The following video is a re-post from The Gospel Coalition website that features Russell Moore, Scott Sauls (PCA), and Trevin Wax in a discussion about whether Christian parents should give their children a smartphone. These discussions can help us think about things that we normally do not think about and help us come to our own wise conclusions about what is most fitting for our children.
This past Sunday I preached from John 19:38-20:18, on the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I want to comment on something I didn't speak to in my sermon: why is the burial of Jesus important to the Christian faith? Indeed, Paul declared that "He was buried" is one of the matters "of first importance" that he received and delivered to the Corinthian church (I Corinthians 15:3-4).
First, the burial of Jesus ensures that the resurrection of Jesus was just that: a resurrection from the dead. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus prepared Jesus' body for burial, and buried Him in a new tomb, in which no other body had yet been laid (John 19:38-42). These men could testify that there was no life in the body they buried. He had not "swooned," lost consciousness, or fainted. He had truly died. Therefore, if in three days He were alive, the burial proved that He had risen from death to new life.
Second, the burial of Jesus was itself an aspect of His humiliation. The Westminster Larger Catechism #50 reminds us, "Christ's humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell." Jesus did not die and then immediately come back to life. His suffering and humiliation descended to the point of remaining under the power of death from Friday through Sunday. As the Westminster divines point out, one aspect of the meaning of the statement "He descended into hell" is clearly the separation of His body and soul in death. As Herman Bavinck puts it, "The state of death in which Christ entered when he died was as essentially a part of his humiliation as his spiritual suffering on the cross. In both together he completed his perfect obedience" (Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3, p. 417). Though Psalm 16:10/Acts 2:24-27, 31 assure us that Jesus did not see corruption, and His soul was not abandoned to Hades/Sheol (the state of death), yet it is great comfort to know that Jesus has experienced the whole measure of human suffering, even tasting the grave for a season - He fully bore the wages of sin.
Third, the burial of Jesus fulfilled Scripture, and the words of Jesus Himself. Isaiah 53:9 declares that the grave of the Suffering Servant would be "with a rich man in his death" - fulfilled in the person of Joseph of Arimathea. Jesus taught that His death, burial and resurrection was foreshadowed by the experience of Jonah in the belly of the great fish: "Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Had Jesus not been buried, He would have been proved wrong, or worse, a liar. But He was indeed in the heart of the earth; Scriptural typology, and Jesus' prophecy, were fulfilled.
To deny or ignore the burial of Jesus is certainly to deny or ignore a truth "of first importance" for Christians.
Tim Keller recently spoke at the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast in the Houses of Parliament in London, and in the words of one reviewer, he "provided a masterclass in gracious apologetics." If you want to see how to speak of Christ to a secular culture, watch this 25-minute video. Keller discusses the beneficial role of Christianity as salt in a non-Christian culture, challenging secularism to consider the contradictions within its worldview, and challenging Christians to be the saints God has called us to be so that we might serve the world around us and woo them to our Lord and Savior. Very much worth your time.
"It is not for nothing that we are told so particularly about the burial of Christ. The true Christian need never be ashamed of regarding a funeral with peculiar reverence and solemnity. It is the body, which may be the instrument of committing the greatest sins, or of bringing the greatest glory to God. It is the body, which the eternal Son of God honored by dwelling in it for thirty and three years, and finally dying in our stead. It is the body, with which He rose again and ascended up into heaven. It is the body, in which He sits at the right hand of God, and represents us before the Father, as our Advocate and Priest. It is the body, which is now the temple of the Holy Ghost, while the believer lives. It is the body, which will rise again, when the last trumpet sounds, and, reunited to the soul, will live in heaven to all eternity. Surely, in the face of such facts as these, we never need suppose that reverence bestowed on the burial of the body is reverence thrown away."
-- J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of John, p. 337
By Dr. Thomas Smyth, at the Installation of James Henley Thornwell & Francis P. Mullally in 1860
The very first thing I would impress upon you is, that in this eventful scene you are not spectators merely, but participants — not merely eye-witnesses to an interesting pageant, but partners to a solemn compact. The relations and responsibilities now constituted are mutual, and cannot be separated. Have these Brethren now become your pastors? — you have become their people. Are they under obligation to preach, to reprove, to rebuke, to make known God's will and your duty? — you are bound to hear, to obey, and to perform. Are they, in conscious impotence, to undertake a work
Which well might fill an angel’s heart,
And filled a Saviour's hands? —
they are to be strengthened with all might, obtained through your prayers on their behalf. Are they to give themselves wholly to the things which pertain to your spiritual welfare? — you are to provide all things needful for their temporal comforts; to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake; to count them worthy of an adequate and honorable maintenance; and to consider it a small thing to impart freely of your carnal things in return for their spiritual gifts.
You perceive, therefore, Brethren, that the solemnities of this occasion involve you not less than those who are set over you in the Lord. For weal or for woe you are now joined together. The relations and the responsibilities are mutual. You must be helpers or hinderers of each other’s prosperity and progress. Like priest like people, is not more true than like people like priest. It is in the power of any people to paralyze or to put life and energy into their pastor, and to make him not only a lovely song and as one that playeth well on an instrument, but the power of God and the wisdom of God, to the salvation of souls. And for all that they might do and ought to do, they must give account when they shall stand confronted at the bar of Him who judgeth righteous judgment.
May you so live and labour together as that this account shall be given with joy, and not with grief. Yours, I have said, is a model pulpit. May you be a model people. Model preaching will demand model practice, model piety, liberality and zealous devotion to every good cause. I congratulate you. Brethren, upon the present occasion and your future prospects. I rejoice with you in your joy. I remember your kindness to my youth, and your appreciation of my early ministrations, when you so cordially invited me to live and labour among you. Allow me, with all my heart, to pray that peace may be within your walls, and prosperity within your borders. May you go forward prospering and to prosper — a city set on a hill, a burning and a shining light, provoking all around you to love and liberality. May strength go out of this Zion, and may you arise and shine the glory of the Lord having arisen upon you.
This occasion must now close, but we who are now assembled must meet in review all the issues of this rehearsal. Oh, my friends, realize and lay to heart that hastening hour. Pray, oh, pray earnestly, that when pastors and people shall meet face to face, at that awful tribunal, instead of mutual upbraidings and reproaches — you accusing them of unfaithfulness or negligence, and they accusing you of coldness, formality, and refusal to come up to the help of the Lord against the mighty — you may be able to congratulate each other; you blessing God for them as helpers of your faith, and they presenting you to God as their joy and crown of rejoicing.
Have you ever had a friend come up to you, and begin telling you about a movie you are excited to see soon? What do we usually say? “Don’t spoil it for me!” Usually, we don’t want movie “spoilers.” A “spoiler” occurs when a friend tells us how a certain movie will end, much to our chagrin. However, there is one “spoiler” we should all be thankful for.
If you don’t want to know how the Christian life ends, I’m sorry to tell you that it’s too late, for “He is risen!” The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ultimate spoiler, because it tells us the end of the story, the story of all existence. More than that, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is, in many ways, the end of the story itself. Acts 2 tells us that these are the “latter days.” There is no more revelation from God, because all that God desired to do to redeem the universe has been completed in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son.
“But wait!” you may say. “We are still dying, wars are still fought, the environment is still deteriorating, sadness and fear are still present. How has the universe been redeemed?” This brings us to what theologians call the “already and not-yet” model for understanding the “latter days.”
Already Christ has been raised from the dead, the “firstfruits” of those who have fallen asleep – but our own bodily resurrection is not yet.
Already the forces of Satan have been dealt the death blow – but his influence has not yet been overthrown.
