Jesus Christ

The Most Overlooked Mission Field In America...It's In Our Backyard

The following is written by Dean Inserra concerning Christianity in the Southern “Bible belt”:

I felt like a sellout. It was time to leave seminary and begin pastoral ministry, and I was taking the easy road by moving back to my hometown in Northern Florida. My seminary neighbor, I thought, was the true missionary, heading to plant churches in Northern California. I had “missional insecurity,” the way Christians feel when they plan a spring break trip to some resort before learning their friends are going on mission trip. All of this good education and knowledge about the urgency of the gospel . . . and I was going to be a pastor in the Bible Belt?

I tried to make myself feel better by letting my neighbor know how much I admired his boldness. I threw in some self-deprecating jokes about sweet tea, but he quickly interrupted my pity party. “Where I am going,” he said, “people know they’re not Christians. The starting point is clear, whether unbelief, secularism, or some sort of humanistic spirituality. But where you’re going, everyone thinks they’re a Christian. It’s like you have to get people lost so they can see they need to be saved.”

That was all I needed to hear, and he was right.

My neighbor described the largest mission field where I live. It’s called cultural or nominal Christianity. This mission field is primarily made up of people who’d quickly answer “yes” if asked whether they are Christians. But ask any questions about their faith, and you’ll soon realize you’re hearing something other than the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, if you asked a nominal Christian why he is a Christian, Jesus Christ himself would likely have little bearing on the answer. For many people, good standing with God is related to heritage, rites of passage, or general morality. Jesus just happens to be a nice mascot.

This disparity requires our attention, because it isn’t unique to the American South. Across the nation, the most dominant religion doesn’t show up on a census, poll, or survey—it’s impossible to detect by those methods. The most common practiced religion in America today is a generic theism that mingles biblical concepts with a hope that one is a good person—all while maintaining autonomy over personal decisions and lifestyle. In this religion, good people go to a “better place” when they die. Going to this better place doesn’t depend on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, yet somehow these beliefs still get classified as “Christian.”

In this way, thousands of people are overlooked in outreach efforts because they may already be sitting in pews. Yet their lives show no evidence of saving faith. Whether the disconnect is the result of poor gospel communication by churches, fear of telling the truth, or a general misunderstanding of what the Bible says, the need is there, and it’s urgent. It can be easy to conclude that cultural Christians just need to get more serious about their faith, and so problems with cultural Christianity are declared discipleship issues.

I don’t believe this to be the case. I believe cultural Christians need evangelism before they need discipleship, since they may be unsaved altogether.

Inserra is a rare bird making an obvious point in our day today in the Bible belt. I have seen by experience that many of the schools that I have been to are filled with “Christian” students who have tried to live a Christian life without any relationship to Jesus. Jesus is not a passion. Jesus is not a model. Jesus is a sidekick. Jesus is a means to a greater end.

This is certainly something that would be wise for us to reflect on in our church, parenting, work relationships, schools, and wherever we interact with others in our lives. Is our mission to bring other people to know the glory, majesty, grace, and love of Jesus and to be devoted to Him in every aspect of life (which is what it means to be “holy”)? Is our “gospel” detached from Jesus or is Jesus the gospel? Is heaven glorious to us because Jesus gives us all we want there or is heaven glorious because it is there where we experience Jesus to the full for eternity? When we ask these questions and more, we might begin to see more of a dividing line in our cultural Christianity and therefore evangelize and disciple more effectively.

For the full article from Inserra, click here.

Meditations on the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42)

Some of the best advice I have ever gotten for preaching preparation has been from Dr. Elias Medeiros and Dr. Guy Waters at Reformed Theological Seminary here in Jackson. Both of them give the suggestion that the beginning and most important part of all preparation must be to meditate on the verses before jumping to any commentary, sermon, or other helps. Dr. Waters specifically has given us assignments that tell us to give five “insights” for each verse that we go through. This is more than just “Jesus tells Peter to do _____.” This is more so thinking more deeply about what the text means, what it tells us about God, us, our sin, our hope, and the person and work of Jesus. This is the format that these meditations take on. Hopefully, this can be a tool for your own devotions and also something, although greatly flawed, of a model on your own devotional and Bible study/preaching preparation practices. In order to prepare for the sermon preached last night, I tried to give 2-3 meditations per verse in bullet format.


