Friday, April 29, 2011

While we were...

“While we were…” (Romans 5:6,8,10)

Christian, have you recently considered the magnitude of grace that invaded your life at your conversion? Have you pondered the great depths of God’s love for you? Have you seen the truth of who you were before Christ rescued you and reconciled you with his blood? This is amazing love! Paul shows us three times, in this short section in Romans 5, who we were before our salvation.

“While we were weak”: Paul starts in verse 6 talking about our weakness. This is our spiritual weakness. Paul is talking about our inability to come to Christ. This is the deadness of our hearts before our awakening. “Even when we were dead” (Ephesians 2:5). Weakness is talking about death. We are spiritually dead. The bible is clear about our condition of weakness. Remember in the book of Ezekiel where we read about receiving a new heart: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (36:26). Stony hearts do not beat which is why we need to be given a new heart that beats for God.

“While we were sinner”: Paul continues his train of thought in verse 8 when he talks about humanity’s sinfulness. Sin is the reason for our inability to love God. “Even when we were dead” is what we talked about previously but the text’s goes on to say: “In our trespasses.” We are dead to God because of our love for sin. No one is excluded, for “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The merit for our sin is death, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Since all of us have sinned than the wage we have earned for our sin is death. Understanding this is crucial to understanding the great love of God.

“While we were enemies”: As if being unable to love God wasn’t bad enough or the fact that we have earned death for sins wasn’t bad enough now Paul talks about our complete hatred for God in verse 10. Nothing is lower than being an enemy of another person. In this case though we read that we were once enemies of holy God. Enemies do not love, they hate. In our natural, sinful state we hate our enemies. Romans 1 talks about how those who reject Christ are “haters of God” (30). Paul is trying to tell us that our inability to love God stems from the fact that we hate God. Our sin has separated us from him and the reality is we love our sin. This is who we once were.

What changed? Do you see any reason in this text for God to have lavished his love upon us? There is absolutely no reason, in us, for God to love us. Yet we see two great words in this text that offer hope: “But God.” Despite of us, “God shows his love for us” by sending his Son to die and pay the penalty for our sins upon the cross. Listen to the Scriptures: “Christ died for the ungodly”(6), “Christ died for us” (8) and “We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (10). Every negative about our previous condition is swallowed up by the love of God demonstrated at the cross. He died for those who were unable to love him so that they could love him. He died for sinners so that they could be declared sinless before the Father. He died for his enemies so they could be called his friends or better yet his sons and daughters making them heirs of the kingdom. This is the love of God to be rejoiced in and celebrated.

“Once your enemy, now seated at your table, Jesus thank you”

Grace upon grace,

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Light in the World

Charles Spurgeon's great words on being diligent to evangelize:

If sinners be dammed, at least let them leap to Hell over our
bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our arms about
their knees. Let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for.

May we be ambassador's for Christ proclaiming his great salvation to every nation.

Grace upon grace,

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Jesus is Lord

Jesus is Lord, the cry that echoes through creation
Resplendent power, eternal word, our rock
The Son of God, the King whose glory fills the heavens
Yet bids us come to taste this living bread

Jesus is Lord, whose voice sustains the stars and planets
Yet in His wisdom laid aside His crown
Jesus the Man, who washed our feet, who bore our suffering
Became a curse to bring salvation's plan

Jesus is Lord, the tomb is gloriously empty
Not even death could crush this King of love
The price is paid, the chains are loosed, and we're forgiven
And we can run into the arms of God

Jesus is Lord, a shout of joy, a cry of anguish
As He returns and every knee bows low
Then every eye and every heart will see His glory
The Judge of all will take His children home (Townend & Getty)

Grace upon grace,

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Peter and Judas

As I read this article (which Jason referenced yesterday), I found that there was one excellent point the author made- even if he drew some very bad conclusions from it:

"Both Peter and Judas committed the same sin. They both denied Jesus."

Take away everything you know about the two men; in fact, take away the results of the two sins. We can certainly say that these two sins were extremely similar. In fact, we might tilt the scale the other way by saying that Peter's sin (Mark 14:66-72) was one of actual denial, but Judas' sin (Mark 14:43-45) was actually affirming his relationship with Jesus. So these two men definitely sinned in similar ways.

