Archives For Gospel

servantI have been enjoying the reading of one of my favorite Puritans, Richard Sibbes. When you read Sibbes it is like eating that perfect pie–you have to cut some slices and share it. Enjoy!

In Christ we have the greatest and the lowest joined together; exalted God and humbled man. I appreciate how Richard Sibbes brings this out:

[He is] the Lord of all and a servant, and such a servant as should be under a curse, for the Highest of all to come to the deepest abasement. For there was no abasement ever so deep as Christ’s was, in a double regard. 

First, None ever went so low as he, for he suffered the wrath of God, and bore upon him the sins of us all; none ever was so low. 

And then in another respect his abasement was greatest, because he be a curse, to suffer the wrath of God, to be the lowest of all Lord, whither dost thou descend? Here is a wonder in these conjunctions.

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detours demonic

I’m fascinated by summits between leaders. Whether we are talking about Roosevelt and Churchill or Reagan and Gorbachev or a host of other historical moments, I’m intrigued.

But there is perhaps no bigger meeting than what we find in Matthew chapter 4 between Jesus and Satan. Here you have the seed of the woman and the serpent meeting together in that long awaited moment. The head of the true evil empire and the head of the new humanity, the kingdom of grace.

When you look at the temptations you see Satan attempt to get Jesus to take his eye of the ball (this may be an oversimplification). He appeals to his status and his rights as the Son of God. He also offers him what seems to be what Jesus wants: to be King.

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”” (Matthew 4:8–9)

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We all know that kids, particularly little kids say surprising and funny things, but sometimes they are refreshingly precise. They can cut through the boundaries erected by the mature.

This was the case last night as I was putting my daughter (4) to bed. We were talking about how I was going to visit a family member. She asked me if this person loved Jesus. I told her that I do not think that she is a Christian. Then I invited her to pray with me for her salvation. She complied. Then she sat up, pushed her curly hair back and said, “You know what, you should also go and tell her about Jesus right away. Prayers are good but you need to tell her about Jesus Daddy.” I told her that she was exactly right and that I would.

Here we are reminded about the simplicity of a child and perhaps some of the things that Jesus would have been aiming at when he reminded us of being like a child. She doesn’t have all of the hangups that we often have about evangelism. She hasn’t been rejected, argued with, or belittled. She doesn’t entertain the quiet, embarrassing doubts about the sufficiency and power of the gospel. She just understands, in her young mind, the need for us as Christians to tell unbelievers about Jesus. And she is exactly right.

I share this story because it was so encouraging to me and I think it would be for you also. Further, it reminds us not to overcomplicate things; it is really that simple: someone has got to open their mouths and talk about Christ. The gospel is powerful. It is sufficient (Rom. 1:16). After all, this is how we ourselves came to faith in the Savior.

“It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.” (Hebrews 7:7)

Like a shaken two-liter of soda in the hands of a 5-year-old, the story of Melchizedek is fully charged and overflowing in Christological significance. We learn of the uniqueness and superiority of Christ’s priesthood by means of this somewhat mysterious and obscure type from Salem. It is upon this new priesthood that the new covenant is built. For a guy with only a hand-full of Old Testament verses he sure does get a lot of airtime in the New Testament Scriptures.

shutterstock_94042480There is one phrase that arrests my attention in Hebrews 7 however. It is this statement about the inferior being blessed by the superior. In the case of the narrative we are talking about Genesis 14 where Abraham received a blessing from Melchizedek.

The context of chapters 13 & 14 include a story of Abram and Lot separating because their hired hands could not get along (Gen. 13.13). Abram went toward the land of Canaan and Lot towards Sodom. Following this a war breaks out and Sodom, along with 4 other kings, are defeated by the 4 king coalition from the north. Consequently, Sodom, and Lot with them, were dragged north towards Mesopotamia. When Abram hears about this he gathers his crew and charges after them. In due time he catches them, battles them, and wins. He takes Lot and all of his possessions and turns around to go home. Abram is legit.

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GOD'S CHARACTERHe arose early in the morning. There was no time to waste; after all, God had told him to do something. It was difficult but clear. He had to do it.

Previously God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation (Gen.12.1-3). This after, as Paul eloquently put it, Abraham was as good as dead (Rom. 4.19). The promise would not come through Eliezer, his present heir (Gen. 15.1-4) but his own son. Nearing 100 years of age Isaac is born and the word of the promise is confirmed. However, now, several years later, God tells Abraham to go and sacrifice his son on the mountain.

