Our Hope

miracle-of-jesus-birth-baby-in-manger-christmas-motion-background_rcfe-4xagx_thumbnail-small01

Christmas morning. What a glorious day. Not literally, its cloudy and overcast. But spiritually it’s a day of rejoicing. Before the first Christmas the world was without hope. Sin reigned unchecked in the lives of all people, enslaving them into perpetual sorrow and eternal ruin. Death loomed over mankind without mercy, taking whom he willed when he willed. Before Christmas the grave opened its jaws with a fervent greed, believing that every soul consumed was forever lost. Darkness and evil rode upon the clouds causing the winds of despair to prevail in the hearts of men.

But then it happened. A baby was born. Not just any baby. The Son of God. The eternal Son of God. Let that sink in. He who is the eternal One, the everlasting God disrobed himself of his glory and clothed himself with flesh. The creator of all things now lay in a feed trough surrounded by poor parents and farm animals. The angels saw it and marveled. They rejoiced with an exceedingly great joy. The wise men discovered the birth and found him. They too rejoiced with unrelenting joy. Shepherds were told of the marvel, and they went and told all in whom they came in contact with.

On that morning hope dawned in the world. It was at first a faint flicker against the thick darkness of the world. But the darkness saw it and feared. God’s light was not to be seen in the realm of darkness and death. In desperation the darkness sought to shroud the light in death. The voices of the male children cried out from their graves. Mary and Joseph fled far away to save their lives. The darkness smiled. In its arrogance, it thought the light had been put out.

Silence. There was no hint of the light for another thirty years. The darkness was trampling upon the sons of men. Death, despair, fear, hatred, enmity, and strife continued unabated. The darkness was pleased. But then it happened. A miracle occurred. Light sang out into the darkness. It was a loud, piercing sound. It shook the gates of hell to its very foundations. The Son of God emerged. In the spiritual realm his glory was unveiled. The demons trembled. They begged him, “Do not torture us before the time!” They ran away from him in every direction, even hiding in the flesh of pigs to escape the piercing of his glory.

The Son of God marched in triumph over the powers of darkness. He raised the dead. He healed the sick, he gave sight to the blind. But then he did the unexpected. When the powers of darkness marshalled their army against him, he gave himself into their hands. They mocked him. They lied about him. They tortured him. And they finally killed him in the most humiliating and torturous way they could invent. The slow death of a cross.

He died. The glorious Son of God died on that cross. Hell sneered in victory. The darkness mocked. Evil’s greatest victory was won. Death eagerly embraced the Son of God. The grave enthusiastically opened its jaws. All was lost. The light was put out.

But only for a moment. Before the stench of death could set it, it happened. The light burst forth with an exploding power that death had never seen or experienced. It made every other light that ever shined look like a shadow by comparison. As this light rang out, it brought eternal ruin and devastation to the kingdom of darkness. Its foundations collapsed. Its gates fell. Its palaces crumbled. Its rulers ran away in fear. Death collapsed in despair. The grave was opened, the strength of its jaws broken.

The King of glory burst forth from the grave. He shined forth the light and life of the eternal God. He stood in victory over the enemy that was once so feared. Hope poured into the world. Love flowed from the light into any and all who would receive it.

And a door was opened.
The Father, he stood
Holding his arms to receive all who would
Come unto him broken by sin
To be free from death.
Eternal life for all who left
The world of despair, forever broken.
Guarantee, the Spirit our token
Now sons of God
Forever at rest.

Agonizing Joy

cross_0504

“And what communion has light with darkness? God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (2 Corinthians 6:14, 1 John 1:5).

Light and darkness are incompatible. Where the one is the other must flee. When I was a non-believer I detested the things of God. God was offensive to me. Of course, I couched my contempt for God in a different language. I cloaked my disdain in the language of righteous indignation. I piously proclaimed my own righteousness while heaping disdain on those who might dare to point out my deception. Then one day the light itself came. Uninvited, it entered my sphere of consciousness and began as a dim glow. Even when the light was barely visible it was enough to cleave the darkness that clung to my soul. It was through the light of the gospel that I began to see how the darkness obscured what was real. It not only clung to me, it enveloped me. It had entered my soul and was forming it, shaping it, sculpting it to become something entirely foreign to what God had created it to be. Of course, at the time I did not know that God had created my soul with a purpose – until the light came. Absent this understanding I let the dark shape me, believing that’s what I wanted.

At first it was painful. Upon entering one’s life the light hurts. There is an agonizing power in the light. First, it reveals what really is there. Part of the pain is in seeing this reality. All pretense to self-righteousness evaporates in its presence. It showed me who I really was. It showed me that my identity was far removed from the fantasies the darkness whispered to me in the night. It revealed to me what I desperately did not want to see. Looking into the mirror with the light on is not the same as Continue reading

The Joyful Struggle

“To be almost saved is to be totally lost.” I once had that statement displayed on the marquee in my last church. This morning I heard a young preacher preach a message on the same topic. “Almost” does not cut it in the kingdom of God.

