3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised up on the third day according to the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve, 6 then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, the majority of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.
1 Corinthians 15;3-6
21 He made the one who did not know sin to be sin on our behalf, in order that we could become the righteousness of God in him.
2 Corinthians 5:21
8 But what does it say? “The word is near to you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim), 9 that if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who is rich to all who call upon him. 13 For “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
“Good News of Great Joy, or A Weary World Rejoices”
We have spent a good bit of time this week in Luke 2:10 and the verses around it. The declaration of the angels to those poor and frightened shepherds should just about be memorized at this point: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring good news to you of great joy which will be for all the people”. Good news. Great joy. For all people.
The word translated “good news” is often translated gospel, and the message that the angels proclaimed on that hillside 2,000 years ago is a beautiful and succinct picture of the gospel. They preached that the Savior “who is Christ the Lord” was born for them – for those dirty, stinky shepherds – and that He could be found that very day in Bethlehem. It was news that would and could change the trajectory of their lives. They just needed to believe in Him and receive the salvation He had to offer – they would receive grace by faith through Him.
Now, I know that on the day they heard that gospel message Jesus was still laying in the feeding trough, still an infant, and was decades away from His death, burial, and resurrection. But the babe in the manger was still “the Word [become] flesh” (John 1:14). He was still the Lamb slain “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).
We sometimes want to overcomplicate things. We know the whole story and want to add and fill in the gaps in the angels’ proclamation that day, but the “good news of great joy” is still just as simple. In fact, Paul gives very succinct proclamations of the gospel, too. The first can be found in 1 Corinthians 15 where he tells the church at Corinth that he is passing on to them the most important message he had to offer – the very same message that he received himself: Jesus died for our sins according to the way that the Bible said He would, He was buried, and He rose from the dead on the third day exactly as the Bible and Jesus’ own preaching said He would. That’s good news!
Paul’s second succinct gospel summary comes in his next letter to the church at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 5:21. In one little complex sentence, he shares that God put the sins of those who would be saved on Jesus. Jesus had never sinned and did not deserve any condemnation, but He willingly bore our sin on our behalf. Those who trust in Him no longer are under the condemnation and shame due to their sin; Jesus bore that (Colossians 2:13-14). In a great exchange, Jesus traded His righteousness for our sin. He bore the wrath of God and exchanged it for God’s favor. Basically, He traded His extravagantly full bank account for our bankrupt one so that when God looks upon those who Jesus has saved, He does not see their sinfulness but Jesus’ righteousness! That’s good news!
The gospel is good news, but there is also bad news. Those who do not confess Jesus as Lord and believe He died for their sins and rose again do not receive part in that great exchange. They remain in their sin. Their condemnation remains their own. It does not have to be that way. All who call out to Jesus in faith will be saved. Anyone who believes in Him will not be but to shame (Romans 5:5), but not believing leaves the shame where it belongs – on the sinner (John 3:18).
Long lay the world in sin and error pining Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn Fall on your knees!
Those who are without Jesus are still in their sin and “pining” after the wrong things, sinful things. But everyone – all people – have the opportunity to fall on their knees, believe in Him – confess Him as Lord, and repent of their sin. And those who do will not only have heard the good news of great joy but also to have believed it and received the salvation Jesus offers.
I love the phrase “good news of great joy” because 1) it is straight from the Bible, and 2) it captures what Jesus offers. But I also love the way the writer of “O Holy Night” captured what it is to be a sinner and receive Christ: “a weary world rejoices”. If you have been reading with us over these past two weeks, you have read snippets of the “good news of great joy”, but have you received it? Have you believed on Jesus, or are you still on the fence? If you haven’t, I urge you: fall on your knees, believe what the Bible says about Him, confess Him as Lord, and rejoice in the salvation He brings!
13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
This week’s devotion is going to look a bit different.
The passage you see above is the end of the one we’ve been studying and the one we will be studying over the next few weeks. The focus of both is Jesus, the “beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (vv. 13-14).
Since the subject is Jesus – God in flesh, the King of kings and Lord of lords, I want to spend a little more time on the devotion that was meant to go out today.
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
I love this passage because of its truth! I love it because of the mercy it displays on those who normally would not be considered worthy to get such news! And I love it because that “good news of great joy” is still – don’t miss this, STILL – good news and for all people even today!
Let’s break this down together.
Mary and Joseph had journeyed to Bethlehem together to be registered counted for the census. For whatever reason, “there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7) and were forced to camp out in the stable area. Mary had just given birth to the Messiah, the Son of God. Instead of a baby blanket, she swaddled him in strips of cloth. Instead of a bassinet or crib, she laid in a manger – a feeding trough for animals.
While the most important birth – fulfilling prophecy since the beginning (Genesis 3:15) – was occurring without pomp and attention, there were shepherds in the nearby countryside camped out caring for their flocks. They were no doubt dirty. They were definitely the last group to expect to receive an angelic royal birth announcement. Yet it was for them Christ had come, and, to them, would come this beautiful gospel (good news) message that still rings through the years.
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
The gospel message is not for fear but faith and hope. There is no greater joy than celebrating that the lost has been found (Luke 15). The beauty of this gospel of great joy is not in the reality that befalls those who reject the message but in the amazing reality of the eternal life that comes to those who believe – that dead men and women find life in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5) and find a place in the Father’s house as His adopted children (Galatians 4:4-5)! And it is beautiful because it is for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16-17), whether you be shepherd or king, poor or rich, look-like-you-have-it-together or clearly-a-hot-mess, “all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13)!
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
These shepherds were the first to hear the news that the Messiah had been born. Herod remained ignorant. Scribes and Pharisees were left in their legalism. Everyone, from the priests to the powerful, heard after these lowly shepherds that the promised Messiah had arrived in the “city of David”, Bethlehem. So, the best “good news” in history rang out to the most insignificant group of people in the most insignificant city and the least significant time of being counted in a census. And it still rings true to those the world deems insignificant in places that seem insignificant and in times that seem like hope is gone or at least quickly leaving. It still rings true because it IS true. What a beautiful reminder that there is this day a Savior. His name is Jesus. And He cares for us!
