May 19, 2020

Luke 15:11-32

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

“Because God is self-existent, his love has no beginning; because he is eternal, his love can have no end; because he is infinite it has no limit; because he is holy, it is the quintessence of all spotless purity; because he is immense, his love is an incomprehensibly vast, bottomless, shoreless sea” (A.W. Tozer).

The Parable of the Loving Father is the third of three parables Jesus employed to explain his attitude toward “tax-collectors and sinners” (15:1-3). All three parables portray the central character as seeking after that which has been lost and rejoicing at its return. Traditionally it has been called the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Prodigal means someone who is recklessly wasteful.

The prodigal son plays an obviously indispensable role in the parable. Nevertheless, it is the father whose pardoning love welcomes back the sinful son who stands at the center of Jesus’ story. The parable is meant to explain and justify God’s attitude toward sinners. It also serves, as Leon Morris points out, to prove that “those who reject repentant sinners are out of line with the Father’s will.”

The younger son corresponds to those who were outcasts among the Jews: tax collectors and sinners. The older brother corresponds to the scribes and Pharisees. Both are presented as sinners. The younger brother sins through sensual license and materialism. The older brother’s sin is self-righteousness and jealousy. As readers, we are invited to consider which brother best suits our own sinful tendencies.

Towering at the center of the parable is the father whose love extends equally to both his sons: the wasteful worldling and the smug rule keeper. It must be noted that the father’s celebratory welcome to the younger son is contingent upon the prodigal’s repentance. Likewise, the father’s entreaty to his older son is meant to woo him to repentance for the sins to which he remains blind. The responsible older son must understand, as must we all, that he is as much in need of God’s grace as his foolish brother.

Followers of Jesus must see that the prodigals of the world are merely sinners of a different sort. The well behaved need the redeeming love of the Father as desperately as the world’s prodigals. How comforting it is to know that when we sin we have an Advocate with the Father who intercedes for us and makes the way for our return (1 John 2:1).

How deep the Father’s love for us

How vast beyond all measure

That he would send his only Son

To make a wretch his treasure


May 18, 2020

Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach.  And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear…”

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

By teaching in parables the Lord Jesus intended to both reveal and conceal the truth (13:10-17). William Hendriksen writes: "Jesus now, more than ever before, begins to speak in parables in order to further reveal the truth to those who accepted the mysterious, but to conceal it from those who rejected the obvious." In this way the parables as a means of teaching were a demonstration of grace to those who believed and an act of judgment upon those who did not.

The Parable of the Sower is recorded in each of the synoptic gospels (Matt, Mark, Luke). In the teaching of Jesus, agricultural themes were a rich source of material for illustrating the nature of God’s kingdom. In the Old Testament, promises of spiritual restoration are often illustrated by or compared to sowing seed and fruitful harvests. On the other hand, the prophets used agricultural devastation as a way to symbolize God’s judgment.

The most surprising feature of the Parable of the Sower is Jesus’ description of a sower who casts seed upon four kinds of soil only one of which is truly capable of producing fruit. Jesus was confirming what the disciples were already observing: that God’s Word does not have the same effect everywhere it is proclaimed. Not all preaching yields the fruit of repentance and faith.

The main elements of this particular parable are the Sower, the seed, and the soils. The “seed” in the parable is the Word of God. The sower is first symbolic of Jesus. But his apostles after him and the church following them will become sowers of God’s Word as well. The various soils Jesus references are meant to depict the varied conditions of the human heart upon which the gospel falls.

The Parable of the Sower illustrates the relationship of the Word of God to salvation. That is, it symbolizes the fact that God draws, saves, and continues to grow his people through means of his word. Do you ever wonder why we make such a big deal about the centrality of the Word of God? Do you ever wonder why in our evangelism and disciple-making we desire to make God’s Word central? Do you ever wonder why every Lord’s Day we preach the Word of God? It is because of the very thing that Jesus is illuminating in this parable.

Jesus symbolizes the in-breaking of God’s kingdom as a sower sowing seed because the chief means by which God saves and grows his people is through the ministry of the Word. Jesus is still the chief Sower. But he goes about that work through the ordinary means grace which he has entrusted to his church. Now, in each of Jesus’ parables there is usually a feature that is meant to surprise – even shock us. In the Parable of the Sower it may be that we are to be surprised by the seemingly sloppy way the sower goes about casting seed.

Seed is valuable. It carries in it the sustenance that people will need to live. Farmers know that seed must be treated carefully. It cannot be wasted. But in his parable Jesus depicts a sower who is not so careful with the seed that it only falls on the most promising soil. Indeed, he sows in such a way that seed is sure to fall on the most un-promising of places. The sower casts seed in such a way that will fall among thorns and rocks.

This tells us a lot about how Jesus goes about casting the gospel. It tells us a lot about how we, as those entrusted with the seed of the gospel, must never be so cautious with our witness that it never falls upon rocks. Gospel witnesses are blessedly careless in the way they spread about the good news. They are not so naïve as to believe that every person who hears will believe. But the task of the faithful witness is to get the gospel out. God in his sovereign mercy will determine the outcome.

May 7, 2020

Genesis 15:1–4
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”

It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of Genesis 15. It contains within it the principle of justification by faith and the formalizing of God’s everlasting covenant of grace. The promise God makes to Abram and ratifies through a formal ceremony is the very promise (or covenant) that Jesus Christ came to fulfill; the very promise under which Christians are saved today.

Chapter 15 describes two Divine encounters (vv. 1-6 & 7-21). Both encounters involve a dialogue between Abram and Yahweh. There are also signs pointing symbolically to God’s presence and promises. In the first encounter, God speaks to Abram by night by means of a vision concerning the promised seed. The second encounter takes place at dusk and concerns the promised land.[1]

“After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’”

The late Old Testament scholar Meredith Kline suggests that, coming directly after victory in battle, the word the Lord speaks to Abram “has the character of a royal grant to an officer for faithful military service.”[2] Certainly, this is formal speech from the Lord complete with the announcement of a great reward.