The differences are not mainly in the events themselves, that is, the actual sins. Furthermore, what separated Peter and Judas wasn't in the amount of time they spent with Jesus, the number of things they did for Jesus, not even their response to their own betrayal of Jesus. Yes, it's true that we can look at Judas' life and see that he is portrayed as different (in a bad way) from the rest of the twelve, and we can see that Peter was within Jesus' inner-circle, and even said a wonderful truth or two. But what separated them (and what still separates them) can't be found merely within them, it's within Jesus.

Let's narrow it to three scenes...

Before the Cross

Jesus foretold of Peter's denial. He tells him, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:31-32) Here we see Jesus praying for Peter, interceding on his behalf.

Jesus also foretold of Judas' betrayal. However, in Judas' case Jesus turns to him and says, ""What you are going to do, do quickly." Jesus doesn't acknowledge that it's going to happen but that he is interceding for him, he allows the sifting to begin.

After the Cross

Let's move past Christ being put to death, past him being laid in the tomb, and past the tomb being found empty. You are probably familiar with Peter deciding to go fishing, having no luck, and Jesus calling out to him, telling him to cast his net on the other side of the boat. Peter's catch was so big it reminded me of Finding Nemo ("just keep swimming"), but Peter didn't care about the catch, he cared about the one standing on the bank. He threw himself into the water and swam to Jesus and, after breakfast, he and Jesus had a heart-to-heart that revealed a little about Peter and a lot about Jesus.

Jesus asked Peter, "do you love me?" "of course" Peter replied. So Jesus told him to feed his lambs. Maybe the issue was settled, but not for Jesus, he asked Peter the same question again and received the same reply and Jesus told him to tend his sheep. Finally, a third time Jesus asked Peter, "do you love me?" Peter tearfully affirmed his love for Jesus one last time. Jesus told him to feed his sheep. This beautiful picture of restoration goes beyond a discussion of the number three or Greek words for love. In the end, this tells us something about the cross, namely, that Peter's denial of Jesus drove the nails through Christ's wrists in order that he may be forgiven and restored.

As for Judas, it may seem that little could be said about him after the cross, he was dead. Was his suicide driven by repentance or self-pity? I could guess but I'm not sure that would be the best way to know about his fate. Instead, consider instead that the entire record of Judas' life, betrayal, and death were written after the cross. In other words, just as Peter's story was recorded through the lens of Holy Spirit inspired writers, through the lens of his restoration, the story of Judas was also portrayed in a certain light (or lack thereof).

It's probably best not to interpret the account of Judas' suicide by what wasn't said, namely, that he repented. But consider what was recorded after the cross about Judas' betrayal:

"So, after receiving the morsel of bread [which indicated that he was to betray Jesus], he [Judas] immediately went out [to betray Jesus]. And it was night." (John 13:30)

Now we're talking about something that was said, but why was it said? The word "night" is used 6 times in John's gospel, and in only one of those instances is it obviously indicated that all John means by using the word is to give us an idea of what time it was (a passing reference in 21:3). Usually, it is meant to indicate sinfulness, darkness of the heart, one who does not (or does not yet) believe in Jesus.

Consider Nicodemus, who came to Jesus "by night" in John 3:2 and Jesus told him he "must be born again" (3:7). Then, after Nicodemus' conversion, he shows up as a follower of Jesus and John remarks, "Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight." In other words, the first time he came to Jesus he was in darkness but not anymore!

In my opinion, this helps us indicate that John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was telling us that Judas was not equal to a true disciple of Jesus at his betrayal and almost certainly never became one after his betrayal.

At the Cross

What is more important than any event we look at is the cross, in which both Peter and Judas participated in putting Jesus to death.

Peter had previously tried to protect Jesus (Matt. 26:51) and it is doubtful that he could have helped Jesus even if he weren't busy denying him. However, he was very much there. He was there in a very real way, a very horrifying way, and a very glorious way. I know this because the forgiveness and restoration that we saw in the last section wasn't free; it had to be paid for. Christ took on the entirety of God's wrath toward Peter's sin (Col. 2:13-14, Rom. 3:25-26) in order that the Father could justly declare Peter to be righteous in Christ. We know that Peter is in the presence of the Father because he was at the cross.

As for Judas, he was not at the cross. Unless something happened that the authors of Scripture didn't indicate: Christ was not his mediator, he was not his Lord, and he was not his savior. Had Judas turned to Christ for forgiveness, even after his betrayal, he would have been forgiven. But Judas chose darkness and will forever be in darkness.