  • Gethsemane is literally “the oil press”. Certainly, many olive trees were in this area. Even without adequate knowledge of how olive oil is made, the meaning of Gethsemane no doubt tells us that olives are “pressed” in order for the juices and oils to come forth. This would be the type of soul anguish Jesus would begin to feel as He would be the one who would be “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53).

    • How strange this must have felt in that just a day earlier, Jesus was speaking on the Mt. of Olives about how He would be coming with the clouds of heaven with great power and glory (Mark 13). The temptation for Him here would be to take that glory without a cross.

  • It is the first time that Gethsemane is mentioned in the gospel. The Mt. of Olives is mentioned many times prior to this but not Gethsemane. Surely, we can presume somewhat that the gospel writers wanted to keep Gethsemane, “the oil press”, for the opportune time. The Mt. of Olives is a reminder of a fruitful and pleasant place but Gethsemane is a reminder of temptation, darkness, and the cup.

  • Imagine the familiarity that Jesus felt here. Often He came here to pray to the Father. Often the Mt. of Olives was a vivid reminder of the eternal dwelling He had with the Father prior to His incarnation. What tribulation it must have been to Jesus that in the hour when He most wanted His intimacy with the Father to be known that He then felt the foreshadow of the wrath of God that was to come on the cross.

  • It is also worth remembering that Jesus had just instituted the Lord’s Supper here. Earlier, He had just held up the cup which symbolized His blood (14:12-21). What was going on in Jesus’ mind and heart as He held up the cup? As He held it up before His eyes and the disciples’ eyes, what was going on in His mind? Certainly, it must’ve felt like a haunting dream waiting to come true as He uttered the words, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” The cup that we would drink out of joy as a means of grace must first be a cup of wrath for Him on the cross. Gethsemane was the foretasting of this cup. Surely, as Jesus held up that cup, He must have had some inward anxieties and tremblings about that which was to come. It would have been like a prisoner sentenced to death by electric chair seeing a replica of it the day before going. It would have been like a man sentenced to death by guillotine shuddering as he saw someone slicing a vegetable the day before.


  • We should notice here that Jesus is enacting that of a High Priest in this moment. He comes the Great High Priest with the other future priests. He comes to meet with the Father through prayer, no doubt should be a reminder of the priestly duties, and He tells most of them to wait in the outer parts of Gethsemane. We will see in the next verse that Jesus tells the other three disciples to wait in the inner circle while Jesus alone goes before the Father to pray. The other three disciples are to be praying as He prays.

  • Prayer for Jesus was a private thing says RT France. Jesus did not pray in pomp and showmanship as the Pharisees did. Jesus prayed from the heart. It was an intimate moment for Jesus. No doubt, He did not object to public prayer but He certainly believed in private prayer and the necessity of it.

    • It is also worth noting too that the disciples heard just enough of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden to record the main portion of it. They were no doubt within listening range and yet it is as if they are only allowed to here the beginnings of the prayer before the sleepiness overtakes them. What else did Jesus utter in that prayer? Surely He said more than that during each of the hours that He prayed. We had the prayer of Jesus in John 17 graciously overheard and recorded for us. We know too that the disciples often prayed with Jesus and heard Him pray. They asked Jesus if they could be taught how to pray surely because they heard how He prayed. Yet, we are not giving access into this prayer. This was enough for us. Our sinful minds could not comprehend the battles that the Sinless One had with the temptation to take glory without the cross.

  • It is a good question to ask, “Why does Jesus pray?” Maybe it is the question that we must ask if we understand who He is. He does not pray to Himself but He prays to the Father. It is simply this, He is the dependent one. He is the Submissive Suffering Servant. He is the one that Isaiah prophesied of. This Jesus is the one who fulfilled all righteousness and did what Adam failed to do.


