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    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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CHRIST’S DEATH

Bishop J. C. Ryle

J.C. Ryle:

“Christ’s death is the Christian’s life. Christ’s cross is the Christian’s title to heaven. Christ “lifted up” and put to shame on Calvary is the ladder by which Christians “enter into the holiest,” and are at length landed in glory.” (John,  Vol. 1, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels)

We Owe Him Ourselves

The truth of Jesus Christ endures from generation to generation. He is the same gracious Savior that He was to our fathers. He is today our Savior and is the only Savior by whom our children may have any comfort. Thomas Adams writes:

“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” (Heb. 13:8)

[Christ is], subjectively, in his power the same; and that (1) Yesterday, for he made the world; (2) To-day, for he governs the world; (3) For ever, for he shall judge the world.

Yesterday in the creation: ‘All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made,’ John 1:3. ‘By him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by him, and for him,’ Col. 1:16. All things, even the great and fair book of the world, of three so large leaves, coelum, solum, salum; heaven, earth, and sea. The prophet calls him ‘the everlasting Father,’ Isa. 9:6; Daniel, the ‘Ancient of days,’ Dan. 7:9. Solomon says, that ‘the Lord possessed him in the beginning of his way, before his works of old,’ Prov. 8:22. So himself told the unbelieving Jews, ‘Before Abraham was, I am,’ John 8:58.

We owe, then, ourselves to Christ for our creation; but how much more for our redemption? … If I owe him my whole self for making me, what have I left to pay him for redeeming me? In the first work, he gave myself to me; in the second, he gave himself to me. By a double right, we owe him ourselves; we are worthy of a double punishment, if we give him not his own. (“The Immutable Mercy of Jesus Christ”)

Believing is the Proof of the Spirit’s Work

In grace, we repent and believe, although neither would be possible if the Lord did not enable us. We relinquish sin and trust in Jesus, and only then do we perceive that the Lord has produced in us to will and to do according to His own good pleasure. Charles H. Spurgeon writes on this subject:

“YE MUST BE BORN AGAIN.” This word of our Lord Jesus has appeared to flame in the way of many, like the drawn sword of the cherub at the gate of Paradise. They have despaired, because this change is beyond their utmost effort. The new birth is from above, and therefore it is not in the creature’s power. Now, it is far from my mind to deny, or ever to conceal, a truth in order to create a false comfort. I freely admit that the new birth is supernatural, and that it cannot be wrought by the sinner’s own self. It would be a poor help to my reader if I were wicked enough to try to cheer him by persuading him to reject or forget what is unquestionably true.

But is it not remarkable that the very chapter in which our Lord makes this sweeping declaration also contains the most explicit statement as to salvation by faith? Read the third chapter of John’s Gospel and do not dwell alone upon its earlier sentences. It is true that the third verse says:

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 

But, then, the fourteenth and fifteenth verses speak:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

The eighteenth verse repeats the same doctrine in the broadest terms:

He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

It is clear to every reader that these two statements must agree, since they came from the same lips, and are recorded on the same inspired page. Why should we make a difficulty where there can be none? If one statement assures us of the necessity to salvation of a something, which only God can give, and if another assures us that the Lord will save us upon our believing in Jesus, then we may safely conclude that the Lord will give to those who believe all that is declared to be necessary to salvation. The Lord does, in fact, produce the new birth in all who believe in Jesus; and their believing is the surest evidence that they are born again.

He who could go so far as to die on the cross for us, can and will give us all things that are needful for our eternal safety. “But a saving change of heart is the work of the Holy Spirit. “ This also is most true, and let it be far from us to question it, or to forget it. But the work of the Holy Spirit is secret and mysterious, and it can only be perceived by its results. There are mysteries about our natural birth into which it would be an unhallowed curiosity to pry: still more is this the case with the sacred operations of the Spirit of God. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” This much, however, we do know—the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit cannot be a reason for refusing to believe in Jesus to whom that same Spirit beareth witness.

