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Night at Noonday

March 29, 2013 Leave a comment

As I write this, I am sitting in a condo from where I can see sunlight reflecting off the calm ocean. This bright sunlight contributes to the happy atmosphere of a beach vacation, and I wonder how the relaxed mood here in the condo would change if the sky outside went suddenly black. Blacker than a cloudy, moonless night. Blacker than an approaching hurricane. Nearly two thousand years ago, the whole earth, not just the half covered in night, not just the seaboard threatened by a hurricane, was covered in this absolute blackness.

Why?

Nearly two thousand years ago, some Romans crucified a religious rebel in the capital city of a remote region of the empire. To the Roman soldiers executing this rebel with two other criminals, the rebel’s crucifixion was no different from his fellows’ crucifixions, which were no different from the countless crucifixions countless Romans had executed during their reign over the Mediterranean world.

But capital city that witnessed this religious rebel’s execution was a religious city. Jerusalem, the capital city of the subjugated Jews, was also the site that day of the Jews’ most important religious festival: Passover, specifically, the Day of Preparation. Hundreds of thousands of Jews converged for the annual sacrifice. Little did they know that the rebel on the cross–not the year-old male lambs–was to be that year’s unique sacrifice for all time.

The sun stopped shining because the crucified rebel was no rebel at all. In fact, he was the only Person to live who never disobeyed the highest law–God’s law. He was Jesus, the Christ, Son of God and Son of Man. The sun stopped shining because this “rebel to Rome” was dying in the place of rebels to God.

As the Gospel According to Matthew records,

Now from the sixth hour [noon] there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour [3 p.m.]. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. (27:45-50)

For the hottest part of the day, the brightest part of the day, “the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:45). As Matthew related, the sun didn’t shine because Jesus, God the Son, was forsaken in that moment by God the Father. This aspect of Jesus’ death is a mystery, one that our Trinitarian minds find hard to make sense of logically. How can the one Triune God experience abandonment and forsakenness?

Paul begins to answer this question for us: “For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). On the cross, God was forsaken of God, as Martin Luther put it, because God the Son “was made to be sin” although he “knew no sin.” When Habakkuk said that God is “of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong,” (Hab. 1:13), he was not denying God’s omniscience; rather, Habakkuk was pointing out that God cannot sweep sin under the rug. As a perfect Judge, God must judge and condemn sin. As Peter later wrote, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Pet. 3:18). Jesus died not for his own sins–he had none–but for the sins of his people, of all who would ever trust him for salvation.

Jesus’ death on Passover is significant for this very reason. As John explains in his Gospel,

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came outblood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

Because it was the day of Preparation, because it was Passover, the Jews wanted the three crucified men to die before sundown, before Passover proper began. But one of the soldiers struck Jesus with a spear instead of breaking his legs because, practically, “Jesus was already dead” and, prophetically, “Not one of his bones will be broken.” The Scripture John there referenced was Exodus 12:46, in which God instructed the Israelites how to eat the Passover meal. Only by eating the flesh of the sacrificial lamb in their houses would God pass over the Israelites and spare them from the death he was to visit on all the households. Jesus, then, was the final and true Passover lamb, the one who would once for all satisfy God’s wrath on his people’s sins, to be received by faith (Rom. 3:21-26).

The sun stopped shining at noon nearly two thousand years ago because Jesus was dying his sacrificial death. God was forsaken of God. The Son of God, as the Son of Man, was taking the full punishment for his people’s sins in his body on the cross. And this is why Good Friday is good! The darkest day in history was, in fact, good because on that day Jesus accomplished his people’s redemption by dying in their place. So, everyone, have a good Good Friday. Praise God for the salvation he has given us by Jesus’ death for our sins on the cross!

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Sight from Blindness

October 31, 2012 Leave a comment

A few weeks ago, it was my pleasure and privilege to preach John 9 at Calvary Baptist Church in Fayette, AL. In John 9, Jesus gives sight to a man who was born blind. As if that miracle weren’t amazing enough, the physical mirror is but a physical illustration of the even greater miracle God works in people when he gives them spiritual sight, eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.

