13:8).

He Did Not Save Himself so He Could Save You

“He saved others; he cannot save himself.” As we cast our minds this evening to Calvary, and behold our Savior—suffering, bleeding, gasping, and dying on the tree—we see the eternal, steadfast, covenant love of God on glorious display. The cross is the greatest proof of the love of God. (1 Jn 4:9-10)

It is on the cross that we behold the justice of God as the sins of man are punished and crushed under the weight of his burning wrath. Yet it is there on the cross that we also behold the mercy of God, that he would provide a substitute for all who would believe upon him in faith.

If you do not know this Christ, you must understand that you need a Savior! You need someone who can take the punishment that you rightfully deserve for your sins against God, and you need someone who can cleanse you and make you righteous before God. The good news is that by believing in the person and work of Christ, you can be saved. You can be forgiven and counted righteous. Don’t trust in your efforts or your good deeds, but confess your sinfulness before God and place your faith in the finished work of Christ. Don’t call for Jesus to come down from the cross, making yourself to be god; believe in God and the One whom he has sent.

Christian, it is only by beholding the glory of Christ that we are transformed into his same image. This glory, the beauty and majesty of Christ, is most clearly seen in the gospel of grace. It is only by believing, understanding, and remembering the gospel that you will find the ability to serve God with joy, obey him with gladness, share in his sufferings, and hold fast to our confession of faith (Gal. 2:20)

Longing for the Rhythm

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 “normal” going forward. Human beings are creatures of habit and most people do not like their schedules being turned upside down. However, this pandemic serves as a stark reminder of how quickly “normal” can be uprooted. As a pastor, the inability to gather corporately with my church family on Sunday grieves me. As much as I am longing for the return back to normalcy, I am thankful for the Lord teaching me anew of why He instituted a rhythm for the people of God when it comes to corporate worship and life.

At times, we can resent the rhythm that the Lord mandates and governs when it comes to church. In pastoral ministry, Sundays are a long day for me that include two sermons, answering questions, fellowship, counseling, and other activities. Sundays require a lot of energy and focus. The burdens of our flocks are our burdens as well as our own personal burdens that we carry. It can seem overwhelming at times! For all of that though, the rhythm of the Lord’s Day is a gift to us. Often, we think that we know better than the Lord. These are days for us to learn anew that the Lord indeed knows what He is doing.

The imperative of Hebrews 10:25 concerning the forsaking of the assembly feels more meaningful during these days when we cannot assemble. The Lord knows what He is doing in commanding us to gather with brothers and sisters. Christians need the communion of the saints. The local church serves as many things: refuge, family, protection, and correction. We thank God for the technology that allows us to “virtually” connect but it does nothing to substitute for hearing and seeing one another on the Lord’s Day. Those words of Paul repeated in 1 Corinthians 11 about “when the church comes together” carry more significance. The sacraments were not given to be celebrated individually but corporately. We dare not substitute anything else for the rhythm Christ gave to His church.

Are you longing for the rhythm again? We can despise the rhythm at times and wonder if it is not a little old-fashioned, puritanical, and demanding or even a bit monotonous. The Lord knows what He is doing and He is teaching us just how much we need the rhythm. There is a reason the Lord instituted one day in seven to be consecrated for physical rest, corporate worship, and spiritual refreshment. Perhaps, before we go about criticizing the Puritans for their excessiveness regarding the observance of the Sabbath, we will cherish more deeply the gift Sunday truly is. Hopefully, a renewed understanding of simple worship regulated by the Scriptures will come forth out of this. The people of God do not need “pizazz” and “pop” when it comes to worship. The saints need the ordinary means of grace publicly ministered to them by their pastors and made effectual in their hearts by the Spirit.

I am a pastor who subscribes to the Second London Confession and am more of an ordinary means of grace Sabbatarian than most pastors in my area. However, I confess that my heart did not cherish the rhythm as I should have. In the course of this pandemic and time of quarantine, a dear sister in our church reminded me of how I would speak about the possibility of us one day losing the ability to gather on Sundays as we did normally. I challenged the congregation to think about how they would respond to such a situation. Well, in God’s providence, we are experiencing such days. None of us except the Sovereign King know when this season will end. One thing is for sure: we need a return to and embrace of the rhythm given to us by Christ.

Rejoicing in the Lord

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:4-9)

It’s easy to become anxious more and more each day as the news reminds us of the uncertainty of the times we are now living in, and yet this is hardly the first time the world has encountered such epidemics. The Spanish Flu in the early 1900’s reeked havoc across the world, and throughout the middle ages viruses would flourish and destroy many lives. I certainly don’t want this to sound callous or unfeeling, because that’s hardly the case. However, the reality of this not being a new endeavor reminds us that, as the book of Ecclesiastes says, there is nothing new under the sun. The Lord is the Sovereign one over all that happens around us including the plagues that seem to tear the world apart. Because of this there lies within those who believe a deep sense of peace in these uncertain times.

Looking at Paul’s admonition to the Philippians we are struck by the fact that in that moment Paul was in jail for Christ, there was no evidence he would be freed and a chance he would lose his life. His times were far from certain but his hope in Christ was unwavering, and because of that security he could pray. Paul here is very clear on the hope found in Christ in uncertain times. These closing words to the book should bring us a sense of peace in our current day.

Let’s stop and reflect on Paul’s encouragement.

Rejoice over Worry

Paul’s thoughts here begin with a good reminder that no matter the situation there is room to rejoice for those who are in Christ Jesus. Think about all that we have in this moment, especially compared to many around us. We face a massive hurdle ahead, yet we have homes, food, running water, technology that allows me to write this today, and even the ability to see and pray with my brothers and sisters in Christ. The Lord has blessed us in many ways. Also think of how much time we have to slow down and reflect on the goodness of God, to see His mercies even in suffering. We learn that life is a vapor, but the hope of Christ is eternal, in that there is much to rejoice in. There is also a reminder that we are to take each day as the Lord has granted it to us. We should rejoice with each breath He has given to us because our days are not guaranteed and as we see now are a very high commodity. We can’t control the outcome, but we can control how we face it. So let us face uncertainty with rejoicing in our God.

Prayer over Self

Not only are we called to rejoice and give thanks we are called to pray. This is a key aspect of our need to rejoice in the face of uncertainty: the Lord is at hand. As the old hymn use to say: “I can face uncertain days, because I know my savior lives.” Here is the hope of our prayers, the Lord lives and hears us. He is the one who controls the future. He is the one who has ordained our days. He is the very real help in the midst of peril, and He is the source of our peace. This doesn’t mean we are foolish in how we live, but we live in wisdom (following good health and safety habits) and thankfulness trusting in the Lord. Here we are being encouraged to turn to the One who gives true peace; peace that is not fleeting and far more secure. All the more we should continue to pray for the Lord grace and mercy to those serving the broken and sick in this season. Those who by God’s providence are putting themselves in danger to help those around us.

Good over Evil

Paul concludes with a reminder of the things that we should set our attention on. For here, Paul’s calls us to look at the good things the Lord is doing and has done. We are not to get distracted and fearful, we are to be focused and thankful. Our focus is on the good work of the Lord in the midst of chaos, the certainty of His kingdom in the midst of upheaval, the hope of a future in the midst of our anxious tomorrow.

Let us look to the good things and trust the Lord through the evil. Let us pray with fervent hearts to the one who hears us, and through it all let us be people who rejoice and sing for our hope is unfailing.