Friday, October 30, 2009

Behold, the Lamb of God - John 1:29

"The next day he saw Jesus coming to him,
and said,
"Behold, the Lamb of God
who takes away the sins of the world!"
(vs 29)

Here is a dynamite packed verse. These words about the Messiah are precious and are filled to overflowing with encouragement, challenge and hope for us.

John the Baptist, this amazing man of humble boldness, sees Christ coming and makes a glorious declaration - one that we would do well to add to our regular conversation about our Lord. His sermon that day is: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!"

This morning, I want to take a step by step look at what John says.

"Behold..." - We would all do well to stop and behold the Lord Jesus Christ. We ought to gaze upon His nature and works. We should look upon Him in faith, repentance, praise, and awe. We have much need to marvel at His marvelous mercy. It would behoove us to behold Him - to truly behold Him! We should fix the eyes of our heart upon the incarnate Word who has become the sacrificial Lamb! Matthew Henry writes: "It is our duty to behold Him! See what He has done and let that increase our hatred of sin and increase our love of Christ!" Am I living my life with the eyes of faith focused in a beholding fashion upon this Lamb who has died for me? Sadly, I must answer, "not nearly enough"!

"...the Lamb of God..." - J.C. Ryle's comments stirred my heart this day and I share them here:

"This name did not merely mean, as some have supposed, that Christ was meek and gentle as a lamb. This would be truth, no doubt, but only a very small portion of the truth. There are greater things here than this! It meant that Christ was the great Sacrifice for sin, who was come to make atonement for transgression by His own death upon the cross. He was the true Lamb which Abraham told Isaac at Moriah that God would provide. He was the true Lamb to which every morning and evening sacrifice in the temple had daily pointed. He was the Lamb of which Isaiah had prophesied, that He would be brought to the slaughter. He was the true Lamb of which the passover lamb had been a vivid type. In short, He was the great propitiation for sin which God had covenanted from all eternity to send into the world. He was God's Lamb!

"Let us take heed that in all our thoughts of Christ, we first think of Him as John the Baptist here represents Him. Let us serve Him faithfully as our Master. Let us obey Him loyally as our King, Let us study His teaching as our Prophet. Let us walk diligently after Him as our Example. Let us look anxiously for Him as our coming Redeemer of body as well as soul. But above all, let us prize Him as our Sacrifice, and rest our whole weight on His death as an atonement for sin. Let His blood be more precious in our eyes every year we live. Whatever else we glory in about Christ, let us glory above all things in His cross. This is the corner stone, this is the citadel, this is the root of true Christian theology. We know nothing rightly about Christ, until we see Him with John the Baptist's eyes, and can rejoice in Him as "the Lamb that was slain."

"...who takes away the sin of the world." - This Lamb came to accomplish something. He came to save and that is exactly what He did! Again I turn to Ryle:

"Christ is a Saviour. He did not come on earth to be a conqueror, or a philosopher, or a mere teacher of morality. He came to save sinners. He came to do that which man could never do for himself, - to do that which money and learning could never obtain, - to do that which is essential to man's real happiness: He came to 'take away sin.'

"Christ is a complete Saviour. He "taketh away sin." He did not merely make vague proclamations of pardon, mercy and forgiveness. He 'took' our sins upon Himself, and carried them away. He allowed them to be laid upon Himself, and 'bore them in His own body on the tree.' The sins of every one that believes on Jesus are made as though they had never been sinned at all. The Lamb of God has taken them clean away.

"Christ is an almighty Saviour, and a Saviour for all mankind. He 'taketh away the sins of the world.' He did not die for the Jews only, but for the Gentile as well as the Jew. He did not suffer for a few persons only, but for all mankind. The payment that He made on the cross was more than enough to make satisfaction for the debts of all. The blood that He shed was precious enough to wash away the sins of all. His atonement on the cross was sufficient for all mankind, though efficient only to them that believe. The sin that He took up and bore on the cross was the sin of the whole world."