  • This just needs to be mentioned that He took the other three with Him a little bit closer. This should remind us of the tabernacle and temple. Only the High Priest was allowed to go into the Most Holy Place. It could only be Jesus who could bring us into the presence of God.

  • This is also a reminder of what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-11). There Jesus was showing His Divinity and here He is showing His humanity. There the disciples saw Jesus’ resurrection glory but here they would see His humiliation.

  • Jesus begins to feel greatly troubled, terrified, distressed. This word for  “greatly distressed” is used for seeing something remarkable that has suddenly come upon you. This is a shuddering fear. This is not too unlike a panic attack. If something it is more than that. For surely His suffering is beyond anything any man has ever felt. It is His response to something that is utterly overwhelming. Fear pulses through His body. His heart rate would no doubt have sped up. His mind flooded with thoughts and the temptation to run from the moment. “Just forget about it. Just go back to heaven. Take the glory without the cross. Take the crown without the thorns.” Satan is coming back to tempt Him at the opportune time. Jesus was said to come under extreme anguish, mental and spiritual turmoil. Jesus was so sorrowful that He could’ve died. Literally, “my heart is ready to break with grief.”

  • What a stunning scene. Here is the God of Glory in fear. Here is the one who never blinked in the face of evil and persecution nor flinched before His enemies and yet now here, in a familiar garden going before the One who is most familiar to Him, He is totally turned upside down. Yet, He is sinless, perfect, and obedient.


  • He asks Peter, James, and John to remain there and watch. This watching certainly involved praying. Jesus had just told the disciples earlier, on the same Mt., to stay awake for the Lord’s return (Mark 13). How much harder would it be to stay awake for the Lord’s return if they could not stay awake amidst the Lord’s presence? Oh, how they would need more than physical strength to stay awake but they needed the Spirit of Christ to come and abide in them to enable them to stay awake.

  • Why would Jesus ask for this? What would they add to Him? Once again, I think we see more of Jesus’ desire for company. We see here His desire for close friends to intercede for Him. But, why would they need to watch if Jesus was determined to give Himself over to the Pharisees and to Judas? It is most difficult to stay alert and to watch in the middle of the night. It had been a busy week for them and it was getting late. Jesus asks His closest friends to stay alert and to be like the watchmen in the night. Certainly, their actions were a great contrast to what Jesus was about to do. The disciples, especially the three who said that they would suffer alongside of Jesus (Mark 14:29-31), fail to do that which He does. It is only Jesus who is capable of doing the work of the High Priest. What a moment here where we see the ultimate failure of all other priests before Jesus! There is no one who fears God. There is no one who does good. No not one. All have sinned and turned aside (Romans 3:10-18).


  • Here goes our Great High Priest before the presence of the Father. Here goes the One who will intercede for us by giving Himself up for us. Here goes the Lamb who is also the Priest. Here goes the Temple embodied who is also the sacrifice. Here goes Jesus by Himself for it must be only Him who goes.

  • It is interesting that Jesus here falls to the ground. He does not graciously kneel before His Father. There is a weight upon His shoulders. It is as the one who tries to lift too much weight who then collapses underneath. It is a picture of what happened when He would carry the physical cross on the way to Golgotha. It is also interesting to note that Jesus here falls on the ground in distress of the cup and in just a moment the soldiers would fall to the ground as He would utter, “I am He.”

  • Here we see Jesus praying. Here is the one who is like the concubine in Judges 19 that falls before the door for help. She begs for help after being abused all night in the square by worthless men. Here, Jesus is awaiting being abused by worthless men. Here, Jesus is awaiting an even greater wrath--the wrath that was poured out on Sodom and Gomorrah and yet even more.

