“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”--Lk 23:43
What changed? How did this sin-hardened felon who just previously railed against the “King of the Jews” (Mk 15:32) now humbly turn in trust to him? Was it Jesus’ quiet confidence in God? Was it his humble submission to the unjust authorities? Or, was it his self-denying, forgiveness-offering prayer, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”? Maybe, it was all three. One thing we know: The majestic meekness of this King had opened his eyes and captured his allegiance, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42).
Pause and think. How would you expect Jesus to respond? Cold-shoulder silence? A “You made your bed now sleep in it!” lecture? Or, “Sure! Now after you’ve had your fun and are about to die, now, you want me to remember you?! Weren’t you just ridiculing me? Yeah, I’ll remember you alright! You and all your vile acts and vehement words!” But, once again, Jesus surprises us with his unbounded compassion for sinners! “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
“Today!”; not some probationary period for this convict. No process of purgatorial refinement. “Today!” for, “this is the day that the Lord has made” (Ps 118:24). “Today,” is the appointed day to enter God’s rest (Heb 4:1, 6-7).
“Today you will be with me in Paradise.” “With me”! “I am not ashamed of you (Heb 2:11). I will open wide the gates of my kingdom and escort you into Paradise. You need not fear and you won’t need a thing; you’ll be with me!”
It simply takes your breath away. We would expect royal vengeance. Yet, here in the darkness of the cross shines the rays of the Kingdom of Grace. Jesus is the welcoming King; such that none is too far gone, either in sin’s depths or death’s shadows, that King Jesus can’t bring him in and gladly welcome him home! Do you have a place set in Paradise? The King has thrown open the gates. All are invited! But understand this dear one, only those who, like the thief, humbly turn to and trust in the Crucified One shall enter into the joy of this King’s eternal welcome.
“Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” “For, ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” Even a dying thief!
(Heb 4:7, Rom 10:13)
Rejoice, the Lord is King:
Your Lord and King adore!
Rejoice, give thanks and sing,
And triumph evermore.
Jesus, the Savior, reigns,
The God of truth and love;
When He had purged our stains,
He took His seat above.
His Kingdom cannot fail,
He rules o’er earth and heav’n;
The keys of death and hell
Are to our Jesus given.
Rejoice in glorious hope!
For Christ the Judge shall come
And take His servants up
To their eternal home.
Lift up your heart; Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”--Lk 23:34
There hangs the humble King of heaven and earth: hands and feet nailed to a cross, face swollen and bloodied from the thorny crown and soldiers’ fists, his back bare and torn pressing to and sliding on the rugged beam, his body shamefully exposed, and his ears receiving the vicious slanders of his scoffers. In his trials before Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate Jesus barely spoke a word, so these first words of our Saviour from the cross ought to resound in our souls the glad tidings of forgiveness, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
No rage-eyed stares. No threatenings or exchanged insults. Not even a word of self-justification. Rather, Jesus’ first words in the agony of crucifixion are words of forgiveness. He himself had said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34). Oh, how abundant are Christ’s heart-springs of mercy that gushed out in this prayer for his enemies! How pure and deep his soul’s well of self-forgetting love that drew up, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Can you imagine what it would have been like to hear such gracious words? Scripture doesn’t detail for us the full impact that this gospel prayer had on all of these Jewish leaders, Roman soldiers, and spectators, but can there be any doubt that at least some of them were part of the 5000 new believers mentioned in Acts 3:11-4:4? Surely they were. Note: remember that God answers prayer in the wisdom of his time, so let us not be deterred when we don’t see answers quickly. Time can not erase the prayer of faith.
But wait, let’s not forget that our sins also spewed out blasphemy; our rebellion shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” And yet, amazingly, if we have repented and are resting solely in this crucified, now risen Lord of grace then we too were the objects of Jesus’ gracious intercession. We are the happy beneficiaries of “such love, such wondrous love” that flowed from the heart of the forgiving Saviour. Do you know him?
“Father, forgive,” the Saviour said,
“They know not what they do.”
His heart was moved when thus he prayed,
For me, my friends, and you.
He saw that as the Jews, abused
And crucified his flesh;
So he, by us, would be refused,
And crucified afresh.
