Why Be Thankful?

I’m glad today to live where I do and when I do. I’m grateful for all who have sacrificed and served to give me what I have. I am grateful for the opportunities and the freedoms that I experience. I’m grateful to have family, friends, and a church who love me. And these are not the primary reason I’m thankful today.

Why be thankful? I am created by the God who made the universe. He gave me value and a purpose. And I, like all of humanity, promptly refused to fulfill that purpose. I have failed to be perfect from conception forward. And the God who made me could very rightly have cast me into hell immediately.

I am grateful, however, because the God who made me, against whom I have rebelled, chose to rescue me. God the Father sent Jesus, God the Son, into the world as a man to accomplish some amazing things. Jesus lived a perfect human life—the life I should have lived but could not. Jesus died as a sacrifice on the cross—suffering the death I deserve to die. Jesus rose from the grave—a feat I could have never accomplished and which proves his success and his glorious identity. And Jesus brought me salvation.

God has said that all who will repent and believe, all who will genuinely come to Jesus and Jesus alone for salvation, will be saved. When God brought me to trust in Jesus, he gave me glorious gifts. God applied to my account the perfect life that Jesus lived. It is as if his perfect test score is written down on my score sheet. God also applied Jesus’ death to cover my sin—he died a death that would have cost me an eternity in hell. And God proclaims to me that Jesus’ resurrection is my own. Now, because of Jesus and Jesus alone, I know that eternity in joy with the Lord is my forever home.

Why am I grateful? It has nothing to do with politics, health, wealth, prosperity, family, food, music, or the rest. All good things are gifts that ultimately remind us of the good God who made us and who sent his Son to be our Savior. And I encourage you, be thankful like this. Be thankful for Jesus.

And if you do not have his salvation, come to Jesus for life. How? Believe that God made you. Believe that you have sinned in falling short of God’s perfection. Understand that you can do nothing on your own to bridge the gap between you and the Lord. Entrust your soul to Jesus, placing all your hope for all your eternity in Jesus and his finished work. Admit you are a sinner and ask Jesus to forgive you. Surrender your life to his lordship. By the grace of God, truly believe in Jesus, and you will be saved. And that salvation will change your life, reorient your priorities, and grant you the forgiveness and eternal hope that will give you true reasons for gratitude.

God Provides His Own Lamb

H – Highlight

Genesis 22:8 – Abraham said, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together.

E – Explain

God tested Abraham with a command to sacrifice Isaac. Of course, Isaac was the fulfillment of God’s promise that Abraham himself would have a son with Sarah. And Isaac was to carry the promise of god.

When Isaac noticed that they had everything they needed to make an offering to God other than a lamb, he asked his dad. Abraham confidently tells Isaac that the Lord will provide his own lamb.

A – Apply

It is hard to say if Abraham knew how meaningful his words would be. We only understand it later. Abraham knew that God would solve the problem with Isaac. Abraham believed God, and his faith did not waiver here. But I wonder if Abraham knew that, in ultimate reality, God would provide his own Lamb, the Lamb of God, to pay for the sins of all he would save.

This text calls on me to understand that God provides what is necessary for my salvation. I could never have provided the needed Lamb for my sin. No animal could take my place and cover my sin. Only Jesus, the Son of God and the perfect Lamb of God, could do this.

R – Respond

Prayer: Lord, I thank you for providing for yourself the Lamb. I could never have covered my own sin. This should make me grateful and humble. Help me to remember Jesus and be wonderfully grateful that you chose to do the impossible to save my soul. Help me live to glorify you, as you did all the work to save my soul.

Faith Alone

H – Highlight

Genesis 15:6 – And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

E – Explain

Abram was uncertain as to how God would fulfill his promise to him early in chapter 15. God had said Abram would have a family that would grow into a nation, but Abram and his wife had no children. When Abram asked God how this would work, God told Abram again that he would have as many descendants as he can see stars in the sky.