Already our redemption has been accomplished – but we do not yet see its application thoroughly “worked through” the “dough” of creation. Geerhardus Vos was indeed right, when he says that we live in a world of “semi-futurities” (Vos, 43).
Because Christ has been raised from the dead, the end is already here, the Spirit has been poured out, and life everlasting is ours. The end is here, even if it isn’t here all the way. Because the end has arrived, this changes everything about our present lives. All of your life, every battle against sin, every deed of mercy, every relationship is meant by God to prepare you for life in his New Creation. This is why Paul will often pray that God would sanctify believers completely, body and soul (1 Thessalonians 5:23). We are not sanctified ultimately for this present existence; we are being “fitted” for life in the New World! This is also why Paul will say that if there is no resurrection, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15:19). Why? Because if there is no resurrection, then life lived in this body is in vain, for God has always intended us to live on this earth, in this body, to give him glory. Without a physical resurrection, we are not able to glorify God as he intends!
How does the resurrection change the way we live our lives now? Let me briefly give you two ways:
1) The resurrection teaches us to value life in this material world.
This world is indeed fallen, but it will not always be fallen. Remember what Paul says in Romans 8, how creation longs to be free of its bondage. Derek Thomas in his recently-published book, Heaven on Earth, reminds us that in its final form, heaven will be like this earth, only “renewed and more glorious!” (70). The New Creation will be like this earth, only freed from sin, and more glorious than we can imagine. Every good endeavor mankind pursues, the “glory of the nations” as Revelation calls it (Rev. 21:26) will be carried over into the New Creation, once Christ returns. When the earth is burned up, it will be a fire of purification, not of annihilation (2 Peter 3:10).
This changes how we view our work. If work is basically good, and God is glorified in it, then work is continued in the New Creation. Your current job is training you to work perfectly to God’s glory in the New World. This changes how we treat our bodies, and the bodies of others. If we are meant to live in bodies, even when Christ returns, how much more are we to treat our bodies well! Paul tells us that our bodies are united to Christ, even now (1 Corinthians 6). If our bodies will continue in the New Creation, this means that our neighbors’ bodies will as well. We therefore seek to preserve physical life as much as we can, because men and women are not just souls.
The implications could continue, but I encourage you to think of your own position.
2) The resurrection teaches us to hope
Second, the resurrection teaches us to persevere in hope while we suffer. This world will be redeemed, but the not yet of the latter days has not arrived. Sin is still present, our bodies still decay, and this “veil of tears” remains before our eyes. We groan, as cancer eats away at us, as our minds grow weak and memories fade. In the midst of all our suffering and sadness, we remember to hope. We hope because we know that we don’t suffer anything that a good resurrection can’t fix! One day, disease will be a memory. Loss of friends and family will be to us a shadow of the past, that fades instantly under the brightness of God’s glory.
In light of this, be encouraged, your labor in this life is not in vain! We are not “polishing brass on the Titanic.” This world is not going anywhere, even if the evil in it will be burned away like dross. The end has been “spoiled” for us, and we are all the more thankful for it.
I leave you with a quote from Martin Luther, that teaches us to keep near the finality of Jesus’ work: “Live as if Christ died yesterday, rose this morning, and is coming back tomorrow.”
In the next few weeks we will welcome Mr. Dean Williams to our pastoral staff at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church. We have been praying for this day to come for years, and it is finally upon us! But how do we welcome him and his family well? Certainly there are physical, tangible acts of kindness and hospitality toward them in which we can participate, and I encourage you to see the bulletin announcement for more details. But I want to point out a less visible way that you can welcome Dean as your pastor and as a preacher of God’s word: by receiving the word of truth from his mouth in a proper manner.
Our Westminster Larger Catechism speaks beautifully to this point. Having asked and answered the question of how the Word of God is to be preached by those who are called thereunto (WLC #159), our fathers in the faith ask the logical next question: What is required of those that hear the Word preached? They answer: “It is required of those that hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.” As you do these things each time Pastor Dean walks into the pulpit or behind a podium, you will be giving him the very best welcome he could ask for.
Receive Pastor Dean’s teaching and preaching with diligence. In Proverbs 8:34 personified Wisdom declares, “Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.” Preaching is the wisdom of God, and it conveys the wisdom of God – thus we are called to listen with eager anticipation to the words Pastor Dean proclaims, watching and waiting for the life-giving rain that will drop from his lips (cf. Deuteronomy 32:2). Attend diligently upon the corporate worship services of the church on the Lord’s Day, morning and evening. That is, make every effort to make it your unbreakable habit to sit under the preaching of the word each Sunday. Likewise, when present, strive to listen diligently. It is not easy to sustain prolonged attention to a 30-35 minute monologue, especially in our short-attention span culture. Your mind wanders to some difficult circumstance at home or work, children interrupt and distract, and Satan labors to keep the word from penetrating our minds and affections. We must therefore be diligent to focus, to engage, to interact internally with what we hear. For many, taking notes serves this purpose. For others, doodling does the trick. Whatever works for you, figure it out, and do it! Attend upon the preaching of the word with careful and persistent effort.
Accompany your diligence with preparation and prayer. Jesus calls us to “take care how [we] hear” (Luke 18:8), and one application of that command is forethought before listening to a sermon. This does not merely mean seeking to put aside temporal concerns so that you can pay attention without distraction; there is also a moral component to our preparation. Before Peter tells us to “long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it [we] may grow up into salvation,” he commands us to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (I Peter 2:1-2). We are to sit under Pastor Dean’s teaching, having repented of the sin we find in our hearts, and ready to respond to the word we hear with further repentance, embrace of hard truths, and new zealous obedience. Our preparation must also include prayer: prayer for yourself as a hearer, and prayer for Pastor Dean as a preacher. As those who are recovering from spiritual blindness, we constantly need to pray, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). Pray for Pastor Dean, “that words may be given to [him] in opening [his] mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19). As you read the Scriptures, be on the lookout for verses to pray as you prepare to hear God’s word preached.
As you listen to the preaching of the word, you must “examine what [you] hear by the Scriptures.” There is certainly an unbiblical way to be critical of a sermon – nitpicking style, mannerisms, turns of phrases, length, lack of illustrations you like, etc. – but there is also a biblical way to be critical. The Westminster divines were, of course, alluding to the Bereans in Acts 17:11, who received the word with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if the things they heard the apostle Paul preach were true. All God’s people are to be Bereans. Just because pastors have been to seminary and have been called by God to preach does not mean that everything we say is infallible. The people of God have a responsibility to compare Scripture with Scripture, to take everything Pastor Dean says back to the Scriptures, to ensure it is faithful and true. If so, then it must be accepted as God’s truth; if not, then it must be rejected.
To welcome Pastor Dean well, I also encourage you to “receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God.” If the word is not received with faith, it will not profit you to hear it preached (Hebrews 4:2). If you do not love the truth, you cannot be saved (II Thessalonians 2:10). James calls on us to “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). The eagerness and readiness of mind that marked the Bereans must mark our hearing of the word as well – ready to receive the truth, ready to study the truth by the Scriptures, and ready to believe and live in light of what we have found to be in line with God’s word. For when the word of God is proclaimed, it is to be received as the very word of God, not merely the word of some particular man (I Thessalonians 2:13).