The thing to remember is that it was not because Judas' sin was worse than Peter's sin. If not for grace, I would have been the one betraying Christ with a kiss. If not for grace, you would have literally drove the nails through his wrists. However, my hope is that you were there as I was and as Peter was. I hope that the record of debt that stands to condemn you was put away at that cross and that you are now declared righteous in the sight of the Father. Maybe you are coming to Jesus by night right now, but if you would only put your trust in him for salvation you can walk in his glorious light.

Grace and Peace,

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Gospel: Am I Going to Heaven or Hell?

Craig Gross recently wrote an article on titled My Take: Is Judas in heaven or hell? God only knows. I would encourage each of you to click the link and read the article before you read my thoughts on it.

First, I think it is sad to see these things written by a pastor who ought to know what the whole council of Scripture teaches. Sadly he uses the classic cop out line when he says, “I am not here to debate theology.” It seems odd to me that he would talk about God’s Word yet say he is not talking about theology. Theology is the study of God. We know and learn about God through his Word. I guess he can say he is not debating theology but when you talk about the Bible or Jesus then we are on the grounds of theology.

Second, he says, “Without a doubt, Judas, the biblical disciple of Jesus, is considered the greatest sinner of all time because of what he did to Jesus.” I understand what he means but if I could have written this article I would have put “Jason Lapp” in place of “Judas.” The greatest sinner I know is me!!! Not Judas. I think he does address this issue by saying near the end of the article that we should look inside ourselves. I believe he is speaking about seeing our own sin. In light of who God is it is nothing but the truth to see myself as the greatest sinner. We see this modeled in Paul in 1 Timothy 1:15-17 when he calls himself “the chief of sinners.” Paul says this because he understand how sinful he is and how holy God is. We should also be humbled by our sinfulness in light of God’s holiness.

Third, he makes this statement: “In terms of experience with Jesus, whatever you can say about Peter, James and John, you can say about Judas.” That is not biblically accurate. Yes he was a disciple but even within the disciples Peter, James and John (the inner circle) witnessed things the others did not. “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus” (Matthew 17:1-3) and so the gospel account goes on but there is no mention of Judas or any of the other disciples and this was a very significant event. In Mark 5 we see another account: “While [Jesus] was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?’ But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James” (35-36). The story goes on to speak of Jesus raising this young girl from the dead. If you notice though only Peter, James and John were allowed to go with him.

Fourth, all we hear in this article is about the end of the life of Peter and Judas but clearly we have a life of theirs to look at throughout Scripture. I will briefly go into this because my friend, Stephen Bean is going to do an entire post tomorrow on the lives of Peter and Judas. In the account in John 12 we get a glimpse of the heart of Judas not just his actions.

“But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” (John 12:1-6)

This was a heart issue that never changed. He said one thing that sounded good but his heart was focused upon himself and robbery. We never see Judas repent. Also all throughout the gospel account we never hear Judas call Jesus his Lord and Savior. Never once is it recorded in Holy Scripture that Judas knew Jesus to be his Master. Judas always addressed Jesus as only a teacher (Rabbi). The Bible is clear that a person is saved by faith in Christ and confessing him as Lord and Savior through repentance. We see none of this in the life of Judas.

I think clearer than anything are the words of Jesus directed to Judas in the upper room. The Scriptures say, “When it was evening, [Jesus] reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, ‘Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’ He answered, ‘He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.’ Judas, who would betray him answered, ‘Is it I, Rabbi?’ He said to him, ‘You have said so’” (Matthew 26:20-25). I just cannot imagine heaven worse than being born. Heaven is the place of ultimate joy because of the presence of God almighty and worshipping him with no more sin or sorrow. We will be free to worship Christ for all eternity yet to Judas we hear Christ say, “It would have been better for [Judas] if he had not been born.”

But he does bring up a good point about Peter. What is the difference? They did both deny Jesus. Scripture is clear that both men committed this sin. Since this post is getting long I will let Stephen address this tomorrow.