  • Jesus prays that the hour might pass from Him. This hour is the hour of the cup. It is the hour of the crushing the serpent but it is also the hour of the serpent striking His heel (as prophesied in Gen 3:15). Jesus sees here the cross in vivid colors. The Spirit gives Him a vision of the weight of the cross. And what happened on the cross? The wrath of God is poured out on Him. The wrath of God is that righteous and just separation of sinful man from the all-glorious God for eternity. It is a just repayment of what they desire and deserve. Jesus, who only knew eternal communion and infinite pleasure at the Father’s side for eternity is here tasting what He has never tasted before. He is feeling the wrath from His Father. He is feeling the enmity and separation. Yet, there is no one but Jesus who has such a desire to be with His Father and to worship His Father. He longs to give honor and glory to His Father and yet He gets a foreshadow of the wrath to come instead. Imagine this, what father among you, you who are evil, will give him a serpent when he asked for a loaf of bread (Luke 11:11-13)? Will not your Heavenly Father give you much more? The Heavenly Father gives much more to us than our best earthly fathers and we are sinful! Why then does the Heavenly Father here give His perfect Son a serpent (The Serpent!) rather than a loaf of manna from heaven? There is no injustice in the Father here and no rebellion in the Son. This is why the Father sent the Son and this is why the Son obeyed the Father. The mission, should He accept it, was to crush the serpent in order to redeem His elect. What love!


  • Jesus is never said to have uttered “Abba” until here. Surely, He did at earlier points in His life but not in the recordings of Mark. This is nowhere else in the gospels but only in the writings of Paul in Romans and Galatians. “Abba” is a very familiar term used only for a very familiar and intimate relationship with a father. It is an informal, yet not irreverent (as is often communicated in the Church today it seems), term that only a child would have the privilege of using. This is almost the picture of an orphaned child walking around a city market amongst all the men searching frantically for his daddy. In a way, there is no “Abba” here. It is only the Judge of sinful men. Jesus cries a familiar title to a familiar person in a familiar place and yet is met with only a foreshadowing of what it means to be disowned by God and abandoned by Him on the cross. Here is Jesus taking on Himself the punishment that was due to the children of Israel who abandoned God. Here is the deportation of Israel to Babylon beginning to happen to the Son. He is about to be thrust into the hands of unclean Gentiles rather than taken up into the hands of a loving Father. The gore must happen before the glory. The cross must happen before the crown. The blood must be spilt before the body is risen from the dead.

  • All things are indeed possible with the Father but not all things are permissible. It is possible surely for Jesus to remove the cup from Himself, for the Spirit to remove it from Him, and for the Father to remove it from Him but this was the eternal plan of God. The Son voluntarily decided and was determined to take the cup even amidst the height of this temptation. Now, some say that He asked for the cup to be delayed here until the cross for remember He told His disciples that He was sorrowful “unto death”. Maybe Jesus was worried that His frame would not enable Him to make it to the cross and that He would die in the Garden.

  • This is what the culmination of world history has boiled down to. This is exactly where God has sovereignly brought all things. This is the moment of all moments and all three persons of the Trinity have agreed passionately upon this plan as a perfect union. Yet, here is the Sinless One feeling the weight upon His humanity to take the cup.

  • Jesus does not ask the Father to take away the cup. He uses an imperative. Peter obviously hears Jesus say not only “if it is possible please take it away” but he also hears Jesus pleading with the Father in the imperative tone. What anguish Jesus must feel here! He is praying according to the attributes of God. Jesus understands that He must be the One to take away the wrath of God. He knew from reading the Scriptures that He was the Messiah and that He has come to drink the cup and to take away the sins of the world. So, what is this statement here that Jesus makes? Here is the height of all temptation. Here is the apex of every strategy of Satan culminating here in the face of Jesus asking Him to take the glory without the cross. The temptation is to be the King without being the Suffering Servant. Here, in the height of this temptation, is Jesus fulfilling all righteousness. This prayer is not a weak point of Jesus’ obedience but rather is exactly what He must have gone through in order to give us His perfect righteousness. What wonder this is!

  • Derek Thomas has us imagine the utter silence of all creation after Jesus utters this sentence: Remove this cup…All eyes turn to the Father. What would He do? Would He say, “Come Home Son! These wretched vile sinners aren’t worth it. They are only our enemies (Rom 5:6-11). They add nothing to our glory! Retreat from the moment. Let my just wrath come upon them for rejecting me.” God would remain God and gloriously God if He did so. He would still retain His infinite beauty and goodness if He called His Son away from the moment but this is not an arbitrary decision that the Triune God came up with in the moment but rather this was a covenant made. God bound Himself by His Word that He would redeem worthless men and women. The moment could not be denied. It must be fulfilled. What did all of heaven do during the pause between this sentence and the next? Had Satan won? Had God relented? Had Jesus given up? Did God really love us enough to die for us?