We know how the story ends. God mercifully stops Abraham and provides the ram. The promise does indeed come through Isaac. God is faithful.

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shutterstock_171636374It is common today to hear people say, “God loves us unconditionally.” It is also common to watch people bristle when people say, “God elects us unconditionally.”

When people say that God loves us unconditionally they usually mean something like, “After conversion God loves you no matter what. Isn’t that great?”

In one sense this is true, God’s love for his people is not based upon what they do or do not do. But this does not mean that God loves us unconditionally. If God loves anyone he loves them conditionally.

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shutterstock_190858196What does it mean to have faith? I have gotten this question numerous times as a pastor. Faith is a term that is vitally important but often also loosely defined or applied.

People speak of faith as if it is a “leap of faith.” In this way it sounds like an acceptable embracing of something that is irrational. The Bible does not present faith as irrational.

Others speak of faith as simply intellectual ascent. I believe the facts about God much like someone believes the facts about the life of George Washington. While facts are important there is more.

Still others will speak of the way they feel. God makes them happy when they should be sad. Emotion corresponds with faith but is not all that faith is.

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I once heard someone ask RC Sproul a question. “What is the point of creation?” His answer was, “Holiness.” He nuanced it a bit to include “that people would glorify God by means of holiness.” If Sproul is correct (and I think he is) then this is a staggering statement. God is pursuing his glory through the reflection of his own holiness. The obvious problem here is the reality that none of us perfectly reflect this holiness. When we sin we are failing to be holy as he is holy.

When you think about the divine pursuit and the human problem then the Bible’s tone makes a lot of sense. What you basically have is God speaking and acting in order to procure holiness by waking people out of their rebellion.

How does God do this? How does he get people’s attention? How does he get your attention?

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Many years ago I was driving across the country to visit my future wife. As you can imagine I was eager to arrive so I minimized stops and attempted to make the 26-hour drive all at once. Going nearly a full day without sleep and in spite of being fueled on more Mountain Dew than is advisable, I began to nod off. I soon meandered over into the other lane and was startled by an 18-wheeler’s lights and horn! I awoke and swerved back in my lane. That shook me. My pulse went through the roof. I lost my breath. I contemplated what would have happened if I didn’t wake up. I was good for another 5 hours. No problems. After my pulse descended to reasonable levels I remember getting mad at myself. “How could I be so careless?”

The Book of Hebrews often functions like the headlights of an 18-wheeler. With pastoral clarity it provides a number of warnings as well as reassurances. We are told do not neglect so great a salvation then we are told that we have an anchor of hope within the veil. We are warned about the danger of hardening our hearts through unbelief while also being reminded that Jesus has delivered his people from the bondage of death (cf chapters 2, 4, 6, 10, & 12 for warning passages).

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Our filthiness deserves that God should hold it in abhorrence, and that all the angels should spit upon us; but Christ, in order to present us pure and unspotted in presence of the Father, resolved to be spat upon, and to be dishonoured by every kind of reproaches. For this reason, that disgrace which he once endured on earth obtains for us favour in heaven, and at the same time restores in us the image of God, which had been not only stained, but almost obliterated, by the pollutions of sin.

Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 3, p. 290).

The Disgrace He Endured On Earth

Now the greater the ignominy and disgrace which he endured before the world, so much the more acceptable and noble a spectacle did he exhibit in his death to God and to the angels.

For the infamy of the place did not hinder him from erecting there a splendid trophy of his victory; nor did the offensive smell of the carcases which lay there hinder the sweet savour of his sacrifice from diffusing itself throughout the whole world, and penetrating even to heaven. John Calvin

A Splendid Trophy of His Victory

It is the Thursday before Good Friday. I can’t wait to preach tomorrow night and then Sunday morning. I love preaching Christ every week, but there is something about the Resurrection weekend that is particularly special.

However, when I woke up this morning I was drawn to think about someone I don’t often think about: the liberal pastor. By liberal I am not referring to political affiliation but theological conviction. In particular, I am talking about those who either deny the reality of or diminish the priority of the cross of Christ and his resurrection.

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If you are connected in any way to mainline (particularly American) evangelicalism then you have probably said or heard the following said countless times in the last two years:

“I need to get back in the Word.”

“My prayer life has been kinda dry lately.”

Often times these “confessions” come in the midst of small groups or in response to some eager, well-meaning brother or sister. How do we respond?

Most often it is with the super-spiritual, muppet-faced grimacing sigh: “Hmm. Hmm. I will pray for you that God would help you get back in the Word.”