“And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
The shepherds needed a sign to point them where they needed to go. They needed to find Him to worship Him. Praise God, we do not have to look today! They sought Emmanuel (“God with us”) to lay their eyes on Him, yet all we have to do today is believe. He was born, and the shepherds were His witness. He died, and Scripture and, even, history are His witnesses. But He rose again and has given His Spirit. He was and is and is to come (Revelation 1:4). We do not need a sign because we have access to the Savior!
While I write this, “What Child is This?” is playing in the background. There is busy-ness happening all around me. People are buying coffee to fuel their busy-ness. There is chatter throughout the coffee shop. People are driving and walking by. And the poignancy of the words of the song echo the hope I find in this “good news of great joy”.
Read these words and ponder their reality and beauty to prepare your heart to gather with a faith family tomorrow in worship:
What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping, Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King! Haste, haste to bring Him laud!
Why lies He in such mean estate where ox and beast are feeding? Good Christian, fear, for sinners here, the silent Word is pleading!
Nails, spear, shall pierce Him through! The cross be borne for me, for you! Hail, hail the Word made flesh!
So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh; Come, peasant, king, to own Him. The King of kings salvation brings; Let loving hearts enthrone Him!
Raise, raise a song on high! Joy, joy for Christ is born! The Babe, the Son of Mary!
Here are our Scriptures and songs:
Joy to the World —
Isaiah 9:2-7 —
2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. 3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. 4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
We Have a Savior —
Luke 2:8-20 —
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 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.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Away in a Manger (Forever Amen) —
Revelation 21:1-5 —
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me) —
(invitation) The Son of God Came Down —
(offertory) Mary, Did You Know? —
As a church, we are reading through the gospel of Luke each from December 1-4 as part of our Christmas to Calvary advent focus. You can grab a paper copy in the church lobby or download it here.
There are also daily audio uploads if you prefer to listen rather than read. Here’s Luke 4 for today’s reading:
If you have not been gathering, consider gathering with your church family again. Various variants are still issues in this prolonged pandemic, but prayerfully consider gathering in the 10:00 Bible study where there is plenty of room for social distancing and one could slip out before the worship crowd comes in for the 11:00 service.
…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect….
1 Peter 3:15
I’m excited to share this week’s devotion with you because it was written by one of my friends and former students, Reid Viner!
He originally wrote this as a profile essay in his English Comp class. It is a profile of Christianity and reads like the appeal of an apologist making a defense for the hope he finds in Christ and in His Word. I am thankful for his heart to share Christ, especially using his platform as a student, and wanted to share it with y’all today!
In a world where people fight to convert other people to their religion, one religion stands out the most: Christianity.
Christianity is a religion that wants people to know that what Jesus has done is true and available for them. There’s a great narrative in Acts 3 where Peter and John meet this poor man who has been paralyzed his entire life while they are on the way to the temple. He is looking for money, but they don’t have any. This guy is being passed over again and again. Some are likely casually tossing money his way. But Peter and John stop and get his attention – again, they do not have the money he needs – to share with him something money can’t buy. Peter says, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you”, and then tells the man that he has been healed by “Jesus Christ of Nazareth” – to “rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6)! Had they given him money, he would have still been paralyzed, but he offered the man Jesus. That same Jesus is what Christians want others to know about their faith.
The Uniqueness of Christianity
Christianity’s fundamental aspect of faith being Who that faith is in. Ultimately, the object of worship is more important than the act – which is how worship is inspired in the first place. The Who for Christians is Jesus. And the worship is inspired by what He has done and is doing (which is called the gospel, a word meaning to tell the good news). Basically, the gospel of Jesus Christ is that He is fully God yet also fully man; He came to dwell among us to bring us to Him rather than us seek to work our way to Him; He lived a perfect life in order to sacrifice Himself to pay for our sins; He made that sacrifice willingly to be our propitiation (fancy word that means He bore our sin to give us His favor), and He rose from the grave, living forevermore. So, Jesus – who He is and what He has done/is doing – Himself is that most fundamental aspect of faith.
Christianity is quite a unique religion, and I believe that the Bible speaks to what is most unique about Christianity. The Bible teaches about Jesus being Emmanuel – a word meaning God with us. John 1:14 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 speak to this beautifully. In John, we see God coming as a human to dwell among mankind. The 2 Corinthians passage tells us why: “for our sake”. He came to dwell among men because men needed Him to make a way to heaven. He traded His sinless life for the sinful life of any and all who would believe in Him. He would trade His righteousness for our shame – and our death.
This is different from other religions. Here is an analogy I have heard used to explain all world religions. Life is a journey up a steep mountain. The mountain represents all the insurmountable tasks we need to complete to make our way to the positive option of an afterlife. Failure to make it up the mountain leads to the negative option. Basically, all religions would be summed up as journeying up the mountain, overcoming obstacles and trials, to make one’s way to heaven. Yet the Bible teaches us that what is known as Christianity is unique because our God – who Christians believe to be the one and only true God – came down the mountain in the person of Jesus to carry those who trust in Him up the mountain. He overcomes the obstacles. His strength defeats the trials. He just chooses to share the victory with those He saves and loves.
Christianity & Societal Issues
All religions have their thoughts on societal issues, but Christianity’s are pretty interesting. And rather than looking at ways how Christianity has renounced issues surrounding societal issues, I would like to look at what God intended in the first place. All the way back in the beginning of what we know of as time, God created a man named Adam. He made him in His own image. And He noticed that Adam was alone. Deciding that it was “not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18), God sought to make him a helper.
The first companions were animals, but, other than keeping Adam busy naming them, they were not suitable. God had a better plan. Rather than starting from scratch like He did with Adam, He put Adam to sleep, took one of His ribs, and formed the woman who would be named Eve. Adam was impressed. He immediately responded in gladness that she was “bone of [his] bone” and “flesh of [his] flesh” (Genesis 2:23). And in that act of creation, God set the precedent for marriage. Man would “leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Some people want this to be ambiguous, but it is right there on page three (at least in my copy) of the Bible: one man and one woman to become one flesh.
The so-called “societal issues” become issues where people try to take different paths than God originally intended. So, let us briefly look at (they all really require longer, more personal conversations) these issues.