  • Yet…. Oh, what a wonderful word! How all of heaven must have gained so much adrenaline and the hearing of that word. “Yet”! Amidst all the temptation Jesus was facing to walk away from the wrath that He did not deserve… “yet”. What faith He had in His Father even amidst the Father’s silence. What gracious courage the Spirit gave Him to pursue the eternal plan of salvation. This is the epitome of faith. Against all logic, all feelings, all temptations, all persecutions, all sufferings, all evil assaults, Jesus here gives His life into the hands of His Father out of love for us. Love moves Him. Love for His Father and love for us moves Him. It’s “go time” now. It’s time to move from the locker room and to the playing field. Pre-game warm ups are over and the moment has indeed come. Here is the Lamb led to the slaughter now approaching the cross like a Lion. His soul is distressed and troubled beyond we can ever imagine yet here is faith. Here, we see His body come up off the ground. Here, we see the drops of blood that He sweat be wiped from His face. Here, we see Jesus glorifying His Father. What a Savior!


  • What a disheartening feeling this must have been. How much this added to the distress. He had gotten some courage back to face the cup and then it seems to go away from Him as He sees His disciples sleeping for “again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.” These were His closest friends. These were the ones who said that they would never leave Him nor forsake Him. These were the three who said they would suffer alongside Him yet the two who surrounded Him on the cross were thieves not disciples. Jesus had asked them to work and stay alert but they had decided to rest. They had acted like the first Adam in the garden when Jesus was acting the way the first Adam should’ve acted in the garden.

  • Notice that Jesus looks to Peter and calls him Simon. Why? It is because this sleeping man is not acting like a sturdy rock but more like his old self. Jesus had given Peter his new name which meant rock and yet here he is looking more like a sloth. It is also significant because here is Peter acting more like his old sinful self than the one who mightily confesses that Jesus is the Christ.

  • For one hour they could not watch. This means that Jesus prayed for at least one hour. One hour is not a long time to watch but it certainly can be when it is late at night. The disciples couldn’t endure one hour and yet Jesus was about to suffer for the next 10-20 hours. Once again, Jesus is the only one who can perform the atonement for us. He alone is the substitute. He alone is the submissive one to the Father.


  • What is the temptation that they would enter into? Would it be to betray Him? Certainly this has got to be the closest to it. The temptation that they were facing might have been very similar to the temptation that He was facing--take the glory and not the suffering. This after all is what they wanted. They had asked Jesus to sit at His right hand in heaven (Mark 10:35-45). They had desired Jesus to take the kingdom in an earthly way. They wanted glory but not the suffering. Surely, this temptation had it’s similar root with them as well. Again we see that all others will fail. Only Jesus can withstand the devil’s temptations.

  • Surely, Jesus knew first hand about the spirit being willing but the flesh being weak. He was experiencing it in the moment. His sinless soul greatly desired to glorify the Father in redeeming His people and yet the human flesh felt all of the temptation to flee from the wrath of God to come.


  • Again, Jesus went to the Father no doubt wrestling again as Jacob had wrestled with the Angel of the LORD in Genesis. Again He goes and asks about the cup. Again He pleads according to who God is. Again He submits and says, “Yet.” Again, He sets His face towards Jerusalem and to Golgotha.


  • Again Jesus found His best friends failing as disciples, failing as friends, failing as worshipers of God. Again, His soul is no doubt filled with anguish. There is no one to help Him. It must be Him alone. This is not like the movies where there is always another person who is eager to stand by someone’s side or to go instead of someone else. No one else wants this job. No one else wants this position. There is only One who is capable of doing this. There is only One who can take in an eternity’s worth of wrath in a matter of hours. There is only One who can reconcile God and man. There is only One who can love sinful man like this.