But Jesus all our guilt foresaw,
And shed his precious blood,
To satisfy the holy law,
And make our peace with God.
My sin, dear Saviour, made thee bleed,
Yet didst thou pray for me!
I knew not what I did, indeed,
When ignorant of thee.
“Truly my soul finds rest in God...Yes, my soul, find rest in God.”--Ps 62:1, 5 (NIV)
On the first page of his Confessions, Augustine memorably wrote, “Thou awakest us to delight in Thy praise; for Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.” He was merely echoing what David had expressed many centuries before, “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him” (Ps 62:1).
Whether it was deliverance from enemies (David) or salvation from an illicit lifestyle (Augustine), both David and Augustine remind us that until and unless we yield in joyful reliance upon the manifold mercies of God our Saviour we cannot have true rest of soul. But once we cast ourselves into the arms of unbounded Love (Eph 3:18) and flee to the High Tower of grace (Prov 18:10) having seen the blood-stained cross and empty tomb (Rom 4:25; 1 Cor 1:18, 23-24, 30), then our souls can rest; rest from our guilty consciences, our shameful pasts, the world’s futile charms, the law’s demands, our enemy’s accusations, and God’s promised wrath. Trusting in Christ we can say with David, “Truly, my soul finds rest in God.”
But, we also have to learn to say with David, “Yes, my soul, find rest in God” (Ps 62:5). This is the strange paradox of life with God in this fallen world. We know what it is to have a sweet and sure rest in God. And, we know what it is to have our rest in God disturbed. Sinful failure (again!), family crises, mental breakdowns, cancer, miscarriages, infertility, divorce, church and pastoral scandals, job loss, financial reversal, and yes, viruses; all of these types of threats and experiences can disrupt the soul’s rest in God.
What are we to do? Like David, we are to counsel our souls and preach to our hearts the greatness of our unchanging God, “...my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge; Trust in him at all times.... pour out your [heart] to him, for God is our refuge... One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: ‘Power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love’” (Ps 62: 5b-8, 11-12; italics are mine).
Disturbed and unsettled? By God’s grace and in the light of his greatness command your soul to find its rest in God.
P.S. - with the Bible, Christian hymns (like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9t5_ZNmaw) and Christian biographies that help you to see in living color God’s faithfulness to his people are great ways to help settle your soul in God.
“Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” --Mark 4:18-19 (NIV)
The worries of this life; how quickly they can sprout up and sprawl out in our hearts. And Jesus says that this is dangerous, for the normal cares of day to day life have the potential to choke out the work of the word in our souls. If this is true in normal times, how much more then is it the case in the peculiar providences of God like a pandemic. People are anxious about their lives.
We have seen with our eyes and yes, felt within our hearts urgent, anxious concern. We wonder about our daily needs fearing that supplies could run out and we will be lacking the goods we view to be necessary. And Jesus teaches that this is dangerous for our hearts. If we don’t deal with these Word-choking weeds bringing them into submission to the promised care of our Father and the lordship of Jesus then our souls will become empty and barren. God desires us to be fruitful in every occasion of life granting us his Spirit so that we may yield love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). By God’s grace we need to weed our hearts of the worries of life so that:
Instead of the hoarding nature of selfishness, we display the giving nature of love (Heb 13:16).
Instead of anger over bare shelves, we show the joy of knowing our Father owns the cattle on a 1000 hills; indeed, the whole earth is his! (Ps 50:10, 24:1)
Instead of panic’s rule, we are governed and guarded by peace knowing along with David that we “have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Ps 37:25).
Instead of resentment’s bitterness, we experience the patience that restfully waits upon the Lord (Is 30:15 & 18) and bears with others in their burdens and weaknesses (Rom 15:1; Gal 6:2; Col 3:13).
Instead of adding to fear by passing along needless speculations and “what if” scenarios, we spread the kindness of a calm disposition and the goodness of truth and encouragement (Acts 27:13-26; Acts 15:32; Rom 15:4-5).
Instead of the terse speech and hardened spirit that difficult times can bring out, we display the gentleness of Christ by our care for those who are being worn down by fear and burdened with changes (Matt 11:28-30).