Fifth, the saddest of all statements: “I don’t know who gets in, actually. Do I believe in heaven and hell? Yes. I believe one is dark and one is light, and they both last forever.” I’m grateful he affirms there is a heaven and a hell. I am also grateful he affirms that they both last forever. These are two very true statements according to Scripture. He is also correct in saying “I don’t know who gets in, actually.” I know he means he doesn’t know the heart of every human being. That is for God to judge and God alone but two things should be addressed. 1. We need to be clear on how one does inherit eternal life with Christ and 2. We are called to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”

1. We do all rightfully deserve God’s righteous wrath for rebelling against him with our sin. We are all called “haters of God” (Romans 1) and because of our hatred God should justly punish us with an eternity in hell where the fire is never quenched (Luke 3:17). This is a gloomy picture without the cross. God in his great mercy sent his Son, Jesus Christ, as a mediator for sinners like us. He sent his Son to take the place of sinners. Christ bore the Father’s wrath that we deserved and took our sins upon himself. The sinless died in place of the sinful. The call is for people to repent and place their trust in Christ as Savior and Lord. Going back to Judas this is exactly what we don’t see in Scripture.

2. We are also called to “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” This is what is called sanctification in the believer’s life. Justification is an act of God where he declares sinners righteous through the merit of his Son. Sanctification begins at justification and is a life-long process of growth for a child of Christ. In this bearing fruit idea Jesus does give us a way to help determine what is in the heart of a person. Once again we cannot know for sure but we can see indication because we know from Scripture how a Christian will live. Most people throw out the classic Matthew 7 passage when speaking about judging another person: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Sounds good until you keep reading in Jesus’ sermon: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:13-20). Judge not yet you will be able to recognize them by their fruits. When it comes to the gospel and being a Christ follower Jesus is saying we will want and welcome the accountability of the saints to hold us to the Word of God. Christians ought to be people who are pursuing godliness through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Jesus is clear: “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” True repentance and trust in Christ brings life change.

Lastly, I am shocked by his statement: “This is not the debate Christians need to be engaged in. We don’t know. Instead of wasting our time on these types of arguments inside our little Christian world, maybe we should look inside ourselves this Easter.” No debate on Holy Scripture is a wasted debate. Also this debate is not just going on “inside our little Christian world”, it is going on all over the world. This is a debate goes deeper than just our Christian world because it is ultimately a debate about Christ and his Word. This is no time waster. The most important thing we can talk about is the gospel of Jesus Christ and how souls are rescued through his life, death and resurrection. Peter and Judas were no exception therefore this debate is important. This is why proclaiming the gospel is “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

To close maybe we should re-title the article: The gospel: Am I going to heaven or hell?

Grace upon grace,

Friday, April 22, 2011

Father, into Your Hands I Commit my Spirit!

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)

These are the final words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, which were uttered before his death on the cross. These are the words of One who was in total control of his life and death. Jesus Christ came for this very reason and with these words we see that his purpose has been fulfilled. What comfort we can take in the words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

Moments earlier on the cross we see the separation of the Father and Son when Jesus cries out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This was not as if the Father forgot about his Son or completely abandoned his Son but this is the moment when the Father had to turn his face away in order to pour out his righteous wrath against sin. This is one of the most glorious and tragic moments in all of history. I would argue these most glorious and tragic moment in all of history. There was separation in the Godhead that was required in order for sinners to have a substitute. This moment is tragic because of the separation but it is glorious because of salvation. Without sin being punish God would cease to be perfectly just and without a substitute to pay the price for sin God could not justify sinners. But with the words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”, we see the union of the Godhead is restored. The payment had been made for sin and now the fellowship is back because the work was finished.

Now with the work being completed and the fellowship being restored, Jesus could now lay down his life in death. The excruciating pain of crucifixion is not what killed Jesus. It was not shock or suffocation or loss of blood that put Jesus to death but rather the completion of his Father’s will. With these words we see that Jesus was in control of his death just as he said in John 10: “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down on my own accord. I have authority to lay it down” (18). Here we see his claims to be true. Jesus was in control because he was and is the sovereign God over all events including his death on the cross. Jesus says, “I commit my spirit.” Death did not conquer Jesus but Jesus laid down his life. This is so amazing. We also see that this was not some last gasp of breath because the text says, “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice.” Crucifixion brought about suffocation and near the end of a life the victim would barely be able to breathe let alone talk but Jesus cried out with a loud voice. No doubt he was weak after six hours upon the cross but clearly this shows us his control once again.

