“I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”-Philippians 3:8 Spiritual knowledge of Christ will be a personal knowledge. I cannot know Jesus through another person’s acquaintance with him. No, I must know him myself; I must know him on my own account. It will be an…
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.-1 Timothy 1:15
There is so much that could be said about this verse. It is, perhaps, one of the phrases of Scripture that could be said to best describe the whole of a Christian’s confession and walk: the command to listen and believe, the confession of faith in the one hope any man has in this life or the next, coupled with the cry of insufficiency and guilt. It seems that the Gospel is always that dual cry–I am unworthy, I am a sinner, I hope in Christ alone!
And hope is what I want to talk about a little here, in the context of everything that we’ve been going through lately. I started working on this episode over a week ago and it’s taken me a while to have the time to finish everyone and do the editing I needed to do. In that time, the US inaugurated a new president, that president has begun to take actions in his new office, and the reactions I have seen in the media and amongst my friends have been…well, I don’t think “shocking” is the right word. But I think words like “disappointing” and “frustrating” are up there.
It is not my intention to support or attack Donald Trump. Neither is it my desire to discuss the ins and outs of particular political issues. What is my desire, is to speak firstly to my brothers and sisters in Christ on both sides of this issue, and then to my friends who are not of the body of Christ.
My brethren: come on, guys.
I don’t mean to make light of this or act like it’s no big deal, because it is. This life, this world is real, and everything we do has consequences. You, I and Trump will stand before God to account for our lives and how we used what He has given us. At the same time, I feel that both Trump supporters and detractors within Christianity have forgotten something very important: namely, the source of our hope. This is true no matter which side you find yourself on. I have seen his detractors absolutely lost, awash in despair and fear–and these are Christians. Yes, my friends, I know many of you believe that supporting a liberal political agenda in certain areas automatically makes you a heretic who would just as soon attend a Unitarian Universalist church as believe in the God of the Bible, but it has been to my great blessing in my time living here in Denton to get to know many men and women who I disagree with on particulars of law and government, and who worship the one true God with me every week.
And at the same time, I see Trump-supporting evangelicals who are being very unloving and unkind to those who are not, by posting nasty memes and jokes, attacking and fighting extensively online, and in general not displaying an ounce of the grace they have been shown by our King. That is inexcusable, and deserves rebuke. You are living as though the hope you have in this life and for the future of this country lies solely in the hands of Donald Trump. Let me assure you right now: that is untrue, and if you truly believe that, you are hoping in something foolish. Not because Trump is or isn’t good, but because he is another sinful human who will ultimately only be able to accomplish what God allows him to.
Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
on that very day his plans perish.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry.-Psalm 146:3-7
We do not hope in a man who is going to be dead some day. We don’t hope in a man who is dead already. Nor do we simply hope in some kind of theoretical idea that may or may not actually be true or realistic. We hope in Christ, and Christ alone.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.-1 Peter 1:3-9
So am I saying that we should just give up on caring about politics? No, certainly not. But we need to be very careful that as Christians, we do not engage this debate as unbelievers who have no hope beyond this life. We can engage each other in love, we can show tenderness, mercy and even, yes, weakness, knowing that even if what we go through leads to suffering, it is suffering that leads to greater joy. We ought to follow our consciences, we ought to make our cases boldly and with truth in hand, recognizing that ultimately both the left and the right in this country have at their core a humanist line of thinking that believes, “If I use the power of government in just the right way, I can perfect man at last. We can be free from pain and want, we can live perfect comfortable lives and be happy forever.”
Ultimately, neither will be able to achieve their goal, as long as that hope is based in humans and not in Christ alone. When Christ is King, all other things fall into place perfectly, rest and work and pain and joy all function in their right way, until the time comes for Jesus to set all things right, to wipe every tear and judge every injustice. We cannot, and should not, use the tactics of secular humanists, because those tactics insult the truth of the Gospel. I would be talking for hours here if I detailed this more, but I want to move on to my friends who have not believed the Gospel.
My message to you is not largely different, except that I do not bring with it an expectation that you will hope a certain way. Rather, I bring an invitation, a command even: repent, of your sins, your fears, and your faithlessness, and believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He alone is King, and Savior, and Friend to all who are hurting and in need. Do not rage against the truth. Do not fear the One who made you. I am calling you to let go of your foolish ideas of autonomy for yourself, and realize that you are much more “you” that you could ever be when you are with your Father, who made you and knows you.