If a man were bidden to sow a field, he could not excuse his neglect by saying that it would be useless to sow unless God caused the seed to grow. He would not be justified in neglecting tillage because the secret energy of God alone can create a harvest. No one is hindered in the ordinary pursuits of life by the fact that unless the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it. It is certain that no man who believes in Jesus will ever find that the Holy Spirit refuses to work in him: in fact, his believing is the proof that the Spirit is already at work in his heart. (All of Grace)

“I am the Life”

Jesus Christ is a believer’s life. The believer’s suffering, loss, and adversity is now for the glory of Christ and in Christ. His happiness is also in Christ! Is there anything he should not do for Jesus? Jesus is his breath and life. A.W. Pink offers his thoughts on this subject:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 ESV)

“I am the life.” Christ is the Emancipator from death. The whole Bible bears solemn witness to the fact that the natural man is spiritually lifeless. He walks according to the course of this world; he has no love for the things of God. The fear of God is not upon him, nor has he any concern for His glory. Self is the center and circumference of his existence. He is alive to the things of the world, but he is dead to heavenly things. The one who is out of Christ exists, but he has not spiritual life. . . . The one who believes in Christ has passed out of death unto life (John 5:24). “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life” (John 3:36). Then turn to Him who is the Life.

“I am the way.” Without Christ men are Cains–wanderers. “They are all gone out of the way” (Rom. 3:12). Christ is not merely a Guide who came to show men the path in which they ought to walk: He is Himself the Way to the Father. “I am the truth.” Without Christ men are under the power of the Devil, the father of lies. Christ is not merely a Teacher who came to reveal to men a doctrine regarding God: He is Himself the Truth about God. “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” “I am the life.” Without Christ men are dead in trespasses and sins. Christ is not merely a Physician. . . “I am come,” said He, “that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

“No man comes unto the Father but by Me” (John 14:6). Christ is the only way to God. It is utterly impossible to win God’s favor by any efforts of our own (Exposition of the Gospel of John, p. 212-214).

Fire in the Preacher’s Heart

George Whitefield once wrote, “The reason why congregations have been so dead is because they have dead men preaching to them. How can dead men beget living children?” G. Campbell Morgan writes:

In the true sermon there must always be passion. Our Lord’s testimony concerning John, His forerunner, was this: “He was a burning and a shining light” (John 5:35). It is one thing to shine; it is quite another to burn as well.

Half the sermons today – may I be forgiven if I am cruel – are failing because they lack the note of passion.

There is a tale told of that great English actor, Macready. An eminent preacher once said to him: “I wish you would explain something to me.”

“What is it? I don’t know if I can explain anything to a preacher.”

“What is the reason for the difference between you and me? You are appearing before crowds night after night with fiction, and the crowds come wherever you go. I am preaching the essential and unchangeable truth, and I am not getting any crowd at all.”

Macready’s answer was this: “That is quite simple. I can tell you the difference between us. I present the fiction as though it were fact; you present the fact as though it were fiction.”

I leave that story right at this point. Of course the question comes, whether a man can preach these things without passion if they are truth to him. I don’t know; I must not sit in judgment on other men. But our theme as preachers of the Word has to do with the glory of life – with the tragedy of sin, and its remedy; I cannot see how anyone can really handle these things until he is handled by them.

A man was formerly said to “handle his text.” If he handles his text he cannot preach at all. But when his text handles him, when it grips and masters and possesses him, and in experience he is responsive to the thing he is declaring, having conviction of the supremacy of truth and experience of the power of truth, I think that must create passion.

I am not arguing for mere excitement. Painted fire never burns, and an imitated enthusiasm is the most empty thing that can possibly exist in a preacher. Given the preacher with a message from the whole Bible, seeing its bearing on life at any point, I cannot personally understand that man not being swept sometimes right out of himself by the fire and the force and the fervor of his work. (“Preaching With Passion”)

The Spirit of Truth and the Foolishness of Man

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:12-13 ESV)

Let us note here that all truth is from above. In other words, the truth comes down to us. It is not of our own making because God is Truth and He proclaims this truth to man. Jesus declares that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth.