Oh friends, what glorious truths! Does not your heart leap at the thought of them? How we need to behold Him! Behold the Lamb of God - the great Shepherd of the sheep who became the gruesome sacrificial Lamb - He is our Surety and our Sacrifice - in Him alone is our redemption!

Behold Him who takes away the sin of the world. This Lamb has removed from me the guilt and the power of sin - and not only from me but from multitudes more numerous than the sands of the seashore and the stars of the heavens. How great, how mighty, how marvelous, how awesome and how worthy of our adoration and praise is this Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

May John's sermon be our own and may it ring truer and sweeter to us every moment of our lives.

"Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!"

Longing to behold Him more and more,

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Lesson in Humility - John 1:19-27

"And this is the witness of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, 'Who are you?' And he confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, 'I am not the Christ.' And they asked him, 'What then? Are you Elijah?' And he said, 'I am not.' 'Are you the Prophet?' And he answered 'No.' They said then to him, 'Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?' He said, 'I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'make straight the way of the LORD,' as Isaiah the prophet said.'
Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said to him, 'Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?' John answered them saying, 'I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. It is He who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.'"
(vs 19-27)

Jesus is recorded as saying "Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist" (Mt 11:11). Truly he was a great man as far as men go.

As great as John was he is also one of the greatest examples of humility that we find in the entirity of Scripture. There is much to learn and much to emualte in him.

Something about this baptizing preacher caught the attention of the religious leaders. They wanted to know more about him and so they sent an investigating party to find out what they could of him. "Who are you?" they ask.

John could have told them a mouthful. He could have tooted his own horn. He could have patted himself on the back. He could have - but he didn't. He took no credit or honor to himself but pointed them to the Word of God and to the promised Messiah.

"Who am I? I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'make straight the way of the LORD,' as Isaiah the prophet said. I am not He, I am simply a messenger earnestly crying out for you to be ready for His coming. It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie."

Oh friends, if John the Baptist - the only prophesied one outside of Christ in the Old Testament - considered himself far too unworthy even to be a shoe slave of Christ, how much more unworthy should we count ourselves? I for one am far too proud and am praying for grace to learn a lesson in true humility from this precious crier of Christ.

Unworthy in myself, made worthy in Christ,

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Born of God - John 1:12-13

"But to as many as received Him,
to them He gave the right
to become children of God,
even to those who believe in His name,
who were born not of blood,
nor of the will of the flesh,
nor of the will of man,
but of God."
(vs 12-13)

There are beautiful truths contained in these two verses. Here we find the promise of our adoption in Christ: receive Him and receive the right of sonship. Think about it, we who were naturally born children of wrath, orphans of sin, and absolute enemies of the living God are - through faith in Christ - made sons and daughters and heirs eternal. Is anything more amazing or more precious to meditate upon?

These verses remind us, as Matthew Henry has said, that "grace does not run in the blood as corruption does." Sin is genetically inherited, but grace is sovereignly given!

We cannot earn salvation by our birth right. It is not guaranteed to us because it is owned by our parents. We cannot will it into existance and as John 1:5 reminds us, we never even would want to will it if left to ourselves for the darkness of sin is so deep and its effects so blinding that we cannot even comprehend our need for the Light!

Beloved, salvation is a free gift of God. We are not naturally born children of God - we are naturally born children of the devil - and that is why we must be adopted. We belong to another and must be legally transferred into the guardianship of a new Father. It is Christ who legally seals the deal and makes us His siblings.

Oh, do we think often enough regarding that which Christ has done on our behalf? "The Son of God became a son of man, that the sons of men might become sons of God!" Your adoption is not of your doing but of God's. Your status as His child is grounded in His divine will not in yours. We owe ALL to Him and none to us. May that fact humble our pride and magnify our love for our Father and for our Elder Brother.