Abram believed God. And when Abram believed God, the Lord credited Abram with righteousness. Instead of Abram living a righteous life, fully sinless and perfect, God took Abram’s faith and credited Abram with a record of righteousness.

A – Apply

This verse got my attention because it is one of the most significant verses in all of Scripture. It lays a foundation for us to see that we do not please God by being good. Instead, God sees our faith, a faith that is a gift from him (Eph. 2:8), and he grants to us a record of righteousness.

R – Respond

Prayer: Lord, I’m so grateful that salvation is by your grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. I’m grateful that you give us our faith as a gift. Thus, I see that my salvation is completely of your doing, by your grace, and for your glory. I praise you for this gift. I acknowledge here and now that I have never been good enough to earn anything but your judgment. I thank you for Jesus.

Working Salvation with Your Own Hand

Gospel is found all throughout the Old Testament. We see clear pointers to Jesus in the tabernacle, in the Passover, in Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac, or in Noah’s ark. But we can also find pictures of the gospel in places we do not expect as well.

I found myself thinking of the more subtle presence of the gospel when reading about three strange yet similar incidents in the life of David in 1 Samuel 24-26. In 1 Samuel 24, David has the chance to kill King Saul in a cave. David nearly does, but instead cuts off a corner of the king’s robe. And David feels guilt for stretching out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and repents. In 1 Samuel 25, David straps on his sword and moves to kill Nabal, a foolish man who insulted him. Abigail, a godly woman, intercedes with David and prevents him from killing the unworthy Nabal. In 1 Samuel 26, David will not allow Abishai to strike Saul down when they sneaked into the camp of Israel and took Saul’s spear and water pitcher.

Where do I see gospel in these incidents? Look at David’s response to Abigail.

1 Samuel 25:32-33 – 32 And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! 33 Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand!

David thanked Abigail for keeping him from working salvation with his own hand. Tie that thought back to the incident with Saul in the cave or in the camp, and you will see that, in those incidents too, David did not use his own strength to accomplish his own physical salvation. And there is where I think the gospel pointer is found. In our salvation, the one thing that we cannot do is accomplish our own salvation by the strength of our own hands.

When we are lost, we have no hope of saving ourselves. The offense we have committed in sinning against the Lord is infinitely great. We could never pay the penalty for our own sin without spending eternity in hell. Also, the gap between our own righteousness and that required by God for us to be welcome in his presence is infinite. Thus, we cannot behave well enough, even were we to be perfect from today forward, to earn entrance into the presence of the Lord. No, we cannot accomplish our own salvation by our own hands. We must instead trust in the Lord to accomplish our salvation for us.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is that Jesus, God the Son, has in fact accomplished our salvation for us. Jesus pays our penalty, a debt we could never repay. The Lord imputes to us Christ’s righteousness, granting us the ability to stand in God’s presence which we could never earn. And all of this comes to us, not by our works, but by God’s grace through faith in Christ.

The temptation to earn your way into God’s favor is a large one. And it is an anti-gospel. Thus, we should praise God for every picture he gives us to remind us that we are not to seek to work our own salvation.

God is Different Than People Think

You know why Scripture is such a gift? You could never know God without his revealing himself in his word. If God does not tell us what he is like, if we do not pay attention, we will totally have the wrong image in our minds as to who god is, what he does, and what he requires.

I Thought of this in a read through Exodus 19-20. In that passage, the text around the original giving of the Ten Commandments, God makes some restrictions on the people that do not sound like what many around you think God is like.

Why do I say this? In our world, most people think that God is open to any sincere attempt to worship him. People assume that God is open to all expressions of human religion so long as those expressions do not attack other humans. But look at God’s words and God’s standards for the people near the mountain. In two places, we will see something important.

Exodus 19:21-22 – 21 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish. 22 Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.”