Finally, to welcome Pastor Dean well, you must hear his preaching and teaching, and “meditate, and confer of it; hide it in [your] hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in [our] lives.” These words remind us that there is both an individual and corporate duty that we have after we have heard the word preached. Individually, we are to meditate upon what we have heard, hiding it in our hearts so that we might not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11). We are to let God’s word “sink into our ears” (Luke 9:44), giving earnest heed and paying close attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it (Hebrews 2:1). One way to do this is to repeat to yourself the sermon outline during the day on Sunday and aim to remember at least one key application from each point. It helps, however, if you don’t only try to do this alone, but with other people. We must confer of it – that is, discuss it with other people. We see the disciples doing this on the road to Emmaus, and Jesus doing it with them (Luke 24:14), and God commands parents to do this with their children (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). In both of these duties, the individual and the corporate, our goal is to bear much by the Spirit’s power. This is the mark of the good soil (Luke 8:15), that we “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).
I know that Pastor Dean and his family are excited about getting here, and we likewise are eager for him to arrive. I trust you will welcome him with true Mississippi hospitality, in love and generosity. But more importantly, will you receive the words from his lips in the manner our fathers in the faith have described, according to the Scriptures?
Contrary to popular opinion, fun has a price tag attached to it. Sometimes it’s fun to go get a milkshake for under $5. Maybe there’s a movie you’ve been wanting to watch; when it’s finally released, you get a group of friends to go watch it for just $10. Money buys happiness in these scenarios, and it’s pretty cheap.
Perhaps you’ve saved up some money, and you take a road trip with some friends to go see an awesome concert. It’s a memory that will last a lifetime and the tickets, gasoline, and hotel end up costing each individual just $500. This fun is a little pricier, but you still purchased it with money.
For my tenth anniversary, my wife and I traveled Northern California. We saved up for years, and we were able to get some airline miles and deals on hotels, but the price tag at the end of the trip didn’t matter. To this day, it was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. It created countless memories that drew me closer to my wife. It was an adventure, to say the least, and money made it a possibility.
Is travel your idea of fun? Whether it’s Hawaii or Scotland, money will get you there. Are you into entertainment? Whether it’s a movie night at home or traveling to a Hollywood premier, it’s going to take some cash. Maybe you follow an NFL team and want to go cheer them on; you better have something in the bank account.
What’s the Deal?
Why have so many people perpetuated the saying, Money can’t buy happiness, when I have clearly demonstrated otherwise? Money can buy happiness…lots and lots of happiness. Whether it’s an experience with friends and family or viewing beautiful sights around the world, money is the common denominator required.
It’s easy to see that ultimately other humans make these events what they are. While it certainly would be unique to have a private concert in your living room, sharing a concert with others makes it beautiful (not to mention the fact that a private concert still includes members of the band so you’d be sharing it with them). It would be amazing to travel the world, but I think it would be a little less amazing to do that alone.
As I said, I absolutely loved traveling Northern California, but it would have been a sad trip to be there without my wife. In fact, having her there made the trip as special as it was. Being moved to tears by a family of deer crossing in front of the backdrop of Yosemite was a taste of heaven. But viewing all of that while holding my wife’s hand makes it a memory etched on my heart forever.
Money can buy happiness to an extent, but sharing it with others puts the exclamation points on those experiences.
God Has Expensive Taste
Here’s what Christians know to be true – God made all things. And since God made all things, his fingerprints are on every square inch of creation. Often theologians refer to this as common grace in creation. That is, what is true, beautiful, and good can be enjoyed by the atheist and the Christian. Believers are moved by breathtaking landscapes just as unbelievers are.
What’s interesting about price-tags is that humans determine those. Delta Airlines sets the price of a ticket to Australia. U2’s agent establishes a price for their concerts. The NFL, NBA, & MLB set the price for fans to attend the games.
Buying a milkshake is definitely cheaper than flying across the globe, but they’re both fun. The price we attach to each one is ultimately pointing to the Creator. God has placed value upon creation with his fingerprints, and the monetary value we attach to it affirms that reality.
Maybe a different example will help. Running a stop sign and murder are both illegal. Murder, however, has a greater punishment attached to it. The reason for this is because humans are created in the image of God. Humanity realizes this truth, and the greater punishment affirms the value God places on humans as his image bearers.
Similarly, more expensive experiences typically affirm the greater beauty. Regardless of the price-tag, attaching monetary value to anything is one way of affirming what is true, beautiful, and good.
Maybe we could say that money does indeed buy happiness, but God created all that exists, even the emotion of happiness. Therefore, we shouldn’t worship money – just like we shouldn’t worship any of the created experiences we mentioned – we should worship the One who created all that has been, all that is, and all that will be.
We are deeply impressed with a sense of the obligation laid upon the church by her great Head to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,” and the consequent claims which the various Pagan, Mohommedan [Muslim], Jewish and Papal nations of the earth have upon the church for the blessings of a pure gospel; feeling too that one of the great ends of the institution of the church was that she might in her collective organized strength, impart the knowledge of salvation to all the kindreds and peoples and tongues among men, and that so far as it has been revealed to men that there can be no salvation for the heathen without such knowledge; remembering also the many tokens of divine favor bestowed upon the efforts of Southern Christians while laboring in connection with the Presbyterian Church of the United States, and that an important portion of that work in the Providence of God had been laid upon their shoulders even before they had a distinct ecclesiastical organization of their own; and in view of the further fact that God by his providence has for some years been removing the obstacles that have heretofore prevented the introduction of the gospel among the great heathen nations of the earth, and has at the same time bestowed upon the Southern Church all the means and agents necessary for taking a large and distinguished share in the great work of evangelizing the nations…
The General Assembly desires distinctly and deliberately to inscribe on our church’s banner as she now first unfurls it to the world, in immediate connection with the Headship of her Lord, His last command: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature;” regarding this as the great end of her organization, and obedience to it as the indispensable condition of her Lord’s promised presence, and as one great comprehensive object a proper conception of whose vast magnitude and grandeur is the only thing which in connection with the love of Christ can ever sufficiently arouse her energies and develop her resources, so as to cause her to carry on with the vigor and efficiency which true fealty to her Lord demands, whose other agencies necessary to her internal growth and home prosperity. The claims of this cause ought therefore to be kept constantly before the minds of our people and pressed upon their consciences – and every minister owes it to his people and to a perishing world to give such instruction on this subject as he is able; and to this end the monthly concert [of prayer] ought to be devoutly observed by every church on the first Sabbath of each month for the purpose of missionary instruction as well as prayer, and it would be well to accompany their prayers with their offerings. To the same end the Assembly earnest enjoins upon all our ministers and ruling elders and deacons and Sabbath school teachers, and especially upon parents, particular attention to our precious youth in training them to feel a deep interest in this work, and not only to form habits of systematic benevolence, but to feel and respond to the claims of Jesus upon them for personal service in the field.