God, by His own counsel, has declared what is true. What He has spoken is flawlessly consistent with His unchangeable Holiness. Should we not desire to know Him and His Word ever more deeply? The vanity of man, however, has covered his mind with darkness. He refuses to acknowledge God as God or God’s Truth as true and therefore, brings the wrath of God down upon his thinking. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18 ESV)

The feeble attempts of Darwinian anti-science to prove a chain of development from the lowest forms of life to the highest is seriously flawed by its materialist cult-like philosophy. The progress they seek from the lowest animated matter to the highest form of life is full of gaps and gaffs. Missing links are hailed for their discovery and quietly forgotten when proved false. Darwinian pseudo-science continues in its duplicity, however, despite the facts and its critics. It is a futile attempt to portray man as ascending by his own nature to the throne of God. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21 ESV)

The modern church seeks to emphasize a man-centered religion through distorting the Bible as a self-help resource. Indeed, when I first became a Christian, the Bible was often presented to me in this way. I must admit that it was very appealing to my human nature. Who doesn’t want to believe the words of W. E. Henley, “I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul”? Yet, the Bible is not about self-help – it is all about grace, mercy, and love.

Man cannot elevate himself to the throne of God by his own works nor manipulate God through misused Biblical promises. Such ideas are cast down by God’s glory in sending a second Adam (Jesus Christ) to answer for the first Adam’s guilt upon the cross. Therefore, the cross sweeps aside the foolishness of those who claim to be wise and exchange “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man. . . .” (Romans 1:23 ESV)

Truth

Our modern Christians want little to do with controversy and I dare say they are likely to shun martyrdom as well. It is certain that such a weak Christianity will never fight for truth until Christians have the nerve to die for it. Benjamin B. Warfield (1851-1921) explains below:

It is the primary claim of Christianity that it is “the truth.” Jesus Christ, its founder, calls himself significantly “the truth” (John xiv. 6), and sums up his mission in the world as a constant witness-bearing to “the truth” (John xviii. 37). It is accordingly as “the truth” that the gospel offers itself to men; and it seeks to propagate itself in the world only as “truth,” and therefore only by those methods by which “truth” makes its way. Not the sword but the word is Christianity’s weapon of defense and instrument of conquest. “Cut me off that old man’s head” was Caliph Omar’s answer to the arguments with which the aged Christian priest met him as he triumphantly entered Jerusalem: and in this scene we have revealed the contrast between Christianity and all other religions. “That old man,” says Dr. James MacGregor, “with no shield but faith, no sword but the word, setting himself alone to stem the then raging lava-torrent of fanaticism, with its brutish alternative of the Koran or death, is typical of the fact that Christianity is an apologetic religion.” Confident that it is the only reasonable religion, it comes forward as pre-eminently the reasoning religion. The task it has set itself is no less than to reason the world into acceptance of the “truth.”

If the world were only as eager to receive the truth as the truth is to win the world, the function of Christian men might well be summed up in the one word, proclamation. But the typical responses of the world to the proclaimed truth are the cynical sneer of Pilate, “What is truth?” and the brutal commend of Omar, “Cut me off that old man’s head!” So, proclamation must needs pass into asseveration, and asseveration into contention, that the truth may abide in the world. “Bear witness to the truth”; “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints”: these are the twin exhortations by which every Christian man’s duty is declared for him. How early did the Christian proclamation produce its double fruitage of martyrdom and controversy! The old Greek word “martyr,” “witness” soon took on a specific Christian meaning, and became more and more confined to those who had sealed their testimony with their blood; and everywhere the irritated world complained of these persistent reasoners that they were turning the world upside down. (“Christianity: The Truth”)

What Can A Dead Man Do To Attain life?