Premarital sex, what the Bible calls fornication, takes issue with the “one flesh” aspect of marriage. Sexual intimacy between a man and a woman is a deeper level of intimacy than casual relationships can bear. Think about how complicated sex makes things between people who are not ready for the level of commitment needed to accompany sex. This goes against the original design, and trouble follows. Teen pregnancy would be another result of this. I struggle with the wording of this because pregnancy is supposed to be a joyous thing. Why is it not a source of joy in this situation but instead is a source of stress and, sometimes, causes people to despair? It is because the casual “one flesh” produced a blessing that the people were not equipped or ready to receive. Kids are not ready to raise kids. Deviating from God’s plan takes that which was meant to be a blessing and makes the baby feel like a burden. It messes with His original design.
Now, we move on to the “issues” dealing with marriage. Rather than heap on verses that some use to condemn, let me move on to another passage that shows us God’s design. In Ephesians 5:32, Paul says that marriage is a “mystery” that “refers to Christ and the Church”, meaning that marriage is supposed to be a picture of God and His Church. What if God were to respond to His Bride, the Church, with divorce the first time we messed up? Then, He would not be the God that He says He is from the beginning – that He is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression” (Numbers 14:18). So, our willingness to divorce (Malachi 2:16) rather than reconcile (and, yes, there are extenuating circumstances in which divorce is allowed – see Mark 10:1-12 for context and the following quote) is because of our own “hardness of heart”. Ultimately, Christians believe the God who reconciled His enemies to Himself to become a part of His church (Romans 10:10) – a part of His bride – wants to see that reconciliation in the lives of His church.
As far as intermarriage (people of different religions marrying each other), this largely is the scope of Old Testament passages prohibiting marrying people outside of the nation of Israel. These were not racial prohibitions but religious. The best example of the issues that can come from marrying people of a different faith (other than the logical reality that opposing religions are not compatible) is Solomon. God gave Solomon great wisdom and riches, but He also warned Solomon about the consequences of sin and serving/worshiping other gods (1 Kings 9:6). Solomon then entered into a multitude – I think 700 wives and 300 concubines makes multitude a bit of an understatement – of marriage relationships. The result was that “his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God” (1 Kings 11:4). I think a divided heart speaks for itself.
To get back to the essence of what I want to say here, it is important to understand that God – the Creator of everything – has a distinct plan for how things work best. Any time we deviate from that is sin, and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Lots of religions nowadays require you to be perfect, no room for sin, but that’s how Christianity is different. Now it is going to come down to how we define “Christian” to answer this. If by Christian we mean those who are born again (John 3) or made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2), then Hell is off the table. Paul clearly says in Romans 8:1 that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. Jesus died in our place and rose from the grave, and all who have faith in Him are covered by His sacrifice because He has “forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us” by “nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). Jesus Himself says in John 10:28 that those who are His – those He has given “eternal life” – “will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of [His] hand”. On the other hand, there is nothing about the label of Christianity that protects against sin. One cannot invoke the name or be a registered evangelical Christian and get into heaven. God is checking whether or not we have been covered by His blood, not checking membership cards. To get back to the essence of what I want to say here, Christians believe that it is important to understand that God – the Creator of everything – has a distinct plan for how things work best. Any time we deviate from that is sin, and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We can look at all the ways we sin and heap condemnation, or we can point people to the Savior who “shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Everyone who “calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Check out this week’s devotion from Jamie Harrison. Jamie has been working behind the scenes with all of the writings and projects you see here on the website (editing, proofreading, encouraging, exhorting), and I was finally able to coax him into writing. He also joined in for a conversation in the podcast (link above)!
I’ve been to a lot of funerals in my lifetime. While the principal at Charleston Middle School, I attended funerals for two of my students; I’ve been to several friends’ and mentors’ funerals; and I’ve been to several family members funerals.
Most recently, I attended the funeral of one of my former basketball players. Listening to family members weeping for lost loved ones, preachers doing their best to give comfort, and many, many stories about how “good of a person” they were has driven me to my knees pondering what really is important in this life. Is it being a good person? Is it being financially stable? What about being known by everyone? Or is there something greater? What will have an eternal impact on me, you, and those we come into contact with?
The answers to these questions start in Genesis 2. God tells Adam, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die” (Gen. 2:16-17). In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve do exactly what God warned Adam not to do. Immediately, their eyes were opened to good and evil, and they realized they were naked (Gen. 3:6-7).
In verse 3:8, they hear the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden, and they hide from Him. You read that right: God Himself used to come down for walks in the garden with His creation! We used to have direct access to the King of kings and Lord of lords! What an amazing picture of our Father! BUT we did what we do best by totally screwing it up. Instead of walking with the Father, we chose to walk away and try things on our own. We figured we must know better than God and caused a rift between Him and us. That rift could only be temporarily fixed through blood sacrifices in the Old Testament, with God Himself performing the first one to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness (sin) in Genesis 3:21.
Fast forward to today where each and every one of us is born into sin, and “death spread to all people, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Everyone has sinned against a holy and perfect God. Our reward for that sin is death. The part we sometimes miss is that, yes, this is an earthly death, but also a spiritual death. And there are no more stories of God walking with Adam and Eve after they are removed from the garden (Gen. 3:23).
This leads us back to our verses for today. Look back at Romans 6:20-21. The spiritual death we are born into causes us to literally become “slaves to sin”. We don’t like to look at it in that context, but we all know how hard it is to walk away from sin. That slavery leads to rotten fruit being produced by the sinner. In other words, a trail of bad choices: constant anger, sexual sin, deceitfulness, envy, gossiping, slander, arrogance, etc. (cf. Rom. 1:29-31, Gal. 5:19-21). Verse 21 tells us “the outcome of those things is death”. To put it plainly, every person on the face of the earth has a rift between them and God due to their sin. That sin earns all of us an eternity separated from God in hell.
Verse 23 drives the point home by telling us that “the wages of sin is death”. How long would we work for a company that, instead of a paycheck, gave us a free vacation for eternity…in hell?! I can imagine a game show host saying, “Tell them what they’ve won Johnny,” and Johnny saying (loud and proud), “you’ve won a vacation that is sure to keep you warm, tormented, and separated from the God of the universe for all eternity!” When put like that, I don’t know many people that would be interested. But that is exactly what is meant by the “wages of sin”. We did it to ourselves, and we make choices each day that drive ourselves further and further from God.