1. Pray for Open Doors – “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word…” (Colossians 4:2-3)
- Pray that God will open doors of ministry, blessing partnerships and friendship
- Pray that those who serve will be led by the Holy Spirit and recognize open-door opportunities
- Pray that God will lead His people past barriers to hearts ready to receive His word
2. Pray for Boldness in Witness – “And pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel…” (Ephesians 6:19)
- Pray that missionaries will have boldness to overcome the fear of embarrassment or failure
- Pray that the Spirit will provide them with words that communicate effectively in other cultures and languages
- Pray against evil forces that would seek to hinder the spread of the gospel
3. Pray that God’s Word Will Spread – “Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified…” (II Thessalonians 3:1)
- Pray for strength and stamina as missionaries encounter antagonistic spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:10-18)
- Pray that people will resist Satan’s plans to obstruct the spread of the gospel (James 4:7)
- Pray that God’s word will indeed spread rapidly and be honored where it goes
4. Pray for Protection – “…and pray that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith.” (II Thessalonians 3:2)
- Pray that God will keep Christian workers safe from those who seek to hurt them
- Pray that God will change the hearts of those who are resistant to His Word
5. Pray for Their Ministry – “Pray…that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints…” (Romans 15:31)
- Pray that the missionary’s ministry and attitude will be worthy of acceptance
- Pray that colleagues and fellow believers will be supportive
6. Pray for God’s Guidance – “Pray…so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God…” (Romans 15:32)
- Pray for clear guidance from God regarding travel decisions
- Pray for necessary permissions to travel
- Pray for protection and provision during their travels
7. Pray for Refreshment – “Pray that I may… find refreshing rest in your company.” (Romans 15:32)
- Pray that God will provide opportunities for missionaries in lonely areas to spend time with other believers
- Pray that God will provide times of peace and relaxation to refresh His workers
- Pray that God will encourage missionaries with the knowledge that people back home care about their emotional well-being
A pastor’s confession: it is easier for me to preach the gospel publicly to hundreds of people than it is to talk about Jesus to one uninterested unbeliever. Perhaps you think, “I don’t feel comfortable doing either one!” And yet, while not everyone is called to preach to large groups of believers or unbelievers, all of us are responsible to speak a word for Jesus to the lost around us. Peter tells the church that every Christian must “always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (I Peter 3:15). It’s not just commanded, but commended, as we see Christians (who were not apostles) being scattered by persecution, bringing the good news of the gospel to the lost (Acts 8:1, 4). Each one of us is to let our “light shine before men in such a way that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16) – and if words do not accompany our deeds, then how will the unbeliever ever know our Father in heaven to glorify Him?
I fear that many Christians assume that it’s only the preacher’s responsibility in the pulpit to talk to unbelievers about the gospel. To be sure, preachers are called to preach the gospel publicly in corporate worship, to the lost and to the found, since the word of God (particularly the preached word of God) is the means of regeneration and sanctification (I Peter 1:23-2:3). Paul assumes that unbelievers will be in the midst of corporate worship, and that the clear preaching of the word will in God’s providence convict them, call them to account, disclose the secrets of their hearts, and lead them to fall on their faces and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among us (I Corinthians 14:24-25). Yet how will unbelievers come into the corporate gatherings of the church? They may well walk in off the street, but it’s far more likely that they will come because of a relationship they already have with a believer, and because of conversations that believer has had with them about Jesus and about His church and/or His word.
So even with regard to the pastor’s task to be an evangelist and to proclaim publicly the truth of the gospel to the lost, we’re back to the individual Christian’s responsibility to be speaking a word for Jesus, to be wooing and attracting unbelievers, to be stirring up an interest in spiritual things, eternal things, raising the issues of holiness, sin, brokenness, redemption, hope, love and forgiveness found through faith in Jesus. Unless Christians are inviting unbelievers to hear the gospel preached in corporate worship, it is unlikely (humanly speaking) that they will be there. Yes, there are unbelievers among the membership of the church, tares in the midst of the wheat, hypocrites who look like believers yet are not truly converted. But unchurched unbelievers have no reason to be at church unless they are invited – over and over and over again, in some situations.
Do you see the vital importance of individual Christian men and women and boys and girls speaking a word for Jesus, both directly (talking about the gospel with them) and indirectly (inviting them to a place where they will hear the gospel)? But this reality then raises the question of whether you intentionally spend time with unbelievers. In particular, do you pursue time with unchurched unbelievers? So often, Christians – especially those in the buckle of the Bible Belt – surround themselves only with other Christians, and distance themselves from unbelievers. Yet Jesus calls us to go into the world to bear witness about Him (John 17:18). We are not to cordon ourselves off from the world in a little holy huddle, but we are to mix and mingle and share life with those who do not know our Savior, so that we might be ambassadors for Jesus to them. I have felt that myself of late – my calling is to pastor the flock, yet if I don’t intentionally put myself around unbelievers, when will I have the opportunities to share the gospel to the lost outside the church?
As we conclude our Missions Festival this weekend, being challenged to go across the street and around the world, examine your life to see what changes you need to make in order to be around unbelievers so that you might have opportunities to speak a word for Jesus to them. Pray for boldness to take advantage of the open doors that the Lord gives you. Invite your friends to join you at our worship services. Pray for your preachers, that we might preach with an eye to the lost as well as the found, and proclaim a Savior who alone can save sinners from the penalty and power and presence of sin. And pray for the Holy Spirit to move in the lives of the lost, so that we might see conversions.
“Our Lord Jesus Christ became incarnate, was made under the law, lived, acted, obeyed, suffered died and rose again for his people.
He came down to earth that they might go up to heaven.
He suffered that they might reign.
He became a servant that they might become kings and priests unto God.
He died that they might live.
He bore the cross that their enmity might be slain, and their sins expiated.
He loved them that they might love God.
He was rich and became poor that they, who were poor, might be made rich.
He descended into the lower parts of the earth that they might sit in heavenly places.
He emptied himself that they might be filled with all the fullness of God.
He took upon him human nature that they might be partakers of the divine nature.
He made flesh his dwelling place that they might be an habitation of God through the Spirit.
He made himself of no reputation, that they might wear his new name, and be counted an eternal excellency.
He became a worm, and no man, that they, who were sinful worms, might be made equal to the angels.
He bore the curse of a broken covenant that they might partake of all the blessings of the everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure.
Though heir of all things, he was willingly despised of the people, that they, who were justly condemned, might obtain and inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away.
His death was a satisfaction to divine justice, a ransom for many, a propitiation for sin, a sweet smelling savor to God, that we, who were an offense to God, might become his sons and daughters.
He was made sin for his people that they might be made the righteousness of God in him.
Though Lord of all He took the form of a servant, that they, who were the servants of sin, might prevail like princes with God.
He, who had made swaddling-clothes bands for the sea, was wrapped in swaddling-clothes that they, who were cast out in their blood, might be clothed in linen white and clean, which is the righteousness of the saints.
He had not where to lay His head that they who otherwise must have laid down in eternal sorrow, might read the mansions in His Father’s house.
He was beset with lions and bulls of Bashan, that his chosen might be compassed about with an innumerable company of angels and of the spirits of just men made perfect.
He drank the cup of God’s indignation that they might for ever drink of the river of His pleasures.
He hungered that they might eat the bread of life.
He thirsted that they might drink the water of life.
He was numbered with the transgressors that they might stand among the justified, and be counted among the jewels.
He made His grave with the wicked that they might sleep in Jesus.
Though He was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was, yet He became a helpless infant, that creatures of yesterday, sentenced to death, might live for ever.
He wore a crown of thorns that all, who love His appearing, might wear a crown of life.
He wept tears of anguish that His elect might weep tears of repentance not to be repented of.
He bore the yoke of obedience unto death that they might find His yoke easy and His burden light.
He poured out His soul unto death, lay three days in the heart of the earth, then burst the bars of death, and arose to God, that they, who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage, might obtain the victory over the grave and become partakers of His resurrection.
He exhausted the penalty of the law that His redeemed might have access to the inexhaustible treasures of mercy, wisdom, faithfulness, truth and grace promised by the Lord
He passed from humiliation to humiliation, till He reached the sepulcher of Joseph, that His people might be changed from glory to glory as by the Spirit of the Lord.
He was matchless in grace that they might be matchless in gratitude.
Though a Son, He became a voluntary exile, that they, who had wickedly wandered afar off, might be brought nigh by His blood.
He was compassed about with all their innocent infirmities that He might perfect His strength in their weakness.
His visage was so marred more than any man, that His ransomed might be presented before God without spot, or blemish, or wrinkle, or any such thing.