John Calvin

From the desk of John Calvin:

Scripture everywhere proclaims that God finds nothing in man to arouse him to do good to him but that he comes first to man in his free generosity. For what can a dead man do to attain life? Yet when he illumines us with knowledge of himself, he is said to revive us from death (John 5:25), to make us a new creature. (2Cor. 5:17) (Institutes, 3, 14, 5)

Hope For Sick Hearts

[H]aving the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. . . . (Ephesians 1:18 ESV)

[R]emember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12 ESV)

The verses above speak of future grace. How often do we tend to forget about the blessings of grace we have received and instead live in hopelessness as if there were no God? Dare we to say that the God of grace, Who has given us past victories, now fails in strength to meet our current problems and future circumstances? Many people have experienced troubles in recent years which have eaten away the hope of their expectations. During the last two years my family has experienced more unexpected troubles than I would care to name. I understand very well this proverb of Solomon’s: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12 ESV) So maybe you consider this past year a dud, but what about 2012?

The New Year is a good time to redirect our thoughts toward the future. The beginning of a new year is a time to prepare our hearts for all that God will do in our lives during the coming year. In Luke, chapter three, John the Baptist told the people to prepare their hearts for the coming of the Messiah. A Savior had been born who represented the rebirth of hope to all who would call on His name. John the Baptist was the messenger sent by God to prepare the hearts of the people. He helped the people to see the condition of their hearts and their need for a Savior, because without Christ we are imprisoned by our sins.

John’s preaching was not at all about lifting the people’s self-esteem. Instead, John forced them to look at their own sinfulness. His message would not be welcome today in most churches. “He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’” (Luke 3:7 ESV) By stripping away the defensive shield of self-righteousness, John showed them the true condition of their hearts. What defensive shields do you use to protect you from knowing the sin your heart?

John taught that the Christ was coming. Those who prepared the way would have their hope restored. John the Baptist describes the coming savior in these terms: “John answered them all, saying, ‘I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’” (Luke 3:16-17 ESV)

John’s ministry was also one of repentance: “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Mark 1:4-5 ESV)

We, too, should prepare our hearts for a wonderful rebirth of hope that will enable us to begin this New Year with a sense of passion and enthusiasm. Now is the time to prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts and minds that we may be assured: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 6:19-20 ESV) When Jesus becomes our only hope, we will have placed our hope in very secure hands. Let me close by offering this quotation from William Gurnall: “Hope fills the afflicted soul with such inward joy and consolation, that it can laugh while tears are in the eye, sigh and sing all in a breath; it is called ‘the rejoicing of hope’.” Prepare the way!

Growth In The Grace And Knowledge Of God

There are many people who think that if they attend church occasionally, read the Bible and declare they believe it from the first book to the last, that they are surely growing in Christian grace. Yet, we must be careful here because even demons have knowledge of these things and certainly are not growing in Christ. We all need a deeper knowledge of God which is granted by the Holy Spirit. To obtain this requires much prayer. We need to understand that our spiritual growth will not rise above our submission to the work of the Holy Spirit within us. The Holy Spirit and the Word of God are both necessary for our growth as Christians.

The better we know God, the more we will understand our own natures. A great problem is revealed by the Bible concerning our lives and the problem is us. John the Baptist said on one occasion: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 ESV) Does this not give us a clue to the primary object of our prayers? To truly grow in Christian Grace, our prayers should be filled with petitions that our focus on ourselves, our needs, our way, and our wants should decrease because we desire the increase of Christ in us. With this growth in Christian Sanctification also comes an awareness of the depth of our sins with an increasing desire to be fully repentant.

Repentance is agreeing with God’s view of our rebellion and sin. There should be godly sorrow. We do not see much godly sorrow in our present time. We should be conscious that the Bible teaches us that the closer we draw near to God, the more aware of our own sinfulness we should be. We should remember Isaiah, who when speaking to the Lord in the temple said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5 ESV)

Any person in Scripture, who draws nearer to God, becomes more aware of their own sinfulness. Without repentance, we will never appreciate what Jesus Christ has done for us. We will be constantly tempted to believe that somehow we are worthy of God’s grace. If we earnestly desire to be nearer to God, we must be ready to face the secret evils in our hearts. Therefore, James writes: “’God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:6-10 ESV)

John Calvin believed that human beings could not know God or themselves without God’s gracious revelation of Himself in the Bible. Therefore, it is very difficult to be proud when our capacity to know is limited and dependent on God. This simple fact should inspire us all to humility.

