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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The Preacher

preach the wordNote:  This is part of an on-going series as I blog through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers.”  I did not reach my goal of blogging through “Preaching and Preachers” by the end of the “Fall Semester,” but I realized that I am now a pastor, not a seminary student, as people, discipleship, and upcoming teaching and preaching are more important than my blog.  That does not mean I am not a student though!  The pastor is always a student–so I press on through “Preaching and Preachers” for the benefit of my own soul and the people that I have the privilege and joy of preaching to.

If you are not a pastor, Chapter Six, “The Preacher,” may at first seem to not apply to you.  But I encourage you to read on as there are several helpful points for anyone who listens to a sermon every Sunday, as well as for those searching for a church home.

A Concern for Souls
Lloyd-Jones points out several factors that a man considering the call to preach must take into account:

The true call always includes a concern for others, an interest in them, a realisation of their lost estate and condition, and a desire to do something about them, and to tell them the message and point them to the way of salvation.  (117)

Surely this concern for the souls of others is of utmost importance.  As Lloyd-Jones has reminded us before, the pastor is to be shepherding people to God in Christ–which means there will be a concern for either their salvation or discipleship if they already profess Christ as Savior.

Four Indispensable Things
After discussing the importance of a thorough seminary education including Bible knowledge, theology, original languages and church history, Lloyd-Jones discusses the ability to speak publicly as a consideration.  Then he boils it all down to four indispensable things that a preacher must have:

The chief thing is the love of God, the love of souls, a knowledge of the Truth, and the Holy Spirit within you.  These are the things that make the preacher.  If he has the love of God in his heart, and if he has a love for God; if he has a love for the souls of men, and a concern about them; if he knows the truth of the Scriptures; and has the Spirit of God within him, that man will preach.  (131)

What About Those Listening to Sermons?
Pray for your pastor!  My overwhelming sense as I read this chapter was one of inadequacy, which he addresses as he points to the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:3, where Paul openly admitted that as he preached God’s Word he had a sense of weakness, fear, and trembling.  I praise God that Paul also pointed to the sufficiency of Christ: “Who is sufficient for these things? … as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:16b-17)  Pray that your pastor would find his sufficiency in Christ rather than himself–any pastor worth listening to would be grateful for those kinds of prayers.  And if you are looking for a church, look for the kind of pastor who has a humble boldness that depends on and points to Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2), seen through his reliance on God’s Word as he preaches, and a concern for the souls of people.

But in the end, Lloyd-Jones does not leave those who listen to sermons off the hook.  What attitude should we have when we come to hear God’s Word preached?

It is always the Word of God, and no one should ever listen to it except in a spirit of reverence and godly expectation of receiving a message.  (130)

Source:  Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn.  Preaching & Preachers: 40th Anniversay Edition.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

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A Worthy Resolution: Living for the Fame of Jesus Christ in 2014!

Recently my 6 year old son surprised me by asking me to “send a picture of you and I to everyone in the world, which everyone would like and would make us really famous.”  I agreed that I would send it to family, but reminded him that the most important thing is for us to make Jesus famous instead of ourselves, and he agreed.  But it did make me pause and think…where did this idea comecross and sunset from?  My wife and I are both on Facebook, but we don’t obsess over how many people “like” a picture that we post.  I realized that my son is growing up in a world where he not only expects to see pictures instantly, but also for at least some of those pictures to end up somewhere on the internet where, if friends and family like them, why not everyone?  He is growing up in a world saturated with social media and reality shows where truly everybody wants to be famous.

Reminding him that we live to make Jesus famous, not ourselves, was not simply a way for me to “shepherd my child’s heart,” but a divine appointment as I am still examining my own heart a few days later.  Am I living to make Jesus famous above all else?  This idea goes far beyond social media, instant pictures, and TV.  This idea goes to the very core of who we are and what we are living for, and on the eve of 2014 I can think of no better resolution than to live for the fame of Jesus Christ more than ever this year.

While words like “glory” and “praise” are used much more often to describe the honor that Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord should receive, the word “fame” is used as well in the Bible.  Moses talks about the fame that the LORD had among the surrounding nations (Numbers 14:15), and Psalm 145:7 sings to God about generation after generation pouring “forth the fame of your abundant goodness” and singing “aloud of your righteousness.”  In the New Testament, the Gospels talk about Jesus’ fame spreading throughout certain regions, often after He taught or did miracles (Matt. 4:24, 9:31, 14:1, Mark 1:28).  As the “gospel of the kingdom” spread, “His fame spread…” (Matthew 4:23-24)

If my highest goal is to spread the fame of Jesus Christ then this will affect how I live in my home, at work, in my friendships, with extended family, in my church, in my neighborhood, and with a desire for His fame to spread around the world.  Maybe it is time for you to refocus.  Jesus died and rose again “that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:15)  There truly is no greater resolution.

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