Do You Tremble at God’s Word?

open bibleIsaiah 66 holds an incredible promise and posture that we should have toward God’s Word.  The LORD God who made the Heavens and earth declares:

Thus says the LORD: Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool … All these things my hand has made; and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD.  But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.  (Isaiah 66:1a, 2)

Jeremiah Burroughs, a Puritan who preached a series of sermons around this verse in 1644, helps us today:

Who are more despised among men than those who are poor and contrite spirits, whose hearts shake and tremble at God’s Word? … All the beautiful objects in the world are not so lovely in the eye of God as a heart that trembles at the Word.  The Lord accounts nothing in all the world worthy of looking at in comparison to this object.  But at this the Lord looks with abundance of delight…

…Certainly, if you tremble at God’s Word, you shall be comforted.  Though perhaps you do not yet find comfort, yet if the Word of God can make your heart to tremble, it will comfort you.  Wait for it…

…Whenever you come to hear, do not hear it as the word of men, but as the Word of God.  Though it seems to be harsh to you, oh, it comes to your good.  And there is cause why you should do so. It is the Word from whence you had your life.  That’s the immortal seed of the Word by which you are begotten.  If your souls are begotten to God, it was by the Word…

One of the great comforts to our soul that we know Christ as our Savior and have peace with God is if our hearts tremble at God’s Word.  Only the Lord knows if your heart truly trembles at His Word.  If that is true, He looks to you!  If that is not true, beg Him to make it so!  For He loves to answer the prayer that exclaims, “For you have exalted above all things your name and your word”! (Psalm 138:2)

Source:  Burroughs, Jeremiah.  Gospel Fear: A Heart that Trembles at the Word of God.  Orlando: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1991.

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“Who Will Roll Away the Stone for Us?”

The Empty TombHindsight is always 20/20.  Over 2,000 years ago the pressing question for a group of Jesus-worshiping ladies Sunday morning was, “Who will roll away the stone for us?” (Mark 16:3)  It was a great question.  They wanted to anoint Jesus with spices to show honor and respect to Him but they didn’t know how they were going to get to Him.

If you have ever seen a rolling stone tomb from the first century (picture to the left), you can immediately feel their anxiety.  Joseph of Arimathea had rolled the “great stone” to the entrance of the tomb (Matt. 27:60), and they had watched him do it (Matt. 27:61).  The flat stone blocking the entrance would have been on a sort of rough “track” so it could be rolled back and forth as needed, as most of these expensive tombs would have entire families buried there.  But it was a large stone–probably even with a mechanism to make it harder to open than it was to close, as was common–and these women, going alone early in the morning, were not sure they could budge it.

However, there was an even more daunting problem that they may have been unaware of.  On the Sabbath, the day after Jesus had died and was buried, chief priests and Pharisees had received permission from Pilate to use Roman soldiers to not only guard the tomb, but also to seal it (Matt. 27:66).

The religious leaders were concerned with somebody stealing the body and lying that Jesus had risen.  Those leaders were preoccupied with somebody going into the tomb, when they should have been preoccupied with Somebody coming out.

Meanwhile, for the women the question remained as they walked there together that morning: “Who will roll away the stone for us?”  But then it happened.  There was a great earthquake.  An angel of the Lord descended from heaven and rolled back the stone for them–and us–to see that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead!  This rolling away of the stone was so powerful and dramatic, and the appearance of the angel was so radiant, that the soldiers commissioned with guarding the tomb fainted (Matt. 28:3-4).

Large stones are heavy.  Guarded, sealed tombs are impenetrable.  But they can’t contain the risen Christ!

If you will allow me to help you apply this without being overly metaphorical, what is the stone in your heart right now?  What is it that is getting in the way of your saving belief in the risen Christ?  Assuming that you know Him as your Savior and Lord, what is it that is currently getting in the way of you living like your King truly is the risen and reigning Jesus?  Ask the Holy Spirit right now to help you see past the large stone and into the empty tomb.  For Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!

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Our King is Humble Yet All-Powerful

One of the things that I love about Jesus are the truthful paradoxes that I see in Him as I read the Gospels.  He is full of grace, yet truth.  He is fully God, yet fully man.  He is gentle, yet bold.  He is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, yet He is the Lamb of God.

tissot-the-guards-falling-backwards-746x560Jesus’ closest disciples got a front-row seat to another seeming paradox the night that He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It is one of my favorite accounts in Jesus’ Passion Week because it reminds us of Jesus’ humility and submission to the Father’s will as an obedient man, yet of His sovereignty and power as God (I have posted more extensively about John 18:3-6 here).