Today is Reformation Day, and one early reformer described the Protestant Reformation this way: “Out of darkness, light.” That is a fitting summary for this sermon, as well: God brings people out of darkness into light, but those who remain in darkness face God’s enduring wrath (cf. John 3:36). You can watch the sermon below or on Calvary’s YouTube channelSoli Deo Gloria!

The Light of the World Gives Light

September 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Last spring I had the joy of comparing and contrasting John 5 and 9 for my Introduction to the New Testament online class at the University of Alabama, and tomorrow night I’ll have the much greater pleasure to present Jesus as “the light of the world” to the youth who come for our weekly Bible study at Calvary Baptist Church at 6 P.M. What jumps out at me most in this chapter of John’s Gospel is how Jesus is “the light of the world” at the beginning of the chapter, and at the end of the chapter he reveals himself to be the Son of Man who opens and shuts spiritual eyes.

The Saving Light of the World

Jesus has been at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem (John 7:1-8:59). Jesus has spoken to crowds (7:1-36), Pharisees have tried to arrest him (7:37-52), and Jesus has declared his unique Sonship to God as opposed to his opponent’s true sonship to Satan (8:12-59). Upon Jesus’ inflammatory words at the end of John 8, the crowd listening to him picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus flees.

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (9:1-7)

Jesus comes across a blind man and answers his disciples’ question in a rather surprising way. The disciples want to apportion blame for the man’s blindness. Like Job’s three “friends,” Jesus’ twelve disciples believe that physical maladies are a direct result of particular sin, of “either this man or his parents.” They understand that sin brought disease and death into the world, but they do not understand that a physical ailment is not necessarily a direct result of a person’s particular sin. Jesus, however, understands perfectly. This man has been blind from birth “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” The disciples see a product of condemning sin; Jesus sees raw material for a God-glorifying miracle.

Jesus reminds his disciples that their mission, his mission, is one of restoration, not retribution. While Jesus is on earth, the disciples must join him “in working the works of him who sent me,” i.e., God the Father. And this unique work that Jesus does while he is on earth is to heal people physically in order to reveal their deeper need for spiritual healing. It is this unique work that Jesus does in giving this blind man sight for the first time in his life. Jesus does not judge the man and condemn him to continued blindness (which itself is a merciful sentence even for the man’s sinful nature irregardless of particular sins); rather, Jesus restores the man. He gives him sight!

The Blind Pharisees

The healed man’s neighbors and people who knew about his previous condition were blind to his healing. They were confused and did not know whether this man was the same man they had seen before (vv. 8-12). To settle the matter, they bring the man to the Pharisees for questioning. As in John 5, the Pharisees are upset that Jesus healed a man on a Sabbath, and they want to catch Jesus in a sin. In questioning the healed man, the Pharisees become confused within their ranks. They resort to asking the man’s opinion of Jesus, but the man affirms that Jesus is “a prophet”–certainly an answer the Pharisees weren’t wanting (vv. 13-17)!

In desperation, the Pharisees call in the man’s parents for questioning; perhaps the crowd was right that this man hadn’t been healed at all. But the parents are so scared of the Pharisees that they tell them to go back and ask their son again (vv. 18-23).

The Pharisees at this point are desperate and exasperated. They question the healed man for a second time, but they are blind to the simple sight of the healed man: Jesus healed him, and God wouldn’t have allowed a charlatan to do so (vv. 24-34)!

The Judging Son of Man

What the healed man’s parents feared for themselves happens to their son: the Pharisees “cast him out” of the synagogue (v. 34).

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. (vv. 35-41)

The blind man, for all his boldness before the Pharisees, had spoken better than he knew. He still didn’t see his deeper spiritual need. And this is why Jesus comes to him a second time. Jesus invites the blind man who can now see him to see him for who he really is: the Son of Man.

Yes, as the Son of Man, Jesus came to save (John 10), but he also came to judge. “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind,” Jesus says to the healed man who now trusts Jesus for spiritual healing even as he had trusted Jesus for physical healing. But lo and behold, some Pharisees overhear and are paranoid: are they those with “sight” but who are really blind? Jesus’ answer is a resounding “Yes!” Physical sight ultimately means nothing if one does not have spiritual sight. To use an argument in line with Jesus’ teaching, it is better to enter heaven blind than to enter hell eyes wide open. Indeed, it is the spiritually blind who see their blindness and ask Jesus to heal them of it that Jesus heals. It is those who think they see and consequently spurn the salvation in Jesus Christ alone who will be judged eternally on the Last Day.