  • Oh, how sin leaves us in a position where we are unable to give an excuse to what we have done. How our own sin leaves us in a position unanswerable to God! All those who do not trust in Jesus will not be speaking back to Jesus on that Great Day. No one will have an answer back to Him. All will be silent as He opens the books. All will be silenced in hell. Jesus is the only one who answers for us in our place before the Father if we trust in Him.


  • Again, the third time He found them sleeping but this time it was enough. The hour had indeed come. No matter how much we try to delay the time, it inevitably comes our way. The moment is so fixed before His eyes. There is nothing but a Cross ahead for our Lord. It is time to wake up the disciples for the last time. It is time to give Himself over to His enemies. The hour would not be passing away. It was there in that moment. This is the moment why He came. This is why that precious baby, the gift to the virgin and the gift to the world, came. He came to die. He came to give His life up for us. He came to extinguish the wrath of God upon Himself rather than to let His loved ones die. It is for these sleepy ones that He would die. Ironically, it is for these sleepy ones that the Lord of the Sabbath would experience eternal unrest so that they might enter into into His eternal rest.

  • The Son of Man has gone willingly but His will was that He be betrayed by yet another close friend. He had chosen Judas to be His friend and disciple and yet Judas here is a picture of all of us. God chose to create us. He chose to have fellowship with us and every day we rejected such fellowship. Every day we sold the infinitely worthy one for the price of a slave. Here goes Jesus into the hands of sinners and of the unclean ones.


  • A moment ago, Jesus fell before the Father but now it is time to rise and go to the cross. They cannot stay in the Garden forever. They must be thrust out from the Garden in order to enter into the New Garden. He came not to be served but to serve.

The Joy of the Incarnation - What One Great Hymn Teaches Us

This past Sunday evening I had an opportunity to comment upon one of the hymns we sang after the Cherub Choir pageant, Paul Gerhardt’s “All My Heart This Night Rejoices.” This hymn is not as familiar as some, yet its words richly repay our contemplation and meditation. Gerhardt begins by declaring his joy in the birth of Jesus:

All my heart this night rejoices
as I hear far and near
sweetest angel voices.
“Christ is born,” their choirs are singing
till the air ev’rywhere
now with joy is ringing.

In the next six stanzas, Gerhardt give us several reasons why the incarnation of our Savior brings us such great joy.

1 – Because the incarnation was an act of war. Gerhardt sings in the second stanza,

Forth today the Conqu’ror goeth,
who the foe, sin and woe,
death and hell o’erthroweth.

 We probably don’t often think about the incarnation in this way (Herod certainly did when he sent his soldiers to kill all the babies in Bethlehem two and under; see Matthew 2:16-17). Yet we see the connection between the incarnation of the Word of God and His conflict with His and our enemies all the way back in Genesis 3:15, and even more particularly in Hebrews 2:14-15 – “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” Jesus became a man to deal the deathblow to Satan, sin, the woe and misery of sin, death itself, and the pains of hell forever.

2 – Because the incarnation is permanent. The second stanza continues,

God is man, man to deliver;
His death Son now is one
with our race forever.

Jesus’ incarnate state did not cease with His death, or His ascension to glory. He remains a man, and the dust of earth sits upon the throne of glory. He knows intimately what it is to be human still, and so can sympathize with us in our weaknesses. When the eternal Son of God took on human nature, He was affirming the goodness of our humanity, and He was assuring us that we too will live an embodied existence for all eternity. Though the intermediate state is disembodied, our souls being with Jesus while our bodies rest in the grave till the resurrection, yet for eternity we will walk on a new earth with our Savior.

3 – Because the incarnation was for the purpose of substitution. The third and fourth stanzas are rich indeed:

Shall we still dread God’s displeasure,
who, to save, freely gave
His most cherished Treasure?
To redeem us, he hath given
His own Son, from the throne
of His might in heaven.

He becomes the Lamb who taketh
sin away, and for aye [forever]
full atonement maketh.
For our life his own he tenders;
and our race, by his grace,
meet for glory renders.