As God prepared to speak to Moses from the Mountain, he gave two significant restrictions. The people could not approach or touch the mountain while God’s presence was upon it. And the priests could not experience this day without a holy consecration. Either group who disobeyed the commands of God here would die. God himself would kill people for disobedience.

But that does not sound like the modern understanding of God put forth by so many people. And at this point we have to ask, is our picture of god from God’s revelation or from our own minds? God is holy. God may not be approached by sinful man. And God will destroy those who violate his holy standards and remain without his forgiveness.

Exodus 20:25 – If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it.

Here God points out that the people of Israel were not free to make just any kind of altar for worship. If they were to fashion a stone altar with their tools, their touching of the altar would defile it. God was clear that his worship was to be holy. God is clear that he sets the standards as to what is acceptable and unacceptable worship.

The simple thought that I want us to take away from these passages is that God is holy. God is not what the modern American believes. God will judge people. God will judge based on his own standards. God will not bend to our will and our standards. God is not OK with just any old action we want to take. God will tell us how he is to be worshipped.

And in both passages, we see that God is clear that sinful mankind cannot approach him. If we wish to avoid God’s judgment, we must find ourselves under his grace. We are sinners who need to be forgiven. We need to have God apply to us the perfect righteousness of Christ. If we do not have God’s forgiving grace and the imputed righteousness of Jesus, anything we would do that could be considered worship will only serve to bring us under God’s judgment.

So, what do we take away? First, you need Jesus. Ask him to forgive you and cleanse you before the Lord. Surrender to him and be saved by his grace through faith. Then, realize that God has a high and holy standard that is far more dangerous than anything you have ever imagined. Submit to his holy word in order to live and worship in a way that pleases the Lord.

Deliver God’s Call

Matthew 10:7 – And proclaim as you go, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

In Matthew 10, Jesus is preparing his disciples to go out on a little short-term mission trip. They are going to have to preach. Jesus reminds the disciples of the message that he has been preaching all along. Both Jesus and John the Baptist in this gospel have been telling people to repent because God’s kingdom is at hand (3:2; 4:17). Now Jesus tells his disciples to go preach the very message that he has been proclaiming. They are to deliver the call of God.

What would it look like to deliver this call? The disciples were to preach the gospel, at least its beginnings. Once Jesus had finished his work, the message and call became even clearer.

What, then is the message that we proclaim that can be summarized, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand?” It is the gospel message. Do you know it? Can you easily tell it to somebody? Let’s review it.

The gospel begins with God. There is a God who created this universe and everything in it. Because he created the universe, God has the right to own everything in it. God is perfect, pure, and holy in every way. He is loving toward the people he has made. He is also just and will always rightly judge.

God created humanity, mankind, in his image. The people God made are to display for the universe around us the glory of God. But mankind has rebelled against the Lord. Every last one of us has sinned against God, battling against his standards and trying to be our own masters. Because of that rebellion, we have all earned for ourselves the judgment of God, his wrath forever. If we die under that wrath, our eternal destiny will be hell.

But God determined before creation that he was going to rescue a people for himself. At the proper time in human history, God sent into the world his very own Son. Jesus, God in flesh, the second person of the trinity, was born of a virgin in Bethlehem. Jesus lived out a perfect life, perfectly fulfilling the law of God. Jesus then died on a Roman cross, suffering the wrath of God for the sins of the people God would rescue. Jesus never sinned, and did not deserve to die. Jesus never failed, and did not deserve to be punished. But Jesus chose to serve as a substitutionary sacrifice, to take the place of those God would forgive.

After his death on the cross for the sins of others, Jesus was buried. But, on the third day from his crucifixion, Jesus rose from the grave. In his resurrection, Jesus proved that his perfect life and sacrificial death had in fact done what God had intended them to do. Jesus proved that everything he claimed about himself was true., His sacrifice was acceptable and he would be able to grant life forever to all he would rescue.

