Episode 33: Immeasurable Love

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

Music: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty by Dust Company
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Episode 32: Christ’s One Sacrifice for Sin

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.

Episode 4: Healing By the Stripes of Jesus

I thought for Easter Sunday, this one seemed very fitting.  It comes from the text of Isaiah 53:5: “By His stripes, we are healed,” and truly we are.  I recently ran across a blog post from a man who I would venture to say identifies as a Christian but seems to hold a great deal of contempt for Christians and Christianity as an entity.  He said that he believes the Gospel, yet he rejected the first tenet of the Gospel: man’s sinfulness.  I wrestled with how to respond, and in the end I decided to let Mr. Spurgeon make my response for me in this sermon.  This, along with the subject of episode 2, make the case clear: man cannot begin to know God, or grow close to God, without first coming to Him as a sinner in need of grace, which is lovingly and freely given.

Please listen and enjoy, and pass it along!  I hope it has an effect on listeners of turning eyes to Christ, just as much as it did to me in reading it.

Morning and Evening – Good Friday

Happy Good Friday to all those who have begun to follow this podcast as we slowly figure out what exactly we’re doing here.  Today is a day to celebrate the death of death, and the payment made in full for our sins by the Lord Jesus Christ!  We will be releasing Episode 4 very soon.  In the meantime, I present this morning’s entry from Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening devotional:

April 3 – Morning

They took Jesus, and led him away.
John 19:16

He had been all night in agony, he had spent the early morning at the hall of Caiaphas, he had been hurried from Caiaphas to Pilate, from Pilate to Herod, and from Herod back again to Pilate; he had, therefore, but little strength left, and yet neither refreshment nor rest were permitted him.  They were eager for his blood, and therefore led him out to die, loaded with the cross.  O dolorous procession!  Well may Salem’s daughters weep.  My soul, do thou weep also.

What learn we here as we see our blessed Lord led forth?  Do we not perceive that truth which was set forth in shadow by the scapegoat?  Did not the high-priest bring the scapegoat, and put both his hands upon its head, confessing the sins of the people, that thus those sins might be laid upon the goat, and cease from the people?  Then the goat was led away by a fit man into the wilderness, and it carried away the sins of the people, tso that if they were sought for they could not be found.  Now we see Jesus brought before the priests and rulers, who pronounce him guilty; God himself imputes our sins to him, The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all; He was made sin for us; and, as the substitute for our guilt, bearing our sin upon his shoulders, represented by the cross; we see the great Scapegoat led away by the appointed officers of justice.  Beloved, can you feel assured that he carried your sin?  As you look at the cross upon his shoulders, does it represent your sin?  There is one way by which you can tell whether he carried your sin or not.  Have you laid your hand upon his head, confessed your sin, and trusted in him?  Then your sin lies not on you; it has all been transferred by blessed imputation to Christ, and he bears it on his shoulder as a load heavier than the cross.

Let not the picture vanish till you have rejoiced in your own deliverance, and adored the loving Redeemer upon whom your iniquities were laid.