The beloved Apostle, moved by the Holy Spirit, remembered that night: “So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.  Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to Him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’  They answered Him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’  Jesus said to them, ‘I am He.’  Judas, who betrayed Him, was standing with them.  When Jesus said to them, ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” (John 18:3-6)

Judas showed up to betray Jesus with a kiss, by bringing a “cohort” of Roman soldiers along with officers, chief priests, and Pharisees.  They had lanterns, torches, and weapons including clubs–and no doubt the regular weapons that Roman soldiers would carry.  These were not only angry religious leaders who were boldly breathing murder, these were also highly trained soldiers in an army that had battled the most powerful armies on earth and won.

But when Jesus spoke a word–when Jesus said His Name, the Name of God, “I am”–hundreds of skilled soldiers and fuming Pharisees fell to the ground.

Jesus didn’t exclaim, “See?  I am God’s Son!  I am the Messiah!  I just knocked you to the ground with my all-powerful voice, the same voice that created the world!”  Jesus was on a rescue mission.  He had just begged His omnipotent Father to remove the cup from Him.  To not place the sin of the world upon Him, to not be separated from His Father for the first and only time in all of eternity, to not be beaten and placed on the cross as an innocent man who would experience Hell in a sense for three hours.  The Father had said no, and the Son had said yes.  Jesus had declared through sweat drops of blood, “…not my will, but yours, be done.”  Nothing would deter Jesus from redeeming His people.  He would allow Himself to be arrested and the chain of events that He could already see to begin (John 18:4).

Jesus effortlessly knocked hundreds to the ground with His voice, reminding them and us of His power, but then moments later He humbly allowed them to arrest Him, reminding them and us of His saving purpose.

As we approach Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday, will you gaze at Jesus with me?  Oh, that we would not have hard hearts and go through the motions during another Easter season!  The soldiers and religious leaders that night not only saw Jesus’ power, they felt it like cold hard ground.  But their hearts didn’t melt before the King.  Oh Jesus, just as You later saved some of those same religious leaders and soldiers, warm our hearts to You, and help us to see You for who You really are!

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Do You See Election as an Act of God’s Eternal Love?

Believer, you may have had times of great struggle or confusion in your theological understanding of election.  Even those of us who have long held to a reformed understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation will often admit that although we think there is great clarity in God’s Word regarding election, there is also great mystery in this doctrine.

diff-lighthouse-waveBut brother or sister in Christ, I hope that there are times in your pursuit of the Lord and your understanding of Him and His Word that you throw out all of your objections and cling to this doctrine as a beloved anchor for your soul.  I am not suggesting that you should not continue to study and think hard about great sections of Scripture like Ephesians 1:3-6, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

What I am saying, though, is that Scripture does not present election as a great conundrum but rather as a great comfort.

When you feel as if the earth has given way under your feet, you no longer question God’s ways but you cling to Him and His promises with all that you have.  This is strongly implied in Romans 8:28-31.  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.  What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, doesn’t answer, “What then shall we say to these things?” by questioning God’s unconditional decrees and purposes.  Rather, Paul sees God’s sovereign election mixed right in with God’s sovereign goodness:  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35)  The answer is a resounding “nothing” (Romans 8:39)!

He who chose those He would save in eternity past is intimately involved in every detail of their lives today, and will continue to be until He brings His bride to glory.  When I read, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1:4b-5), my heart no longer questions my Lord and my God.  But my heart rejoices in my Savior’s eternal love, a love that loved me long before I loved Him.  That is security.

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Jesus Wept with Gospel Hope

The last ten days have found me thinking about mourning more than I ever have. Just last week a dear young wife and mother in our church family, the fathers of two different church members, and a young jungle pastor many in our church know all passed from this earth into Glory.  The grief was palpable in our church last Sunday, even as we worshiped and rejoiced.  There were many tears and there will be tears in the weeks to come.

Jesus’ words in front of Lazarus’ tomb, found in John 11, are one way to describe why we are sorrowful yet rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10).  I often turn to John 11 when I think about death, partly because of Jesus’ riveting proclamation: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:25-26)

Rather than comforting words, you could see Jesus’ words to Martha as a riddle, spoken in her time of grief.  Why would he talk in what seems like a paradox?  What does he mean in one breath that those believers who die yet live, but in the next breath that those who believe will never die?  Wasn’t Lazarus already in the tomb?

Jesus so often amazes me.  We should expect to be amazed by God in the flesh, but sometimes we are surprised by His words of life.  Only One who can call Himself “Resurrection” and “Life” can talk this way.

Jesus lovingly acknowledged the fact that people–like Lazarus–die.  There is a finality felt by those who lose a loved one.  While we know that our believing friends and relatives who have died are experiencing nothing but gain (Phil. 1:21), we know that we are experiencing loss.  Do you hear His words?  “Whoever believes in me, though he die…”  Christians die.  And Jesus wept as He stood in front of that tomb with Lazarus’ grieving friends and relatives.  Jesus didn’t tell them to stop the funeral and have a celebration of life service; He entered into their suffering.