For a time He was forsaken of His Father that they, whom He bought with His blood, might behold the light of God’s countenance forever.
He came and dwelt with them that they might be forever with the Lord.
He was hung up naked before His insulting foes that all, who believe on His name, might wear a glorious wedding garment, a spotless righteousness.
Though He was dead, He is the firstborn among many brethren.
Through His sorrow His people obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing flee away.
Though He endured the worst things, they do and shall forever enjoy the best things
Wonderful mystery! God was manifested in the flesh! Here is no absurdity, no contradiction, no fiction, and yet a mystery that baffles all attempts to solve it, and dazzles all human and angelic vision. Blessed is he, who is not offended in Jesus. Blessed is he, who loves the incarnate mystery, and rests upon it. It is a mystery of love, of power, of salvation. It is the mystery of Godliness. It is the great study of the inhabitants of heaven, and shall be while immortality endures.”
-- From The Grace of Christ, by William Swan Plumer, chapter 21. Plumer was a 19th century American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, seminary professor, and prolific writer.
Our children learn a whole lot about life during the Christmas season. They learn how to indulge themselves. They learn how to be demanding and self-centered. They learn works-righteousness from Santa (Good = presents; Bad = lump of coal). They learn that getting new stuff equals happiness. They learn the secret of discontentment. They learn that our American economy is totally dependent on holiday consumer retail sales (okay, maybe only a few sharp ones...). They are learning these lessons every year thanks to their own sinful hearts, Satan, and the world.
So that means Christian parents must be aggressive, winsome, and purposeful in the education of their children during the holidays. By words and example, it is our duty as parents to train children to think rightly about God, the world, and ourselves. So here’s my list of the “Twelve Truths of Christmas” for children (you may put them to music if you like... “On the first day of Christmas, my dear Savior gave to me, a heart of...”):
- Contentment. We’ll start with possibly the hardest of all lessons: How do we fight against rampant discontentment in our children? It’s taught primarily by what parents REFUSE to do--indulge their child’s every whim throughout the year. If your children are getting whatever they want whenever they want it, then the sinful virus of discontentment will be at fever level at Christmas.
- Compassion. Not just for all the poor children who don’t get presents at Christmas. More importantly, teach your children to have true pity on all who make Christmas meaningless by removing Christ. Our children should grieve for and pray for all their friends and family members who have rejected the Christ of Christmas.
- Joy. Presents bring happiness--usually very temporary happiness for our children. Teach them that their joy can only be found in the Lord!
- Identity. Even though Christmas is a fairly universal holiday, it is one that should only be enjoyed by Christians. After all, what meaning has Jesus taking on human flesh unless you identify yourself with Christ? Your children will either identify with the world or identify with their Savior every Christmas and all through the year.
- Sin. Talking about sin on Christmas is borderline heresy! But your children really need to have their sinful hearts poked during this time of year. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to show them how they are thinking more about themselves than about Jesus or others.
- Grace. Santa Claus teaches what our sinful hearts want to hear--that good people get good stuff and bad people get bad stuff. It’s not good enough to teach your children that Santa isn’t real; you must debunk the lie that we can be good and that we deserve good things. Show them Jesus, and teach them undeserved grace!
- Giving. Yes, teach your children to give to others this Christmas. And, yes, teach them how much better it is to give than receive. Yet you must teach them how God so loved the world that HE GAVE His Son...or your children will become self-righteous in their giving. We don’t want our children to think highly of their own benevolence when it is God who is the true Giver.
- Receiving. Christianity is first about receiving (on our side of things)--we receive grace, forgiveness, and salvation because of the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ. Children love to receive--it’s adults who are often too proud to receive well. When your children receive a gift, train them to have hearts of gratitude towards all who give to them--because it is a reflection of how they receive Christ.
- Peace. The angels announced that the birth of Christ brings peace on earth. The world defines peace as lack of war, conflict, or trouble. True peace is a lack of hostility between God and man. This is only possible in Christ, and it gives rest in even the most difficult of holidays.
- Love. This one’s obvious, right? But does Christmas just naturally bring love out of our hearts? While our children may not have to be taught affection for their family and friends, they need to learn how to love God with all their hearts, and their neighbors as themselves. This is only learned when the love of God dwells in their hearts.
- Faith. We pray that God gives our children the grace of saving faith so they can put their trust in Christ. Christmas can be a missed opportunity to talk with them about the nature of faith. It’s not about being “good for goodness sake,” but rather resting in Christ alone for salvation.
- Life. The world offers life in all the wrong places and through all the wrong things. Christ is the giver or life. Jesus was born in order to die for our eternal life. Teach it over and over again to your children!
So even though your youngsters are out of school for Christmas break, remember that the School of Jesus never takes a holiday!
This Christmas, let’s put ourselves in the sandals of those who were expectantly waiting and preparing for the Messiah to come. Simeon was one of those longing for the Messiah. In Luke 2:29-32 he exclaims as he holds Jesus in his arms, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). As Simeon longed to see the Messiah come, so we long for Christ’s second advent, when He returns in glory to usher in His kingdom. This tension between the already and the not yet is seen in the music we sing.
Joy to the world!
The Lord is come
Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare him room
And heav’n and nature sing!
Hail the heav’n born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings
Ris’n with healing in his wings
And the not yet:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Come, thou long-expected Jesus
Born to set thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in thee.
The centerpiece of our Lessons and Carols service this year is the first movement of John Rutter’s “Gloria” and is a majestic statement of the “already.” Rutter is a contemporary English composer who wrote this musical setting of the Latin Gloria in 1974. It features a brilliant brass accompaniment to this song of the angels. Indeed, as you listen, you can imagine the pageantry and the wonder of the angels’ praise as the shepherds stood transfixed in awe.
Gloria in excelsis Deo Glory to God in the highest
The piece is bookended by the words “Gloria in excelsis Deo” set in a grand, contemporary style with lots of syncopation (stress on the weak beat) in the brass parts and much use of the big timpani drums.
Et in terra pax And on earth peace
Hominibus bonae voluntatis To men of good will
The style abruptly changes with the text, “Et in terra pax” as we literally hear the peace in the gentle harmonies of the choir.
Laudamus te We praise thee
Benedicimus te We bless thee
Adoramus te We worship thee
Glorificamus te We glorify thee
The running continual eighth note accompaniment in this section is a musical allusion to our unending praise to God for the gift of His Son.
Gratias agimus tibi Thanks we give to thee
Propter magnam gloriam Because of Thy great glory
Big, thick, six and seven-part chords express thanks for the lavish abundance of God in the giving of His Son by whom we are filled with all the fullness of God. The syncopated, accented brass accompaniment that reappears reminds me of the unexpected gifts and grace of God in the lives of His children.
Gloria in excelsis Deo Glory to God in the highest
The piece ends as it began, with a grand statement of praise to God, this time building in intensity as each voice part enters into the song of the ages, fitting for the angels to sing at Christ’s birth and fitting for us to sing as we celebrate His coming and look forward to His coming again.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
I recently attended the Getty Sing! Conference in Nashville. One of my favorite sessions was on children and music, which inspired me to write about it. Both parents and the congregation take a vow to help raise covenant children in our church. Teaching our children about the Gospel through song is a viable way to saturate their minds with rich theology at a young age. If we do not teach our children what terms like grace, mercy, and righteousness mean beginning at a young age, they will view theological terms as abstract and devoid of meaning.