This too shall pass, for good or ill. Trump will leave office one way or another, and someone else will be there. If God is willing, this country will see another day and will repent of the wickedness that is spread across the land in so many hearts. I sincerely hope, because of the hope I have in Jesus, that you will be one who turns in faith in our living hope, Jesus Christ the Son of God.
I want to thank everyone for their patience as I got back online, and especially everyone who has reached out to encourage me in the last month or so. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, damage to my computer kept me “off the air” and I was forced to put everything for the podcast on hold.
I want to start off looking at the larger context of the passage for today. Everyone has heard John 3:16, even a large number of my non-Christian friends probably have at least a rough idea what it says if they don’t have it involuntarily memorized. But I want to take a few minutes to dive deep into the passage from what I would say is probably my favorite book of the Bible:
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”-John 3:1-21
Jesus unveils the truth to Nicodemus: life is not gained from God by adhering to the law. Entering the kingdom of God, being adopted as a child of God and following after Christ, is something that happens through renewed life. Our life is not renewed by our own doing, but it is renewed by the grace and gift of God. The Spirit moves as God wills and brings life to spiritually dead rebels by God’s grace, not man’s will. Moreover, that life is gained by looking upon the Savior, Jesus Christ, made a curse for us. Jesus refers to Numbers 21 when God punished the rebellious Israelites in the wilderness by sending serpents to bite them. The only way to survive was to look upon an image of a serpent, made of bronze, which Moses held up before them on a staff. Those who looked at the serpent would live, those who would not look died.
This was not to call them to worship snakes, but rather it was a shadow of the work of the Messiah: Jesus took on the curse of death, willingly choosing the most humiliating and painful death one could imagine. And those who look upon His curse, find covering for their sins in His death, and hope in His resurrection.
So now the verse itself: I love Spurgeon’s preaching here, but I would have to disagree with him on his emphasis on the word “so.” The phrase “God so loved the world” is not an expression of degree or amount, but rather an expression of method: “God loved the world in this way: by sending His Son.” Yet it does not detract from the degree of God’s love by pointing this out. This is something I want to really focus on. This time of year, as so many gear up to celebrate Christmas, we in the US get a lot of people arguing about “keeping Christ in Christmas” and such things. But even with that, we tend to really miss the point in such debates. The point is not simply about “baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger, and gee aren’t babies cute,” although for a lot of people that’s about as far as it goes.
The Son, the perfect second Person of the Trinity, to not come down as simply a glowing unstoppable Judge who could rightfully have set all things to right, cast the entire human race into hell and restored creation to perfection. As Paul puts it in the passage from Philippians 2 called the carmen Christi,
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.-Philippians 2:5-11
In John 3, and most especially in that well-known 16th verse, Jesus talks about what it is we are truly celebrating when we commemorate Christmas: it isn’t about presents, it isn’t about how sad it was that Mary and Joseph were in a stable, or any of the other distractions that are ever present during the holidays. He is talking about the miracle of the incarnation, and its great purpose: salvation for those who believe. “Whoever believes,” the original phrase is πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων, “all those believing.” That is the way one identifies the people of God: belief in Christ, in His person and work. And Jesus specifies further, those who do not believe are already under condemnation, but belief is rescue from condemnation.
The book of John goes on to discuss all of this much further, and I hope over the course of time that I’m given to do this podcast that I can walk through all of it. But for now I will simply have to say: this passage produces worship in me, because it is a powerful testimony to the truth that God will save His people and has paid for our sins completely through the work of Jesus. When we think of the coming Christmas celebration and we hear people tell the Christmas story, don’t think “Oh, it’s so magical, a little baby being born and it’s such a pretty night and hey, that star is nice.” Think, “This is the coming of God to be with His people, to demonstrate love in a way we could never have shown or understood apart from Christ, and to save us!” Hear this truth, my friends. Believers, draw strength from this and know that God is moving to complete the work begun here. Unbelievers, hear these words and repent, turn to know and love the One who made you and calls you by name. In Christ is peace, rest, and love; apart from Him is only condemnation and death. Embrace the peace of Christ, and celebrate this advent season the most powerful and loving deed we could ever know: the coming of the Son of God.