One of the greatest witnesses of this event comes after Jesus laid down his life. The text goes on to speak about a certain centurion who was placed by Pilate at the cross to watch over this crucifixion. Surely this man had witness many crucifixions in his line of work. He had seen how other men had died probably kicking and screaming and cursing until their life was no more. He must have seen how men walked through their trial. He must have seen how men responded to the beatings of his fellow soldiers and most likely to his own beatings of criminals. After all this was the man’s job. But something was clearly different with this man Jesus. Silently he walked through his trial. Silently he took the mockery. Silently he took the whip. Silently he carried his cross. Silently he took the nails. But once he was on the cross he spoke and his words penetrated the heart of this centurion. No doubt he heard Jesus ask the Father to forgive his executioners. No doubt he heard the tender words spoken to his mother. No doubt he heard the agony of separation. No doubt heard the conquering words: “It is finished.” And now he hears Jesus say to his Father: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” The centurion had to know at this point that Jesus was in control the whole time. He had to know Jesus laid down his life rather than dying from his execution. We see his glorious confession: “Certainly this man was innocent!...Truly this was the Son of God” (Luke 23:47; Matt. 27:54)! Jesus is the Son of God. He is the crucified Savior of sinners and he is the resurrection Lord of heaven and earth. He is God!

Grace upon grace,

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Crucifixion (John's Account)

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.”

So this is what the soldiers did.

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” (John 19:16-37)

Grace upon grace,

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Crucifixion (Luke's Account)

As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then

“‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”
and to the hills, “Cover us!”’

For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. (Luke 23:26-49)

Grace upon grace,

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Crucifixion (Mark's Account)

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.

They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there. (Mark 15:21-41)

Grace upon grace,

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Crucifixion (Matthew's Account)

This week I would like to focus our attention on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I hope it helps prepare our hearts for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.

As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. (Matthew 27:32-56)

Grace upon grace,

Friday, April 15, 2011

Put On

"Put on" (Colossians 3:12)

Paul's words about "putting on" are staggering when we consider the magnitude of rebellion against holy God. These are not to be passed over quickly. Paul is giving practical implications of a new life found in Jesus Christ. He is instructing the Church on what it means to take off the old man and "put on" the new man which is transformed by the gospel.

Colossians is such a beautifully structured letter because Paul right off the bat speaks about who Jesus Christ is. He talks about the Father's work in calling sinners out of the kingdom of darkness and transferring them into the kingdom of his beloved Son which is purchased through the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ. Then Paul talk about the greatness of Christ:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)

This is Christ! He is God in the flesh, the second person of the Trinity and it should blow our minds that God would leave heaven to take on humanity. His purpose in coming was not for his benefit but for ours. He knew no other way was possible for sinners so he came to rescue us. "And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him" (1:21-22)

Not only does he save us by his blood but he makes us new creatures. This is why Paul can say later in the letter, "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God" (3:1). The reason for setting our minds above is to have a single focus upon Christ. Only because of Christ's atoning death and resurrection can Scripture tell us to "put to death what is earthly in you" (3:5). This is impossible without the Spirit dwelling in your mortal body. But for the Christian it is possible to put those things to death with the Spirit's power. This is a great joy for the Christian. We can encourage one another to fight against our fleshly desires in order to pursue true joy in Christ. According to Scripture obedience to Christ is an overflow of our joy. We have been given the ability to become more and more like Christ. I'm saddened when correction or admonishment is given to a fellow brother or sister and they respond by saying, "Well I'm not Jesus." While that is true, the attitude behind it is an excuse to sin. Paul commands believers to put to death what is earthly in us and to "put on" seeking the things that are above.

Paul tells us to "put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience." These are all perfectly displayed in the life of Christ. He is our example but that's not all, he is also our power in which we have the ability to actually be humble and patient and kind and loving. Paul can confidently tell us to "put on" these characteristics because he knows that in Christ we are new creatures.

Grace upon grace,

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Happiness is Found in Holiness

Anthony Carter has a great 32 page book on the holiness of God. In the book Anthony talks about true happiness which is only found in holiness:

His name is holy and his holiness permeates all that God does and all that God is. And it is that by which we see that God is also happy. Make no mistake about it; the God of the Bible is a happy God. We are reminded in the Bible that our God is in heaven and he does whatever pleases him (Psalm 115:3).