Instructing and passing on our knowledge to the next generation with a rich vocabulary about Christian faith is vital. Rehearsing and verbalizing the gospel with children strengthens a child’s foundation of faith. When we give children answers before the world does, this gives them a wonderful foundation of faith to build upon before the world begins to intervene and shape them. Teaching our children hymns through singing and playing recordings of different hymns are wonderful ways to incorporate hymns into daily life.
Why should we use singing to disciple little ones?
Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Music is a way to call attention to the word of God. Singing hymns is a wonderful memory tool. Music helps children retain information in an easier way than memorizing text. When I was a little girl, I had the privilege of being taught many hymns by my parents and grandmothers. Many of the hymns are still in my memory from my childhood. Christian songs and hymns are a portable, practical, and enjoyable way to naturally dialogue about spiritual truths. This education of theologically-rich hymns gave me a wonderful foundation for my faith, and will help our future generation when they are met with the world on a daily basis.
When should we use singing with our children or family?
We should sing with our children as much as possible. Another way to instill a love for hymns is through playing recordings at home and in the car. You do not have to have musical ability to sing with your children. Have fun and make a joyful noise! Sing along to a recording if you need some assistance to get started. When children see and hear your love for something, they will imitate you. Making a short list of hymns you would like to sing with your children is a tangible way to learn a few at a time. For older children, it is a great idea to discuss lyrics and offer them to help lead in singing. There are a few different books that introduce the stories behind hymns: Hosanna Loud Hosannas, by David and Barbara Leeman, and Then Sings My Soul, by Robert J. Morgan, are two books that I have used.
Focusing on songs that our church sings is also a wonderful idea. Bulletins are usually posted on our website on Thursdays. That gives families several days to sing the hymns and songs for Sunday. Last year, we taught Cherub Choir “Nothing But the Blood”. When this hymn was used in a church service, I could see many little faces light up because they could participate in singing a hymn they knew. This allows the children to engage in worship and share in the joy of worshipping God in this way! Singing with our children is a way to connect with them. In circumstances like car rides, it is a valuable time to engage in conversation and singing with our children, being intentional about how we use those fleeting moments with them.
“May the Almighty God make you faithful in this important work of education: may he succeed your cares with his abundant graces, that the rising generation . . . may be a glory amongst the nations, a pattern to the Christian world, and a blessing to the earth.” – Isaac Watts on the importance of teaching children hymns
Have you ever noticed that even the world understands how important the principle of incarnation is? When people are in distress, what they desperately want is the presence of one who is in authority. Whether they think of a politician, a sports league commissioner, a business executive, or a pastor, they want with them a person they think can bring order to the chaos and healing to the pain. That longing for the presence of authority is met ultimately and powerfully in the gospel of Jesus Christ. When God saw His image-bearers mired in the muck of their sin, enslaved by their selfishness and pride and idolatry, He Himself appeared in the person of His Son, to visit us in our distress, to share our sadness, to save us from our sin and misery. John writes, “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” He tabernacled among us, He took up His residence here, He moved into the neighborhood and set up camp and unpacked His bags and pulled up a chair and made Himself at home. He became poor for our sakes. The Word of God, who was very God of very God (cf. 1:18), is Emmanuel, God with us.
But here’s the amazing thing: in the same way that the Father sent His Son, so the Son has sent us. In John 17:18, while praying to the Father, Jesus declares, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” The incarnation of Jesus Christ speaks volumes to the way that we should live our lives in this world. We are to be doing the work of ministry, both to those who are a part of the body of Christ and to those who are outside the body of Christ. And our ministry is to be characterized by the principle of incarnation. Putting it like that makes it sound so abstract: the principle of incarnation. But it’s the most concrete thing in the world, as concrete and real as the principle of gravity.
What, then, does incarnational living, incarnational ministry look like? How does the incarnation inform our ministry, and show us how to live in a broken and hurting world?
We take the initiative with people.
The incarnation is the shining example of what the whole Bible is at pains to put on display, what Jonah learned when he was rescued in the depths of the sea by a great fish: “Salvation is of the Lord.” The incarnation is God’s rescue mission. God saves sinners, ultimately, by coming into this world to live and die for them. God took the initiative in the incarnation. He did not wait for us to find Him. And as Jesus ministered on earth, while He certainly was reactive, He took the initiative – consider his ministry to the woman at the well, with Zaccheus, with Peter after His resurrection.
And so we too, like our Savior, are to take the initiative with people. People are hurting, they’re lonely, they’re crying inside for help, for someone to listen to them, for someone to care. And so we must take the initiative, especially with unbelievers. We must go where non-Christians are, and seek to strike up conversations about their lives, their destinies, their alienations. We must make every effort to understand them and their world and their way of thinking, so that we might engage them with the gospel. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, and so must we!
We must also to take the initiative with our fellow believers. It’s so easy to go our merry way, only focusing on ourselves and our own struggles, and to ignore completely the pain of brothers and sisters around us. To be sure, each of us has real struggles, and needs other people to be pursuing us. But we ought to be interrupting each other to find out how we can be ministering to/praying for each other.
We are willing to get deeply involved in others’ lives.
The second habit is closely related to the first – the incarnation doesn’t merely call us to take the initiative with people, but it makes us willing to get deeply involved in others’ lives. Paul sums it up in what he says to the Thessalonians: “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” What he’s saying is that ministry is about relationships – seeking not merely to bring the gospel to people, but doing that in the context of a deeply involved friendship, a commitment to knowing people, and being known, intimately. Where did John and Paul learn this, but from our Lord Jesus Christ, who was intimately involved with people throughout His ministry – not least His disciples.
This is where we need to be wise and very self-conscious about our use of technology: email, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Instagram, or all the other forms of social media are amazing ways to connect us to others in ways we couldn’t have imagined even a decade ago. But do we use them as a cover for the fact that we don’t want and don’t have authentic relationships with living, breathing human beings?
It’s certainly a lot easier to relate to people completely online. Because what happens when we become involved in deep relationships with other people offline? Well, it’s like gardening; you get the flowers and vegetables, but you also get the dirt – you become involved in their dirt as well as their beauty! You see how this point is so closely related to the first – so often, the reason we don’t take the initiative with people is because we don’t want to get involved in people’s lives. We don’t want to have to deal with what we might find when we do. The reason we don’t ask questions about how people are doing is because we really don’t want to know – if we knew the truth, we might have to do something about it, we might have to get our hands dirty with their sin or their misery, we might have to inconvenience ourselves to do something about it.
But that’s exactly what Jesus did, isn’t it? He got His hands and His fingernails dirty with our grime, He inconvenienced Himself to the point of death to serve us. He didn’t minister from a distance, He didn’t keep an arm’s length distance – rather, He was intimately involved with our suffering and grief and sin. He knew what He was in for when He chose to become a man, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Ministry begins as you seek to know someone, becoming involved in their lives, and not shrinking back when you find the skeletons in the closet.
We recognize our limitations of time and space.
You’re very likely to think, “Caleb, I can’t do this with everyone!” I don’t have time, I don’t have the emotional or physical energy. I can’t take the initiative with everyone, I can’t be deeply involved with everyone, I can’t meet everyone’s physical and spiritual needs at all once! You’re right. And neither could Jesus. Sure, as God He could be everywhere and meet every need. But He became fully man as well when He came to our world. He had the same 24 hours, the same physical body, He could only be in one place at a time. If He was in Samaria or Galilee, He wasn’t in Jerusalem. If He chose to speak to one person, He was making a conscious choice not to speak to someone else. He had to sleep, He had to work, He had to eat, He got exhausted, etc.