Sermon text here.
This week’s song: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God by Jarod Grice
For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all, at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of those realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written off me in the scroll of the book.'”
When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifices for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.—Hebrews 9:24-10:14
I don’t normally start out with such a long passage, but I thought it was necessary in light of my reasons for choosing this sermon and in light of what we are remembering when we call October 31 Reformation Day. For some, the idea of such a day is simply a historical occurrence, when a monk named Martin Luther brought what was essentially a call for the academic equivalent of a football game to the public’s attention. Luther wasn’t trying to set the world on fire, and he wasn’t even trying to criticize the Pope (at that time, at least). He was trying to bring challenges to public debate on very important issues. But what those 95 theses became as they spread across Germany was the spark that lit the fuse on a powderkeg piled up on Rome-controlled Europe by godly men like Jan Huss and William Tyndale, men who saw the truth of Scripture even in the face of a Roman Catholic Church that was (and still is) trying desperately to obfuscate it for their own power’s sake.
And that brings me to the reason that I wanted to read this particular sermon on the 499th celebration of the beginning of the Reformation: there were many issues that were debated over and that served to demonstrate the rot at the foundation of the Catholic Church. But the very root of it, and the issue which was foundational to the Protestant return to biblical theology, was the completeness of Jesus Christ’s work on the cross in paying for sin on behalf of His people. Rome taught, and continues to teach at least as its official dogma, that Christ essentially made a way for us all to have right standing before God, but that the way we truly achieve that standing is through participation, for our entire lives, in the sacraments of the church. Even then, that is not sufficient in Rome’s view, for all but the purest of saints do not go directly to heaven after death, but instead go to purgatory to endure satispassio, the suffering that is part of atoning for sin.
The sale of indulgences was one of the major issues that led to Luther’s actions. Indulgences were (and are, though today they are not given the same way they were in his day) a “get out of purgatory but not for free” card, or at least a way to cut the time of relatives there shorter. But Scripture makes no such claims about Christians and their sins. It is why I chose this sermon, and why I chose to use such a large passage of Scripture: Hebrews, by its testimony to the completed work of Jesus on the cross and His place seated at the right hand of the Father, completely repudiates the idea that there is any longer any sacrifice or suffering for sin on behalf of those for whom Christ worked. It is, in fact, an insult to Christ as Savior to say that you believe you need to add anything to what He did. The author of Hebrews makes it clear: Jesus paid the price, completely and utterly, and there is no work left to be done. Paul takes this argument on fully in his writings to both the church of Rome and the church of Galatia, and if you haven’t taken the time yet to read those books, you should. The truth of the gospel of Jesus, that we can rest completely in His work and that in Christ, there is no fear of any judgment but only peace with God, is life to us, and is the message I want to bring through this episode.
The Reformation began as a man standing upon the convictions of his conscience, that he would not be convinced of anything but what Scripture pointed to, and that he would trust fully in the strength of God in the face of governments and church leaders who threatened life, limb and livelihood. I wanted to read this sermon because it is important for us to remember this truth, and just as much it is important for us to prepare to do the same thing. The world echoes the same lies it did in Luther’s day and that it has since sin first cracked the world’s joy and fractured our relationship with God in the garden: you can have your own way, because the real source of wisdom and goodness is you. You can do what you want, because ultimately your heart is the arbiter of good.
But yet we continue to find, as we run after this mythical realm of perfect peace coexisting with everyone pursuing the natural desires of their hearts, that all we find there is sadness, heartbreak, and ultimately death. Our hearts cannot bring us happiness, all they will do is hand us a broken cup to try to satisfy our thirst. In the end, we as Christians cannot agree with what the world wants, because we know it ends in death and hell. We want to see those around us set free from these lies, and find the truth, because in that truth is life as it was truly intended for us by our Maker.
So no matter the human orthodoxy demanded of us, the believer ought to reject it, and stand on his conscience and the convictions of God’s own Word. God has worked perfectly in the sacrifice of Christ to pay for our sins, and all those who trust in Christ have, right now, perfect union with Jesus and right standing as holy before God, able to go to Him in prayer for everything. If you do not know Jesus, if you do not trust Him, then I urge you to do so right away. Go to the Bible and read, see the words of God to His people, and find healing there. If you do know Jesus and trust Him, then let me remind you: do not fear anything the world threatens in the face of our rejection of their sinful desires. God is faithful, and even death itself cannot separate us from Him, but in all things we can rejoice and live lives to His glory.