Instead of losing our heads in the fogginess of our times, let us show the clear headedness of a Spirit-wrought self-control (2 Tim 4:5).In all the changes and adjustments that we all are experiencing, let us manifest the faithfulness that holds to our unchanging confession (Rom 10:9; 1 Tim 3:16; Heb 10:23), confidence (Ps 46; Rom 8:26-39), and calling (Lk 9:23; Eph 4:1-6).
Pastor Robert Sheehan wrote, “Serenity of spirit in a world when men's hearts fail them for fear is a great witness to the gospel.” Brothers and sisters, let us watch out for worry’s weeds, dealing with them regularly and ruthlessly so that we may abound with fruitful living in difficult days.
I was recently asked to respond to 4 questions about grace for an article for a Spring Creek Baptist Church magazine. Reflecting on grace was good for my soul so I thought I would pass these thoughts along to you for your reflection:
1. What is God’s grace?
Wow! What a question! On one hand the answer can be recited by kids in Sunday school: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense; on the other hand the wonder and profundity of God’s grace fills and overflows our hymnody and theology. Songs, poems, books have been written, and still, the knowledge of God’s grace has not been exhausted (nor can it be—Eph 2:7).
That being said, let me offer a few brief thoughts regarding God’s grace—2 quotes, my definition/description, and 1 Scripture reference—in an attempt to answer your question.
C.L. Chase says, “…grace means God is always up to [a Christian’s] good. God always intends a believer’s good (Gen 50:20); always gives good to a believer (Matt 7:11); and, always works all things to a believer’s good (Rom 8:28).” (C.L. Chase; Grace-Focused Optimism; Christian Focus Publications, Scotland, 2017; 11-12)
Theologian J.I. Packer defines grace this way, “The grace of God is love freely shown toward guilty sinners, contrary to their merit and indeed in defiance of their demerit. It is God showing goodness to persons who deserve only severity and had no reason to expect anything but severity.” (J.I. Packer; Knowing God; IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 2018 edition; 132)
So, here is my attempt of a short definition and brief description of grace: God’s grace is His loving disposition and merciful determination to do only and eternal good through and in Christ Jesus to guilty, undeserving rebels. Our Lord’s grace is sovereign (Rom 5:21), spontaneous—completely free from any external force or attraction (Rom 5:6-8), saving (Eph 2:5, 8), sanctifying (Titus 2:11-12), sufficient (2 For 12:9), and sweetly satisfying (Ps 34:8; Is 55:1-2).
The Bible says it best though: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich….Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor 8:9; 9:15)
2. From your experience, how and why do Christians struggle with God’s grace?
I suppose several in-depth answers could be given to this, but let me try to keep it brief: I think we struggle with God’s grace because of pride and disbelief.
Our pride is a continual obstacle to living by God’s grace. By default, we are legalists in heart (I can and will do what God says so He will/must accept me). By culture, we believe we can “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps” (I can fix myself). Both of these mindsets fight against grace. We struggle to believe that we are as hopeless and helpless as the Bible says we are and that God’s grace is as free, unearned, undeserved, and welcoming as the Bible says it is. So when we sin, instead of confessing to and trusting in Christ, we try to prove ourselves or harm ourselves to show or offer God something. Grace by definition says we cannot offer God anything, rather, we must receive what He gives. We have to learn to fight pride with the humbling truths of grace.
Our disbelief also is a cause for our struggles with God’s grace. Some of us are haunted by past and present sins and we have a hard time believing that God could and would forgive us completely of all our sins. Yet, this is the glory of the gospel of grace: In Christ God does grant us a full pardon (Col 2:13,14). He does remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Ps 103:12). He does throw them into the deepest part of the sea (Micah 7:19). He does declare us forgiven, yes, even righteous (Rom 3:23-25; 2 For 5:21). The enemy loves to accuse us and get us to doubt God’s goodness and grace. Our sinful experiences shout to our consciences that we must not be saved. When this happens, disbelief can easily set in. We have to learn to fight disbelief with the Christ-secured, Bible-revealing realities of grace.
3. What role should God’s grace play in the life of Christians?
Grace is absolutely essential. We are brought to Christ by grace. We are kept in Christ by grace. We will live eternally with Christ because of grace.