Amazed to be His child,

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Excellency of Christ & The Evil of Sin - John 1

"In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being by Him,
and apart from Him
nothing came into being that has come into being.
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
And the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not comprehend it."
(vs 1-5)

Just before we left for our month-long sabbatical, I finished an in-depth study through the book of Hebrews. Those of you who follow this blog are well aware of that and are probably glad that I've finally moved on to something else! :)

Hebrews was an incredibly beneficial series for me. In it I found great help and hope as I gazed upon the substitutionary work of Christ, my Great High Priest. That study helped me begin to take my eyes off of my own faithLESSness and fix my sight upon His completely sufficient faithFULness on my behalf.

While Phillip and the kids and I were away, I began looking at the gospel of John. The current path that all-wise Providence has personally placed me on is causing me to become increasingly aware of my great need for Christ and therefore, I have conscientiously sought to camp out in the gospel of this dearly beloved disciple.

John's gospel is full of Jesus - His person and His power, His miracles and His majesty. Those are things that I desperately need to dwell on. So, here I am - and if you're reading this, here you are too!

The book begins with a powerful declaration of just who Jesus is. These 5 verses contain an incredibly succint and amazingly magnificent statement on the person and nature of our Savior. These are precious words worthy of our utmost attention - so may we heed what we read!

First - we are told that Christ, the living Word, was "in" the beginning. The text does not say that He was "from" the beginning as was the world. No, Christ has always been! Matthew Henry writes: "The world was FROM the beginning, the Word was IN the beginning. The Word had a being before the world had a beginning." The Lord Jesus Christ is eternal. He was not made but is the Maker of all. "All things came into being by Him, and apart from him nothing came into being that has come into being."

Second -it is clearly implied that Christ, the living Word, is both with God and IS God. In verse one we see both the distinctiveness between the Father and the Son as well as the unity of the two. Christ was "with" God - distinction. Christ "was" God - unity. Here is a glimpse at the truth of the Trinity. One God existing in three persons one in substance and power and eternity. Got it? Understand it? Of course not - at least not fully!

The Trinity is a mystery to be believed from the Word of God not a doctrine to be fully understood. We can see it throughout the pages of Scripture, yet we struggle to connect all the dots in our frail and feeble minds. Instead of floundering in frustration over our inability to fully grasp the mystery, we should actually find great comfort in our mental shortcomings. God is infinite and we are finite. He is incomprehensible and we, as mere creatures, will never be able to fully take in all that He is. Can a mere tea cup hold all the waters of the ocean? No! And if it could then the ocean wouldn't be all that great and grand after all!

In the same way, if we could grasp all that God is, if we could contain all of the intricasies of deity in our human minds, if we could succinctly and sufficiently answer all of our questions about Him then, in reality, He wouldn't be any greater than we are at all, and certainly not worthy of our worship and our lives! Personally, as I grow older, I am finding great comfort in the unanswerable mysteries of His majesty. Moses writes:

"The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things
revealed belong to us and to our sons forever..." (Dt 29:29).

There is much that is secret and much that belongs only to the omniscient mind of God. Those things I will never be able to comprehend and that inability points me to my utter dependence upon Him. However, there is much more that He has revealed in His Word than I will ever be able to fully take in. You know, I'd save myself a lot of trouble if I spent more time meditating on the revealed rather than musing over the secret!

Finally - it is declared that Christ, the living Word, is the source of all the life and light that we have. "In Him was life and that life was the light of men." Any understanding, any deliverance from the deeds of death and darkness, any spiritual insight that we have has come from Him. We owe all that we have to Christ.

Jesus Christ is God. He is eternal God. He is creator God. He is life giving God. He is light giving God. How great, how awesome, how mighty, how majestic is the Lord Jesus Christ!! Do we ever dwell on Him enough?! This is He who left heaven's throne room to enter earth's cattle stall!