The message of good news is that now, for all who will turn away from their sin and trust in Jesus, there is forgiveness of sin and life forever in Christ. We must realize that we do not want to live in rebellion against God. We must declare to God that we are willing to submit to him and his commands, even if we know we will be imperfect. We must believe the truth about Jesus, and place our entire trust for our entire souls in his finished work. When this happens, we can know that God has done a work in our hearts, drawn us to himself, forgiven us of our sins, made us into his children, and granted us heaven forever.

What is the message? Repent, turn from your sin and trust in Jesus. Why? Because Jesus has brought God’s kingdom. God is holy. We are sinners. Jesus is our perfect Savior who died and rose from the grave. And we must believe in Jesus and turn from our sins to be saved. That is the message we declare.

Friends, learn the gospel. Believe the gospel. And go out and deliver God’s call to a lost and dying world.

And, if you have not come to faith in Jesus Christ, I urge you to repent, for God’s kingdom is here. Repent, turn from sin and trust in Jesus. This is your only hope.

Miraculous Proof

In the New Testament, Jesus performed miracles for multiple reasons. Of course he did miracles out of love and kindness. The Savior did miracles to show that he was pushing back the effects of the fall of man, defeating sin and Satan by his power and for his glory. And, Jesus did miracles to show us all that he is exactly who he claims to be, God the Son, God in flesh.

Matthew 9:2-8 — 2 And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 7 And he rose and went home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Here is an example of a miracle in which Jesus intends to attest to his deity and authority. Before he heals the paralytic who had been carried to him, Jesus pronounces the man’s sins as forgiven. What was he doing? Jesus was making a declaration that was only God’s to make.

Only God has the right to forgive sins against God. I cannot forgive you for sinning against my neighbor. It’s not my place. If you have offended my neighbor, you need to go to my neighbor to seek his forgiveness. And I cannot forgive your sins against God. Only God can do that.

The scribes, for all their flaws, saw exactly what Jesus was doing. They saw him claiming to be God by claiming the right to forgive a man’s sins against God. This is why they said he was blaspheming. And, were Jesus not God, he in fact would have been blaspheming.

Then Jesus sets the stage for the miracle. He asks the scribes which is easier, to declare the man’s sins forgiven or to tell him to rise and walk. This is not a difficult question. It is easy to declare a person forgiven. Who can prove you wrong? But it is hard to do the miraculous and to make the crippled man walk. Jesus is presenting an argument of greater to lesser. If he can do the obviously hard thing of giving this man the ability to walk, he will be showing us that he can do a thing only God can do. And if that hard thing is true, if Jesus proves he does what only God can do, then, Jesus has the right to declare the man forgiven.

WE see it happen. WE see Jesus heal a man. We see the crowds astonished. We see Jesus prove that he is God with God’s authority to forgive.

Do you see that Jesus is God with the authority of God to forgive you? If so, you should come to him in faith. After all, the paralytic was not forgiven because of his performance of religious rituals. Jesus forgave him when he saw the group’s faith. Trust in Jesus. Run to him for mercy. Know that he and only he can forgive you. And you, like the paralytic, will find the forgiveness of God. But know that, as the paralytic’s life was changed from that moment forward, so too will your life be changed as to come to Jesus is to surrender to him as your Master and Lord.

And, if we see this, we should know that we must come to Jesus and Jesus alone to find God’s forgiveness.

Simple Depth in Glorious Doctrine

Sometimes the simplest of doctrines are the ones we need to remember most. IN churches like the one I serve, there are always folks who are interested in the “deep” things. And, quite often, the things these folks consider to be deep are primarily things that are hard to understand or not broadly known. While we want to study all biblical doctrine, we can, if we are not careful, become fascinated with the obscure and fail to embrace and cherish the simple and true.

Christians, may I remind you that depth does not equal obscurity? May I also remind you that simple does not mean shallow. Sometimes deep study and deep faithfulness means learning to embrace with all of your being the things that every Christian should know.