Is this helpful?

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The door flings open and a wide-eyed, curly-haired little girl hastens into the center of the room. She comes right up to me without a second thought. She is my daughter, the fact that I am in a meeting is of no consequence to her at the tender age of 3. She has something to say.

One of the things that I learned in pastoral ministry is that children are often a very good illustration of the truth that we are trying to communicate. This is no different. The scene described above have been happened multiple times over the years.  One of my kids would run in, jump up on my lap and ask if they could eat a piece of candy or to inform me of something that was very important to them at the moment. As parents we had to work with them on manners but not confidence. They understood that they had free access to Daddy. Come and plead, talk, make your requests known to me. I think of their little faces, resolving to come and then running down the hall to get there, and then with wide-eyes they march in. It’s instructive for us.

This truth of Christ’s high priestly care for us provokes a most amazing response. It is the response of coming to God’s throne with confidence.

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Paul rejoiced whenever Christ was preached (Phil. 1:15-18) and I try to do the same. Paul also talked about proclaiming Christ with wisdom and making the most of our times with the unbelieving world around us–even having grace dripping from our lips (Col. 1:28-29; Col. 4:5-6). Therefore, I can rejoice but also long for some evangelists to switch up their game a bit to be a more considerate and faithful.

Here are four evangelists that need to retire. If only they were just caricatures.

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I remember the day I first heard the gospel, it was awesome.  My faithful friend unpacked the message of the gospel to this weary sinner.  I was pierced through.  I needed a Savior and I knew it.  As our discussion came to a natural end, my friend found out that I did not own a Bible.  So as a good friend he gave me the one he was carrying.  It was a green pocket New Testament with the Psalms & Proverbs.  It comfortably was transferred from the pocket of his military cargo pants to my own.  I was and am thankful for my friend John’s kindness and graciousness that day.

However, what I am a little bent about is that Bible.  As I mentioned it was the NT, Psalms & Proverbs.  It did not include the Old Testament Scriptures.  This was a bit of a problem for me.  I had zero Bible knowledge at this point.  I did not know that the Bible had two testaments, I thought ‘Christ’ was Jesus’ last name, and couldn’t understand the purpose for all of these various letters (epistles).  But I read my green King James New Testament as tried to get stuff figured out.

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Truth and Tone Go Hand-in-Hand

Erik Raymond —  February 10, 2014

Click on image for Photo Credit.

There are many different ways a pastor may be derelict in his duty. The most common and obvious would be his morality. If a man is not reflecting the doctrine that he is teaching then his ministry is a sham. We know that there are moral qualifications for the office of elder (1 Tim. 3:1-8). At the same time the pastor must be biblical in his doctrine; he must have a firm grasp on the truth. If he is in error doctrinally then his congregation will suffer. As a result Paul gives many encouragements to this end in 2 Timothy alone (2 Tim. 1:6-7, 13-14; 2:15; 4:1-4, etc). This culminates with the pastoral inclusio to watch your life and your doctrine closely (1 Tim. 4:16).

There is another aspect where a minister of the gospel may go wrong, and I fear it is becoming increasingly neglected or at least overlooked. He must give attention to his tone. The pastor is to be firmly committed to the truth while maintaining a tone that is consistent with the truth. In other words, truth and tone go hand-in-hand. If I might take some liberty, “what God has joined together, let no man separate.”

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What is your most prized possession? To find out we would only have to look at what you give your time, attention, and resources to.

For the Christian, what should be the most prized possession? Everyone including the First Grade Sunday School Class just rightly answered, “Bible.” Very good; but, why?

The reason why is because the Bible is rock of revelation that our faith is built upon.

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As is I am sure is common in other places, we have experienced one of the longer, more intense spells of illness in recent memory. Here in Omaha, Nebraska sickness is being passed around like dollar bills. Our church family and our immediate family have also been greatly impacted. Even I, though not normally prone to getting sick, have come down with multiple viruses.

In recent weeks, while afflicted, some truth hit me like a surprise flu: I am generally very healthy. This is a tremendous blessing. In a world full of bacteria and sickness we get along pretty well. What’s more, we are not guaranteed health. Therefore, what we do get is a blessing.

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A Mantra Worth Repeating

Erik Raymond —  January 6, 2014

I really liked this from Ray Ortland and Immanuel Nashville. It is a simple, clear and concise explanation. “It can be for you…if it’s not beneath you.”

(ht: Tim Brister)