We need grace for life, growth, comfort, trial, loss, power, and endurance. We need grace when we sin, suffer, serve, or succeed. We need grace like a seed needs soil, or a fish needs water, for it is in him, the God of all grace, that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28; 1 Pet 5:10).
Here is a quote I found from John Newton (the author of Amazing Grace) after he reflected on 1 Cor 15:10—“But by the grace of God I am what I am.” I think his thoughts capture the essential role of grace in our lives:
"I am not what I ought to be. Ah! How imperfect and deficient.
I am not what I might be, considering my privileges and opportunities.
I am not what I wish to be. God, who knows my heart—knows I wish to be like Him.
I am not what I hope to be. Before long, I will drop this clay tabernacle to be like Him and see him as He is!
Yet, I am not what I once was—a child of sin, and slave of the devil!
Though not all these—not what I ought to be, not what I might be, not what I wish or hope to be, and not what I once was—I think I can truly say with the apostle, ‘By the grace of God—I am what I am!’”
4. How can believers grow in God’s grace?
By grace :) It’s true though! We really can only grow by grace. That doesn’t mean we don’t give effort or apply our selves, but it does remind us that unless God is first and continually gracious and then, we are humbly dependent, we will not grow (Philippians 2:12-13).
That being said, let’s remind ourselves of the means that God in His grace has provided for our growth in grace. These are what is commonly called the “ordinary means of grace.”:
The Word of God (heard, read, studied, preached, meditated upon, etc.)
The communion of the saints (weekly gathering together for word and worship, discipling one another, caring for one another, etc.)
Prayer (private and public, individual and corporate)
The sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s supper)
Theses means of grace are effective for our growth because Christ by his Holy Spirit meets us in them all when attended to by faith.
One other thought for growth in grace (probably an extension of the communion of the saints) that I want to highly commend is the reading of Christian biographies from the past, and the reading of solid, challenging, gospel-centered books and theological works. The Christ-given gifts of teachers in the Church (Eph 4:11-12) not only include those currently in our local churches but also the pastors and teachers down through the centuries. These saints not only enrich our lives but help us to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus. May God grant it by His grace and for His glory.
“But we see him…. namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”--Hebrews 2:9
On this past Good Friday many of God’s people around the world reflected upon the crucifixion of our Lord. In doing so, we recalled the horrendous, brutal treatment of Jesus that led to his death. Undeniably, our Lord intensely suffered unto death. But notice how the author of Hebrews speaks: “the suffering of death.” By this Spirit-inspired phrase we are made to not only consider the sufferings of Jesus leading to his death, but death as suffering. Jesus suffered death. “He….taste[d] death for everyone.” Let’s take a moment to reflect upon this.
Being truly human, Jesus faced that dark unknown of disembodied existence. He suffered the unnatural rending of his human soul from his human body. The body, that his Father had prepared for him (Heb 10:5), laid lifeless in the tomb three days. His human soul/spirit that he faithfully committed into the Father’s hands (Lk 23:46) was for the first time without physicality. For humanity this is an experience which the apostle Paul metaphorically describes as being “unclothed”; “naked” (2 Cor 5). Jesus suffered this in his death.
Christ also suffered the severing of relationships that death causes. Even though it was going to be a temporary condition, he still had to prepare his disciples for this separation (Jn 13-17). He also needed to commit his own grieving mother to another’s care (Jn 19:26-27). Even here we see his suffering of death.
Lastly, let us never forget that Jesus’ suffering of death included fully the conscious experience of death as the judgement of God. On the cross we see that the Lord of glory is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. God’s righteous curse upon man’s sin fell upon Jesus. The terror and pain of what our Lord suffered in his death is greater than we will ever know. For he was impeccably pure and utterly holy in and of himself, yet he bore the sins of many. All the sins, the filth, the perversions, the hatred, the shame of his people through all of history was borne by him (2 Cor 5:21). He tasted death for everyone of his own.
Jesus’ suffering of death for the salvation of sinners truly is unimaginable. He didn’t have to do it. He didn’t need to do it. He desired to; he wanted to. It was his holy joy and good pleasure. Why? Love. He did it because he loves us. Grace amazing indeed!