Samuel Davies: The Necessity Of Divine Influence On Man

Samuel Davies

Divine influence is necessary for the gospel to be effectual in saving sinners. Consider the success of the Gospel: A minister may preach two times on Sunday in the same church, using the same sermon for two practically identical groups of people. Yet, in one service a large number of the congregation prayed for the personal forgiveness of their sins and some even gained assurance of their personal salvation. In the second service, using the same message, the congregation seemed to be totally unconcerned with the state of their souls. Samuel Davies provides us with an explanation of such events:

“So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” (I Corinthians 3:7 – Preached in Hanover County, Virginia, Nov. 19, 1752)

The necessity of divine influences is asserted in the plainest terms in scripture. No man, says Christ, can come unto me, except the Father draw him, John 6:44. He that hath heard and learned of the Father, and he only, will come to him, verse 45, and this influence is not purchased by our endeavors, but it is the free gift of grace. Hence Christ varies his former declarations into this form; no man can come unto me, except it be given unto him of my Father, verse 65, and the agency of divine grace is necessary, not only to draw sinners to Christ at first, but also to make them fruitful afterwards. Hence Christ represents even the apostles as dependent upon him as the branch upon the vine; and tells them plainly, that “without him they can do nothing,” John 15:4-5. Through all the stages of the Christian life, we depend entirely upon him; and without his influences, we should wither and die like a blasted flower, however blooming and fruitful we were before. Hence, says God to his people, in me is thy fruit found, Hosea 14:8. Since then this is the case, it will follow, that when God is pleased to withhold his influences, all the means of grace will be unsuccessful.

The unsuccessfulness of the gospel is often resolved into the withholding or withdrawing of the influences of grace, as one cause of it. Thus Moses resolves the obstinacy of the Israelites under all the profusion of wonders that had attended them, into this, as one cause of it: The Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day, Deuteronomy 29:2-4. If none believe the report of the gospel, it is because the arm of the Lord is not revealed, Isaiah 53:1. “If the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are hidden from the wise and prudent, while they are revealed to babes; it is because God in his righteous judgment and sovereign pleasure, hides them from the one, and reveals them to the other,” Matthew 11:25-26. Nay, the evangelist speaks in yet more forcible terms, when speaking of the unbelief of the Jews, who were witnesses of Christ’s convictive miracles and discourses; therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said, he hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts, John 12:39-40, and in the same strain Paul speaks: He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy, Romans 9:18, etc.

These passages are so opposite to the prevailing theology of this age, that they are dangerous weapons to meddle with; and it is well they are the very words of scripture, otherwise we should be charged with blasphemy for mentioning the truth contained in them. We must indeed be cautious that we do not infer from these scriptures any such horrid doctrine as this, that men are compelled to sin, or that, though they were disposed to turn to God they are judicially kept back and hindered by the divine hand. This would be contrary to the whole current of scripture, which charges the sin and ruin of sinners upon themselves; but these passages mean, that God denies to obstinate sinners those influences of his grace which are necessary to convert them, and which, if communicated, would have subdued their utmost obstinacy; and that in consequence of this denial, they will rush on in sin and irreclaimable impenitence, and perish; but yet that God, in denying them his grace, does not act merely as an arbitrary sovereign, but as a just judge, punishing them for their sin in abusing the blessings he has bestowed upon them, by judicially withdrawing the aids of his grace, and withholding farther influences. (“The Success of the Ministry of the Gospel, Owing to a Divine Influence”)

Christmas Is A Time To Make Christ Known

I grew up loving Christmas; maybe not for all the right reasons, but Christmas was a big deal in our family. I remember the smells of mother’s cooking, the decorations, watching “Miracle on 34th Street”, the music and the excitement of Christmas morning. There are other things that I remember about Christmas and many that I have forgotten. Is there a certain Christmas you remember more than any other? I think of one Christmas in particular when Deb and I stayed up until 4:00 a.m. on Christmas morning putting together a kitchen set for our two little daughters. They loved it, but on that Christmas I decided that I needed to invest in some battery-powered tools.