This is what strikes me so much about John 9. Jesus is the light of the world. He gives us sight despite our blindness, life despite our death, faith despite our unbelief. It is as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Praise God for the free salvation he has given us despite our sin! Praise God for the free sight he has given us despite our blindness! Praise God for the adoption he has given us despite our previous status as children of the devil and slaves of sin! Praise God! Praise God!

Eat Mor Chikin!

August 1, 2012 Leave a comment

For the past two weeks, I’ve told myself over and over again: don’t write a blog post about the current Chick-fil-a controversy. You can be relevant in other ways. Don’t post a blog about Chick-fil-a. But a couple of days ago, my mind wavered. Yes, I was tired of the situation being blown out of proportion. Yes, I was tired about hearing it on the radio every day to and from my office (and I have a 45-minute commute one-way!). But I began to become even more tired of the reaction of some Christians to this whole controversy. When Mike Huckabee originally encouraged others to participate in a national “Support Chick-fil-a Day,” I was sad that it was scheduled for Wednesday, August 1. I’m at church for my office hours today from 9-5, and the youth Bible study is at 6. Abi and I won’t be home before 9. I knew in my heart that I support Chick-fil-a regularly (not just for their Christian values but also because their chicken nuggests, waffle fries, and sweet tea are just plain-old GOOD!), so I didn’t feel too bad that today wouldn’t be the most convenient day for me personally to support Chick-fil-a.

But after nearly a week of hearing Christians adopt what amounts to, what seems to me, a “stick-your-head-in-the-sand” attitude about the issue of the wrongness of homosexuality, Abi and I are going to Chick-fil-a tonight after church on our way home, no matter how late it is! (As long as it’s not after 10:05, of course, at which time Chick-fil-a would be closed.) I’m going to get a cookies and cream milkshake. Why? Because I’m a Christian who lives in America, the greatest nation in the world (and because I happen to LOVE Chil-fil-A milkshakes!). Because I live in America, I’m free to eat at any establishment I choose, and tonight I’m going to get a late-night snack from Chick-fil-A. Just like other Americans are free to boycott Chick-fil-a, I’m free to eat at Chick-fil-a.

I couldn’t disagree more with Barnabas Piper’s article for WORLD magazine (online) yesterday. By going to Chick-fil-A tonight, I’m not participating in “a collective action easily seen as a shaking of the fist or a wagging of the finger.” I’m “affirm[ing my] appreciation for a company run by Christian principles by showing up,” to put it in Mike Huckabee’s words. By indulging in a few hundred extra calories that I really don’t need I am in no way delivering the message of “us versus you” to homosexuals, as Barnabas Piper said. I am simply enjoying a milkshake with my wife, and at the same time putting my five dollars into the hands of a company who has been taking a lot of heat lately for simply agreeing with the Biblical definition of marriage. I am making no statement to any homosexuals. I am not declaring war on them. I’m enjoying a milkshake!

Furthermore, for Mr. Piper to say that the divisions caused by biblical convictions are “inevitable, but not desirable” is to go against the attitude of Scripture and of the Christ to whom Scripture points us. Before his death, Jesus told his disciples (and us by extension), “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). And did Jesus not elsewhere say, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” to this earth (Matt. 10:34)? And Jesus followed himself up by saying that “a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:36). It’s interesting that Jesus should say that, because in the online discussions of many Christians who are downing other Christians for noticeably standing up for Chick-fil-A, it seems to me that one of their main arguments is, “I have homosexual friends and relatives whom I don’t want to offend and thus lose the opportunity to witness to them.” Is it a witness to homosexuals to (perhaps unknowingly) condone their behavior as right (or even morally irrelevant) by not standing up for those who call homosexuality what it is: a sin? Edmund Burke is absolutely right: “evil prevails when good men do nothing.” Sins of omission are just as much sins as sins of commission. Not doing the right thing is just as bad as doing the bad thing.