We must never separate the birth of Jesus and the death of Jesus. He was born in order that He might die. He became a man not only to be like us and with us, but also to die for us, as our substitute. The incarnation is for the purpose of atoning for the sins of His people. The wages of sin is death, but God cannot die. So the only way for God to reconcile sinners to Himself was to become us them in our humanity, so that He might obey and suffer in our nature. Because Jesus has died, the beautiful truth in stanza three is ours: we have no need to fear the displeasure or anger or wrath of God, for He has poured it all out on His beloved Son in our place. He gave His greatest Treasure for us, to make us wretches His treasured possession.

4 – The incarnation meets our deepest sadness. The fifth and sixth stanza ring out,

Hark! a voice from yonder manger,
soft and sweet, doth entreat,
“Flee from woe and danger.
Brethren, from all ills that grieve you,
you are freed; all you need
I will surely give you.”

Come, then, banish all your sadness,
one and all, great and small;
come with songs of gladness.
Love him who with love is glowing;
hail the star, near and far
light and joy bestowing.

Isaiah 53:3 tells us that Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He carried our griefs and sorrows, so that we might be freed ultimately from them forever. Because Jesus was born, we have hope, joy, gladness, and light. In this world we have sorrow, for Jesus has not returned. But by His incarnation, and all that flowed from it in His ministry on earth and in heaven, our sorrows are overwhelmed by the joy He gives us. We are called to banish our sadness from our hearts, for He has freed us from the penalty and power of sin, which cause our deepest sorrow, and promises to give us all we need for life and godliness – even the gift of gladness in times of distress.

5 – The incarnation gives us hope beyond the grave. Gerhardt closes his song with these words:

Dearest Lord, thee will I cherish.
Though my breath fail in death,
yet I shall not perish,
but with thee abide forever
there on high, in that joy
which can vanish never.

As those who trust in Christ Jesus the incarnate Word of God, we have absolute confidence that when we die, we will be with Him forever. And beyond that, as we have already mentioned above, we too will have a resurrected body on the last day. “He will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body or His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:21). And so with this confidence we rejoice with exceedingly great joy, now and forevermore.

The Rest of Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30)

In Matthew 11:28-30 we read these amazing words of Jesus: "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." What a glorious invitation! Invitations to great events or from remarkable people are treasured - and in these words God's Son bids us to come to Him. It is an invitation to be with Him, to be loved as His treasured possession. Do we slow down long enough to hear and accept the invitation, and to go to Him?

Notice first to whom this invitation is given: to the weary, the burdened, the anxious, the troubled - "all who labor and are heavy laden." Which of us does not qualify? All who feel upon our hearts the load, the weight of our own selfishness, our own pride, our own grieving of God, are invited to come. All who feel the load of the world's suffering and grief, the anxiousness of unknown days to come, the weight of a long standing unabating sorrow, the weight of our longings for the not-yet of God's providences, are invited to come. We who know these things in the depths of our heart are bid by the Son of God to fall upon His breast.

See secondly the promise to obtain: rest. Jesus declares, "I will give you will find rest for your souls." What a priceless promise and gift laid out for us! It is an ark of refuge for the weary, like Noah's ark for the dove. The Lord Jesus is our ark, our refuge, our rest. He promises us the rest of a real, personal, intimate, divine friendship of redeeming affection. He promises to love us utterly and unalterably!

Observe thirdly the means of the promised rest: we must take Jesus' yoke upon ourselves and learn of Him. Every other yoke about your heart - the lesser loves we foolishly crave - will make you even more weary. But Christ's yoke of free grace restores, enlivens, and lifts up. He calls us to yield our souls to His character and righteousness. His yoke is always in our favor and for our good.

Finally, note the way in which Jesus woos us to Himself: "For I am gentle and lowly in heart." How slow we are to believe this about our Savior! He who is the Sovereign King, is also gentle and humble of heart. This is the only place in Scripture where the "heart" of Christ is actually mentioned - and it is a gentle and a lowly heart.

So the question is before you: are you coming to Jesus for rest? Take heart, weary believer! Whoever comes to Jesus, He will in no way cast you out (John 6:37)! Come to Him this day and find rest for your souls!