I don't know about you, but nothing makes me happier than when I am able to do as I please when I please. For me those times are few and far between. Not so for God. The pleasure of God; the eternal bliss, the delight and felicity of God is the manifestation and working out of the holiness of God. The beauty of God's happiness is the beauty of his holiness. God is not as happy because he exists eternally as he is happy because he is holy. That which is most holy is most happy. Consequently, it should be argued that the longing the world has for happiness is actually a longing for holiness.

Holiness is the state of being without sin. It is the perfection of virtue in the purity of godliness. Heaven is a happy place because heaven is a holy place. The human heart has woven into it a desire for heaven, which ultimately is a desire for holiness. The craving of human beings to create a utopia upon the earth is nothing more than the outworking of our innate desire for perfection or the Perfect One.

This is why you hear people say they want to go to heaven because God has designed them to desire him yet in their sin they reject him. Ultimately those who reject Christ are rejecting true, eternal happiness because they are rejecting the One who is holy, holy, holy. I would encourage you all to go to the link and read this short book.

Grace upon grace,

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to get rid of Wandering Thoughts (Part 2)

Today is part 2 of Thomas Watson's help on getting rid of wandering thoughts during our time of communion with God. For part 1 click here.

Answer 3: Come with delight to duty. The nature of love is to fix the mind upon the object. The thoughts of a man who is in love, are on the person he loves, and nothing can distract them. The thoughts of a man who loves the world are always intent on it. If our hearts were more fired with love, they would be more fixed in duty, and oh, what cause we have to love duty! Is not this the direct road to heaven? Do we not meet with God here? Can the spouse be better than in her husband's company? Where can the soul be better than in drawing near to God?

Answer 4: Consider the mischief that then vain distracting thoughts do. They blow away our duties; they hinder fervency; they show great irreverence; they tempt God to turn his ear away from us. Why do we think God should heed our prayers - when we ourselves scarcely heed them?

Grace upon grace,

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It is Finished

A new song from Matt Papa:

Once and for all
Once and for all
You offered up your life

For one and all
For one and all
The perfect sacrifice

Atoning blood was shed
Love conquered when you said

It is finished
It is done
To the world salvation comes
Hallelujah, we're alive
Hell was silenced when you cried
It is finished
It is finished

Who is this King
Who is this King
So mighty and so strong

He is the One
He is the One
the earth has waited for

God's remedy for sin
with mercy for all men

The earth shook and trembled, the sun bowed it's head
the veil of the temple was opened for man
as Jesus went down in the cold of the grave
defeated the darkness when he overcame
the keys of the kingdom were placed
into hands of children and priest and of fishers of men.
Through all generations his voice will be heard
creation resounds the victorious words

It is finished
It is done
to the world salvation comes
Hallelujah, we're alive
Hell was silenced when you cried
It is finished
It is done
Now completed, the work of love
Hallelujah, he's alive
Join the song of the ransomed Bride
It is finished (Matt Papa & Jennie Lee Riddle)

Grace upon grace,

Monday, April 11, 2011

How to get rid of Wandering Thoughts (Part 1)

Thomas Watson asks a question I think most Christians struggle with: How may we get rid of these wandering thoughts, so that we may be more spiritual in duty? Basically how to focus more on prayer and Scripture reading in private with having our thoughts in left field. Watson gives us four ways in which to combat wandering thoughts. I will give two of them today and the other two on Wednesday. I hope these are helpful.

Answer 1: Fix your eyes on God's purity. He whom we serve is a holy God, and when we are worshiping him, he cannot tolerate our conversing with vanity. While a king's subject is speaking to him, will the king like him to playing with a feather? Will God endure light, feathery hearts? How devout and reverent the angles are! They cover their faces and cry, 'Holy, holy'.

Answer 2: Think of the grand importance of the duites we are engaged in. As David said, concerning his building a house for God, 'the work is great' (1 Chron. 29:1). When we are hearing the Word, 'the work is great.' This is the Word by which we shall be judged. When we are at prayer, 'the work is great.' We are pleading for the life of our souls, and is this a time to trifle?

Grace upon grace,

Friday, April 8, 2011

Treasures Gained by Wickedness do not Profit

“Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit” (Proverbs 10:2)

In many of the Proverbs we see the contrast between the wise and the foolish. The wise person does one thing while the foolish person does the opposite. These are clear black and white truths which ought to challenge our hearts to see whether we are walking in the way of wisdom or acting as a fool. The fool lives in a way that is wicked because it is in contrast to God’s way of righteousness.