The LORD calls Abram to “fear not.” After such a stunning victory we may wonder what Abram had to fear. Perhaps the LORD is addressing the fear that is building within Abram that the divine promise will not be fulfilled. Perhaps Abram feared that the four kings from the east would reorganize their forces and pursue him. Perhaps Abram’s fear came from the fact that he was hearing directly from God Almighty. It is helpful that the passage does not specify the source of Abram’s fear. In this way we can hear those same words of assurance addressing our own fears. Our Lord knows us through and through. He knows our thoughts from afar and discerns our hearts every moment. And into the chaos of fears that often beset us he speaks his assuring “fear not.”

But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”

Verse 2 is the first record we have of Abram speaking to God. That does not mean that he had spoken to God prior to this. It does mean that the inspired writer sees this as the best time to introduce Abram’s speaking to God. And it comes in the form of complaint.

The term complaint in this context does not mean the sort of petulant, spoiled, belly-aching that the word is typically associated with today. Rather, complaint refers to what is sometimes seen in the prayers of God’s people as they rehearse the promises of God. They know what God has promised and either because of their own misunderstanding or because of God’s delay in delivering on the promise they raise their voice in dismay. As we know from certain Psalms for instance, there is a faith-filled way to lift up a complaint before the Lord. And this is what Abram is doing in verse 2.

Abram’s complaint arises precisely because he has believed the Lord’s promise and yet he wonders how such a promise can be fulfilled after such a long time. True, there was a person in place – Eliezer – who could serve as Abram’s legal heir (he was likely a young man or boy whom Abram could legally adopt to carry on his name). But the promise is that Abram would have his own child. The Lord had promised Abram to give Canaan to Abram’s “seed” (12:7) not simply a legal heir. Keep in mind that when Abram led his family out of Ur, Sarai was already barren. Now Abram is some 80 years old and Sarai’s barrenness is all the more heightened by her advanced years. How, Abram wonders, can God fulfill his promise?

Abram’s faith in the Lord gives him the freedom to give voice to his complaint. Again, this is not a childish tantrum. Even in his complaint, Abram sees himself rightly in relation to God. Notice Abram’s formal language of address: “O Lord GOD” -  literally “Adonai Yahweh” (Almighty Yahweh). Though he has a complaint Abram has not lost sight of the fact that he is a servant of the LORD. Abram is speaking honestly before the LORD but not without first giving due recognition to the LORD’s place of superiority and by implication his (Abram’s) own humility as servant.

Abram’s complaint demonstrates just how much God’s promise meant to him. His belief was so substantial that he built his life upon it. The promise had come to define his life. His words of dismay over what he considered to be a too long delay in fulfillment came out of his utter conviction that God is trustworthy.

[1] Bruce Waltke, Genesis: A New Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) p. 238

[2] Ibid

May 5, 2020

Matthew 6:5-13

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

 “Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

    on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our debts,

    as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

    but deliver us from evil.

One of the earliest Christian commentaries on Scripture was written on the Lord’s Prayer by Tertullian who referred to the prayer as “a compendium of the gospel.” Early on, Christians began using the Lord’s Prayer as an essential component, along with the Apostle’s Creed and Ten Commandments, for catechizing children and new Christians. Thomas Watson, the great English Puritan, wrote an entire volume focused on the Lord’s Prayer. Indeed, in Watson’s magisterial three-volume work on the Westminster Confession of Faith, The Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer, the later volume is the lengthiest.

Robert Murray McCheyne once said, “What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is – and no more.” J.I. Packer writes, “It is not too much to say that God made us to pray; that prayer is (not the easiest) but the most natural activity in which we ever engage; and that prayer is the measure of us all in God’s sight.”

It seems odd to many contemporary evangelicals that they would need to be taught to pray much less be given a specific prayer to recite periodically. But this was the request put to Jesus by his disciples: “teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). The Apostle Paul acknowledged that there are times when God’s own people will not know how to pray (Rom. 8:26). Certainly, the Lord’s Prayer is not to be used as some magical incantation conferring spiritual power and blessings upon those who repeat it. But we ought not assume that sincerity must always be spontaneous and unscripted. Sometimes a well prepared prayer gives to us the language we require when our lives confirm our great need to open our heart to our Heavenly Father.

The Lord’s Prayer provides us not only with a pattern for prayer but also a treasury of Christian doctrine. The Lord’s Prayer may well be considered the first example of systematic theology in the New Testament. Thus, the prayer that Jesus taught us is a model of theology in service to devotion and doxology. The prayer begins where all good prayer begins, by acknowledging the God to whom we pray: “Our Father…”

When we pray let us remember that God is Our Father. While we often do relate to God as individuals we must never lose sight of the fundamentally connectional nature of Christianity. Since the covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12, 15, 17) God has chosen to relate to us primarily as a people rather than disconnected individuals. To be a Christian is not to have my own private little thing with God. If you are a Christian you are part of a people; a household of faith. And so it is right that we pray to “Our Father,” particularly when we gather for corporate worship.

And when we pray we must also remember that God is our Father. There are times in the Old Testament where God is portrayed as a Father to his people. But none of the prophets taught God’s people to address him as father. So how remarkable it is that Jesus teaches us to pray to the holy and almighty God as “Father.” Jesus came to complete God’s redemptive plan; a plan which makes sinners sons and daughters of God.

Christians pray to a very different God than do hypocritical legalists and self-indulgent libertines. Christians do not pray to a spiritual energy force or a universal intelligence. We pray to a God who is simultaneously unapproachably holy and merciful to the degree that he spared not his own Son but gave him up for us all. We pray to a God who is simultaneously over and above us and closer than our very breath. And Jesus teaches us to begin where all good praying begins, by acknowledging the God to whom we pray: “Our Father…”


May 4, 2020

Matthew 25:1-13

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

If you grew up in the 1970’s or 80’s like me and were part of an evangelical church then you were almost certainly exposed to plenty of speculations about the timing of Jesus’ return. Prophecy “experts” filled the auditoriums of our largest churches with their lectures and slide presentations. The number one bestselling non-fiction book of the 1970’s was Hal Lindsey’s apocalyptic The Late Great Planet Earth.