As I have written in a prior blog post:

The issue of homosexuality matters because it is a grievous sin. And unless people come to a knowledge of their sin, and realize their need of Christ as their Savior, they cannot and will not believe on Him for eternal life. Nothing short of eternity is at stake!

We certainly must not add further stumbling blocks and follies to the already offensive (offensive to the natural mind, anyway) gospel, but we Christians must realize and affirm that homosexuality is a dangerous sin that further erodes the already suffering view of marriage. We must realize that since marriage is a picture of “Christ and the church,” if we call homosexuality anything less than a sin (or worse yet, to condone it openly!), we betray and water down and adulterate the gospel itself.

And as I have written at another time, we Christians should “respond biblically” to homosexuals by offering them the hope of forgiveness in Christ after lovingly pointing out their sin nature (which manifests itself, in part, in their homosexuality) to them. I will elaborate this earlier point here in this post: Jesus tells us that loving our neighbors, which include all unbelievers, as ourselves is the second greatest commandment (Matt. 22:39). But how are we to love homosexuals, or any unbeliever for that matter? The highest act of love we can show toward a homosexual or any unbeliever is to share with them the gospel: that although they are sinners, Creator God sent his Son Jesus Christ to this earth. Jesus Christ lived a life of perfect obedience, and because of his perfect obedience, his death on the cross fully satisfied God’s wrath on all those who would ever come to faith in him. And God proved his satisfaction by raising Jesus from the dead on the third day. We receive forgiveness for sin and eternal life through Jesus Christ only when we trust him to save us by what he has done, turning to him in repentance, away from our sin.

Accusing other Christians for making the “bold mistake” of supporting “the leadership” of Chick-fil-A in its “view on this issue” of homosexuality is not loving, toward believers or unbelievers. Sticking our heads in the sand and hiding in the basement and refusing to address homosexuals’ sin is not loving; it’s damning. If we maintain close friendships (“good relationships”) with homosexuals without showing them their sin and need for a Savior, are we diligently sharing the gospel (the whole gospel) with them? To ignore their unrepentant sin is just as bad as withholding the good news of Jesus (for indeed, they won’t be saved if they do not see their need of the Savior and repent of their sin!). Barnabas Piper is wrong. My going to Chick-fil-A tonight is about me supporting a company whose values I agree with. Tonight as I pay for my large cookies and cream milkshake, I’m not bashing gays; I’m hoping that Dan Cathy and his company will continue to prosper as they speak biblical values into a lost world, and that unbelievers of all kinds, both homosexual and heterosexual, will come to faith in Jesus Christ and be saved.

As for you? Go to Chick-fil-A. Or don’t go to Chick-fil-A. This is America, and you have the freedom to choose. So make your choice. Just make it for the right reasons. Don’t worry that supporting Chick-fil-A will “result in greater contention and fewer softened hearts. On both sides.” (By the way, Christians should not soften their hearts regarding the sinfulness of homosexuality. Sin is sin. We should be loving toward homosexuals, but again, that means pointing out their sin and the only hope in Christ, NOT ignoring their sin altogether.) Don’t worry that you’ll lose any hope you have for witnessing to homosexuals. Don’t worry that other Christians will condemn you for being unloving. If you don’t want to eat Chick-fil-A (today or any day), don’t. If you want to, do. Love Christ. Love others. And don’t be afraid to point out an unbeliever’s sin before sharing the forgiveness available in Jesus Christ. Even if they are homosexual. Because sin is sin, and we sin when we ignore unbelievers, whether homosexual or heterosexual, in their hell-bound state.

Do We Live Like We’re Moving?

July 30, 2012 Leave a comment

This past week, my wife, Abi, and I moved from our old one-bedroom apartment to our new two-bedroom apartment. And I do mean that we moved all last week! Last Monday, my dad and grandfather helped us move the heavy furniture (bed, dresser, couch, washer/dryer, etc.), and I’m thankful we got all that moved in just one (full) day! But just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, Abi and I didn’t move apartments in a day. All the rest of the week Abi and I were moving box after box of kitchen supplies, clothes, and other miscellaneous items from Tuscaloosa to Northport (about a fifteen minute drive one-way). I couldn’t tell you how many times I drove the Honda Pilot from one end of Highway 69 to the other! Each day was long and hard because we both worked really hard to move into our new apartment.