It is so easy for Christmas to slip by before we know it, because of all the things we feel obligated to do to create a truly Merry Christmas for ourselves and family. Sometimes the true Spirit of Christmas is lost in our busyness. In this article, I want us to look at Luke 2:15-20 to find counsel for celebrating the miracle of Christmas.

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. (Luke 2:15-16 ESV)

A stable is not often thought of as a likely place to begin a celebration, but this child was no ordinary child. This baby was the “Son of David” (Matthew 15:22), the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29), “Savior” (John 4:14), “Author of life” (Acts 3:15), “Alpha and Omega” (Revelation 1:8), the “Lion of Judah” (Revelation 5:5), the “Bright Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16), the “Word of God” (Revelation 19:13), the “Son of God” (Mark 1:1), and the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16)!

Celebrating Christmas is not about all the parties, presents, and Christmas Trees; it is about Jesus Christ and celebrating Him. Jesus is much more than what he appears to be as He lies in the manger on that first Christmas morning.

And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. (Luke 2:17 ESV)

Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to make Christ known. This is what the shepherds did. Glorifying God and Jesus Christ is the purpose for which we were made. This is where you will find true Christmas joy.

And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. (Luke 2:18 ESV)

We can see here that these basically uneducated men from a low social class made those who heard them wonder. What will be the testimony of your Christmas this year? Will men wonder about Christ because of the way you celebrate Christmas? Meditate on the true meaning and story of the first Christmas so that you may share it with others.

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. (Luke 2:19 ESV)

Mary treasured the memories of Jesus’ birth. She thought on these things with a serious mind and heart. We too should remember Christmas is about God coming into our time and our world to redeem His people. Christmas is a time of grace that should be a part of our living our lives all year-long.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:20 ESV)

What a wonderful statement! Only one visit with the newborn Christ; then sharing the “good news” with others, and returning to their flocks where they spent the rest of their watch praising God. I am reminded here of the first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: Q. 1. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

How will your Christmas this year encourage you and others to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever? Christmas and every other day of the year, for that matter, should be a time of glorifying and praising God for the gift of His Son. Christmas is a wonderful time to praise God for His free gift of Grace. It is appropriate on every day and especially during the Christmas season that we share the message of His gift of grace with others.

I pray that you will have a God Glorifying Christmas this year!

Samuel

Advent: A Time Of Repentance

John the Baptist

John the Baptist did not always have kind words for those who came to him. He was often brutal in his assessment of the lives of others. Yet, John the Baptist is just as important to us in our present day as he was in his own lifetime. Leonard J. Vander Zee helps us to understand why:

He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (Luke 3:7 ESV)

Homiletics is the theological term for the study and craft of sermon making. Seminarians take a couple of courses on homiletics of course, and there are lots of books on homiletics written for the guidance of preachers. Nowadays, there’s a lot of emphasis on the introductions of sermons. The theory is that the modern audience has to be led gently and carefully into the sermon and the text as though they were being led into alien territory. So there’s a lot about “contracting” or “partnering” with the audience, easing them into the word with stories and humor, giving them the assurance that you’re on their side.

Well, evidently John the Baptist didn’t take a course in homiletics. The very first words we hear from his mouth in Luke sound less like he’s partnering with his audience and more like he’s attacking them. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (3:7) Look around, says John, looks like we’ve got some bad trees around here that aren’t producing good fruit. Every one of them is going to be cut down and thrown into the fire. Look, there’s the axe already lying at the root. And don’t think your pedigree will save you. God can make children of Abraham out of rocks. Even when he gets around to speaking about Jesus, the messiah who was to follow him, the message doesn’t sound much better. “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (3:17)

From what I can see, people are not banging down the doors of the church to hear this kind of stuff, especially not just before Christmas. So what are we doing mucking around in this unsettling text about John the Baptist instead basking in the soft glow of Christmas peace and joy? It’s because Advent is not Christmas; it’s about getting ready for Christmas and the whole of the Christian year. And in God’s timetable, John the Baptist comes before Jesus. Law comes before gospel. Judgment is the necessary precursor to grace. . . .