Perhaps you remember the little book 88 Reasons Jesus will Return in 1988. I remember otherwise thoughtful people saying things like, “You know, he makes a solid case.” And then when it didn’t happen the author released 89 Reasons Jesus will Return in 1989. No word if the author will give it another try.

In those days, people seemed to be constantly interpreting the Bible through the newspaper and vice versa. In the 1930’s many Christians were convinced that Hitler was the beast of Revelation. When I was a kid the Soviet Union was the key player in the devil’s plans. And then when Gorbachev came along with that birth mark on his forehead we knew! He was the anti-Christ. Of course the Left Behind series of books trained the 1990’s generation to hold to those same end-times theories.

The fact is, every generation of Christians sees the rise of voices who claim to know that they are the terminal generation; the generation which will see the return of Christ. We saw a spike in this at the turn of the millennium. People sold their businesses, left their homes and retreated to churches and hillsides or other secluded locations convinced that there would be a Y2K disaster ushering in the last days. No doubt there will be others come along who whip undiscerning Christians into a fury of misguided expectations.

Jesus’ parable of the Ten Virgins is part of a sermon he delivered on the Mount of Olives often times referred to as the Olivet Discourse. It is recorded in chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew’s Gospel. The first section of Jesus’ sermon covers most of chapter 24 and concludes with a very clear statement: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (vs. 36).

Jesus therefore warns against those deceivers and false prophets who come along and say that they have discerned when the end will come. We simply do not know, nor do we have any way to know when Jesus will return and usher in the age to come. However, we are to keep watch. We are to be prepared for Jesus to return.

That doesn’t mean that we try to correlate current events with passages from Daniel or Revelation. It means that we are to be careful in how we live. We are to attend to those things that truly matter. We are to examine our hearts to, as the apostle says, “make our calling and election sure.” We are to attend to our most holy vocation to love God and love our neighbor. We are to live our lives with the sort of love and witness and prayerfulness and righteousness that befits men and women who know that Jesus could come back at any moment.

Christianity is an eschatological faith. That is, it rests upon promises which will be fulfilled in an age yet to come. Because of the dying and rising of Jesus what has been corrupted by sin will be made incorruptible. The wicked will be judged and the righteous will be fully redeemed. The dawning of this new age where sin and death are no more will be inaugurated at the return of Jesus.

  • Jesus will return unexpectedly (Matt 24:42, 44).
  • Jesus will return visibly and audibly to all (Matt 24:27; 2 Thess 1:7; Rev 1:7).
  • Jesus will gather his people living and dead (Matt 24:31; 1 Cor 15:23; 2 Thes 2:1-2).
  • Jesus will judge the world (Matt 16:27; 25:31-32; 2 Thess 2:8).
  • Jesus will welcome his people into his presence (1 Thess 4:16-17; Luke 23:43; Phil 1:21-23).
  • Jesus will raise the dead (1 Cor 15:43-45, 52; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev 21:1-3).

The Parable of the Ten Virgins is about perceived delay. The setting is a man who is on his way to marry his betrothed. On the way to the festivities he will be joined by a company of ten young women. This festal gathering complete with torches will accompany the bridegroom to the wedding. Since the ten virgins do not know the exact time of the bridegroom’s arrival they must be ready with enough oil for their torches to account for a long wait. Five of the ten failed to prepare for a long wait. The other five had equipped themselves with enough oil should the bridegroom’s arrival take longer than they expected. The bridegroom would arrive just when he intended. But it would likely be perceived by some as a late arrival.

In this parable Jesus built upon that which is recorded in Matthew 24. He knew that following his resurrection and ascension the first generation of Christians would have no shortage of those predicting his immediate return. Jesus called them deceivers and false prophets. But those deceivers were persuasive. Many first generation Christians fully expected Jesus to return in their lifetime. By denying the possibility of a long wait they were in danger of being caught unprepared.

Throughout this body of teaching Jesus is speaking to covenant insiders. That is, he is speaking to those in the house of Israel, God’s visible people. They had received the sign of the covenant, learned God’s law, and tasted many of the benefits of God’s covenant promises. But among them were those who nevertheless remained strangers to the Lord and were therefore entirely unprepared for his return. The same is true for God’s new covenant people, the church. It is possible to be counted among God’s visible people but to be among those to whom the Lord will say, “I do not know you” (25:12). Readiness, therefore, begins with repentance and faith. It begins with looking to Jesus in faith as Lord and Savior. And readiness continues in the same way. It continues by a lifestyle of putting sin to death, of daily trusting Jesus, and going about faithfully loving God and neighbor.



May 1, 2020

Luke 7:36-50

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

The parable in this passage is quite short and used to illustrate the connection between forgiveness and gratitude:

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

It is a simple parable. Two men were in debt to a moneylender. One owed the sum of fifty denarii, the other owed five hundred. When it became clear that neither debtor could pay, the moneylender chose to forgive the debt of both men. Jesus then asked the Pharisee a question the answer to which seemed obvious: “Which of them will love him more?”

In this parable Jesus made what would have been for the Pharisee a most unwelcome implication. Because of what this woman once was, because of the great debt of sin from which she was released, her love for God would have likely been greater than that of the Pharisee.

It was clear that the Pharisee was not able to see what this woman had become. But her love for Jesus told the story. Nevertheless, all the Pharisee could see was what the woman once was. To make the point even clearer Jesus pronounced the woman forgiven. It is important to understand that the woman was not forgiven because she loved Jesus. Rather, in keeping with the parable he just told, the woman loved Jesus because he forgave her. Her debt had been paid.

Well before the Apostle Paul so powerfully articulated justification by faith Jesus declared to the woman: “Your faith has saved you.” This is how God has always saved his people. From Adam and Eve who believed the promise of Genesis 3:15 to Abraham who believed the covenant promise of God to this sinful woman who believed and was saved.