Sermon text here.
This week’s song: My Soul Thirsts by the Loverlies
In the last episode we looked at Luke 13:1-5, where Jesus warns that death comes to all and that we must prepare our hearts, lest we be found unprepared before God. This last week, sadly, I feel that we have found such preaching even more appropriate. Yet even in that hope lingers. And it is on that word, hope, which this sermon is founded. Jesus is light for those who sit in darkness—He is hope for the hopeless. Hope, real hope, in He that will never fail, is the foundation of our faith, and it is the reason we love. It is the force that calls us to obedience of commands like “Love your enemy, do good to those who persecute you.” If I have no hope, I have no reason to care about my enemy; I have no compelling reason to do good to those that persecute me if, at the end of life, there is no hope beyond—or worse yet, there is much worse beyond.
But there is hope, and that hope is Jesus Christ. And I want to spend some time here holding him up before the people in this world that are angry, that are hurting, that are crying out for justice.
Injustice, abuse, and hatred: these are real things, real sins committed by people daily. It is foolish to deny their existence or their effect. It is further foolish to try to equivocate one evil against another. Injustice begetting injustice, as we saw just a day or so ago: a man, angered by what he saw as injustice being perpetrated against his brethren, took violence into his hands and murdered people who had nothing to do with the act, and now is finding himself the subject of perfect justice.
But that’s the thing I want to point to in Christ: for the hurting, for the angry, for the confused, those wanting to understand how it is we can live in the world when people can be helplessly killed whether civilian or police officer, I want to point to Christ and say: let your desire for justice rest in him. It is normal to feel angry about this; it is absolutely normal to desire to see wrongs righted. Even our entertainment reflects this: how many millions upon millions of dollars are being spent now to put to film images of individuals given great power in one way or another to avenge wrong, and protect the innocent?
But perfect justice, that rights all wrongs and does good to the innocent, is not going to be done by any of us. We will not establish that world on our own, for our desire for justice is tinged with selfishness, pride, and arrogance, with the sin that dwells in our very essence as humans. No, that perfect justice will be done by God, and for those who believe in Jesus, it has been done on their behalf, fully, and perfectly. If you are a person who is angry and wants to see justice, work for it here, but I call you to look to the cross and rest first in Jesus; then, you can work for justice while recognizing the fact that your hope does not lie in trying to perfect the world by yourself. That is a fool’s errand. No, your work to see justice done will be perfectly completed in Christ, and you can trust that not a single wrong will be unavenged by God.
Yet I also call you to look at yourself. If your desire for justice is done without reflection of your own sin, and of the fact that you too will find yourself the subject of divine justice for the infinite number of evils you have committed against other men and against God, then you will find nothing but further frustration in your efforts. Stop, turn, and look to the cross, the greatest injustice of all time, yet simultaneously the most perfect fulfillment of the most righteous justice that exists. When you have looked long enough, and seen your sin that has nailed Him there, when you have felt the weight of that guilt you hold before a holy God, and the lightness of freedom in knowing that you can stand before God not as a guilty sinner, but as a righteous and adopted son of God clothed in Jesus’ work, cleansed by His blood, then turn and look back to the work you have before you to see justice done in this world. Let the perspective of the Gospel inform your words, and your hands, and let good be done to those around you. Love well, rest well, work hard, and trust in Him to do all things perfectly.
If you are someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one in this time, or you are just hurting and you want to find a way to deal with it, to engage the emotions you are working through in a constructive way and just find peace in the midst of turmoil, then I recommend very strongly the book Grieving: Our Path Back to Peace by Dr. James White. You have probably heard me mention Dr. White here before and may know him from his more theological works like The God Who Justifies and The Forgotten Trinity. But this is an excellent book that even a person in the midst of deep sadness can find hope in. It is immensely practical, yet theologically solid as well, and it does not shy away from answering questions like “Why did God allow this to happen?” that often plague us during these times. If you are feeling the weight of sadness, whether it is because of the turmoil going on right now or because of your own personal loss, you should get this book and read it, and follow the passages he quotes into the Scriptures to find the peace of God that passes understanding.