Thanks to my dad and his dad, Abi and I were able to sleep at our new apartment Monday night. But we didn’t get our last load from the old apartment until Saturday morning. (And to be honest, I haven’t unloaded that load from the Pilot yet!) As it was, we were living half in one apartment and half in another. We were already living in the new apartment, but we were not yet fully settled in. And that’s how the Christian life is: we Christians are already saved, but we have not yet experienced the consummation of our salvation. My question for all of us today, then, is this: are we living like we’re moving to heaven? Every one of us are physically dying right now. Our time is limited; our days are numbered. We Christians are in the process of moving to heaven. But are we working hard to get there? In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus puts it this way:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Yes, we Christians are still sleeping in our old apartment, so to speak: we’re still living on this earth. But are we laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven, as Jesus says, or are we spending most of our time and effort in our lives on this earth?

Living life as if this present world is all that matters is like accumulating more junk in a one bedroom apartment that you’re moving out of in less than a week. So let’s not live like that, because if “we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). When Paul wrote that, he was combating false teachers who claimed that the resurrection from the dead, the consummation of our salvation, had already happened. We Christians know and believe that this hasn’t happened yet, but do we live like it? Do we live like Jesus could come back at any moment to “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21)? We should because the salvation he has saved us to is not just for this present age but even more fully for the age to come! May we honestly say with Paul: “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). May we live like we’re in the process of moving to heaven, not like this present life is all we have to hope for.

“Set your minds on things that are above” because one day, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will come down from heaven just as he went up, in order to bring us into the new heavens and the new earth to be with him in glory forever. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The Prophet Who Feeds Us

July 18, 2012 1 comment

I’m excited to teach John 6:1-15 tonight to Calvary’s youth group. We’re working our way through The Gospel According to John, and tonight’s text is the account of Jesus feeding five thousand men (not including women and children). It is amazing to see how John depicts Jesus as a prophet greater than Elisha (see 2 Kings 4:42-44); indeed, Jesus is the Prophet, the Prophet to come after Moses (Deut. 18:15-19), the Prophet who says and does all that the Father tells him to do, perfectly (John 5:30; 12:49).

But as amazing as all this is, even more striking to me is Jesus’ mercy on an abandoning crowd. He is the Prophet, but he is the Prophet who feeds. Here in this miracle is a picture of God’s grace to all people, both believers and unbelievers. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:45, the Father “makes his sun shine on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” In John 6:1-15, Jesus is doing this loving work of his Father’s: he is abundantly feeding a crowd that will later abandon him. The next day, many of these people “turned back and no longer walked” with Jesus (John 6:66) because, as Jesus points out to them, they were seeking him “not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (v. 26).

And yet Jesus fed them anyway. Jesus knows people’s hearts perfectly (John 2:25), and he knows the crowd’s materialistic treachery (6:15). But he feeds them. As Matthew elaborates in his account of this miracle, Jesus “had compassion on them” (Matt. 14:14). He knew they were unbelieving (or, to put it another way, had demonic faith; cf. James 2:19), but he had mercy on them and fed them in their hunger. He later goes further and gives them truth, the ultimate truth that he is the bread of life, and in him alone is salvation (John 6:32-58). They reject it, and Jesus knew that they would, but he was merciful and fed them both physical and spiritual food anyway.

What a glorious picture of the gospel in our lives today. As Jesus himself says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). Nevertheless, he proclaims the gospel offer of life in him for those who trust him for salvation to even these unbelievers: “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (v. 37). Our salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Were it not for God’s grace in pursuing us when we were yet his unbelieving enemies, none of us would have come to saving faith in Christ and be in this filial relationship with him now.

Praise God that he pursues us even in our unbelief! Praise God that Jesus, the Prophet-King, died for us while we were yet sinners! Praise God that his Holy Spirit awakens us from our death in sin to new life in Christ! Praise God! Praise God!

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