BUT this is when it gets good! This is where God’s BUT comes in. We all know the word “but” cancels out everything that was said before it. Can you imagine how much more powerful GOD’S BUT is?! “The wages of sin is death, BUT the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 23). Yes, we have earned death. Yes, we will receive our due reward of death. Yes, we deserve every bit of that because of our sin, BUT GOD offers life instead!
Who else but a holy, perfect, righteous, unblemished, sinless, matchless, and indescribable God could offer us such a gift? Matthew Henry put it like this:
“There is no proportion between the glory of heaven and our obedience; we must thank God, and not ourselves, if ever we get to heaven. And this gift is through Jesus Christ our Lord. It is Christ that purchased it, prepared it, prepares us for it, preserves us to it; he is the Alpha and Omega, All in all in our salvation.”
What a gift it is! And this gift is free, unmerited, and available to all. I always think back to Christmas morning and all the gifts under the tree. I didn’t do anything to deserve them (honestly, I deserved coal…every year). Those gifts were freely given by my parents because I was their son. Matthew 7:9-11 says,
“Who among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him?”
But God’s gift is eternally better than any wrapped under a tree.
I challenge you to take some time and read Romans 8:31-39. This passage spells out the gift provided by our Father in heaven. Verse 32 says, “He did not even spare his own Son but offered him up for us all”. Verses 38-39 explain (very thoroughly) that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Galatians 4:1-7 illustrates this point even further calling those that have a relationship with Christ “sons” and not “slaves” and verse 5 telling us that we “receive adoption as sons”. THAT’S GOOD NEWS!!
Let’s circle back to where we began. We know, based on scripture, that everyone will die. We also know that we will spend eternity in hell if we do not have a relationship with Christ. This means that you don’t become an angel when you die (saved or unsaved). Only being adopted as a son/daughter of almighty God will bring you into His family forever.
If you are reading this and know that you don’t have a RELATIONSHIP with Christ, it’s not too late. Romans 10:9 says, “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”. Right here, right now, IT IS TIME!
In the introduction, I asked several questions: Is being a good person important? Is being financially stable important? Is being known by everyone important? Or is there something greater? Is there something that will have an eternal impact on me/you and those we come into contact with?
The answer is YES, there is something greater. There is something that will have an eternal impact on myself/yourself and those we come into contact with. Verse 22 tells us that, “but now, since you have been set free from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification-and the outcome is eternal life!” Once we are adopted as sons/daughters, the Spirit of almighty God abides within us and begins to produce fruit.
“but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things.”
As these fruits become more prevalent in our lives, more and more people will be drawn to the love of Christ. My prayer is that each of us will become broken and poured out to the Spirit and allow Him to lead us.
As I think back on all the funerals I’ve been to, there is one question that keeps playing over and over in my mind: “Did I love them enough to share Christ with them?” Friends, if we truly love our family, friends, and those around us, we would be quick to share the love of Christ with them and a little less quick to share the latest gossip, financial tips, etc. with them. Penn Jillette, of the magician duo Penn & Teller and self-professing athiest, said it this way:
“If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”
Let’s not wait until a funeral to pretend our loved ones are angels in heaven and that “God needed them more than we did”. Let’s share that love with them HERE and NOW. After all, what better story to tell than a story of BUT GOD!
Gathering together as His Church gives us the opportunity to share our worship, our thankfulness, our desperate need for Him!
In these posts, I try to share something that will stir your heart and help you and yours prepare your hearts for worship tomorrow – to help you set your minds on Christ and what He has done for you (Colossians 3:1-4). But I read a poem by the late-missionary C.T. Studd (posted by Kayla Golden) called “Only One Life” that definitely stirred my heart for tomorrow:
Two little lines I heard one day, Traveling along life’s busy way; Bringing conviction to my heart, And from my mind would not depart; Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, yes, only one, Soon will its fleeting hours be done; Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet, And stand before His Judgment seat; Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, the still small voice, Gently pleads for a better choice Bidding me selfish aims to leave, And to God’s holy will to cleave; Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, a few brief years, Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears; Each with its clays I must fulfill, Living for self or in His will; Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
When this bright world would tempt me sore, When Satan would a victory score; When self would seek to have its way, Then help me Lord with joy to say; Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Give me, Father, a purpose deep, In joy or sorrow, Thy Word to keep; Faithful and true, whate’erthe strife, Pleasing Thee in my daily life; Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Oh, let my love with fervor burn, And from the world now let me turn; Living for Thee, and Thee alone, Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne; Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, yes, only one, Now let me say, ‘Thy will be done’; And when at last I’ll hear the call, I know I’ll say, ‘Twas worth it all’; Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last. And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be, If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.
C.T. Studd (1860-1931) was a missionary to China, India, and Africa. He was saved in 1878, but, for the first six years of his new life in Christ, He described himself as “backslidden” and captivated by a love of the world because he did not share Christ with people. He repented after hearing D.L. Moody preach in 1883, and sharing his faith became a part of his life – so much a part that his love for the world faded as much as his love for Christ grew. May it be so for us!
He gave all his earthly treasures, including a large inheritance from his father’s will to show that he trusted in Christ and was in the will of the Father. And, potentially, his most famous quote showed his heart for following God’s will and sharing His gospel more than any bio could:
“Some wish to live within the sound of a Church or Chapel bell; I want to run a Rescue Shop within a yard of hell.”
May this be our heart for the gospel as well.
So, tomorrow, we’ll sing of the grace, shed blood, and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ. May our hearts overflow with gratitude and worship for Him. And may our love grow for Him in such a way that our attraction to this world will dim more and more with each passing breath until we kneel before His throne.
Here are the Scriptures & songs:
Hebrews 4:12-16 —
12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
We have Sunday School classes for all ages at 9:30a and worship – everyone is welcome – at 11:00a!
If you are concerned about social distancing or are at-risk, consider gathering with us at 10:00a for a small group Bible study in our worship center. There is plenty of room to spread out, but there is also opportunity to gather with others at the same time! No one will crowd you, and you can exit out of our side door and avoid the crowd coming in to worship after the Bible study!
1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. 4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. 12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
17 “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. 23 And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ 24 And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ 26 God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”
I am excited about the new series we are beginning today. It is almost like the idea of it has been picking at the edges of my mind for quite some time, and I hope over the next month or so we can see just how beautiful, awesome, hope-giving, and worship-inspiring the words “but God” can be.