See the freedom this brings as we minister. Not freedom not to minister, but freedom to minister to some people around us without guilt that we aren’t ministering to everyone around us. Freedom to rest, rather than scurry trying to solve everyone’s problems. Freedom to invest yourself into a few people, rather than try to minister to everyone poorly. Jesus was limited in His human body and soul just like we are, and so He understands our limitations, and He doesn’t chide us for them. So let us minister where we are, while we are. Be with one person at a time, and when you’re with them, be with them, fully. Don’t think about all the people you’re not able to minister to at that time, but minister to the one you’re with.
Many of you can remember someone who ministered to you in this way, perhaps when you were in high school or college. That is certainly my own testimony. If you asked me what incarnational ministry looks like, my short answer would be a list of names: Craig Vanbiber and Rocky Rausch and Mac McCoy and Kevin Buchert and Lance Bourgeois and Clint Regen and Jerry Perret. These men were my youth ministers and youth leaders in high school. They entered into my life in the seventh grade, and stayed with me through my senior year in high school. They entered into all my adolescent awkwardness, all my confusion and pain stemming from my parents’ divorce, all my desire to know God and learn His Word and follow Him, all my youthful lusts and sinful idolatries. They listened to my struggles with my parents, with girls, with loneliness, with pride. They answered my questions about God and His Word. They taught me how to study the Bible, and how to live in a family, and how to be a friend. They came into my life and they let me into their lives, and I will never be the same because of them.
Whenever you meditate upon the birth of our Savior, ask yourself, is it transforming the way I minister to those around me? Has it made me more compassionate to those in need? Have you seen how the Lord has ministered to you, and do you want to minister like Him? May God make it so.
In 1543, John Calvin wrote a tract entitled On the Necessity of Reforming the Church, in which he laid out for Emperor Charles V the central reasons why Protestants were demanding reform. It is well worth reading in full. This excerpt gives a summary of why the Protestant Reformation had to occur.
“We maintain, then, that at the commencement – when God raised up Luther and others, who held forth a torch to light us into the way of salvation, and who, by their ministry, founded and reared our churches – those heads of doctrine in which the truth of our religion, those in which the pure and legitimate worship of God, and those in which the salvation of men are comprehended, were in a great measure obsolete. We maintain that the use of the sacraments was in many ways vitiated and polluted. And we maintain that the government of the church was converted into a species of foul and insufferable tyranny…
If it be inquired, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence amongst us, and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all the other parts, and consequently the whole substance of Christianity: that is, a knowledge, first, of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and, secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained. When these are keptout of view, though we may glory in the name of Christians, our profession is empty and vain. After these comes the sacrament and the government of the church, which, as they were instituted for the preservation of these branches of doctrine, ought not to be employed for any other purpose; and, indeed, the only means of ascertaining whether they are administered purely and in due form, or otherwise, is to bring them to this test. If any one is desirous of a clearer and more familiar illustration, I would say, that rule in the church, the pastoral office, and all other matters of order, resemble the body, whereas the doctrine which regulates the due worship of God, and points out the ground on which the consciences of men must rest their hope of salvation, is the soul which animates the body, renders it lively and active, and, in short, makes it not to be a dead and useless carcass.”
It’s easy to be what C. S. Lewis called a “chronological snob,” only caring about our own time period and ignoring the wisdom of those who lived before us. This particular illness probably afflicts us more than it did Lewis’ contemporaries in the middle of the twentieth century, because we live in the digital age, in which new versions of software and hardware come out nearly every year and render the older versions obsolete. Would anyone want to buy an Apple 2E from the eighties? Of course not. But is it the case that God’s truth needs to be updated as frequently as we update our technologies? On the contrary. The truth of God’s word remains the same yesterday, today, and forever. And yet it can be lost or forgotten.
Such was the case in the centuries leading up to what became known as the Protestant Reformation. During the Middle Ages, the freeness of God’s grace and salvation through faith in Christ alone increasingly became shrouded by an emphasis upon human merit and penitential works; the Scriptures were lost to the people of God and trumped by the authority of the bureaucratic church hierarchy; worship lost its biblical simplicity and became filled with idolatry and superstition; and the truth of the priesthood of all believers and divine blessing upon every lawful calling was swallowed up by a secular-sacred distinction of unbiblical proportions.
Into such a world the Lord sent godly shepherds to set things right; a few here and there in the 1300s and 1400s (John Wycliffe, John Hus, Savanorola), and a whole slew of them in the 1500s. Martin Luther was the primary catalyst, and it is his actions that “Reformation Day” recalls – nailing the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, was not an act of vandalism, but a call for an academic debate over the matter of indulgences (Luther’s theses were written in Latin, the language of scholars, and church doors served as bulletin boards in his day). Luther’s carpentry work turned out to be an act of revolution as well, because it was a catalyst for a great movement of God’s Spirit among the church. His labors, along with those of men like John Calvin, Martin Bucer, Ulrich Zwingli, Henry Bullinger, and John Knox (plus many more lesser known figures all over Europe), set the church on an entirely new course, recovering to the people of God both the word of God and the gospel of God.
On this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we celebrate the fact that the Reformers restored the word of God to the people of God. The Scriptures had been lost under heaps of unbiblical traditions, and only the priests had access to them. It wouldn’t have mattered if the common man had gotten his hands on a Bible anyway, as it was written in Latin, which only a few could read. So the Reformers set about to translate the Bible into the language of the people, and (thanks to Mr. Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the movable-type printing press in 1450) to get the Bibles into the homes of the people. Now Christians were free to be Bereans, comparing what they heard preached and taught to what was actually written (see Acts 17:11). The rallying cry of “Scripture alone!” (sola Scriptura) declared that the Bible was the only inherently authoritative norm for doctrine and practice. The Reformers discarded the accretions of manmade religion, and brought the church back to its Scriptural roots.
Second, the Reformers restored the gospel of God to the people of God. Obviously, as the church had lost the Bible, she had lost the message of salvation that the Bible taught. Grace had been replaced by merit, faith had been replaced by works, the finished work of Christ on the cross had been replaced by the continuing sacrifice of the Mass, dying and being with Jesus had been replaced by dying and going to purgatory for continued punishment from sin.
These matters came to a head when Johann Tetzel came to Luther’s town selling “indulgences.” An indulgence was essentially salvation for sale – by buying an indulgence, you could lessen the time you spent in purgatory suffering for your sins, or even help get your deceased relatives out of purgatory. As Tetzel cried out, “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs!” Luther’s 95 Theses denounced the evil of these indulgences, which were being sold to raise money for St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. The Roman Catholic Church’s false gospel was explained fully in its Council of Trent (1545-1563): God declared men righteous (He justified them) only if they were actually righteous in and of themselves; salvation was on the basis of works such as confession, penance, rote prayers, and the sacraments. Throughout Europe the Reformers began to write against these errors. They exclaimed, “No! Salvation is sola gratia (by grace alone), sola fide (through faith alone), and solus Christus (in Christ alone)! God declares sinners righteous through faith alone, on the basis of what Jesus has done in His sinless life and death as a substitute for His people. Do not steal glory from the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Priest men need to make them acceptable before God!”
As the Reformers restored to the people of God both the Word of God and the gospel of God, they were bringing back the glorious truth of the priesthood of all believers. All believers can read and interpret the Word of God, for the Holy Spirit dwells within them and enlightens their minds to understand the Word. All believers in Jesus Christ have direct access to the Father through the Son, without need of a human intermediary. And all believers serve the Lord God in whatever lawful calling God has given them; it’s not just the priests and monks and nuns who are doing “spiritual” work.