We cry.  Jesus cried.  But oh, how we love and cling to Jesus’ next words:  “…yet shall he live…”  Christians never die.  This is the “gospel paradox.”  Death is real, yet eternal life is oh so real.  Christians die, yet Christians never die.  Jesus said both truths in the same sentence.

It’s ok to call it a funeral (Ecc. 7:2).  It’s ok to say that death is an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26).  It is Christ-like to weep (Jn 11:35).

Raising_of_Lazarus.

But our weeping is temporary, just as Jesus’ weeping was.  Because we know that for those who are in Christ, “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).  We know that for the Christian, what is mortal is “swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4).  We know that the same Lord who wept is the same Lord who will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4).  And we know that the same Lord who commanded Lazarus to come forth from the dead will joyfully command the dead in Christ to rise first (1 Thess. 4:16).  It is true–praise God that it is true–that because of Jesus, “it is not death to die.”

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Our Resurrection, Eternal Life, and Union with Christ

Romans 8 has long Kilimanjaro_Sunrisebeen one of my favorite passages of Scripture, both in happy and hard times.  As I read the incredible truths all throughout Romans 8 in happy times, it only adds to my happiness and praise of what God has done and is doing for me and those He loves–and in hard times it adds to my joy in and worship of our good and sovereign God, even if that joy is not a feeling at the moment.

I remember my wife and I reading Romans 8:31-35 with a high school girl in our youthgroup years ago who was struggling with depression over an abortion she had had before she was a believer:  “…If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”  The answer, of course, was that since she was now in Christ, even in the face of great regret, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1)

Romans 8 has been the solid rock that the Holy Spirit has been using in my heart this week as our church goes through a time of great mourning.  The same chapter that comforts the repentant sinner also comforts the bereaved.  Romans 8:10-11 teaches that our resurrection and the hope of our eternal life is just as sure as the resurrection of Christ, because of the work of the Holy Spirit.  For those who are in Christ, for those who have the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9), we have this blessed assurance: “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom. 8:11)

When God saves you, He gives you His Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9-10a).  We usually think of the Holy Spirit as being the agent of our regeneration and sanctification.  In other words, He is the member of the Trinity that gives us a new heart at salvation and brings us from spiritual death to spiritual life (Rom. 8:2).  The Holy Spirit continually works in the lives of those He has saved to transform them more and more in practice into who they are spiritually–children of God (Romans 8:29; 8:16-17).  But don’t forget, brothers and sisters in Christ, that the Holy Spirit does not leave us when we die.  The Holy Spirit who actually resides in you not only is with you to the brink of eternity, He continues the spiritual life He had begun in you (2 Cor. 5:4-5) and ushers you right into Heaven!  Those who had God dwelling in them on earth will then dwell with God in His home (Rev. 21:3)–through the power of the Holy Spirit.  God will never forsake His own, just as He would not and cannot forsake Himself (2 Tim. 2:13).

Your resurrection–and the resurrection of those brothers and sisters in Christ whom we love–is just as sure as Jesus’ bodily resurrection.  The Spirit of Christ has united us to Jesus so closely that we cannot fully comprehend it this side of Glory: “For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” (Rom. 6:5)  What a joy that brings, even through tears.

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Two Resolves God Wants Us to Have from Psalm 46

There are many suffering people in our church, just as there are in every church.  We are still on this side of Heaven.  But sometimes it seems that the suffering comes in waves.  There are currently five ladies that I know of in our church fighting cancer, and we just found out about three of them in the last two weeks.  Add this to other forms of physical struggles, marriages and parents that need encouragement, a continued weak economy for many workers, and persecution that some feel for following Christ in their families, schools, or jobs, and Jesus’ words feel stronger right now: “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33)

When you go through times that it feels the earth has fallen out from under you, or just when you are having a bad week, there are two resolves that God wants you to have that I want to remind you of from Psalm 46.

1) We will not fear.
Psalm 46:2 declares, “Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea…”  Why, specifically?  Verse 1 explains, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  Sometimes the cancer goes away.  Sometimes the relationship struggle gets better.  But sometimes it doesn’t.  We will not fear because God is our fortress.  There is no better reason to not fear.

2) The LORD of hosts is with us.
In the Psalms, when a theme is at both the beginning and end of a Psalm–and especially if it is in the middle too–that is an important point that the Lord does not want us to miss. God is not just a refuge and strength, He is also a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).  Verses 7 and 11 also echo this promise: “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

The reason that we will not fear is exactly because of Who is with us in all of our trouble.  He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  But it gets even better–as believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, we are privileged members of the New Covenant.  “The LORD of hosts is with us” would have been enough–but you are identified so closely with Christ now that God loves you like He loves Christ (John 17:26)!  This assurance would be enough, but the Holy Spirit actually indwells you–yes, lives IN you (1 John 3:24)!  The same One who promised, “In the world you will have tribulation,” then assures us: “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

These are resolves that God wants us to have.  In our fear, He alone is our fortress–so we will not fear.  And His presence is all we need.

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