While the phrase is just two words, it carries a lot of weight. The word “but” carries with it the idea that whatever comes after it cancels out what preceded it. In this case, whatever comes before is canceled out by God. “But God” carries with it the message of the gospel that shows us that whatever came before – sin, shame, guilt, condemnation, death – is canceled out through the death of Jesus on the cross and, most importantly, His resurrection from the grave! For those of us who live a lot of our lives in the whatever-came-before, there is perhaps no greater comfort than “but God”, knowing that He is a God willing to intervene and make the sad things come untrue in Him. May we find hope in this truth – truths, really – over the weeks to come.
To begin, we are going to look at a passage that we have looked at a couple of times already. It was in this very passage that the idea of these Refresh & Restore devotions came about. In this passage, we see two men whose testimony was “but God”. Peter and John, two ordinary fishermen from some backwater hamlet had their whole lives changed when they met Jesus. They followed Him and became fishers of men (Mark 1:17). Little did they know as they approached the temple to pray that they would reel in a powerful opportunity to see God move in the life of a man who desperately needed God to interrupt his status quo – and get an awesome opportunity to offer the same hope to others and preach outside the temple.
Paralyzed & Poor BUT GOD…
For a “man lame from birth” (v. 2), there were not many options to make a living, but he was blessed to have people who would carry him and putting him in the path of people heading to the temple. Imagine the conviction you would feel encountering a person laying outside your church building “to ask alms of those entering” (v. 3); surely we would be willing to help under any circumstance, but especially one so convicting! The Beautiful Gate was covered in Corinthian Bronze and richly elaborate. There was no better place for one seeking to be richly blessed by people who would be nearly guaranteed to help him.
He was more blessed than he knew when Peter and John walked up. He asked for monetary help from them, but they were poor themselves. BUT GOD moved in the paralyzed man’s life by having Peter and John share of Christ instead of coins – the power of the Almighty instead of alms! Peter’s words in verse 6 fire me up every time I read them: “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” Basically, “We’re as poor as you, buddy, except in one area – our God is rich in mercy and overflowing in love and power; in His name, come here!” The entire trajectory of this man’s life pivoted in this “but God” moment!
It seems so simple when we see the words written. Peter reached out and took the man’s hand in his, and “immediately his feet and ankles were made strong” (v. 7). Think of how much it takes to learn to walk for the first time – how long it takes to build the muscles, impulses from the brain, reflexes from so many unperceived impulses. Yet a lifetime of brain chemistry and years of physical therapy occurred in as much time as it took Peter to invoke Jesus’ name. And rightfully, the man’s first steps were not just walking but also leaping, and more than that praising God (v. 8)! As unexpected as this must have been for these three men, none of it was a surprise to God who prophesied such things would come about when He would intersect history in the person of Jesus:
Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
In Isaiah’s days, these prophesies gave hope but must have seemed so distant, but God gave hope in their fulfillment in the name of Jesus.
Guilty of Killing Christ BUT GOD…
As I said, we have looked extensively at Peter’s sermon before (here, here, & here) since we first launched this ministry. Today, I want us to look at the context of the hope that Peter offered in his sermon outside the temple.
The formerly-paralyzed man clung to Peter and John and followed them – actually ran – to Solomon’s Porch on the side of the temple (v. 11). Peter and John’s fishing expedition was about to cast a much wider net! The crowd could not help but recognize the drastic difference in the man and were rightly “filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him” (vv. 9-10). Peter began his second sermon, and the content was quite shocking and definitely much tougher than many typical evangelism sermons.
Some of those men in the crowd were in a crowd a few months earlier that was crying, “Crucify! Crucify!” That’s right. The Holy Spirit through Peter called them out by saying, “Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life…” (vv. 13b-15a).
Some, when looking at this passage see Peter seeking vengeance for His crucified Savior and friend. They see anger and empathize with the pain he must have felt. But we need to remember that God’s Spirit was at work this day, not the Peter who drew his sword in the garden. No, I believe that the Peter here today was in full remembrance of the sound of the rooster crowing to herald his betrayal of Jesus. I believe Peter remembered the forgiveness of Jesus when He asked him once for each denial whether he loved Him. I see Peter here essentially preaching to these lost men who voted in favor of crucifying their Messiah something similar to what he said to the paralyzed man. I hear him saying, “What I do have I give to you. I also betrayed the Holy and Righteous One and have experienced His grace.” I hear that in the way that he gave them the offer to “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…” (vv. 19-20b). Rather than vengeance, he offered the chance to “repent” or cease their sinning and “turn back” to the God they had sought to kill. He reminded them that while they were successful in killing Jesus that His death did not stick because “God raised [Him] from the dead” (v. 15). Essentially, he said you meant evil and committed great sin, but God has already undone it. They had great guilt due to great sin, but God offered grace to be found in the presence of Him who they killed.
There were many who entered the temple mount dead in their sins, but God gave life – that day alone – when “many of those who had heard the Word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand” (ch 4:4)!
BUT GOD Still Today
When Peter was preaching in Solomon’s porch and confronted those men of their sin, he said, “But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer He thus fulfilled” (v. 18). It is because of this we can trust in what He says. If He will prophesy that He would take on our sin “for our sakes” (2 Cor. 5:21), we can trust that He, having our best interests at heart, will be sure to offer those who repent and trust in Him “times of refreshing in His presence” (v. 19) and, ultimately, will restore “all things about which God spoke” (v. 21).
Maybe you have yet to have that “but God” moment where God intersects Himself into your life. I cannot intervene for you. I cannot save you. I may not even be able to meet your physical or temporary needs. But what I do have, I give to you: the message of hope that comes from Christ alone.
6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.
1 John 5:6-13
As I sit and write to you today, I find my mind fixated on this past weekend spent at the Beautiful Feet ministry in Ft. Worth, TX. I could write to you about how jarring it is to see people living in such poverty-stricken conditions. I could write to you of the desperate situations that led many of the people that we met, talked to, and prayed for onto the streets, but, instead, I find myself thinking about John’s words in v. 13 of today’s passage: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” – and that is what stands out in my mind about Beautiful Feet – the eternal life offered and the example of those who are now believers.