Luke’s account concludes with the onlookers astonished by Jesus’ authority to forgive sins. They began to wonder aloud, “Who is this that even forgives sins?” That, of course, is the question that must be pressed upon us all. It is the question upon which eternity hangs. Who will forgive us of our sins?

Every single person is weighted down with a moral debt that they cannot possibly pay. There is not a person alive who, whether they are conscious of it or not, is not trying desperately to do something about their sin; some way to find forgiveness.

Either they are trying to numb themselves into believing their sin has no consequences or they are hoping that in the end their good deeds will outweigh their bad deeds. Either they are libertines who seek salvation in indulgence or they are self-righteous moralists who are banking on the notion that they’ve been good enough. But they are both in debt up to their eyeballs.

And whether you tend more toward Simon the Pharisee or are more like the sinful woman your only hope is the One who forgives sins.

My sins, my sins, my Saviour!
They take such hold on me,
I am not able to look up,
Save only, Christ, to Thee;
In Thee is all forgiveness,
In Thee abundant grace,
My shadow and my sunshine
The brightness of Thy face.

My sins, my sins, my Saviour!
How sad on Thee they fall;
Seen through Thy gentle patience,
I tenfold feel them all;
I know they are forgiven,
But still, their pain to me
Is all the grief and anguish
They laid, my Lord, on Thee.

Therefore my songs, my Saviour,
E'en in this time of woe,
Shall tell of all Thy goodness
To suffering man below;
Thy goodness and Thy favour,
Whose presence from above,
Rejoice those hearts, my Saviour,
That live in Thee and love.

* John S. B. Monsell (1811-1875)

April 30, 2020

Luke 10:25-37

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

People love the parable of the Good Samaritan. In fact, the parable of the Good Samaritan is part of our cultural consciousness. When a stranger shows up to help someone change a tire he is dubbed a “Good Samaritan.” Various states now have what are called “Good Samaritan Laws” which make it a crime to stand by and fail to render reasonable assistance to someone in trouble. Even people who don’t claim to be Christian often times know at least parts of the story – An outsider helping a stranger while the insiders pass by unconcerned.

People are impressed with the morals portrayed in Jesus’ story. But this is also how so many have misunderstood the parable. For instance, some who hold to a version of the social gospel often point to this parable as THE sum and substance of Christianity – “Christianity is all about helping others and making the world a better place.” They say, “Christianity isn’t about the Bible, it’s not about what you believe, it’s not about seeking conversions. Being a Christian is all about helping people and this parable proves it.”

But the Parable of the Good Samaritan does not appear out of nowhere. Jesus did not proclaim this parable simply to give us all a way to make the world a better place. Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan in a specific context to address a specific theological and ethical issue.

What becomes clear is that Jesus is using the parable of the Good Samaritan to carry some major theological freight. This parable is challenge to consider what it is that fits men and women for the presence of God. Or, more simply put, what is it that makes sinners okay with God?

The ethical dimension of the parable presses Christians to consider their faithfulness to the command to love our neighbor as ourselves. But if you miss what Jesus is doing in the theological here then the ethical application will be worthless.

By the time Jesus delivered the Parable of the Good Samaritan the enthusiasm that characterized the earlier stages of his ministry had peaked and he had become the target of growing hostility, especially from the Jewish religious leadership. The passage is introduced by the appearance of an expert in the law, who came with the intention of catching the Lord in some controversial or erroneous statement that could become the basis of an accusation against him.

Luke tells us that expert in God’s law sought to put Jesus “to the test.” In other words, he was not seeking truth but an opportunity to accuse our Lord. The question is one which was asked Jesus frequently: “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Of course Jesus had the luxury of knowing the man’s heart. So he answered the legal expert’s question in a way that would expose his errant assumptions about sin and salvation.

It may be fairly said that the Parable of the Good Samaritan has two central purposes: 1) To expose sinners to the demands of God’s law and 2) To teach God’s people how to live lives of love.

For sinners, like the legal expert in Luke’s account, who believe they can justify themselves, God’s law expounded in the parable reveals the overwhelming requirement of self-forgetful, risk taking, sacrificial love for neighbor. It is the recognition of this extraordinary demand of God’s law that leads the sinner to realize that he cannot gain eternal life by keeping the commandments of God. The standard of God’s law is too great for any sinner to be justified by it. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” was the wrong question.

For the people of God – those who have been justified by the merits of Christ – the law of God is a means by which they learn to live lives worthy of the gospel. The salvation of God is both the free gift of Christ’s righteousness to the unrighteous and the transformation of our lives into ones of loving obedience. And how do we sum up obedience to God’s law? To obey the law of God means to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Ernest Gordon was a British army officer in World War 2. He had been captured by the Japanese and confined to the infamous prison camp on the River Kwai. Late in the war, as Gordon and other prisoners of war traveled through the jungles of Asia, they happened upon a train full of wounded Japanese soldiers who were close to death.

Out of love for Christ Gordon and many of his fellow British officers began to administer aid to these enemy soldiers. One of the fellow officers was deeply offended by the efforts to help. He said, “What bloody fools you all are! Don’t you realize that those are the enemy?”

Those helping the wounded certainly did realize it. But in response Gordon tried to explain their actions by referring to the parable of the Good Samaritan. The protesting officer said – “That’s different! That’s in the Bible. These are the swine who’ve starved us and beaten us. They’ve murdered our comrades. These are our enemies.” To which Ernest Gordon replied, “Who is mine enemy? Isn’t he my neighbor?...Mine enemy is my neighbor.”


April 28, 2020

Revelation 19:1-21

The Book of Revelation is one of the most abused sections of God’s Word. For generations it has been used by charismatic visionaries, cult leaders, and “prophesy experts” in ways that it was never intended. The Book of Revelation is not secret code book by which the truly enlightened may name the Beast or predict the return of Christ. The fact is, the Book of Revelation is a glorious vision of the church’s future and the final defeat of Satan, sin, and death. As such it is a source of Divine comfort for the church in every era.