The problem is that genuine faith can be easy to fake. There is a Christian veneer that is easily placed over a darkened heart. It is possible to sing praise songs, pray eloquently and have a nice big smile on your face; but at the same time have a heart polluted with sin and unbelief. Our actions don’t always demonstrate the true condition of our heart.

Yet, in every church and throughout time in every generation, there are those who convince themselves they are genuine when they are not.

Ultimately only the Lord knows who belongs to Him. But don’t you want to know that you do belong to Him? Of course you do! The interesting fact is that the Bible creates a tension at this point. We are told that we can have assurance (Eph 1:13-14; John 10:28-29); and we are also told that there are people who have assurance, but are not warranted in doing so (Matt 7:21-23; 25:11-12).

Fear not. There is really no reason to ever doubt your salvation. People who believe they are saved, but who, in fact, are not, don’t think about such things. Their Christianity is skin deep and carefree. They don’t struggle with personal holiness. They don’t wrestle with sin. Repentance is something that is only an intellectual fancy for them, not an experiential reality. They worship only through outward actions, not through an inward, introspective seeking and communion with God. The idea of witnessing about the death and resurrection of Christ sounds great to them, but they have never done it – in fact, that’s what they pay others to do!

In short, if you ever worry about whether or not you are really saved, have no fear. The genuine Christian understands that he/she falls short of God’s glory. As a result, he/she does worry; but it’s a worry generated from a dissatisfaction with worldly living. This dissatisfaction drives the true believer to have a heartfelt desire to excel in the things of God.

For those who are not truly saved, not so much. They have never experienced any dissatisfaction in their spiritual life. They are happy and carefree – but only for a short time.

Genuine Christianity is a struggle. Those who have labored in the struggle are marked by a sense of humility. They know they are saved by faith. In fact, they have come to a point where they really know, both experientially and intellectually, that there is no good in them and that their salvation is all because of Jesus Christ.

Not only is there a sense of humility with the genuine Christian, but there is also a sense of dependency. The genuine Christian has learned to walk with Christ. They have learned the meaning of Jesus’ words when He said, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). They know that everything pertaining to the Christian life – strength, wisdom, faith etc. – all find their source in Christ. They have learned that Jesus alone is sufficient for all their needs (Phil 4:13).

But the genuine Christian is also marked by a stubborn joy. Because they understand that salvation is all the work of Christ, they have learned to enter the Sabbath rest of God. In so doing, they no longer seek to earn God’s approval. They understand what it means to be accepted in the beloved. Further, they are joyful because they have learned be content in whatever state they are. Their joy is stubborn, because the world cannot take it away from them. Because they are content, they no longer worry about tomorrow. Because they are accepted, they are able to enjoy the love and grace of God today.

To be a genuine Christian is to live between two worlds – almost, but not yet. It is to have a dissatisfaction with worldly living while seeking to grow in heavenly graces. It is to understand that too much of the world is in me and not enough of heaven; yet, it is also to recognize that all of heaven is mine – its joys, victories and satisfaction. Praise be to God!

Here’s to the struggle and joy of being a Christian!

Set Free!

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners …” (1 Tim. 1:15). If the message of Easter could be summed up in one sentence, this is it. Easter is about God saving sinners through the sacrifice of His precious, sinless Son.

But what does it mean to be saved? We use the word, but sometimes lose sight of its meaning. To be saved is to be delivered from the wrath of God (Eph 5:6; Col 3:6; Rev 14:19). In: John 3:18 Jesus said, “Whoever believes in him (referring to Himself) is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already.” Notice the words, “Condemned already.”

God gave the judgment that “The wages of sin is death.” This judgment is past tense. This means that the sentence for sin has already been reached. The wrath of God which is coming against the world is not the verdict against our sin – that has already been given – but the sentence which follows the verdict.

When a man on death row is waiting for his day to come, his attorney seeks to have his sentence commuted. Biblical salvation is like that. But from our perspective, our sentence isn’t simply commuted, it is altogether erased. Through Jesus Christ we are given the ultimate pardon.

Because we are pardoned when we leave the prison house, our past does not follow us. When God pardons us through Christ, our record is completely erased. There are no labels that follow a pardoned sinner like those that follow an ex-convict. We are truly given a new life.

But of course, this pardon isn’t free. It comes at a great cost to God Himself. He sent His only Son into the world so that He would receive God’s wrath in our place. The reason we receive such a wonderful pardon is because the sentence of death was, in fact, carried out against our sin. When Jesus hung on the cross, all our sins were placed on Him; and as a result He experienced the wrath of God in our place.

Therefore, God hasn’t simply overlooked our sin. The verdict of death was not commuted. The sentence was carried out to the letter. Jesus paid it all. His blood was shed so that ours would not have to be. By His blood, we are saved (Rev 1:5).

The Bible says, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9).

Easter is about Jesus coming into the world to save us sinners. There is much joy when a condemned man has his sentence commuted. Even as he is led to another prison he has a smile on his face. How much more should we rejoice and thank God for His indescribable gift that has set us free?

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).