If anyone in all of Scripture understands the treasures of this world it is the writer of this Proverb. Solomon was a man who had all this world had to offer. If you remember the theme of Ecclesiastes is the fact that nothing under the sun will ever satisfy a person completely because the world can only offer temporal pleasures which will burn in the end. Solomon had it all and his conclusion at the end of the book is, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecc. 12:13). The way to find true joy is to fear God and obey what he commands. This is where true life is found. But here in this Psalm Solomon warns that “treasures gained by wickedness do not profit.” It reminds me of the question, “What sin will you commit in order to gain a possession?” The answer to the question reveals the idolatry of our heart. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). The treasure is not the sin but the treasure reveals the wickedness of the heart.

I love seeing how practical the Scriptures are for our day and age. Solomon’s words ring loud and clear to our Western “It’s all about me” culture. And really our Western “It’s all about me “ culture is nothing more than what the Bible calls sin. We all want stuff and want it in abundance. Without God’s grace we will all sin to gain our treasure. This is how the heart naturally works. The world covers it up by acknowledging that we all must “have an advantage” over others. Or we just need to “keep up with the Joneses.” Even as God’s redeemed children we have to guard against such wickedness. I believe in the list of the fruit of the Spirit self-control is essential when guarding against worldliness. If we are not fearing God and seeking his will we will be swept away into the worldly trap of wicked gain. Heed the words of Solomon: “Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit.”

Christian, is there an area in your life where you are trying to gain by sinning against your Savior? Are you lying in order to earn prestige at work? Are you being a bad steward of the money God has graciously given you in order to have stuff you don’t need while forsaking giving back to him? Are you in major debt in order to have your toys to impress the world? Do you steal in order to have? These questions and more are important to ask as we examine our own hearts. These are the kind of questions that reveal the sin in our heart. The answer is not to do better. The answer is to confess and repent and trust in the finished work of Christ atoning sacrifice for your sins. When examining your heart to see where you need to forsake worldliness I would encourage you to remember the words of Scripture: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul” (Matthew 16:26)? The only profit that matters is a relationship with the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ. This is the profit which gains for all eternity because we will be with him. “Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit” but “godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:8).

Grace upon grace,

Thursday, April 7, 2011

May No One bring Charges against God's People

Have you ever considered the calling of a Christian to give everything for the sake of the gospel? We are called to be people who walk in a manner worthy of our calling so that when we proclaim the message of the gospel to others we have lives that back it up. Our testimony is not in our speech alone but in our thoughts, motives and doing. I understand others cannot see our thoughts and motives but our actions spring from thoughts and motives therefore the call to live lives worthy of the gospel come from pure thoughts and motives. Paul, in recalling his testimony to Timothy, says, "But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost (Chief of sinners), Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life" (1 Tim. 1:16).

I have been slowly reading Thomas Watson's book The Godly Man's Picture and came across the section: A godly man walks with God. Watson says, "When the truth of grace is in the heart - the beauty of grace is seen in the walk!" He goes on to speak of several ways in which that grace is displayed in our walk. Here is one that ties into being a testimony for the sake of unbelievers:

"Close walking with God would put to silence the adversaries of the truth. Careless behavior puts a sword into wicked men's hands to wound piety. What a sad thing it is when it is said of professing Christians - that they are as proud, as covetous and as unjust as others! Will this not expose the ways of God to contempt? But holy and close walking would stop the mouths of sinners, so that they should not be able to speak against God's people without giving themselves the lie. Satan came to Christ and 'found nothing in him' (John 14:30). What a confounding thing it will be to the wicked when holiness is the only thing they have to fasten on the godly as a crime. 'We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God'" (Daniel 6:5).

The calling of a Christian is not to be taken lightly. We are not Christians in religion but rather Christians by calling and that calling is from God himself. The cost? The cost for our salvation was the death of his Son. I often wonder why the gospel is not first and foremost in mind and heart. I wonder why I am so calous to the things of Christ. I wonder what my life looks like to a dying world. But I think the saddest truth about my life: Why don't I care as much as God calls me to care? There is a dying world out there that desperately needs to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ but I fear our lives as carnel Christians gives the world no reason to ask about our hope and joy. I fear at times I look no different from the world. But God has called us to be living testimonies of his grace. May we confess and repent and be men and women worthy of our calling for the purpose of spreading the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ to world so desperately needing it.