The Book of Revelation helps us to recalibrate our lives according to God’s timeline of justice. To calibrate means to establish a particular standard of measurement. A typical clock is set to calibrate the passage of time by minutes and hours. A car’s odometer is set to calibrate distance in miles. So, to recalibrate means to change the standard of measurement.

It is not unusual for us to tend toward calibrating our lives in terms of the here and now. And certainly we want to be present each day among the people and within the circumstances God has placed us. But as we suffer in this world which is passing away we can be comforted that the flicker of this present age is giving way to the glory of eternity in God’s presence. And so we live with our eyes fixed toward the future.

As we noted in yesterday’s devotion, Revelation 19 is a vision primarily of God’s wrath upon the wicked in the Day of Judgment. As God pours forth his wrath, John the Apostle depicts the saints in glory shouting their “Hallelujah!”
After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,

Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”
Once more they cried out,
The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”

And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” [5] And from the throne came a voice saying,

“Praise our God,
all you his servants,
you who fear him,
small and great.” (Vv. 1-5)

Of course the doctrine of God’s judgment is met with a mixture of skepticism, hostility, and denial even among some professing Christians. I am not suggesting that we ought to be gleeful at the thought of the wicked perishing in hell. At the same time we must not be embarrassed by what the Bible teaches us about God’s final justice. Indeed, the pouring out of God’s wrath upon the wicked is part of the final redemption of the created order and the salvation of the righteous.

And it is precisely because of the coming judgment that Christians are free in this life to love their enemies and to pray for those who curse them.

Last year I read the deeply moving book entitled Grace Will Lead Us Home. It is an account of the massacre at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC on June 17, 2015. The book focuses especially on the extraordinary mercy shown by the surviving family members of those murdered by Dylan Roof.

When that wicked and twisted young man was brought into court for his first hearing – under heavy guard – various family members of the murdered were given an opportunity to speak. Judge Gosnell who was presiding over the hearing began to read the names of the victims. When he reached the name of the third victim, Ethel Lance, the 70-year old’s youngest daughter Nadine rose to speak.

As she rose Judge Gosnell asked, “And you are whom, ma’am?”

“Her daughter,” came the answer.

The judge repeated: “Her daughter. I’m listening. And you can talk to me.”

Instead Nadine Collier turned to face the man who murdered her mother. And to the stunned silence of everyone present she said, “I just want everybody to know, to you, I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me” – her voice began to tremble and break.

“I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people.”

As Judge Gosnell continued to read the names of victims he reached Myra Thompson. Myra’s now widowed husband Anthony stood. The couple’s now mother-less children watched their father. Anthony faced the man who murdered his wife and said clearly and even loudly – “I forgive you. And my family forgives you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the One who matters most – Christ – so that he can change it, can change your ways no matter what happens to you.”

As the author of the book reports – “Anthony peered at the screen, trying to catch Roof’s eye, to get him to stop for a minute and think about those words. Redemption. For a quick second, Roof’s glance indeed shifted a bit, and Anthony wondered if he’d caught his eye. As he turned to go back to his seat, he hoped that somewhere deep beneath the vacant gaze, there was hope – hope that Roof would repent and be saved.” (p. 75).

Now, the mercy demonstrated toward this miserable unrepentant murderer did not indicate that the family of the murdered believed Roof should not be dealt with according to the law. Rightly, those merciful Christians did not call for Dylan Roof to be released from prison or that he should avoid the consequences of his wicked deeds.

Rather, what we see in the remarkable mercy of those men and women are hearts that trust that God will exercise justice in his way and in his time. And because of that, they are free – they are free to not hate. They are free to not seek vengeance. They are free to not allow one evil little man to control their lives.

But there’s something more.

God’s coming judgment recalibrates our focus by giving us a proper sense of urgency to make Christ known. Even as Dylan Roof was called upon to repent and turn to Christ by the loved ones of the men and woman he murdered, can we not make our pleas to those we love?

When you experience injustice and you want vengeance, recalibrate your perspective and remember eternity. When you feel as though you will collapse under the weight of this world’s sin, remember the victory of Jesus and that eternal, fully satisfying, and tearless rest that awaits all whose lives are hidden in Christ.

April 27, 2020

Revelation 19

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (vv. 11-16)

The Book of Revelation is the Apostle John’s account of the great visions given to him by God concerning the second advent of Jesus, the future of the church, the judgement of the wicked, the final defeat of Satan, and the inauguration of the age to come. It was originally addressed to the seven churches of Asia Minor. The primary purpose of the Book of Revelation is two-fold. First, it is a call to the church to remain faithful to the end of the age. Second, Revelation is a word of comfort to the persecuted church that God will indeed judge the wicked and cast down the ancient serpent (Genesis 3; Revelation 20). For those generations of Christians who have been impoverished, pursued, imprisoned, and slaughtered for their faith in Jesus, this message has served as a great comfort. While the kingdoms of this world prosper now; while they seem to succeed in their wicked designs they will be brought to ruin by the righteous hand of King Jesus. As part of his triumph, the Lord Jesus who is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (vs. 16) will welcome his church, his bride into the great eternal wedding feast of the Lamb (vv. 6-9).

During the 19th and 20th centuries it became increasingly common to criticize Christianity as a religion of escapism – always looking to the future, obsessed with heaven. The highly influential philosopher Friedrich Nietzche frequently blasted Christianity as a “slave ethic,” a choice of weakness and defeat in this life in favor of a pie-in-the-sky fantasy of heaven. Those criticisms persist today.In his book Mere

Christianity, C.S. Lewis responds directly to those criticisms. He writes:

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither. (p. 135)

Chapter 19 of Revelation is sober to say the least. It is a picture of the coming destruction of the wicked when Jesus returns as King. It is an ultimate putting right of all that is wrong. It is the final word against sin and wickedness and all those who remained hard-hearted in their unbelief. It is a message hated by the world (and many professing Christians) who, if they believe in God at all, expect only mercy and are scandalized by Divine justice.