J.C. Ryle, in his commentary on the book of John poses an incredibly thought provoking idea regarding the greatness of Christ. His words have caused me to pause this day. He writes:

"Would we know for one thing the exceeding sinfulnesss of sin? Let us often read these first five verses. Let us mark what kind of being the Redeemer of mankind needs be, in order to provide eternal redemption for sinners. If no one less than the eternal God, the Creator and preserver of all things, could take away the sin of the world, sin must be a far more abominable thing in the sight of God than most men suppose. The right measure of sin's sinfulness is the dignity of Him who came into the world to save sinners. If Christ is so great, then sin must indeed be sinful!"

That sheds a new light on John 1:1-5 for me and I pray the Holy Spirit will use it to shine a new hatred of sin and love of Christ in my heart - and in yours too. My Jesus, I love thee - but not nearly enough. Increase my passion for you and decrease my passion for sin.

Looking to Him in whom is life and light,

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Blessed Benediction - Hebrew 13:20-21

"Now the God of peace,
who brought up from the dead
the great Shepherd of the sheep
through the blood of the eternal covenant,
even Jesus our Lord,
equip you in every good thing to do His will,
working in us that which is pleasing in His sight,
through Jesus Christ,
to whom be the glory forever and ever.
(vs 20-21)

This book that began with Christ - the final Word, and that has been filled with Christ - the Great High Priest, now ends with Christ - the Great Shepherd of the sheep.

Hebrews has been about Jesus. My husband sent me to this great book because of its Christocentric nature and he was right. I have seen Jesus as the Prophet, Priest and King. Who He is, what He has done, and the difference that should make in my life has been evident.

Now, in these closing words I see Him once again. Here is the God ordained Great Shepherd of me, this dumb and often straying sheep. Here is the Shepherd who gave Himself for me. Christ shed His blood that I might not have to shed mine and yet in His divine power He did not remain dead but rose victorious from the grave sealing my salvation through the blood of the eternal covenant!

It is in Him, through Him and by Him alone that I am equipped to do that which God has called me to. On my own I can do nothing. In Him I can do all things. It is through Christ that God works in us that which is pleasing in His sight.

How great is this Christ who has done it all. It is He who has made us. It is He who has saved us. It is He who keeps us from falling. It is He who enables us to obey. It is all of Him and none of us.

No wonder the apostle loudly proclaims "to whom be all the glory forever and ever. Amen."

May that Amen resound from our lips and lives by grace through faith in this glorious Christ! To Him be ALL the glory forever and ever. Amen!

In His glorious grace,

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Closing Comments on Christian Character - Hebrews 13

I've always read these closing verses of Hebrews and wondered what in the world was going on. They've seemed somewhat disjunctive, unconnected, and as if the apostle was running out of time in his sermon and just needed to rattle off some random thoughts. This morning, I'm seeing them differently.

While it is true that these are his closing thoughts to the people of God, they are thoughts with a purpose. Here he is holding out to us a final list and a firm call to those duties which belong to us as the called of Christ. I noted 10 specific duties today.

1. Brotherly love. "Let love of the brethren continue."

Henry writes: "The spirit of Christianity is a spirit of love. The true religion is the strongest bond of friendship. Christians should always love and live as brethren and the more they grow in devout affection to God their heavenly Father, the more they will grow in love to one another for His sake."

Do I love the brethren and if I answer yes to the question, then what does it practically look like in my life? We are to love in action and in deed and not simply in word and tongue.

2. Hospitality. "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it."

We are to allow our brothers and sisters not only into our hearts but into our homes. Are our homes open to the body of Christ and if not, why not?

3. Christian sympathy. "Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body."

We may be free now, but freedom is not a promised privilege this side of heaven. Many across our world are suffering in bonds for the cause of Christ. How are our hearts towards them and how fervent are our prayers for them?

4. Purity and chastity. "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge."

Here's a cultural argument starter for you! Yet clearly, that which is a flagrant and flamboyantly proud sin in our day and time was an issue in theirs as well. There is nothing new under the sun. God has created man and woman. God has instituted marriage. God has invented sex. Who knows best how and in what context we should relate to one another? Clearly it is God! He who thought up this intimate idea of pleasure and procreation certainly knows best how it should be used.