This was my second time to go and witness the work that God is doing through Beautiful Feet (the Feet), but there were two things that grabbed my attention this time: 1) the impact that being saved (truly brought from death in sin to eternal life in Christ) has on people, and 2) the beauty of the testimony that God Himself bears about His Son. I believe both fit hand-in-hand (or in-foot, as seems appropriate here) with this week’s passage.
As John continues bringing his letter to a close, he focuses in on the testimony concerning Jesus. We focused last week on how God molds the beliefs of those who are “born of God” (5:1) to share in His love (5:2) and exhibit that love in keeping His commandments (5:3). This week’s passage shows the three-part testimony of the Son (water, blood, and Spirit) through the Father and what it is like for Him to be the object of our faith!
The Testimony of Water – He Was Born
When it talks of water here, it is referencing Christ’s birth (think of a mother’s water breaking when it is time for a baby to be born). The birth of Christ is important, and more than a mere holiday, because it shows His humanity. Part of that testimony is that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). We see in these verses that Jesus’ birth was one of extremely specific timing and circumstances – at just the right time in human history, “foreknown before the foundation of the world but…made manifest in the last times for” our sake (1 Peter 1:20, 2 Corinthians 5:21).
Because “sin came into the world through one man” (Romans 5:12), Adam, all men would inherit a sin nature and the struggles that come with it. None of the sacrifices of the Old Testament system could take away sin, they could only point to the One who could, Jesus. Sin produces death (Genesis 3, Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:1-2), and, as we have seen earlier in 1 John 1:9, we need God “to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” – to cancel “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” (Colossians 2:14). Our debt from sin needs to be paid, but everyone on earth is in debt just the same, unable to pay their own way much less anyone else’s.
The only acceptable payment would be via propitiation (2:1-2, 4:10), but no one on earth is worthy to make the sacrifice for us (Romans 3:10, 3:23). So, God Himself stepped down to sacrifice Himself (John 1:14) meaning that the eternal God willingly became mortal. He lived the life that no other human on earth was capable of living (1 John 1:8, 10) – sinless perfection (2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15) as the “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). And He, in the Person of God the Son – fully God and fully man – “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant…[and] humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-7), which is the second testimony.
The Testimony of Blood – He Died (Yet Lives!)
Blood was an important part of the sacrificial system in the Old Testament. Just as we saw our need for salvation through our forefather Adam in the first section, we see that the first physical deaths (God taking the lives of animals in the garden for their skins) were to cover the shame of Adam and Eve’s nakedness (Genesis 3:21). In the same way, our sin – and its shame – can be covered and cleansed by the blood of Jesus (1:7).
Jesus’ death on behalf of sinners shows love like nothing else (John 15:13). As I write this, it is Memorial Day, and I cannot help but think of those who gave their lives for the United States where I live. The way of life that is celebrated in America is bound up in the sacrifice of those brave men and women who died for their country and the ideals it represents. Their sacrifice points to the greater sacrifice of Christ, and we should be moved by and appreciate what He has done for us.
Think of the magnitude of His dying in our place: the God of the universe, “who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it” (Isaiah 42:5), “shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Just as it was important that He was born “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), we see that “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). He died the death that would provide cleansing of sins for all who trust (believe, have faith) in Him! Through His death, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, [makes] us alive together with Christ”, saving sinners by His grace (Ephesians 2:4-5). On the cross, He took the “record of debt that stood against us” because of our sin and “set it aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). The old hymn “It is Well” sums it up beautifully:
“My sin – oh, the bliss of this glorious thought – my sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more; praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh, my soul!”
We do not have to mourn His death – thanks be to God! Jesus did not stay dead, and we can rejoice with the angels who said, “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said” (Matthew 28:6)! The “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) was different than other sacrificial lambs – He is risen forevermore as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David”, the “Lamb standing as though it had been slain” on the throne (Revelation 5:5-6)! And through His death, and especially His resurrection, we see the victory that overcomes the world (5:4-5) and can echo Paul when He praises God for the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:57: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” who is alive and well!
The Testimony of the Spirit (and the Evidence of Eternal Life Where He Abides)
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are irrefutable evidence from heaven, but He shows Himself to be true here on earth because His “Spirit is truth” (v. 6). This is important because His Spirit dwelling in those who are born again is how God abides in His children (4:16). If we claim to have Christ, we have His Spirit. Now, this is difficult because many people treat the Spirit awkwardly by either keeping Him at a distance and calling it reverence or treating Him like parlor tricks and calling it charisma. This is where last weekend at Beautiful Feet challenged what we far too often are willing to accept regarding being filled with God’s Spirit.
Beautiful Feet is more than a ministry that feeds hungry and clothes the poor. If you read the history of their ministry, you see their motto “Sharing the Gospel, Serving the Poor”, which is the entire scope of their ministry – the heart that God Himself has given them for the least-of-these in Ft. Worth. They want to share Christ with people in equal portion to the physical needs that they meet. They want to bless those who cannot bless them in return by giving them everything that Christ has to offer (and food, clothing, medical care – which pale in comparison to the gift of His grace). The thing that was most striking to me is the number of people who 1) are born again because they found faith in Christ through His grace and mercy and 2) those who are saved, after being discipled in the Word and finding employment and housing (which they desperately needed), are seen returning to the Feet to share the gospel (and meet physical needs) with others who were like them.
The Spirit is evident in their lives because they live out the gospel. The Spirit is not a parlor trick for them because tricks do not save (2 Corinthians 4:2); fake does not fool those who have been turned out on the streets; and only the love of Christ transcends “word or talk” to live in “deed and in truth” when sharing His love with others (3:18). God blessed these disciples through the Feet and servants of God who had “the world’s goods”, saw their brother and sister in need and opened their hearts because of the love of God poured forth in their hearts by His Spirit. These servants shared that love by laying their own lives down as worship – in response to the Life God gave them (3:16-17). How sad it is that this seems so foreign among church-people today!
Paul quotes Isaiah 52:7 in Romans 10:15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” This is more than a theme verse for this ministry – or evangelism in general; they literally seek to be God’s feet as part of the His body – the Church (1 Corinthians 12:12). And, in serving with them this weekend, I realized that my feet do not carry the gospel as readily as they should. Forgive the crude parallel here, but I need a bit of a spiritual pedicure – for Jesus to cleanse my gospel feet that I may have share with Him (John 13:8).