This same chapter which holds such terror for the wicked also holds great joy for the people of God. The final destruction of wickedness coincides with the eternal joy and rest for the church of Jesus.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (vs. 9)

This vision of the church’s future is not merely truth for which to be thankful (though it certainly is that!). Knowledge of the church’s future ought to inform how Christians live today. We live in light of eternal realities therefore we do not cling to this world as though it is our good. We know that every injustice, every sin, every act of wickedness against God and his people will be avenged by God (Isaiah 61:2; Jeremiah 51:36; Ezekiel 24:8; Matthew 3:7; 2 Thessalonians 1:8). Therefore, we have the freedom to never seek vengeance upon those who harm us. Vengeance is God’s business (Romans 12:19). Because of that, Christians are free to love their enemies and to pray for those who curse them. What is more, because of the terrifying prospects of God’s coming judgment, the church is to labor with great urgency to call sinners to repent.

This is the fulfilment of the great promise held within the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2 is that God has prepared for his people an eternal rest. The first 3 verses of Genesis 2 record the creation of the seventh day – the Sabbath Day. It is that day created and set apart by God for the blessing of his people. And in the age to come we will no longer wait through a weekly cycle of days looking forward to that one day specially set apart for worship and rest because life in the new creation is one eternal and joyful seventh day.

Since mankind’s tragic the fall into sin (Genesis 3) we have labored under the weight of sin and sin’s consequences. Our work is toilsome, our bodies decaying, and our relationships fraught with pain and conflict. But by God’s grace there remains for us an eternal rest in the presence our Lord; a rest whereby we will remain productive, enjoy sinless communion with one another, and best of all we will forever behold the beauty of the Lord.

The second half of Revelation 19 (vv. 11-21) is a graphic depiction of Christ’s triumph over the wicked. It is a depiction of Christ’s second advent as he returns as a Warrior King. Notice how John uses an interesting turn of phrase in verse 17. He’s already unveiled the vision of the great wedding supper of the Lamb – a picture of the church’s final redemption. But in verses 17 and 18 he writes: “Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.”

God’s victory signals the vindication of his righteousness which has been mocked, questioned, and denied for generations. But the victory of King Jesus also signals that his people can finally rest from their warfare; their conflict with the principalities and powers of this present evil age (Ephesians 6:10-12).

The church’s future is one of peaceful rest. The battle will be over. The victory will be once and forever won. And just as we sing in the great hymn – “And the great church victorious will be the church at rest.”

April 24, 2020

1 Peter 4:7-8

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

In the Middle Ages it was common to hear of the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, hope, and temperance. Certainly those are good things with strong biblical justification. Borrowing from the Apostle Paul the church of the Middle Ages often referred to the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. Of these three virtues Paul called love the greatest (1 Corinthians 13:13).

In his first epistle, the Apostle Peter calls Christians to live in light of the return of Jesus and “the end of all things.” Peter enjoined Christians to be “self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” However, “above all,” the apostle wrote, “keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”

What mattered most to this man who was taught the Christian life by the Lord Jesus himself, both by word and by an example, was love. Peter had been privileged to observe the Lord Jesus daily for upwards of three years. He was there when Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist and began washing his disciple’s feet. He witnessed Jesus’ personal holiness, his patience with sinners, and his righteous zeal for the glory of God. Peter had witnessed Jesus offer himself up to the hands of sinful men to be crucified. This man who experienced the powerful indwelling of the Holy Spirit in a way unique to an apostle – What was most important to him?

The earnest love that Peter calls Christians to is not a worldly, self-seeking, sentimental, indulgent sort of love. The church is called to a distinctively Christian love. It is a love which operates by the standards of God’s truth. It is a holy love. It is a love which seeks to serve and is invested in the good of the other. The church’s love revels in righteousness and truth but is quick to show mercy. Most of all, it is a love grounded in the love of Christ who laid down his life so that we might live.

Christian love is derivative of God’s love. And God’s love is sure. God’s love never fails. We love, Scripture tells us, because God loved us. Indeed, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Because God is love – just like is He is holy and just and unchanging – and does not merely do loving things, his love is not temporary nor can it be diminished. Because God’s love is perfect and holy he will never act in ways which are contrary to what is right and good and true and just. God’s love is never manipulative but is giving to the point of sacrifice: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

April 22, 2020

When I was a student the University of Houston, my English Composition 1 instructor told our class that the greatest novel ever written was The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. Whether that is true, I’m not sure. But I went out and got a copy and began to read it. Lots of words. But one thing that stood out to me was the character of the Grand Inquisitor. He has a lot to say. Along the way he offers this insight into fallen human nature: “So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship.”

Now, we don’t want to go to the Grand Inquisitor as a reliable guide to all of our theology, but at this point he is surely correct. Human beings are profoundly religious—even when we do not know ourselves to be—and incessantly seek an object of worship. But of course, we are also sinners, and thus our worship is, more often than not, grounded in our own impulse toward the paganism of personal preference.

As the church of Jesus Christ was birthed through the leadership of the Apostles, her corporate gatherings are among the very first things described.

Acts 2:42 – 47
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Christians have no doubt been thinking a lot these days about what it means to be related to one another in Christ given the distance we must maintain. And surely we have also been thinking a lot about the value of our corporate gatherings in light of the fact that we have been unable to worship together on the Lord’s Day. The longing that so many of us have to be together once again is explained at least in part by God’s design for the corporate gatherings of his people. In both the Old and New Testaments there is a continuity in the worship that God calls for from his people.

What the Bible teaches about worship cannot be separated from what it teaches about the church. The worship of the New Testament church, like the worship of Israel (the Old Testament church), is a covenant renewal ceremony where God’s law and gospel are proclaimed, covenant rites are practiced (baptism & Lord’s Supper), prayers are offered, and praise is voiced. God is no less holy than he has ever been. Therefore, it makes sense that he still cares about the manner in which he is to be worshiped. God is not like an idol so his people should not attempt to worship him in the ways in which the world serves its gods. The temptation toward aping the world’s forms of worship was a constant threat to the faithfulness of Israel. Today, that same impulse remains a threat for the church.