Here is an example of a few things said in Psalm 18 that we all should love deeply.

Psalm 18:30-31a

30 This God—his way is perfect;
the word of the Lord proves true;
he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
31 For who is God, but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?

Let me point out four doctrines, lovely doctrines, simple doctrines, deep doctrines, that we should love from those lines. First, note the perfection of God. David refers to God by saying, “his ways are perfect.” That is not a shallow truth. God’s ways are perfect. All that the Lord is and all that the Lord does is perfect. There is no flaw. There is no sin. There is no taint. God is absolutely, unquestionably, immeasurably perfect.

How important is that doctrine? How does it change us? When the Lord says that he will do a thing, our response must never be to measure it by whether or not we approve. God’s ways are perfect. Our response, when we see that the Lord does a thing should be to ask the Lord to reshape us in our sinfulness to love and embrace his perfection. Thus, when God speaks of things with which we are uncomfortable, we are the ones flawed, not the Lord.

Second, the word of the Lord proves true. This is a reminder that not only is what God does perfect in every way, all that God says is true. For David, this helped him to embrace the Pentateuch and the words of the prophets around him. For us, this develops for us our doctrine of holy Scripture.

Just like thinking of the ways of God as perfect, we now think of his word as true. So, what happens when our experience or our best understanding stands in contradiction to the word? WE have a choice to make. We either decide that we are more true than the word of God or that the word of God is more true than our experience. Christians, this is a vital piece of doctrine to get right, as it will shape everything you think you know.

Third, God is a shield for all who take refuge in him. What a glorious truth this is. God is a gracious God. God receives kindly those who come to him for shelter. Consider, there is no rule beyond God that says he has to do this. He could turn us away in our cries for his mercy. But he does not.

Here is a doctrine that helps us to understand the grace of God. We are all a people in danger. Our sin would cause us to be eternally condemned. But God is a shelter for all who take refuge in him. If you come to the one true God seeking shelter, he will grant it. We know from the rest of Scripture that there is only one way to come to God for shelter, through the person of Jesus Christ (John 14:6). But we also are gloriously encouraged by the truth that all who do come to Jesus in faith and repentance are genuinely saved (Rom. 10:9-10, 13).

Fourth, and finally, notice that David also tells us that there is only one God. Who is God but the Lord? Much of the world thinks in the terms of multiple divinities. Much of the world assumes all religions are the same. But the word of God tells us that there is not another God, period.

This doctrine is vital to the believer. We know that all other world religions are false, because we know that there is only one God who may only be approached through the person and work of Jesus. All other claims of authority are illegitimate, because we know that there is only one God. All that oppose God do not merely oppose a religion, they oppose the one and only Creator and Lord. And all who have the favor of God have blessing that can never be removed, because God is the only God. There is no competition for God. There is no alternative to God. There is only the one God.

You might say that all these things are easy to know. Perhaps they are. But that does not make these shallow. These are vital truths. And the more you think about them, the more you embrace them, the more you will love the Lord you serve. I’m glad that we have the opportunity as believers to delve into end times, to think about election, to seek to understand the intricacies of the trinity, to ponder the covenants. But I’m even gladder that we are given by God the chance to know that he is the only God, that is ways are perfect, that his word is true, and that he welcomes all who run to him for shelter. These things should change your daily life, and change it forever. So do not miss them as you seek to study the deep things of the Lord.

Thinking about Being Saved Through Faith

Ephesians 2:8-9 – 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

When we say that a person is saved by grace through faith, we are attesting to what makes Christianity vastly different than any other religion in the world. We are saying that a person receives salvation, not because they do a thing, performing a ceremony, making an offering, but simply because God has changed them and allowed them to fully entrust themselves and their soul to him.

Just consider the difference. Other religions out there, man-made religions, tell people that they get into the favor of their deity by doing things. A person may believe that they will be in their god’s favor because they climb a particular mountain and drink from a sacred stream. Another might think that chanting a particular phrase is what makes them OK with the divine. Yet another says that if they do good deeds and do not do really bad things, they will be fine.