Years ago when I was in youth ministry this issue regularly came up, particularly with my kids who were from non-Christian families. "What could it hurt?" they would ask. I often responded to them in this way: "If I were to toss a pile of wood in the middle of the room and set it on fire would that be a good thing?" "NO - you'd burn the church down!!" "Come on though, it's just a fire. It'll be the same light and heat that we often enjoy in front of the fire place - what's wrong with it?" "It'll burn down the church, Lori. There's no fire place to keep it contained." "Oh, so burning the fire in the context of the fireplace is a good and safe thing that will bring us light and heat in a wonderful environment and we will find much joy and peace through using that wood and that match as it is intended. But if we do it outside the bounds of the fire place we'll be in a big mess."

Sexual intimacy is the same. In the context in which God has created and intended it (the fireplace of marriage) it is a good and wonderful thing that will bring much pleasure - without pain or guilt - for a lifetime. However, when done outside of the bonds of marriage (the fire in the middle of the room) it will most certainly bring some form of destruction. Either it will burn down the whole house or will at a minimum bring about smoke damage and a burned hole in the carpet.

Keep the marriage bed pure - before and after marriage. Keep it pure in your actions and in your thoughts. Trust the God who created it to know best how to use it!

5. Christian contentment. "Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said: 'I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,' so that we confidently say, 'The LORD is my helper, I will not be afraid, what shall man do to me?'"

This one truly struck a note with me this morning. I have MUCH need for contentment as do we all. I can grumble and complain witht the best of them - and sadly, often do! On this issue, Mr. Henry wrote:

"We must take care to keep this sin down and root it out of our souls. We are to be satisfied and pleased with such things as we have. What God gives us from day to day we must be content with. Paul, though abased and empty, had learned in every state and in any state, to be content."

Friends, the text here gives us the grand motivation for contentment. It is because God will never desert or forsake us. We can be content with our lot because we always have God in our lot. Our discontentment boils down to idolatry. We want something more than God. We deem that He is not enough for us and therefore we are discontent and covetous. Oh Lord, help us to repent of this sin and to see you as our all in all. You are our helper and our provider - what more could we need - what better could we devise for ourselves than what You have ordained?!

6. Duty to ministers. "Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate thier faith."

We are not to forget those who have built us up in the faith. We need to pray for them, encourage them and follow them as they follow Christ.

7. Duty to suffer. "Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Hence, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach."

A servant is not above his master and we are not above the suffering Savior. May we be willing to follow in His footsteps and carry whatever cross our calling demands.

8. Duty to praise God. "Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name."

We were created to worship God. We were saved by Christ that we might be able to. Are we serious about this duty? Do we relegate it to one hour, one day a week or is the praise of God continually on our lips, in our hearts, and reflected in our lives? It is a continual sacrifice of praise that we are to offer to this glorious God!

9. Duty of giving. "And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased."

For the Christian, life is not about getting but about giving freely from the grace we have received. God has given that we might give.

10. Duty of obedience and submission to leaders. "Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will given an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. Prya for us...."

It is interesting to me that our ecclesiastical ministers are mentioned twice in this chapter. Here we are reminded that "Christians must submit to and be instructed by their leaders and not think themselves too wise, too good, or too great to learn from them. They must obey them. " The duties of leaders are also held forth. "Ministers are to watch over the sould of their people. Watch against all that is hurtful and watch for all opportunities that will be helpful."

This is a duty that is often disdained but may we delight in it and seek to be in a church whose leaders are truly carrying out their duties that ours may not be a drudgery. May we learn from, submit to and pray for those whom God has placed in authority over us.

10 duties. I can NOT do them on my own. They will weigh me down and wear me out if done in my own strenght. I will falter and fail repeatedly if I strive to do them myself. However - I can do all things THROUGH Christ who strengthens me. So, to Him I flee this day in humble reliance for the grace and power necessary to do my duty and to live as He would have me. I pray you will do the same.

In His glorious grace,