The founding of the New Testament church was not, as J.I. Packer writes, “in any sense a breakaway from the past. On the contrary, Christ’s church was to be, and now is, nothing more nor less than the Old Testament covenant community itself, in a new and fulfilled form that God had planned for it from the start. It is Israel internationalized and globally extended in, through, and under the unifying dominion of Jesus, the divine Savior who is its King…In a word, the church is the community that lives in and by covenant communion between the triune God and itself” (A Passion for Faithfulness, xvi).

Surprisingly little about the structure of worship is changed by the New Testament. Certainly, the blood of sacrifices is no longer shed since Jesus, the Lamb of God, has shed his own blood for the once and for all forgiveness of God’s people. The Old Testament priesthood has been fulfilled by our eternal and abiding Great High Priest who intercedes for us at the right hand of Majesty. Therefore, instead of priests serving as mediators between God and his people, pastors serve the church by proclaiming God’s law and gospel. But in terms of the structure and elements of worship, the New Testament retains the importance of the corporate gathering, reading and preaching of God’s Word, covenant renewal rites, prayer, and praise. These have not changed and continue to make up the core of the church’s gatherings.

Church attendance is not a cultural expectation in the United States today. In many regions of the Western world, church attendance is downright abnormal. And so on that first Lord’s Day morning after we are able to once again gather, while all the other yards in your neighborhood are buzzing with lawn mowers, all the other kids are making for the swimming pool, all the other patrons of the coffee shop are lounging in sweatpants, you will show your otherworldliness in that moment that you dedicate to do the increasingly strange act of attending the church’s gathering.

It’s not a matter of being better than anyone else. We remain committed to the church’s gatherings in no small part because we realize we may in fact be worse. When you back your car out of the driveway on that wonderful Sunday morning, you will be telling your neighbors that you need Jesus and no amount of leisure can satisfy you like Him. Your gathering with the rest of the church will say that no rest is better than that which is found in Jesus, and that when the thin veneer of worldly entertainments starts to show a few cracks, you might be the kind of person they could talk to about the “alternative lifestyle” of following Jesus.

April 21, 2020

1 Corinthians 12:12-26

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

If you have seen the movie Castaway, then you probably know that it is a good corrective for those of us who tend to be introverted. The scene where Tom Hanks’ character performs a tooth extraction on himself with an ice skate will pretty much drive away any romantic notions about being all alone on an island.

Even on our worst days when we think, “If I could just get away from all the people life would be so much easier,” I suspect we know it is not true. Something in us testifies to the fact that we were not designed to be alone.

So how sad it is when Christians decide to live like spiritual castaways disconnected from the life of the body of Christ, the church. During our current crisis we may get a little too used to virtual worship services which allow us to stay in pajama pants and recline on the sofa. And we may even hop around from various virtual churches and find the one with the singer or guitarist or preacher that best conform to our preferences. It does not take much to imagine that many Christians may choose to apply the current isolation to church long after it has been lifted in all other areas of life.

Surely many will protest, “But I’m a Christian therefore I am a part of the universal church.” That is true. By our union with Christ we are bound together with the whole company of Christians around the world and throughout time. This mysterious communion of saints even extends to those who have gone before us to be with the Lord. That’s wonderful truth.

But think about our poor castaway out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Will his separation from all human contact, from helping hands, from friend’s voices and physical companionship; will that all disappear the moment he remembers that he belongs to the whole race of humanity throughout the world?

Of course not.

When I was in high school the movie Top Gun was a massive hit. The United States Navy saw in the popularity of the movie an opportunity. The Navy began setting up recruiting stations at theaters showing the movie. Guys would come out of the theater with romantic notions of flying jets, confronting Soviets, playing volley ball on the beach, and being tutored by experts who looked like Kelly McGillis. So they enlisted.

And then they showed up to basic training and found out that there’s actually discipline and training and leadership and expectations in the military. And not a single one of their instructors looks like Kelly McGillis.

It is easy to love the beauty and glory of the church universal while having contempt for the church local which, ironically is the church as we know her in our actual experience. So, to claim membership in the universal church without joining and giving your labors to a local congregation is to love an idea but despise a people.

What the castaway needs is contact. What he needs is a sort of belonging that brings him into literal contact with others. And the same is true for us as Christians. Our belonging to the world-wide company of Christians – the universal church – was never meant to be a substitute for our need to belong to a local fellowship of Christians.

And the church was never intended to function without any of its members.

As I write this, my wife is in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy. Thankfully, the appendix is not necessary for our lives. I have lived without an appendix since I was a sophomore in high school. I have never missed it. As far as I am aware there has never been a moment that would have been made better with my appendix. Fellow Christian, there is no appendix in the body of Christ. There are no unnecessary members in the church. And that means you.

Remember that even now during these days of physical separation the words written by the Apostle Paul are still true:

If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? [20] As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (Vv. 17-20)

April 20, 2020

Matthew 16:13-20

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Like most Christians I cannot get comfortable with video worship services. That is a good thing. I hope none of us come to accept a video representation as an acceptable alternative to gathering together face-to-face to receive God’s ordinary means of grace. As grateful as we are for the means to continue to sing, pray, and receive God’s Word during these strange days, nothing replaces the physical gathering of the saints.

If you are anything like me then you want to get this fixed ASAP so that no damage is done to the church. This impulse is probably especially true among pastors. We wonder what will become of us if we must shelter in place for another month? Another two months? Or longer? And no sooner than we begin to fret over such questions should we hear our Lord asking, “Do you know who I Am?”

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
By this time in Jesus’ ministry opinions about him both positive and negative were flying about. So Jesus asks his disciples the question which everyone, whether they realize it or not, must reckon with: “Who do you say that I am?” Eternity hangs on that question.