John says that “the Spirit and the water and the blood” testify to who Jesus is and agree (v. 8), but he tells us that the “testimony of God is greater” than that of men because “whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in Himself” (vv. 9-10). I have had to look at my life and ask whether it agrees with the testimony of God, and I am asking that He arrange my life so that it testifies more to Him than about me, that my feet can be about His business rather than shod in Sunday shoes in the comfort of a church building or propped up serving my own laziness. I ask that He help you to do the same in your own life and grant the repentance and cleansing to walk His gospel out in the community He has planted you.
On July 4th, the United States of America will be 244 years old. Over those nearly two and a half centuries, this country has been through quite a lot, yet, in the general lifetime of the other countries like her, she is still fairly young and new to the world’s stage. If one wanted, it would be easy to track her development just like a child through to adolescence.
The United States was conceived from an idea: freedom. The people who would form that idea left the home they had always known and struck out to make a new beginning. When they found themselves on the shores of North America, that beginning was found to be more difficult than they had imagined as they had to live under the tyrannical rule of King George. They found their newfound freedom to be stifled by their lack of representation in the government that ruled them from across the ocean and were beaten down by unfair laws meant to take advantage of them rather than to help or build up. The same longing that brought them to this continent left them dissatisfied with their leadership and gave them a desire to strike out on their own – to overthrow the bonds of the government that ruled over them and seek to be independent, to be free.
When the idea of freedom was to give birth, the United States had quite the difficult delivery. In order to gain their freedom – liberty from the tyrant – there had to be revolution. And revolution would mean war and the battlefield would be their home. Yet they knew that liberty was an ideal worth having, and, since it was worth having, it was worth fighting for – even dying for if it meant that future generations could have what they hoped for. From 1773-1783 (and again in 1812), fighting is just what they did. And, thusly, the United States was born.
America’s journey to adolescence has not been easy, and some may argue that she has not quite grown up yet. Her people have squabbled among themselves for the majority of this country’s lifetime. The Civil War was won, lost, and has wounds that are still not healed. Reconstruction following the war never fully took place, and the scars are evident every day. Yet there is still something special and unique about this country.
The idea of freedom is still attractive. It is still more rare in the world than many would believe. People try time and time again to gain citizenship here. People cram into tight spaces in the holds of ships, they scramble across her borders under the cover of darkness, and they float in from closer countries on ramshackle, homemade rafts – all to have what is promised here through the ideals that are still sought after today. The inscription on the Statue of Liberty says it all:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Thousands and thousands of immigrants have come through that particular harbor at Ellis Island, giving credence to those words and opportunity for a better future in this young nation.
This country has been heralded as a land of opportunity. It has allowed and seen many people realize their dreams and aspirations and given them the freedom to pursue them. In fact, the very pursuit of such aspirations has become known as the American dream.
One cannot help but realize that the freedom, acceptance, and hospitality realized in the American dream comes from the founding fathers who are still towering figures and examples of fulfilled opportunity and pursued destiny. In fact, the founding fathers injected this country with their beliefs and aspirations. Many tout that because of this the United States is a Christian nation. While this has not been the case, the Christian doctrine that many of the founding fathers believed is evident in the aspirations that this country set out to provide for her citizens – again and namely freedom.
This idea of freedom is one of the reasons that I am quite proud to be an American. I could have been born anywhere in the world, yet God allowed me to be born here. For that I am thankful. There is no place I would rather live. And, yet, I have aspirations and hopes for this country as she continues to grow and change. Those aspirations and hopes are based upon the same beliefs and doctrines that those founding fathers imbued into the foundations of our country. So, as Independence Day draws near, I have had two images weighing on my mind that have affected the way I view this country and how I fit in as one of her citizens. The first is a story relayed to me over a decade ago by a missionary to Jordan. The second is a monument.
A Tale of a Patriot Missionary
A Jordanian native heard the gospel preached and gave his life to Jesus Christ. Once he had done this, his entire life changed. He was born again sought to tell others about his new life in Christ. So, he began to share with his neighbors about what had happened in his life. Only 6% of Jordan’s population is Christian, compared to 92% Sunni Muslim[i]. While he was passionate about his message, he was cautious. He was cautious because he remembered what it was like to have not heard the gospel. He was also cautious because the gospel stands at odds with the status quo and encountering Jesus through the gospel changes lives. We will call him Sam for the sake of the story.
One of his neighbors was angry at his message. Rather than lash out right then and there, this neighbor went to the authorities. Rooting out this perceived missionary cell was high on the priorities of the local authorities, but they wanted to proceed carefully. They decided to partner with the neighbor and set up a sting operation. All the neighbor had to do was allow Sam to be caught sharing explicitly Christian doctrine and they would be able to swoop in to arrest him.
When it came time for the sting operation, they met in the neighbor’s garage under the cover of night. The neighbor drew Sam in with a few questions to get the conversation started. Once Sam began to lay out how Jesus saves, the neighbor was overwhelmed by anger. He lost all logic and was so irate that he grabbed a nearby screwdriver and stabbed Sam several times.
The police had to abort the sting and rush in to rescue Sam from the neighbor. Rather than arresting Sam, they had to send for emergency services and arrest the neighbor instead. They could have just counted the entire operation as a loss , but they decided to double down and interrogate Sam themselves. Even though he was wounded, they figured that they could still bait him into incriminating himself with the gospel. Yet, rather than directly asking what they wanted to know, they asked him, “Sam, why do you hate Jordan?”
Sam’s response is why this story has been on my mind this week. Rather than defend himself or try to come up with an excuse to get out from under the authorities, he simply responded: “Why do I hate Jordan? Everything I do is because I love Jordan. I want my people to experience what I have.”
This makes me think of my own relationship to this country. I can spout out plenty of history on the United States – good and bad. I can cite various quotes from the founding fathers to civil rights advocates that show how there is hope for the United States. I am passionate about any number of political issues that I genuinely believe to be important for the trajectory of this country. Yet I lack the patriotism – the ardent love of one’s country – that Sam had. Sam, like our founding fathers, was willing to impact his country with his beliefs. Because Sam loved Jordan, he tried to introduce as many Jordanians as he could to Jesus through the gospel. He did this because he knew that their encountering Jesus would be vastly more effective than any political rhetoric or argument.