These truths are worth remembering and worth preserving, because they are at the heart of the gospel of our God and Savior. Christians of all people must never succumb to the worldview of Henry Ford, who declared, “History is bunk.” Rather, we know that there are a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on as we run the race of faith, men and women who have gone before us, who have much to teach us, and who suffered so that we might be free. I pray it will never be said of the saints at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church that we neglected or forgot history, for it is His story; indeed, He is still writing it through us. May He continue to reform His church, and keep us firm in His truth.
Can you imagine not knowing about the gospel, God’s free offer of salvation to all who believe in Jesus Christ? Can you imagine not owning a Bible? Going to church and not understanding a word that was being said? Never singing in church, but only listening to the choir sing? This was the case in the Western world in the era of history known as the Middle Ages. The church’s true treasure, the gospel was covered up with all kinds of traditions and practices dreamed up by men.
In 1984, the Statue of Liberty underwent a two-year restoration. During this time, the statue was completely covered by scaffolding. The object designed to be seen was hidden. So in the church, the gospel had become obscured by layer upon layer of extra-biblical tradition and practice. Here are a few examples.
Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” This implies that listeners are able to understand the words that are being preached. Yet in the Middle Ages, the church service was conducted in Latin, which most congregants did not understand, rather than in the native language of the people.
1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But at this time in history, faithful church members were required to go to the priest to confess their sin. The priest would impose a penance (a punishment inflicted as an outward expression of the repentance) to be carried out by the sinner and would then grant absolution or forgiveness of the confessed sin.
The church also taught that the souls of those who die with some punishment due them for their sins would enter “purgatory,” an intermediate state after death designed for suffering and purification to achieve the holiness necessary to enter heaven. Yet Jesus tells the thief on the cross, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Because of these practices, Martin Luther, a German monk, nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 30, 1517 and so began a Reformation that eventually swept across the world. Reformation comes from the root word reform and means to form again or revive; not starting over but reviving what had become dead. In his 95 Theses, Luther enumerated 95 points of debate mainly regarding the gospel, repentance, purgatory and the sale of indulgences.
God used the actions of a poor monk to bring about a revival of Biblical truth that had far-reaching consequences. Martin Luther translated the Bible from Latin to German so that his countrymen could read the Bible for themselves. He is called The Father of Congregational Singing and is credited with restoring congregational singing to the church. He considered music a gift of God that should be utilized in worship and wrote hymns for the church including the beloved hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Luther wrote, “next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits.... Our dear fathers and prophets did not desire without reason that music be always used in the churches. Hence, we have so many songs and psalms. This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might thereby remind himself that God has created man for the express purpose of praising and extolling God.”
Luther greatly influenced J.S. Bach, considered the greatest composer of the Lutheran church. Bach was a passionate believer and prolific composer of musical works totaling 1,120. 450 of those works are chorale settings (hymn arrangements), many based on Reformation hymns. Although he was born over a century after Martin Luther, Bach’s library was dominated by Luther’s writings and Luther’s hymns were prominent in many of Bach’s musical compositions. Bach also appears to have embraced Luther’s teaching on vocation, that all work can be glorifying to God and good for our neighbor and that Christian calling is for the mother and the mine worker as much as it is for the pastor and the church leader. We know this because he signed many of his compositions, both sacred and secular with the initials “S. D. G.” which stand for Soli Deo Gloria translated glory to God alone.
As we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation on October 29, 2017, we stand with the people of God around the world who will be singing, “A Mighty Fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.” May God alone receive the glory!
“The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.” Martin Luther, Thesis No. 62
I have distinct memories of holding each of my five children for the first time. My wife and I never found out the sex of our children prior to their birth, so holding them and naming them in that moment always brought about waves of emotion that were too strong to overcome. Although each of my children were light and fragile in my adult hands — some lighter than others — I knew the weight of this new life required strength I did not have.
In considering the birth of a child, it’s sobering to consider the point in history when a man and woman held their child for the first time and said, “We will call him Judas.”
What were their hopes and dreams for him? What were the moments of laughter they shared with this young boy, the memories they repeatedly shared at the table? Consider the moments of pride the Iscariots shared as their boy learned to speak and took his first steps. Surely they felt similar emotions to most parents as they witnessed the maturation process of a boy becoming a man.
The name Judas is one that’s familiar to most ears. Like Hitler, Stalin, or bin Laden, it conjures up many feelings of disdain and disgust. It leaves a haunting notion of betrayal, that seems more grave than that of Brutus and Benedict Arnold. Other traitors pale by comparison.
When it comes to notorious names, Judas is the name below all names, and appropriately so. While the aforementioned names deserve to be names that remain despised throughout the annals of history, Judas remains in a league of its own. Each of the men listed committed atrocities, some large-scale, others smaller. But Judas committed the most grievous act in the history of the world: the betrayal of the second person of the Trinity, the firstborn of all creation, the One by whom, and through whom, all things were created (Colossians 1:15–16).
In the words of John MacArthur, “Judas is the most colossal failure in all of human history. He committed the most horrible, heinous act of any individual, ever. He betrayed the perfect, sinless, holy Son of God for a handful of money.”
The name Judas is forever tarnished because of his egregious sin. But it’s not the only one.
Judas and Me
Whether it’s Judas, John, or Jennifer, all of our names have been tarnished by the sin that poisons every human heart. I may not have traded for thirty pieces of silver, or earned historical notoriety, but I too have betrayed the Son of God. There are times I’ve denied knowing him, like Peter. There have been moments of adultery, like David. I’ve murdered. Gossiped. Lied. Stolen. I’m unable to love God with my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
For Christians to grasp the weight of our sin, we must stop looking down on the name Judas as though we are on higher ground. The same temptations, cares, lusts, and greeds of Judas’s heart are in yours and mine. I get the sense that Christians often think of Judas like some character from a myth or fable. He’s just a villain, perhaps. In doing so, we separate ourselves from him, and when we do that, we are in danger of the same mistakes of Judas.
As J.C. Ryle once said, “A right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity.” Or Christ himself, “The tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13). Only those who know their sin are justified (Luke 18:14).
As John Piper has preached, “If we are ever to grasp the gospel, we must grasp the ugliness of our sin. If we never admit that we don’t just do bad things — we are bad — the gospel will never land in power. Our sins will always be healed lightly. I need to crawl into the cesspool of my heart and claw my way to the bottom, believing there’s Jesus’s blood down there, not hell. But it’s at the bottom of our sin, not only part way down.
Those who know the saving work of Jesus Christ look at the life of Judas and see themselves. Instead of seeing a person they scoff at, they look upon Judas with sobriety and even a kind of empathy, knowing that the only thing that separates them from Judas is grace.
The life of Judas should foster thoughts of humility and discernment. We are not above this man in the sense that our hearts are just as broken as his at the most basic level. Nevertheless, Christians are not Judas. We have been given a name that clothes us in righteous robes that will never fade. Even now, though broken sinners, we are heirs to an eternal throne of riches beyond our comprehension.
While we find many commonalities shared between the world’s greatest traitor, we have the name “child of God” placed upon us. Just as our birth name was placed upon us apart from our doing, the name given to us at our new birth was also given apart from our doing. The name of “enemy” was removed, and “child” was bestowed. It has been fixed upon our hearts and “no power of hell, no scheme of man” can remove it.
We have been given this name because that one with the name above all names, Jesus Christ, left his throne, came to earth, lived a perfect life, and died an atoning death in the place of his children. He has conquered sin, he has conquered death, and he has secured a place for those children who still act a bit like Judas at times.
Christians are sobered by the sin that remains in our hearts. We feel sorrow from the price our Savior paid to remove our stained garments. But we also rejoice in the finished work of Jesus Christ and know that, one day soon, we will feel his embrace and thank the God-man who gave us a new name.