“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood... to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”--Rev 1:5,6
“...that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled…”--Ezra 1:1
And thus the book of Ezra starts with the strong reality of the unfailing promise of God. Decades before the events recorded in Ezra, God had prophesied through Jeremiah that though his people would be sent into a seventy-year long exile to Babylon for their unfaithfulness, he would fulfill his promise and bring his people back to Jerusalem (Jer 29:10-14). This first verse in Ezra reminds us that God never forgets his word.
If you are like me, you need these continual reminders of God’s unforgotten word. His word never fails. It never falls to the ground; never returns to him without accomplishing what he sent it out to do. God does not forget his promise. Though we might forget, God doesn’t forget. Nations (like a Babylon) can’t alter God’s word. Time (like 70 years) can’t fade it. Death (Jeremiah was in the grave) can’t bury it. God’s word lives on to fulfillment.
Around 2000 years ago God’s incarnate Promise walked the dusty streets of Palestine to visit his people for the purposes of redemption (Luke 1:68). But God’s Promise was not recognized nor generally received (Jn 1:10-11). Rather, he was rejected and exiled to a criminal’s cross outside of Jerusalem. Darkness and death covered the Promise. From the cross God’s Promise would be moved to death’s tomb and the sealed stone set. Individuals and nations, commoners and leaders had once again raised their words above God’s Word. But God’s promise would not fail: “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Ps 16:10). So, on the third day, as promised (1 Cor 15:4) God raised his Promise from the dead! Therefore, in Christ “all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Cor 1:20).
God keeps his word! Let us trust him. Let the proud doubt; we will believe. Let the scoffers scoff; we will exult! Let time roll, nations rise and fall, history march, even the gates of hell attack; let heaven and earth pass away--God’s word will not fail!
Whether our marriage is a month old or decades old, we can all use continual encouragement. So, in this post, I simply want to pass along an encouraging word for our marriages from Tim Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage. Listen to his answer to the question, “What do I do when my ‘feelings of love seem to dry up’?”:
“You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must be tender, understanding, forgiving, and helpful….
“....Many people hear this and say, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t give love if I don’t feel it! I can’t fake it. That’s too mechanical for me.’ I can understand that reaction, but Paul doesn’t simply call us to a naked action; he also commands us to think as we act. ‘Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.’
“This means we must say to ourselves something like this: ‘Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think, “I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.” No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us---denying him, abandoning him and betraying him---and in the greatest act of love in history, he stayed. He said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. That is why I am going to love my spouse.’ Speak to your heart like that, and then fulfill the promises you made on your wedding day.” (The Meaning of Marriage; pp. 104, & 108-109)
“‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”--Eph 5:31-33
“This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept your precepts.”--Psalm 119:56
When is the last time you thought of obedience as a blessing? If we are honest, often we’re tempted to view obedience as a burden or a restriction or maybe a threat to our individualism and happiness. But the psalmist knew better.
Notice the two-fold blessing of obedience that this saint speaks of. First, he phrases his obedience in terms of grace, “This blessing has fallen to me…” This sweet singer recognizes that his obedience to God is a result of God’s sheer grace. He acknowledges that it has “fallen” to him. God has granted to him a renewed heart that longs and chooses to keep the precepts of the Lord. His personal faithfulness is evidence of God’s merciful action in his life. The apostle Paul essentially said the same thing in Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…” The believing and the suffering (consequence of faithful obedience) were “granted” to the Philippian believers. They, too, could both believe and obey because of God’s grace. I know that our obedience isn’t perfect, but if we evidence some measure of godly obedience in our lives, we should rejoice! For God is graciously at work. Humbly we give Him the glory.
Secondly, he phrases his obedience as happiness, “This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept your precepts.” He has discovered that the keeping of God’s instruction is “blessing.” The path of obedience is the path of true happiness. On it we experience life the way we were intended to. Contrary to the suspicions of our fallen nature, the new man in Christ discovers that the precepts of the Lord are good (Ps 119:93), and in them we can enjoy freedom (Ps 119:32, 96) and healing (Prov 3:7-8) and experience what it means to be truly human. (Eph 4:20-24; Col 3:10)
The gospel teaches us that through Christ’s perfect obedience culminating at the cross, God redeems us from our disobedience and claims us as His own possession that we may be a people with the psalmist who know the blessing of obedience.