A Picture of a Roadside Monument
If I had not been thinking about Sam’s story, I likely would not have given much thought to the second image that has been weighing on my mind. My family and I recently went on a trip that took us east across highway 82. It had been quite some time since I had been through there, and I had not realized that a cross had been built outside of Eupora, MS. As we drove past, I happened to notice it – likely because of the recent construction of a cross in my home town. It took me several days to finally be able to articulate what popped into my heart and mind when I saw that monument. When it finally began to come together in my mind, I contacted a friend of mine, Jenni Kilburn-Oswalt, who is the talented photographer who provided us with the picture here to help make my point.
What finally and profoundly struck me was how much bigger the cross is than the flag. Now, I realize that this is not necessarily a conscious effort of symbolism. But the idea that struck me here is the view of one’s country that must be had to see change take place. It is the same view that Sam had of his own country. His love of his country was such that led him to believe that the only good and lasting change that could take place would be for people to come to know Christ. Rather than try to be a political change agent, Sam introduced people to Christ. His view of the cross was simply bigger.
While he loved his country, he was unable to continue with the same old status quo. You see, the moment that one comes to faith in Christ, he or she ends up with dual citizenship between heaven and their native country. Paul explains it better in Philippians 3:20-21: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” That heavenly citizenship affects our earthly citizenship.
As stated earlier, I have much love and respect for my earthly country. I also understand the issues that this country faces. But I am one man, and I do not have a platform that would allow for national change. Were I to have such a platform, I lack the appropriate capabilities to affect the changes needed. But I can do what Sam did: I can share Christ where I am planted. And this is what I know I should be doing because I love my country. Christ, through the preaching of His gospel, is the only means that will affect change.
The image of the cross and the flag stirred this up in me. If I get sidetracked by pursuing many earthly solutions that are outside my control, I will accomplish little to nothing. I am not saying that one person cannot affect change. I am saying that I realize how this one person is intended to do so. My voice will be much more valuable to the United States if it is spent sharing Christ and proclaiming His Kingdom. My role as one of God’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:18-21) will further his kingdom more than trying to form my country into the way that I feel it should look, act, and progress. In doing so, my view of Jesus has to be bigger than my view of the government and this country.
Trust, Freedom, and Wrapping This Up
There is hope for the United States. For all of the ills that have befallen her, much change and progress has been made and, Lord willing, more will continue. The founding fathers were not the only movers and shakers in our history. In fact, the 244 years of America have seen people rise up time and time again to show that there is something to these ideals of liberty and freedom. Yet we live in a time period where people believe that typing into a box on social media and sharing the latest fear-inducing meme, video, or article will wake America up and affect change. We see people on both sides of the partisan aisle cry out that their guy (or gal) is the hope for America and that the other guy (or gal) is the emissary of destruction. I think we can look to Psalm 20:7 for guidance here:
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.”
To paraphrase: some trust in elephants and some in donkeys, but we trust in Jesus.
Thankfully, we have freedom here. We have freedom to disagree. We have freedom to group up. We have freedom to voice our opinions. And we have freedom to worship whichever god we choose. It is in this freedom where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Are we going to trust in God and be his ambassador, or are we going to trust in the government? Are we going to hold on to a heritage of the United States of yesteryear, or are we going to show patriotism like Sam and share the gospel with our neighbors because we love them and our country?
Think back to the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. As powerful an image as it is, it is just a plaque on a statue. Jesus had a call that is similar and vastly more effective. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says,
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
One can come to America and, maybe, find all that the inscription promises. But if one comes to faith in Christ, one finds Life. And what is liberty and freedom without life? So, we need to be about pointing to Christ and watching him change lives. It’s time to be his ambassadors in this land that we love.
Ultimately, time will tell. But, if you will indulge me, I have a suggestion on how to proceed from here. Whatever concerns you have about this country, take it to God in prayer. Whatever aspects of this country that you believe are great, praise the Lord for them. But if you claim to love this country and love Christ, the greatest and most affective actions that can be taken will be to invest the gospel into your neighborhood, community, town, county, state, and country.
Acts 9:13-16 – But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has the authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings of the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
The Setting (Acts 25:23-27)
Festus, the local Roman governor, needed to have specific charges to send with Paul to stand before Caesar in Rome, but he could not come up with any genuine charges other than the complaints of the Jews.
Agrippa (Antipater -> Herod the Great -> Herod Antipas I -> Herod Agrippa I -> Herod Agrippa II) was brought in to help him form the charges. He was a joke king – a figurehead and puppet.
Paul’s Defense (Acts 26:1-23)
Agrippa invites Paul to make “his defense”. (v. 1) – So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense….”
1 Peter 3:15 – …but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect….
Paul begins his appeal to Agrippa – the same as was his custom in the synagogues. (vv. 2-3) – “I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
Paul reminds Agrippa of the hope in God’s promises and introduces the gospel. (vv. 4-6) – “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by the Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
Genesis 3:15 – I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Isaiah 7:14 – Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Isaiah 9:6 – For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Daniel 7:14 – And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
Micah 5:2 – But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from old, from ancient days.
Paul testifies about his life as a lost person. (vv. 9-11) – “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
Paul shares how he was saved and presents the gospel. (vv. 12-18) – “I connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles – to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
to open their eyes
2 Corinthians 4:4 – In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
turn from darkness to light
Matthew 4:16 – …the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region of the shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”
1 Peter 2:9 – But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
from the power of Satan to God
Ephesians 2:1-2 – And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience….
Ephesians 2:4 – But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us….
forgiveness of sins
Matthew 1:21 – She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
1 Corinthians 15:3 – For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures….
Paul shows how his present actions are a response to Jesus’ call on his life and specifically/personally gives an opportunity to respond to the gospel. (vv. 19-23) – “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
Festus & Agrippa’s Response (Acts 26:24-29)
Festus: (v. 24) – And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.”
vv. 25-27 – But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.”
Agrippa: (v. 28) – And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”
v. 29 – And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am – except for these chains.”
CoclusionThe Mission Continues (Acts 26:30-32)
vv. 30-32 – Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
Philippians 1:12-14 – I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Philippians 4:21-22 – Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.