Grace upon grace,

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Look no further than the Cross

Recently I heard a message by Sinclair Ferguson from Luke 23. I would encourage you to read this chapter when you get an opportunity and think about these words from Sinclair:

"If you ever really want to understand how awful your sin is, how awful your blasphemy is, how awful your treason is, please do not compare yourself to anyone else; but go to the cross of Jesus Christ and watch everything that takes him there in these 24 hours before his crucifixion and say to yourself: ‘If this alone will take away my sin how profound and awful my sin must be.’"

Grace upon grace,

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

God of Victory

O God have mercy, reveal to me my sin,
The guilt the shame the darkness, innate within
The blood of Jesus washes and makes me clean
Condemned now I'm pardoned, once bound now I'm free,
now I'm free

To the God of victory
All glory be to the One who's conquered all
Every tongue will sing to the risen King
Oh the wonder of it all
Just to think that you love me, a wretch like me
Aloud I will rejoice

O Father of my spirit, O King of all my days
Lead me to repentance, by your amazing grace
O may my sin be bitter, so Christ will be sweet
I trust in your promise, life eternally,
life eternally

Sing it loud, shout it out, rejoice, rejoice
Jesus, is King, victorious (Michael Bleeker & Patrick Ryan Clark)

I would recommend the new album God of Victory by The Village.

Grace upon grace,

Monday, April 4, 2011

Praising God for the Church

The Thessalonians were a unique church in the sense that Paul does more praising of this church than any other church we see in Scripture. In his second letter to the Thessalonians he starts by giving thanks for this church:

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for another is increasing.

By no means was this a perfect church (that is impossible because the church is made up of sinners) but they were a church worth watching because of their lives of godliness. As I read 2 Thessalonians this weekend a part in chapter 2 really stood out to me as encouraging to my soul that I wanted to encourage you all with today:

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken work or by the letter.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who love us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

The church is built upon the solid foundation of Jesus Christ and comprised of sinners who have been called by the Father through the gospel. What a joy it is to be part of a local body of believers much like the Thessalonians.

Grace upon grace,

Friday, April 1, 2011

I will Lift up the Cup of Salvation and Call on the Name of the LORD

“I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD” (Ps. 116:13)

How does God want his people to respond to him for all of his mercy he has lavished upon us? How do we give a sufficient amount of thanks and praise and honor to our great King? What do we have to return to him for his great gift of salvation? Or as the Psalmist asks, “What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me?” The only right response: “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.”

Poor, empty, vile rebels have nothing to offer to the Creator of all things. God is the Creator therefore we have nothing to offer him that does not already belong to him. “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine” (Ps. 50:10-11). Scripture is clear that God owns it all and all of creation proclaims his handiwork but his image-bearers have rebelled against him. In contrast to the rest of creation our desire is to proclaim our greatness rather the greatness of our Creator. We want to sit on his throne. But rather than crushing us, which is what we deserve, our Creator provided a way for his justice to be met and show sinners mercy.

Sadly many want to stay in the state of rebellion against their Creator God. They love the fleeting pleasures of sin. They love this temporary world so much that they are blinded to greatest love ever shown in history. The way provided for sinners to be forgiven their sin was through the death of God’s very own Son, Jesus Christ. God is just, therefore it is impossible for him to let sin go as if it is no big deal at all. It is a big deal and it must be punished. A holy, perfect God cannot just sweep sin under the rug or he would cease to be God. But rather than giving every person what they deserve he provided a way for sin to be atoned for. The response for those who have been rescued from God’s wrath should be no different than the Psalmist who says, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.” This response brings all glory and honor to God.

God wants us, as his children, to keep our dependence upon him. What honors him more than anything is our continual dependence upon him. Lifting up our cup of salvation is saying, “God, in return for your great gifts to me, I can do nothing but continue to beg you for more grace and mercy.” You created me and I rebelled against you yet you provided the atoning sacrifice for my sin by sending your Son to die in my place. In return I have nothing to offer but my desire and prayer is continued dependence upon you. My prayer is to answer as the Psalmist: “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.”

Grace upon grace,