To prepare the way of the Lord, John says we have to do something, repent, because something is about to happen, the Kingdom is coming. I’m afraid that the word repent has lost its edge these days. To many of us, it just means feel bad, feel guilty. We have psychologized the gospel and transformed the Kingdom into a mood altering experience. The Messiah is the cosmic affirmer of all we hold dear. But that’s not really what repentance is all about. John is not calling people to cry big crocodile tears over their sins. Repentance is turning around, it’s shaping up.

Given his harsh demeanor and his searing message, it is perhaps surprising to us that John was a very popular figure. People flocked to him out there in the wilderness. They went out there in the wild and began to openly confess their sins. And they wanted to be baptized by this fiery prophet.

We live in an age which thinks that the way to preach the gospel is to soft-pedal it. Believe me; it’s very tempting to try to make it all nice and smooth, and attractive. It’s all about acceptance. It’s all about feeling good about yourself. It’s seeker friendly, market driven. But deep down people know that what we might want to hear is not the same is what we need to hear. . . .

We need to notice that John doesn’t call us to some private spirituality or personal piety, but to public justice and compassion. His call is not that we attend church more often or attend more Bible studies, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Repentance is not just feeling sorry, or getting cozy with God. It’s is changing the way we live our lives in the world. . . .

John’s message belongs alongside of Jesus’ message, even today. On our way to Bethlehem we need to spend some time in the wilderness to hear this gaunt, thundering prophet. We need to confess our sins and face ourselves.

But, thank God, that’s not John’s only message. John’s message was the message of the one who prepared the way. . . .

John prepares the way; he is not the way. The law can show us our failure, but it cannot liberate us from it. The law can show us where we are wrong, but it cannot make us right with God. . . .

The power to produce a new life is not ours; it is God’s power through the fiery, purifying work of the Holy Spirit. Every urge in us to turn away from the darkness of hate and selfishness to the light of grace and giving is from God. Every step of love, and giving and caring we take is empowered by the Spirit. Every shining moment when we catch a glimpse of the holiness to which we are called in Christ is burned on our souls by the Spirit. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”. He will plant in your hearts the very power by which he lived his life for God and gave it up for others. Changing our lives is not just some far-off ideal, it happens today. . . . (“Real Repentance”)

Jonathan Edwards On The Earnest Of Our Inheritance

Jonathan Edwards

The Holy Spirit comprises all good things: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11 ESV) In Luke it is, chapter 11:13, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” This is the sum of the blessings that Christ died to purchase for us. The Spirit of God is called “the Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13). This promised thing, Christ received to bestow on all that he had redeemed. This is the holiness and happiness of the redeemed in God. Jonathan Edwards explains:

God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:28-31)

The Lord God, he is the light of the heavenly Jerusalem; and is the “river of the water of life,” that runs, and “the tree of life” that grows, in the midst of the paradise of God. The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will for ever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another; but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or each other, or in any thing else whatsoever that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what will be seen of God in them.

The redeemed have all their inherent good in God. Inherent good is twofold; it is either excellency or pleasure. These, the redeemed, not only derive from God, as caused by him, but have them in him. They have spiritual excellency and joy by a kind of participation of God. They are made excellent by a communication of God’s excellency: God puts his own beauty, i.e., his beautiful likeness, upon their souls: they are made partakers of the divine nature, or moral image of God (2 Pet. 1:4). They are holy by being made partakers of God’s holiness (Heb. 12: 10). The saints are beautiful and blessed by a communication of God’s holiness and joy, as the moon and planets are bright by the sun’s light.

The saint hath spiritual joy and pleasure by a kind of effusion of God on the soul. In these things the redeemed have communion with God; that is, they partake with him and of him.