By calling Jesus “the Christ” Peter is saying, “You are the Messiah, the deliverer of God’s people. You are the long awaited one foretold by the prophets.” By calling Jesus “the Son of the Living God,” Peter is saying, “You are related to God in an entirely unique way. You are very God of very God. You are deity personified. You are Yahweh in human flesh.” The substance of this confession is at the very heart of Christianity. No lesser estimation of Christ will do.

Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
Those words sound strange coming from the lips of Jesus. But we must understand what was going on among the crowds. If they can't figure out that He's not Jeremiah, Elijah, or one of the prophets, what in the world would they do with the acclamation that He was the Messiah? How would they misconstrue that? And so Jesus tells His disciples not to proclaim that publicly because of the danger of misunderstanding. Jesus is making clear that no one has the right to rewrite the apostolic testimony which is at the foundation of the church, that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
The phrase that Matthew gives us here in Greek is based most likely on the Aramaic that Jesus would have been speaking. And the word Peter and the word rock are exactly the same in Aramaic. It’s just like saying Pierre and pierre in French. They both mean rock but one is a name and one is a reference to a rock. Jesus is saying something very personal to Peter the man and, at the same time, to Peter as representative of the apostles.

Just to be clear, Jesus was not instituting the papacy. Peter was not the first Pope. But we must remember that while the church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord, he used the means of the apostles to build his church: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20). In John’s vision of heaven found in Revelation 21 he gives us a picture of the heavenly city. And on its foundation stones are written the names of the prophets and apostles. And to this very day God continues to build his church upon His word spoken through the prophets and apostles.

Notice what Jesus did not say. He did not say, “Peter will build my church.” Indeed, nowhere in Scripture do we read that the prophets and apostles will build the church. Nor did Jesus promise that he would sincerely attempt to build his church. Jesus promised emphatically that he will build his church and not even the most wicked force in all the cosmos can stop him. There is nothing halting or hesitating in his words. This is a promise.

Notice here that Jesus portrays his church as advancing the battle, not simply holding ground. The church is depicted as being on the attack. Jesus no doubt chose his words carefully. If he had said, “the swords of hell shall not prevail,” we would have been provided with one picture. But Jesus said, “the gates of hell will not prevail.”

Think about that. Jesus is telling us that hell is in full-on defensive mode against the church. It may not look like it to a church which by all outward appearance seems to have been sidelined. But the forces of hell still shudder against the onslaught of God’s holy nation.

The gates of hell will not ultimately be able to withstand the shock and awe of Christ’s church. There are times when I doubt this. There are times when my experience of the church’s flaws and sins cause me forget this.

Certainly, on this side of eternity the church is still very much a work in progress. We exist as a perpetual construction zone. The design is perfect. The structure will ultimately be beautiful beyond words. But right now there are bricks and beams and muddy trenches and abandoned tools lying about. We are as yet unfinished so we need to step lightly in places. But what a glorious building God is constructing out of these living stones he has made us to be.

The church shall never perish
Her dear Lord to defend
To guide sustain and cherish
Is with her to the end

Though there be those that hate her
And false sons in her pale
Against both foe and traitor
She ever shall prevail

April 17, 2020

Genesis 3:14-21

The LORD God said to the serpent,

  “Because you have done this,

            cursed are you above all livestock

            and above all beasts of the field;

   on your belly you shall go,

            and dust you shall eat

            all the days of your life.

   I will put enmity between you and the woman,

            and between your offspring and her offspring;

   he shall bruise your head,

            and you shall bruise his heel.”


To the woman he said,

   “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;

            in pain you shall bring forth children.

   Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,

            but he shall rule over you.”


   And to Adam he said,

   “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife

            and have eaten of the tree

   of which I commanded you,

            ‘You shall not eat of it,’

   cursed is the ground because of you;

            in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

   thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;

            and you shall eat the plants of the field.

   By the sweat of your face

            you shall eat bread,

   till you return to the ground,

            for out of it you were taken;

   for you are dust,

            and to dust you shall return.”


The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

Having sinned, the man and woman must now face judgment. Before we consider God’s judgment upon their sin, however, we notice that even his wrath is mixed with mercy. He did not storm the garden with fire and fury as was his right. Rather, God wooed the man out of his hiding that he might acknowledge his sin. It is also worth noting that the man and woman are spared physically. Certainly decay and death have now entered the human experience. Spiritual death has fractured their once harmonious communion with God. The earth, their home, will experience the same sorts of decay. But God spares them for a glorious purpose. Nevertheless, God’s mercy does not nullify the need for justice.

God pronounces a series of curses upon the serpent, the woman, and finally the man. Take note of God’s sovereignty throughout. God’s absolute rule has in no way been diminished by the wicked actions of his creatures. The attempt of the man and woman to be as God is revealed as a pathetic fantasy. Even the ancient foe is proved to be unable to act apart from the willing of

We must be careful to not say more than the Scriptures allow. But it seems clear that the fall, while tragic and wicked, played a part in God’s sovereign design to magnify his glory in judgment and mercy. Indeed, God’s work of redeeming sinful man was decreed long before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-10; Revelation 13:8). So God’s response to the sin of the man and woman was not complete destruction. But in the midst of the curses pronounced there was also a promise.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

            and between your offspring and her offspring;

   he shall bruise your head,

            and you shall bruise his heel.

In what Martin Luther called the proto euangelion – the first gospel – the LORD God promised that the serpent would be finally slain by a descendent of the woman (3:15). In a display of sovereign grace, the Lord snatched the woman from the clutches of Satan and made her the progenitor of the Messiah. No wonder genealogies are so important in Scripture. They are a record of God’s faithfulness to his promise to send the Savior.

And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

As if to foreshadow the work of Christ, God takes the life of a blameless one in order to provide coverings for the guilty man and woman even as he would offer up his dearly loved Son to cover sinners with his righteousness.

Dear Christian, your sins have been covered and your shame taken away by the precious blood of Lamb of God. You need not cover yourself with your own fig leaf righteousness. The garments of Christ’s righteousness now cover you from head to toe.