Only biblical Christianity tells us that we do nothing, we take no physical action at all, to gain the favor of our God. Instead, God does all the work. God takes all the action. God gives life to our dead and sinful hearts. And we respond to God by believing in Jesus. And God counts that faith as righteousness for us. God counts our belief as if we had lived perfectly before him. God grants us Jesus’ perfect record of righteousness when we entrust ourselves fully to him, believing him, having true faith.

Let me take this moment to say to you that, if you have never come to Jesus in faith, you need to do so in order to have the forgiveness of God. You are a sinner, just like me. Your only hope for salvation is to believe in Jesus. When you believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for your sin and rose from the grave, when you believe that Jesus is willing to forgive you if you come to him, when you believe in Jesus in such a way that you fully rely on him and him alone for salvation, you are forgiven by God. If you are forgiven by God, he will change you and help you live to his glory. I urge you to turn from sin and believe in Jesus today.

Have We Lost Wrath?

The word gospel means good news. The gospel is the good news of Jesus. It is the good news of his life, death, and resurrection. The gospel is the good news of the perfectly fulfilled plan of god to save for himself a people.

It is interesting that, as we talk about the gospel in today’s culture, there are words that are emphasized and words that are whispered. Take, as an example, the word brokenness. In many presentations today, there is tremendous emphasis placed on the fact that our sin leads us into a broken state. As we step away from the plan of God and the ways of God, we break our lives. We hurt ourselves emotionally. We harm our families, our friendships, and our very own souls. And this is surely a true thing.

What I wonder, however, is if some who emphasize the soul-damaging effects of sin are failing to emphasize the biblical result of sin.

1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 – 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul emphasized the turning of the people to the gospel. But notice, in verse 10, that Paul has a word that is seldom used in popular circles these days. The people who were transformed in Christ were awaiting the arrival of Jesus, the one who delivers us from the wrath to come.

I am wondering if, in popular Christianity today, we have lost the concept of wrath. The wrath of God is his perfect, righteous, furious judgment for sin. Wrath is not God getting mad or getting his feelings hurt. God’s wrath is a set position of the Lord to always hate sin in all its forms with all that he is. And his wrath, poured out, leads to the judgment of and destruction of the wicked. A person who experiences the full wrath of God experiences hell forever.

Paul was not shy in his letter to remind the Thessalonians that Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come. The gospel is a salvation from the wrath of God. And the wrath of God is coming. The result of sin is that wrath. And I believe that, if we fail to talk about this fact, we fail to paint a true picture of the gospel.

Please do not hear me attempting to knock those who use terms like brokenness when they discuss the effects of sin. The present experience of those who have walked away from God is quite often a strongly felt, strongly experienced brokenness. People in our modern culture may well be able to identify with the fact that, no matter how hard they have tried, they have not been able to escape their experience of being less than what they were created to be. And I do understand that this can be a significant entry gate to a gospel conversation.

What I am suggesting, however, is that brokenness is a symptom on the disease track, not its final dark end. Yes, sin results in brokenness. But, even worse, that brokenness, without a true gospel cure, leads to spiritual death and the wrath of God. The Bible tells us that Jesus is our only rescue from the wrath to come. So, whether a person feels broken or not, the final judgment is on its way. Christ will return. God will judge. All who refuse the grace of God in Jesus will face, unprotected, the wrath to come. And none of us can survive that.

Christians, if you wish to talk about the soul-harming effects of sin, do so. If you can show a person that sinful choices lead us to personally experienced destruction in the here and now, that is a great conversation starter. But do not lose the wrath of God. Sin is an affront to the Living God. We are all guilty of it. Sin leads to wrath. And we need Jesus to rescue us from that wrath, or we will suffer the right consequences of rebellion against the Creator and Lord over all.