The saints have both their spiritual excellency and blessedness by the gift of the Holy Ghost, or Spirit of God, and his dwelling in them. They are not only caused by the Holy Ghost, but are in the Holy Ghost as their principle. The Holy Spirit becoming an inhabitant is a vital principle in the soul: he, acting in, upon, and with the soul, becomes a fountain of true holiness and joy, as a spring is of water, by the exertion and diffusion of itself. “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him, shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). Compared with chapter 8:38-39, “He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water; but this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive.” The sum of what Christ has purchased for us, is that spring of water spoken of in the former of those places, and those rivers of living water spoken of in the latter. And the sum of the blessings, which the redeemed shall receive in heaven, is that river of water of life that proceeds from the throne of God and the Lamb (Rev. 22: 1). Which doubtless signifies the same with those rivers of living water, explained, John 7:38-39, which is elsewhere called the “river of God’s pleasures.” Herein consists the fullness of good, which the saints receive by Christ. It is by partaking of the Holy Spirit, that they have communion with Christ in his fullness. God hath given the Spirit, not by measure unto him, and they do receive of his fullness, and grace for grace. This is the sum of the saints’ inheritance; and therefore that little of the Holy Ghost which believers have in this world, is said to be the earnest of their inheritance. (“God Glorified In Man’s Dependence”)

Prepare The Way

Take a moment to think of all the energy people are putting into Christmas this year. What do they hope to experience as a result of all their efforts? What are they expecting to happen? Dr. M. Craig Barnes offers us some thoughtful insights into the Advent season:

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:4-6 ESV)

When the word of God came in biblical times, it was usually through people who had little power or influence, but who had learned to listened to God. It came to people like John the Baptist who could rekindle our great dreams for life because he found them out in the wilderness. And thus, history has proven that it was John the Baptist who was truly great. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Nations have great men and women only in spite of themselves. In fact, nations direct all their efforts to not having them. Thus great people must have, in order to exist, a force of attack greater than the force of resistance developed by their society.”

Society has always encouraged mediocrity rather than greatness. That is because society cannot give us dreams. It gives us only plans: political plans, economic plans, religious plans. These plans become well worn over the years and they lead us only to repeat the mistakes of the past. But dreams, great dreams, are the things that prophets bring to us. Today we have far too many plans and not nearly enough dreams.

It had been 400 years since Israel had heard God’s word. For centuries the people had been waiting, and searching and dreaming for his word. They wouldn’t settle for more political words. They wouldn’t settle for more economic words. They wouldn’t settle even for religious words. All those words were little more than plans for dwelling in the darkness. They yearned for great dreams that could only come from one inspired with the word of God. . . .

[People today] yearn to find a compelling dream to which they can commit themselves. They yearn even for God, but they just have too much despair about society and about themselves. So instead they settle for little hopes, like all the generations before them.

I think that is why every year we knock ourselves out at Christmas. Despairing of making sense of our world or even our own lives, we travel to visit family that we think may have changed since last year. We buy a few more presents. We go to a few more parties. Yearning to hear a word from God, we settle for Muzak versions of Silent Night in the malls. It won’t work for us. It never has. It never will.

If ever there was a relevant moment to hear John the Baptist, it is today. People are searching, and they will come to anyone who has an authentic word from God. As John began to speak God’s word to people, we are told that great crowds developed. It reminded them of the prophecy of Isaiah that someday one would come who would be, “The voice crying out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord'”. . . .

Week after week as we light the candles and read the lessons, we remind ourselves that a Savior is coming. We remember that we have to prepare the way. We have to make his paths straight. The valleys have to be filled in. The mountains have to be made low. The crooked have to be made straight. The rough ways made smooth. Just as Isaiah and John the Baptist counsel us. . . .

Well a king is coming. And his name is Jesus Christ. That is what Christmas is about, and you have prepared the way for his arrival into your life. But John was not telling us to start doing road repair. He was telling us to repair the road into our hearts. He was telling us that we have to hope again.

The crookedness that needs straightening out is your own soul that has been bent and turned by too many false hopes. The only way to get your soul straightened out is to turn it toward the coming Savior. A vague search for God isn’t going to do it. Anybody can search. What our society desperately needs are people who have found God. The only way to do that is to confess your need for him. Don’t overlook your fears, hurts, or even your despair. Don’t cover them up with a few fleeting moments of holiday. Confessing your need for a Savior is the best preparation you can make. (“Straightening out Christmas”)

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