“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome.”--1 John 5:3
Though thanksgiving is to be a regular part of our worship and gratitude is to mark our character, I find a day set aside each year for thanksgiving to be extremely helpful. Contentedness just doesn’t come naturally for a lot of us.
Even the great apostle Paul had to "learn" contentment. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that "[Paul] came to a place of understanding as a result of sheer experience of the dealing of God with him. He had to learn, and experience teaches us all." God places His children in the school of experience that we may learn to be content.
"But," says Lloyd-Jones, "it was not to be experience alone. Paul had come to learn this great truth by working out a great argument." And then Lloyd-Jones proceeds to give the "steps of the argument" or what he also calls "the apostle’s logic" or what I am calling "the logic of contentment."
Here is the logic of contentment from the pen of Lloyd-Jones. I find it helpful and trust that you will too.
Never easy or automatic, yet, viewed through these lenses of logic, contentment just makes sense.
"....for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." --Philippians 4:11
"When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine…. [he] called the bridegroom and said to him, '....you have kept the good wine until now.'"--John 2:9-10
One of the joy-giving truths that we learn from Jesus’ first miracle (turning water into wine) recorded in John 2:1-11 is that in Christ the best is still to come.
Listen to 16th century London Pastor John Gill comment on this passage:
The Gospel, which may be compared to wine for its purity, pleasant taste, and generous effects, in reviving drooping spirits, refreshing weary persons and comforting distressed minds, as also for its antiquity, was published before the coming of Christ, in the times of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets, but in a lower and weaker way; at sundry times, here a little, and there a little, by piecemeals, as it were; and in divers manners [Heb. 1:1], by promises, prophecies, types, shadows, and sacrifices; and was attended with much darkness and bondage: but under the Gospel dispensation, which is compared to a marriage feast, it is more fully dispensed, more clearly published, and more freely ministered. The whole of it is delivered, and with open face beheld; and saints are made free by it; it is set in the strongest and clearest light; the best wine is reserved till now; God has provided some better thing for us, Heb. 11:40. And so with respect to the future state of the saints, their best things are kept for them till last. They have many good things now; as the Gospel, Gospel ordinances, the blessings and promises of grace, the love of God shed abroad in their hearts, the presence of God, and communion with Christ, at least at times; all which are better than wine: but then there is an alloy to these; they are lowered by other things, as the corruptions of the heart, the temptations of Satan, the hidings of God’s face, and a variety of afflictions; but they shall have their good and best things hereafter, and drink new wine in Christ’s Father’s kingdom, without any thing to lower and weaken it. They will have full joys, and never fading pleasures, and shall be without sin and sorrow; no more deserted, nor afflicted, and shall be out of the reach of Satan’s temptations, and with Christ for evermore. Happy are they that are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb! (John Gill, An Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Newport Commentary Series, Particular Baptist Press, Springfield, MO, 2003), 60)
Even now by faith in Jesus, we know and experience the blessings of God; our hearts are forgiven, free, and full. But one day at the marriage supper of the Lamb we will share the experience of the master of the feast: “You have saved the best for last!”
“Keep on” weary Christian. “Stay true” tempted Brother. “Rejoice” tested Sister. The best is yet to come. In great love and joyful anticipation your Bridegroom is saving the best for last!
“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’--for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”--Revelation 19:6-9
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims his handiwork.
Day to Day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”--Ps 19:1-2
Yesterday, I was reading George Marsden’s biography on Jonathan Edwards and was delighted by a passage that Marsden quotes from Edward’s work called “Miscellany no. 108” taken from The Works of Jonathan Edwards. It was so good that I wanted to share it with you:
When we are delighted with flowery meadows and gentle breezes of wind, we may consider that we only see the emanations of the sweet benevolence of Jesus Christ; when we behold the fragrant rose and lily, we see his love and purity. So the green trees and fields, and singing of birds, are the emanations of his infinite joy and benignity; the easiness and naturalness of trees and vines [are] shadows of his infinite beauty and loveliness; the crystal rivers and murmuring streams have the footsteps of his sweet grace and bounty….That beauteous light with which the world is filled in a clear day is a lively shadow of his spotless holiness and happiness, and delight in communicating himself. (George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2003), 100)
God spoke the creation into being (Gen 1; Jn 1:1-3), and the creation speaks the glory of God. I hope this summer you are able to take time to be outside and hear creation speak. To those who have ears to hear, Christ the Word of God communicates his glories! So let us look and listen; wonder and worship!
“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens….O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”--Ps 8:1,9
In John 1:19-51 we encounter three witnesses of the Lord Jesus: John the Baptist, Andrew, and Philip. These three combine their voices to declare that Jesus is the Christ. They have different backgrounds, personalities, and responsibilities, but each one faithfully testifies to Jesus; together they form a portrait of bearing witness to Jesus in this world.
John the Baptist’s witness (Jn 1:19-36) is public and pointed, and bears the marks of a God-given call and authority much like what the Church’s corporate witness should be. God has given the keys of the kingdom to local churches to “bind” and “loose.” Churches are to publicly and pointedly proclaim to their communities who Jesus is and what he has done. With God-given authority they are to call men and women, boys and girls to repentance and faith declaring that salvation is found in no other name than the name of Jesus.
Andrew’s and Philip’s witness is personal and relational (Jn 1:41-42, 45-46). Andrew shares Christ with his brother Simon (Peter). Philip goes and tells his friend Nathanael that they have found the Promised One. Both are examples of the privilege and responsibility we have to personally bear witness to Jesus.
Chances are that most of us (except as a Church) aren’t called to a public platform like John the Baptist and that’s okay! God loves to use the private witness of individual Christians. D.A. Carson writes, “[Andrew]....became the first in a long line of successors who have discovered that the most common and effective Christian testimony is the private witness of friend to friend, brother to brother….That has been the foundational principle of truly Christian expansion ever since: new followers of Jesus bear witness of him to others, who in turn become disciples and repeat the process.” You and I matter! Our faithful testimony to Jesus is a powerful tool in the hands of the Redeemer.
So, as a local Church and as individual believers, let us joyfully and faithfully be His witnesses!
In Exodus 33 we hear Moses’s impassioned desire to know God, “Please, show me your glory.” Moses hungers to experience the glory of God and God graciously responds, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But....you cannot see my face…. Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” (emphasis added)
Extraordinary! This must have been a breathtaking, illuminating experience of divine revelation and intimate relationship that would indelibly mark the rest of Moses’s life. And yet, we who are New Covenant believers have an even better privilege, clearer perspective, and fuller experience: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth….And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ….the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (Jn 1:14, 16-18)
Moses saw a passing glimpse of God’s glory; a mere moment to behold the Glory. But, through the Word-made-flesh we can linger...stare...gaze into God’s grace and truth. Moses saw a partial display of glory--”you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” But, in Jesus, God’s only Son, we see the fullness of God’s glory. As Paul wrote, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9). There is no diminishing of Divine glory in Jesus--”he has made him known.”
Surely, “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” What a glory! What a privilege!
There are times that we are struck by the weight of words--heard or read. But, there are also times when silence speaks loudly. The silence I have in mind is the absence of certain elements or patterns of speech. Sometimes, we may be (even unconsciously) impacted by what we don’t hear someone saying. In other words, a person’s character and influence (at least in part) can be known and felt by things we continually don’t hear them saying. For, sometimes, silence speaks.
We may hear an invitation to confide in someone because we do not hear them gossip, slander, demean, or wrongfully criticize another.
We might learn gratitude and graciousness from a friend by the absence of complaint, grumbling, and constant comparisons.
We can hear a brother’s purity and propriety by the silence of anything crass, vulgar, or obscene.
We can listen to a sister’s reverence for God by the absence of careless words and coarse, disrespectful references to God.
The Lord Jesus was no stranger to speaking by silence. His silent pause with the self-righteous Pharisees and the absence of condemning rhetoric with the woman caught in adultery heralds his wisdom, patience, and gentleness (John 8:1-11). On trial, his silence before the false accusers declared his faith in the Father (1 Peter 2:22-23). And, on the cross his silence among the mockers and scoffers proclaimed his love as our Substitute and Savior (Isaiah 53:1-7; Matt 27:27-30, 35-44).
If we listen carefully, we can hear silence speaking.
So, what will you not say today that will sound like Jesus and prove helpful to someone else?
Chuck Cook is the pastor of Grace Bible Church - Rolla.